Sunday, April 29, 2007

A very English ANZAC Day

One of the advantages of having a boss who is a rabid monarchist (his exact words: "I would rather die than see Australia become a republic") is that he is more than happy to let you take two hours off in the middle of a working day to attend the ANZAC Day service at Westminster Abbey. So I did.

On arriving I was pretty impressed by the way we Australian and Kiwi ex pats had successfully managed to ensure that the street on which all the most important and fancy buildings seemed to lie (Whitehall) had been closed for the occasion. There had also been a parade and wreath laying ceremony earlier in the day. But perhaps not so surprising given that there are (what feels like) 100 million of us over here.

The turnout I think was mostly Aussies and Kiwis who lived in London, a smattering of tourists and what seemed like a large amount of military personnel from various countries. The Australian and New Zealander High Commissioners were in attendance, as well as someone who I think was high up in the Turkish embassy and the Lord Mayor of Westminster. Disappointingly, no Royal was present (as my boss had lead me to believe). I guess our war dead were not considered important enough for a member of the Royal family to take some time out from their collectively busy schedules of ribbon cutting, playing army games and taking high tea.

Below is a photo of the inside of Westminster Abbey, though its a bit wonky because I had to take it on the sly, as it's a bit inappropriate to be taking photos at a memorial service, and I was getting dirty looks from the girl next to me who was taking it all terribly seriously. But the photo can't really to the Abbey justice, as it is just incredible and I spent the whole service getting slightly distracted by the aesthetics of the place. It was designed to make you go 'wow' in awe and given that it was designed a thousand years ago and still has that effect, I think mission accomplished.

The service itself included all of the usual things but with some extra bells and whistles, including trumpets, the loudest and grandest sounding organ in the world, and an incredible church choir. I'm not a big hymn person but listening to all the hymns (you know, the ones you remember from school) being sung by the Westminster Abbey choir was amazing and added to the general feeling of holiness of the place. It almost made me feel religious, and that's saying a lot.

Interestingly, the service commenced with a rousing version of God Save the Queen, complete with afore mentioned trumpets and organ doing a very long winded intro. I couldn't help but wonder why things were starting this way - I certainly don't think an Australian ANZAC service would commence with the British national anthem. It did make me feel rather colonial - as if to remind us that Britain was the main player in the whole shebang and New Zealand and Australia only had bit parts, though I doubt it was intended that way.

There was a long address by an Australian military chaplain reflecting on the impact that the ANZAC's have had on our national identity, being the first bloody battle we ever fought as a nation. He also included a touch of the political, making reference to the 'two Gulf wars' and how Australia would continue to work with the UN to achieve peace around the world. Hmmm.

And, following that, never missing out on an opportunity to play on people's consciences and make a quick buck, the ushers managed seize the moment to pass around the collection tin. My cynicism towards religion was quickly restored.

By the way, the Australian and New Zealand anthems were sung at the end. Very Serious Girl knew the words to both off by heart, including God Defend New Zealand in Maori.

All in all, a very worthwhile experience that reminded me that I really am an Aussie, but also how we are inextricably, like it or not, tied by our history to the UK. It is not something I'd ever really associated ANZAC Day with, so it was an interesting feeling.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Putting the 'ass' in class

(Just in case you didn't know what they looked like)

The London press has recently been abuzz with talk of the shattered fairytale that is Kate and William's break up. And me being me, I have been enthusiastically lapping up every moment of it!

But am I the only one who is incredulous that there are commentators in the media who could actually analyse Kate's 'breeding' with a straight face? (As opposed to the Royal family's inbreeding?) Who actually went to the effort of tracing Kate's ancestry back to coal mining stock? Who were devoting op-ed pieces to the incident where Kate's mum accidentally said 'Pleased to meet you' rather than 'How do you do' when she met the Queen?

