Archive for the ‘ontheroad’ Category

[To everyone who’s been complaining about my lack of postings – at least the no news was good news! To everyone who is reading about this for the first time and freaking out, sorry.] 

I’ve learnt a few things this week:

  • Emergency medical care in London under the NHS is awesome as well as free;
  • despite being very worried about it at the time, I didn’t need to worry about my passport, Medicare card, health insurance, etc;
  • I should have taken more reading material, teeth cleaning stuff and slippers;
  • calling your Mum from a clean, safe, excellent hospital after a minor accident does NOT make her any more confident you’re OK; and
  • even in hospital you can get your five cups of tea a day here.

So what happened? (Kate, skip this paragraph) In short, I fell over at home and cracked open the bridge of my nose, loosing blood and flesh (sorry Damo, I know you’d just done the mopping) in the wee hours. I rode in an ambulance to University College Hospital London, and then was seen by an awesome Maxillofacial surgeon and then spent the night up on wards while they decided that I was OK in the head injury department. 4 stitches inside and 6 on the outside.

I refused to pay for TV in hospital, but got through two days of the Guardian cover to cover. I caught up on sleep, was treated so kindly and professionally and all without payment or any questions about my status in the UK as an immigrant/visitor. They sent me home, four meals heavier, with a bevvy of medication, toiletries and some treatment materials. Winner.

After stressing my Mum out (despite playing it mostly tough/cool, I was wishing she was closer) a bit, I am just now laying low, vowing to blog more often and missing work a lot. Very bored at home and frustrated that all this sleep is hidden by grotesque bruising on my face – will post photos when I look more normal (and less like a Star Trek extra…)


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Has it really been that long since I blogged? Yikes.  A first batch of photos from my trip to Turkey with Alexandra – some highlights from Istanbul, with more to follow. Apologies to those who’ve never sat through all my photos before for the excessive number of structures, building materials, etc – people to go in Facebook albums very soon.







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Regular readers of my blog (now numbering onto a second hand!) will have noticed that I haven’t been posting of late – a combination of work, travel, work, homesickness, and well work (with a whack of exhaustion and apathy, mostly caused by work) have conspired against me.

On Sunday morning I am off to Turkey with Alex for a much-needed 10-day break, so in the meantime I am going to ambitiously attempt to jump down off the no-blogging wagon by updating the following areas:

  • Travel (or Cat Empire in Paris and the Durham Open)
  • Work (or the box truss and other pressures)
  • Homesickness (or the £2.50 Twisties and the worst mango ever)
  • Interesting Ideas (or Facebook is for snobs and The Grand Tour)
  • Politics (or voting in the UK and depressing news from home)
  • Visitors (or Alex and Lauryn, and soon Christina, Nic and Alex)
  • Random Stuff (Pommy engineer’s happiness and clothes sent from home)

Clearly the above  gives away most of it – but promise to try and embellish when I post tomorrow and Saturday, while completing mammoth lists of work, packing and socialising!

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Paris IV

Regular readers of this blog will remember that Beck and I went to the LSE Open earlier in the year, with something of a mixed bag of results. We did well at the tournament, and made some good friends, but the whole experience fell a little short of our Australian-made expectations of the tournament. To be fair, we were perhaps a little ill-prepared for the less than welcoming approach taken by lots of people on the British circuit. (I know, why wouldn’t they love two Aussies with lots of Pom-bashing material? Odd.)

So I’m pleased to report that the Paris IV was a magical weekend – am now looking forward to both the Durham Open later this month (faith in debating tournaments restored) and my next trip to Paris this weekend (for a Cat Empire gig, and just because I am seriously getting the hang of the three day weekend.)

The weekend started with another very late Air France flight on Friday, and a late night taxi to find Anna’s place where Beck & I stayed. Fellow corporate travellers will be pleased to learn that I explained (in bad French) why the 2 plus hour delay was an inconvenience, as was the mooted change of arrival airport, so we managed to wangle a taxi reimbursement, some frequent flyer miles and two whopping £3.50 vouchers to spend at London City Airport. Sure, £3.50 only really buys a Czech beer, but still.

