After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Farewell WA - January 2012

We got a bit behind on the blog as you can see, but since it was mostly written in draft form we figured it might as well be published. This post is from our last month in Australia, since then we have been back in Europe for three months and have been in New Zealand for the last three weeks! So this feels like a lifetime ago but here goes...

HMAS Ovens with Liam's workplace in the background

I guess January has on the whole, just like for everyone else, been a month of staying home and trying to save some money. The weather has been between 32 and 42 degrees, in fact one of the hottest January's in decades. It is very welcome, as so far the summer has been worse than usual (quite a few wet and wild, stormy nights), although to be fair as Brits we have been spoilt with the weather from September onwards! But in this month we were both very grateful for the buildings that we work in having air conditioning, although not in our flat. Some nights the air temperature didn't dip below the mid-thirties, so combined with being on the third floor of an apartment building made it pretty hard to sleep some nights. But generally our flat is very airy and when the infamous 'Freo Doctor' (daily breeze) starts up around late morning most days, the wind whistles through the flat, refreshing the air and sending lightweight items flying. At least it keeps us cool!

Whilst Charlotte worked most of the Saturday's in January, Liam took to his bike to explore the local area a little more. One trip was a 50km-ish ride to Perth up the Swan River, before crossing over and coming all the way back down to Fremantle. The trip was just before the heat kicked in, and generally flat so made for a pleasant ride. It was a great way to get a sense of perspective of the whole local area, and to see different suburbs - and surprising lack of amenities, the worse thing about Perth's suburban sprawl. Away from the city refreshment only came from a roadside petrol station bought iced coffee, which wasn't quite what I had in mind when I set out, imagining that surely there would be a nice cafe to refuel at along the way! But it was on the whole scenic and interesting, and I always love walking or cycling by a body of water. The distance was quite deceptive, as the river winds it's way back to Fremantle. Cycling back home along the coast and diving into the sea to wash the dust and sweat away was definitely a highlight, and an activity we are already taking for granted here.

We had a final trip to Fremantle Arts Centre one Sunday morning, which was a bit of a disappointment as the art doesn't seem to have been as varied or interesting since our first visit there. However, it is free and housed in a beautiful building with a nice cafe, so always worth a wander around. We were going to go onto the Maritime museum but as it was such a lovely day decided to stop of for a 'quick pint' at Clancy's, bumped into a friend and before we knew it we were hanging out in various other beer gardens, and were treated to some Irish dancing in Rosie O'Gradys pub before rounding the evening of at the bowling green. Contrary to how that sounds, we hadn't drunkenly scaled the fence for a bit of night-time bowling, there was a band night on at the bar there. Crown Green Bowling seems to have had a bit of a renaissance here, Liam had even already had some practise at his work's Christmas do, and the club was packed with people substantially younger than your typical bowler. We enjoyed a game or two of Crown Green Bowling which was actually really fun, although a little difficult not in daylight. There were lots of little ones running about and certainly that is one thing that is great about Australian culture - the inclusion of kids and young parents at events (or it could be more to do with the fact that Australians seldom turn down an opportunity to drink beer!). Little Creatures brewery bar has a huge sandpit out the back for kids to play in and the guy at the bar even has a clown horn to squeeze if any of the kids start climbing the fence to make a break for it! So young parents still go out with their friends for some after work drinks, and the kids have a whale of a time. It's not to say this kind of thing doesn't happen elsewhere, but it just felt a whole lot more inclusive here, and the parents and kids were welcome in the day at some of the more hip establishments in the centre.

January was a breakthrough month for Charlotte and some research she'd been doing. She has been working with a psychologist since October devising a piece of research to evaluate his work. After months of tweaking, pilot study, tweaking, focus group, tweaking, tweaking and more tweaking (!) the questionnaire is finally up and running, and - more importantly - people are starting to fill it in! Although there is still a way to go in terms of data collation, analysis and write up this now means that Charlotte can work at her own pace rather than at the pace of a rather nit-picking psychologist, hurrah! To show his gratitude he also took her out for a swanky lunch overlooking a white sands and turquoise water at Cottesloe, which made it seem so much more worthwhile.

Our plan had always been to return to the UK for Sophie and Ste's wedding in February. The plan after that had been to return to Oz, pack up Eric and hit the road for a while. About 10 days before leaving Perth, we had a sudden crisis of wondering whether we actually did want to return to Australia or not. After umming and ahhing and ARGHing we eventually decided not to come back (sob!). We had greatly enjoyed living in Fremantle and experiencing WA life, but ultimately wanted to try somewhere new/different/cheaper. So unfortunately our final week in Australia was spent frantically selling the van, getting rid of possessions and saying final goodbyes. The van proved to be the most stressful aspect of this, and we finally waved farewell to it a mere 48 hours before boarding the plane. A lovely Italian couple took him under their wing and, from what we can see from Facebook, they haven't been left stranded in the middle of the outback... yet!