It's like everyone temporarily travelled back in time and started seriously considering things like whether people should be saying 'lavatory', 'loo' or 'toilet', or how many surnames a person had, or how many acres of land the so-and-so family owned, or whether Elizabeth Bennett was good enough to marry Mr Darcy considering her sister Lydia was a complete trollop... you get my drift.

Anyway, just in case anyone is interested, the Daily Mail (my favourite disseminator of real life reads such as 'My husband was a paedophile' and 'I live with my husband and my boyfriend') has offered up a quiz to give its readers a quick and efficient way of finding out how much class they have.

Okay, rant's over now. There's probably some other stuff going on in the world that I should be paying more attention to...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Fug National

Last weekend I trekked up to Liverpool (or Liverpewl) to witness one of England's strangely iconic events, the Grand National.

The weekend started with a thoroughly enjoyable train ride on Virgin Trains from London to Liverpool. Thanks to the lateness of my booking, I was forced to go first class and so got to enjoy the perks of the exclusive lounge (free diet coke and cookies!), a great big seat in a ritzy carriage, sandwiches and Mr Branson's red wine which was being very generously dispensed by the attendants. Needless to say, I was in a fantastic mood by the time I arrived in Liverpool.

Lesson learnt (they love doing this kind of analysis at my work): when arriving in a place one has never been before, alone and at 11.00pm, try not to turn up pissed.

The next day we ventured to Aintree to see the race and get our hit of good ol' horse flogging action. This is a photo of some horses:

And of Kate and I watching them. Yes we were drinking Fosters. There was a really long line for anything other than the bottle bar, okay?

Only a fraction of the horses actually finished the race, but apparently the year was considered a successful one because none of the horses died. A worrying yardstick. Actually, the race was rather ghastly to watch, given that either a horse was refusing a jump, or throwing off its jockey, or a jockey was being trampled by another horse, or a horse was running round the track without a jockey (and at one point the horse was actually winning).

But my ethical objections proved to be a bit half arsed as I have to admit I did have a flutter and won £19 on my horse Slim Pickings, proving once again that my theory of picking horses based on their names is completely foolproof... well maybe, one in four times.

While the horse race watching was pretty average, the people watching was spectacular! There was enough bad fashion to keep the Go Fug Yourself girls in material for the next year.

There were some bad hats:

Some big wedges paired with very short skirts:

Some terrible separate puffy sleeve thingies:

(Note the couple to the left looking in my direction. I'm not sure if they're looking at me running to capture this fashion disaster on camera, or the guy I shoved aside in the process who was being escorted out by security.)

And then there were some ensembles which just screamed Chav:

And these weren't even the best of the outfits, which I couldn't capture because I was worried their scary looking Chav boyfriends would see what I was doing and attack me. Yoy.

Next weekend, I'm staying in London, where the people are normal. Normalish.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Berlin, Deutschland

Here is some stuff I didn't know about Berlin until a week ago:

  • The official mascot of Berlin used to be the bear, but it has now been usurped by the Ampelmann. The Ampelmann is the little man that comes up at the traffic lights to tell you whether to walk or stop. There are two types of little men at the traffic lights in Berlin, depending on whether you are in the former East or West. Ampelmann belongs to East Berlin and was designed to look like a happy and motivated proletariat. West Berlin had a generic little man.

