30 November 2010

A strange hue to the morning.

Yesterday I woke up and opened my curtains before I put my glasses on, so the view was blurry, but more importantly: it was generally the wrong colour... it was too pale. Last time I got this eerie sensation, of the world being the wrong colour, we'd had a dust storm in Sydney. The light that fell into the window that morning was too pink.

Well, a dust storm is just not entirely possible here, so I fumbled around in what passes for a night stand in my new life here, shoved my specs onto my face and rushed back to the window:


Everyone in town was dead shocked. "It's too early for this!" they said. "Manchester doesn't even usually get snow," they said. Hushed tones mumbled horror stories of last year's winter, three weeks of cold, gray rain and snow and ice. That was, apparently, one of the worst winters MCR's had in a long while. I'm not worried yet, though. The city had a charm to it, under this dust of white powder, and there were whimsical flurries all day. And anyway, the day warmed up, the snow mostly melted away.

This morning, my window was even paler, and when I walked outside, there was more snow!

Even London got snow, and they're well-confused by it! They're promising an even colder winter this year, so I guess if I still love Manchester by April, then you'll know that this city is definitely worth something.

Speaking of dustings, Craig happily got rid of the ginger mousse-tache! Look how handsome!

It's been a long day, and I'm knackered, so that's all the posting I'll manage tonight. More soon!

27 November 2010

Only a few days left!

As much as I hate moustaches, especially on Craig, he is growing that monstrosity on his face for a good cause: raising money to aid in the fight against prostate cancer and male depression. His Pho-MO-voltaics team at UNSW have already raised $130, but there are still a few days left to contribute! If you haven't yet, please donate whatever you can at http://au.movember.com/mospace/938960/

26 November 2010

We go yonks back. But yonks back!

Apologies, dear readers, for allowing Boy Wonder to turn this blog into the Moustache Chronicles. I don't know what he's on about, I swear, I do not know what he's like.

I have, as some of you might have heard, been a little bit ill this past week. I caught, to quote my GP, a "nasty lower respiratory infection." And I completely lost my voice. I've never had this happen before, but it's been days now and my voice still isn't back properly. I've had more honey and lemon hot drink than I care to think about and I even –gasp– went to a doctor of Western medicine, and I am currently on a disgusting regime of antibiotics and painkillers. It's been years since I've been sick like this. Years.

Anyway, before I got sick, my dear, dear friend Emily came to town. I've known Emily since the 4th grade, Ms. Orton's target class, where we did "brainteasers" and wrote with battery-operated pens that wiggled as you wrote. We made a slideshow that year, about some twins: Polo and Solo. I think they saved a horse. Maybe the horse saved them. We don't remember much, which is unfortunate, because I reckon it had to be genius. It was the brainchild of me and Emily. Not in a gross, we had brain-sex and made a brain-baby way. We were only 9, for god's sake. Clean your mind, reader. Clean your mind.

Anyway, after high school, Emily went to Tulane, and I stayed in boring old GA. She moved around a lot and ended up living in Belfast, where she's been for five years now. Christ, remember when five years was how OLD you were? Then I was in Australia, and as the story goes, this is the first time, in nearly a decade, that we live close enough to each other to actually make a short visit.

And she did.

We hadn't seen each other in three years, since she last came home for a roadtrip. She barely recognized me, what with the hair and the way I dress these days. But once I showed her my passport and passed a rigorous on-the-spot quiz she insisted upon, she believed it was me, and we went on our merry way.

Here's how it went:

E: What are the names of the only twins we've ever created?
N: Solo and Polo (see above)

E: What is the nickname I sometimes call you?
N: Chandler

E: And why on earth would I do that?
N: Embarrassingly, we were both totally into "Friends" when we were in high school. I'm a bit sarcastic, so you called me Chandler.

E: Why didn't I get a "Friends"-style nickname?
N: You did. (looks down, sheepishly) You're Phoebe.

E: And why's that? Isn't she the loopy one? What the hell were you trying to say, anyway?
N: Um.

E: Yeah, allright. I believe you.
N: (smiles, looks away, hopes she's never actually hurt Emily's feelings)

Okay, well obviously, that whole quiz thing and the conversation didn't really happen. But, by using the exciting dialogue format, you learned something about me and Emily, and you won't be confused by the rest of the post, wherein I keep calling her Phoebe! You're welcome.

