Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Plug for

This is a plug for - i follow he makes the funniest cartoons on the web! he sent me a singlet with touch screen written on it - the link will take you to the photo.
thanks Jon!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Makes you think

I'm feeling really good. This OE thing really does do wonders for you. You grow up quick in this town and learn its dog eat dog and you have to fend for yourself, and to meet people you have to put yourself out there and be confident. Its a lonely dull place if you dont have friends or money in this town.. And people before me have said the same to me. Lucky I have both, and its been one of the best years of my life.

Just before I turned 25 something clicked for the better. I'm suddenly freer, more confident, ready to face the world and I dont care what people think anymore. I have a greater understanding of who I am as a person, and what I want to do in life. I'm still not sure what exactly I'm going to do next, but overall I know what I want, and I feel I have acheieved what I came here for - independance, confidence etc, and have picked up some maturity and greater understanding of things along the way.

Fascinating as this, I'm craving some kiwiana right now. I feel like going down to the local pub where I grew up, wearing my gumboots, have a good kiwi beer with some other farmers, watch some good rugby, go home and watch john cambell read out somekiwi news, then read an interesting kiwi newspaper, and see the beautiful sea, sun and bush.

Isnt it funny how indoctrinated (brainwashed, propagandized) we become to NZ tv, advertising, cultural icons etc, without noticing - and how you miss it when your gone. It's like an IV drip of familiarity. Brands and shops and billboards that were part of daily life have been replaced by odd cartoonish british advertising characters and unfamiliar slogans are presenting themselves to me on signs everywhere, and even billboards and tv and things like that are different. Much like my blog post a while back about stores that still look like they did 50years ago, it is funny to walk into a store like WHSmith (Whitcoulls) or a department store like farmers and see worn/threadbare carpet, dirty old lino or even fake wood boards covering the floor. Much like the roading in this country, which is OK but hasnt had an upgrade in how long (and i never see any roadworks) and pavements have loose pavers that rock under your foot or the uneven edges that trip you up.

Its a different way of life obviously, but I look at british people hopping on buses and the tube and wonder what it would be like growing up living in this city and having catching public transport with your friends be the norm. After a year I still cant quite get that so much of the working class catches buses everywhere and relies on public transport and some dont even have their liscence! I can clearly see there's no need to drive in this city, but as a culture whos main aim is to own your own car and drive everywhere at 16, and from a country that hates catching buses, its very different.

Theres also something else i've noticed. Very often the roads and footpaths will be damp - wet enough that everything is dark and shiny with water. But never enough water that there's any puddles or running water anywhere. And this happens so often its unusual enough for me to mension. England really is a damp country. I know the mist and frequent rain of Scotland & Ireland is worse but england is more often than not, damp. Yes, and overcast, but that goes without saying. Its strange because you never see it rain. But some mornings and most evenings, everything is damp.

Theres also little things that are different, like all the doors in the UK lock themselves when you pull them shut. Not a door handle in sight people, not 1! Our door for example you have to pull the door shut by holding the letter box hole. Our front door has a handle, but still no doorknob. One of my flatmates pointed that out the other day- thanks for the interesting addition.

Something I noticed the other day was that everything is more about security here. Picnic tables chained to the wall of their pub, security guards in every single office building, security walls infront of every shop... it feels like a computer with no administrator rights - you walk down the street and literally cant get away with anything, everythings strapped down and bolted!!

Thats my thoughts on things this week. I wanted to give you something to picture the UK by, and wanted to give myself some thoughts and memories to look back on.
There will be more from me soonish.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Amanda's comprehensive guide to London

One of the initial purposes of this blog was to inform others who were/are considering an OE all about London life and things I researched and learnt before coming here. And I realise I havn't provided anything truly informative for some time!! So heres my list of advice and tips about what i think you really need to do and dont need to do when coming to London for your OE.


Money. According to the visa rules, you need to have £2000 pounds in your UK bank account sitting in the UK by the time you arrive. I did do that and found it was a decent amount of money to see you through the first few months. I was reasonable and didnt spend too much initially. Some people get right into going out and spending a lot of money and waste all their savings but if you are sensible you can make it last a few months. You will be thankful for what you can save because I dont know of anyone who can save much in london.. Of course rent/bond take a chunk out, but when the tube is £20-30 a week and grocerys £20-30 a week, and you can have a decent night out on £20 (if you buy cheap drinks and dont take cabs) you can make it last.

Job. For myself and many others, it takes about a month to get a job here. If you get one sooner, then your lucky, but if it takes longer, make sure you have that money sitting there to make sure your not flour-bag poor before you get a job. Register with recruitment agencies 1-2 months before leaving home and get your name and CV on every job site and agency you can find. I met with 6 recruitment agencies once arriving in the UK and spent a couple of weeks trekking around the city going to agency interviews. If you can find something or even get a promise of interviews or jobs before arriving, do it, and be prepared to spend hours in the internet cafe (or on your laptop) applying for jobs - and make sure you've got money on your phone to ring the agencys back!!

Flat. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was moving out as i was arriving so I could take her bed. It was the best thing in the world after spending 2 whole days in an economy class seat to be able to go straight to my new home, put down my stuff and have a cup of tea. Being half dead with jet lag and being completely lost, it was great. So do have an arrival plan and somewhere to stay initially. Dossing/couch surfing is popular and a cheap option. A hostel may be just as good but if you can get a flat sorted before you come, do so -then you dont need to move twice.

