Archive | Navy RSS feed for this section

New horizons

12 Sep

It has been a very long time since I last contributed to this blog of ours, it might have even been this time last year. Louise does such a good job of keeping up with our comings and goings, I sometimes feel that what I can say will be of any interest. Besides I am a much more passive communicator; listening and reading are more my comfort zones!

Talking of comfort zones this is a year for us to be well and truly tested with a baby on the way.   The due date in the middle of September is fast approaching, having seemed for so long to be have been a point far on the horizon. I am incredibly excited, but daunted at the same time. I know that our lives will never be the same again in a matter of days. Louise, as ever, has been extremely organised and we have been busy shopping for baby ‘essentials’, she even managed to bring me along to a baby expo in Sydney a couple of months ago. I will be honest, it was not my idea of fun as I don’t have the best patience for shopping at the best of times, but it was a useful trip and we came home with a pram!

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Ardent 2 on the uniform

Along with fatherhood, 2014 has also seen me taking command of a warship for the first time in my career. I joined my crew, called ‘Ardent Two’ in Darwin at the end of May and we embarked in HMAS Wollongong, an Arimdale Class Patrol Boat (ACPB). The patrol boat community in the RAN is unconventionally manned, with more crews than hulls, and a rotation system of 8 weeks ‘on’ and 4 weeks ‘off’. This means that each crew goes back to a different Ship each time, odd, but it almost works. Anyway, Wollongong was my first and I have since been back briefly to Sydney and am now back for a longer duration, until the birth and hopefully, for a few weeks after it as well. I have immensely enjoyed the first four months in command, have quickly come to realise that all my time in the Navy to date has prepared me for this one job. Each day on board I seem to find myself remembering instances when something similar occurred under different commanding officers and how I reacted then and now. It surprises me how lessons were imparted to me in all manner of situations.

July also saw me reach the halfway point of my Masters of Business programme, which I am being funded to complete by the RAN. It is a pleasing milestone, but the end still seems some way of, particularly as I have taken a break for the first six months in command whilst I get myself settled into the job at sea.

After my first stint in patrol, I had to find myself a place to liven Cairns (well, Louise did, and I just inspected on my arrival in Cairns!) I managed to secure an apartment in the city, which gives me a base up there  and somewhere for Louise and the baby to visit occasionally as well.

The new Cairns pad

The new Cairns pad

Winter sun at Bondi

Winter sun at Bondi

Physically I have also embarked on a press-up (push-up) challenge. I saw this being talked about on Facebook at the end of last year and it intrigued me. The challenge is simply one press-up on Jan 1st, two on Jan 2nd continuing in this vein until Dec 31st! Today I have had to complete 256 press-ups, not in all in one go thankfully, but it is a physical and psychological test that I am determined to complete. In total I will have knocked out over 66,000 over the course of the year.

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

Doing the push-ups in front of the Ship

By the end of this year I will have taken on a hugely responsible role in two regards, both in my personal and professional life. They are both responsibilities I feel ready for, although something tells me a tiny newborn may prove more testing than a crew of grown men. Either way, Louise and I are about to find out very soon.

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers

13 Jul

As a military wife, you get used to periods on your own and getting on with the day to day. A lack of companionship aside, you soon establish your routines and develop strategies to get through the weeks and months solo; arranging social get togethers, scheduling catch-ups and making lists of things you need to get done and coming up with little projects you can do on evenings or weekends.

But there occasionally comes a time when that question, “Can I call your husband?” is necessary and that’s when being on your own can prove more difficult.

As ‘deployments’ go, eight weeks is not a long time but admittedly I was a little anxious beforehand this time round because being pregnant adds a layer of vulnerability, and inevitably, the further along you get, the fewer tasks you feel up to doing.

I’ve had my weekly yoga classes, antenatal classes and catch-ups with friends. Periodic check-ups have meant trips to the hospital and GP, which do mean there has been some reassurance on a regular basis as well.

In fact, everything had been going pretty well for a few weeks and I’d only been told to come into the hospital for monitoring and a scan once after questioning how much I’d been feeling the baby move. Of course, as soon as I arrived, it was kicking up a storm again and all was fine.

Then came 28 weeks and my midwife checkup at the hospital. All looked normal and I set off on the drive home, but decided to call into the supermarket en route to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was nearly lunchtime so, being sensible (it happens sometimes), I stopped and had a bowl of soup before braving the crowds in a large supermarket in the middle of a bustling shopping centre.

That’s when I started feeling hot. I began fanning myself, thinking I was having some sort of odd, pregnancy-induced hot flush. Maybe this is one of the joys of the third trimester… But the fanning was futile and I was just becoming hotter and perspiring and started feeling really sick. I looked down the mall to the toilets, thinking I needed cold water on my face but at that point I didn’t think I was going to make it through the throngs to get there. I needed to cool down and so my next thought was the supermarket opposite because supermarkets have fridges and freezers and so that’s where I headed.

It all happened very quickly. I think I had just gone past the Asian dipping sauces and was somewhere between the crisps and the line of cashiers when my hearing went. At that point I knew I was going down and in that split second I just put myself on the floor. I didn’t think there would ever come a time in my life when the cold, hard, tiled floor of Coles would look appealing but in that moment, it won over falling.

It wasn’t long before a few people had rushed over, asking me if I was ok. At that point I was too hot and dizzy to point out that if I was ok, I would not be choosing to lie there… I would have clearly chosen the ice cream section. I think I murmured something about being pregnant and heard another voice say, “Call triple zero.” I was pretty sure I didn’t need an ambulance but I was equally a little concerned that this might be affecting the baby. I had no idea, I was just aware of a girl, feeling my head, pulling an elastic from round my wrist and tying back my hair.

“Has someone called a ambulance?”

“Yes, they’re on their way.”

