Archive: Seven Years Ago Today

As you're reading this, I will be touching down in OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg after a long, exhausting and uncomfortable flight. I'll be in South Africa for ten days and will have very little time to check emails and blogs.

Today is a very important day for me though as it is my 7th wedding anniversary. I'm going to take the opportunity over the next ten days to upload photos from our wedding and our honeymoon in Spain and London.

Ste and I got married on 28 March 2002 at Shumba Valley Lodge, north of Johannesburg. These are the official wedding photos so naturally I didn't take them because, um, I am in them. You can click on all the photos for more detail.

My brother walked me down the "aisle". We got married outside and walked right around the beautiful blue swimming pool at the lodge.

The wedding party My bridesmaids, my brother and I
The priest, ring bearer Aidan, flower girl Kayla, bridesmaids Heather and Caryl, Chris and I

Pachelbel's Canon played as I walked down the "aisle"

Thanks to the photographer, we were 45 minutes late for the ceremony. I was wearing the veil Ste's mum Robyn wore when she got married.

This is my favourite photo of all. Of course, the priest nearly lynched the photographer for calling to me in the middle of our vows. Ste's brother Donald is next to him.

I nearly lynched the photographer for calling to me during our first dance.

It was a full moon on the day of our wedding which is meant to be good luck.

Flowers LaughCake The Garter

We had a lot of fun at the wedding too! The flower lady put dragonflies in all the flower arrangements because she heard they were on the invitations - what a lovely touch! Stephen had Chris hold up laugh prompts during his speech so everyone would laugh at his jokes! The cake was beautiful and we still have some!! And Stephen was very skilled in retrieving the garter belt with his hands tied behind his back.

My Expat Life

This post is about my experiences living as a South African expat in London, UK.

"We arrived and we were optimistic. We struggled. We struggled a lot. We settled down. We laughed, we cried, we explored, we marvelled. We met other expats and we finally felt at home. Then it was time to move on" - me, on the expat experience

That pretty much sums up the expat experience, I must say!

Most of this post is going to be about the first months after we arrived in the UK because the whole purpose of this blog is about my experience in the UK. I love England, I always have. I love the amazing green colours in summer and the cloudy skies and bright lights of winter; I love the proximity to the Continent and I love being able to see my favourite bands in concert; I love high speed internet, public transport and my Oyster card. I love being warm in winter as we have central heating - it was cold in winter in South Africa!! I miss my Mum and my friends; I miss our sense of humour and South African sports; I miss 9 month summers and shopping at Woolies. I don't miss the way South African employers treat their staff; I don't miss being scared and wondering when next someone I love would be killed or whether someone would hurt my dogs if they broke into our home. I don't think we will stay in the UK forever as I would like to move somewhere that is both safe and warm like Australia or California. So welcome to my expat story.

When we decided to move to the UK, it was a snap, overnight decision based on rising crime rates and better career opportunities. In the next couple of months we planned every single aspect of our move and we had a little yellow book in which we took account of every financial eventuality, thus making sure we had enough money to get over to the UK and enough money to survive on for five months.

Now I am not a true expat in that my Dad is English and I lived in the UK from the age of about 2 years to 9 years. Given that I had a UK passport, we decided that I would come over to the UK first and I would settle down, find a job and then sponsor Stephen to come over and get his spousal visa. I landed at Heathrow Airport on 3 July 2007 with 60 kilograms of luggage, alone, and somehow had to make it to my uncle's house on the other side of London, deep in the Kent countryside. I gave up after the first bus ride and caught a taxi.

I know many people split up when they decide to emigrate and one person moves to the new country first with the second one following close behind. Especially if you do it like we did without finding employment first. Being apart from Stephen for 123 days wasn't the hardest thing about it all, even if the longest we had been apart in almost 9 years was just one week. I wasn't alone for the first 8 weeks either as I stayed with my uncle until I got a job; once I moved into my own place I enjoyed the chance to just be alone for the first time in my life. Getting a job didn't take any time at all, once I started looking, and I was offered a position at my second interview which is the job I still have today.

The hardest thing I experienced when I moved here was good old-fashioned English bureaucracy. Seconded by the age-old English tradition of bad service. To get a bank account in this country, you need a Proof of Address. I can't begin to explain the rigmarole I went through to try get this document. I explained to the first bank, the Co-operative Bank, that I was staying with family and the idiot at the call centre said that I could register on the voters roll and use that as proof of address instead. He lied and precious days and weeks went by as I arranged all of this only to submit it and have the application declined. A similar thing happened with Natwest bank where the call centre agent said I could use my lease agreement and that was declined at branch level. HSBC said I could use my South African details as we still owned property there, only to have them decline it once they realised I was resident here and Alliance & Leicester promised my Dad they would open an account for me on the strength of our relationship only to have that declined at branch level. I will never forget the day that Natwest finally opened my checking account: 20 October 2007. Yes, it was almost four months after I arrived in the country that I finally sorted out perhaps the most important thing and twice my salary had to be paid into my Dad's bank account first. Can you imagine that? What on earth would I have done if I were a complete stranger to the country and did not have my Dad?

