Monday, 30 May 2011

If I never eat another Greek salad...

I can't quite believe it's been over a week since we left for Greece. Since then we've come back from Greece, had house guests including a chubby delightful eight month old, I've survived four days of work and two dentist appointments and we've enjoyed a long weekend in spite of the weather.

the hotel against the backdrop of Mt Olympus.
Greece was amazing. Beautiful, rundown, charming and not short on Greek salad. Getting to Leptokaria from Thessaloniki was something of an adventure (as opposed to say hmm, a drama...) with poor to no road signage, a pesky ring road, poor to no GPS reception and a serious lack of u-turn availabilities which meant 40km on the right road in the wrong direction. Thankfully this was Thursday and the wedding wasn't until Saturday or we might have been in strife.

The hotel was an oasis at the base of Mount Olympus. All swimming pools and outdoor furniture with snow covered mountains in the background and palm trees and the calm Aegean Sea out the front. It really was beautiful. Because we'd left the house at 3am that morning we opted for a quiet evening and a quiet Friday before Cleo's parents hosted an intimate dinner for 100 at a taverna in the new village. The old village, which is further up the mountain, is so old it didn't get electricity until the 1980s, the new village beat them to it by about 20 years but there was still plenty of charm and a view to die for. So much food, lots of wine and a handful of new friends by the end of the night.

the view from our seats at dinner...
Saturday the sun came out along with the party dresses but an altercation with a cranky Greek bus driver meant that none of the girls got to partake in the traditions of helping the bride get dressed while drinking champagne and stuffing money into her shoes. Instead we had to mill about until the boys were ready and the bus driver was obliging and then went straight to the old village to wait for Cleo's arrival with Alex. Though when I say straight I should say up, around, up some more, around, around, up, up, up. The old village is also the high village and I'm sure that's a contributing factor when considering how untouched, beautiful and completely picturesque it is. I'm loathe to say it looks like a film set, but with the cobble stone pathways, vine covered tavernas, old church and shady square that's exactly what it reminded us all of.

The old village.

As is tradition, Cleo arrived at the church escorted by all the members of her family as well as a band of musicians and she met Alex at the front door before they walked in together with everyone straggling in behind them. The service was in ancient Greek so no-one except the priest really had any clue what was going on - though he too struggled at times to remember the very tricky "Alexander" - so much so he appeared to have it written on his hand...

Everyone stands about while the service is going on and all the locals fill in and chat idly at the back throughout the proceedings. There was another wedding on in the new village the same day and apparently there would have been twice as many guests otherwise. We got a glimpse of the other wedding on our way back down to the hotel afterwards - well, more than a glimpse. A full on front view as our enormous double decker coach blocked the bride's procession and she, the musicians, her family and friends all had to squeeze past us to get on with their own proceedings. I don't speak Greek but I know a cranky bride when I see one....

The reception back at the hotel kicked off with some serious Greek dancing - I don't think our poor groom, who happens to be German, not Greek, could quite relax until that was out of the way, understandably, and by the time the Greek band got off the stage we were all ready for a bit of top 40/classic rock with optional air guitar action. There's only so much clarinet I can handle on a per annum basis and I've maxed this years quota now and the next.

After complimentary ouzo shots (never a good idea at the best of times) and one two many Guns 'n' Roses medleys I dragged LB off the dance floor around 1am and home to bed, knowing, if he didn't at the time, that I was doing him the world's biggest favour.

He returned the favour the next day by taking us to Leptokaria Beach for lunch and a somewhat ironic encounter with a dodgy handbag seller offering nasty Louis Vuitton knock-offs (oh to take one of those to my next meeting at New Bond St....) and a trip to the castle near the new village for some token culture and history. Token it turned out to be because the castle shut at 3pm and we arrived spectacularly at 2.45 and the gates were already locked. We consoled ourselves with a walk around the castle, along a wild flower strewn wobbly path that bear-hugged the castle and took in the spectacular views. It was just lovely. And good to feel like we'd done more than simply drink ouzo, eat feta and dance to appalling clarinet music.

That night we met Cleo, Alex and some of their friends at one of the beach bars nearby for a final mojito, where the techno music was at complete odds with the empty-but-for-us bar, before heading to bed and then back to London the next morning. Thankfully the trip back to the airport was completely uneventful with no need for u-turns or swear words.

