Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas – time to check out the decs…

I really feel like Christmas is coming when we go to central London, ostensibly to start our Christmas shopping, but really to see all the Christmas decorations.  Last week we caught a train to Charing Cross and walked to Covent Garden. First on the agenda was a quick stop at the Australia shop to stock up on my fave choccy biscuits. Like vegemite, there is no UK equivalent to the wonderful Arnott’s Choc Ripples – perfect for nibbling, dunking and cheese cake bases and with no nasty additives.

Covent Garden was buzzing with shoppers, street performers and tourists.  We stopped for very tasty, but overpriced, lamb burgers in the street stalls and watched street performers near the Christmas tree in front of St Paul’s Church – also known as the Actors’ Church.

Then it was a short wander through to Oxford Street – always really busy but with people quite friendly and jolly.  I don’t quite know how we always manage to have to walk through the perfume section of the department stores to get to any of the other sections.  I really hate the overpowering smells of them all mingled together and try to find the entrance to avoid them but seldom manage it.

Regent Street always has quite spectacular decs that work so beautifully with the wide curves of the elegant boulevard.  This year the theme is the twelve days of Christmas.

Then it was off to some really posh bits.  New Bond Street is for those with considerably greater incomes than ours but great for checking out the bling. I had a lovely chat to a very friendly Santa - a change from negotiating our way through all the burly and non-communicative security guards guarding the sparkly diamonds and ridiculously expensive watches.  Why anyone needs to spend £50,000 on a watch is completely beyond me – imagine how many choc ripples you could buy for that!

The Tiffany windows were exquisite – each of these was only eighteen inches high and rendered in immaculate miniature detail.

We took a cut through the beautiful Piccadilly Arcade


Then wandered down to Trafalgar Square with the beautiful tree donated by the Norwegian government standing in all its glory.

Inspired by such spectacular decorations it was time to decorate our own tree.  The decorations box represents so many memories of the people who have given different pieces to us over the years.  I love my special Oz ones:

…and my kissing fish from one of my favourite shops in Spitalfields market.


I decided to go all creative with my front door and, taking all the bits from two broken wreaths from previous years, I put them together with ivy from the garden.  I am very pleased with the result especially knowing it cost absolutely nothing.

We had the Enquiry Unit Christmas Party last week with ‘Festive Jumper’ and ‘Guess the Christmas Carol’ competitions and, instead of a secret Santa, a white elephant where each person brought in an unwanted gift then everyone did a lucky dip.  That worked really well and took every bit of stress out of trying to find appropriate presents for people you hardly know outside of the work setting. 

Then just as I had got fully into the Christmas mood I have been struck by the dreaded winter lurgy so I am dosing myself up with every remedy I can think of hoping to get rid of it in time for my sister’s arrival from Oz in two days’ time.  I am so pleased not to have to get course work done for a January deadline as I have had to do for the last three years – what a relief!

…and so, with this my last blog for 2012 it is time to wish all my readers out there a very Happy Christmas.  See you in the new year!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

I'm back!

I have found it very hard to return to my blog duties after such a horrible November.  I am still feeling quite fragile but I have been surrounded by caring friends, work colleagues and my wonderful family.  I am looking forward to my son arriving on the 16th from Perth in Oz.  I have not seen him since April when he moved there with his girlfriend.  My sister is also coming over from Melbourne and arrives on the 20th to spend three weeks having a ‘proper’ Christmas in the cold instead of one in Oz in mid-summer. She threatened to arrive at Heathrow and make her way by tube and train to our house but she really didn’t get very far with that idea!  I have not seen her for four years so of course I will be at the airport ready to be completely embarrassing.

