Friday, March 30, 2007

Mondays off

For a long time now I haven't worked on Mondays. This term I finally disciplined myself into the routine of finishing lesson preparation on other days and having Mondays completely work-free. Nice.

Last Monday I cycled to Cal's place and we strolled over to Ridley Road Market. It was my first visit and I loved it. Much better than battling crowds of trendy people at Borough Market. And the prices! We bought 9 huge mangoes for £2. We weren't after any bushmeat but apparently a whole smoked monkey is just £350.

It seems my days of leisure are over, however. Yesterday my boss at my favourite job asked me to teach an extra three classes next term. I can't wait. It's been ages since I worked under any real pressure and I know that's how I work best.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pomelo II

One of my colleagues, an older lady, made an excited announcement in the staffroom at morning tea today:

'Guess what I bought yesterday! A pomelo!'.

Hooray! I influenced someone!

And she's not the only one. It's the last week of term and I got my students to do self assessments of their learning. To my surprise 'How have you used what you learnt?' prompted real answers like 'I used the spelling rules to spell words in my IT class' and 'I wrote a thank you letter to my work experience boss'. I'm a very easily pleased teacher.

Meanwhile, I have moved on from pomelo to a new food obsession. I have embarked on the gluten free baking journey with these lemon and poppyseed muffins, made with polenta. I've made three different versions so far and am still tweaking...

Monday, March 26, 2007


Considering how much I complain about the UK I feel obliged to mention that my new driving license (complete with evil stare) just arrived, exactly a week after I mailed off the application.

I went to meet the postman at the door (feeling friendly today) and he was holding a parcel for our neighbour (though he delivers their mail first). 'Do they have a guard dog?' he asked, 'I'm scared of dogs'.

This explains why we often get next door's mail. I think it's some kind of toy dog but I didn't say so. All he has to do is push it through the slot! Maybe he's worried about his fingers?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why I write?

Jason, DSD and KO were right to whinge about Sydney's Cityrail. My grandad emailed me this week to tell me about this article. A study commissioned by Cityrail (carried out by experts from HK) has found Cityrail to be the worst rail service in any major city in the world. I won't say what the rest of his email was about but if I don't mention George Bush, John Howard or Iraq for some time you will know why.

I'm so glad that my grandparents (in Sydney and the UK) have been my most dedicated blog readers. When I left Australia in 2003 I started blogging so that friends and family could keep up with my life. I didn't want to be as bad a communicator as I was when I did a gap year in Hong Kong in 98. I arrived back in Sydney to start uni in 99 and friends found it strange that I wasn't the same person they remembered.

Committing to a blog seemed a sensible way to get around my being such an unreliable communicator. I know it's not very personal but it at least allows the people who are interested in me to know what I'm up to. And the comments function means that blogging has the huge advantage of allowing multilogue (yes i did a masters in applied linguistics) rather than the usual 2 person dialogue you have by email.

It's now been over three years since I left Australia for Hong Kong and a year and a half since I left Hong Kong for London. I've left some very important people in both places and some of those have now scattered to various other countries. On top of that, I've changed more over the last few years than I did during that first gap year in Hong Kong.

Very few of my old friends are as committed to reading my blog as my grandparents are. I know that having a blog isn't an excuse to be lazy on email and the telephone. But is it arrogant to assume that people who care about me will read this?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


In the staffroom at school I am like the kid whose parents always pack weird stuff in his lunchbox.

My colleagues are all on perpetual diets and don't stray far from salad and sandwiches. I always take leftovers and heat them up in the microwave, stinking out the whole staffroom in the process.

Sometimes they ask what I'm eating. Other times they just steal furtive jealous glances. I feel kind of bad to eat so much in front of them but it's not as if I'm eating fast food or anything unhealthy.

Today I educated them in the delights of the delicious pomelo. They hadn't seen one before and there was some confusion with a Spanish colleague because pomelo is apparently Spanish for grapefruit.

Pomelos (or Chinese grapefruit) have sweeter flesh than grapefruit but the skin around each segment is thick and bitter. I was elated last week when I noticed that my local Tesco had started selling them.

As with most exotic fruits, there is a way to get at pomelos which makes you feel quite clever when correctly executed. I'm very proud of the skills I picked up living next to a wet market in Yau Ma Tei.

I also consider myself a pro with longans and other lychee type fruits (that 'longan catapulted across the table' incident at Vietnamese the other week was a freak accident not representative of my abilities).

And when you've done eating you still have this cool headgear...

