One week

In a couple of hours, it will have been a full week since I arrived in London – and I’ve survived (hurray)! It seems like a good time to catch up on what I’ve been doing; it’s been quite a busy, intense week!

According to the pedometer on my phone, I’ve averaged 19,358 steps a day over the past seven days – 14.3km. It’s true that I had two particularly lengthy days, walking-wise, but even my most sedentary day still had me above 10,000 steps. Given I used to find 10,000 difficult, I’m feeling pretty pleased about that! A lot of that has, of course, been spent walking through the city. On Sunday, however, I joined a walking group and headed out to High Wycombe, which is about a 30 minute train ride out from Marylebone, and that ended up being a very, very long walking day indeed. It was worth it, though: the scenery was spectacular (so green!) and it was really lovely to meet some people, talk, and (of course) share a drink at the end.

I’ve now invested in some proper walking boots, as it has become quite plain to me that I really do need the extra support and comfort. My next step will be to change the insoles, as I’m getting quite a lot of arch pain – they need even more support. Amazon UK should deliver me those in the next couple of days, and hopefully that will help. In the short term, one of my little toes is almost more blister than skin (it was quite painful walking on heels earlier today for my first job interview).

Job interview, yes! I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased by the responses I’ve been getting to my applications since arriving – I had an interview this morning, and I have a few others scheduled throughout the week as well. I’m not in a huge rush to get a job– I do have savings to get me through a reasonable amount of time– but I’m pleased to be making an effort towards it all the same. Interestingly, I’ve found that a lot of organisations here assign additional tasks after offering you an interview: I had to give a 10 minute presentation for the one this morning, and for others I’ve been notified of various tests, additional questionnaires, and so on. It’s not a bad thing, and I can see how it can be useful, but it’s interesting; different.

Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of sightseeing. I’ve seen (by accident) the changing of the guard. I’ve been to the British Museum, and the Imperial War Museum. I’ve shopped (oops). I’ve walked through Hyde Park, and through Regent’s Park. I’ve found good coffee (and not so good coffee).

I’m liking the place I’m staying. The room is comfortable, and every day they come around and make the bed, carpet the floor, and so on. Every day, wherever my companion bear has ended up, I come home and find her sitting on my pillows again (I could choose to believe she puts herself back there, of course, but…). Breakfast involves cereal, yoghurt, fruit, toast, eggs, bacon, cold meats and cheeses, stewed tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns, orange juice, and sometimes croissants. I’m getting very used to having a proper cooked breakfast every morning. Dinner involves a soup course, a choice of three mains, various side dishes, and then a choice of desserts and cheeses. None of the food is fancy, but I’ve been enjoying it: I’ve had salmon, steak, pork ribs, lamb… and with three options, there’s always something I’m interested in.

I’ve not really made any friends or connections in the house, but I’m ok with that. It takes time, and I’m generally quite enjoying being on my own. I did really enjoy going out on that walk on Sunday, and getting to know a few people there – and then today, I had lunch with Kristen, whom I’ve known since my early days at University. For the moment, I’m feeling very comfortable with my own company. No doubt there will be lower points, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good.

I’m happy, here. I’m loving London, and all of the possibilities that are here for me. I’ve joined a dozen meetup groups, and am looking forward to going on more adventures with them; I’ve already booked to go on a weekend to Reims for champagne tasting and Christmas markets in November.

For now, I’m going to take it easy. I have a ticket to see ‘In The Heights’ tomorrow afternoon, and otherwise I’m going to try and rest my feet a little; I’m allowed.

Honestly, I feel pretty damn lucky at the moment. I wish I could go back in time six months and reassure my past self that things would get better; that amazing things were coming.

Happy week-versary, self!

Settling in

Jackie Bear is very relieved to be out of the suitcase.

Jackie Bear is very relieved to be out of the suitcase.

After I blogged yesterday, I ventured out again: I needed a sim card for my phone, and to vote at Australia House, and anything else was a bonus. Sticking to my ‘walk as much as you can’ plan, I decided that the 45-odd minute walk to Australia House was perfectly reasonable, and off I went. My meandering path eventually took me through a different bit of Hyde Park (and, okay, down Park Lane because Monopoly demanded it of me)… and eventually past Buckingham Palace where, quite by chance, I was just in time for the Changing of the Guard. I hadn’t intended to go that way– I saw the Guard twenty-five years ago– and I didn’t actually see much (the throngs of people! It was insane), but still. I was there.

