The Elephant in the room…

The topic that all expats avoid.  The one taboo.  I’m about to break it and point to the rather large elephant sat in the corner.  This is a post I wasn’t going to write, then decided it would be cathartic to.  And so it has proven.  I’m feeling much perkier and have my spring back in my step.  I believe writing this and acknowledging it has helped.
Mum, if you are reading, you may want to look away now.  I know how upset you get reading about anything where I suggest I am anything but happy.  But I am happy, yet have fluctuating emotions.
Homesickness.  Why am I still having such bouts of homesickness after being here almost 7 months?  How can I be?  Surely I am living the dream.  In the promised land.  Sun, sea and endless throwing of shrimps onto never ending BBQs.  Great hats with corks to keep all the flies at bay.  Where men wear thongs with pride.  No snow.  No need to put my favourite North Face coat and boots on for a weekend walk.  Am I insane?  
And because I thought I was odd, having such thoughts curiosity drove me to the web site, www.pomsinoz.comto read of others experiences.
And what did I find?  It was like reading my mind.  My jumble of thoughts and emotions all laid out.  But written by other people.  Lots of other people, all feeling the same.  In fact, many feeling a lot worse than me.  I can’t recount how many posts I read where people were going home within the first 12 months.  Not that I am in a state of mind that I want to return home.  Just yet.  But reading about the experience of others just reaffirmed that I wasn’t in fact going mad. 
I am just going through what lots of expats before me have, and continue to go through.  Especially expats from the UK.  Reading a lot of posts from people who returned to the UK, saying how they finally felt at home.  How you realise what an amazing country we have, given the experience of living elsewhere for a period.
For a lot of people, home will always be home, no matter where you live in the world.  And home is a lot of different things to different people.  For some, it’s family life.  Others it’s the history and culture of the UK.  Some even claim to miss the weather (yes, I’m in that camp).  One of my happiest days last week was spent playing football in the pouring rain.  But for me, it is based on a lot of intangible feelings that lurk around in the pit of your stomach and start infiltrating your brain.  Things that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to people if you said them out loud.  Which I’ve tried.
Football.  There, my number 1 of “things I miss”.  And not just going to football, which I always knew would be like a large hole that I would never fill, but living in a culture where football is so ingrained.  Like a religion.  Countries in Europe, and through Central and South America are like this.  People live and breathe football.  With a passion.  Stadiums are their temples, places of worship.  Football here is little more than a 3rd rate sport, with genuine attempts to raise its profile such as the signing by Sydney FC of Allesandro del Piero.  But even del Piero can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.  
I did go and watch a game, and vowed never to return due to the laughable standard of football and the terribly plastic atmosphere.  We have yet to see whether the great man himself will renew his contract for a second year or whether the lure of home, and Italia, will draw him back.
Surely, you can watch the football from England people ask.  Not if I want to hold down a job.  As a result of the 11 hour time difference, most of the games are on at between 2am and 4am.  I’ve watched a couple of “early” kick offs, specifically the victories against Liverpool and City, but to function at work, I do need slightly longer sleep time.  I’m not getting any younger you know.
The homogeneity.  One that will surely raise the rankles of any Australian readers, but Australia all looks the same.  Within reason of course.  I could write a whole post about how different the Great Barrier Reef is to the Red Centre of Uluru.  Spill hundreds of words about the contrast between the Blue Mountains (when you can see them through the mist) and the glorious coastline around Sydney.
But, in general, transport me to a high street in Cairns, or a street in Perth, or drive through a suburb anywhere, and it all looks the same.  Which gets kinda dreary.  The beaches are glorious.  But aren’t 90% of all beaches, anywhere in the world?  Have you travelled around the beaches of Cornwall through a glorious English summer?  A beach is a beach, is a beach, is a beach.   
Not that I want to sound ungrateful, although I probably do, but when you have crappy beaches like we do in the UK (aforementioned Cornwall aside), going to a good beach, usually on holiday is a highlight that usually gives you months of subsequent smiles, just thinking about sitting there, listening to the waves, sipping your cocktails, listening to the strains of “bolinhas”, from the local Portuguese doughnut seller.
When you can go to the beach everyday, it loses a lot of its allure, its sparkle, it ability to invigorate.  How many of you would like to celebrate Christmas every week?  Aside from the fact that I would be about 383 years old.  Think it would feel as magical not having waited the whole year for it and endured the endless Christmas carols played in Next since September?
I started this post ruminating on homesickness.  I have slightly digressed but hopefully given you an insight into my feelings in the meantime.  I am not jumping on Expedia to book a flight.  I am not packing up the apartment.  I am not checking out the Lloyds Banking Group job site.  But I am sharing this with you so I can try to better understand how I feel.  And to let myself know that there is no right and wrong decisions per se, just decisions that are right for me at the time I make them.
I often read about the mythical “2 year rule”, in that you should give yourself 2 years before deciding what to do as an expat.  I don’t buy this.  
Firstly, who came up with such an arbitrary number?  What is this based on?  Maybe on the old immigration rules that you had to be here 2 years before applying for citizenship.  That’s now 4 years, so blows that out of the water.  
And secondly, for people who really do decide to go home, why should they sit out their time here being unhappy, counting down the days, ticking them off the calendar until all 730 have passed?  If their gut tells them it is time to go home, then home they should go.
Me, I still have 537 days to go.
Until the next time folks in the life of an expat.