NHS. This is the National Health Service. It's a free service which means you get as much quality and respect you'd expect from something free. You should register with a doctor when you arrive. I registered with the centre just down the road from me. You need a UK address to register somewhere, so wait until you know where your living until you do this. And just stay healthy and dont hurt yourself until you have a doctor! They told me 'wait two weeks to see if you will be accepted', but i was anyway. Enjoy the free doctor visits.

Bank Account: You can sort this out before you leave. I went through the HSBC, so did some of my other friends. You call into a branch, get some application forms, fill them out, go into a branch to return them, they set up you account while your there, and you have the choice of them posting your debit card (like eftpos card) to your UK address, or to home. The account I was eligible for is the passport account, which is for non-HSBC customers. It lasts for one year, fees only £6 a month, and after 1 year you get upgraded to a normal long term bank account. Some people are eligible for a proper account right away - so do investigate.

NI Number: This is the National Insurance Number, which, like the IRD number, you need to have and need to provide to be paid when you get a job. I cant remember now which contact I went to for this, but check with the HSBC or google it, thats how I found out. I recommend you apply for it at home before you leave, and get your number either sent to your UK address if you have one, or home, if youll get it in time.

TOP TIP:: You need absolutely every bit of paper work you can get your hands on to apply for things in the UK. Of course you will take photocopies of all your important documents - but you need name, ID, proof of address etc - so much easier to apply for everything you can in NZ where you have bank statemtns/bills/letters with your home address and get things posted there before you leave. If you apply for things once you get to the UK, you get stuck in the loop of needing a job to work out where you live, you cant apply for anything until you get an address, and round it goes. Having all important paperwork for everything was the most important thing to do and having applied for everything I could from home made it even easier. Ive heard of countless people getting stuck in the beurocratic loop of applications here and you dont need that. Hit the ground running!!!

Other important bits:

Clothes: Dont do what i did and take 10 singlets, 5 tshirts and 5 summer tops with you. It will never be warm like NZ. I have not worn any of them apart from the 5 days of summer. What you need is any warm gloves, scarves, woollen jerseys, possum fur/wool socks, etc. And thermals. Everyone here lives in thermals. Coats are the staple diet of clothing items over here, no-one ever seems to go anywhere without one. Make sure you bring clothes/tops that you can layer. bring a couple of basic glassons tops and singlets that can go under some warmish cardigans or warm tops. Dont bother with more than 2 pairs of shorts, youll only get a couple of wears out of them. Take 1 skirt or 1 shorts so you can wear them out on the town with a pair of warm tights underneath. Thats the other thing, in autumn/winter, everyone wears tights. And NZ's stockings are not warm enough. no way hosee. 70 odd denier is the going rate over here. Dont bother buying stockings or coats until you get here, because a) no new zealand coat will be warm enough, and besides you can buy an £8 coat from Primark that is really good, and b) they make clothes for the weather over here c) you can buy 3pack of warm tights for £3. As for summer, there isnt enough of one to mention it. bring a tshirt and skirt or shorts. And if you bring sunnies or sunscreen with you, you will take them home untouched.

Water. Be prepared for your clothes to shrink or just feel awful because the water here is hard and our clothes from home get a battering. So does your skin and hair. All appliances need to be de-scaled regularly (imagine what were ingesting!) and the water takes a while to get used to. I had difficulty actually drinking tap water for the first 4 months because of the taste/whats in it, i couldnt stand it. i lived on bottled water. but you get used to it.

Umbrella. It is a fact you will need one. I brought 1 over with me so i had it ready in my bag for the eventuality of rain. It broke, but luckily there are 50,000 umbrella outlets, including most tube stations, all boots stores, and many shops. The 3 biggest selling items in this city have got to be coats, A-z's, and umbrellas.

A-Z. Ahh the old A-Z London map book. One thing I do recommend is buying a London A-Z (pocket size) and keep it in your handbag (or manbag) because you will need it. Oh yes you will. Everyone, even londoners, know the virtues of the A-Z.

TFL. Thats transport for london. Get familiar with the website, It has all the tube, train, bus, tram, info and timetables and maps you could want. Even all the londoners I know use the tfl journey planner to find the best way from/to somewhere.

Tube. You will learn very quickly that there's more to the tube than just hopping on and hopping off. People have devised countless strategies about which carriage to get on and where to stand on the platform to get off presicely by the exit or to get a seat. Do you know theres a map that shows you where to stand/wait to acheieve getting the premium entry & exits? There are ways to devise who is getting off the train next, and how to let them off and get there seat all in one swift move. There are ways to take seats like someone taking the parking space that you were waiting for. There are many other unwritten rules for things to not do on the tube. If you read a paper, fold it in 4 to read it. Do not read it expanded out in full. Theres no room for that. Bags go on your lap, feet go on the floor. Move right down inside the cars! Let the passengers off first! Don't push. just makes you look like a jerk. Offer you seat to those less able to stand. And on the escalators, the right is for standing, the left is for walking! Those are my top tips. Hope they help!

And remember, during your stay in Britain, there is to be NO eye contact. Thank you, and stand clear of the doors - this train is about to depart.

