Surprise, surprise

I’m enjoying mixed success with my new year’s resolutions: as you’ll have noticed, the regular blog isn’t working out so well for me, but I do have beautiful nails and, having had my first manicure ever in January, have become a regular at my local nail bar, and I can also afford this habit as I’ve finally completed last year’s tax return and received my tax rebate, so I like to think I’m at least partially winning at life.

May’s been a big month as, in another first-time event, I got the chance to be a surprise! Actually, that’s not strictly true, as, as I’m writing this, I have a vivid memory surfacing of my parents breaking the news that my whole existence was a surprise over Sunday lunch when I was about thirteen (not what I needed to hear at the time). In any case, being a surprise was both very exciting and very difficult all at the same time. My parents announced a few months ago that they were having a little bash for the thirtieth wedding anniversary at the end of April, and were intending to have a church service followed by a meal with their nearest and dearest. I’d resigned myself to being unable to attend and missing out on yet another family shindig with free-flowing prosecco, until one morning in January, when my parents were here visiting, and my Mum was in the shower, Papa Mc mused how great it would be for me to surprise my Mum for the big day. Flights were swiftly purchased, and a lot of very unsubtle winking and nudging took place over the following days.

Then, my parents went home, and we all forgot all about it for a few weeks, until about early April, when Skype calls started to take a sinister twist, as Adam kept very nearly giving the game away, and Mama Mc got increasingly sad about our absence from the impending re-nuptials. This built to a crescendo with a particularly emotional Skype call the night before my flight, by which stage the chances of keeping the cat in the bag until my arrival two days later, on Thursday, were looking increasingly slim.

Lying to one’s mother is always stressful and inadvisable, and by the time I reached the airport on Wednesday evening, my anxiety levels were high, not least because I’ve long been suspicious of the fact that my iPhone is more intelligent than I am, always seems to know where I am even when I don’t, and is certainly capable of telling Big Brother (or should I say, Big Mother (ha!)) my every move. After some frantic fiddling with my settings, all I could do was hope for the best and that Papa Mc could sit on his excitement for another 24 hours. Thankfully, as soon as I boarded the plane my next-door travellers, Glenn and Chris, introduced themselves, and proved such excellent company that I forgot all about what might or might not be going on 40, 000 feet below me.

Papa Mc and his beautiful car were eagerly awaiting my arrival at Heathrow. I was somewhat confused by how surprised my Dad was to see me, given that he was the only person in the UK that was expecting my arrival, but I guess the best thing about surprises is that, even when you’re in on them, you don’t really believe they will ever happen, because you’ve been pretending for so long that they won’t. I was convinced by this stage that Mama Mc’s notorious maternal, witchy intuition would have kicked in and she would have clocked it, but Dad assured me she hadn’t, and that the text I’d sent her from Dubai telling her I was having breakfast with my friend Megan that morning before work had done the trick.

The great unveiling of me was as emotional as anticipated. Thankfully we’d decided I’d arrive a few days before the party, and that I wouldn’t just knock on the door, as we were genuinely quite concerned my Mum would pass out and knock herself out before the big day. My Dad therefore left me sitting out in the back garden, shivering, on a cold, grey, damp, April afternoon, whilst he went inside and had some fun. He first ensured Mum was sat down, and asked her if there was anyone that could attend the party on Saturday to make it even better, who it would be. This was an enlightening exercise, as several deceased relatives and even a deceased pet were listed before we reached my name. Thankfully I didn’t have too much time to think through the implications of this, as, before I knew it, Mum was at the back door wailing “But what about Megan’s breakfast?” Cue tears, hugs, champagne and, for me and Papa Mc, much relief all round.

I had five nights at home in total, which was just enough time to squeeze in trips to Tesco and M&S (Quavers! Monster Munch!), have a great curry at the local Indian and a bacon sarnie at Yiewsley’s finest bakery,  spend some quality time with family and loved ones, and, most importantly, for my Mum to stop crying! My parents’ 30th wedding anniversary bash was absolutely beautiful. It was just incredible to sit and look around the room at all the relationships my parents had built and the wonderful extended family they’d given me and my brother. Everyone had a fantastic time, and I was so delighted that I could be there.

