Thursday, 29 May 2014

Life lessons from "Maleficent"

At risk of sounding old, things have really changed since I grew up.

The new breed of Disney stories has turned the traditional fairytale on its head, and in the process are imparting some cold, hard truths about the modern world.

I had the pleasure of seeing the film Maleficent earlier this week.  It's an enjoyable romp telling the back story of the fairy Maleficent, better known for cursing Princess Aurora to eternal sleep in Sleeping Beauty.

Without giving away too much, it can be pretty dark in its outlook.   While good does triumph over evil in the end, it's probably not how you would expect it would.

You could always rely on traditional fairy tales to impart some words of wisdom about the world.   

Maleficent shares 10 life lessons of its own.

1.  The fairy tales you know and love were lying to you

2.  There are two sides to every story

3.  Romantic love isn't the only kind of love in the world

4.  Men are bastards and will screw you over at every chance

5.  The "Prince Charmings" of the world look pretty but are pretty useless at the end of the day

6.  The traditional "happily ever after" has changed, but you can still be happy

7.  Hate will eat away at you and be your downfall

8.  Everything you do is influenced by where you've come from

9.  Sometimes you can't take back what you said in anger, no matter how hard you try

10.  Even if you ban something (like a spinning wheel), everyone still has one!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bracing for the blow

My friend is returning from several weeks' holiday in Europe tomorrow and I'm feeling the pressure.

You see I'm in charge of finding ways for her to soften the inevitable blow that is a return to normality, routine and work after a holiday.

I know the feeling well.  After what can feel like a magical time of freedom, fun and frivolity, arriving home you can feel the cold chill of reality.  There's work to be finished, chores to be done and bills to be paid.

"OMG I'm back!"
It's also a time when you realise you're as far away from your next holiday as you'll ever be.

I've never been that good at starving off the inevitable post-holiday blues.  In fact, it seems the most successful strategy is to try and forget you ever had a holiday at all.   This is a depressing turn of events in itself.

But I'm determined to find some strategies to ward of post-holiday depression.   Here's what I've come up with, do you have any to add?

1.  Treat yourself when you get home
What sets holidays apart from the rest of the year is that when we're on a break we tend to unleash and enjoy life.  When we get back home it's like heading back to the no-fun convent.  Little things like going to a massage, movie, concert or other activity might help you feel as though there's still fun to be had... even if you're back home.

"You're back home now.  The fun must stop"

2.  Think of it as an extended laundry pitstop
It sounds strange but one of the few things I miss on holidays is being able to wash my clothes properly without hassle or expense.  I love the feeling of emptying the contents of my bag into the washing machine and letting it rip.  I'd like to think the time at home in between holidays is just a long (and sometimes it's very long) laundry pitstop before it's time to head off again.
"We're just waiting for our clothes to dry and then we're off"

3.  Schedule in some retail therapy
I like to plan to buy a few treats when I go home, rather than reserve shopping solely for when I'm on holidays.  Whether it's new running shoes, aftershave, a DVD or something else, it's nice to have something to look forward to. Sometimes I order the treat online while I"m away so it's there waiting for me on my return.  Hello happiness.

4.  Spruce up your home
You're back for a while so you may as well try and make your home as cosy as possible.  Maybe you picked up a home decorating idea while travelling, need to frame some photographs or have to work out what to do with that strange souvenir you bought.  For me this period invariably involves a trip to IKEA for some Scandinavian delight.

5.  Plan the next holiday
I find it very hard to be motivated without some form of holiday on the horizon.  In fact I find it hard to get out of bed at all.   Use the time it takes to travel home to start scheming about the next holiday.  Whether it's weeks or months away, it will be a beacon of hope.
Planning the next holiday shines a light on the horizon

6.  Don't fight it / go easy on yourself
You know what.  Sometimes you just need to accept that it's just going to be crap to be back.  You're going to feel as though you're jumping on the treadmill again and the treadmill is already at full speed It's going to suck but it will get better.  It always does.  Go easy on yourself, try not to dwell on how much you're hating being back, and give yourself time to adjust and recover from jetlag.

Buddha says "go easy on yourself after a holiday" (this may not be a direct quote)

What else works for you?

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Passport to happiness

Ten business days can feel like a very long time.

This is how long I have to wait for my new passport to arrive.

While I don't have any travel booked during this time, I've always found comfort in the idea that should I become fed up with everything the Brisbane International Airport is just a 10-minute drive away. Within hours I could be escaping to Asia, Europe or the US.

But for the next two weeks I'm effectively trapped in Australia.  What if during this time I win an amazing trip overseas or my presence is requested by European royalty?

Is that the approach of claustrophobia I'm feeling?  Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.

The need for a new passport came to a head two weeks ago when I was flying to PNG for a week of work.  I was almost not allowed onto the plane as it was only five months and 23 days until my passport expired, rather than six months.

My new passport will be my fourth and will feature yet another unsmiling and unflattering photo (I actually had to squat while this photo was being taken as the camera tripod was too short).

I like flicking through my passports as the various visas and stamps jettison me back to those places and times.

I also have quite an attachment to my passport.  After all, it has been my constant travelling companion all these years.  I've freaked out overseas when I've thought I'd lost it, I've warily let others touch it, and I've been reassured when it has been returned to my side by border guards.