Waitangi Weekend

Friday 6th Feb - I had drinks for my birthday on Friday night, at Detroit bar, Its a really nice place, free entry and free to reserve the area we had. Its downstairs and has a cave like feel too it - it has curved brown plaster walls with little alcoves where you sit, and only 1metre between the bar and the walls in some places. It has only candles and dim lights to light it. Good staff too and nice atmosphere. There were 10 or so of us that went, and we fitted nicely in the cosy area/room that I'd reserved. it had cave walls round 3 sides and seats and little tables. Everyone had a good night talking away and the evening whizzed by. After a few wines we all caught the last tube home.. most of us had the waitangi day pub crawl or things to do the next day. I'll definately go back there, I recommend it. The music was an eclectic mix of hip hop, lounge and other random stuff, and at a good volume where you could still talk and enjoy the tunes. I requested the bob the builder rave remix so we could all practice our big-fish little-fish cardboard box, but sadly the DJ didnt have it. ohh well.
(ED: thanks to those of you who came it was a real pleasure having you there :)

Saturday 7th Feb - Waitangi Day! And when your in London this means pub crawl day. By the time i crawled out of bed at 10ish there were a few hardy souls already beating the paths of london in their kiwi flag capes.. i did some washing - way more important than a pub crawl of course.. :P I had to go to laundromat because our washing machine broken again.

Anyway so I catch up to our crew just after gloucester road, and we have a few beers as we wander through the streets with the many other drunk kiwi's dressed as the 4 square staff, sheep, and some mullets in stubbies and jandels. we got lost about kensington somewhere and ended up walking quite far in the wrong direction and got to chelsea?. so a couple of us caught a bus straight to the Shaftsbury Ave Walkabout and joined the rest of the group who'd all gone there too. We all decided to skip the westminster haka because a) you can't see the haka through the crowds anyway.. b) people were dragged into the mud and that wasnt really our thing, c) because we were lost and missed it anyway d) we were freezing cold. All good reasons. So we had burger and chips and spent the night dancing and singing away to kiwi classics, such as crowded house and the haka.

There were a few moments on Waitangi Day where I felt proud to be kiwi - such as walking down the road amogst fellow kiwis informing curious tourists that its waitangi day and that we are kiwis... and hearing kiwi slang.. Then there were moments where i looked at some kiwi people and thought omg am I one of them.. where people were talking and acting 'rough as guts' and of course the boozed up meat market of the walky is enough to turn anyone right off!!

A few of us will be going to a civilised british pub for a quiet pint and some nice conversation in the future, where drink stays in the glasses and not on the floor and where people are generally a bit more well behaved.
But I do have to says there is something about the loud, jovial atmosphere of the walky, complete with rugby on the big screen and great music going all night and a dance floor so you can have a good dance, that keeps drawing us all back there time after time.. :)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


..let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..!! was the song of the week last week. As you have undoubtably heard, or seen yourself, it snowed major time last monday in London. There was 10cm of snow out at Heathrow and 15cm in south london and 1 foot-1metre deep in the mid parts of england. It started snowing on sunday afternoon, when we were all out for a friends farewell. (We went bowling, nando's, and went to see a comedian which was great fun) anyway we got to the comedian just before the snow started i think, it was damn cold with a biting wind- when we got out 2hours later there was a good 2cm on the ground everywhere and it was snowing heavily - it snowed all night until Monday morning we got up to our 'white christmas' in february. There was a thick blanket of the softest powder snow everywhere.. it looked beautiful. My flatmates and I had a quick run round the lawn before work and I took photos all day long. I was able to go into work as i was able to catch the two tube lines that were actually still running. Many others were snowed in or couldnt get to work, as the entire bus network was off for the day, and all other trains and tube lines suspended or delayed. All my flatmates and friends got a snow day.. Only 5/12 people in my department made it into work - the ones that could get the tube line that was running. It was a very quiet day at work - hardly anyone in the whole building and it was snowing all day. All cafe's and our catering team etc were all off so our PA's rustled up some lunch for all the staff, and we all went home early because there were more transport delays and the snow was still coming down.

The snow almost ground the country to a halt. I've mentioned most of london transport wasnt running. Many roads all over england were closed. Snow plows doing their best to clear drifts of up to a metre deep out in the country. All schools closed on monday, most still closed tuesday and some closed mid week too as further heavy snow which hit the country for round two on weds & thurs. Gritting trucks working 24/7 to get enough grit down on the roads so that they were accessable. There were/are problems that some councils only have enough grit for 3 days more snow as of thursday when it was still snowing in places. Footpaths remained covered in snow/ice largely until weds, when in london at least, the snow had stopped and they were able to clear it. On Tuesday the snow had turned to slush or ice where it was compacted by lots of foot traffic. Getting to work was slippery and hard going. It was like walking through a giant slushy and then walking on an ice rink. Hearing the sound of crunching snow and cracking ice under your feet is quite satisfying, but only when you have footwear that keeps your feet dry!! Most commuters donned gumboots or hiking boots for the whole week (not me as I dont own any. my heels acted as ice picks) The slush and ice hung around till friday as temperatures didnt get above 2-3degrees. It was only on friday that the ice and snow had been removed by council workers from all public accessways, peices of grass, footpaths, etc and heaped into piles. Some snow is still sitting in little piles all over the city now, its just been so cold. We still have big balls of ice that was our snowman sitting on our lawn.