Back to London, the next day we were joined by LB's sister, brother-in-law and their chubby, very adorable 8 month old son Archie. It was so lovely having them with us and seeing how much Archie had grown since Christmas. It's lucky I'm not clucky though or the sight of LB dragging the pillow over his head when Archie howled at 4.21am would have given me plenty to mull over. Thankfully at that moment I had other things to mull over, chiefly the toothache I brought back with me from Greece. I hate tooth-related pain, I hate dentists, I hate anyone coming anywhere near me with instruments that inevitably bring teeth and pain into the one conversation. So it's not surprising I spent the first four days just hoping it would go away. Sadly my cunning plan didn't work and so now I'm booked in for root canal this Friday and am only moderately calmed by the fact that I will be medically calmed while the whole bloody thing is going on.

This weekend has been a long weekend - the last for a while here but thankfully there are plenty of impending visits from friends and family in the coming months to distract from the lack of holidays. The website launches in just over a week so work is going to be I-N-S-A-N-E between now and then so I might just have to ask for some additional sedatives to manage the stress of it all. One day at a time. And some yoga perhaps.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Greece is the word

We're off to Greece in a matter of hours for Cleo's Big Fat Greek Wedding To A German and I cannot wait. I'm packed, I'm superficially brown and I am hoping against hope that leaving the country will mean the end of my nightly work montage dreams. If I have to drown them in ouzo so be it. What I wouldn't do for a return to my wedding montage dreams. At least in those I got to wear nice outfits....

Last week was one of those weeks that only a margarita, ok ok, two margaritas, could fix. Everything was getting up my nose - work, public transport, People Generally - and by the end of the week I was just over it. Which is a shame as thinking back over it there were actually some genuinely lovely moments, however fleeting. On Tuesday we had yoga after work, which was surprisingly exhausting and not just from the laughter-induced pain of seeing a gaggle of colleagues collectively with their legs in the air and earlier that day we'd had a meeting with all the press and marketing teams from all of the partners involved in the project at the Royal Academy. In and of itself not so exciting but it was held in the same room where Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species papers were delivered in July 1858. Apparently not by Charles himself as his daughter was busy dying of some non-specific 19th malady but the occasion (the papers, not the death) is nonetheless still marked by a plaque. That was admittedly pretty special. Sometimes London does really woo you.

Thursday was margarita madness day. A shitty, irritating, unhelpful day for every and no reason, it was made enormously better both by some Very Exciting News from Tori and then dinner (and said margaritas) with Lovely Friend and Bec, in London for one last night. After the margaritas (and in the interests of full disclosure a bottle of wine...) the impending pain of Friday was dulled in more ways than one. Thank god.

The weekend however was just lovely. On Saturday I didn't get out of my pajamas until 2pm, willfully staying in bed and when not sleeping instead watching rubbish television on LB's computer. It was only the Lovely Boy's baking of Portuguese tarts that got me out of bed and even then it was only to move to the couch to minimise the crumbs. And then on Sunday LB's sister, brother-in-law and very adorable nephew arrived in London and so we caught up with them. It's always so good to see familiar faces from home. The best kind of tonic really.

West London showing some rare 'urban art'...
This week so far has really been about getting through until today though frankly after the whitewash of beige over most parts of last week this week could only ever be an improvement.

I'm so looking forward to Greece, and seeing Cleo and hopefully getting the chance to dunk myself in the ocean. All of which will be excellent distractions from a looming phone call from home that I am dreading with every fibre of my body.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Pinch me moments and friends from home.

I worked out today it's 32 weeks until LB and I fly home to Sydney and the thought rather depressed me as it feels like SO FAR AWAY. Probably, well, because it is. I also calculated it's 10 days until we leave for Greece so I really should try and keep things in perspective but it's Mother's Day in Australia today and I've been thinking about home, and mothers, grandmothers and family generally, A LOT. So thank god for a phone plan that gives me 800 international minutes a month. You know who you are and you know how much I love you.

Sentiment mine but signage courtesy of Southbank
I sound flat, I'm really not, just philosophical as I think about work, career, marriage, living overseas and that thing called a life plan and feel, for the first time in a really long time, reasonably calm that It Will All Work Out. One way or another.

I've struggled to enjoy work this last week. A lack of confidence hasn't helped, nor have external politics and the pressure of a ridiculously stressful deadline but on Friday I was the only one in the office and I managed to get quite a lot done so I'm hoping this week will be constructive and exciting. No pressure.

