26 December 2009

A White Christmas

The last snow fell on the 23rd as Marilyn made her way home from work. The bus journey took longer than normal as the drivers negotiated the slippery roads. We saw cars having trouble negotiating the gradual climb on our street. It had been a short heavy fall that seemed to catch a lot of people. At this point, it looked as though we were in for a disruptive white Christmas.

Christmas eve was cold and misty. Little of the snow melted during the morning as we prepared for our journey to Heathrow to pick up our son. The road reports suggested that once we got on the M40, we should have few problems although there were advisory notices especially for Scotland and the South East advising essential travel only. Once we left our street, the journey to Heathrow was without problems. The roads were clear. The flight arrived on time and it rained as we approached Oxford on the return journey and the roads were fairly clear by the time we arrived home.

We discovered that the Birmingham mall that we frequently visit doesn't have late nights on Christmas eve. Quite a change from the rush and bustle of midnight closing that we were used to in New Zealand. We find it amusing as the New Zealand argument was that tourists would expect the 24x7 trading hours but so far we have found the UK has civilised trading hours shutting down early on Sundays and not bothering with extended hours for Christmas.

Christmas day dawned clear with still a reasonable snow cover but by the end of the day most of the snow had melted. The family celebration was enjoyable with our granddaughter enjoying dressing up as Snow White. The day was relaxing and enjoyable. It was nice to be able to celebrate Christmas with both of our children, our daughter's husband, and our grandchildren. The first such celebration since our daughter married.

Now on Boxing day, with only a few signs of the snow that lay on the ground, the 4ÂșC temperature seems warm and refreshing. Now our attention is turning to helping our son find some accommodation in Milton Keynes so he can start his teaching job on the 4th January.

20 December 2009

Experiencing an English Winter

This week has seen us experience something of what a white Christmas might be like. Errol had an interview to attend in Hatfield but as we prepared to leave on Thursday, it began to snow. It didn't last long and although we had another flurry while driving, we never really expected any problems.

However, overnight, a fairly heavy fall occurred in Hatfield and the surrounding areas. This didn't concern us too much as we were safely in a hotel not far from where Errol's interview was to occur. Errol set off walking at 9am through the solid snow cover not really thinking that it would have caused many problems. On arrival, the place looked deserted but he was directed to the appropriate place and others slowly began to arrive. Thirty minutes after the scheduled start and with only one other candidate present, Errol was informed that most of the panel weren't able to make it. Could Errol come back on Tuesday?

The main roads weren't a problem so we safely made the journey back to Birmingham and now are preparing for a return journey on Tuesday. This time, Errol will use the trains.

Having spent the last few months organising the house and working on family history and stitching, Marilyn has a change tomorrow when she returns to the work force. This will see changes to our schedule as we get into a new routine and adjust to the shift work that Marilyn will have.

We look forward to our son arriving on Christmas eve and a family Christmas in Birmingham. The question is whether it will be a white Christmas. Some of the snow may be lying around but we will have to wait and see whether more falls.

14 November 2009

Midas and a Mouse in the House

Midas is resettling to being an indoor cat and returning to some of his old friendly ways. The outdoor life may have been agreeable but it did foster some not so friendly behaviour. One new habit is to sit near the top of the stairs looking through the banister to watch everybody's movements in the house. From here, he can see into the two main downstairs rooms and he has guard over the upstairs rooms.

However, last weekend, we had a visit by a very small mouse. Reminded me of the field mice in story books. Of course Midas drew our attention to our small visitor, initially trapping him behind our living room door. The mouse made his escape to under the very new sofa when Errol closed the door to investigate what Midas was doing and the chase began. Admittedly, we wanted the mouse out of the house but even with doors open Midas was too interested in the mouse to notice the chance for an outside run. After about half an hour and with a little assistance through lifting the sofa, Midas had his catch still alive and hanging by its tail from Midas' mouth. He carefully carried it to the conservatory where he attempted to play with it but it made its escape to hide in the packing boxes. It was unceremoniously released back into the back yard where it scampered for cover in the fence line never to be seen again!!!!

This says a lot for the excitement in our lives. Errol survived the day with the grandchildren although it was hard work given the very unpacked state of the house at the time. He did have a good time playing Lego and walking a nature park with them. They have visited again since and Marilyn will be going down to look after them while Amanda is away on a business trip next week.