A bottle of water was shoved under my nose and I managed to half sit, slumped against a checkout booth and sip water. This is when the reality of the situation sank in and I became aware of several pairs of concerned eyes coming into focus and the ogling faces, pretending they were just stopping to stock up on hot chilli sauce, which had never been more popular.

In the minutes that followed I think I explained the same story of what had happened to at least four or five different people. There was the man, I assume was the floor manager, who suddenly had a legitimate reason to start using the walkie talkie strapped to his belt, there was the shopping centre security manager, who had been called and had come with first aid box in hand, the girl at the checkout who went to fetch me a chair and there were the two girls who had stopped and stayed by my side until they knew I was going to be ok.

One girl, the one who had tied back my hair, had managed to get through to an emergency service I hadn’t even known existed; a local volunteer service, who act as a first response and bridge of medical care before a main NSW Ambulance can arrive on the scene. It meant that within no more than five minutes, someone was there, an oxygen mask was clamped to my face, my blood pressure was being checked, my pulse monitored and my finger pricked to check my glucose levels.

It was around this time that the floor manager returned and cordoned off the area, so I felt more like the victim in an episode of Crime Scene in the Crisp Aisle  than a pregnant lady with low blood pressure.

However, amid all the attention and drama, I was incredibly touched by the solicitude shown by the people around me. As both the medical guy and the centre manager got all my details, the girl by my side was asking who she should call.

“Can I call your partner?”

I shook my head. “He’s away.”

“Ok, what about any family, are they local?”

I probably could have cried at this point but just shook my head. ‘In England.”

I told her I didn’t think I needed to call anyone but when the ‘Ambos’ arrived (you will find Australians abbreviate everything and stick an ‘o’ on the end) and informed me they thought it best I went to hospital to get checked over, I realised I probably should tell someone. I ran through the list of friends, most of whom I knew would be at work and settled on the wife of a Navy friend. The message was passed and I was told she would call to check on me.

The ambulance crew seemed concerned that I was on my own and would be going back home alone and with my blood pressure still “too low” for their liking, they got ready to take me to hospital.

The security manager assured me that they would look after my car and I needn’t worry about leaving it and to come back when I was ready. Just before the ambos decided to cart me away, the girl who had waited all this time, made sure I had all my bags and took my number, saying she would call to check if I was ok and if I needed anything, she lived near by.

If the whole incident of collapsing on the floor in the middle of a supermarket wasn’t embarrassing enough, being wheeled out on a stretcher and into the crowds of shoppers in a packed Westfield was definitely mortifying. I stared at the ceiling and tried to avoid any eye contact.

The ambulance guys were brilliant, although they kind of reminded me a bit of a young Chuckle Brothers (a not-that-funny-comedy duo to the non-English residents). I could almost imagine them saying, “to me, to you,” as they parked me in the ambulance. However, the guy in the back of the ambulance was lovely and explained that his wife was also expecting their first child.

Although still very shaky I was feeling a lot better and I started to realise how lucky I was that I had been in a public place, despite the obvious embarrassment factor! I was also incredibly touched by the number of strangers who had shown so much care and concern: from the girl in the shop, to the supermarket staff, the security manager, the initial emergency response team and the ambulance crew themselves.

I felt completely safe and in good hands and shortly after arriving in hospital (I should have just stayed after my morning check up), my friend and her husband both arrived to see how I was doing and insisted that I come home with them.

So it was that I ended up spending the next couple of days at their house, with their four children, being fed wonderful, home-cooked, family dinners and being able to curl up in front of the TV with their Labrador.

I did call the girl and let her know I was ok and in fact we went out for a coffee a few days later so I could say thank you in person, with a bunch of flowers. I also left with a few more tips about becoming a mum and good shopping advice, as it turned out she has a nine-month old.

It can definitely be hard at times when you are on your own and your husband is somewhere in the middle of the ocean but if I needed my faith restored in humanity, that day was probably it. Now just two more days to go before James is back, but you will be glad to know I have set up online supermarket delivery for the future.

 

The long farewell

26 May

It’s been a long time in coming. Since February, James has been on course to ready himself to become Commanding Officer of a ship but it has been on the cards since July last year when he was on the signal to take command. In fact for James himself, you could argue it has been something he has aspired to for the past 17 years of his Naval career. Well, the time has now come and we have said our farewells. In eight weeks when he returns for the first time, we’ll be able to tell you whether all that preparation has been adequate!

The period of James’ sending off parties seemed to reflect the length of time he has waited for this job. I’m not saying he likes to milk these things but…

It started a few weeks a go when I held a surprise party for him at a bar in Sydney. After scouring his contacts list and asking a few people to pass the word on to Navy friends, more than thirty people were already gathered when we arrived to give him a big cheer. It was a really wonderful evening with so many friends offering a lot of good wishes and congratulations. I had been planning a special gift for him to say ‘well done and good luck’ for a while. It is a naval tradition that only the captain of a ship can write in red ink and so decided it was a good occasion to present him with a Mont Blanc pen complete with red ink cartridges. It went down pretty well!

The following weeks involved drinks with friends, being taken out for dinner, more brunches and evening drinks and finally a lovely Sunday lunch with some good friends.

We have tried to make the most of these last couple of weeks together, particularly as when he returns I will be significantly larger and probably less up for traipsing about or going on long walks. We have stayed local but spent time down at the beach or in the park.

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Walking in the Botanical Gardens

Autumn in Centennial Park

Autumn in Centennial Park

Bondi days

Bondi days

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

Drinks at Balmoral Beach

We had not been to Cockatoo Island before and decided to take the ferry there to see the biennale  – the art festival held only every two years. Although there were a lot of obscure video installations such as the one involving a man with a bag over his head and people wailing in German, there were also a few interesting and interactive exhibits, including the gym installation and the giant waterfall at the end of one of the buildings.

