The Land Down Under

11 03 2016

When I moved to London, almost five years ago, I started this blog in order to document my experiences. Unfortunately, I let this fizzle out after a year of living there. Now that I am onto the next adventure in my life, I felt this was the perfect time to reinvigorate this blog and to get back to writing about my experiences. It has been three months of transition for me, but now that I am finally settled into my life in the land down under, I thought this would be a good time to update you all on my last few months.

Last autumn I made the decision to leave London after four and a half incredible years. It was not an easy decision, but I felt the time was right to move onto the next chapter. I informed my bosses of my decision in September, and by Christmas I was gone; but it wasn’t quite that simple. Leaving London was one of the hardest things I have ever done and it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I met some incredible people throughout my time there and had some amazing experiences. My last week in London was an unbelievable roller coaster of emotions and by the time it came to boarding the plane back to Vancouver I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision. Looking back on things, I do feel it was time for me to move on, but I know that I will certainly return one day.

When I returned to Vancouver I was still in a state of shock about leaving London. I was debating internally whether or not it was the correct decision and was absolutely terrified about what lay ahead. What made it easier for me was being back in Canada and having a strong support system at home. My parents were great in encouraging me to look forward to my new adventures, and seeing my oldest friends in Vancouver is always special. My biggest worry when I leave Vancouver is that things won’t be the same when I return, but every time I go back there it feels like I have never left.

While in Vancouver I got the opportunity to go away for a couple of weekends. The first was a weekend with a few friends at a remote cabin on Gambier Island. It was the perfect spot to get away for a few days and to catch up with friends. It also reminded me of just how beautiful the west coast of Canada is! The second weekend away involved perhaps the most stereotypically Canadian day imaginable. It began with a day of skiing on Whistler Blackcomb, was followed by a hockey game (Ice hockey for anyone who might be confused!) on the frozen Alta Lake, and ended with a campfire on the lake. For years I have watched with envy as my friends have posted pictures of themselves on Facebook playing hockey on the lake and was very excited to finally get the opportunity!


Gambier Island on New Year’s Day


A Sea Lion in the distance


Hockey Card on Alta Lake


Kits Point on a sunny day


UBC vs UVIC in their annual match


Vancouver Canucks vs Florida Panthers

The trip to Vancouver was an excellent way to rejuvenate myself for the next adventure and to gear up for the next challenge. I think if I had come to New Zealand immediately following London it would have been extremely hard to get motivated but, with a renewed enthusiasm from my trip, by the end of January I was ready to get started. The programme didn’t start for almost another month however, and New Zealand is a long ways away; so I went to Hawaii for a week before moving to the Southern Hemisphere.

Mum and Dad had booked a trip to Kaua’i and graciously invited me along to stay with them. It was a fantastic week filled with snorkelling and body boarding as well as a fair amount of sightseeing. Dad also managed to look up his cousins, who live on the island, and we met up with them for dinner. One of Dad’s cousins, Claudette, happened to be married to the former state senator of Hawaii, which led to a very interesting political discussion, as it happened to be the eve of the Iowa primaries. My last day in Kaua’i was spent with colleagues of Dad, who were also vacationing on the island. It was another day of snorkelling and relaxing before I embarked on the long journey towards New Zealand.


The view from our apartment in Kaua’i


Poipu Beach, Kaua’i


The Beach by our apartment




Family gathering with South African cousins

I arrived in Christchurch on the 9th February, which happened to be my 32nd birthday. It certainly will rank up there in terms of memorable birthdays as I got the opportunity to meet my niece, Olivia, for the very first time! Louise and Andrew were fantastic; ensuring I had a good birthday, and have been tremendous with helping me settle back into my New Zealand life.

One of the perks of moving to the Southern Hemisphere in February is that it instantly becomes summer. It was the perfect time to arrive in Christchurch as I got to embrace the Kiwi lifestyle very quickly. I have spent a few days at the beach so far and have been making the most of living very close to Hagley Park.


At the top of Rapaki Track


Sumner on a beautiful day!