The house is becoming a little more settled with a sofa in our tiny living room and a computer desk upstairs in our office/sewing room. The dining suite is ordered but is still to appear. We now have a land line phone and cable broadband internet access. Internet telephony works really well over the cable. It makes a big difference to our ability to communicate with friends and family back in the old country (NZ).

We went to a local church on Remembrance Sunday where they sang the national anthem (God save the Queen). We didn't know the second verse and the hymn book actually had a third. As we left, the minster commented that we were visitors from the far-side. Apparently, everyone has great trouble distinguishing between Australian and New Zealand accents.

11 October 2009

Settling in

We have now had two weeks in our new home, and it is beginning to show signs of residence. We have a fridge and a washing machine now so life is returning to normal, although we are still without much dining or lounge furniture. We have been reverting to skills used in our flatting days and creating storage from whatever is available. The removal company would be impressed with the creative and varied uses their packing boxes have been put to!

Errol has given several lectures now and is feeling more comfortable in his role at the university. Marilyn's formal interview has been delayed for a week, but hopefully by the end of an intensive day of interview and more testing she will know whether she has a permanent job in Oxfordshire.

Marilyn went down to Thatcham on Friday in order to be ready bright & early to go with Amanda to the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace on Saturday. We were there 5½ hours and there was much more we could have stayed to investigate. I was very restrained in what I purchased, although the range of items is so great it seems that future visits need planned shopping lists! It was lovely to spend time with Amanda and her family again. Next weekend is Errol's 'grandad' time as the children and Amanda will come up to stay for a couple of nights so Amanda and I can go to another stitching event while Grandad looks after the children.

01 October 2009

Moving time

The last couple of weeks have seen us go through some major changes. Two weeks ago we found a suitable house to rent in Birmingham and we moved in last weekend. That is we physically moved all our gear that was in storage into the house and found enough so we could at least sleep and eat in the house.

Errol did his first week's work at the University of Birmingham last week while we were endeavouring to get through the reference check process to be able to rent the house. This week he delivered his first lecture. With all of his books still packed in boxes, the whole experience is proving quite demanding.

Marilyn has spent the week unpacking boxes and trying to work out where to put everything. This might be a three bedroom house but it isn't the size nor has the storage capacity that we were used to in New Zealand. It still feels as though we have too much stuff despite trying to reduce what we brought over.

Buying appliances has also been a massive exercise taking a lot longer than we expected. Some of this was simply getting past the bank's security checks on the transaction. It seems that you are not the owner of your own money when it comes to the banking system here. Everything has to be double or triple checked, and joint accounts and ownership are unusual. In the case of the bank account, Errol is seen as the primary account holder and has to verify / accept major transactions.

It seems that in the UK, you have to accept that the simplest transactions may take a day or two to complete and more complex transactions may take a week or more. The only things that moved really quickly were being offered a job and actually starting work.

Marilyn has progressed further in the job hunting stakes having completed a telephone interview and aptitude tests with a formal interview to follow next week.

11 September 2009

Activities


Midas has become a cat burglar. Going over the wall (dividing fence) to the neighbours and returning with a new cat toy from inside their house. He is rapidly losing his inside cat habits; although as he has face-offs with other cats and dogs in the neighbourhood, he is beginning to restrict his movements to our yard and the neighbours. The neighbours say that Midas has taken over their backyard having driven their cat into submission.

Last Sunday, we went to Birmingham via Blenheim Palace returning on Monday following Errol's interview via Stratford-on-Avon. Blenheim Palace with its enormous grounds is quite spectacular. We could understand why locals and visitors simply go there to walk in the grounds as though it were a public park. Since our day pass was upgraded to an annual pass for free, we plan to visit again especially since it isn't far out of the way when travelling between Thatcham and Birmingham. They have a bike day on 4 October so we are planning to register and attend that. Maybe get the grandchildren there as well.


Stratford-on-Avon was very busy but a nice spot to stop for lunch. Although we walked the main street past Shakespeare's birth place, we didn't go through. Last time,we visited Stratford-on-Avon was in 2000 and it was a Sunday evening when everything was closed. It was good to be there when the place was busy.

