Tuesday 31 December 2013

Lessons in beach survival

After a couple of trips to the beach in my days off work, I feel I have learnt some valuable lessons I need to pass on to those of you planning beach holidays in 2014:

(1)  If going to a beach with reasonable-sized waves, DO NOT attempt to body surf said waves in glasses.  It will lead to them being irretrievably swept away and you looking like a squinting idiot trying to search the sea for them.  This will be followed by an awkward period of time spent trying to find out where you left your towel, whilst not trying to squint up close at all the other people on the beach like some kind of pervert.  This will THEN be followed by a very careful walk home, trying to avoid anything that looks vaguely human-or-dangerous-obstacle-shaped.

(2)  You know those body parts where you say, "Oh it/they never tan(s)"?  Put sun cream on them anyway - THEY WILL BURN.  Then you will be walking around hunched over like an old woman trying to prevent anything touching your thighs, because even the slightest gust of wind feels like molten metal being poured on them.

(3)  When returning to said beach (with high factor sun cream protecting thighs and contact lenses safely installed) for a repeat attempt at body surfing - DO NOT stand up after a particularly big wave has wiped you out without checking your bikini positioning.  Otherwise your boyfriend will be laughing at you, as you treat the entire beach to an upper body eyeful.

That is all for now.  You are welcome.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Timely wisdom...

Guess what? We have been here A MONTH already!  One whole month! And to celebrate, we decided to go on ahead and move from one temporary address to another! Cos, you know, we've got the moving bug now. Packing a gazillion things into suitcases and lugging them around just never gets old ...

In reality, our month's free grace accommodation from my work has expired, so we have had to find somewhere else to live (whilst we wait to sign the contract on the place we actually WANT to live in). And believe me, this has been a hard, thankless and expensive task smack bang between Christmas and New Year, when it seems the entire world has descended on Sydney to see the spectacular fireworks at the Harbour (which it's looking like we will miss this year - but that's another story!)

So after a long and pointless search for another hotel which was in at least the universe - never mind the ball park - of affordable, we went with AirBnB. If you've never heard of it, basically people rent out their homes, or a room in their homes, or possibly just a sofa in their homes, for you to sleep on. Sometimes you get the place to yourself, sometimes you are sharing with the owners, and sometimes you are probably sharing with the owner's dog. But due to the time of year, we have managed to find a relatively reasonably priced flat to ourselves on the same road as our potential forever home (and when I say "forever home", I really mean, "home we might be staying in for more than five seconds").

So today Jan had the joyous task of carting three large suitcases and numerous ancillary bags over to the flat and setting us up in someone else's home.  It's kind of weird, but kind of okay, as they don't have too much stuff (not even a TV! What do these people do at night - TALK TO EACH OTHER?!?!? *Shudder*).  

But I think it was the place we were meant to be in, even if it's only for (touch wood) six short days, because after the big move over to Australia, and the new jobs, and the emotions of being away from family and friends at Christmas, and the concerns over whether we will ever move into the flat we want, this is the only decoration hanging on the wall:

Well, alright then.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmas post: Rain edition

I know you were all waiting with bated breath for our santa hats/speedos Christmas special - but due to stupid Australian stupid weather circumstances beyond our control, we had to cancel the picnic and opt for rainwear instead of beachwear, because  IT HAS RAINED HERE ALL THE LIVELONG DAY, WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA, MERRY DAMN CHRISTMAS!!!  Needless to say we are very disappointed:

We feel the country has let us down. After much grand talk of Christmas on the beach, barbies and cold beers, we were left with dashed hopes and downpours. Bad Australia.  

On the upside, we had a lovely Christmas eve at home. Thinking we would be setting off for a beach picnic on Christmas day itself, we made a tasty "traditional" Christmas dinner of roast chicken, veg and mashed sweet potatoes. I managed to get some giant Brussels sprouts into the mix too:

Considering we had to work with the utensils in our holiday flat, and no weighing scales, we were rather pleased it came out so well. We spoke to Jan's parents on Skype and opened the presents they had sent us (which is completely allowed, as the German tradition is to open gifts on Christmas eve. That way they can fit more eating into Christmas day). Jan's mom had hand-made us a beautiful cup and saucer each.  I was really happy with mine:

Jan was less happy with his:

His mom is making him a new one though, so don't worry, we will be his-and-hers-mugged-up in no time! We also tucked into a few of the yummy cookies and sweets they sent us and, after imbibing the, ahem, appropriate amount of festive spirit*, we passed out went to bed.  