More bunting love...
One of the highlights of work last week though was a meeting at Tate Britain. Not so much the meeting itself but the walk I took from my exercise class in Covent Garden to the gallery. I walked through Trafalgar Square and then down Whitehall, with a quick detour to cop a look at all the flags still decorating the Mall, past Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Silly me, being early, thought I might swing past and stick my head in the door of the Abbey so I could gape at all the beautiful trees and flowers still in situ from The Wedding. Not a chance in hell of making my meeting with a line that looked like this:

On Thursday I had Another 'pinch me' moment after Another meeting, this time on Southbank. My love of bunting has been discussed elsewhere but I so love all the signage around the Royal Festival Hall for the Festival of Britain. I also fell a little bit in love with this work by Gitta Gschwendtner, called The Lion and Unicorn, after the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion from the 1951 Festival. Fifty years ago the Pavilion was designed to show who the British people were, largely to the British people themselves and part of that pavilion was a flight of ceramic birds designed to symbolise migration and freedom of speech.

Gitta Sschwendtner, The Lion and Unicorn, Southbank, 2011
Gschwendtner's work is an ephemeral homage to this work and the result of a collaboration with a number of young people from refugee groups across London. She asked them to write poems that explored ideas of strength and imagination and then re-cast their written poems not as birds but paper aeroplanes. While some thoughts were thus 'set free', the others fluttered in the wind as part of a sculptural installation, where you could go up and read the poems or listen as pre-recorded readings were played. It was just so beautiful, both in its fragility and its power and I felt so heartened by the encounter, the more so because it was so accidental. The metaphorical potential for this work, visually, politically and poetically is just breathtaking.

And from one lovely encounter I headed for another as at home waiting for me was LB and a dear friend from home, Bec, making her debut on British soil. Bec and her sister had arrived on Wednesday and being a working girl these days I had barely had a chance to see her. Thankfully she came to stay and we've had three lovely nights of catching up, talking friends from home, talking weddings, travel and all about London.  

On Friday night we decided that a quintessential London night was needed and so we went east, for a drink at the so-cool-if-it-wasn't-in-Shoreditch-it-would-be-in-Melbourne Commercial Tavern, with its fabulous wallpapers, light fittings and not so fabulous loud music. From here we went to Brick Lane for some Indian and introduced Bec to the cultural delight that is getting seduced or harassed, depending on your temperament, by the smooth talkers touting every restaurant along the strip. One even had hologram business cards. 

Interiors upstairs at the Commercial Tavern.
Brick Lane... Yes there really are bricks.
After too much naan bread and just enough wine to make us sleepy we headed home with a plan to tackle Borough the next day. Which we did, via a button shop on Marylebone Lane so I could replace the admittedly ugly buttons on the trench LB calls my flasher coat. I take such comments as a reassuring sign of his heterosexuality and frankly of all the fashion crimes I could be committing, there are worse out there. Much Worse. (And n.b. I'm not the only one who thinks so. The very clever Amy Sly came up with this handy chart for the Huffpost and I feel it's my social responsibility to share it here:)

By Amy Sly and first seen here

But back to Borough. Being a sort-of-sunny Saturday and frankly, simply Saturday, the market was rammed but we nonetheless successfully navigated our way past every cheese stall with a tasting plate and over a lunch of burgers (mine halloumi, LBB's duck and Bec's lamb) we came up with a menu for dinner that night. Slow cooked leg of lamb and roasted beets, asparagus and vine tomatoes. With Portuguese tarts for dessert. A large part of the recipe's appeal was the three hours it would take to cook, which gave us three hours for Pimms at the pub while the house filled with the intoxicating smell of lamb, mint and garlic. It was seriously delicious. 
Sitting under Southwark Cathedral.
Food already consumed by this point.
The fruits of our shopping labour.
Today we've done zero. Bec left for the non-London parts of the UK to visit her mum and LB and I have dossed about the house, cleaning, TV watching, Thailand googling (honeymoon anyone?) and generally trying not to think about the five day week ahead. It's been awhile since we've had one of those. Spring it may be but holidays it isn't. At least not until next week.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Long and lazy weekend - the second