Harbourside buildings

Harbourside buildings

Working Out the Art

Working Out the Art

Cockatoo Island is a perfect location for an art festival. The once busy boat building hub and former convict prison is now an almost deserted island of old warehouses, sheds and prison cells. There is an eerie sense of abandonment in some of the old work sheds where the day’s tea order is still scribbled on to a blackboard, machinery remains suspended, the pulley systems rusted and decaying and the clock halted at the point when no one returned to repair it. Art installations aside, it is a pretty interesting place to visit and the view from the wine bar at the top of the island is pretty good too!

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Arriving on Cockatoo Island

Old machinery

Old machinery

Turning to rust

Turning to rust

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Climbing to the top of Cockatoo Island

Abandoned and empty

Abandoned and empty

View from Cockatoo Island

View from Cockatoo Island

As you can see we have been enjoying some incredible weather over the past couple of weeks. Autumn has graced us with summer warm days and crisp evenings. It is really a beautiful time of year here.

Heading home

Heading home

When James and I next see each other it will be mid winter and it won’t just be the season that will have changed. I am sure James will have a fair few stories and experiences after his first stint in command and well, I just probably won’t fit in any of the clothes he last saw me wearing!

The Bump!

The Bump!

Sapphires and poppies

8 May

There are many things we’ve got used to after two and a half years in Australia and one of those is the fact a six or seven-hour drive is no longer considered that long or even unusual. When planning a trip away over the long Easter weekend, we decided to venture south to an area we had not yet visited together: the Sapphire Coast. A mere six plus hours in the car, still in the same state and only broken up a few more times than usual to let a pregnant woman stretch her legs and back!

Stopover in Kiama

Stopover in Kiama

The drive was actually worth it for the scenery alone for once you have hit the Southern Highlands, you are accompanied by rolling green hills, dramatic, sweeping coastline, sun-dappled forests and picturesque dairy farm land.

Rolling hills of the South Coast

Rolling hills of the South Coast

 

After a few wrong turns bouncing along dirt tracks, which would end abruptly at a river or some dense woodland, we got back to the road with the Sat Nav insisting we should, “U-turn when possible” and had our first night with James’ step uncle and his wife, who have a property near Wyndham.

It was lovely to visit them, after last seeing them both nearly three years a go at a party, where, to be honest, I met so many of James’ extended family, that I still struggle to remember who is related to who! Their home is set in several acres of land, which we walked around the following morning. It was distinctly cooler being that little bit further south and it was the first time we had to sit round an open fire in the evening.

The house near Wyndham

The house near Wyndham

Grahame, Andy and James

Grahame, Andy and James

The following days we stayed in a B&B near Tathra and explored the beaches and countryside around the Sapphire coast. It really is a stunning area, more remote than the South Coast closer to Sydney, fringed by long stretches of beach or smaller, bays, bordered by bush and forest. The water, unsurprisingly was a clear sapphire blue and in the middle of the day it was still warm enough to take a dip.

Tathra Beach

Tathra Beach

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Bega Kiss Lagoon

Forests along Sapphire Coast

Forests along Sapphire Coast

One of our favourite spots was Nelsons Beach, accessed by another dirt track with ocean one side and a beautiful lagoon on the other, which was perfect for swimming.

Nelsons Beach

Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Walking along Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

Lagoon at Nelsons Beach

We treated ourselves to dinner at Mimosa Wines one night and seeing as we didn’t get to see it in daylight, stopped there again on the drive back up to Sydney. Artisan workshops, galleries and foodie joints seem to be springing up along the tourist drive, which winds along the coast and through national park.

Walks near Tathra

Walks near Tathra

Mimosa Wines

Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Coffee with a view: Mimosa Wines

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

Quaint shops of Central Tilba

It was definitely the breather we both needed and possibly our last chance for a long weekend away even before the baby comes along with James going away a few times before the due date.

It was a big holiday week in Australia that week, with Easter falling late in the year and coinciding with the same week of Anzac Day.

Anzac Day 2014

Anzac Day 2014

For the third year in a row, James got to march in an Anzac parade, this year in Sydney again, and a friend and I went to watch and support on what was a fairly wet and dreary start to the day. Luckily, by the time the rain really came down, James had finished his march and we were safely esconced in the officers’ pub of choice on Anzac Day, The Forbes.

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Rain fails to dampen Anzac crowds

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

Marie Bashir, Governor General NSW, applaudes marchers

James on parade

James on parade

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Navy on parade: Anzac 2014

Remembering the fallen

Remembering the fallen

After a few drinks there, James was clearly up for some stick, as we headed to the bar where some of his Marine friends were meeting up but ‘Jack’ was welcomed in with just a few derogatory comments!

Comrades!

Comrades!

The Anzac parade is always a spectacle seeing the hundreds of men and women marching together in uniform. It is certainly a moment to feel proud of those who serve and an event that equally shows them, the gratitude and support from the public. Every year since living in Sydney I have been moved at how many people, young and old, turn out for the parade, even in miserable weather. Perhaps a glimmer of the Anzac spirit being demonstrated in honour of those who fell.

A very Blue evening

22 Jul

If you are an Aussie, and particularly if you are an Aussie guy, (at the risk of stereotyping) you will probably have been watching a game last Wednesday night. That is, the game: State of Origin. The Blues (NSW) vs. the Maroons (QLD) and it was a crucial decider in the Rugby League competition too. As a non-Aussie and female, I, (at the risk of a backlash) was not watching it and was not too bothered about it. I might have tuned in if I had been home that night, but as it was, I had my cocktail dress on and had a date with another blue of sorts, Blue Ridge. Blue Ridge is an US Navy ship that was berthed in Sydney as part of a joint forces exercise between the US and Australian Navies. Talisman Saber is the biggest of its kind in the world, and the reason James happens to be over in San Diego.