If you are going to emigrate to the UK, sort out a bank account in your home country (HSBC will do that for you) or make sure you are put onto a council tax bill before you arrive. Acceptable forms of proof of address include a council tax bill, landline account and bank account statement.

Then, there was the case of Westerham - officially England's least friendly town if not the most unfriendly town in the known universe. (I may have unresolved issues there). In order for Stephen to get his visa, it was discovered that he would need a certified copy of my passport. South Africans love asking for certified copies. There, you take a photocopy, take it to a police station and a very nice policeman will stamp and sign it for you. Here, you try track down a notary and it costs you £25 for the privilege.

So I got clever; I decided it would be quicker and cheaper to post my passport to Stephen and so I went off to the friendly local Post Office in Westerham. Now I've worked in a post office in Liverpool before (it was stuck to our house and my step-Mum was the post mistress) and I spent 7 years working in Nedbank in South Africa. I know a little bit about confidential, important documents and about customer service too but unfortunately, I didn't know enough about how recorded delivery actually works. When I told the guy behind the counter that this was my passport and that I needed to ensure that it got to its destination, he should have sent me away and told me to DHL it instead. But no, he accepted it and put it in "recorded / signed for delivery" and at the end of the day, it did not reach SA. The post office could not even track it far enough to prove that it had left UK and if you know anything about South African post you will know that fraud and theft are rampant and you need that extra bit of security. Which is what I had thought I'd asked for.

So in the middle of starting a new job and fighting to get a bank account, I had to take time off work and go to Victoria to get a new passport. This whole process had delayed Stephen's arrival and although we had made a contingency for five months, it meant Stephen had to get a job the minute he landed, basically. How our marriage survived the trans-Atlantic temper tantrums and arguments, I will never know. But we did cope.

The one thing we did which I could never recommend to anyone is to bring our pets over. We put our pets in six months quarantine at Precious Pets in Gloucester at the other end of the country. We chose this venue because they simply give the best care for both cats and dogs and your animals are housed in comfort during their stay. Animals are not allowed to be walked or let out of their cages when they are in quarantine, so comfort is of utmost importance. The wonderful staff at Precious Pets deliver all of this with love, care and a smile. Still... our dogs were lonely, they missed us, the fought with each other and had to be separated (and they cost us hundreds of pounds of vets bills too!). I will never, ever put a dog through quarantine again for as long as I live. Cats maybe, if we can find another place like Precious Pets, but not dogs. It took the dogs several weeks to settle down once they were returned to us and it took them a while to trust us again. SummerSeth Josey Molly

I had two conditions when we decided to move to the UK - one, we had to live in the city of London and two, we had to bring the animals. Had I known, we would not have come.

That was my long tale about moving to the UK! I would certainly recommend moving to London. There is lots to do here, no matter what your budget is. I would also recommend living and working in another country to absolutely everyone. It is a great adventure and an incredible growth experience. Writing this post has reminded me of how hard it was to move here and to settle but it has been fantastic. Whether you have long-term or short-term plans to live and work in another country, just do it!

At Work: Taking a Break

I'm finding it easier to take a regular break on a Wednesday now.  It's not so hard to get up and leave the office whereas it used to seem impossible to me.  I'm finding the break sustains me for days too.  Why do office workers let themselves get stuck into a routine of working through their lunch hours??

JaPRA and I had been chatting about marmite and piccalilli which got us onto the subject of New York delis and hot beef sandwiches.   So on Wednesday, I took a quick walk up to the food van outside London Bridge station.

So if you came out of the station concourse towards the bus station, you would see the van up ahead of you.  He was advertising a hot salt beef bagel for £2.80 which I thought was reasonable. 

I took this while waiting for my food.

It was a great big chunk of beef on a fresh bagel with huge chunks of gherkin on.  Generous portions and definitely tasty.  After all that, he didn't have piccalilli but he did have hot English mustard - yum!

There were police vans and dog units all over the place so I decided not to push my luck by taking a photo of a sandwich in the middle of the street. 

I still had a good twenty minutes of my lunch hour left so I walked down Borough High Street and decided to get a hot chocolate at Costa Coffee

I was nearing the end of Slaves of the Mastery and was trying to sneak in reading time whenever I could.  It was an excellent book which I will review over at Emm Media in time.

I've always wanted to take a picture of the Climbers by Ofra Zimbalista.  I've always liked the Costa Coffee shop on Borough High Street; so if you're looking for a nice cuppa, simply walk down BHS and look for the blue men on the right hand side - Costa is right underneath them.

All pictures in this post are taken with my Nokia N70.

South Africa: Sabie 2005 (part 1)

I promised that I would post some pictures of South Africa for you and show what a beautiful country it is. As I'm unfortunately not visiting Sabie when I go back in two weeks time, I thought I would post some pictures from our trip there in 2005.