Unfortunately, it was all over too soon and by Tuesday morning, I was back at Heathrow getting ready to board the plane again. It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, however, as I’d used my Qantas points to get an upgrade to Business class. Having never flown business, ever, before, it was something of a treat to board the flight, with 24 hours’ travel ahead of me, and discover not only that I was in a secluded section of Business with only 3 rows, but also that the cabin was half-empty, meaning that I had not one, but two seats in business to myself. I made the most of my Kate Spade toiletries bag, snuggled into my Qantas PJs, and spent most of the flight with the bed fully extended, drinking champagne – all of which was a great idea at the time, but led to a 2-week jetlagged hangover…

I’ve recovered just in time for winter to kick in here, so am now looking forward to a few months of hot chocolate, roast dinners, Christmas in July activities, and reacquainting myself with my good old friend, the electric blanket.

 

Back (for good?)

Well, it’s the end of January, which means my New Year’s resolution to revive Our Antipodean Adventure with a post a month in 2016 is almost broken before it even begun. Thankfully, however, I’ve just dropped Mama and Papa Mc (who are currently visiting) at the airport for a weekend in Adelaide, and Adam and I are no longer sure how to fill our time without their company and tickets to the tennis, so I’ve found myself at my laptop revisiting my long list of New Year’s Resolutions (and this appealed far more than completing my tax return).

It’s fair to say my blog fell by the wayside in 2015 and I think that’s because we’ll look back at last year as the year that living here became our ‘normal’. Life here feels less and less like a holiday, and more and more like a pretty bloody great state of existence.

So, before I move on to spend 2016 breaking my resolution, I thought it’d be a nice idea to look back on the highlights of 2015 by month, for those of you that may have been out of the loop, or that may have been in the loop but not really listening (we know who you are…).

Here goes:

January:  Tennis, tennis, tennis, Judy Murray, Marielle and Henry, with the odd bit of cricket and a considerable amount of Matt Spooner in his boxers on our sofa. Enough said.

February: Possum feeding, sunshine, Sorrento and smiles with Robyn, my friend from uni.

March: Our first Australian wedding for Sophie and Harry’s big day, and a birthday trip to the Moonlit Sanctuary in Mornington at sunset, where, in defiance of our expectations of Australia, we cuddled a snake but bitten by a mini-kangaroo-rat, known as a bettong.

April: A McCarroll family holiday to South Australia, with Mama and Papa Mc in tow (yes, I know what you’re thinking – and the answer is, yes,  they ARE always here). We spent a few nights in Adelaide catching up with family friends that my parents met on a boat trip out here in 1990, who offered them a place to stay if they ever fancied a holiday. (Again, I know what you’re thinking – and the answer is yes, that’s EXACTLY where I get it from). After Adelaide, we spent a few nights in McLaren Vale and enjoyed an eventful Easter Monday evening in Noarlunga Emergency Department after Papa Mc managed to crack his head open on a street sign outside a winery, and I managed to consume enough cheese to sober up to drive. The few days we then spent on Kangaroo Island were far more relaxing in comparison, hanging out with the local wildlife (thankfully no bettongs), and enjoying our very own stretch of beach.

May: Taking a large step in the right direction towards adulthood with the purchase of a new mattress, from a grown-up mattress shop. We’ll never look back.

June: (Possibly a lowlight?) Adam’s ACL reconstruction surgery was, between us, our first overnight hospital stay, and finally confirmed that not pursuing a career in medicine was the right decision for me (subsequently confirmed by Jeremy Hunt …)

July: My first ever 10km race completed, mainly to spite Adam, who watched from the sidelines on crutches willing the impossible – for me to run just a little bit quicker so he could get home and off his feet.

August: A trip to Queensland for Rob and Kate’s beautiful beach wedding on Fraser Island, complete with an encounter with a very inquisitive dingo. Detours via Noosa and Mooloolaba for beers with Justin, before coming home to move house (crutches ditched).

September: More birthdays, and a birthday bike for the birthday boy to aid his recovery. Within a week, he’d forgotten Melbourne even had trams and was keen to discuss with anyone willing to listen (which, surprisingly, turned out to be very few people) the importance of a good, padded pair of cycling shorts.

October: My first trip home in 18 months to attend Anna and Jamie’s lovely wedding. One of the downsides of living here (contrary to what this post may suggest) is that we miss out on lots of family gatherings and big events, so it was such a privilege to celebrate with them, be their bridesmaid and marvel at all their good-looking friends and family (and, I won’t lie, I enjoyed the four rounds of applause in the speeches for travelling the furthest to be there, though continue to feel sorry for the poor bloke that had flown in from Beijing). I also got to catch up with lots of friends and family, including a special visitor from Portugal, and, most importantly, squeezed in four wonderful curries. Adam, meanwhile, enjoyed two and a half weeks of peace, quiet and beer. Win, win.

