Monday, August 6, 2012

Surrey Life

Welcome to Haslemere! Home of wellie boots, North face jackets, scrumptious cakes, country walks, AGA's and the sweetest little sweetie shop in the whole of England, quite possibly the world.

Having stopped for a coffee during our 'where to next?' mission, we promptly decided that the great 'Mere was to be our new destination of choice. A little impulsive some might say, but having dug a little deeper we realised that it had quite a few attractive attributes - great schools, lots of green places, cute oldy worldy houses and friendly people that smile a lot.

It's fair to say that Surrey is quite the beauty spot. Since moving in a few weeks ago we've spent many a minute admiring the countryside and all of its tremendous greenery. Our garden alone has installed a love of nature in the kids who have their own view of the back yard and can quite often be found at 6am, gazing outside, pens at the ready, to tick off any birds that flock on to our bird feeder. A mere glimpse of a magpie can send my 7 year old into the same excitable state he expresses on championing an Xbox game or getting a goal past dad. Since we're usually banning xbox usage (due to the odd spat of bad behaviour) or using it as a tool in our parenting armour, this, I consider as positive progress. 

One big adjustment of course has been the weather. I'd forgotten just how changeable it is here with sun one minute and gloom and rain the next. Having rocked up to school recently in autumnal attire, a quick burst of sunshine had us peeling of the layers en route to the school gates before the heavens opened up and we were promptly rained on - all in the space of ten minutes.

Umbrella's are now safely stored in the car, bags, behind doors and in cupboards in our effort to be as weather-ready as possible. In fact the umbrella has become a bit of a must have accessory these days, along with Hunter wellies and cagoules. Am thinking it's probably time to trade the Veolia/IKEA numbers in for something polka dot or vaguely trend-worthy. There's nothing more soul destroying that being housed under a gigantic advertisement...

One thing that still amazes me is the quiet determination of the Brits to get outside when it's pouring with rain. According to the Met office, June was the wettest since records again. Yet you'll still see people picnicking under brollies in sodden fields, soaked-to-the-bone kids relaying with competitive vigour and little old ladies sporting plastic headscarves on the walk to collect their weekly pension. Nutters. 

Thankfully the arrival of the Olympics brought the arrival of summer and those marvellous athletes have been able to showcase their prowess on dry ground. 

The Olympic fever has been addictive and we have been glued to our screens since day 1. Sadly we missed out on tickets but will be taking an early punt at getting our mitts on some paralympic events. Only a few weeks to go!! Let's just hope it doesn't rain... 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Au revoir Australia….