And awoke to ... well a pretty British Christmas after all. But coming from hardened stock, we determined not to let the weather beat us and headed into town, where we purchased a well-thought-out Christmas present to each other:

After an Italian lunch, we treated ourselves to a small dessert:

Before walking it off around the botanical gardens. Then we found the boss of all of this and went to lodge an official complaint about the weather:

Now we are back at home on Christmas night, and enjoying watching Christmas unfold in England via social media. It's like having two Christmases in one!  I've spoken to my parents on the phone (their Skype has decided not to co-operate - AND MY DAD IS APPARENTLY WEARING A GIRAFFE ONESIE AND THE DOG HAS A TINSEL COLLAR AND I CAN'T SEE ANY OF IT, OH SWEET TORTURE!!!). I have opened my Christmas stocking, donned the robin socks, put my keys on my new owl keyring and found a place for my lovely owl paperweight**, and am tucking in to the festive spirit again. Jan and I are both at work tomorrow, so the celebrations are short-lived, but we have enjoyed our quirky little Christmas nonetheless. We hope you have fun with yours too! Cheers!

* Pinot Grigio
** I like owls, innit

Tuesday 24 December 2013

'Twas the day after....

... my first week of live on air work. It has been very ... eventful. Mostly fun. A few technological hiccups, a few last-minute panics, and one case of forgetting to actually press the button and go live! But also quite a lot of feeling like I am improving, positive feedback from people and a feeling of relief, because so far... yes, I am enjoying it! One of our biggest fears when we decided to move was that I had never done this type of work before and had no clue if I would enjoy it (enjoyment is an essential part of work to me) or like the shift work. But so far I have found it exciting and challenging and interesting work to do. So yay!

And in no particular order, five things I like about working here:

(1) I have swapped my commute from one hour each way of this:
photo by Tom Page / CC BY-SA
To 30 minutes each way of this:
I am VERY excited about my new bike.  It's black and pink!  It has some gears!  It's whizzy! I haven't died on the streets yet!  Did I mention it's black and pink?!

(2) I now have one of these:
photo / CC BY-SA
And it's sort of my own!!  Sort of because we are all meant to share but most people pick one booth and tend to stick to it.  (I want to point out this is a stock image and NOT my real desk.  I have no manky old sandwiches on my desk...)

(3) I am part of one of these:
As much as I liked the freedom of being self-employed, I have missed having colleagues to see every day and now I am part of a team of stenos, re-speakers and supervisors who all support each other, which is great.

(4) I don't have to carry one of these every day...

... because I have one of these:

Hurrah!  Now no-one asks me if I am going somewhere nice every time I leave the house! Yes, I still go out in a permanent state of panic, convinced I am forgetting something important, but I'm sure given a few more months that will start to fade.
(5) Finally, here you get paid EVERY TWO WEEKS!Party Hat  

In other exciting news, Jan has become a BUSINESSMAN!  Behold the evidence - fancy new trousers, blingy sunglasses and a phone permanently attached to his face:

Yes, he has got a contract job, just in time for his office Christmas party, whoop!  I am slightly jealous, as my Christmas party involved a bar at a local pub and his involved a glass pontoon sail around Sydney Harbour!  Hrumph.  Anyway, he is enjoying it so far and has met some interesting people.  For those interested he has told me, "I build mapping tools" and that's as much as he will give me.  But then, that's as much as I can understand, so there we go. So hurrah for being gainfully employed! 

We are off now for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and head back in for Boxing Day.  So Merry Christmas, everybody! As we will be seeing Santa first this year, we will tell him you have all been very nice and hopefully he will deliver!

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Tis the season to be...

.... weirded out by the fact you are sitting in 28 degrees and sunshine. Yet in a week it will be Christmas.

For a lot of people it might be a dream situation - but Jan and I are both winter people. We are most definitely Starks of the "Winter is Coming. AWESOME!!" variety. We love celebrating Christmas, from our London trips on Christmas Eve to the Albert Hall with my parents, to the gorgeous snowy Christmases in Germany with Jan's parents. We are Christmas tree fundamentalists - not only does it HAVE to be real, it HAS to be a Nordmann. Otherwise there's just no point. And EVERYONE loves watching Jan light bottles full of high proof alcohol to make the traditional Feuerzangenbowle, waiting to see whether we will end up with a delicious drink, or a visit from the firemen.

But hot mulled wine would melt us like snowmen in the summer sun, we haven't had a single piney whiff of a Nordmann, and a white Christmas?! Pah! We are aiming to make a sand-man this year. All of which means that neither of us are feeling very festive at the moment.

The decorations are up here:

And the Christmas songs are playing, but what with the trying to find a flat (more on which later), trying to find a job and trying to find our feet generally, we keep forgetting to do the basic Christmas things like DECORATE or BUY PRESENTS FOR PEOPLE. It has been a monumental achievement that we have posted cards that may just make it before Christmas day.

