David Bowie

David BowieMany people will say how they grew up listening to the music of David Bowie. I didn’t. While I was aware of  Space Oddity I don’t think I knew much, if any, of his other stuff, I was too young when Ziggy was changing the world.

In 1980 I was beginning to learn what I actually liked and the electronic sounds of the time were very much my thing. In to this “New Romantic” movement he seemed to step from nowhere with Scary Monsters, Ashes to Ashes and Fashion. As he had done many times in the past, he completely reinvented himself in to the harlequin character he adopted. Three years later come the huge commercial success of Let’s Dance and the “Serious Moonlight” would tour.

I can’t remember the exact circumstances of how I got hold of a ticket. Somebody couldn’t make it and I was in the right place at the right time. It was an David Bowie Cracked Actorincredible show. Not my first concert, but I think the first full stadium show with everything that goes with such events. It was incredible. One song still remains strong in my memory – Cracked Actor – a full on theatrical performance like nothing I had seen before.

From this time I have always had Bowie’s music with me and I looked out for the other projects he was involved with such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.

More recently, and I guess because of the changes in my own personal circumstances, I have been playing a lot of his music and possibly for the first time exploring the albums in full, playing all of the tracks from start to finish. My current favourites are StationToStation, Low and Heroes, but there are so many more that I haven’t listened to yet. Other albums where I have just grabbed individual songs such as 1984, Andy Warhol and Sorrow.

I got home from work about 6 last night, grabbed a drink as it was so hot and checked Facebook, as I so often do. And there was the news. David Bowie was dead!

It seems we don’t expect our heroes to pass away; are they not supposed to be there forever?

Only two days before he had released his 25 studio album on his 69th birthday. It would seem that as in life he was determined to make an exit under his own terms. He had known for a while that time was running out and so a fitting farewell was prepared and delivered to perfection.

While he is no longer with us in this world he will live on forever, you simply need to play his music.

Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
– Lazarus

R.I.P David Bowie

Welcome 2016

Sydney NYEHappy new year – if a little late!

I have always found that I write most when I’m not feeling at my best which, judging by the limited number of posts, would suggest 2015 was a good year. I think it probably was.

New job, new life in a new country, a whole new start.

Since moving to Sydney in May I have revisited many places I saw during my previous travels, but also many new ones. I have spent time reading up on the European history of New South Wales and started to prepare lists of the places I need to visit, research and explore in the future.

My NSW lighthouse challenge has taken a huge leap forward following a road trip to Brisbane with Lauren over Christmas – just one of a number of posts I need to complete in the near future.

As well as the good, 2015 saw a number of more difficult events. My divorce was completed in December. The sale of the house I had put so much time and effort into was sold. My Land Rovers were both also sold; the Series III was particularly difficult to let go. Some of these events were my decisions, some were outside my control, but as I sit here looking into 2016 I am sure they were all for the best and it is only because of these that I am here in Sydney now.

The hardest part of moving to Sydney was leaving Lauren behind. Since leaving the UK I have only spent about four weeks with her. But I did see her on her 21st birthday and she was here for Christmas and New Year. I am also hopeful that she will be spending more time here once she finishes university.

And so to 2016 and what the future holds. The main thing for me is to secure a new four wheel drive so that I can start to get out further and see all those places on my list and experience another part of the Australia lifestyle. There are so many places to see and experience that I don’t expect to spend too many weekends in my apartment!

Once again, Happy New Year! I hope 2016 fulfils all our dreams and, as always, thanks for reading.

Sydney NYE 1

New Home

I have written before about how different the process of choosing a new home is here in Sydney, with the agents telling you when they will be at a property and giving you just a few minutes to make up your mind before they move on. During that very limited slot you have to decide if the place you are viewing will suit you for the next 6 or 12 months of your life while also dealing with the many other people doing exactly the same thing!

After viewing many places the last one was by far the best. Although I wasn’t too keen on the shared stairways and access, the apartment (they don’t have flats!) was a good size and ideal layout – and so I made the decision after my 10 minutes of viewing!

