The story so far

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

April Update

I've not written anything in five months and I suspect people were wondering if I had given up. My main problem has been that we've done so much in that time that the subjects to write about have risen exponentially and the energy and time to write about them has diminished at a similar rate.

Hannah and I have both been feeling shell shocked for the last month or so and it feels like we are not achieving anything, we are running to stand still, but then I decided to look over the last blog and the list of things we were supposed to achieve this year.

Well, Hannah has passed her physics with distinction and we've bought a house and a barbeque. Mum and Dad came to stay and we not only enrolled Esme in School but also witnessed the finest England Ashes performance in Australia since the 'eighties.

I am now much fitter, have lost 15kg and had almost forgotten that there was a malicious Frog keeping us awake every night. Not bad for five months really.

Not only have we achieve a lot, but the only remaining target I have until October when we will enrol Esme in Nippers is to make beer. That doesn't sound much of a challenge, but imagine how much beer it might be possible to make and drink in that time.

Unfortunately, although I will not let a wifely decree prevent me from achieving my goals, I also can see that the single focus of making lots of beer might not be a wise move. I had thought about setting some other goals just to tide me over until next November. Noble persuits such as:
- Lose another 10kg
- Surf the point at Dee Why
- Get Zoe and Esme a surfboard and get them both riding it.
- Make some furniture out of wood, maybe a coffee table.
- Go and watch three Swans games

I'm not sure though that I want to put myself under any form of pressure right now. I feel I need to spend six months relaxing, learning how to live the new life I've set up for myself in Austalia and learning to enjoy it. All the things we neglected last year, spending time together as a family, cooking, visiting the beaches, making a mark in our jobs, building a social life. We need to focus on those now.

Having said that, Hannah is a social whirlwind, even when she was failing to clothe and feed her family last year, she was organising drinks, play days, attending P and C meetings and book clubs and, if I remember correctly selling saucisson and garlic products at the school French market.

Now we have come up for air, it's a good feeling. I realise that I missed Mum and Dad when I saw them, I miss my brother and George and a few other people, but I haven't really missed England at all as a place. I have banished thoughts of winter walks, woodsmoke and fireside beers from my mind. I know I will really enjoy those when we can get back to England, but you can't beat having a pool in your back yard and being able to dive in whenever the mood takes you.
The mood takes Zoe quite often actually. Whether she is fully clothed or not, a trick she learned from her mother. Earlier this year, after being ignored several times in requests for help in cleaning the pool, I was forced to demonstrate my displeasure at Hannah by throwing myself in fully clothed. Hannah, the role model in the family decided that clothed underwater reconciliation was necessary and joined me in her skirt and t-shirt. Zoe, weighing up if this was really a sensible thing to do and if she would get
into trouble decided that she was in the clear and jumped whooping into the pool. Since then she regularly "trips" or "overbalances" near the pool and due to Hannah's approval of the practice, I feel I cannot reign her in.

We are definitely through the worst of the hard times associated with moving and while we can see that there is some reasonably hard work ahead, we can also appreciate and hopefully offer some support to others who are in similar situations.

We are acquainted with a number of families who are between five months and a year behind us in the process and its nice to be able to talk things through with them, both because it helps s know that everyone goes through a degree of pain, and hopefully to offer them some hope and support. Some of them are still considering whether Australia is the place for them even noticing differences such as the fact that Cadbury's Dairly Milk tastes different in Australia and they don't have pavements in most residential suburban streets. Hannah and I never had concerns that Australia is the right place for us so its difficult to understand that, but we certainly had low times with little support available to us so we understand.

The great thing about Brits in Australia is that they are all my kind of people. They are not sit-at-home, content-with-their-lot types, they are adventurous and open to new things and they are generally good fun to be around. We do have plenty of Aussie mates and we are trying to assimilate ourselves with their culture, to become part of the community and living in the Northern Beaches makes it so much easier. People here seem to have escaped some of the city airs and graces which you find in the Northern suburbs, its not overpopulated with Brits such as the Eastern Suburbs and Manly and the people here are friendly, down to earth with strong family values.

