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Archive for April, 2009

Redhill, Surrey

The GaribaldiI’ve ended up in Redhill, Surrey, for the moment. It’s a railway town, with predominantly Victorian housing stock, and a town centre that was rebuilt during the 1980s. It reminds me a lot of a large Australian country town like Bathurst, combined with the rural north-west of Sydney where I grew up. It’s probably a combination of surroundings, climate and demographic.

I’ve made some additional tools for this post, an annotated googlemap, and a Flickr set which you may find interesting.

Redhill is about half hour by train from London. It’s just outside the M25 that rings London, and is essentially a satellite town for the nearby city of Reigate, as well as a commuter town for London. There are a number of finance businesses located here, so the centre of town is bustling at lunch, and therefore supports a number of eateries and retail shops. That being said, there’s no stand-out place to eat or to socialise in except the pubs which means it’s a good place to live, but not an outstanding place. I’ve taken to getting my morning coffee from the local Costa, which is a chain maybe a few steps above Starbucks. At least they have soy milk, actually know what a macchiato is, and offer fair-trade at no extra charge.

The centre of town has grown up along two cross streets, which have been converted into pedestrian only spaces. A line of trees planted down the south arm of the cross have had circular solid benches built around them, a pleasant place to sit and wait for certain men to go on their lunch break. The north arm is under a glass arched cover, with small black benches to sit on. This end is closer to the local Sainsburys.

To my eye the town seems to be divided between these two spaces, in terms of where you will wait for a friend, or eat lunch. The north arm seems to be more chavs (bogans in Australian parlance), whereas the south arm seems to be more porfessional. This split exemplifies the town in general, with both groups existing, but not necessarily mixing.

There are a number of pubs. Our ‘local’ is the Junction, right in the middle of town, which has frequently been referred to as a pub attempting to be a wine bar. This does mean it’s quieter and a bit trendier than other pubs in the area. Seems fine to me.

One of the things I notice about the area (and England in general) are the gardens and greenery. Gardens of all sizes, in almost any available space. Colour and greenery. Some of which have been there for years and grown into a lovely, but pretty mess. Some of which you know was recently purchased and bought to bring a shot of spring colour into a landscape that was recently wintery and grey.

There’s a local market here every Thursday and Saturday, which means there’s a butcher, fishmonger and fruit and veg stall which I can visit on a regular basis in an attempt to maintain seasonally based eating. To compliment this there’s a Delicatessen and fine food store on the hill behind the house, which sells the other small items I need for my cooking, and they do a decent coffee, although there’s nowhere to sit and enjoy it.

I’m sure there’ll be more to say about the town as time progresses, but this is enough for a introduction and backgrounder.

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I remembered the other day that when I was 20 and had just completed my Engineering holiday placement between 2nd and 3rd year that my chief thought was that I wanted to find a way to retire by the time I was 30. This of course led to the decision to not become an engineer, however, for the purposes of this blog it’s interesting that for the past 3.5 weeks I have essentially been retired, or at least acting as if I am. It’s quite nice to have wishes fulfilled.

“Unemployed” is not the right term as I’ve not really been actively looking for work, giving myself some headspace to settle into life with J rather than rush off to build everything at once. When I opened a bank account here the customer service rep needed to list my current occupation. We settled on “homemaker” as “it’s looks much better than unemployed” according to her. Personally, given my reason for being unemployed I’m not feeling the stigma. It amused me to be classed as a homemaker, I honestly never thought I’d describe myself as such. Finally, after remembering that wish when I was 20, I’ve decided that this is the description for my current stage – retired.

It’s been quite nice to have been “retired” for a few weeks, although the shine will wear off soon as almost every plan involves “step 1: get a job”

So, what have I been doing in the 3.5 weeks since I landed?

