Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Picking up my visa

The day I picked up my visa from the Australian consulate in Auckland is a tale worth telling...

Milord and I were staying with Heidi, who lives about an hour's walk from the center of town. She and Craig had to go to work, so we would be making our own way into the city... we considered taking a taxi or a bus, but decided it would be a nice walk and we needed the exercise anyway. So we pulled up a map on the internet and worked out which road to go down from where we would cut through a park and pick up the long road bridge into town. We left the house at 10:30, expecting to get to the consulate at 11:30, in plenty of time before they closed for lunch at 12. We'd also keep an eye out for an internet cafe to print off the grant letter that had been emailed to me as Heidi didn't have a printer.

It was a lovely walk though a stunning suburb. The day was cool and overcast, perfect for a long walk, and we dawdled along oohing and ahing at the lush gardens and huge mansions along the way. We could see the Auckland Skytower in the distance and we wandered along in its general direction. After a time the road began to turn away from the city, and we realised that the park we had expected to cut through was actually impenetrable bush above a steep drop. We'd been walking for long enough that turning back was not really an option, so we decided to continue, because surely the road we were on would descend to the road and bridge we could see crossing the water to the city.

Well, yeah, eventually. We finally found ourselves on the several kilometers long bridge at 11:30... Remember, the visa office closes at 12? We picked up the pace, blessing the fact that it was a cool and blustery day. At 11:45 we reached the city, and found ourselves on the correct street - what a stroke of luck! Only... we needed number 189, and we were at number 1... so we picked up the pace a little more, almost jogging now.

We reached the Price Waterhouse Coopers building which houses the consulate at 11:53. I knew it was on the 7th floor so we bolted in through the lobby to the lift foyer, and leapt into the first lift we saw. The doors closed and we turned to the control panel... which wasn't there. Seriously. No buttons. The lift went up to the 8th floor and someone got off. It went to the 15th floor and someone got off. It went to the 28th floor...

"Psychic lift?" I hiss to Milord.
"Security tags?" He mutters back.

By now we are getting some very strange looks from the suited and booted people with us in the lift. We are scruffy and panting, and m'Lord looks like he is about to expire on the spot. He has gone a strange shade of red and sweat is literally pouring down his face and through his hair. We're also quite wild-eyed and are pulling frantic faces at each other.

A young man took pity on us. "Do you know how to work the lift?" he asks. "NO!" we chorus. Turns out each lift foyer has a console where you request a floor, and it tells you which lift to get into, which then goes to only those floors. Wierd. He led us out onto the 30th floor, we requested floor 7, then boarded the appropriate lift to go down again.

We exited onto floor 7 at 11:58. The security guard told us that unfortunately the visa office was closed for lunch... she then asked m'Lord if he was alright, and did he need to sit down! Ok. No problem. We'd come back at 1pm and try again... We called another lift to the lobby. Walked very slowly over a set of chairs and sat down gently. Drank a bottle of (crazy expensive imported from Europe - why?) water and felt our pulses return to normal and our high colour fade. We giggled for a while and felt human again.

Ok, an hour to kill. We never did find that internet cafe on the way, so we decided to do so and pick up some lunch. We circled a few city blocks in our search, and finally found an internet cafe. Now, either folk in Auckland are mostly Asian, or that part of town is their Chinatown, but almost nobody spoke English! I asked the lady in the internet cafe if I could just print something, and after a lot of waving and repetition I found myself looking at a computer screen with a login dialog. Which was all Chinese with the odd English word. I had no idea what to enter so typed the word "yes" into the "Print Document" textbox. Instantly all English disappeared and I was faced with a dialog entirely in Chinese. Hmmm. Interesting. So I clicked every button on the dialog. Turns out one of them represented "Shutdown". Riiight... and as the computer shut down I caught a glimpse of the file I wanted to print and double clicked on it and managed to abort the shutdown. And was in! I hacked a New Zealand Chinese internet cafe login screen - how cool am I?! We printed off my document and went to find a coffee.

We popped into the first coffee shop we came across and I went up the counter to order two plain white coffees and two pre-made sandwiches. After a lot of repetition and waving we finally got biggest mugs of coffee I have ever seen and the sandwiches. As I gratefully sank into my chair and took a deep gulp of the enormous coffee m'Lord, who'd been reading my document, said "Is it supposed to have Chinese characters in it?" ...!!!... Somehow every "'s" and semicolon had been transcribed into funny little Chinese symbols. Oh man.