I met her at Piccadilly Gardens, and we quickly set off for the Northern Quarter. I showed her Affleck's Palace, which is basically just Little Five Points, all crushed into one building. That's a reference for the Atlantans. For Sydneysiders...picture all the shops in the Newtown, shoved into one building. Ah. Same but different. We did a lot on the first day, walking around the Northern Quarter, eating at the hip hip Soup Kitchen, where we found a picture for Emily's very own Boy Wonder, otherwise known as Tom. I've left this picture at its original resolution, so you can read all the bottle labels. Just click on the picture.

And we walked down Withy Grove, over to Chetham's Library. I knocked on the door, and my friend Fergus answered! He's a librarian at Chetham's, and he took us into the nooks and crannies where they keep the kettle and teacups, and he even made us some tea. He showed us around the library, pulling a book that once resided on Ben Johnson's shelf, and showing us engravings of old Manchester. He pulled down the books that Engels and Marx were meant to have read (one of which was, somehow hilariously, titled Political Arithmetik).

He was very kind, spent over an hour of his time with us, just dropped everything he had to do that day to show us around. Particularly nice, because I hadn't given him any warning whatsoever. Brilliant. Emily had never been to Manchester before, and on this first day, it was making a very nice impression.

We walked down Deansgate, too, toward the Rylands Library, but it was closed. Pheebs found a photo opportunity, nonetheless. She likes E's, for some reason. I don't know.

We ended the evening with some nice pints (ok, one pint each) at the Knott Bar, which is still my favourite pub in Manchester, and returned to my hall. We then spent the night talking and giggling like little girls at a slumber party. Unbelievable. This isn't the first time this has happened in my adult life, and I should, I suppose, be accustomed to it. Two straight girls in a room for the night will end up performing a slumber party. Nevertheless, it always surprises me when I look at the clock, giggling, and realise it's 5am. It was just like that week I spent in Mexico with Judith. Entire nights talking about boys and comic books and funny bits of TV shows.

The next day, it took us hours to leave the hall, and we went straight for a coffee at the Temple of Convenience, which is a former public toilet, turned into a bar. Dead empty that time of day, but still a cool thing to show her. She's getting ideas about Belfast, I could see the gears ticking in her brain.

I showed her the sights I thought she'd like, and she obliged me by walking anywhere I suggested for three days. On her last day, we both caught up with Ryan and walked to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford– that's where my mate Michael works (he's the one who introduced me to Fergus!). Michael also graciously gave us some coffee and cakes, and showed us around the amazing, outstanding library. They keep nearly everything having to do with working class people, protests, movements, strikes and history. They have placards from protests, they have every copy of the Daily Worker ever printed. They keep photographs, books, slides, magazines, zines, badges, patches, coffee mugs. Tea towels. If it has something to do with the working class movement, they'll catalogue it and keep it. Except websites. They don't do websites. Still they'll do almost anything else, and it made me think of that Richard Braughtigan story, wherein the character is a librarian that accepts anything. Someone leaves a piece of meat wrapped in cellophane, the guy catalogues it and puts it in the refrigerated section. It's like a Braughtigan library for the working class. It's beautiful, and makes me wonder why I hadn't figured out living in Manchester sooner.
Ryan took this one of us, and it's the only picture of the two of us we actually remembered to take this whole trip.

Certain Monikas and Henrys might notice that I am wearing the very boots they helped me purchase, that sunny day in Wellington.

The library itself is housed in an old nurses' home, so it's laid out with character-- something like 38 rooms in a Victorian-looking mansion. Since some student protests just took place in Manchester, Michael asked me to collect posters and stuff, so I suppose I will soon be able to say I've contributed to the library! Oh, exciting days, I tell you.

Phoebe and I were lucky enough that night to catch the Christmas "Switch On," wherein MCR makes a big bloody deal of the fact that it has Christmas lights on the streets. Now, I love Christmas lights as much as anyone, and when lights in the shapes of bells and gift boxes arch and glitter over a street, I go a little melty, just like you. But having the winner from last year's X factor get on an outdoor stage singing "My Favourite Things" hardly puts one in the holiday spirit, does it? Does it? Having the casts of We Will Rock You and Coronation Street (or as Mancs lovingly call it: Corrie) get onto said stage and poorly sing a medley of Queen's greatest is not my idea of "festive."

