Six months in Sydney

After silence that’s lasted rather too long, my recent half-anniversary of living in Sydney has kicked me back into blogging action. I can blame many things for the silence, but one of them is definitely that I have much more of both a routine and a social life than I did even a month of two ago. Nothing like my London life, but enough to keep me (new me?) entertained! So what have I been up to?

My routine is based around exercise – I’m more active than at any time since I stopped rowing vaguely seriously at uni 12 years ago. This is partly because I’ve got a bit more time on my hands than I used to, but it’s also the Aussie lifestyle! I now run twice or three times a week (including a new-found love of Parkrun), swim twice most weeks and go rowing at daft-o-clock on a Thursday morning. The running may reduce a bit after the City2Surf (a massive 14km race/fun run which I entered on a whim – if I can run half and walk half then I’ll be happy!), but I ought to pick up a second rowing session a week again soon. If you’d told me a year ago that I’d enter the City2Surf, she wouldn’t have believed you! It feels really good to be exercising a fair bit again, and go more quickly and further, and the encouragement of my work friends to get running definitely helps – as does the wonderful setting of the North Sydney Olympic Pool.

So that brings me to work… I wrote in a previous post about all the things that were different and why it was a challenging transition from my role in London. The good news is that I think the transition is mostly in the past tense! I can’t explain exactly when that happened, but the difference has been having a couple of projects to get my teeth into after the first couple of months were dominated by business development and some seriously quiet patches when I wondered how I’d be chargeable in a new market. It took me most of the six months to feel I’m working “at my level” but I definitely think I’ve got there now. And you can tell I’ve settled into the team because I got the “human megaphone (loudest in the office)” award at the End of Financial Year party!!

I’ve also done a fair bit of exploring. I’ll write about the Sydney Explorers meetup group in another post soon (maybe next weekend as I’m doing a walk with them on Sunday), but through that group I’ve done a fair bit of walking in and around Sydney, as well as having a weekend away camping in Jervis Bay, a beautiful spot three hours south. I’ve become a confirmed North Sydneysider and, much as I enjoy getting out and about, some of the best weekends have been ones when I haven’t crossed the Harbour Bridge. I’ve discovered some great local eating spots, lovely parks and a fortnightly farmers’ market, all within close walking distance. And I still love the fact that whether I get the bus, cycle or walk (which I’ve done once), I get a pretty fantastic view crossing the bridge every day.

In store for the next six months is more of the same active life and hopefully getting quicker, probably getting involved with a local cricket club if one is looking for a scorer, and lots of travel – weekends in Auckland, Brisbane and Melbourne, a few days skiing in NZ as a birthday present to myself, and three weeks off at Christmas with visitors and travel in Victoria and Tasmania.

Regrets? None at all!

Winter, Aussie-style

It’s the first weekend of winter here, and it’s…. not the weather I moved to Sydney for! I know I risk being accused of being a fake northerner by saying this, but it’s cold! Ok, not England winter cold, but colder than I expected. I’ve been here in winter before, but not for a long time, and I’d clearly erased from my memory. The middle of the day is quite pleasant on a sunny day – high teens or even low twenties – but overnight and first thing in the morning… not so much.

Much as I complain it’s cold, it’s not so much the weather as Sydney not really being set up for it, just like London isn’t set up for the month a year when it’s hot. It’s certainly fair to say that my 1930s ground floor apartment, which was beautifully cool in summer despite no air conditioning, wasn’t built for winter! Very glad of the heater I invested in last weekend. On the subject of stuff, I have to say I made a couple of rookie errors when packing to move here, namely giving away my electric blanket and throwing away a pair of boots which were pretty worn but had a bit of life left. I’ve not replaced the blanket, but my hot water bottle has had plenty of use in the last few weeks!

Autumn was a bit confusing – it was a real Indian summer this year, so properly hot through March and well into April, and the combination of that and dark evenings after we lost daylight savings was very strange indeed. In late April and May, Sydney didn’t really reach a consensus on what season it was. On some days, I saw people in sandals and others in winter coats – maybe one dressing for lunchtime and the other for the 7am walk to the bus. I’ve not got dressed without checking the weather forecast for a while, but decided this week that the summer dresses can have a month or two in the cupboard, and I’ve worn tights for the first time since leaving the UK. What’s that about?

