Monday, July 30, 2007

The next plan...

Wish I had something exciting to blog about but I haven't really done much lately. I did go to London Dungeon with Stuart on Thursday which was an eye opening experience. We lined up with the hoards of school kids (school hols, you see) to see what life was like in the middle ages. It focuses on the disgusting and torturous elements of 17th and 18th century London. Bit grossed out by the smell in there. One girl actually fainted in our group and they had to stop the show to revive her.

Last time I was over here I went to an exhibition called "Dublinia" in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. A lot of the information about middle ages was the same at the Dungeon but I think I must be showing my late 20s age, because the "gross out" factor of the Dungeon didn't really appeal to me. I don't regret going. It was a fun thing to do and I hadn't been before, but I think that it is probably something best done with school aged children (preferably about 10 or 11 years of age as the little ones get too spooked).

Friday night I went out for Spanish with Karen, Courteney and Rebecca. Courteney has been running around Western Europe on a couple of Contiki trips. It sounds like she has been having a blast.

Speaking of trips I am headed off the Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland next Tuesday for 3 weeks. Not sure what to expect having never ventured further north than Holland but am very keen to experience life in the Arctic Circle. Top of the list of things to do is standing on the northern most part of Hammerfest.

Am also really looking forward to going to Copenhagen. As is much of Australia, I love Princess Mary. So going to the Palace for a tour is top on the priority list. I'm in Denmark for 3 days so I'm sure I can squeeze it in. Then after Denmark I spend 5 days in Norway before heading over Sweden and then working my way back down to Helsinki in Finland and then last stop is Copenhagen again. I'm a little nervous, but very excited.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The weekend that was. Farewell Blue School.

I finished teaching at The Blue School on Friday afternoon. I'm not a fan of goodbyes and I always hate the last day of school because it is a mess of a day and nothing ever gets done. So when you leave a school on the last day it sucks twice over. I had a great time teaching Year 1. Kay, my teaching assistant, was wonderful and made every day a lot easier. I love the fact that neither of us were English (Kay's Irish) and neither of us were C of E (we're both Catholic) but there we were teaching in the oldest C of E school in England (The Blue School was founded in 1630)! It's a strange feeling teaching in a school that is older than the country that you were born in! Photo - Stuart, Karen and Davina.

Luckily, I had lots on this weekend to keep my mind occupied from the fact that I am now, once again, unemployed. Friday night I went to the end of school staff night down in Middlesex. Ended up drinking up a storm with Shannon (Aussie Reception teacher) and Mary (Irish Year 3 teacher) as well as Kay, Jim (caretaker) and a bunch of the dinner ladies. Then headed out for Chinese with Mary, Shannon and Kate (English Year 5 teaching assistant), Caroline (Cockney Year 3 teaching assistant) and Shelia (English Year 2 teaching assistant).

On Saturday Karen offered to take me to her library in Victoria because I am trying to curb my addiction to buying books here. We set off up Chiswick High Street to get some brunch first (yummy pancakes and awesome pineapple juice) and then walked to Turnham Green train station. At this point I think I should reiterate my "passion" for op-shops. I stopped at 6 on the way to the train station and you'll never guess what I bought?????? That's right, books! I ended up buying 6 books before I even stepped foot on the train to get to Victoria. I blame Karen really. It is all her fault for not dragging me along the pavement and forbidding me to enter the op-shops in the first place! Photo - Davina, Matt and Rachael.
Finally made it to Victoria library where I borrowed a few books. Visited the NEXT (clothing store like Sussans) sale and then headed home before going to Davina's farewell 62MG party. Davina is moving to Spain for a month to keep learning her Spanish language skills and is then finding a new place to live because she has been having flatmate issues. Although it was sad to know that this was the last 62MG party we would be going to, it's the best decision for Davina. Photo - Karen, Tom, (haven't a clue who is behind us), Barry and Me.

Also managed to catch up with my god-brother (his parents are my godparents), Stuart, which was really cool. He came along to Davina's party and it was such a good blast from the past. I hadn't seen Stuart for 11 years or so. Funny how you have this image of someone in your head from the last time you saw them and they are still that person just all grown up. I sound like a Nana I know. Stuart missed the last train home after we had made it to the Shepherd's Bush Walkabout so he crashed on our couch and then came to the World Music Festival on Sunday with us too.

The World Music Festival was held at Ealing Broadway and featured bands from around the globe. A lot of the music I heard was drumming sounds from Africa but when it's played by pigmys you've just got to get up and bop about with everyone else! Karen's school buddy Lisa P ran the marketing campaign for the Ealing Summer Festival which was what the World Music Day was for. We had already gone to a comedy night for it the previous Sunday which was a great night too.

