Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Photos around Hailey Hall School

The view from the carpark looking towards the Administration area

View from the carpark looking up towards the farm and the woods

Down along the river towards the oval

Some of the local residents

Inside Wayne's classroom

Another view of the classroom

Looking toward the front of the classroom

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Times of the Symes' 2

We all woke up feeling quite excited, knowing that we were finally going to be on our way. After packing the cars and taking a couple of photos with Wayne’s Mum and Dad we all piled into the cars to make the drive from Tuncurry to Sydney. We stopped at ‘the Rock’ (the ill fated Leyland Brothers tourist attraction in between Karuah and Bulahdelah) for one driver change and then had lunch at Tuggerah (Central Coast, between Newcastle and Sydney) before we were dropped at Kingsford Smith domestic terminal with a couple of hours to spare.

Much to our delight we flew through the booking in stage. We were particularly pleased that our luggage was booked in (without being overweight) and would be transferred in Melbourne without our having to deal with it. We grabbed a bite to eat and walked around for a while before our flight to Melbourne was called. Because it was really a Qantas domestic flight (even though we were International transfers) we flew down on a 767, but we were confident that we would have a 747 for the flight to England. Touchdown at Tullamarine was a bit rough, but as this was the first time in Victoria for Meg, Brock and Quinn the view from the windows was quite exciting, although it is a shame that the airport is so far from the city of Melbourne itself.

We knew we were in for a 4 hour wait till QF29 was due to leave at 11:59pm but had anticipated that going through customs and immigration would take sometime. Imagine our surprise then when we breezed through and found ourselves in the International Terminal with a number of hours still to spare. We watched an Emirates Boeing 777 board for Singapore and Dubai from Gate 9, which our flight was also to leave from. Wayne recalled how 2 days earlier another 777 had crashed at Heathrow, a story which helped everyone feel much more comfortable. Once they had left, we were the only people at our gate.

Between us, we explored as much of the International Terminal as we could, making use of some of the facilities, and established a camp right in front of the windows where we could view all the aircraft landing at the airport. At times it was possible to see 3 different planes all making their descent, one behind the other. However, the lack of anything really to do made this way quite dull. Eventually, Brock discovered that we could access the Airport website on our laptops, although going any further than that site would involve paying a substantial fee. However, this gave us access to the radar, which informed us that our aircraft had been delayed at Hong Kong on its way to Australia, and that our flight would similarly be delayed leaving the country. This was not good news.

By 11pm many more people had arrived and as the next hour passed our aircraft also landed and taxied around to Gate 8. Occasionally, despite the fact that no announcement had been made, groups of people would start to form a queue and the boys would excitedly say, ‘We are boarding’ and want to rush over. As more time passed, and the only announcements were about a Cathay Pacific flight and one flying Thai airways, this became more and more frustrating. Finally, with another possible movement, we went over to join a queue at the boys’ insistence, an insistence which they would come to regret as it was still another 35 minutes before the plane actually began boarding.

At 1:30am the plane was fully loaded and we began to taxi to the runway to begin the 8 hour first leg of our journey from Melbourne to Hong Kong. Everyone was fairly tired, so Wayne and the boys fell asleep quite quickly, leaving Meg to snaffle the chocolate being brought around by the stewardess. Watching movies and television were the other ways that we broke up the flight which, the pilot informed us, would be travelling as quickly as possible to Hong Kong in order to make up for lost time. Consequently, we landed only an hour late and our layover time in Hong Kong was reduced to 50 minutes. This was somewhat disappointing, because in meant that we had very little time even to look at the shops in Hong Kong, let alone see anything of the sights outside the airport. Instead, we were herded around the airport, before being allowed back onto the plane to make the journey to London.