Sydney winter does have some things going for it – firstly, it’s not Melbourne weather which is far colder! Secondly, the Vivid festival is pretty fantastic. I’d never heard of it, but it involves some amazing lights and light shows and events, which look incredible on the iconic harbour buildings. I enjoyed walking home from work last week over the harbour bridge looking at the opening night, and will make sure I walk round the harbourfront one evening – though will need to battle the crowds as it’s become a bit of a victim of its own success.

Winter is probably also better for exercise, given my preference to do so outside rather than in a gym. Jogging and cycling is better out of the heat, and the pool I use by the harbour bridge is heated so it’s only the dash from the pool to the changing room that’s shivery! And rowing would be fine had I not taken an inadvertent dip this morning when I had an equipment failure and fell in. That *was* chilly, especially the soaking bike ride home!

I know I’m lucky that this is winter… but bring on September and Spring!

Exploring the Red Centre

Another travel post, I’m afraid… I’ve had more than my fair share of holidays lately, but it’ll calm down for a while now! This time, it was just under a week in the Red Centre – Alice Springs and Uluru – and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Uluru has always been on my bucket list, so when my parents told me they were planning to go while over here, I jumped at the chance of gatecrashing this bit of their holiday. What I didn’t really know was what there was to see other than Uluru itself, and the answer is lots. Variations on the red rock theme, but all different and spectacular.

The trip didn’t get off to the best start, and I was lucky to be on the plane at all! I managed to completely stuff up my alarm setting and overslept, waking ten minutes before I was planning to leave for the airport. Thankfully, I’d allowed lots of time so still managed to leave the house in comfortable enough time for the flight, but the bits of packing I’d left til that morning were rather hasty. And at no point during the packing process did it occur to me that my wallet was in the bottom of my cycling bag, and maybe I might want to bring it. It dawned on me on the train to the airport that I didn’t have it, and therefore had no photo ID (as I’d consciously decided to leave my passport at home and use my driving licence if needed) but I didn’t have time to go home and get it. Now, I’ve only rarely been asked for photo ID for a domestic flight but Jetstar would have been entirely within its rights not to let me travel. At check-in, the lady manning one of the desks was asking people for ID, so I made sure I went to the other desk. All passed off ok, but my heart was in my mouth for a while! As an added bonus, I had a window seat and got some fabulous photos both of Sydney and the outback.

For the first three nights, we were staying in Yulara, or Ayers Rock Resort. It’s an odd place, built in the 80s only existing for the tourist trade, but the 900 or so residents who work at the resort or for tour companies make it one of the largest few towns in the Northern Territory. That tells you something about the Territory! It’s all owned by Accor and accommodation prices are eye-watering, so my parents’ apartment having a sofa bed was an epic win!

20km from Yulara is Uluru, and about 50km in the same National Park, Kata Tjuta or the Olgas, a group of lump-shaped rocks which are nearly as impressive. We spent a day at each, walking and taking photos. I ummed and ahhed briefly about climbing Uluru – the aboriginal community asks tourists not to as it’s sacred, and it’s been agreed to close the climb from late 2019. The knowledge that the opportunity won’t present itself again gave me a tinge of regret, but I think not climbing was the right decision. The base walk (an easy 10km) gave some fabulous close-up views of the rock. We watched sunrise and sunset from a viewpoint in the resort, giving some wonderful colours, and did sunset drinks and BBQ dinner close to Uluru one evening – of course the only evening of the trip when it was cloudy! Never mind!