People did make the most of the snow though, and on Monday there were snowmen galore all over the city, some people were snowboarding and sledding, others just playing in the snow. The newspapers and news were full of snow updates and snow photos - also lots of blogs online mentioning the snow and putting up private pics aswell. The news had lovely stories about neighbours who had never met that were building snowmen together. 1/5th of the city apparantly had the day off on monday, and cost englands economy £1.5billion or something. It hasnt snowed like that in over 20years apparantly. so it is a day to remember. Apparantly the coldness is set to stay till the end of the month. So yay for that.

Monday, 19 January 2009

What's 'customer service'?

I am so continually astounded by the exceptional level of anti-customer-service I recieve in the UK, I just had to write about it. My latest anti-customer-service experience took place last week in my doctors offices.
I think, in general, in the UK, customer facing staff have not heard of the concept 'customer service' -in the same way that banks and hotels have not heard of 'refurbishment'. I have been to banks, post offices, the DHL courier head office, retail stores, rung call centres, and of course my doctors offices.
Not one person has ever given me the impression they care at all, or have even noticed me while I was being served by them. You could be wearing a miners helmet and a stocking on your head and they would'nt notice. Enough I say of those pesky helpful, caring, smiling, staff back home - over here you have the pleasure of being completely ignored and not be helped wherever you go! Never be asked anything by a retail assistant ever again! Wait 15 mins for help! When you do get seen too, enjoy unsatisfactory help. And you will never be looked at in the eye. Never. Now that's freedom, innit??

So anyway the other day I went to the doctors (A nice 10mins early). The receptionist waddled slowly and reluctantly to the counter, without looking up from the desk she said to me 'how can i help'. I said hello, looked at the lady, smiled, said my name and who i was there to see. She went tap tap on the computer, then said 'go upstairs and turn to your left'. Then without looking at me walked away and left me to wonder why I was being sent upstairs? am i going straight into the docters office? what was up there? I walk up and follow the corridoor of 1950's wooden doors and old carpet and come to - surprise -another reception area! OK I didnt know this existed, this must be where she was sending me. So again I said hello, looked at the lady, smiled, said my name and who i was there to see. She went tap tap on the computer, and said '2 minutes' and then continued to chat to a mother and her child at reception while I was left to ponder her ultra short and meaningless response. I went and sat down on a chair and waited 15mins while the receptionist carried on chatting and people came in and out. Eventually she said 'amanda jeffs'. I got up and looked at her for instructions. She said 'down the corridoor and too the left' and then answered the phone. Armed with my 3rd set of vague instructions, I walked slowly along the corridoor wondering where I was meant to be going. I thought, maybe the doctors name will be on the door, and I can find him that way. No. So I go back to reception and ask her 'sorry I dont know where I'm going, what room is it'. She said 'room number 6' so I went back round the corner and knocked on the door. The doctor yells 'come in'! To my relief I'm greeted by a rare british item- a jovial, happy, helpful, informative british person!! And a doctor at that! I left happy but with a belief that people dont respect free things - free giveaways, free fliers, free lunch- the NHS ... so I think you get what you pay for in terms of health too. These people arent being handed cash by us when we visit so they give as much as we give - £0. For all the benefit of free health care I think you get what you pay for and really respect something and care for something more when you pay for it. As with everything. For now I've got a nest egg savings account going so I can afford to visit the doctor when I get back. So until I return home, Ill enjoy the free doctors visits.

Cheers Blighty.

*Disclaimer - Now, dont come marauding about my house, I know plenty of british and most are funny and really cool people - it is for the purpose of this blog only choose to pick on the worst of them*

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The big freeze

For the last week or so we've had a cold snap in england. I've been thoroughly excited by this fact, of course no one else this - all my british colleagues are over it and my flatmates arent that excited about it. Like the morning it snowed and i took great pleasure from walking through every bit of snow i could find from home to work. and it was very exciting to see it snowing outside our window. my colleagues just chuckled. they're used to the trains stopping cos of snow, and it all turning to slush.

Last weekend it was -9 degrees in various parts of the country - has been -10 and -12 during the week in various parts. So last sat when it was about -9, the boys decided it was a perfect day to have a bbq in our garden.. sure?! so they set the fire going in the bbq and we all donned scarves and hats and jackets and went and sat around the bbq with our beers and ate lots of juicy steak and chicken... mm. eventually we started to feel the cold (it was freezing) and went inside.

Then on tuesday it snowed! there was a 5-10mm thickness of snow in golders green and out of town there was an inch or more. around the country, bodies of water everywhere froze over.

I went for a walk through hamstead heath today, and everything was white.. it snowed faintly last night and it has been lightly snowing on and off today, so the ground was white with ice and a layer of powder, and the trees were all dusted white. It was so pretty. The ponds are even more frozen than last week, if thats possible. Ducks walking along the ice were slipping and sometimes fell over. It was pretty funny. One small pond was completely frozen and people were walking all over it. The air had a quiet, almost misty feel to it. Hardly anyone was outside and the park was almost deathly quiet. I was outside for two hours, and it was -3 degrees. By the end I was freezing and could barely move or talk. It was exhilerating though!!! and just a little bit crazy considering i wasnt really properly dressed for the temperature. ahwell. apparantly the cold spell will be easing up shortly

Friday, 26 December 2008

Xmas & New Years 08/09

Heres an interesting xmas fact for you. Wallace and Gromit was THE most watched show over the christmas period, with 14million viewers. Also the BBC had 9 out of 10 of the top rated/most watched shows on tv over this period. WOW i bet you've been dying to know that.