Errol's interview in Birmingham has delivered a good birthday present for Marilyn with a job offer coming through late yesterday. The position is for nine months and is a teaching focused role in the Computer Science department of the university. We now need to plan the shift and organise accommodation. Marilyn has some job applications in around Oxfordshire so we are not wanting to purchase a house until Errol has a more permanent position or we are clear where Marilyn will be working.

31 August 2009

Midas adventures

Midas has now become a bit of an inside / outside cat. It has become quite difficult to keep Midas confined to the house so he has been given more freedom. We keep him in overnight but in the mornings, he now regularly visits the neighbours including exploring their house.

The first time out in the morning, he had a confrontation with another cat and came in with a minor injury but he is now exploring with more comfort. Fortunately, this is quite a quiet neighbourhood although there are a number of places with dogs.

Portsmouth International Kite Festival

We decided that it was a good day to get out and enjoy an activity. With an international kite festival happening in Portsmouth, we decided that this would be a good activity for the children. Our kites are still in boxes in the storage unit so we didn't take any but then there were plenty of kites to see and enjoy.

We all took our cameras and on arrival, we walked around the the main arena taking photos. There was a large variety of kites on display. The size also varied significantly.

After two hours, the chill in the wind seemed to be getting colder so we packed up for the drive home.






24 August 2009

Swansea

Errol did some exploration of Swansea one evening during the week. This was helped by the long twilights. The city of Swansea is quite large and some of the central city is undergoing rebuilding programme. However, there are still a lot of run-down buildings and there are a lot of drab student accommodation houses close to the city. The waterfront has a new apartment / housing area that is really attractive and the eastern suburbs have houses closer to the New Zealand style. The Mumbles area on the eastern end of the bay is extremely attractive although Errol was informed it is expensive.

Even at this time of year, the Welsh countryside is green and lush and it seems to be in most of the UK. Errol can understand the hymn on "On England's pleasant pastures green." Unfortunately, on a motorway, it isn't possible to stop and take photos nor does Errol have all of his photography equipment yet but he is planning some excursions.

Swansea Castle dwarfed by British Telecom (BT) building

City sculpture, Swansea Castle, and BT building

Modern apartment block in city center

Waterfront apparments and marina

Inland Swansea from Townhill
Central city from Townhill

Mumbles pier

23 August 2009

Disappointment and possibilities

In our last blog, we were pleased that Errol had found employment even if it was a short term contract. The disappointment is that the contract was more short term than we had expected. Just when Errol was preparing to complete the work from home rather than travelling to Swansea, the project's client decided they didn't have the funds and wouldn't continue. So on Friday afternoon, the project was mothballed and Errol was back seeking work.

However, during the week, Errol had also received two interview requests with universities. One is a research role and the other a teaching role. These interviews will be conducted in the first two weeks of September. There has also been further interest from recruiters but Errol has been saying that he has a two month commitment.

Marilyn was also approached by a recruiter this week to apply for a position with a large educational trust. The dates for interviews is scheduled for mid September so we are not expecting to know the outcome of this one quickly.

We expect to receive our goods from New Zealand next week. This will mean access to more of our clothes and resources. We have hired a storage facility that we hope will allow us to unpack some items.

Midas has continued his explorations of the neighbourhood. He has worked out how to use the cat door and took the opportunity to explore. He seems to being a little more cautious about his adventures staying close to the backyard. He seems to like walking the tops of the fences and resting in the centre of the trampoline. If he hears a dog bark, he is back inside the house and usually upstairs so he is well out of the way.