It’s a common misconception that Uluru is very close to Alice Springs – it’s actually over 450km, but the road is good so it’s easily driven in a day. My parents drove it in a hire car, but I wanted to go to Kings Canyon (which is sort of on the way) so found a tour that would take me there and then on to Alice. It was a very long day with a 4.45am start and I spent over 8 hours on a bus, but it was fabulous! After climbing 500 steps, we walked around the top of the canyon which was spectacular, and the sheer cliffs made it very different from Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

I also really liked Alice Springs. It’s a big country town rather than a city, so easily walkable, but big enough to have decent facilities and infrastructure. I enjoyed a steakhouse which is a bit of an institution, and was especially impressed with the network of cycle paths, though didn’t have time to get on a bike. We had a walking day (more amazing red rocks!) and a town day when we went to the desert park to see birds and wildlife, the art gallery and the old telegraph station, which is the reason Alice exists where it is. The walking day, at Simpson’s Gap and Standley Chasm, was possibly my favourite day of the trip – the basic walk at Standley Chasm was short and easy (though the chasm was fascinating) so we tacked on a bit of the Larapinta Trail, a long-distance walk that starts in Alice. This was a steep and rocky path which took us up to a lookout with spectacular views up the valley. It made me want to come back and walk the whole Larapinta – added to the list! Earlier that day, Mum and I did a dawn hot air balloon ride, with mine part-funded by a voucher from my brother and sister-in-law. That was also great – very serene and didn’t feel like we were as high as we were, and amazing to look down on waterholes and miles of red. And of course sunrise from the air was pretty unforgettable. It was seriously cold at 6am though, which I didn’t expect.

I came back from the trip refreshed, revitalised from loads of exercise and really pleased to have seen a totally different side to Australia from life on the coast. Having ticked off the tourist spots, I really want to go back and get properly off the beaten track.

Office life, but not quite as I knew it

At the end of a strange week with a public holiday in the middle of it (which would never happen in the UK!), I think the time has come to write about work – what’s the same as I’m used to, what’s different and what I put down to the change of company versus country.

On the face of it, a lot is the same. I’m still a commercial-focussed transport consultancy for a market-leading company working on high-profile projects in a major world city. I work in a team of smart, switched-on, interesting people in a fun, friendly and non-hierarchical environment, and I enjoy a beer with them as much as working with them. This is a blessing and a relief, having come from a company and team where the culture was fantastic, which made it a real wrench to leave. I expected the smart, but wondered if the fun side was too much to ask in the “Big 4” (four biggest worldwide professional services firms: EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte), but delighted to report not – or at least not in our Infrastructure Advisory team.

But there are definitely differences, and challenges. There would be some anywhere after eight years in one place where I’d become very established and a go-to person for various things. We have a slightly different role on projects than my previous company, the transport market is very different here, and probably the hardest thing is moving to a new market where I don’t have any client contacts or track record, especially at a senior-ish level. That means it’s taken me a while to have much chargeable work to do, and I’ve either been super quiet or super busy with bids/proposals with very little in between. But that’s changing now, which I’m pleased about.

Joining a big (and I mean really big – think a couple of hundred thousand people worldwide) company has pros and cons. There are a zillion IT systems that you’d think would talk to each other but don’t, a faffy “raise a ticket” requirement to get any IT support (and the request goes via a team in India) rather than phoning a guy you know by name and personality, many somewhat tedious mandatory web learning courses for new starters – some relevant, some not so much – and strict rules around what I can invest in as we are also an audit firm. But on the plus side, I work in a seriously swanky building overlooking the harbour, where the lift to the 17th floor is automatically called for me when I swipe in, there’s a subsidised and decent staff café, and if hosting a meeting on the client floors (with a really amazing harbour view), I can push a button for someone to come and take an order for barista-standard coffee. Hotdesking has taken some getting used to, but it’s made me a lot tidier and ruthless throwing paperwork away and helped me get to know more people, and given an incentive to get into the office earlier. I have a favourite spot at a height-adjustable desk (so I can spend part of the day standing) in a corner with a view of the Opera House. Not bad!

As for the Australian differences, I think being here makes the atmosphere slightly more relaxed. Put it this way, I’m still not used to the prolific use of “mate” to address colleagues, let alone very senior ones. People work hard – very hard it when it’s called for, and there will always be times in consultancy when it is – but the office definitely clears out earlier than I’m used to. On average maybe we start earlier here too, but not by much. I was interested to see my contracted hours start at 8.45 not 9am, and finish at 5.15. The worst thing about working in Australia? Definitely the annual leave provisions – 20 days a year is categorically not enough, especially as I have to take seven of them when the office shuts down over Christmas. Thankfully, I can buy leave twice a year and I certainly plan to!

