Thursday, December 18, 2014

Published in MX : Jingle Balls - how not to do your Christmas shopping

This piece ran in MX, a daily Australian transport newspaper. Wishing you all a pleasant holiday season and see you in 2015!

Despite the tinsel and sparkly lights and fat bearded men in bright red suits, I find Christmas a sneaky season. One again, December has rolled round and I haven’t even bought my Mum a pressie yet.

Every year, all the magazines advise shopping early and taking advantage of the January sales. I read them, think “what a good idea, I’ll do that” and then forget. So, instead of basking smugly with a glass of wine, I’m gearing up to battle maddened parents and frazzled assistants who have been tasked with finding an intimate present for their bosses partner - or partners.

At the start it's easy to be optimistic and energized - ready to shop and roll, baby. You start thinking big. Wouldn’t it be great if you got everything in one shop? You’d be finished! The Queen of Christmas shopping. Then you can ditch the bags and the mad shoppers and go straight to the pub!

This all seems like a really good idea, but leads to situations like you trying to persuade yourself that your sister would like a socket wrench, or that your Dad would like a sparkly hair band, or that everyone you know would like Liquorland vouchers. Including your eight year old cousin.   

You need to look in a few more shops. Initially, all you can find are inappropriate gifts. You find yourself looking at designer bags, plasma TVs and licensed weaponry. Yes, they’d love it, but you can’t buy it due to cost, size or piddling little legal issues. You have to remind yourself that no one will thank you if you decide to get your ten year old cousin a longbow and real arrows, not even them after they end up hospitalised. The shops are noisy and crowded and full of despairing souls, like hell with Jingle Bells playing in the background. You’ve already wasted a few hours…

Demoralised, you decide to get a few old faithfuls like clothes. You find affordable items that would be perfect if you knew size they take. Is she a twelve or one of those girls who gets insulted when you get past a size ten? The only thing worse than watching your mate trying to squeeze into something two sizes too small is your mate realising that you think she’s a size bigger than what she like to wear.

The next thing you know, you have a size eight in your arms, and you’re looking for the six. You’re having difficulty finding something for your friend, but you have found some adorable things for you. It’s Christmas, after all, and you deserve something nice!

You leave the shop on a high, having spent fifty bucks on another cute top. Then you realise you still don’t have any presents. Your feet hurt. It’s crowded. They’ve got the flaming Mariah Carey Christmas CD on in every shop in town. All she wants for Christmas is you, but all you want is a nice cool drink.

Determined to speed things up, you start really looking. You find the completely appropriate gifts, if you never want anyone to speak to you again. T-shirts that say “I’m with Stupid”. Packs of bath salts and deodorant. A Gutbuster machine. Books called “He’s Just Not That Into You”. Undoubtedly useful and accurate, but you’d like to still be speaking to people on the 26th.

Running out of ideas and time, you end up looking at the huge shiny gift boxes containing such delights as potpourri, candles that smell like a three month old fruit bowl, and fake perfume. If they don’t like the smell, it’s nearly pure alcohol so they can just drink it.

Mmm. Alcohol. You could do with a drink. So could everyone. Might as well just get them a Liquorland voucher, they’ll probably appreciate it.

And if they don’t, you can always drink it for them.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bitten by the Rottnest Bug

"Turn around really slowly and carefully," my biking partner says as I stoop to put down my helmet. "And look at what's behind you." 

As an Irishwoman in Australia, it's got to be the phrase I least wanted to hear. There are others, including “is that log a crocodile" and “I’ll just put on my budgie smugglers” but in terms of I'm-in-the-place-with-the-most-poisonous-animals-in-the-world-and-they-all-hate-me, this one's got to win. That's it.  My number is up.

And I haven't even seen a quokka yet.

I’m blaming the travel tips I have got from every Perthite and tourist who has ever been to WA. As one, they all said I needed to see Rottnest Island. Nicknamed Rotto, the island is just an hour from Fremantle; a stunning environmental refuge with white sand beaches, no cars and the infamous Rottnest quokka. And, because there’re no motor vehicles allowed on the island, it’s pedalling all the way.

We hire bikes to get around the twenty-four kilometre circuit of the island. It's a decade since I've been on one but I am sure it will come back to me like – well, like riding a bike. We pick them up at the jetty. I remember bikes, although this one looks like a re-welded coat hanger.