I then made my way through St James’ Park, up towards Trafalgar Square, and then down the Embankment for a ways. By this time, my feet hurt. A lot. I am not… how shall I put it? In my previous life, I was not terribly active. I had a five minute walk to work; at most, I walked a couple of kms into the city, and that was it. I struggled to get 10,000 steps per day when I was doing Steptember last year: I literally only managed because I went out of my way to try and catch up. So. This walking? This is new. This is intense.

Nonetheless, I was undaunted. Catching the tube would be for wimps! I am trying to explore and get to know this city, and I am going to do that on foot (damn it).


I did, however, eventually make it to Australia House, where I dutifully performed my democratic obligation, and cast my vote (no, you don’t get to ask how I voted). It was actually pretty cool, and definitely the prettiest polling place I’ve ever been in, all ornate floors and walls and arches and… well, you know. Old building stuff. I’m not homesick or anything (yet), but there is something comforting about being around one’s own countrymen, however briefly. Having said that, I very much did regret the lack of democracy sausage sizzle or cake stall, though I guess I can understand why one would not have either in an official diplomatic building (sigh).

I intended to catch the tube back. I even got on one! But… but. I got off again. My feet were hurting less, and it seemed like a bright idea.

It was not a bright idea.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed my walk back. I saw interesting buildings, and did not take any photos because I was distracted, but still. By the time I arrived back at my hotel, my feet really hurt, and so did my legs.

My new home

My new home

Not that I was done yet, oh no. I took a rest for a while, but then I went back out, because the one thing I hadn’t done yet was open a bank account, and as I had received on my way back an offer of a job interview, and that interview required me to provide proof of address, this seemed important. Unfortunately, that venture was a bust: the woman at the bank insisted that that bank would close my account if I listed a residential address that was not an actual flat or house, and so could not help me. ‘List a friend’s address’ she suggested, which… meh. It was frustrating, and I was tired enough and feeling alone enough that I shed a few tears, even; I did not agree with her assessment, and this bank was the only one I could find that would let me open an account without proof of address, and… frustrating. (I report back, now, that today I visited a different branch of the same bank and opened an account without incident.)

After that, I was just done. Done with the day, done with everything. I had an early dinner and was in bed before 8pm, which turns out not to have been a good idea, because I woke up at 12:30 convinced it must be morning. It was not morning. It was not even a little bit morning.

Happily, I did eventually go back to sleep, but it was restless and intermittent and not ideal. Still, it was enough to get me started today, when I promptly failed to learn my lesson from yesterday, and decided it was perfectly okay for me to walk from Paddington to the British Museum. Which… well, sure, the walk over was fine, but clearly I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I would want to, you know, walk around the museum as well. I am not always the brightest of people. I say this, because I then ended up walking back to Paddington. Oh, self.

But: the museum. I love the British museum. I only explored little bits of it (see previous paragraph re sore feet), but I know I’ll be back. There’s time!

The walk back was hard. By the end, I was not filling too great, and… well. My next step? I had to get my two suitcases from Paddington to Notting Hill. ‘Relatively easy!’ I thought, on the basis that I was not far from a tube station, and Notting Hill Gate was only two stops away. What I had failed to consider– and this is something I am going to have to remember in future– was that not all platforms have lifts, and sometimes there are multiple staircases to ascend and descend in order to reach the correct platform.


Twice, some very well-meaning and kind people offered to carry one of the suitcases for me as I descended or ascended a flight of stairs. Which was lovely of them, and very helpful. The rest of the time (and there were several times), I had to manage it myself, while people around me stared at the stupid tourist with too many belongings. Which was frustrating, because I am normally an incredibly light packer– if I can get away with carry-on baggage, I absolutely will. I’ve never had multiple suitcases for anything in my life, until now, and now… well. Those suitcases contain almost everything I own. Oh well. (Next time I move, here, I am going to suck it up and get a cab.)

I was, needless to say, exhausted and hot and sweaty and feeling gross by the time I arrived at my new home. I had a moment of horror when told my room was on the fourth floor, fearing I would have to lug my bags up the stairs; you can imagine, I think, my relief and glee, when I discovered that there was, in fact, a lift. My room here is small but comfortable: I have a private bathroom, a single bed, a desk, a bookcase, a TV, and a wardrobe. The room overlooks a little private garden in the back, and it’s all lovely. Having showered, and collapsed on the bed for an hour, I even unpacked: I have a home again!

The view from my window

The view from my window

A quick trip to the bank (to open my account), and to Tesco (to buy some necessities), and I’m basically all set up. This place has about 150 rooms, with people staying anywhere from a couple of weeks to upwards of a year, so I’m hoping it will be a good place to meet some people – perhaps even at dinner tonight (dinner being part of the room rate). For now, though, I am resting my aching feet and legs. I have blisters (not surprising), and my muscles are cramping, but it probably was worth it. I managed 20km on foot yesterday, and another 15 today, and that feels pretty good. Tomorrow? Tomorrow, I think I’ll take it a little easier.