As luck (or non-luck in James’ case) would have it, the Admiral on board, VADM Swift, knows James and had invited us both for a cocktail party. In James’ place, I took along my friend, Katie, who is also a Naval widow, in that her fiancé happens to be on deployment right now. There have to be some perks to this ‘Navy wife’ lark I suppose. The Ship was enormous and the dress and heels were not the easiest attire for climbing up a steep gangway, nor to make any sort of seamless entrance without tripping up ship’s ladders. Anyway, we made our less-than-elegant arrival just in time for the ceremonial aspect at sunset, the speeches and the cake cutting. Despite the thrust of the speeches being about the importance of building on the US-Australian relationship, the stunning location did not go ignored, especially with Sydney’s skyline in full illuminated glory from the deck.

Blue Ridge cake

Cutting the cake

 

I then made my way over to battle the crowd to speak to Admiral Swift. I was there really to show face on James’ behalf and I was not quite sure what to expect. I had never met Admiral Swift myself so envisaged a quick introduction, make James’ apologies, a quick drink, and then be off.

There were plenty of people milling around and a large crowd surrounded the Admiral as people went to introduce themselves and have a chat (and if they were lucky, a photo!) As it turned out, I did not have to wait too long to speak to him and as soon as I told him who I was and mentioned James’ name, his face lit up. Whatever James had done to impress this guy in the past, it had worked. I was handed a coin souvenir from the ship, Katie and I had a few pictures with the Admiral, taken by the official photographer, and during the evening, he came across several times to talk to us. He made us feel extremely welcome and despite not having our Navy partners, Katie and I had a great time, speaking non-Navy and chatting to the officers who came over to see us.

Louise and the VADM

130717-N-GR655-080

There was a fantastic spread of hot and cold food and a huge cake and chocolate chip cookies, even more impressive by the fact it was all cooked and baked on board in the galley. We had not got round to having any when the time came to leave but Admiral Swift ensured we both went away laden down with a goodie-box full of cake and cookies! He then also invited us to see his quarters and both had photos inside his cabin. Basically, we were very well looked after and the night totally exceeded my expectations. I might have been mixing with a bunch of guys in blue uniforms but I have to admit, it was more fun than watching the other guys in blue getting beaten by the Maroons that night.

Taking Command

30 Jun

I thought I’d give Louise a break from the blogging and write a post myself.  It has been quite a while since I wrote anything here and, to be honest, Louise is such a good writer that I feel that anything I write will pale into insignificance against the hundred or so other entries to this site.

Life has been hectic for us over the last few months; we have had to move home and I have been very busy with work, which has taken me to HMAS Cerberus in Victoria for the past 3 weeks and then I am off to San Diego in a week for just under a month.  We have a week’s leave booked for the end of August and we are both looking forward to a break.

My work has been interesting; I accompanied 27 student warfare officers down to West Head Gunnery Range where they were put through their paces in the art of Naval gunnery.  The range is located on a cliff top near the picturesque township of Flinders and provides an excellent training opportunity as we are allowed to fire live rounds out to sea.  Not sure I would wish to live close by as it makes quite a racket!

Our great friends Will and Isa, along with their two children, live nearby to HMAS Cerberus in Mt Martha and it was wonderful to catch up with them whilst I was down there.  Will is fast becoming a craft beer aficionado and is actually getting quite a good reputation as an online blogger on this increasingly popular interest in good beer. Check him out here: http://vonschlapper.wordpress.com/author/vonschlapper/

Yesterday I received some exciting news.  The RAN have selected me to command one of their patrol boats based in Cairns.  Command of a warship is a goal that I have been dreaming of achieving since I was a junior officer and it is a wonderful feeling to have been nominated.  I do not take up the position for another year, so there will be 6 more months of my role in training warfare officers here in Sydney before I embark on a 5 month course which will tell me of the many ways in which I must try to avoid getting into trouble.  The prospect of command is both exciting and a little intimidating as I will be responsible for everything that goes on in that Ship, including the welfare and safety of my crew – a daunting task but one that I feel honoured to tackle.

The job of the patrol boats is to protect the maritime approaches to Australia.  In this current climate of mass people migration from parts of the world  where people are desperate to escape tyranny and conflict for a better life this task will be a significant challenge both physically and morally.  The timing could not be more apt with the newly re-instated Prime Minister of Australia making incendiary comments with regard to Indonesia and immigration.  Who knows what the situation will be like in 12 months time, but one thing is for sure there will still be people taking great risks to get to these shores.

In many ways I have been preparing for command since the day I joined the RN in 1997, in the early years I didn’t realise this and there were times when if I am honest I wasn’t even sure that I actually wanted it.  An institution such as the Navy has ways to school its officers in preparation for this important job that have been honed through many years of war and peace.  Other organisations have great ways of preparing their people for leadership positions and an entire industry has sprung up touting the answer to leadership excellence, but I believe in the tried and tested methods of the Armed forces in which I am honoured to serve.

I will not actually command my own Ship, instead I will be the Commanding Officer of one of 6 crews based in Cairns where we will man four Armidale Class Patrol Boats (ACPBs), each crew rotates through the different ships.

English: The Australian patrol boat HMAS Child...

The Australian patrol boat HMAS Childers (and others) berthed at HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour

HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our plan as it stands is for Louise to stay in Sydney where we have friends and a support network, I will then either fly down or Louise will come up when I am not on patrol.  Hopefully this arrangement will work and it means we keep ourselves in the new unit in Sydney.  Having just moved, the prospect of moving again in 12 months is not an appealing one!

Light at the end of the tunnel (VIVID 2013)

14 Jun
The Opera House illuminated during the Vivid F...

The Opera House illuminated during the Vivid Festival (Photo credit: JAM Project)

In the midst of an ongoing  and seemingly ever-growing mound of admin, there has been a beacon of light – or several lights – in the form of Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival. It is no overstatement to call it spectacular. The entire waterfront comes alive with light displays, music and fireworks from Circular Quay round to Darling Harbour.

Skyscrapers of concrete and glass are transformed into pieces of artwork; canvases for lasers and projected light installations. Entire buildings look as if they are moving in time to the music thanks to the illusion of light; optical fibre art work is suspended from archways; glittering tunnels lead people along footpaths; light fountains dance along to the beat and the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House are illuminated in a rainbow of colours and light effects.

