Monday, 25 February 2008

Day tripper, day tripper yeah

,,Last weekend we drove to Cambridge. From Broxbourne this is just a short hop on to the A10 and then a very cruisy ride for nearly 30 of the 37 miles through the English countryside. Along the way we noticed that we were starting to run low on fuel (possibly a consequence of still not having been paid since we arrived in the country) and began to look around for a petrol station. As the A10 went from being a dual carriageway down to what felt like a country road ambling through hedge-lined lanes we spotted some petrol pumps surrounded by cars and pulled in.

As we looked around us, we realised that all the cars were brand, spanking, new Lotus’ in a variety of wonderful colours. We stared in awe at the remarkable designs and then realised that the petrol pumps were not working. In fact, there was no one in attendance at this place at all. The other thing we noticed was that there was no way out, other than reversing back through all the lovely (and expensive) brand new cars. It helps to clarify the mind somewhat to realise that the gap which you merrily drove through in your little Mazda 323 will result in a rather large bill if you so much as scratch one of the cars on either side.

Much of the rest of the trip was uneventful until we saw the Park & Ride station about 5 miles out of Cambridge itself. On a Saturday morning (with the temperature hovering at a balmy 3 Degrees) there were an extraordinary number of cars in the car park. As we got in to Cambridge itself we discovered why. Like Nottingham (which we had visited the Monday before), Cambridge has set out to discourage drivers from coming into the centre of the city, and with good reason. The streets are very narrow. There is minimal parking, and what there is charges an obscene amount for very little time. As we quickly noticed, most of the locals (largely students we imagined) had pushbikes, which were parked by the hundreds around the streets. As we later attempted to remove our car (doing a u-turn at the end of a street which turned out to be blocked) we discovered that the bollards which had kept appearing in the middle of what would otherwise have been traversable roads were removable. A bus came along from the other direction and they quietly and uncomplainingly descended to ground level until it had passed, then rose to present the impenetrable obstacle that they had been to us earlier. We will go back to Cambridge. But we will park and ride when we do

Cambridge was one of Wayne’s favourite places when he last came to England (only 25 years ago) and the reasons for it being so had remained. It is astonishing to walk through this university city and realise that it has been operating as a University for about 800 years. The Colleges and their chapels are old and lovely, we walked in to the middle of King’s College and admired the perfectly manicured lawns in the midst of buildings that were hundreds of years old. The oldest of the Colleges dates back to the 13th Century and the town that surrounds it contains shops and buildings with architecture capturing the styles of every period between. For those of you that have not been here (or seen pictures) imagine Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter books. There were old academic bookshops. Tailors who specialised in academic robes and gowns (there were two such building within a few hundred metres of each other, both dating back a couple of centuries). We half expected to see a shop specialising in wands.

Sadly, because of the parking issues aforementioned, we didn’t have enough time to spend wandering the streets. The fact that it was slightly on the chilly side also meant that Wayne and Meg were frequently asked, ‘When are we going back to the car?’ as well. We didn’t get to walk down to the Mathematical Bridge or the Bridge of Sighs, which traverse the river Cam, and it is almost impossible to see them from the roads along which cars are allowed. We did get to drive alongside the park on the other side of the river, admiring the punts and barges which are using to navigate up and down. As winter is coming to an end the countryside is passing out of the Snowdrop flowering phase (enormous areas covered in tiny white flowers) and into the period for Crocuses and Daffodils which are found wild everywhere (including in our backyard). We even saw our first badger (albeit a dead one by the side of the road).

We still aim to get out somewhere in England, once we have some money, at every possible opportunity. We now have three places (Windsor, Cambridge and Nottingham) to which we want to go back, plus hundreds of others which we have not yet seen. At the moment we plan to head across to France at the end of June because of a ‘World of Warcraft’ Expo (BlizzCon like Comic book Conventions, we imagine) taking place in Paris, which Brock is determined to attend.

Hope you are all well and enjoying things. Thanks to all who have written, we love hearing from you.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Living Conditions Update

No doubt many of you will be concerned about our ongoing struggle to settle here in the UK. Well the last week has provided some good news. We moved into a full furnished house with a 6 month lease about 20 minutes drive from Hailey Hall last Saturday. Even this was not without some drama, but we are there and we are enjoying it immensely. Today a bed arrived for Brock to sleep in and last night we obtained a set top box to enable us to view the television. All we need now is to organise our bills for electricity, gas, water, a telephone, and probably the internet.

Last week also saw us obtain a car. We were perturbed about how this could possibly take place given our limited funds but made use of a website called Gumtree. This site is used by lots of Australians to pick up and offload all sorts of things when living in the UK for short periods. We looked at a number of cars in the £500 range most of which looked like they would struggle to make it from Heathrow (near where we were living at the time) to Hoddesdon where Hailey Hall is situated. However, we came across a Mazda 323 which was being sold by a New Zealand couple who had been here for 4 years and were finally returning home. They had picked up the car relatively cheaply themselves and wanted to return the favour. When I went out to look at the car I was amazed by how great it was (they could easily have sold it for 3 times that price had they had the time). Needless to say, we snapped it up and give great thanks for people like Lydia and Murray. Our little white sports car, (that is what our insurance tells us it is) which is now christened 'Kylie', has enabled us to start looking around a little bit more.

