Friday, December 30, 2011

Visiting the Neighbourhood Castle

We have been extremely sedentary during the Christmas school break. Partly because I think Lena needed to recharge her batteries with some time off, partly because there was a 5th birthday and a Christmas to organise and partly because I am lazy. So today I decided was the day we would DO SOMETHING. Lena was keen on going swimming, but I'm not so fond of taking the two swimming on my own. I decided to do something fairly spectacular, but cheap. And that was visit Windsor Castle.

As residents of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, we can use our Advantage Cards to visit Windsor Castle for free. We also get a discount at the local pools, car parks and some shops, but I think free entry to the castle is definitely the best thing. If you have to pay, you can get your ticket stamped and come back any time within the next year for free too, but obviously for lots of visitors, that's not really an option. For us however, I think it's pretty cool.

We've been a few times to Windsor Castle, but this was the first visit where both kids were old enough to get something out of it. I'm not even sure Mitchell had been before; certainly not since he was one, a year and a half ago.

First bit they liked was the Jubilee garden, made nearly 10 years ago for Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee.

Mitchell was also fairly excited by the fact that planes looked quite big here:

Windsor is only 8 miles from Heathrow Airport. In fact, planes landing or taking off take a slight detour as to not fly directly overhead of the castle. Queen Elizabeth must know the right people to pull that one off.

Inside, the moat was admired, along with the now-decorative cannons. Then we spent a good 15-20 minutes looking over each notch in the castellated parapet. Because the view changes from each one, don't you know?

Only 20 more to go!!
We then headed inside to see what there was to see. We skilfully, if unintentionally skipped the line to see Queen Mary's Dolls' House. There was a large line-up to see the dolls' house, which I really doubted the kids had patience for. So I said we would come back another time and instead headed directly for the State Rooms, which didn't have a line. We went inside and I went to check our stroller (you can't check jackets, just bulky things like strollers). As I came up the steps, the attendant told me to come back to him after checking the stroller. When we did, he lifted up a couple of ropes and we were in to see the house! The kids liked it, and enjoyed finding all the little different items in each room. However, they wouldn't have enjoyed it more for having waited 20 minutes in line, so I'm quite pleased we managed to avoid that.

Inside the State Rooms, the suits of armour, the tapestries and the big rooms (that would be great for playing tag) were all admired, but it was the Christmas trees that were the big hit. The one hanging from the ceiling was very cool, but the best was the biggest one inside St. George's Hall. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we went and bought an ornament from the shop that was the same as the ones hanging from the tree. Everyone should have a crown on their Christmas tree!

We finished off our visit with a little fine dining in the Medieval Undercroft. Windsor Castle just started a cafe in October as a trial measure. I think it's likely to become a permanent fixture, so if you go for a visit, you can say as we now can:

I've dined at Windsor Castle!!

Almost a New Year - Time for Resolutions

I explained before why I wasn't updating this blog much. Things just aren't that new and different here to me anymore. So instead, I've decided to try and just do more day to day blogging on this blog, of the regular course of our lives. Many people have commented that they do enjoy my blog and that makes me happy and also motivates me to keep writing, so I will.

So rather than waiting until January 1st, 2011, to put this into practice, I shall start right now. In fact, you probably will have read that post before this one.

P.S. the only real resolution I make is the same every January and that's to be more AWESOME than I was last year. It's tough, but I enjoy the challenge.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Could you stay with Life in the UK?

As I mentioned in my last post, it's been nearly 5 years since we moved to the U.K. This means that we are now eligible for permanent residency. To get this, you need to pay a big heap of money (like a couple of thousand pounds) and you need to pass a 24 question test entitled, "Life in the UK". This is a variety of questions about Britain's history, demographics, holidays, politics and etc. It's only 24 questions, but there's about 200 questions you could be asked. We actually had to study to pass this, it wasn't simple. But neither was it particularly relevant or useful. Why do I need to know the biggest immigrant groups to the UK during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s?

Most information I needed to know for the Life in the UK test will not be very useful for anything but the odd pub quiz, but some information would have been useful if they had provided it when we moved here. Then I could have known how things worked straightaway rather than spending five years figuring it out for myself! Five years on, they bother to tell me in the study material how council taxes work. Trust me, the council found us and made sure we understood (i.e. paid) long before this!! One would think they would equip new immigrants to the UK far better for integration by giving them all this information at the start of their move to the country, rather than after several years of establishment. Talk about missing the boat - weak immigration pun intended.

So if you are a British citizen and want to see if you truly deserve citizenship, try taking this little test here. Life in the UK Sample Test. Good luck with that. Let me know if I should call round to take back your passport tomorrow.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Off to School

Time has done its one-way linear trick of making 5 years pass since I started this blog. I now have a daughter old enough to go to school in Britain. This will probably bring about a whole new set of posts about how things are different. But it's a question as to whether things are different because of location or different because of the passage of time.

For example, when I was little, I walked by myself to and from school. As did everyone I know. Now no one here does this, certainly not for the first several years. They have some sort of adult escort with them until they are at least 8 or so. Possibly longer, depending on paranoia concern of the parent or the route the child needs to take to school. But this is no different to how it is in Canada either. I know my friends and relatives do the same for their children too.

