The Tax Man Cometh….

Seems these days the tax man wants to get his hands on every penny we earn, spend or save. He wants it all….yes all!

The first point of attack is the income tax.

The Govt. generously grants the workers of the UK a threshold of £8, 105 per year. So, basically they will allow you to earn £156 a week before they start dipping their grubby little fingers into your pocket.

After that the basic tax 20% tax rate kicks in, allowing you to earn up to £34,370.

Should you earn between £34, 371 and £150,000, you have earned the right for them to take 40% of your income.

Become financially compensated  over £150,000 for all your years of hard work and dedication and the tax man will go ahead and take  a whopping 50% of your annual income over that 150k…BEFORE you’ve even had a sniff at it. That mean from the 1st Jan to 30th June….almost every cent you earn goes to the tax man!

I’m going to stick with the top tax bracket for this example….and I’ll explain why a bit later.

So. You did as you were told. You studied hard at high school and got a place at University just like mum wanted right. You got your degree, maybe you hung around for another year or two and managed to pull off a Masters or PhD. Anyhow, you then had to embark on a 10, 15 or 20 year grind….working for “the man”.

In that time you also fell in love and decided to get married…..(let’s not even talk about how much that costs).

Then came along the average 2.2 kids…with their school fees, clothes and braces.

Now….remember you only have the money you earn from the 1st of July until the 31st of December left.

Out of that you have to pay rent, in London, that’s gonna cost you. Let’s say you live in a modest 2 bedroom flat in a decent part of London, nothing fancy. This is going to set you back at least £2,000 a month on the 1st of every month. That’s £24,000 a year! Whilst you are paying that rent you will also have to try to save a deposit for a house too! There is no government housing out there for “high income earners”. So let’s save £500 a month for the house deposit. That’s £6,000 a year you can’t touch…OK!

You are going to need to eat…..nothing too fancy, let’s say you are a whizz in the kitchen and can make something out of nothing much….you could probably get by on £100 a week for 4. You are eating a lot of rice and mince meat ok…but you are willing to do that for the greater good.  That’s £5,200 a year!

You will need a phone, gas, electricity and water. Let’s allow another £200 a month to cover those bits and bobs. That’s £2,400 a year!

Remember the school fees we talked about before. Average private school fees in the UK are £13,800….you have 2 kids remember with another on the way maybe at some point (can you really afford it?). So, to educate the 2 bundles of love you do have, that’ll set you back £27,600 a year!

Sure you could send them to the local government school if you had to pull back on some spending, but for now we will assume you want to try and give them the best possible start education wise.

The kids haven’t finished stripping you of finances yet. There’s drama class or ballet, football or pony club. There are swimming lessons and maths tutors to pay for. Let’s dip in for £100 a week to cover those bits and bobs. I hear you now….“one can’t get all that for £100 a week”.  I’m asking you to suspend disbelief for a second and just roll with me here. So there’s another £5,200 a year.

Of course there is car insurance and home contents insurance to pay for. The UK average is £1000 for the car and let’s put away £300 a year to cover the couch and that massive CD collection in case the joint burns down.

Then there’s the brick-a-brack costs to living. Petrol for the car, servicing, road tax, you’ll need an Oyster card too, there’s the occasional pizza or Indian take away, maybe you buy a magazine or have a beer at the pub on Friday night. You might like to go to the cinema once or twice a year and catch a flick, there’s birthday presents to buy, the annual vet check up for the dog, Oh, might as well throw in some pet insurance too while we are at it. How about we allow say, £100 a week for all that. LOL. I hear ya….work with me here people! There’s £5,200 a year!

I’m naked…I need clothes! You shall have to ration this out. There’s you, the other half and those 2.2 kids remember. 1st up the kids will need the full kit school uniform. £500 each and there’s a sweet grand. You are not label people and get by on M&S, Top Shop and a few other High Street faves. Let’s throw £500 a month aside to cover the cost of the basics for 4 people. Anything extra will have to be worked out later. So there’s £6,000 a year plus the school kit….so make that £7,000 to retain the modesty of the family.

I hear the family screaming for a holiday this summer….so you find a deal online where all four of you can head to some crappy all-inclusive resort for a week in the sun. This is going to set you back another £2,000.

Let’s start adding this up shall we: holiday 2,000 + 7,000 for clothes = 9,000 + 5,200 for brick-a-brack = 14,200 + 1,300 for some insurance= 15,500+5,200 for the kids extras = 20,700+27,600 for those pesky school fees = 48,300+ 5,200 for food= 53,500+2,400 for utilities = 55,900 + the 6,000 savings for a home deposit = 61,900 + rent of 24,000 = 85,000.

