Sorry, and the next thing

I have failed you, my dear readers. For more than a year, more than half of my time in the UK, I have not written a word. And that is really inexcusable.

I could blame it on having a job, and it is true the long hours I have spent toiling behind a bar have taken up a lot of time, but in truth it is my own laziness that is at fault. Nothing has been written because, to put it simply, I have not been bothered to write. So I am sorry.

But now is not the time to look back at the year that has gone. One day I may revisit my UK experiences, but not yet. For I have moved on from London, having left the shores of the motherland to head back home, and I am taking a few stops on the way. I intend (although we have seen what my intentions count for) to document this long way home, and I will endeavour to do a better job this time.

So look out for word of my new adventures. They will appear here soon, I promise.

A birthday in a basket

One of the undeniable truths of the world is that time moves onwards. The clock ticks, the planets move, and that unstoppable march from past to future continues. As part of this constant movement, every now and then this rock we stand on completes yet another revolution of the sun, and you get nominally older.

Yes, I’m talking about birthdays, because I just had one. I have been on this planet for 30 trips around the sun. Due to the human race’s innate preference for round numbers, many people consider to be a moment of significance.

I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that, though. The move from twenty-something into thirty-something doesn’t seem to come with any real change, and I can think of better options for checking where you are on your life plan. (For the record, my life plan is probably lost behind a fridge somewhere). For me, it’s just another birthday.

But that’s still a good reason to party.

Over the years I have celebrated my birthday in many different ways. House parties and pub nights, all with good friends and many drinks have generally been the way to go, with or without karaoke. The five-hour multi-course dinner for 7 people in the wine room of one of my favourite Canberra restaurants was a particularly memorable way to spend my 27th year.

This year, though, I had something that I haven’t had before. This time, my birthday was during spring. This made the party idea obvious for me. It was time for a picnic.

I love a good picnic. There’s something delightful about sitting outside in the sun, eating and drinking, maybe while someone plays guitar. Everyone just seems to be relaxed and happy on a picnic, provided the flies and mozzies aren’t too bad (though that’s not as much of a problem here as it can be back home).

There are a lot of considerations when picnicking, such as how glam you want to go. Some people go all out with fine china and those dainty tower stands that you put cupcakes on, basically just taking an afternoon tea set and putting it on the ground. That is all fine, and it can look beautiful, but it is also a lot of effort. Plus you sometimes feel like you’re sitting on a giant doily, and who really wants that?

No, for me a picnic is best at the simple end. A blanket is good, though not totally necessary if the grass is dry, but that’s about as fancy as I will go when it comes to décor. I don’t spend too much time on making things pretty. I’m much more interested in the food.

There are a few rules for picnic food. Firstly, it needs to be eaten easily with your hands, because you don’t want to walk away from the park with sauce all over your shirt. Small, compact bites that you can pick up and eat without really needing to worry about serviettes are by far the best, which is why sandwiches and cold pies are so successful.

I like to go with sandwiches. There is something about putting food inside bread that makes it better. I remember as a child, sitting down at the beach with a soft white roll filled with ham and salad, or salami and cheese. Simple, clean and easy, it’s perfect for eating outside.

These days I lean towards chicken sandwiches in particular, and my chicken sandwiches are rightly celebrated. They are always fairly simple, and a variation of a theme. A chicken salad, made with chicken, mayonnaise, some type of onion, some type of nut, and some other flavour, in classic white bread. But there are some secrets to making them perfect.

Firstly, it’s all about the quality of the chicken. Buy a whole chicken, preferably organic (they taste better) from somewhere you trust. Then poach it whole to keep it moist, and strip the thing. Don’t forget all the little bits of meat near the bone. They’re the best part. The other secret is even easier: use Japanese mayonnaise. I don’t know what it is, but it just makes things better. It’s probably the MSG.

For my birthday I went for French style chicken sandwiches, with caramelised onion, slivered almonds and thyme. They were unquestionably excellent. We are talking the sort of sandwiches that make people say, “Damn, those are amazing sandwiches”.

With a cold cocktail in hand, sun above, grass below and friends around, anything can taste good. But with sandwiches like that? It makes for a very happy birthday.

Work/life dreaming

It is one of those sad truths of life that if you are going to spend money, at some point you are going to need to make some money. This is the basic idea of a working holiday. That you work in order to support your holiday.