Monday, March 19, 2007

My weekend

Weekends for me usually mean leaving the house twice at most. This last one, however, was uncharacteristically full. Three evenings out, work, dim sum, Kylie costume exhibition and holiday planning with Mogfa (Wales at Easter) kept me very busy.

Jeanie, the queen of organisation, was responsible for most of the activity. Friday night was her birthday party and Saturday night was a goodbye for her departing flatmate.

Bars aren't usually my thing (not until the smoking ban comes into force anyway) but as the photos on Jeanie's blog demonstrate, I managed to do a fairly good job of enjoying myself.

I continued on my embarrasing photo spree by going to have passport size ones taken today. I'll need to drive for Wales and since I've been in the UK more than a year, I'm supposed to exchange my Australian license for a British one.

I went to a little photo shop in Charing Cross Station and as the guy lifted the camera I realised how hard it is to look 'normal'. I was aiming for bored but the result looks much more like anger.

Armed with photos, passport and license I headed to the post office. Surrendering my old license was sad and I'm sure the new one won't be so pretty. The new one takes a lot longer too.

I had to send my Australian license to an address in Wales together with a form. Luckily the post office offered a 'Premium Checking Service' or I would have had to send my passport as well.

And what did this magnificent four pound service involve? A lady in the post office checked that the name in my passport was the same as in the form and then ticked this box (in duplicate for me and Wales).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dispose of my nose ring

I've waited two weeks before letting myself announce this - I've cried wolf in the past and this time I wanted to be sure.

I have officially renounced the underground.

I'm too young to be a grumpy old man and everything about the underground made me grumpy.
- carriages littered with free newspapers
- people consuming everything from Happy Meals to beer
- Starbucks cups left next to the handrail at the top of every escalator
- and the amount of money it costs to enjoy all of the above!

It was a recipe for mental illness. And that's not to mention the signal failures, planned works (every weekend), wind, children playing on the lines, snow, staff shortages and whatever else it was that caused sorry sights like this:

For the last two weeks I've restricted myself to overland train and tram to school and bus and foot to my other jobs. Fridays have been particularly awesome - I have been walking to the new job via the Grand Union Canal...

then walking to my other job for the afternoon before returning through Kensington Gardens...

and Hyde Park...

No more walking for me, however, because I now have a bike!

I've ridden it everywhere for the last three days and it's made me think I could learn to love London yet (except, possibly, when it's raining).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sustained effort

My job at the school has been going really well. To my relief, my students' attendance has improved greatly since I first started. Figures come out a couple of times a term comparing the attendance rates for each tutor's students and at first I was at the bottom of the chart!

Five of my students have been working on writing job application letters and CVs. Something must be going right because two of them have found part-time jobs since the start of the term, one in Pizza Hut and the other in Iceland (a supermarket with a lot of frozen stuff).

One student hasn't been able to make our sessions for the last month because of a timetable clash. He returned today and had written his own application letter, despite missing the lessons on how to write one. He had obviously sought inspiration from a range of sources.

My favourite line was 'I am enthusiastic and I can show potential for significant improvement with sustained effort'.

'Did you copy this from a school report?' I asked him.

'Yes' he laughed, 'is that not okay?'.

'Not quite'
I said, 'but it's a good try'.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Okay, I promise this is the last thing I will say about meat for a while. I just read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald which refers to this report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report found that livestock production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions - a bigger percentage than that resulting from transport. It is also a major cause of 'land degradation, air and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.'.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mogfa and the mouse

One day when Mogfa was still living on our sofa, a small intruder made his way into the house. He crept around in search of food but there was not a crumb to be found. 'What kind of place is this?' he asked himself, 'What do they expect me to eat? Dust? Actually there's not much of that either.'.

Mogfa had been feeling sick. She was so sick that she hadn't left the sofa all day. Out of the corner of a tired eye she saw something moving under the cabinet.

She startled. 'What was that?' she asked herself, 'Was that a mouse?'. Mogfa was terrified of mice.

The visitor froze. A little bead of sweat began to trickle down his forehead. This house was so neat that there was nowhere to hide.

He jumped behind the leg of the cabinet. 'Can she see me?' he wondered, 'She doesn't seem to be moving but she may be about to pounce. Oh dear!'.

Terrified as Mogfa was, she was very tired and soon drifted back off to a restless slumber.

But what did the mouse do next? And did anyone believe that Mogfa wasn't imagining things in her illness? And what was the mouse's name?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Scale it, Gut it, Eat it

Mentioning fish in my last post inspired me. I couldn't remember eating steamed fish since those late night trips to Ming Sing in Yau Ma Tei with Daisy and the gang.