November: A day at the races for Stakes Day, part of Melbourne Cup week, followed by a night at the karaoke in Chinatown with our friends Amy and Ed, then helping Jo and Spencer purchase their AusMobile for their epic trip round Australia, which kicked off after a long weekend of good food, wine and, of course, great company, at Casa McJas.

December: Where to start? Christmas parties galore (two hours of sparkling wine in the sunshine for me; a trip to Sydney for a harbour cruise for Adsy), a weekend away with Amy and Ed in Sorrento as a last hurrah before saying goodbye as they prepared to abandon us and move back to England, a super-hot and very un-Christmassy lead up to the big day, and finally a fabulous week in Perth with my cousin Claire and her partner Steve. A proper Aussie  Christmas Day lunch courtesy of Claire (turkey, steak, prawns, salads, Yorkshire puds and a TRIO of desserts), a tour of Swan Valley wineries (with no injuries this time), and a close encounter with a snake on Rottnest Island (I’m coming to the conclusion I’m just not cut out for the whole wildlife thing). Miraculously, I ended the year without any broken bones or serious ailments despite my first outing on a bike in about fifteen years, though I suspect that might have something to do with the fact that I spent almost half of the 22km-trip round Rottnest pushing my bike up what you would call hills but I’d call mountains. (As a side note, it also turned out I should have listened a bit more carefully to those cycling shorts chats back in September…) Finally, after a serendipitous encounter with family friend Rita, who was staying just a few miles down the road, and a flight back to Melbourne, we spent New Year’s Eve day on the beach, and the evening with good friends Anita, Owen, Claire and Joe, and our best friend of all, Pippa the Golden Retriever puppy.

Roll on 2016…

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Starting as we mean to go on

New Year means resolutions and this year, I’ve got a good’un. Rather than promising myself perfect nails (they were doing well until 6th January – which coincidentally is the day I returned to work), more exercise (I cried after my first run of the year and decided it really wasn’t worth it), or more frequent blog posts (we’re already on 24th January, enough said), I’ve committed to seeing a bit more of Australia.

With that in mind, we decided to make the most of the Christmas/New Year break and extend our trip to Sydney for New Year into a little road trip. Having had a lovely Christmas in Melbourne – with Christmas Eve at After the Tears, and Christmas Day at Casa McJas – we piled into Adam’s parents’ hire car on Boxing Day and began our trip to Sydney.

Our first stop was Lakes Entrance, which is about a four hour drive east of Melbourne and, unsurprisingly, is the spot where the Gippsland Lakes meet the ocean. The lakes themselves are enough of a spectacle, but between them and the ocean sits Ninety Mile Beach, which, also unsurprisingly, is ninety miles long. We spent two nights in a little apartment just outside the main town, which happened to be on a road to a beautiful and secluded part of the famous beach. I had vague memories of visiting Lakes Entrance as a kid with my parents (who ambitiously drove Adelaide to Sydney with two small children in the back of the car who, in a time before portable DVD players, spent a LOT of time comparing the anatomy of dead flies) and it didn’t disappoint – the pelicans were just as plentiful and entertaining, and the ice cream and fish and chips just as good.

From there, we crossed into New South Wales and headed towards Narooma, with a couple of detours en route to check out Eden, a former whaling time (though, alas, we didn’t have enough time to visit the replica whale in the museum) and Merimbula, which is a popular holiday destination for the New South Welsh and Victorians alike (and we could see why – beautifully, calm, bright blue waters, more fish, chips and ice creams …) Narooma turned out to be just as, if not more, beautiful, and we had a lovely walk around the shoreline, spotting kookaburras in the trees, and watching the fishermen knee-deep in the water in their waders.