It has been a major adjustment the last few months, and to be honest, I am still getting used to it. Going from working in such a positive environment in London to being a postgraduate student working almost exclusively independently has not been easy, but it is something I am quickly getting used to. I am enjoying the chance to read about education and to challenge myself academically again, but I am missing the interaction with the pupils and colleagues. It was also initially difficult going back to the College of Education at the University of Canterbury as it felt like groundhog day (I spent a year there in 2008 completing my teaching qualification). I still have to convince myself occasionally that I am here doing a Masters, not reliving 2008!! I am starting to feel a bit more settled here however and I know from past experiences that it will only get better.

I will try my best to write regularly on various topics, as I need to improve my writing if I want to complete my Masters!!



































Wimbledon – Olympic Style

5 08 2012

When I bought my Olympic tickets nearly a year ago the main selling point was that I would have the chance to experience the famous courts of Wimbledon. What I wasn’t expecting however was to be able to witness easily the greatest sporting event I have ever seen live.

It was an early start for my flatmate Sam and me as we made the cross London trek to Wimbledon with the intention of beating the inevitable rush but once we got there we were able to spend time walking around the famous grounds of the All English Lawn Tennis Club. It was a surreal experience seeing all the sites I had only ever seen on TV, especially as we managed to talk a volunteer into letting us roam around Centre Court and take a few pictures.

Our tickets for the day were for Court No. 1 and we were excited as the feature match was scheduled to be Andy Murray and Laura Robson playing mixed doubles for Great Britain. This match was scheduled to be fourth but the catch was that Murray was also booked to play in the Men’s semi final against Novak Djokovic earlier in the day on Centre Court. This didn’t concern Sam and I too much as the only way this would lead to a problem was if the first men’s semi final on Centre Court went long, and with Roger Federer playing the odds of that were slim.

The first matches of the day began, after a short rain delay, about 12:30. We were watching the Czech Republic play the USA in women’s doubles and Centre Court began watching Federer. Our match ended quickly and we rushed out to the famous Henman Hill to see what was going on. Roger Federer was being pushed to the absolute limit by his Argentinian opponent, Juan Martin del Potro, and as the match entered the third set we had to rush back into court one to watch the women’s semi final. As Maria Sharapova began dominating her Russian opponent we kept checking the score on Centre Court. We could hear the reaction from the hill on every break point or every long rally. It became quite a tense atmosphere as we realized, this match isn’t ending.

Our third match of the day began shortly after Sharapova`s victory and as Spain battled France in Men`s Doubles. Despite seeing world class players such as Jo Wilfred Tsonga and David Ferrer the buzz in court 1 had become all about what was going on next door. My friend Andrew was lucky enough to be in Centre Court and we were texting back and forth as the Federer match continued. He was texting me update after update and as Federer finally prevailed the cheers could be heard all around the Wimbledon grounds.

It was after this match that Centre Court began to empty out. Despite Serena Williams being featured in the Women`s Semi Final much of the crowd needed a break after the longest match in Olympic history. It was also at this point that Sam and I decided to try our luck at getting on to Centre Court! We knew that we were going to miss Andy Murray altogether if we didn`t try so we made the move and successfully managed to find some seats near Andrew.

What a fortunate move this turned out to be! The atmosphere on Centre Court as the players appeared was unbelievable and the tension built up as the players stayed on serve through the first 11 games of the first set. It was in the twelfth game that the match reached his peak with Murray breaking Djokovic to win the first set! Chants of “Murray, Murray” were reverberating around Centre Court for much of the second set which played out in exactly the same fashion, causing the place to erupt as Murray clinched the match and a medal for Team GB.

This was truly a memorable day for me as I was not only able to visit the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon but was also able to watch two of the top players on the planet compete for an Olympic medal!

Let the Games Begin!

30 07 2012

What a start to the Olympics! London is has been absolutely buzzing for a couple of weeks now and the first three days of Olympic events have been incredible!

I started my Olympic experience last week when I went to an African music concert at the Pontoon Dock in East London. It was further east than I had ever been in London and well worth the commute! The music was from all over Africa, as it was one of the “continent” stages set up throughout the city and the weather cooperated. An interesting cultural experience before I headed out of London for the bulk of last week to catch up with family. I ended up coming home late Friday night, just in time for the main event to kick off!