The other things I miss, I don’t know if they are functions of Australia or the Big 4. They are the really serious things – no tea rounds (each for him/herself) and no tradition of people bringing in cakes on their birthday!

The verdict? So far, so good. But in particular I’m very glad to be experiencing something new and slightly different – albeit not overwhelmingly so. And it would only have got harder to adapt had I left it any longer. And, most importantly, I’ve entirely landed on my feet in the team I’ve joined – which is just as well as I’m not going anywhere any time soon!

A Barmy Weekend

Following my recent admission that I’m rather fond of the Big Bash, here’s another thing this one-time purist didn’t expect to say: I recently watched most of a test match with the Barmy Army…. and loved it.

This came to pass because, coincidentally, Jo, a friend from the UK, was on the Barmy Army tour in NZ. Having met up fairly briefly in Auckland, the general admission seating arrangement in Christchurch gave the opportunity to chat further and for me to have some company when I’d otherwise be alone. So I hunted Jo and her Barmy mates out on day one and set up camp. And I kept coming back.

Like any England cricket fan, I’m familiar with the Army and love both the support they give the team through thick and thin and the atmosphere they bring. But I’m used to keeping a bit of distance (sitting upstairs in the same stand in Melbourne was perfect, for example) and singing along under my breath. Full disclosure: I do have previous. Eleven years ago when I was young, very keen to be seen on TV by my friends back home, and more than a little inebriated, I chanted and danced like a loon on the embankment at the Bellerive Oval with a smattering of others (few of the Army survived that long into an epic tour), as England snatched an unlikely ODI victory, the first win of the whole ill-fated 2006/7 tour. But I’d always thought that Barmy day, which ended with getting trollied with the England team, a glorious and frivolous one-off from my youth. I’m delighted to be wrong!

For four days over Easter weekend, I sang, was on telly several times and, above all, watched a lot of cricket with fellow fans who love and appreciate the game. It was that which struck me most of all, the appreciation of the game. Yes, there was singing, but not incessantly so by any means. In between the songs, I overheard (and sometimes joined) conversations about the English batting order, the merits or otherwise Neil Wagner’s short-pitched bowling, and the appropriateness of the punishments meted out to Australia’s ball tamperers.

Unlike in the non-Barmy seats in Auckland, people didn’t generally move around in front of others in the middle of overs (my personal cricket-watching bugbear). And, although there was of course alcohol around, I didn’t see anyone I’d describe as remotely drunk. Indeed, the atmosphere was so family friendly that there were three or four mini Barmies in attendance, aged between about 1 and 5. Not a bit the boozy, lairy, chanty, sweary crowd that some might expect. I also saw and spoke to several people who were travelling alone, for whom the Army was an opportunity for company and new friendships. Evening events, including one with Aggers and another with Graeme Swann during the Christchurch test, certainly add to that. I have to say I regret not tagging along to the Swanny do!

Add this fun to being in a city I lived in and loved for a year before it was hit by earthquakes, and at a beautiful ground in a middle of a park watching a very competitive test match, you can probably understand why I didn’t want to leave at tea on Day 4 for my flight home. So thank you, Jo, Jen, Gill and the Barmies for a fabulous few days. And for teaching me the lyrics to the songs I’ve been half-hearing for months (in some cases years). And for about a week after leaving NZ, I had “oh Jonny Bairstow, you are the love of my life” (to the tune of I love you, baby, and if it’s quite alright…” going round and round and round my head. Even typing this is enough to set it off again… it’s a good thing I do quite like Jonny.

It was going to happen eventually

With all this travelling (I don’t want to count planes since mid-November), a screw-up was inevitable at some point. And here I am killing three hours in Auckland airport after missing my flight to Christchurch due to horrible traffic following an accident on the motorway. I’m lucky I managed to rebook it at all – thank you internet and work phone’s relatively cheap international roaming charges – and my travel insurance will cover all but $150, but grrr! Perils of a growing city with only road access to the airport and only one road over the harbour. (Transport planners, take note.)

