Twinkle twinkle

It’s the first weekend in December and here at Gidday HQ, that means that it’s time to get festive and put up the Christmas tree.

I love doing this, especially as I only do this every second year when my Christmas is a London-based one. It reminds me of living at home in my late teens/early 20’s when, for a few short years, Lil Chicky and I would set aside an afternoon to decorate the Christmas tree at Mum’s together. The tree itself usually needed some MacGyver-like ingenuity to ensure it stood tall and straight for the festive period and bore up under the weight of copious amounts of tinsel and general Christmas bling.

So today I pulled the boxes down from the high cupboards. I tested all the lights and untangled the string of gold beads that I drape in lieu of tinsel. And I laid out all of the ornaments I have collected over the years – from my travels, gifts from friends and family and nods to my Dutch and Australian heritage – and with the jingling bells of Christmas movies on TV in the background, Gidday HQ  got  a dose of Christmas spirit. Here are just a few of my favourite festive things…

Aussie Xmas Wreath (360x640)

My wreath has had an Aussie update this year

Dusseldorf Santa(360x640)

I bought this fantastic festive tea-light holder in Dusseldorf in 1999

Ornament bowl(640x360)

The tree gets quite full so in recent years I’ve taken to displaying some ornaments separately – the gold and red baubles are personalised ones from Mum and the one in the middle is a nod to sisterhood from Lil Chicky

New York(360x640)

Here’s a bauble from a work trip to the Big Apple in 2005  (it had to be done)…

Krakow (360x640)

…and this hand-painted glass bell was purchased in Rynek Glowny (the main square) in Krakow in 2012

Angel (360x640)

For years my tree has featured this hand-made (not by me!) angel – this year she’s sitting on an apple to keep her upright.

IMAG3943 (359x640) (2)

I love this fabulous shoe, unearthed from a Christmas stocking during one of my bi-annual pilgrimages Down Under (my mother knows me well).

Ballerina (360x640)

Lil Chicky snuck this back from our Amsterdam trip in 2013 and hid it in my flat for me to find…

Japan (360x640)

…and she gave me this one courtesy of her trip to Japan in 2014.

I have A LOT of Dutch ornaments. I just can’t help bringing a little piece of my ancestry back from every visit I make.  You see, there’s a fabulous Christmas shop down by the Singel flower market in Amsterdam – I’m sure I’ve kept them in business – where I spend my last day on each visit working out how to get these fragile purchases a) into my already full luggage and b) back home in one piece.

I’ve managed to restrain myself – here are just two of them…

Windmill (360x640)

Clogs (360x640)

Anyway, the deed is done. The tree is up, the lights are twinkling and Alfie Bear has donned his Christmas hat, ready to join in the festive fun. And there are already a few presents under the tree with this year’s Christmas bonanza from Mum arriving a couple of weeks ago.

Alfie Bear+Xmas Tree (360x640)

Alfie Bear is a fixture at Gidday HQ, having come into my life as part of a redundancy gift in 2008 – he loves Christmas as much as I do.

So if I go missing in action at all, you’ll probably find me sitting on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ  admiring the view…

There are 19 sleeps to go until the big day peeps – are you feeling festive yet?

What lies before me

Here we are at another 1st and this time it’s the first of May…

Ooops! This is what happens when good intentions get waylaid and a person gets laid low by a hideous migraine.

But I’m back, albeit a little overdue, which means it’s time for another Calendar Challenge… 

There are the obvious ‘lush’ perspectives here (although in the last few days, I have never felt less like a drink in my life). There’s the social glue of getting together with friends and putting the world to rights. The importance of a cracking red with a new ‘local’ pizza at the end of countless moving-house-again days. The virtual Cheers! across the miles with Lil Chicky via WhatsApp or Facebook. In fact, the sheer necessity of such an indulgence if one is to have a balanced outlook on life.

