Basic Instincts – just because you can’t see the ice pick, doesn’t mean they’re not a psycho.

Choosing to house-share via a website is a bizarre leap of faith. I mean, you email back and forth, arrange to meet and then if all goes well, move in a few days later. What on earth can you figure out about a person you’ve just met online that makes you decide you can co-habit? It’s speed dating on crack.

Of course, there’s the obvious things to look for; do you like the house and your room, is it conveniently located to where you work, does the neighbourhood possess all the amenities you’d be needing like a supermarket, bakery, brothel, I mean church? But does this person have an ice pick under their bed? Not so easy to check.

In one more week I shall be an unemployed bum yet again. Most people would be upset by this, but I’m quietly hoping I didn’t get that job I went for last week because a dose of unemployment will give me time to write. Plus without any money, maybe I’ll lose a couple of the kilos I’ve put on after four months being stuck to a chair for eight hours a day.

The job is at a university, helping manage flat rentals for students. They’re at the stage where they’ve lived with each other for a couple of months and personality clashes are beginning to show. Of course, all this has done is make me ponder my own disastrous colourful history of flat-sharing.

I’ve been through this process many times now. My decisions are usually based on nothing more concrete that a feeling, an instinct and, surprisingly often when I think back on it, alcohol. The first time I opted to live with strangers I was 26. The ad said they were looking for someone over 28 but I chose to ignore this. It was 11am when we met and within a few minutes they were serving me champagne. Three hours and many glasses later, I left with a new home.

Instinct paid off here and I lived happily there for three years, until one of the three housemates started a relationship with a manipulative psycho bitch and the house dismantled. Two housemates left and instinct failed me abysmally with the choice of replacement.

It’s probably my fault. I was, not for the first or last time, led astray by aesthetics. The best candidate of a bad bunch was also the prettiest. And at first he seemed fantastic, but it soon became evident that he was a habitual liar and, we came to suspect, a gay male escort. Continue reading

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Homeland – the version with cows and sheep, not presidential assassinations

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It’s possible one of these sheep donated the wool for my Harris Tweed cushion. I mean, it’s a small place right? It could have been. Maybe.

Years ago, watching a blue faced Mel Gibson sitting on a horse going on and on about his freedom, it never really occurred to me that the land which he so ferociously battles to save would hundreds of years later be the land of my ancestors. So two years ago, on what was probably about the eighth rewatch of Braveheart, I decided the time had come. I wanted to see my ancestral homeland, to see if I felt some sense of belonging, of kinship, and whether I suddenly developed a taste for sheep’s stomach stuffed with offal.

Happily, I was living in London at the time. This meant I was about 16,000 kilometers closer to achieving this goal than I would have been had I been watching Mel strangle a Scottish accent on my couch in Melbourne. So I booked a wee trip around the West Highlands.

I caught the train up to Edinburgh on a Monday afternoon and met the tour bus early on Tuesday. I’d put a lot of effort into picking the right kind of tour company. I didn’t want the ‘let’s get trashed every night till we vomit’ tour, or the other end of the spectrum, the’ ‘I’m so old I might die on this tour’ tour. I thought I’d picked the happy medium. As I walked around a corner onto the Royal Mile, I saw our mini bus parked on the street, a large dent and angry grey marks slashed across the front bumper bar. Now, if I was someone who believes in signs… oh, I am… shit.

My bus was made up of a family of six from India, a Malaysian couple in their fifties, an Australian couple and their (I’m guessing) not-quite-all-there teenage daughter, three Germans in their twenties and me. Oh and James the driver/guide/historian/botanist/web-designer/soon to be ex-smoker – “Tomorrow tomorrow, I swear I’ll give up tomorrow”.

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This is Glencoe, site of the tragic massacre of the McDonald clan in 1692 after the Jacobite uprising. The eerie weather was the perfect backdrop for James’ tale of murder and betrayal.

The Indian men were lawyers, quite happy and chatty, but their wives and kids kept pretty much to themselves. Although one woman made her prescence known by belching her way around the Highlands. Every minute or so there’d come this enormous, chunky burp from her, then a second, then a third, just in case you put the first two down to exotic wildlife. None of her family batted an eyelid.

The Malaysian couple were lovely. The husband had studied engineering in Glasgow thirty years ago and was back on a small trip around Scotland, to show his wife around I guessed.