The following day, we left Narooma in search of kangaroos at Pebbly Beach. Unfortunately we chose the wrong day and/or the wrong time, as there was not a single kangaroo in sight, anywhere. We guessed it was too warm and they had headed back into the national park for the morning, to snooze off breakfast. Thankfully our detour was not a complete waste of time, as Pebbly Beach (which is about 7km off the main road, on a side road that rather quickly becomes a dirt track) was incredible, and there were a lot of kangaroo droppings to take photos of. From there, we headed up to Kiama, to check out the biggest blowhole in the world, then to Bulli, to catch up with some wonderful friends of my family, who had invited us for afternoon tea to break up our journey. We had a fantastic afternoon catching up with Phil, Jan, Lauren, Andrew and little Sage, reminiscing about the past (Lauren was my penpal as a kid, in the year after that famous road trip from Adelaide with the flies) and learning about everything that had happened since (quite a lot, it turns out – Lauren is now happily married with a beautiful house and baby … and I live in Melbourne!) We left there late afternoon, bracing ourselves for the drive into Sydney and an inevitable wrong turn, which happened, but thankfully just before we pulled into the hotel.

Four days and nights of sightseeing ensued, with the small distraction of New Year in the middle. Having been to Sydney three or four times since we we’ve lived out here, Adam and I left Ed and Ewa to do the tourist thing whilst we lay on beaches at Bondi, Bronte and/or Manly, and caught up with a selection of friends and family, and finally got around to exploring the Chinese Gardens. New Year’s Eve was spent on a cruise in the harbour, watching the fireworks from the water, along with some of our favourite people: Fiona and Pete (more fabulous family friends), Ciaran and, of course, Ed and Ewa. The best bit about New Year in Australia, though, has to be New Year’s Day. Whereas at home you’ve be trying to nurse your hangover as close to the radiator as you could possibly get without getting chilblains and/or piles (is that scientifically accurate or something my mother just threatened us with in fear of us breaking the radiators by sitting on them, I wonder?), in Australia you are on the beach, probably getting sunburnt, and definitely snoozing. Our beach of choice was Manly, and it was superb.

The day after New Year, we left for Canberra and joined the most boring motorway known to man, which runs all the way from Sydney to Melbourne. In fact, it is so boring that, by day 3, Adam woke us all up I excitement as he’d seen some dead cockatoos (and anyone who has lived in Australia for any period of time knows that, realistically, dead is the best state for cockatoos, as it’s the only time they are ever quiet). Canberra almost defies words, and I’m not sure I’ve ever visited anywhere quite so strange. It’s a beautiful city with the most incredible museums and art galleries (I can recommend the Portrait Gallery and the War Memorial, if you’re ever there), but it seems to be a purpose-built Capital, with beautiful green lawns, impressive buildings and no inhabitants! I gather it’s pretty quiet all year round, but especially so over the Christmas break, when all of the government offices have closed. The road structure is such that you can’t help but be reminded of Milton Keynes (roundabout, after roundabout, after roundabout) and it was all so eerily, quietly perfect and empty that you couldn’t help but feel that you might just be in a sci-fi movie in 2070.

Our final stop was to the famous Albury-Wodonga, which is famous simply because it’s the most logical stopping point between Melbourne and Canberra on The Most Boring Motorway in the World (by this stage, we’d spotted a few signs warning of the presence of koalas on the motorway and, because the road is so straight and dull, Adam had been able to dedicate a considerable amount of the journey to checking the trees for wildlife as he drove – which is I suspect how he spotted the trail of cockatoos). The towns of Albury and Wodonga sit on the border of NSW and Vic, so you can cross the bridge from Albury into Wodonga and straddle the two states (should you want to …) Other than that, they sit on the Murray river and have a large Bunnings Warehouse (think B and Q). We had booked a motel online that had pretty good ratings and were impressed to arrive and discover it was right next to the motorway … and modelled on a Tudor barn. The whole of Victoria was experiencing a bit of a heat wave by that stage – it was 40C at 6.30pm – and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was a mirage at the edge of the motorway, with its dark beams, low ceilings and suits of armour around the Reception desk. Thankfully the sharp smell of chlorine from the indoor swimming pool reassured me I was actually awake, and I spent most of the evening howling with laughter at the blurb describing the hotel as one of “timeless tradition”, since its opening in 1987 …

And that was it! Before we knew it, we were back in Melbourne, spending our final days with Ed and Ewa, waving them off, experiencing the usual post-visitor homesickness and returning to the chaos of work! Here we go again!

Merry Shizzmas!

