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Posts Tagged ‘London’

It’s almost 6 months since I arrived in England (arrival date: 27 March).  In some ways I feel like I’ve been coasting through, and getting grumpy with myself about why I am not balancing my life as I did a year ago.  One theory is I don’t have enough energy to do anything much following the BIG MOVE. Which may be true. However, midway through last week I realised that this is actually what’s been going on:

Realisations Normally I can juggle many areas of my life successfully. Working on each are as they need to be addressed, confident that I’ve got most of it under control.

Recently I’ve had a nagging worry that I should be doing better (note the use of the word should – guilt word). I should be taking action to get a more enjoyable job, I should be taking action to get us into our own house, I should be more active, more sociable, more…

Then I had a realisation, that in fact I have been doing as I normally do, it’s just that one of those juggling balls, namely my relationship, and the related ball the relationship with L, have been taking up most of my concentration. There’s a secondary one, coping with change, which is taking up most of the rest of the concentration. Such that I’m really only able to do the minimum to just keep the job/career, finances, fitness, social life, etc. balls in the air.

This is starting to change. Thankfully.

Last week we made a firm decision that it’s time to move. So I took a crash course in house hunting in London. Decline gave me some excellent advice during our fortnightly catch-up.

So I started the difficult task of working out which part of London is we should focus on, and how much we should be willing to pay. Online rental sites (hooray rightmove.co.uk) are useful to get an idea of standard house prices, availability, quality… Knowledge I take mostly take for granted in Sydney. As an aside, this might also be the reason that Sydney’s population generally remains so static, once you are familiar with the peculiarities of an area and have found your best fit it’s a lot of effort to regain the knowledge.

London has a few more variables to throw into the mix when deciding what price range you are comfortable to pay. There’s rent, of course. Also Council tax (equivalent of rates) which is payable by the residents of the property, not the owners, and can change by over 100 pounds per year. And travel expenses as an additional zone adds to the cost of a seasonal travel pass. It’s all very confusing.

Once this is decided, then you have to work out what the neighbourhood is like. A very fraught excercise for non-Londoners.

We wanted to spend Saturday looking at potential flats. In the end we only saw two. This is mostly because you need to make an appointment with an estate agent to view a property. A complete contrast to my usual Inner West experience where house viewings occur in 20-30 min blocks for as many people as possible. So now we have to take a day off work and get very serious about looking at as many properties as possible so we can be comfortable with our chosen compromise between price, quality, features and space.

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I think this week marks the start of phase 4 of this journey: Moving on Together. We know we’ve made the right decision to share our lives, now to make those lives betterer. (yes, a deliberate typo)

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Afternoon teaThankfully, in direct contrast to the previous week. The loveliness included:

Afternoon Tea (aka High Tea in Sydney, although I’m told that High Tea is actually much less fancy that afternoon tea) for the lovely flickgc’s birthday on Monday afternoon. I took two hours off work, overloaded on tea and sugary things, met some lovely people and participated in a lot of interesting conversation. Much needed social interaction. I was exhausted by the end of it, as I’ve not needed to use those social muscles in a while. Felt good though, had a wonderful time.

Also, I had my best “tea” voice on, so apparently I didn’t sound at all Australian for a few of the guests. Quite chuffed by this, as it means I still have good accent mimic skills and ability to pick up a language by osmosis, including dialects/variants of languages.

An interesting urgent project at work, which meant I had to rapidly absorb planning, water conservation and biodiversity plans. Got to take on an Us v Them mentality, which often helps me to get work done. Also had fun spreading large (A1) size maps over tables and plotting out major projects in our area, like a war strategy room. No small figurines though.

I’m still working on it, and it’s now becoming a drag, unfortunately. I’ve noticed that this place is very good at inital briefings, and then very bad at ongoing support and follow-up to make sure you’re on track and not having difficulties. This frustrates me as I feel that they don’t care, or that the need has been hyped and the task is actually not ‘urgent’ and then I feel undervalued. This seems to be an ongoing challenge for me.

