Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The rest

OK, time for more in the way of updates regarding our whirlwind non-stop tour. It's one way to keep me awake, I guess.

Wednesday 17th
Today we got up and left my mum's, bound for Yorkshire, and more specifically, Sheffield. More babies we'd not met followed as Sinead came round to say hi while we were at Mark's with Seamus and Ethan in tow, while Pete and Cloudy came for lunch along with Olly.

In the afternoon Joanne, Pete, Mark and I took a drive out to a nice little village in Derbyshire for a pint of tea (really!) and then in the evening the four of us headed into Sheffield city centre for a top-notch Chinese before Anna joined us at some real English-style pubs. The sort of pubs you just don't find in NZ.

Thursday 18th
We left Pete and Cloudy's this morning and headed off for the longest individual leg of out trip, down to Enfield. The trip was supposed to take 3 hours. We stopped for a bit of lunch for we were looking at 3 1/2 tops. But then we hit the M25. According to the satnav the final two miles was meant to take just under ten minutes. A traffic jam meant it took an hour. And most of that was the first of the two miles.

Once at Chris and Ros's we had a few hours to relax before Richard and Jenny and their two children (one of whom was again new to us) joined us for dinner. Chris and I even had time to go and pick some strawberries while Joanne had a little nanna-nap.

Friday 19th
More driving today, for a change, and more M25 fun. Traffic is always worse on a Friday. And the Dartford bridge/tunnel are especially fun. We got to be part of that fun too. Three times in fact.

We were due for lunch at Joanne's Aunt June and Uncle Ron's place in Basildon. Enfield to Basildon of course does not involve crossing the Thames. Unless you need to first pick up Joanne's Uncle John from Dartford first. And then bring him to lunch. And then take him back. Three times we braved the queues.

We made the most of being on the south bank though by ending the day with an extended saunter around the Bluewater shopping centre. Bluewater, in case you're unfamiliar with it, is like the size of half of Christchurch. It even comes equipped with a Ben & Jerry's vending machine. I wonder what ones of those puppies would cost...

The evening, and the driving part of the trip, ended as we headed back into London and back onto the Isle of Dogs to Chris and Lesley's flat.

Saturday 20th
You might think that us being back in London would mean no more manic days without a minute to breathe. You'd be wrong.

Today started with Joanne and Les, gym-buddies from times-gone-by, making a trip to the Reebok for old times while I took the car back to City Airport.

We rendezvous-ed at the DLR station at Canary Wharf and headed across London to Maida Vale and Richard & Heather's place for a barbecue and a game of kalookie.

Kalookie, in case you are unaware, is a card game, and we play the Jamaican variant. Mainly because we learnt it from and play it with Jamaicans. It probably won't mean anything to you, but I won, with 29 points. Which is a super-low score. Especially with us playing the full nine rounds.

In the evening, after I whooped the Jamaicans at their own game, Joanne and I headed over to Liverpool Street station to meet Mat & Cathryn aswell as Les so that we could wander over to Brick Lane for a much-anticipated curry.

I had been building this curry up for a long, long time, and frankly I blew it. I led us to a restaurant I knew was good (or was two years ago) and was packed, which is a good sign. They found us a table jammed into a far corner. That was a bad start, us being stuck in a tiny spot in a roasting hot restaurant. I then was too busy talking to Mat and Cathryn and not studying the menu enough. When it came to ordering I wasn't fully prepared and thus fell back on an old favourite of lamb pasanda. A good curry, but not the curry I had been anticipating. The onion bhaji, meanwhile, was all that I had expected.

Sunday 21st
Today was our last full day in the UK for some time and again food was central. This time our feeders were Debbie and Paul. And their son we'd not yet met, Joshua. Vaniah & Johan joined us too.

The time we spent there was all too short, and before we knew it it was time to shoot off once more, back to Canary Wharf and the barge again for both the 4pm and 6:30pm services. We were asked up the front at the end of each service to quickly give our old church family some prayer points for us, which was appreciated.

The evening ended, traditionally, in Wetherspoons with a diet coke and a bowl of chips.

Monday 22nd
Our taxi was ordered for 12:30 so the morning was free and we'd arranged to head over to spend a couple of hours with Marcus & Lina, meeting our final new child of the trip. It was great to fill them in on how things are going over here and at St John's specifically while also hearing about developments and progress at the barge.