Drinks, art, football and drinks

As I promised in my last blog, there are a few things that I was going to update you on.  Things I had been up to since my last dispatch.  Not that much of it has been overly exciting but my mum seems to enjoy reading about it.  And it saves me the cost of a stamp, sending her a real letter.  So mum, this is for you, but you may be sharing it with many of my other friends.
A couple of weekends ago saw me attending the annual beer festival at the Australian Hotel (pub, remember) in the Rocks.  I met up with a mate from England who was over here with work.  Budget constraints within Lloyds Banking Group means that they can no longer afford to provide biscuits for team meetings.  However, they can fly a couple of people business class to the other end of the world for beer festivals.  I was assured by Steve that he was also here to work on some other stuff, but I’m not so sure.  I think Steve thought I wanted to meet up with him as we had not seen each other for a while.  Actually, the real reason was that I was hoping he was going to return the box of Lapsang Souchong tea that I lent him in 2003.  I ended up very disappointed.  That said, we had an excellent day that seamlessly segued into an evening bar crawl around some of Sydney’s less touristy pubs.
With a head that was as tender as a heavily worked over steak, I again met up with Steve and Andy on the Sunday, to do the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, along with Scott and Kelly.  It was like “Yorkshire’s day out”.  All we needed was for one of the cafes along the way to start selling Yorkshire Puddings.  It didn’t happen.  We picked a good weekend for the walk as it was the “Sculptures by the Sea” event.  A random collection of art pieces placed along the walk; some better than others in my humble opinion.  But then, I’m no art critic.  I can’t tell a Manet from a Monet.
Tuesday of the following week saw me attending my first ever Spanish class.  Something that I have been threatening to do for years.  For a long time I have been dipping in and out of Spanish language books, listening to Spanish language podcasts, and even immersed myself in Spanish for 3 months last year whilst travelling around South America.  For the first time I am now formalizing my learning and have started an 8 week, level 1 course.  I have grand intentions of continuing post this course and taking my learning to a level where I could actually have a conversation in Spanish.  Some cynics have suggested that it is my way of trying to meet dark haired, buxom senoritas.  Me? 
My weeks really are beginning to develop a structure, and this continues on Thursday nights with me signing up to an outdoor 5 a-side futsal league.  Futsal is an extremely popular sport around the world, just not so in the UK.  It is essentially “normal” 5 a-side but with a small, less bouncy ball, large goals, and mainly no contact.  The no contact thing is the hardest to get used to, especially with a referee as fastidious on the rules as the one we have each week.  That aside, it is great fun and I’ve met another bunch of lads, both European and Australian.
Two other events of note have been Balmoral Uncorked and the Air BnB party.  Balmoral Uncorked is an annual event at my local beach.  Various wineries of the Hunter Valley set up stall and allow you to taste, and subsequently purchase their many fine drops.  Complemented by stalls selling cheeses, olive oils and various other foods, you had everything you could need for a fabulous Sunday afternoon.
For those not familiar with Air BnB, it is a global website whereby people advertise rooms in their homes to give traveller’s a more authentic experience than staying in a faceless hotel.  I used the site for my first month in Australia, which is where I was unfortunate lucky enough to have met Steph.  Based in San Francisco, the founders of Air BnB held a party on Cockatoo Island in Sydney for hosts and their guests.  So I went along with Steph, together with Darrol and Claire, two more guests that have stayed with Steph.
Not knowing what to expect I have to admit I was blown away.  Ferries were laid on every 30 minutes to shuttle us to the island from Circular Quay.  The bar was free all night.  It was, I kept checking!  And with a great selection of bottled beers, wines and cocktails.  There was free food served up from the excellent food trucks that have been doing the rounds of Sydney recently.  And once the guests were suitably inebriated, there was a DJ spinning some quality tunes, allowing us all to make idiots of ourselves on the dance floor.  Brilliant.  Oh, I did I mention the beautiful actress, Mila Kunis, was there too?  And her eyes are even more captivating real life.  She was with some fella called Ashton Kutcher who is mates of the website founders and did a little speech on their behalf.  
The last couple of weekends have been very quiet and tame in comparison, but judging by the number of shops getting in the festive spirit, I guess Xmas is just around the corner.  That being the case, I better start consolidating my finances and make sure I have enough to celebrate Xmas in style, have a rocking New Year’s Eve and usher in 2013 and all it holds.