Sabie is an area in the Mpumalanga Province which is situated in the north of South Africa, 64km from Kruger National Park. I talk about Sara a lot on this blog and Sara's parents own a bed and breakfast in Sabie so that was the reason for visiting this beautiful area (not that we needed an excuse).

We visited in August 2005 which is early spring in South Africa. You can see the effects of the long, dry winter. Okay, it is a 10 week or so winter but it feels long!

The first place we visited was Bourke's Luck Potholes in Blyde River Canyon. I had always wanted to visit this area as I love the idea of a canyon - one day I hope to visit the Grand Canyon in the US and it seemed a good idea to see what there was at home first!

Blyde River Canyon is by no means as impressive as the Grand Canyon and there is a much bigger, more impressive canyon in neighbouring Namibia (Fish River Canyon) which is the second biggest canyon in the world. Still, I was impressed and breathless and I took a ton of photos! You can click on all the photos in this post for more detail.

The famous cylindrical potholes at Bourke's Luck have been made over thousands of years as the Treur River plunges into the Blyde River. Bourke's Luck is named after a prospector who rightly predicted that there were large gold deposits in the region - you may have heard of Pilgrim's Rest. This is a major gold mining area.

How beautiful is that rock formation?

Blyde River Canyon Treur River source

We had fun walking on the rocks at the head of the Treur River.

I often try to explain to people how beautiful the Blyde River Canyon is. I find it incredibly hard to put into words but suffice to say, whenever I recall the beauty of this region I get tears in my eyes. It is the most life affirming experience to know that my eyes have seen such beauty and wonder. Hmmm, I'm thinking I should quit with the soppy words and just show the pictures.

These are from our second stop - a lookout point of the whole Blyde River Canyon. To the left:

To the right:

Now that I am posting these pictures, I feel a strange pulling sensation in my stomach. It is as if my body literally longs to be back there, to take in such breathtaking beauty. There is one view near my old house in Johannesburg, in an area called the Cradle of Humankind. Perhaps I can visit there when I go back and it will still the longing in my heart and my body.

We then visited God's Window.  This is a vantage point offering the most awesome view of the Lowveld below.  "God's Window" refers to the feeling that you are indeed looking into God's own Window when you see the view.

First, this is a photo of the vantage point.  It is to the right of the photo and that is a sheer drop beneath the platform.

And now for the view itself:

Right now I am seriously considering disrupting our plans in South Africa next month and making a trip up there!  But I won't.

If you are ever in the area, I can absolutely recommend that you stay at Sabielala Guest House.  Their prices are extremely reasonable, at R195 per person sharing for bed and breakfast which is £14 or $20!!!  The best thing is, if you tell them you found the details on Mandy's blog, you can be sure to receive lots of extra love and attention.

Road Trip (North): York - Shambles and about town

Part 1 - Churches ¦ Part 2 - York Minster and surrounds

York is such an interesting town with amazing architecture and a rich cultural heritage. I loved that the architectural styles span every single era dating back hundreds of years.

The Minster School York Minster Conference & Banqueting Centre
The Minster School and York Minster Conference and Banqueting Centre

We passed The Snickleway Inn which is said to be the most haunted pub in England. We didn't go in which was a shame because I love ghost stories! There are apparently five spirits haunting the inn and they even have the ghost of a small girl! How exciting (this from a girl who is still scared of the dark and who is, in reality, terrified of ghosts!)

The part my mum-in-law was most looking forward to was the Shambles. This is a tiny little street that looks almost like an alley way. The buildings almost touch!!

I promise we didn't actually know the couple who were posing so nicely in the middle of that picture! What a pretty, quaint little street.

River Ouse Merchant Adventurer's Hall
The River Ouse and The Merchant Adventurer's Hall

That beautiful building is the "finest surviving medieval guild hall in Great Britain". I think it was so pretty - click on the picture to see a bigger resolution.

Would you believe this photo was only taken at 2pm?? It looks like the sun was about to set. Thank goodness summer is on the way! Clifford's Tower is part of all that remains of York Castle.

The last stop in our grand tour of York was awesome York Castle Museum. This is a mammoth museum complex and like many of the museums and places we visited on our road trip, it really does deserve a whole day dedicated to it!

Retro Victorian village
Fashion Museum Toy Museum
Fashion Museum The Sixties!
Retro, Victorian Village, Fashion Museum, Toy Museum and The Sixties

The museum had a retro section that went through appliances from the past 60 years and it also had model living rooms and kitchens dating back over 200 years. It was fabulous! There was a full Victorian village complete with sweet shops, a police station and chemist. There was the most amazing fashion museum with shoes and clothing dating back hundreds of years. The lighting was very muted in that section of the museum to protect the aging fabrics. There was a section the famous highwayman Dick Turpin and the cells he was kept in (unfortunately, I didn't get any decent photos there). Finally, there was a great Sixties section and I loved that so much as I love all things sixties.

And so our whirlwind trip of York was over and that was also the last major stop on our road trip. We saw so many incredible things but in the end it was nice to get back home. There is no place like home!