Despite being the longest (13 hours) part of the journey, it also proved to be the most exciting. We travelled up over China to Russia before turning left to head along the Northern part of Europe then down to the UK. While much of the journey saw enormous amounts of cloud, as we flew over northern China we saw kilometre after kilometre of snow covering the ground (it has been a very cold winter) broken only by the occasional mountain peak or cracks where canyons obviously lay below. Ice on the windows was also an object of interest, as were the occasional glimpses of light down below. There were a number of times where we wished that we had window seats rather than sitting in the centre section of Row 70 (there were only 75 rows in all, which did mean that we were conveniently close to the toilets). A particularly serious bout of turbulence which lasted approximately 25 minutes made everyone but Meg quite unhappy.

Movies and television formed the main part of our journey, which was also broken up by occasional bouts of eating. Everyone watched the last episodes of “the Vicar of Dibley” (a television show which we all loved), but otherwise different peoples taste were quite varied. Brock and Quinn tended towards comedies and movies that they had already seen. Meg watched quite a lot of television programmes as well as some comedic movies (although her review of Ben Stiller’s “The Heartbreak Kid” was scathing). Wayne tended towards documentaries and more serious movies including; “Control” a movie about Ian Curtis the lead singer of the band Joy Division, and a movie called “Pierrepoint” the gripping and dramatic true-life story of Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's most notorious hangman. Both Meg and Wayne co-ordinated to watch “The Darjeeling Limited” near the end of the journey, but constant interruptions by the crew to make announcements meant that they were left hanging, 5 minutes from the end of the movie, as the entertainment system was turned off as we came into London. This was particularly frustrating when we spent the next 30 minutes in a holding pattern flying around London, however it was offset somewhat by the amazing views we could glimpse out of other people’s windows. The Houses of Parliament, St Pauls Cathedral and Wembley Stadium were all spotted before we finally touched down at slightly after 2:30pm.

Because there were so many aircraft, we had to disembark a long way from the Terminal and catch a bus across to Terminal 4 Heathrow, but once we were there things began to move fairly quickly. Immigration took a little while, largely because we still had no fixed address that we could give them for where we would be living in England. However, once that was sorted we flew through Customs to the luggage carousel and then met our driver Bob, who would take us out along the M25 to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire.

Bob was ex-military, and a rugby fan (Saracens and England) so he and Wayne had a good conversation in the front, while Meg and the boys stared at all the amazing sights from the back of the van. Trees without any leaves (we aren’t used to deciduous plants in Australia), different types of architecture, and assorted cars and number plates all drew our attention before we were let off at our landlord’s (Heather, who also drives a taxi in the mornings to Hailey Hall school where Wayne will be teaching) house in Cheshunt. After a short wait, she arrived and piled us all into her taxi for the trip to Number 35, Jacksons Lane, which was to be our home for the first 2 nights in England.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Times of the Symes'

The story so far…

Wayne accepted a job as a Drama Teacher at Hailey Hall school in Hertford (about 25 miles North of London) just before he and Meg got married on November 17th, 2007. The job was due to start on January 7th, 2008 so Wayne and Meg organised to move out of the unit at Kippa-Ring in mid December. Our friends kindly provided some accommodation and the boys were able to stay with their father for part of the time leading up to Christmas. While in the process of moving, Wayne received an offer for the Kia Carnival which meant that they were able to buy tickets to fly to the UK leaving on Boxing Day. The plan was that, on Christmas Day, we would spend the morning with Meg’s family in Brisbane then fly to Sydney in the afternoon to have dinner with Wayne’s family and then fly out on Boxing Day afternoon having spent the morning with Callum, Declan and Ethan.

Meg finished work with MBF on December 21st before taking 12 months leave without pay. Two nights later we received a phone call from Bluewave (the employment agency which had organised Wayne’s job. There had been a delay in receiving the Work Permit from the Home Office. We would not be able to fly out on the 26th because you could only apply for an Employment Visa from your country of origin. Our flights would need to be changed to a date as yet undecided. We would have to find somewhere to stay in NSW. We would also have to organise some money to help us survive for as long as we needed to stay.