  • When the city was reunited, they started to replace all the Ampelmenn with generic little men, to great public outcry. East Berliners felt their whole identity was being swallowed up by the West, and cute little Ampelmann was pretty much the only thing they had done better. So, to cut a long story short, Ampelmann - 1, generic little man - 0.
  • The other way to tell the former East Berlin from West Berlin are the trams. Only East Berlin had them. (The West had the underground. Snobs.)
  • Berlin is one of the cheapest cities in Europe to live in. You can rent a room there, bills included, for a meagre 150 Euro a month. That's around what I'm paying per week in London. Tres depressing.
  • While I was under the impression that Germany had a booming economy, Berlin as a city is running at a serious deficit and has a massive 20% unemployment. My guess is that part of the reason for the huge amount of debt is all the building they have had to do since the end of the war and the fall of the Berlin wall. Not only has almost everything had to be rebuilt, it has all had to be appropriately memorialised. And some of it is just plain superfluous, for example, reinstalling Ampelmann at all the traffic lights.
  • Though you would think that the crime rate would be high, Berlin felt incredibly safe. Public transport works on an honour system. You never had to pay for your meal or drinks until you finished up. Random bikes were left around town that people could get on and ride, as long as they logged onto the internet to say where they'd left them. Restaurants would leave their tables and chairs outside at night, unsecured. I know a few people in 'delaide that would see such a thing and think: new outdoor setting for moi!
  • There is graffiti everywhere. Some of it is kind of artistic, a lot of it isn't. Really, everywhere. None of it is painted over, I suppose because it adds to the whole thing Berlin has going about being 'edgy'.
  • It does not seem easy to decide what to do with the historical sites in Berlin. The ruins of the former headquarters of the Gestapo have become a museum called Topography of Terror. It is outdoors as the city has run out of money to build a proper museum (photo below). The Berlin Wall has been turned into an outdoor art gallery called the East Side Gallery. The former Nazi Headquarters is now the tax office!
  • There is a massive Turkish population in Berlin, and they have opened a delicious array of eateries. Mtk and I ate extremely well while we were there, and I really only had one authentic German meal - currywurst. Currywurst is this sausage roll type thing, covered with tomato sauce and curry sauce. It was.... interesting.
  • Checkpoint Charlie was another popular site. There were a couple of guys dressed up as American and East German soldiers running a brilliant scam charging tourists (primarily Americans) 1 Euro to have a photo with them next to the Checkpoint Charlie cabin. Ingenius! Another thing that got the Americans excited - the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled baby Blanket out the window in 2005:

  • Disturbingly, couples in Berlin make out all over the place. Kissey wissey pashy washy everywhere. And I thought Germans were supposed to be stern and disciplined and repressed.
  • There is now a car park where Hitler's bunker used to be. There is a small sign marking it, which was only put up a couple of years ago. Until then the site was unmarked, as the city was worried about turning it into a shrine.
Unfortunately, I never made it to the Berlin Zoo to see Knut. There was just too much other stuff to see, and I don't think I would have made it past the hordes of schoolgirls to get much of a look at him anyway. Ah well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Funny things about English people

There have been two things that have happened at work lately that have highlighted the vast chasm of differences between the Australian workplace and the English workplace.

Incident #1: Inappropriate use of the word 'Hi'
Yes, I actually got reprimanded for using 'Hi' in an email to a client. And by client, I really only mean a person in another department, not an actual outside client (although for some reason they're still called that). As I have been doing for the last two years, I began the email with 'Hi so-and-so'. Perfectly normal. But when I gave the email to someone to look over, she actually crossed out the 'Hi'. When she came and spoke to me about it, she said that 'Hi' did not sound professional in an email and instead, I should just address the person by their name only.

For example:


....... '

is fine. But definitely not:

'Hi Greg,


Because 'Hi' just sounds way too friendly and not nearly uptight enough. I wanted to tell her that I thought that just calling someone by their name only sounded cold, bordering on rude, but I bit my tongue. Hmph.

And don't even get me started on their use of phrases like 'for which many thanks....'

Incident #2: Tying of the special ribbon
In contrast to Incident #1, the other day a smile was brought to my face when I watched a colleague spend 20 minutes trying to appropriately tie up a brief to a barrister with ribbon. No ordinary ribbon mind you, but special ribbon that was purchased for the specific purpose of tying briefs for barristers. Only, he couldn't quite manage to tie the ribbon so it actually looked right and not ridiculous (and it has to be said, because it was). When the colleague asked me for assistance, I suggested using a rubber band, and was scoffed at:

"You can't just use a rubber band, Penny. Typical suggestion for a person from the colonies."

"Well, in Australia we wouldn't spend 20 minutes faffing around with ribbon!"

Man, these people are strange.