Dear people who live in the lucky country,
Well, our offer was excepted and we moved into Flat 117, One Prescot St, London E1 8RJ on Friday 1st May. There’s a lovely Catch 22 when you’re trying to get a flat over here. You can’t get a flat without a bank account, and you can’t get a bank account without a permanent residence. We got around this using scrupulous methods of course (or maybe it helps to have a house sitter whose a bank manager), but what a bother. Dave & Janet (the English ones) came round to celebrate the "warming" of our new flat (or was it the "cooling" off of their flat?). Believe you me, you need these flat warmings in this country.
The first Monday in May was a bank holiday, they call all public holidays bank holidays over here. We caught the tube to Great Portland St and then walked through Regent Park to London Zoo. The park was very pretty and there was heaps of people, it must be because it’s a holiday (and also there was a big yellow thing in the sky which emitted lots of heat and light). The zoo was OK, but Western Plains zoo at Dubbo is still the best we have seen. In the afternoon we caught a canal boat from London Zoo to Little Venice, where the canal boat ride was very scenic and smooth – Lee-Anne didn’t get sea sick at all. At Little Venice there were having a Canal Boat Cavalcade, a festival for the canal boats, very pretty, but heaps & heaps of people.
The next day, we already had to leave our London flat of only 2 nights to head to Leatherhead where Michael had to attend a three day course on "training the trainer". This is so he could be eligible to give courses for a company called Learning Tree. He didn’t get paid for these days, but his accommodation and meals were paid for, so his wife accompanied him. We stayed at a place called Woodlands Park hotel, which is more like a castle than a hotel. The place is set on farmlands in the middle of Surrey. All around the property, on our late afternoon walks, there were heaps of rabbits. The décor and the food at Woodlands was very old worldly and cosy. After a few days away we headed back to our flat in London.
On the Saturday morning we went into Piccadilly Circus to pick up some cheap 10 pound theatre tickets. We queued at 10am to buy some Matinee tickets for a double bill, The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy. We got seats about 10 rows from the front and both plays were brilliant. Tickets were normally about 23 pounds or more. Both plays had the same cast and we recognised one of them as one of the guys out of The Vicar of Dibley on the ABC (or should that be BBC).
On the Sunday we headed off to Huddersfield, in the north of England. Michael was to start a six week contract commencing Monday 11th May. After getting settled into the area we arranged for six week’s worth of accommodation at a hotel within walking distance of where Michael would be working, at Holset Engineering, which is part of the Cummins group. The accommodation in Huddersfield was at The George Hotel "the home of rugby league". It was here in 1895 that the inaugural meeting of the Rugby League took place!
During these six weeks we were experiencing several problems, besides the fact that Michael would generally only be in London for less than 48 hours each weekend and was starting to tire of the travelling. We had no telephone! To cut a very long and a very frustrating story short – it took six weeks to get a fully operational continual service for a phone from Cable & Wireless. Who thought London was life in the fast lane ? Another frustrating problem was dealing with the real estate agent. As a condition of our lease we had been promised one sofa bed. After numerous phone calls (from a very expensive mobile) and numerous visits we still weren’t getting any results.
All wasn’t bad during this six week period. Lee-Anne made several visits to Huddersfield and we came quiet familiar with downtown Hudds. We patronised the local theatre on several occasions. Seeing HMS Pinafore, Baby on Board (to celebrate the birth of Zachary Oke) and a film, The Borrowers. Besides their entertainment we enjoyed their nice food and refreshments. The theatre even ordered your interval drinks & snacks and had them waiting at your table.
On the other bank holiday in May we were planning on hiring a car for a few days and going away. But because it was a long weekend that makes it good criteria for computer stuff to be installed, so they wanted Michael to work. After some resistance from Michael and some "we’ll double your rate", from Holset, Michael agreed to work. We still hired the car anyway and did some travelling after work. (it wasn’t getting dark till about 9:30pm then). We went to Hebden Bridge, Holmfirth, Blackpool and generally took in the surrounding areas of Huddersfield.
The trip to Blackpool, up on the west coast, was great – you need to see this place to believe it. It was like side show alley at the Show, but stretched over two or three miles. There were only four types of shops in Blackpool, amusement arcades, fairy floss/Blackpool rock vendors, hot food shops and novelty joke shops. We spent most of our time in the amusement arcades playing the 2 pence coin machines. You know the ones, where you drop in a coin, and it lands on others, and hopefully it pushes a large lot of coins over the edge. We spent ages playing these and blew about 2 pounds in the process. At Blackpool we also saw the sea – yeah. It was kind of different to our sea and it was a long way out. But, of course, we had to dip our toes in it and it was a freezing day. If anyone is ever up this way you just have to go to Blackpool.