Well, it’s just gone 10.30 on Christmas Eve morning and I find myself at a bit of a loose end, which is bizarre, to say the least. We both finally finished work yesterday in a haze of mince pies, Christmas Breakfasts and (in Adam’s case) a large dose of Christmas spirits. We did most of the food shopping last night (which was a terrible idea after the heavy Christmas spirit consumption – lots of skipping down the aisles and bruised produce), then dragged Ciaran to the market with us at 8am today to pick up our rib-eye steaks for tomorrow, and check out the crazy queues for the seafood, before hitting St Kilda at 9am to pick up tomorrow’s pudding from our favourite cake shop, Monarch. We then made time to buy a few Christmas presents for ourselves (the worst thing about missing Christmas at home is no one buys you PJs, so I have to buy my own!) and were home by 10am, downloading Now! That’s what I call Christmas over a cup of tea.

The rest of the day should be nice and quiet (assuming we keep Jasnikowski away from the Christmas spirits for a few more hours). We’ll be catching up with Adam’s parents this afternoon before heading out to dinner at After the Tears (the Polish-inspired restaurant with the extensive vodka menu) with them, Ciaran and our friends Amy and Ed this evening. The weather tomorrow is looking promising (certainly compared to Uxbridge), with temperatures somewhere in the comfortable mid-20s, so we’ll hopefully be chilling out across the road on the beach with a Buck’s Fizz in the sunshine. I guess it could be worse …

In any case, I hope that if you are reading this, it is because you have also found yourself at a loose end on Christmas Eve morning, and not because you are in a never-ending queue in Tesco! We’ll be thinking of you all at home today and tomorrow (and maybe wishing, just a little bit, that we were there to celebrate with you). Thank you all for your support again this year. Enjoy this time with your nearest and dearest, eat lots and be merry. If we don’t manage to catch up with you over Christmas, we’ll speak with you in the New Year.

Have a good one.

xxx

PS I’ve cheated today and posted two blogs at once, as I forgot to post my previous one from a few weeks ago, so sorry for the information overload – hopefully by now you’ve reached the front of the queue…

Holidays are coming …

Somehow it’s December again and I find myself facing the familiar dilemma of whether to ignore Christmas completely (because, let’s face it, it’s never going to be the same) or whether to pick and choose my favourite bits and embrace them (this sounds far preferable:  I vote Yes to Cheese, No to Turkey (no one really likes Turkey, after all)). Thankfully I have plenty to keep me busy in the run up to the big day as, almost a year to the day we welcomed our first parental visitors in the form of Mama and Papa Mc, we’ll be welcoming Mama and Papa Jas to Casa Mc Jas. The excitement is growing and I’m hoping that they are going to love the bit of Christmas that I have embraced this weekend: Bruce, the Christmas Bush (who one day might grow to be a tree), and the twinkling, epilepsy-inducing icicle lights draped around the TV.

We’ve done many exciting things since I last wrote but by far the most gratifying has been purchasing a hifi – or an iPod dock, as Adam insists the cool kids call it – which means that I am now able to write to you and sing along to Broadway Musicals at the same time. (Bruce is loving it.) This addition is closely matched by the TWENTY DOLLAR DVD player I picked up in Big W, which has allowed us to play terrible DVD choices from the local video store with mediocre graphics and fuzzy text. Life is good.

Other than technological advances, we have visited new places and introduced some new people to Melbourne. Our school friend Ciaran came to stay for a couple of weeks on his tour of Australia, and we had a great weekend visiting the Grampians, which are about three hours from Melbourne. We managed to squeeze in stops at Ballarat for brunch and Ararat (of none other than Australia’s Biggest Loser fame) for lunch (of course), before heading out to Hall’s Gap, climbing up and, in my case, falling down the Pinnacle, and stumbling across a whole field of kwild kangaroos (including joeys), before nearly hitting one on the main road in the dusk and, completing Ciaran’s induction to to weekends away a la McJas with a dodgy BBQ and card games. The following day we spent a lot of time trying not to look at tourists walking perilously close to the edge of lookouts, and eating ice cream. A great time was had by all.

We’ve also enjoyed our first trip to Taste of Melbourne, where we enjoyed miniature dishes from some of Mlebourne’s most popular restaurants, proper champagne and free tea. What more could a girl want?

Just last weekend, we headed out to Queenscliff to go on a Dolphin Sightseeing Trip (thanks Ryan). Despite the fact that we didn’t see any flippin’ dolphins, we had a great time. It turns out the Bay is full of unique fish and coral, and I had my first snorkelling experience in the freezing waters of Port Phillip Bay, being swooped by gannets, lacking the upper body strength to haul myself back into the boat.

