Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cambridge - Home of Scarecrows and Beer

Karen's boyfriend Richard has been applying to colleges and universities over here in order to do his MBA. One of the places he applied to was Cambridge University. If he gets in, Karen will be moving up there so we thought we would spend a day wandering around getting a feel for the place that may one day be her home.

Okay, so I lie. We really went to see the scarecrow festival, but it sounded convincing right? And to a certain extent it is true, it just wasn't our main reason for going.

The train ride out to Cambridge was really easy and relatively cheap which was a nice surprise considering that the ATM at the train station stole £50 of my hard earned Aussie dollars. Turns out it also stole £50 of Karen's as well. So after a slight delay where I called Tasmania to lodge a complaint, we were off.

Cambridge is completely different to Oxford. I think I was expecting the same type of atmosphere but I didn't get it. Where Oxford is "antique" Cambridge is "up and coming". I know that sounds strange considering that it is still over 700 years old but Cambridge lacks that small country town feel that Oxford has. Oxford oozes history and if I close my eyes I can see the scholars wandering down the cobblestone streets in their 18th century garb. If I do the same thing in Cambridge I see 1950s men in their boat shoes and straw hats cycling down the streets laughing with women in full skirts and white button down blouses.

Before we had even exited the train station we were lost. To add insult to injury I put £1 into the map machine and I got no map. So far, no good. I was down £51 and we hadn't seen anything yet. Karen's pound coins seemed more amenable to the map machine and we managed to at least get a piece of paper that would give us a clue as to which direction to head in. We needed to get our bearings and what better way than finding the biggest church you can and going from there. Then we came up with the most brilliant and original idea of going to the Tourist Information Centre to find out where the scarecrow festival was. Finding the Tourist Information Centre wasn't easy either. But Karen was intrigued by the fact that you can exchange corn. We wanted to know what you exchanged corn with. And more importantly, could you exchange other vegetables as well or was it just corn?

Finally found the T/I/C and were perturbed to find out that we had missed the last morning bus to the Scarecrow festival. My question of "Can we walk there?" was met with strange sideways glances and I swear I heard a giggle and the word "Aussies!" slip from the ladies mouth. Apparently the Scarecrow festival was being held in a paddock in a "nearby" town. "Nearby" being a 35 minute bus journey. So, no more scarecrows on our itinerary.

You know that you should never underestimate my powers of finding markets anywhere, anytime, anyplace. But you should also never underestimate Karen's ability to find Fluff (marshmallow/fairy floss mixture) anywhere, anytime, anyplace. That's right, in the middle of our wandering Karen finds a man selling fluff in a pot.

Having given up on the whole map premise, Karen and I decided to just wander in the general direction of the University's houses. I can't believe how many there are. Certainly beats good old Mac Uni where it takes you 6.5 minutes to get from X5B to C4A (one end of the campus to the other). Here in Cambridge you can get lost in one university house let alone to 20 odd they have there.

We also managed to find the Judge School of Business Management where, should all go well, Richard would be studying at. "The Judge" as it is apparently known is a newer type of building and have very manicured lawns and a big burly security guard at the entrance way. It looks like a good place to study, but doesn't have any of the "age" of the other buildings that surround it.

I'm not one for stereotypes, you should know that now. But sometimes they really can not be helped. I mean, is it really our fault that we are Australian, or that Australian's are known for their beer consumption, or that we just happened upon the Cambridge Beer Festival in Jesus park? We can not be held responsible for fate like that! Nor can you be held responsible for anything that happens at a beer festival. Which is what I reckon the poor guy who was arrested for climbing up onto the tent roof in just a t-shirt and shorts is thinking right now as he tries to explain both his bail and the fact that he no longer has shoes! Not being the best beer drinker I quickly switched to the red wines and was pleasantly surprised at the fact that you could fit 75% of a bottle of wine into a pint glass. Considering my glass was empty by the time we had eaten cinnamon donuts (now there's a classy combination) and Karen had patted some Swedish people's dog, I am going to go out on a limb here and blame it for the fact that we found ourselves back at the train station bound for London having devoured a tub of Ben and Jerry's Fossil Fuel ice-cream and me clutching a hand held 99p fan whilst Karen harassed some American tourists who were also on our train.

