First impressions, kangas and aching everything

human lizard on the farm

My normal line of work is less about weeding and more about sitting in front of a computer and occasionally getting up to make a cup of tea. My first couple of days of farm work have therefore left me with a lot of aches and pains and a strong desire for my 88 days to pass  quickly.

It’s not all bad though: the farmer and his wife are lovely and the surroundings are absolutely beautiful. Yesterday I walked around part of the 100 acre property and the landscape took my breath away.

kangaroo bouncing along near the lake

Every evening a family of kangaroos come into the olive grove and you can see them from the kitchen window. A family of kangaroos. That you can see from the kitchen window. Amazing.

This evening the farmer told me that, “The real work starts tomorrow.” He wants to get an early start so my alarm is set for 6.15am. Hopefully this means we can finish working before the temperature hits the predicted 31°C.

84 days to go.

In which the human lizard becomes a farmer

Before I left London to spend a year living in Melbourne a friend said to me, “Make sure you don’t go falling in love and deciding to stay.” I replied with a chortle and a “Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen.”

It happened. On my second day in Australia.

I am here on a one-year Working Holiday Visa but you can add on a second year by doing three months of ‘regional work’ during your first year. Immigration has a list of postcodes that they consider ‘regional’ and a list of jobs that they want you to do, which are basically all farm work.

So, after Christmas I will be driving out into regional Victoria to work at an olive grove for a month. It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be really hard work and there’s a real chance of meeting some snakes and some pretty scary spiders. The things we do for love.

I’ll be blogging a bit more regularly than normal while I’m away, so do check back for some hilarious olive-related anecdotes. I bet you can’t wait.

Same same, but different

In many respects, Australia is not all that different to the UK. Especially when you live in a big city like Melbourne, where even the weather is the same.* Sometimes however, I’ll be going about my business and something will remind me that I am a very long way from home.

Barbeque’s Galore

Entrance to Barbeques Galore on Bridge Road
You can’t tell from the photo but this is a huge shop. Just for barbeques.

The language
On a few occasions, I’ve had to resort to Google to find out what the hell has just been said to me. Some examples:

  • How’re you travelling? – How’s it going?
  • Who do you barrack for? – Which team (usually AFL) do you support?
  • And then she just cracked it/cracked the shits – She wasn’t very happy and expressed her feelings. Strongly.
  • Sanger – sandwich
  • My friends are still bagging on me for that – I did something stupid and my friends are taking the piss. I probably deserve it.
  • Chrissie – Christmas. This is being used already and I hate it.

Myki cards
The Myki is a shit version of the Oyster card and it makes me miss London every time I swipe through a station. I do find it reassuring, however, that everyone in Melbourne hates Myki cards, not just the tourists.

Variety packs
This blew my mind a little bit. What the fuck is it doing?Kellog's variety pack opening in a unique way

The prices
Melbourne is up there with the world’s most expensive (or exy, if we’re getting into the local slang) cities. Earning Aussie dollars makes a big difference though, and it’s a magical moment when you realise you’ve stopped converting everything back to your home currency and then crying into your £7 pint.

And finally, traffic lights
The traffic lights here go straight from red to green (omitting the all important red-amber), so there’s no time to get ready.**

* I haven’t done summer here yet though. Summer will be different.
** I keep pointing this out to people but no one else seems to think it’s a big deal. It’s a huge deal.

In which the human lizard finds herself being a landlord

There are strangers living in my home. They’ve been there for two months now* and I still feel rather weird about it. Thing is, when you decide to leave your job and move to another country you have to find a new way to pay the mortgage. So, I’m a landlord now.

Immaculate flat waiting for tenants to arrive

I’m doing everything through the letting agent so I don’t have any direct contact with the tenants but, thanks to the reference check, I know a surprising amount about them. For example, I know that they are a couple living together for the first time. And so it is that I find myself rooting for the ongoing success of a relationship between two strangers so that I don’t lose my rental income. My girlfriend of six years and I only lasted seven months after moving into that flat but I’m confident that these guys can stay the course.

Anyway, if you thinking about renting out your place, here are some things I wish someone had told me:

  • If you are leaseholder, you need to get permission from the freeholder in order to ‘sub-let’ your property. I did not realise this until very late in the game and had an incredibly anxious three-week wait for the housing company to give their approval. 
  • You also need to tell the mortgage company. And if you’re lucky, they’ll say they need to put an extra 1.5% interest on your mortgage during the letting period. Just for fun.
  • The energy performance certificate you got when you bought your property is actually important. If you can’t find it after spending a day looking at every single piece of paper in your possession, you will have to pay £50 for a new one.
  • If you opt to clean the property yourself rather than paying a professional, be prepared for how long it will take, especially if the oven, windows, under furniture, on top of furniture, etc, haven’t been cleaned in the three years that you’ve lived there. I recommend inviting your mother to help. 
  • You own more stuff than you think. You should probably hire a van.