Lee-Anne got a couple of days work in Glasgow. Yep, that’s right Scotland. There happen to be a weekend in between so Michael hired a car and drove up from Huddersfield. The Friday night we spent in Busby and the next day we went into the town centre of Glasgow. Very cosmopolitan, polished and lots of designer shops. We then headed for Loch Lomand which was very eerie and we spent the night in Tarbet with views of the Loch. We also took in some of the surrounding areas which were very Scottish. Whilst in Glasgow we meet "Jimmey" the brown bear, who has by now, travelled to Australia to be with his new owner, the new born, Zachary Oke.
On the 16th June, our first guests were expected to arrive. By the way, our sofa bed still hadn’t been delivered. The Kerby’s eventually arrived during that week. (we won’t say anymore on this, only that Lee-Anne is quiet familiar on how to get to the airport and perhaps Margaret and John need someone to tell them what day it is). The sofa bed arrives the same day as Margaret & John. And guess what, it doesn’t fit down the hallway!. We took the mattress of it, and that solved our sleeping problems for the time being. It was great to talk to some Aussies and be able to share our London with them. Michael arrived home on the Friday and we celebrated the end of his contract with some patronising of some local pubs in the area.
During Margaret and Johns visit we did lots of touristy things like going on open top bus, the Camden Markets, a canal boat ride and did we mention we saw a Test at Lords and some tennis at Wimbledon. John and Michael were going to see the last day of the Test between South Africa and England. But as usual England couldn’t last 5 days and we were in danger of not seeing any cricket at all. Fortunately we were at a pub in the area and noticed that England wickets were tumbling like, well, England wickets. So we scooted around the corner and came upon the majesty, that is Lords. By this stage England were 8 wickets down and they had opened the gates. So we wandered in up to the Members stand where we stood on the stairs and watched the last wickets fall.
We decided to go to Wimbledon on the first day, which was a great choice as the sun was out and it didn’t reappear much throughout the tournament. There were heaps of people heading to the courts and when we started queuing, a queue attendant told us it would be a 45 minute wait. We hardly noticed the wait, we think it ended up being 30 minutes. The queue moved quickly, there were information people every 20 metres or so helping out and giving away stickers, some company was giving away cups of tea and we were in the grounds before we knew it. We got general admission tickets, costing 10 pounds, which entitles you to see all games except those on Centre Court or Court One.
Being the first day, there were big names on the outer courts – we watched Rachel McQuillian (lose), Mark Woodfoode (win) and Scott Draper (win). The Mark Woodforde game was great, we were sitting right on the courtside about a metre behind the baseline. In fact, we even had to dodge some wide swinging serves, we were that close. Two things that were interesting as we watched that game. One, the grass is so perfect, really like a bowling green, maybe a little longer. The other amazing thing was that amount of space behind the baseline at Wimbledon, is the same as when you or I play down the street at the local courts; in fact, it’s probably less, because the ball boys and lines people have to fit in.
One of the first things we did at Wimbledon, was to have Strawberries and Cream, darlings. The strawberries were fabulous – one thing about England is that the strawberries are good, everywhere. All in all, the day at Wimbledon was great, we could’ve done another day here.
On the same day we went to Wimbledon, England had a World Cup game on, so we hurried home so that we could get to a pub to watch it. John wanted us to get tickets to a game in France, but there was a big ticket allocation fiasco where England fans were only allocated 2,000 or 3,000 tickets to each game and other tickets were selling for about 500 pounds on the black market. World Cup fever is severe over here and when we went to Glasgow, it was even more fanatical. The game we saw this night England lost to Romania in a game they should have won. It didn’t put them out of the World Cup but it meant that they would have to face a tougher side in the next round. At the pub there were about 200 people all yelling for Engerrrland and when Romania scored right on full time, you could’ve heard a pin drop. It was the quietest we ever heard a pub in our life, that was until a few weeks later, when England were beaten by Argentina in a penalty shoot out after extra time. After this game the whole crowd just stood around not saying a word, this depression continued the next day. They take their sport very seriously here and it was impossible not to get caught up in the World Cup fever. To put it in perspective 23 million people in Britain watched the game against Argentina, not including those in pubs or clubs. British Telecom had 16 million less phone calls during the game and when half –time came, enough electricity was used by kettles, etc, to power the entire city of Manchester.