Next comes the paperwork. Forms to complete, documents to copy and send across to the agent. Proof of identity, income, credit history, etc. Again Melissa was a huge help in this process as she knew what I needed to do and what to say to the agent to give me the best chance of securing the place. One possible issue was the need to prove details of previous rentals in Australia – not only am I new to the country but I haven’t rented anywhere in 20 years and even then I didn’t have a rent book or lease agreement.

Paperwork complete, you then wait. Wait for the owner to decide who he is willing to rent too. It seems that you will never be the only one wanting that apartment in Sydney and so the landlord gets to choose who he thinks will be the best tenant. I had some advantages; single, no pets and recent arrival. As you have to prove your employment status and income level to get a visa this helps when opening a bank account, applying for a credit card and renting property.

After a nervous wait I received the good news that the place was mine.

I arrived in Sydney with two suit cases and some hand luggage; hardly what you need to set-up a new home. With just over a week before moving day I needed to get myself at least a little organised.

Following a trip to Ikea after work, complete with notebook and camera, I had a good idea what I needed. I wasn’t going to fill the whole place, just enough to get me started.

So what do I need to do? Book a van; I will need to collect some reasonably large items from Ikea. Arrange electricity – the agent arranged for somebody to call me. Book a day off work!

Wednesday evening I picked up the van and headed off to Ikea. On arrival I hit my first problem of the moving weekend – the van was too tall for the multi-storey car park! So I spent 20 minutes trying to find somewhere to park before giving up, some what disillusioned.

There are two Ikea stores in Sydney and a quick look on Google Maps street view told me that the second one, in Tempe, should be fine. Fingers crossed.

Tempe was a little further out but had a large open air car park. Perfect. First trip round the store saw be pick up a bed, mattress, quilt and pillows. Chair and a lamp. Second trip round I picked all the other must haves; crockery, cutlery, sauce pans, ironing board …… and the list goes on. Finally loaded I was ready for moving day.

Friday morning I was up early packing everything and clearing out both what I wanted and what I needed to get rid of. Melissa sent me a text just before nine to say there was a slight delay with the keys, but by the time I arrived she was there and had opened up.

Moving day was a busy day. Carrying a van full of furniture and other belongings up three flights of stairs was tough. In between the carrying I assembled the flat pack items which was a perfect opportunity to take a break. The washing machine and fridge/freezer that I decided to rent, duly arrived. By the end of the day I was tired but in! The move had gone well.

Over the past couple of weeks, since moving into the apartment, I have added a few more items to my furniture. Purchased a heater which was a huge plus – houses here don’t have much in the way of heating or insulation, so although the days have been warm the nights can be very chilly. It has been a long time since I lived in a place with no heating!

I think it is safe to say I am settling well. It will be a while before I really call Sydney home but I am comfortable and increasingly settled. Now it is time to start enjoying this new country properly.

Lane Cove

 

Lighthouses

There are two types of buildings which fascinate me more than any others; castles and lighthouses. Both are amazing pieces of engineering developed in different times and for very different reasons, but in some ways similar in their strength, complexity and often incredibly difficult locations. There aren’t too many castles in Australia, well actually none that I am aware of, but there are an abundance of lighthouses and so I had already made it my mission to visit as many as possible, starting first with New South Wales and then further afield as the opportunity arises.

Sunday 17th May

No work today and no house issues either. Today was a day to relax and have a break. Today was a day to find a lighthouse!

When chatting in the office during my first week the guys had mentioned the prepaid Opal card for getting around on public transport. Same concept as the Oyster card in London, the difference being here you get both discounted, and even free, journeys. Previously my daily commute was costing $8, now with Opal it was less than $7. A result, but better still after you have made a number of journeys, eight I believe, the rest of the week is free and so my trip to IKEA on Friday, Chatswood and Sydney yesterday and Sydney again today havent cost me anything. But not only does this work on the trains, my ferry ride from Circular Quay and back was also free. What a brilliant system. So the lesson here is simply, if you travel to Sydney and are going to use public transport get an Opal card. You would be foolish not to.

Now back to lighthouses….

Having decided today was going to be a lazy one I needed to decide what I was going to do. I certainly didn’t want to sit around the apartment all day as the weather was just too nice and so I headed into Sydney. On the way I had a look at the map and picked a location which included a ferry ride.

As I have written previously not only are the trains great, but Sydney Ferries are brilliant too. Many people use them as a way to commute, but for me they are both a way of getting somewhere and a pleasure in their own right.

