the rambles of a family of five in Australia

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pussycat, pussycat where have you been?

One of the many elephants we met on our day in London.

Earlier this week, E and H went to London for the day. Our primary reason was to catch up with I and M – friend’s of H’s from school. (It was 10 years since Year 12 last year – how mad is that?)
If you will remember back to previous posts, we are looking for somewhere to live. (Forgive this apparent digression, it reverts back to topic, we promise!)
It looks as though we may have found an unfurnished somewhere at last so R and H have been scouring the web; newspapers and all our slight acquaintance here for tips on finding enough furniture in a short space of time. As it just so happens, on Monday night (the night before our trip to London) H won an eBay auction for a patchwork quilt.

The quilt, home at last.

 The quilt price was reasonable, but the postage was quoted at 10 pounds (16AUD) which was nearly half the cost of the quilt. Lo and behold, the seller lived in Islington, and so was born H’s determination to save 10 pounds and pick the quilt up whilst in London catching up with I & M…
Yes, it all sounds mad, we know.

Tuesday morning dawned and after the usual morning bustle, H and E set off to Milton Keynes Central station; purchased a ticket to London (including all tube and bus travel in London for the day!) and jumped on a direct Virgin (thanks Richard) service to London. Well, jumped is perhaps not the right way of thinking about it. The Virgin trains, in terms of the floorplan, are a bit like the Sydney to Newcastle country trains in Aus – no real carriage or standing room when you get on the train – just a corridor into a carriage with groups of seats and overhead luggage racks. So, H & E & the pram & the food bag (for E) & the nappy bag & pram rug had to be folded up and carried onto the train, where we blocked the aisle (although we had tried to be the last ones on) until two very nice men helped us. Both were sitting in the Wi-Fi section: one gave up his seat, packed up his laptop and moved to another part of the carriage; while the other man put the pram up on the luggage racks for us. In hindsight, this gallantry was a waste of time, as E decided he DID NOT WANT to sit quietly on a seat in his first-ever train trip and look out the window. Oh no. He wanted to talk to everyone. Loudly.
So we spent the journey standing in the little bit between two carriages, talking and rocking. Thankfully the Virgin trains are swift and we arrived at Euston in 25 minutes.
The same man who had stowed the pram away then got it down, carried it off the train and set it up on the platform. H was beginning to see that the day would require many such kindnesses from strangers.

We then descended to the Underground section of Euston (getting help from another man to carry the front of the pram down three flights of stairs) and caught the tube to Highbury & Islington station (where a lovely lady carried the front of the pram up two flights.)
Thankfully, the eBay seller lived 3 mins from the tube station, so we fronted up to her terrace, paid our dosh and picked up our quilt – in a very large and unwieldy carrier bag. Hmmm, perhaps it would’ve been better to pick it up at the end of the day?
We then caught the tube back down the Victoria line to Victoria station; and changed to the Circle line for St. James’ Park. (Insert 5-10 flights of stairs here!)

St. James’ Park is lovely.

View of St. James’ Palace from the bridge over the lake.
The London Eye in all its glory.

St. James’ Park is set right in the middle of a very pleasant London suburb and practically next to Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Palace, the Horse Guards, Pall Mall and the Strand. It felt a bit like a real-life Monopoly board.

Ahhh, the deckchairs. Next time, this is definitely on our ‘to sit’ list.

We walked through the park to the Pall Mall side and rendezvoued with I & M for lunch in a lovely restaurant/cafe called Inn the Park. E, by this time, was asleep and slept until just before the food arrived, at which time he devoured anything and everything that lay within reach.

Sleeping Beauty

Afterwards we spent some time on the lawns outside and even managed to see a squirrel begging a passer-by for something to eat. No pictures of the squirrel, sorry!

E was very taken with M and developed a special hand signal with I. In two hours he had made firm friends.

I & M then left to continue their sightseeing, and H & E headed up the Mall to the Strand and thence to Charing Cross station.

H had a very Yes, Prime Minister moment on seeing the Whitehall sign.
I love the way history is celebrated in the UK. Seeing this artwork in commemoration of the work of so many people so long ago gave me a lovely warm glow inside!
We arrived home at 5:30, both very ready for a bit of a break! E had a bath and went straight to bed without any dinner (such was his mammoth food consumption throughout the day) sleeping until 7:30 the following morning.