So much for flying first thing to have a full day with the friend I’m visiting….

From Ashes to Bashes, and a hop across the Tasman

I’m now in New Zealand for ten days, not-so-accidentally timed to take in two England test matches in Auckland and Christchurch. I’m going to very quickly gloss over England’s utterly abysmal first innings batting performance in Auckland (which, thankfully, I didn’t witness) and the shocking recent behaviour of the Australian team in South Africa, and instead write about my experiences watching cricket in Aus and now NZ since the Ashes – in particular the Big Bash.

Here’s something this one-time cricket purist never thought she’d admit: for some weeks after it ended, my evenings felt a bit bare without the Big Bash. I’m sure it’s partly that I’ve not got used to Aussie telly or had as much of a social life yet as I did in London, but I am really very fond of the Bash. When it was first on Sky back home, I watched a bit of it, as there was always a game on in the morning over Christmas when I didn’t have much else to do, but over here, on the right timezone, I’ve fully appreciated the game-an-evening format.

I went to five games: three at the SCG (a men’s/women’s Sydney derby double header and a Sixers men’s standalone game), a men’s game in Melbourne and a women’s match in Hurstville, to the south of Sydney. I accept that the crowd experience may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some of it isn’t mine, but the music between every ball, lots of replays on the big screen, organised chants and colourful freebies (especially the KFC bucket hats) help to appeal to an audience that may not otherwise watch cricket, especially youngsters. Although there’s plenty of beer on sale and long queues to buy it, the family-friendly, or indeed family-targeted, nature of the Bash is what sets it apart from the T20 Blast, which I’ve been to many times at at the Oval and has (at that venue at least) long since become full of city boys on the lash, with the cricket merely a sideshow. The best atmosphere was arguably at the women’s game, where there were 1,000 spectators, free entry, free hot dogs and cheap beer, great big screen and sound system, and a competitive game won by an Alyssa Healy hundred. I’ll be back next year – including at the games at North Sydney Oval, which is a hop, step and jump from my new home.

In the men’s tournament, neither Sydney side covered itself in glory – though the star-studded Sixers woke up once they were out of contention for the semis, so I jumped on the bandwagon of the Hobart Hurricanes, the plucky underdogs at the start who were inspired by the characterful Anglo-Caribbean Joffra Archer and one of my favourite Australian players George Bailey into a stunning run and ended up runners-up. Timing definitely benefits the BBL too – finishing shortly before the IPL it acts as a bit of a shop window and attracts most top players. That said, it was pleasing to see the likes of Joe Denly perform when selected as late replacements. One of the few things I’d change if I were in change is stop the women’s semis and final needing to be back-to-back with the men’s: allow the top teams the home advantage like the men have and let the games be played in sold-out smaller grounds rather than empty stadia. The WBBL is established enough now that it can stand alone.

The eight-team format means that all the major cities (sorry Canberra and Darwin) have a team, and the two biggest have two. It works because such a high proportion of people live in or near these cities. In England, the picking of 8 teams for the new tournament is bound to be divisive because the population is so much more spread and it remains to be see how well people get behind the new teams. Another thing I’ve seen more of in the BBL this year than before is taking games elsewhere, such as Geelong and Launceston, which has led to sell-out crowds and wider engagement in the regions. The English tournament and its teams need to take note of this.

Right, enough of the short stuff, onto the Eden Park test. Clearly for England not the result desired, despite at least a bit of fight being shown today. Despite the batting being the laughing stock on day one, it’s actually our bowling I’m more worried about – just can’t see how we’re going to bowl decent sides out twice. Eden Park isn’t a pretty stadium, will always feel like a rugby ground with a cricket pitch in it, and is really too big for test matches in NZ in my view, given crowd sizes. That said, I enjoyed watching there. You can get a great view behind the bowler’s arm in the shade in the north stand very cheaply (a four-day pass was $90, less than what I paid for almost every individual day at the Ashes), transport is easy as the rail station is just across to road along with a row of food options for lunch beforehand, there was good beer to be had if you can be bothered walking down to the food vans on the outer oval, and the crowd was friendly, knowledgeable and passionate. The noise as the game reached its climax this evening was immense and belied the numbers present, but this was due to fans excited about a fantastic performance and result (national pride here is huge) rather than an excess of the sauce. As we waited for the train home, there was none of the booze behaviour I’d expect after a day of test cricket back home, especially at night and when the home team won.

