Thursday, September 25, 2008


About two weeks ago, Brendan and I took the bus to Bedford, a town about 14 miles north of MK. We went to jump through official hoops to get a National Insurance Number. This is your tax number.

However, unlike the US, you're not considered a non-person without one, and you can still work. You just end up paying the maximum tax rate (which I think is around 25% in Britain - hardly a lot compared to NZ's 40% max rate!), and companies are a bit shy of hiring you in case you're not 'legal'.

In the true tradition of UK weather, it was lovely and cloudy (note: not actually sunny) the whole 40-min trip on the bus. As soon as we got off the bus, the heavens opened and it poured with rain. It did this on the return trip to Milton Keynes, too, with even more vigour. Luckily Brendan insisted on bringing both umbrellas.

Compared to NZ or the US, there are so many little villages. You only have to drive about 5km most of the time before getting to another little village with its own strong sense of community. Most of the little towns have satellite villages all around. It's very picturesque. Milton Keynes itself is made up of 3 larger towns and 15 villages combined! (I have the feeling I may have mentioned this in another post - apologies if so.)

This house was for sale opposite the Job Center - it even has a tiny clock! I love it.

After, we went for a walk around Bedford to find some food. Brendan ate fish'n'chips while I was in my meeting. By the time he came out of his meeting, after mine, the shop was shut!

We couldn't find any other fish'n'chip shops, so instead I bought chocolate biscuits (cookies) and we wandered around a central shopping street until we arrived back at the bus station. Another fish'n'chip shop had been there at the bus station all along! So I had my first chips in the UK with salt and vinegar on them. Overall they were OK, but I felt rather off-colour later since I hadn't eaten chips for about a year! Plus the bus driver was rather mad since we arrived just as the bus was leaving (we didn't know the timetable), and had to eat hot chips not-so-secretly on the bus....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Milton Keynes sightseeing...

Today Brendan and I biked up to Stony Stratford, the Marina (posh shopping area) of Milton Keynes. There was much village-y quaintness. I love village-y quaintness. There was even sunshine!

We stopped for lunch at the Secret Garden, a small piece of green in the middle of Wolverton, next to the canal and the railway lines.

In 1999, some residents of Wolverton managed to convince the railway to sell them the land to make a garden, for £1. The garden is shaped around the contours of the remains of three villas, called the Limes and the Hawthorns, the homes of senior managers in the early railways era. They cost only £400 each in the 1850's... a steal nowadays!

Wolverton has a cute village area, and a 24-hour Tesco (supermarket). Except for Sundays, of course, where by a curious quirk in Britain, all shops close at 6pm.

Wolverton is actually one of the three towns which amalgamated into Milton Keynes, as is Stony Stratford and Bletchly. As a town centre, the town dates back to Roman times!

Look, cute village!

Stony Stratford is also cute village-y. It has two pubs, the "Cock" and the "Bull", which apparently gave rise to the phrase, "a cock and bull story". The Bull was advertising its service as suitable for wakes and weddings. Stony Stratford has lots of other pubs as well. The British love pubs.

Brendan is standing underneath the sign for the Bull.


Brendan is trying to convince me to have fish'n'chips for dinner, since our flatmates are cooking for 12 tonight so getting into the kitchen might be an issue. I had chips about a week ago, and felt quite ill. I hadn't really had chips before that for about a year, if not longer, and I think I'm ready not to have chips again for another year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Over here, they call it "The Slug and Lettuce" for a reason......

The unpleasant thing about the UK is that everywhere you walk, especially after rain, there are huge disgusting slugs. These are not the little greyish slugs you find in New Zealand, crawling around in the bottom of your salad. Oh no. These are usually between 2-4 inches (5-10cm) long, thick and brown, sometimes with an orange or yellow mantle along the bottom. They remind me of the banana slugs you find in Californian redwood forests, except brown instead of bright yellow.

I got a bit of a shock tonight when I ventured outside to grab my mini pot of various baby lettuces. Glancing at the pot, there was something sitting in it, munching away at my lettuces!

Look at that trail of devastation!

Brendan had to get rid of it for me. While I generally class myself as a strong, independent person, insects are pretty high on the "disgusting" list for me. Especially slugs. Especially these slugs. He couldn't get the slime off afterwards.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Exploration of space

Today I dragged Brendan out of bed (at 5pm!) where he'd magically disappeared again post-lunch, and we went on a walk/bike ride around Milton Keynes. I'm calling it a walk/ bike ride because we only have one bike (borrowed this week from Brendan's boss, thanks muchly!) so we alternated.

The "redways" in Milton Keynes provide a means of walking/ biking around the city - otherwise, the only navigation would be via cars, a la most American cities. I'm using them to train on for my half-marathon in March. (1 week of running down, 25 to go.....)

