Thursday, 30 June 2011

And now I've moved into my flat

Today I had a trip to Curtin to sort out my medicard which required presentation of my  passport and paper copy of my visa to the Medicare officer.  As the visa is electronically attached to the passport, it was worthwhile having printed the paper copy as this was needed by the Medicare officer. Because I had the hard copy, this was dealt with quickly and easily.  Had I not had it, I think the process would have been more fraught.

It was raining by the time I returned on the bus.  The bus fares for student concessions appear very generous.  It is a zonal charging system but the concessions appear to be c25% of the full fare.  This includes the smartrider discount (pre-pay card).  I think one zone costs about 85c (c50p)!  Much cheaper than where I come from. 

Two sides of the same room.

About midday I got a cab to take me and my luggage to my new flat.  It is immaculately presented and very clean.  I checked the inventory and discovered I had more utensils than listed, so added them to the list.  By this time it was about 4pm.  I wondered about walking to the local parade of shops, but it was threatening rain so I decided to go into Perth on the 30 bus - this is the opposite direction to Curtin.  I wanted to see how long it took and to identify where the bus station was in relation to the train station.  Journey time 35 minutes all around the houses, and bus/railstations next to each other.  But I keep forgetting it is winter here, so by the time I had done some food shopping it was nearly dark.  This meant I needed to follow the route on the bus map carefully, so I could get off at the right stop - all the roads looked similar in the dark.  But I found it ok, and remembered the 15 minute walk back to the flat perfectly well. 

I'm glad I'm home now.  Tired.  Cup of tea in front of the weather forecast and bed.  And there is a gale warning for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A mostly successful day

Everything I did today was successful if it was Australian and a disaster if it was English. 

Cali and I met up and went into Perth to sort out some minor domestics - I bought my Aussie sim card, international adapter and various other bits and pieces.  We then took the bus to Curtin and the Math Education department was successful at getting Cali enrolled.  I established that I could bring in my details tomorrow to get my medicard sorted out prior to International Induction week.  We then took the 30 bus down to Salter Point to identify where to get off, and walked to the flat I am renting.  This was 15 minutes on the bus and 15 minutes walk along idyllic roads and waterfront.  It does not get any better than this.  I can't believe my good fortune. 

My flat is up the drive to the left of the house with the arched verandah.

and this is the view across the road!

On our return to my hotel, I put my aussie sim card in my phone and immediately had a call from Ian, my uncle's cousin, inviting me to dinner tonight, and to leave shortly.  I said I would be about half an hour, while I confirmed some house insurance details in the UK.  This is where it all went wrong.  I put my UK sim back in my phone, and spent 19 minutes 40 seconds (and FAR too many £s) contacting the insurance company, was transferred NINE times, confirmed my security details FIVE times, and every person told me I had been put through to the wrong person and they could not assist me.  And then my credit ran out!  By this time I had a major strop on.  So I stomped out of the hotel, stamped up the road to Perth railway station and leapt on a train.  Fortunately Ian had given me precise directions regarding which line and platform to take.  Normally I would have had a good look around the station, inspected the trains and really enjoyed the environment (I used to work for a railway in London).  By the time I got to Victoria I had calmed down a bit. 

Ian and his wife Susie, and brother-in-law Leeuwin showed me fantastic hospitality.  I fell in love with their dog, Lucy, who is a young Jack Russell, very like my previous dog, Daisy.  Susie cooked the most fantastic meal - much better than I could have done.  I've also discovered a new ingredient - pickled ginger.  I love ginger, but had never come across this before. Before dinner they were sampling and analysing various champagnes for their daughter's forthcoming wedding.  The analysis was done in detail, and this was their third sample this week.  I stuck to water as I am still jetlagged after the flight.  The conversation flowed easily and in no time, I needed to take a cab home.  It was wonderful Aussie hospitality to a stranger in their land.

At this point another English mistake happened.  The cab arrived quickly, and I leapt in.  As we arrived at my hotel, I realised I did not have my purse, and was starting to panic, when Susie rang, saying I had left my purse on the table.  So the cab had to take me back to collect it and then back to the hotel again.  Unsurprisingly the cabbie suggested I check the cab before I get out to make sure I had not forgotten anything! So this was slightly more expensive than it needed to be, all due to my incompetence!!  But at least my purse with all my cards, student id, bus pass, driving licence etc is back in my possession.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

And a very successful evening as well!