Til the next time amigos…

Let the countdown begin…

Month 4 folks.  I’ll just repeat that, month 4.  Already.  Don’t know how it feels for you, but for me, it feels like it has just flown by.  Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I was languidly sipping cappuccinos in Fremantle?  Exploring Perth and Kings Park by bicycle?  How many laundry days is that?  Ah, laundry day…
Well, it must have been longer than I think because today saw the arrival of November.  With only 7 weeks til Xmas.  I could do the whole “where has the year gone?” bit, but we can save that and do it to death on or around New Years Eve.  Or maybe New Year’s Day as we sober up on the ferry to Manly to recover.
New Year’s Eve.  Now that is going to be fun.  It’s always a great time in Sydney due to the world-renowned firework display.  But over the years it has become so expensive that I was resigning myself to sitting out with a pic-nic and watching them from a spot of grass.  That was if I could find said spot of grass amongst the hundreds and thousands of people who throng the Harbour and all the available vantage points along the various shores and bays.


Many people have essentially been priced out of a lot of the ways to see the fireworks.  Just getting entry to a place like the Opera Bar (where I watched the fireworks for free in 2001) is now costing in excess of $300.  And that is without drinks.  I think you get a couple of peanuts on entry, but I may have misread the small print.  A popular way of enjoying them is by boat, bobbing around the Harbour, but this is now in excess of $500.  But you get a complimentary lifejacket.
So it was with great joy that I stumbled upon the fact that Luna Park was having a New Year’s Eve party, headlined by a winner of the Australian version of the X-Factor.  Don’t ask me, I didn’t even watch the UK version.  Well, Ricki Lee’s presence is not why I booked the tickets.  The fact that they were only $99 each was the reason.  And when you realise the venue of Luna Park is virtually under the bridge, then you get a sense of what a bargain these tickets are.  Luna Park is the Coney Island of Sydney.  A 1930s theme park, which has been around since, well, the 1930s actually.  I think some of the rides may have been updated since then, or at least mechanically maintained, as these are also open to use on the night.  And the great thing is, it’s over 18s only.  So big kids can play little kids, without the inconvenience of little kids getting in the way.


Just 59 days to get through.  And this will fly by I’m sure.  Since we last spoke I have now started work and been there 3 weeks already.  Where does the time g… ha ha.  Working has brought a little structure back into my life.  Without a little ballast I always find myself drifting a wee bit.  I need anchoring to something just to keep me in one place.  And anchored I am, doing the 9 to 5, and enjoying the novelty (for me) of getting paid fortnightly.  It seems to be a feature for many Australian employers to pay fortnightly, for reasons I can’t seem to fathom.  All I know is that I am now nearly skint, yet another payday is just around the corner.  This works for me.  I can even put up with going into one of the ugliest buildings in Sydney each day to earn my corn.


I have other things to update you on but feel I have taken up enough of your time already.  One reader recently accused me of waffling!  How very rude. 
With that, I will say adios, y hasta leugo.  Till the next time…