Joking aside, we had a lovely afternoon in glorious sunshine, met some very interesting people and would thoroughly recommend the trip and the snorkelling. We got to swim with seals (though were very carefully not to wet ourselves, as apparently they get a little frisky round the smell of urine), touched star fish and saw some beautiful coral. To top it all off, we got given great tea and biscuits, and had fab calamari and chips when we got back. And we saw dolphins from our kitchen window two days later, meaning we didn’t miss out on the dolphin watching at all!

Our other wildlife experience was at Melbourne’s Cat Café last Monday, which was beyond bizarre. The Café is based on the cafes found in Japan, South Korea and other parts of Asia and sounded like a pretty attractive option to people who are keen on cats. Unfortunately, however, the Cat Café really just seems to prove the theory that cats are only interested in you if you feed them, and we were definitely not feeding them. We got a couple of limp greetings, but most of them spend the hour we were there stretched out on the floor looking pretty sick of being poked and prodded. And we weren’t so sure about the decision to put bird feed outside on the window ledge, attracting all the local birds to taunt the feline inmates. Not only that, but due to health and safety regulations, they aren’t allowed to have an actual café, so it would be more appropriately described as ‘Cat Prison with Tea/Coffee Machine’. We concluded that next time we’ll just go to see my colleague Jade’s cat – and that we probably should have clocked that it was going to be a bit strange beforehand …

Anyway, on the subject of wildlife, I am on penguin duty tonight so I must get moving. I wonder if the penguins will prefer my rendition of Phantom or the Lion King…

Spring has un-Sprung

Well, since Spring has Sprung, it’s been very typically Melburnian, and today is no exception here in Middle Park. We’ve had some gloriously warm and sunny days, along with a few promises of gloriously warm and sunny days that have never been fulfilled. Unfortunately, today is one of the latter, and I spent a large proportion of my morning trying not to shiver whilst having coffee with my friend Claire because the 25C sunshine we were promised only lasted until about 10.45 before the wind started howling and the clouds moved in. The worst part is that I was meeting Claire on my way to file my taxes (get me!) and had planned a lazy afternoon on the beach to recover from the experience (of filing taxes, not having coffee with Claire, of course), but unfortunately my plans have been thwarted and I have been recovering from one life admin experience with many other life admin experiences (though the good news is that five months in, I think I’ve successfully synced some music to my iPhone. Two words: Digital. Native.)

Since I last wrote life has offered a good balance of exciting and less-than-exciting experiences in the McJas household, along with the odd painful experience. The worst was the night that we left the washing out too long and invited SEVEN moths into our little flat. We found four (which resembled bats more than moths) on the first evening, and another three in trouser legs and undergarments in the following days. Still, I can’t complain too much as above-mentioned Claire found a FUNNEL WEB in her garden last week. Eurgh, Australia, eurgh.

Another painful experience has been brought about by our landlords deciding to sell our flat – and no, you haven’t read this post before, it’s really happening again! Thankfully this time we are locked into a contract until February, so the flat has to be sold with the washing machine and us in it (as far as we understand, though we’re acutely suspicious of all tenancy law in any country in the world, ever). We’ve thus spent quite a bit of time with Chris the Estate Agent showing people around the flat. Here, rather than showing individual people round, Estate Agencies tend to organise two or three ‘open houses’ a week, when all and sundry turn up for a gander. Thankfully it’s been about 90% all, 10% sundry, though one bloke who turned up to the first viewing has apparently been to every single open house the estate agency has run for the last seven years, and never bought anything (how reassuring, Chris). Nonetheless, despite our initial misgivings/suspicion/hatred, Chris the Estate Agent has turned out to be decent enough, though perhaps this is because, for some reason, he is terrified of Adam. This week poor Chris was left alone for the open house and left me a very panicked voicemail afterwards to inform me that one of the patrons (?!) had knocked over my vase of flowers. The vase was safe, thank goodness (because it cost me a FORTUNE from Spotlight, the Australian equivalent of Wilko), but the flowers and their water had spilt on the floor, so Chris estimated that he’d had to use two-thirds of a roll of kitchen towel and several sprays of kitchen cleaner to clean the pollen off of the tiled floor, which he hoped meant that the floor was up to our standards. We must be terrible people.

