Monday, February 27, 2006

4:30am departure from London

As much as its only 12 hours since I've been tapping a blog entry, I'm going to try to keep up to date with at least a few notes every day or so of what I get up to on this ski trip. I remember the last one to France like it ws yesterday, but its the small funny things that happen that you tendto miss when you try and write journal entries after the event.

I arrived at Andy's parents place (Karen and Andy have been living there while they've been house hunting and now reniovating their new house nearby) and we've been joined by another member of the ski team, James (Jimbo), who is an old mate of Andy's.

After a quick dinner we headed to bed to try and grab what was less than 3 hours sleep, before several alarms on phones began beeping on or around 1:15am - time to get ready, get in the car, and get going by 1:30am. Also travelling down to Gatwick with us is Andy's brother Richard (Richie Rich or 'Safety First' Rich) who got even less sleep than us!

We arrived at Gatwick a little late after missing the well-signed off-ramp, and once parked we meet the other 3 lads at the check-in desk, where I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Edgar for the first time, and his brother Matt and fellow team member Lorby the Lobster..

After a terribly unhealthy breakfast snack at McDonalds on the way to the departure gate, we boarded the chartered tour group plane and took off for Torino/Turin, which until last night was home to the 2006 winter olympics..

The team is assembled. The ego's are already charged up. This is going to be a mad trip. Me and six English lads together for a week in an Italian ski village. What am I doing?


Part of the team as we leave the plane

We landed in Turin on time, and amongst all of the Winter Olympic banners and signage everywhere we eventually got our bags and headed out to the bus for the very short transfer up to Souze d'Oulx.

-shane

off to St. Albans, and then to the snow

Finally, the time for more European snow skiing has arrived. I'm excited!

With Carly having left on Friday for her lightning trip to Brisbane (a sad goodbye), I've spent the last few nights drinking and carrying on with Dan which has been fun. Plenty of crap to be discussed, and plenty of beers to be had. Friday nigth was particularly good after dropping Carly off at Heathrow, I went over to his place and after missing the last train had to head back on the night buses! Nice.

And then today, while sporting a hangover from a Saturday night at the terrible O'Neils pub in Leicester Square I've had to get myself packed for the trip and then haul my backpack in to work, where I had to finish off the last of a mapping project before my week away from the office. Got it all done though.

I'm now sitting on the Thameslink train from Blackfriers Station in the City, heading north out to St. Albans where Karen W. is going to pick me up and i'm then spending the night with her and Andy before tomorrow's rediculous 4:30am flight from Gatwick, meaning a 1:15am alarm clock to make the drive around on the M25 to the airport.

But it is skiing in Europe, so I'm willing to overlook that!

-shane

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Welcome to Beaumont Crescent

After the long move on Tuesday afternoon and evening, we’ve now gone back and cleaned up the old place and happily handed back the keys to the agent, very content that we’ve made the right move.

Our new street

Over the past few days Carly has set up the inside of new flat from scratch and today I finally got the last of it all put away into its place, and got some photos of the inside of the flat, and also some great shots of the best part of the flat – our very own rooftop terrace above our flat which is prime for summer BBQ’s and gatherings!

The flat is a smilar size to our last one, but with a smarter layout which makes better use of the space in what is essentially a loft conversion on the roof of the terrace building.

The kitchen and bathroom has been rejuvenated prior to our moving in with new appliances, heater/boiler, shelves, cupboards, tiles, and flooring. And it has a full size fridge - which we beleive is one of only 58 existing in rental flats in Greater London....


Kitchen

The bedroom is an above-average size for a one-bedroom place with big sliding door cupboards (good for storing all my shoes Gav!), a window looking south which lets in plenty of light, and as well as the rest of the flat has just been repainted, and recarpeted as part of the renovation work they only completed the day before we moved in!


Bedroom

The main lounge/dining room has a huge floor to ceiling glass sliding door which opens out onto a small front patio on the street front side of the building, and from their you climb a ladder to access to roof which covers the entire floor area of our flat under it.


Verandah & stairs to rooftop

And just to give it that authentic 'on the rooftops of London' feel (think Mary Poppins!) it has chimneys along each side of our roof area from the lower flats fireplaces, and a railing at each end to stop our drunken friends from falling the 4 storeys to the street at the front and the ground floor garden at the back. We've been promised a new dining table setting and couch to replace the old ones, so the plan is to keep hold of the existing dining table and chairs to use on the roof for parties, and the big one - we're going to put the old sofa on the roof as well!! We figure it will be a great place to sit on summer evenings after work, sipping on a Magners cider as the sun sets..