All in all it was a lovely day, and wonderful to have been able to do it, pram and all. The kindness of complete strangers took H aback and was one of the standouts of the day. London is a very busy city, it hums like a hive full of bees, and yet busy people took pity and helped us. We were very thankful and it really added to our enjoyment of the day and our appreciation of our new capital city.

There has been quite a lot of comment in the media about the siege mentality of the security forces here in London in relation to the Prime Minister etc. It is true that there is a big police presence in certain parts of London. Most particularly I noticed lots of police in the vicinity of St. James’ Park: paddywagons; police on foot; cars and vans etc.
In contrast, we saw one lone officer on foot in Islington. I don’t really have a position on the whys and wherefores of the buildup of police presence, just that my initial impression was that there must have been some sort of incident occurring, as that level of police presence is not something I’m accustomed to seeing.

Anyhow, it was a great day and gave us motivation to return and do it again – once we’ve recovered from all those stairs!

A view from the path on the way to the restaurant.


a day in the life…

This is a snapshot of our lives – one day in the life of E.

7-7:30am: Wake up. Make his presence known immediately. Have a drink. Nappy change. Proudly pick up the nappy and take it to the bin. Today, he worked out how to open the bin and drop the nappy in.
Walk out to the living area and open the cupboards. Remove his favourite saucepans and find wooden spoons. Commence stirring and cooking. This is a hint for Mummy to get a wriggle on.

7:30 – 8:10am: Eat a man-sized bowl of porridge with fruit. Gnaw on a piece of toast. Favourite spreads: Vegemite; Raspberry jam; peanut butter and honey. There are days when he smells like honey. This is nice, until we realise it is throughout his hair.

8:10-9:30: Continue cooking on the floor. Move saucepans all over the apartment. Hide the pegs. Take all the dirty washing to the washing machine. Try to open the door. Get frustrated. If E doesn’t do the chores, who will? Wander in and out of the bathroom while Mummy is getting ready for the day. Brush his own teeth while Mummy brushes hers. Talk on the phone. Sometimes to Mummy or Daddy, other times to ‘Nan, Nan, Nan’.

9:30 – Morning tea. A banana and a HUGE drink of water.

9:45-11am – Park playtime/Walk/Trip to the shops.

11:30am – Lunch. Today this consisted of: Pumpkin & Butterbean salad with cauliflower; spinach; peas and corn; topped with tuna and caramelised onion hommous. Rhubarb yoghurt for dessert.

11:45: Two stories – usually something with sound effects and then a Bible story. (Although Mummy will even try sound effects with a Bible story.)

12pm – 2:30pm Bed.

2:30pm – Milk, then a trip to the park or to the shops to run errands. Usually both. Mummy walks; E rides in the pram.

4:30pm – Home in time for Mummy to cook dinner while watching Location, Location. E usually spends this time running around between the saucepans and the balcony. Sometimes he decides that lap-sitting is a better option for this time of day.

5:20 – Dinner

6:00-6:30 – Bathtime. E has discovered the joys of a lot of water in the tub and a lot of bubbles on top of the water. More teeth-cleaning. Lately, he rubs his tummy furiously while looking at his reflection in the taps and grinning. Sometimes, he has a bubble-beard.

6:40 – Milk drink

6:50 – Two stories.

7:00pm – Bed for the night. Sometimes E cries. Sometimes he doesn’t. We like the ones where he doesn’t!

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the week that was and the one that is to come

A clear and sunny view…

First and foremost, let me say that it is another beautiful day today. The sky is blue (sort of) and the sun is shining (in between patches of cloud) so everyone is stripped down to tshirts, and shorts, if they are young enough to think they’ll get away with it.

E trying out the warm weather on the balcony

All the little girls at church this morning were wearing bright floral print dresses and sandals. E was wearing a singlet, thick blue corduroy pants (a present from Aunty B, Uncle S and cousins H & I), and a very Country Road blue striped boat-neck long-sleeved top. And a hoodie. Yup. The Australians are appreciating the sunshine, but aren’t ready to break out the summer fashion yet.

