Summer 2015 036

 

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44 Days To Go….

Much of the preparation activity at the moment is necessary, if a little mundane.  This has included completing our 2017-18 Tax Returns and using up left over food stuffs.  I am not someone who chucks out food just because the packaging says the product has exceeded its Best Before Date.  Common sense prevails and today, for instance, I made a very nice pasta salad using up 2003 macaroni.  Quite proud of the fact that the store cupboards are almost depleted now having used up out of date dahl, red kidney beans, tea bags and even chocolate (I know, I know, “who lets chocolate get out of date?” I hear you say!).

Tomorrow my long running gym membership comes to an end and so no more short tennis, aerobics classes or the gym.  However I remain an active member of the Maidenhead Running Sisters and will pay up my membership for the year I’m away to ensure I remain on the mailing list.  To those Running Sisters following my Blog Adventures I vow to keep running whilst away and will attempt to fit in some of the 293 Park Runs that take place across Australia each Saturday morning.  Each new location will give me the opportunity to get a PB (Personal Best) for that course although I don’t anticipate getting less than my Maidenhead Park Run PB of 27 minutes 09 seconds – the heat is sure to slow me down.

The Bank Holiday on Monday provided the opportunity for us to take our last boxes of trash and treasure to the local Boot Fair. We managed to flog almost everything we took this time and the last few items lurking in the box photographed can be dumped.  With the garage cleared we have started to store our packed boxes in there ready to move to the storage unit.  Just hope we’ve accurately calculated the size of unit we need as I’d hate to get half way through and find it wasn’t going to be big enough!!!

Mike has just had a birthday and he got some really useful presents from yours truly including a head net, tin mugs (with camper vans on them) and electronic luggage scales!  He likes to research his own gadgets and so money has been set aside for him to get some Noise Cancelling Headphones through which he can listen to Spotify to his heart’s content.

We’ve booked only three nights Airbnb accommodation for when we arrive in Sydney and are just waiting for confirmation from Wayne at Sydney RV that we can receive our two and a half hour induction on Jura (as our RV is to be affectionately referred to – long story) on the 15th July.  All being well it is then that we’ll hit the practice trail!

 

Two Steps Forward

Great news and a big phew – following his medical on Thursday, Mike got notified on Monday that his 12 month visa had been granted.  Didn’t take long really and a huge relief I have to say!

Armed with visas we have now booked our flights and depart from Edinburgh on the 11th July and arrive in Sydney the following day.  We will need to check when we can collect our motor home but it does mean we can start the final countdown.  I am meeting girlfriends up in town tomorrow (Covent Garden) for a last celebratory lunch.  Hard to believe it is really happening.

We have made two lovely strides forward but sadly we have also had to take a reality step backwards.  Mike’s elderly mother sadly passed away on Friday.  She has been in a nursing home for a while and although there have been near misses before when she was very poorly and then recovered, this time she decided it was time to go.  On the bright side at least Mike was there with his sisters and we can all attend the funeral in a few week’s time.

I am about ready to share the Blog Address and see if I can’t drum up a bit of follower interest as it will be nice to think I’m not simply talking to myself!!!

 

 

‘Organised’ – That’s My Middle Name

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Essential Kit!

It is not a bad quality, but I have always been known to be a very organised person.  This has obvious advantages in planning such a huge event as the Big Lap but it does have its drawbacks.  On the positive side it does mean I am championing through the list of things to do but on the negative side it does mean I stress out about those things that are outwith my control.  I am trying to keep a lid on it but a case in point is the granting of our 12 month visas.

We had not thought it appropriate to apply for our Subclass 600 Tourist Visas until a few weeks ago because we thought that the 12 month clock would start ticking as soon as it was issued.  If it was issued quickly we thought that would then disadvantage us and limit us to potentially only having 10 months to complete our trip.  We needn’t have worried because we have now learnt that the 12 month clock only starts ticking from when you enter Australia.  The issue date is relevant in so much as you have 12 months from the date of issue to actually enter Australia.  Multiple entries are allowed within the 12 months and whilst we hope not to have to rely on this you never know what might happen when our backs are turned!

