Monday, August 28, 2006

The long weekend and Notting Hill like you've never seen it before..

What a fab long weekend - it's Wednesday and I'm still recovering! Monday was the wild and fabulous Notting Hill Carnival - I never thought I'd be dancing in the streets in the middle of the day with a muscly black man, pushing a trolley full of alcohol, pouring rum straight down my throat, straight after sipping a luscious coconut - straight from the coconut! This is me (in the photo) hanging out with my coconut and a couple of London bobbies. The festival is an annual celebration of the Caribbean culture and they reckon there was about one million people who hit the streets - either in the Mardi Gras-style parade, or just walking around enjoying the music, foods and general craziness (check out this old dude we meet grooving along in the street). The festive spirit was amazing - people were outside their houses selling things, dressed up in crazy outfits and also, quite conveniently for us, charging people £1 to use their bathrooms. We got a little worried when Shell and I traipsed up the stairs of a random house to use this guys bathroom, and the entrepreneur tried to sell us some pink handcuffs, but it was all good after that and we made a friend (though the highlight of the day was definitely my coconut!)

The rest of the weekend was also brilliant - anyone coming to London MUST try Ping Pong. It's a Dim Sum restuarant in Soho and is the place to go for yummy little parcels of heaven and exotic cocktails (lychee mojito anyone?) We went on Friday night and I'm a new fan.

On Sunday I ventured to Greenwich markets (I'm describing my long weekend in a pretty unordered fashion here). I will devote a whole post to this gem another day, as a day out in Greenwich deserves anyone's full attention! The antique and jewellery markets are fab and the day is not complete without sipping a strawberry beer in the sun-dappled garden of The Gipsy Moth until dusk sets in and the resident magician has performed. More on that later...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Changeable' they call it – the temperamental British weather. Beautiful one day, rainy the next. I'm even wearing boots today (boots! in summer!) however I can still hear an ice-cream truck tinking away outside. The weather here is schizophrenic - doesn't know whether it's coming or going! It can get quite frustrating – especially when, like us, you bought a BBQ on the weekend and are waiting for another perfect summer's day to try it out! We almost cried though when we realised we were missing a part (what the hell is a gas regulator anyway?) and Ray went to the hardware shop only to be told that it would be difficult to get one because the 'BBQ season is over'. BBQ season? oh dear.... Anyways, we will not be deterred, and once we have our important-sounding gas regulator, the BBQ will happen. The sun will come back! I arrived in September last year and I have fond memories of being unemployed and spending days lying in parks in singlet tops drinking iced coffee from Starbucks in gorgeous sunshine so I know it will be back!

How funny is this pic of us in France (top right)? Sim sent all her photos around today which made me homesick for our lovely boat cruising around French rivers and canals. This was when we stopped off at a beautiful riverside town called Gray - the weather had been stunning so we took ourselves off to the supermarket to stock up on cheese varieties and cheap French wine and we got stuck smack bang in the middle of a thunderstorm that came out of nowhere! You can tell I don't look very impressed. It was so strange because this photo of me and Shell was taken about 20 minutes later . As you can see – beautiful French sunshine (and two soggy girls). Changeable...!

The August long weekend is upon us (only one day to go!) so stay tuned for exciting news about the Notting Hill Carnival and Get Loaded in the Park....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The 12 month date looms nearer...

So I'm on a two year working holiday visa, which means that I am only allowed to work for 12 months - only for income to 'supplement' my working holiday. This is such an unfair and unrealistic restriction, considering that so many of the workingholidaymakers who come to the UK these days, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc are young, experienced professionals who should be entitled to continue the jobs they have gained for longer than a pitiful 12 months - especially considering that they have been selected for the job beating UK applicants since they were obviously better candidates.

Anyways, I've had my gripe - I'm in a mood because I realised this week, that while I can still apply for the HSMP visa, the application processing times are so extended that there is no way I can apply for it and be eligible before my contract at my current job is up. Which means I will have to leave that position, be unemployed (again!) and find somewhere new. Not the most exciting prospect since I have saved up absolutely NO dosh to help me get me through such an event - oops! While processing times for work permits are between 5 and 15 days, HSMP application can take UP TO THREE MONTHS! SO anyone thinking of applying should really get everything organised with plenty of time. The problem is however, that you need to have earnt the required amount of money at the time the application is received (kind of hard when you have only been in the country for 12 months which means you have to apply at the 9 month mark - making it even harder to hit the required earning mark!).

Things may not be so bad though - as my work is looking into possibly sponsoring me to stay and work for them - so fingers crossed. Although many working travellers are working over their 12 month limit and getting away with it, I am too chicken and (perhaps stupidly) am trying to do things by the book! So much for being well-behaved!