On Monday this week we drove to Nottingham to visit Wayne's cousin Ross and his family. The drive took about 2 hours, but we had a great time getting to know one another (and catching up with some family news). It also gave Wayne the opportunity to visit the town of his favourite football team, Nottingham Forest. Some of you might know that he has been following them for 30 years. The drive was long but well worth it as we saw a lot of the English countryside. As this is just a quick note (really, it is!!!) I will finish by giving you something which I would like to start adding to all my updates, a little piece of information about where we are living and the history of the area (you can take the boy out of history teaching but you can't take etc).

Broxbourne comes from two words, Brock = Badger and Bourne = stream.
When the main road through the area was built (the A10) a tunnel was provided for badgers.
In 1198 the Manor was owned by the Knights Hospitallers.Following his closure of religious houses, Henry VIII granted the manor to their bailiff, John Cock of Tewin [there is a street here named after him, Cock's Lane, which amuses the boys no end]
He became Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1548 and Keeper of the Wardrobe to Elizabeth I and James I.His son Henry entertained James here to introduce him to English aristocracy while on his way to London to claim the throne in 1603.
The local church has a monument to John McAdam who invented a process for sealing roads (his name forms part of the word Tarmac, and the process of applying it used to be called Mcadamising). It also has a monument to Edward Christian, the brother of Fletcher Christian who led the mutiny against William Bligh on the 'Bounty'

Hope you are all well. Look forward from hearing from those of you who wish to comment.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Some reflections

Do you ever feel like you are living in an insane asylum? (obviously I do, and there have been reasons for that, but I digress) We have been here 2 weeks today and some of the things about England absolutely flabbergast me.

For example, when we arrived here in England we tried to open a bank account. That way we could get paid by the school and therefore pay the rent for a house. However, the paperwork we needed to fill out for the school required an address. In order to obtain a bank account, the bank also required an address which they could send paperwork to. They would not accept the school’s address. When applying to rent a house, the letting agent demanded that we have a bank account from which to debit rent payments and deposits, a National Health Insurance number to confirm your residence and a previous UK address from which to investigate our previous rental history. Non UK addresses are not accepted. Meanwhile, almost everyday in the more right wing media, we see English people complaining that it is too easy for foreigners to come here.

Similarly, unlike Australia where you can go to almost any doctor’s surgery (provided you have an appointment) in the UK you have to register with a local GP. However, a GP will not register you unless you have a National Health Insurance number, you live within their drawing area, and they have vacant places. Of course, you can’t get a NHI number without an address to confirm your residence here. Then you can’t get an address without a bank account or a NHI number (see previous paragraph). As one of my cousins said to me last night, England is bureaucracy gone mad. It might be something to do with the multiple levels of government. Perhaps the funniest thing that I have heard is that, in the UK, people thought ‘Yes, Minister’ was funny because it so underplayed how bound in red tape England is.

On the positive side, there are lots of really great things about living here as well. In the taxi from Heathrow out to Hertfordshire one of my sons asked (in all seriousness), ‘Why are all the trees dead?’ Coming from Australia we are just not used to being in a country where the majority of the trees are deciduous. It means that you can see actual bird’s nests really easily. Last week, outside my classroom, I watched a squirrel playing on the lawn and then scamper up a tree into a hole.

Another amazing thing is that, now that they are in the European Union and have the Channel Tunnel, you can see vehicles from all over Europe driving along the roads. As we drive the hour and a half to work in the mornings along the M25 we have seen vehicles from France, Germany, Italy and Poland (just to name a few). It is particularly odd, when you are passing a truck, to look up into what would be the driver’s seat and have no one there. When we eventually get across to the Continent it will be interesting to see how quickly I adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road.

Being England, people see Australian’s as being associated with ‘Neighbours’. They regularly ask if we know anyone from the cast and expect us to know what is happening on the show. When Meg caught an episode the other day she was amazed to see that kangaroos have been inserted into park and garden shots. It is no wonder so many foreigners expect to see kangaroos hopping down the street when they arrive in Australia. Mind you, the English don’t just ask if we know people from ‘Neighbours’ (‘Home and Away’ etc.) If someone here has a relative in Australia that invariably tell you something along the lines of, ‘You come from Brisbane? Oh you must know our Mary’s husbands, sister’s, daughter, she lives in Melbourne. Lisa Pennyworth! Do you know her?’

It is a funny place, but there is so much that is beautiful. I am having a ball teaching at the school. Once we get the housing, bank, school for the boys, and car situation worked out we will have a fantastic time. Next week we have a half term break for a week, so hopefully more exciting things we be sorted out by then.

Hope you are all well and that you are enjoying yourselves.