With Blackjack and Hookers "I'm going to write my own blog. With blackjack. And hookers."

8Jul/163

Ups and Downs

Oof. It's been an interesting few days - ups and downs all over. That's inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It's basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I'm doing pretty well: I have moments of... not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don't really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don't expect to. I've not even been here three weeks, and I'm still largely in tourist mode; that will change.

wine tasting

I was supposed to write tasting notes. I... didn't.

I went to a wine tasting on Monday night - all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that's never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I'd gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their 'Rubicon' - highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I've not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff - I'll be doing more things with him (in fact, I'm going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to - yes - Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).

I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).

Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I've actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces - there's another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I'm quite sure I'll squeeze them in over the next year.

To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I've gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you're basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It's going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That... isn't so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.

Oh, Henry

Oh, Henry

The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn't realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it's an interesting collection of time periods. There's lots to explore - and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)'s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford - alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).

Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn't in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren't a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me - plenty of room to spread out - but unfortunately the commentary I'd read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip - there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn't go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway - the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn't going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died - disaster!

Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it's a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It's still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.

The flat was the first I'd inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don't have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don't necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It's just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don't particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.

So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and 'applied' is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that's because I don't have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it's just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.

Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London's long summer days, at least, was that it wasn't dark yet, despite now being close to 9-- you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.

Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would... I don't know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I've been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn't buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I'm trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and... well, I don't know if they'll fit.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which... reminded me that I wasn't that far from Leicester Square, and didn't I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn't a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.

Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don't think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn't have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane - it should just be a normal option - to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)

In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We'd only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July - 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical - it's one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It's hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I've been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.

(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn't. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you're really better off not trying. Seriously.)

Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.

That's not quite true, I suppose, but it's almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.

So, uh, that was a surprise?

So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I'm on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I'm pleased: as much as I've enjoyed being a tourist, I think I'm just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I'll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.

I suppose we'll see how it goes!

23Aug/130

Where The Forest Meets The Sea

View from the Top

View From The Top

We were picked up from our hotel at 7:45 this morning (ouch), headed north: to the Daintree. As I mentioned earlier, I had been up this way before, but eighteen years is a long time, and my recollections were relatively vague. Today was, needless to say, quite different.

The Billy Tea tour groups are small: there were twelve of us, in four family groups, on our bus, with an eccentric frenchman as guide. There was a couple from the Central Coast (north of Sydney), a trio from Los Angeles, and a family of five from England. I was really impressed with that family: three teenagers, and they were interested, engaged, and full of intelligent questions, both with regards to what we were seeing, but also other topics that came up in conversation. They got along with each other and with their parents, and interacted well with the adults. We didn't travel as much as a family by the time I was that age, so it's difficult to compare, but I very much doubt we would have been quite that positive. I don't know.

Leaves

Leaves

The trip was really well designed, with stops every hour or so - short stops at lookouts, and longer stops for a cruise down the Daintree River (we saw a crocodile!), for a walk through the rainforest, for lunch, and for a swim/tropical fruit tasting/billy tea and damper afternoon tea. There was a second tour bus with people doing the same trip as us, with some intermingling, but for the most part, it was just our group of twelve-plus-Frank-the-tour-guide-- which was nice. It felt much more personal than yesterday's trip, because we actually got to talk to people.

Ferns

Ferns

The Daintree is, unsurprisingly, beautiful. Cape Tribulation reminds me (unsurprisingly) of Jeannie Baker's 'Where The Forest Meets the Sea'. We were out of mobile reception for most of the day and that, too, was really quite awesome in a way. Annnnnnd there was a stop for ice cream on the way back (did you know that wattleseed ice cream tasted like coffee?), and that was nice too.

It's been nice being able to use my camera properly again, too. I admit, I get really lazy: I have a fancy digital SLR, and yet I use it on manual more often than not. It bothers me that I do it, but it's just… easier. And yet, today, I found the manual setting just wasn't good enough to deal with the different light conditions, especially when we were in the depths of the rainforest; it tended to heavily over or underexpose, leaving my photos generally useless. As a result, I basically had no choice but to start playing with settings again, and it was, I admit, really quite fun. I won't claim I really knew what I was doing, but I was able to get a few good shots, and some others that have come out quite nicely with a little bit of post production.

Flowers

Flowers

I do wish my eye sight was better, though. Even with glasses, I have a lot of trouble determining when my shots are focused, when I use manual focus; I just can't see properly. That means I generally stick to auto focus, but sometimes the camera simply cannot cope with it, and gets confused, and then I have to suck it up and hope that my manual focus attempts come out more or less acceptably.

Sadly, I did not manage to get any good shots of the big crocodile we saw - or any of the fauna, really. Plants are easier: they mostly only move in the breeze. (mostly)

Beach Debris

Beach Debris

It was a long day, and I'm pretty tired now. We got back to our hotel a little after 6, and almost immediately headed out for dinner-- yes, we actually ate out tonight, something we've done surprisingly little of thanks to our room's kitchen. We still only made it as far as the hotel's restaurant, but that was a good choice: I had the barramundi fillet and a glass of riesling, and Rohan had a three cheese and truffle oil gnocchi with a glass of pinot grigio. We followed that up with strawberry cheesecake and a botrytis riesling for me, and a chocolate brownie and a grappa for Rohan.

I am thus, now, tired and full, and feeling pretty content.