After teaching the old men's class on Saturday morning I bought a whole one from a stand on Portobello Road. I then subjected the entire upper floor of the #7 bus to fish stink, all the way back to Tottenham Court Road.

Only back in my kitchen with the fish in my hands did I realise that it still had scales and guts intact. I tried to cast my mind back to childhood when mum (a biology teacher) made us bring a dead shark home from the beach and dissect it with the kitchen scissors.

My memory failed me. I could only remember how hard it was to cut and how much it stunk after we did. I asked my assistant with clean hands to google 'how to scale and gut a fish'. I don't know how people coped before the internet. I guess they had to think for themselves.

The process was time consuming but not difficult. And the effort made the end product very satisfying. I cooked chicken wings too because not everyone loves fish. And the gai laan is my most guilty pleasure - it's air freighted from China (evil food miles!) and outrageously expensive. It cost more than the fish and almost three times as much as the chicken wings. Possibly because of this, it's also incredibly delicious.

And sweet potato soup for dessert made it a very nice meal. Almost as good as Ming Sing. Daisy's mum wasn't there to drop the prized fish's cheek muscles in my bowl but I did think of her as I ate them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Kill it, Cook it, Eat it

I've been fascinated by this series of four programs on BBC3 which started on Monday night. Each instalment examines how a particular type of animal is raised, slaughtered, butchered and cooked - cows, lambs, pigs and chickens consecutively.

Over the past few years I've become much more conscious of my own meat consumption. My first move was to cut down. Later, when I moved to the UK, I started trying to make sure that any chicken or pork I cooked was free-range (and preferably organic). I don't bother so much about lamb or beef because they are not so intensively raised.

Lately I've been thinking of cutting back to just chicken and fish. I can see many good reasons for doing so: the environment, my health, animal rights and perhaps most importantly, the amount of resources that go into producing red meat in a world where many people don't have enough food to eat.

Since I'm now usually only eating my own cooking (because of being coeliac) it wouldn't be hard to do. I'm just wondering where this is going to stop. Am I on a slow path towards vegetarianism? Do I just enjoy denying myself stuff?

In the meantime I have an unanswered question. My local supermarket has an abundant supply of free-range organic chicken breast and thigh fillets but what happens to the rest? I want organic wings!

Monday, March 05, 2007

A guide to recognising my links

I've had a couple of questions lately about how I know the people I've linked to. They are a pretty diverse bunch but yes I do know all of them well.

Actually I'm quite proud of my links. They are cool people doing a range of things in various countries. So here's an explanation of my friends with blogs, starting with the people I've known longest:

Knuffy's Owner and I were at school together for twelve years. We didn't become good friends until year 9 when we discovered a shared love for Absolutely Fabulous that helped us through many double periods of maths. We even went to the year 10 formal together. She's spent the last few years in Germany and Shanghai but has recently moved back to Sydney and I'm hoping she has not given up on her blog!

I've known one half of the Sherwinators since I was in primary school and our families went to the same church. Paul married Lyndal in 2003 and my sister marries Paul's brother in September so we'll soon all be related. Instantly acquiring new relatives is a weird thing but in this case it's also a very good one. The Sherwinators are also in London but they are smart enough to live a little out of the city.

Some Say Pip is also an old church friend. I still remember our first encounter, squashed into the back seat of a car on the way to sunday school. I must have looked a bit intimidated because she asked if I was scared of girls' germs. Pip moved to Hong Kong to do volunteer work in 97 and KT and I followed her there in 98. We worked together with Cal and all lived in a village on Lantau Island. I love it that these three are now in different countries (Cambodia, HK, London) but still doing very cool work.

Dim Sum Dolly and I studied teaching together at UTS in Sydney. After that she returned to Singapore and while I was in Hong Kong we visited each other several times. She's very special because she's really the only friend that I've stayed in touch with from either of my universities. Best of all, she is soon moving to London. Hurrah!

White Silver and I worked together in Chungking Mansions during my second stint in Hong Kong from 2003-2005. He's possibly the funniest person that I know in both senses of the word. And I will be incredibly disappointed if he doesn't keep up his blog because his photo commentaries are priceless.

Iqbal, Jeanie and Jason are all friends that I've got to know in London. If I refer to them frequently in my posts it's because they are 90% of my London social life. If you want an alternate perspective on something that I've done (or better photos) just click on their blogs.

Well that's all but I'm keen to add more. If anyone I know has a blog that I don't know about, please tell me! And if you don't, consider starting one. I guarantee I will be a dedicated reader!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hibernation is over

It's spring...

...and suddently London is a nice place to live again.