Van get!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Nice beaten up one too, less to worry about at least. Runs fine, though hill starts are a total bitch. I wonder how often they replace the clutches in these things, given that amateurs like me are probably the usual drivers. Drive from Hitchin (where van rental is, 5 minute walk from the new place) to Ricky was uneventful, too uneventful! It took 2 hours, rather than 45 minutes! The M1 was broken, lorry collision, I took back roads but it was slow (at least it was moving though.) Lots of lorries colliding and tipping over today according to the road reports, apparently it is the rain (you’d think the damn Poms would be used to it by now!) FYI, “lorry” is Pommie for “truck.” It bucketed down overnight, a lot of water on the road, it’s been swinging between light and heavy rain most of today.

I’ve loaded half our stuff into the van now, a lot of the heaviest stuff. Though I’m holding back on a couple of items so that Kat can help me not bash holes in walls. I got the largest and heaviest thing we have (a solid oak coffee table) up here by myself, so I ought to be able to get everything down myself. Right now I’m happy I’ve been doing a lot of squats and deadlifts in the last year! (Though I’ve been slack on it for almost two months now, got to get back on track after the move.)

Getting there, slowly but surely.

I had 5 double espressos today, getting back to old Sydney habits. Probably won’t be possible in Hitchin though, might even have to go cold turkey (well, there’s always tea of course.)

Made a great risotto with that chicken stock on Monday night, vaguely planning to write up a risotto recipe – I don’t think it’ll happen though, too busy. Looks like it’ll be king prawns and pasta for dinner tonight, got a bag of frozen prawns in the freezer I should use.

Anyway, got to get back to it.

Cutting it close

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[Update 2008-04-29 (3): Now I’ve booked storage as well, at least that is less than 100 quid. There should be less stress now:

  • pick up van tomorrow
  • have all of Thursday to move stuff into storage
  • cleaners come in on Friday
  • meanwhile we sign documents and check-in to new place then move in essentials
  • on Saturday we take final meter readings and give keys to agents
  • for rest of Sat/Sun we move stuff from storage to new place
  • on Monday we rest
  • on Tuesday I do check-out inspection of old place
  • and back to work!

We end up paying about 400 quid more than planned, though save maybe 150 on rent-overlap. Given I’m putting a week of leave into it too I guess we’ll just call it a “holiday” and put other holiday plans back to later in the year.

[Update 2008-04-29 (2): Hrmph, “because it was professionally cleaned before you moved in you must have it professionally cleaned before you check out.” Now, I know I can clean the place to a better condition than it was in before I moved in myself, especially since the condition report specifically states there was dust on everything! Anyway, it isn’t worth arguing … so there goes 210 quid. sigh Of course, this really pushes on the time pressure. Now I have to have everything out by Friday morning, so I guess I’ll try to get everything but the bed into the van on Thursday and hope that everything will fit in one van. We may end up disposing of some of our old 2nd hand chairs, no great loss, just lucky we own no sofas/etc I guess.]
[Update 2008-04-29: Finally have confirmation and Friday it will be. Though the check-in can’t be earlier than Friday midday. This gives us Friday evening and Saturday to move – not enough time. So my plan to hire a man+van is quashed. Instead I’ve hired a van for a week, from tomorrow through to Tuesday, and we’ll be able to store some larger items in it to make space for proper cleaning of the apartment. Having the van will make things somewhat more flexible at least. On the bright side, having only 2 days of lease overlap means we save about as much in overlapped rent as we’ll spend hiring a van (compared to having the 7 day overlap I’d originally hoped for.) Plus, hiring the van for 6 days is only a little more expensive than the man+van for 5 hours. The drawback is that I’ll have to do all the heavy lifting on my own – we’re two flights of stairs up from the car-park and there’s no lift.]