And so we bid Australia a fond farewell! We have had an amazing time and the general highlights for us have undoubtedly been driving about in Eric the Econovan, hitting the beach after work, Fremantle's lively cafe and bar scene, beautiful camping weekends away, stunning sunsets and skies, and soaking up the relaxed Aussie barbecue and beer lifestyle. The downsides to Western Australian life have been a somewhat backwards culture at times, occasionally unbearable heat, some fly-ridden days, isolation from the rest of the Australia (Perth is closer to Singapore than Sydney and the state of Western Australia itself is almost four times as big as France) as well as from the rest of the planet, and expensive food and drink (so long, £6.50 pints, you won't be missed!).

So, to sum up, our perfect Fremantle weekend would be as follows: evening out at Little Creatures on Friday night with a few pints of Little Creatures Pale Ale soaked up by Seafood Laksa at Old Shanghai, an early morning swim at Cottesloe beach on Saturday morning followed by coffee and Eggs Florentine at Fidels, hopping into the van to head to a National Park Campsite, walk in the bush checking out cool trees and spiders, barbecue and beer back at the campsite, drinking wine under the stars before heading back to Freo in the morning via a dusty little town, imagining a weird Western being filmed there and finishing the weekend at the beach with takeway fish and chips from Amberjacks at Cottesloe beach watching the sun set over the water and wriggling our toes in the sand. And really no matter whatever negatives one can come up with, that is hard to beat!

What we've been watching:

The BBC adaptation (aired years ago) of Robert Harris's book about a search for an heir of Stalin's, in 3 parts. It stayed very true to the original story, although needed to be cut down greatly which meant reducing a lot of the suspense and intrigue. A good watch, with some beautiful shots of Russia (presumably!) to make us feel very nostalgic for the time we spent there, but definitely a better read.

Black Mirror
Charlie Brooker's look at modern technology and how it can impact us in the future. It focused on three separate themes; the ability of news to go viral and it being very difficult to keep things under wraps once the cat is out of the bag, shows like X Factor and the adverts that run alongside it taking over our daily lives and rewarding / punishing us for what we do and don't watch, and the ability to look back on all of our memories in the future. A really interesting and thought provoking mini series, well written and produced.

What Charlotte's been reading:

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Basically a murder mystery thriller with a bit of romance and weirdness thrown in. A gripping novel that I'm not entirely sure deserves it's hype, albeit being quite a good read. Very much written with further books in mind. It would make a cracking film.

Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing is as it Seems - Rod Carveth & James B South
Exploring philosophical concepts using the medium of the Mad Men series. It includes some good bits about the philosophy of advertising; and keeps your attention as the authors aren't afraid to let you know their personal opinions, including some critique of the series.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written By Herself - Harriet Ann Jacobs. As the title says, an account of being a slave in America. Eloquently written account of being a true survivor.

Last Man in Tower - Aravind Adiga
Liam and I had greatly enjoyed 'White Tiger' by the same author so were excited when this came up as the Kindle Daily Deal. Although not quite as good, the book starts off slowly and then picks up half way through. A tale of greed and community betrayal.
The Book of Nonsense - Edward Lear
I have been delving into poetry now and then to try and bring myself to enjoy reading it. My favourite from this book I shall share with you: 'There was an old man whose habits, induced him to feed upon Rabbits, when he'd eaten eighteen, he turned perfectly green, upon which he relinquished those habits.' Not the most sophisticated poetry but amusing nonetheless!

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunactic Asylum - Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens has looked after the Broadmoor Hospital archives since 2004 and has compiled this book about the early inhabitants. A compelling read!

The Case for Working with your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things is Good - Matthew Crawford
I like the principle of this book very much indeed, written by a guy who has a Phd in Political Philosophy, has worked in a US Government thinktank, and is now a motorcycle mechanic. However, I do feel he is quick to judge 'intellectual' jobs (he only spent 5 months working in the think-tank) and he can rather laboriously litter his musings with examples from motorcycle repair methods; complete with different lines of enquiry as well as diagrams! An interesting read though.

Fatherland - Robert Harris
Inspired to read this after watching Archangel. A story set in Berlin, with the premise being that Germany actually won WWII. We both read this and agreed that it is a slow burner, but is very hard to put down from about halfway. As usual with Harris, it features some real people and events from that era and references to genuine documents from WWII, making it educational as well as entertaining.

Breakfast with Socrates - Robert Rowland Smith
A pretty cool introduction to philosophical concepts, working through an average day to illustrate the ideas.