Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Our pretty house!

Our Christmas this year was nice and simple and very relaxed. On Christmas eve, we went for a late lunch with Adam's cousin and his wife - with whom we stayed in October.

For something different, we took the overground train which services most of the south of London. It was a little over an hour each way, plus a healthy walk up Wimbledon hill, though we found it a more enjoyable way to travel than the underground trains, as one can watch the passing scenery.

(This is me in my dinner-attire, with some of our lovely Christmas decorations - these ones sent from Newfield Farm, NZ.)

On Christmas Day, we had a small sleep in and ate breakfast in bed - which was a nice change from the usual early morning getting-ready-for-work routine. We then decided to gather around the Christmas Tree and open our Moffat presents.

Two fools 

Then, lunch.

Together, we cooked a roast chicken and stuffing, boiled some new potatoes to have with a herb butter, baked some pumpkin, kumara and carrot, boiled some peas, and (eventually) made a gravy.

It was so great to have a meal that was all self-made (even the stuffing!), and while it got pretty hot in our wee kitchen, it was a nice reward to sit down to such a delicious lunch afterwards.


More fools!
After we had let our lunch settle for a while, we decided it was time for a spot of Christmas Squirrel Hunting. Google informed us that there was a large woodland relatively close to our flat, so we set off, armed with the GPS and camera.

Oxleas Wood is an ancient woodland that is part of a chain (The Green Chain) of woods sitting atop Shooters Hill (nice name!) in the London borough of Greenwich. Oxleas Wood is around 72 hectares, and parts of the wider green chain are around 8000 years old, considered by ecologists to be a very important wildlife habitat.

Because the area has quite a slope, it wasn't very suitable for housing, so it was largely left in its natural state, though some timber was taken for dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford. (These two places are north of Shooters Hill, on the South East banks of the Thames.)

Shooters Hill has been quite an important place in history, and for some time was used as a beacon site to pass messages around the country. The Hill is about the tenth highest site in London, so for many years fires were lit on the hill that could be seen miles away. (This is so Lord of the Rings!)

The Hill was also an important route for travellers, and in the early days it is documented that robbers and thieves used the woods as a hideout from which to attack those who passed through. The Green Chain Education website notes that in 1313, King Edward II called for the highway through the woods to be widened, in order to make the area safer. Apparently this did not do much to deter the highwaymen, and for some time the road through the area featured the bodies of convicted robbers hung from gibbets - or gallows.

In 1311, the site became part of the Royal manor of Eltham, and was leased to a baronet from the 1600s to 1800s, when the woods were taken over by the Government war department, and are now owned by the council.

A large campaign to save the woods took place in the 1980s and 1990s, when the council proposed making a new crossing over the Thames which would have a link road cutting directly through the Green Chain. Luckily, for now, the protesters were successful and the plans have been put on hold.

While we spent about 1.5 hours in the Wood, we actually did not cover very much of it. When we got home, I put my research skills to work, reading about the great history of the area. We will have to go back sometime, as it turns out there is a castle - or actually a folly (these are basically decorative buildings that look like baby castles) - in the Woods somewhere, and we'd also like to take a walk through more of the actual wood to see if we can spot some more wildlife.

Have a look at this picture and see how long it takes you to spot the squirrel...

As it grew darker, and we decided we'd better head home, something exciting happened. I turned around to look at a path we had wandered up earlier in the afternoon, and I saw a large, reddish brown creature with a white-tipped tail mincing across the path and into an overgrown, fenced garden.

Fox or not? I shall never know.

As we walked back to our car, I turned for one last look at this delightful neighbourhood with its pretty houses. Yes, I could definitely live here!

We returned home (after spending quite some time scraping a large pile of dog turd off my shoe. Grrrrrr) to a relaxing evening reading books, and eating our Christmas dessert - homemade sticky toffee pudding, from a delicious Jamie Oliver recipe. (Sorry to put dog turd and pudding in the same paragraph...)

All-in-all, a really lovely day. It was really special to have the day together and to be able to try our own wee Christmas on the other side of the world!

Merry Christmas!

(My rad skillz)

Friday, December 23, 2011

We're Not Dead...

...though you might have thought it was a possibility - slack bloggers that we are!