Brakes.  I remember BRAKES. Why aren't there any brakes on this bloody thing? Why do only discover this after I decide to go for a brisk pedal on a pier? Why am I whizzing along about a foot off the ground on a bike apparently designed for a midget that is scared of heights? The bike appears to be a re-welded coat hanger, my seat is so low that my legs are sticking out to the side at chin level, the chain is making a horrible crunching sound and I'm heading for the end of the jetty and I can't bloody STOP.

One bike swap later, we are on our way. Rotto is stunningly gorgeous but not urban. The sun beams down on narrow roads, unused to heavier traffic than people on bikes. The island is known for its beaches and beauty, and there are signs everywhere about the unique flora and fauna.

Quokkas. Entirely made of SQUEEEEE!
I want to see the animal synonymous with the island, the quokka. Quokkas look like they were designed by a Creator who was worried that koalas and wallabies weren’t cute enough. “Let’s make ‘em tiny. Really small, with fat furry cuddly bodies and little paws that they use to gesture cutely.” Under a foot tall and blessed with tufted ears and cute snuffly little noses, the resident marsupials of the island are meant to be so tame that they’ll graze around your ankles. 

But I need to concentrate on the road. Cycling after a ten year absence turns out to be fun. My balance comes back, and I stop being a danger to stationary objects. One hour later, I am a confident cyclist again. 

Two hours later, I am in agony. Ouch, my bum. Standing aches, sitting hurts and I’d rather sit on a cactus than on that saddle again. We stop to rest and that’s when it happens. I’m going to die by spider bite or snake venom or platypus poisoning and I haven't seen a quokka yet. I mean, how much does this suck?

Incidentally, if you do get bitten, sucking is pointless. What you should actually do is bind the whole limb as tightly as you can, starting at the bite point, and stay calm as you are whisked to hospital with your Aussie friends cheerfully reminding you that “you didn’t want to get bitten by one of those, mate, they’re really poisonous”.
Communing with the locals.
Of course, Rotto being a rural paradise where conservation is the word of the day, there’s no hospital. There’s a twenty four hour ranger service to help the animals, bless their poisonous little faces, should they break their huge venomous fangs. Humans, however, are on their own. The nearest hospital is in Fremantle, twenty kilometres away by sea. And now I have a snake or possibly spider ready to bite my poor unfortunate bum, adding unsightly swelling, puncture marks and death to the various other complaints I currently have about it. 

Bugger. This time I actually am going to die. I start to turn while stepping back really slowly and carefully, aware that no matter what I do, my bulk moving about is probably going to frighten the animal into thinking I’m attacking. 

And I haven’t even seen a …

Yep. It’s a quokka.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The bunnies are restless: business names and 5Bunny

Image from, creative commons.
Some of you may have noticed rustling in the bushes and strange noises on Twitter. Don't be alarmed. That's just my new business name, getting ready to emerge.

While as a freelancer I'm lucky in having a distinctive and unusual name, being called Sadhbh comes with one big disadvantage. 

No one can say it*. A small sample of the recent guesses made by people trying to work it out include Saba, Sadvie, Sadhabah, and, of course, “Yo, Irish”. Some resorted to changing my surname as firstname and calling me Warren. Others just stand there, twitching and wide-eyed like rabbit in the headlights, until I put them out of their misery and explain how to pronounce it.

It's a very traditional Irish female name and actually pretty easy to say - like the number five, but with an "s" instead of an "f". It might look like the victim of a tragic consonants shortage, but it trips off the tongue quite easily. Sive.

But for those that don't know this, it's intimidating to call or email, and some clients have told me they were initially put off contacting me. So I've been tossing around the idea of a new business name for my writing work, and have settled on 5Bunny Productions.

Five like Sadhbh, and bunny rabbits live in warrens. Put them together and you have the easy way some people use to remember how to say my name. There will be five bunnies, all writing about different things. I hope – much in the manner of bunnies – to get down to populating the website and bringing in lots of new arrivals in the next few months.

Thanks to Linette and Peter for helping me think through the process, and the many others who offering input and advice, even if that was only checking I didn’t plan to dress as a Playboy Bunny while writing. Work is underway on a website, and a logo, and business cards and all the other things that are so much fun about building a brand (no, really, I mean it) but in the meantime you can still catch me here or tweeting over at @5thBunny.

I, for one, would like to welcome our new leporine overlords. Especially if they'll get on with getting their act together and getting some content up.

* Unless they've met me, are Irish, or preferably both.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Destination wedding: do or don't? Here's how to tell.

Get married in Mauritius. Tie the knot in Tahiti. Have your special day in Fiji, Bali or even the North Pole. There's lots of information on where to have a destination wedding, but remarkably little on who should have one.

