Monday, January 29, 2007

Good Luck for Back to School in Oz

To all the marvellous children, lovely parents and fantastic staff at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School, I wish you a wonderful beginning to the 2007 school year.

To the beautiful Mary Hor and the wonderful Marylynne Heffernan, I hope you have a smooth and happy start to your new adventures at your new schools. I would love to hear how things go.

To Christine, Coz and all the other teachers I have met through the excellent Mrs Doyle, good luck for your new school year.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Happy Australia Day

Australia Day in London is a completely difference experience to anything else I have ever seen, done, or thought possible. I knew it would be a big deal, but I wasn't prepared for the eventual "celebration" that occurred.

Here is a photo of the Ned Kelly outfit that the dodgy Year 2 class and I made for James the Aussie teacher who also worked at the school. I actually managed to teach a lesson about Ned Kelly which was an amazing feat and the kids really liked hearing about the bushranger. Not going to speculate as to why. By the way, that is not James the Aussie teacher in the suit at the time of the photo!
After learving school I met Karen in Victoria where she works and we headed out to Putney to met some guy that she knew from the Amex office in Phoenix. He was leaving London and having a few beers to say goodbye so we planned to tag along. Our original plan was to go to Covent Garden (and for those living in London I know you are shaking your heads as to the plan of going to Covent Garden via Putney. For those living in Oz, they are in completely different directions). However, we couldn't find him at the pub so we cut our losses after a quick beverage and began the journey back to Covent Garden. By this stage the pub which we were originally going to go to was completely full and had a line around to the next street so we met up in the Roadhouse (another pub in Covent Garden). The bouncers were very nice and didn't mind our attire at all. People kept stealing my hat though and as the night wore on it fell to Vic the Man to keep retrieving it on my behalf.

I think it might be a fair call to say that I probably have not been that drunk since Rachael Geary's 21st birthday party and I am sure my mother (designated chauffeur that evening) will attest to the fact that I was well and truly sloshed that particular night. A HUGE BIG THANK YOU must be given to Vic the Man as she was responsible to not only getting me home in one piece but also finding the much needed bathroom at a particular train station (can't remember which one).
The above photo includes (L-R) Rebecca, Me, Vic the Man, Karen and Courtney. I met Rebecca and Courtney at a training course on how to not to annoy English people in schools (I kid you not). Courtney used to work with and knows Woz Cree. Small world huh?

Also, very happy to report that Karen and I have found a new flatmate! Yay! Her name is Kinga and she is Hungarian and is 26. She works in something to do with accounts for Banks which is something similar to do with what Karen does. I got confused because they were using a lot of jargon and saying "Same here". Kinga moves in next weekend, but I will be in Belgium with Vic the Man for her birthday. Going there to stock up on chocolate as the chocolate in London is not very good at all. Desperate times call for a trip to Brussels for chocolate!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Australia Day. We saw the giant thong lilo race here, and I got very jealous of the beach and sun! Weevil man is coming to the flat tomorrow to de-weevil my room. It's a very exciting day! :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let it snow...

Check it out...No, your eyes are not deceiving you...It is snow! Real live (well, not anymore but it was this morning) snow! Woke up this morning and had my bowl of Coco Pops in the kitchen as I looked out the window and thought "It's a bit lighter this morning, yay" but didn't really pay much attention. It wasn't until Karen opened our front balcony window and yelled "Look Bubble" that I had any idea that overnight, London had become a winter wonderland. Even though it was freezing cold (I can say that because it literally was freezing), and the tube lines were stuffed and it took me 2 hours to get to work, I had a smile on my face the whole morning. What a wonderful scene to wake up to. You can tell who was an Aussie/NZ/South African this morning because we were the ones laughing and smiling. The Londoners were not happy at all.

Another week and another school. I am working in a Church of England School teaching a Year 2 class this week. I got offered the job for a block of time and thought "Great!". What I should have thought was "What's the catch?" because there was definitely a catch. The normal teacher has gone out on indefinite stress leave and the class had had three relief teachers in the space of three days. There are 9 boys with severe behaviour disorders in the class. I was not impressed at all. More so with the fact that the agency didn't warn me. I wouldn't have been so angry if I had had a chance to prepare myself. I've been there for 5 days now and things are slowly getting into a routine. Although I have had one boy threaten to cut my throat twice. Another kid stabbed a child with a pencil. A child was rushed to hospital after an altercation in the playground resulted in him getting his hand sliced. Today the playground was shut down because two Year 4 boys had tried to drown a Year 3 boy in the toilets. It is a very "special" school that is for sure. Sue Grose from St Martin's once told me that sometimes you just need to survive the day. If you can do that, then it has been a success. Any teaching that occurs that day is a bonus. Well, everyday I try and survive. It takes us 30 minutes to walk from the hall after assembly to our classroom because we have to stop every 10 metres. The kids walk with ther hands on their heads so that they can not hurt anyone. I think the word "challenge" doesn't really cut it here. But then again, at least I have had the chance to experience it (that's what I am telling myself).

There are some light moments though too. Even though it is a C of E school there are quite a few Muslim children in the class, although I still have to teach them C of E religion. We were talking about Christian symbols today and I asked one kid what the Easter Egg meant and he replied "That's because at Easter the egg hatched and Jesus came out and had a new life". What a crack up!

Karen and I finally moved into our flat in Chiswick last week. We signed the lease and opened the door only to find that the landlord had left a heap of his stuff still in the flat. Things like mountain bikes, camping chairs, old tiles, used linen etc. My personal favourites were the dirty crockery hidden in a plastic bag under one of the beds and the wet carpet roll that was full of weevils, also under the bed. Was absoluetly disgusting. We have spent all of Sunday and the evenings since then cleaning things that should have been clean before we got here. There is a property manager who has really gone into bat for us and managed to ornagise cleaners to come in this week and fix the bathroom (it leaks) and clean the carpets (to get rid of the weevils that I couldn't get out myself) and to take away the 8 (yes, 8!) bags of crap the landlord has left. Karen and I bagged it all, now they just have to come and get it. Oh, and the two mountain bikes and camping chairs.

Despite my weevil friends, the flat is pretty good. The location is great and it only takes 5 minutes to walk up to the tube station. To get to school I change at Hammersmith and it only takes (on a non snow day) about 40 minutes all up. We have a 3 bedroom place on the second floor. There is a lift and the garbage man and post man come up the stairs. We don't have to take the garbage down the stairs or bring the post up. We are trying to find a person for the big bedroom. Karen and I have the two smaller ones opposite each other. It makes yelling across the hallway a lot easier. The loungeroom has two large leather lounges. Our balcony looks out of the common park area (see top photo - taken from balcony window). The park area is in the middle of all of the flats. It will be a great place to strike up a game of cricket when the weather gets warmer.
You wouldn't believe it but I am in the middle of making a Ned Kelly costume because we have dared James (Aussie teacher at work) to wear it all day for Australia Day on Friday. There are 3 Aussies (including me) working at the school. James wants us to make a big deal out of Friday and get dressed up. I think I will break out my "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi,Oi" t-shirt if I can fit a long sleeved shirt underneath. Bit too chilly otherwise.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Shower Caps and School

Last Friday I started teaching at a school in SoHo (near Piccadilly Circus). It is a tiny school wedged in between all the brothels and peep shows. I kid you not! The surrounding businesses are required by law to shut for half an hour at 8:30am and 3:30pm so that the children can walk to and from school without copping an eye full! There is no grassed play area and the area that they do have to wedged in between four buildings. They do have some pretty cool play equipment (totally illegal in Australia) and some soft fall ground but that is it. Makes me very appreciative of the beautiful playground at St Martin's. The school building itself is quite small but it has about 6 levels and lots of corridors and stairwells. All the stairwells are coloured coded so if you get lost you at least know if you are on the north, south, east or west of the building. The classrooms are very different too. Everthing is small and compact including the chairs (even the Year 6 ones). I reckon I could fit four of their classrooms into my one at St Martin's! Behaviour wise the children were not as bad as I was expecting. I had heard some serious horror stories from other teachers about their schools but apart from a biting incident (Year 6 kid, go figure!) they were good. I had to ask one particular kid in Year 3 to get back to his work over and over again. When I asked him for about the 10th time he turned to me and said "Anything for a lovely Australian lady like you". Then he saw that I was wearing a Celtic cross pendant and added "Oh and you are a Christian to boot!". What a character!

Yesterday I went to the Oxo tower on the Thames for lunch with Jo and Jonathon for Jonathon's birthday. The view was absoluetly spectaular from the restaurant on the 8th floor. You could see all the way up the river and had a fabulous view of St Paul's Cathedral off to the side of our table. On our way to the Oxo tower we stopped in at the Tate Modern Museum where they are having an exhibition on...slippery dips! They have built eight massive slippery dips through the middle of the museum and you can ride them for free. You and every child under the age of 80 on the weekends! It is pretty amazing watching people whizz past you in the chutes as you walk around the museum.
I am moving to Chiswick next weekend (hopefully, fingers crossed). Finding a flat has not been the easiest task and I've had a few teaching agency problems as well so they seemed to all roll into one last week. I've learnt a valuable lesson about not believeing everything people tell you. They tend to tell you what you want to hear and then don't deliver. But, it is all a learning experience and I am beginning to understand why Londoners are so jaded.

Some things I find amusing about London:

* They staple their newspapers. They also give you them for free and if you miss out there will be about 20 million discarded on the tube when you sit down.

* It is okay to spit, push, shove, elbow, punch, pull and stomp on people on the tube, but God forbid that you try and talk to someone!

* Grunting and pointng is an acceptable form of communication when you want someone to move over on the seat on the bus/train/tube. Especially if you are a native English speaker (and doublely so if you are an American tourist!).

* People walk like chickens with their elbows out and away from their bodies. I figured out this is because you can flap them and use them to push people out of the way on Oxford Street (main shopping area).

* Some things are really really cheap, like alcohol, and some things are really really expensive like shower caps. I can buy 3 vodkas for the price of a shower cap.

* Tube train drivers are obviously very bored and on some lines if you listen carefully you can hear them make funny announcements to keep themselves amused. I think that they think no one is listening. They are even more funny when they have a definite accent. My favourite is the Indian guy on the District line who likens the doors to an animal "Stand clear or they will bite you" and the Irish lady on the Central Line who has to remind everyone that you can't physically get off the train while it is moving.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Big Blonde Moment

It turns out that I have been having a prolonged blonde moment for the best part of four months now and it has only just come to light. Simon gave my email address to his friend Vic who has moved over here and is a teacher also. For four months Vic and I have been emailling about schools and places to live etc and about Rovers which is how Vic and Simon know each other. Only problem is... Vic is a chick and not a dude as I originally thought. I have been writing to this lovely lady referring to her as him and she as he. Luckily Simon explained my "faux pas" to me in Paris (red face and d'ohs followed) and I was finally on the right playing field when I finally met "Vic the man" at the Kensington pub on Monday night. Interestingly, Vic the man reminds me a lot of Shelby. They are very, very similar.

Davina (green shirt in photo), Karen, Katrina, Simon, Richard, Vic the man and I went out for dinner at the Kensington pub on Monday night as it was Simon and Kat's last night in London. We met at Davina's place in Shepherd's Bush which I am told that, as an Australian, I am supposed to refer to it as "SheBu (Shay-boo)" in the tradtion of Tarzhay (Target).

The Cat Empire are playing at the Empire Theatre at Shepherd's Bush next month so we have grabbed some tickets for that and are planning a big evening.

Richard and I went and visited the London Fire Brigade Museum for a tour yesterday which was the best fun I have had in ages. We were booked on a 10:30am tour and didn't finish until 1pm. The tours are supposed to take about an hour. Our guide was a retired fireman who was very passionate about his work and his job as curator of the museum. I lost count of how many times he apologised for saying "a decent fire" instead of "a terrible tragedy". The rest of our group were elderly gentlemen who used to work as insurance brokers together. It was very Dad's Army and Richard and I thought it was great. Apparently the London Fire Brigades were actually started by insurance companies who didn't want a repeat of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (good website - The tour guide kept asking if I was bored and if Richard has dragged me along kicking and screaming. It wasn't until he made a joke about Aussie firies still using techniques from the 1800s (e.g. knapsack sprays) that Richard spoke up about our link to the RFS. After that I kept being asked questions about what it was like being a female firie and if things were similar back home to here with regards to gear and Breathing Apparatus etc. It was a fabulous way to spend an otherwise grey and windy day.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Photos from Paris on Ringo

Here's the link (hope it works) to the other photos from Paris.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Colds and other Catastrophes

I have been house hunting and to be honest - it sucks. It is evil and I don't like it and I don't want to do it anymore! I found a place is Chiswick for Karen and I today and am just waiting to hear back on when we can move in (we were approved tentatively). We have had to start a new flat share, but during teacher training today I found a girl who would like to move in so we should be sorted. I am amazed though at how much money people want for such little amounts of things. For the average amount of rent that is normal, I saw some very dodgy places! My personal favourite was the one where the real estate agent tried to tell Karen and I that the kitchen was completely modern and very up to date. When I asked when had it been put in/renovated he said with a straight face "1989". I'm not sure if that was the funniest part or the fact that the cistern fell off the toilet when I tried to flush it! All of this and more for the bargain basement price of £1200/month!

I made two new friends today (yipee!!) from teacher training which was great. We are heading out the Walkabout pub (where else would Aussie chicks go?) for a few beverages next week. Had a very long and "animated" lunch with them today and got on really well. Louise is 23 and comes from Melbourne and Rebecca is 26 and from Perth. Rebecca is a child psycholgist and Louise teaches English and History at high school.

I had a shocker last night when I got on the wrong train and then the wrong bus and ended up getting really lost and not getting home until 1am. That wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't left to go home at 10:30pm. Plus the only reason that I got home in the end was because I got off the bus (only God knows where I was) and hailed a cab. Not an enjoyable experience at all and one I hope not to repeat...ever.

Have got some more photos from Paris for you. Katrina (Simon's girlfriend) can sleep anywhere and fell asleep waiting for a train at Gard de Nord station. I think it must have been her Army training because she didn't have a problem catching a few zzzz's at all with trains whizzing by!

The next few photos are of Karen,Richard, Simon and me. The group one is on New Year's Eve on the bridge waiting to see the non-existant fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. The next one is Karen and Richie lining up in the line for 4.5hrs to get a ticket to go to the top of the tower on New Year's Day and the one of Simon and me is at the top of the tower. Simon loves his Russian hat and it went everywhere with him. I have a sneaking suspicion he slept in it too, I'll have to ask Kat when they get back into London next week.

The next three some of my favourite photos that I took in Paris.

As I was leaving the tower I noticed a wedding party having their photos taken just near the tower. It was so cold that my nose had started to turn blue but here are the bride and her bridesmaid in their beautiful sleeveless gowns! I did notice that the bridesmaid was wearing her jeans on underneath, so maybe she wasn't so silly after all!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Paris and the Cursed Sunglasses

Went to Paris for New Years and met up with Karen, Richard, Simon and Simon's girlfriend Katrina. Getting there was a task and a half though... Got up at some silly hour of the morning in order to catch 2 tube trains and a bus to Luton airport by 7am (note to self - EasyJet is not so easy!). Was very pleased with myself and my achievement of arriving exactly on time only to be told at the check in counter that I was a day late! In my pre-departure haze I had booked the wrong day back in Sydney. D'OH! And to make matters worse I was told that there were no flights available to Paris that day. After checking other airlines I thought I would try in a last minute attempt to get to Paris from another airport or by bus, train or boat. I found a flight from Luton for a huge amount of money (cost more than my original round trip) but booked it all the same. It turns out that I bumped someone else off the flight and stole their seat as the airline overbooked. I had to spend 7 hours in the airport lounge waiting for the plane but I fought tooth and nail and managed to get to Paris after all!

On the flight I started chatting with the air steward about how to get into Paris and the guy sitting next to me offered to take me into the city on the train with him. Sounds a bit dodgy but he (Charlie) was really nice and got me to Gard de Nord which is the main train station. From there I changed lines 3 times and asked the Police directions but finally managed to track down the hostel that Karen booked. While I was waiting in line at the front desk Simon came through the doors and I can tell you, I have never been so glad to see someone I knew before in my life.

The next two days were spent wandering around the city visiting Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumphe and the Eiffel Tower (although we, and every man and his dog, decided to climb this on NY day and waited for 4.5 hours in line). The one thing I really wanted to do was climb the Arc de Triumphe and I am very glad that I got to do that. I missed out last time I was there and have been looking forward to it for ages.

For NY Eve we headed into the city to watch the fireworks. Surprisingly we got a good possie on one of the bridges that looked back towards the Eiffel tower. It was a bit disappointing though because there were no official fireworks at midnight. The only thing that happened was the tower lit up and flashed like a Christmas tree. The guy on the boat just below us let off some flares for good measure though and Karen made sure to yell out "Thank You" for us.

Speaking of Karen, she is currently living with these 3 Indian guys down in Wimbledon. She was explaining to me about how she is really ticked off that he usually clean housemate keeps leaving food out around the place and she has been having to clean it up all the time. Turns out, after a little investigation, it is an Indian holy tradition where you leave food out for the Gods - and Kaddy has been putting it in the bin and washing it up! Then again, you can't be surprised when she refers to Vishnu as "Noo-Noo".

Still on Karen... She has this bumbag thing that she hides her passport in while we were away. Excpet that more things went into the bumbag than just the passport. The result being that when she put her jumper on she looked about 5 months pregnant. A guy at the hostel was very excited for her one morning at breakfast and congratulated her and asked her how she was feeling (although I think that's what he said as it was in a different language). She had to try and explain that it was not a baby but rather just a passport etc.

Why the cursed sunglasses? That's all Simon's fault. He has these glasses that he "forgot" to give back to the Army when he was on tour in Timor. I think God knows that he appropriated them because everytime he put them on it rained and everytime he took them off it cleared up. Subsequently he was banned from wearing them for our stay in Paris!

I've got some more photos to put up here and on Ringo so I will pop the link up tomorrow when I get a chance. Am off househunting tomorrow and Friday. Job interview went well and I am visiting a couple of schools next week. Fingers crossed on the house front...