I was reflecting on this today, what I want is to be trading my dedication and effort for money, not just time for money. Unfortunately at the moment it is most definitely time for money. On the plus side, I’m still waiting on news of the Civil Service job I had an interview for, which should be coming through sometime in the next 2 weeks. Perhaps that will improve my work life.

View over the Thames Dinner with Mikki in Putney for lovely catch-up chatson Wednesday. Photo at right is the view out the window of the pub we randomly found, after walking in the wrong direction for the one I’d found online.

We’re going to try to do these more regularly, as I need social contact, and she’s about to move to New Zealand. I know, I move halfway around the world and end up near my best friend from University and she promptly moves to New Zealand. At least it’s not personal, as this decision had been made before I told her I was moving.

Listening to a couple of bands on Saturday night with friends at the local, tiny pub. They were billed as metal bands, which I could cope with as long as they weren’t screamy-thrash metal, and the venue has an outdoor area if needed for escape. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find instead a more grunge/metal/funk style, which was fantastic. Jed bought the album.

poached eggs on toasted muffinsMy birthday on Sunday (yay!) was just perfect. We got up early-ish and trekked into London to go to brunch at the Pavilion in Victoria park. One of the things I have sorely missed here is a good Newtown style brunch. I’m pleased to say we found it! Picture of the perfect poached eggs at left, and the remains of the coffee.

You know you’ve found a good coffee/brunch venue when you’re told your normal style of coffee won’t work with their coffee blend and perhaps you’d like this other (little known, but actually the one you prefer but never ask for as it’s too hard to explain) style. Also, they had Bonsoy! And moorhens! And tables beside the lake! And people with dogs and children (not always together)! And wait staff who were stylish and cool, but also cared! And! And!

I was in heaven, in case you can’t tell.

Celebrations that evening in Balham with 7 unconnected friends who happened to be free to attend a very last minute drinks-and-dinner. Just the right amount of people. We found a fun Italian place, Cuitto’s, on Balham High Rd, which I’d recommend. Good food, fantastically friendly service, and a surprise piece of birthday tiramisu delivered after a whistle was blown so the entire tiny restaurant stopped and sang me Happy Birthday. Fun, thoughtful, and amusing.

Jed and I were quite gentle with each other all week. Designating quiet nights together, and more space and understanding for the other’s moods. Possibly the week before was our pent up emotions and stresses venting, and hence this week was a lot more even tempered and understanding. This included a lovely Friday evening where I made pork escalopes with elderberry sauce, made from the elderberries we picked on the common the previous Sunday. Very yummy! I’m having a great time with experimental cooking.

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not yet opened

After purchasing the Cafe Corner last month, (all photos of the model as now here) and getting out the lego that was shipped over with all my belongings, I’ve re-discovered the fun of lego model building. And discovered that I’m not the only one. There’s, not-surprisingly, entire communities out there, commonly called Adult Fans of Lego (AFOL).

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks browsing various blogs and flickr sets looking at what other people have built based on the specifications for lego buildings inspired by this particular set and getting ideas (and I accidentally found this post via a completely different blog, it amused me lots, I feel like I’m making a similar confession). I’ve also realised that I’ve previously had a much more expensive, equally creative and yet bizarre hobby, aka the SCA, so if I choose to spend money on lego there’s no real problem. Oh, and there’s a pick-and-mix option on the lego.co.uk site, and a lego designer software which allows you to design a model, price it and then request a custom shipment. My first one should arrive this week. On the wishlist for birthday and Christmas are the Greengrocer and Fire Station sets.

By Tuesday I’d worked out that I had enough pieces from medical related lego sets I received as a child to build a quite decent medical clinic based on these specs. So, most of my spare time this week has been spent doing that. It’s gone through about 3 re-builds so far, as I’ve played with decoration, placement of the stair case and internal walls. The delivery this week will get me a black tiled roof, and enough pieces to hopefully finish it off. Well, except for a basement and a small access ramp I want to build…

Wednesday Jed and I went on the first of what might become regular weeknight a’ventures. We decided on dinner in London, specifically chinese dumplings and a colleague recommended a place in the Chinatown that made their dumplings in house. It was fantastic! Exactly what we were after, to the extent I declared it was nice to have “real food” at the end of the meal. Very reminscient of beloved dumpling places in Ashfield, and sitting on metal stools around communal tables in Thailand. We had two plates of pork and bamboo shoot dumpings, steamed and fried, a small place of soy chicken, and a small plate of bok choy. With rice and bubble tea/iced pineapple drink. All for £30. Heaven!

