James Cridland

Brisbane, weeks 2 and 3

Wow. Lots done in so little time. We now have a house (moving in before Christmas), a car (getting delivery next week). All our bank accounts are sorted, not just the bare minimum. We have child “day care” (‘nursery’ in British English) sorted out, too. Much of this is due to the careful planning that happened before we moved: so pleased we did it, since it certainly paid off.

And, much more to the point, the Australian government has now agreed that I can have a visa to live here: a small but rather significant step. (I get my visa on returning to the country after a short business trip in a fortnight).

Other things learnt in the past few weeks include…

Australia really loves “world”s. So much so that I feel almost forced to start collecting them again.

After my incredulity at “Coon” cheese (named after Edward William Coon, an American, who invented some kind of process to manufacture cheese), I reminded myself of one of Streets’s ice-cream brand here: “Golden Gaytime”. Wikipedia tells me that the advertising catchphrase was once “it’s impossible to have a gaytime on your own”.

I’ve discovered that the typical Brisbanite is more of a coffee snob than Sydneysiders; which is one reason why there aren’t that many Starbucks here. There are just three stores in Brisbane’s CBD (city centre); three more in the suburbs (and one’s in a hospital); one store in the Sunshine Coast and two in the Gold Coast. And that’s it. It used to have many, many more stores: but it was a massively expensive failure. This is quite an interesting article detailing exactly why: but this is the most telling piece:

While Starbucks grew organically in America, in Australia it tried to impose itself upon us. It took key sites. It hung huge signs. It even tried to get us to order coffee in sizes, just like you do with popcorn at the multiplex. And with weird names (Decaf Mocha Grande anyone?) Basically, Starbucks said to us: “That’s not how you drink coffee. This is how you drink coffee.”

I should say, though, every single coffee shop I’ve been in has had different sizes: even for flat whites, which are resolutely one-size-fits-all in the UK. And all the coffee I’ve had has been excellent.

The Australians use these little plastic toggles — properly called bread clips, I discover — to close bags of bread. Like we used to in the UK, before some nerk somewhere decided to just use a bit of brightly-coloured sellotape, which is impossible to reclose properly and is just a damn nuisance.

The range of beers is impressive: I’m still wading through them on Untappd and discovering which I like and which I don’t. James Squire beer — in a variety of different styles — is all over the place, and it’s not bad at all, but there are lots of other types available.

Buying a house is much smoother than the UK, and proceeds scarily fast. Yes, we’re a cash buyer, but we’ll be in about three weeks after putting in an offer: the vendors get the surveys done (both building and pests) rather than leaving that to the seller. We’re delighted with the place we’ve found: itching to move in and set up home.

A good Aussie pie makes for a good lunch, and they are everywhere. A plain steak pie in this local shop is $4.20 (£2, US$3). I’m also quite tempted to buy a stubby holder or two.

Impressed at BP’s loyalty scheme, which is simply Virgin Atlantic’s Velocity frequent flyer’s club. On signing up, you get sent a proper Velocity card (on one side) with a pre-pay international credit card on the other side (and, you guessed it, spending money on it gets you additional Velocity points too). Usefully, it looks like a Visa, which’ll happily complement my Mastercard. Less impressed at Flybuys, which appears to be outstandingly stingy (used by Coles supermarkets and a wide variety of other stores); and a recently rebooted Woolworths Rewards, which appears similarly to be a poorly-paying discount card.

This place has storms like nothing I’ve seen before: unsurprising given we’re subtropical. Stuck in one such storm last week, the sky very quickly darkened, and we had torrential heavy rain and incredible winds: knocking out broadband for a while and affecting the electricity for over 100,000 households across Brisbane (not ours). We missed the large hail (golf-ball sized, and stuff that damages cars). We didn’t miss the rolling thunder and the non-stop lightning.

Really impressed at the South Bank in Brisbane, which has a number of rather fine places in it including a big museum complex, the State Library, a beach, restaurants (and the ABC). As a space for everyone, it’s beautifully done.

From a radio point of view, I find the coverage of FM to be extraordinarily poor: perhaps it’s just the car. I’m surprised that some stations haven’t bothered with RDS, including triplej and local community station 4ZZZ. RDS is on every single broadcast in the UK, pretty well, so to my eyes it looks like a fault when stations don’t bother with it. Very strange.

And finally for now: very much enjoyed explaining to an Aussie couple how Argos catalogue shops work. You try, and see how bizarre the whole concept is…