At the moment we have no plans for Christmas, although I am sort of planning my inaugural-new-bikini-wearing-and-first-swim-in-the-sea for Christmas day. There are also carol concerts around the city on Christmas eve, so we may check one of those out (because, you know, singing "In the bleak midwinter" will feel so atmospheric here).

Our present to each other this year will hopefully come in the form of a lovely flat by the sea, for which we have put down a holding fee (which means the estate agents won't advertise it anymore) and we should be signing the contracts in the next week or two, with a prospective move in date of 3 January. Hurrah! Merry Christmas to us! Pictures will follow, but at the moment it feels like we might be jinxing it a little to say the flat is definitely ours - so everybody please stop reading now and go and touch some wood for us (preferably a Nordmann Christmas tree) so that it all works out!

In the meantime, although we can't go all-out yule crazy with decorations in the temporary flat (this is the first time IN LIFE I have not had a Christmas tree, waaaaaahhhhh!) I have created a little festive table to try and get us in the mood:

For those wondering, it consists of
(1) A plant from the local supermarket with cheesy glitter green leaves in amongst the flowers,
(2) The aforementioned multi-purpose celebratory disco ball I nicked from a fancy cocktail and used for Jan's birthday,
(3) A candy cane boiled sweet I took from a pizza place we ate at,
(4) Two tree decorations we bought to reflect our new life here - a Koala in a plant pot, replete with eucalyptus leaf, and a kangaroo in a boot - BOTH in the essential Christmas hat.
(5) Two Lindt teddy bears - MANDATORY.  Even if Jan thinks chocolate in the heat is a bad idea.  You just have to eat it quicker.
(6) My (eek!) stocking filler presents from my lovely parents (I foolishly packed the stocking in the shipping container, grrr).  And NO, we don't need to talk about the 35-year-old-still-receiving-a-Christmas-stocking issue.  I LOVE my Christmas stocking. I would rather have a Christmas stocking than an actual present.  THE END. 
(7)  That worldwide Christmas staple that was most definitely present in the crude animal stall Jesus was born in - TINSEL.

But you know what? As much as I miss all my Christmas decorations and the excitement of unwrapping them and the flood of memories of Christmases past they bring, it is actually really nice to have a pared down Christmas this year. Because instead of being distracted with decorations and present buying and all of the Christmas commercialism that can leave you jaded if you are not careful, this year the most important gift is going to be the time we will make to speak to family and friends. You can really take that for granted, until you are thousands of miles and several time zones away, at a time of the year when celebrating those close connections is so important. 

So MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!  Make you sure give all of those people you love an extra big squeeze - and we are sending you big squeezes from across the ocean! Get ready for our Christmas: Beach Edition* in, oh, about seven days or so!
Xmas tree with presents
* Warning, may contain cringe-worthy pictures of us in swimwear and Santa hats.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Jan's Birthday Blog

The last post contained a lot of waffle about me and my new job, but not so much about the other half of this lovely equation - Mr Jan.  Or should I say, Mr OLD Jan now.  He has just celebrated his cake day here in Aus and suffice to say it was rather ... uneventful.  Usually we make a bit of a fuss of birthdays - we set up a "birthday table" in the morning, which involves decorating the dining table with flowers, chocolates, pressies, cards, candles and anything else inventive we can think of.  Also a cake.  A cake is very important.  Coffee and birthday cake for breakfast is a bit of a birthday tradition.  Yes, of course it means you head off to work with your insides churning, wondering whether you will make it to the next loo before your stomach gives up trying to hold in chocolate and caffeine instead of the usual cornflakes and juice.  But you know, that's part of the charm.

Anyway, this year, I have been awful and got Jan no cake and no pressies - trying to convince him that a whole new life in another country is the best present ever.  He maintains it's no iPad mini or Hero3 Black Edition, but heck, you can't please all the people all the time...  The furthest the birthday table got was a small disco ball I stole from a cocktail we drank at the weekend and my laptop with an open document saying "Happy birthday Jan" on it.  In colours he dislikes.

No, seriously he has been very lovely about the fact his birthday has been a bit of a non-event.  We did go for a delicious meal in the evening at a Japanese restaurant where we ate all manner of dead fish and mammals (raw and cooked) and drank Sake.  I was brave with all the food except the oysters, which I just can't get past the mental YAK barrier with, so Jan had to eat all of them.  His telling me "they taste like the sea" didn't inspire me to try them.

But the nicest thing that happened to mark the occasion came in the form of these:

Beautiful flowers from Jan's parents and a lovely note (clearly painstakingly written out in German by an Australian florist).  They have made us both smile a lot, and have brightened up our rather impersonal temporary flat no end.