Two weeks ago Mike and I both completed our online visa applications, linking them together under the title ‘Big Lap’ and then sat back waiting for them to be issued within the expected 17-29 days.  A week later we got our response – my visa has been granted but Mike has to undergo a medical examination first.  We are both pretty fit having run the Edinburgh marathon last year and we play a lot of sport.  We can only assume this request ties in with the fact that Mike is about to turn 68 and, at six and a half years my senior, may be considered more of a health risk.  His medical takes place tomorrow, conveniently at a private clinic less than 10 minutes walk away, and fingers crossed all will run smoothly and I can return to my optimistic self!  We know there are ways round the twelve month visa by popping out and in every 90 days on the standard tourist visa.  My sister in New Zealand would be more than happy to facilitate these little jaunts but it would not be ideal if we’re out in the sticks!

Other than this little irritant, we certainly feel things are now moving a-pace.  The calendar for week commencing 25th June is a logistical masterpiece with our personal belongings moving into storage on the Monday, carpet and oven cleaning happening on the Tuesday, Gas and Electrical Safety Certificates and the Tenancy Inventory on the Wednesday and all other last minute cleaning happening on the Thursday.  I truly hope everyone will be true to their word and turn up.  Mind you, I should be nice and chilled out that week because I will have spent the previous week relaxing with my friend Ann in Alonissos, Greece and the week before that on a walking holiday in Dingle, Ireland where the craic will be brilliant, to be sure!

Having now had over twelve months to get the house and contents organised I am still surprised at how long this whole thing is taking us.  Every week we have been making progress whether that was to paint the whole house magnolia (as per the letting agent’s instructions), to empty out the contents of the loft or to sort out which clothes needed to go into which pile, I am still amazed at how busy we have been and we aren’t there yet.  I have continued to find time to complete craft projects whether that be knitting, sewing or beading and I have set aside a small space in my luggage to bring some materials with me as I’d be lost without them.  You never know, I may even pick up some beer money selling beaded angels at Christmas time to fellow campers.

I am very aware of the need to keep our suitcases within the acceptable upper weight limits – all the more so because of the embarrassing scenario during our Heathrow check in in February when we were well over.  Mike had said we were allowed 30 kg each but what we had not appreciated was that that had to include 7 kilos hand luggage – ooops!!!  With this in mind I attach a picture of two very lightweight luggage items I’ve got ready and waiting to pack – anyone know what they are?  Some of you may recognise the green sack – that’s our new washing washine.  What about the cream coloured foam square thingy?  That little Robert Dyas bargain is a portable draining board extension – what self respecting motor home owner would be without one, huh!!!  LOL.

To Sell or To Let – That is the Question?

We currently live in a three bedroomed semi-detached house in Maidenhead, Berkshire, just a few miles along the road from where a certain Royal Wedding is taking place this coming weekend.  With no invitation from Harry or Meghan and wanting to give Windsor a wide berth, we are heading over to Surrey on Saturday to take in an English Vineyard Tour – a pre-requisite skill for our forthcoming trip to Australia in a few month’s time.

It is hard to believe but I have tonight worked out that we have been grappling with the question over whether or not to sell our house for the past two and a half years!  We are in the fortunate position of owning our house and the other half of the semi next door which is currently let to a lovely couple.  The house is in the centre of town and has been the focus of considerable attention by various developers especially since CrossRail will make travelling into London a breeze in the very near future.

For 18 months we were in a legally binding position with one such developer who hoped to be able to knock the house down and replace it with flats.  Unfortunately the town planners decided insufficient attention had been paid to the one in a hundred years potential of flooding and rejected the application.  Since then we have ourselves taken advice and put in another application and a decision on this is still awaited and just keeps being delayed.

Our thinking was if the place is to be knocked down and built into flats then we would simply sell up, potentially reserve one of the flats for ourselves and put the rest of the proceeds into the bank until we had completed our Big Lap.  Downsizing was always going to be an option especially since we do have a small two bed apartment in Dee Why and may look to spend time there in future, visa dependant.  We are sounding like property moguls but honestly we’re not, we’ve just been lucky with how things have panned out.

Our tenants have known since the outset that we may sell the house but meantime are keen to remain there as long as possible.  Indeed, their request a couple of months ago to do some internal decorating was what ultimately helped us make our minds up about what to do.  To agree to them painting the living room seemed a really mean thing to do if we were then going to sell it a few months later if planning permission were granted.  So we have made the decision to continue letting next door and our own property for at least twelve months and if we should get planning permission (decision now possibly by the 8th June 2018) then we will simply put that on ice and deal with it on our return from Australia.