And this brings me to an important point, one which a friend and I were discussing a few weeks back over…you guessed it…a bottle of red. We have both come to realise that, at this point (we are in our mid-forties), we are at about the halfway point in our lifetimes. (All going according to the statistics of course – as an Aussie sheila, it’s expected I’ll be popping my clogs at 85.6.)

Anyway, it made for some interesting discussion about what we would do and in fact what the world would be like for the next 40 years or so. Will our jobs still exist and if they do, what are the chances of us wanting to do them? And for how long? Where will we live? What things will we do to inform, amuse, educate, indulge ourselves? How do we shape the years that stretch ahead of us before they shape us? How much planning do we do and how much should we leave to serendipity, chance or spontaneous gut feeling?

I have no answers, this being a new and slightly unsettling line of thought for me. My life right now feels really full and fabulous, like the work of the last 44 years has come to fruition and given me the life I always dreamed of. Even so, I found myself picking up Investors Chronicle magazine with my Saturday paper this morning and over the last week or so ‘google writing courses’ keeps popping up on my mental to-do list. And I swear there’s that brine-y cloying smell of the sea in my future somewhere.

It’s not that I’m racing off into the wild blue yonder – breaking the glass in an emergency so to speak – with any of this yet but this recent twist of the kaleidoscope has made me wonder what would make me happiest in my future and how I give myself the wherewithal to be there, wherever there turns out to be.

My move to the UK was driven by that deep-down feeling in my gut that this was what was right and next in my life. And it was sudden so it makes me wonder what the next catalyst for change in life as I know it will be. I sincerely hope it won’t be anything tragic. Perhaps it will just sneak up surreptitiously, moving me along a gentler path until suddenly I look around and say, ‘Aah yes, this is exactly where I am meant to be.’

Life has a funny way of showing us a path when we least expect it but to my way of thinking, I need to take a few more steps off the beaten track and forage about in the undergrowth a bit to understand what I might really like to have in my future.

Who knows what I might find.


Calendar Challenge 2014 – Back Catalogue

Keep calm and carry on

Sour grapes

Water water everywhere

On the shore

 

Having Reservations…

Yesterday I went out with some friends of mine to see a show followed by some drinks and dinner. 

We had a great time. Handbagged was witty, topical and a lot of fun and with a few drinks under our belts (there may have been three grapefruit Cosmopolitans involved…for me), we expected that dinner at American-eatery-in-Soho, Jackson and Rye, would contribute some worthy state-side vittels to finish off our evening. 

And the verdict? My inaugural grits (a kind of polenta porridge) were weird, pleasant-ish but not right with shrimps, my sea bass with apple and fennel slaw was light and lovely and the pecan pie was mmm…mmm scrumptious!

But I digress. You see, Jackson and Rye don’t take reservations which is a pet peeve of mine. And I am coming across this situation in London with greater and greater frequency. 

A catch-up dinner with a friend at no-bookings Italian ‘tapas’ joint Polpo last year was planned around being there just before 7pm to ensure we got a table rather than when we were actually hungry or what was convenient for us. And looking for somewhere to eat after the theatre with Lil Chicky last October was fraught with queue after queue.


(We eventually found a table at Tuttons right on Covent Garden which was lovely…and for future reference, book-able.)

I remember when Jamie Oliver opened his sans booking restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian in 2008 and we thought we’d head down to the one in Kingston to give it a try. We queued outside – no room inside for waiting – for a barely acceptable 15 minutes. I’ve been to Jamie’s Italian once since when we were lucky to have only a five minute wait. 

To say I was put off is putting it mildly. I accept that if I haven’t booked then I have to take what I can get but this we-don’t-take-bookings nonsense is all getting a bit much for me. I don’t want to have to trawl Soho post-show because of this growing ‘no booking’ policy. What ever happened to looking after the customer? Couldn’t they at least allow some tables to be booked, leaving some free for these apparently all-important walk-ins?