It was a wonderfully warm evening, and the sun was still up So we then wandered around China town. I introduced Jed to durian, as the smell of it was deliciously wafting across the courtyard. We bought two fortune cookies for dessert. Mine read “your dreams will soon come true”, I’m hoping it refers to a meaningful job. We ran around inside a Korean sweet shop, and came home with random boxes of chocolate biscuit-y things, and some black sesame glutinous rice balls. Nom!

Friday was games night with friends. Introduced them to Settlers of Catan which we recently acquired. Jed bases his strategy on observations of Mat(my former flatmate)’s tactics and we’ve decided that the development card deck is now called the “Mat wins” deck. It amuses us. Unfortunately the robber piece has also been renamed “the gimp”, which seems to amuse everyone except me.

Saturday I went to a friend’s birthday party in nearby Wallington, in which I got off the bus waaaay too early and had a nice walk from one town (Purley) to the next past gardens and fields. This map should give you an idea. I got off the bus halfway up Foxley Lane/A2022. I walked to Wallington, the next town NW of there) Only two blisters to show for it. On the other hand, my friend, the lovely Dee, lives so close that we can plan regular tea or beer catch ups, I just have to get off the train 3 stops earlier. This is really cool, as it was the one thing that was really missing. Regular chats with someone who’s not Jed.

Sunday we went Blackberrying up on the Common, picking a small ice cream container’s worth to make into a dessert later this week. It was warm and sunny, perfect for picking blackberries which were warm and juicy, although probably at their best in another week or two. Also perfect for getting the requisite blackberry scratches and unobservantly standing right next to a tall stinging nettle plant and getting stung on the back of an elbow. Which I did. All of which brought back many childhood memories. Including that nettles stings are nowhere near as bad as bull ant bites, or as icky as leeches, so I could just deal with it (all three of which occurred to me on one regular family camping trip up the back of the Hawkesbury).

A really nice weekend all up.

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On Monday, I didn’t go to Windsor Races. Negotiating getting out there and back home to Surrey without a car was too much. It can take up to 1.5 hours to get home from London after peak hour on a weeknight, and I’m still not feeling proficient enough at navigating around England and organising myself and Jed to get to events on a school night.

However, I did decide to apply for a permanent position in the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change (yes, that’s right, another DECC) as they had a general recruitment round closing on 6 July, one of which was a set of positions titled “policy adviser”. I rang their contact to see what the deal was, and it seems there are 70 positions going over 7 pay grades. I spent most of the week getting this application ready, which was sent off yesterday afternoon. Either I’m a shoe-in as I have the experience they’re after, or I completely misjudged the position description and they are after a middle manager. Doing a direct comparison of pay scales would lead me to believe the first, but there was a criterion about leading and developing a team which concerns me. Oh well, all will be revealed in time.

We had lovely tapas meal in Reigate on Wednesday night, to allow us both time to recover from a rather emotional Tuesday night. It was the predicted 3-month blow-up of reality hitting home. This has all been a bit tougher than I was letting myself acknowledge it would be before I left. This time round my move overseas is semi-permanent and I’m doing it without a support network. Dealing with my own slight panic at the lack of taken-for-granted security that comes with knowledge of a society and a wide network of people to interact with, while emotionally supporting a partner who aches for a different life but doesn’t quite see how to achieve it, nor really believes he (we) can do it, and also doesn’t ever seem to have had anyone tell him he’s doing a good job.

Work [1] has also been a bit slow of late, with many of my projects either waiting on feedback, being taken to meetings for approval without me being informed, or decisions being made without telling me so I can keep up. This was fixed later in the week, but it’s made me realise that this position is one of those that has lots of potential, but the working practices will eventually drive me batty. Perhaps I’m not cut out for local government work? The constituency is too close and too apparent, and hence upper management reacts more easily.