  • getting to know the local area: Redhill and Reigate in Surrey. Post on this to follow soon. However, importantly, the hunt for good coffee has either been decided, OR my standards have dropped. Possibly a combination of the two. Maybe, I miss the vibe of Inner West cafes, but the coffee itself is fine.
  • working out what gaps there are in J and my combined household items, and starting to fill them. Once we move from this place, (one of the plans that involves step 1: get a job) we’ll need almost every essential item, as this is a furnished flat.
  • meeting J’s friends, mostly at the pub. They all seem lovely, not yet a replacement for the wonderful people I spent my time with in Sydney. But that level of comfortability and closeness comes with time.
  • getting to know J’s flatmate (and now my flatmate I suppose, although that’s a bit odd to say). He’s nice and friendly, and generally stays in his room, due to an addiction to his XboX. It died last a week, there was much happiness when it was repaired and returned.
  • catching up with friends in England, which has been really good. One of the joys of not yet working and having madly saved for the last year means that I can justify a few weeks of slowly taking it all in and seeing people when it’s convenient.
  • meeting J’s daughter, which is going quite well so far. I’m getting used to the concept of parenting and realising I need patience to deal with a naturally boisterous and changeable 9 yr old. Some days are better than others, but I suspect any parent will say the same. We’re getting on well so far, J says that she likes me as she is neither shy nor showing off when I’m around. The cuddle I got when we were watching Doctor Who and it got a little scary might suggest this is true.
  • meeting J’s parents and visiting their place in Devon. They live on in a farmhouse with some sheep, a cat, some chickens and one very excitable dog that is a lot like a kelpie, specifically the kelpie I grew up with, which was a bit eerie. She’s as obsessed with playing fetch as my brother’s dog is, so that was easy to cope with and quite settling in many ways. I got on with J’s parents quite well, and seemed to be approved of as I’m easy going and don’t stand on ceremony. I possibly overdosed on tea while I was there as that’s the default social option.
  • travelling up to London to see things and stuff. I went for a walk down Chancery lane, which was spectacular, especially King’s College. Unfortunately I left my Camera behind that day. Saw the hats exhibition at the V&A, which was crowded but the hats were stunning and kindled a small “I want to do some millinery” flame. (Marina: it had Johnny Depp’s hat from Pirates of the Caribbean, just thought you might want to know)
  • went to Brighton for an afternoon/evening to see Scruffy and Juliana and celebrate Meg and Snerg’s wedding in absentia (it looked like a lovely ceremony from the photos)
  • taking life slowly, possibly for the first time in years. I’m simply having fun planning meals to ensure we eat well, but cheaply, and use up everything we purchase. In the first 2 weeks I was here I also got in a cleaned the place. Not that it was horribly grotty, just, as my friend Mikkles said when I mentioned it to her: “you have to get in and clean and sit on every chair to make sure the place feels like yours”, which is precisely it. Also, I’m not paying rent at the moment so it seems like a fair swap.
  • managed to get a bank account set up, and transferred some money into it yesterday. This would have happened a lot sooner if I’d remembered where I’d put my bank statements from Australia. Still, that’s a Herculean task taken care of.
  • been watching gardens grow, trees put on leaves and robins and jackdaws. I arrived right at the beginning of spring and the difference 3 weeks makes is astounding. Trees that were bare now cannot be seen through, and ground that was bare is now partially covered in plants. Actually, seeing bare ground which is not blasted dry by the sun is astounding enough.

This all feels a bit like a temporary holiday, and that in a few weeks I’ll be going back to the Newtown with it’s familiar pathways, food, people and vibe. That shortly I’ll have to front up at my desk at DECC and get on with work while jetlagged (as I did every other time I’ve been in England) That’s starting to wear off. Hopefully now I have a bank account and after my shipping arrives it will feel less like a holiday where I’m staying at a friend’s house (albeit a very close friend) and more like the life I’ve chosen to live. Whichever way, given the need to find a job to get on with all the other wonderful plans, and the shipping and banking and the fact it’s been a month since I arrived I suspect stage 2 – find work and become part of the economy starts on Monday.

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