Friday, August 18, 2006

It's all about the snacks....

This is Sim and I getting more than a little overexcited with the Tiny Teddies Bec's Mum brought over for us from Australia (so much so that we had to have a photo). One of Sim's friends also arrived this week bearing cherry ripes (a non-optional luggage addition for anyone who comes to visit us in London). For all the South Africans, Kiwis and Aussies in London - favourite treats from home are available at shops such as The Australia Shop in Covent Garden (fancy Minties or Pavlova Magic anyone?) but they can be quite expensive so it's always nice to get supplies straight from home. Due to the huge amount of Aussies in London, you can actually buy staples such as Vegemite and Tim Tams at your local Tesco (supermarket) but they will be a tad dearer than from good old Franklins back home.

For Saffas, biltong is everywhere and I have noticed a special South African food shop on Putney High Street selling specialties (there is also an African restaurant in Putney: Chakalaka). There are a few around, such as the No 1 South African Shop in Dorset or the Savanna Shops of which there are few in London which stock South African wines, food, snacks etc (although South African wine is getting to be very popular in the UK and you can buy it everywhere).

For Kiwis, the Kiwifruits NZ shop in Haymarket sells lollies and snacks as well as NZ gifts, calenders, music and clothes. You can even subscribe to New Zealand magazines and buy stuff online. So there is no excuse to be missing things from home!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

***NEW*** International money transfers

Since starting my job in London I've had to learn a lot of things about online publishing which I had no idea about before (as you can tell from my extremely professional/enthralling/beautiful blog (?)). Since I've been diligently learning HTML codes I'm putting it to good use for my loyal viewers and fellow working travellers, and have given you a pretty, new, and useful tool down the right hand side of this page! If anyone is moving to the UK (or Canada, South Africa, New Zealand) and needs to do an international money transfer, you should definitely give Tranzfers a try (see my swanky new Tranzfers tile on the right hand side of this page which gives you the $AU - £GBP conversion rate and will take you to their site to register). I have used these guys and they are the cheapest option I have found (since both my Aussie and UK bank charge EXORBITANT prices for lifting a finger to transfer money internationally). They are also really simple and convenient to use, and now I can easily do a transfer within minutes when i am skiving off work and need to pay off my Aussie credit card. I'm sure there are a few other companies who provide this service, but I haven't found anyone who can beat £7 a transfer. Straight to the pool room!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Festival fever...

Just got sent these pics from one of my mates, who just went running with the bulls in Pamplona. It looks completely nuts. It's one of the many stops on the antipodean boozer trips around Europe - you go to Gallipoli for ANZAC Day, go cheese rolling in England (a bizarre festival where people throw themselves down a hill after a big cheese wheel), then run with the bulls in Pamplona (similar pain-inducing/deathly but memorable venture), then go off to La Tomatina in Italy (lots of people covered in a hell of a lot of tomatoes), then Oktoberfest in Germany then back to London for an English christmas by the fire and then new year's skiiing in some suave alpine destination. Many travellers have followed this hallowed route- drinking plenty of beer/wine/sangria along the way of course and waving Aussie/Kiwi/Saffa flags (and they are probably on a Contiki bus too). At the end of the day they will all end up in one of the many Walkabouts in the UK. What a life :)

Friday, August 11, 2006

There's a funny feeling coming over me...

In a moment of insanity, I've done something which I'm sure I'm going to regret. Due to continuous encouragement (read: duress) from my big brother (who I'm sure just wants someone to share the torture with) I have signed up to...wait for in a bloody big marathon. Oh my lord, I feel a little ill just thinking about. It is a 10km run across London - the North Vs South Nike 10K Run - and I only have two short months to prepare for it.

Those people who know me well are probably feeling a little bit concerned right now - they know that I would usually rather stick a pen in my eye then do exercise (especially of the repetitive long-distance, asthma-inducing type). Now, in my early teen days (when I was a thin fit 12-year-old obviously with nothing better to do) I was known to be a partial to a bit of long distance running - even going so far as to represent my school and district at carnivals and such (complete with an especially-designed sock which I could fit my asthma inhaler into - it zipped up and everything!) and once I even succumbed myself to the arduous Sydney City to Surf – but those days are long gone and my lungs are now more accustomed to the oxygen one breathes in from a ruby-red fermented bottle of wine or from smoke-filled bars. You would think that living with a personal trainer and his equally fit girlfriend would rub off on me, but unfortunately I am as lazy as ever and suffering majorly from the Heathrow Injection.

