Friday, March 30, 2007

Gwan's next harebrained scheme

Well France has been postponed for the time being - until the police report arrives, whenever that may be. I'm hoping for a start date of around 23rd April, but since that's entirely in my own mind and I don't control the Ministry of Justice (not yet, at any rate), don't really know about that.

So it's my last day of work here at the library and soon I'll be an impoverished woman of leisure. A woman of leisure without internet access, so although I'll try and hunt down an internet cafe or whatever, I don't know if I'll be able to check emails or what have you with any regularity.

I have news though! I applied to be a volunteer with EVS, which is an initiative run by the EU. Which means that, unlike most volunteer projects out there, I don't have to pay my own way, but instead get room & board and a bit of pocket money in return for working. And I've just heard that I've been accepted as a volunteer at the Auschwitz Jewish Centre. This is not, as I first believed, actually in the camp itself, but rather in the town of Auschwitz (although it's called something else these days). The centre educates tourists and so forth on Jewish culture and history prior to the Holocaust, as well as functioning as a Holocaust memorial. I get an 'intensive month-long course' on Jewish, Polish and Holocaust history and then I get to work in the centre as a tour guide and do various other things. Should be set to go in September, although there's still some bureaucratic things to get through with the EU (but thankfully I don't have to take care of that personally). So very excited about that!

General plan might be to go to France for two months, finishing up in late June / early July depending on how soon I get out there, then go home for a bit then back to Europe to start volunteering in September. Sweet!

And yes, I must come across as awfully fickle, but hey, gotta see as much and do as much as I can right?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To Peanut, Love Round

Let's join hands across the world and wish a very happy birthday to my bestest friend, Ranch. Incidentally, this is (by my count) our 15th year of being BFF. You can add another 4 years or so in which we knew each other but weren't friends, cos "she was in the rabbit club and I was a snob".
Reasons you've gotta love her:
  • No-one else appreciates playing a cracking round of "oh yeah, oh nah" (best game ever!)
  • She's most probably the only person in the world who thinks the (inaccurate) retort "shut up, your mum doesn't have a womb" is the way to win any argument
  • She always calls you even though you don't ever call her (sorry)
  • She's incapable of keeping any secret without pulling a sly Jeavan Bowley face, dropping extremely broad hints and going "Eh, Gwan?" (often actually accompanied with nudges and winks). She's less 'the vault' than 'the sieve'.
  • No-one else can cheer me up by making fun of me and calling me cruel names in quite the same way
  • She (usually) knows when it's time to stop with the cutting remarks (when Gwan's mad face and pursed lips come out to play)
  • Somehow, whenever I say anything along the lines of 'nah whatever x is totally not true' she makes it so and then is all 'I told you so' for the next zillion years
  • Sh-she know how to drive a train. See photographic evidence, above
  • Cos she's cool and totally in line to be a face model

Love you long time ranch, have a wicked birthday miss you heaps xxx Gwan

Monday, March 26, 2007

Good job bad job

Don't miss the incredibly long post below, but have to blog again I'm afraid.

Last week I was typing (re: a job later in the year I'm applying for, nothing to do with the work I'm paid to do here, shush) and staring off into space as I'm wont to do, when a passing student noticed this phenomenon and gathered a crowd around to marvel at my touch-typing abilities. Oddly, he demanded that I not only turn the screen around so that they could see I was typing without looking, but that I also talk to them as I typed. There followed a curious mix of unstinted admiration from the boys and sullen 'I can do thats' from the girls. When I was done, I was rewarded with a round of applause! The only time, in my experience at least, that touch typing has been greeted with quite so much enthusiasm.

And then just a few minutes ago, a student reported that their PC didn't have a mouse. For some bizarre reason, said mouse was tied to the next computer over with one of those metal tie thingies. As I tried to release the mouse, I obviously jiggled the wrong cord and managed to lose the student at that computer her unsaved coursework. She was pretty good about it, but I wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground. I did the next best thing by promptly deciding it was time for my break.

Good news on the France front (see post below). Managed to get hold of them and they are still eager to have me. However, they do ('ideally') want a hard copy of the police report, so I might have to push back the start date a little, which is no biggie. In fact, if that happens, I might jet out to Prague for a few days whilst waiting around (yay). Will have to check how long it's likely to take though, because if it's going to arrive in a couple of weeks, fair enough - if it's going to take months, well...