Escorting your children to and from school is quite an interesting one for me already. Having walked the short path from our house to the school, I always felt that it would be relatively early when I would allow my daughter to walk to school on her own. However, that was before I saw how busy it is with cars at school drop-off time. The road we walk that goes past the school has no sidewalk on the part we take and there are loads of people driving past at that time. My daughter is sensible, but I don't know about the drivers. Late for school, late for work, kids fighting in the back, etc etc. One week has already made me postpone my plans for her walking herself by at least a year or two.

The other BIG difference for me is the uniform. When I went to school, you just wore your everyday clothes. But here, it's a uniform. There is a list of clothes that I had to buy over the summer and I spent around £130 on everything, and this wasn't buying the most expensive items either. One summer dress, part of the summer uniform which she can wear until the half-term break in October. After that it's the winter uniform which is either a grey skirt and blouse or grey pinafore (aka jumper dress in AmEng) and blouse. So a skirt and 2 pinafores. Plus then green tights and white socks, as necessary. Then also, they have to have specific clothes for gym class (aka PE). This is a bit silly to me, as for the amount kids sweat at this age, I really don't see a point of trying to get thirty 4/5 year old children changed out of uniforms, into gym clothes and back into uniform. I suppose it might save wear and tear on the uniform and be slightly less restrictive, but it seems like a big bother for little benefit. For this I had to get a shirt with the school crest on it and also shorts and "plimsoles". Plimsoles were a bit of a mystery to me. They were a word I was familiar enough from reading English books to know that they were a shoe, but I wasn't very sure what kind of shoe it was. In the end I had to ask another woman in the store who was school clothes shopping to help me know exactly what they were. And then there was the conundrum of whether they had to be black, or whether white was acceptable. And if white was acceptable, if the ones with the daisy embellishment on it that L. had fallen in love with would also pass muster.

This all was both amusing me by confusing me but also stressing me out slightly. You want to make sure your child fits in and feels accepted at the start of their school path. The last thing I wanted to do was to get the wrong thing and have my daughter upset because it wasn't the same as everyone else's or for the teacher to comment on it and me have to go and rush to buy the right thing. Not having at least the slight familiarity of how things work with a uniform and what the standards are, I had to use my common sense and place a few emergency calls to friends with little ones also starting to ask for advice. Fortunately my friends were quite helpful and in the end, my common sense got tired of me anguishing over a pair of £4 sneakers and said if they really wanted things to be so strict, they would have made the uniform list more detailed. So white plimsoles/sneakers with daisies is what I bought. And a crested cardigan. And crested fleece jacket. And 2 pairs of black shoes. And a water bottle. And I still have to buy the book bag. And the gym bag. And all the labels to put on all this kit so that there's a reasonable chance we'll finish the year with the same amount of stuff as we started.

This first week she went to school for half-days. Next week they will stay for lunch and then come home. The week after, it will be full-time, all-day. It's now the end of the first week and she's tired. She enjoyed it and both of us were excited on her first day, probably me even more than her. It's a bit sad, to see the end of this beginning. But we are long way from the beginning of the end; there is far more good to come.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why so few updates

I'm sorry. Really, I am.

I haven't been updating this the way I should. One of the main reasons that I haven't been doing it is simply because all those funny British habits, products, customs and names no longer are so strange. We've been here long enough that most things are (or seem) normal now. A friend said, "Haha! Your assimilation is complete!" in a joking victorious tone. I responded that it just meant we would be harder to detect when our c'lonial attack was complete. Haha!

But some things about Great Britain still strike me as pretty funny. I just heard the name of where friends are going on holiday: Sandy Balls! Just when I recovered from that, she then told me that her mother lives in a place called Bushey! People living so close to somewhere named Maidenhead shouldn't laugh I suppose, but I did. Quite a bit.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Reverse Culture Shock - Let me charge you more.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and moms. I thought I would have blogged more in the past few months. Well, let's try again, shall we?

We were in Australia for the holidays. Well, we left the UK on Christmas Eve (December 24) and arrived Boxing Day (December 26) in Sydney. We weren't delayed by the snow in the UK, we actually planned the trip that way. It was £100 cheaper per seat and it only postponed things by one day. Plus Santa managed to land on the wing of the plane and drop off a couple of presents for the kids while they were sleeping. Pretty good flying I thought.

But let me get back to my post. We had a great time in Australia, both Sydney and Perth, seeing family and friends. No floods or cyclones where we were, thankfully, just wonderfully warm and sunny weather.

Just a couple of things bothered me about Australia. Any time I had been to Australia before, there was never any tipping. This time, I saw plenty of change boxes at the tills of coffee shops and spaces left on your bill in restaurants for a tip. A friend said he figured this was still limited to just big cities, but I didn't really have a chance to check. I think it would be sad if Australia becomes a tipping country. I tip where it's normal to do so, but I wish it wasn't becoming normal to tip in Oz.

The other thing that really bothered me was having to pay a surcharge of 10-15% on Sundays and holidays in food establishments. Not everywhere did it, but it certainly wasn't a one off. Sure, they probably have to pay the staff more on those days - but do you know what? That shouldn't be my problem. Or at least, that shouldn't be my problem on those days, don't tell me your profit margin is so slim that on a holiday you are making a loss because of staff costs. As G pointed out, if you are open on holidays, you are probably getting more trade because not everywhere else is open, and your extra turnover should more than cover any extra costs. If I lived in Australia, I would make it a point to boycott anywhere that did that, and probably not just on Sundays, but permanent ban.

Anyways, just a short note for today. Now that I got that off my chest, I feel much better.