Our arrival at Anna’s led to excited gossiping and the first of several rounds of the house brioche (dubbed “chocolaty boozy bread” by me because it was choc-chipped and tasted a little alcoholic) with Nutella until the wee hours. We dragged ourselves out of bed and onto a local bus with every intention of making the 9am briefing, only to find an odd protest/march blocking our arrondissements from the rest of Paris. We were a little late (not a drama, the organisation was superb) but I felt the blend of Catholic priests, youth involved in the Scouting movement, crucifixes, Sea Scout types in pom-pommed berets, large banner bearers, etc was something to behold. With cries of “Onward Christian Bushwalkers”, the bus broke through the hundreds, if not thousands, of people to deliver us safely. Hoorah.

The tournament itself was great – as a judge, all the teams I saw were enthusiastic, keen to learn, competed in the spirit of the competition and all had a good day. So many of the speakers improved, all the debates I saw were entertaining, etc – basically a lot of love in the room. A very functional, beneficial day all around, and in Paris too!

The motions were:
1. TH would nationalise prostitution
2. TH believes that states where abortion is illegal Have the Right to Prevent their Citizens from Travelling Abroad to Have One
3. TH would pay legal immigrants to return to their country of origin
4. TH would provide extra welfare payments to impoverished men and women if they agree to be sterilised
GF. TH believes that terrorist organisations are legitimate democratic partners

After the rather swish GF, we kicked on to Mandala Ray, (aka Man Ray, or so I’m informed) a club owned by Johnny ‘Dreamboat’ Depp, Sean Penn & John Malkovich, which was very Parisienne (so I’m told) and rather cool. There, on the dance floor, I was able to get a dose of bad tournament dancing, gossip etc, to complement the functional day. Swoon.

Beck and I spent much of the rest of the weekend catching up on sleep, like true corporate cats, but am looking forward to returning to Paris again rather soon – and plan to do the Paris IV in 2008 too.

(I’ve been travelling lots lately, been a little homesick and rather busy at work. Throw in some (minor) personal dramas and computer problems (at work) and you get complete inactivity. My apologies. On the upside, I have now got a back catalogue of material ready to report.)

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One of the many differences between UK and Australian society is water – these people have no idea what a water restriction is, or indeed a drought. This became clear at work during the week when I was attempting to clarify an irrigation scope and struggled to comprehend the exact meaning of the phrase “hose pipe ban” – in the end, the only level of restriction last summer, was that people couldn’t uses hoses. At a stretch, certain types of sprinklers were restricted. Trying to explain a multi-level system was a big sell. A good fear monger could clean up here with a bogus consulting role, like the government’s Water Tsar. (Also, in many parts of the country, the phenomenon of a sports match or training session being ‘rained out’ seems foreign – odd, I suppose when they’re the ones getting all the rain, but just some trivia nonetheless. Try telling tales of the ‘wet weather line’ at school/uni if you want some strange looks or giggles.)

The point to all this talk of rain (yes, there is one) is to lead to the highlight of my trip to Switzerland last weekend. (In truth, the highlight was a girls’ weekend and associated sleepovers and gossip, but from a blogging-adventures, this stuff is easier to report.) On Sunday Flick organised for our crew to join a trip to Glarus, where we got to see Landsgemeinde, a uniquely Swiss phenomenon, and in this case a wet one.

As you can see in these photos:




Once we arrived in Glarus we went to the main square where they’d set up benches and platforms to house the voters of the canton, who vote with a pink card that seemed to have some form of agenda, but was primarily a voter registration or proof of entitlement to vote. The outside benches under a sea of umbrellas are all the visitors, outside the fence that keeps the voters in.

Each motion was debated (in Swiss German), often amended to the delight of procedure junkies everywhere, and then eventually votes were cast. It was rather good to be an observer as you could have your umbrella up all the time (they were lowered for voting) and just adjourn to a nearby cafe when the weather got too much.

Bizarrely for such a precise people, the vote was not done on exact numbers, but based on a “clear majority”, and obviously the voting was very public. The absence of the private AEC cardboard booths, and the numbers of tourists and observers was certainly unique. Interestingly to us compulsory voting types, organisers only plan for about 20-30% of eligible voters to attend- but then again, the Swiss are over-franchised, with a constant stream of voting opportunities.