So, I was told the place we’re moving to was available “right away.” Here we are, 5 days before kick-out date, and we still can’t have access to it! It’s two weeks since it was supposed to be available “right away” too. At a pinch they think they might be able to give us access to it on Friday (we’re in the current place until Saturday) – so long as we’re OK to have the place cleaned up around us in the coming weeks.

Here I studiously avoid typing a long string of expletives, the effort makes my brow sweat.

Love this, such fun, I should move more often.

Looks like it might get expensive or difficult. At worst case it’ll be hiring self-storage and booking a hotel – fingers crossed it won’t be that bad.

And I was planning to move on Wednesday… ho ho ho.

On the bright side, on Sunday I made a chicken stock good enough that it set like jelly. Tonight I’ll make a mushroom (standard agaricus) and porcini (dried) risotto. That’ll be the last real meal I make here, from then onwards it’ll be reheated soups and take-outs (given potential costs I think we’ll rein in on the eat-outs.)

Coffee Cube on High Street, Rickmansworth

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Coffee Cube
Coffee Cube

Coffee House: Coffee Cube
Address: 111 High Street, Rickmansworth [Map]
Rating: Ten Buck Alley or better (Sydney-Coffee Rating)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 07:30 – 17:00, Sat: 09:00 – 17:00

Dammit! Just as I’m planning to move away from Rickmansworth another good espresso place opens. For a long time it was Cinnamon Square or nothing, but now my loyalty is divided. As far as espresso goes I think Coffee Cube now comes out on top.

When we moved to Ricky there was a little coffee place on the High Street, I tried it once but wasn’t impressed – as far as espresso goes it was a little better than Nero. It didn’t help that it was only open weekdays with hours something like 09:00 to 15:00. They used Segafredo beans, if I recall correctly, and a La Cimbali machine. Several months ago they shut down suddenly due to illness, according to the note that went up in the window. I remember saying to Kat on a couple of occasions that it was a tempting opportunity… if only I wasn’t constrained by visa requirements. (As far as I can tell the HSMP doesn’t prohibit starting your own business, but ultimately you must maintain a sufficient level of income. Starting a business always comes with the risk of failure, or mediocrity, in my case both also come with being thrown out of the country!)

Anyway, this March the coffee place re-opened under the name Coffee Cube. I was hesitant to try them at first, since Cinnamon Square has earned my loyalty. However one fateful day I ducked in and asked for a double. Surprise! It was very good. Too long, in the English style, but with excellent flavour. Doubly surprising, it turns out the coffee they’re using is from Lavazza. This is a brand I’ve never had much respect for, it is fairly ubiquitous in Sydney and certainly not associated with good coffee. (The University of Sydney Union used it, for example, and the terribleness of “union coffee” defies description – that’s a whole other story.)

It is a conceit of mine to believe that the only good coffee is boutique-roaster coffee. In this I include the likes of The Coffee Plant and Monmouth in London, The Coffee Tree in Aylesbury (I never got around to writing about them), and the inimitable Toby’s Estate back in Sydney. All at the top of my espresso (dare I say, ristretto) table. So, it turns out that Coffee Cube has thrown a spanner in my works with their use of Lavazza’s “Crema Aroma” blend (no link sorry, while Lavazza does seem able to do good coffee after all, they clearly can’t do good websites. Their 100% flash monstrosity is unlinkable, flaky, and they don’t even show up in the top 10 when Googling their own product. An insanely bad web strategy!)

On request Coffee Cube will, of course, do a less English espresso. Shorter and more intense. The crema is firm, but could do with a narrower cup (I should see about getting the double in a demitasse), and the taste smooth. If anything is to be raised in the negative it could be that the espresso is a little too smooth, a little lacking in edge. This is espresso I’d give to someone I wanted to “break in” to the espresso drinking world. Like 60% cocoa mass chocolate before graduating to 75%+.

Overall they’re definitely as good as Ten Buck Alley, possibly just a little better, but don’t make the Olympian leap to Toby’s standard. (While TBA coffee is my “second best” in Sydney, it’s still a mere mortal looking up to the god that is Toby’s – yeah, OK, I’m going overboard now.)