I'm sorry Cambridge, but whilst I had a great time visiting you, I am still an Oxford girl. But at least now I know who to barrack for next year the the Head of the River Rowing Race!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Take a tour of my school

A combination of recent emails asking about school and the fact that today is the first day of Summer term holidays and it is raining has resulted in me writing about school. The last 5 weeks have flown by and I am now half way through my contract at The Blue School.

I teach Year 1 at The Blue School which is located in Isleworth in London. In fact I think it is actually Surrey on the other side of the road. There is one class per grade but the classes begin at Nursery which is for 3 year olds. My class has 30 students in it.

I could sit here and type away about how there are many security doors and there are 2 recesses (one in the morning and another in the afternoon) and how my lunch hour is actually 1hr and 15min, but I thought I would be technologically savvy and make a video. This is my first attempt at MovieMaker so don't roast me too badly okay? :)

In the video I talk about Shannon, my Aussie next classroom neighbour. Here's a piccie of her too.



Friday, May 25, 2007

Cleland and Belle have arrived!

My brother Cleland and his girlfriend Belle have arrived in London. Over the past month I have been counting down to their arrival and was a bunch of nerves waiting at Heathrow Terminal 4 for them. Of course, my luck was that their plane was an hour and a half late. I started to get worried when people began coming through the arrivals doors crying and without luggage. Apparently some of the planes were not offloading luggage due to a baggage handling dispute. Luckily, Cleland and Belle emerged a little travel weary but with all of their luggage.

Yesterday I met them for a quick stroll down Oxford and Regent Streets before taking a few photos in Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Now they are off on a 12 day tour of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales which has been affectionately dubbed "The Nana Tour". They will be back in freezing cold London on the 9/6 (could someone please send a memo to mother nature explaining that it is supposed to be summer on Friday?).

Belle has a blog of their travels. You can find it at or in the links at the side of this page. She's been busy with Photoshop to produce the photo to the left. Loving that trendy mo' mate!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pissing in the wind and living with a blog hog.

Karen has been giving me crap about my lack of blog. But it is a bit hard to write a blog when you live with a BLOG HOG! No names, *cough,cough* Kaddy!

The weeks here in London since Spain have sucked weather wise. It has been cold, gloomy and rainy. I read about Seasonal Affect Disorder at home and thought "Pansies" but now living through the seasonal changes I can feel how much the sun does change my mood. Today it is a beautiful sunny afternoon. And I have been happy and chatty and laughing all day. Yesterday it was dark, grey, rainy and I was a big fat grump all day. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I have Seasonal Affect Disorder or anything, but I no longer see it as an excuse. The weather over here does play a huge part in your mood.

Last Wednesday night I cooked up a storm for Davina when she came over. I thought I would get all "Jamie Oliver" and consulted the cookbooks. Even wrote down the ingredients I needed and was very proud of myself when I remembered to take the list with me in the morning so I could go shopping after school. All well and good in theory but I then left the list at school, didn't I? So I wandered around Sainsbury's plucking things off the shelf that might have been on the piece of paper. To add to the problem I had written 3 different sets of ingredients on the piece of paper because I hadn't fully decided what I was going to make. In the end I guessed and brought home what I remembered. Then I sat down with the book and picked a recipe that matched what ingredients I had bought home. The end result was a spicy tomato chicken and rice concoction that I am pleased to report, did not kill anyone who ate it. We fashioned a table out of my computer work desk and brought in the camper chairs that our skanky landlord left behind. It was slap-dash, but it worked a treat!