When you make the decision to move to the other side of the world, the last thing you think about is the possibility of returning home again, yet here we are – approximately a year and a half later – back in the UK where we started….
It feels a little disconcerting to type it out. It’s been something we have discussed on and off for the past few months and whilst I never thought it would really come to this, here we are living out of suitcases again, pondering over schools, houses, jobs, our worldly possessions gradually winging their way back to where we started.
According to figures from Australia’s Immigration Department, around 30% of poms that make the big bold move down under end up returning to UK shores within 5 years. Why this happens is most likely down to a number of reasons. The sky high cost of living perhaps, the bad TV or cups of tea, or maybe – once the novelty of the pristine beaches, blue sky and sunshine wore off, they simply found life was still tainted with the usual moans and groans – just with less friends and family to moan and groan to.
It’s a funny thing, moving countries. There are so many considerations to ponder over, so many decisions to make and ultimately, all you really want to do is settle in as quickly as possible and make the transition as pain-free and seamless for everyone. 
Making friends, starting jobs, finding your way around, getting the kids settled and happy takes time, effort, money and patience. Add to that a ton of emotions, thoughts and feelings and it is by no means an easy thing to do in life. But I’m happy to report that we did it – we upped sticks and moved countries, we experienced life on the other side of the world. We swam in the Indian Ocean, saw dolphins, tasted some of the best wines on the planet, watched our kids grow and gain confidence and above all, spent some unforgettable time with our beloved family and friends – something that will always remain special to us wherever we reside in this world.
We have met tons of expats during our time here who are ultimate Perthites – true Aussie ambassadors who relish in the outdoorsy lifestyle, sunshine and strong economy (something which is particularly robust in Perth, thanks to the booming mining industry). Any discussion of returning to their native land is usually met with a slight curl of the lip and a long practiced response adhering to the shit weather, low wages and miserable people.
I guess what it really comes down to is personal preference and what works for you. After all, what is one person’s bugbear is another’s idea of heaven.
I believe that the real challenge is listening to your feelings, understanding them and doing what is right for your family – whether that is living on the other side of the world, going back to where you started or taking on that new job somewhere completely outside your comfort zone. That, in my opinion is what makes life colourful, vibrant and memorable for all. There’s no point in working at something if your gut is telling you otherwise.
Whilst I think we managed to achieve a good life for ourselves in Perth, there has always been this lingering element of doubt, something fundamental and soulful missing that ultimately needed to be addressed. 
Since starting this blog, I’ve received several emails from people thinking of making the move to Perth and my response is usually along the lines of - try it! If you don’t, you’ll never know.  It’s really only first-hand experience that can define that inevitable yay or nay. So gather all the advice and information you can get your mitts on and go into it with an open mind and a can-do attitude.
If there's one word of advice I could give it would be to think positively and say yes to everything. On arrival in Perth in December 2010, we officially declared 2011 our 'yes' year. Of course, this meant attendance at everything - the school's progressive dinner, after dinner drinks, zumba classes, jet ski-ing and surfing to name a few examples. Life was inevitably busy, but it helped us all adapt quickly - especially the kids who relished in this new level of social interaction.  
It goes without saying that Perth has some amazing attributes. The open spaces, beautiful beaches, great people, food, wine and relaxed vibe is pretty infectious and really can do great things for the soul. Then of course there is the weather. Never before have I experienced so much blue sky and I’m not talking about your average summer sky. These skies are a piercingly deep and dusky type of blue – a blue that begs you to come outside, a blue that seemingly goes on forever. Oh how I shall miss those skies!
Skies aside, there are certain things that you miss...  
For us it was European Culture; beautiful buildings; great museums; amazing sights, sounds and experiences (the type that in-bed themselves in the memory and shape who you are); architecture that has the ability to stir something deep in the soul; the opportunity to hop on a train or plane and be in another country within a couple of hours; driving to the French alps for a weekend of ski-ing; feeling like your part of the world rather than just an onlooker peering in from afar; English rose gardens; (Bex – I have to attribute this one to you!) rolling hills; (you again!) lush countryside; wellie boots! Just a few of the many merits of residing in Europe.
Probably a more serious consideration for anyone with kids is schools. Whilst the private sector of schooling in Perth is outstanding, the state school system is slow and tedious and, in our experience, doesn’t cater well for kids hitting different levels of academic achievement. It’s very much a ‘one size fits all’ approach and any attempt to challenge that often falls on deaf ears.
Arguably, this is just one perspective and no doubt there are kids out there in state education thriving. Nevertheless I would warn anyone bringing young children from other countries to check the curriculum and fight for them to go up a year or two if necessary. Believe me, it’ll be worth it.
I’m writing this a day after landing back in the UK and feel emotional and apprehensive, but quietly positive about what the future holds. We struggled to say goodbye to everyone over the past few days – the family who mean so much to us, our beautiful niece and nephew, the Perth posse, the family Cope, the gorgeous girls I’ve met at work who have become life-long friends to me, Shelly the dog, and so the list goes on….
The great Barry Humphries once famously quoted: ‘To live in Australia permanently is rather like going to a party and dancing all night with one’s mother’. In essence, it’s fun, beautiful and memorable, but there is I suppose, a point where you’d like to go and dance with everyone else.
Dancing aside, I truly hope the kids decide to travel and settle in Australia when they get older. It has something special that is unique and beautiful and I want them to understand and appreciate that again as young adults (and if it means we can retire near Cottesloe beach I’ll be happy).
Whatever happens in the future, I know that there will always be a little piece of Perth in our hearts.
Thanks to everyone who has followed our Aussie adventure J xx

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The rise of East Perth

East Perth is a bit of a must visit these days. Trimmed with posh abodes , lovely river side walks, great schools and a helping of gorgeous little eateries, it’s easy to see why so many people flock here of a weekend to enjoy the laid back lifestyle.
I’m told that, years ago, East Perth was at the bottom of the pile in terms of desirable living. Tainted with its industrial past – it was home to gas works, a power station, engine sheds and a railway yard – Perthites snubbed its grayness in exchange for more happening areas like Cottesloe, Mount Lawley, Highgate and Fremantle.
This reputation held strong as the builders moved in and renovated the old buildings in to modern residential units, though I imagine those who disregarded it during the redevelopment phase must be kicking themselves with regret now (whilst the savvy investors who took a punt laugh smugly into their Dom Perignon’s).

The target of a multi-million dollar urban renewal project, East Perth is considered prime real estate territory these days. Homes have apparently tripled in the last decade and residents put on an interesting display of wealth - rocking up on their boats at Claisebrook Cove for morning tea, riding the Swan on jet skis, strolling around the renovated park lands with little dogs sporting the latest hair accessory…there’s undoubtedly plenty of $$$$ in this part of town.  
The selling point for us is the river walks, great bike trails, the views from the hill at Claisebrook and coffee at The Partisan. If money were no object, I imagine we’d sail across to Burswood for lunch at Nobu, frequent the beautiful Restaurant Amuse (the best degustation menu in town – so I’m told) and enjoy Horse racing and gala days at Gloucester Park….
Those with an appreciation of dilapidated buildings will enjy the old Western Power building – a knackered old shack of a tower that to me is something quite beautiful. Tall, disheveled and slightly askew, there must be thousands of great stories held within those wonky four walls, though it sits on prime real estate land which can mean only one thing – it is doomed for demolition in exchange for yet another run of executive homes with names like ‘The Sebel Residence’ or ‘Claisebrook Towers’.
Hopefully the East Perth Development Authority will stand firm on this one and recommend an art house cinema, library or gallery. Only time will tell…

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Time to celebrate...