They do good lunches too and have all the usual pastries. Chicken and avo panini were a staple of mine back in Sydney and it’s nice to have a place doing them here in Ricky! (In general England doesn’t seem to have discovered what an excellent sandwich/roll ingredient avocado is.) On the food front you also get a biscotti with your coffee, so much for espresso being low-calorie. I might have four cups a day, which is less than I used to have back in Sydney, that’s a lot of biscotti.

The café itself is small, with just 5 tables. A couple are booths with comfy benches, and one is a coffee-table with a couple of very comfy couches. The owners’ last business was a club, it would seem they’ve brought a bit of club-like décor with them – bright, but pleasantly different. They’d benefit from being able to put a couple of small tables or seats outside in summer. One thing that I think would be great for Ricky’s town centre is to pedestrianise the main strip of the High Street, not sure if it is logistically feasible though.

What more can I say? If you want espresso in Rickmansworth I think Coffee Cube is the place now – but you still can’t beat Cinnamon Square when it comes to anything baked (oh, the fresh Panettone!) I think it is great that there are now two good places to have an espresso. There demand is there, Cinnamon Square is often packed to a line’s-out-the-door level, and the crappy chain store never seems to have a quiet moment (until after 17:00 when all the Poms retire to pubs – sigh evening café culture hasn’t a chance in this country.)

Australian (NSW) License -> UK License

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

This is a log of my experience transferring my Australian driving license over to a UK license. You can drive on an Australian license in the UK for up to a year – I’ve been a UK resident for two years now. Unlike most reports of dealing with British bureaucracy, this is a happy one: thirty minutes to fill in a form, a £50 cheque, £9.60 of postage, 8 days pass, and I have a license. I can hardly believe it!

13:45 Wednesday April 16th 2008: I’ve just posted my license transfer documentation to the DVLA. You can pick up the required form (D1) from any UK post office, or order it online from the DVLA site (“D1 Pack.”)

Until recently you needed someone to sign the back of your photo, this person had to be a UK citizen and someone “reliable” who’s known you for at least 2 years (the details are all on this page – I do know people who qualify, but don’t see them often enough to remember to bring along forms for them to sign!) The only way around this was to visit a DVLA office to have your documents processed, however DVLA offices are few and far between – there are none in central London! My closest one is 1.5 hours of public transport away.

Today I picked up a fresh form and was delighted to note that you no longer need the photo signed if you send them a current passport. (At this time the last link above hasn’t been updated to reflect this and still indicates that only a UK/EC/EEA passport is good enough to avoid the signing requirement.) However you can’t have your non-UK passport verified at the post office using the “premium checking service,” so it means popping your passport and your Australian license in the post! Not something I’m comfortable with, but it does make the transfer easier to deal with. So I’m going to have to go without any photo-identification for a short while (up to 3 weeks.)

Filling out the form is straight-forward, no special details are required. You attach your photo and pop it into an envelope with your Australian license, passport, and a cheque for £50. The payment must be by personal cheque or postal cheque. (A postal cheque will cost about £4.50 extra, but most UK banks issue cheque books with current accounts so you can probably avoid that.) Interestingly, there is no requirement for proof-of-address documentation.

Because you’re putting your passport and license in the post you’re advised to use “special delivery” (registered post.) Also, because the DVLA will otherwise use normal 2nd-class post to return your passport you’re advised to enclose an additional self-addressed “special delivery” envelope. All up the postage cost me £9.20.