We ended up abandoning half a bucket of coffee and made our way back to the consulate, selecting the lift correctly this time and saying a friendly greeting to the security guard. We took a number which put us second in the queue and waited for half an hour for the office to open, watching the wierd and wonderful visa applicants file in. m'Lord, like most Aussies (and probably most people in the world to be honest) is a bit of a xenophobe, and had a low grumble going on until I reminded him that I too am an alien import! Once the staff deigned to turn up and open their stations my document was accepted in spite of its new decorations, and I had the visa sticker in my passport within minutes. We wandered out to the lifts, looked at each other and said "That's it?".

What an anticlimax!

Back on Track

Last week Monday we flew to Brisbane for Milord's mum's funeral. She'd had a premonition that he was going to miss her funeral, so we booked on an early flight just in case, and in fact the flights into Brisbane were delayed by an hour so it was just as well! We landed with plenty of time and caught a taxi to the crematorium where the service was being held at 1pm. It was a glorious day and the 30 or so guests hugged the shade outside the building while waiting to go in. I knew one or two people, so Milord and his sister were able to leave me and meet and greet.

The service was very nice, officiated by the chaplain of the hospital where she died. Milord's sister read the eulogy and his nieces and a couple of their choir-mates sang. Afterwards we all went to a nearby sports club bar for drinks and nibbles, and then we spent the night with friends of m'Lord - Andrew, Jodi and their little girls Sarin and Makenna. On Tuesday we flew out of Brisbane in the morning and got home by midday. We had a quiet afternoon at home, winding down after the past week's events.

Since then we have been getting our lives back on track, restoring our routines and making an effort to be healthy. I gained a kilo and a half during the bereavement, and m'Lord gained 4!

Last weekend was Milord's first one at home in weeks (last weekend he went away on a boy's golf weekend, it was already organised and we felt it would be a good distraction) and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Long sleep-ins, reading the paper in bed with a coffee, a bit of gardening, and a walk along the water to the fish markets for lunch and then home again. We went out to a 40th birthday party on Saturday, but m'Lord went teetotal and I went moderate so it was very civilized and we woke up feeling wonderful on Sunday!

Over the last 7 days Milord has not had any alcohol, and I only had a couple of glasses of wine on Saturday. I've kept within my weight watchers points and he's been very good too. I have lost a kilo to be 72.4 today, and he has lost 5.5kg! We are now just over where we were before our NZ holiday.

We are starting to relax now after many months of having his mum's illness hanging over us. I hadn't realised just how stressed we were until now, it is a like a cloud has lifted. While it is very sad that she is gone, it is a relief that her suffering is over, and that we can begin to move forward with our lives.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Rest in Peace, almost Mum-In-Law

Lord Blackadder's mum died yesterday morning.

I didn't know her very well, and in the time that I did know her she was always very ill, but she was a lovely lady and I'm sad that she is gone. We didn't have much in common, and she was just a few years younger than my grandmother so I tended to think of her more as a granny than a mum, especially considering how frail she has been in all the time I've known her.

I'm sad that she will not be at our wedding and that she will not spoil our children when we have them. I'm sad that m'Lord's last parent in gone. I'm sad for his sister who has lost a mother she was really close to, and for his nieces who grew up at their granny's house.

Lord Blackadder's mum was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, and fought it off successfully. Then just over two years ago she was diagnosed with throat cancer, and underwent some fairly nasty treatment for it. We thought she had beaten that one when shadows appeared in both lungs and we were told it could not be cured and the clock was ticking. She fought all the way, and only in the last few weeks of her life did she say that she'd had enough and was ready to stop.

She was always cheerful around me, and made an enormous effort when I visited. Just a couple of weeks ago she got out of her hospital bed and walked me to the lifts to say goodbye, when merely sitting up was draining. That's the last time I saw her, and I will take the image of her determined courage with me.

We received a phone call at 5am yesterday summoning m'Lord to the hospital in Brisbane. He dashed from the house, got on the first plane and from Brisbane airport hailed a taxi. Sadly he missed his mum's passing at 9:05 by mere minutes, and he is very upset about that. She was unconscious and wouldn't have known that he was there, but that's not the point. I have never seen him so broken, although he pastes a brave face over most of it. He flew home again last night and the funeral will be on Monday so we will both travel to Brisbane over the weekend for that.

I left work early yesterday to be home when he got in, and stocked up on comfort food. I matched him glass for glass all evening, and while I feel kind of rough today at least he slept through the night! He went in to work today even though they offered him time off, as he felt the distraction would be good.

Although Lord Blackadder's mum was definitely suffering and so her death is a relief, we are still grieving for her. It's going to be a sad time for a while.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Back from New Zealand

Well, we are home from New Zealand, specifically Auckland and Queenstown. Auckland because I needed to pick up my permanent migration visa from the Australian consulate (yay!), and Queenstown because you may as well do a little skiing while you are in the country, right?