And then, all too soon, the trip was over. We were at Heathrow. We were aboard the plane. We were over the Atlantic on the way home.

Wednesday 24th
30 hours or so later we were home. It's so nice to be home. The UK already feels like a lifetime away. It really doesn't exist when we're here. And that feeling will be even more evident once we start back at work tomorrow.

So, that was some trip. But so tiring. We had little more that a few hours with people here and there really. But we wouldn't have it any other way. I mean, we could have arranged a more comfortable schedule, but the trip wasn't that sort of holiday really. The aim was to be there for my sister's wedding, and catch up for a few good friends around the sides. Which we did. We could have added more people too, given time. But there wasn't any. 19 pretty much non-stop days. With 971 miles (1563km) driven thrown in. It was so great to see people.

I turned on phone when I got home to find 187 work emails waiting for me. I resolved not to touch them until tomorrow in the office. Another 16 arrived today. 203 emails will take me most of the day to get through, I reckon.

Joanne has her first day in her new secondment tomorrow. I've not mentioned it before as it was all being finalised, but she's got six months with the parent company of her current employer. It's a power company and a bigger office than she's in at the moment. Should present her a new challenge, which is good.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Once more for old times' sake

Today Joanne and I had the chance to visit a few old haunts, just one more time.

The initial plan was to head out with my mum to Barton for a wander round and a look at the Humber Bridge, which is still quite an impressive feat of engineering, but a incident with a curb and a snapped sandal strap meant a detour from Barton to Grimsby town centre to (unsuccessfully) hunt out Merrell distributers.

One quick trip to a cobbler equipped with superglue meant we were back on track but by now the Humber Bridge was out of the question as it was time to pick Ellie up from school.

We had a plan to go out for tea together, the four of us, but it was way too early for that so we drove to the far end of Cleethorpes for a wander round the boating lake, a real blast from the past, and especially cute given the numerous goslings and ducklings around the place.

We also had time to drive by the pier too, for a quick photo. Who knows when they'll finally demolish it. I wanted a snap for old times' sake.

The tea plan was to appease Jo. One of her favourite places to eat in North East Lincs is a place called Steel's. Steel's Cornerhouse Restaurant to give it it's formal name. It was listed in the Egon Ronay Good Food Guide 1982 I'll have you know. And it serves fish and chips. Good fish and chips. In fact, according to Joanne it's the best fish and chips in the world.

Look at the size of that bit of fish there. Jumbo fish, chips and mushy peas, bread and butter, and a mug of tea. It doesn't get any better than that. Of course, I don't eat fish, but I can recognise quality. And this is quality.

Just don't you dare ask for cod. It's haddock. And only haddock. Cod is blasphemy in this neck of the woods. Really.

On the way home we took a detour via the docks. I wanted to take one more photo of Grimsby before I left. The dock tower is an iconic symbol of the town where I grew up. An image of my childhood.

Just like when we left from here almost two years ago, I don't know when I'll next be here. And it's a strange feeling.

I have enjoyed seeing my family so much and spending time with them. I'll see Dad & Marlene at Christmas and Mum in February hopefully, and those times will come round fast enough, but it's still different when you live on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Catching up

I've finally got an evening when I can sit down and relax. It's nice to put my feet up and take a breath. And update the blog of course. I've been keeping notes so I'll flesh them out day by day, just so you can see what we've been up to.

Sunday 7th
Today we had lunch with Euan at Rodizzio Rico, one of our favourite restaurants in London. We love Brazilian barbecue, and it's always good to see Euan. As Joanne says – he’s just such an interesting person to talk to.

In the afternoon we headed off to church at 4pm. The 4pm service is a family service now with Sunday school and crèche, which is a big change since we were last around. We stayed around for the 6:30pm service too to try and catch up with as many people as possible. There were so many people we don’t recognise now. It's kind of good to see life moves on without us. Sometimes it’s easy to think that life pauses while we’re away. But of course it doesn’t.

After church we headed across to Wetherspoons for chat, a couple of drinks and a bowl of chips. Just like old times.

Walking round Islington today and the Isle of Dogs was strange. There are new buildings in places but pretty much it's exactly the same. It's as if the last two years had not happened and we’ve never been away. And the whole feel is so different to Christchurch. We fit here. It'd not that we don't fit in Christchurch, but London still feels comfortable. It's a bizarre feeling to have a holiday in a place you know so well.