* I wonder if they’ve realised that Upstairs Neighbour is a huge Everton fan yet. It’ s pretty obvious if he sings his song** but the more impressive route is to notice that you only ever hear him crashing around when a win has raised his spirits.

** “Everton, Everton, Everton, Ev-er-ton.” Classic.

In which the human lizard reveals a superpower

A year ago, give or take a couple of days, I lost my sense of smell. This means that I can’t smell anything and can only taste bitter, sweet, salt and sour. Or to put it another way, it means I can happily eat half a bowl of cereal before noticing that the milk has lumps in it.*

A few appointments and an MRI scan** later, the ENT consultant said she didn’t know what had caused it and that there was nothing she could do beyond advising me to check my smoke alarm regularly. I cried. It was awkward.

Arm Fall Off Boy detaching his limb

Recently I’ve been trying to view anosmia (the medical term for loss of olfaction) as my superpower. For example, when I walk into a bar with friends and they start complaining that it smells like vomit, I remain as happy as Larry. Yeah, it’s a rubbish superpower, but there are worse. There’s also a money saving element to the condition. I’ve always been quite a thrifty shopper (my ex called me The Miser) but I now buy Sainsbury’s basics EVERYTHING. When I did Live Below the Line last year the 27p baked beans almost broke me. These days I rather enjoy them.

Cooking for other people can be a bit more of a challenge. The instruction ‘season to taste’ feels like a bit of a kick in the face and I’m paranoid about serving food that has gone off. My tactic is to stick to tried and tested recipes and to take use by dates very seriously. However, if you’re ever eating something I’ve cooked, please don’t be afraid to pipe up if it tastes odd – for both our sakes.

Green cakes and chocolate flapjacksI’d really like it if anosmia helped me to eat healthily. While it’s true that I don’t really like chocolate anymore, I eat more sweet food than ever because ‘sweet’ is my favourite of the four flavours available to me. If it looks like cake and tastes like sugar, I’m in.

I was very reluctant to tell people about all this to begin with but over the past year my loss of smell has gone from being a secret entrusted to just a couple friends to something that I can joke about. Mostly. There’s no getting around the fact that it totally sucks but, fingers crossed, I might catch a whiff of coffee, fresh cut grass, or even vomit, any day now.

* I really wish I could say I stopped eating my cereal when I realised that the milk was off. Low point.

** Top tip: When they ask you which radio station you want to listen to while you’re in an MRI machine, do not say Radio 4. The machine is so loud that John Humphreys and Sarah Montague really can’t compete – some background music would be far more appropriate.

In which the human lizard is a reluctant spy

It almost goes without saying that when moving to a new country, it is essential to join a board game club as soon as you can. I arrived in Australia on Friday night. On Saturday I attended my first meeting of Melbourne-based Cafe Games.

Back home, my own humble board game club (affectionately known as BGC) has eight members, average attendance is four or five and we play in my living room. Cafe Games is held in a pub’s function room and was attended by well over 100 Melbournians. There was a really good mix of people and everyone was very welcoming and apparently unfazed that this was how I’d chosen to spend my first day in their fine city.

The games being played were many and varied. When I arrived, a new game of The Resistance was about to start. While watching this game on Will Wheaton’s TableTop recently I had thought that I would be terrible at it and should avoid it at all costs. I joined right in.

Members of the resistance (blue) and spies (red)The Resistance takes place in a country ruled by an evil government. At the start of the game you get a card that tells you whether you are a member of the resistance or a government spy. Everyone closes their eyes and then the spies open their eyes so that they can identify one another, but they don’t get any chance to talk tactics. For the resistance, the aim of the game is to successfully complete three out of five missions. The spies’ aim is to thwart them.

Players take it in turns to propose a team for a mission then everyone votes to approve or reject that team. If the mission gets enough votes to be approved, those taking part anonymously choose whether the mission succeeds or fails (the resistance can only choose ‘succeed’). The outcomes of these stages help the resistance to work out who the spies are so that they can put together successful, spy-free missions. There is lots of discussion at each stage, with accusations flying around and spies telling fibs to throw suspicion onto others.

I really hoped that I’d be part of the resistance but of course I got a spy card. I’m terrible at lying so my tactic was to stay quiet, which made people start to suspect me. I started throwing out some accusations, some of which made no sense at all. Despite my poor efforts, my team of spies were able to fail enough missions to win the game and uphold the evil regime. Horrah.