Like a groom in a top hat or arriving at the church in a horse-drawn carriage, a destination wedding can be fun but it's not for everyone. So, should you consider one for your own nuptials? I've come up with a remarkably easy way to tell.

Destination weddings have unusual drawbacks.
(First off, a clarification. When I say destination wedding, I mean somewhere that you and most guests will need to fly to, or spend at least a day traveling - if you can get there and back in a few hours, while it may be a bit time-consuming, there's nothing to stop you popping out several times to check details and your guests from heading home to sleep in their own bed if they really want to.)

  1. Sit down with your partner and decide who are the "key people" you feel absolutely have to be there for it to be the day you want. Ask yourself if these people could, assuming all does well, realistically afford both the cash and the time off. If not, the idea is dead in the water before it starts. 
  2. Still interested? Once you both have these guests squared out, ask yourselves one simple question to find out if tying the knot in a far-away paradise is your perfect day or an accident waiting to happen.
  3. Here goes: do you or your partner believe that "if our friends and family really love us, they'll make it there anyway somehow"?
If you answer is "yes", stop considering a destination wedding right now. 

I can't put this strongly enough; if you can't give your family and friends the complete and ungrudging freedom to say no, or to say yes and then have to change their mind due to money/illness/unavoidable issues, then you shouldn't have a destination wedding. Unless you can take a big deep breath and say, "I would be disappointed, but would get over it, and would still feel the same way about them after", don't even consider it.

Real life happens. People get ill. Employers refuse leave. Finances fail. With all the good will in the world, making it to your wedding simply may not be possible for some people no matter how much they want to. And if you can't smile, and tell them you understand and really mean it, you are setting your wedding and your relationships up to fail.

It's not fair on your friends and family, and you stand a high chance of being made miserable on the day looking at gaps where there should be people you love. Don't do it to yourself, your partner, and your loved ones.
    Much like this pic, our wedding was perfect apart from some teeny details.
    Practically perfect in every way -
    our wedding in Fiji.
    Full disclosure: we got married in 2012 in Fiji. I am Irish, my partner is Australian, and our wedding location was inconvenient for everyone. We were delighted with the day, and with the place we picked (which we'd previously visited), but it was a long and rocky road to get from start to finish and the hardest obstacle to deal with was guests who couldn't be there. 

    Out of 50 or so invitees, 10 said they couldn't make it immediately (no dramas, as many of them were in Ireland and I had guessed the trip would be too far and too expensive). Another 6 or so wanted to come but cancelled in the months leading up to the event, and 3 cancelled in the last three months, one after we had lost the deposit on their accommodation. 4 nearly couldn't come due to last minute dramas, and one key family member who had agreed to come was taking about backing out until a few months in advance. One was horribly ill on the day and another nearly got concussed by a falling coconut.

    We invited 50 people. 27 made it. And you know what? Each and every one of them could make it there was a wonderful gift from them to us, and each and every one that didn't are still as firmly our friends. Except perhaps the one who nearly got brained by a falling coconut.

    Still considering a destination wedding and have a question for someone who's been there, done that, and forgot to pack the t-shirt? Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing a series of blog posts on destination weddings so feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you want to know.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Showing Off WA's Little Creatures

    This beer piece was written for Perth tourist guide, PerthWalkabout, when I was still living in Perth and could pop to the Little Creatures brewery whenever I wanted. I miss those days sometimes...

    Little Creatures has been in the news recently as it has been taken over by Lion, who brew and distribute other Australian beers including Tooheys, XXXX, Hahn and James Boag. Will the Little Creatures thrive in Lions stable? Only time, and lots of taste-testing, will tell.

    If you’ve ever taken time out on holidays to send a postcard home just to make people jealous, you’ll understand the appeal of the Little Creatures Brewery.

    Just 30 minutes drive from Perth, the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle is one of those places that you take out of state visitors to just so you can show off how wonderful life is in WA. You lead them into the brewery, and gesture at the beer hall and the sun-drenched decking with its glorious ocean backdrop in a dismissive way as their jaw drops. 

    Image courtesy of Little Creatures Brewing.
    “What, this little old place?” you say nonchalantly as the visitors turn first green from envy and then slightly pink from sitting out at the benches in the warm afternoon sun. And that’s before they’ve even had a beer.

    The name "Little Creatures" does not refer to some gang of wonderful beer-brewing elves who make magical beer, no matter what Perthites might tell you after your fourth glass. It was inspired by a song lyric from the Talking Heads album called Little Creatures and refers to the live yeast cells that turn the sugars in malt wort into alcohol. The brewery is right on the water, built on the shell of an old boat yard in Fremantle (which had also been as a crocodile farm) and was opened in the summer of 2000/2001.