Let the countdown begin…

Month 4 folks.  I’ll just repeat that, month 4.  Already.  Don’t know how it feels for you, but for me, it feels like it has just flown by.  Wasn’t just a few days ago that I was languidly sipping cappuccinos in Fremantle?  Exploring Perth and Kings Park by bicycle?  How many laundry days is that?  Ah, laundry day…
Well, it must have been longer than I think because today saw the arrival of November.  With only 7 weeks til Xmas.  I could do the whole “where has the year gone?” bit, but we can save that and do it to death on or around New Years Eve.  Or maybe New Year’s Day as we sober up on the ferry to Manly to recover.
New Year’s Eve.  Now that is going to be fun.  It’s always a great time in Sydney due to the world-renowned firework display.  But over the years it has become so expensive that I was resigning myself to sitting out with a pic-nic and watching them from a spot of grass.  That was if I could find said spot of grass amongst the hundreds and thousands of people who throng the Harbour and all the available vantage points along the various shores and bays.
Many people have essentially been priced out of a lot of the ways to see the fireworks.  Just getting entry to a place like the Opera Bar (where I watched the fireworks for free in 2001) is now costing in excess of $300.  And that is without drinks.  I think you get a couple of peanuts on entry, but I may have misread the small print.  A popular way of enjoying them is by boat, bobbing around the Harbour, but this is now in excess of $500.  But you get a complimentary lifejacket.
So it was with great joy that I stumbled upon the fact that Luna Park was having a New Year’s Eve party, headlined by a winner of the Australian version of the X-Factor.  Don’t ask me, I didn’t even watch the UK version.  Well, Ricki Lee’s presence is not why I booked the tickets.  The fact that they were only $99 each was the reason.  And when you realise the venue of Luna Park is virtually under the bridge, then you get a sense of what a bargain these tickets are.  Luna Park is the Coney Island of Sydney.  A 1930s theme park, which has been around since, well, the 1930s actually.  I think some of the rides may have been updated since then, or at least mechanically maintained, as these are also open to use on the night.  And the great thing is, it’s over 18s only.  So big kids can play little kids, without the inconvenience of little kids getting in the way.
Just 59 days to get through.  And this will fly by I’m sure.  Since we last spoke I have now started work and been there 3 weeks already.  Where does the time g… ha ha.  Working has brought a little structure back into my life.  Without a little ballast I always find myself drifting a little.  I need anchoring to something just to keep me in one place.  And anchored I am, doing the 9 to 5, and enjoying the novelty (for me) of getting paid fortnightly.  It seems to be a feature for many Australian employers to pay fortnightly, for reasons I can’t seem to fathom.  All I know is that I am now nearly skint, yet another payday is just around the corner.  This works for me.  I can even put up with going into one of the ugliest buildings in Sydney each day to earn my corn.
I have other things to update you on but feel I have taken up enough of your time already.  One reader recently accused me of waffling!  How very rude. 
With that, I will say adios, and hasta leugo.

You are in Sydney, now what to do?

So, you have just arrived in Sydney and are raring to go explore this beautiful city.
What’s first?
1)    Sleep and adapting to jetlag – don’t underestimate it.  My first experience of it, with a flight not broken by a stopover was incredible.  I slept like the dead.  Even when I woke up, I couldn’t move any part of my body other than my eyes.  Completely fruitless, all I could do was surrender and go back to sleep.  First lesson, do NOT have an afternoon disco/nanna nap.  Do NOT. 



2)   Get out and walk the city.  For the first time tourist, all roads lead to Circular Quay, the transport hub and also home to the beautiful Port Jackson harbour, better known as Sydney Harbour.  Well at least I thought they did but a friend who recently arrived from the UK seems to have problems navigating the city and when heading there, usually ends up at the other side of town completely. Framed on one side by the Harbour Bridge and the other, the Opera House (opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 20, 1973), Circular Quay is a magnet for tourists.

3)  Watsons Bay – being English, fish and chips is something of an obsession.  Finding good fish and chips is very difficult in Australia.  Believe me, I’ve tried.  And tried.  And keep trying.  Doyle’s takeaway shack at Watson’s Bay is probably the closest I’ve come.  And the trip there is amazing alone.  Get the ferry from Circular Quay, take in world beating views of the harbour, and join the queues on arrival.  Once you have your food, go and sit on the grass like all the locals, eating your fish and chips, looking back across the sparkling azure waters to the city.  When you are ready to return, jump on the bus and try to count the number of homes fit for millionaires as you journey through the suburb of Vaucluse.



4)  Manly beach – very popular, for good reason, Manly is one of the best beaches in Sydney for tourists to easily get to.  Once again, head to Circular Quay and jump on a famous green and gold ferry for the 30 minute ride across to Manly.  On arrival, don’t make the mistake of somebody I know who thought the tiny strip of beach he could see on arrival at the ferry wharf was the “famous Manly beach”  Utterly unimpressed, he spent a short time soaking up some rays before deciding it was the most overrated beach he had been to.  Now, had he walked from the ferry, across the Corso, he would have arrived at the “real” Manly beach, surely garnering much improved memories of his little day out.

5)  Bondi to Coogee coast walk –  The easiest way to get to the start of this walk is a “train and bus” combination ticket.  Train to Bondi Junction and then a bus from the interchange to Bondi beach.  Usually a 333, 380, or 381 bus.  Don’t hang around in the very faded elegance of Bondi, but head along past the fabulously located Bondi Icebergs outdoor swimming pool, and onto the coastal path walk to Coogee, taking in delights such as Tamarama, Clovelly and Bronte on the way.  All worthy of return visits in their own right.  On arrival in Coogee who can resist fish and chips (I told you I was obsessed) at Chish and Fips on the beach.  Washed down with a cold schooner from the Coogee Bay hotel.



6)  The Blue Mountains – take the train from Central station out to the Blue Mountains, a journey of just over 2 hours from Sydney, but a world away on arrival in Katoomba.  Do a walk, jump on one of the tour buses, explore.  Discover why it is in fact called the “Blue” mountains, which is as a result of the blue haze given off by all the eucalyptus leaves.  Breathe in the fresh mountain air and marvel at the thought you are so close to a bustling city yet so far away in the mountains.