Cali and I had decided to eat together tonight.  Cali asked to me to accompany her to her final viewing for the day and we went to a house on the north east side of the university.  Pauline picked us up from my hotel, and drove us to her home.  It was perfect accommodation for Cali.  Two good sized bedroom and upstairs lounge and bathroom for two students with shared facilities downstairs.  By far the cleanest, and friendliest that Cali had viewed today.  It was immediately taken by Cali and we comemnced a long chat with Pauline, who migrated from Ireland about 25 years ago,when we decided we would all eat out together. 

Around this time, Pauline mentioned that she had a niece coming over from London to study at Curtin.  I asked who, and it turns out it is a student from my university, Herts.  During the international briefing I had sat in front of Jodie and her father.  Strangely, a couple of minutes later, who should ring Pauline but Jodie's Dad!  Small world!  He remembered me, the redhead who sat in front of them.

Cali, Pauline and I went out together and had a lovely chinese meal, and then we were taken back to our hotel.  Everything is well with my world.

Day 1 - Finding accommodation

Today has been more successful than in my wildest imaginings.  I was awake half the night because I was jetlagged, but this was only to be expected.  At 8.30 I was collected by the Accommodation Officers from Curtin.  There was another mature student in the car, Cali.  (If she is mature, I must be vintage!)  Cali is studying for a masters in math education and will return to the US when she finishes. 

Immediately we set off, the Accommodation Officers were identifying the type of places we would like.  I said that I was basically sober-sided - I don't drink, smoke, gamble or party.  They obviously knew their landlords well, for as soon as I said I was seeking a one bed flat, they suggested a granny flat in Salter Point where the owner was seeking a mature post grad student - I think I fitted the bill, even though I am undergrad.  They took Cali and me to the Accommodation office, where they clarified a few details for Cali, then asked us to come back in about an hour, by which time they would have set up some viewing appointments! 

We explored the campus in the pouring rain.  Rain here is quite unusual, and everyone was apologising for the weather.  If only they knew the weather in England!  We found the Textile and Print Department and Math Education.  We went to Westbank and each opened an account.  I now need to do battle with my bank in the UK and make a phonecall tonight to authorise an international money transfer.  Unfortunately the one thing I did not manage to do today, is to get a new sim card, so don't yet have a new phone number.

Stephen, our accommodation office driver, was most helpful.  I am a nervous passenger and he did not make me twitch once!  Good man.  We were chauffeur driven to about 7 different locations in the area, in the pouring rain.  We went to Salter Point first and although it was at the top end of my budget, it was like being offered 5 star accommodation including bills, for my exchange year. It had a main room with kitchen, laundryroom/bathroom, bedroom and utility cupboard.  The outlook was fantastic - over Salter Point (unsurprisingly).  It was like being offered the chance to live on millionaires row.  It's a short walk to the bus route, or I can get a bike and use a cycle path to Curtin. We then viewed two other locations: the second was not as well maintained and although $50 cheaper did not include bills, and the third was on the 6th floor of an apartment block and generally appeared a bit tired.  I nearly ran back to the accommodation office, to take up the first viewing.  We have agreed that I will move in on Thursday.  I now need to sort out making funds available for bond and first rent payment.

We looked at various locations for Cali.  Her areas were mostly east and northeast of the university.  Some were houses that had 6 students sharing, others were family homes with one or two student rooms attached.  Most had a bathroom shared between 2 students, which appeared a lot better than I had imagined.  This is probably because Cali specified a preference for limited bathroom sharing, so demonstrates how well the accommodation officers matched us to our requirements.

Cali and I are going out later today to view another flat for her.  Then we go to dinner together. 

I have had such a fantastic day.  The assistance offered by the Accommodation Office has been absolutely outstanding.  I hope my university (Herts) support foreign exchange students this way, but I think it unlikely.  Curtin University has represented itself well. 

Monday, 27 June 2011

I've arrived in Aus!

Feeling slightly apprehensive at the moment.  I have arrived in Perth, all in one piece. 

