Sheepish…

I am perturbed people. Seriously perturbed.

With Christmas fast approaching and a trip Down Under on the agenda, it goes without saying (but I shall say it anyway) that I am looking forward to embracing all things festive with loved ones in Oz this year.

You know, the Christmas Day feast, either a BBQ or a seafood selection depending on whether we are at Mum’s or Lil Chicky’s.

The annual Stocking Sprint – or who can open all the small, ridiculously over-wrapped presents in their stocking first, thereby spoiling the ‘surprise’ element of each piece of tat gift for everyone else.

Or the Festive Forage otherwise known as where will Husband of Lil Chicky hide random pieces of Christmas wrapping at Mum’s place and how long will it be before she finds them.

Yes I am confident that these traditions will resist our continued path through adulthood the test of time as well as Mum’s desire to have a clean house/stop staying up til all hours wrapping teeny tiny presents.

But there is one tradition unique to Melbourne that really brings out the big kid in me, the 5-year-old who presses her nose against the window in wonder (okay maybe my nose doesn’t exactly touch the window any more but you get my drift.)

The Myer Christmas Windows.

Every year, the windows of the Myer Store in Bourke Street Mall pay tribute to the festive season with an animated display of fairytale movement and magic. The crowds, young and old alike, line up and file past the windows, ooh-ing and aah-ing at Cinderella, The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and many other well-known storybook worlds.

But this year, things have gone awry in a big way.

This year’s windows, unveiled last week, pay glittery homage to…

Russell the Sheepwho has apparently saved Christmas.



Who is this interloper?

What on earth happened to Rudolph and his shiny nose?

Only 33 sleeps to go til I can investigate for myself. 

Stay tuned peeps, I’m on the case…

The Race That Stops A Nation…

It’s a horse race deemed the richest ‘two mile’ handicap in the world for two dozen 3-year-old thoroughbreds over 3.2km. A race that literally stops a nation.  The Melbourne Cup.


The Melbourne Cup Carnival runs over a week in November each year and comprises 4 race days – Derby Day (Sat), Melbourne Cup Day (Tue), Oaks Day (Thu) and Stakes Day (Sat) – at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. It forms the centrepiece of the Spring Racing Carnival, filling the state of Victoria with prime equine specimens and department stores with hats and headpieces as far as the eye can see.

The first Tuesday in November (this year falling on November 6th) holds a special place in Aussie hearts. Melburnians get a day off and the entire nation – well the majority who are not at the course itself – manages its day around being in front of a telly at 3pm. There are BBQs, office ‘sweeps’ and much discussion around water coolers, coffee machines or over the bar about the chances of the 24 runners – yes, everyone’s a tipster on Melbourne Cup Day. And there are a myriad of opportunities to ‘put your money where your mouth is’.

Being at the race itself is an extraordinary experience (I’ve been 3 times, twice in the posh corporate bit). Melbourne Cup Day often begins with a champagne breakfast in your Cup Day finery in the Racecourse Car Park. For some it’s an opportunity to dust off your headwear, don your gladrags and totter down to the mounting yard. For others, it’s an opportunity to dress down and enjoy the atmosphere. Picnics abound and the bookies are kept busy particularly leading up to the big race.

Melbourne Cup punters – celebrating a win perhaps?

As the horses and their riders make their way around the mounting yard, down the track and into the starting gate, the excitement is palpable and experts and amateur punters alike jockey for position along the final straight and at the finish line. And as the starter’s orders sound out across the course and the gates snap open, the thundering hooves of 24 of the world’s best are overshadowed by the roar of the crowd.

Just over 3 minutes later, the winner crosses the finish line in front of more than 100,000 screaming punters.

It is, quite simply, electric.

This year’s field, confirmed after today’s Victoria Derby, features both the home-grown and the foreign and with a purse of $6.2million up for grabs, only time will tell whether current favourites and past winners Americain (2010) or Dunaden (2011) can join the exalted ranks of multiple winners. Winners like the prolific Makybe Diva, whose dominance in 2003, 2004 and 2005 remains unmatched, and Archer who won the inaugural race in 1861 then followed it up with another win the following year.

3 time winner Makybe Diva

And who’s my money on? Well that’d be telling and to be honest, I haven’t really checked out the runners. Suffice to say I’m off to read the form guide. After all, you can take the girl out of Melbourne but you can’t take Melbourne out of the girl.

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This post also forms part of the November edition of Post Of The Month Club.

The Land Sans The Long Black…

This morning I met up with an Aussie friend of mine for brunch. S travels a lot for work and since he has the next 2 weeks in London before his next round of jet-setting, we decided to grab the bull by the horns – so to speak – and catch up over some scrumptious vittels and good coffee at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

S and I used to work together and as such, he is a fellow afficionado of both the Melbourne coffee scene and that bastion of Italian yummy-ness, Lygon Street. Way back when we worked together, we were fortunate enough to share premises with the barista training school of a very well-known Italian coffee brand. As such, there was no schlepping around with freeze-dried instant or filter coffee for us. It was punchy espresso with gorgeous caramel-coloured crema, warm milky-smooth lattes and luscious foamy (not frothy people – there’s a world of difference) cappuccinos. Let me tell you, we knew our Robusta from our Arabica.