The weekend and the future

Rocking Jess's (next to me) bday party with a oddly purple ear and the customary acre of cleavage

Friday night and it was time for bday drinks in honour of my big sis, at a very chic and therefore crowded cocktail bar in Covent Garden - lucky we'd reserved a spot! I can highly recommend the raspberry mojitos - delish! Should be though, at £7 a pop. I probably had a few too many at that price, but thanks to the slow service, I managed to stay respectably sober and in full command of all me faculties. Result!
On Saturday I had a not-so-fun shopping expedition, or, to be more accurate, a returning expedition. My ipod remote had broken after about a month, so it was back to the (name and shame) Carphone Warehouse to try and return it. The store I bought it from initially said there was no problem returning it, except they had none in stock. Luckily they seem to have a Starbucks-esque penetration of Oxford Street, so it was off to a further three stores, none of which had it either. At the last store, I had to wait half an hour for a manager, who promptly told me that they didn't deal with ipod-related faults, I would have to contact Apple. I was fuming slightly that I hadn't been told this in the first place, but there was an Apple store just around the corner, so off I went. At Apple, they told me what I had assumed in the first place - that it was, in fact, the retailer's responsibility, not the manufacturer's. At this point, I was getting really mad. So, all worked up, I returned to the first store 2 hours after I'd been there in the first place (confirmed by a receipt for the carger I'd actually bought there on my first trip, for those of you who think I may be exaggerating). At this point, I was ready to settle for nothing less than a refund (buoyed by the fact that Apple had actually given me a free pair of headphones, which was what I'd been trying to purchase initially, until they told me that 'you can't buy replacement headphones, you have to buy the remote. Whatever!) And here's where Gwan pitched a fit. They tried to feed me the 'it's Apple's problem' line again:
Store guy: My ipod broke and I had to take it back to Apple
There was worse to come. The receipt, you see, said 'ipod socks' rather than 'ipod remote' for some reason.
Store guy: This is the wrong receipt, it's for ipod socks.
Gwan: I didn't buy ipod socks, I bought this (brandishing remote)
SG: Well, all I can go off is the receipt...
Gwan: I'm telling you I never bought ipod socks.
SG: Well, it says...
Gwan: So you screw up the receipt and that's it, I have no rights.
SG: I didn't screw up anything. The receipt says socks.
SG: I'm going to get my manager...
Now, I've been on the receiving end of the 'are you calling me a liar' bit before, and yes, it's a low blow. But it's not my fault they put the wrong thing on the fricking receipt. Within about a second the manager was all 'yeah, they might have just been unable to find the code for the remote' and I was all mentally 'I told you so'. And THEN they did have the remote in stock at that store. Who's the liars now!
The problem with this little scene is I was physically shaking. This is why I try to avoid confrontation, I can't guarantee that I won't go all squeaky-voiced or start crying, like that time at the bank. Or that other time at work. (Yeah, shut up!)
I think all the shouting over-tired me (like a hypo toddler) as I went home with a migraine and have felt like crap since. The next day, I went for a walk along the Thames and wound up at Tate Modern (who knew it was so close?) for a couple of hours of watching surrealist film (inc. Un Chien Andalou - check out the hideous razorblade to eyeball scene if you ever get a chance) and wandering around the gallery for free.
Back at home in the evening, I commenced Bill Bryson's latest book, which unfortunately made me throw up when he described being pinned down by a bully who dangled a big gob of spit over his face then sucked it back in. To be fair, though, I had been feeling queasy all day. I'm surprised the eyeball didn't do it, it was probably the strong desire not to throw up in the Tate Modern which saved me. This, in turn, reminded me of a certain someone who will know who she is, who used to delight in (not so very long ago) blowing snot out her nose then sniffing it back up. Luckily not whilst pinning me to the floor though.
News on the France front: finally picked up my mail at Jess's do and learned that they want a copy of my NZ criminal record - sorted, thanks to my high-level police contacts. The contract is somewhat alarming - you have to sign a waiver saying you'll work more than 48 hours (the legal maximum) if required, and there's lots of other delightful little details like you're banned from all personal use of the internet and required to provide your own bedding. This gave me second thoughts about the whole thing, but a call from my dad persuaded me to give it a go and just walk out if necessary. This cheered me up no end, since if my adventures (yes mum, adventures, unlike a trip to the mall) over the last 8 months have taught us anything, it's that I'm not afraid of quitting and that I find the prospect of being stranded in a foreign land with no means of support rather exhilirating than otherwise. However, I've been trying to get in touch with the place by phone and email all day to no avail, so stay tuned to see if Operation:France goes ahead after all. If not, hey, I'll figure something else out, I always do...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Seaside holiday!