So anyway this is what's been happening over the xmas/new years period.

I went along to a ceroc lesson a few weeks ago, with a couple of friends - it was a great night. We did a beginners class where you start off learning the moves step by step then putting them together into a sequence. There were probably 30-40 women and 20-30 guys there so a very sizable class, and we had to keep rotating all the girls so everyone got to practice. Then the intermediate class came in for their lesson so we went to another room to practice our newly learned moves, then came back into the dance hall were it was time for the 'freestyle' session. The dj starts up, the disco lights come out, and all the dancers from all classes join in and we spend the next couple of hours enjoying dancing with everyone. Its fun, very social and its good practice because you get to dance with intermediate level dancers who take you through dance moves that you dont know.

I finished work on the 19th Dec.. Myself and a few of my colleagues got our work done by 3pm and a large group of us headed to a pub down the road from work called the Morpeth Arms for drinks. It was a nice wind down and good chance to chat to everyone for a few hours till we all started heading home.

Spent the next few days relaxing at home, we had friends popping around and 3/7 of our flatmates all packing and leaving for their xmas hols so lots of christmas goodbyes and catchups. And of course the pre christmas decorations and shopping.

Tuesday I went to the Tate Modern (Museum) on south bank. It's a converted power plant/electricity station(?) It hosts very modern art exhibitions. There was one room that had a pile of fabrics and materials sewn together - apparantly representing south africa. There was rubber, silk thread, suede, etc all sewn together in a heap and spread around the floor. Was partly fascinating but mostly weirded me out. The museum has lots of fascinating paintings too - my favorite was Jackson Pollock. He pours/dribbles/splashes paint onto his canvas and frames it. Thats more my style!
I left there and walked across the Millenium Bridge and up to st pauls cathedral. Theres something about standing on a bridge over the middle of the river, admiring 360 views of London City by night and all the lights shining on the water.

The next two days my flatmates and I just did xmas stuff- we had a couple of friends round to our house for xmas day, we had a nice big lunch then watched movies all afternoon. (Isnt that what everyone else in the country did?)

Saturday I went to the National Gallery which is a huge and very popular art gallery right on Trafalgar Square. Spent a few hours admiring thousands of paintings. There's paintings by all the famous artists, random pictures of people, landscapes of villages and towns, many made up! There were also many religious paintings with scenes out of the bible - which are interesting when you know even a little bit of the stories behind them.

Monday I went to the London Museum. This is a smaller museum which is solely about the history of London city - right from when it was a small roman village, then a town, then how the saxons came, then about the plague, the great fire, and development of the present city of London. Fairly interesting but the museum focused more on kids so the information was written for children to read and think about, so didnt take much more than an hour to get around. Bought a tube map poster which I've wanted since I got here.
Then I headed over to 'Dali Universe' the Salvador Dali gallery which is on the south bank by the London eye. It is fascinating, interesting and really different. The walls are all painted black and posted with photos of dali and quotes he said. Theres an area with his sculptures and his paintings arranged by theme/subject. It's a real gallery experience -it will gross you out, expand your mind, capture your interest, and expand your imagination.

Tuesday I went to the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) which is decribed by the lonely planet guide as 'the nations attic'. It is indeed. It is a huge rambling museum that 'observes no curatorial limits whatsoever' and is just crammed to the ceiling full of things. I saw the whole museum in a few hours, and only stopped to read the information on prominent and interesting things. A chatty museum attendant held my attention for a while and chatted away about some exhibit, and I told him some things about NZ & Australia. Having been thoroughly overwhelmed with crammed display cases, and rooms crammed with statues, sculptures, and objects, I headed home. A great museum if you like objects rather than art.

New Years we had drinks at our house from 4pm, then a group of us headed out to Bar Soho (located in Soho- no surprise.) The streets around Leicester Square were all closed and swarming crowds filled the streets around the whole Soho area.. it was a buzz. Apparantly Trafalgar square gets really packed. The bar itself was really nice and we had a great night chatting and dancing. At midnight we watched the london eye fireworks on TV and the whole bar yelled the count down. Heading home about 3am, we joined thousands of other revellers on the streets all making there way home, jumped on the tube (which was running free all night) and headed home.

The day after new years was a write off as it was for everyone, I'm sure. now its the count down till I start work again on Monday.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

OK here it is... Chapter 1 of my book - 'Sarahwah'

If you read this, please comment. Its a work in progress and I'd love to know what you think.