Glarus was a gorgeous corner of Switzerland, and a beautiful spot in spite of the fairly miserable weather. It was actually really nice to see mountains and cliffs after the flatness of London. There was something for the family – a parade in robes, traditional banners from the public buildings, Swiss military guards and a market of food and everyday market crap.

The real process highlight was the final motion of the session when Glarus became only the second Canton to lower the voting age to 16. We followed the detail at intervals when interpreters were available, so got a sense of the speeches (including an old man who kept everyone in the rain to bang on about how young people can’t be trusted with such matters, but ended with an assurance he likes them very much, just thinks they’re useless) and then watched the tussles as the votes were recast a few times to get a clear majority. After several rounds, the motion carried and we joined in with the cheers.

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Roadtrip may be over doing things a little – I am, after all, car-less and not at all keen to get back into driving while in London. But I did, on Tuesday morning, go to Croydon for my CSCS Health & Safety Training Supervisors test. It was a lot like my L-plate test as a 16 year old girl – as the sort of person who rubbishes anyone who fails such a simple, touch-screen test, the consequences of failure were unbearable, so I did some study and was fine.

The highlight/lowlight (depending on your views of corporate travel) of the experience was the trip to Croydon (inside the M25, but waaaay the Deep South for this Zones 1 & 2 Princess,) where I loved this sign: (I have a sneaking suspicion a fellow engineer wanted this one erected…)

Wider Croydon

Work-Related Rant

The whole process of becoming accredited to be a construction industry big cheese over here is just crazy – I am still not really ready to work on a site more than 8 weeks after I first started here. By comparison, a NSW ‘Green Card’ (the Construction Industry’s General Safety Induction certificate, administered by WorkCover) takes around 6 hours to obtain, is an industry wide standard and a new worker can ‘rock up’ at one of many approved training centres with 100 points of ID and get one. Here, in typical UK-process-loving-hell style, I’ve had to fill out forms to work out what forms need completing, been a hideous number of stages (each with a small delay for processing), all before this involved test to get one of the many (over 50) different types of cards. I just pray I have the right one! Lots of people in industry admit that some European workers just buy cards from the pub for £150 – if I looked like a middle-aged man I’d be sorely tempted as it would be worth the sanity break.

The second part of this rant is just how many people (there have been lots of them involved in processing my application) have spoken to me like I am a complete freak-show. I know women are unusual in the construction industry, and by being a young Australian engineer I am even more exotic, but I guess I just hoped people would be more British (ie reserved) with their surprise.

I posted earlier about the man in the CSCS test booking centre who asked me if I was booking in for a test ‘for (my) husband?’  – similarly, everyone at the test centre kept checking I really wanted to do a Supervisor’s test, but I just had to let it pass. I then had to wait for a certificate to be printed and call two different call centres to advance my application (ever closer to the elusive card!) where both people asked me if I really was an engineer like it was the most incredulous notion.

Having once (rather infamously in my old workplace) taken my dry-cleaners through the HREOC process, am not going to let a the testing centre (Thomson Prometric), subcontracted to the CITB, get away with it. I don’t really enjoying being a gender warrior (it’s fun in debating land when it involves mere rhetoric, but less fun when you actually have to use the tools available to change people and systems) but think these people need some angry young woman reform.

Phew. Feel soo much better!

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badoyster stickerbadoyster walletdragonette wallet

Two posts from Londonist inspired me today, both takes on the Oyster that is a bit of a London institution – this one about the band the Dragonette’s cool promo wallets (not the day for my music industry rant) and this one about badoyster‘s deliciously subversive wallets and oyster stickers.

I generally love both the tube (tube-hating is such a bizarre sport – would be funner if less whingers were in it, no?) and the Oyster because I am both tragically optimistic and a nerd – but clearly these guys aren’t happy campers. My sneaking feeling is that they stand in the door way and block the way of others, but who is to know.

I have been in the market for a cool oyster wallet after missing out on some wicked TfL ones, and got a cute, celeb-designed (very London) one from Oxfam instead… the blue wallets everyone else uses are, I suppose, iconic, but thought it would be nice to have something different and nice for everyday. Also, it reduces the chances I will confuse my Oyster card with my spare one for guests. Mum has now used my visitor’s Oyster, as have Bonne and Alex before her – adding to my existing stash of hospitality features (add them all together and I might scrounge a star??)

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