The Opening Ceremony, put together by Danny Boyle, was very impressive, incorporating British history, culture and humour to create a memorable show. I watched the ceremony at a pub in Covent Garden, which was filled primarily with UK residents who proudly belted out God Save the Queen when Queen Elizabeth II, the latest Bond Girl, arrived and cheered loudly at the comic relief provided by Rowan Atkinson. As a history teacher I quite enjoyed the theme of the night being a history lesson and thought Boyle did well to represent the many eras of British history.

Day 1 of the Olympics was an eventful one for me. I spent the morning around London Bridge as I had to pick up my Olympic tickets that I had purchased a few months back. Walking around the area and soaking in the atmosphere of the Olympic spirit got me quite excited as I popped into the ticket office and confirmed the tickets to gymnastics and tennis. I was lucky to not have to wait too long in the ticket queue as I had to rush from there to North Greenwich Arena (more commonly known as the o2) for the Men’s gymnastics qualification round.

After clearing the airport style security and making my way up to the last row of the stadium I settled in to watch a sport I am not all that familiar with, but was blown away by! Seeing the strength of the athletes on apparatuses such as the swinging rings, or the high bar was incredible. The balance and gracefulness with which they are able to move was something I never fully appreciated watching gymnastics on TV in previous olympics. The atmosphere in the three quarters full arena was very positive with the crowd getting behind all the athletes, particularly on the change overs where we would all clap in time as the competitors walked to their next apparatus. Team USA was easily the best team of the five I got to see and the American fans in attendance certainly felt the same way chanting U-S-A at any opportunity.

Day 2 was an early start for me as I headed over to west London to catch a glimpse of the Women’s cycling road race. The race began near Buckingham Palace before heading south of London and making its way back to the Mall for the grandstand finish. I wasn’t lucky enough to have tickets to the finish line but was able to stand about 2km away and see the cyclists as they started and just before they finished. The entire course was filled with supporters and it looked more like the Tour de France than a race through the streets of London, it is great to see the city getting so enthusaistic about the games! A Canadian, Clara Hughes, was one of the medal favourites but unfortunately, due to the typically British weather conditions, she wasn’t able to medal. I did however get to witness the first Great Britain medalist, Lizzie Armitstead, fly by en route to her silver finish.

In between glimpses of the road race we decided to head over to Hyde Park and see the live site for watching the games. Again we had to queue up and clear the airport style security before entering the venue which was filled with 6 or 7 huge TVs where people could sit down and watch the different events. While the site is a cool idea I felt it could have been developed a lot further by having more interactive activities for kids or having more entertainment throughout the park. The idea is a good one though and perhaps as the crowds really arrive in London next weekend the atmosphere of Hyde Park will pick up. I am looking forward to getting to Victoria Park, the other live site, to compare the two.

It was an eventful first Olympic weekend for me and London seems to be withstanding all of the tourists with relative ease. Outside of the venues the city seems oddly normal and the trains are running well. I think the true test will come today as the usual rush hour overlaps with the numerous events around the city, and as more people begin to arrive in London later this week it could be a different story, but so far all the talk of disaster and chaos has been overblown. How shocking that the British media would do such a thing!

The London Underground

6 07 2012

Since I arrived in London nearly ten months ago I have tried my best to keep you updated on how I have adjusted to the city, what adventures I have embarked on, and how I have adapted to life across the pond, but one thing I haven’t gone into too much detail about is the London Underground. The tube, as it’s colloquially known, is a whole different world and I feel like it has taken me all this time to truly understand the significance it has on London.

When I first got to London I was very excited to board the Piccadilly line from Heathrow and head to my new (albeit temporary) home in Hammersmith, but the more I become accustomed to London the more I begin to realize that the tube isn’t much more than a necessity. When the system works well it is an incredible mode of transport that uses 11 different lines (plus 2 overground lines) to shift over 3.5 million people a day, but the key phrase in that sentence is “when the system works well”. Day after day I have noticed and experienced delays or closures throughout my commute and despite being the most expensive transit system in Europe it seems to actually be getting worse as the summer approaches. I will discuss this a bit more later in this blog but firstly I want to give you a sense of what the tube is like.