We took Friday 31st August off work, and flew at midday from Sydney to Auckland, which took about 2 and a half hours. We arrived at Heidi and Craig's house at 6pm and after a drink we all headed into Mission Bay for dinner. Heidi is 4 months pregnant, so we had a designated driver all night ;-). Heidi and I headed to bed about midnight, leaving the boys drinking red wine... Milord was a little under the weather the next day!

On Saturday we flew to Queenstown where we were met by our package rep and taken to our accommodation, which was a nice little one-bedroom apartment very close to the centre of town. It was surprisingly warm as we got off the plane, and we were a bit concerned to be told that the snow was melting and awful and that one of the ski areas was actually closed! Then it turned cold and began to rain, and poured all afternoon long while we tramped around under umbrellas stocking up the kitchen and bar. Luckily it seems the rain was snow further up the mountains, and by morning the ski fields were ready for us.

We spent the next three days skiing at The Remarkables ski area, which takes about an hour to get to from Queenstown centre, depending on snow chains and the like. We had decided that we were not interested in driving on ice, so took the ski shuttle bus to and from the snow every day. It worked out perfectly.

I was pretty nervous to begin with, as it had been 5 years since I'd last skied. Turns out it really is just like riding a bicycle, and after a wobble or two I was fine. We booked a couple of hour-long private lessons, and it was helpful to have any bad habits pointed out. m'Lord has done less skiing than I have, so his wobbles lasted a bit longer, but by the end of 3 days I was struggling to keep up with him on the easy runs.

Now, I had been wondering how the run difficulty levels (green/blue/red) compare in New Zealand to Europe, and this is my impression: NZ green is a lot like an EU easy blue. NZ blue covers everything from the EU medium blue to EU red.

What confused me completely, and I don't know if it is the norm, was the fact that only the green runs were groomed (compacted) at the The Remarkables. This meant that every other run was deep powder or very lumpy and as a consequence was pretty tricky to get down. Poor Milord with his bad knees couldn't cope with ungroomed at all, and I fell over so much I resembled a snowman! This from a girl who could get down any groomed red run and most mogul fields without falling a few years back. I was actually very disappointed, as the only good surface was limited to two rather short and crowded green runs. I would be interested to know if there was a reason why they didn't groom any other runs - were we out of season or did a compacter break down? Most annoying, and I'm not sure I'd go back again.

We had a final day in Queenstown where we didn't ski, and on that day we did the Shotover Jet boat ride in the morning. There are a number of jet boat operators, but the Shotover one goes up the Shotover River canyon, which is narrow with steep high walls and rapids. The boat goes within inches of walls and rocks and shoals, and everyone screams as they veer away at the last second then spin a 360 in a handspan of water. I did the same boat ride a few years ago in summer, so had the foresight to don my ski jacket and a woolly hat as we got soaked and it was freezing! We loved it.

Then we rode a gondola up to the gondola station high above Queenstown and had lunch in a bar overlooking the valley. We could see paragliders swooping past, and boats like tiny specks on the water, and even found ourselves looking down on an airliner coming in to land. There is a bungy platform over 47m of rocks and trees, and we watched a few mad people throw themselves off it. I bungied there the last time I was in Queenstown, and while it is a rather funny story I will never ever bungy again! Milord wasn't particularly tempted either. We walked up the hillside for a bit, and then both did a tandem paraglide down into town. This is also something I did last time, and it is just as thrilling as before! What a rush!

Queenstown is a lovely place, rather quaint and thronging with bars and restaurants, and full of boarders and skiers and backpackers. We enjoyed bar hopping and trying a new eatery every mealtime.

We flew back to Auckland on Thursday 6th, and as we arrived at Heidi's mid-afternoon we found the local supermarket and shopped and cooked up a roast lamb dinner for them. With lots and lots of vegetables as we were in withdrawal after a week of bacon and eggs and restaurant meals! On the Friday we wandered into town and picked up my visa at the consulate - which was rather an anticlimax after the year of effort that has gone into getting it, it took 5 minutes! We went up the skytower and had a bottle of wine overlooking the city to celebrate, and Heidi and Craig joined us at the Viaduct for dinner.

The rest of the weekend was nice and lazy as it rained and we were all tired and broke - and m'Lord and I have both been to Auckland before so have done the touristy stuff. We watched lots of rugby on TV as the Rugby World cup started last weekend, and read books and caught up on sleep. On Saturday Craig hosted a boy's poker night, so Heidi and I and another girlfriend went out for dinner and a movie, and we all watched the All Blacks totally thrash Italy at rugby. Milord and I flew back into Sydney late last night, and I would be happy not to be in an airport or aeroplane again for the rest of the year!

The good news is that I somehow only gained a kilo over the holiday - amazing considering what we ate and drank - 73kg today! We are detoxing for the next few days, so I hope to shake it off and get back on track soon. Veggie stirfry tonight!