Polpo’s website offers an explanation of sorts, saying that their casual Venetian ‘bacaros‘ are designed to encourage the locals to pop in for a bite to eat and to build a sense of community amongst their regulars. There are 3 Polpos and 1 Polpetto in Central London, none of which take bookings. Who are these ‘locals’ I wonder?

In any case it would appear these places are doing rather well and that the standing in line has become a badge of honour – after all, if you’ve queued (or waited in the bar) for at least an hour, the food had better be rave-worthy, or at least good enough for you to tell everyone about. I don’t know about you but after an hour, my palate becomes a little less discerning, swamped by a-drink-(or two)-while-I-waited or the sounds of my stomach growling with hunger…or both.

Luckily last night’s drinks were at one of our favourite drinking holes, the Freedom Bar, just two doors down from Jackson and Rye so The Umpire kindly did a recce before we gave up our pre-dinner perch. And the meal was delicious.

But if I’m really honest, I have my reservations as to how long I really would have waited for it.

Sorry, I Spent It On Myself…

Today marks 20 sleeps to go until we all embark on our annual gift-giving frenzy.


(Although those of you in Oz will wake up to only 19 sleeps.)

I know this isn’t going to be very Christmas spirited of me but I laughed out loud in the office this morning at the latest in a long line of seasonal shopping plugs. This is from London ‘posh shop’ Harvey Nichols

I was always taught that it was better to give than to receive…

…but then we don’t have Harvey Nicks Down Under.

In other news, Lil Chicky wins the 2013 Christmas bonanza with the surprise arrival of an unmarked box at Gidday HQ yesterday…

…which I opened. And then had to apologise and duly promise to wrap said contents up, put under the tree and exclaim with surprise and delight on Christmas morning.

Oh the shame! 

(Note: There is no advance present opening in the Hamer Clan – one must always wait for ‘the big day’.)

Just as well there are only 20 sleeps until unrestrained receiving Christmas…

Prodigal Daughters…

One of the most wonderful aspects of our recent trip to Amsterdam was the sense of pilgrimage brought on by being there together. As kids we were at our Oma and Opa’s at least once a week so our sense of ‘Dutch-ness’ has been very strong all of our lives and the sense of shared heritage during our visit – particularly as it was Lil Chicky’s first foray across The Channel – was quite poignant.

The icons of Amsterdam and The Netherlands, though I’d seen and photographed them many times before, seemed to shape our pilgrimage and just like the tale of the brave Dutch boy who held back the swirling waters by putting his finger in a hole in the dike, we remained resolute walking, eating and snapping our way through four fabulous days.


And speaking of walking, what better place to start than the klompenmakerij, or the wooden shoe factory.

L to R: wooden shoe tree outside the factory in Marken
carved shoes hung up to dry; souvenirs galore.

Lil Chicky even tried a pair on…


…but decided to buy the pair that she could actually fit into her suitcase.

Still speaking of walking, If you’re walking anywhere in Amsterdam, it pays to pay attention. Cyclists rule the roads and there was a point where we found ourselves caught mid-street with a tram on one side and a cyclist on the other. The tram driver stopped.

Clockwise L to R: Bikes parked in Dam Square; 
view from the canal; 
the ‘bike park’ (how on earth do you find your ride again?)

Travelling further afield we saw our first windmills, standing tall over the flat watery plains, and paid homage to sails of a typically Dutch kind.

Scenes from Zaanse Schans

The Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs every year. We found a few down at the flower market on The Singel in Amsterdam…and a few more of ‘nature’s gifts’ on our travels.

Clockwise L to R: Tulips at the bloemenmarkt on The Singel; a very literal hash tag;
wheels of gouda cheese everywhere from Amsterdam to Volendam.

Speaking of nature’s gifts, two particular girls would never have graced the world with their special brand of Aussie Dutch-ness without at least a little contribution from the bloke who lived for a while at 159 Amstelkade. So we caught the number 24 tram on Thursday night, walked about 15mins and found ourselves here…
Prodigal daughters – finding Dad’s childhood home. 
Pictures were duly despatched to said sire.

