Friday, May 02, 2008

Our Very Own Rooms

Well hello again. Another few months have gone by! We've been in our new flat for 2 months now and have been enjoying the freedom of our own rooms and lots of storage space. It's a really lovely flat, very close to where we were living previously and still only 2 minutes' walk to the park. I have taken over the smaller bedroom which has avocado-green walls (people who don't like avocados think this sounds horrid but it's actually a nice colour, promise). Minnie has a nice double bedroom with her very own door onto the balcony, and then there's a third bedroom for which we found a lovely flatmate who joined us a week after we moved in. The balcony is rather handy for hanging washing out (I felt rather more domesticated hanging washing out on the line than just putting it in the dryer...) and is big enough for a couple of chairs and a small BBQ (if summer ever makes an appearance over here). There's also a planter box currently occupied with some geraniums which, when we're a bit more organised might be nice to turn into a herb garden. The spacious lounge/dining room also has a door leading onto the balcony and even has a little gas fire (rather cosy for cold winter evenings, although we've only used it once so far!) That side of the flat overlooks a school and its playground and the other side of the flat (where the entrance is) overlooks a big triangle of grass and trees and dead daffodils (they looked very nice when they were alive), so it feels rather spacious and not at all closed in. The kitchen is smallish but is bathed in sunlight in the mornings, and has so much cupboard space, we have yet to fill it up. The bathroom and toilet had recently been redone so are also very nice.

Since the big move, we've settled in quite well and time has flown by. We had a white Easter which was rather exciting (thankfully it wasn't enough to kill the transport system). Neither of us went away but we had a nice relaxing weekend in London. The Good Friday service at St Helen's was followed by fresh-from-the-oven hot cross buns after which we joined a bunch of people for a pub meal by the river. Minnie and I went on to the Imperial War Museum to have a look at the exhibition of war posters they had there (Weapons of Mass Communication) which was quite interesting, then we popped up the road to have a hot chocolate at Andrew's. The rest of the weekend passed by with shopping, church services, dinner parties, Brick Lane curries, and making hot no-cross buns (I couldn't be bothered with the crosses and besides, I don't like the taste of them). That was the start of a four-week break from uni for me which I somehow filled with a variety of things such as unpacking (most of) the rest of my stuff that was still in suitcases, doing some work for my previous boss, sorting out my papers/lecture notes, doing a bit of photo-sorting and not much study!

I went to New Word Alive during that time and thoroughly enjoyed it - a very pretty location and great teaching. I was with a big group of St Helen's people, some of whom filled a 70-seater coach which was hired to take us to Pwllheli, Wales. We had planned to get there in plenty of time for the first 6.30pm meeting but due to roadworks and the driver being told the wrong time, we left two hours late (this was in fact a good thing because it meant I had enough time to go back home and get my camera which I had forgotten to pack). It was a rather long journey and the snowy hills of Wales with green grass and lots of little lambs was a welcome sight. With not far to go, and the hope that even though we'd miss the first meeting, we'd be there in time to go to the student one later (a repeat of the first one), the coach's brakes started smoking and we came to a halt on the side of the road. We all piled out thinking it wouldn't be long till they cooled off and we could get going again. Two and a half hours later we were still waiting by the side of the road as it got progressively colder and darker. The coach was going no further so everyone who had friends with cars already at NWA rang them and begged them to come and pick a few people up, and others rang taxis, so eventually we all made it to the holiday park. There was also a bit of a wait there for acquiring caravan keys and wristbands, but we finally had some dinner about 9.30pm before tumbling into bed. I was in a caravan (larger than a typical caravan) with 5 other girls and a married couple. It was of course quite cosy, but they had designed the caravans well and the living room was fairly spacious. There was a little kitchen complete with oven, hob, microwave, sink etc., and separate toilet and bathroom. John Piper (on 1 John) and Hugh Palmer (on suffering) were the main speakers (we missed Terry Virgo's talk on the first night) and gave very helpful and challenging talks. Stuart Townend lead a lot of the singing including teaching us a new song, and getting the 2000 people in the marquee to all sing in parts (very fun!). There were also several seminar series during the day - I attended Mike Ovey's series on the doctrine of humanity which was very helpful. A talk by Roger Carswell on evangelism was likewise helpful and inspiring. The holiday park was right on the coastline so I had a few lovely walks along the cliff-top and beach (when it wasn't raining!). I was also persuaded to join a few brave souls to go swimming in the sea! Mini-golf was another fun activity, and despite it being quite cold, there was some lovely sunny weather along with the rain. It was a really good holiday with lots of time to hang out with friends.