Things have now moved a-pace.  Within three days of putting the house with a letting agent we had three formal offers from people desperate to rent it, even if only for the year.  Selecting which of the people to offer it to was tough but ultimately it came down to the couple who were happy for the furniture to remain in situ, had no pets and had a delightful 11 year old daughter.  They move in on the 29th June – that’s just over six week’s time – yikes!!!

Our Pre-Planning Aussie Visit (aka Mega Shopping Trip)!

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Love and Let Go

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Our Sunliner Pinto Motor Home!

With the Consultant confirming my stitches were on the mend, I was given the green light to travel out to Australia in time for my daughter’s album launch on 23rd February.  Not only would this trip afford my husband Mike and I the opportunity to support Jenny at this amazing event, we decided to use it to go shopping for our motor home and visit friends and relatives, some of whom had previously done a big trip of their own.

First the Album Launch.  It is important to give this some air time as it has been a huge part of all of our lives.  As previous posts have said, my daughter Jenny met her Aussie partner Ben in London.  They moved out to Australia, married and in 2009 were blessed with their first child, Jamie.  Suddenly in November 2010 tragedy struck when, at only 18 month old, Jamie was found not breathing in his cot.  He died despite the best efforts of all concerned.  Jenny, a singer songwriter, found solace in her music and following a successful crowd funding campaign last year, raised sufficient funds to record an album called Love and Let Go.  It is an album for bereaved parents and proceeds all go to the Australian Charity Red Nose (no affiliation with the British Comic Relief Charity).  The twelve songs take the listener through her journey from the first track “Emptiness” through to “Good Again” and has been brilliantly produced.  For more information and to hear the songs (everyone has their own favourite) visit her website http://www.jennymcgregor.com.au .

As you might appreciate, for me as Jamie’s Grandma, it was really important to support this event.  Nearly 200 people attended, we heard Jenny sing 7 of the tracks live and, through the sale of raffle tickets and album sales, she raised almost $2,000 for Red Nose.  Jenny continues to receive amazing testimonies from people she has helped through this album and I am immensely proud of her – as you can probably gather.

The next three weeks were spent progressing our plans for our Big Lap trip in July.  In the UK we had already identified that Penrith, a short train ride the other side of Sydney, was home to several motor home dealerships, the biggest being Sydney RVs.  We had been keeping our eye out for many months at the types of second hand vehicles coming on stream and had a few models in mind.  Fundamentally we were looking for a motor home that was ideally two berth (certainly not too big), had a separate shower and toilet and a bed configuration that meant I wouldn’t need to climb over Mike during the night when I paid visits to the loo!  Our research suggested we would need to spend about $100,000 (approx. £56,000) to get a decent van.

Sydney RV do advertise that they’ll come and pick you up from the train station but we decided we wanted to do things independently and not feel we were in anyone’s back pocket.  Maybe we should have rethought that as we travelled on a scorching hot day and the hour long walk from the station almost took it out of us!  We were left to our own devices to wander in an out of all the various motor homes which we appreciated.  We discounted many of the vans we stepped into – predominantly because we didn’t like the layout, dark décor or they were just too big/expensive.  As we followed the path round we eventually came across the brand spanking new motor homes and it was there that we found exactly what we were looking for!  The Sunliner Pinto had a beautiful light and modern interior, separate shower and toilet, an electric drop down bed and was only 21 feet long.  Although the cost was a good bit more than our original budget, we decided for the extra money we would be getting exactly what we wanted, the full assurance of the warranty and we should still get a decent resale value at the end of our trip.

Wayne, the sales guy, probably couldn’t believe his lucky day as we did not need much of his sales pitch to convince us.  He was very excited about the multi-position seats for the driver and passenger and the slot for keeping drinks cool in the cab!  When he told us there was a three to four month lead time if we wanted to order a new one we decided to just go for it – after all that fitted in with our timeframe perfectly.  We did a little negotiation with the Manager around price for the newer 2018 model, added on extra for the bike racks and RV Gard protection to stop it discolouring and staining in future and then accepted a lift back to the train station.  We were so absorbed in the fact that we had just purchased our motor home that we got on a stopping service back to Sydney rather than the express train we’d travelled on!  Needless to say we had a celebratory drink or two that night!