11 August 2009

Slowly moving forward

It is difficult to decide when enough has happened to update the blog on our progress. However, this last week has finally seen some changes and adventures for Midas.
Midas has now escaped four times from the backyard. The last two times, he has returned partly by himself. The first two times, we went and retrieved him from the neighbours yard. They have three very large black dogs but they were inside both times. The high fences and locked gates mean that you have to get the assistance of the neighbour to retrieve him.
His third adventure saw him get to a hedge about two gardens away. There was a dog in that backyard and that trapped Midas for a while but he felt safe on the roof of a shed although still waving his paw at the dog that reached about two thirds of the way up the shed.
Late Sunday afternoon, Midas made his fourth escape again into the neighbours backyard. The dogs were inside initially but came out and chased him. He quickly learned how to jump back over the fence. He didn't wait for anyone to check that he was alright. He raced up the stairs to hide. The only problem was that he ran across the cover of their fish pond getting quite wet on the way. Now we wait to find out whether he has learnt his lesson.
Progress has been slow on the job front. Academic jobs in universities are now being advertised less often so Errol has been focussing on second tier colleges and industry positions. Although there have been a number of discussions with recruiters, only two have progressed to actual interviews with the potential employers. Both of these two companies are involved in producing e-learning systems. The first involved two telephone interviews and supposedly there is still a possibility of a face-to-face interview but Errol suspects that the employer is concerned that Errol's research focus isn't what they want. This first company was in Oxfordshire which would be within reasonable distance from our daughter's place.
The second is in Swansea, Wales which is about 130 miles away (2.5 hours by car along the M4). Progress on this one was really quick. Midday Thursday, Errol received an e-mail and by early Thursday evening, there was in place an agreement for a face-to-face interview in Swansea with the possibility of staying on for a two month contract. Through the afternoon, there was a series of interactions with the recruiter and a telephone interview with one of the people at the company.
Neither of these positions were jobs that Errol had actually applied for. They were both initiated by the recruiters. This makes quite a difference because it means that we have passed the first screening. Once passed that, the recruiter seems to work better for you.
Marilyn has applied for quite a few jobs but so far there has been no interest. We would like to think that one of those still in the pipeline would generate some interest.
To get to Swansea, we have brought a car so we are one step closer to being settled here. Since Swansea is a contract, we have decided to delay looking at purchasing a house until things are a little clearer. Errol is staying in Swansea all week for this work.

22 July 2009

Midas arrives

Midas flew in this morning and we made the journey to Heathrow to collect him from the Animal Reception Centre. Now all we need are the goods that are on the boat and we will have completed the move.

Midas is in good health and has explored Amanda and Phillip's house. He seems to be settling in and even at this point getting along with their cat, Eden. The flight must have made him hungry and thirsty as he has eaten and drunk more than he ever did at home.

Both Marilyn and Errol have been applying for positions. Fewer academic positions are now being advertised so Errol is applying for industry positions. There are lots available but the problem is matching the keyword searches of the recruiters. As well, Errol has been doing some work on research papers and programming some of his own interests.

Exploring the public walkways around Thatcham is also proving an interesting pastime. It isn't difficult to walk across Thatcham nor to get out into the country public walkways. Errol has explored a public walkway across farmland and another past fishing ponds and the canal. Living in small towns makes it easy to get out into the country and also to observe the contrasts that exist here in the UK.

The area where we are is a small housing estate, that probably isn't the correct description but all the houses are very similar two storey, three bedroom terraced houses. Not far away are single level detached homes on a reasonable amount of land. There are even some rather large houses fairly close by. We are reviewing the prices and some are definitely in our price range. We are reluctant to purchase while still job hunting and are unsure where our jobs might take us.

18 July 2009

Thatcham Week Two

We have now spent a second week in Thatcham. Monday saw Errol have an interview in Southampton and Thursday, we went through the registration process for National Insurance numbers. Errol knew when he left the interview that he hadn't done particularly well and this was confirmed by an email late yesterday. No other academic jobs that Errol has applied for have shown interest so he is now applying for industry positions. He is at least being rung by the recruiting agents who seem to have sent his CV to clients. An industry position isn't Errol's preferred employment but if it gives us income then that is what he will do. It seems strange having completed the PhD in Education / Computer Science and now finding that the positions available don't seem to want those skills. Errol doesn't see the situation here as being better or worse than New Zealand.

Marilyn has also been looking at possible jobs and has applied for one in Reading. Those applications closed on Friday so she hasn't heard anything yet.

We have also looked at prices of houses in the area and we think that once we have an income, we should be able to locate something within our price range. It won't be a mansion or even to the standard of our New Zealand house but should be quite adequate by UK standards.

The weather this week has been considerably cooler with quite a good thunderstorm late yesterday afternoon. A loud crack of lightning when Amanda was out getting Matthew from school had us checking that there was no local damage. Quite a dramatic change in the weather compared with our first week when temperatures were in the low 30s.

11 July 2009

Paris

We have now returned from the Paris visit. For Errol this was a chance to catch up with colleagues and meet new folk at a computing education conference, while Marilyn spent much of her time walking around various areas of Paris.