Last weekend was, of course, ANZAC Day, so Minnie and I got up at a-quarter-past-three-in-the-blessed-am to get to the dawn service at Hyde Park Corner at 5am. It was quite cool to be there with lots of other Kiwis and Aussies (and to spot them on the bus to Hyde Park as they came on sleepy-eyed with poppies or NZ flags). Minnie then spent the weekend exploring Canterbury and I went to stay with my first-cousin-once-removed in Cuckfield, which was really nice. That Saturday was the only day of summer we've had, a really hot, sunny day - I'm hoping there might be more like it! Now, I've only got a few more weeks of lectures before a study break then exams in June. A research project fills the summer for me - it's all coming to an end rather quickly.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

february update

Hallo everyone. Long time, no post. Sorry about that. We're living in such a social whirl over here, you know. . .

Since the last time I wrote: I have found gainful employment, Robyn has charged ahead into her MSc, we have both (separately) been back to New Zealand for three weeks, and we have survived almost half an English winter. In amongst other such things as museum visits, park outings, church events, finding a flat, and almost all of season one of '24'. So, you see, we have been busy.

I had a wet (shouldn't it be white?) Christmas in ye olde Merrie Englande, which I spent with my friends as the Good Shepherd Mission, having fostered the festive spirit by attending five different carol services. It was nice to have a "traditional" Christmas, with lots of stollen, mulled wine, and properly cold streets.

Robyn was back in NZ for the yule season, meeting her new nephew and seeing her brother married. She did a tiki-tour of the South Island as well as reclining on some of her favourite beaches in Auckland.

We crossed paths somewhere over Asia, as I headed back to the family home for some catch up time and to be bridesmaid to my good friend Jessica. Three weeks goes really fast when you're back home! It was lovely to see lots of my friends and spend time with my family.

We're pretty much settled back into work & study now, and are looking forward to moving into a flat in a couple of weeks (yay - we can go to IKEA!).

Our last little venture was a trip, for Robyn's birthday, to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. We'd been last year, and it was amazing. And just as good again this year!

Hopefully it won't be so long before we post again. The road to Halifax. . .

Monday, October 15, 2007

Interlude in Norfolk

A delightful weekend was spent in the county of Norfolk, visiting some of Bob's illustrious friends-and-relations. Despite a distressing start (occasioned by a hic-cough in the rail service, and causing a prolonged journey undertaken by train, 'bus, and train again) we had a very pleasant time, and thoroughly enjoyed experiencing some English countryside in the autumn.

The highlight of the weekend was a visit to Banham Zoo - a model of what a family-friendly modern zoo can be. The animals were the most photogenic I have ever seen in such an establishment, and we particularly enjoyed getting up close to creatures in the miniature farm. The prairie dog enclosure was especially intriguing, and we enjoyed an encounter with one wee fellow who popped up to see us out of his hole some two meters from the fence . . . on the wrong side! He was not at all scared of us, and eventually went back to join his family by the simple expedient of pushing through one of the holes of the wire fence.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Eye Sees All

We'd wanted to do the London Eye for a while, so for my birthday Robyn treated me to a 'flight'. She'd booked us in for a 7.30pm slot, and we were advised to start queuing half-an-hour before that. It didn't take nearly that long, though, and we were in a pod shortly after the hour. It was not at all crowded - I think there were about 12 others with us, and the pods are very spacious and comfortable.

Going up it was still light, and we were able to see the sun go down and all the lights of London coming on during the half hour we were aboard. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are lovely to see illuminated, as are some of the other buildings alon
g the waterfront. We both spent lots of the time with our cameras going hard, trying to get some non-wobbly photographs.