Of course, it hasn’t all been bad news – it never is. We celebrated Grand Final Day with a trip to the zoo, where we were able to flash our new zoo memberships to get in for absolutely free! I think it’s pretty unusual for two childless adults to purchase such memberships, but I couldn’t care less. The membership gives you unlimited access to the three zoos in Victoria (including Healesville, which is the Australian Animal Sanctuary we visit at least once every other month) plus access to interstate zoos such as Taronga, in Sydney, all for just $90 per adult, per year. AND if you do have children, they are free on your adult membership. Bar-gain.

Anyway, we were hopeful that the zoo would be nice and quiet on Grand Final Day as the whole world would be watching the footie. How wrong we were. Unfortunately all the well-behaved children in Victoria had been taken to watch the football, and all the badly-behaved ones had been taken to the zoo. The advantage of this was that the humans were by far the most interesting exhibit there, and we hadn’t paid for the privilege of watching them, which we would usually have to do if we went out for, say, brunch or dinner.

Last week we went kayaking in Port Philip Bay, which was very enjoyable but really quite unnecessarily tiring. I made a terrible error by suggesting that I sit in the front of the kayak and Adam go in the back, as it meant that firstly, he was in charge of “steering” (I say “steering” because he did not “steer”) and that, secondly, he could see exactly what I was, or more to the point, wasn’t doing, which meant I got shouted at A LOT for being lazy. All I can say is: it hurt my arms. And I was taking in the view. Anyway, it was all worth it because they provided lunch and we had great ham sandwiches, so I was pretty darn happy.

Adam has been a very sociable little bunny of late, with lots of end-of-season football events to attend, including the Presentation Night last weekend. Today he has gone on a stag do – or a buck’s do, as they call it here (why IS that, I wonder?) so he has conveniently escaped life admin and the bright orange folder I bought him during the week. His time will come. (And I have just googled and gather they are different types of deer, though am somewhat alarmed by the Wikipedia description of Australian Buck’s parties. Off to find him some more admin for tomorrow ….)

The only final piece of excitement to share is that I met Julia Gillard at work the other week as she came in to sign copies of her new autobiography. We made some awkward small talk where she told me she’d noticed I had an accent and asked where I was from, and I had to try very hard not to point out that as far as I was concerned, she had an accent, and ask where she was from. (Told you it was awkward.)

Anyway, I cannot delay the filing on the kitchen table any more.

Here are some photos of fun things (I worked out how to get them off of my iPhone…) to remind you what we (and zoo animals, and Port Philip Bay) look like:

IMG_0405     IMG_0441IMG_0411     IMG_0409

Birthday bumps

Last weekend, Adam celebrated his second birthday in Melbourne.

Being so far from home means that birthdays tend to be a little odd in Casa McJas. You know you should be excited, and you get a lot of post (and post, as we all know, is always exciting – unless it carries the label ‘ANZ’ or ‘Medicare’, in which case it’s usually just a royal pain in the a**e…), but you actually just feel a little strange, not least because your family are all still asleep whilst you’re celebrating.

Therefore, to be really kind to Adam on his big day, I thought I’d plan us a nice day out and, so that he didn’t feel too strange for it being his birthday, do some kind of joint birthday activity that I wanted to do, so that there was no pressure on him to have a great day, and so that, whatever happened, I had a fantastic day. Because that’s what birthdays are all about.

Until a few days before the big day I had no idea what to do, but on Thursday morning at work, I had a sudden epiphany. Whilst trawling through the website for the Mornington Peninsula Hot Springs wondering whether it would be overrun with other birthday-goers on a sunny September Saturday (whilst simultaneously working very hard, of course), I stumbled across the ideal afternoon activity: horse riding along St Andrew’s Beach on the Mornington Peninsula.

Many years ago, in the land before Oz, some (serious) miscommunication led to Adam believing that I had bought him horse riding lessons for his birthday. Faced with this prospect, he turned a strange shade of grey and mentioned a long-standing fear of all farm animals. Of course, I immediately made a mental promise to myself that one day I would buy him horse riding lessons for his birthday, and so, when I stumbled across the link, I knew I’d found the perfect gift. Before I had time to dwell too much on my last horse riding experience, when, as a 10 year old with obscenely long legs, I was allocated a flipping shire horse to cling onto whilst my peers frolicked around on Shetland ponies (I lasted three lessons),  I signed us both up for a Saturday afternoon beach trail ride.

