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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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Site with a view

To finish off my binge of blogging, here are some photos of my site, showing our proximity to the Guildhall itself, the number of cranes nearby due to all the work in EC, and the view over the rooftops to nearby St Paul’s Cathedral, one of my favourite buildings in London.

Site 1

 

 Site 2

 

Site 3

The actual job itself has very little to show – we’re just a shell at the moment. But rest assured you’ll be seeing some structural glazing before too long.

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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:

Landsgemeinde1

Landsgemeinde2

Landsgemeinde3

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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A quick list of random pieces of information (yes, strange post, but am straining under the weight of my own expectations):

  • On my new site, new signs went up today about our zero tolerance policies (for which we remove people immediately from site for infringements) ignoring the practical safety ones, the sign also includes exclusions for urination and spitting.
  • Now that I live in such an expensive city, I can justify going to two plays (both free), out for dinner twice (with discounts – 50% off) and to the movies twice (Barbican membership discount) in a 10 day period, plus a girls’ weekend in Switzerland, and still genuinely cry poor. Tough times, clearly.
  • Apparently, the Dutch are years behind the Germans, French and Belgians in the tree-growing game. Years.
  • Now that I live in the UK, I’ve lost 2 shoe sizes. I have less respect for myself now that I am wearing a 2 or 3, rather than a 5 or 6. There are less small shoes in London, even though Poms are shorter than Aussies. As they say, big feet, big shoes.
  • Am thinking of a future-thinking irrigation business in London, driven by climate change and associated fears. These people are not ready for real water restrictions, and have none of the components for the more complex limitations. Gold mine.
  • From my office to London City Airport, including the walk to the tube, is less than half an hour and is paid for by my work travel pass. Swoon.
  • Tomorrow, provided I don’t urinate anywhere I shouldn’t or get caught spitting, I will finally have my first ever workplace massage. Hooray.

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The media here this week is full of speculation about Tony Blair’s anticipated resignation as British PM in the next week or so – but to be honest, I haven’t got too excited by much of the analysis going around.

Much like Australian State politics, UK politics all just seems a bit peripheral right now – despite paying taxes here in with no recourse to public funds, or representation. I could barely be bothered to form a response to the Leader article in this week’s Economist that asserts the likely handover to Gordon Brown is an unsatisfactory way to hand over power. (Perhaps if they’d cited any evidence that the system England and Australia share was somehow detrimental, or was worse than say a lame duck leader, it could’ve been worth it.)

But I reconnected to the Internet today (am now working on a new construction site with associated crazy levels of work, meaning no routine just now – hence less blogging until this little creature of habit is re-settled) to learn that NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has claimed in The Bulletin magazine that Deputy Opposition Leader (and IR spokeswoman) Julia Gillard was unfit to lead Australia because she was “deliberately barren“, and then examined the summary of the various responses in the Australian and World press.

Without letting this post disintegrate into cheap shots at either the publication concerned(which asked Heffernan if he stood by the same comments, originally made last year) or Howard’s leadership style (or my personal theories as to where he sources such heinous attack dogs), the whole thing seemed rather tragic and remote.  Clearly the comments are outrageous, but I seem to have developed a different brand of apathy for Australian politics. For some reason, shame and loathing of your own representatives is different at a difference. I enrolled as an Overseas Elector before I left Australia, and am interested in the forthcoming Federal Election, but my grip on what’s going on is clearly slipping.

Although the Senator has since apologised (“I apologise to Julia Gillard and anyone else who was offended by my completely inappropriate remarks”), and Howard has back-pedalled from his earlier dismissals (“I mean people say funny things all the time and the question of whether they apologise for them is a matter for them.”) to forcing an apology (note how the creep gets comments about Gillard onto the record then yet again puts the lackey back in the box with a public demonstration of his party ‘leadership’), I think Gillard has responded perfectly to the inevitable comments about her gender (again – see: kitchen incident):

“The reality is that modern women know all about modern women’s choices. Mr Heffernan, a bit like the Howard Government overall, is a man who is stuck in the past.”Opposition Deputy Leader Julia Gillard

“I’m not overly anxious about all of these things. You don’t want to spend too much of your lifetime worrying about Bill, do you?”Opposition Deputy Leader Julia Gillard

“This sort of 1950s politics has no place in 21st century Australia, it has no place in Australian modern politics and these sort of remarks, frankly, I just find to be positively outlandish.” Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd

[For all my tough talk about how apathetic I am, writing this piece and finding hyperlinks on Google News (searches for ‘Gillard Heffernan barren’, etc) has managed to made me a little angry- and at the same time assured by some of the editorial responses. Readers may be spared my women-still-defined-by-fertility post on a quiet day. Debating colleagues can save time by reflecting on my typical baby factory rants.]

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Had meant to post these late last week, but have since gone a little arty on the whole thing – check out some ‘textures’ of my current site office, in an ‘unfurnished’ room in the Strand campus of KCL. No telephone line, no computer, no Internet connection – and minimal phone reception!

3×3 of my office at KCL

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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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