The Australians, yeah they were nice too. Everyone was ‘nice’. I of course recognised their accents straight away and a few sentences in I also guessed they were from Queensland.They were amazed at my deduction, but it’s not that hard for someone who spent a bit of time up north in her teens. You see, the dad spoke really slowly. Like. There. Was. A. Full. Stop. Between. Every. Word. And the mother had a habit of repeating everything, but with a slight edit on the second sentence, also a very Australian trait. She’d be like “So how long have you been here? Have you been here long?” and “I guess you’ve been to heaps of castles. Have you seen lots of castles?” By the end of the trip, to my horror, whenever I spoke to her I realised I was doing it too.

On the first day, whenever we stopped for a photo-op (or as I deduced – James’ cleverly disguised smoke breaks) their daughter would steal off by herself and then… well… all I can say here is ‘act like a horse’. She’d flick back her head as if she had a mane of hair to swish, lift one leg slightly and stamp the ground and then launch into a short canter across the countryside before coming to a stop and then looking at me like she’d done nothing weird. Maybe I should have offered her my apple. Continue reading

Like a Business Trip Virgin – Expensed for the Very First Time

This is Zurich. To find out why you’re looking at a picture of Zurich, you’ll have to keep reading.

I realised this morning I have nothing left to stress about. What on earth am I going to do now? I can’t remember how one acts when one is sane and composed and dare I say… happy?? Well, I’m sure I’ll muddle through. Life’s bound to go pear shaped sooner or later.

So September’s come and gone. That happened. I passed my Life in the UK test, I went to Italy to check out real estate, I survived going to London to (attempt to) take photos for a friend’s wedding and got back just in time to post off my UK residency papers. Stress, stress and more stressssssss. I also had two job interviews in there somewhere. One I didn’t get because I don’t have Edinburgh experience in answering a phone, writing down what the person tells me is broken and organising someone to repair it – but he thought I was terrific and if he had time to train me on answering the phone, writing down what the person says and organising the repair person, I would have been a shoe-in.

Oh hey, wait a minute, there is something to stress about – I’ll be unemployed again in three weeks. See, told you. Oh, that feels better.

Anyhoo, being stress free today reminded me of the time I went to Zurich for a week with work in 2011. If you’ve never been, and for me coming from London (where I lived then), the absolute calm of Zurich is friggin’ eerie. No, it’s pungent. It gets up your nose and makes you screw up your face and think “what the hell is that?”

On the plus side, my stomach miraculously behaved itself the entire week. Having to sit in a deathly quiet office with three senior managers is normally enough to have it perform an aria of gurgling and suspect eruptions, brought on just from the fear of that deathly quiet, never mind what I chose to put in my mouth that day. But to my utter amazement, not a peep. It was the first time I started to see a link between my gut, my head, and how much a city can affect your stress levels.

But anyhoo, I digress. Here’s a little ‘diary’ I wrote while there. I dug this out because I’m lazy, I mean busy, and I haven’t written anything on my poor blog for so long. Millions and bazillions of readers are bound to be wondering if I’m alive, or if I’ve discovered God and moved to the Amazon to spread his word to some unknown jungle tribe. Actually I did discover God and I am spreading his word – on Twitter.

Just for some background, the reason I was sent to Zurich was to gather space management statistics for a week, to help them configure the floor plan of a new office being built next door. In other words, I walked into every office and counted empty desks twice a day, then wrote the numbers down. Obviously such lowly grunt work was beyond the three senior managers whose office I wrote these figures down in, so the most cost effective solution was to fly someone from London to do it, put them up in the Marriott for a week and pay for their meals. That, by the way, is most certainly not a complaint.  Continue reading

Good Moaning from Italia

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Where this then? Well keep reading and you’ll find out, lazy bum.

Oh the irony. I used to think one of the great benefits of moving to the UK was its close proximity to Italy, a place I’m going to be spending a lot of time soon (the reason for which you can read about here). How bloody ironic it is then that today it’s taking me thriteen hours to get from Edinburgh to Bari? Far out, if I was leaving Melbourne (on a plane), in thirteen hours I could be in Singapore, or Hawaii or… deep in the Antarctic. Well, not in the Antarctic, that’d be difficult (unless I had a submarine), not to mention a tad cold and wet.

Four of the thirteen hours has me stuck in Stansted Airport. Ugghh. To kill time I’m currently (that was a pun, but you’ll have to wait a few sentences before you can groan at it) getting my jollies rebelling against decent, law-abiding society. And when I say ‘decent’ and ‘law abiding’, I mean English.