Our very own rooftop terrace

From the original photos I took this morning on what is a crisp clear but freezing day you can just make out the London Eye wheel on the Southbank near Waterloo, and the prominent BT telecommunications tower near Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road in the West End. The rest of the City buildings are obscured by the Earls Court Exhibition buildings not far away, and the Empress State Building at West Brompton – in the other direction to the west you can see the planes landing or taking off from Heathrow, and the shiny glass on the Hammersmith Broadway and office buildings. It really is an impressive view across the surrounding west London suburbs.


The London Eye on the horizon, and Earls Court Exhibition Centre



The nearby Empress State Building at West Brompton

Because we’re just around the corner from the old place, we’ve got the same shops as before, though they’re just that little bit closer. And the closest Best Mangal kebab shop is now at the end of our street!!

Although with this flat we’ve lost having a pub just across the road, we’ve more than made up with it with the fantastic roof terrace which will be the ultimate venue for BBQ’s, drinks, and late dinners on those balmy English summer evenings as the sun sets across the rooftops and chimneys on the terrace houses.

-shane

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Moving House

Well, we've moved house.

This afternoon we spent nearly 6 hours walking backwards and forwards between our new flat and the old place, like a pair of pack-horses carrying everything we own in boxes and bags down the street, around the corner, and up 4 flights of stairs to our new flat on the top floor in Beaumont Crescent. Sueanne and Pete saved the day with the use of their car to move the few heavy items we have (TV, books, desk, etc) down the street; and with that done we grabbed some beers and Best Mengal kebabs, quickly got the TV connected, and watched Arsenal beat David Beckham's Real Madrid 1-0 in the European Championship game at the Bernabeu in Madrid.

The renovations on the flat look like they were only just finished in the days before we have taken posession, but it has been finished off very well which is what we'd nervously hoped for having only seen the place when it was half pulled apart and under construction. Fresh paint on the walls, brand new carpet, brand new kitchen, new boiler and heating system, revitalised bathroom, and reasonably new furniture means we're set for a great summer in this new place.

The floor of the flat is covered in boxes and bags, and we've just spent an hour trying to find a place for everything - it looks like there'll be a few more nights of doing this until everything finds its permanent home. Our clothes are just stuffed onto the large number of bedroom cupboard shelves for now, so they'll need to be looked at again when we can be bothered.

Once we get everything looking respectable I will take some photos of the place and get them posted on here.

Time for sleep. We are both shattered with sore arms and sore backs. It will be a new experience not being able to hear the District and Piccadilly line rumbling past the building at night - not that it really bothered us, but it will feel like we aren't at home.

-shane

Friday, February 17, 2006

All the way with the LDA

When it rains it pours.. This has been the most fantastic week and it isn't over yet!

After my previous interviews and on-going discussions with team management, yesterday I finally received in the mail my formal offer from the LDA for my fixed-term permanent role as an Urban Renaissance Planning Manager (basically a Senior Planner for those back home), which I've promptly filled out and handed back to the people in HR.

So goodbye contracting, hourly rates, timesheets, and expense forms - and hello once again to a salary, paid holidays, paid Bank Holiday days, and secure employment tenure for the rest of the time I am living in the UK..

While it has taken me 15 months to acheive this goal, I'm damn glad to be sitting here today looking over the Thames from my desk, knowing that I've done it.

Now the real work begins.

-shane

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Aussie Gold at Sauze D'Oulx

While I've been siting on the Virgin Train this afternoon on my way back from Birmingham, over at the Winter Olympics in Turin the Canadian-born Australian skier Dale Begg-Smith has won the gold medal in the men's moguls. I got home from Euston station in time to watch several replays of the near-perfect run. The main reason I'm so excited about the win is that it was performed on the mogul/freestyle run at the Sauze D'Oulx resort in the Italian Alps, which is exactly where I am heading for 6 days skiing in just over a weeks time!

It will be all the more impressive to go and see one of the Olympic venues in person only a day after the games end, knowing that an Aussie medal was one on the same ski run. Watching the replay you could see that his turns were amazing and a cut above the others in the final, add to this that his time down the run was the second fastest, and his two aerial manouvers where perfect with precise landings and then an immediate return to his quality turns down the run.

Brilliant stuff to watch - when all I can think of at the moment is getting onto the quality European white stuff myself in 11 days time.