Back on the ground we strolled for a while along Southbank, people watching and sitting to eat nachos and wedges by the river. It was a very pleasant evening.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Nordic Experience

Hello again everyone! Thanks to my boss at work, I was rather privileged to attend the 40th International Cardiovascular Health Epidemiology and Prevention 10-day Teaching Seminar, which despite such a long and complicated-sounding title, was most enjoyable. It was kind of like a mini course so there were lectures and group activities (and homework!) but there was also lots of free time so it was like a nice holiday really Anyway, this year the seminar was held in Norway, right up in the North in a little fishing village called Sommarøy. This is actually an island right on the Western edge of the country, about an hour's drive from the nearest city, Tromsø. The most exciting thing, though, is that it's right up in the Arctic Circle – check out this map and look for Tromsø.

What an amazing place it was though! The scenery is just so so beautiful. Being so isolated, it was really peaceful and quiet and I enjoyed many lovely walks through the wild landscape. There were amazing tropical-looking beaches with amazingly clear blue water and white sandy beaches (so many of them), wide rolling meadows covered in heather resembling in some ways the great wild expanse of the flat parts of the Central Plateau in New Zealand, steep rocky wind-swept mountains which plunge straight down into the sea, the big black and incredibly deep fjords, huge jellyfish slowly jetting away under the bridge with bright circles of colour in their clear bodies... I could go on for a while: in short I found it breathtakingly beautiful!

We were staying in a lovely hotel with a sauna and hot tub. They served lots and lots of food, good food, so much so, that I reckon we should have done a little study and measured everyone's weights at the start and end of the seminar to see how much weight we all put on!!! Seriously, if given the option, who can resist having bacon for breakfast with lots of really nice freshly baked bread, hot food for lunch and dinner, and delicious desserts for lunch and dinner? Some of us did come to the conclusion after the first 2 days that we really needed to start exercising some self restraint and only have dessert once a day, and be a bit more selective about which foods to eat for lunch and dinner. We also discovered that there were mostly the same dishes day to day, lunch to dinner, with a few different ones new each day and a few old ones phased out each day so having a bit of everything soon became boring. I was able to try some interesting foods here though: reindeer, moose and elk. I refrained from eating whale and seal – they really didn't appeal and besides, aren't whales somewhat endangered (I'm sure I've seen 'Save the Whales' stickers)? A pity I'm not keen on seafood because there were great selections of fish and other seafood available including little tubes of caviar for breakfast (Ugh!).

Now one of the highlights of the trip was the hot tub. I rather enjoyed the (nearly) true Norwegian experience of spending time getting hot in the lovely wooden hot tub then going for a dip in the sea to cool off. I should mention that it was rather cold up there – temperatures during the day were about 6-8 degrees Celsius, so who knows what temperature the sea was at that time in the evening! It was cold, yet strangely somehow exhilarating, and somewhat addictive – the hot tub always felt so much hotter after the sea that you warmed up a lot more quickly and to a greater extent than before. It was quite amusing to observe which people in the group were the first ones to give the sea-dip a go. Vinjar, one of the Norwegian lecturers had told us on the first day about the tradition and despite the loud and stubborn protests of most people, claimed that by the end of the seminar almost all of us will have given it a go. And he was right. I admit I was something of a ring leader persuading people to join me on my excursions across the deck, down the stairs, onto the sand and into the water (you have to do it at a run if you've got any hope of being fully immersed before the cold hits you). There was also a rather nice sauna but I found this got rather too hot.

I guess I should mention that we did do some work as well. The other seminar attendees, from all over the world, were really nice people and we had a great time together (despite my being the youngest of the bunch). The lectures were really good, particularly Vinjar with his simple, clear explanations of foundational statistical concepts using the example of Mary (a short girl – something I can associate with). I have to admit though, that in some of the statistics lectures when I was particularly tired and finding it difficult to feign interest in being taught things I already knew, I took advantage of the wireless broadband available throughout the hotel and undertook some 'research' (i.e. checking email, or perhaps fluffing around with R because it's a statistical program and it seemed somehow more appropriate and less guilt-inducing). We were split up into four groups for discussions on particular topics each day then in the second week we had to design a study to answer the question, 'Is chocolate related to stroke?', with which we had great fun, of course, and showed our rather strong bias/hypothesis by eating lots of chocolate on the grounds it was good for us. Thankfully we didn't have to carry out the study so as yet, we have no conclusion to the question. However, the Norwegian guys managed to squeeze in a couple of questions to the Tromsø Study before the questionnaires were printed, so we might have an answer in the near future...