The outside spectacle begins once the sun has gone down, but other events take place throughout the day during the two-week festival billed as ‘Light, Music and Ideas’. There are workshops, talks, exhibitions and presentations on subjects to do with photography, movement, reportage, film and even happiness. In fact, everything I love. Sadly I could not attend the daytime events but James and I did manage to escape for one evening to catch the lights. It was light we both needed as you will read…

VIVD 2013

VIVID: Sydney Opera House

VIVD: Customs House

VIVD: Opera House

Moving house, starting a business, getting involved with another business (can’t say too much about that here but stay tuned…) losing a wallet and getting a new phone has, as you can imagine, seen us swamped by the tedium and minutiae of updating details, renewing cards, informing everyone of new phone numbers and then add to that meetings, rental agreements and trying to keep on top of the writing. Moving house is normally a stressful and chaotic time but when there are several extra parties involved and Defence have to come and inspect your house (twice) and the owners also want to come and inspect it and the removal guys are one body but Defence provides an extra ‘liaison’ guy to help out (who also wants to come and inspect your house) well, yes, the diary is full and thank goodness for the new phone because at least I get an alert every half an hour reminding me who is due next to inspect or call! I’m grateful for the Defence assistance we get but sometimes, the saying ‘too many cooks’ springs to mind.

Did I also mention we’ve been selling some of our furniture and trying to coordinate pick-ups from online buyers? Oh and then to add to it all one of the units above us had their hot water system burst last night so two floors of the block are flooded. I woke up and was greeted by an internal stairwell of wet carpet and a neighbour above us wringing out towels and paddling about on his carpets, which have all had to be removed. So far, nothing down here, but I am watching and waiting for the damp patches on the ceiling and for the water to eventually seep through into our unit. I say ‘I’ because, yes, as luck would have it, James finds himself away with work! Ah yes, they have a cunning way of planning these things, I am beginning to suspect a conspiracy. I will be moving out and moving in alone for the third time and while James flits between Melbourne and San Diego, I shall continue to drown in a pool of admin (and possibly an actual pool of water as well.)

Looking forward to being settled again… There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Application: successful

3 Jun

So, it turns out they’re not all the same. Estate agents I mean. I’ve come across some real weasels in my time and I know to translate their descriptions of ‘cosy apartment with leafy outlook’ as ‘cramped space with a view of the overgrown hedge.’

It took me a few goes getting it very wrong before I wised up. For instance a few years a go in London, I optimistically headed to view a flat that was not only ‘cosy’ but also ‘convenient for transport links’ and had ‘park views from the balcony’. I turned up to a high rise overlooking the Vauxhall train tracks at one side and from the fridge-sized balcony (I use fridge as a comparison as it was the object which filled the space as it didn’t seem to fit in the kitchen) I saw a small patch of grass, mostly weeds and littered with syringes, which constituted the ‘park’. Never mind the fact the bedroom walls were painted a dark purple, had bars on the windows, and the access to the entrance was via a stinking stairwell. I decided it was not for me and perhaps I should raise the budget.

Move to Australia and we’ve found the flagrant disregard for accuracy has actually been relatively small. It is more a case of reading between the lines and looking for what they omit rather than what they promote. An apartment may well have lovely views from the balcony but if the drain is backed up in the bathroom, there is mould in one corner and the ‘double’ room fits the bed and nothing else, well, you have to weigh up how important those views are (probably very in that place because let’s face it you’re going to want to spend most of your time outside.)

The last few weeks have been our first experiencing the rental market in Sydney. As a Naval household we were living in a defence apartment but then we got told the lease was expiring and we had to leave. Forward through several weeks of waiting to see if we could get approval to go and rent our own place and finally, we got the go ahead. My days were spent trawling the real estate and domain web pages for listings, hoping to find something in the same area where we have settled and made friends. Prices are astronomical. I thought London was expensive with two-bed flats renting at over $1500 a month but then the same in Sydney can set you back the same price each week.

Rental map

Then there is the application process. The market can be tough, especially as rentals don’t seem to hang around for too long and if there are lots of people wanting to rent the same place, don’t be surprised to find a bidding war on your hands. We were lucky not to get to quite that stage although I think this might be a fairly quiet time to be looking. If it’s a newly renovated property with half decent space, light and airy and in a good location, people arrive, application forms ready to go, to submit to the agent at the viewing. Viewings are mostly done at open house inspections at one set time, for about 15 or 20 minutes and unless you’re on the ball and see a property online and manage to get the agent to show it before the inspection, you can be up against lots of other potential tenants vying for the same property. Then it is down to the agent and landlord as to who they like best and who gets the lease.

Two weeks a go we fell in love with a place. It was large, ridiculously so, with 1930s proportions you don’t get in the more modern units and what they call ‘ocean glimpses’! We were rejected. It’s that word, which stings. You can’t help but take it personally. It turned out the other applicant knew the landlord so we never had a chance but still, we lost out and it was back to the drawing board. Then I came across another place, smaller but from the photographs, filled with light. It was newly listed and the inspection was not even scheduled. I contacted the agent and managed to view it the following day. Perhaps it was being the first in or perhaps it was striking up that rapport with the agent but a few days later we decided to apply and even though another application was submitted, we were the chosen two! Relief – and what is more, an agent who fought our corner and didn’t play games and even pointed out something that needed fixing, rather than glossing over the fact (as often happens) that a cupboard hangs off its hinges or the ceiling is about to fall down.