But all that's going to change. Regardless of how many times I have made the resolution to get fit before, this time I'm going to have to do it in order to keep up with the boys (when you sign up for the race, they ask you what your predicted time will be - I looked down but there was no option over 120 minutes - are these people crazy??!!). So stay tuned to these pages for updates on my escalating and impeccable fitness regime. This should be interesting :)

It's quite scary really, how much of a running culture there is in London. Especially living by the river, you notice how many people go jogging FOR FUN. In the mornings in the middle of winter I would leave for work at about 7.45 am (in the pitch black mind you) and practically get bowled over by people out enjoying the crisp London winter mornings. A magazine my brother works on (the sole reason to blame for his new-found marathon tendencies) is called Runner's World (he is actually in the process of re-designing this website) and is apparently hugely popular. It really makes me wonder what I have been missing out on...! Running world here I come.

Training Regime Day One: am off to the pub tonight so can't possibly do anything! It's Friday too - who wants to go running on Friday?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Another brilliant London weekend...

The weekend started with a bang - the Cat Empire gig in Shepherd's Bush was AMAZING, and all the jumping, dancing and sweating to the hip-hop meets reggae/meets Jazz/meets funky Melburnians made me again homesick for late-night concerts at the Enmore and the Coogee Bay Hotel in Sydney. It's funny how since being in London, most of the live acts I've caught have been Aussies - I just picked up some tickets to a tiny Bernard Fanning gig (of my old-flame Powderfinger fame) next month and I can't wait. At my last Powderfinger gig at the Sydney Ent Cent, Darren Middleton jumped off the stage and came and talked to me so maybe Bernard will also be feeling chatty?

The summer is holding up like a trooper and today was another beautiful day. Although I was a little hungover after Ben's massive housewarming last night, we ventured out and Paul and I came across a cute little trendy London spot - the Pottery Cafe. I'm predicting this great little shop - where you go and select a piece of pottery, paint it, and then leave it with them to fire and glaze for you - is the next big thing. We spent a relaxing three hours pottering (ha!) around in the cafe, letting our creative juices flow and painted a couple of mugs as a present for Paul's sister's wedding (don't worry, we'll get her something else too!). We've now left our works of art to be glazed and fired and can pick them up on Sunday (you can also do plates, cups, bowls, pots etc). It's like a grown-up version of the Plaster Fun House - brilliant! An excellent cure for my hangover.

The others had a somewhat more energetic day at the Fruitstock festival in Regent's Park - yet another example why London is a funky, interesting place to live. There's always something free going on - this one was live music, food and drinks stalls, markets, all the ingredients for a fab time. Throw in the sunshine and you've got a perfect London summer day out :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I thought I should put up a nice photo to make up for my hideous drool-pic below! This is us on Saturday night - out for Bec's birthday. We went to a great pub called The Anchor on the Thames near London Bridge, sat outside and watched the sun go down, then up to the verandah until closing time - really nice! Bec's mum, bless her, had also made us all little 'party bags' filled with heaps of stuff she had brought from home – Caramello Koalas, Tiny Teddys, Violet Crumbles, Aussie tattoos. Needless to say we were all overwhelmingly happy – and I actually remember a twinge of homesickness when I bit into my first tiny teddy! It's always the little things hey! :)

In other news – apparently the godsend e-mail address that new arrivals to London have been using to e-mail for a National Insurance number appointment (to avoid waiting for hideous amounts of time on the phone) is NO LONGER IN OPERATION. My friend got this e-mail:

Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting the London National Insurance Number Call Centre.

As from Thursday 06th of July 2006 the London NINO call centre will no longer accept any further email NINO application forms. This is due to the London NINO booking service being centralised in a National NINO Call Centre in Grimsby.

Customers can only contact the Grimsby NINO Call Centre by telephone on 0845 6000 643 or textphone 0845 6000 644.

London NINO Call Centre

This is really disappointing, as that e-mail address was a little gem (as I have said here a milion times before - I sat hold for AGES). i guess now people will just have to make the time. Try and call this number as soon as you get a job in the UK, because otherwise you will be placed on emergency rate (for those without NI numbers) which can be up to 50% of your wage. A good thing to do is as soon as you get hired (even if you haven't started) ask for a letter of employment or confirmation from the person who hired you, so you can get the ball rolling.

Tonight am venturing to a corner of London I haven't really been to much before - Greenwich (well, been there once, and was very impressed, but haven't been back since!). It's where Sim's new abode is (near Cutty Sark) and she is cooking us a gourment meal tonight. Our housewarming will be soon too - got to find a day everyone can come - people are too busy with their summer plans, trips abroad, concerts, gigs etc - what a life!