Consequently, on Monday we phoned Centrelink to inform them of our circumstances. Wayne had already talked to them after we got back from our honeymoon but was told that because Meg was still working they could do nothing for him. Meg was told that, because of the Christmas holidays, we would be better waiting until we got to NSW and then registering our circumstances with Centrelink. Both sets of advice would later come back to haunt us.

Christmas Day went as planned and Meg, Wayne, Brock and Quinn got to spend a few nights with Wayne’s sister, Michelle, and her family in Blacktown in Sydney. In this way we got to know Maddison and Annabelle (Wayne’s nieces) and had lots of fun with them. We also got to see a bit more of Sydney as we drove out to Manly and around the North Shore. On the 28th we moved to Tuncurry (on the NSW Mid-North Coast) to live with Wayne’s parents (and his sisters, brothers in law and nieces, who all came up to stay as well). In the New Year, Callum, Declan and Ethan also came up to stay, which meant for a slightly crowded house and a lot of togetherness.

On Christmas Eve, Bluewave had called back to let us know that the Work Permit had arrived and that they would be sending it by courier to us, however, because of Christmas Day and Boxing Day it would take a few days to get to us. We were able to track it using the online tracking system and watched as it moved around the UK (from Leeds to Manchester then London) and then flew to Australia. It arrived in Sydney on the morning of the 30th so we hoped to see it later that day. Despite phoning the courier company multiple times (and being told that it would be taken straight up to where we were staying) we went through New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day without any sign of the package. On January second, after a relatively fruitless day waiting, Meg managed to obtain the address for the courier and went to the actual driver’s house. Along with our package (which he had not had enough time to deliver, while sitting on his lounge watching the cricket) the house was full of other undelivered packages which disturbed us no end. Rather than liberating them all, we took our Work Permit and headed home to make an appointment with the British Consulate in Canberra.

Because there are so many people wanting to obtain various types of Visas to go to the UK we could not get an appointment until 9:30am on Friday the 4th in Canberra. On the 3rd we drove down early to Sydney and spent the day at Taronga Zoo before staying the night with Michelle again. Early the next morning we drove off to the ACT. We had collected lots and lots of paperwork (birth certificates, marriage certificates, resumes, etc.) and had put some money onto our Westpac Mastercard at Mosman the previous day because we had been told that the Consulate only accepted Bank Cheques or Credit Cards for payment. In good time we made it to the British Consulate Visa section (just near Canberra Airport) and sat down to wait for our appointment. We had been advised we would be out of there by 10:30am and were looking forward to spending a few hours sightseeing before heading back to Tuncurry.

We waited, and waited, and waited and eventually got called up to the desk. This is where the fun began. Despite the fact that we had had to provide copies of all of Wayne’s qualifications in order to obtain the Work Permit in the first place, the officer at the consulate wanted copies of them all over again. We had copies of them on our external hard drive so we did not think that this would be a problem. Then we were told that we needed a letter from the boy’s dad saying that he gave us permission to take us to another country to live. This was disappointing because we had contacted the consulate to ask them about this and been told that this was unnecessary. Meg and Wayne had also spoken to two lawyers and the people at the Australian passport office who had all assured them that because he had signed the Passport Applications his permission had already been given. Finally, when we tried to access the money to pay the $2000 for the 4 Visas we were unable to access it. Consequently, we were told, if we could not fix all of these problems by 4pm we would have to go through the whole process again.

When we went back to the car we discovered that the External Hard Drive had been taken out of it’s bag before we came down to Canberra. We drove into Queanbeyan to find a library so we could access information about how to contact a Notary Public in Brisbane and email so that Wayne’s father could send copies of our qualifications. We also needed to find a bank to discover what had happened to the money.