We have survived our first rental process in Sydney (almost). We still have to sign the actual lease but it’s ours and it was not too painful. For the future, we know it’s all about getting ahead of the game; trying to view places before the inspections, having application forms and ID ready to go and perhaps sometimes, having your husband turn up in uniform to an inspection doesn’t go amiss, well, you know, just a thought…

Lest We Forget

26 Apr

As the dawn broke over the cliffs of Gallipoli ninety-eight years a go, it saw the dawning of a political and military disaster for the Allies in World War I.  It was the moment hundreds upon hundreds of young Australians and New Zealanders were sent, mostly unprepared, with instructions to secure the Turkish peninsular and sent ultimately, to their deaths. This day, April 25th, is now commemorated as ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) Day and marked with dawn services around the world. It marks the occasion young men landed on the beaches of Gallipoli full of courage, fighting for their lives and fighting for each other in a battle they were never going to win. Young men who fought with bravery, persevered with determination and buried their dead with compassion: values which have come to be known as epitomising the ANZAC spirit.

As Ruth Pollard, who was present for the dawn service at the since-named Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, the headstones of those who lost their lives during the campaign also reflect the spirit and laid-back nature of the ANZACs. The headstone of ‘Trooper E.W. Lowndes of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade reads simply: “Well done Ted”.’

It was at a very poignant and moving dawn service at Bondi Beach, at the same moment that the ANZACs landed, that we were described the horrors that awaited those young men: ‘a maelstrom of bullets and blood’ and we were asked to turn and look out to the beach and try to imagine it without the shops, cafes and houses and instead the grizzly scenes which would have met the soldiers; a stark contrast to the calm and serenity of Bondi that morning. The guest speaker gave a powerful reminder of why we were there: to honour those who fell, those like many of the young men stood in the crowd amongst us. More than 11,000 lives were lost in that one failed campaign and the statistic, which resonated with many of us today: in the Australia of just 5 million people, 300,000 joined up to fight, the equivalent of 1.4 million young men doing so today.

Thousands of people gathered to attend the dawn service, an apparently growing trend, and made the occasion all the more special as there were so many children in the crowd as well – a point which I have noticed here is that the younger generations seem to mark the day and are encouraged to continue the tradition and commemoration more so than for Remembrance Day in the UK (this may have changed a little due to the recent war in Afghanistan and it may help that it is a public holiday in Australia.) An estimated 20,000 people paid their respects at the cenotaph in St,Martin’s Place, Sydney and over 3,000 stood silently at the North Bondi RSL. Current and former servicemen and women decorated with medals, stood with ordinary members of the public, some of whom were also wearing the military medals of their ancestors or carrying a photograph of loved ones who had been killed in action. Particularly poignant was the laying of wreaths by the parents of two young combat engineers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, the most recent having been killed in October last year, aged 24.

All rights reserved

Thousands at Bondi RSL ANZAC dawn service

Dawn over Bondi beach

The sun rising over Bondi was a more cheering sight after a 5am wake up and so it was on to breakfast and then into the city to watch the parade. My friend and neighbour, Katie and I watched proudly as all the Navy marched first. Both of our respective partners were parading and it was particularly touching to see how much applause there was and how many cheers erupted from the crowds, particularly as the veterans walked or were wheeled past.

Veterans ANZAC 2013

Paratroopers Sydney parade

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney parade

HMAS Watson parade ANZAC Day 2013

SYdney parade ANZAC Day 2013

Marching band: ANZAC Day 2013

Support for the troops

ANZAC Day 2013: Sydney veteran

The sombre and ceremonial aspect of ANZAC Day is countered with a much more celebratory but none the less important part of the day as well. Following the parade, it is a chance for serving members (and the public) to enjoy a few beers. A chance for some to get as drunk as possible in one afternoon but generally, a chance to let the hair down, relax with colleagues and comrades and a moment to feel very proud of the uniform they wear.

ANZAC Day celebrations James said the whole experience of ANZAC Day, from the words spoken at the dawns service, to the obvious support from the crowds, gave him a feeling he wishes he could bottle to bring out during challenging times at work, those moments when motivation may be at a lower ebb.

James at Rose Bay

For those who use the public holiday as an opportunity for a lie-in and a booze in the sunshine, I would ask that although you don’t need to attend a dawn service, or even support the troops in a parade, at least spare a thought for the reason why you are having fun in the sun, for the men and women who have paid with their  lives to let you enjoy those beers, for that is the real reason behind ANZAC Day. A day on which many Australians and New Zealanders do reflect on the ultimate sacrifice so many made to protect their way of life, a day on which they do spare a thought for those past and present in the armed forces, a day on which they remember three words with a very significant meaning: Lest We Forget.

Sunset over Sydney

Curve balls

24 Apr

Life sometimes throws a few curve balls around. They come as a surprise, they can often be unsettling or  they can be viewed as a positive thing. For about, let’s see, almost four months, we’ve escaped unscathed from any curve-balls until I got that phonecall. The one you always risk as a  tenant but one I have so far avoided in all my time renting houses and apartments. It came the other day, the news that the owner wants to move back in and so, we have three months left in the lovely place we’ve called home for the past twenty months. What we do next is wait. The Navy may have other properties, although inevitably not in this area or we may find our own place to rent. Either way, the time has come to move on out and then of course, once we have found somewhere, in a couple of months we also find out James’ next posting so who knows  whether we’ll be on the move again later this year. It’s part and parcel of being married to the Navy but we are viewing this particular curve ball as an opportunity, a chance to find a new place and having twenty month’s worth more knowledge and experience of Sydney than last time, it should make the hunt a little less daunting.

 

 

Graduation Day

28 Mar

Talk about ‘transferable skills’ and a list of buzz words comes to mind, which have been the staple lexicon of many a modern-day resumé. Move to Australia and, as in most cases when transferring a career to another country, no matter how similar, those ‘transferable skills’ suddenly don’t seem to transfer so well (at least, not until it suits them.) It is true the world over I expect and certainly is what James has been experiencing for the past few months (and therefore by default, me too.)

Over a year ago, James was on a ship, mentoring students on their Navy PWO (Principal Warfare Officer) course. He was helping out as a qualified PWO himself. A few months down the line, it transpired there were some advanced elements of the Australian PWO course, which James had to pass to fulfil their criteria. Attempts to get his Royal Navy qualifications recognised (RPL) were unsuccessful, so it was back to being a student for a while.