My first passport, which I got as a teenager, only has the stamps of one trip - a school French trip to New Caledonia.   It would be several more years before I would need a passport again.

My second passport is perpetually bent to fit the contour of my stomach after it spent a trip to Laos in my sweaty money belt.   This was around the time I had my first job and had been bitten by the travel bug.

The third and most recent passport is the best illustration of my travel obsession.  However there are still blank pages at the back, evidence that various border officials had given up finding any blank pages so just stamped over other stamps in the front half.

Apart from putting my new passport to good use, I'm excited to be getting an epassport.  These were first issued in 2005, the year after I got my last passport, and I've spent the years since envying those who have been able to breeze through the automatic gates at Australian border control.  Soon I hope that will be me.

While I pass time waiting for the new passport to arrive, I'll spend my time wisely by contemplating where to go next.  I've always thought a passport's blank pages were issuing me a challenge, urging me to visit more countries to try and fill them up.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sweet Vienna

Growing up in regional Queensland in the 1980s, I thought Viennettas were the world's most exotic creation.

For the uninitiated, a Viennetta is a rectangular dessert featuring rippled layers of icecream.

As you can imagine, in our Homebrand Vanilla household the concept of Viennettas seemed so decadent and classy.  No Viennettas ever crossed our threshold so I imagined it was a treat only enjoyed by movie stars like Michael J Fox or millionaires like Alan Bond.

Over the years, I came to assume Viennettas must come from Vienna, another exotic and untasted thing.

It was only upon eating a Viennetta as an adult and visiting Vienna, that I came to understand that a) Viennettas aren't that great, (b) they have nothing to do with Veinna, and c) Vienna is in a sweet class of its own.

I've been thinking about Vienna during the past week as it's the host city of Eurovision 2015 (the 60th anniversary of the song contest) following Austria's win this year.

Even without having anything to do with Viennettas, Vienna is a city I remember for indulging the senses.

It's hard to turn a corner in Vienna without stumbling across a cafe bulging with cakes and treats of all colours.

While renowned as the home of the Sacher Torte (an apricot jam / chocolate creation), the city oozes with sweet concoctions of all shapes and sizes.

A Viennese cafe window
Vienna - home of the original eye candy
Stepping away from the sugar, at the heart of the city's Old Town is St Stephen's Cathedral - most notable for its dazzling roof.  On a sunny day, the zigzag roof pattern seems to strobe and becomes impregnated on your retina.

The dazzling roof of St Stephen's Cathedral
St Stephen's Cathedral

Inside, the cathedral caters to all

The cathedral's interior is also a feast for the eyes, from the glittering stained-glass windows through to the decaying bones of Viennese royalty in the church's catacombs.

One of the cathedral's tombs

The cathedral dominates the Vienna skyline; no easy feat considering the city is littered with ornate Baroque buildings.

Given Vienna was the birthplace of composers like Strauss and Schubert, and the playground of Mozart and Beethoven, it's not uncommon to hear strains of classical music wafting along the streets (usually for the benefit of tourists).

The Vienna skyline

The ornate Hoher Markt Clock 

In many ways, Vienna conveys the classic and the conservative.

But perhaps at Eurovision 2015 we'll be seeing a whole new side of the city as the bearded Conchitta Wurst stands alongside the more traditional lederhosen?

Lederhosen, not just for The Sound of Music sing-alongs

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

PNG safe sex and politics

Some people find politics a turn-on.

That seems to be the only reason behind this bewildering Papua New Guinean safe sex poster I encountered today.

I'm here all week delivering some training in a Port Moresby office, and this poster adorns the men's bathroom wall.

The poster in all its glory

While there's no doubt the safe sex message is always important, what confuses me is why it was linked to the election (held last year).

Maybe everyone here is sexually excited by elections and that's why this poster was conceived?  Or do people only have sex here when elections are on?

Here's each of the four cells enlarged.

Cell 1: people talking about safe sex while lining up to vote

Cell 2: Girls being propositioned by a campaign worker

Cell 3: Some sort of party where the condom booth seems more popular than the polling booth

Cell 4:  A drunk couple talking safe sex

I can only imagine the voting booths here are much more arousing than they are in Australia.  Perhaps you don't just pick a politician, but also pick a partner at the same time.

Now that I think about it, filling out the lengthy Senate voting form would give you more than enough time for a quickie.

For me, this poster would make more sense if the headline didn't read: "This election..." but "This erection...".

Monday, 12 May 2014

Europe sings, Australia tweets

I don't know how anyone watched Eurovision before Twitter.

It's like having a giant, national party in your living room, but without actually having to feed or talk to them.

During the weekend, Twitter exploded with tweets about Eurovision.  At times, they were coming so thick and fast that it was impossible to read them.

Here's a few choice tweets:

The anticipation before the show

Warnings were issued to others

For some it was a whole-of-body experience

People set their priorities

It started

Predictions were made

The running commentary also began


Politics came into it

All acts completed their performance

The long process of countries reporting their votes began

But attention started to drift to other things during the voting

Sometimes Australia felt very far away from the action

 The result was announced

Some found extra meaning in Austria's win 

Comparisons to other famous Austrians were made

And then there was THAT beard

 Then there were some final reflections