I have now received official confirmation that I have passed my masters and so I have my MSc Therapeutic Counselling with Merit.  That is sort of like getting a 2:1 in an undergraduate degree.  Half of my year group is still writing dissertations which are due in May and so out graduation ceremony will not be until October 2013.  That feels long time away. Ours was the last year that had that system of those doing the short project submitting by 1 October while those doing the longer dissertation were given until the following May  to submit.  Now everyone has to submit by the earlier date.  I am so glad I chose the earlier deadline option.  To have this dragging on for another six months would do my head in.  I could imagine totally losing all momentum to complete it.  Him-at-home is very relieved that I have finished the course and I have promised him I will not embark on a PhD … well at least not for a few years anyway.  He needs time to recover, poor thing.
Since completing the course I have been working in the Education Liaison Unit, part of the Central Recruitment department of the university.  It is responsible for organising visits to schools, exhibitions and fairs and also campus visits for school groups to come in and see the university.  In the last month I have been to parents’ evenings, higher education fairs at schools, UCAS events at the Excel Centre, done mock interviews with sixth formers, spoken to mature students undertaking Access courses in preparation for paramedic and midwifery degree applications.  I have become quite adept at using the Transport for London journey planner and the websites for planning my travel and have learnt to eat remarkably well on the university subsidence allowance. We travel to events with a wheelie suitcase containing all our brochures and a table cloth. Our wheelies are in the corporate plain blue style.  I would much prefer a more exciting model such as this:

…or this:

...but somehow I don’t think our Vice Chancellor would quite approve.

We also carry a rolled up display stand that packs neatly into a bag about a metre long by 20cms wide and fits easily over one shoulder.  I’ve always been a rucksack type person so I still feel a bit like an air hostess with my very noisy wheelie thing.  For a small event we can set up and breakdown a display in about five minutes flat.  As we do not have paper prospectuses we take iPads to events which we attach to ourselves with locking cables. It works very well and saves us lugging hefty boxes of prospectuses around.  I am getting quite addicted to this very wonderful piece of technology and it was very hard handing mine back last week.

It is very quiet on the events front in December and January and so I have very little work.  I am quite happy to finally have a longer break after working so hard all year.  I am beginning to get into the Christmas spirit  especially after my sister sent me the wonderful online Jacquie Lawson Advent calendar ( .  It is a reason to get up in the morning to open it and explore today’s surprise. So far  I have decorated my Christmas tree, hung up my personalised Christmas stockings, built and dressed my snowman,  chosen my  toy train and sent it off around the track going backwards and forwards then fast and slow , watched the flashing Sydney Opera House bauble and listened to several of my favourite carols – all in a completely virtual fashion from the comfort of my home.  I sent one to my daughter and son and now we compare notes on the latest activity – a bit sad I know …but such fun! 

 # Congratulations Alice on reaching your centenary blog!

Pic Sources:
Bee wheelie case:


Monday, 12 November 2012

….In Remembrance

My 99th Blog.  My plan was to write one hundred, the last informing you of my results and celebrating with fizz.

Instead, on the morning, a week ago, that I was notified that I had passed my final coursework with merit, I received the devastating news that my beloved sister was desperately ill as the cancer she had been fighting for the last year took its final hold.

My beautiful little sister Beccy died on Remembrance Sunday at 0445 surrounded by lilies and orchids, slipping away peacefully, no longer in pain.

My mother, aged just 19, lost her beloved brother Jack when his plane was shot down in WW2.  Our family has always kept his memory alive, but especially on this day.   

Until now, I could only imagine the pain experienced by sisters and brothers left behind.

Now I feel it…


Monday, 5 November 2012

Re-entering planet Normal-No-study

Life after study is becoming more interesting as I emerge from the fug of post submission tiredness. I have begun to work on my latest stained glass project, regained the capacity to read books with words of three or more syllables, and even thought about getting the hoover out for the piles of dust that accumulated under the bed while I concentrated on writing my last coursework.  I haven’t quite got round to actually getting the hoover out but I am working myself up to it gently.  One can’t rush these things. Besides – it is Halloween season!

Views of my house
Now the clocks have gone back, it really feels like winter is close.  I have now completed my student contract work in reception on the Greenwich Maritime Campus.  I started there in August when main Clearing opened at the beginning of A Levels results week.  I loved working just opposite the Maritime Museum and next to the Thames where I could take my cobweb -head-clearing walks.  Being a mere stroll away from Greenwich market meant I could pick up tasty treats for lunch.  With the School of Humanities based at Greenwich, the campus library stocks loads of novels and DVDs which can be borrowed by any student so I took full advantage of my freedom from study to indulge in catching up on some good fiction.

Back in August I blogged about my horror at the prospect of being a part of the Social Media team doing Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Livechat. Three months on I feel an old hand at it.  I have managed to make photo albums in facebook and fill them in with pics of events including Olympics preparations and festivities, Freshers’ Week and the summer graduations.