There is plenty to see in Paris, so Marilyn selected a different area each day and explored it for several hours. This usually included a museum or church visit and also some Metro travel. She saved going to Montmartre till the end of the conference and then went with Errol. The hotel we were in was near the university for Errol's conference, but was also quite close to some of the major attractions which was helpful.

The best museums were the d'Orsay and the Cluny, and the Saint Chapelle and Sacre Couer churches were the most spectacular. With the huge number of visitors to Notre Dame, I was left wondering how the regular worshippers managed to find quietness and any sense of reverence.
I also managed to end up in a number of small street markets which seemed to be more aimed at locals than the tourists. These markets ranged from fruit & vegetables and clothing to ceramics (very nice but beyond my price range – up to 3500Euros for the pieces I liked!).

We spent most evenings with other conference attendees, including a great meal in the open air restaurant at the top of the Pompidou centre on an evening with a brilliant sunset – magic!, and relaxing in the opulent surroundings of the Big Ben bar at the Gare de Lyon. We also discovered that the Metro stops running at 1am, so had a long walk after the conference dinner cruise on the Seine.

02 July 2009

A week in Thatcham

We have now spent a week in Thatcham with Phillip, Amanda, Matthew, and Kathryn. There has been some adjustment in the body clock for the change in timezones but it has been the heat that has really kept us quiet. It has been good spending this time catching up with the family and enjoying the attention of the grandchildren.

A canal boat trip on Sunday afternoon proved a good way to relax but we decided it couldn't be our home base. We could see the advantage if you have lots of time and want to explore the countryside.

A business trip into London on Monday proved demanding because of the heat but did see us another step closer to being established as UK residents. Starting job hunting for Marilyn and preparing for an interview for Errol has also taken some time.

The trip to Paris for the ITiCSE conference begins today. Having this arranged has meant delaying some job searching but the networking of the conference may provide more opportunities for Errol.

27 June 2009

Thatcham, Berkshire, UK

We landed in the UK on Thursday afternoon (about 2:30pm) having left Hong Kong in the morning (8: 30am, approx 1:30 am UK time). Although the flight to Hong Kong lengthened our night by 5 hours, Thursday was really our longest day on this journey. We arrived in feeling reasonably fresh but wilted by early evening.

Amanda told us that a university had tried to contact him yesterday. This turned out to be an invite for an interview. Not having computer access while travelling limited our ability to respond. Having an interview request makes the move feel more positive. Yesterday, another interview invite arrived by email so Errol now has some preparation to do since both interviews require a short presentation.

It has been good catching up with the grandchildren and sharing with them. This included going on a walk with Matthew's school yesterday. However, playing computer games is really Matthew's interest. He loves the Trainz simulation on our computer and a Rubik's World game for the Wii that we had purchased and sent to their place before we left New Zealand. I now have both grandchildren helping me write this blog. It becomes quite challenging but is also proving a valuable reading learning exercise for Matthew. Of course, he would prefer to be playing Trainz but that can wait until later.

The big achievement for the day has been downloading our photos and doing some photo merges and blends to high definition range images. I failed to use my polarizing filter and ND graduated filters with our photos in Hong Kong. Instead, I tried taking multiple images with different exposures and then blending them in Photoshop. I had done this with some 360° images using Hugin to merge and blend. This was my first attempt Photoshop CS4. I will endeavour to write something on my experiments in my reflective blog.

24 June 2009

Hong Kong

Hong Kong in summer is hot and humid. Both our experiences of Hong Kong have been in summer. In 2007, we stayed over on Hong Kong Island. This time, we were in Kowloon and close to the water front. Having arrived early on Tuesday morning, we checked into our hotel and then took a walk along the Victoria Harbour edge. Even at 9am, the temperature and humidity got to us so it was a retreat to the hotel and making plans that wouldn't see us getting to sticky in the heat.

We filled in Tuesday afternoon with a tour around Hong Kong Island. There were only two places that we really wanted to visit. These were Victoria Peak (see photo)and the Aberdeen Fishing Village (see photos). The stop that we really didn't want was a jewellery factory. It might have been fine if the factory shop assistants hadn't assumed we were rich tourists and could afford their $2,000-$3,000 NZ jewellery items. It was really nice jewellery but knowing we don't have an income guaranteed in the UK, we weren't wanting to use the capital from the house sale on items that we wouldn't use. By the end of the tour, we were both fairly tired so we retired to our hotel just as the laser light show started over the harbour.