But the fireworks they shot off the top of Town Hall definitely were festive. Pheebs and I were so close, ash fell on our heads. Fireworks over a clock tower. Just to celebrate the fact that they switched on the Christmas street lights. It must have cost thousands. This town has its priorities straight, my friends. Straight like a circle. Still, it was beautiful. I felt like I'd managed to show her some of the best of my new town, its weird gravestones and vegetarian co-ops, its old libraries and strange cavernous spaces. I think she liked it. I know she did. And I really liked having her here. Somehow, she brought a little bit of Atlanta, that Atlanta from when I was a kid, here to Manchester. And as we walked around this city, arm in arm, hugging each other and laughing, I realised it had really been three years since we'd seen each other, three years of just email and short, expensive, international phone calls, with one of my very best friends. I realised how much I had missed her.

On Saturday morning, at 5am, I put Pheobe in a taxi on her way back home again. And as soon as that taxi drove out of sight, I started missing her again. I stumbled up to my room, all misty and sad, and went back to sleep.

Woke up thinking, "I can't wait to visit Belfast."

take that, moustache!

22 November 2010

Eight o' Clock and All's Mo

Hi everyone, back for a quick update on the Movember progress. Hope you're wearing your safety goggles!

Like an eight-month old baby, the Mo has started to take on some personality. But I think my baby's going to grow up to be a serial killer.

Hope you are all doing very well, my friends. Back for more soon!

15 November 2010

Mountains of Mo's

Hello all, as promised, I'm back to give you the Week 2 Movember update! Here we go:

Hah! Just kidding. That was the culmination of probably five months of growth in March '09. Here's where we really are this fine day:

Yes, I know: the progress since last week has been remarkable. What can I say? Good genes.

Well, massive growth or not on a personal level, the Team is doing fantastically. Our Italian and Mexican members are truly the vanguard, even though there may be an illegal Vandyck in progress. To make up for my shabby soupstrainer, I expressed myself in cupcake form last week:

I sold a dozen of these suckers for at least $2 a piece. YOU do the math.

No, seriously, my calculator broke.

Moving on:
There is a storied tradition of great personalities of the physical sciences taking nature walks to muse about the infinite mysteries of the universe, and Sunday was no exception. The weather was beautiful and the out-of-doors was simply begging to have its hair mussed. Coincidentally, Dolf and I also went on a nature walk on Sunday. We were hoping to spot some of the aforementioned rare beasts, but we just saw other normals.

Dolf is a visiting researcher from Amsterdam and an all-around great guy, who's working on a similar project as me back at the Van Der Waals-Zeeman Institute (well lah dee dah). Dolf is a real-deal physicist (compared to yours truly, who somehow snuck his way into a Physics lab) and has been wonderful to talk to about the project and life in general. He's the only guy I know who can keep up with me on Long Blacks and is also the Movember team's token Dutch member, as required by Australian law.

Dolf has been here since September but hadn't been to the Blue Mountains yet, and we'd been rained out of a plan to go walking two weekends ago. Despite the promise of high temperatures, we headed out of Sydney early on Sunday, myself loaded up as usual with too much food for a mere 4-hour walk.

As usual, the rail system was under track work, which means that you have to take buses out to Blacktown to get any trains to the west. After waiting at the wrong bus stop for ages (thanks, 131500.com.au) and riding on the RailBus for 45 minutes, Dolf was understandably impatient and giddy about finally seeing Blacktown after hearing how great it is, and he insisted that we take the standard tourist photo:

Finally I convinced him to get on the train and after another 1.5 hours we were in Wentworth Falls, site of a rather highly-regarded walking track. The track heads out of town and down into the rainforest of the Jamison Valley, and passes several lovely falls, streams, and cliffs. It was definitely a warm day without much wind, and Dolf and I were soon soaked in sweat and not smelling too hot. But it didn't keep us from posing heroically---

---or appreciating the scenery.

Midway we stopped for a feast to lighten the load on my back and to replace the nutrients and crucial alcohols that we'd already burned through and sweated out:

I might add at the risk of sounding triumphalist that Dolf was impressed by my picnicking style: he said "Most people wouldn't bring beer, just...*shudder*...a bottle of water."

I told you he's a great guy.

