Sunday, August 13, 2006

Food & Drink I Miss

Food & drink I miss about Ireland

Decent sausages
Decent brown bread
Smoked cod from the chipper
Tayto and King crisps
Corned beef
Red lemonade
Irish cheddar cheese
Decent apple tart (preferably made by my mother)
Decent fruit scones
Bernard’s meatballs and spaghetti

Food & drink I miss about England

Egg mayonnaise ready-made from the supermarket
Kettle Chips sea salt and back pepper
Walkers roast chicken or prawn cocktail crisps
Diet ginger beer
Diet ANYTHING (it’s not that easy to find unless it’s Diet Coke)
Moet & Chandon champagne at UK prices
Diet tonic water for my gin!
Proper toasted bacon sandwich from a proper London caff
Decent hummus from the supermarket (with the number of Greeks here wouldn’t you think it would be everywhere?)
Spotted dick and custard
Clotted cream
Real Cornish pasties
Suzanne’s mushrooms on toast

Food & drink I miss about Europe

BANANAS (when we get them here we don’t have to worry about Fair Trade bananas – they are all Aussie-grown – but at $15 a kilo I don’t think so)
Kit Kats (haven’t had one here but Orlando says they are not the same chocolate as European ones)
Spanish manchego cheese (you can get it here but it is more expensive than bananas)
Spanish Vina Albali or Pata Negra red wine

Australian food & drink I Love!

Cherry Ripe chocolate bars
Fat-free semi-sundried tomatoes
Shark from the chip shop
Red Rock Deli lime & black pepper crisps
Fresh healthy food for lunch anywhere (I work in the equivalent of Blanchardstown or Watford and can get gluten-free fat-free dairy-free anything at my local caff)
Proper fruit toast (the one with more fruit than bread)
Lemon lime and bitters
Decaf coffee and soy milk EVERYWHERE!
All the Australian wine they keep for themselves and don’t export

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blogging by Mail

I came across something really interesting on another blog today. is a great food blog by a woman in Dublin. Following her link to, I have signed up for Blogging by Mail.

Here's the idea:

Food bloggers from all over the world swap treats and baked good, recipes and more, sending care packages to new friends. Cookies, breads, preserves, condiments, teas and coffees, music, cookbooks, photos...anything you want.

Everyone who joins is paired up with a swap partner to whom they'll send a package.

I'm in... are you?

I'll keep you posted on the outcome!

Culture Shock Update


The equivalent Aussie terminology for "like O'Connell Street/Piccadilly" is "as busy as Bourke Street Mall". Of course, as soon as Aly and Mena pointed this out to me, I remembered it.

Another great phrase I heard in a meeting today (I had to stop the meeting to ask the context!) was "get a guernsey". The bloke was talking about something being put onto an "urgent" list by a government department, and said we wouldn't know until later in the month whether it got a guernsey.

What the...?

Apparently, it comes from getting a place on the footy team, i.e. you are definitely on the team so they give you the guernsey (jersey/shirt) but you still don't know if you will get to play in the game.

Love it.

Car Maintenance

Another thing I have noticed is the water in the car for washing the windscreen. Back in Ireland or England you have to remember to top up the washer water fairly frequently, especially in winter. There is nothing worse than driving through winter rain in bad traffic with mud flying everywhere, and running out of water for the washer.

We have been here almost exactly nine months, and bought a car two weeks after we arrived. I have not topped up the washer water once. The car was serviced one time and maybe the man topped it up then, but one would expect the reservoir to empty a lot more than that. It just doesn't really rain a lot here, and when it does, it doesn't seem to turn into a mudbath.

I mean, I haven't washed the (white) car all winter and I reckon it will be a month or two before it really needs cleaning.


Broadband internet here is less than 10% the speed of Europe. It's almost quaint waiting for pages to load. That means for every minute it takes you in the UK or Ireland to download something, it takes almost two hours here. Perhaps not so quaint.
Think of me here trying to update these very pages...

Sunday, August 06, 2006


They say Pellegrini's has had one paint job in over fifty years, and it left the place looking exactly the same. I wandered in there one cold Monday night, walking the length of its 1950s bar to the cosy kitchen at the back. The red leather barstools are comfortable enough for a weekday lunchtime or an afternoon macchiato and slice of apple strudel, but the dark evenings make the big communal kitchen table beckon.

There is no menu as such; an old wood veneer menu hangs from the ceiling above the bar. It lists a handful of dishes but there are no prices. Over time you get to know the daily specials - spinach and ricotta cannelloni makes a guest appearance on Tuesdays and gnocchi cameos on Fridays. The waiters charge you whatever they like, but it is always great value.

I sat with a man and his young son to one side of me, and the owner himself on the other, trademark silk kerchief at his neck, apparently being interviewed for an article. The young boy chatted comfortably to the woman at the cooker about his recently deceased pet rabbit, while she cooked him his “usual” and taught him a few more words of Italian.