    It became an instant favourite and has turned a lot of heads since then. They have won a number of Australian International Beer Awards, including Champion International Brewery and Champion Australasian Brewery in 2002, and the American style Pale Ale has picked up several accolades of its own, including Champion Ale (2002, 2007) and Champion Bottled Ale (2001). If you’re looking to make your visitors even more jealous, let them try a glass of this crisp citrus-y and slightly bitter beer. It’s preservative and additive free, so you can drink deep of this lager without worrying (too much) about a sore head in the morning.

    For those of you who aren’t lager fans my Perth friend insists that their amber ale, Rogers, is the only way to go. Being called Roger, I think he may be just a little biased but there is no doubt that it’s a darn fine tipple whatever you call it. Light with a citrus hint at first, it changes mid-taste to a deliciously nutty brew with a hint of caramel that is still clean and easy to drink. Perhaps a little too easy to drink. It’s not named after my mate Roger but two other local brewers - Roger Bailey and Roger Bussell - and it’s an excellent tribute tastefully done.

    Of course, it’s not just about the beer. (It’s not?) The brewery also does some truly excellent food, including some really excellent pizzas that set off the beers (back to the beers again, sorry) wonderfully. Their food is delicious – they’ve also opened a dining hall in Melbourne so you can sample a taste of it there, and are also building another brewery in Geelong, and their beer is available all over the country.

    But only WA is lucky enough to have the full brewery experience available right on their doorstep, so we can go there whenever we want. Don’t forget to remind visitors about that. Not that you're trying to rub it in or anything.

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Feral-ly Delicious - The Best Breweries in WA

    At one Australian company I worked for, we needed to buy the perfect gift for a big client. The Managing Director had a great idea - we would buy them a six-pack of Swan lager, which the client loved. The only issues were:
    1. we were in Sydney;
    2. the beer was in Perth, 4000 miles away (same distance as London to Tehran for the sake of comparison); and
    3. the visitor was German, and now safely at home with his bratwurst and weiƟbier.
    Feral Sunset, from Flickr/Anthony Georgeff
    We couldn't find a drop of Swan in Sydney and due to various licensing laws you can't just post alcohol from WA to New South Wales. We had to bribe a member of our staff who was in Perth - on holidays - to take a cab from Perth airport and buy some, and bring it in their clicking hand-luggage on the plane.

    So, between the cost of the beer (plus another six pack for the Director, who was using this as an excuse to get some himself), the taxi fares, a small bribe for the buyer (which was also a six-pack of Swan lager), and the secure wrapping and courier to Europe, I reckon those bottles came in at around $25 a pop each. Expensive, but - given the delighted reaction from the German when he received them - worth it.

    This round-about story is my way of sharing with you a simple truth – everyone knows that Western Australia does some of the planet's best beers. The Germans are no slouches in this area themselves, and they recognise a great brew when they drink it (or indeed, wrapped in approximately 40 square kilometres of bubble wrap). If you make it to WA, you have access to the fruits of some of Australia’s best breweries. It would be a crime not to partake in a tipple or two.

    Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

    Everyone knows about the big guns, such as Little Creatures and the Old Brewery, but also deserving of a mention – and multiple visits - is Feral Brewing in the Swan Valley, which brings both dry Aussie wit (its slogan is “undomesticated but sophisticated”) and a wide variety of excellent beers to the market.

    My favourites are the Hop Hog, an American-style IPA with strong and sharp beer with a dry finish, or the Belgian style Feral White, which comes laced with coriander and orange peel. Fantapants is another winner, and not just because I'm a wannabe redhead, but because the contrast between the initial sweetness and lingering sharpness has you going back asking, “Did I really taste that?” right until the bottom of the glass. 

    Drivers can enjoy a glass of the Mild Child, which weighing at just 3.5% alcohol by volume, and would be well advised to steer clear of the English-style barleywine Razorback and the jet black Russian Imperial Stout called Boris, which at 10.0% and 11.5% respectively will have you barred from your car.

    You don’t have to drive to the brewery, of course, as you can catch the ferals at many pubs and bottle shops in both Perth and further afield, including in NSW. But really, why pass up a perfectly good excuse to go there?

