05 September 2010

A Continuing Saga

The wait continues for the return of Marilyn's passport even though the reasons for needing it are becoming more urgent. Marilyn's father has now been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but without her passport, she is unable to travel to see him and support the rest of the family.

All of life currently feels like we are sitting in limbo. Although we both have work (Marilyn until mid December and Errol until mid June 2011), there is no certainty that allows us to make confident decisions about housing, research funding, …

Errol was again asked by a student whether he would be able to supervise his PhD. The response is always the same - “I can not guarantee that I will be available beyond ...” So although there has been some opportunity to supervise MSc projects over the summer and see some of his research interests make progress, it is difficult to make progress on some of the bigger projects. But what we are experiencing seems to be the norm with recently graduated academics. Errol shares an office with two research associates both on short term research contracts and there are two others in teaching assistant roles on short term contracts. Errol wonders what the message is that students receive about the future security of work in academia and in industry.

Despite all the uncertainty, we do have peace of mind feeling that we are supposed to be in this situation and it has much to teach us about waiting on God and about being God's messenger.

The demise of our desktop computer means that we don't have access to all of our photo editing software and we don't want to overload Errol's laptop.

The month has been busy with a quilting exhibition visit, a church camp, a conference, and a trip to Bletchley Park with Paul. The church camp was under canvas in a farmer's paddock. An experience that we haven't had for quite a number of years. The panorama from the top of the white horse hill was good especially early on Sunday morning.


The conference was in Durham and organised by the Computing and Information Sciences Subject Centre of the Higher Education Academy. Durham is a nice city and Errol enjoyed walking along the rivers edge.

08 August 2010

A Busy and Mixed Two Months

The last two months has been extremely busy having some high points and a really sad and difficult event.

Paul and Errol went to the Moto GP at Silverstone (20 June). We ended up taking our car as his motorbike got stolen from outside his flat in Milton Keynes. He is still negotiating with the insurance company on the value of the bike. The racing was quite entertaining and Errol did snap a few photos of the action.

In the last week of June, Errol went to Bilkent University, Ankara,Turkey for the ITiCSE conference. This was the first time that he had presented any material linked with his PhD thesis. There was a good response to his material. He really enjoyed his time in Turkey and is disappointed that we were not able to have a week's holiday there to explore some of the country since to Marilyn's passport is still with the UK Border Agency while her residency application is being processed (taken 5 months so far). Admittedly Errol didn't see much other than areas around Ankara but the people were really friendly. A nice bonus was hearing on his return that the university was prepared to pay for his trip. He was also given an opportunity to prepare a paper for a conference in Durham at the end of August so that took up time through July.

While Errol was away, Marilyn went to the Bournville Festival and watched a Maypole dance. The girls wove and unwove the ribbons as they danced around the pole.

Marilyn has begun attending the local Embroidery Guild, but it is noticeably smaller than the Wellington Guild. The summer event was demonstrations & a lecture on fabric dyeing & painting, but there are not many gatherings beyond the regular monthly meeting. She is continuing to stitch on her own pieces, including regular stitching on the bus journey to and from work.

Marilyn had a week off work so she spent that exploring more of Birmingham (instead of going to Turkey!). Errol joined her for a day in the Jewellery Quarter which we really enjoyed.

July began with the news that our nephew, Scott Guy, was murdered in New Zealand. Now, a month on, all we know is that he was shot at the gate of the farm as he went to do the milking early on the morning of the 8th July. Three chocolate Labrador puppies were stolen from the farm overnight. The puppies have not yet been found. Part of our daily routine now is to check the New Zealand news reports for updates on the investigation.

Marilyn's sister, Jeanette, was in London for a conference which started on the morning we heard the news of Scott's death, so we called her early in the day. She came to see us a week later and we took a couple of days off to give us an extended weekend to explore the Cotswolds, Oxford, and Exeter. We visited Moretonhampstead and Blackingstone near where Marilyn's great great grandparents farmed.

Errol was commissaire at two circuit events in Solihull. Here in the UK, there are a number of small cycling circuits. The one in Solihull is a kilometre long. Races are of a fixed duration. From a commissaire's perspective these are some of the easiest to events to manage.

The extension of Errol's contract has an additional bonus as he will be teaching the introductory programming course. This will allow him to apply the results of his research and there is an added benefit in that he will have additional support through the Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS). Errol has begun his planning with the development of lesson materials and progressive programming exercises.

We have also begun to look for a house to buy. House prices here mean that we will have to borrow more than we really want to do. Most of the houses are also smaller than we desire and don't have storage for the bikes. Finding something that will fit our budget and needs may prove difficult.

31 May 2010

Changes keep happening

During this coming week, we will finally have some new bedroom furniture. It was ordered about four weeks ago. In true English fashion, it couldn't be delivered straight away so we had to wait until they could fit it into their schedule. Once it is installed, we can stop using the packing boxes for clothes storage. One more step toward being a little more settled.