Then came the twist: Can you also teach part of the course you’re meant to be a student on, thanks. (Those previous qualifications can’t have been completely useless then…)

So while James was ‘on course’ he was also writing and preparing a large part of the final exam and then conveniently got his RPL so he could become a staff member. Weeks of stress, late nights, early starts, working weekends, meetings, briefings and not to mention spreadsheets and flowcharts are now over. One day, when James has recovered, he may feel able to tell you about it 😉

Wednesday was ‘graduation day’ and James and his fellow students received their certificates and awards from his fellow staff members. Confusing? A little. Probably more so for James who has been wearing both hats for the past few months. At least he didn’t have to stand up, shake his own hand, present himself a certificate and talk to himself. In fact it was a very proud moment watching him graduate, with a handshake from the Fleet Commander, Sydney harbour as the backdrop and a special mention in the student rep’s speech for, ‘sleeping, dreaming and breathing’ the part of the course he instructed. The hard work all paid off with plenty of praise from his colleagues and students and even a special, personal thank you from a Commodore.

With the PWO course seen as a pre-requisite for command and one of the highest standards for a Naval Officer to attain, the graduation ceremony reflected the significance, with guest of honour, Her Excellency, the Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir. There was tea, there was cake, there was the national anthem, there were speeches and certificates and there was glorious sunshine to top it off.

James graduates PWO49

Marie Bashir with Officers

James has flitted from instructor, to student to staff member over the past year but whatever hat he has worn, he has clearly worn it well and made good use of those not-so-transferable skills.

The Captain’s Table

12 Mar

Just five days before the annual Summer Ball at HMAS Watson, James and I discover we can get tickets. This is partly down to poor planning by us and partly down to the fact James was flying to the USA a few weeks a go with just a day’s notice and so fancy fun and frolics were not at the forefront of our minds, more, panic, pack and apologise.

We have the tickets though and are good to go – that is James is, as he just has to iron a uniform. I suddenly realise I have three days to find myself an evening dress (there is a fantasy fancy dress option, which is very open to interpretation, but about the only fantastical thing in my wardrobe is a pair of laddered tights, which I don’t think will cut it.)

Cue a dash to the nearest department store where, unless I want to look like Camilla Parker-Bowles, there is little option; a quick browse on line (too long to post and a bit of a risk) and a search for evening dress shops in the city, whose offerings could leave me looking like an 80’s bridesmaid or a day-glo fire hazard (don’t go standing near any naked flames in those get-ups.) This leaves one guaranteed but pricey option: Double Bay (locally known as Double Pay.) The suburb of tree lined avenues, designer stores and independent boutiques is a lovely place to shop, sorry, window shop. Actually purchasing anything and suddenly seeing the decimal point on your balance hop to the left, takes the joy out of it somewhat. Anyway, there I go, and I am encouraged by the number of stores with long, elegant dresses in their windows. The first has a sale on so I am hopeful, until I realise that the $400 price tag is the marked-down price. The second offers up two possibilities. I am told the one I like best is the cheapest by two hundred dollars (hurrah!) I am told the more expensive one is $1,200 (boo!) On to the third shop and I am feeling a little deflated and it is approaching closing time. The owner is very friendly and asks if I have a budget… I am honest and know she is going to laugh in my face. Instead she suggests a dress, which on first appearances I think is a bit too ‘blingy’ for my liking but she insists I try it and actually it isn’t so bad. I am in one of the most expensive suburbs of one of the most expensive cities in the world and wearing a dress, whose price tag isn’t sending me into cardiac arrest. This is a positive. I need the dress in two days so, in the words of the reality bridal show, I say ‘yes to the dress’.

There is one hitch, it is still too big and there are no smaller sizes. Apparently this is no problem. The owner makes a call to the tailor ‘down the road’ and in two minutes he’s in the shop waving his chalk around my dress like an epileptic flamenco dancer. “It’ll be ready tomorrow,” he says and on Saturday morning the owner is there with my dress. She is my fairy Godmother right now and I am having my Cinderella moment: “you can go to the ball.”

134374_10151279285276526_1812208479_o

We also have friends who are going and with a bit of luck, and knowing the right people, we have managed to get seats at their table (James being Social Secretary of the Wardroom does have its benefits.) The four of us head to the base and join the mix of traditionally-dressed with those in fancy dress. The Mario Brothers, a Yellow Brick Road and a wizard walk past us and nobody blinks an eye.

Mad hatters, white rabbits and the Queen of Hearts are not usually what you associate with an Officer’s Wardroom but HMAS Watson was transformed into a fantasy land of toadstools, playing cards and balloons – lots of balloons. They had done a fantastic job of decorating in an Alice in Wonderland style and it was a lovely evening to watch the sunset over the harbour as well.
602938_10151379247663127_1383180195_n

549858_10151379255018127_128413810_n

Our friends were a Colonel and his wife and being a Royal Marine Colonel he knows lots of similar ranked Naval Officers. So it was we were seated at our table and I am greeted by a vision of gold stripes: the Captain’s table quite literally. I am sandwiched between two such Captains, each with so many decorations and medals, there’s enough ‘bling’ round this table, that my dress merely fades into the background.