The form claims my passport will be sent back within 10 working days (2 weeks) and that, all going well, I should receive my license within 15 working days (3 weeks.) So, now I wait and see, I’ll continue this entry when the next license-application event occurs…

10:15 Thursday April 24th 2008: Licensed already! My UK photocard license arrived in the post just now, before 10:00. So, that’s basically a week. My license is valid until 2050 – none of this renewing every 5 years crap we put up with in Australia, you only need to renew once you turn 70. I had a normal NSW drivers license, suitable for standard vehicles with trailers up to some limit (can’t recall the limit.) My UK license covers the same (up to 3500kg and 8 passenger seats, trailer up to 750kg) but also explicitly covers quads/trikes less than 550kg, mopeds, agricultural tractors, and “mowing machine or vehicle controlled by a pedestrian.” License for a lawnmower?! Eh? A provisional license for motorcycles, “road rollers,” and “tracked vehicles” is also included, also valid until 2050.

There’s one really annoying thing about UK licenses though. There’s a “counterpart”, this is an A4 sheet of paper with additional details on it. The annoying part is “The photocard and paper counterpart should be kept together. Both must be produced when required.” It seems a bit insane really! In other words, just carrying your license card in your wallet isn’t good enough to drive, you need an A4 sheet of paper too. The sheet includes some extra data, namely a record of any driving offences you’ve committed or upgrades to your licensed vehicle categories. Anyway, to make this practical I’m now going to fold this A4 sheet up to an A8 size, so it can fit in my wallet! This makes my wallet fatter, which I hate.

Now I’m just worried that my passport hasn’t been returned yet. However the Royal Mail site tells me it is on the way (thanks to my provision of a special delivery envelope.) Reassuring!

11:41 Thursday April 24th 2008: I’m not the only one with driving licenses on the mind at the moment. All I can say is that I’m glad I got my license back in the good old days too (one theory test, one practical test, one year on “P plates”, then full license.) Australia always seems to be a bit “legislate first, ask questions later.” I heard recently that they’ve decriminalised Roquefort cheese at least, this actually happened in 2005, but I didn’t hear about it until mum mentioned it to me on Monday (yeah, I know “decriminalised” is probably a bit strong.) The insanity is that only Roquefort is decriminalised, no other unpasteurised-milk cheeses. It reminds me of the parents I see who have their children on leashes. Some days I have a strong desire to turn anarchist.

17:06 Thursday April 24th 2008: Royal mail special delivery envelope picked up from the concierge. Inside my passport and a note: “Your application for a driving license is being dealt with.” Somewhat amusing considering that the license has already been received.

Violent Memories

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

A long while back I lived in Harris Park in Sydney and every day after Uni I’d walk home from Granville, Harris Park, or Parramatta station. On three occasions I had altercations on the way home. One wasn’t a problem. Another resulted in me getting 4 stitches in my forehead and losing a worthless mobile phone. The worst of the lot resulted in nothing more than a few bruises. As I wandered home I was approached by a group of youths, I’m not certain of the headcount but it was around 5. One of them asked me for a cigarette, I don’t smoke. Next thing: someone behind me hits me on the head. There was no choice in the matter it was fight and be thrashed or be thrashed anyway (sure, there’s probably some people out there who can fight off 5 attackers – I’m not one of them.) I resisted and got thrashed.

It’s an incident that has played on my mind ever since and altered my behaviour drastically. It wasn’t long before I moved out, found a safer area to live in (Dulwich Hill – inner west), then moved again to a very safe area (Wolstonecraft – northshore). When I move these days the first thing I check is police crime stats. When I inspect an area I spend more time noticing whether or not windows are barred, if there’s broken glass on the road, the level of graffiti, etc. Priority one is the risk-assessment. It’s not just when I’m moving home though, with every step I take I’m measuring up the security of the situation, on the look-out for threats… it isn’t a healthy mindset.

Yesterday in Sydney a 54 year old man was asked for a cigarette, he had none, he was stabbed several times and later died. This was at Granville station, could have been me 5 years ago. Harris Park and surrounds is still a total shit-hole, nothing changes. Don’t live there. Sadly a lot of people don’t have much choice, I was living in Harris Park because that’s where I could afford to live at the time I moved there. It’s a funny old world, with money comes the privilege of improving your chances of not being randomly killed by some arsehole. There’s something broken about that.