However, that install comes at the end of a fairly busy week. Tomorrow, Errol is heading down to the University of Kent at Canterbury where he will present a seminar on his research. He did a working group with a couple of the academics from there at the conference in Dundee in 2007. Ever since we arrived here, it had been intended that he would do a presentation but it was a case of finding the appropriate time. Now with the students completing exams, Errol finds he has less pressure on and is able to get away for a couple of days.

This weekend has also been a busy one. Yesterday, we farewelled Phillip, Amanda, and the grandchildren on their journey to the USA. It is a little over eleven months since we arrived here in the UK and this will mean returning to the use of the internet to keep up with them. Over the last month, we have made frequent trips down to their place to help sort out the house and to get them ready for the move. Even though we have been expecting this since before Christmas, it was still difficult to say farewell. At least we got to celebrate Kathryn's birthday with them at Legoland in Windsor last weekend. Kathryn keeps asking whether we are going to the USA as well. On one of our visits, Kathryn said she would stay with us rather than go.

We have both received news of extensions to our contracts. Marilyn through until December. Errol for twelve months. Errol continues to apply for permanent positions but is also looking at ways to fund some of his research. He is also writing papers for journals. Having to pay his own way to conferences is proving too expensive as a way of letting others know about his work. However, conferences have the benefit of meeting people and developing relationships.

Errol will be heading to Turkey on his own for the ITiCSE conference so no overland trip or holiday in Turkey this year. The UK Border Agency hasn't finished processing Marilyn's residency application and is still holding on to her passport. We have had to request the return of Errol's Irish passport so he can go on this trip but he could travel on his New Zealand passport if necessary.

17 April 2010

Life of contrasts

We are slowly becoming more settled with the buying of a bed base so we could shift our bedroom upstairs and create a lounge downstairs. We are now looking at bedroom furniture so that at least our clothes will be put away instead of occupying shifting boxes.

While we have been working towards being more settled, we have also been helping Amanda and Phillip make progress on their preparations for shifting to the US hopefully in May. We spent Easter down with them taking the children to Winchester while they shifted stuff around for the decorator to start work on Easter Monday. They have come to the end of the second week of the house being decorated in preparation for sale.

While Phillip and Amanda wait for their visa for Phillip to work in the US, we wait for Marilyn's residency visa so we can take holidays outside the UK. Since Errol has a paper accepted for a conference in Turkey for late June, we are looking at a cross land trip through France, Italy, and Greece to the conference.

We both wait for news of extensions to our contracts. Marilyn's looks more definite than Errol's but we know that the university needs teaching staff for next year. The problem is that it is still not permanent work so Errol is monitoring the permanent positions and sending off applications. Although he has had some interviews, none have turned into offers.

We took an opportunity to explore Ironbridge just outside Telford in Shropshire when Errol assisted as a commissaire for a road race. This area is the heartland for the development of industry in the UK so it was an interesting expedition. The area had lots of little cafés and seemed quite popular on a clear spring afternoon.

20 March 2010

Establishing a routine

We are now both into regular work routines although Marilyn's early and late shifts mean organising activities around her work requirements. There is an hour and a half change in start/finish time each week, which means we are either in a hurry in the morning or having a late meal in the evening.

Errol is completing his second term assisting the teaching of Computer Science at University of Birmingham. This term Errol has been responsible for a Team project course in which the students are writing computer games. The students decided on the type of games that they wanted to write so there is quite a diversity of games. There are five tutors assisting Errol and eighty students in the course. The final demonstrations happen next week so it will be interesting to see the results.

Errol has also assisted as a commissaire, his first cycling event here in the UK. It was on a purpose built closed circuit of about a kilometre round. The event had a number of races during the day. Apart from observing the chief commissaire completing the various forms associated with the event, he assisted with tracking the progress of the races. A crash in one of the races meant all the finish line judges had to reassess the race positions and when they are coming round in a little over a minute, you have to be watchful. Errol will have his second event tomorrow.

Marilyn's work is not demanding in terms of decision making or independent thinking, but it is constantly busy in responding to the needs of other staff members from all across the country. She is in a small team with friendly colleagues, so it is a pleasant place in which to work. This week everyone in the office has been involved in participating in events for Sports Relief, culminating with some Wii tennis championships and skiing machine races in the main reception area. The firm promotes community involvement so our section will be spending a couple of days in May helping at a local urban farm.

On the family side, we met up at Amanda and Phillip's two weekends in a row to help relay a patio to prepare their house for sale. They move to Texas mid-year. Amanda, the children, and Paul visited us at short notice another weekend. This was an excellent day of relaxing together and continuing to build relationships with the grandchildren. The visit came about because the children wanted to come and see us, and Paul wanted to use a sewing machine for more creative costuming!

21 February 2010

Coventry Cathedral and ...