We are on the cusp of a new week, but still recovering from the week that was…

R  commuted 2 1/2 hours to and from a conference for four days out of five last week and is therefore tired.
He is driving from MK to Bath and then Bristol on Monday and Tuesday to do a few things. Yup, driving is WONDERFUL! 😉
H and E spent last week tussling over sleep, until H realised that E was ready to move to one sleep a day. Sounds dire, but when said sleep is for 2 1/2 hours, then it is actually a huge blessing!
R and H signed a form and paid 250 pounds (no pound sign on this keyboard…!) for a credit check. If this is approved, THEN we can pay an actual deposit on an actual house. Watch this space…

H and E have discovered some new parks – MK is littered with them! – and have had fun trying them out.

E’s shoes are getting a workout
Finding… then eating a biscuit. He eats to stay warm – what can we say!
Ok, so it was supposed to be charming, but E was cold. Can you blame him? He’s only wearing 7 layers.

Yesterday (Saturday) we ‘stepped out in faith’ (!) and went to a thrift store to buy some crockery (H’s desired Cornishware being too stratospherically high on eBay and too geographically far from MK to pick up, were she willing to pay what it looks like it will go for…!)
We ended up getting about 8 place settings’ worth of mismatched white crockery (plates big and small; bowls and the odd platter); some new plastic cups for E; a very second-hand toy VW for E to push around the floor; two glass lolly jars and a flower-shaped lamp, all for the very reasonable sum of 20 pounds.
Our cheap & cheerful crockery

We will quickly pass over the part where R and H (having been lulled into a blissful dream about furnishing a home entirely from thrift store purchases) put E on the floor, forgot to watch him, and then got to hear him knock over a small occasional table – sending two ornamental frog-shaped teapots smashing to the concrete floor. We then copped a short lecture from the manager on parents who allow their offspring to ‘run amok’ and afterwards, a slightly overwrought H cried quietly in the pallet racking behind the bed frames…good times.

H & E are having some visitors this week – JB is actually coming all the way to MK for brunch and IB & MT are meeting us in London for our first big adventure (ok, afternoon tea!) in the capital. We are feeling thrilled to have a chance to catch up with friends after nearly three weeks here.

Yesterday, we were very conscious that we were missing an important family wedding at home, so it was lovely to hear all about it via skype this morning, and to shortly be able to see photos of the happy day.

Food & Frivolity

We’ve included some photos of the food that we’ve discovered and are charmed/delighted by…

Would you eat something called a ‘whoopie pie’? We’re not sure we would, but they look cute.
Sunday lunch for two: 8 pounds for two curries; naan; rice and onion bhajis. Yum!
The most delicious bread (a bit like Burgen Pumpkin seed in Aus) and some interesting ‘breakfast biscuits’. Good with a coffee, but a bit dispiriting for brekkie.
Ahhh, creamed rice. Mmm, Irish butter.
Hand me a spoon! Where are the crumpets?
In our excitement last week, we may have led members of our family to believe that there were leprechauns on the butter. Sadly, this is not the case. We apologise.

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Bemusing things:

  • You can buy alcohol in the supermarket (not in a separate bottle shop attached to the supermarket, but actually IN a regular supermarket aisle)
  • A (supposedly) cheap haircut costs 27 pounds, when in Aus practically the same chain, giving practically the same haircut, charges 22 dollars…
  • New Zealand lamb is cheaper here than British lamb (at least in Sainsbury’s and M&S)
  • Tasmanian Leatherwood honey is freely available in the supermarket here, whereas in Aus it was sometimes a battle to buy it even in Tasmania.
  • We are equally likely to be mistaken for South Africans as Australians (due to ‘similarity of accent’). When we explained that that was akin to us thinking that someone from Manchester has a similar accent to someone from Wales, people looked at us as though we were mad and/or hard of hearing.
  • No-one we meet ever thinks it was a good idea to swap Australia for the UK. Everyone thinks we are mad.
  • The water does not taste good. Is it all truly recycled…?
  • A 40 minute drive is accorded mythic status. If you tell people you’ve been in the car for 40 minutes they will automatically offer you tea and cake to help with the ‘recovery process’.
  • Brussels sprouts are actually called ‘button sprouts’!
  • Not many people (“No-one!” according to the first Real Estate agent I met) have plain TV. “Everyone” has SKY because “cable is rubbish”. We have cable, and we concur.
  • People always ask how we survived all the spiders and ‘bugs!’ in Aus, but when H timidly addresses “the mouse issue”, people say “Awww, a little mouse can’t hurt you, nothing to be afraid of!”
  • Young persons (!) wear hot pants and singlet tops when the weather is so cold that E willingly tucks his hands under his pram blanket. Apparently summer consisted of three days about four weeks ago.