I’m really glad to be in my medium-term accommodation now. I now have five weeks (more, if I need it) to get a job, and then find somewhere else to live. Being here, rather than in a hotel, makes me feel just that little bit more settled and ready to build a life. I’m feeling pretty positive about things (knowing I have an interview, and potentially more than one, next week helps – I’m not desperately rushing to get a job, but I like to see progress).

So! That’s where things are. So far so good.

Air travel is the worst

Sun! Grass! People!

Sun! Grass! People!

… I mean, aside from all of the other shitty ways to travel.

Sydney to London is a long, long way, and there’s really no way to get around the fact that it sucks as a trip. I mean, I’m sure travelling business or first class is an improvement, but you’re still stuck in a chair for the better part of 24 hours, and that bites. Sydney to Manila was bad enough; Manila to London, however, is significantly worse – fourteen hours of suck. Happily, I managed to get some sleep on both legs, though my shoulder muscles are screaming at me now for sleeping on them funny. Still, I could have cried with relief at actually getting off the plane, though that relief was short lived: it took over an hour to get through immigration. By the time I was done with that, I was grumpy and exhausted, and desperately eager to just get horizontal somewhere for a minimum of eight hours.

Luckily, I was relatively smart and booked a hotel for myself just around the corner from Paddington station, so I was able to hop on the Heathrow Express train, and arrived by about 11pm. My hotel is pretty basic: the room is barely large enough for the double bed in it, and my luggage makes getting around difficult, but the bed is fine, the shower is amazing, and honestly, who cares beyond that? I’m also, luckily, on the first floor rather than the sixth, as there is no lift and getting my luggage up that many flights of stairs would be awful.

So I managed. Found the hotel without a hassle (there are maps on street corners here and it is the best thing ever for those of us who don’t yet have the internet on our phones), checked in, showered, slept.

And then woke up not long after 5am. Because of course I did.

Really, though, not a big deal. I’m still tired, but not so tired as I can’t function, and today was always intended to be a relatively low-key day. I spent some time catching up on email and then wandered downstairs for the included breakfast soon after 6:30. It was real food, cooked to order, and after a day of eating plane food, it tasted amazing, let me tell you. The whole ‘full english breakfast’ thing is delightful, and I think I can get used to eating like that, let me tell you (though, note to self: order tea rather than coffee next time and buy your coffee elsewhere).

Of course, by the time I was done with breakfast it was still only 7am, and thus still 2.5 hours before anything I needed to do could be done. Time for a walk! I basically headed out without any particular idea of where I was going, but ended up with a direction anyway: I might as well find where my semi-permanent (for the next five weeks) home is, and how I will get there tomorrow. Of course, I will catch the tube tomorrow rather than walk, but… walking overground is a much better orientation, right?

Thus, I walked through Paddington and down towards Kensington Gardens, where I walked through the park a fair ways. I love Hyde Park: once you’re in the middle of it, you can barely hear the sounds of traffic, and you can’t see anything but park, so you might as well be in the middle of the country. The last time I was in Hyde Park (albeit the other end of it), it was the middle of winter and we were throwing snowballs at each other. Today, despite the earliness of the hour, it was pleasantly cool, and the sun was shining; perfect weather for a walk.

There were lots of people about, unsurprisingly. Tourists, of course, but also locals out for a run or walking their dogs, or riding the bikes that are basically ubiquitous. Later, as I started heading back towards the streets, there were lots of children off to school and adults on their way to work (some with high heels strapped to the back of their backpacks; very clever!). I took a very roundabout and convoluted way through to Notting Hill, walking somewhat in circles at times. It was nice: I actually haven’t done a lot of just random exploring in London. The first time I was here – almost exactly twenty-five years ago (June 1991) – I was seven, and more inclined to whine and moan about sore feet than really get into explorations. The second time, in 2010, it was winter, and getting places seemed a little more important.

It’s strange, because on one hand I’m a tourist here, exploring and experiencing, and on the other… well, this is home, now. I live here. These are going to be my streets. They’re unfamiliar, now, but they won’t be for long; at the same time, I don’t want them to lose the sheer thrill I’m experiencing at the moment. London!

