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

18Jul/163

Four weeks

Tomorrow night will mark four weeks since I arrived in London, but as I will be at dinner, following my first day of work, it seemed appropriate I write something now. My inner librarian, orderly and delighted in synchronicity, is especially pleased with this: that phase two of my new life begins four weeks after stage one. And although I am going to miss the relatively unstructured life I've been living - the one where I have been able to wander out and do things at a moment's notice - I am also looking forward to actually settling down in earnest.

In a way, I've spent the past four weeks living outside the world. I've had moments of connection, but 95% of my time has been spent alone (happily so), and in my own head. It's been wonderful to have the space to do that, but it can't go on forever; it's time, now, to actually start living in London, not just existing here.

It's a pretty special thing, though, to get to have that much time to explore one's new home before getting bogged down in the mundanity of life. Or, really, to have that much time to explore any city. I'm pleased with how much I've managed to achieve in my four weeks, though I'm aware, too, that there's so much more I want to say. Part of me regrets the days of downtime I took; part of me is well aware that I needed them, just as much as I needed to get out and see things. And it's not like the explorations need to stop, either - I will still have time after work, and on weekends, and eventually, I will have leave to take as well.

So how much have I seen?

That orderly side of me is going to take over again, I think. Here goes:

  • I have walked an average of 12,813 steps per day (though that includes, at this stage, the day I spent in transit, so it's probably over 13K in actuality)
  • I have visited nine museums/historical houses (that I can think of at this moment):
    • The British Museum
    • The Imperial War Museum
    • The Museum of London
    • The Tower of London
    • Kensington Palace
    • Hampton Court Palace
    • The National Science Museum
    • The Victoria and Albert Museum
    • Dover Castle
  • I've been to five markets:
    • Borough Market
    • Brick Lane Market
    • Camden Lock Market
    • Portobello Road Market
    • Petticoat Lane Market
  • I've applied for countless jobs, and been offered five interviews (actual interviews, not just recruitment agency interviews), of which I ended up attending two.
  • I've been on three trains outside of London:
    • To Dover
    • To Arundel
    • To High Wycombe
  • I've joined countless MeetUp groups, and attended five events with four different groups... all of which involved a pub (or a wine tasting).
  • I've joined my local library, and borrowed several (actual, physical) books. And read them, too!
  • I've watched basically no television.
  • I've been to the theatre three times:
    • In the Heights
    • The Phantom of the Opera
    • The Book of Mormon
  • I've inspected exactly one room in a flatshare... and signed a rental agreement for it.
  • I've done about 20 hours of contract work.
  • I've cried two or three times, but never for long. I'm aware that there will be lonely and difficult times ahead, but for the moment, I'm feeling positive about my future.
  • I've listened to the digital mix-tape my sister-in-law Josien made for me probably a dozen times, and especially this song, which is really speaking to me at the moment.
  • I've planned one holiday for later in the year (I'm joining a group for Champagne tasting in France in November), and am working on a second (Christmas!).
  • I've religiously tracked down good coffee using my London Coffee Guide app in four places; for the most part, I've actually been going without coffee most days.
  • ... and without alcohol, too, except with those meetups (and, all right, on my daytrip to Dover, and then I had an individual serve bottle of Prosecco this evening).

So... I've done a lot. I feel good about it. I have more planned: a dinner with my wine meetup group tomorrow, and a ticket to Tim Minchin's 'Groundhog Day' on Friday. A walk on Saturday, and the Proms on Sunday.

And a full-time job. A new life.

I'm going to be fine.

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!

4Jul/160

Shakespeare’s London

The White Tower

The White Tower

Yes, I'm falling down a little on the blogging. It's hard; I'm both very, very busy and also not, in part because some of what I'm doing is boring life admin stuff, and so much is just... 'and then I saw this'. Things continue to go well, by and large. Friday was a difficult day - I had a job interview that did not go well, and it shook my confidence a little - but I turned it around: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are wonderful places to go to regain one's zen. I also went to the Tower of London, and... and other places. I'm finding it difficult to keep up. So many places, so little time!

Saturday was effectively a day off, because Australia had an election and my present location on the other side of the world was no excuse not to follow it. I did go for a walk first, though: down towards Kensington, a direction I'd yet to wander in. This eventually led me to Kensington High Street, where I discovered T.K. Maxx (I'm not sure why it is T.K. in the UK and T.J. in the US, but I digress). I'm trying not to do too much shopping, but that place is amazing: big name brands for often half price. Buying a proper raincoat had been on my list, so I was delighted to buy a high quality one for half its normal retail value. I also, later, made some purchases on Amazon UK: merino wool is my new best friend. This was exciting in part because, with Amazon Prime, I can get next day delivery (or even same day delivery), and that just about blew my mind. In some ways, yes, Australia is a backwater.

I digress.

(Also, it is somewhat ridiculous that I have travelled halfway around the world to start buying up New Zealand merino. It's just... I never really needed it, in Sydney!)

I digress again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching election coverage. All of it. I admit, it is something that is more fun watched with others, but I had a lovely time all the same: I drank some T2 tea (I hadn't realised that T2 is an Australian company that has spread to the UK, but I'm so glad: going in to that shop and smelling the lemon myrtle tea and so on was delightful, though I ended up buying raspberry rush and french early grey instead), ate some chocolate biscuits, and gorged myself on it all. Another hung parliament. Yay.