My brother David, took me to Heathrow airport yesterday morning.  We had a good clear run round the M25 and arrived in good time for my flight.  (My hushand Jim has trained me well - I was 4 hours early, which is a bit slack by his standards - he would have been 6 hours early!)

Flight to Singapore was good - it was 95% full, but I have one of the few spare seats next to me, so was able to lie sideways to sleep.  This meant I could lie down, but not tuck my feet up, so I woke every half hour with pins and needles and had to change position but I did get about 8 hour sleep on a 13 hour flight.  It was a fantastic interchange at Singapore Changi airport.  I went from gate C20 to C23 in about 5 minutes and the luggage was transferred direct.  So for anyone else wondering if 55 minutes is enough time to change flights there, it is plenty of time.  The Perth flight was only half full, so I lay down and slept most of the way. 

The airport reception service was fine, and I was met, put in a taxi and taken to my hotel which is where I am now. 

Now, off to find something to eat, and then try to contact my uncle's cousin for my first Australian contact.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A trip to the Royal College of Art Final Degree Show

At Herts, there are only two part-timers in my year on the Contemporary Applied Art course.  Debbie is a jeweller and I am a textile artist.  We decided to have a trip out before I left and met up in Kensington to go to the RCA final degree show.

This was a very worthwhile trip.  There was a lot of fantastic designed work to see, but the 4 that stick in my mind were knitted evening dresses, print on neoprene, moving wire "jewels", and objects made from reconstituted orange peel.  Obviously you can't take photos at a final degree show, so I'll just have to describe them - and I omitted to note the students names!  Debbie was very interested in the way that the objects had been staged - lots of them were able to be viewed from all sides which is important for garments.  I can see Debbie going into curating exhibitions after her degree. When the maker was with their work, quite a few would pick up the work and allow you to handle it, which surprised me. 

The knitted evening dresses had fine chain knitted into them and were quite stretchy. One had cascades of fine chain coming from the shoulders, another had the chain forming the skirt from thigh level.  They were quite heavy, beautiful and the feel was surprisingly tactile and delightful.  The print on neoprene (wetsuit fabric) could start a whole new trend in sportswear if the designer can resolve the attribute that the print is not yet waterproof.  She has the design and ideas for other applications, but in my opinion, if she can resolve waterproofing, there is money to be made in watersport applications. 

I thought the moving jewels were "best in show".  Fine wire had been used to form 3D diamonds which had been linked together in a line to make a necklace of about 30 jewels.  This was mounted on a mechanical rotator, hidden in a wall-mounted box.  There was a tray of soapy water beneath, through which the bottom of the necklace was dipped.  It was top lit by a tiny spotlight, and as the necklace rotated, the soapy water caught the light.  Absolutely brilliant.

The recycled orange peel was being formed into 3D objects.  Apparently spent orange peel is a major environmental problem by-product, from the juice industry.  So this artist had experiemented with drying and grinding it, forming it into a malleable substance with the addition of some other product (not sure what) and forming new objects.  The demonstration objects were various juicers.  Very imaginative.

A lovely day out.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The postcard art project

Lisa and I have started the art project.  Her first card was "Two women dreaming" inspired by the style of aboriginal art from the exhibition at the British Library.  It's all about life's lines travelling forward, restarting, repeating, travelling forward.  Mine is a bon voyage gift - airmail envelopes.
"Two women dreaming" and "Bon Voyage envelopes"

The Family Bon Voyage party

It is now Tuesday, and I have just recovered from the family Bon Voyage, Bon Collage party.  I so wanted to see all the family before I left - but I am not a natural host and find it all completely exhausting.  Maureen Lipman observed in one of her books that some people are natural hosts, some are natural guests.  I am a natural guest - I go round and talk to everyone, am interested in other people, will eat whatever is provided, and generally have a good time.  I am not a natural host, find it very stressful to be cooking, conversing, and facilitating others to have a good time, and worry about whether I have enough food, drink, fridge space, whether the weather will be good, will everyone talk to each other, etc. 