I enjoyed taking on the role of unofficial roving reporter /photographer.  I learnt to answer quite complex queries on twitter in 140 characters while still placing apostrophes in the correct positions and avoiding the most annoying of text speak abbreviations.  I haven’t really grasped Foursquare, but my supervisor Tony began to call me the Livechat Queen as I notched up 1807 chats by the time I finished working with him.  I did not enjoy the role of Livechat operator.  I was chatting with up to four people at a time and flitting from one to the other, trying to ensure I gave the right response to the right person - quite a skill that I did not always manage.  I chatted with people from all over the world and on two occasions, spoke to students studying on my course.  That was quite funny as I realised who they were immediately but because we work under a different name to protect our privacy, they did not know who I was until I told them in the chat. I was asked on a few occasions whether I was a robot to which I politely responded ‘No I am a person’.  I asked in the office for ideas of tempting responses and received the following suggestions:

Your friendly University of Greenwich Livechat operator

‘We are mobots, not robots’ - Lizzy, inspired by the Olympics

'Yes, we have a remarkable engineering, science and computing departments, I am the first artificial intelligence of my kind’ – Emily

‘0100010011000000110111100’- Jen

‘Only on weekends’ – Jerusha

‘Cannot compute, cannot compute’ – Ami

‘Maybe we are robots! We just failed the human verification test’ – Ami

At one point I was doing Livechat sitting in the beautiful Student Common Room on the Mansion Site with views of the plants in the attached conservatories known as the Winter Gardens.  As the plants bloomed in the summer heat – especially one particularly massive banana plant – I was tempted to respond ". Well now the humans have all been eaten by triffids...."

The Winter Garden

..but  as a true professional , I resisted all temptation!

We all had some quite ‘interesting’ conversations and enjoyed swapping stories of our most memorable ones.  This was one of my favourites.  I have changed the names of both the visitor and the operator.
Hello David. How may I help you?
How is the university goin' brother?
It is really good here at Greenwich. Do you have any questions I can help you with?
Wonderin if you have a pool and bar

We have a Student Union bar.
But no pool, where am I going to get my speedos on and show all the pretty babes.
There is a public pool you can use. We also have themed nights in the Student Union events
Is there kareoke. I love Aqua (the band).
Yes there is karaoke.
Mint. I'm well goin Greenwich. See you there.
We look forward to you starting.

I left Greenwich to the sounds of the Olympic stands finally being dismantled thus restoring those wonderful views of the observatory and Greenwich Park. The ground in the front of the museum and in the university grounds that was so damaged by the Olympics is also being restored and re-turfed and soon all traces of the Olympics equestrian events will have disappeared leaving just the memories of a remarkable summer in London and Greenwich.

It was strange to leave Greenwich on Wednesday and start a new job on the Avery Hill campus on Thursday.  I felt like a newbie as I was welcomed to the team in the Education Liaison Unit as a temporary staff member where I will be attending recruiting events, helping to manage the student staff, writing and doing presentations about various aspects of university study and student life, and, in between, fitting in the necessary office work. Luckily any tedium is relieved by working with a fun team and listening to music that changes each day depending on who is in the office and selects the playlist.  
Getting in the mood for work!
Picture credits:

Monday, 22 October 2012

Out and about in Greenwich and Hither Green

One of my favourite occupations is to go for a walk and chat to random people about their lives, stopping at times to just sit quietly to enjoy a spot of people watching. When I travel to another country I love to find the local market and then spend several hours looking at all the different foods until finding a place to eat as far off the tourist trail as possible.  Luckily I have a cast iron stomach lining and believe that if one kills an animal for food , in respect for taking its life, one should utilise as much of it as possible. I am unfazed by the ingredients of haggis, quite happily eat fluffy bunnies that are considered a terrible pest in Australia and in the UK, and surprised the locals in Greece by declaring the sheeps’ testicles quite delicious.  Many of those I know who are squeamish about such things have never really considered what goes into sausage rolls and cheap hamburgers.

Anyway – I digress.  That was meant to be an introduction into telling you of my adventures in Greenwich and Hither Green, chatting to the local traders and hearing their stories. I even met three Alumni.

Greenwich is a fun place to wander around between classes and at lunchtime.  There is such a variety of people from all over the world – students, tourists, locals and traders.  This sweetshop near the DLR has my favourite Catherine wheels and all those delicious sweeties that you remember from your childhood, along with lots of new things. The assistant agreed to have her photo taken but remarked that she is asked this several times a day – no wonder she is looking distinctly unamused!

