Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New Friend

I have a new best friend! She speaks with a very proper English accent and is ever so helpful. She has been guiding me around the English roads and helping me navigate the roundabouts. I'm becoming very attached to her and can't really imagine life here without her. Her name is Satnav. Yes, I'm referring to the GPS app on my IPhone. I honestly do not know what I would do without her...

Satnav warns me when there is a roundabout to negotiate - "Take the second exit from the roundabout in 600 yards." When I make a wrong turn, she oh so politely sets me straight - "Please make a u-turn at the next opportunity." I'm sure what she really wants to say is, "turn around you stupid cow," but her manners are impeccable.

My friend is also quite keen to keep my UK driving record clean and keeps me advised of the speed regulations. "Beware," she warns whenever I slightly creep above the posted speed or when I'm about to enter a speed camera zone.

The speed cameras are a bit of a controversial issue over here. Mounted here, there and everywhere, cameras will photograph license plates and issue the appropriate ticket, via the post, to speed offenders. The result would appear to be very well-behaved drivers, with traffic rarely rising 10% above the posted speeds. Rumour has it that 10% above the speed is "safe." That being said, there is the rare aggressive driver (usually driving a BMW or Mercedes) who decides to sit right on your tail and blink his lights viciously to get you to move out of his way. But the speed on the motorways tends to be 70 mph (about 120km) and that is quite reasonable. Generally people don't speed - very civilized!

But back to my friend... Satnav has become quite a fixture in our family. She can even guide us back to our car if we forget where in the parking lot we've left it. She points out points of interest and shopping spots. She doesn't mind when the children interrupt her and never raises her voice.

Satnav has become the perfect companion! I think I'll start taking her with me outside of the car. Perhaps we'll go shopping together. Although, she is so polite, I'm wondering if she'll be truthful with me in the shops - "Take the green dress to the next available cashier and purchase it." But maybe the green dress really doesn't suit me and she's just being her pleasant self!?! If we go out to lunch together will she warn me if I smudge food on my face? "Beware. Pick up the napkin and wipe the left side of your chin."

Only time will tell :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Day By the Seaside

We woke up Saturday morning itching to get out of Oxford. As it was promising to be a rare sunny day, we decided to drive down to the seaside. We set out for Bournemouth. A seaside city that boasts seven miles of sandy coast and sunshine, Bournemouth is about an hour and half drive south from Oxford. We packed up our towels and sand buckets and set out.

Three hours later... yes, there was just a little traffic on the M3. Apparently half of Britain had the same idea as us! Thank goodness for the snack bag Stan packed or we would have had two very grumpy, hungry little girls in the back seat.

As it turns out, the Bournemouth Air Festival was on this weekend. This was both a curse and a blessing. It meant there was even more traffic and less parking than usual. However, it was really quite an impressive air show! Highlights included The Red Arrows (a nine man precision flying team similar to The Snowbirds) and the new Typhoon Eurofighter that shot through the skies at an almost unbelievable speed. Poor Mira wasn't too found of the noise the Eurofighter made - not exactly a quiet day at the seaside!

The girls loved splashing in the ocean, collecting shells and building sandcastles. All in all, it was a lovely day out and, thankfully, no traffic on the way back up to Oxford.

Bathing beauties brave the chilly tide.

Where is your beach attire Stan?!?

You can just make out the Isle of Wight in the distance.

The red arrows entertain the seaside crowds.

The kids loved the heart the planes drew in the sky!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Manchester, Team Tolan Part 2, & Corrie Street Sightings!

Our first English road trip happened this past weekend. We picked up our VW Golf on Thursday afternoon and hit the M5 Friday. Thank heavens for Satnav (GPS for you North Americans) as I think we would have ended up somewhere in the wilds of Scotland without it! It's about a three hour trip from Oxford in the south to Manchester in the north - mostly boring motorway with a few pretty, rolling fields to break up the drive here and there.

We made it into Chorlton, a lovely urban residential area of Manchester, in the late afternoon and the kids immediately bounded into the Tolan back garden to dig holes, mush mud pies and get completely filthy! Hannah, Mira, Joe and Matthew are great little friends who seem to always get on without any troubles.

On Saturday we ventured out into the grey to find have a picnic in a Manchester park. Optimists all, we were convinced the sun would eventually shine so we held out through the rain. The sun did favour us, just in time for a lovely picnic.

On Saturday night Chef Shaun cooked us an amazing seafood and squash Curry. It was delicious!

Sunday we ventured into Manchester proper to see some of the city. We went to the Museum of Science and Technology which was good fun for the kids - kind of like the Toronto Science Center but free, free, free. Most of the museums in the UK are completely free believe it or not!

While the kids were having fun, I managed to spot a former Corrie Street celeb - My life is now complete! I hear rumours that Granada studios might open up the Coronation Street Studio tour in 2010 - sign me up!

After a great lunch in Manchester's China town, we headed back down south to our home away from home.

Dawn spots the actor who played Terry Duckworth. Of course I had to be an annoying Corrie St. fan!

Downtown Manchester.

Manchester United fans drinking beer and eating chips before kick-off.

Our little butterflies!

Relaxing at Team Tolan H.Q.

Scooter Club!

Shaun, Cath and Stan enjoy the sunshine!

Optimistic souls braving the rain.

Best buds can make fun anywhere, anytime!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Strawberry Picking and Wheels

After receiving our UK driving licenses we were able to rent a car this weekend. Mostly we just practiced driving and ran errands around the city, but also found some time to go to a pick-you-own farm and...

...go to a car lot and buy a car! We are the proud new owners of a Volkswagon Golf! We're so excited to have permanent wheels!

Oh, and we also finalized the detail for our first European trip. We are off to Belek, Turkey at the end of August for one week. The Greek Islands will wait for another trip. We're staying in a resort off the coast that promises a week of fun, sun and relaxation - just what we need right now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Time for Some Sunshine

OK, I think we've hit the wall! I've been waiting for it, knew it was coming, expected it.... It's the wall that reads in big, bold letters, "WHY ARE WE HERE????"

Now don't get the wrong idea. It's not really homesickness or even melancholy, just a general, well, sort of "what do we do now?" We've seen Oxford. We've gotten the house to a tolerable level of comfort. We've had our first visitors. So the vacation is over and it's time to go home, right? No, we have 17 more months!

I think some of the discomfort is based in culture shock. It's easy to make the mistake that there will be no culture shock as we speak the same language. But there is a huge cultural divide between England and home. Make no mistake about it.

The bureaucracy and laissez faire attitude toward getting things done is what is most difficult. No one wants to take responsibility for anything! You are constantly getting your questions passed on to the next department and the next person in line, where you must fill out a new form then wait for a ring back that seems never to come. How did this nation ever manage to rule the world? How did they ever manage to successfully invade and rule any unsuspecting nation - the sheer amount of paper and requisite number of tea breaks involved in such a venture would surely see it doomed from the start!

Gosh, I'm sounding rather bitter and negative aren't I?

I think it's definitely time for a real vacation! We're in need of some sun more than anything else. We're looking at maybe the Greek Islands. We want to relax and take it easy, but also feel as though we are seeing something. Crete might be the destination, although the coast of Turkey is also on the short-list. Mind you, all of this depends on us getting our passports back from the DVLA (driver and vehicle licensing agency). Our passports have been sitting in some British civil servants top drawer for the past 10 days - between tea breaks and filling out form 26A5, we might just get them back by the end of the year!