Hitchin Maps

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I knocked up some maps with Google during the week, to give an idea of where we’re going and how it relates to where we are. If the embedded maps don’t work out click on the title-links to get to the full-sized Google versions. With all these maps you can click on the icons and lines to get a description, there should also be a key on the left.

  • First: Hitchin, Ricky, and Kat’s work – This shows that Hitchin (north) is significantly further out than Ricky (north-west), the respective “home” locations are shown with yellow house-shape icons. The difference isn’t as much as it seems though, the mapping projection Google uses has a finer scale in lat than long. The crow-line from Kat’s work to Ricky is about 2 thirds the length of the one to Hitchin (despite the fact that it’ll probably look half the length.) Also shown are the overground rail lines beyond the locations, notably in Ricky the line heads to Aylesbury then stops, while in Hitchin the lines extend throughout the UK – so other destinations are more accessible. I’ve also shown airports, while Hitchin has 2 that are fairly close (Luton, and Stansted) they’re not as useful as Heathrow (I’m turning into an airline-snob I’m afraid, preferring BA or Lufthansa to avoid being treated like cattle.) The green pin in the centre of London is Big Ben (Westminster/Parliament) and the one to the right is Greenwich. (Remember, you can drag the map around with the mouse!)
  • London – This maps shows the city giving an idea of the city-end of Kat’s commute. The graphic reminiscent of a female toilet is where Kat works. The black line is the overground from Kings Cross to Hitchin, the purple line the underground (metro line) to Rickmansworth. Kat gets to work from Ricky in one trip, to get in from Hitchin will require switching to the underground at Kings X, but overall the two trips should take about the same time.
  • Hitchin – In this close-up of Hitchin you can see the approximate location of our new place in relation to the train station (6 min walk) and town-centre and market (green pin, 15 minute walk.) Also shown is the continuing rail lines, the one on the right heads up to Cambridge and the other to Peterborough. These lines both continue on to reach almost everywhere in the upper half of the UK, and also provide routes through to everywhere else (though for more southern locations it is probably faster to go via London.) On the topic of travel, Kings Cross is the London terminus of the line from Hitchin and the same general station complex includes St. Pancreas, which is the station that trains to Paris depart from. I’ve also shown the closest chain-gym with a green cycling figure, it’s in Letchworth and is probably a 15 to 20 minute cycle away.

And the winner is… Hitchin

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

After saying we’re going to stick with Letchworth we’ve gone and put a deposit down on a place in Hitchin. I saw it today and put our claim in for it right away. Given our past experience with losing out on places if we delay at all and the ever-nearer final day of our current tenancy it seemed most prudent.

The place is a lot better than the place we chose to take in Letchworth but missed out on. It’s also half the distance to the station (5 min walk), twice the size, and in better condition (just.) It’s also only 50 quid more per month, so that works out OK.

The size of the place is the headline feature, it is really rather huge. Three large double-size bedrooms, a kitchen I can swing a cat in (just), and three “receptions,” also large. I don’t quite know what this English “reception” concept encompasses, based on what we’ve seen in our hunting it is any room that isn’t a bedroom. The place is two story and each story has about the same floorspace as our apartment.

The rent is pretty good for the area and the size, it’s also 150 less per month than we’ve been paying. Though we don’t save anything, the extra cost of the train travel demolishes that difference. The annual Hitchin to London ticket price is £2880, and that doesn’t include tube travel! To add tube travel the price goes to £3840! (Try not to think of those numbers in Australian $… oops, too late, ouch!) That’s 74 quid per week, and that’s with the 30% discount you can only get if you buy an annual ticket. (You’d be crazy not to, even if you didn’t have the cash handy the pain on a personal loan over a year doesn’t nullify the 30% saving. But better yet, get a 12-month 0% CC deal and let your 3840 sit in a high interest savings account earning you a bit before flushing it into the CC. Just don’t forget to settle the CC before the 12 months is up!)