The cooker was simmering with pots of bolognese and napoli sauces whilst the oven opened briefly to display an enormous lasagne. The cook lady turned out plates of pasta ordered in shouted Italian from the bar beyond, whilst seeming to talk away to herself in between times (in Italian too, so I couldn’t eavesdrop).

My plate of steaming ravioli bolognese came with two freshly buttered doorsteps of bread and a cold glass of water. No alcohol here in Pellegrini’s, but the food is good enough to entice me to eat even without a glass of red in my hand. When asked, the lady happily heaped lots more parmesan onto my already loaded plate from her bowl by the cooker.

I ate slowly, taking in the surroundings. An ancient poster of the Chianti region and an old advertisement for Besana pannetonni adorned the walls, darkened by years of grease and heat. Beyond a hatch in the wall the bar was half-full of diners but it felt sleepier than daylight hours. The oak table was about eight inches thick, and the stools about an inch too low for it. The forks were bent and the white crockery dull and chipped in places, but my supper was sublime.

Later, as I sipped my long macchiato, the cook lady silently left her position at the cooker and came back with a saucer of home-made biscuits for me. I dunked them in my sweet coffee, feeling even more at home. They didn’t charge me for them.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


After almost six months of stretching my workdays out at times, things just got interesting. I've been co-opted onto a suite of projects for the Victorian Air Ambulance wing which we also manage. My contract has been extended for a year, and I shall henceforth by known as Project Manager - Major Projects (there's posh). So I've experienced a few weeks of 10-hour days and frantic deadlines, plus got to work with a few great new people. It's all good.

Orlando meanwhile spends most of his time interstate, leaving me alone in a huge bed at night listening to our wooden house rattling and creaking. I am pretty used to it now but it's weird to be separated so much. We will take the opportunity of his full three weeks in Brisbane in August, and I will fly up to join him for the weekend.

We had a night at the opera last weekend: Don Giovanni in the wonderfully old-fashioned venerable Athenaeum Theatre in the city. There was everything from tuxedos and cocktail dresses to people in tracksuit bottoms, but the interval sparkling wine was chilled and you could take your drink back to your seat. Marvellous.

Meanwhile most of you will know by now that the flights are booked and I shall be back in the northern hemisphere in October. I am looking forward to a couple of weeks with the family, my mum's 80th birthday, and a couple of days catching up with the London crowd. Then it's off to the Whitsundays, Australia's answer to the Greek Islands: an archipelago of white-sand beaches in the tropics off Queensland, right beside the Great Barrier Reef. The plan is to celebrate my 40th birthday with some scuba diving and magnificent sunsets. What's not to like?

Culture Shock

Most people here think that moving to Aus is not such a big change to living in the UK. But, as I explained to my friend Aly the other night, in some ways moving to Australia is more of a culture shock than visiting India or China. Just because The Bill and Neighbours are on TV, the food looks the same and everybody speaks English, many aspects of ordinary life are completely new or sometimes completely impenetrable to foreigners. Here are some examples of what I mean.


Yes, the food is similar. We have fish’n’ chips, meat pies and pasties, takeaway pizza, sausages on the barbie. So far, nothing spectacularly different. But on top of that there are so many new things. Melbourne is a gastronome’s paradise: there is even a permanent newspaper segment called Epicure dedicated to all things gourmet.

There is an infinite number of places to have breakfast in Melbourne, even out in the suburbs. Whilst now and again we miss the honest fare of a good London-Greek caff or a full Irish breakfast (aah, how I miss Irish sausages and decent brown bread), even close to work I can sample divine French toast, fruit-laden raisin breads, omelettes, eggs benedict, home-made muesli, porridge with banana, and of course good coffee.

Melburnians take their coffee extremely seriously. Not for them a Starbucks at every corner: the local cafes and even train stations serve the very best espressos, macchiatos and café lattes. Starbucks is here, but tolerated rather than revered.

Good delis and markets are never far away. Footscray Market is our local, dominated by Vietnamese and Chinese food but boasting the very best fishmongers and butchers not to mention fresh fruit and vegetables. It is mentioned in Rick Stein’s “Food Heroes” book as an excellent source of fresh produce. Victoria, Prahran and South Melbourne Markets are just as good, with famous dim sims at one (larger versions of Chinese dumplings) and a great organic produce section at another.

Melbourne also has a burgeoning Slow Food culture too. The state of Victoria alone has five Slow Food convivia, and coming up soon is A Taste of Slow, two full weeks of quality food and wine, with a focus on seasonal, regional and traditional foods and boutique wineries.


We live surrounded by vineyards. It is heaven to live in a country where wine is a locally-produced item. Nowadays, even buying a South Australian wine seems pointless when there are so many Victorian wineries I haven’t tried yet. My personal favourite is Candlebark Hill up in the Grampians, in Hanging Rock country (about an hour’s drive from here). But the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula are no more than an hour’s drive from home, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of these regions or Geographic Indications, the Australian version of “appellations controllĂ©es”.