The typical routine of riding the tube is something I have previously described in A Day in the Life of a Supply Teacher  but what I will do here is discuss the tube in a more general capacity. The best word I can use to describe riding the tube is efficiency, the entire experience is based on passengers doing things in a quick manner and if you fail to learn the unwritten rules quickly you will cause an amazing amount of frustration to those waiting in the queue behind you. When I first experienced commuting during rush hour traffic I was overwhelmed by the amount of people, but within a few weeks I came to realize that commuting on weekends and in off peak hours can be much more exasperating as the platforms become full of people lackadaisically meandering on the wrong side of the escalator or looking completely perplexed right next to the turnstiles.  Admittedly the tube can be quite a daunting task when you first attempt to use it but for locals attempting to go about their day it gets rather infuriating.

While the tube is not the preferred mode of transport for many, it is the only option most Londoners have when they want to get around the city. The problem with this of course is that the workers of the London Underground are far too aware of this fact and have been using the threat of strike action to gain wage increases and bonuses for working during the Olympics. The threat of a strike, even for a day, causes panic in the city and eventually the government is forced to cave into the demands of the tube drivers, part of the reason the system has become so expensive!

One of the few benefits of the ever increasing fare hikes is that the tube does continue to expand.  Since its introduction in 1863 (the oldest underground railway in the world) the growth of the system has been continuous and this is only set to increase in the next few years. Since my last visit to London in 2006 the city has introduced the Overground section and the Docklands Light Railway, which has allowed the eastern part of London to develop and grow. While this expansion is still taking place the new plan for expanding the city limits of London has already begun. Crossrail, to be introduced in 2019, will essentially link Oxford and Cambridge to London via the tube system meaning daily commuting from these once quaint university towns will become commonplace. The rapid growth of the tube is certainly quite impressive for a person from Vancouver, a city that can’t seem to extend its rapid transit into the west side of the city.

One of the reasons I decided to write this blog now is that as the Olympics approach the tube is going to become a very hot topic. It will likely get global attention worldwide and will almost certainly be criticized by the international media and travelers. The tube is certainly not a perfect system, and during the games there will be delays and problems. If these problems are limited to overcrowding and being too hot it has to be deemed a success as the tube is overcrowded at the best of times, and if the weather cooperates it will be unbearably hot. More than likely however passengers during the games will face delays, temporary line closures and slow moving queues while boarding trains. I don’t think it will be nearly as bad as Atlanta was in the 1996 Olympics but I suspect the transport will be a point of contention. Within the last few weeks there has been a Central Line closure due to major flooding (2 million tonnes of water) in one of the tunnels and there was a train stuck in a tunnel in St John’s Wood on the Jubilee line that resulted in 800 people having to leave the train only to be led on foot via flashlight down the tunnel to the nearest exit. I fear London could become a laughing stock if similar incidents were to take place during the Olympics.

Although the tube is moaned about by most Londoners and usually only mentioned with negative connotations, there are some lighter points to riding the trains. The drivers and platform managers are quite often very colourful characters that will often crack jokes during announcements to lighten the mood. It truly is a fascinating mode of transport that, when working, is a very impressive way to travel.  In a city as dense as London such a complicated tube system is necessary and has far more positives than negatives. The system will certainly never be perfect but overall it is one of the better transport systems I’ve seen and something anyone who comes to London must experience…just please try and do so efficiently!

For more information on the tube, I highly recommend the BBC programme “The Tube”, a 6 part series all about the London Underground and the intricacies of such a complicated system

Also, while I have done my best to describe the tube I can’t hold a candle to the description by comedian Michael McIntyre. Check out this from Live at the Apollo on boarding the tube.

Finally, here is a blog focussed entirely on the London Underground. Going Underground.

Canada Day

5 07 2012

Being thousands of miles away from Canada I wasn’t exactly excited about Canada Day this year. I am currently living in a country that barely celebrates St. George’s Day, their own national holiday, so to envision a celebration for a mere commonwealth nation seemed a little much. I started thinking my expectations might be wrong when I took my daily look at Timeout London looking for things to do in this city. It was on this site I noticed there was a gathering at Trafalgar Square in Central London for us Canadians to celebrate our holiday.