Wonderful Things

  • Every pear we’ve eaten so far tastes exactly like you wish all pears would taste.
  • Every hedge or bend in the road conceals another lovely village.
  • Flowers pop up in the middle of lawns and public spaces and people step or mow around them.
  • A typical bought lunch might consist of: 3 half sandwiches in a triangular box: one prawn & mayonnaise; one egg and cress; and one ham with mustard. They are GOOD. You can also get a packet of crisps and a drink included for the princely sum of three pounds. There is more than enough food for E and H to share this as a meal (although since E can’t eat crisps we swap them for a packet of precut mango.)

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    downtime in a green cardigan (all the cutest boys are wearing them)

    H & E just come in from the cold on the balcony

    After what felt like a very busy week – perhaps because of, rather than despite, the bank holiday 4 day work week – we were very pleased to reach the weekend.

    E in motion & pushing his birthday gift
    Chuckling over a ‘secret’ plan to get onto the balcony without Mummy noticing

    We are in limbo here until Monday, when we might possibly hear back from a real estate agent or two, so we spent the weekend: looking for furniture – in case we end up renting something unfurnished; driving around and getting a feel for some more local areas; planning exotic weekend trips away (ok, so not actually planning, but we picked up some train timetables… 83 quid return to Paris via the Eurostar from a station not more than 1km from our front door!); going to church – in Wolverton, this time; and picking up a highchair from a successful ebay bid in Little Harrowden – 20 miles and around 40 minutes from MK.

    First roadtest of highchair: with biscuit

    We’ve been on some walks – all three of us – although the littlest member of the family was not required to walk the whole way… and H & E are planning a trip to the Willen Park Maze/Labyrinth once R comes back from a week-long session with the car. We also quite like the sound of a walk along the Grand Union Canal with a leisurely stop in one of the canal-side pubs for lunch. Alas, such treats will have to wait until we are settled somewhere, and don’t have to keep chasing all the thousand-and-one things required to start life anew.

    A tree in spring… on our walk

    H met a real-estate agent she’d quite like to be friends with, but is realistic about the chances of such a friendship actually occurring…she is too chicken to say anything i.e. “Would you like to be my friend?” due to the very real possibility of sounding desperate and/or stalkerish; as well as being frightened of having mistaken the signs and having to experience a flat-out (or pitying) rejection. It is also true that said potential friend is very cool (R’s opinion) and unlikely to be in need of more friends…

    R & E posing patiently for H in the bitter breeze on our evening walk

    So that is our news for the weekend. No post-election commentary, because frankly, we are puzzled by the whole process and all the candidates to boot.

    This is the opposite of how E looks when he is told “It’s Bedtime!”

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    baby steps

    Toddling is now well and truly part of our vocabulary. E is trying his ‘sea legs’ everywhere he can, whenever he can, although crawling takes precedence if he is grumpy/carrying something/trying to get there really quickly. I just watched him walk from the couch at the far end of our loungeroom near the balcony, all the way to the kitchen cupboard where the saucepans are. He was not particularly fast, but he was reasonably steady and very focused on his destination. He is very cute. This is helped by the fact that his little blonde locks are ruffled from his nap in the car, and therefore standing up around his head. In addition, he is wearing a cream longsleeved top underneath denim overalls – like a baby from a magazine!