With all of this pilgrim-ing, we needed to keep up our strength and every day was punctuated with cries of remembered vittels from our childhhood.

Clockwise L to R: Enjoying hot chips and proper creamy mayonnaise; 
waffles for every palate (including Lil Chicky’s); 
Dutch apple pie – chock full of layers of thinly sliced apple – evoked a real ‘Oma’ moment for us; 
yours truly enjoying a well-earned oliebollen; 
two excited faces waiting for our inaugural Amsterdam poffertjes; in the making.

And when all was said and done, and all of those memories were tucked away into the chinks of my mind and heart, I wanted to bring a little piece of it home with me…

My hand made Delft vase, a wonderful reminder of our trip.


…and while tulips will no doubt look amazing once they are in season, my irises look gorgeous at Gidday HQ.


So that’s Amsterdam – and a day trip or two – done. 

Until the next time I need a nostalgia fix!

Postcard from Amsterdam…

With Lil Chicky back home now and me trying valiantly to get back into life’s rhythmic swing, I’ve been working through the few hundred photos I took during our adventures together. And as I have been sorting, one question has kept going around and around in my head. What do I share with you first?

It had to be our trip to Amsterdam – and it warrants a couple of posts. Firstly because it’s such a wonderfully photogenic city and secondly because it was something of a pilgrimage for the two of us – but more about that in my next post.

This was my fourth visit to Amsterdam. There is something rather special about cities built in commune with their watery roots and I cannot count the number of times we turned a corner and wielded our respective ‘piccy kits’ (mine a point-and-shoot Nikon, hers a ‘fully-optioned’, rather hefty Canon SLR) in an attempt to capture ‘a moment’. 

With the exception of the 15 minute downpour walking from the Central Station to our hotel, we were blessed with four days of gorgeous weather. Crisp blue skies meant that a shared cone of chips generously dolloped with lush, luscious mayonnaise and a plate of bitteballen were best tackled outside, the latter with a local beer in hand.

It also meant A LOT of photos. Here are just a few of my absolute favourites.

We stayed at the Hampshire Eden just near Rembrandtplein – while the square itself was literally at our back door, this was the view from the front of the hotel.

I love that this photo looks like a painting – the curve of the canal, the buildings, bikes and boats lining the banks and a spire to aspire to in the distance.
There was something rather innocent about the dappled shade on the canal wall and the friends enjoying their moment in the sun, legs dangling childishly over the edge.

Begijnhof is a beautiful oasis tucked away in the heart of Amsterdam. Blink and you’d miss not just this entrance leading off Spui (we did) but also Amsterdam’s oldest house (no 34), the 15th century Engelse Kerk (English Church – above) and the Begijnhof Chapel, a clandestine church where the Begijntjes worshipped in secret until 1795.
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a wander through its infamous Red Light district. The scarlet-draped windows line the streets and canals around the Oude Kerk (Old Church) yet as night falls and the lights reflect off the water, it easy to forget the deals ‘being done’ and get caught up in how pretty it all looks.
Oude Kerk itself is rather lovely in a stark kind of way. Not for it the intimate spaces or crowded decoration of many of Europe’s other places of worship. There’s a feeling of spacious calm beneath the gothic arches and when you’ve had enough, an unassuming door off the nave leads to a cosy tea room and outdoor courtyard for some quiet enjoyment and a reflective cuppa. 
If you are visiting Amsterdam, whether coming directly by train or by plane via Schipol Airport, you are likely to come through its Central Station. Intent on your destination, it’s easy to miss the opportunity to turn around and admire the magnificent entrance to this fabulous city. True to form, we were dashing away from the station on our arrival but had the opportunity to appreciate it from our canal cruise the following day.