Anyway, in other crazy rent news, the landlord of our current place seems to have given up on selling it (buying demand is really low right now) and put it back on the rental market. Rental demand is very high at the moment and the place has been listed £200 higher than we’ve been paying! That’s about 3x inflation, but is actually about right for what we’ve seen in the area. Our original preference was to stay in the Ricky area, but moving into a house around here would cost a lot, at least £400 more than we’re paying now. That’s our primary motivation for dragging our butts somewhere else, thus Hitchin. We end up paying less rent for a huge place (the same sort of place here would be about £600 more than we’re paying now – approaching twice our Hitchin rent!)

Anyway, more on this another time. It’s one hell of a relief to have found a place, stress level can be downgraded to amber. Right after we’ve finished filling in the agent’s 5 pages of paperwork (and we’re not even close to a tenancy agreement yet, the bloody British and their love of forms. Must find my Brazil soundtrack and put on Harry Tuttle — “A Man Consumed by Paperwork”.)

Packing Nightmare

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Some things suck 100%, packing in one of those things. Yesterday I decided it was time to disassemble my work equipment, since I only need one machine for the foreseeable future. This involved taking everything out of a 6 ft rack (6 machines) and stripping the rack down to parts. I thought it’d be a couple of hours of my day – fool. One whole day later it was done. I managed to do it without putting any holes in the wall, but I managed to put one hole in myself. The underside of my right wrist, this makes using the mouse difficult since it turns out I typically rest my wrist on the desk as I hold the mouse.

We moved a lot of stuff to boxes this weekend. Now boxed is: all the books, half the kitchen equipment (the things I won’t need in the next month), all the gym stuff, many clothes, and most computer equipment (all except laptops, and Kat and my desktops.) Moving around the apartment is now a case of weaving a maze of boxes. Yet we’re less than half way there I’d say.

We have next weekend to pack everything else we don’t need immediately. We really need to be moving the weekend after, at latest during the subsequent week. May 3rd is our last day here, I’d rather spend that week cleaning than moving.

Still haven’t found a place though… all packed up with nowhere to go.

My work todo list is lagging and I lost the time this weekend I expected to use making up time lost last week. Time to knuckle down and get shit done.

(My personal todo list is undefined until May sometime.)

Rubbing it in

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I was amused to receive a letter from my new bank that informed me that all the direct debits I’d had with my old bank had been transferred over to my new account. The amusing part is that included was a letter from me addressed to my old bank asking them to close the account and transfer any remaining funds to my new account. The letter, of course, printed using the nice bright letterhead of the new bank. Essentially saying: “Hey – we nabbed your customer. Har har.”

I’m not using their letter though. It isn’t because I care about hurting my old bank’s feelings or anything though, it’s because the letter has a WTF. The sentence: “Please action this on 31/12/9999.” Oooookaaaaaay. Not really in a hurry, eh? I guess they’ll get it in before the Y10K bug shuts down our robotic brains at least.

No Letchworth this Weekend

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Looks like the showerless place has been taken already. Guess someone was willing to forgo showering as a reasonable compromise for being damn close to the town centre and rail station. Given the low rent, location, and back-yard it isn’t unimaginable. It does have a bath of course, we could’ve probably fitted one of those shower heads that attaches to a tap, a bracket for it, and a shower-curtain. Maybe. Kat and I had decided it wasn’t an unlivable option and that we could fall back to it if the other place didn’t work out. No longer possible.

I’m still waiting on the “other place.” It was supposed to be ready for viewing this week but this has not turned out to be the case. The owner still has the builders in, or something. Time is running out, we need to have a place to move to on the weekend of the 26th/27th … only two weeks away. The paperwork and credit-checks take about a week we’re told, so we really only have a week.

I desperately hope we don’t have to fall back to an apartment. 🙁

*sigh* I hate this crap, stressful and distracting.