Having studied Canadian history in University and having a Canadian expert for a father, I was excited to attend this celebration, but not for the reasons you might think. In University I took a class on Canadian cultural identity where we looked at how Canada is perceived by the rest of the world and how we celebrate our culture, our heritage and our nation. When I went down to Trafalgar square on Sunday I was planning on looking at this celebration as how the British perceived us Canadians. My original plan was to spend an hour or two there, take a few pictures, and send them on to my Dad for a laugh. Naturally I will probably still do this, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I actually kind of miss these “stereotypical Canadian things”.

As I made the short walk from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar square I began realizing this Canada Day celebration was a much bigger deal than I had been expecting. While it was still very stereotypical, it was clearly run by Canadians and had a very patriotic feeling that made me feel much more like a Canadian than I have in a while (I feel myself slowly sinking into becoming just another foreigner in London). The ceremony opened with the Canadian High Comissioner, Gordon Campbell, dropping the puck on the street hockey rink that was set up in the middle of Trafalgar Square. A street hockey tournament then took place throughout the day as ex pat Canadians rushed towards the rink for a glimpse of the sport they so dearly miss. It was truly a novelty here as you would rarely see a street hockey game in Canada being watched by hundreds of Canadians. Just as I showed up Stompin‘ Tom Connors‘ “Hockey Song” blared on the loud speakers as all the Canadians surrounding the rink joined in for the chorus. It was one of the more surreal feelings of my life singing the Hockey Song at the top of my lungs in a major city halfway across the world.

As I continued to roam through Trafalgar Square I began to almost forget the fact I was in London. Molson Canadian was being served at the beer tent and Canadian songs were being blasted over the large speaker. Everything from The Tragically Hip to Carly Rae Jepsen to…Justin Bieber (I can’t get away from Bieber!). The true Canadian spirit was out in full force throughout the rare sunny day and the crowd continued to expanded as the temperature increased, Canadian bands appeared on stage and the number of hockey jerseys (both Canadian and various NHL teams) skyrocketed.

Although the day was about as stereotypically Canadian as you could get (including a Yoga performance sponsored by Lululemon) it was a truly enjoyable one. The Canadian organisers went through a lot of effort putting the celebration together, even getting a Canadian host (Cabral Richards) and serving poutine. I fully intend to return next year as it was an unbelievable party in a great setting in the heart of London with Big Ben in the background. I unfortunately had to miss the major attractions of the night, Our Lady Peace, as I snuck home to watch the European Cup Final, but it was a very cool experience getting to celebrate my national holiday with fellow Canadians despite being so far away from home. As much as I do love London there are times I do miss the Canadian lifestyle, it was nice to relive…even if it was only for a day.

The Diamond Jubilee

13 06 2012

One of the benefits of living in a big city is that I once in a while find myself in the centre of the global spotlight.  This will no doubt be the case as the Olympics approach and that will certainly lead to several blog entries detailing the atmosphere and the excitement that comes with the games. I got a small taste of what the Olympics might be like a couple of weeks ago as the United Kingdom celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The Jubilee weekend, which stretched from Saturday to Tuesday thanks to a couple of bank holidays, was very typically British, even down to the weather. All over the city there were festivals and concerts celebrating the Queen, but the two main ones I will focus on are the Queen’s Flotilla down the River Thames and the concert at Buckingham Palace. The Flotilla I was lucky enough to attend, the concert I could not get tickets but was able to watch on TV.

It was a cold and rainy Sunday morning in London and I had arranged to meet friends at 9am on the other side of the city. As I left my house around 730am, umbrella firmly in hand, I realized that the Flotilla would not actually begin for another seven hours! I thought for sure as we headed down to the Chelsea Embankment that we would be the only ones crazy enough to stand in the cold for hours on end! Was I ever wrong! Already there were food stands set up, many had tents set up and had clearly been camping overnight to ensure they got the perfect spot. Fortunately we were able to walk far enough along the embankment to get a spot right on the side of the River Thames, overlooking Battersea Park and the Battersea Power Station, a very nice view indeed!