On Wednesday morning, we did “The Land between” tour. This was really interesting as it took us to the border with China and out of the city. On this tour, we went up the highest peak (Tai Mo Shan), visited a walled village (Fanning), and a fish farm (Sam Mun Tsai Fish Farming zone). We found this tour really interesting especially seeing the differences between city and the country side. It was also interesting to see a large development of apartments targeted at the rich that remained empty. In Hong Kong dollars, the prices of these apartments was in the millions of dollars.

The afternoon saw us meet up with one of the examiners of Errol's thesis. This proved a valuable encouragement. This provided reassurance that Errol needs to write papers and articles related to his thesis work and get them published. This may open up other opportunities.

20 June 2009

Reached Auckland

Having left Wellington at midday yesterday, we have now reached Auckland. The weather has been really good and roads clear of ice. We stopped in Taupo last night and have two nights here before flying out on Monday evening.

We went to the house on the way out of Wellington to pick up the last of the things that we were distributing to people. It was empty and felt cold. The heating has been off since we moved out on Wednesday. It no longer felt like home so we didn't feel like we were really saying good bye.

It still doesn't feel like we are leaving New Zealand although when we booked in to the motor lodge in Taupo, it was strange being asked for our home address and realising that we really don't have a home address in New Zealand anymore.

14 June 2009

The bags are packed

“The bags are packed we are ready to go; We're leaving on a jet plane. Don't know when we'll be back again”

It certainly feels that way even though there is still another week to wait. Every cupboard and storage area has been sorted and the last of the big things to be got rid of have gone. The movers will come in on Tuesday and the final step of moving out will have begun. Come Thursday, we will be saying our final farewell to Haven Grove and the new journey will be about to start.

It is quite surprising how quickly sentimental attachment fades when you know that you haven't used something since you acquired it and now it is going to cost to have to move it. I wonder how many times now we have asked people whether they are interested in something. In some respects, we have moved on from many of the old attachments are are looking forward to the new journey.

When the last things move out on Wednesday, we will lose our access to the internet for a while so we are not entirely sure when we will get to maintain the blog. Still check in, you never know when we might leave a note either here or on our Facebook page.

07 June 2009

The next big adventure

Almost two years exactly after setting out on our 5 month round the world adventure in 2007, we are setting out on an even bigger adventure. This time, it isn't a journey with a known end date. We are taking the plunge and migrating to the UK. This means that the house has been sold and most of our furniture and electrical items. A new journey is really beginning.

Our departure is scheduled for 22 June and like the 2007 trip, we are flying to the UK via Hong Kong. This time, we will spend two nights in Hong Kong and take in some of the central business district.

From Hong Kong, we will fly into Heathrow and join our daughter in Thatcham. We will have a little over a week with her before heading to Paris for a Computing Education conference where Errol will again be involved in a working group while Marilyn explores the city. Unlike the Dundee equivalent in 2007, we will only have with us what we need for our week in Paris.

The return to England around 10 July will see both of us into serious job hunting. Errol is seeking an academic position preferably in a role that will allow him to focus on Computing Education and Scenario/Game-based learning. He would like to continue on from his completed PhD research. Marilyn will seek some form of administration role preferably with an education focus but she is reasonably flexible. Errol might have to be as well so he will be talking to industry consultants as well.

Of course, we would like to be near Amanda and Phillip in Thatcham but we need to ensure that we have an income so will be reasonably flexible.

To follow our general exploits then check in here. Errol will continue to write his more reflective blog as well.

28 May 2009

Turning a fabric book into a photobook

Marilyn's fabric book of Auntie Hilda's sewing has generated a lot of interest. Now with our planned departure from New Zealand to the UK, we were asked for a photobook containing images of what Marilyn had done.

We have made a photo book and had it printed. We used Adobe's InDesign to put it together although that really wasn't necessary for what we were trying to achieve. One of the by-products was creating a Flash movie of the book. This can be viewed here.

You can turn pages by clicking on a corner and dragging it across to the other side of the page.

We probalby should blog on our experience of getting this printed but that can wait for another time.