The Resistance
Players: 5–10
Ages: 13+
Vaguely interesting fact: The Cafe Games venue sells pints of beer for $10. That’s about £6.40. Ouch.
Verdict: This is an awesome game and, if I can just develop the ability to lie convincingly, I’ll be amazing at it.

Board game review: In The Money

At Board Game Club we don’t just play the well known classics like Scrabble and Monopoly. Oh no, we also play the slightly random, niche (and occasionally crap) games that I find at local charity shops. A recent meeting saw us finally attempting In The Money, a game that I bought about a year ago but kept ignoring because it looked complicated. It was complicated.

In The Money mid-game and clearly not set up just for this photo.

It’s never a great start when you can’t work out what the aim of a game is. We got there eventually and I shall attempt to summarise. To begin with, everyone draws a team leader card out of accountant, banker, lawyer, PR executive, stockbroker and surveyor. You then build up a team and earn income through your team’s skills and status symbols. This allows you to move up the game board to the board room. In order to end the game, someone then needs to become the chairman and hold two successive board meetings.* The winner is the person with the most money at that point.**

The box describes In The Money as “the City of London send-up game”. As someone who’s never worked in the city, I wasn’t too sure about having to pay £1,000 funeral expenses for a team member threatened by a management buy-out rumour (as one chance card required) but the two accountants playing felt that, yes, they might be lured to a rival’s team by the promise of a solar powered calculator.

I can’t remember who we declared as the winner of In The Money – it felt more like an experience that we all got through together.

* None of us achieved this. 

** If you’re thinking that the game doesn’t sound that complicated, please note that I have neglected to mention the treasurer, the governor, market conditions (bull and bear), interest rates, loans, blackmail, fatal stress cards, predictions and the wind of change.

In the Money
Players: 2–6
Ages: Unspecified
Vaguely interesting fact: The companies named on the board are listed in the back of the rules with their contact details. It seems that they are all defunct now though; hard to believe that In The Money didn’t shift enough units to have an impact on business.
Verdict: It took us quite a while to get our head round this game and we realised near the end that we’d been doing a few bits entirely wrong. However, it was actually fun and we vowed to give it another shot some time soon.

In which the human lizard plans for death

Yes, this post is about death. But in a practical, I-have-no-intention-of-dying-anytime-soon kind of a way. So it’s ok. And not at all weird.

Last year I decided it was about time I made a will. A tiny amount of research led me to believe that if you meet certain criteria it’s pretty safe to make your will online. It was surprisingly easy – you hand over the very reasonable sum of £28, fill out all the details, wait for confirmation that it has been checked by a qualified human, then print it out and surprise two of your colleagues with the odd request of witnessing you sign your last will and testament.

The benefit of having a will is pretty obvious: it’s the way you can have a say in who gets your money and ‘stuff’ when you shuffle off this mortal coil. It means you can divvy things up between people, leave some money to a charity or leave your worldly wealth to a beloved pet.*

Making the will got me thinking about death generally and, more specifically, about my funeral. I have some STRONG FEELINGS relating to how my funeral/memorial fiasco should go down and it makes far more sense to put these things down on paper than to just hope that someone I’ve told remembers and is around at the right time, hopefully many years down the line. Last week I finally got round to doing this and I rattled down the important, won’t go into it here, part but then started to think about the other elements. I completely failed with music requests, so apologies funeral organisers, you’re on your own. It’s hard to think of songs that are happy but not entirely inappropriate when someone has just died. For example, my current favourite song is a Bright Eyes tune called First Day of My Life but I’m just not sure that a funeral is the time for irony.

lego man dressed as a chickenWhat was much easier to pin down was the dress code: no black (with an exception made for my brother as I don’t think he owns anything else). I’ve also included a reminder that a certain friend should come dressed in a chicken suit. I can’t remember how this came to be proposed (it was several years ago) but feel that it would lighten the mood rather well.

Something I now realise I didn’t mention is the food, but you can’t go to far wrong with a buffet. I do so love a buffet and am more than a little disappointed that I’ll be missing out on this one.

* Don’t do that.

Writing a will/planning your funeral
Players: 1
Ages: 18+
Vaguely interesting fact: A holographic will is one that is handwritten, signed and dated by the person but not witnessed. It could include a will written in the dust of a car bonnet by a person dying while lost in the desert. Validity of such wills varies depending on where you are.
Verdict: Writing a will is an incredibly easy thing to do, especially considering how grown up and important it is. If you own property or anything else of significant value, you should give it some thought.