Then we came to London. And caffeine confusion reigned.

You see there are two types of coffee that are ubiquitous in the Land Down Under (and for that matter, in the Land of the Long White Cloud) but as rare as hen’s teeth in Ol’ Blighty. 

The first is the Flat White. It lies somewhere between a warm milky latte (a flat white has less milk and is served hot) and the foaming cappuccino (the flat white has less/no foam). It’s hard to find in London but with the likes of The Australian Times providing a handy list of good flat white-rs in London Town alongside a little Antipodean word-of-mouth, it’s possible. But most places here will translate the Flat White into a white coffee (a black coffee with cold milk), completely ignoring the craft of creating a steaming Long Black before adding a large dollop of warm milk.

Which brings me to my second point – the Long Black. In non-barista terms, it’s a shot of espresso poured into hot water to preserve the crema.

Simple right? Not nearly as complicated as the Flat White one would think.

But apparently so.

Just ask for a Long Black here and watch the bewilderment appear across the face of one’s waiter. Then try to explain it ie. a shot of espresso with hot water (and that’s not getting into the size of the cup it should come in). In most places, the response is ‘oh so you want a black coffee?’ No. Not if you are going to stick my cup under the coffee filter for 5 minutes.

Some will respond by correcting you calling it an Americano, grinning proudly at you as they successfully navigate the lingo of yet another of the half million or so Antipodean immigrants living in London. Well no actually – but at this stage, an espresso topped up with hot water is starting to sound like an acceptable (and considerably less stressful) compromise.

But all I really want is a proper Long Black. I want a lovely shot of espresso – that’s right, like you normally give one who orders an espresso – poured into the cup with hot water. Rich and smooth with a velvety crema. No bitterness, no acrid aftertaste. Understated yet still packing a caffeine punch.

Just like the one this morning.

Anna Hansen may have been ‘chef-fing’ all over the globe – and let me tell you the food was really, really good – but for the coffee alone , The Modern Pantry gets my vote.

Smooth, rich and velvety. Exactly the way I like it.

A Very Chicky Birthday

Today is Lil Chicky’s birthday.
So I thought I’d tell you a birthday story.
The first one was fraught with competitive friction.
This young whippersnapper had the front to question her big sister’s attempts at teaching birthday best practice
Her (L) and me (R)
 But it wasn’t long before she got the hang of it 
Sisterly pride in the background
And tried to muscle in
‘What’s the deal? It’s my birthday, not yours!’
So I had to re-assert my authority
Birthday territory re-established
And by the time we got to her 21st, we had learnt to share
21st birthday of Lil Chicky (in the green dress)
So we played happily together
Outside Flinders St Station in 2005
for ever
Anzac Day Match at the MCG 2007
 and ever
At Sand Sculptures in Frankston, December 2010
Happy Birthday Chicky!

A Tale of Two Cities…

It’s official. Melbourne, my home town, is the world’s most livable city.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2011 Livability Ranking has placed Australia’s Melbourne city as the most livable city in the world, with a score of 97.5. Austria’s Vienna and Canada’s Vancouver were ranked on the second and third places respectively among 140 cities. Source: www.economist.com

For those of you who haven’t been to Melbourne and are wondering why it won, here are a few snaps from my trip last Christmas.


Melbourne City View from South Bank (January 2011)
Eureka Tower at South Bank – a new addition since my last visit
The Palais at St Kilda – and that’s Luna Park in the background
Mentone Beach – lying on a beach towel (it was 26C and deserted, far too cold for the locals!)

There were also a few fond memories that the locals are likely to appreciate a little more than your average tourist:

Hamer Hall? The Greatest Show On Earth?  What a tribute!
Love is in the Air – The Myer Melbourne Christmas Windows featured The Nutcracker Suite last year
The best chips on the planet (yes chips, not crisps..bloody Poms!) – Burger Rings and Twisties!

But those of you who read my meanderings regularly, or know me well, know how much I love London:

Harrods from the top deck of the number 14 bus, a regular drive-by after a night out on the town
Tower of London – it was just there for the taking
View of the Thames from Putney Bridge (from another bus)
Richmond Park – splendor in the grass and right next door
Another delicate sunset – from the front window of my flat
The ice and snow last December – from my (then) office building
Footprints in the snow – where I’ve been

So in the livability stakes, it’s a tale of two cities for me.

The first is the one left behind laced with nostalgic and happy rememberings. 

And the second is the one where I am quietly proud of the new life I have built for myself. The one where, despite it’s lower ranking, I feel like I’ve come home.