7)  Spit to Manly walk – If you are feeling energetic, do the 10kms Spit to Manly walk.  You will not be disappointed.  If you were paying me for this recommendation I would give you a “no quibbles” money back guarantee.  Get the bus to Spit bridge from the city and start the walk along the Middle Harbour shoreline. See the Heads, north and south, from a different perspective.  Visit a historical site of Aboriginal rock engravings.  Make friends with one of the many iguanas you will inevitably see on the way.  Reward yourself at the end with a cold cider at the New Brighton Hotel on the Corso and lunch at one of the many cafes and restaurants lining the sea front.



8)  Taronga Zoo – And we are back to Circular Quay again for the ferry over to Taronga Zoo.  I told you Circular Quay would be an important spot for the visitor to Sydney.  Now, some people like zoos.  Some don’t.  I’m in the “do” camp and not just because Taronga surely the best view from any zoo in the world.  It also has an overall experience to rival that of even the great Singapore Zoo.  Believe me, even the animals look to be smiling.  And as you meander through the many exhibits, seeing all the animals, looking back across the water, seeing the sun reflected off the sails of the Opera House, you will understand why.

9)  Harry’s Café de Wheels – Another food related recommendation, but who doesn’t like a good pie and peas?  And where better to get them than the world renowned Harry’s Café de Wheels, at Woolloomooloo.  Really.  That is not made up.  Google it and check.  You can either walk here, through the Royal Botanic gardens (recommended) or jump one of the very frequent Sydney buses.  Treat yourself to a Harry’s Tiger, which is your choice of pie, served up with peas, mash and gravy.  They even have HP sauce to complement/finish the experience.  Feeling like a bit of exercise after?  Cross the road and tackle the very steep, very numerous steps up to Potts Point and have a wander through some beautiful leafy streets, lined with Victorian architecture.



10)  The North Shore – Yes, there is life across the water too.  Get out and explore some of Sydney’s lesser seen, and lesser known North Shore suburbs.  Neutral Bay with it’s great bar and dining scene.  Mosman with achingly cool cafes and Balmoral Beach just down Raglan Road (one of my favourite Sydney beaches).   Kirribilli and Milsons Point with it’s eclectic mix of places to eat, and also home to the excellent theme park, Luna Park, a throw back to a more innocent time, when fun was fun.  Take a bus up the Northern beaches.  Check out Curl Curl (so good they named it twice), Narrabeen and beautiful Whale Beach.  Finish up at Palm Beach, made famous by “Home and Away” and have lunch, drinks, or both at the Boat Shed café.  This, my friends, is a gem.
What have I missed off your quintessential SYDNEY EXPERIENCE?  What are your “go to” activities on arrival in this beautiful harbour city? 
Let me know.

An ode to Brighouse

They say you can take the man out of Brighouse, but not Brighouse out of the man.
I say this is true.  Having been a very proud resident of this great little Northern market town for most of my life, I am now residing in Sydney, Australia.  And what I would do for a portion of fish and chips from the Dolphin (whoops, must remember it’s now Blakeley’s).  A cup of tea and a slice or two of well buttered bread on the side.  Or maybe one of Brayshaw’s famous pork pies.  Taken home and served us with a portion of real mushy peas.  Or perhaps even a slice of warm apple pie from the Merry England, making use of their newly acquired wi-fi to write my latest blog.  Finish off the day with a couple of economically priced pints in the Richard Oastler Wetherspoons pub.  I think even Brook’s restaurant is economically priced compared to Sydney.


You see, it is only when you become an expat that you realize just how much you miss these little creature comforts from home.  Distance makes the heart grow fonder?  It certainly does something, if I am coming over all misty eyed for “Briggus”.  Yes, Sydney has a world class dining scene.  One to rival the gastronomic capitals of London and Paris.  But you try and find a good pork pie.  Or a portion of chips that even slightly resemble the best that either Blakeley’s, or the Golden Hind serve up in yesterday’s Brighouse Echo without fanfare.  Good luck is all I say.  
Having left Brighouse only as recently as July this year, I know that these things will take some adjusting to.  The delights of Brighouse may fade and become just a memory.  Those balmy (really?) evenings meandering along the canal, feeding the ducks.  That said, it seems I’m not alone with a fondness for Brighouse.  It even has it’s own love song.  Thanks to a good friend for recently pointing me in the direction of Roger Davies singing “Brighouse on a Saturday night” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Al5YWeBpDw
In the meantime, if anybody wants to send me a few pork pies…

Month 3, so soon?