    This was originally written for WA site, Perthwalkabout, but I worried you people might not be drinking enough beer so here you go. :D

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Perfectly suited - making "casual" office work

    Ripped jeans, micro-minis, offensive t-shirt slogans and far too much cleavage on display (from either gender) - researching my recent piece for Executive PA magazine brought me plenty of information on how office casual dress-codes can work, and how they can go horribly, horribly wrong...

    Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoody, Tim Cook continues Steve Jobs's casually dressed CEO tradition, and Sir Richard Branson is rarely out of denim. While the office maxim is "copy the boss", what if they start dressing down? 

    Are CEOs really ditching the suit and, if so, should you? What with company leaders in jeans, increasing informality in many industries and the omnipresent casual Friday, it looks like business wear is going out of fashion.

    But how casual is too casual? One office found itself writing endless guides to clarify what business casual code means. "We had juniors in mini-skirts and new hires in ripped jeans and thongs," says their MD's PA. "We ended up with a three-page guide - with pictures - before we decided to just stop casual Fridays."

    Another PA rapidly tired of seeing too much cleavage - from a male manager,
    who usually left his shirt open to the third button...

    See the whole piece at in the issue at Executive PA online, page 60.

    I had a blast researching this one, even if it did uncover a few memories of office-workers and my own outfits best left forgotten. What's your ultimate "oh no, they didn't" office-wear story?

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Today in MX, I tell a million Australians how I got stuck in a vending machine.

    This was published in MX, Australia's free daily newspaper, and yes, it did actually happen. Not in my current job, thankfully, but back when I was back-packing: working by day, drinking like a fish by night...

    Stick Your Job

    I’m tired and cranky and falling over when I try to put on my trousers. Not really an ideal state to go to work in.

    Drinking with friends until 4am always seems like a great idea at the time. Not so much the next day, and even less when you have to work. So, what’s good for exhaustion and hangovers? Caffeine’s always good - for everything. But unfortunately the killer hangover means coffee is not an option. The mere thought of it makes me feel sick.

    So, I decide I can probably handle a cup of tea. Tea has anti-toxidants or anti-oxidents or something. I'm unsure which, but I am figuring that it will either kill the toxic stuff (good) or the oxygen in my system (bad, but at least I'll be too dead to be hungover).

    Picking up my MP3 player, I head to the kitchen to make myself a nice cuppa. Humming along happily, I realize that my player has hit the South Park bit, and Chef is starting his thing.

    Oh, I love Chocolate Salty Balls. I start singing along with music on my headphones.

    One cup of tea is made, and due to my total lack of depth perception (always tricky when you are hungover) I fill it far too full. I’m feeling peckish and decide to head over to the snack machine to get a nice bag of cheese and onion crisps.

    Darn, I have nowhere to put my tea down. It keeps spilling burning liquid over my hand and soaking my trousers. Well, the quicker I get the crisps...

    I put the cash in the machine and hit buttons and the spin-y thing spins and ... oh dear. It hasn’t gone quite far enough. The bloody crisps are teetering indecisively there on the edge like acrophobic on a bungee platform.

    I prod the machine. Nothing. I rattle the machine. My tea spills. I’m getting annoyed now, and interspersing my humming along with my player with threats.

    “Gimme the crisps… Chocolate Salty Balls… Gimme them!”

    No joy. I look at the machine. I figure, if I stick my hand into the slot, I might be able to wiggle...

    Ow! It bites me. The drawer falls forward and nips my skin, giving me a long thin bruise. It looks like a lovebite from a tape-worm. This is so not worth it. But it is. I need those crisps.

    “Crisps. Criiiiiiiiiisps. Crispy crispy. Come to me...”

    I figure, if I tilt the machine back a little, it should hold the door open so I don’t get injured again. If I can just get my hand into the slot...

    Oh nuts. My sleeve is caught. Now I can’t get in or out without ripping my top. This is ridiculous.

    Not actually the image I wanted at work.
    …suck on my… GIMME THE CRISPS… salty balls let my sleeve go and suck ‘em…

    Okay. If I kneel, and keep my hand level so the tea doesn’t spill, I can push the base of the machine to a tilt angle. Then I can move my shoulder right, which means the top should slide OFF the hook and then if I move left I should be able to get the crisps down. Then if I just give the machine a little push and a jerk, I should be able...

    So, to summate, I am crouching underneath a teetering snack machine, with an overflowing cup of tea in one hand and the other firmly stuck in the machine itself, looking like I have a bathroom accident as I alternate between cursing, cajoling and singing about my chocolate salty balls...

    ...and that's when I realise that my boss is standing behind me.

    Never. Drinking. Again.

    And this time, I mean it.