I picked Watsons Bay. A reasonable journey from Circular Quay, it ensured that I would enjoy the boat ride as well as the destination.

2015-05-17 13.07.08Once off the boat it was a pleasant and relaxed walk up to South Head and the Hornby Lighthouse. This red and white striped lighthouse was built in 1858 following the tragic loss of over 120 lives when British clipper Dunbar was wrecked during a storm the year before. It’s distinctive colouring was chosen to ensure that it wasn’t mistaken for the Macquarie Lighthouse 2km to the south.

As you follow the path to South Head you come across various concrete defensive structures as well as a large gun pointing back towards the city. My immediate assumption was that they must have been constructed during the last war to help protect Sydney from the threat of a Japanese invasion. Although they were used for this purpose, they were actually constructed much earlier, and for a very different purpose.

South Head

The first gun emplacement at South Head was recorded in 1788 and was used to signal the arrival of a vessel in the harbour. The fortifications that can be seen today were completed in 1854, although the guns weren’t actually in position until 1872. These were constructed to protect against various enemies; initially the French but then the Americans during the war of independence. Later the French were again considered the threat before they become allies against the Russians during the Crimean War. The defences were further enhanced during both world wars, but although manned constantly the lookouts failed to spot the three Japanese midget submarines which managed to enter the harbour on 31st May 1942 attaching a number of ships, sinking the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul which resulted in the deaths of 21 sailors.

2015-05-17 13.19.27Just by the lighthouse are the keepers cottages. Now fully restored these houses must have some of the best views of the harbour and city, as well as enjoying a relatively quiet location.

2015-05-17 16.41.51Returning back to Watsons Bay it was time to sit, write and generally enjoy the beautiful autumn weather. With several coffees and a bag of chips, I sat for a good few hours and simply enjoy watching the world go by. A really wonderful Sunday afternoon.

2015-05-17 17.43.15 - cropped

A New Year, A New Life ….

I have been back in Sydney for nearly 2 weeks and only now feel able to write my first post of 2015. What made be knuckle down? Simple, a walk round Sydney was all that was needed to remind me why I had made the decisions I had …..

Earlier in the year I was approached to see if I would like to move to Australia on a permanent basis. With my marriage over and house already up for sale due to the divorce, it felt like I only had one reason to say no and that was Lauren. We had many long conversations about the the pros and cons of such a move. I had many sleepless nights as I thought about the enormity of what I was considering, but in the end it was just too good an opportunity to miss. Never before had I received such an offer, and at my age it is unlikely that I would get such an offer again. After a number of discussions with my old employer about a leaving date, in theory I needed to give three months notice, and receipt of formal jobs offers and contracts of employment from my new employer, the decision was made and the wheels of my new life started to roll.

On Friday 27th February 2015 I left Causeway with just a week and a half’s notice after being employed by them for over 16 years. On the following Monday I started in Woking for my new employer Mouchel. An agreement was put in place that I would be employed by the UK business while my visa application was processed and then switch to the Australian company as soon as I was able to move to Sydney. During that interim two months I continued to spend time in Manchester working with the team there, with whom I had a brilliant night out aft my last day working with them.

Tuesday 5th May saw my arrival in Sydney on a one way ticket.

Mouchel engage a relocation manager to help new arrivals find both temporary and permanent accommodation as well as anything else you need when setting up home in a new country. Without doubt I felt much more relaxed about the process than many would having already spent four months here last year and therefore knowing my way around; a little. Melissa collected me from the airport, which was brilliant, and made sure I was settled in my apartment in St. Leonards. After a sleep I headed to the office in North Ryde to meet the new team and then down to Lane Cove to say “hi” to everyone I had met last year – and what a seriously brilliant welcome I got at Lane Cove! It certainly felt good to be back amongst friends.

It turned out that many of the team in North Ryde, the new Mouchel Design Centre for Australia, had only been there a short time before me. In fact they had only moved into the office the Friday before I arrived and so it was decided that a night out was in order for people to get to know one another. On my first Thursday back in the county we headed to the Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks district of Sydney for a few drinks and something to eat. I had been to the Glenmore before and would highly recommend it if only for the amazing views over the harbour and Opera House from the roof terrace.