As the time passed more and more people began arriving despite the increasingly grey conditions. People were trying everything to keep warm but most resorted to drinking wine and singing the national anthem to keep occupied. It was great to see the patriotism of the United Kingdom come out in full force over the course of the weekend, something I missed when the Royal Wedding took place last year but was looking forward to experiencing first hand.

After hours of waiting, and a couple cheeky glasses of wine, it was finally time for the main event.  The Flotilla was comprised of 1000 boats and stretched all the way from Battersea Bridge in west London (near where we were) to Canary Wharf in south east London, a span of approximately 7.5 miles. While this wasn’t too far for boats such as the Queen’s it was quite difficult for those paddling their way down the Thames.  Many of these boats had been forced to paddle their way up the Thames that morning to get into the correct position and were simply exhausted as the Floatilla began thus having to undergo the embarrassment of being towed.  Finally, after all the commonwealth boats went by, we got our first glimpse of the Queen’s Flotilla. It was a beautiful, massive red and gold boat that had a covered platform in the middle to allow the Royal Family to stay dry as they meandered down the Thames. Being right on the shores of the Thames and having recently invested in a new camera helped considerably as I was able to take a few decent pictures of the event as you can see below.

Just after the Queen floated by the skies really began to open up so in true British fashion we hurried into the nearest pub to dry off! I spent the time leading up to the Jubilee not really knowing what to expect but it was a very fun day, despite the weather, and well worth getting there early! The weekend was then capped off with the Jubilee concert which helped further integrate me into the British culture.

The concert was held outside Buckingham Palace at the roundabout in front of the Queen’s residence. Although only 10,000 people were awarded tickets to the actual concert grounds the crowd extended down the Mall and actually reached 250,000 people! It was certainly a sight to see on TV. The concert began with a favourite of my sister’s, Robbie Williams, and contained several top notch British acts including Cliff Richard, Elton John and Paul McCartney. It ended with Prince Charles making a speech toasting the Queen, and even he drew a couple of laughs from the audience as he referred to the Queen as “mummy”.

It was certainly a memorable weekend in London and it was for an occasion I will never see again in my life time. It also gave me a bit of a preview of what the Olympics might be like, hard to believe they are only 6 weeks away!


13 06 2012

Growing up as the son of a South African father and a New Zealand mother I never had much of a choice but to love rugby. Throughout my childhood I would watch match after match with my parents and from a young age I was enrolled in rugby camps.  This love of rugby has been extremely beneficial in my life as, although I was far from a standout, I have been able to play and watch the sport all over the world. One thing that I always wanted to do as a rugby fan however was go to Twickenham (the main rugby stadium in England), and I finally got the opportunity a few weeks ago to go not once, but twice in the same week!

My initial Twickenham experience was an interesting one to say the least. The world rugby sevens was in town and I headed out there with a few friends.

The only way to get to Twickenham from most of London is to take a train from Waterloo station. This is very convenient, but when you are heading out for an event it also tends to be rather congested. This was not necessarily a bad thing though as the rugby sevens provides a wonderful atmosphere. The theme for this round of the sevens was to dress as though it was the 1970’s, so after making a quick pit stop at Camden market for some pin stripped jeans, an afro and some aviators I made my way to Waterloo to board the train.

Having never been to the rugby sevens before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I quickly came to realize the true atmosphere of the day isn’t about the rugby but rather the people watching and the crowd. The rugby was excellent, and we were lucky enough to get moved to the front row, but it truly was about looking around, seeing all of the costumes and singing the songs. While this was a fantastic Saturday in the sun Twickenham was only about two thirds full and it wasn’t exactly the environment I had been picturing when I dreamed of going there. Fortunately, I only had to wait 7 days for the chance to engage in the full Twickenham experience.

The following Saturday three friends and I headed back out on the train, but this time for the Heineken Cup Final. For those unfamiliar, this is the rugby equivalent of the Champions League final and happened to be taking place on the same day.

The atmosphere for this match was far tenser as the two Irish teams took the field and the knowledge of the fans around us was very impressive. As the pictures below will indicate, Twickenham, while full,  is quite an amazing place and the atmosphere as the tries are scored would be very difficult to beat.

I was very happy to get the chance to go to Twickenham not once, but twice, and I hope I can get there again in the near future; it was certainly one thing to cross off the bucket list!

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