I did, eventually, stumble upon my future home. It’s a relatively boring-looking building just off of Pembridge Square in Notting Hill, only a block from the tube. It’s a good location, and I’m looking forward to moving in there tomorrow. For now, though, my hotel is working just fine for me, and I’m glad I booked in for two nights: the idea of manhandling my suitcases again is exhausting, and I could do without it just now.

I could have caught the tube back to Paddington, but I decided to keep walking. It’s still only about 18 degrees, but the sun is warm and honestly, it was lovely just to be out and walking and not stuck in a narrow chair in a rattling box. It meant that by the time I arrived back at my hotel, at about 9:30, I was footsore and a little tired, and sitting at over 10,000 steps on my pedometer.

My room has a door to nowhere (ie a window that opens like a door), so I have that open for some fresh air and sunshine(!) while I hang on the bed and type this. I’ll head out again soon: my goals for the day are to vote in the Australian election, open a bank account, and collect my permanent visa card. Beyond that… we’ll see how long I can keep going without wanting to nap.

Also: job hunting. But… that’s not an immediate priority, right? It can wait.

The pointy end

Sydney International Airport

It even finally stopped raining!

And just like that it’s over, we tend to our… wait, no.

And just like that, all of my farewells are finished with (at least the kind that happen in person). I’m now sitting on the (very comfy) king sized bed in the hotel room I’m in for the night, just a few hundred metres from the international terminal at Sydney airport– this is it. It’s a relief to be finished with all of that; it’s been a long, emotionally draining week. A wonderful week, in as much as I’ve seen so many people I care about, and felt so loved, so appreciated, so incredibly special. But I’m also not good at saying goodbye, even temporarily, and so of course that’s been difficult.

So here we are. I’m on my own now (I mean, as much as anyone ever is; let’s not be over-dramatic). I’ve written before about how this feels like a fresh start, and it absolutely is. I’ve spent the last couple of months preparing myself; now I’m ready to begin. Right now, at this moment, I feel more excited and exhilarated than nervous or lonely and upset, though I retain the right to change my mind at any moment as my mood suits. I’ve shed a few tears today, but not too many. I’m ok with that.

Yesterday was spent packing (and repacking, and then repacking again). I’ve had to abandon a few more pairs of shoes, but it was absolutely worth it to make sure that my beloved teddy bear, made for me by my Oma, fit into the suitcase. I can always buy more shoes, but Jackie Bear is irreplaceable… and we all need something to cuddle sometimes. I have two suitcases (one big and one small) and I’m 99% sure their combined weight fits within my luggage allocation, though they’re not exactly going to be easy to wheel around in the short term. Still: workable. It was a quiet day, and I needed it.

Today was busier, unsurprisingly. I spoke on the phone to my Oma and aunt Helen, I had brunch with my sister, brother, and sister-in-law. I watched my sister-in-law come very close to winning her science debate at the Powerhouse Museum. I had dinner with my lovely friend Sue. I managed not to drown in the torrential rain. All good things!

Shortly, I will try and wind down and get some sleep. My alarm will be set for about 3:30am, so I’m not anticipating a full night’s rest, but a few hours would be nice if I can manage it. I’m not presently feeling anxious (something that often plagues me), and hopefully I can keep it that way, but otherwise? Well, I’ll manage.

I can’t believe tomorrow is the big day. I can’t believe this is really happening.

Let’s go.

Homeless and Unemployed


Where once there was a home…

I moved out of my apartment today; I’m now staying in my parents’ house (though they themselves are not here – they’re off in Europe), and will for the next week or so. I know I’m not actually homeless, but this is the first time since 1996 that I’ve not really lived somewhere (that time it was because we were moving back to Sydney from Atlanta, and spent a couple of weeks staying with my grandparents in New Zealand). So it’s weird: I don’t have a place that I call home. Nothing is mine. I’m… camping out, more than living here.

More than that, too, it’s the saying goodbye to an apartment that I chose with someone; lived in, with someone. It doesn’t matter that it was also the place where our relationship ended– the point, for me, is that it was a place that had those memories, for better and for worse. I’ve largely ceased contact, and now I’m letting go of this, too. Fresh, clean slate. New beginnings. A life that is mine: paths chosen by me, all successes and failures owned by me, too.

In the meantime, I’m going to be sleeping in a bedroom that was once mine, in a house that was once mine. It’s a big house for one person; I’m used to being on my own, now, and I’m not lonely, but it feels strange to have this much space. It makes me much more aware of noises – and houses are full of noises.

It’s a relief, though, being out of the apartment. I feel so much more free, knowing I don’t have to worry about furniture or belongings anymore. Everything I need fits into two suitcases (er, mostly); everything else is just extra stuff, whether I’m storing it or not. I’ll be even happier once I’ve handed the keys to the apartment back in (hopefully Tuesday lunchtime, after the cleaners have been through)– one less thing to worry about.