Onwards to Christchurch, which will be a very different experience – a small ground in a park with big grassy banks, made into an international venue after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. It sounds delightful, and given my connection to the city (I lived there for a year in 2006-7) I’m very excited about it. I hope the England team can raise its game!

Buses, bikes and hire cars

Yes, yes – it’s a second transport post so soon after the first. I know, I know… but now I have a home and a commute and a routine, I have more to say!

The three modes in the title sum up the way I’ve been getting around lately. My commute is a bus or a bike, and my aim is to cycle more often than I don’t. The journey time is much of a muchness – about 25 minutes, but I need and appreciate the exercise, and if I go via the wonderful swimming pool at Milson’s Point then the bike is definitely quicker. It’s quite different from my London commute though, and not only because it’s not much more than half the distance.

Half the journey – crossing the Harbour Bridge – is utterly glorious, once I’ve hauled my bike up the steps onto the cycleway. I hadn’t realised until I moved north of the bridge that you can only walk over the East side (the glamorous view side), and the West side is a dedicated bike path. After leaving the path on the southern side, I can roll along a quiet street in The Rocks and down a hair-raisingly steep but thankfully short street and I’m at the office. Winner. The northern end is less amazing – not awful, but mostly a road with a fair few cars, not all of whose drivers are all that considerate. I recently discovered a cut-through which chops some of it off on the way down, which helps, but the ride will never fill me with deep joy, especially on the way home when I can’t do the cut-through because of a 100m one way stretch, and it’s uphill all the way. I’m glad though that I work at the north of the CBD and travel north to get home, avoiding the need to ride through the long-and-thin city centre very often.

What I realised while wheeling over the bridge to work one day last week is that I’ve hardly overtaken anyone on my bike since arriving. Now, there is no doubt I am woefully out of shape right now, but my conclusion to both this and the tragic underuse of work’s amazing bike facility is that cycling just isn’t seen as a mode of transport. I’ve seen a fair few Lycra-clad blokes on road bikes, but not many work clothes-wearing folk using their hybrid to get to to the office. As those who I’m friends with on Facebook will have seen, I posted a photo last Friday of the cycle storage room at 8.30am that day. There were a single figure number of bikes in an office of 3,000 people. Maybe a quarter of the number there would be on a typical day at my London employer, where the office held 200. It’s certainly a combination of factors, but I reckon a joined-up strategy to improve the very mixed infrastructure and improve awareness would be money well spent. That said, it appears there are some great off-road bike paths around the edges of the city – in Centennial Park and around the north shore – so I need to check those out at a weekend.

On days when I’m not on the bike, I commute by bus. My nearest station is in North Sydney, 20 minutes’ walk away, so by the time I got there I could be most of the way to the office, so it’s only worth it if I need to do or buy something there on the way/way home. There’s a bus stop within 30 metres of my front door, but turns out that buses don’t run through to the city from there in the high morning peak, so I need to stroll about 8 minutes north, over the freeway to Cammeray, from where buses run extremely frequently and get straight onto the freeway. It isn’t free-flowing, but buses rarely come to a halt, and I’m still in the novelty period when I enjoy going over the harbour bridge and looking at the view. I love the orderly queues at bus stops, and in Cammeray there are two queues on opposite sides of the pavement – one for the city and another for North Sydney. Some days I’ve had to wait for a couple of buses to go by, and on other days it’s been empty at the stop and on the bus – I can’t work it out! But the post-late-night-in-the-office journey home in a taxi last Tuesday night made me realise how long it “should” take to get home from the CBD – not much more than five minutes!