At some point during the day, I registered a facebook post from my friend Kat, in Canada, in which she talked about the poutine she'd just eaten. This... this encouraged a craving. Which in turn led to a quest: good poutine is not easy to find in Sydney. Is it easier to find in London, a much larger city? I found the answer quickly: yes. In fact, my timing was perfect, because every Sunday there is a poutine truck at the Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch. My next step was clear.

Street art in Shoreditch

Street art in Shoreditch

Thus, I found myself at the Brick Lane markets this morning. Actually, this turned out to be an excellent decision, because those markets were amazing. Shoreditch is cool; there is a lot of street art, and the whole area has an artsy, alternative vibe. I'm told that it wasn't like that ten years ago, that it used to be quite a downtrodden and dangerous area. There are still some hints of that - and it is still heavily multicultural and very very different from, say, Notting Hill - but it hasn't turned 'trendy' so much as alternative. Newtown before it was gentrified, I suppose.

Those markets are, too, a food lover's paradise. In addition to the poutine, I saw duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise, crepes, sushi, all kinds of vegan goodies, and food from every possible ethnic group you can imagine. There were rainbow bagels. And... The Cereal Killer Cafe. Which, yes, serves cereal. Just cereal. Finally, of course, I can't forget to mention Dark Sugars, which had some of the most amazing chocolates I'd ever seen - with some of the best presentation, too. Big, beautifully carved bowls of truffles; a huge array of fancy chocolates; shiny chocolate pearls; an impressive collection of vegan chocolates, too. Reader, I died. (Read, I hyperbolised.)

The markets are also full of antiques, home made wares, and general random market junk, but for me, it was mostly about the food. The weather was perfect; it was a lovely morning.

In the afternoon, I was due to meet up with a group for a tour of 'Shakespeare's London', which I was very much looking forward to. It was a good choice: there were perhaps 20 or 30 of us, mostly locals, and everyone was very friendly and social. I ended up spending most of the walk talking to one woman in particular, and she and I got along very well, despite a fair age difference. The guide knew what he was talking about, and showed us all kinds of things along the way - and afterwards? Most of us went to the pub for a few drinks, where I ended up in the midst of a lively discussion about politics, among other things.

One thing I really like about meetup groups is that if you pick the correct groups, you know you're going to be meeting people who share at least some of your interests. Most of the people in this group are a good 20 years older than me, but we still share interests, and that made it easy to interact. Age is no barrier!

It was a good day. But now my feet hurt, so I am going to curl up and relax for the rest of the evening.

28Jun/161

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!

23Jun/1611

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).

Ow.

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.

Yeah.

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.

21Jun/163

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.

19Jun/164

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.

11Jun/1612

Homeless and Unemployed

Empty

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.

6Jun/162

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.)

30May/1616

Packing up your life is hard. The end.

Wanna buy my couch?

Wanna buy my couch?

(I'm going to try and blog again. If one can't do it in the midst of a major life change like this one... when can one?)

Having spent my twenties, and then the first couple of years of my thirties, too, in a relatively stable relationship, I have built up a lot of stuff. By the end of my twenties, I was buying Nice Things. That ratty couch we picked up off the side of the road? Gone, replaced by a beautiful leather couch that I bought in an actual store, brand new. Last year, I replaced our not-even-that-old TV with a bigger, crisper, shinier one. With a better speaker system.

And on it goes.

Now, suddenly, I'm trying to wrap up my life here. More than a decade of collecting things, and now I need to get rid of most of them. I'm not crying into my furniture and electricals as I give them on to other people or anything, but it's still a weird feeling: I had my life all sorted out, and now I don't. Now I'm (sort of) reverting back to the twenty-something mode of 'Let's take a working holiday somewhere on the other side of the world!' and none of this stuff will help.

Even beyond the more philosophical side of it, I hate trying to get rid of my stuff. I sent around a list of things I had to sell at work, and then felt horrible when half a dozen people all desperately wanted my television. More than that, though, there's having to work out what to do with the things that I don't easily sell-- and I think that will simply come down to 'sell to a secondhand dealer even though they won't give me very much because I have a deadline and enough else to stress about right now, thanks very much'.

Then there are the little things. The teapot and teacups I bought while on a family holiday one year; the wine glass and decanter set; my anthropomorphised silver coffee pot and milk jug; my pirate marionette from Prague. Sure, it can all go into boxes and my parents will store them for a few years until I figure out what I'm doing on a more permanent basis, but... will I still care about these things in two years? In five? They're all just things. But they're my things. My thoughts go around in circles.

My parents came over on the weekend and helped me pack up a lot of my stuff. There's only really the kitchen, now, plus my clothes and what's left in the bathroom. There's still furniture to be gotten rid of-- I'm still trying to sell it-- but the bulk of everything is in progress. I'll be glad when it's just all done and I'm out of this apartment, as sad as I am to leave this place. Of course, I'll also be glad when my visa finally comes through (my paperwork is all in Manila-- why Manila? I have no idea-- at the moment, and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting).

I also had to say goodbye to my parents this weekend. They leave for their next big trip on Thursday, and so I won't see them again until... sometime. Next year, probably. That's a very strange feeling for me, as someone who has always lived in the same city as her parents. I can go months without seeing them (or I used to), but this is different. I'm dreading the rest of the goodbyes. On the other hand, I'm glad not to do them at the airport. I have a 6am flight, so I will be staying in an airport hotel the night before, and there will be no one to see me off. It's for the best; I hate goodbyes.

In three weeks, I will be on a plane. I'll have already transited through Manila (it seems I have to go there, too - or at least, my flight takes me there), and on my way to London.

Strange.