In which the human lizard admits to being a Zac Efron fan

So, the film quest is not going well. Since first blogging about it, I’ve watched just two films from the list and a plethora of average-to-poor films including two starring Zac Efron. Details below.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) – This is a cool film (clue’s in the title I suppose) and is from my quest list. Paul Newman plays Luke, who is sent to a Florida prison camp after being caught cutting the tops off parking meters for no particular reason. I got really into this film, cheering Luke on as he tries to eat 50 eggs in an hour for a bet* and feeling genuinely angry at the Captain’s efforts to break our hero. Top quote: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

17 Again (2009) – In the vein of Big or 13 Going on 30 (but backwards), some sort of magic occurs and 40-something Mike wakes up aged 17. He enrols in school, becomes the star basketball player, gets to know his kids again and flirts with his wife (played by the always wonderful Leslie Mann). I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for Zac Efron ever since High School Musical and I am only slightly ashamed to say that I really enjoyed this film.

The Lucky One (2012) – Sometimes one Zac Efron fix in a month just isn’t enough and I soon found myself watching The Lucky One. This time young Zac plays a US Marine searching for the woman from the photo he believes saved his life in Iraq. He finds the woman (entirely plausible) and you can guess where it goes from there. I’m still waiting to see if Mr Efron can hold his own in a proper film rather than this sentimental crap, but I for one am rooting for him.

the human lizard dressed convincingly as HAL from 2001 a space odyssey

“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Given that no one in the team had ever watched 2001, it was perhaps a strange choice to be our fancy dress effort at the office Christmas party. After a quick Google Image search, I picked out HAL the computer and decided to watch the film while making my costume. While 2001 is in many ways excellent, there are some quite long bits where basically NOTHING happens, so I was quite glad to be multitasking. HAL didn’t appear for the first hour and, when he did, he turned out to be 100 per cent more homicidal than I’d anticipated. Ah well.

I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed Cool Hand Luke far more than all the crap films I’ve watched lately, including 17 Again. Just. And, while not a huge fan of 2001, I think that it’s definitely worth a watch. The film quest is thus confirmed as A GOOD THING.

* Some clever people have investigated whether this feat could ever be achieveable. Answer: probably not

Film quest update
Players: 1 (This might be where I’m going wrong – will try to recruit some film-watching friends to help me on my quest.)
Ages: 27–28 (I have aged.)
Vaguely interesting fact: Zac Efron appeared in Firefly as young Simon Tam. Random.
I’ve made an undeniably poor start to the film quest but will definitely try harder in 2013.

In which the human lizard shares some wisdom about internet dating

Having had a degree of success from online dating over the last year, I’ve decided that I’m an expert and keep trying to impart my knowledge on anyone who’ll listen. Here are some quick tips for any potential daters out there.

  • The human lizard sitting at a computer, doing a bit of internet datingFirst off, internet dating is great. You should give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen? Don’t answer that.
  • Don’t pay for a dating website if you’re too chicken to start messaging people. I handed over £30 to the first site I signed up to and then didn’t use it. That’s money I could have spent buying alcohol to drink alone in my flat. What a waste.
  • You don’t have to pay for online dating at all – there are free sites that are worth trying out first. OKCupid is a well-designed site with a reasonable number of nice, normal, attractive people. PlentyOfFish is hideous in terms of the site’s appearance and usability but is, I think, the biggest free one out there. Unfortunately the sheer quantity of fish means that the quality is lower and you have to sift through quite a few ‘interesting’ profiles to find the good ones.
  • Everyone I know who has used Guardian Soulmates says it’s good, the obvious benefit being that the danger of finding yourself on a date with a Tory is really, really low. However, bear in mind that there’s no point being on the paid sites if you don’t pay as you can’t send messages.
  • Try to avoid using ‘wink’, ‘like’, ‘meet me’, ‘favourite’ or whatever feature the site you’re using has to achieve the same as a ‘poke’ on Facebook (ie, nothing). Make the effort and send a message.
  • If you see a profile you like, send the person a message then move on. Do not spend a whole evening crafting the perfect message while planning out your lives together because there’s a good chance they won’t reply and you’ll be gutted.
  • Struggling to find the courage to contact people? Have a drink and then try again. Repeat as needed.

Right, that’s enough for now, I have a date to get ready for.

Internet dating
Players: 2 (though you’re likely to get quite a few messages from people who think the game is better played with 3)
Ages: You decide
Vaguely interesting fact: There is a dating site called Love Horse. Amazing.
Verdict: With a little bit of effort you can find yourself on some fun dates with nice people you wouldn’t have otherwise met. And there’s also the potential that you’ll meet someone awesome. Good luck.