Besides being hard at work during the day and relaxing in the hot tub at night, we had a couple of outings to keep us entertained and free from cabin fever. On the Saturday, we had a trip into town with the first stop at the base of one of the tall mountains overlooking the island city. We took a cable car to the top and had a chance to look around and take a few photos before we headed back down and on to the Polaria – a kind of Antarctic Centre, only it was about the Arctic instead. They had live seals which they fed and trained while we were there. One of the handy things about Norway is that almost everyone speaks English and so the seal commentary and many of the display boards were in English. The rest of the day was filled with wandering around town, visiting the Polar Museum, eating dinner and relaxing in a bar. On Sunday we had an all day trip around some of the neighbouring islands to see some of the different types of scenery in the area which was most enjoyable. On all our trips, Vinjar became an amazing tour guide, informing us all about the places through which we were driving and about Norwegian culture and history – we enjoyed it so much that if he was ever silent for a few minutes, people would call out asking for a story!!! I can also now say I have visited the largest troll in the world (it's even in the Guinness Book of Records) which is unfortunately one of the most tacky tourist destinations I've ever been too. We also had a great fishing trip in the fjord – a local fisherman took us out to where there were some fish and we caught a good many pollock (I managed to catch 7 myself, although I must admit it was hardly more difficult than simply letting the line and hooks down to the sea floor then winding it up again and hey presto, there were 3 fish!). A group of us also tackled the mountain overlooking our hotel, which was a good climb. Unfortunately, the weather turned a bit sour by the time we reached the top so the descent along the crest of the hill was somewhat precarious as the wind did its best to blow us over.

The last night we stayed in Sommarøy, it snowed down to about 500m and Tromsø experienced the lowest overnight temperature of 1.1 degrees Celcius in August since a long time ago (i.e. I can't remember the exact date!). I had a very memorable time there and would love to go back and see more of the country one day. On my way back to London, I spent one night in Oslo and had a quick look around some of the main tourist attractions there including seeing The Scream at the national art gallery, the Nobel Peace Centre, the famous Vigelan Sculpture Park, and the folk museum which was particularly interesting and informative. As you might expect, I took rather a lot of photos so do have a look at them here. I seem to have rambled on for quite a long time, so well done if you made it to the end!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to Britain

Well, what have we been up to since we've been back?

We arrived home in the midst of extensive renovations. The kitchen was mostly done by the time we returned, but the bathroom and toilet and lots of flooring were being upgraded by the lovely Polish builders Lukas and Martin. It was quite exciting going for some days without washing facilities, but we all survived, and the flat looks lovely now.

A church day out with the Good Shepherd Mission took us to the unfortunately named Ugley Hall, where we had a barbeque, the children swam, others played tennis, and we all socialised in the (mostly) sunshine (there were ten minutes or so spent all huddled together under a leaky tarpaulin). Ugley is a gorgeous wee place - the hall had very English gardens and the little church is very picturesque. The day was even rounded off nicely with two small children falling in the fish pond.

Robyn started her summer job at Imperial College just a couple of days after we got back, where she has been working on a clinical trial.

Myself, having some leisure time (ie: trying to find a job), volunteered to help out at the Good Shepherd Mission's outreach week - Fun in the Sun. It's pretty much like a holiday program or a beach mission (though not at the beach), and focuses on the large estate just across from the church, which houses mostly Bangladeshi families. I joined the Social Action team, and spent the week cleaning carpets. It was great fun, and we got to have some interesting conversations with different people as we shampooed their rugs and scrubbed at stains. And I'm a pro at carpet cleaning now! It was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the congregation better.

The Cheltenham Bible Festival sounded an appealing weekend away, so Robyn and I camped out for four nights at the Cheltenham racecourse, meeting Lyndon and Mim during the day to attend the meetings and seminars. There were some great talks, lots of things to see and activites to do, and a huge bookshop tent. A ceilidh one evening was tonnes of fun (and good excercise!) and Bob and I tried our hands at silk painting in the arts and crafts tent. Some highlights of the meetings included hearing Don Carson, Sharon James, and Stuart Townend.

Another fun day out I had was at trip to Hampton Court Palace with a girl from church. We didn't go into the palace itself, but wandered round the gardens and spent some time ooh-ing and ah-ing in the Royal School of Needlework shop. A trip back to look through the buildings is now on my list. . .