So sensibly I called on some key friends, "the kitchen fairies" to run the kitchen for me.  They were an intelligent, eclectic mix - Esther who read physics at Liverpool, Matt who read history at Kings, and Lisa, an artist from Goldsmiths.  They divided up the kitchen work between them - Esther on salads, Matt on the cooker, and Lisa hanging my artwork and generally assisting as required.  What a brilliant bunch!  Having them there, was certainly like magic for me.  Snippets of their conversation were around, how to earn an alternate living as a history/maths/physics tutor, the principles of atomic physics from a black bin liner; medieval history; how to run a kitchen like a station!   All I had to do was indicate where things were kept, and talk to my family. 

Me and Lisa
It was lovely to see everyone.  My 4 aunts had a good opportunity for an extended conversation with each other (they live a long way apart) and so did the cousins.  I think they are all very pleased with the travels of Jim and me, and delighted at the opportunities that are opening up to us.  I might have been stressed by entertaining, but I was so glad to see them all.  It was lovely to realise how many people I have batting on my side.

11 year old Grace was delegated the job of family photos and made a good job of handling an unfamiliar camera with minimal (non-existent!) instructions from me.  A girl with initiative! Obviously a woman from our family!
Aunt Lily, Aunt Joan and Cousin Allison

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A one year art project!

Lisa and I have decided to do an art journal.  We will each do a weekly sketch on a postcard and post it to each other - me in Perth and her in the home counties.  This will start when I begin my student exchange in 10 days time.  We've exchanged home addresses and I'm feeling quite excited about a pictorial record of my year abroad and Lisa's year in the UK.  Both of us like receiving post through the letterbox, as opposed to email on the computer.  I've never done a project like this before.  I hope I can keep it up.  I wonder what will come up as our main themes for the year?

A trip to the British Museum

Yesterday, my friend Lisa and I went on a day trip to London.  The original plan was to go to the Edmund de Waal talk about his book The Hare with the Amber Eyes at the Jewish Museum in Camden.  Because of my naff organising skills, I did not realise that it was restricted to Friends of the Museum - unsurprising because I'm sure it would have been an immediate sell-out.  So we wondered about going to the theatre ticket booth in Leicester Square to get some discounted matinee seats for a musical.  But on our tube journey, we saw adverts for "Australian season" at the British Museum.

This decided us.  As I am off to Aus in 10 days time, it seemed propitious for us to go to this "walkabout" exhibition at the British Museum.  We started looking at the Australia landscape outside in the forecourt area.  Lisa was taken with the Balga tree - looks like a dense clump of grass, but the stems form a dense, fire-resistent trunk with a long flower stalk coming out of the top.  On close inspection, it has lots of repeating forms, particularly apparent when it has been burned and the ends of the stems are visible.  At this stage, Lisa decided to give me my student exchange present - she is obviously keen that I am going to be a good student and draw and take notes every time I go to a museum, because she gave me an A5 Moleskine notebook.  I am very familiar with these - Jim uses them when he goes travelling, and the pocket in the back prevents tickets and oddments being lost, and the elastic band stops it getting dogeared.  So Lisa and I happily sketched, noted and drew our way round the Walkabout exhibition. 

We looked at a shield obtained by Captain Cook, when he scared the natives so much they dropped their weapons and ran off.  We looked at artefacts from the landscape - water carriers made from kelp seaweed and twine, coffins made from logs, and a wonderful variety of woven and twined baskets made from cane and grass. 

Australia Moleskine and museum guide

Then we looked at wonderful prints from Australia.  Some were lithographs, of traditional aboriginal designs, some were more modern.  There were quite a few by Sidney Nolan, depicting the harsh reality of the arid environment.  Lofty Nadjamerrek portrayed the grasshopper lightening ancester; Judy Watson was working with a salkwater landscape depitcted by by whorls and dots; Rover Thomas had done a wonderful spot design that depicted the intersection of a traditional aboriginal route, crossed by a tarmac road.  Very simple, very brilliant.  The artworks were accompanied by a few biographical details of the artist, but the aboriginal work usually had an approximate date of birth - showing how different cultures indicate what is important.  Also some of the aboriginal works did not display a signature, but a fingerprint to authenticate their work.  Once again, a difference in culture.  A very interesting and eye opening exhibition.

We had a wonderful day out.  We talked constantly - neither of us suffer with rigor mortis of the tongue!  We looked, we sketched, we made notes.  A lovely day at the British Museum.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

I think I've got everything booked!