So the second long weekend has come and all but gone and I am pooped. Last weekend felt like a mini-break, I think largely because of the weather and impending bonhomie over the then impending royal wedding. This weekend has felt busy. Not bad, but busy. And well-earned after a difficult, distracting three days at work where productivity was hard, hard won. Computer malfunctions and difficult personalities didn't help so much either... 

bunting along the Southbank
LB's long weekend take two didn't get off to the best of starts as he had to go into work to make sure the BBC's websites didn't crash from all the wedding-related traffic. They didn't - just - but my usually unruffled, unfazed lovely boy was all but ruined by the adrenalin, stress and frustration of the day. I usually joke that going to work for LB is like going to camp - he has his friends and every morning they meet for coffee and then they have lunch and some of them go to photography club and they sit in their little teams and do activities otherwise known as work. On Friday LB wanted to pack up his bat and ball and leave camp forever. It was that bad.

Chinatown celebrates the Royal Wedding
I, on the other hand, had a lovely morning on the sofa watching the live coverage of Wills, Kate, Harry and The Dress. Thankfully it didn't rain but even if it had poured I don't think the million odd people who flocked into central London would have been deterred.

Heading into Soho that afternoon it took me a good four tube stops - from Hyde Park Corner to Leicester Square - to work out why all these people were boarding the train with suitcases and tents and a slightly stinky air about them.

I didn't take this photo - a friend and former colleague who braved the crowds did. She also managed to fight the throngs to get this classic photograph.....

But central London was awash, not only with the great unwashed, but flags and bunting and people simply revelling in the good mood - the only verb for it really. And I was in Soho to revel too. Not so much in honour of the royal wedding but weddings generally - and my friend Cleo's particularly. Only a girl planning a big fat Greek wedding with 600 guests would have the chutzpah to hijack Kate and Wills day but it was such a lovely afternoon that veered into a hilarious evening - sodden with cocktails and deafened with karaoke. We started at the Dean St Townhouse for high tea and prosecco before heading to Lounge Bohemia in east London, my old stomping ground for lychee martinis and these:

Before heading to Dalston for sushi and more cocktails before heading to Brick Lane for a private booth and concert bill featuring the inestimable talents of Dolly Parton, Belinda Carlisle and The Spice Girls. There may be video footage of seven women hanging from the walls and dancing on sofas while singing at the very top of their lungs but to the untrained ear it sounds like a herd of cats being slaughtered. But it was a lot of fun. And unlike last weekend with my spectacularly poor ability to hold myself upright after copious amounts of liquor, this time I was fine. I mean, my head hurt a little on Saturday morning but I was undamaged and still holding the contents of my stomach so it could have been worse. Never again...

Saturday itself was a bit of a faff before me and my tired LBB took ourselves back to the BBC for a filming of one of the world's guiltiest TV pleasures, So You Think You Can Dance. After Friday night I know absolutely that I cannot dance (or sing...) but god I wish I could. Even with all the pointless standing about you have to endure with live television there is something quite incredible about seeing someone backflip their way across a stage in time to music.

Bills in Covent Garden
Yesterday LB and I went into Covent Garden for brunch with Cleo at Bills, this cute organic cafe in a hideaway courtyard off Long Acre before meandering through Kurt Geiger and emerging with some new sandals (LB being now a shoe connoisseur after my weeks of sandal-less moaning and some inspired research in response to my brief) and then to Southbank to check out the Festival of Britain. Mostly I was impressed with the huge sculpture of a fox made out of hay but the Bondi girl in me was touched by the efforts at a seaside, with a mock beach and bunting. I can't get enough of the bunting these days but I suspect that's because my wedding-soggy brain is in decorations mode at the moment.

From Southbank we headed home for some perfunctory housecleaning before my still-tired LB reawakened his obsession with Masterchef Australia while I cooked him dinner, a surprisingly delicious laksa.

Today we braved the gale force winds for some culture at the V&A - a really fascinating exhibition of contemporary South African photography. LB found it quite depressing, I found it sad, compelling and quite beautiful in parts so I'm glad we went. Otherwise the high point of my day would have been the hour long nap I had this afternoon.

Street art in Camberwell. Something about frogs and princes maybe?... 
Tomorrow it is back to work but the highlight of this week is undoubtedly and already the arrival of one of my dearest friends from Sydney - making her debut on British soil. I can't wait to see her, I only wish I didn't have to work but I'm so looking forward to showing her London. Let's just hope it behaves, starting with the weather.