As of yet, I have got the balance of this concept completely wrong. For four months, I have been having an amazing time in London, emptying out my carefully amassed savings, and it has been wonderful. I have partied and wandered and eaten and just generally enjoyed myself. What I haven’t done, however, is busy myself with that whole “getting a job” thing.

In hindsight, this was probably a mistake.

Now those dual beasts of reality and poverty are screaming up behind me at great pace, threatening to overtake me and send me back home. Which means it is now unquestionably time to get a job.

But what job to get? The obvious answer is “anything that pays”, but that’s surprisingly hard to apply for. You do need to have some idea of what you’re going for before you can start really looking. And, at the moment, I really don’t.

As you can probably tell, job searching is far from my favourite activity. I look through the jobs on offer and daydream about what I would actually like to be doing. I fantasise about people paying me to do the things I really love. For example, “Why won’t anyone give me a job where I can talk about food all day? Where’s that career path!”

As it turns out, here in London you can get paid for just talking about food all day! In my search I came across a position that was perfect for me: a food tour guide.

The role was a pretty simple one. Between two and five times a week you would take groups of 12 or smaller around the East End, showing them some key food experiences and giving them a potted history of the area. Brick Lane curries and London’s best bacon sandwich were all part of the day involved. The talking was a mix of scripted work and improvising to suit the participants.

And I would be great at it. I know this, and those of you who know me or have read my work over the years would, I hope, agree.

Sadly, though, it seems that my clear aptitude for such a role did not come across in my interview. I did not get the job, and I can’t help but feeling that the company made a huge mistake. Similar to the mistakes that Masterchef Australia made by not casting me those two times.

Because this is exactly what I am good at. Nearly everyone I have ever met has, at some point, been regaled with some sort of food related lecture. I speak with vast knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm, and people at least appear to be interested when I do. I need to find some way to take advantage of this!

So dear readers, while I continue searching for any job that will pay me, please help me think of some way I can do this. What roles can I take on in London where my natural talents and interests will make me money? Give me suggestions in the comments below. If you know of any actual opportunities, that would be even better.

I know that talking about food for a living is a bit of a pipe dream, but dreaming is what a holiday is for, isn’t it?

In the mean time, though, back to the job sites. Let’s hold off reality just a little longer.

Starting young

When I was young I always intended to go and live overseas. A prospective expat from way back, I had all sorts of plans that I never quite got around to.

After seeing the film ‘The Spanish Apartment’ I was absolutely going to do an exchange year in Barcelona and have adventures with a kooky group of people from all around Europe. Sadly, my university didn’t have any deals with Spanish universities.

I started looking at other countries. UK, US, France, Japan: everywhere sounded great, but I never quite got around to doing the paperwork.

The years ticked by and I continued not getting around to it. I spent six years in Canberra, plodding through the public service, and wasting my youth.

Waste might seem like a strong word, of course. I’ve generally enjoyed myself, even in Canberra. But your youth should be for adventure!

But thankfully, I’m still young, at least according to the government of the United Kingdom. So with my Youth Mobility Visa in hand I am off to do my kind of adventuring.

The kind with food.

“But why England?” you might ask. “Surely a gastronomic adventure would fit better in Paris, or Barcelona, or the many ramen stores of Tokyo?” And it’s a fair question.

I could be cynical and say that it comes entirely down to better visa conditions, but in reality that is only part of the story. While the UK has, over the years, had a pretty poor reputation in the kitchen, things have changed more recently. Even when French President Jacques Chirac claimed in 2005 that British cuisine was second only to Finnish in its awfulness, London was already becoming one of the world’s great food cities.

The last 15 years has seen the UK become a centre of gastronomic innovation (thank you Heston). It has had a resurgence of classic British food, particularly solidifying its position as one of the foremost cookers of meat (thank you Fergus). On top of all that, as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, London has become a place where you can find great food from around the world. From French to Vietnamese to Colombian to Israeli, there are options somewhere in this city.

At least, this is what I am told, and over the coming two years I’ll be finding out for myself.

I intend to dive headlong into what this country has to offer. While mostly this will mean the food of London, I will also get out to the rolling green hills, head over to Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and try some of the other cities (particularly excited about Birmingham, if I’m being honest). I’m going to experience the clichés and the reality, the old and the new, the cheap and (when I get a job) the fancy.

Not that I will ignore the continent. With so much only a brief plane ride away, short trips to Europe are also on the agenda. From Aalborg to Zurich, I’m going eat the best.

And I am going to share all of it with you.