It's been a busy day.  I've done all the remaining paperwork to arrange my trip to Curtin University, Perth.  The credit card took a hammering!

I discovered travellers cheques are rarely used now.  I was given a "cash passport" - a prepaid currency card, loaded with money.   Just shows how long since I've done any real travelling!  And even longer since I travelled alone!  I think my last long journey alone was to Springfield, Missouri via Detroit in 2008.

I've been online to confirm my details are correct on VEVO (Visa Entitlement Verification Online).  I then spent a fair amount of time identifying a suitable flight for me, booked and paid for it.  I set up a frequent flyer account (well, you never know what benefits might accrue, despite my cynicism for these things).  I printed my e-ticket.  I booked and paid for my temporary accommodation.  I booked my Airport Reception.  Having done all of this, I read the notes of Airport Reception and discovered it is available from 13-29 June, at times of peak incoming students.  I now wonder whether I should have arranged to travel earlier in order to arrange a letting, but it's too late now.  I just hope that because I will be seeking off campus accommodation, probably at the higher end of the market, there will be plenty left. I spent most of the morning reading all the background information. It is slightly annoying that this is the only piece of information that I did not read in detail before I started all the bookings.   But I'm sure it will all be ok. 

I have set up a file with all my useful information:

Study Abroad pack from Herts - my module choices; Herts insurance cover; my insurance cover; confirmation of arrival and attendance; key contacts at Herts
Optician prescription (in case I break my glasses abroad!)
Spare passport size photos
Curtin "Start Preparing" pack
Copy of academic reference
Copy of personal reference (for landlord)
Copies of recent UK bank statements (for landlord)
Letter of Offer
Confirmation of Enrolment
Copy of passport - personal details page
Copy of Visa application form.
Copy of VEVO
Frequent Flyer membership
Qantas ticket
Temporary hotel booking confirmation
Airport Reception Booking form
Aus$ cash and prepaid currency card

I'm sure other ideas will occur to me tonight, of things I need to do before I go, but in the meantime, I'm going to relax.

Progress with my visa

I have had a very successful couple of days. 

Yesterday, I received my Confirmation of Enrolment from Curtin University.  Tanya, the administrator, seems very hot at her job and gets everything turned round quickly and effectively - always right first time.  So I immediately leapt onto the computer to apply for my visa.  I discovered that as my visa came in to Level 1 category, it would take 2 weeks to process, rather than the 3 weeks previously advised.  I filled in the form and sent it off, and prepared to wait! 

Then, as I had done all I could, I focussed on the rest of my day.  As I was going to London to see Jersey Boys at the Prince Edward theatre with my friend Lisa, I decided to leave early and pop in to see some of my former staff at Canning Town.  I met up with quite a few staff, and had a lovely chat.  But I am convinced I made the right decision to take severance, and move on with my life.

Jersey Boys was a wonderful show.  It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I'm not really musical but I recognised all the songs, even if I had not known previously who the group was!  One part I particularly liked was where they were playing on the Ed Sullivan show, and the actors were being filmed by the Ed Sullivan cameras, and this was played real time on the video screens on the stage.  It was an exact reproduction of the vintage footage of the Ed Sullivan show.  Lisa liked the bit where the audience view the stage from behind, so you are dazzled by the stage lights.  Very interesting use of stage work. A lovely evening out.

I got in after midnight, and logged on to e-mail to see whether Jim had sent me anything from his travels.  And lo and behold, there was an e-mail from the Australian visa service, confirming my visa was granted!  In less than 24 hours!  How good is that!  So I've printed off the details. Everything to do with the visa is electronically processed, so you don't get a label to stick in your passport.  It will automatically be identified each time your passport is scanned.  But I think I will keep a copy of the visa details with me anyway. 

The only minor hitch is when I tried to view the electronic visa details using on-line verification, the Australian visa computer service is down for updating until later today.  But I can wait.  Hmmm.  In the meantime, do I book my flight before actually seeing the details on the computer?  I really want to book my flight.  But is this wise?  I have the e-mail confirmation....  Maybe I'll check flight availability, then check the on-line verification to see if it's back online, then book!

Life is just so exciting!

Yippee!  I think I'm on my way.