Grape varieties I have never heard of are enthusiasically embraced by boutique wineries. Petit Verdot, Arneis and are wines I could select by the glassthe other night in a small wine bar. Even grape clones are heralded as varieties in their own right: for example the MV6 pinot noir clone so beloved of the Hurley vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula. However I don’t think I will ever be able to bring myself to order a glass of “cab sav”, preferring to give cabernet sauvingnon its full title always, despite not being understood by many waiters.

All in all, food and wine here in Australia is so different in many aspects as to be a completely new experience. I cannot think of one way in which our lives have not been enriched by this aspect of Australian life.


No matter what traffic jams we experience here, nothing is as bad as Dublin on a bad day or London on any day. Dreadful traffic here constitutes a ten minute delay. Anything worse is headline news on TV that night. Most of the time at weekends we don’t even bother switching on the car stereo as we are hardly in the car long enough on any journey to bother.

Australians do love their cars, though. I admitted the other day to not having washed our car for over four months: I was confronted with a wall of incomprehension by colleagues who religiously valet their cars every weekend, usually driving to the local car wash where they pay to have somebody else do it while they have a real coffee while they wait (see Food and Wine above).

Personalised number plates are ubiquitous. People of every age soup up their normal suburban hatchbacks and saloons: under-car purple neon lighting, blacked-out windows, huge decals, “sports” exhausts (meaning specially designed to be noisy) adorn the vehicles of forty-comething blokes who should know better. There is no age limit to burning people off at traffic lights or doing spectacular U-turns on dual carriageways. It is a nation of boy racers (and that’s only the shielas).


The old adage about England and America being two countries divided by a common laguage could also be said about England and Australia. Yes, they speak English here, and mostly it is understandable, especially when you get used to the so-called “high-rise terminals” – the ubquitous interrogative tone that make every Australian sentence sound like a question?

People really do use G’day as a greeting, and the phrase “fair dinkum” is commonly used, even by politicians in speeches. But it takes a while to understand words such as sook ( a softy or sulk), rapt (delighted), bogan (somebody who is perceived as being an unfashionable "lower-class" person, typically of British Isles ancestry and living in deprived urban areas), and shonky (dubious, underhanded).

Once you have figured out that shortening any word and ending it with an “o” will make you sound like a local, you’ve made it:

Ambo paramedic
Arvo afternoon
Servo petrol station
Reffo refugee
Rego vehicle registration
Milko milkman

One also has to learn where Woop Woop or the Back of Bourke is (very far away), how to handle a stickybeak (tell them to mind their own business) and find the alternative local phrase to”It’s like Piccadilly/O’Connell Street” when trying to emphasise how busy somewhere is (still looking for that one). One of my favourite alternative local metaphors – the same as a few sandwiches short of a picnic – is “kangaroos loose in the top paddocks”.

On the other hand, if you use a phrase familiar in England or Ireland like “starter for ten” or “I amn’t” or “it was great crack” you are also likely to get mystified looks as if one was speaking a foreign language (which of course one is).


It’s Melbourne. Seventy percent of all clothing is black. Get used to it.

Sick Leave

Being well used to EU regulations it never dawned on me that you would have to earn your sick leave. Over here you accumulate sick days at a rate of around one day per month worked. Down side is that many people use them like an extension of their annual leave.

TV and Celebrities

Celebrity TV shows and gossip magazines are totally lost on me. We have no idea who these people are. There are famous people doing TV and billboard ads for stuff like All Bran and Nurofen but we didn’t realise they were famous people – we thought they were just actors. There is a “Fifty Years of TV” exhibition on in the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Everybody is talking about it. It might be nostalgia to Australians, but it is impenetrable to us.

We don’t know who the famous people in Torvill & Dean’s Dancing on Ice are (is that a show in the UK too???). Celebrity Big Brother will no doubt also be lost on us. We have no idea who the ex-Big Brother housemates are (although a friend of the family is going out with one).

Popular Music

We have not found any radio station we can listen to on a regular basis as we recognise about 20% of the music (and that’s stuff we would switch off anyway). Spicks and Specks is the Aussie version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks: because we don’t recognise either the famous contestants or the songs they are being quizzed on.

We were in the city on New Year’s Eve and the big midnight fireworks display was accompanied by what sounded to us like random anonymous heavy rock music. We were baffled until somebody told us much later that it had actually been a medley of some of the most famous and best-loved Australian hit songs of recent years.


Everything in the country is trying to kill you. Crocodiles, jellyfish, man-eating sharks, baby-eating dingoes, not to mention the six species of stinging tree, five of the world’s seven most deadly snakes and the nine most poisonous spiders in the world.

Spiders come as big as you like. I have discovered that the three most frightening words in the English language are as follows:

Bird Eating Spider

A friend of ours once saw one. He mistook it for a crab. The female of the species can grow to about 60mm (2.5 inches), and that’s just the diameter of its body.

Funny enough, the smaller the spider, the more deadly it is. Mena tells me that Huntsman spiders (typically 2 inches in diameter) are not really scary as they are more like small furry creatures than spiders. Apparently, it is the tiny redback under the toilet seat I should be more worried about. Now, why did she think any of that would comfort me?