And so here I am. Monday morning and I'm chatting to Simon on MSN. He is a medic in the Australian Army station in the back end of Malaysia somewhere. Apart from reading some of the millions of books I have accumulated and heading up to the post office to send some of the ones I've already read to Vic in Canada, I'm pretty free this week. That's not a bad thing though because I have to figure out what my next job is going to be when school goes back in September. Photo - Me, Stuart and Karen.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


It's school trip time here in England. Basically it is when the teachers have to take their kids on an excursion before the end of the school year. I realised too late that the excursion, or "school journey" as it is called here, does not have to have any educational purpose of relevance. I could have loaded my 30 five year olds into a bus and taken them to see Shrek 3 at the local cinema. Or gone bowling. Or gone to a water theme park. Why take them somewhere educational? That would be logical and make sense and we all know that the English education system is neither of those 2 things!

Unfortunately for me I figured this out too late and had already booked a trip to Birdworld on the advice of some suspect staff members at school. Am beginning to think that they might have been having a laugh behind my back at this one.

The excursion was plagued with problems from the get go. Money, ballet exams, peanut allergies, parents with "issues" and miscommunication with another member of staff. But when you strip all that away, my kids had a ball. They were so excited to actually get out and see stuff. I don't think that they do enough of it over here. One of things I will remember the most abut teaching in London was when I first taught my class a PE lesson and we got changed (they aren't allowed to wear a PE uniform to and from school) and went outside and they all froze at the door. One of my boys turned to me and said "But we do PE in the Hall. We don't go outside".

Back to Birdworld. We got to see the penguin feeding, visit the education centre for a lesson and go through Underwater World. The park is especially proud that they have these most fantastic exotic birds. It is a huge draw card for them. You'll never guess where their "prize exotic birds" came from...Australia. Yep, I went all the way there to see a kookaburra in a cage! It was sooooooooooo exciting (I can't really type sarcasm, can I?). One of the boys in my class loved it though and was really excited to tell me that he had found another Australian animal to show me which was really sweet.

There were even magpies in a cage. Wow! (Again with the sarcasm, sorry). I told the kids about magpie season where they swoop at you and you have to walk to school with an empty ice cream bucket on your head with texta eyes on the back. They didn't believe me! Even the parent helpers thought I was pulling their leg. No matter how much I swore on it, they thought I was full of it.

But I went to Davina's for dinner that night and was talking with Barry (flatmate), Helen and Rachael (friends) about the whole not being believed part and they were aghast and started telling me stories of how they walked to school with ice-cream buckets on their head too! See England, I told you so!!!

I purposefully picked Birdworld because there were no slithery animals. Birds. Animals with feathers and wings. Happy with that. But as always, the best laid plans... of course there was a snake in the education centre. And of course the children wanted to pat it. And of course I was so close to the door that we could have been Siamese twins. Just thinking about that snake gives me the creeps.

All in all I'd give bird world one thumb up. I would have given it two except for the snake. I would have given it one and a half but I had a little girl who was petrified of owls. I finally managed to talk her into looking at the owls in an attempt to help her get over her fear. This was great until we looked down and saw that they had sacrificed baby chickens as food for the owls and the chicks with their broken necks were left in plain sight for all to see. Not the best idea and I'm sure the poor girl is now scarred for the rest of her life.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tour De France

Who says that you have to go away to "go away" for the weekend?

First stop on my "stay in England" weekend was Hyde Park to watch the start of the Tour de France. This year they started in London. It wasn't really that exciting to be honest, more of a thing to do to say you've done it. Taking photos of the riders was a bit difficult as they were going so fast and this huge Japanese dude was standing in front of us and we couldn't tell when a rider was coming except that the cheers got louder. I got lots of the video guys on the motor bikes or the front or back wheel of the bike. It was fun to squish in with everyone else and cheer the guys on though. Wish I could have seen an Aussie rider but after about 45 riders I got a bit bored and remembered the pub Karen and I passed on the way in...

On Sunday I made a return trip to Oxford for the day with Karen, Rebecca and Courteney. It always amazes me how leaving London leaves you so refreshed and renewed. I loved sitting in the meadows of Christ Church soaking up the sun. Oxford is definitely my city of choice.

I wish I had more exciting news for you. But I am just cruising along at the moment. Enjoying doing little things in and out of London.

This is my last week at school. The million dollar question is "What will you do in September (after school holidays)?" and if another person asks me it I'm going to scream! We had the school Exhibition Evening (like Open Day) last week and everyone who walked past me asked me. I know they are interested and that's nice and I appreciate it but enough is enough. Fingers crossed I figure it out by September 1!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Loos are worth every penny!

My flatmate and good friend Karen writes on her blog (link to it is on the right hand side of my page here) about touring the globe and rating countries by their toilet facilities. We've seen pictures of Asian and Viennese toilets in recent posts.
In all honesty I thought she had gone completely mad until I read this article on earlier today. I think she may just be onto something....

Money found in toilets across Japan
Thursday Jul 12 00:11 AEST
AP - Envelopes containing Y10,000 ($A95.65) bills and well-wishing notes have been discovered in municipal toilets across Japan, media reports said, baffling civil servants and triggering a nationwide hunt.

Local media have estimated that over Y2 million ($A19,131) worth of bills were found at men's rooms in city halls in at least 15 prefectures (states) in recent weeks.

Each package of 10,000-yen bills, some wrapped in traditional Japanese washi paper, was accompanied by handwritten letters that read "Please make use of this money for your self-enrichment," and "One per person," according to reports.

Officials are baffled over the identity of the benefactor or any motives, the reports said. Packages turned over to police were to be kept for some time in case someone claimed them.
©AAP 2007

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Pointy things in Portugal

Last weekend Karen and I headed out of cold, wet and windy London in search of this unknown thing called sun and it's partner in crime, warmth in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

Our story starts on Thursday though with the discovery of two car bombs in Hyde Park and Piccadilly Circus which was reported all over the papers. Great, I thought. An excellent time to be heading out of London for a while. I caught the bus and tube to Heathrow after a long Friday at work and made it as far as the BA check in desk where I waited in line for 50 minutes. Then off to the customs line where I waited again for 30 minutes. All the while I am thinking that this is not too bad. Lucky that I had left an extra hour early. Karen and I met in the duty free section of the departures area and we waited for our "delayed" flight. Not unusual in itself either. Then the fun started...

They hadn't allocated our plane a gate. It was already half and hour behind time coming into Heathrow anyway so when they popped up Gate 28 on the screen we excitedly headed off in that direction of the terminal eager to board and head for sunshine. Famous last thoughts actually.

Gate 28 is at the other end of the terminal. We were met with the largest queue I have ever seen in my life. I am confident in saying that it was longer than the "Aliens" line at Passport control at JFK airport in New York. This thing was about 20 people wide by at least 70 metres long. Plus it was complete with irate Americans who wanted "information". Didn't they know that they were in London? There's no information for the public here, mate. Just stand in line and wait until you get to the front. Which, when we did, was quite amusing because at the front of the line was a rope which closed off the line and provided a little walk way for arriving passengers to cross through our line. On the other side of the walk way was the other half of our line. When Karen and I finally emerged at the front of the second half of our line we were met by another customs screening area. Back to taking off our shoes and jackets and going through scanners etc. The mega line was just for additional security checks. Finally we board the plane and wait for all of our fellow passengers to embark when they realise that they can't find one lady passenger. Where is she? Did she get sucked into the mega line not to reemerge at the end? Did she take one look at the line and say "Toss that!" and walk away like any sane person would? All I know is it took them 40 additional minutes to figure out that they couldn't wait any longer and shut the doors. At this stage we are 90 minutes behind our already delayed departure time. Then...we get stuck in a plane queue to take off.

The poor woman next to me was beside herself. She was a Canadian flying into Portugal to meet friends she hadn't seen for 10 years. They were coming from 5 different countries to have dinner and she was going to miss it because of the delays. We took off after our planned arrival time in Lisbon.

But planes are planes and Heathrow is Heathrow and it is to be expected.

Lisbon is a quiet town. I want to say city but it is surprisingly small. Karen and I woke up on Saturday morning and after our hotel breakfast we went to find a tube station to take us into the city centre. We couldn't find one so we walked down one of the streets. It was beautifully lined with trees. Not just the ones that stand tall next to the road, but these trees had grown to form a canopy over the walkways and road. It was a very relaxing stroll down towards the "pointy thing" (Karen speak for monument to famous people). The early morning sun poked through the leaves and made patterns on the sidewalk. The sidewalks themselves were covered in light and dark stones to create patterns too. It reminded me of a dance, the way that the two (sunlight through trees and patterns on sidewalk) worked together.

When we came to an Information Centre we found out that we had actually walked from the top of Lisbon city to almost the bottom of it. The tube station had been behind our hotel and we had walked out of the front! But the walk was worth it. So was the discovery of the tiny Portuguese bakeries that served pastries and other delights. Can't say I would be buying their specialty - sardine croissant - anytime soon, but Karen loved their egg tarts.

The streets of Lisbon are small and cobble stoned. They stretch like long fingers up from the main piazza type street in the middle to the tips of the hills. Each area in Lisbon was a province a long time ago. The streets are like gateways into each province. You can tell where each one starts and finishes by the type of shop or building in it. There is a huge lift that was built in the 1800s that is made from steel. It's job was to ferry the people from the main piazza street into the next province which was on top of the hill. The lift box can still only take 15 people and is more of a tourist attraction than anything else but it is gorgeous. It is lines with old mahogany wood and has carved bench seats for passengers to sit. At the top of the lift is a steel walk way taking you over to the next province. Meeting you at the entrance of the province is an old, weathered and broken church which looks older than God. The roof has long gone and the windows shattered and removed. But in the spirit of recycling and reuse, the Portuguese people use it as a type of Opera House. Whilst we were there they were hosting a black tie ball inside the church complete with orchestra. I'd hate to think what would happen if it rained!

If you climbed the steel spiral staircases of the lift you get to the very top. Where, again - not to let space go to waste - there is a small cafe. It was so windy up there though that the table and chairs are bolted to the floor and the table clothes frequently whip up and kiss your cheeks. But the view is amazing. Beyond amazing actually. Spectacular. You can almost see forever up there.

We had dinner in a small cafe in one of the side streets. I'd love to tell you that we embraced the Portuguese culture and spent the evening sampling their fine wine and food but to be honest, the only thing I think makes Portuguese food Portuguese is that they always add a fried egg with it. Want pancakes? Have a fried egg too. Want soup? Have a fried egg too. Want steak? Have a fried egg too. Want ice-cream? Have a fried egg too. I like eggs, but not that much so we had Indian. And it was the best Indian I have had since I've been away. Words can't describe how great it was except that I had to walk around for an hour after the meal because I had eaten so much.

With the natural thermostat set at 26 degrees all the time we went to Costa da Capricia on Sunday which is the main beach area of Lisbon. We had to catch a very dodgy bus from an even dodgier bus depot (sand and dirt everywhere as it was outside complete with rickerty old shed as ticket booth). The 153 to Costa da Capricia took 20 minutes to get to the beach and 45 to get back and we have no idea why. The beach was lined with market stalls (read shopping for us) but we only quickly went through them before hitting the sand. And what glorious sand it was. Fine, white and soft. It's been so long since my feet have touched sand. I hate the beach at home, funnily enough. But I miss it so much over here. There were people everywhere but I wouldn't say that it was overcrowded. Lots of pot bellies on old dudes with brown weathered skin and nannas wearing one pieces with wobbly bits. But they don't care. And I love that they don't care. They are there for one thing - sun and sand. Okay, that's two things. I never claimed that I could count.

I can honestly say, that if I stuck my feet into an esky full of ice on Australia Day (c'mon we all know and have experienced beer burn from stick our hand in the ice esky to find that last bottle of your favourite beverage) they would still have been warmer than they were in that water! I fully expected to see penguins on an iceberg floating past me. It was beyond cold! But with the sun and the sand it was still a successful trip to the beach and worth every single one of those 150 pounds the trip cost us (flights + accom + breakfast).

The only thing that topped us getting to lay on the beach was our time at Lisbon airport. On Saturday a suicide bomber drove a flaming Jeep into Glasgow airport in a terrorist attack. This then put the entire UK onto critical alert. Karen and I allowed extra time to get through security at Lisbon since we had had a rough time getting out of Heathrow in the first place. Turned out that we had to wait 90 minutes before we were allowed to queue up to check in. Hopelessly we looked around the airport only to see the wonderful sign of "SPA CENTRE". So instead of sitting on uncomfortable chairs watching the minutes ticking by, we went upstairs and had manicures! Awesome. Turns out getting through customs was a breeze (Karen's record for getting frisked at every airport still holds) for the UK but the poor Americans heading to Boston were put through their paces at every turn!

Portugal marks six months in the UK for me. It has actually gone pretty fast and when I went to change my return flight date I realised that I have so much more to do. The school holidays begin here in 2 weeks so I am going to have to start deciding on my next adventure pretty soon.
Here's to the next six months!
P.S: The Cheeseburger challenge lives on. We can cross Portugal off the list now too!