Me & Hannah at the pub

Me in front of the burned-down West Pier

Me & the giant miaow in Brighton Museum

In front of the Royal Pavilion

Hannah on Brighton Pier

Me on Brighton Pier

After work on Friday I headed off to Brighton (Hove, actually - this is a bit of a joke for Englishers in the know, apparently) for a weekend mini-break with my friend Hannah. To be more precise, Hannah is my godmother's son-in-law's sister - but friend is easier and just as accurate. After about an hour trawling across London on bus and tube, then another hour completing the rest of the trip to Hove, I had arrived! Hadn't seen Hannah for a couple of years, since my last trip to this part of the world, and it was my first visit to Brighton (or Hove for that matter), so it was great to catch up with a mate and see somewhere new. On the first evening, after watching a pretty dire Comic Relief special on TV - the equivalent of an 80s telethon, for those of us with fond memories of a youth misspent in New Zealand - we headed out to a bar to meet up with some of Hannah's mates and do a little light drinking.
The next day it was off to see the sights of Brighton. We walked down along the seafront - typical pebbly British beach, crowded with fun-fair-ish amusements on the pier (and oddly, a South African speciality store), then went up for a gawk at the Pavilion - a vast Taj Mahal-ish palace built by the Prince Regent in Brighton's heyday, and then took a look around the Brighton Museum, which was pretty interesting and featured a cool exhbition by an artist who used natural materials, including a couch made of ice which Hannah and I were very sorely tempted to touch, but were put off by the omnipresent guard (dammit!). After that, it was time for a spot of shopping, wandering through the narrow winding 'lanes' and a panoply of small boutiquey stores - plus my first taste of Primark - a cross between Glassons and The Warehouse for clothes and utterly mad, with shoppers and discarded garments everywhere. In between, we had lunch at a lovely and very popular 'produce store'.
Then - this being St. Patrick's Day, after all, it was time for our mini pub-crawl back to the house. We stopped at about half a dozen places, highlights being what was touted (by Hannah) as 'the gayest pub in England' but which was disappointingly un-gayed out when we visited (FYI, as I was told by more than one person and by the Brighton guide books, it's the 'gay capital' of Britain apparently) and a pub where we had a round of Jenga - the game where you pull blocks out of a tower until someone sends it crashing down. Officially, I lost, but that's a deceptive judgement really, since Hannah sent the tower leaning perilously on the previous round, but we held it up and decided to 'play on' for one more go until I toppled the thing, so really it was a team effort all round. I also sampled tuaca - not sure if that's how you spell it - a cough syrupy like liquor which is allegedly sourceable only in Brighton, although who knows why? Finally, it was back home for dinner and a nightcap, the end to a very pleasant day.
On Sunday Hannah had to be off at midday to drive to her parents' for Mother's Day, so we just had a lazy morning and a lovely cooked breakfast courtesy of her partner Rich before it was time to head back to the train station.
I was delivered safely back to London in time to watch the Formula One replay, blissfully ignorant of the result. Unfortunately Raikkonen, my most hated driver, took it out, but young (and handsome British) Lewis Hamilton got a podium on his first Grand Prix outing, so well done there. Now 'tis time to get back to it, catch you all later.

PS Two things I forgot to say about Brighton: 1) It was frickin cold!
2) It made me homesick :( Even though I don't often head to the beach at home, you virtually can't help seeing the sea on a daily basis (well, at least if you commute on the North-Western) and the sight of it in all its odd British-tanged glory made me long for a sight of the real deal at home...

PPS Today at work a student threw up everywhere right in front of me. Soooo gross! And the worst of it is, as an 'adult' and an authority figure you can't just go 'ewww' and head for the hills, I had to be all caring. Luckily the student in question ran away from me so I didn't have to keep it up for long. But I had to stay posted by the vomit until the cleaning crew arrived, marshalling foolish students away from their doom. Yuck!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Didn't know I was born...

Regular readers of the blog will recall me whining about my miserly salary whilst a teacher in Moscow. However, I should have thought myself lucky - I just read in The Times that a curator at the Hermitage who smuggled hundreds of items out of the museum was paid just 3000 roubles a month. I was paid more than 7000, plus I got free accomodation, utilities and transport. So I'll have to try to shut up next time I'm inclined to whinge about anything!
Off to Brighton for the weekend, yay!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Happy Intl Women's Day y'all!