We are alive and kicking and have set up shop in London. Yes, despite all our grandiose claims that London would be the last place we ended up, here we are in that very city. It soon became clear that the bulk of employment opportunities were here in the Big Smoke, so we sighed and agreed that earning some money might not be such a bad thing, and Adam accepted an engineering position in London City.

He signed up with several recruitment agencies, and managed to get two interviews in the one week we spent in London in early November (the joys of having well-recognised skills!!!). It turns out that although there are jobs in London, the forward workload is not great at most companies, so they are only taking people on for short-term contract roles. So Adam has now set up his own company to contract through. He is working for a Engineering firm called Buro Happold and enjoying it. The contract was originally for 3 months, and has recently been extended by another 2 months.

Adam is working on the design of a new building beside Liverpool Street Underground Station - currently the largest new office building being planned for London, so it is a good job to work on. He is working in a multicultural team - 2 French, 3 English, 1 South African and 2 Kiwis (the other having been in Adam's class at uni!).

He began work in mid-November and just over a week later we were able to move into a flat in the South-East of London. We are living in a one bedroom apartment in a large complex beside the river Thames, on a site that used to be a military arsenal....

.... and now has a new train station being built in its former front-yard..... 

Our apartment is small, but perfectly adequate and very warm. We only turn the heating on once a day - if that - and because we are south-facing, we get some lovely warm sun on the occasional morning.

The complex has around 3,000 residents, and many people who live here seem to be Eastern European or Afro-Caribbean.

The site we live on is a former arsenal for the British armed forces, where the manufacture of armaments, ammunition proofing, and explosives research were all carried out.

In the 1800s, the site was a centre for mechanical engineering (the poor cousin of structural engineering) with Marc Brunel, father of the famous Isambard Kingdom, employed here. Advances in armament design and manufacture are also attributed to research facilities located in the arsenal.

The arsenal was important to British military conflicts during the 1700s and 1800s, but was particularly so during World War One, extending over 5 square kilometres and employing around 80,000 people.

The site continued to be of lesser importance throughout the last century, being sold to the council in 1967. Now, there is a heritage centre, military museum, and large residential developments which span numerous parts of the former arsenal.

Here is a historic picture of the arsenal, taken from this Wikipedia article (which is very interesting, even though there are no footnotes...). Today, this clock tower/wall marks the edge of the main centre of Woolwich - if you cross the road behind this feature then you will be in the Royal Arsenal area that we live in - about where the chimneys show in the distance just to the right of the tower in the left-hand third of the picture.

As it drew closer to Christmas, it was nice to see the Christmas lights down London's Oxford Street and in our own local town centre. It didn't feel overly Chrismassy for us though, having just arrived, not having anyone to rush around buying presents for, and being cold and all.

Whilst reading the blog of a friend, who also has a small apartment, I thought that it would be a good idea to decorate our little flat, and she had a fabulous suggestion: painter's tape. I set off to B & Q (even better than Bunnings... It has four aisles of wallpaper..... *swoon*) with a strange checklist: painter's tape, string, four hooks, assorted christmas decorations, poinsettia.

I wasn't quite as brave as Megan, who made the shape of a Christmas tree on her wall and then attached lights and decorations, but I did stick some strips of painter's tape up on the walls and attached adhesive-backed hooks to the tape, so that I could hang tinsel, baubles and cards across our walls. 

I also put the poinsettia in a prime spot, and displayed our small collection of presents underneath (thanks Mum Moffat). Suddenly it felt very festive! So much so that I then decided to go and buy Adam some presents... lucky guy!

(There wasn't much tinsel left for this wall!!)

So that is a wee summary of how this new chapter of our journey is shaping up. Sorry it has been so long coming!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Intrepid slugs - Part 2

Another day we ventured to Woking, a small town about half-way between Guildford and Walton-on-Thames. We came for some squirrel watching. As we sat in our car, we saw a solitary squirrel searching for nuts in the park to our left. After a few minutes, the squirrel ran up a neighbouring tree, along to the very tip of the longest branch, and jumped across the road to another tree! He nearly didn't make it, and hung upside down for a few moments, claws clinging to a few small branches! The excitement! He then scrambled up a bigger branch and down the tree trunk, to a new selection of tasty nut treats.

The gap the squirrel jumped - close to 2 metres wide!