Monday 8th
This morning we headed over to City Airport to pick up hire car and then headed out to Tetbury to see Ian and Naomi and meet Cerys for the first time. It was lovely to be out in the Cotswolds – a real feel of England. In the afternoon went for a walk around the nearby arboretum. I love Kiwi countryside but there is something lovely about English countryside too.

I also got to play on a Wii for the first time with Ian. He beat me at tennis, and golf, but the baseball and boxing were mine.

Tuesday 9th
This morning we drove to Coventry but via Stratford. Jo had agreed to do a couple of hours work at her UK office – helping with VAT returns – but wasn’t expected in Coventry until 2pm so we stopped in at Stratford on the way. Joanne had never been and I’d not been since Bints’ 21st birthday which must have been May 1994, I guess. But even then it had involved a boat trip on the Avon rather than the Shakespeare stuff. Actually I do seem to remember going with Sarah (and maybe Jo and Kate) one time in my final year at uni when my sis came to visit but I could be wrong.

So yeah, Shakespeare stuff. It was really interesting and great to do it with Joanne for the first time. I think historical buildings are one of the things I miss most when in NZ. You just don’t get anything older than 100 years pretty much and wandering round Statford there are buildings 400 or 500 years old, easy.

After a spot of lunch we headed off to Cov, where I dropped Joanne at her office and then drove to my old uni for a wander round to see what’s new and what’s changed over there. After I left I used to go back every May bank holiday for the American football team oldboys game so it’s not like I’ve not been back since I left in 1997 but there are still quite a few new buildings and plenty of development work still going on now. Again, wandering round the familiar areas it was just like I’d never been away.

In the evening Joanne’s colleagues took us out for a meal to the Saxon Mill in Warwick. It's a lovely little spot, down by the river, although Gordon Ramsey would have a fit over their extensive and diverse menu. "Pick eight dishes and do them well!"

Wednesday 10th
Joanne’s work on Tuesday that was meant to have taken two hours was going to extend to the Wednesday too so after breakfast I took her to the office again and then went off to do some tourist stuff on my own. [sniff]

I first headed into Cov to find the National Motor Museum. Which I did eventually after going round the ring road a few times more than was needed. It was quite a cool place actually, especially the Thrust SSC, the vehicle that holds the world landspeed record – 763mph or something! – and became the first land vehicle to break the sound barrier, and the simulator where you can sit and experience the world record-breaking run.

I then decided to take a wander around Cov city centre, mainly to find the cathedrals. I love the juxtaposition of the old ruined cathedral next to the new shiny one. The contrast really attracts me, for some reason.

I took a photo of the Lady Godiva statue too, just for old times' sake.

Next up I headed back to the Binley industrial estate to find Joanne only to discover that she’d not finished. Still. We were meant to be spending the afternoon at Warwick castle but I wasn’t going to sit around waiting all afternoon so I drove over myself. Again, it’s history like that I miss, wandering round old buildings imagining the people who lived there hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I didn’t have chance to stay for the falconry display unfortunately, but the working trebuchet was very impressive.

Later we drove to Derby to Heather & Andy’s in time to meet them after they got home from school. It was great to catch up, see the boys, and hear about what they’ve been up as well as other school friends I’ve not been in touch with.

Also Andy introduced me to Guitar Hero. This holiday has been an key introduction to new experiences in games consoles for me.

Thursday 11th
The plan today was to head over to Bakewell for lunch before driving to Grimsby but in the ended we were distracted by a retail park containing Next and Sainsbury’s. It was so much fun wandering round a giant supermarket with so much range and choice. Touristasising a supermarket. Is it sad? If it is, I don’t really care. It was fun.

I counted fifteen different types of Fairy washing-up liquid. In New Zealand I'd struggle to count that many types of washing-up liquid full-stop.

Leaving Derby we drove towards Grimsby and stopped for some lunch at Arties Mill – an old family favourite.

Post-lunch saw us arrive at my dad’s. And then for dinner in the evening we were all at the Harbrough Hotel for a pre-wedding meak for to the families to meet.