Oh, and we've been to a Prom. In a box. I got free tickets for me and Robyn from someone at church, and we went to hear a selection from Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and Debussy. It was gorgeous music, and we had some of the best seats in the whole Royal Albert Hall.

Well, we've done other nice things as well, but I think I'll leave it at that for now. Life in England is pretty busy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jersey cows and lavender

Our two-and-a-half months in Europe was rounded off nicely by a relaxing week on the beautiful Channel Island of Jersey. My (Minnie's) Papa George lived on Jersey for a good many years, and was keen for us to take a look, and we were only too happy to do so.

Arriving at 9.45 in the morning, we had a quick stop at the information centre before catching a bus out to Highlands Hotel (a Christian hotel on the south-western-most point of the island). The bus drivers in Jersey are very friendly - they'll help with directions and even drop you off at the gate, if you're lucky! We were warmly welcomed at our hotel by Alan, the manager, and settled ourselves in before going out for some advice on what to see and do. A nearby lavender farm sounded appealing, and we decided to walk there. We ended up spending a good three or four hours there, admiring the many varieties of plants, feeding chickens, snoozing on the grass, learning about distillation, and sipping lavender tea in the cafe. It was terribly pleasant. A quick trip into St Helier helped us get our bearings a little, and we sat for a while in Liberation Square, admiring the memorial remembering May 1945, when the people were set free from five years of German occupation.

Our first morning at Highlands we were stunned by the superb breakfast put on - anything and everything we could possibly want. We went back into town to have a look around the streets, and found a cafe where we could use the internet for free while sipping on mochas. We had heard that the Logos II was berthed nearby, so we went over to see her, and spent an hour or so looking at books on board. There were lots of good books going for really cheap, so we stocked up and came away with laden arms.

The weather swiftly turned to custard during this week, and on Sunday morning we were blown to church with rain bucketing down upon us. We enjoyed attending Quennevais Evangelical Church. Everyone was very friendly, and we were even offered a lift back to the hotel. We had been advised to join the hotel residents for the Sunday lunch, and it was well worth it. Our table-mates were two lovely Irish ladies, and we had a lovely time chatting over the meal. It was nice to have a properly relaxing Sunday afternoon. We spent it snoozing, reading, resting, etc. . . and then joined in the evening service upstairs, where Derek Moon played the keyboard and spoke.

Jersey Pottery was another pleasant place that we visited. They make lovely pieces, and have a shop and gallery and some of the workshops open to view.

Monday being £3 movie night, we decided visit the cinema and see Ocean's 13, a good holiday movie (not one I'd choose to see if I had to pay more than £3, but). The theatre was practically abandoned, but we enjoyed ourselves. Back at the bus stop by our hotel, we struggled against the wind down to the coast to take some photos of Corbiere lighthouse. It was hard to take pictures when we couldn't even stand upright - one couldn't even hold the camera still - but we managed to get a few by leaning against the rocks.

A highlight of our time in Jersey was our visit to Gerald Durrell's Wildlife Conservation Centre. While we heard many comments about the zoo being a bit overgrown and scruffy, we found it really interesting, and appreciated the flora as being an attempt to keep the area more natural for the animals, rather than just unkempt. The aviaries were amazing - there were all sorts of rare and beautiful birds flying free around us - and we had fun in the reptile home trying to take photos of bright coloured frogs and peering over bits of bark looking for toads and snakes. It was a very informational zoo, and it was interesting to see where all the different beasties came from originally, and what they ate, and things.

A nice dinner of wood-fired pizza and ginger beer at St Aubin's bay made our last evening nice, though we did miss the bus back to the hotel and had to sit for an hour on the beach while we waited for the next one. Robyn went rambling while I sat and sketched, and then got herself stuck taking a shortcut up a sloped wall. Thankfully a random guy walked past and hauled her up before any damage was done. . .

We got to the airport very early the next day. . . terribly early. . . and sat reading our seedy novels for quite some time before we caught our flight. They have comfy chairs. Our flight was half empty, and we had a cool view of the island as we lifted off, before the clouds covered everything. A very smooth flight back to Gatwick was a peaceful way to end our trip, and we were happy to be home.