Greenwich sweetshop

This packaging amused me with its lovely play on words:

Just opposite is one of the entrances to Greenwich market,  I discovered this lovely little cake and coffee shop called Red Door.

Anyone that knows me is aware of my complete coffee snobbery and their coffee is superb. Kate graduated eleven years ago from Greenwich with a BA Hons in Arts Management.  She started Red Door eight years ago as a gift shop and began to offer coffee to the browsers.  Gradually she has transformed it into a café with gifts. She is from West London originally but loves it here in Greenwich where she is ably assisted by Holly.

Greenlands is a health food shop that has the most delicious chocolate.  It has been in the market for fifteen years, moving to its present location two years ago.  I spoke to the owner David who told me very proudly that this was the first health food shop in this area and it is now quite an institution with many regular customers and a very friendly ambience.


Next to Greenlands is the Arty Globe, full of wonderful classy souvenirs of London and Greenwich; ideal if you are looking for something quirky and out of the ordinary.  The business is run jointly by Isaac, an entrepreneur, and Hartwig, an artist, who does the most amazingly detailed drawings of Greenwich and London that appear as 180o views.  I met Hartwig on a previous visit when I bought a set of cups and saucers for my visiting San Franciscan cousins who are almost impossible to choose good pressies for.  However , on the day of this visit, Tom was behind the counter.  He graduated from the uni with a BA (Hons) in Creative Industries and now works as a freelance photographer. After doing some product photography for the shop he has begun working with them more regularly.

Arty Globe
 John has had his market stall here for ten years and specialises in royal memorabilia.  He is quite a character and proudly showed me around his stall with artefacts from Queen Victoria’s reign up to the present Diamond Jubilee.  Here he is with his enamel Queen Vic cup.

Royal memorabilia

Tao and Tina Franks arrived in the UK in 2008 and within the year had established their stall called the Thai Kitchen. As I chatted to them, mouth-watering aromas of ginger, coriander and lemon grass wafted into my nostrils.

Thai Kitchen

The sushi stall uses ingredients that always taste so fresh and feel very cleansing.  Tsering (known as ‘T’) is Tibetan and has been in the UK for four and a half years.  He explained that a sushi chef in Japan takes ten years to learn his trade. Lazlo, busily making up the sushi that day, has been a European style chef for twenty two years and came from Hungary four years ago. Although he said he is still in training, I could not fault his work.

St Sugar of London is a lovely cake and pasty stall. All through the summer they served the most scrumptious version of Eton Mess – strawberries, meringue and cream. As I chatted to Sonia from Slovakia and Enzo from Italy as they described how much they love the friendly atmosphere of the market, the small of the strawberries was almost overwhelming.  I tried very hard not to drool!

St Sugar of London
All that chatting left me very hungry so, after purchasing my tray of sushi (I had Thai the day before), I sat on the steps with the other diners to enjoy another spot of people watching.

Greenwich Market

Just down the road from my house is a lovely little park called Manor Park.  Not many people know about it as it is a bit off the beaten track making it a lovely and peaceful experience to visit. Earlier this year a little café opened there called Tranquil café.  It is run by Jasper, a delightfully friendly chap who is also working to complete his MBA at Uni of Greenwich.

We have taken to going there on our bikes for coffee as much as we can.

Sitting in this beautiful little park with the Quaggy River flowing by and hardly any traffic sounds, it is easy to imagine being somewhere out in the country rather than five minutes walk from the middle of Lewisham.  I was really saddened to hear that the café has already been burgled twice since opening and there is a gathering swell of people wanting to support it and ensure that it keeps going.  When I took these pics, Jasper was busy helping to set up an art exhibition.

Proper coffee is only £1.50 a cup and is perfect for the coffee snob part of me!  Sometimes there is a bar-b q going and the smell of good quality sausages wafting though the park is to die for!

Chatting to all these wonderfully innovative and entrepreneurial people is so inspiring.  Education is not just about cramming in facts and reading ancient texts.  It is about broadening the mind in all its facets and nurturing all the senses to experience life with all it has to offer.  It does not cost a lot of money to be curious and interested in everything around and by engaging that curiosity and openness there are huge rewards to be reaped.  I have had such fun preparing this blog and met so many wonderful characters.  I hope it inspires you to do the same.