So for Jan this is a new year in a new country, all options open, anything possible.  I'm wishing him all the happiness and success he deserves and hoping all his dreams for his new life here come true.
<3  <3  HAPPY BIRTHDAY LOVE  <3  <3

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Super mega long post about our first couple of weeks

I started out calling this post "Our first week" until I realised that actually we've been here nearly two!  It has gone so fast already - but then there's nothing like an intense new job to make you really feel like you've been somewhere forever.
After we arrived we pottered about a bit, opening accounts and buying new iPhones (extremely important obviously).  Then on the Saturday we shamefully stayed indoors because it rained and... well... jetlag.  Yeah, jetlag.  On Sunday the weather perked up and so did we.  We did a little trip out to Coogee (pronounced "could-jee",  although any way you pronounce it sounds rude to me).  This is a seaside surburb and has a beautiful coastal path all the way to Bondi beach.  After much lecturing of Jan about his lack of suntan cream usage, we both got stupidly burnt due to the evil trickster clouds making us think it wasn't that sunny, so neither of us put cream on until it was too late.  Needless to say there was much angry muttering from me about having to turn up to a new job looking like a stupid English tourist who had never seen the sun before... dammit... grumble.... mumble.... snarf.  The day trip has definitely won us over to living near the coast though - it's just too beautiful not to.  

On Monday Jan made me breakfast, put my backpack on my back, took me to work on the bus and proudly took a picture of me before he left. 

Just like the first day of school all over again!!  I didn't get a Schultüte though, so that was disappointing.  Still, I hitched up the backpack and went bravely into unknown territories, sending prayers to the gods of steno.  Turns out they listened because everyone was lovely.  People kept coming over to tell me how pleased they were I was here.  I felt a bit like royalty for a while and even started practicing my special hand wave - until I had to type.  Then it rapidly became clear that Australian news is ridiculously fast and contains an enormous amount of names and people I know nothing about (Wollongong anybody?! Indooroopilly?  No?).  And the weather reports.  Oh the weather reports!  And the sports.  TOO MUCH SPORTS.  

The rest of the week was then spent abjectly apologising to my trainer/boss and trying to reassure him I had actually seen a steno machine before and was au fait with its workings.  God, I felt crap.  Then on the Thursday, I had an HR induction and was informed my contract was changing and I was to be on six months' probation instead of three.  Cue existential breakdown tantrum of epic OH MY GOD I CAN'T DO THIS AND I'VE UPROOTED OUR LIVES TO MOVE ACROSS THE WORLD AND I WILL BE SACKED WITHIN A WEEK, WHAT HAVE I DOOOOOOONNNNNNEEEEEE.... proportions.

Poor old Jan was also starting to worry - both about my sanity and the fact that we might have to get into the shipping container back home with all our things.  But wise man that he is, he told me to man the heck up and just ask what was going on.  Which I did.  Turns out everyone is on six months' probation and it was probably just an HR error.  My trainer thinks I'm doing fine.  So that's alright then.  Ahem.

Last weekend - well you have seen what we did last weekend in the previous post. If not, check it out - Jan makes a good video!

To recover on Sunday we went shopping.  A peculiar role reversal occurs when we do this.  Jan is a master shopper, he goes through men's departments like a whirlwind, tries everything on, it looks good (annoyingly so.  Everything looks good on Jan).  Boom.  Done.  New Wardrobe Achieved.  Me?  I umm and ahh and can't be bothered and reluctantly try stuff on after much nagging and - it all looks crap.  And so it continues through every shop.  I finally found some jeans I really liked (yes, people wear jeans here in the summer!!  Special summer jeans though.  The nice lady explained).  Let's not talk about the price tag.

This week is going well so far.  Jan is still on the hunt for places to live and I am still on the hunt for any ability to perform my job.  Which is hilarious considering that next week I will be live on air.  LIVE ON AIR!!  That scares the bejesus out of me.  Especially as so far I have called the dearly departed Nelson Mandela a FLAN PISS* and also written "DONG COCK*" whilst shadowing along to major news programmes.  Boy, are the innocent people of Australia in for a treat.

*  A small prize to anyone who can guess what I meant to write...

Monday 9 December 2013

A small offering from bad bloggers...

For a blog about our adventures in Aus, we have become conspicuously quiet since getting here.  Apologies for the silence, I have been thwarted by things like, erm, going to work mainly.  I mean, honestly, how rude that I am actually expected to put in full nine hour days to get paid.  Don't they realise I came here to have adventures?!  Anyway, all seems to be going well so far - in other words, they haven't fired me yet.  But then I haven't been live on air yet either.  I have been busy learning myriad new computer systems, remembering how to type fast and working out the coffee machine.  All very important tasks that have demanded much of my tiny brain space.

So whilst I craft a mammoth post detailing our first official week as Sydney-siders, I will leave you to enjoy this little video Jan put together of our canyoning adventure with friends.  Two thoughts on this:

1) It's scary.
2) Don't punch the rocks on your way down.