The mountains were as beautiful and lush as I'd ever seen them, with waterfalls running like they definitely weren't when Nija and I first went two years ago at this time.

Anyway, we knocked out the 8.7km in 3.5 hours instead of 4.5, and unsatisfied with the effort involved to that point we headed for Katoomba, where we visited the Three Sisters and climbed halfway down---and back up---the Giant Stairway:

With the heat coming and going as it was, after the climb back up Dolf and I decided we'd had enough, given the walk back to town that was ahead of us. So we trudged back up toward Katoomba, enjoyed another beer, and then dinner and coffee at Common Ground. Dolf was again impressed with what I think is the neatest restaurant ever, but I had insisted that he be impressed, and you know those Amsterdamers love to please.

So we scurried back up Katoomba Street to get our train and run the gauntlet again, completely satisfied with a Sunday well spent.

Mountains conquered? Tick!




(thanks to D. Timmerman for fine photos)

08 November 2010

The Multiple Moods of Movember

It's that time again: the wild Sydney weather is kicking (large hailstones in the west today), the school terms are ending for the summer, people are thinking about what they'll be barbecuing this Christmas, and gentlemen all over town are sporting disgusting new growth on their upper lips. That's right, it's Movember!

"Movember" plays on the Australian slang for "mustache" (or, I suppose, "moustache"), which is "mo". The incongruity of this term with the American "stache" or the British "tache" seems to present a challenge from the get-go, but otherwise Movember is doing well, spreading around the globe. This pleasant portmanteau refers to a month-long celebration of all things mo-related, with the do-goodery purpose of raising funds and awareness of men's health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer and male depression. Most people who participate do it like a fun run: sponsor a stache, if you will. It's been a huge hit largely because it gives guys an excuse to live vicariously and grow a sleazy little mustache from scratch, and then cavort about town.

The past two years I've already had a beard and didn't feel like getting rid of it. This year, though, clean-faced, I'm giving it a go with guys from the office. We put up a "before" poster in the kitchen asking people for donations, there will be bake sales, and we've jacked up the price of Friday afternoon beer $1 to raise funds too. I think we'll do alright by the end of the month.

Anyway, here's the first of the weekly reports. The mo is in a truly revolting phase at the moment, but you be the judge. You'll see here that, like the great Actor I am, I have used my proto-mustache to inhabit three characters.

First, the friendly young shopkeep who turns out to be the murderer in the 30's mystery:

Second, the snooty French maitre d', probably in the same 30's mystery:

Third, the...well...the Boo Radley?

In that last one I was actually aiming to make the front cover of derp.com. Win!

Keep it locked to TEAET for all yer Movember updates!

07 November 2010

B for Bonfire!

Those of you who have seen V for Vendetta, without knowing any of the history behind Guy Fawkes, will no doubt have a very confused idea of why the British celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night.

I know this, because I had a very confused idea myself.

Guy Fawkes, it turns out, was actually a crazy Catholic nutjob who wanted to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England and VI of Scotland. To this end, they tried to blow up Parliament by renting a room underneath it (what kind of security was there back in 1605 anyway??) and filling it with barrels of gunpowder, but he was caught on 4th November, before he could actually set it on fire.

He confessed and after torture, revealed his partners-in-crime, and was sentenced to yet more torture and then death. He jumped from the gallows to kill himself before the state could begin its punishment, which would have been pretty awful. Then an Act of Parliament determined every 5th of November would be celebrated as a day of deliverance, when the King escaped the attack.

Citizens were encouraged to light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. But since it's called Guy Fawkes Night, even a lot of Brits are under the mistaken impression that it's a celebration of Guy Fawkes, not of his death.

Needless to say, I wasn't about to miss my first opportunity for a Bonfire Night. Since this year November 5th also happened to coincide with Diwali, I was feeling doubly in the mood for some fireworks.

Bonfire Night was held on Friday at Plattfields Park (remember that, Craig?), and the strangest thing to me was seeing fireworks and it wasn't
1) the Western New Year, or
2) Patriotic.
And I realised I've mostly only seen fireworks shows on January 1st and July 4th.

But it seems this night could have easily been patriotic; they could have played "God Save the Queen" or something, just for the historical value of celebrating the fact that a British monarch was, in fact, saved back in 1605. But they didn't. They played songs like "I'm a Firestarter," instead. Brilliant.