It was so great to see my family. Other than when my dad came to visit I’ve not seen any of them for just short of two years. Even though we didn’t see them that often when we lived in London it would still be maybe four times a year. I guess the change is most evident in Ellie, rather than my folks or my sis. She’s nearly eight now, my niece. It's hard to believe sometimes. I still remember walking by St Paul’s in London on the way to meet a friend for a drink when I got the phonecall to say she’d arrived safely, mother and baby doing well. How times flies, eh?

It was the first time I’d met Shayne, my impending brother-in-law, and also Dad’s partner, Marlene. So that was nice.

Friday 12th
Today was the day of the wedding. And it was such a lovely day. I got so emotional. I never have before at a wedding. Maybe it was just the whole thing about my little sister finally finding a really great bloke to look after her and Ellie. Given it was the first time I’d met Shayne I guess I was quite relieved that he seemed such a nice fella really. I don’t know. It's hard to describe really. But it was so special to be there to witness their marriage.

They’d asked me to read a poem they’d found in the ceremony. It was strange that reading it through and practising it it seemed ok but nothing special. However, reading to them, during the ceremony, suddenly the words all made sense and fit and the poem was quite beautiful. I so nearly starting blubbing.

It was a lovely day too, nice early June weather, which was good news since we were all sat outside for the reception and speeches.

It was really nice to spend time with my cousin Pamela, her husband Robert and their four kids as well. They’re all growing up to now, of course.

Saturday 13th
Sarah & Shayne’s plan was to head off to Manchester airport at about 5pm-ish today so as a farewell thing my mum had organised a barbecue round at her and James’s house for them. She also invited a load of her friends who came to the evening part of the wedding but not the main day as well as Pam & Rob and the kids, and me and Jo.

Hmmm, I love Lincolnshire sausages.

Sunday 14th
Dad cooked a lovely roast pork meal for the four of us today. And while it was cooking we went for a wander round Town’s Holt. When I was growing up we lived on Wybers Wood, and now Dad lives on Laceby Acres. Town’s Holt is a sort of greenbelt area between the two. When we first moved to the Wybers it was all a big cow field and then they converted it to this grassed areas around the river with gravel paths and woods. Now it’s a bit more wild and there’s no area to play football anymore but it’s still nice for a wander. It is strange though to see trees that I would have seen recently planted years ago and now they’re 25 years old and totally established.

Monday 15th
Today we drove to my mum's. We spent a relaxing afternoon with mum and James and then had tea with Ellie (mmmm, lasagne...) once they'd been to pick her up from school. We didn't do a lot today, other than having issues with wireless internet and calling into to Morrison's for a bit more touristasising and drooling over food we miss. We couldn't resist a tub of Ben & Jerry's each - mmmm, chunky monkey for me and phish food for Joanne.

We're kinda toying with the idea of buying a Ben & Jerry's franchise to import it into NZ. Enough people over there have spent time in the UK or the US for it to sell, you know.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

London, baby

So, we've arrived. The flight and stuff was uneventful. And in fact might even be described as smooth. We ended up, rather fortutitously not having to queue to be processed at LAX or when we arrived at Heathrow. The longest wait ended up being at the baggage carousel. We even managed about 12 hours sleep in total between the two legs.

We're laying here in bed at Jez and Winnie's after close to 12 hours sleep last night too, hoping that we're totally over the jetlag already. We've found that staying up as long as possible that first day makes all the difference when trying to get into the timecycle of your destination. That and not constantly working out what time it is back home, of course.

Yesterday afternoon we'd arranged for a load of people from the barge to come across to Jez & Winnie's for an open home. Winnie had so kindly organised food and drinks and stuff for us too. In the end maybe twenty or more people came, with various babies in tow that we'd never met before. It was so brilliant to see all our friends and catch up with them for a while. People came and left between 3pm and 6 and it worked really well.

I think one of the things about moving to the other side of the world is that sometimes you imagine life in the place you leave just goes on pause when you're not there. So it was a great reminder of the falseness of that to see people and talk about how life's changed for them in the past two years for them. And meet their children. There has been a positive baby explosion at the barge since we left. I'm not sure what they're adding to the tea.

It's weird sitting here, in London. I've just been gazing out the window and everything looks exactly the same. Our flat was less than 400m from here, as the crow flies, maybe even less, so we know this area very well. And nothing has changed. Driving through London yesterday from the airport and on to the Isle of Dogs there are some changes, a few new buildings, but everything pretty much looks the same. And feels the same. In some ways it's like we have never been away.