As our canal boat rounded a corner, the colour and light in this scene was breath-taking. I love how all the elements – the bridge, the boat, the terraced buildings and the leafy boughs of the tree – come together to create what for me is inherently Amsterdam.
Our canal cruise took us past the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) which was constructed in 1670 and is probably the most famous in Amsterdam. I didn’t get a great photo of that bridge but as we drifted past it and turned right, this boat-load of ‘locals’ caught my eye and while not the Magere Brug, the typically Dutch bridge in the background gave me another moment in the sun to capture.
And last but not least, our photographic journey returns us to the ‘back yard’ of our stay, Rembrandtplein. It’s a vibrant square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and pays homage to Rembrandt van Rijn himself and his most famous painting, The Nightwatch. (Like I did last trip, you can see the real thing in the Rijksmuseum. It’s enormous!)


So here endeth the armchair tour and I hope you’ve enjoyed it even half as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting our trip in the writing of this post. S
tay tuned for more next time, an alternative look at our sibling sojourn as a pilgrimage of ‘all things Dutch’.

A skip in my step

So the great Chicky Adventure is done and my sibling partner in crime has arrived back on the other side of the world (and is working through her jet lag by all accounts).

It was such an amazing two weeks – firstly for the unadulterated ‘just us’ time, secondly for the opportunity for me to introduce her to this amazing city I call home, and thirdly for our shared pilgrimage to Amsterdam, Dad’s childhood home, and the delicacies we enjoyed in memory of our Oma and Opa.

I’ve been meaning to pick up the blogging ‘pencil’ again over the last few days but I have felt so full of everything we did that I haven’t known where to start. The anticipation of Lil Chicky’s first trip here. The pride in the sharing of my new hometown and experiencing its fabulous-ness through her ‘new’ eyes. The privilege of helping her celebrate her 40th birthday. The sheer intensity of spending 2 weeks – 24/7 – together for the first time since…well forever.

All underpinned by a lifetime of sisterly memories, the effortless and uncomplicated recall of funny stories, childhood scrapes and sibling rivalry, and squillions of photos…

…including a few selfies.

DAY 2: Fab Finchley – looking for coffee in the pouring rain. 

DAY 3: Can’t go to London without visiting the Queen. 

DAY 4: Hamers do ‘the henge’ (squeezed between visits to Salisbury and Bath). Technically not a selfie thanks to a kind Aussie chap on the tour, but close enough.

There’s a small selfie gap here while we undertook birthday celebrations (part one – The Mousetrap and dinner in Covent Garden – and two – Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley)…

DAY 5: Fashionista food at the Berkeley

…Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Globe Theatre and a visit to Carnaby Street.

DAY 6: Yes, we bought these. Because we had to get out of the rain. And the Irregular Choice shop was just there. Really.

Then we went to Amsterdam…

DAY 9: Arriving at Amsterdam’s Central Station about 2 minutes before torrential rain…

Waiting for our first poffertjes (teeny tiny pancakes served with butter and icing sugar and eaten with a toothpick) of the pigrimage trip in Dam Square.

(More on Amsterdam in a later post).

After 4 days, we returned to London, hired a car and drove first to Silverstone and then to Donington Circuits to tick a few things off Lil Chicky’s motorsport bucket list. Looks like Day 13 was a lucky one…

The Winners’ Podium at Silverstone – cheesy but had to be done.

We decided to take Day 14 easy with a visit to the Museum of London after the ‘wild storm‘ had abated…and when Day 15 dawned bright and blue-skied (if a little chilly), there was just one thing left to do…

DAY 15: It endeth on The Eye – our last sibling selfie of the trip.

Full of our time together and tired from our two weeks of tourist-ing, we said our emotional good-byes at Heathrow last Tuesday. After I’d waved until she’d disappeared behind the security barrier, I made the long trip home to Gidday HQ. It’s still my warm and cosy haven but a little quieter. And yellow banner of the Money Shop, which became our welcoming ‘nearly home’ beacon as we turned into my street each night, has now taken on a new and poignant significance. Another memory, meaningless to anyone else but enough to inspire a skip in my step…

…one that only Lil Chicky will understand.