We had a free breakfast at work today in celebration (women only, of course. Muhahaha!). Mmmm pain au chocolaaaat. Hopefully plenty of that to come in France!

And it's a gorgeous day today - sunny and warm enough when I took my wee lunchtime walkies to take off my shorty coat and parade about in all me three-quarter-length-besleeved-top glory.

Every day on my walkies to and from work, I pass by a laundrette with a sign in the window saying 'Wash and dry your duvet here!' And every day I think the same two things: 1) That's strangely specific, and 2) God I wish I had a duvet that I could wash and dry there! It actually makes me want to purchase a duvet, get it dirty and then take it in to be cleaned. Why? Why? ...The odd effect of advertising on an unhinged mind.

In other news, they're making me work on a display on the evils of smoking for work. The subject matter I'm cool with, but I'm god-awful at anything like that! It's not part of my skill set! I didn't put "can create fab displays" on my CV! And the boss keeps asking how it's coming along, despite the fact that this afternoon will be the first time the display-makers (one of whom is off with a sick baby) are meeting to discuss the display. How do you think it's going? What can I do without knowing how big this display is, what's expected to be in the display, etc. etc.? The latest occasion she brought it up was when I was sitting at the library counter looking appropriately slackjawed, and I was just like "um, okay" and after she left I realised it was, in all likelihood, a coded "why aren't you working on the display RIGHT NOW?". Hmmm, glad I won't be working here long.

One of the other things that irritates me about this place is how fricking slow the students walk around the halls. (The halls, by the way, are labyrinthine in nature and I'm guaranteed to get lost on the way back from the canteen.) And they fan out so you can't overtake with ease. I would say 'this is why all the kiddies today are obese' except, annoyingly, very few of them are here. Grrrr.

And, lastly, there is the state of the shelves. I may as well just close my eyes while shelving, I'd probably have as much luck getting the books in to the right place. They are terminally out of order, and if you try to organise a section in order to shelve properly, you'll probably find that the mini-section you've just put into perfect order is itself in the wrong position. Anyone who's seen my bedroom floor knows I'm no stickler for neatness, but this really gets to whatever anal-retentive side I possess! Plus I seem to be the only one routinely stuck shelving, which is fair enough really, cause shelving sucks at the best of times and a good trick back home was to stick the unfortunate newbie onto endless shelving duties while they were 'training'. But of course, I never had to shelve back at old Sylvia anyway. Ahhh, good times.

Anyway, enough pointless non sequiters, I bid you adieu.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Where next?

On Tuesday I had to travel all the way up to deepest, darkest Lancashire (again) to attend an interview for a job in France. I had applied for the job online on a whim, never expecting to hear anything from them, so I was very surprised to hear a few days later that they wanted me to come for a full day interview (arrgh). Of course, I had just accepted a temp job literally a few hours earlier, so I had the fun experience of (once again) wriggling out of my second day on the job. This time, I just 'fessed up that I was off for an interview, and luckily they were okay with it. Then I called in sick today - good first week performance! But my glands are killing me and I threw up mysteriously this morning, so I was like, screw it, I'm not going in.

Anyway, I digress. Point of the story is that I got a call a couple of minutes ago, and as of April 1st (hmmm, April Fool's Day, or something like le jour de poissons ? in French) I am off to the north of France! I'm going to take a two month contract, working at what is essentially a holiday camp for little British brats. My job is - in the sucky part - serving meals to the kids and helping with the cleaning, and - in the good part - taking the kids on tours to French cultural/historical sites - WWI battlefield tours, going to the markets etc. etc. Cool! Won't be earning much and probably working pretty hard, but for two months I think I can take it and on the plus side, I think being paid to tour around French areas of interest will be fun and hopefully I'll meet some cool people and improve my French. Plus it will be my fourth country of residence in a year (5 if you count good old NZ) which is pretty neato. And yeah, I haven't stayed in any of these countries very long, I realise, but working/studying in a country qualifies as 'residing' in my book. It's in Pas-de-Calais, nearest to St. Omer, which is a large town, and I think pretty much in between Calais and Lille in terms of cities. Other than that, I think it's stuck in the middle of the countryside, so I'll have to try and catch a train into Paris (only about 1 1/4 hours I think) on days off for a bit of big city life.

So that's pretty exciting and it's back to a non-English speaking land for me, yay!