Margaret & John’s flight deal included a hire car, so we decided to make the most of it and head down the west coast of England for a few days. On the first day we headed for Bath, only about two and half hours from London. We had a squizzy taylor around and some lunch, before deciding where to stay the night. Unfortunately, there was a conference being held and accommodation wasn’t as easy to get during the week as we had expected. Anyway we ended up in an average B&B. That night we enjoyed some of the local pubs and participated in a "Bizarre Bath" comedy/tour thing. It was "bizarre" and a light hearted way to enjoy Bath. We saw the Roman Baths, the Bath Costume Museum and Royal Crescent before we headed off. There was a lot to see in Bath and one night is definitely not enough.
We jumped in the car again heading south on our way down towards the coast aiming to go through the town of Cheddar. Probably, more by good luck than good planning, we came across the Cheddar Gorge, an unbelievable sight. At the end of this gorge was the town of Cheddar. This is where they make cheddar cheese from the local cows grazing on the Cheddar pastures. We saw one stage of the cheddar making process and listened to a talk on cheddar cheese making. Of course, we had to buy some samples as souvenirs. (except they didn’t last very long, no wonder we are putting on so much weight).
Later that day we finally arrived at Padstow. A small fishing village on the coast. Beautiful. Now, has anyone ever seen the show on the ABC with Rick Stein as the chef who cooks from his restaurant? Well, we have been planning to go to this place for a long time and we now here. Knowing that the restaurant is booked out on weekends till the year 2004 we thought we might be able to get in tonight, a Thursday, but alas the best they can do is Friday lunch, so we booked in. After some trouble again in trying to find accommodation, again we thought it would be easy midweek, but people are already starting their summer holidays. We managed to get into The Metropole which has views over the water and the harbour. We had some drinks in their bar overlooking the river, and ended up eating tea there because, guess what, it was raining.
On Friday morning we went for a drive to the beach. We went for a swim in the ocean, it feels like years since we’ve been in the ocean and we didn’t know when we would get another chance. Margaret & John just waited in the car with the heater running and the window wipers flapping. We guess it had nothing to do with the fact that the water was freezing and it was raining. Then after de-thawing and checking out of The Metropole and into our next nights accommodation The Cross Hotel (really a B&B) it was time to head to what we had been waiting for, "The Seafood Restaurant".
Our booking was for noon and we were directed to the conservatory for pre dinner drinks, to enjoy the view of the water and to peruse the menu. We actually ordered from here and we when we were escorted to our table, we found that it had been equipped for the type of food each of us had ordered. Our table was away from the others in a little alcove with a bit of a view, maybe they knew we were Aussies and know about our table manners when enjoying seafood. We all did enjoy our seafood and four hours later we waddled back to our B&B to rest. We had a very quiet night that night strolling down to a local pub to watch England play Columbia in the World Cup.
We set off then next day, to head down the west Cornwall coast – the surfing area. First stop was Newquay which is known as the surfing capital of Europe, apparently they hold the World Championship of Surfing here every year. The surf was actually quite good and the surrounding scenery was gorgeous – castles, farms and beautiful fields leading down to the sea. The roads in this area were very tiny, requiring stops when another car approached.
After Newquay we headed down to St Ives, which was one of the most beautiful fishing towns we’ve ever seen. The main harbour was completely empty, all of the fishing boats were just sitting on the sand. The colour of the water was surprising. It was as iridescent blue, like you see in the Great Barrier Reef, or Greek Islands.
After St Ives, we drove through Penzance, and on to Falmouth where we stopped to see Pendennis Castle, one of Henry VIII castles and also used in the World Wars. The castle itself wasn’t very big, but was perched overlooking the ocean, very nice indeed. On the way back to London we went past St Michael’s Mont, a monastery set on a rock about 300 metres out to see. The drive back to London took ages, about five and half hours along the motorway.
The Kerby’s left on the Monday. We went with them to Heathrow, where the airport had a computer crash and all passengers had to be checked in manually. Their plane ended up leaving four hours late. We caught the next Heathrow Express train back to Paddington in London. In very plush surroundings, the trip only took 15 minutes, and we reckon it’s worth the 10 pound fare – heaps cheaper than a cab and it drops you right in the city.
Some bad news, our landlord, who was living in Hong Kong, apparently has been made redundant and wants to move back to London to his Prescot St apartment. Just what we needed, after finally starting to get settled, to have to move and find another place.
Some good news, Michael got paid. So what better way to celebrate then to participate in the London sales which start on July 1st. We went shopping at Harvey Nichols (where else darling!) because you generally can’t afford to buy there at normal prices. Got some half price bargains and had a great lunch at their Sushi Bar.
We moved into Flat 95, One Prescot St, London E1 8RL on Saturday 4th July. On the Sunday we had a phone installed by British Telecom within one and half hours (the guy actually apologised for it taking so long!). We now also have a fax/printer which is the same as our new phone number.
Talk to you soon,
Love Michael & Lee-Anne.