Adam’s reaction when I broke the news on Saturday morning wasn’t quite as gracious as I’d have hoped and, for everyone’s sake, I’m not going to quote him here. Unfortunately he’d had a pretty big night celebrating on the Friday (I never did get milk for my cup of tea, for those of you that were wondering), but he was enticed out of the house with the promise of a pie at Red Hill Community Market on the way.

Red Hill’s Community Market takes place on the first Saturday of every month and seems to attract the entire population of the Mornington Peninsula – and rightly so. There are countless stalls selling local produce and craft items (with many a free sample to be enjoyed), and lots of local groups such as the Scouts selling hot drinks and the like. There are also plenty of food stalls, and stalls selling homemade lemonade and ginger beer, so it’s a lovely place to spend a Saturday morning, particularly one as sunny and warm as last Saturday. We had a great time wandering around the stalls, chatting to the stall holders, and filling our bellies ready for the afternoon ahead.

We arrived at the stables nice and early, by which stage I was really starting to think that I should have just signed Adam up for the horse ride and met him at the hot springs. Thankfully, we didn’t have too much time to think about it, and we were quickly equipped with a helmet and a horse, which we reluctantly mounted (the horse, that is, not the helmet…) whilst we waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

I was immediately grateful that I had not been given the massive, mental horse behind me, who was already manically circling the yard whilst the girl who’d been assigned him repeated “I’m really not sure I like this” in a very high-pitched voice.  My horse, Jordan, seemed relatively docile in comparison (and for a horse) and he wasn’t too big, so I had a pretty good feeling about him (he later turned out to be a she, but thankfully took my little misunderstanding well). Adam had gone the shade of grey I anticipated as he sat on Charlotte, and there was a lot of nervous laughter all round.

The ride itself was two hours long and mainly ran on a bushy track just off a very quiet road, before joining a beach track, leading onto the beach. The scenery was fantastic and the weather was just beautiful. I soon calmed down as I realised that Jordan was going to be as relaxed as I had hoped (but fart a lot). I was grateful that the woman who initially helped me get on the horse had given me a few pointers, so that, although I wasn’t entirely happy when we sped up to a little trot, I at least knew it was coming and my bottom muscles were prepared for it. Unfortunately the same could not be said of Adam, who had received no such pep talk, and sounded pretty alarmed when Charlotte suddenly took off (again, it’s better for everyone that I don’t quote him).

About an  hour into the two-hour ride we eventually understood that we were definitely not doing the right thing when the horses starting trotting, and were faced with the dawning realisation that we were unlikely to be able to walk the following day, which was Adam’s actual birthday. Charlotte, too, proved pretty well-behaved, but unfortunately the same could not be said of everyone: one crazy man from a different group somehow ended up joining our group because he was unable to get the horse to stop or turn, and was unable to listen to what seemed to me to be pretty clear instructions (though he probably thought I was the crazy one as I assumed he was Adam for a good five minutes and was chatting away for a good long while before I wondered why he was responding even less frequently than usual) , and the only person in our group who claimed to have any experience of horse riding let her horse eat more grass than any horse could ever need to eat, then proceeded to scream “It’s cantering!” every time the horse started trotting. I don’t know much about horses, but I do know that her horse wasn’t going any faster than mine…

Anyway, the worse bit of the whole experience was, as I’d suspected, getting off, and it took several attempts (and some very undignified displays of flesh) for me to eventually return to dry land. We both agreed that it had been an excellent experience and we’d really enjoyed it… but we wouldn’t be going every week. From there, we drove down to the Hot Springs, for a couple of hours of relaxation. The warm water was a welcome relief for our aching muscles, and we left sure that we’d be fine the following morning.

How wrong we were. By the next morning, I had discovered muscles I didn’t even know existed, and was starting to pay for that terrible trotting technique. We opened cards and presents, then headed out for some birthday brunch at a little café in Middle Park (great flavours, but my eggs were slightly too poached), before limping up to South Melbourne market.

We knew that Adam’s brother Andrzej was off to something called Meatopia for the day in London to celebrate, so we decided that we’d have our own Meatopia that evening and bought lamb, beef and sausages from the butcher. It was another gloriously sunny day, so we spend the afternoon snoozing on the beach (the sand was kinder to the bottom than the sofa), before returning home to cook dinner on our brand spanking new BBQ (thanks to Mama and Papa Mc for the early Christmas present).  Adam skyped Andrzej and his older brother Marek, and we hobbled off to bed at about 9.30, our bottoms unable to withstand the pressure of sitting any longer.

Happy Birthday, Adam!