Bay turned 5 on Friday - 5! I still struggle to believe 5 years have gone past since she came screeching into the world at Barnet Hospital. If there's one thing I've learnt from her gorgeous, but rapid years gone by, it's to stop and ponder on the little things from time to time - those smiles, the little quirky habits, the jokes, the tears - all those things that make them into the great little people they are today. Life goes way too quick....

To celebrate her new digit, we held a party at Hyde Park with 20 little princesses, a pinata, pass the parcel, musical statues and fairy bread of course. For international readers, fairy bread is quite simply white bread smothered in margarine with hundreds and thousands speckled on top. Sounds pretty gross hey? Well, for the record it is, but for some reason unbeknown to the grown ups, the kids absolutely love it and usually end up snuffling it up like there's some sort of sugar famine.

We enjoyed a bit of hand made love in prep for her big day - heart shaped lollies, keepsake cards and fairy cakes were fun to make, whilst the main attraction - the cake - was promptly guzzled up by kids and parents alike.

The lady came away with some beautiful gifts which she will treasure forever - gorgeous hard backed books, hand made bag and purse, hair accessories and enough arts and crafts to keep her busy for the rest of the year. Don't you just love parties?!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fitness or decide

One thing I love about Oz is people’s commitment to fitness. It might be the hot weather that does it - the scorching hot sun that necessitates the need to be in your smalls for at least 4-5 months of the year. But it’s also something to do with that quintessentially Australian ‘can-do’ attitude, a conquer all approach to life that makes Aussies a force to be reckoned with.
Fitness hounds are most often witnessed first thing in the morning when they can be seen clad in Lycra, stretching/running and panting furiously with their trainers in Perth's parks. There are local meditation classes EVERY morning in Hyde Park, Zumba classes are packed to the brim, cycling to work is considered de rigueur (especially if you have a woven basket on the front) and tai chi is the relaxation method of choice.
The thing that truly impresses however is the commitment to working out in furious heat. Whilst most of us are cowering away in the confines of our comfortable air conditioned cars and houses, there is a large bunch of Perthites parading their beautiful bods along beach fronts, cafe strips and inner city shopping centres. Now THAT'S impressive.
On the flip side, WA certainly isn’t exempt from the obesity epidemic that’s sweeping the rest of the world. There are fast food restaurants a-plenty selling deep fried everything to hordes of hungry customers – especially on Friday nights it seems when cars can be seen queuing outside the Hungry Jacks/Chicken Treat/KFC/Macca's drive thru's for yet another family burger fest.
Whilst us Greens have a fairly positive approach to fitness, I can’t say we’ve been swayed either way really. Not being a lover of sweat, I’ve chosen not to join the masses of cyclers, runners, walkers etc who brave the fierce heat to preserve their svelte looking bods. Instead, I use the Xbox Kinect and the Your Shape workout – an interactive fitness method that gets the heart rate up and targets all those important bits – bum, thighs, tum – that I, and most other women on the planet hate. The beauty of it is I get to position myself under the aircon which means less sweat, no onlookers and a cooler, more comfortable workout.

To contradict everything I’ve just said, I do plan to visit the Bikram Yoga centre around the corner at some point this month. Getting in to numerous tricky poses in 38 degree heat doesn’t exactly fill me with joy but I can see the merits in practicing in a professional environment with yoga-know-hows – the Bikram fanatics who can vouch for its life changing benefits (and help me perfect that tree pose...)
Bring on the sweat fest.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sculpture by the sea

There's something a little bit lovely about sculptures of varying sorts scattered on a beach, especially with blue sky and crashing turquoise waves supplying the backdrop.

This arvo we made our second trip to Sculpture by the Sea - a dynamic and innovative array of visual artistry at Cottesloe beach. The idea, brought to fruition by David Handley - was inspired by a sculpture park in Pragues' Northern Bohemia and encourages kids, adults, grannies, dogs etc to get amongst the structures, talk about their meaning and vote for favourites.

It's rare to see such a large group of people enjoying open art like this in Perth - in fact it's rare to see a large volume of people anywhere really, but there they were in mass numbers photographing, voting, swimming, exploring and discussing these exciting creations. 

Bay loved the colourful contraptions on the beach and enjoyed picking out her faves. Fin, on the other hand was too busy complaining about the post-swim sand in his trollies to have much of an opinion.'s on until 19 March so perhaps he'll be a little more inspired next time.

Visit the Sculpture by the Sea website