In another week, I’ll also be unemployed, and that’s another new experience. The last time I was without a job I was nineteen, and had been let go from my part-time reception gig because I came down with glandular fever and wasn’t going to be able to work for a month or two. Back then, of course, I lived at home; it wasn’t a big deal. Now… well, it’s not a big deal either, in that I have money to support myself for a while, and some contract work to tide me over, and some leads on work and plenty of opportunities to generate more. But. But.

It’s not surprising, of course, that I’m feeling sentimental. I’m about to leave so much behind, and the farewells have already begun. It all feels right, but there’s still that fear of… what if it isn’t? What if instead of being the next positive step, it actually takes me out of this really good, happy place I’ve been in? Inevitable, I’m sure, to have doubts. And yet… not as many doubts as I thought I would. Which is good, right? If nothing else, I’m so glad to have made a decision, and now be in the process of turning that decision into reality. Whatever happens, I’ll have that knowledge: I did this.

For now, I am going to enjoy what is likely my last few days in this house that was once my home. After I leave it, next weekend, I’m unlikely to ever come back. Weird feeling.

How to obtain a UK visa in one (ok, a lot more than one) easy (ish) step(s)

The all-important visa

The all-important visa

One of (many) reasons I chose the UK as my destination, when I decided I wanted to move, was that– thanks to two UK-born grandparents– I was eligible for a five year ancestry visa. It used to be that British grandparents would make me eligible for a passport, but they’ve tightened those restrictions. Still, five years is plenty, and if it isn’t, I’m eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain at the end of them.

Compared to a points-based visa, or a spousal visa, the ancestry visa is pretty straightforward: you need to prove that you have at least one UK-born grandparent, that you have money to support yourself when you get there, and that you’re looking for a job. Obviously, not having criminal convictions helps, and there’s various other things you need to fill out, but it’s pretty cut-and-dried. Either you have the requisite relations, or you don’t.

This meant, of course, that I had to track down birth certificates for my grandparents. I prioritised my granddad, who was born in Southampton, because he was born and died with the same surname as me, and I thought that would make things simpler. It was a relatively simple process to order: I found his birth registration on the rolls, filled out a form, and– theoretically– I would receive the proper certificate in five to seven working days. Plus the several days of processing time.

(It was more out of curiosity than anything, at this point, that I also ordered my grandmother’s birth certificate from Scotland.)

The several days of processing time, though, were beginning to worry me. I really wanted to get this application in soon, because once I’d decided I was going to move, I wanted everything to happen immediately. I ended up ordering a second copy of the certificate, this time paying for priority processing– that, surely, would get to me quickly!

I went home at lunch to check the mail every day for a week. Five working days. Ten working days. ‘Wait a few more days’ they told me, when I sent in an email concerned about the lack of certificate arrival. My timeline was shortening; I was beginning to panic.

My grandmother’s certificate shipped a full week after the second of my granddad’s, but that was ok; I didn’t expect to need it.

Only… Grandma’s arrived four days after it was shipped. And granddad’s still hadn’t.

Ok: change of plans. My dad’s birth certificate (obtained via my parents; thank you!) had her full birth name on it; it would be fine.

I submitted the application form. I booked my biometrics appointment. And then… I realised that I needed more than just a print out from the internet to prove my financial worth; I needed a bank stamp on it.

I postponed the biometrics appointment. I ordered the bank statement from my bank (‘twenty-four to forty-eight hours to process’). And I… waited. Impatiently. Again. I really needed it to come on time.

It arrived two hours before I needed to leave for my biometrics appointment. Phew! Note to self: in future, pay more attention to minutiae like that. There’s no need to leave it to the last minute. It’s so unlike me, too, but… stress. Let’s call it stress.

Anyway. The biometrics appointment took forever, but went fine. They took my passport, the birth certificates, and the rest of my documentation, and sent it off to Manila. I paid for priority processing so that it wouldn’t take weeks, and then I… waited. I panicked. A lot. What if I’d forgotten something? What if they lost it? What if I didn’t get it back in good time and then they rejected it and I didn’t have time for a second attempt before my flight? What if…

Happily, I can report that – just over a week after I sent it all off – my passport (with all important visa stamp) was returned to me today.

This time in two weeks, it will be my turn to fly to Manila. Hopefully my passport can show me the way!

(Oh, and? After I complained a second time about my birth certificates not showing up, a second batch were sent. And, of course, the next day? The original order showed up. So soon I will have four copies.)