    We have spent the week in a haze of administration: bank accounts; mobile phone contracts; and, perhaps most time-consumingly, real estate. Not to mention R’s day-to-day meetings etc. We are looking for a house to rent for about 6 months while we get our bearings. That way, if we hate the area etc, we can move elsewhere at the end of 6 months, and if we like it, we can extend.
    H is the chief viewer of properties during the week, although R tends to be the one who is keenest to look online! Nevertheless, H has been calling agencies all week and booked in seven viewings over three days.
    The process of renting here is (she thinks…) more brutal than in Aus. Each agent/company must perform a credit check on the tenant – at a cost of anywhere between 150 and 280 pounds. This is a one-time thing, but only with that agent/company. If you don’t get the property you’re after with them, and decide to switch agencies, then you must pay the credit check fee again. In addition, some popular agencies ask you to pay a holding deposit for the property you’re interested in, to take it off the market while the admin happens. Chalk up another 150 pounds.
    H had a very interesting conversation this morning with an agent who said he wasn’t going to bother showing us anything unless we could prove we could pay the 6 months lease in advance – “because Australia is very far away and we can’t do a credit check on you from here…”. Needless to say, we’re not going with them, and no other agency seems to have had the same concern.
    We are viewing houses/terraces in lovely suburbs and charming little villages all around MK. Ravenstone is our favourite village so far (thatch-roofed stone cottages surrounded by rosegardens on twisty little cobbled streets) but there’s nothing for rent!
     We’ve happened across quite a few places we’d like to live, but fear may be impractical. Yardley Gobion had a lovely 2 bed thatched cottage for lease, but the only cooking option was an oil-fired Rayburn stove. Utterly romantic, but completely hopeless for a quick heating of E’s dinner.

     Tomorrow, H & E are off to view ‘Dairy Cottage’; Caldron House; and a quaint house in Potterspury. She has high and romantic hopes of all of them! Of the three homes viewed today, her favourites are three storeys tall with winding carpeted staircases and huge glamour kitchens…we’ll see!

    Our camera has died an annoying death (for us, not it, obviously!) so we have no pictures to share. Perhaps it is better so – that way, when we finally find a house, it will burst upon our blogging world with fresh charm.

    P.S. H found the most amazing resource for research on Britain here. She is trying hard to get some of the historical context of this lovely part of the UK, and if it involves reading a bit of historical travel writing, well, so much the better.




    It was an odd thing to land in England, knowing that it would be our home for some time to come, the weight of expectations hanging as heavily as our excess baggage.
    The weather was a shock to us, in contrast to the tropical humidity of Singapore, it was crisp, fresh and no more than fifteen degrees. It was also a beautiful day – bright blue sky, fat white clouds, green grass, and a landscape full of trees covered in buds.

    We are living (for the moment) in Jade House. It is in  a huge block of apartments right in the middle of the shopping and business district. For all that, it is very peaceful and well laid out – even park-like – in its surroundings.

    We are beginning to settle in and find our bearings here: The sun rises early and E wakes around 6am, therefore, so do we. R walks the 500 metres to the office each morning; and E and H settle in to a day of exploring the neighbourhood; buying the necessities (which are quite numerous when you’re starting from scratch!) and the endless washing that seems to accompany the possession of a small front-loading washing machine. We have discovered the MK market; a huge mall; all the relevant baby stores within a 10km radius and the hazards of a climate where rain is never too far away.
    We have two new sets of wheels in the family: a car for R & H and a new pram for E.
    We are having fun zipping around in both ‘vehicles’ and learning the way that things are done here. We now know that it is not the done thing to drive slowly (or at what would be a legal pace in Australia), everyone motors along at between 80-100kms on quite small, built up roads. There are very few speed signs posted so we are trying to keep up with the flow of traffic for the moment until we work out how to know the speed for sure.
    It is also not the done thing to go to the park/playground in the mornings here. The reason being that all the equipment is covered in dew and it takes a long while for the sun to dry it out at this season.
    We have a lovely view from the flat (all windows and balcony) of the park/gardens in the central square of the apartment. There are even tulips popping up through the lawn and nodding their bright heads at us as we walk by.

    E is a bit short of toys at the moment so is finding amusement in other ways…
    Some other exciting news: E took his first steps on the Wednesday night before we left Australia – just in time for both grandmas to see him! He has been taking more steps since we’ve been here but suffered a setback when he fell two days ago – cutting his lip on the glass TV cabinet. It was a bit of a shock for R and H, but overall E has weathered it well and has only a small mark on his lip to show for it now.