We also visited Dorking (great name, eh?) a few times, though the town didn't really grip us and the selection of cafes was grim. Here, except for London you don't get those classy coffee shop cafes that we have in New Zealand that are known for great coffee. They have two types of cafe here - the tea rooms that offers coffee, often with sticky melamine tables and also offering things like baked potatoes or bangers and mash for lunch, or the normal cafe - but we personally felt that the Baristas (coffee makers) weren't as well-trained as Kiwi ones, as the coffees are often over-extracted (bitter) or the milk burnt (you can usually tell this when your coffee is too hot to drink for a while). We really longed for a Trattorie/Crisp or Underground or Addington Coffee Co-op type cafe where the coffee is the main feature. (Luckily we discovered a few of those in London, with the Kiwi-owned Department of Coffee and Social Affairs winning the prize for best flat white and friendliest manager!)

Anyway, Dorking. Dorking has a church and churchyard with century-old gravestones fading into the grass. Sound like the sort of place you'd frequent if you were a squirrel? YES!

Aren't they just magical??

Another day, we went on a further squirrel-watching expedition, setting off from our historic manor accommodation in Wotton. Surprisingly, we only saw 2 or 3 squirrels off in the distance, but we did see lots of autumn scenery that reminded us of home.

The hotel we stayed at near Dorking was called Wotton House, and was once the home of 17th Century botanist, John Evelyn. It had seen better days, especially the garden, but some parts of the interior were very grand.

 Bar / restaurant

 Chandelier, next to stair wall of family portraits (from back when the venue was privately owned)

Room with curved walls and doors!

And that is all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Intrepid slugs - Part 1

It seems that many of you are getting the impression that we are gadding about the country, having great adventures every day of the week. 

All the places we have been to. (Places we have stayed overnight are in yellow, those underlined in red are merely places we graced with our presence for a short time.)

In the interest of fairness, I must correct you. Indeed, we have seen some wonderful places and sojourned across a significant portion of the English countryside, yet we have also spent much time holed up in hotel rooms searching for jobs or apartments or waiting for important phone calls. (We would have done the above in cafes, but the coffee here is so terrible we could not bring ourselves to pay for it. We have heard quite a few people here say that New Zealand is backwards, but in coffee, I think we lead everyone else!) 

We spent nine days staying in the areas below - the South East (Croydon) and South West (Guildford) on the outskirts of Greater London, and while we were there, we had only a few, more gentle, adventures.

Again, the areas we stayed in are in yellow, merely visited are in red. (For the pedants, yes Farnborough is bucking the trend but it's too much hassle to fix. Also, London is strictly north-east, but the arrow wouldn't curve. That will teach me for using MS Paint!)

We were mainly in the area as Adam was following up some job leads and, eventually, having some job interviews, but it was a nice part of the countryside to be 'stuck' in. 

Guildford is a nice place, with lots of trees and a homely feel to it. Because it's country town near to London, there are a lot of Londoners who buy houses in Guildford but commute to the Big City. As a result, house prices are phenomenal and the price of rental properties made our jaws hit the footpath. (At that stage, we hadn't seen central-London rent prices...).

The pretty, cobbled main street


and again, just in case you didn't see the first time...

One day we ventured to Walton-on-Thames, in pursuit of a Gourmet Burger Kitchen - the kiwi burger chain we found in Bristol (Hey! When your wife is one of the fussiest eaters in the world you just go where you know she will eat something and like it). We immediately felt at home, as the GBK was on this street: 

Choice as!

After eating our tasty lunch we drove around Walton-on-Thames to see if we could handle living there. We definitely could (but whether or not we could afford it was another matter.) Once you get this close to London, the little towns all run into each other, and soon we found ourselves in Shepperton.

Shepperton was lovely. Really, really lovely. I would rate it and Walton-on-Thames (as they were basically the same place) as my favourite spot east of Devon and Exeter. We arrived just in time to see a boat being let through the lock.

After staying to watch another boat go through, we wandered along the tow path and an adjoining riverside walk for a wee while. 

I don't know that you can really see from this badly exposed picture (below), but looking upriver from the lock really made me feel like I was in the Wind in the Willows, with Ratty's tow path on the right, and Badger's Wild Wood on the left. I looked at the Wood very hard, for quite some time, and felt that I really could see all those nasty stoats peering out. 

End of Part One.