So assimilating the Aussie culture, it it means having to force down a few unflavoured lagers, in lady sized glasses, chucking large pieces of cow around on a barbeque and sharing the company of some pretty friendly and interesting people, it isn't that bad. That said, I also appreciate the Brits we met in the process. It's a tie back to home, but I think more so it is a shared struggle which gives us a strong connection.

I've got a few subjects to write about in more details, but I don't think I have the energy to cover them all now.

The process of buying a house for example is very interesting and different to the UK. I've also been going to a Natruopath, who had made me feel a lot better until she poisoned me with pills made from Dandelions. Both of those subjects deserve a bit of coverage but they need something in their own right.

It is worth mentioning the house itself. It is a five bedroom house which is built into a hillside so it is a bungalow at the front and a two story house at the back. There is a cellar which maintains a fairly constant temperature of 22-25C, which makes it an ideal spot for brewing beer and storing wine.

We have a 60,000 litre swimming pool and barbecue area at the back and a big lawn out front, which i get to mow every so often with a petrol lawn mower. Its perfect for us because two of the bedrooms are downstairs which means "the kids" get their own space.

Since we have moved in, there have been a few issues, most of which have been solved by members of the famous Grien family, Jo, who is Hannah's step-aunt, her husband Ross and their son Jesse, have really helped us out recently.

That's where we have been very lucky, not just because the Griens have been so welcoming and happy to help us but because they happen to be in the ideal professions for dealing with the immediate issues we have had with the house.

The two biggest issues we have had so far have involved a broken swimming pool and a blocked sewer. As luck would have it, Ross works in a pool shop and Jesse is a plumber.

A swimming pool is like a complex organism. It has pipes, pumps and lots of water in it and the chemistry of that water needs to be maintained and controlled. Somehow, a pool that had been well looked after for years seemed to go downhill rapidly once I got my hands on it. We had cloudy water, not enough stabiliser, not enough chlorine, too much chlorine and a build up of leaves, not to mention the other issues. They say you learn by your mistakes and l have learnt a lot over the past couple of months in charge of my pool.

It wasn't helped by the fact that the son of the previous owner owned the local pool shop for a while. The first time I opened the pool cupboard all I could see were hundered of pipes and what looked like a nuclear reactor sitting in the corner. It seems that during the eighties, every new gadget that came out for pools was rigged into the system until no-one knew what the pipes were for and where they went. I was reasonably assured however that there has never been any history of pools heated by atomic energy and the device in question was in fact a sand filter.

After I had paid a pool man twice to come round and then asked Ross for some advice I had a rudimentary understanding of how it worked. It's very easy to get it wrong though. For example, we have a device called a Jet-Vac. It is a kind of underwater, water powered hoover which picks up all the leaves from the bottom of the pool. If you turn on the Jet-Vac pump without the main filter pump the Jet-Vac pump runs dry and burns out. No problem though, as we had a couple of timers set up to make sure that didn't happen. Also you have to reverse the flow of the system to clean the filters every month. If you forget to open a valve when you do this, something really bad happens. I didn't ask, I didn't want to know.

Anyway, about four weeks ago, we noticed that the Jet-Vac wasn't working and wasn't cleaning the pool overnight. After some investigative testing, I noticed that the flow of water through the main pump was very low. After consulting with Ross, he decided we must have a blockage that might require major surgery. The pipe in question was under concrete and slabs.

After investigation, it turned out that the pipe had been crushed underground by a tree root and that this had caused, you guessed it, the Jet-Vac to run dry and burn out. In the end, since work was being done, we had the Jet-Vac pump replaced, a new safety timer for the Jet-Vac which links it to the filter pump and a new solar heating pump. All of this together with the 11 hours labour the pool guys put in meant that if Ross wasn't able to negotiate a decent deal for us on the parts and labour, we would have gone bankrupt in our forst month in the house. Either that or developed a rather unplanned wildlife sanctuary in our back garden.