They mostly consist of red tarseal walkways with grass or small parks which look all the same, and not that many signposts.... There are an awful lot of small parks / playgrounds around here. This one is down the street from us. The area to the left is suitable for soccer, but the guys here seem to prefer to shout loudly and play soccer in the tiny park behind our house instead.

Today we discovered many things about Milton Keynes, most of them comparatively dull, including "The Concrete Cows" sculpture. A woman I met here told me she once joked she would chain herself to the cows when the council wanted to remove them to London - it sparked a huge media storm ("Pregnant woman threatens to chain herself to cows!") and even Parliamentary ministers got involved... but the cows remained.

We also discovered a cute little church called St. Lawrence Church. The lady who had the key had just locked the building, and offered to let us look inside. The church dates back to the 1200's, and has many original features. It also has two of the oldest church bells in the country, apparently. It seems to be a busy little church.

Some of the graves in the cemetery surrounding it were so old that you couldn't see what was written on them anymore.

Here is one of the stained-glass windows, relatively new aged mid-1800's.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Where are all the dryers?

It never ceases to amaze me in Britain, given that it has rained on and off every single day thus far, that houses don't come with dryers. Even Californians have dryers, and they have perfectly hot, dry weather for line-drying! They don't even have the excuse of the possibility of snow. (It seems that given the current state of the US economy, some people have rediscovered the clothes line.)

Today, I discovered the British equivalent to dryers. It's called a hot water cupboard.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Ten Commandments of Public Transport

I think this comic perfectly sums up the frustrations of US public transport, and UK public transport to a lesser extent.

(Metrocard is the New York Subway method of paying for your tickets - it's designed so that you can swipe and get through at a run, if need be.)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

London sightseeing.....

The day after we arrived in London, we went sight-seeing with Geoff and Donna, who was visiting from NZ as well. Geoff lives right in the centre of London, so we managed to see quite a few places in one trip! We absolutely love London, and can't wait to move there once we sort out job situations.... Here is a snapshot (OK, a few) of our adventures....

First we went to Buckingham Palace, but it was somewhat closed off with the Visa 2012 Party. This was a huge concert held in the grounds (GBP40 per ticket, as I recall) at the Mall in front of the palace to celebrate the UK Olympic medal takings and the fact the Olympics will be held in the UK in 2012. Lots of patriotic statements about how awesome Britain was.... *gag*.

Here is a palace (maybe Whitehall?) on the left, and the London Eye on the right. The palace looks like a fairytale!

About 40,000 people watched the concert on free screens at various locations, so we watched for about twenty minutes as well in the palace gardens. We saw Il Diva (whom Mealz loves) singing a Mariah Carey song in Spanish, James Morrison and the band McFly.

We stopped and looked at the memorials to Florence Nightingale and Sydney Herbert, just as air force jets roared overhead with red, white and blue smoke streams.

Here is Picadilly Circus. It was hopelessly touristy, like a lot of London. The large ad billboards remind me of Times Square in New York. The fountain on the right is famous - Eros (Cupid).

Coffee at Starbucks on Oxford Street, the Lambton Quay equivalent for you Wellingtonians....

The coffee was our first introduction to London prices - the equivalent cost of US$11 for two small coffees!

Almost fluorescent flowers in Hyde Park: these are real.

We went to Wellington Arch, commemorating the Duke of Wellington I suppose! The New Zealand War Memorial is just to the left of the picture below.

Here's a London taxi - they're usually black but can be any colour with advertising. What distinguishes them is their distinctive vehicle shape. No boot (trunk), just a very large back seat area which can fit luggage.

Here is Leicester Square, where a woman in red with pursed lips and a thin face, was having her portrait drawn.

We then walked past the Prince Charles Cinema, featuring "Braindead", an early Peter Jackson movie from NZ! On to London's Chinatown, a few winding, bare streets. I get the feeling this "Chinatown" is as Chinese as Grant St in San Francisco has become.

Past the National Portrait Gallery and the church of St Martin in the Fields, to Trafalgar Square, just as the sun was setting.

Note Big Ben in the far right background...

Here is the other side - we're standing in front of Marble Arch, which is the entrance to the Mall road which leads to Buckingham Palace. The statue of Trafalgar is to the left behind us, with the National Gallery behind that.

Then we walked down past Whitehall Palace, the one we'd seen earlier. Here is 10 Downing Street where the British PM lives, well-protected. They won't even let you on that street any more!

Here is Big Ben itself, with the very ornate Parliamentary buildings.
Across the road lies Westminster Cathedral. A lot of famous people are buried here! I was pretty excited to see this!

Finally, we walked back across the bridge to Geoff's.

Now, that must be almost all of the tour of London done in one swoop! :) Just kidding, there's more to see yet!