Saturday was to be spent house hunting! Well more specifically apartment hunting. Melissa picked me up at 09:30 and we were off on a whistle stop tour of Lane Cove, Chatswood and the surrounding communities. Rightly or wrongly I had decided that I didn’t want to be too far from the office or, if possible a train station. This meant that my already tight budget was going to be stretched to its limit. They have a very strange system in Australia for rental accommodation, and possibly purchases as well. You don’t make an appointment to view, the agent simply advertises when he will be at a property and all are welcome to view. The “open house” time slots are often as little as 10 or 15 minutes!! 10 minutes in which to view and make up your mind on somewhere you could be living for the next year or more. At one apartment there must have been 30 people queuing up and making their way through a two bedroom property!

Having viewed about 10 places they were beginning to merge one into another, but what was clear to me was that the majority where simply not suitable. The last however would suit me just fine. Although a little older than I perhaps would have liked, the layout was perfect, the street lovely and the whole place had been recently decorated through out.

Now for the next stage of the property searching process…

Having thought about it on Sunday, and also looked on line at a number of other properties and locations, I decided that Stokes Street would do me just fine. My application was put together on Monday, various documents copied and sent through to the letting agents on Tuesday and lots of telephone calls by Melissa to see what was going on. It seemed there were three of us interested and it was up to the landlord to decide who they liked best. Finally midday Wednesday I go the news that the property was mine! By all accounts I was incredibly lucky to get the first place I chose as most people it seems have to go through this process a number of times before they are accepted. The property market in Sydney is certainly very fast moving at the moment.

All the papers were signed last Friday and I move in next Friday! On Thursday night I went out for dinner and a few drinks with some of the guys from the Lane Cove office as a welcome back celebration. We went to the Longueville Hotel in Lane Cove which was not only where we went for lunch on the last day before I left at Christmas, but will soon be my local! Another great night; I am looking forward to many more!

Having signed all the paperwork I now need to concentrate on getting furniture and everything else that is needed to make a property a home. Friday evening I went to IKEA and made a list of those items I needed first off. Back at my apartment the list was extended to cover all those items you can’t buy at IKEA – not too many additions to be honest – and then finally a few decisions about the logistics of it all. Saturday I went into Chatswood to check out a few more bits and also picked up my first purchases; kettle, toaster and iron.

2015-05-16 17.23.20

 

After shopping I decided I needed a break and so header to Sydney proper for the first time this visit. My first couple of weeks had been busy doing many of the routine things of life with little time to relax or enjoy my new surroundings. But finally I was in the city wandering through the streets, the botanical gardens and round the Opera House and Circular Quay.

Now I remembered exactly why I had mad the crazy decision to move half way round the world and start a whole new life.

2014 done. Bring on 2015 …

2015So that was 2014, and what a year it was!

Like many people who write blogs or diaries, I tend to do a post at this time of year as a retrospective and also to set out a few plans that I may have in place. As a starting point I like to read my blog from this time last year to see how I have done. Well it is safe to say that most, if not all, my plans for 2014 didn’t happen. I had hoped to go back to Norway – not done. I wanted to travel up through the high passes in the Alps – nope, not done. I wanted to continue with the personal challenges I had stated during 2013 – failed! There was the possibility of a trip to Australia – and what a trip it turned out to be!!

Back in February it was finally confirmed that the trip to Australia was going to happen. Within a week the trip was confirmed, visa approved, flights booked and I was on my way to Sydney. Initially for two weeks, but at the end of March I was on my way down under again and this time it was for seven weeks. The longer trip allowed me to really explore Sydney and the surrounding areas. The timing also meant that Lauren could join me for just under four weeks which was a real bonus.

Back in the UK there were a few trips out with Lauren and I also finally started to learn to fly a microlight. Something I had been thinking about for a long time. The year ended with another couple of months in Sydney. During these last two trips I also got the chance to visit both Canberra and Tasmania. From never having been to Australia I have now spent over four months there.