Last weekend saw us visit Coventry Cathedral and do some exploration of the Coventry town centre. Coventry Cathedral was bombed in the second world war but instead of pulling it down and rebuilding, they left what remained as a reminder and built a new Cathedral off to the side. Instead of calling for revenge, the minister called for reconciliation and peace, a ministry that continues from the church. The empty shell of the old cathedral blends into the backdrop of the new cathedral. There is ample space for reflection in both spaces.

In the new cathedral, there was a display related to the American civil rights movement. The barriers of race may not be as great but as I read the quotes, I realised that we had not necessarily moved that far. As the quote attached suggests, we are able to create employment to support war but not to create peace.

If the last photo looks familiar, well it is because on Christmas day, we took photos of our snow covered backyard. This morning when we woke, the ground was again covered in snow. A picture that has become quite familiar over the last couple of months. When we arrived back last night from a day with our daughter and family, it seemed like we would have a cold frosty night but no snow.

There are also the first signs of spring as the snow drops struggle to poke their heads through the snow cover.

Midas has been demanding to be outside again and got his chance while we were out taking the photos of snowdrops. The snow proved a natural deterrent as he flinched as his paws made contact with the snow. Walking round the edge of the conservatory proved too difficult so he made a hasty retreat indoors. Sorry, there is no photo, he wasn't staying for the opportunity.

01 February 2010

Snow and yet...

We had thought the snow had gone but this weekend has really seen contrasts. The days have been beautiful with the sun shining but overnight it has been cold. Last night, it snowed again. As I write this, the sun streams in over my shoulder but there is a white film over everything. The temperature is being reported as -2ºC but there is a real beauty in the day. As I watch, the birds are feeding and conducting their mating rituals. Is this really winter or the start of a new year and rebirth.

On Saturday, we explored the inner city shopping complexes. We were looking for some specific things to purchase. But it was the architecture, the clear blue sky, and the company that turned the day into magic. Although we didn't take the SLR camera, we still experimented with some architectural / artistic shots around the outside of one of the complexes.

There is also a diversity of people in Birmingham which makes the shopping areas take on their own special character. There are also the contrasts between the modern shopping complex, the open market, the market warehouse, the old church, and the railway stations. All are pushed together in a confined space that represents central Birmingham.

24 January 2010

Snow has cleared

After couple of weeks of snow, it cleared quite quickly once the weather warmed up. It took about ten days for the ice on the canals to thaw. We are now having days as warm as 5 deg C, but with little rain this makes for pleasant winter days. Although the snow is nice to look at, it was difficult to walk through, particularly once it started to melt or turn to ice.

Errol is back into the new term at university and settling into routine again after the Christmas break. He has responsibility for a course this term. Marilyn is slowly learning the processes involved in her job, what seems easy at first glance often turns into quite a complex task.

We decided that as the family is all in England for the moment, we should have regular get-togethers to make the most of this time. So we have spent a day in London with the children and grandchildren. It was lovely to all be together, even if only for a few hours. We enjoyed walking through part of Hyde Park and discovering a playground there for the children. Marilyn had done some knitting for the children and the gloves were warmly received and soon proved their worth, and the pink cardigan was also most appreciated. The scarf that matches the gloves will be posted once it is completed!

Errol has begun to get involved with cycling administration again and has completed a theory course for British regional commissaires. He now has to attend several events and be supervised in various roles before he can become approved. He has been to a time trial event for the university club. Although he may go for some club rides, his main involvement will be in helping run events.

Errol has also attended a weekend workshop organised by the Anabaptist community and found it very thought provoking and inspiring. Some of his reflections on this will appear in his own blog over time. He would like to attend the full series of workshops over the year, but at present plans to attend a couple more over the next few months.

05 January 2010

Snowing again

It stayed fine enough for us to take Paul to Milton Keynes over the weekend so he could start work this week. The frosts have been getting heavier this week. The car already had antifreeze in the radiator (we discovered this after buying a bottle) but the window washer kept freezing up. Now we have added some washer fluid that will drop the freezing point but with -7° yesterday, it still froze up. Scraping the windows is not a regular activity before going anywhere.

The canals are completely iced over although yesterday, you could see where a canal boat had cut its way through the ice. I managed to get a photo of a goose standing on the ice. Today, the ice looked thicker and solid right across the canal. The only patch free of ice was under the road bridge.

Today, the snow came again. Heavier here in Birmingham than before Christmas but still not heavy enough to close things down. Marilyn did get to come home early but I was already having a work from home day as I had a dentist appointment this morning. The snow began to fall gently as I went to the dentist and heavier as I arrived home. The photos give some idea of how things changed in about an hour.

Marilyn enjoyed watching snow falling from her work area on the eighth floor of their office block. The heavy fall reminded Errol of the journey we made in 2007 into the Canadian Rockies. Paul reported in tonight saying that it was now snowing in Milton Keynes.