Be careful what you wish for, I thought as I signed the contract for my new job.  The next 6 months planned out.  Not a feeling I enjoy very much if I am searingly honest.  Over the last few years, 6 months seems to be the threshold before wanting to venture out and do something new.  6 month work contracts.  6 month apartment leases.  I’d throw in 6 month relationships but I don’t seem to be able to even reach that point.
However, being realistic, to live, and enjoy, living in central Sydney, one must work and earn a fair amount of money.  Take the Faustian pact to pay for the trappings of a harbourside lifestyle.  And quite some lifestyle it is, let me tell you.  Arriving in August, the back end of Winter, I have been blessed with the kind of weather that I came here for.  Spring is developing nicely and I am already looking forward to Summer and lazy days at the beach.  I have just had a conversation with the girl in the bottle shop about whether I miss Yorkshire.  And in truth, I do.  A lot.  It’s just the weather I don’t miss, especially now as the cold really appears to be settling in.  It makes me shiver just thinking about it.
So, for this much warmer expat, month 3 starts with me securing gainful employment, my own apartment and with transport, Besbi the Bimbo.  Besbi being the brand of scooter that I bought recently.  Bimbo being the first word that came into my head starting with B.  I have always wanted to own a scooter.  But like lots of things I have always wanted to do, I never quite got around to it in the UK.  Most probably because of the constraints with the weather.  How often would I be able to take her out?  Would I want to scoot through the cold Yorkshire winters?  A categorical ‘no’.  But frequent travels in Asia, regular trips to Italy, and reading the Peter Moore books (www.petermoore.net/) about his adventures on numerous Vespas stoked the fire that burned inside.
And serendipity played a large part too.  My first months accommodation in Sydney was secured via the www.airbnb.co.ukwebsite and I was staying with a fellow UK expat, StephWana.  Steph had just taken the scooter learners course and bought a scooter.  Seeing her buzz off on that to visit friends sealed the deal for me.  Before you could say, where’s my helmet, I had booked the 2 day course online and was counting down the days.
Despite almost missing the start of the course, due to some flaming gallah directing me to the wrong bus stop, I navigated the course successfully.  The day after completion had me sitting the theory test and walking out the proud holder of a learners motorcycle licence.  Being able to ride a bike up to 600cc believe it or not.  I now have to carry “L” plates for a minimum of 3 months, “P” plates for 12 months, then I have full licence.  Until that point I am unable to have even 1 beer (zero tolerance) or carry passengers.  But beyond that point I am able to carry who I want and get blazing drunk in the saddle.  Mum, that’s a joke, don’t worry.
Other than scooting around the North Shore and exploring the Northern Beaches the other activity that has brought a big smile to my face is the resumption of my weekly 5 a-side outings.  I still wonder on a Tuesday night how Deemus and the boys have got on.  Whether they have maintained the winning streak against our nemesis, Sven, and the arch enemy.  Thursdays come and go and I still get the emails from Mr Ryan Price laying out the teams for the game at the Shay stadium.  Miles and miles away and yet I still yearn to play in those games.
So now, I have a run out on Saturday mornings with a very polyglot bunch of guys.  Brazilians, Australians, English and the odd waif and stray.  One thing I am still getting used to is playing in such heat.  For the first time in my life I look forward to my few minutes break playing in goal.  No, it’s not an age thing!  It’s the heat.  It is.  Honest.  And the thought that drives me on?  The cold beers that I know are nestling amongst the ice in the blue esky I can spy at the side of the pitch.  I just need to remember, no scooting about after, I need to keep my licence.
That’s about all for today folks.  It’s Wednesday and I need to make the most of my remaining week of freedom.  The beach awaits with the words of a great song in my ear, “…just don’t forget the sunscreen”.
Adios.

It’s not so grim oop North!