Simply The ‘Est’

Well she’s here.

Lil Chicky has been ensconced at Gidday HQ since Tuesday and I’ve been out and about rather a lot showing her the sights and making the most of what’s on offer thus the lack of tap-tap-tapping.

I’ll share more fun stories and gory details later but in the meantime, I thought I’d give my lovely Gidday-ers a whirlwind tour of our exploits so far.

Are you ready?

We’ve been to…

…the highest…

The highest steeple in England at Salisbury Cathedral

…the tallest…

Europe’s new tallest skyscraper The Shard overlooks the Thames and City Hall (the weird curved building front left)

…the oldest…

5,000 years of history at Stonehenge
…the swankiest…

 Save your pennies for one of the most expensive apartments available in Knightsbridge

…the greenest…

Beautiful Green Park (that bright shiny object is the sun)

…the royal-est…

 The gates at Buckingham Palace

…and the longest…

The world’s longest running play, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap currently at St Martin’s Theatre

…as well as celebrating a certain special birthday with a glass of vino or two.

Happy birthday to Lil Chicky…40 is definitely the new 30!

 

Day 6 looms ahead of us. We are off into town again today so who knows what adventures, stories and photos from Chicky Tours Unlimited will make tonight’s Gidday Wine Review.

You’ll just have to wait and see…

Hello? I’m All Ears…

With the Australian Labour Party electing yet another leader this week (they’re a fickle bunch), it would appear that the powers that be are still trying to get the measure of public opinion Down Under.

But perhaps they could learn a thing or two from the South Korean city of Seoul.

In an effort to encourage communication between the elected and the electorate, Seoul City Council has installed Yobosayo, a giant ear, outside City Hall.

Photo credit: www.lifethings.in

Passers-by can bend this particular ear simply by leaning in and airing their views…

Photo credit: www.lifethings.in

…which are transmitted by microphones inside the ear and broadcast through loudspeakers inside City Hall for all and sundry to hear.


Yobosayo means hello? in Korean and it rather tickled my fancy to think that as each person leant into the ‘trumpet’, they would utter this self-conscious salutation before embarking on their particular litany. Think about how often this is our ‘greeting’: to the unknown caller, a potentially unoccupied room and even an obscure fact.

Anyway it rather amused me to think of all of those important councillors being ear-bashed by hundreds of hellos each day.


And speaking of hellos, there’s a rather big hello in the offing here with only two sleeps to go until Lil Chicky gets her big gidday hug in the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow Airport from yours truly.

I’m so excited – I do love Arrivals

Single Figures…

We are down to single figures peeps.

In just 9 sleeps, my little sister (aka Lil Chicky) will step off a very long flight from Down Under and into Old London Town (well Heathrow Airport anyway).

It will be her first ever trip here – hopefully not the last.  And I am ridiculously excited.

It’s getting difficult to think about anything else at the moment. I try to remember what my first London Loves were and I find myself wondering what are sorts of things she would like to do and see. Are they the same things that struck me when I first travelled here in 2000? The history, the theatre, the eclectic cultural mix, the architecture? Or is it something else? Perhaps a little high tea or some high kicks at a show? Or shall we take in the Eye, the Abbey, the Shard, the Wall or even the Cock in the Square.

The National Gallery and St Martin in the Fields overlook Trafalgar Square and the latest installation on The Fourth Plinth

The mind boggles.

Lately I have found myself in the midst of my day when I am struck by something I want to show her or share. Like on Friday night when I left the office (my ‘new’ one – our Head Office – where I am now based) and saw this…

…or the view from Waterloo Bridge at night which, after almost 10 years here, still makes me catch my breath and say to myself ‘I really did it. I live here. This is my home.’


So much to do and so little time.

And only 9 sleeps to go.

That’s exciting.