Somehow I broke through one of the airport’s mysterious 700 million rules, and not only am I at my gate three hours early – at Stansted they expect you to wait in a not so huge ‘holding pen’ with all the other 6 million travellers, until they tell you half an hour before your flight which gate to run to, and I do mean run – but I’m also plugged into a random socket (aaaaaand groan) I found behind some chairs. Being London, I expect to be told off at some point because geez, there must surely be some kind of Health and Safety rule I’m breaking. Plus, being Ryanair, I also expect to be charged for the unauthorised use of airport electricity.

When I’m bored of typing, I’ll switch to being bored by people watching. I’m always fascinated by the the ‘fashionista’s’ at airports, the ones who seem to think they’ll be stalked by paparazzi at some stage so they better make a huge effort (if that’s the right word) in the wardrobe department. Apart from mismatching, faux-designer crap, they’ve always got some stupid hat on, a real ‘look at me’ monstrosity that nobody would ever actually wear on the street. Or anywhere. Well, maybe Ibiza.  Continue reading

There’s Nothing Like Nature to Show You Your Limits

That’ll teach me…

After the relative success of a day walking up a hill in the Trossachs in July, I got a bit cocky. I was just trying to be ironic by calling it a hill in my other post, when it quite obviously – to me – was actually a bloody mountain. But according to some bizarre rating system in Scotland, Ben A’An is indeed just a hill, as is anything else under 600 meters high. Well 609, but I’m too lazy to type the exact measurements.

In Scotland, you haven’t really gone for a walk up a mountain until you’ve bagged yourself a Graham (600 to 760 meters). You can also, if you’re one of those annoyingly fit people, try for a Corbett (760 to 914) or a Munro (914 and above). And it’s quite the thing to do here apparently. Even the girl who I returned my hire car to the next day told me she’s done five Grahams. Two in one day. Yeah, goodonya. Nobody likes a show off.

So this was how I found Ben Venue. At 729 meters, there’s no denying it’s a Graham. So I put on my proper walking boots, grabbed the Hungarian and the Pom and set off again a couple weeks ago thinking it would be a cinch.

I’m going to spare you the endless moaning details, but let’s just say as far as mountain climbing goes, I’ve learnt my limits. I’m too old and pathetically unfit or this shit. Six hours, one blister and two bloodied pinky toes later (and weather so dangerously windy up the top we only stayed for about 30 seconds before retreating to lower ground) tells me that I’m not gonna be bagging no bloomin’ Munro any time soon.

Which is a pity, because bloody hell, even in challenging weather, it’s so damn beautiful up there. See for yourself. But please excuse the rain drops all over this shot. I haven’t figured out how to use a camera in gale force winds and rain whilst shielding the lens yet.

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Maybe a lens hood might be a good start?

 

Time stands still. Until it doesn’t

Time. You always either have too much or not enough. It always goes too slow or too fast. It makes you stress or it makes you bored. Worse still, it turns you into an old fart.

It’s like that one arsehole kid in school who thought it was funny to jump out from behind a corner and yell “BOO!” – usually when you had your hands full of something likely to stain when you’re drenched in it. That arsehole has been hiding round the dark corner of my life for a good long while now, waiting patiently to give me the biggest scare of my life. Well, second biggest. Sitting at the end of the Pirate Ship ride at the Moomba festival years ago was enough to make me think I was gonna die. That thing is deceptively scary.

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(image via http://www.iappsoft.com)

In 6 weeks I will have been in the UK for 5 years. That means it’s time to sort out my UK residency, hence the panic. In 2008, five years felt like an eternity. It’s always been something that I’ve relegated to the “oh yeah, I’ll deal with that one day” portion of my brain. Man I wish I could run that part of my brain like a computer, like an Outlook diary, so I’d get invitations and reminders and all sorts of blips and bleeps and handy pop-ups.

To avoid being shipped back to Melbourne, I first have to pass a “Life in the UK” test. Which means there’s a book to read.

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And facts to memorise. The reading’s fine I guess, it’s the memorising bit that hurts. Can any of you UK readers answer these…

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No, neither can I.

You know, there’s a page at the front of this book which says anyone who can read English at ESOL level 3 and above will have no difficulty. But for anyone who came to the UK a few years ago and has been learning English from scratch, it must be bloody hard. I mean, even I’ll struggle and I’m an Australian, someone who speaks a version of English, one that allows me to kind of understand most of what the Scots are saying to me if I ask them to repeat it a few times. Continue reading