But that's where it's weird. Because we have been away. For almost two years. We've had two years life in Nuzziland and life here has had two years without us. But now we're back, Chch almost seems like a dream. It is so far detached from our previous life here that it doesn't quite seem real. Just like when we are over there that sometimes London seems a lifetime away. It's difficult to explain.

One thing that's not difficult to explain is the London weather. We're led to believe that the last week had seen sunshine and temperatures of 28 degrees. But we landed to 12 degrees and grey drizzle. Ah, London grey. We left Christchurch to beautiful blue skies and 15 degrees. Tell me, which is winter and which is summer? If we'd not woken on Friday in NZ to -2 and a frost we'd be hard-pushed to tell.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Flights and fairy bread

This time next week we'll have just touched down at Heathrow. It's beginning to feel a little bit real now. We're so looking forward to catching up with people.

At the end of each month at work, on the last Friday, each team in the office gets a turn to organise the end of month drinks. Sometimes there's pizza. Sometimes there's fish and chips. On Friday the HR department organised mini savouries (what little meat pies are called over here), cheerios (small pink sausages like cocktail sausages but pinker, bright pink) and fairy bread.

It's the last of these particular delicacies I want to talk about this evening. I can guarantee that no-one British will be able to guess what fairy bread is. Imagine this - slices of whitebread, buttered, scattered liberally with hundreds and thousands. No really. It's a kids party staple. Whereas I grew up with pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks stuck in a foil-covered baked potato, kiwi kids grew up with coloured sugar on buttered bread. No really.

I was trying to visualise the process that led to this cullinery extravanganza. Picture this - mum goes out leaving dad at home with the kids. He's told to make them some sarnies for lunch. Bread is all laid out. Bread is buttered. Open cupboard. Hmmm, out of jam. No marmite. Peanut butter is running low. Er, hundreds and thousands? Er yeah, that's it. Just cover the bread in hundreds and thousands. Genius.

Only it's not.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Wet weekend

It's been raining pretty much non-stop for the past week. The ground is flooded so football was cancelled and it was grey and miserable so a nice weekend cosy at home beckoned.

We'd made plans to see Si & Bek in the evening but when my footy match was cancelled it meant that we were able to see them in the afternoon too. The Tactix were at home this weekend so we decided the four of us would head along and catch some netball. It was quite a good game too, see-sawing this way and that. And the Tactix won aswell, which was a bonus. We're not big fans or anything but you have to support the local team, eh?

The day was wrapped up nicely with a dinner trip to Nandos for four and a movie back at ours in from the cold, sat infront of the nice warm fire. The only thing wrong with the day was the choice of film. Tropic Thunder. Oh dear.

Sunday was another day with friends too, which was nice. Church in the morning, quick bite for lunch, obligatory Sunday supermarket trip and then home in time for Kallie-&-Jo-from-over-the-back-fence to come round for a games afternoon followed by hearty ham and vegetable soup, warm crusty bread and apple crumble.

Ah, winter weekends...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

North Island cities

Has it really been so long since I've had a chance to update anything here? March? Ouch.

Well, in that time we went to Auckland for Easter. Two days with Len & Val and two days with Shirley & Tom. It was great to see everyone. It had been quite a while so it was good to have that time with family, just hanging out and stuff.

And then this weekend just gone Joanne and I had a weekend away together in Wellington.

Joanne's not been to Wellington for at least 20 years and I've never got further than the conference room in the golf club across the road from the airport in four attempts.

In summary, Wellington deserves its reputation - it is windy. But we had fun nonetheless. We wandered round a bit, got a feel for the place, went up the cable car, enjoyed some tasty food, went to Te Papa, and watched Star Trek. I think I like Wellington. I wasn't sure quite what to expect, but I think I liked it. I did like the art deco architecture. Sure, it wasn't to the degree that we'll find in Napier when we eventually go, but there were buildings here and there. I do like art deco.

We also had the opportunity to catch up with Elizabeth (Marvin, Melanie & Monika's mum) as well as Sarah (Anthony's sister) for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. It was good to get to say hi to family of friends who live in Wellington who we've met a few times.