Sarahwah woke abruptly to screams and shouts piercing the early morning air. Clashes of steel were ringing through the fog and men with strange accents were shouting at each other across the village. She sat upright and looked quickly around her hut – so early in the morning and no one was here. Where was her family? Something is horribly wrong. She peeks through the reed walls of her hut and sees what is going on outside. Who are those strange men? Are they the pirates her father often talks of? Dressed shabbily and wielding swords, the infamous pirates that lurk on islands Murudu Bay and Banggi islands are widely known and feared. They often sail around Malaysia and Papa New Guinea in search of villages to raid and princes to swindle out their wealth.
Her father told her tales of pirating when they spend quiet evenings sitting around the fire. He has also heard word that it is also bad in other parts of the world, and particularly bad in the Caribbean. She has heard the village elders speak of the many villages across Malaysia and Singapore that have been, and are still being, raided by pirates and how the villagers live every day more carefully in the jungles of northern Borneo, to avoid the infamous pirates.
Sarahwah feels her cheeks wet with tears and she is shuddering with shock. But what can she do. Sarahwah, at 5 years old is watching her peaceful village being pillaged and burnt before her eyes. and her family is missing and she is alone. She wants her father. She wants her mother. Just then she can smell something strong and putrid drifting over to her. It comes with thick smoke and she coughs, and covers her nose and mouth with her hand. What is that smoke? Rubber. oh no, they're burning the rubber crop. Will these men stop at nothing? Collecting rubber from the trees is one of the main sources of trade and wealth for her village - it takes months to collect it bit by bit and her village values their rubber trees. She is so angry these pirates are burning their entire stocks so heartlessly. They don’t care about a thing. They are cold menacing men with the sole pursuit of material wealth and goods they can trade for more valuable items.
She backs away from the wall and looks around her families hut; their few modest possessions placed against the back wall; their reed bed matt’s on the floor, empty and cold. Her hut is still untouched as its near the back of the village and the pirates hadn’t gotten this far yet. But it would not be safe for long. She can see that the havoc is slowly coming closer. The chaos outside continues to play out – she watches again through the whole in the wall, too stricken to look away. Some huts at the far end of the village are already razed to the ground. A pirate is dragging some of the village woman by their hair and pushing them roughly into a pile under the village shade tree and tying their hands behind them with rope. The men of her village who are still free are trying to fight back and defend their families - they are brandishing their weapons bravely but unfortunately bamboo pistols and poison sticks are not effective against steel pirate swords. Many villagers fall this day as they have done and will continue to do as a result of pirating in these areas.
Everyone can tell who that is because he struts around his victims arrogantly touching his sword to their necks while spitting on them and cursing and ordering the others around. He is tall and brown with wiry muscles that come from living the life on the run as a pirate and carrying heavy jewels and manning his ship. She hears some of the pirates shout ‘Iranum’ at the captain and he responds - this is his name. He orders back to some of the men - ‘Obian - Suluk!’ and they both knock the people they are holding by the hair unconscious. There is one pirate, a young man with supple skin and newly formed muscles of a teen entering adult hood and a life of physical activity - he has long brown hair tied with leather and is the one running from hut to hut torching them under the watchful eye of Iranum. Sarahwah hear some woman’s screams pierce the air already full of shouts, steel clanging and crackling fire. Then a baby’s scream. Another pirate has the baby upside down by the legs and the mother, tied and being watched with the other captives by Iranum is wailing and crying and yelling for her baby. The pirate walks over and places the baby the right way up in the woman’s lap. Her hands are tied though like everyone else’s and cannot quieten her child, which is screaming in fear. The mother is trying to hush it with her sobbing tear streaked words. The other captives are pleading with Iranum and also crying for their families.
Sarahwah lets out a gasp as she notices one of the soldiers is dragging someone along the ground by the hair – she recognizes them. Oh no, her cousin Illanun! Illanun is the first son of her uncle who is the village medicine man - Illanun was a young man coming of age who was set to take over as ruling medicine man and chief of ceremony in the coming year as his father was getting too old now.
The pirates often kidnap young men and woman to be of service to the pirates, the young men trained and forced into being pirates who then have to follow captains orders to torch others villages just as there’s were. The young woman, well pirates are not always sailing and pillaging villages and need some female company. Older men in the villages are killed as they defend their families and some women are raped and stabbed on the spot while others lucky enough to be pregnant or protecting offspring are lucky enough to survive to watch their village being burned to the ground and their men being killed and their children taken. One of the saddest and unavoidable parts of pirating is that in all the chaos families get separated and the amount of orphaned children is great. Families often believe one another to be dead until reunited by news spread at a Tamu, the weekly market where goods and gossip are traded. Some are not so lucky - the children just left by the pirates to fend for themselves, the parents taken never to be seen again.
Sarahwah is trying to spot anyone else she knows through the smoke of the fires and the early morning fog. She cannot see any of them now- the fires are too great. Her only thought now is she must escape. It is pure instinct. It is not easy for a 5year old to pluck up the courage to leave her home and possessions and run away from her village and her family who are currently being pillaged raped and stabbed by these horrid men - but to survive is her primal thought. She starts looking furtively around to assess a way out. She is small and flexible and can make the most of having a stealthy escape. Most people of Borneo and Asia are small, fit people. She can sneak quietly out the door of her hut without being seen, but then to get across the rice paddy flats to the jungle trees 100metres away; she will have to be careful. Their vision will be hampered by the fire and smoke so she must stay low and run fast and quiet. Tears are still streaming down her face and the terror is rippling through her small body no like no feeling she has ever felt before. Flashes of her family fly through her mind. Where are they? Where are they! How could they leave without me? Why did the pirates take them and not me? Why did they save me? Was it because I was sleeping in the back of the hut they could not see me? Still they have searched everyone else’s hut and pulled out everyone alive… why me? I will pray to Buddha when I reach the jungle and thank him for sparing me and ask him to save my family. They could already be dead or tied up, being spat on by a pirate.