The bad news didn't end with the pool. This week, on Sunday evening, Monday morning, we realised that there was raw sewage flowing into our downstairs bathroom, which is fortunately a wet-room. We relocated Zoe upstairs and asked them not to flush the toilets, anticipating a long wait. Within 24 hours however, Jesse had been round. He spent about ten minutes hosing out the obstructions and another fifty answering a constant barrage of questions from Zoe and Esme. It cost us a fraction of what it would have for a standard plumber call out and means that we should make this months mortgage payment, AND be able to put food on the table, always a bonus.

Jo's been great too. She has regularly invited us round and made us feel part of the family. We were round on Sunday afternoon and caught up with everyone. That's not to mention every Monday night she looked after Zoe and Esme over the last year or Zoe, Matt, Rhiannon and Mallory's contribution to entertaining the kids when we go round.

I reckon, without the Grien's help we would be in a much worse space than we are now and for that Hannah and I are truly grateful. If you read this, thank you all.

Another thing which Antipodeans have been in the news for recently is natural disasters. The Floods across Australia and then the Earthqueake in New Zealand, both of which are truly awful for those affected. We in Sydney have been very lucky. We live on top of a hill, near, but high above the harbour and we are not subject to flash flooding.

We do get the rain though and this has been intense in its own way. Last weekend, the pool overflowed due to all the rain and then water started building up in the garden over the top of the drain. Hannah volumteered to fix it and was observed, in her own stylish way, in her night clothes, a light green raincoat and yellow marigolds, bailing water out of the drain using a dustpan. Fortunately the rain abated and I later discovered that a simple "Back-washing" of the pool would have empited it down into the sewer.

The only effect the rains will have on us is that we will be taxed more, to pay for the recovery effort and the price of fruits and veg, things like Bananas have gone up from around $1-2/Kg to $12. Unfortunately for Esme, they are still cheaper than other snack foods, according to a source close to the Banana industry. We are mainly relying on apples and pears right now though. Anyone interested in Bananas should read the article

Even in these hard times however, it is still possible to find a bargain. I visited the fruit and veg shop and asked them for the hottest chillies they had. I've been on a diet recently and I'm not allowed to eat carbohydrates. One of the things I can eat is a chicken kebab salad with chilli sauce. I reckon I could emulte all of it apart from the sauce and I intended to try.

The owner of the shop showed me these little round chillies about the size of cherry tomatoes. I told him I was making Chilli sauce so he offered me the whole batch for five dollars. I took him up on his offer and made an excellent sauce. It's so good, I'm going to share the recipe, if only to annoy the kebab vendor who wouldn't give me details of his sauce.

A big bag of chillies around 1kg
Same amount of tomatoes
Two onions
One bulb of garlic
A big squeeze of honey
A cup or so of white vinegar to taste
Salt to taste

Chop the onions and fry in olive oil until soft
Chop Chllies and fry with all seeds and everything with Onions
Crush and add the carlic
Chop and add tomatoes taking out the nasty bit where the stalk has been
Cook with for quite a while, stirring to prevent burning
When its reduced to a liquid with bits in, put it through the food processor on high for a couple of minutes (In my case it took three batches) until it is as smooth as it can get. It should still have chilli seeds in it and be a little bit coarse.
Add Salt and more vinegar until you think it tastes great
Cook and reduce until it its thick enough to be described as a sauce rather than a soup. I had to add a bit more vinegar at this point as I think some of it evaporates
Let it cool and bottle it.

So there you have is, a fruity, very spicy chilli sauce that can breathe a bit of life and fire into anything!

Cooking is something both Zoe and I love and but couldn't do last year. Now we have a big kitchen. we often cook together. She learns a lot about cooking, I learn a lot about hygene.

So really, we've made it. Things will get better as hopefully our wages go up and our mortgage goes down and we are able to do more of the wonderful things Sydney has on offer. However, things are already great already. We have a house, a pool, thanks to Hannah we are part of the local community and we have the beach 15 minutes down the road where this morning, I went surfing and was back in time to start work.

You can't get better than that.