Friday night I cooked an experimental Japanese dinner, which was very tasty. Although, since a large plate of gyoza was the centrepiece of the meal it would have been hard to make it untasty. J

Saturday and Sunday Leylah was over after a week in France, and we mostly stayed around the house. It must be an odd space for her (and hence for us when she’s over) as she spends half her time there but I suspect it’s not really ‘home’. Partially there’s no space that is specifically hers, so at frequent intervals she will declare that she is ‘bored!’, but listening to the tone of voice I suspect that she is actually ‘lost’, not knowing what to do, and not feeling she has permission to make changes that would stop her being bored. Previously it was a house of two Bachelors where a girl child would come to visit, and mostly get waited on. Since I’ve arrived we’ve created a bit more structure, furniture and belongings have been moved around so the place is a bit nicer to be in and she can get to glasses and plates (and has been told she can use the microwave to reheat food!). It’s a work in progress, but will probably only improve in a big way when we move somewhere else, sometime in October.

Lastly, on Saturday night I saw my beloved Cat Empire in concert in London. Which made it the 7th concert of their’s I’ve been to in 2.5 years. They are that enjoyable and varied. I went with 4 of Jed’s friends (there was a last minute mix-up with Leylah so Jed stayed at home) who had not heard their music before and I’m glad to say they loved it. However, they also made me go to the Australian themed walkabout pub nearby (where I proceeded to have a rant that it wasn’t an actual Australian pub, there was no Cooper’s available, and there was no beetroot on the burgers), and then we had Australian themed meat pies afterwards. The pies were really good. The pub wasn’t.

[1] I know I’ve not actually said what I’m doing. Short story: it’s pick-up project work for a London Local Authority, initial 3 month contract, which will likely get extended unless I find permanent work.

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I have a job, (more on that later, when I’m not actually at work taking a quick blog break), and since I don’t have a car, and this is London, and I like to do so, I catch public transport to work every day. Along with the majority of people that work in London.

The standard trip takes 1.5 hours door to door, on a good day. If there’s engineering works on my line, or there’s lots of crowds then add 15 mins. If there’s a tube strike add 30 mins. All in all, not a bad run considering I live outside the M25 (the ring road around London).

Why a poster child? The variety of public transport types I catch every day.

The standard trip in is: train – tube – light rail. On the way home it’s light rail – tube – train – train. (I generally just miss the direct train from London Bridge, so change at East Croydon as it’s quicker than waiting for the next direct service)

Generally the tube is the Jubilee line, in which speed is traded for space, at least until Canary Wharf where all the bankers get off and the carriage empties. I’m getting rather sick of the daily game of sandines; being poked and prodded by handbags, or having men’s elbows in my face. I’ve worked out that women tend to pack closer than men, so if I can target the knot of men at one end of a carriage then there’s generally more space around them. Once we clear Canary Wharf then there’s ample space to put down bags, coats and finish reading the paper/a book.

I have the option of taking a tube to Bank, then a long walk down many tunnels to the light rail station. This is generally a less squishy option, but adds about 15 mins to the journey since the light rail stops more frequently and doesn’t travel as fast. However, it is probably the cheapest rollercoaster around, maybe not the most exciting. Try sitting in the front of the second carriage one day and enjoy the camber on the corners, the jolting and the surreality of the twisting carriage in front of you as the train dives into a tunnel.

There’s been a tube strike the last two days. This hasn’t been to bad for me, as my unaffected train service arrives in a similar part of London. The best option has been another train to Greenwich, then the light rail up through the Isle of Dogs. Adds 30 mins to the trip, but I get to see a part of London that I might not have otherwise.

Last, but not least, there is a bus (red double-decker) that leaves from the front of my work direct to Canary wharf, the closest transport hub, and major shopping precinct, which is yet another way to get home. If I take that option then in one trip I can combine every sort of public transport available in Greater London, except a ferry. Hence, poster child.

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