Sarahwah has been hunting with her father and she knows how to pick the right moment to move - when the pirate’s backs are turned, and engaged with threatening their prisoners. She must escape now or suffer the same fate. All right - a short dash through the reed grass toward the thick jungle. Can she take anything with her? She grabs a knife favored by her father off the table and tucks it in her leather waist wrap. She is already dressed in their villages typical dress - cotton under wrap with frayed, dirty work skirt over the top and a long sleeved work shirt and leather moon bear vest with fur, over which she ties her leather waist wrap that carries her usual work tools she uses to harvest rubber and bananas and cut reed with her mother. The knife now joins her tools and she crouches ready to run. Out the door she bends silently like a cat and then she runs for her life, in the quick light way only a child can. A furtive glance back shows that the pirates are more interested in claiming some more of the village women and she reaches the safety of the dark muggy jungle without being seen. She runs a bit further in the jungle to be sure she is far away as possible. She runs till she can run no further. With chest heaving and cheeks salty with dried tears she slows to the quick light walk favored by tribes people all over the land that ensures they cover a lot of ground in one day. She is fairly fit – all of her people are, as they work outdoors every day they are naturally wiry and tough people. But the fear and shock is causing her to breathe heavily in and out of her searing lungs… she did not entirely escape the smoke that was now sending a huge signal up into the sky.
Her first thought now was water. She follows a worn hunting path used by the hunters of her village – one she knows well for some miles. This is the track her and her father have trodden many times with the hunters and she knows where the creeks are and the berry bushes. She walks to the villages favored waterfall, which has a constant supply of clear spring water trickling down over a rock face. She cups her hands against the rock and forms a pool of water to drink. The thought hits her - she should have brought a gourd! Now how will she store water for later? How will she eat, with only a 4inch knife to hand? Having drunk as much as she can, Sarahwah slumps down on the path by the waterfall with a belly full of water and cries… for the mysterious loss of her family, the cry of a homeless, orphaned, scared, soon to be lost 5year old. So many unanswered questions and such a feeling of despair that washes over her like waves and grips her belly like cramps at the realization that her family might actually be gone forever.

A while later she gets up with steely determination and child like faith. She realises that she has not gone far and if anyone was to come this way they would catch her in a short time. Better keep moving. Keep moving. Where to go, where am I to go? She knows the path runs out eventually - when she has accompanied her father hunting she remembers the track runs out soon and they relied on the village hunters navigate them through the jungle. Being a child of a village means you get to play and stay close to home guarding the stores and cutting reed grass so Sarahwah has no idea where she is going, nor where to go. It is still only the middle of the day now, but come nightfall the jungle will be a cold and dangerous place and she knows she will have to find shelter, but no idea how or where. She has never stayed out over night in the jungle before and is starting to feel quite apprehensive. Sarahwah keeps walking in the direction she knows is taking her away from her village - getting as much space as she can between her and those horrible people. She cant bare to think of her fellow villages left behind it is too awful for her. It is like a terribly awful nightmare in which you woke up to find everyone dead and you hope to wake up soon - but you are already awake.
She knew to stay on the ridge tops when walking through the jungle, because its clearer to walk, you often get a view through the trees to get your bearings and the animals liked to stay in the thick undergrowth or up in the trees. You also can’t get swept down a river. After what feels like hours of walking, Sarahwah is so tired and is moving fairly slowly. She’d found a stick for support to lean on and help her get up the steeper hills. The ground was slippery and wet in places, and sometimes areas of long thick vines grew everywhere like a huge web and it was tricky to clamber through, under and over them. Her energy was getting sapped more every mile. As she was coming up the next rise, a huge rock overhang came into view. With what looked like a cave entrance. It seemed quiet and uninhabited but you can never be sure. Didn’t her father tell her a story about being wary of caves? One night a storm came over and the hunters had luckily stumbled upon a cave that had old bones in it but was dry and quiet and they took shelter but unfortunatly for them it was still inhabited by ferocious animals and their bones soon joined the existing pile of bones and they never returned from that hunting trip. Shuddering at the thought, she approached the cave very cautiously, She beat on the rock face at the entrance with her stick. No noises or snuffles emerged so after a pause she ventured inside. It was rather large, with a high ceiling. There were a few red and orange chalk paintings on the walls, which she could just see in the dim light. I wonder who has sheltered here before me? It certainly was abandoned but had signs of previous use. There were charred rocks from a fire and small bones, probably remnants of a hunting parties dinner as they waited out the night to return home the next day. Going deeper into the cave it got a bit smaller and appeared to be dry. There was nothing comfortable about it - crudely shaped rock formed walls and a ceiling. It was a dry flat clay floor with dust and sticks and rocks that had blown in over the years. She had no idea how to hunt or make a fire to cook food. At her age, children only assist in cooking like preparing the food, they are not allowed to make or tend the fires - she could only hope to find a berry bush or edible herbs or wild potatoes for sustenance.
She ventured outside checking the coast was clear and started to comb the area for anything edible. She passed a bamboo thicket - there are lots of things she could do with bamboo given better tools and some daylight. Realising she was never going to be able to cut any bamboo herself she tried to pull off some of the small offshoots with leaves. Then she started looking around to find other things she could use as a bed - there is that plant with big leaves the monkeys shelter under in monsoon season, oh what is it called she cant think, her thoughts are scattered and she’s too scared being alone and lost in the jungle. She comes across a berry bush and plucks as many as she can off the plant. With nothing to carry them in she holds up the bottom of her skirt and scoops them all in, then walks as quickly as she can back to the cave. The light is starting to fade. Its getting late in the day and it gets dark in the depths of the jungle earlier than it does in the open. Back in the cave, it is cold and she huddles in a ball against the back wall nibbling on her berries. She eats them all- she’s hungrier than she realises. After being rudely awoken at dawn this morning and being on the run all day, she has had no food and is ravenously hungry, overwhelmingly tired and shaken after the adrenaline and terror of the day. Pictures of her fellow villagers screaming and their huts being burnt to the ground flash through her mind before she sinks into the fetal position, shivering, scared and lonely and into a slumber no 5year old should have to endure. One where your family is gone, your village is gone, your alone, hungry scared and cold and unable to fend for yourself.