The great thing about actually spending time as a resident in a city, rather than a tourist, is that you really get the opportunity to see “beyond the brochure”.  Do more than scratch the surface.  A bit like peeling an onion, by slowly removing the layers, you start to see what is hidden under the surface. 
I have spent many a long holiday in Sydney, even living here, albeit briefly, in 1994.  And yet, I’m discovering that I have hardly scratched the surface of all it holds.  There is a side to Sydney that I haven’t seen before.  I suspect, not many tourists have seen it.
What we tend to see as tourists, is the side portrayed in the numerous guidebooks and travel shows.  Picking out the spots our friends have recommended to us from previous trips.  The picture-postcard vistas.  The Opera House, the Bridge (designed and built by a British firm who were also responsible for the Tyne bridge), and the iconic yellow and green Manly ferry.  And these are fabulous experiences.  Sights that absolutely should not be missed.  Veritable rites of passage for any visitor to Sydney.  Even to the regular visitor, the sight of the magnificent harbour as you casually chance upon it strolling from the CBD is breathtaking.  Often described as the most beautiful harbour in the world.  If it isn’t it is definitely a contender, up there with Hong Kong.
That said, who hasn’t sat at Circular Quay, or in the Opera Bar, cooling off in the summer heat with a cold sauv blanc, or Meursault if you are posh, and stared wistfully into the smiling, somewhat sinister, eyes of Luna Park across the sun-kissed water and wondered, what treasures are over those hills?  What lies beyond the leafy suburbs of Kirribilli, Milson’s Point, Cremorne, and Taronga?  It’s like an Australian Parallel Universe just begging to be checked out.
This is the first time I have spent time on Sydney’s North Shore; what a delight it’s been.  Starting in Neutral Bay then moving into Mosman, a whole world has opened up to me, one that I would never know about as a tourist.  My local beach is a 10-minute walk away, Balmoral, and it is simply beautiful.  Smaller and less developed than many of Sydney’s larger beaches, it has a real beach suburb feel to it.  From dawn ‘til dusk you can see runners, swimmers, kayakers, walkers, paddle boarders and more, of all ages, taking advantage of this beautiful little spot.  Sunday sees the Rocky Island outlet transformed into a vast picnic area. I even know of one young man who proposed to his girlfriend on that very spot.  Good choice mate. 
I love to walk down to Balmoral, wander bare foot along the sand, the ocean lapping over my feet and just take in the splendor.  Marvel that I actually live here.  I think I’ve found where I will spend my birthday on Xmas Day.  Oh, and did I mention the outstanding fish and chips on offer from the “Bottom of the Harbour”?  Just watch out for the hungry, swooping seagulls.
In the other direction, down the hill to Chowder Bay is the beach at Clifton Gardens, and the lesser known (to me, honest) “nudist friendly” beaches of Obelisk and Cobblers.  At least I now have somewhere to go when my budgie smugglers are in the wash!
And this is just my suburb.  One of many such beach suburbs on the North Shore.  Recently, I took the scooter on a run up the Northern Beaches, calling in and drooling at places such as Freshwater, Dee Why (for fish and chips on the beach – notice a foodie theme?), Whale Beach and finally, Palm Beach.  Not so much as a homage to Home and Away, but more practically as this is where you run out of road.  This is the gateway to the Hawkesbury River, another area that demands to be explored.  Another on my North Shore to-do list.
With so many beaches to visit, camp sites and National Parks on my doorstep, I do wonder how long it will be before I eventually get back over to the Eastern Suburbs and reacquaint myself with Bronte, Coogee, Clovelly and the hip, rough around the edges, backpacker delights of Bondi.  Which reminds me.  If you want a laugh, YouTube the “Bondi Hipsters”, made me smile anyway.
‘Til the next time…this Pom has a fish and chip shop to visit.

And so to Spring…

They say that time flies when you are having fun.  Well, as you get older, time just flies.  It’s not that I haven’t been having fun.  I have.  Lots of it.  But it’s not all schooners and burger deals at the Manly Wharf Hotel. (ed. point for readers not familiar with Australian hostelries, all pubs are called hotels for some incongruous reason.)  I have seen off winter, hardly a drag, and we are now firmly in spring.  Coming up to the end of month 2, seriously?!?, I thought it was time to update you on what this ex-pat has been doing.
 There has been a healthy dose of real life thrown in the mix since we last spoke.  And by real life, yes, I do actually mean real life.  I have been trying to focus on one thing at a time, and in the order of my current priorities, that was apartment hunting, more of which later, and the mind numbing tasks of setting up things like utility accounts for said apartment.  This dull, but essential role continues as I have yet to buy a television and procure broadband.  For my internet fix I am currently relying on my nifty little Telstra mobile Wi-Fi device (not ideal for streaming the United matches online, as I discovered to my disdain after setting the alarm for 4.45am on Thursday to watch the Champions League match) and the Wi-Fi on offer in coffee shops. 
The latter of which is not as ubiquitous as I had imagined.  This came as a bit of a surprise having travelled the length and breadth of South America last year and never having a problem getting online.  Apart from maybe in Salento, Colombia, when I arrived very late after being detained by the Colombian army, very grouchy and found out I would be without Wi-Fi for the subsequent 4 days.  However, I digress.
The last few weeks have seen me secure an apartment, subjecting myself to the tortuous process that is followed in Australia when looking for rentals.  Rather than phone the agent and make an appointment that suits you, you are “invited” to join all the other punters in a 15-minute open house.  And in you all traipse at the same time, literally falling over each other to see if the modest abode will suit both you and your budget.  Another quirk is that all rent is quoted weekly, another slight shock to the system when I discovered the flat I liked was not $450 per month, but rather per week.  So for a calendar month, my rent is almost $2000.  This translates to approximately £1300 at current exchange rates.  I better get a job?  No shit Sherlock!
That said, I moved in this week and love it.  And it’s in a great suburb, called Mosman, a leisurely 10-minute walk to my local beach at Balmoral.  You may even have seen some of the pictures I have been posting of it.  OK, I’ll rein that in a little.  Did I mention the fish and chips there?  And the local pub (hotel) is a great spot.  The Buena Vista Hotel.  I’m sat in here now having a cheeky schooner on thirsty Thursday.  Just wish the Mosman hipsters in the corner would keep the noise down a little, I’m trying to work over here.  And for the city?  Just a 20 minute bus ride away so convenient for when I get that all-important job.   If I so wished, I could even jump on a ferry at Mosman Bay to the city.  This could be a fun diversion some mornings to break up the daily commute.
My next challenge is just need to get used to living on my own again.  It is un-unnervingly quiet.  For the last month, I have been in a flat share, via the fantastic www.airbnb.com, with an English girl called Steph.  I better be nice as I have a feeling she might be reading this.  I knew we were going to get on when the first time we met, she poured me a large glass of wine.  This was followed by a “quiet” night out, where we got slowly plastered.  Being asked to leave the pub as they wanted to close, and then reconvening on the balcony of the apartment with more wine.  Boom.  We bonded.  I think she was just relieved that I wasn’t Russian.  Well Steph, what you gonna do?  Sit in?
That’s about all for now folks but stay tuned for the next episode and updates on my new mode of transport (I’m sure most of you already know), how I’ve become a regular of a bar at Darling Harbour, my job search to date, and how I’m now playing 5 aside football on Saturday mornings with a bunch of Brazilians.  Yeah, you read that last bit right.
Hasta luego amigos, see you soon!