Meg managed to find and contact a Notary Public in Brisbane, then contact her ex-husband and persuade him to travel into the city and sign the letter. Meg also emailed the wording of the letter to the Notary Public as it had been suggested by the Consular official. Meanwhile, Wayne was able to get his father on the phone and talk him through the process of setting up the hard drive on his own computer, then emailing the documents through. Finally, we went to Westpac and asked them about the money. They phoned the Mosman branch to discover that the money had not been put in our account the previous day, but eventually the manager tracked it down and made sure it went in. However, we were told that it would now take 24 hours for us to be able to access that money. After some protestations the manager at Queanbeyan was able to override this, and we received an admission from the bank that the whole situation was their fault.

With copies of Wayne’s qualifications, and $2 000 cash in hand (we had since been informed that they would accept cash after all) we headed back to the Consulate, hoping that they would accept every thing. This time the consular official was much friendlier. We had our fingerprints and digital photos taken, she accepted all of our cash, and the rest of the forms all proved to be acceptable. Only the letter from the Notary Public was still to arrive, but provided that the courier got it to the Consulate by Monday morning everything would be ok. Otherwise we would need to go through the whole process (and pay the fee) all over again. By the time we left the Consulate it was 1:20pm, we were tired and stressed and had very little time to see any of Canberra. We were also much poorer because, along with the fees for the Visas, we had discovered that getting a Notary Public to sign a letter that someone else has written for him costs $380.

However, we jumped in the car and drove past both the old and new Parliament House; drove around Lake Burley Griffin; toured to various Consulates and Embassies, admiring the different architecture of each nation; and drove to the front of the War Memorial so that Brock and Quinn could jump out and take some photos. This also proved to be a bit of an adventure as Wayne and Meg sat in the car waiting for the boys to return for fractionally longer than security people obviously felt comfortable with in these terrorism troubled times. As the boys got back in the car, Wayne noticed that a white security vehicle had parked behind them. This car then tailed us for the next 15 minutes before, at a set of traffic lights, it pulled alongside and the occupants took a photo of Wayne driving the car. After this day of fun and excitement we drove back to Tuncurry with a few weeks of waiting for the Visas to arrive to look forward to.

Meanwhile, we were still having issues with Centrelink. Apparently, if they had informed him properly, Wayne could have registered that he had finished his job back in mid-November so that there would be no waiting time in January in order to get paid. Meg could also have done the same at a Centrelink office in Queensland with a similar result. Because we had waited until we arrived in NSW to actually go in (on the advice of the people to whom we had spoken) any monies we would get were going to be subject to a waiting period of at least a week. Because Wayne’s parents were not charging us rent, there would be no rental assistance or anything other than Newstart allowance for Wayne. Despite the fact that we would be leaving the country to go to a job, Wayne still had to register with a Jobsearch agency and hand in forms detailing all of the work for which he had applied. In all we made more than a dozen visits to Tuncurry Centrelink trying to sort out all of the paperwork and follow up problems that they had come across. Our favourite was the letter that was sent to Wayne on the 15th asking for information about shares that Wayne had previously held, but which he no longer owned. On the 16th Wayne had been into the office twice, speaking to the author of the letter, but neither time was the share issue mentioned. On the 17th, the letter arrived and we phoned to try and give the information over the telephone, however, they could not enter the information at the Centrelink to which their phone system had connected us. We had to go back in ourselves. Finally, on January 17th, we received the grand total of $221.73 to cover the expenses of a family of 4 for the period from December 22nd through to January 20th.

The remaining time has been spent trying to see everything there is to see in the Great Lakes/Manning River region. Brock and Quinn travelled back to Brisbane for a week to spend some more time with their father and other members of their extended family. We repacked our bags which, on the way down to Sydney, had been a total of 80 kilos over the allowable weight limit, so that we might not face too much of a fine. At last on January 16th the Visas arrived and we were able to reschedule our flights to England for January 21st, flying out of Sydney at 6pm to Melbourne, then Hong Kong and eventually Heathrow. All things being well, we will arrive in England at 1:30pm GMT on January 22nd, be transported up to Cheshunt where we will be staying for the first 2 nights of our time in the UK; and Wayne will start teaching at Hailey Hall, only 15 days after the new school term has begun.