The other way I’ve got around a little bit is in a “Goget”, the Australian equivalent of zipcar. I’ve been seriously impressed with this operation – heaps of cars (three cars and a van within five minutes’ walk of my place), a choice of membership packages, and real ease of use – book on an app, scan your card on a reader on the windscreen to open the car and off you go. I hired one for a few hours the day I moved house, and again to pick up a Facebook marketplace purchase two days later, and for a third time this Saturday as I needed to be in a slightly obscure bit of the Central Coast by 9am to go kayaking, and thought I’d do an all-day booking so I could hit the homewares shops on my way home. It feels like a big marginal cost per use, but at under $10 an hour or $80 per day (plus a per-mile cost, which doesn’t apply under 150km on an all-day booking, tolls and $12/month membership), it’s a damn sight cheaper and less hassle than owning a car Incidentally, Patonga is lovely and the kayaking was great!

All in all, I miss London cycle infrastructure, but can’t say I miss the crowded 07:57 from Tulse Hill to Blackfriars! My bus commute is a lot cheaper too…

Relocation, relocation, relocation

It’s been an exciting week! On Saturday I picked up the keys to my new apartment and on Monday my 97-box consignment from London was delivered. After three and a half months of being a nomad, I can’t overstate how amazing it felt on Monday evening to cook dinner with my own pans and then sleep in my own bed!

The “journey” began in September, when I got quotations from three relocation companies to ship my possessions around the world. By this point I knew I had a generous relocation allowance from my employer, so I decided to ship rather than rent my flat out furnished and buy everything again. I had some handy advice from two sets of friends who had made the move before me, and approached the companies they had used (respectively Crown and PSS , who are the two market leaders) plus one other. The prices varied hugely, largely due to estimated volume: the third company, who did a video survey rather than coming in person, thought I had vastly more stuff than the other two and would therefore only price on the basis of a whole container rather than sharing one. As well as additional cost, this would have meant a faster shipping time, which I didn’t want given my holiday plans. So that was one company down. Between the other two, I picked Crown, who were more expensive but not by a lot, especially after I haggled with them to get some free storage. I liked the sound of their service, including the fact that they operate in Australia themselves rather than contracting the delivery out to another agent as PSS do.

Crown did pretty much all the packing for me, other than I did fill the suitcases, holdalls and plastic storage boxes that I wanted to bring over. So the big job in advance of them showing up was sorting my stuff into three categories: container, suitcases coming with me, and bin/give away.

I tried to be ruthless with my decision-making, knowing that every additional cubic foot would cost me around £6. So books were no problem – incremental cost of each one was pennies – but I decided against an ageing wardrobe and bookcase that I’d got second hand and never really liked, my second sofa and a chest of drawers that was starting to look tatty. Food of any sort and things may of wicker or untreated wood were not allowed and alcohol not worth it due to obnoxiously high duty prices, so parents and friends got a few gifts, and I’ve stored a few of the bottles of better booze at my parents’. Beyond that, and three boxes that my friend Claire is kindly keeping in her loft, I’ve stored nothing back in the UK: I was determined to avoid a self-storage unit, as it would just become a money sink if I stayed here long term. There were a few tedious requirements, like making sure no soil on anything, so my friend Yvann and I had “fun” disinfecting the soles of all of my shoes and various other things.

I booked the packing and removal over a day and a bit, starting the day after my work leaving drinks. Probably an error, frankly – adrenaline just about got me through the day, but when the shipping guys left about 3pm, the emotion of it all and my hangover combined to completely floor me, and I sat on the floor of my spare room and sobbed. I’m pleased to say that, to date, that’s the only time in the process that I’ve really asked myself “What have I done?!”

The packer guys were impressive – alarmingly efficient, but also used their brains – for example, checking with me whether I really wanted them to pack my window keys! That said, I’ve just unpacked a cardboard wine box, which I really didn’t need! Small items were wrapped, while large ones were wrapped up in brown paper as they were, though they did dismantle my bed and desk. Every item had a sticker for the room, had contents written on it, and was stickered with a number and logged on a list of what’s what – mostly for customs purposes, so the inspectors can decide which ones to check out. Thankfully my stuff got through customs fine, which saves time and a lot of dollars, so glad I followed the rules!