After the fireworks show, someone boring got up and read a poem about how Plattfields Park is the best park in the world (it isn't), and then he got his mates to play a song about how great Plattfields Park is (it's only a little great), and then finally, they lit the bonfire-- with fireworks!

Just try telling me that doesn't look crazy.

Soon after this, we made our way toward the fun fair, in search of food, but there were about 20 billion people in the park that night, so we decided we could more easily and quickly get food elsewhere. A successful Bonfire night overall: though it was cold and muddy from rain earlier in the day, it didn't rain during the fireworks show, and the bonfire raged into the night. It was so bright, I couldn't get a decent picture of it!

Opal Gardens, my residence hall, held our own Bonfire Night on Saturday. We had a barbecue with free food and music outdoors-- good fun. Cold, very cold, but again no rain, so people came out and partied for awhile.

But now it's Sunday, and I'm afraid the joy has worn off a bit. People are still shooting off fireworks. The random, staccato explosions are starting to wear my nerves down, and I'm feeling edgy. It's enough to make a girl want to rent a room underneath a very large building. After all, it's probably very quiet, right?

01 November 2010

A Thank You Card

I'm on the Residents' Association at my hall, which is called Opal Gardens. It's a great hall, with a common room and friendly security guards and really great people. It's mostly postgrad, so we don't get too much craziness going on. Just enough.

Last night, the RA organised a Halloween party. A little get-dressed-up and come-to-the-common-room sort of do. I volunteered to help out behind the bar on the night, since I hadn't been able to help plan the party. My program is a little intense.

But the people who did plan the party did an amazing job. They decorated, they advertised, they bought food and all kinds of fun stuff. They got a DJ, a really good one, who lives in Opal anyway to do the music. Excellent stuff, all Thriller and Billy Jean and Ghostbusters.

The common room looked amazing!

And the turnout was fabulous. Loads of people came out.

On the right below, my flatmate Despoina (pronounced DHES-pin-ah). And her friend Fani is on the left, though I reckon Fani might be my friend, too. They're both Greek–in fact, there are so many Greeks at Opal Gardens, Craig said we should rename it "Opa! Gardens." The Greeks seem to like that joke. They were both Gothic vampires. Despoina has been a lovely flatmate, all around. I could not have gotten luckier.

My friend John clearly put lots of time and effort into his costume. Well, but I can't judge, really– I couldn't be bothered to do more than put on a cute dress.

This is Ryan, my walking tour and general other stuff friend I've mentioned before. He doesn't actually seem to have a Superman complex. Or I don't think he does. But together, I think we are kind of geniuses. Both of us drink soymilk, and we both noticed that we don't drink the litre quickly enough to finish before it goes bad-- so we started a very small-scale soymilk co-op. The two of us buy soymilk in the bulk quantity of 1 L together, and then we split it in half for the week. Brilliant.

Shortly after taking this picture, the folks at the bar said they needed my help to serve customers. So I ran over to the bar, only to find Keshav standing with his hands in his pockets and no customers waiting.

And then I hear the singing behind me. I turn around.

And Despoina walks in with a chocolate cake and burning candles. The whole common room was looking at me and singing, so I almost withered and went invisible from embarrassment, but I was also extremely touched. Apparently, a lot of folks were in on the plan, and sweetly made sure it was a total surprise. Super kind, especially considering I hadn't been much help setting the party up.

But it was a great party anyway. As we were cleaning up afterward, we noticed someone had managed to lose a piece of the ping-pong table, so Josh, our RA chairman, improvised with a spoon. I'm considering putting this up on the There, I Fixed It blog.

This is the first time I've spent a birthday away from Craig in at least 8 years. During the day, I was studying and feeling a little sad that he wouldn't be around for my big 29-- that none of my long-time friends and family would. But the kindness and thoughtfulness of everyone here at Opal last night took away some of that sadness. It was a heart-warming experience. And as I was falling asleep after such a lovely evening, I thought that moments like these make me feel like a very lucky wanderer.

To have landed safely once again, sight unseen, in a place where I knew no one, and find that here, too, people are generous beyond what I might dared have hoped. Yes, very lucky, indeed.

Not least because I got to have chocolate cake for breakfast this morning. Thanks Opal Gardens people. You're wonderful.