-shane

Birmingham conferencing - Day 2

Well I'm drafting this entry off-line while on the train on the way back to London - the conference is all over, and in the end it was a bit of a fizzer. The final day's presentations were not much improvement on the first, and with some big happenings back in Westminster, all of the MP's who were scheduled to speak and expected to create some important policy discussions were unable to get there, and their public servant replacements just didn't make the grade nor draw the crowds. We made the most of last night however, with the team from the Agency tucking into a few bottles of red after dinner in one of the 14th floor rooms we had, overlooking the city and red and white lit trails of traffic below. It was a sad way for all of us to spend Valentine's Day night, but it was good company nonetheless.

After the last conference session earlier this afternoon, we headed back to the city centre from the convention centre and work collegue Robin (an Urban Design Manager at work) and I toured around the CBD, and I got to see for the first time the amazing Bullring Shopping Centre redevelopment. This complex is home to the best retail stores I've seen in the one place outside of central London, and includes its own very modern and unique Selfridges department store, one of only a few Apple Retail stores outside of the U.S. and Japan, an amazing range of mens and womens boutique fashion stores, and every other major brand you can think of all spread across several brilliantly designed mall areas, which use large span glass roofs and big open spaces to give the feeling you are on a pedestrianised street which is simply continuing from outside, and certainly anywhere but inside a shopping centre. The external treatments of the centre are just as impressive as the interiors, topped off with the eye-catching external facade of the Selfridges building, which sits at the end of the one of the buildings, and very much in stark contrast to the adjacent historical St Martin's Church (see adjacent photo).

It was also a great help having Robin, and also the other team Urban Design Manager Rodney (another Aussie) there at the conference and with me while I walked around the city - these guys really know there stuff and add to however I might be personally interpreting a development in my 'planners' mind.

And just a note that breakfast in the hotel this morning was fantastic! Amongst the standard fare they even had an 'egg bar' just like at the Sheraton Noosa!! Custom-build ommlettes made on-demand in a frypan in front of your eyes by one of the chefs.. My obsession with the 'egg bar' concept continues the world over!

The train's just passing through Milton Keynes, so I'll be back into London Euston soon. I can't wait to see Carly after missing Valentines Day yesterday. We've got heaps to do with the move to the new flat under a week away now.

-shane

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

English Smoking Ban

As I awoke this morning in Birmingham and read the morning papers in the hotel, I am surprised to see that last night the House of Commons has voted with a huge majority in support of a full smoking ban in enclosed public places; including pubs, bars and private clubs. Pending the drafting of details of the legislation, it will be in force come summer 2007. It might have been the cynic in me but I just didn't think the Parliament woud have the balls to do it. Good on em'!

For anyone who has ever been into a poorly ventilated English bar or club, you can understand what this will mean for non-smokers when going out - and for me the benefits of this law coming into place were made very obvious when we travelled to Cork in Ireland this time last year to visit my brother and girlfriend, and we experienced smoke free nights out since they successfully introduced a similar law.

Its pretty simple - if people still want to smoke when they go out, they just go outside.. and from other examples such as Ireland etc. its been proven to bring about an immediate reduction in full-time and social smokers, and in turn this can only reduce demands on the health system in the long term. Of course civil libertarians are up in arms about the denial of freedom of choice - but no-one's really giving a toss and they've hardly been noticed amongst the commentary on the decision which is good to see.

Don't people realise, this stuff kills you! If you want to keep on smoking it, piss off and do it outside away from my lungs and those of the employees pulling my beers!!

-shane

Birmingham conferencing - Day 1

Back in my planning job in Brisbane, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to planning and development conferences and junkets all over the country. I always found these the best way to meet other planners, and see what else was going on in my areas of specialisation and how others were dealing with the same. Ok, besides all that bullshit they are a fantastic way to catch up with others in the profession and related industries in varied and interesting places all of the country, over copious amounts of drinks, plenty of good food, while staying in flash hotels and restaurants - all on the company training budget!

Its been a long time between drinks while I've been here in the UK, but yesterday I boarded a high-speed Virgin train at London Euston, to travel up to Birmingham for 2 nights and 2 days at a National Sustainable Development conference. I'm back on the horse!!

The last time I was in Birmingham I swore I would never return, seeing nothing of value there in the time I spent driving around the suburbs one very long day in November 2004 looking for mother-in-law Jenny's old family home. But with plenty of opportunities this time around to look around the city centre and several of the major mixed use regeneration schemes that have performed amazing feats of revitalisation - I have to reluctantly admit that it is now one of my favourite cities in the UK. I'm sure I can hear Jenny laughing at this!