I ended up with 97 stickered boxes or packets, all of which I then ticked off as they were brought into the flat on Monday morning. The Crown guys re-assembled the bed and desk, unwrapped furniture and put it where I wanted it, and unpacked the boxes I requested. So we had a production line going on the kitchenware, with one of the guys unpacking and me putting into cupboards, but I asked them to leave books etc. in boxes as I’ll need to buy more cases for them. As a result, my kitchen, bathroom and kitchen are pretty much sorted and the living room is getting there, but the spare room is full of boxes and mess. I’ll unpack what I can this weekend, but suspect it’s next stop Ikea!

But, most importantly, the place feels like home already, and did the day I moved in. Shipping my stuff was absolutely worth it.

It’s like the NHS, but not…

Given my track record, it was a matter of time before I ended up in a hospital emergency department, though I’d hoped to last rather longer than this! Before you start sending me concerned messages, I should assure you I’m basically fine, but I had a nasty fall on some iron-edged steps on Friday night and took a chunk out of my right knee. By Saturday morning, when it was still painful and a bit messy, I decided that maybe it needed some attention.  Not the most exciting way to spend a Saturday, but the silver lining was a new blog subject, so here goes with some initial observations on differences in the healthcare system.

There is no NHS here, but there is Medicare, which serves some of the same purpose. Unlike the NHS, Medicare doesn’t cover ambulance transport, some hospital service costs (e.g. you contribute to the cost of the bed and meals if you’re an in-patient) or dental or most optical treatment. In addition, if a doctor chooses to charge more than a fixed Medicare fee then you have to cover the difference (known as the “gap”). Some doctors “bulk bill” Medicare, but with others you need to pay and then claim the cost back. Both my currently-local hospital and the GP surgery I went to this morning for a check-up on the knee bulk-billed, but I had to hunt around for a CBD GP that did, and that didn’t charge a gap fee.

Getting a Medicare card was, in itself, a bit of a hassle. No issue with eligibility since I’m an Australian citizen (though there is a reciprocal healthcare arrangement with the UK so British people are eligible). The issue was more it not being at all clear online which of the “Medicare service centres” in Sydney would process registrations, and, once I actually knew where I needed to go, having to wait nearly 90 minutes to be seen despite arriving earlier than the place opened. But it was worthwhile getting it sorted so that all I had to do to get free treatment these last few days was wave my shiny new green card.

Private health insurance is fairly widespread over here, with two types of cover: hospital and “extras”. Hospital cover rather speaks for itself, covering ambulances, hospital service costs and private patient costs of many procedures. “Extras” cover all other  dental, optical (including glasses and contact lenses as well as eye tests), physiotherapy, remedial massage, psychiatric treatment, chiropractors and so on, but usually with annual limits and sometimes only a proportion of costs paid. I’ve taken this all out, but I’m still baulking at the cost and may change or cancel it during the 30-day cooling off period on my policy. There’s a scheme whereby, on a means-tested basis, people are eligible for a part-rebate on their Medicare levy (which is 2% of taxable income, taken out of salary) if they have private health insurance, presumably because they’d be more likely to opt for treatment funded by insurance and therefore claim less from Medicare. Interestingly, while private healthcare cover was a benefit I received from my UK employer, paying only the tax on the premium, this isn’t the case here even though I work for a much larger organisation.

Based on my limited experience so far, healthcare feels a lot more commercialised than in the UK, with GP surgeries more overtly being private businesses, and I’ve no doubt it will cost me a lot more than I’m used to. On the flip side, only yesterday I had my pick of appointment times today at several GPs and could book in online even without ever having been before or registered many details let alone needing to have any sort of introductory health check. Many surgeries are even open seven days a week. I was well looked after this morning too: the doctor took a look at my knee then ushered me off to what almost felt like a small hospital ward where a nurse immediately set to work sorting out my dressing.

My hospital experience was much the same as A&E back home: tedious. No issues at all with the medical care, but there was a lot of waiting around despite the place not feeling busy. I waited for triage (albeit quite briefly), to see the doctor, for a tetanus shot, for the porter to take me for an x-ray, for the x-ray itself, to be taken back by the same porter, and (for an hour and a half) for the x-ray results. A total of over three hours I will never get back.

I am sure there’s much more to say on this topic, but for the sake of my health, I hope I don’t experience it too soon!