To say that Davina is a character is to say the least. I love her sense of humour and her view of the world around her. She has this scattered feel about her but in reality she has her finger on the pulse of many projects. She feeds the homeless, learns Spanish, belongs to church groups, teaches special needs kids and beyond all that, she's a classic. And she proved this at dinner. When Karen went back to Oz she picked up an Aussie slang dictionary to prove to Adriaan that we weren't just making up words. The dictionary became Davina's sidekick for the evening and we ended up having to put Aussie slang into each of our conversations. Unbeknown to Kaddy and I, Davina had taught Adriaan a few "Aussieisms" so he could participate but didn't tell him what they meant . Unfortunately the one that he chose to share was probably not the best choice. I'll let you be the judge...

P.S: Unless you want to explain to your child what the sayings mean, it might be wise to skip the videos.

On Thursday we headed into Holborn to see Nicola for her birthday. Nicola, Karen and I met 10 years ago in Sydney when Nicola came over to visit her friend Rachel. Rachel and Karen went to school together and Rachel and I knew each other through the fire brigade. Six degrees of separation.
Directions are no longer my strength (just talk to Rebecca about Tarragona in Spain) and Karen is queen of Google maps so it should not surprise anyone that we spent an hour walking in 3 different but all completely wrong directions before hoping in a cab only to find out that the pub was around the corner from where we were. ARRRGGGHHH! Had a great time eating the ultimate burger at "The Ultimate Burger" and sipping on a few glasses of a lovely rosè.

I was very concerned though when I went to the bathroom. What's with the two toilets in the one cubicle? I love my friends but not enough to pee in front of them! There are some things that should not occur in life and this is quite clearly one of them! By the way Kaddy, I see your Japanese loo blog picture and raise you a London loo blog picture! :)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a market floosy. I love markets. All markets really, although food ones do tend to bore me. I'd already scoured Notting Hill markets and found some bargain antiques to take home, but had never managed to get up to Camden markets so I made the trek North East and was definitely not disappointed. There is nothing like shopping with Muslim ladies in full burkas on one side and goth witches on the other! Only in London! The markets were awesome and I am keen to take Cleland's girlfriend, Belle, up there to keep the search going. Because no matter how many stalls you visit, how many purchases you make or how many corners you turn those markets just keep on going! They never, ever end. Karen was in search of some gumboots (see link to her blog) but ended up picking up some awesome vintage clothes in a goth shop. Check out the skeleton in the coffin up in the left hand corner!

Davina's flatmate had a birthday party on Saturday night so we decided to attempt to make Christie's famous cheesy spinach cob loaf dip. Only problem was we couldn't buy any cobb loaf, couldn't remember what was in the dip and couldn't figure out how we were going to transport it to Davina's house. Never to be undone by logic and reason, we overcame this problem by buying an ordinary long loaf and guessing that it had spinach, cheese and sour cream in it. Then we added a few other things we had in the cupboard and voila! We had the dip! My job was to figure out transportation. Never fear! I had a Play School craft box moment and used the cardboard box from my Special K and shoved last week's copy of the TNT magazine inside before wrapping it all in Simon and Richard's dodgy Italian cling wrap. Again, voila! Transportation sorted! And they say that those who can't do, teach! Ha! I can do and teach! So there!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Parents and The Country Fair

I got up really early on Saturday morning to accompany Vic out to Heathrow to meet her parents who flew in from Brisbane. She was so excited and it made me realise how much I am looking forward to seeing my brother and his girlfriend when they come over in 2 weeks. As usual the Piccadilly line was "undergoing maintenance works" and we had to change and get a bus to get to the airport on the final part of the journey. Nothing is ever simple here. Vic was taking the mickey out of me for my New York video moment where I make a fake crown out of my fingers at Liberty Island. So, she decided to reenact the whole thing for me on the tube to keep us occupied at 6:30am.