Over the course of the next few weeks we spent a lot of time at the Westfield Shopping Centre at Warringah Mall – sometimes window shopping and sometimes buying things to leave behind in Jenny and Ben’s garage.  Camping chairs, melamine plates, plastic glasses, pillows and road atlas were among some of our purchases and we spent time sourcing our Weber Baby Q and electric bikes for collection when we return in July.  Mike researched the bikes and found a shop called 99 Cycles that had a great offer on the two we wanted.  On firming up the order I then queried what discount they might be able to offer for having bought not just one, but two bikes.  Whilst they couldn’t discount the bikes further they did throw in a heap of accessories including helmets, inner tubes, locks, tool kits and saddle bags – if you don’t ask and all that!!!!

As non residents we discovered we needed to get a Customer Number from the Roads Maritime Service in order to register our vehicle.  Luckily the office was just down the road from where we were staying in Dee Why and we were helped through the process by some very attentive staff.  Not only did we get our Customer Number, we also got NSW Driving Licences and our e-Tag for the tolls and bridges.  We were starting to feel like real Aussies now especially with our Coles and Woolworths loyalty store cards as well!!!

Interspersed with shopping trips, we managed to catch up with my cousin Sharon who lives in Tuggerah and were pleasantly surprised at the ease of getting to places with our new Opal cards.  Sharon and Jenny’s friend Tracey, were both subjected to a barrage of questions from us about what to take on our trip as both are seasoned campers.  Camps 9 was duly purchased and we’ve still to get a portable vacuum device.  Not so sure about a satellite phone though especially since we plan to stick to bitumen roads as far as possible.  We left behind some of our summer clothes as well as the various towels and linen we took out with us from the UK.

Leaving Australia behind is always hard but at least on this occasion the return trip is very clearly on the horizon and we can’t wait!  Sophie and Charlie – Grandma and Eggles will be back very soon xxx

 

The Stop and Start Trip Countdown!

For my 60th birthday in December 2016 I had the most amazing time in Belize, Central America.  Joining the party were my family from Australia and my little sister and nephew from New Zealand.  Belize holds a special place in my heart as it is where I lived between the ages of 9 and 12.  It is a diver’s paradise as it has the second largest coral reef in the world (Australia obviously maintaining top spot) and is still relatively unspoilt.

Over many different Happy Hour Cocktails (mainly ‘Panty Rippers’ which are a delicious concoction of coconut rum, pineapple juice, ice and lime) my husband and I spoke of our plans for retirement and heading off round the Big Lap in November 2017.  Finishing up my social work career in March 2017 was not, in the end, such a great wrench especially since the UK government introduced new tax laws in April that made independent contracting much less financially viable.  It felt wonderful to know I had 8 months clear to sort everything out before hitting the road.

Having time on my hands I thought I best make a doctor’s appointment and just check out some small scaly lesions I’d been aware of on my forehead, shin and bridge of my nose.  As I suspected, they were diagnosed as BCCs or Basal Cell Carcinomas and although very slow growing and non cancerous, these little suckers (which probably were the result of growing up in the tropics), needed to be removed.  I am a real supporter of the NHS but unfortunately it is under a lot of strain and my non urgent treatment could not be scheduled before October 2017 for the ones on my forehead, shin and back (I didn’t know about that one) and January 2018 for the more delicate operation near my eye.

Thankfully all operations have been carried out successfully and the only tell tale signs are some skin pigmentation differences and a delay to our travel plans.  Originally we had planned to come back to the UK half way through our trip to help my Dad celebrate his 95th birthday on 4th July.  With all the various medical appointments we decided it best to wait until after the 4th July before heading off but we would do a pre-planning visit to Australia meantime that tied in with my daughter’s album launch in Manly on the 23rd February.  This exciting four week visit is the subject of my next blog!

Let’s start at the very beginning…..

McGregor Wedding_391A very good place to start!  Who would have thought that my daughter’s auditioning for a part in an amateur production of Oliver would lead to this adventure?  But it did!  Long story short – she got the part of Nancy, fell in love and married the Australian guy who played Bill Sikes and they sailed off into the sunset.  Well – the Northern Beaches, Sydney to be more accurate.

Since that tearful farewell in 2004 I have visited Australia 14 times to mark various occasions including their wedding, the birth of three gorgeous grandchildren, my 50th birthday, several Christmases (lets face it, it’s freezing in Scotland) and sometimes just for the hell of it!  Very few visits have incorporated much sightseeing although we have been as far north as Cairns and visited Melbourne.  The latter, on my 50th birthday, involved hiring a campervan and taking it from Sydney to Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road and then flying back from Melbourne to Sydney.  That seven day trip ignited the spark that has led eleven years later to this, the BIG LAP!  I am about to live life in the front row – BRING IT ON!!!