A significant disappointment during the year was the announcement that my team, London Wasps, were to move 80 miles north to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. The deal makes very sound business sense but as a supporter I felt, and continue to feel, that the way the existing fan base were treated was unforgivable. One or two statements from a particular player, who so it happens was born in Coventry, only compounded these feelings. I have been to the new ground once and will give it another go, but many of the promises appear simply to have been untrue – better parking, better access to and from on match day, better facilities. The atmosphere just was not the same as far as I was concerned, it didn’t feel like our home ground, and so my regular attendance at home matches may now be over.

2014 was certainly a very busy year and incredibly rewarding, but what will 2015 bring? At the moment I have no idea. If I am in the northern hemisphere then I intend to take some of the trips which I had to skip this year. Plus I will be doing some more flying. Paramotoring has caught my eye so I will be looking to give that a go. However if I am back down under then who knows? Watch this space ……

Finally I would like to thank all those who read my posts and especially the 74 people out there that follow my blog. I hope that you stick with me through the coming months and enjoy the ride.

Very Happy New Year, I hope 2015 is everything you want it to be.

Sydney Fireworks

Australia, Trip 4 – 2014 Finale

Saturday 13th December

This is my final weekend in Sydney for this trip, and probably quite a while, although of course I have said that before.

I decided to spend Saturday in the city; some final shopping and a little sight seeing. The weather was wonderful so needed to be enjoyed, all too soon I will be back in the cold of home.

Extreme Sailing

As I walked around the Opera House from Circular Quay I could see there was a sailing competition taking place out in the harbour. The boats were very big and moving at quite a pace round what appeared to be a very small course. I continued to walk around the water front towards the main spectator area at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and found somewhere to watch the action. The event was part of the Extreme Sailing Series which has heats around the world, this weekend in Sydney being the last of 2014. Click here to see some of the highlights.

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Sunday 14th December

A couple of weeks back I took a drive out to Wisemans Ferry, but the weather wasn’t great so today I decided to take another look. Even on a dull wet day the scenery was stunning so I was expecting so much more today, and it didn’t disappoint.

This time I approached Wisemans Ferry from the opposite direction and on arrival took the opportunity for a coffee at the small cafe while watching the ferry move cars across the Hawkesbury River. After a short break I chose to cross the river via the Webbs Creek Ferry which is back up through the village and then turn right. Although the two ferries are reasonably close, they are out of site of each other due to the curve in the river.

Once across I was heading for St. Albans, a small village in the Macdonald River valley. The valley had been populated as a farming community due to the fertile land. Close by is the convict built Great North Road which helped the community grow. Life was extremely tough in this remote location with the population consisting of ex-convicts as well as convicts themselves.

In later years the area become known as the “Forgotten Valley” by the locals as new roads took travelers away and alternative farming communities were established on larger areas of more easily accessible land.

StAlbans

2014-12-14 16.16.21The first bridge across Macdonald River takes you into the settlement. From here the roads north are gravel and disappear off into the remote fields and valleys. Yet another journey for another day.

2014-12-14 16.50.12Having spent a little time exploring I took the road south on the opposite side of the river from the one on which I had arrived.

After only a relatively short distance I came across two sights of interest. The first was the St. Albans Old General Cemetery. There are inscriptions dating back to 1833, including that of First Fleeter William Douglas who died 27 November 1838.

2014-12-14 17.07.12A little further on is Shepherd’s Gully Road which was constructed between 1827 – 1828. Now a walking track it was built by convict labour as a spur to the Great North Road and forms part of the Convict Trail.

Each time I see parts of this road I have to wonder at the immense efforts needed to construct it and the extremely harsh nature of the environment in which the men were forced to work for so long. It is all such a contrast to the beauty of the landscape that you see from your air conditioned car as you travel through the region today.

Wiseman

2014-12-14 19.16.08On the way back to Sydney I decided to make one final detour. There are 11 Australian convict sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, one of which I hadn’t yet visited even though it was so close to were I have been staying.

Situated in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney, is Old Government House and Government Domain. The building was started in 1799 by Governor Hunter and then extended in 1815 by Governor Macquarie. It is considered to be the oldest vice-regal residence in Australia.

Although too late to visit I did have a walk around the park before calling it a day.

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A final week in the office and then home in time for Christmas. It has been amazing to have had the opportunity to spend so much time in Australia this year. I have seen so many incredible sights, but what it has also shown me is just how much more there is still to see. All being well I will get the opportunity.

Happy New Year.