On the first night just after arriving and checking into our hotel, myself and two LDA Development Policy collegues ate dinner in a restuarant next the revitalised freight canals which border part of the recent Mailbox development - where a large ex-Royal Mail building has been regenerated and now forms the centerpiece of an expanding mixed-use development encompassing modern flats and serviced apartment hotels, excellent restuarants, and most major fashion brands under the one roof. An excellent piece of planning and developent which now forms the anchor to expanding medium to high density residential around it which seems to be consuming the old derelict inner city housing stock at an exciting rate - it can only be a good thing.

After a disastrous first night staying at the terrible Ibis Hotel (hereby known as the 'Abyss' Hotel), we woke this morning and after a shithouse breakfast promptly checked out, got a full refund after various points of complaint, and headed up the road to the recently opened Radisson SAS Hotel, and i'm currently sitting in an amazing room on the 14th floor overlooking the surrounding suburbs below. The hotel room has got to be one of the best standard rooms I've ever stayed in, and the rest of the hotel is very chic and modern with great attention to detail and a brilliant fit-out - if only it wasn't in Birmingham eh! It is all within a huge landmark highrise building fronted in glass, sited in an unusual location just away from the crappy Chinatown nightclub area, but it is still close enough to the convention centre and Brindley Place, and the other revitalised areas of town. And it has free Wi-Fi wireless internet for me and my PowerBook!

So far the conference itself has been quite good for content, however the presenters have been rather dull and very hit-and-miss in their addressing of topics and current issues - from what I've seen so far, I rated them anywhere between good and poor which is a bit of a shame. And there seems to be too many old crusty Councillors in cardigans milling around - it would seem that the UK development conference scene is a bit like this, inundated with those who are happy to escape their jobs for a few days and annoy those in central government agency's and the private sector with their annoying probing and often harrassing questions.

We've just returned to the hotel after a champagne-fuelled reception we held for delegates in our display booth in the exhibitors hall of the conference, where I manage to scoff down 5 glasses of the some lovely french stuff, while having some great discussions with a few planners from a number of private firms, and also several particularly annoying and almost grilling conversations with Councillors from some north London Boroughs who seemed set on analysing why the Agency isn't spending more money on regeneration in their constituency - at times I just felt like screaming at them: "like I know mate, do I look like the Mayor of London!?" Thankfully the champagne cooled heads and I was able to get myself out of there without embarrassing the Agency.

Lets see what tomorrow brings. I can't wait to see what the breakfast is at this place!!

-shane

Friday, February 10, 2006

We're moving down the street, across the road, and down another street a bit

She's done it again - my amazing fiancé has delivered the goods on time and under budget and on the 21st of February we will be getting the keys to our new flat just down the road in Beaumont Crescent, West Kensington. Click here to see how far we'll have to move from one postcode to another!

Last night I inspected it for myself after she had first seen it with the agent on Monday afternoon, and I signed the lease on the spot. It is a one bedroom flat in a converted terrace house, overlooking another very typical West London terrace-lined street, which is just off North End Road where the local shops and Underground Station is - so we have managed to stay in the same great neighbourhood that we love, without having to back onto the tube line again, and into an even better flat for only a slight increase in rent.

I'll be emailing out our new postal address in the coming days to those who need it, and according to the BT website we get to keep our same landline number. And if all goes to plan we will be able to smoothly transfer over our ISP to the new flat and remain online the whole time through the move. We have to be gone from the old place on Baron's Court Road by close of play on Thursday 23rd February.

Once we're in there I'll do a proper entry with photos of the place and a full description. This is just the perfect place for our second summer in London, so we're pretty excited to be making the move ahead of time while it's still winter. Although each day we're noticing that the days are already getting longer.

Summer's coming.

-shane

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Flat-hunting (again)

Early in the year I posted an entry about the intention of our landlord to sell our flat at the end of our 12 month lease in April - however, to make things easier for us and to free up what will be very valuable time in the Spring months in London, we decided to give the required 1 months notice a few weeks back and begin the search for a new flat in the same area of W14 West Kensington/Barons Court while we are still in the dark days of winter.

Poor Carly is on the case again following her succesful search last time round, however after a few weeks of constant calls and inspections on weekends and scheduled days off work, she is starting to get fed up of seeing nothing but over-priced shitty flats, and agents either turning up late for inspections or just not turning up at all - welcome to the joys of finding rental accommodation in London..

We're beginning to think that the good luck that we've had in finding our previous two flats (Putney Bridge & Barons Court) has run out - with just on two weeks until we need to to be moving out, we're hoping that this week brings something, otherwise we'll have to call the landlord and extend week by week.

Watch this space.

-shane