That’s £85,000 a year to keep a family of four on the basics.

You earned £150,000 no sweat….150,000-85,000 = 65,000 left over right. NOPE…..remember the tax man?

Out of the 150,000 you earned the tax man already took £75,541 in taxes, National Insurance and that Student Loan for that Uni degree!

So you were left with £78, 458….but the cost to keep your family alive is £85,000. We are in the red, to the tune of £6,542!

Something is going to have to give. Pull the kids out of private school? Stop saving for a home deposit? No holiday? Cut back on eating?Charity shop clothes? What is the answer?

One thing that is for sure….the Tax Man is ALWAYS going to get his grubby mitts on your money FIRST! You then have to decide how whatever is left over is best spent.

Just remember….if you forego any luxuries whatsoever and manage to figure it out so you actually save a few bob at the end of the year, the tax man is going to come knocking again for a slice of any interest you have earned on those savings. This is a double dip in my mind….he already taxed it at the beginning, you live frugally and manage to save some, he says he then wants another go at it.

How, as a society have we come to accept that this is OK?

You know that holiday you want…..the one you have worked all year for, saved for, gone without for…..well, he says you need to pay a myriad of taxed rolled into one convenient APD or air passenger duty. The tax man thinks it’s better to triple dip the working person than to charge the airlines a tax on aviation fuel or VAT on the purchase of aircraft.

We have become a society that has just learned to fear the tax man. The example above was just a random list of things I could think of that a family might need in order to live. There’s no scientific basis to it and the numbers I included were just rough estimates….kinda along the lines of what I think the average person on 150,000 a year would spend…..and we see that the numbers just don’t add up.

People on the lowest tax bracket get all the govt. funding they need to make ends meet. Those in the two middle brackets get tax credits, concessions, deductions and allowances to help make ends meet. I’m not saying it’s easy for them….those middle income brackets living in London would struggle to survive without the help of the govt. housing they are entitled to.

So it seems to me, no matter what you earn, you should be angry at the TAX MAN. People should be in the streets yelling and screaming. There should be a bloody revolution.

Who is holding the govt and the tax man accountable for the way they spend the money that they steal from the working person? Isn’t it supposed to be us? Aren’t WE the ones who are supposed to be in charge? Aren’t THEY public servants? Aren’t they accountable to us….haven’t WE entrusted THEM to do what is right for US?

As a housewife I have to know how to balance our budget so we can try and stay in the black….I don’t have a working population of 38 million people to tap into should I fuck up! The tax man DOES! He can fuck it all up and just say…..”Ooooop, my bad, we overspent, gonna have to levy another bullshit tax on you working schmucks to get some money back in the govt coffers”! We, the people, hear this time and time again. We bitch and moan about it….but what do we do about it?

When did the public become so complacent and just decide to sit back and allow this to happen?

Isn’t it time the working people of the UK, of the world, stood up and said enough is enough?

I think so….but would anyone stand up with me?

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The Gambler in me….

Of course gambling isn’t always about winning. Along with the wins come losses. Lots of them. We don’t like to talk about the losses. Losing is not fun. Winning is fun. Losing makes you sad. Winning makes you happy. I like to be happy….let’s keep winning.

Two flies crawling up a wall….if there’s a prize to be won….then hell yeah, I’ll bet on ’em!

I have no interest in playing “for fun”. What’s the point? If there is a prize to be won, a trophy, a ribbon or money, then I’m going to try my hardest to win it. If there is no prize….then I won’t even bother trying, what a waste of time. It’s not about the participating for me….it’s the constant need to win. Winning is fun.

As a kid I loved “picking a horse”. My mum would have a bet on the races on a Saturday morning and once in a while she’d let us kids pick a horse and throw a dollar on it for us. Now, when my first horse won….I was hooked. Of course I didn’t know back then that it was called gambling….I also didn’t know that it would become a part of who I am for the rest of my life.

Back in Melbourne, Australia, when I became of legal gambling age, the really big day out at the races was saved for The Melbourne Cup. Held the first Tuesday in November, it is the race that literally stops a nation. The whole country comes to a standstill, really, everything stops for the race.

Need a heart transplant? Yeah, no worries mate, just give me 10 mins, the race is on!

Australians love their Melbourne Cup….put it this way, you’d struggle to find anyone in Australia who doesn’t know who “Phar Lap” was.

Getting all dressed up, slapping on some make-up, blow-drying the hair all pretty then throwing on a hat, filling the purse with a few hundies is all part of the process, the preparation for a day out, gambling, on the horses and I LOVE it, all of it.

We’re off and racing! The smell of the horses, the buzz around the bookmakers, placing the bet, the roar of people cheering on their horse….throw some bubbly into that mix and you have all that is required of a perfect day out.

Have you ever heard of tombola? It’s like a raffle but all the prizes are right there in front of you. 3 is my lucky number. Most things I win, have the number 3 in there somewhere.  I won $3,333 at Bingo once. Horse number 3 wins more often than not for me. I have 3 in my lottery numbers. I’ll insist on having the number 3 in any raffle tickets I buy. I’m a 3 kind of girl.

Anyhow, the church up the road was having their annual fair. I stumble across this tombola….instantly I was excited. Look at all the prizes I could win! For each quid, you get to pick 3 tickets. So I hand over my £3….this gave me 9 tickets. (3’s or multiples of 3 would surely fetch me a prize, right?). I stick my hand in the barrel, select my tickets and carefully start opening them. The number on the ticket must end in zero or five to win a prize.

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing…WINNER number 35….nothing, nothing and nothing. So I head up to the lady and hand over my one winning ticket….she congratulates me and hands me back my prize, a cook book….The Hairy Bikers’  Best-Loved Recipes. I was so happy. Now sure, I probably could have gone to WHSmith and bought the book for 9 quid….but what fun would that be? Winning it, made having it, that much more special.

I love poker. I’m not very good at it, but I’ve won a few tournaments here and there. There’s a really big thrill that comes with winning a hand. It’s not even the size of the pot that is important (though the big pots do get the heart pounding)….it’s more about beating whoever I am playing against. Knowing that I have outplayed an opponent is an amazing thrill. The heart starts thumping, the palms start to sweat, the fingers shake as I rake in the pot and stack up my chips. It’s absolute magic. Then, I want to do it all over again….and again, and again.

Similar feelings overcome me when I play the slot machines, or as they call them in Australia, the pokies. There’s a real science to picking a winning machine, or you would think there was the way slot machine addicts carry on. Gamblers by nature are a pretty superstitious bunch of people, but the slot machine fans are in a different world of crazy. I too have been guilty of some weird behaviours….rubbing the machine for luck, placing good luck charms on my machine of choice, nearly always choosing a machine on the end of a row, playing the machine next to mine too, (a precautionary measure to stop anyone else from playing it and winning….no way I’m going to allow that to happen)!

I understand RNG. I understand odds and percentages. I understand it’s all luck. I also understand that I probably won’t win….but there in lies the glimmer of hope. Probably….it doesn’t mean that I won’t win….but it does mean that I might win. Right? Yeah, I’m right.

So, sat at a slot machine and I am in bliss. I can sit for hours watching the reels spin around and around. Hitting the bonus spin is real cause for celebration, light a cigarette, order a drink, check out the prize table….what do I need? Ok….initiate bonus spins, push….and we are off. Most times, the bonus spin feature will let us down by not performing to our expectations, we, as gamblers, are used to this….all a crappy bonus round means is that the next one will be much better. Right? I know I am right.

When I was on my cruise last Christmas….all must have been good in the world and the Gambling Gawds saw fit to hand me, on a silver platter, the perfect bonus round. I was playing around for a bit on a machine called Pompeii, then wouldn’t you know it….Veni, Vidi, Vici. I got the bonus round followed by the magical and ever elusive winning combination of a dolphin thingy, a volcano, a dolphin thingy, a volcano then another dolphin thingy. Boom-shaka-laka! Time for the happy dance. There’s nothing like it and the joy can’t be explained to a non gambler, they just don’t get it….but to a degenerate like myself, well it just made my whole day perfect. That win paid for our end of cruise bill, all the drinks, tours and extras….and there was still cash left over. Perfect!

All said and done, if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness and won the lottery all in the same week, I could think of no better way to “go out” than sitting at a slot machine with a bottle of Jack Daniels, a carton of Marlboro Lights and a big fat stack of $100 bills. Should I fall off the stool, stone cold dead, just cremate me and scatter my ashes down the Las Vegas Strip….I’ll be perfectly happy. Honestly.

Here’s two thumbs up to winning….gambling as it should be.

Internet Friends….

Back in the 70’s, when I was a child, making friends was easy. I grew up with two younger brothers, we were always out on our bikes or at the park playing. In fact….back then, mothers insisted kids get out of the house and get some fresh air. Constant words out of my mothers mouth were “Go outside and play, you kids aren’t going to sit around the house all day“.

So long as we were back in time for dinner….we were left to our own devices. We’d grab our bikes and off we’d go. We’d meet up with another pack of kids in the park and build a fort, or go play in someone’s cubby house, we’d climb and fall out of trees, ride our skateboards down steep streets, kick the football around or have competitions….who can run faster, jump higher or hold their breath the longest.

Life was simple.

Then the teenage years set in and things became more complex, more competitive. We formed clique’s. You were either part of the “in” crowd….or not. Teenagers want to be popular, they want to fit in….it’s very, very important to have the right clothes, have the right haircut, live in the right neighbourhood, play the right sports, take the right subjects at school and basically be everything everyone wants you to be…..instead of who you really are. No one is interested in who you really are….that’s not important at all. Being popular is far more important.

Fitting in as a teenager shouldn’t have been easy for me. We lived in government housing in the poor part of town and my parents didn’t have the money for the cool clothes required by teenagers, so I needed a trick up my sleeve….and I had one….I could talk….a lot!

Blag, blag, blag….I quickly figured out if you can make people laugh with a good bullshit story, you can stay on the “in“. Given my resources of a financial nature were non existent….I had to tap into my “gift of the gab”, as we like to say in Australia. I was told on more than one occasion that I could sell ice to the Eskimo’s. My teen years were great, some of the best years of my life. I was popular and grew up laughing and having a great time wagging school, experimenting with alcohol, learning to drive and getting into trouble.

Then comes the 20’s and 30’s. Those childhood and teen friendships become harder to maintain. Everyone is busy working, travelling, getting married and/or having babies. People move to different parts of the country….or the world. Only the heartiest of those “Wonder Years” friendships survive.

We now tend to be attracted to forming friendships with people who have adopted the same lifestyle choices as we have. Friends who have babies start spending more time with other parents out there, they can talk about baby shit all day long and be very happy. They take their kids to the same school, work in the school canteen with other mums, join the PTA and spend weekends together with other families watching the kids play sports.

Single friends tend to make friends with other single, outgoing party animals and spend every Sunday suffering hangovers together. They plan Friday night’s out, buy all the cool clothes and spend their wages on taxi’s, club cover charges….and booze.

The explorers amongst us meet up with other explorers and travel the world seeking out new adventures. They spend all their money on airline tickets and hotel rooms, their jobs are just a means to an end, something to provide the funding for travelling.

The workaholics team up with other workaholics and spend Friday nights at the pub, having a few drinks….talking about work. They put in 16 hour days and live life for work. Marriage, kids, partying and travelling aren’t on the radar….it’s all about climbing the corporate ladder.

In our 40’s and beyond….it’s harder to make new friends yet again. With everyone so busy all the time, no one has the time, nor the inclination to play the “getting to know you” game. It’s like the dating scene, isn’t it? Finding new people to share your life with who have similar interests….but how do we effectively and efficiently “weed out” the people who are just going to be too hard work to be friends with, or the ones you can’t be bothered to really get to know…..I want to met new people and form new friendships….but I’d rather just get right to the point? I really can’t be bothered with small talk….I’d rather meet someone and just hit it off right away. Laugh!

How do I do increase my social circle? For me, that has been the internet. Some of the nicest people I know, the people I feel a connection with, the people I care about, the people who make me laugh and the people I take an interest in…..are people I have never actually met.

That sounds weird doesn’t it.

Early on, I made friends online playing silly games on Facebook, Farmville, Petville, Cityville etc, etc. They were great “neighbours” and always sent me the required bits and bobs needed to keep the game running smoothly. I’ve long since given up on those games but I have kept some of my favourite neighbours as friends. I enjoy seeing what they post each day, hearing about family milestones and where they are going on holidays. We share emails and PM’s….and send gifts to each other across oceans. We have become friends….real friends.

I also met people on travel forums, in particular the Vegas forum. We’d chat about Vegas, all things Vegas. When we’d plan a trip….others we chat to on the forums would come and meet us in Vegas, in person. It’s fabulous to connect a name to a face and get to know that person in real life. I’ve since moved on from those forums, but the friendships have been maintained.

I recently had some friends come to my home for dinner, all three of whom I met on the Tripadvisor Vegas forum. Three nicer, funnier, intelligent or more interesting people on the planet you would struggle to find….and if it weren’t for the internet, I probably wouldn’t have ever met them.

Most of the people I have met since living in London, I have met while walking my dog. There’s a real network of “doggy” people out there and I have made some fabulous new friends that way. We have lunch and catch up for coffee, we talk about the dogs….and everything else that is going on in our lives.

I’ve made friends with neighbours….and when I have moved house, those friendships have been maintained also with the odd coffee here or a pop around for a chat, there.

My dearest, best friends live in Australia. I have known most of them for 10, 15 or 20 years. My BESTEST friend in the world and the mother of my gorgeous God Daughter, I have known for 30 years. I don’t get to see them often, living on the other side of the world and I miss them all very much. We talk on the phone and stay connected via Facebook these days….and I wish I could get back to Oz more often and see them.

So, this got me to thinking….even though I have made friends and developed friendships in a variety of ways, many of those friendships are now maintained online via email, Facebook and Skype. So, is a friendship that formed it’s foundations online any less of a real friendship? I think not.

Here’s a two big thumbs up for internet friends….making friends the new way,  in a new modern world. As it should be.

Getting to the Airport….

There are few things more exciting to me than heading off to explore a new part of the world….or revisiting an old favourite for that matter.

I love to travel. Whether I fly, drive, cruise or take the train makes little difference to me….if I am going on a holiday, (or for my American friends, a vacation), I am about as happy as I can possibly be. I could not imagine my life without a passport. If they took away my passport, they might as well just shoot me, living life without the ability to explore the world around me; Well, what would be the point? Right?

Some people find the whole planning a holiday thing a bit daunting, with so many fabulous places to visit they can become overwhelmed with where to start to look. Which country?  Which airline?  Which cruise ship?  Which hotel?  What tour? What type of hire car? How much spending money will I need? What should I pack?

I, on the other hand, love the planning and preparation stages, I can spend hour upon hour researching. I will happily flit from website to website  comparing what they have to offer with what the next one has. I’ll sift through dozens of brochures from the travel agent. I enjoy the challenge of finding a better whatever for less money, a nicer room,  a cheaper fare, or a deal on an upgrade. I’ll read hotel and airline reviews, I’ll check seatguru and pick the best seat on the plane, I’ll check out the hotel’s tripadvisor ranking and read through a few reviews to get an overall point of view,  I’ll then search the forums and find nice places to eat or fun things to do when we get there.

All the information I gather will help me make my mind up….and when I’ve decided and booked, I trust that all will be OK, (and it usually is). Then the countdown begins, only 104 more sleeps until……

The night before take-off is the most exciting. It seems throughout the night one of my eyes, (only ever one), will open just enough to check the time on my alarm clock…..1.15 am, go back to sleep…..2.23am, go back to sleep….3.47am, go back to sleep….4.26am, go back to sleep. BUZZZZZZZZ, 6am……come on love, get up, we are going on holiday. YAY!

Today, we are flying. I would have already packed the clothes yesterday, Ollie would already be at the dog sitter, I’ve told the neighbours to collect the mail and call the cops if they see anything fishy going on around the house, the taxi is booked and I’ve already locked all the windows and the back door.

So….the flight is at, 10.30 am, that means we have to be at the airport by 8.30am….it takes 25 mins to get there, but we are going to allow an hour because heaven only knows that as soon as you have to be somewhere on time, like an airport, there is ALWAYS a phantom accident on the motor way or roadworks or the cab driver needs to stop for petrol…..or something, always! All things considered and calculated, we must leave the house by 7.30 am at the latest, that gives us 90 mins. Let’s get cracking!

I just need to have a quick cig, have a cuppa, have a shower, slap on some make-up and do my hair, pack up the toiletries, get dressed and just sit and wait for Marc to ask me if he has any brown socks to wear. (Yes, you do….you’ll find them in the same drawer your socks have been kept in for, Oh, I dunno…..the last 10 years.)

OK, let’s do a quick double-check, again. Passports, airline tickets, hotel reservation print out, wallet, purse, iphone, lip balm, mints, pen, jewellery and a change of knickers (we’ll get to why in another post).  Double check the back door and all the windows, again, make sure the stove is off, again. Switch off all appliances at the wall, (I don’t want the joint burning down while we are away), decide that I will take my pillow with me after all, open my case and stuff that in……and let me just quickly check the stove one more time, yes, I know, I’ve already checked it….just give me two seconds.

Right, taxi is here, grab the bags and lock the door, unlock it rush back inside, quickly have a look around….just in case….OK, all good, lock the door again, give it a quick push and shove to make sure, load up the taxi….and we are off!

10 mins down the road…..Darl, I feel like we forgot something. Did I check the stove was off? Yeah, I thought so. Oh, I’m so excited.

5 mins after that. SHIT! I forgot to water the plants…..Oh, well, they’ll be right.

We make it to the airport in 25 mins of course…..because, as we all know, if you allow an hour, there never is a phantom accident….or road works and the taxi driver never needs to stop for petrol. Duh.

One more quick cig outside, in the rain of course. It’s always better if it’s pissing down outside the day you leave for holidays to somewhere sunny. Oh, the satisfaction of knowing everyone at home will be miserable all day and possibly all week, but…. in a few short hours I shall be sitting in the sun with a cool drink in hand, in a far away land. Na-na-nana-na! Sweet.

Two thumbs up for travelling, getting to the airport on time and the overwhelming excitement that comes with going on holidays…..just as it should be.

Technology….

Let’s set things straight from the get go. I am totally down with fire, the wheel and sliced bread. I have long seen clear and absolute advantages and the sheer convenience of being comfortable with all three. Much of what has been developed thereafter leaves me somewhat confused, bewildered and more than a little bit scared at times to be honest.

Computers and the internet in particular are the two things that scared me and sometimes still do scare me the most, yet the very same two things that most people, in the modern western world at least, would struggle to cope without. People run their life by computer, it’s how they do their work, chat to friends, buy their groceries, access music, book holidays, gather information and stay connected to the big wide world. I have also finally jumped on board…somewhat reluctantly, carefully, cautiously and with a very light touch over the past 10 years or so….but I’m here.

A dozen or so years ago, right before I met my husband, I were, what he and the other technology savvy, early adopting folk would commonly refer to as, a Luddite.

At my high school, in country Victoria, Australia, back in the 1980’s, computer studies, was an elective subject. In all my teenage wisdom, I had discarded the notion that one would ever need to know anything about computers, along with physics or advanced mathematics….what possible use could any of them be in real life. Sigh. Far more worthy of my time was drama class, now, that would definitely help me in my pursuit to become a world-famous actress…..but let’s save that story for another day.

Anyhooooo….moving right along. I got through my teens, twenties and much of my thirties without much need for computers, or physics or advanced mathematics for that matter, ( I laugh in the face of long division).  If I wanted music I bought a tape, or a record or a CD, if I wanted a holiday I went to a travel agent, if I needed to spell something I used a dictionary, if I wanted to add something up I used a calculator, if I wanted to talk to someone I’d pop around for a cuppa or call them on the one and only home phone, if I needed food I’d walk to the shop…..I’m sure you get the idea.

And then I met my husband,  Mr-Computer-Nerd-Extraordinaire. Shocked as he was at my inability to even know where to begin to turn on a lap top, he vowed to bring me, kicking and screaming if need be, to the 21st Century.

Many tears were shed and plenty of “fuck this shit’s” and “I can’t do it’s” flew regularly in our house. More than one time I slammed the computer lid down and stormed out of the room in pure frustration. He held steadfast though and eased me, ever so patiently into the modern world of computers and the internet. Actually, that last sentence is utter bullshit….at times he got angry and very frustrated, not so much at my lack of understanding, but at my unwillingness to open my mind, shut up, listen and learn. I was and sometimes still am, a stubborn student.

Steady as she goes and easy does it, one step and a time and little by little I began to learn. I started to understand and despite my stubbornness and sometimes even against my will, shit was sinking in….I was actually learning!

Before I knew it I was sending emails and zipping around on Google like an old hat. I would sit for hour upon hour looking up anything and everything to do with the CIA, FBI, Mossad, MI5 and MI6, ASIO and James Bond….(I was going through an “I wanna be a spy” phase, still am a bit). I would find recipes to cook and while away hours on real estate sites, looking at houses I’ll never be able to afford to buy. I’d Google the Top 10 of just about everything you can imagine and jot down, old school, with pen and paper my findings of the best hotels, yachts, cigars, watches, in-ground swimming pools, roller coasters etc, etc, etc. I have notepad after notepad full of this information….all of it I’m sure I will need one day, honestly.

I found travel sites like Tripadvisor and found forums where I could talk all day long if I wanted to about things I loved that other people loved too. I’d visit the Vegas forum every day and got to know all the regulars who post. It was like a little family and I loved them. We shared trip reports and inside jokes. I was really starting to get this whole computer malarkey and I began to wonder what my life had been like before a computer…..I struggled to remember how I survived, even a single day.

And then, along came Facebook, which totally changed my life. I played games and made friends. I could send messages and chat to people on the other side of the world. I joined groups with people who liked the same thing as me, I could put up photos and I’d cut and paste funny status updates that I’d stolen from others via my old friend Google.

And here we are today, a mere decade or so later and I am a blogger, writing this blog entry using Microsoft Word for the very first time. Again, on Marc’s suggestion, after losing day 2’s blog entry to cyberspace for reasons known only to the Internet Gawds…..and having to rewrite it, (after a few f-bombs and tears), I am again, learning something new. I don’t know how to save it yet or get it from here over to my blog, but I’m sure Marc will show me how when he get’s home..

Two thumbs up to computers and the internet for connecting even the most reluctant Luddite to the rest of the world….as it should be.

Julie and Julia….

One of my favourite films of all time is Julie and Julia. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s two stories intertwined. One story is about the early years of Julia Child’s cooking career set in the 1950’s played by Meryl Streep  and the other is about Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, a modern-day, NYC girl, in a depressing job,  who decides to cook every recipe in Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days.

Yesterday, I too stepped into Julia Child’s cook book. I, however, had my eyes on just one prize….Boeuf Bourguignon!

So with a list of ingredients to buy I set off early. First stop was my butcher, I explained to him that I was making Boeuf Bourguignon, not just any Boeuf Bourguignon but Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and that I needed my pieces of beef cut perfectly to portion, I then watched him closely as he cut the meat into exactly 2 inch cubes for me. He found a very nice 6oz chunk of bacon and trimmed off the rind as the two parts will be used separately. Oh how I love a good old-fashioned butcher who appreciates how important it is for things to be done just right and only sells top quality, free range /organic meat…..as it should be. Thanks Rob!

Next stop was the wine shop. I explained again what I was making and asked for a recommendation. I was informed that a Domaine Les Fines Graves, 2010, Moulin-a-Ventz would be perfect. Oh, how I love an independent wine shop with staff who know exactly what wine will be perfect for your needs…..as it should be. Thanks Tom.

I happily skipped off, (yes, I really did skip), to my next destination…..the green grocer.

I actually had to head to four different grocers until I found one with the perfect tiny little baby onions and tiny little baby mushrooms. My greengrocer hand-picked every onion and mushroom. I had explained the importance of uniformity and that I was making a very special dish….I also picked up some fresh Bay Leaf, Parsley and Thyme. Oh, how I love a local greengrocer who takes pride in selling only the best, fresh,  yummy produce…..as it should be. Thanks Maureen.

So with loot in hand and a quick sidestep for some beer for Marc, a 1/2 bottle of bubbly for me and an even quicker whizz round Marks and Spencer for some odd bits and bobs, I headed home to get cracking on with this masterpiece.

Well….first thing I needed to do when I returned home was to pat the meat dry, between paper towels and then set about to peeling 24 teeny, tiny, itty-bitty, little baby onions. This took time, considerable time, painstaking, fiddly time…..but it was worth it. Sweet little babies all undressed and waiting to be tossed in bubbling butter and perfectly browned. I washed and dried the mushrooms then sautéed those in a heart stopping amount of butter also.

To cut a long story short….I browned the beef in a cracking hot pan, I simmered and sautéed the bacon after chopping it into 1/2 inch lardons. I floured and I stirred, I soaked the meat in the wine, added stock and herbs and chopped vegetables. I strained and stirred and carefully basted my way through the next 3 hours…..and finally when the meat fell apart with a fork and the sauce had thickened, my Julia Child Boeuf Bourguignon was ready to eat. I served it with some mashed potatoes that contained lots and lots of butter.

My husband and guests were all well satisfied. I received many words of praise and more than a few mmmmm’s and ahhhhh’s that made the whole process totally worth the time and effort.

Usually I’m a kind of  “that’s about the right amount” type of cook. An adjustment here, and extra pinch there….leave this out and put that in. But for Julie and Julia both….it was required of me to show the utmost respect by following the recipe exactly….and I’m so glad I did, because the recipe as written is perfect, the result even more perfect.

Thanks to Julie and Julia for introducing me to the perfect Boeuf Bourguignon and inspiring me to cook it……as it should be.

Reality TV….

reality-tv

Guilty as charged! I can’t get enough of it.

There’s something very satisfying to me about the mindless entertainment that reality tv brings. There are times, like when hubby is away on a business trip, or when I have the flu, or when it’s bucketing down outside, or let’s be honest here, any given day of the week when I should be doing housework but can’t be arsed….I’ll turn on the tv, throw myself down on the couch, usually with a cuppa and some junk food of some description (probably a packet of chips) and settle in for a reality tv session and be very, very happy to while away a couple of hours watching any or all of the following….

COPS….The Mac Daddy of reality tv!

I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me. It’s my cousins car. These aren’t my pants. I borrowed it from a friend. I only had 2 beers. I don’t do crack. I didn’t see nuffin’. No man, I’m just walking.

We’ve seen and heard it all on COPS….and so have the cops, but that doesn’t stop criminals from spurting out those excuses over and over. The thing is, they do it with such conviction I am sure they believe the cops will just say, Oh sure, my bad….on your way then young fellow….sorry to bother you.

The truth is, criminals aren’t very smart. It’s no accident that prisons are full to overflowing…..criminals just don’t take the time to think things through….most of them are just plain stupid, bless them. Since March 1989 we have been entertained by COPS, that’s 23 and a half years of stupid criminals and car chases, stop and searches, running through neighbourhoods and jumping fences, hand cuffs and Miranda Rights. Love it. Bring on the next 23 and a half years I say.

Pawn Stars….I love Vegas, all things Vegas, it’s my favourite place on earth and I can’t get enough of it. When you throw a pawn shop into the mix, a perfect combination has been created. I love the dynamics between Rick, The Old Man, Corey and Chum. I love to see what sort of crap people want to sell, I like trying to guess the price of said items, I love the little quiz before the break and I am often surprised that an item, let’s say a book or something that is 200 years old can be only worth $80 but the head off a plastic toy from the 70’s can be worth thousands….and I am jealous of the people that find some widget at a garage sale or in some old attic that ends up being worth a fortune. I love Mark from the museum and his vast knowledge on just about everything….and how’s the dude who checks autographs, he carries in that big case that could contain Gawd only knows what but only ever pulls out a giant magnifying glass just like Sherlock Holmes would have owned, hysterical. Couple all this together with the Vegas setting, the bright lights and a glimpse of the casinos and I am in heaven.

The Real Housewives of……wherever! Of course they aren’t really housewives, not in the definition of any housewife I know. These women don’t actually clean anything or have to try to figure out how to cook a dinner for four people with a $30 budget, they don’t do laundry or pick up dog shit and I can guess that none will ever know the painstakingly ultra boring task of pairing and folding socks week after week.

No….these housewives take private jets to Vegas, they vacation in The Hamptons in their lovely holiday homes, or up in Vale, they take “the girls” for weekends away to far flung Caribbean destinations. Dinner is whatever the housekeeper….or the hired chef cooks. These women are far too busy shopping for things they neither really want nor really need but can afford, so why the hell not, right! There are gallery openings to show up for and charity functions that one simply must been seen to attend, then of course there’s the hour upon hour taken up each summer sorting through party invitations. I mean, how exhausting…..can you imagine?

The unwashed masses can only guess how humiliating and painful it must be being forced to sit in the 2nd row of a runway show at New York Fashion Week, or missing out on the latest Balenciaga handbag and having to go on the list (shock/horror). Then there’s the backstabbing and bitching, I mean with friends like this, who needs enemies….but I’ll be here watching and I’ll send my heartfelt sympathies out to the Universe for them all.

In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if it’s RH of….NYC, DC, Jersey, Vancouver, Beverly Hills or Miami….you can count me in.

Amazing Race….Love it. I love the places they visit, I love the bitching and backstabbing between teams, I love the underhandedness some contestants will take to sabotage another teams efforts. I love the challenges and I love cheering for my favourite team.

I have spent more than enough time devising a plan to ensure victory should I ever become a contestant. The plan is simple….and after more than10 years of episode watching up my sleeve, I have come to the conclusion that there is really only one thing you need to do to ensure victory…..READ THE CLUE. Sounds simple enough right? Apparently not! It seems the teams are always in such a hurry to get to the next challenge or airport or pit stop that they forget to read the bloody clue properly. So, my advice to all future contestants out there is, take an extra 2 or 3 mins now, read the clue….now read it again until you understand what it is you are supposed to be doing….this will save you hours later when you would have rushed off in haste, miles and miles in the wrong direction!

Keeping up with the Kardashians…. Kris, Bruce, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Rob, Kylie and Kendall. We then add in Scott and Lamar along with whomever Kim is shagging or marrying this week and little Mason and Penelope and I’m totally enthralled following the day to day lives of this clan….or should that be Klan, with a K?

I’m not sure why or how this family became famous but I’m glad they did! It takes sweet business savvy to turn one’s 15 mins of fame into a multimillion dollar empire. There’s the reality show, the shops, the shoes, the perfumes, the make-up….it goes on and on and on. Good luck to them. If I could flog all that crap for 7 years and make basquillions (is that a real word? If not….copyright pending), then I would. Wouldn’t you?

Don’t even get me started on Judge Judy or Jerry Springer, throw in Hells Kitchen or Master Chef and you’ve tipped me over the edge.

Two thumbs up to reality tv. Mindless and sometimes mind numbing entertainment at it’s best. Or as I like to say….as it should be.