Beef Hula Hoops anyone?

Why it’s ok to feel down even in the Promised Land

This is a little bit different to my usual posts. My customary ruminations of life on the road. How I got there, and how long did it take? What I did on arrival. The weird and wonderful foods I’ve tasted. Who could forget the immediately unforgettable snake I had in Beijing? And my experiences as I delve into foreign cultures.

However, this is a rather more personal post. A side to the Yorkshire Expat that maybe you don’t always see. A side that perhaps not many people see would be a more accurate description. What life is really like for a new expat. When you up-sticks and travel to countries both near and far, but not your “home” country. However long you live in a new country, your home will always be the same. Will your heart ever migrate as well as your body? Well, that’s something I will write about in future posts.

The idea for this post came to me the other day as I was walking around Cremorne reserve, on the North Shore of Sydney. Every time I turned a corner on the path I was greeted with a world-class view. Genuine picture postcard stuff. And the deep, melancholic side of my nature wondered, where do you go from here. Not literally, but spiritually. In the UK, on dark, dank, miserable days, a picture of a sunny beach, or a boat filled harbour would immediately lift my flagging spirits. The thought of logging onto Expedia and booking a flight somewhere bathed in sunshine put me in a sunny disposition.

This got me thinking. When I have a down day, and they will inevitably come, what will it take to subsequently lift me out of the doldrums? A friend has suggested beef hula-hoops and a vigorous dance to Beyoncé. I remain to be convinced but bought the hula-hoops earlier and am just downloading the latest track from the big bootied beauty.

With migration, the brochure sells the dream. It doesn’t give instructions on how to live it. That part is down to the individual expat. And all of us will have different ways of approaching it and adapting. The need to become a social chameleon. Blend in to the new surroundings. Make friends. Find your favourite coffee shop, nearest bottle shop, best local Thai takeaway, amongst the multitude of choice. Which newspaper will you prefer to read, and importantly in Sydney, which rugby league team will you adopt. I think I have this one sorted, South Sydney Rabbitohs. And where are the best fish and chips? Another one I think I’ve nailed. They may not be Mr Chips of Whitby, but Doyle’s at Watson’s Bay run them a very close second.

Apartment hunting is another mystery. It’s something of a dark art in Sydney. You don’t find a few you fancy and then casually make appointments that suit you. Each of them has their own 15-minute “inspection slot” and everybody turns up to that. The other day, there were about 10 of us literally falling over each other as we attempted to view a 1-bedroom apartment. I have seen 4 (recent update, now 5) so far and, needless to say, the search continues.

As I draw the curtain on the first month of being away, and we move from winter into the first day of spring, some of the pieces are falling into place. I have my Aussie driving licence and am now registered with Medicare, the health service. But I still have lots of the jigsaw missing. Pieces that I may not find and slot into place for quite some time yet. But as I was told, change is a process, not an event. And big change is a bloody big process, so bear with me whilst I complete the puzzle.

‘Til the next time…