398954_10151379247788127_1271058024_n

All in all it was a brilliant night. There were prawns bigger than my arm, beef wellington, chocolate cake, champagne, wine, dancing and by the end of the night too many whiskies and one slightly slurring James. Despite being outranked a bit on the table, we all got on well and by the time you’re a Captain, you clearly have mastered the art of drinking inordinate amounts of wine without feeling any effects. By the end of the night I am soon getting told what will be expected of me as James climbs the ranks (I think I downed my champagne at that point.) If James wants more gold on those epaulettes, it seems I am going to have to pay a few more trips to Double Bay for dresses…

Permanently changeable

23 Jan

Permanence. It means ongoing, ever-lasting, unchanging for an indefinite length of time, forever… It amounts to stability and certainty. Why am I mentioning this? Well, just the other week, it came to my attention that I am now entitled to apply for my permanent residency visa (where did that two years go since first lodging my visa application?!) Also cue lots of thoughts back to the weeks of collating an encyclopaedia’s worth of information documenting the legitimacy of our relationship. So now, I am at that stage again – requesting a police check from the Australian Federal Police, asking friends to make declarations as to the ongoing nature of our relationship and writing our own personal statements about how we financially and emotionally support each other. Fun times ahead. It also struck me then how at the moment, I am not permanent: not in Australia, no longer in the UK and perhaps not even in Sydney (although that all very much depends on James and his work and the next move, which I am sure will be mentioned further down the line.)

It doesn’t really matter. I mean not being ‘permanent’ does not really change anything for me at the moment but it did get me thinking how it would be nice to have something certain and unchanging for a while. We have each other and that of course, will always be the constant, but having no permanent job, not even a ‘permanent residence’ can make the idea of permanence (previously something to be looked down on with derision as boring and unadventurous) suddenly quite appealing.

Even at the start of the year, as I was looking to make myself a permanent resident here, I was further disentangling myself from the UK Inland Revenue, filing my final tax return (which incidentally took five times longer than usual for a poultry four-month period because I had to get my head around what defined ‘non-resident’, ‘ordinarily resident’ ‘non-domicile’ and not to mention split tax-years and remittance claims… I still don’t know so don’t ask.)

So the start of 2013 has been busy: not just with flitting between UK and Australian admin but about looking at finding a route to publication for my novel, looking at a permanent job and looking at longer-term plans and investments for that stability and certainty in our future. It is easier said than done and in itself, quite time-consuming but hopefully will lead to a sense of permanence at some point!

Not that being married to a Naval officer will ever really allow for that and this then begs the question: is there any point applying for the ‘permanent job’ if you’re not hanging around? (And yes, I have had the internal conversation about not living life on ‘what-ifs’.) But it can be hard to really have that focus and motivation to apply for a dream job if you’re going to uproot in the near future. (I’m imagining the interview: Q. ‘And where do you see yourself in five years time?’ A. ‘Um… Maybe not even in this city, or country or…’ Probably not the ‘progressing nicely through the company, taking advantage of training opportunities and blah blah’ answer they were expecting.)

So, a busy few weeks but hopefully constructive and you know, they say a change is as good as the rest and right now, things are well, permanently changing!

Hot town, summer in the city…

3 Dec

I’ve been baking again. (I mean this both literally and figuratively because we have been experiencing a bit of a heatwave.) This time the baking was actually for my benefit too – birthday cake! I thought it was a bit wrong to be making my own cake but I had James’ birthday as an excuse and seeing as we had a joint birthday party at the weekend, there couldn’t not be a cake!

We invited around thirty people and hired out the barbecue and pool area at the naval school where James is working. It is a fantastic setting, with views over the city and it was lovely to be able to share it with none-Navy friends, who never usually get to see what lies beyond the security gates.

Now, usually James and I, both being UK winter babies, celebrate in freezing, wet (or both) conditions so it was a real contrast when, this year, the weekend fell over one of the hottest  starts of summer in Sydney in years. While western suburbs sweltered in around 40 degrees, we were grateful for a little respite thanks to the sea breeze – and temperatures of around 34. No better weekend for a pool party than during a heatwave.

The night before I finished the cake:

Birthday cake

Then I panicked we wouldn’t have enough food:

Party food

Then I calmed down and enjoyed the day with our lovely group of friends 🙂

Aussie friends

Pool party

It was a brilliant occasion; the location was ideal, there was a really nice mix of Naval, civilian, UK and Australian and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Besides the sun, a few games of Kubb also got things a little heated:

Kubb underway

Kubb victors

We were both really touched at all the cards, gifts and food people brought and it really brought home the fact we have settled in well here and have established a good network of friends. Not only was it a good way to kick off the summer in Sydney but we also got to meet our friend’s puppy for the first time. Bert proved to be the star of the show!
Guest of honour

The Home Front

20 Nov

The men may go out and ‘protect the nation’ and do all the macho stuff but they would not do so well without someone lining their stomachs and so Navy wives have their duties too. This I discovered when asked if I could ‘just bake something’ for when an Admiral comes to visit the base this week and after some subtle hints about how ‘chocolate brownies and cookies go down very well with the guys’.

Further hints were not needed and although I was tempted to point out that he knows where the oven is – go for it – I realise knowing where it is, is different to knowing how it works. So, a tin of brownies and chocolate chip and nut cookies were ready to go on Monday morning and today there is an apple and cinnamon cake waiting for morning tea with the Admiral tomorrow. I can only hope it passes muster but then I did get the recipe from a site, claiming it was the ‘best apple cake in the whole world’. This is quite a claim so we shall see how it goes down.

Unfortunately I can’t slice it open to try it but I thought I’d share it with you because it actually smells delicious and seeing as I won’t get to try any – maybe one of you can bake it and tell me!

http://www.marthastewart.com/351254/apple-spice-cake?autonomy_kw=apple%20cake

Just to note, the measurements are in cups so here is roughly what I’d use:

  •  300 ml oil / 1 1/3 cups (canola or vegetable)
  • 300g flour / 3 cups (I used self raising but the recipe calls for plain with baking soda and salt)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 425g / 2 cups caster sugar
  • 3-4 apples (I only needed 2 fairly large Granny Smiths and it was plenty)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Oven at 180 and although it suggests 75 – 90 min, I found 50 minutes was enough and the batter is quite thick but the water from the apples adds moisture when baking.

Don’t worry – I’m not about to become a cooking blog but I have started enjoying baking a lot more and trying out different recipes. Next to try are macaroons – could be a bit ambitious!

 

%d bloggers like this: