Saturday, September 30, 2006

What goes up...

Some ridiculous conversation topics can float around for ages before reaching a satisfying resolution. They persist long after you forget how they came up in the first place.

For the past few weeks, dinners with friends have included repeated references to bullets being fired into the air. Do they come down with the same force as they go up? What happens when they come down? Don't people get injured?

Unfortunately, the answers lay out of reach of a group of solicitors, accountants and one teacher, all from gun-scarce Sydney, who retained only hazy memories of high school physics.

But at dinner tonight, the circle widened to include someone originally from Pakistan's wild North-West Frontier.

Yes they do come down very fast. Yes they hit things. Yes, people can get killed. On occasions, bullets even enter windows on the return leg of their parabolic journeys. Perhaps as a result of such damage, the practice is increasingly frowned upon. When it occurs at weddings in Pakistan, the groom is often carried by the police as a reprimand.

Next topic?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Congratulations to my sister and her boyfriend who got engaged on Saturday. Thank goodness someone is taking steps towards producing the much-demanded great-grandchildren. Engaged at 22. At that age I hadn't even had a first kiss.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I will not be returning your calls

Last night I discovered that my home phone has voicemail.

I went to check it and the message box was full. Mostly they were from my parents and I called them straight away to apologise that I have never returned any of their calls. Ironically, they were out and I left a message.

The voicemail service only keeps messages for 3 weeks. I dread to think how many unchecked messages have been left over the past year! My apologies to anyone who may have been affected.

So much to write about but work has been busy this week... like how I met and then unintentionally insulted a bollywood idol!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Last night

I'm not a great appreciator of modern art. On hearing 'installation' I usually roll my eyes. Mention 'stream of consciousness' and I'll start feeling queasy. Take me to the Tate Modern and I will giggle a lot and mutter 'emperor's new clothes' more times than you can count.

Still I'm glad to have a couple of arty friends. Otherwise I'd miss out on a lot of experiences.

Without arty friends I wouldn't have been shut in this tiny room with a cup of Japanese tea and asked to imagine that I was having a drug hallucination in the 70s.

I wouldn't have been shut in this room and asked to ponder the love/hate relationship that punks have with buttons.

I wouldn't have fulfilled my dream of going on a Japanese-style 'follow the umbrella' tour.

I wouldn't have been taken through an old graveyard at night by the lead member of 'The Frank Chickens', famous for their 1984 hit 'We Are Ninja (Not Geisha)'.

I wouldn't have got to watch this girl hang from a rope while listening to her narrate a story about a run away flour mill that joined the circus and then fell in love with the moon.

And most of all, I wouldn't have had the incredible pleasure of hearing someone tell her that they loved it when she 'created obstacles' for her performance by repeatedly forgetting her lines and asking for prompts from a friend in the audience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


The mayor of London announced this week that there will be another rise in transport costs next year for people paying cash rather than using Oyster cards. For some journeys, paying cash will be more than twice as expensive as using Oyster.

In theory I like this idea. I loved the Octopus card system in Hong Kong. And it's frustrating when people paying cash fares slow down bus trips.

But in Hong Kong, Octopus cards were taken up quickly by the public despite savings incentives of only about 10%. The number of Octopus cards in circulation is now much greater than the number of HK residents.

Part of the reason for the slow take up of Oyster cards is that ticketing on London public transport is so complicated. The system of different travel zones and travel cards is very hard to learn. Many people don't understand how this complex system translates to Oyster cards.

A further problem is that the Oyster system still doesn't work all that well. Tube stations have many more machines available for purchasing cash tickets than they do for recharging Oyster cards. Many overland train stations still don't have facilities for Oyster cards. Unlike in Hong Kong, the swiping machines don't give a balance each time I start and finish a journey. About 20% of the time, the machines flash an error message and I swipe again, worrying that I might be paying twice.

Another issue became obvious when I taught a transport themed class yesterday. None of my students have Oyster cards and thus they waste a lot of money buying cash tickets. They don't understand the complicated ticketing system and tend to take buses only (paying cash), thinking that they are saving money. As a result they waste money and time.

Unlike Hong Kong, London contains a huge number of residents who are only minimally integrated into mainstream society. The majority of my students struggle to use tube and bus maps and don't understand the complicated ticketing system. These are the people who are suffering with the increase in cash fares.

And that's just local transport. Long distance rail travel in the UK is hideously complicated. Yesterday I found out that one of my students pays significantly more to go to Birmingham by coach (the government moved his daughter and girlfriend there but kept him in London) than I do on train. The system discriminates hugely towards educated locals with internet access. Hmm.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Walking to work

Today was 29 degrees, the hottest day since July.

I'm developing a typically English fixation with the weather. It makes sense when the stakes are so high. Right now, I worry that each good day could be the last before 8 months of cold and darkness set in.

The threat of oncoming cold is making me determined to enjoy this last bit of summer. I've figured out that I can walk the diagonal length of Hyde Park to get to my job on Portobello Road. It's beautiful and avoiding the stinky tube is a major bonus. London's public transport may be gross but the parks are fantastic.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I've just finished the last assignment for my MA. Yay!

It's not due for two months so there's plenty of time to send it by mail. Putting something in the postbox is so much more satisfying than submitting online.

Now to start working full-time. Or maybe just less part-time...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Two of my students went for a registration day last week at the same local college. The guy from Chechnya ('me English zero') was referred to another organisation because the college's beginner classes are full.

My student from the Ivory Coast didn't make it into a class either. Instead, they asked him to become an English tutor for other students. I think it must be voluntary but I felt it was bit rude to ask.

And I'm teaching them in the same class. Ha ha. Anyway, we seem to be having fun. And the guy from the Ivory Coast might be learning something about teaching, even if his English isn't improving much.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Thank you India

Steve Irwin's death has had an incredible amount of coverage in the UK. I guess that it makes good news. I was starting to wonder whether the coverage here exceeded that in Australia. That was until Jason emailed this list of most popular articles from the Sydney Morning Herald online. Click for a larger view.

Like the crocodile hunter, my conservationist credentials have also received a recent sudden boost. A follow up appointment at the hospital for tropical health today revealed an exciting array of positive results.

'You are cultivating quite a menagerie of parasites', my doctor told me. They are all allowed to stay for the moment except for one variety of worm so large that the doctor had to hold up two hands to demonstrate its length. I start medication tonight.

Ooh the suspense! Can I keep myself from posting a photo? How many will there be?

Friday, September 01, 2006


My family move house today. The new one is in the bottom right hand corner. I know which one it is because I have a collection of postcards sent by mum, all complete with arrows and 'our new house!'.

The greenish water in front was one of the areas where we used to go snorkelling for school sport. There's a lot to see there - lobster, crabs, huge groper, smaller fish and urchins.

Meanwhile it's the first day of autumn here in the UK. It's looking kind of dark and gloomy outside. Weirdly, the uni task I am working on is an analysis of a conversation about huge cockroaches in Manly.