After leaving the Sadleir family at Clapham Junction I went to Victoria to take back some library books. As I turned the corner near the church I heard some bells and accordion music. There, standing in the middle of the courtyard, were a bunch of men waving handkerchiefs and tapping sticks with the bells that were strapped to their ankles jingling away. Was a sight to be seen I tell you. After having a chat with one of the members of the red, white and blue team I found out that they were "Morris Dancing" which is an old, traditional English dance that dates back to the early 15th Century. The yellow and black team were from Westminster and had invited the red, white and blue team down to London (they were from some country area and I have no clue where it is) to put on a show for people. Was very spirit uplifting and put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

When I got home it was still only 12pm so Karen and I headed into Richmond to wander around the Richmond Fair. Ate fairy floss, had a lucky dip, bought some scarves to ward off nits at the white elephant stall, got tomato sauce on my nose from my sausage sandwich - all in all, a great way to spend a drizzly Saturday afternoon.

Am off this evening to try Salsa dancing. Shannon from my school has been trying to get me to go and try it for a few weeks now and so I thought I would give it a go. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hola Amigos! Espanol e'fantastica.

Had an "Amazing Race" moment last Friday as I had to make a mad dash to the airport to board my plane to Spain. My plane booked for 5:05pm and I finish work at 3:30pm. Hmmm, difficult to achieve, yes. Impossible? Never! With some help from lovely Lynn in our school office I managed to get a cabbie with a lead foot to take me from school to Heathrow in just under 35 minutes. Not bad considering it was an hour trip! I made the flight with 5 minutes to spare but the District Tube line failed Rebecca and she only just scraped on board at the last minute. Last weekend was a long weekend for the Bank holiday. I love the fact that everyone gets to have the Bank Holidays off too. Kind of makes up for the fact that I had to work on ANZAC Day.

Karen has choofed off to Japan to yell at Asushi in person and Adriaan took off to Paris after finally getting a visa. Being South African, Adriaan has to get visa's for the European countries. Am very grateful that I am Australian and we have open entry into the European Union and the States. So with KD and Adriaan headed off to other parts of the world, who was I to not follow suit, and went to Spain.

We had a stop over at Frankfurt and I would have to say that it has to be the most useless airport on the face of the planet. Customs have to clear you inside their own quarantine area. Got an extra stamp for the passport but it wasn't worth the hassle. As I had finished my book on the first leg of my journey I needed a new one and went looking for the English language section of the newsagent. I picked up a book and randomly opened a page where the first thing I read was a quote by William Rushton "German is the most extravagantly ugly language. It sounds like someone using a sick bag on a 747". Got a giggle from me, especially after listening to the customs guards yelling at each other. Turns out the book was "The Funniest Things You Never Said" by Rosemarie Jareski and was filled with quotes and sayings etc. 10 Euros later and it was coming on our journey with us. Proved quite useful too. But more on that later...

Getting off the plane in Spain was awesome. Instantly I loved it. The air was sweeter, thicker and definitely warmer than London. Reminded me a bit of Australia but not of Sydney. Not sure where in Oz though.

I'll admit it. I tend to travel via McDonalds'. I love going in and seeing what is the same and what is different. Did you know that you can't get pancakes for breakfast in New York? But you can get an egg and bacon McBagel. Tastes as good as it sounds. Yick. You can get pancakes in Spain though. Yes, I'm lovin' it!

On Saturday Rebecca and I took a bus tour of the city, one of those hop-on, hop-off numbers. Here's a word of warning. Normal rules of logic do not apply to weird, angry Spanish ladies. Like the one who decided that I had stolen her seat (she had got off the bus and decided to get back on). Well, did I hear about it! Man, I think that you probably could have heard her in Australia if you hadn't all been asleep. She then went and got the guide who tried her best to translate for me but in the end just shrugged and asked me if I would mind moving to keep the peace.

One of the stops that we got off at was at the Marina. Here there were some street markets, which is always a winner with me. We also ambled up through the main street of Barcelona where the stalls and Tapas bars meet together like the horizon meeting the sky. It is an eclectic mix of tourist glare and old fashioned Spanish culture. In between the modern buildings an aged, brightly coloured building will poke through. Down small alley ways you get a glimpse of the fountain in the middle of secret piazzas.

The sun has a healing quality to it. I was very pleased to stick my toothpaste white legs out in it as much as possible over the weekend. I was also the only person wearing a hat and sunscreen though. Some habits die hard. I felt like I could rest in Spain. When I think about it, I haven't really stopped for ages. Sure, I've been here, there and everywhere, but I haven't had a chance to stop moving and just relax and breathe. Spain offers that opportunity.

On Sunday I took a boat ride up past the beaches of Barcelona. Afterwards I went for a wander past the Museum of History. I swear there seems to be a recurring pattern here but an old dude walked straight past me and everyone else on the boardwalk wearing nothing but some painted on Speedos. That's right, starkers! Was not a pretty sight. Not sure if he or the guy in New York freaked me out more. At least the Spanish guy was a little bit more artistic with his nudity.

In search of a good meal and something other that Tapas, I stumbled across an Irish pub. After ordering a drink and asking about their food the bartender gives me a Spanish menu and asks "How's your Spanish?" to which I replied "Dude, I'm an Australian in an Irish Bar in Spain. How do you think it is?" Needless to say he ordered for me. Whilst sitting there in the pub listening to the slow, droll sounds of the snooker championship commentary in the background I had this flashback to being a kid on a hot summer's day between Chrissy and New Years and listening to the sounds of the TV as the cricket is played. It was really relaxing and for a moment I dreamed of opening a bar on the coast of some hot weather country and spending days hanging out in the sun with a cold beverage and listening to the cricket (yes, that is as strange as it sounds since I hate cricket) and feeling warm and happy. The hat head and sticky sunscreen sensation go hand in hand with that feeling too.

On Sunday night Rebecca and I went for a walk through the main street again where we stumbled across a hen's night/weekend. The ladies were all dressed up as fairies. But in the midst of it all was the most marvellous and magnificent fairy of all - the Aussie fairy. her wings were adorned with XXXX signs, Uluru pictures, corks, lolly crocodiles and much more. It was such a weird thing to see but strangely did not seem out of place in Spain. Also saw a guy dressed up as plunger man. I instantly thought of Vic as she is our resident plumbing fix-it chick. She unblocks sinks in a single plunge!

The end of our adventure is actually where the real adventure begins. When attempting to buy tickets for the Metro or trains I ended up speaking Italian. Who knew I knew as much as I did huh? Sylvana Toia from St Martin's should be very proud. Only trouble is that on our way to the airport to come home we got the right tickets, went to the right platform only to get on the wrong train. We ended up in Tarragona! You can see from the map that we were way off of where we were supposed to be. At this point we could only try and laugh and pull out the quotes book from Frankfurt. The one that really appealed to us was by Jonathon Winters - "If God had intended for us to fly, he would have made it easier to get to the airport". Very appropriate whilst we stood trying to figure out how we were going to get back to Barcelona let alone London. 4 hours behind schedule and 53 pounds lighter for the charge of changing our ticket we finally made it home again.

You learn so much from the people that you travel with. From Vic I learnt how to jump queues and from Karen I learnt how to duck Molotov cocktails. With Rebecca I learn how to get an airline to change your already missed flight tickets to another flight with a minimal charge. Claiming there was a fire alarm going off at our hotel and we couldn't get back in the get our bags was a fabulous move! Well done.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

An advert for being a teacher.

You've got to love being teacher. Here I am sitting at home at my computer and I have a shower cap firmly secured to my head. Showering? Nope. Anticipating a leak from upstairs? Nope, although we have had two major leaks from upstairs in the past month so maybe this isn't so unexpected. No, my class have given me nits. Yep, you heard it here first people. NITS! Argggggggggghhhhhhhhhh! Just what I need! Anyone want to swap jobs because mine isn't looking too crash hot right now?