Monday, 8 December 2008

It's december already!!

Wow December. I arrived in London at the beginning of May and already its December. I swear every year just gets faster and faster. I'm happy that I really do a lot and making the most of my time here because time goes so fast you just have to make the most of every day.

Work is still ticking along pretty busy as always (i get the impression a head office comms department doesnt ever quieten down) but it means i've always got projects on the go. Just in the middle of a couple of campaigns for the two committees i'm on at work, the sponsorship commitee and the envirionment committee. Enjoying being on those, learning things and it adds another element and some depth to working here when youre involved in behind the scenes projects :)

We have been advised to take compulsory 2 week holiday so i'm going to use the time off to write, and maybe head up to scotland for Hogmany.

Fri 5th Dec

Got my hair done at a local hairdresser that all the girls in my flat go too. they're really good.

Sat 6th Dec

Got all my christmas cards and presents away in the mail which is good, and very organised of me :D

This afternoon I headed out to the Westfield London mall out in Shepherds Bush (White City tube stop) and spent a few hours wandering around. Its huge - fair few thousand square feet, 3 stories, 280 shops. The inside most closely resembles the Albany Westfield with the glass walled shops and shiny tile floors and modern food hall. It has a really neat undulating roof with clear glass in honeycomb steel and just a really nice inside and very spacious.

Sat night 6th Dec

There was a farewell party for a friend of friends so again all our gang went out. Was at a nice pub (King William the 4th or 6th or something, its gay pub with a crepe stand outside) Nice night of drinking and chatting. We all left and we were on our way to someones house I think and we went to the tube station and got into the lift but 1 of our group couldnt find their oyster card so we were holding the lift doors open and all shouting at her like she's heading for a finish line, but the station attendant came over and said 'do you lot know how your behaving'? and basically settle down and be quiet. then the lift alarm went off, think we were holding the doors to long so the attendant came back over and turned the alarm off and kicked us all out of the lift. Some guy was being a bit rude to her so she and the other guy on duty were basically herded us out of the station saying 'we'll call the police' and then there was some discussion about us having a bomb because there was smoke coming out of the lift and the police were coming and they're closing the station right now. Whoah, over reaction!? So we went down to the bus stop and waited for the N5 (N=night bus, 5=route 5) then we see a fire engine and ambulence pull up to the tube station - what! geez we must have inadvertantly set off our rather large and dangerous antipodean bomb. There were some police milling around the street not far from us so we all kept quiet. We waited for a bus for 40mins. In that time some of my flatmates happened to be on the N5 heading home from another party, but the bus was too full we couldnt get on, so we waved as they went on without us. Eventually got home, got some Dixy Chicken and went to bed. Fun night!!

Sunday 7th

Lovely crisp clear day, flatmates and I decided to go for a walk. We went up the road to Golders Green park that has lots of green grass and park benches and an animal enclosure (emu looking birds and rabbit/kangaroo type animals)then into Hamstead Heath and chatted while we walked through areas of bush with thick layer of fallen leaves on the ground - came across a frozen lake that looked to be 5mm-1cm thick layer of ice (a bit was broken off) and the things we threw on it just skimmed across. There is another set of lakes we walked past -1 was in the sun with ducks swimming on it and kids and dogs playing and the other lake was surrounded by trees and completely frozen over and devoid of life. What a contrast.

Despite the freezing air temperature, the sun was out and lots of people were out and about. We walked right through hamstead and came out in Hendon then went through Hamstead somewhere and ended up at Golders Green again. It was a lovely day despite the fact that grass was crunchy with ice and the pavements were slippery and still white in places. and this was at 3pm in the afternoon.

This morning around Golders Green the footpaths and rail way tracks were white with ice... :0


A fine example of the UK customer service has just conveniently landed in my hands so I thought i'd share it with you.

I am after comedy tickets off a newspapers website and the booking form isnt showing correctly so I ring the paper to see what the isue is.

I rang up and the guy didnt even answer the phone! He just picked it up and sat there. I said hello, is this the london paper? he said 'yeah who are you looking for'. I said well, no- one in particular, its regarding... and before I could say 'regarding buying tickets off your website' he diverted me in the middle of my sentance and im on hold again!!

Then a lady answers 'hello international switchboard' or something and I think 'where am I now'? so i say again hello, is this the london paper? she says yes who are you after?
'Well, no- one in particular actually, i'm trying to buy tickets for the comedy on your website'. she says OK ill just put you to the website team.

On hold again. At least I'm getting closer.

I get a guy who is better - he listens, but just says 'hangon' without any further explanation. I hear him clicking and moving his mouse in the back ground, so I guess he's looking at the site to see the what the problem is. He says he will email me the link then hangs up at the end of his sentance without saying goodbye, leaving me to say 'thanks, goodbye' to a click.