Saturday, April 26, 2008

Farewell Skeet

My flatmate Skeet has gone back home to Perth to help his Dad out on the farm. He'll be back but not for a while. So we had a house dinner to send him off in style.
Photo - (going clockwise) Charlie (in red), Andrea, Katie, Vanessa, KK, Skeet and Me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The things that happened in April.

April, for the most part was full of me procrastinating about doing things and then not really doing much at all. It did snow on the first Sunday of the holidays, so I walked through the Common. See my earlier post for more on that.

I did do a school club day on the first Friday because they didn't have anyone else to do it. It was a swimming day (that would be why) so I walked 21 kids to the bus stop (20 mins) then took the bus (25 mins) got off the bus and walked to the pool (20 mins) then got them changed (30 mins + extra whinging) and then swam with them for 1.5 hours then repeated the whole process backwards for the trip home. But I actually had a fabulous time and it was interesting to see how the group of mixed ages from 12 to 4 interacted together. I walked with Hannah, aged 5, who speaks Japanese, English and French fluently and insisted on informing me about where she "came from" (think reproduction here people). She tells me, and I quote, "I'm only little so I am still learning..." I didn't take any photos because, as the trip wasn't actually a school function, it was illegal - to take photos, not go swimming.

For my birthday last year I was in New York City climbing the Empire State Building. That is very hard to beat and since I stayed in London this year I decided to do the most strangest and weirdest thing I could find. So...I went to...THE DOCTOR WHO EXHIBITION! Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it. I'd only ever seen one Doctor Who episode (the week before) since it returned to the BBC. I used to watch when I was a kid and get scared silly. It wasn't illegal to take photos of that. Will post some more of them up soon but here is the Face of Boe.

Then after a very quiet second week, see earlier post about procrastinating about the dishwasher, this last weekend was pretty jam packed. Friday night I went to the movies with my flatmates Charlie and Andrea as well as Sarah, my friend I met in Scandinavia last year who was staying with us. Saturday I helped Sarah move to Standford Brook where she was going to stay before heading off on her Top Deck training tour. Sarah was training with Contiki but they asked her to leave when they got to Prague after 45 days because she was "too nice". What a crock! Anyway, Top Deck Tours snapped her up and she is now traipsing around Europe once again.

Saturday night was spent at Rachael's house party. When I first met Davina she lived at 62 Minford Gardens a.k.a "62MG". She has since moved out, but when Rach was looking for a new place to live a room was available there and she moved in. 62MG is the location of many great house parties and so, Deevs passed the hostess tag onto Rach. Saturday night saw Rach's first 62MG party and I went and hung out with Rachael, Jan (Rach's boyfriend) and his German friends visiting from Hanover. We did manage to have a very lively and interesting conversation about Inspector Rex (a German show shown on SBS TV at home). Oh and I did know about their Prince who is married to Princess Caroline of Monaco. But they didn't. Oh, that and we chatted about hats! Theresa is a milliner! I didn't realise people still made hats by hand. I thought that they were all done by machines now. Der me!

On Sunday I met a few friends at the Revolutions Bar in Richmond for some beverages and brunch by the river. It was lovely going back to West London and spending some time at a bar next to the river like I used to when I lived over there with Karen. Once again I was blown away by the fact that half the people there I didn't actually know at this time last year. Katie, Charlie and Andrea came along too, which was great.

And then there was Monday. Monday was a back to school. Phew! But no kiddies. We had a Inservice Day where we had to think about what learning means to us and then build it out of willow sticks. My group built a tree complete with leaves and a butterfly. One group made a treasure box with stars in it and another made a hot air balloon. Fran made a stealth turtle. The turtle itself wasn't stealth, rather she wasn't supposed to be making it so had to make it on the sly under the table when the instructor wasn't looking our way. :)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bathrooms 2, Alex 0

I'm back to being a bit behind with the blogs. It's school holidays and I am procrastinating about EVERYTHING, from doing the washing to writing my plans for next term, to just going to Sainsbury's to buy food. I am one of those freaky few who hate school holidays. I like to be busy, I like to have purpose and I have neither of those things this week. Photo - Me and Rach in the car in Londonderry.
Anyway, so I am now procrastinating about emptying the dishwasher so I thought I would write in my blog about my Easter Road Trip to Northern Ireland with Rachael, Davina and Michelle.
I'd been to Northern Ireland before back in 2003 with Rachael G. We'd done a driving trip around the island of Ireland and I actually disliked Northern Ireland immensely. I felt a real connection to the South but the North felt grotty, dirty and a little bit scary. It could have something to do with the fact that a bomb went off in Belfast while we were there at a place we had only visited 90 minutes before hand. Or the massive protests in the main streets. I also felt really, really sad there. Growing up in Australia my best friend in the whole wide world was Christine. She was Prodestant, I was Catholic (I know because in primary school we were separated during scripture time and I was not happy about it). If we had grown up in Northern Ireland, same as we were, same time, just in a different location, we would have been sworn enemies. And that made me so sad. Especially because Christine's friendship still means a lot to me, and there are thousands of young children who miss out on experiencing that over there due to someone long ago being an arse and stubborn about their religion.
So when Davina asked me to come along I was not jumping for joy at seeing Northern Ireland, but I was really keen to have a girlie road trip. I hadn't done a full girlie road trip before. Vic and I had driven around Scotland together but that was just the two of us. This would be 4 chicks in a car driving from London through Wales, catching a ferry across the channel and then pottering around another country. Davina joked that I was asked to go along to be the chauffeur. Turns out I was the only girl over 25 and thus the only person legally allowed to drive a hire car (yay, age has it's benefit finally) and one of only two of us able to drive a manual. Photo - Davina and Rachael in the back of our road trip vehicle.

Good Friday morning saw me set off on the tube for Heathrow and meeting the others at Terminal 3. We then picked our car up and headed off towards North Wales. North Wales is absolutely beautiful. I really enjoyed seeing the mountains creeping up off the horizon and dotted with snow at their peaks. At about this time we got word that our ferry from Holyhead to Dublin had been cancelled due to high winds and we had been bumped back to the one at 2:45am. So instead of ploughing our way through Wales we meandered instead, stopping at a fabulous pub along the way for lunch and then slowly winding our way up to Holyhead. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Caenarvon, right by the castle. By this stage I'd been driving for 10 hours and we needed a break so we drove to the ferry and checked in. Then all four of us tried to catch some shut eye until the ferry boarded. Four people sleeping in a Vauxhall Vectra was a little bit squishy and I kept waking myself afraid that we'd missed the ferry and would be stuck in Wales forever. I needn't have worried. A ferry man came up the rows of cars and banged on the roof shocking us back into the real world. Photo - Caenarvon Castle.
The ferry ride across was a bit of a blur. I found a piece of couch and actually managed to sleep through most of the worst as we were tossed from side to side on the rough seas. I did catch myself once about to fall straight onto Deev who was sleeping on the floor beside my bit of couch. Rachael, being tiny and short, managed to squeeze onto two chairs. To this day I don't know where Michelle was. You know how when you fly you can have extreme turbulance? Well we had extreme turbulance on water. The noise of the hull smashing into the huge waves was very freaky. Photo - Rachael curled up on the ferry chairs and me (the black blob) on the couch.

5:30am saw us all loaded back into the car for another big day. We got through Dublin due to Rach's superb navigation skills (I don't do numbers well and all the roads are numbered. I needed a destination, not an easy task when destinations were not clearly labelled) and headed north to Belfast to meet Deev's friend. We then kept driving towards Carrick-e-rede where there is an amazing rope bridge suspended over a huge drop into the roaring sea below. Absolutely amazing location and almost mystical. You get the intense feeling of history as the winds blow the long blades this way and that. Walking ahead of the others gave me the opportunity to "listen". It's almost as if a song was being played across the hills. Complete with me sniffling in time. :) We had to wait about 90 minutes to cross the bridge as there was only so many people allowed on the small fishing island on the other side. 90 minutes in the freezing cold was not very pleasurable and as a result I got really ill. It was only a strong cold but coupled with 1hr sleep and 16hrs of driving at this point I was beginning to think I had reached my limit. I made a bargain with myself though that if I wasn't at the front of the line by a certain time I was headed back to get a warm drink at the tourist info centre and hope to thaw out my extremities. But the fates had me crossing the bridge with only 5 minutes to spare. Photo - The rope bridge.

The island had been used many moons ago by local fisherman who erected the bridge as a way to cross so that they could fish from the more advantageous point. There is a small cottage that was built to give them safe harbour from fast approaching storms and a place to gut their catches. The cottage has long since been boarded up, but I could imaine myself living there with the fire blazing, watching the clouds rolling past the magical headlands and across the tempermental grey ocean. An electrical storm would have been something else altogether!

Rach managed to slide down one embankment on her rear end but not before the lady beside her did as well. I've never been more thankful for my trusty hiking boots. The views were fabulous and "breathtaking" is not sufficient a word to describe it. Photo - Walking down the stairs to get to the rope bridge.

Our next driving stop was the Giant's Causeway, which was Davina's chief reason for travelling to Northern Ireland. Because I had been before I stayed behind and tried to organise some accommodation for the evening at the Tourist Information Centre. I did manage to find something against the odds (it was Saturday of the easter long weekend) and we made our way down to Coleraine to a hotel...where I got locked in the bathroom. For over an hour I was in there as the lock had fallen through after I locked myself in for a shower. The others were still down in the restaurant so I had to MacGyver myself out with bobbypins and a pair of tweezers! But, I survived! Funny though that it was the second bathroom I had been locked in in the last month (other was at Mark's pub the George and Vulture). Maybe they are out to get me? :) Bathrooms 2, Alex 0. Photo - Michelle, Rachael, Me and Davina on the fishing island right after Rach slid down the hill on her rear end.

Sleep was amazing. Sleep was beautiful. Sleep was the best! After nealry 20 hours of driving, 1 hour of interrupted sleep on a sea sick ferry and a rope bridge crossing that bed could have been made of nails and I still would have fallen into a welcomed slumber. Photo - Me driving and Michelle in the front seat of the Vauxhall Vectra.

Sunday saw us drive all the way through Londonderry up to the coast road back in the Republic near Ballygorman and then leisurely down through Donegal and then evetually all the way to Navan. Deev and Michelle found us this amazing hostel to stay in just outside of the town. It was so lovely. It used to be a nursing home but an older couple had bought it and refurbished it with huge plasma screens, computers, leather couches and great breakfast facilities. Before getting there we made a stop at this lookout, sipping cups of tea that Davina has thoughtfully provided in thermoses and eating biscuits "acquired" from the hotel mini-bar. You stood there and felt like the world was completely behind you and you could just see forever. There were some sheep grazing in the paddock that skirted the edge of the sea. I got the feeling that the sea was a powerful character in the story that is Ireland. I've heard it referred to as a life force before but never really grasped the concept until that moment. It surges with force the same way your heart pumps blood through your veins. Photo - Michelle, Rachael, Me and Davina at our tea stop in Donegal. Starting to think I am a giant compared to these girls!

Our ferry back to Holyhead was scheduled for 7:30am so we drove the last hour into Dublin in the early morning mist. Thankfully this trip across the channel was much more pleasant and we arrived in Holhead ready to see some of the renowned Snowdonia in Wales. Passing through small country towns which backed onto these snow capped mountains is beyond description. It is so different to anythign I had experienced anywhere else in the world. I love hiking expeditions, despite my unfit state, and was eager to join one of the many groups of walkers that were seeting off on their journeys from one of the many towns nestled at the foot of the hills. Photo - The Welsh Snowdonia countryside.
Snow began to fall as we snaked our way towards our final destination, London, fittingly somehow drawing a white curtain over our weekend of girlie road trip fun.

Monday, April 7, 2008

And they said it would never happen...

Yes, that's right, it has snowed again in London. That's four times now since I moved here. And before I left Australia I was told not to get my hopes up for snow since it was a very rare sight in London. To be truthful, I think I have experienced snow in London more times than I have experienced hot days!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Olympic Torch run

On an otherwise snowy and cold Sunday morning and in an effort to see more "London", I took my friend Marleen up on her offer to head into London Bridge to see the 2008 Beijing Olympic Torch run. Having been part of the security with the RFS when the torch made it through Sydney in 2000 I knew that this would be a little less exciting as it had being able to run along side the torch on Wakehurst Parkway, but still, this torch relay is in London, and that always adds a little extra exhilaration. Photo - Torch relay at London Bridge. Torch is labelled on right hand side.

I needn't have worried though because the runners actually by-passed us. We got a fabulous spot only to just catch a glimpse of the action as the runners took a detour. I got to see a flicker of flame and about 30 armed policemen guarding the runner but that's about it. Turns out that the Police changed the runner's path because of protester mayhem about Tibet (see any news broadcast). I can say that I was very impressed that the armed policemen managed to keep up with the runner. They must be very fit! :P
It was good to see Marleen again. She is from the Netherlands. I met her on the Tube one day last year. When I lived with Karen in Chiswick she told me about an article in the newspaper about how people never talk to one another on the Tube. One day I was travelling south on the Northern line and that conversation popped into my head. So I turned to the person next to me and started chatting. And that was Marleen.
Photo - Marleen and me at London Bridge just after the Olympic Torch completely bypassed us.