Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bakewell and beyond

Everyone has heard of Bakewell pies - in Australia it's a brand of meat pies. In England there are Bakewell tarts - my mother used to cook them and serve them with hot custard, a family favourite. Here we can buy Bakewell tarts with thick white icing and a cherry on top - so sweet they sting your throat and you really can't taste the essential almond flavour.

Bakewell Village

In Derbyshire we found the village where all these tasty treats originate from. A delightful village, full of tourists on the day we chose to visit. Apparently we were lucky to have arrived on one of their special days. There were eight gardens open to the public, and for a mere $4 for each garden (donated to Oxfam) we could explore them - there was even a free shuttle bus to take us from one to another.

However, we chose just to wander around the village instead. The ducks and geese were having a lovely time in the river, and there were some beautiful big (really big) trout swimming around that we fancied catching and couldn't understand why no one else was trying to.

There were, of course, several bakeries taking advantage of the presence of so many tourists to sell what they claimed were the original and the best Bakewell puddings ...

They said, there are no "tarts" in Bakewell. Only puddings.

I remember Bakewell tarts with pastry at the bottom, and a little jam, and filled with almond cake. Crosby and Susanne tried one of the "original" puddings, which was filled with almond flavoured custard.

Beyond Bakewell

We noticed on the map a place called "Arbor Low Henge" and another called "Nine Ladies Stone Circle". We had heard nothing about either of them, but decided to go and look for the nine ladies. There were no signposts, we just drove to the hamlet that was marked close to it on the map, and then we had to ask some people we passed. Finally we parked the car in a shady lane, and set off along a public footpath, over a couple of stiles, and through a field of cows.

We weren't the only ones. There were others on the path, and people camping in tents by the circle of dancing ladies. Susanne and I tried to get into the swing of things.

There really wasn't much to see - we found out that the Arbor Low Henge would have been much more spectacular - but the weather was bright and sunny, and the air was clear and cool, and we had a splendid little English adventure.

Just like the famous five ...

Both Susanne and I were avid readers of Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" books when we were children, and so many things we have experienced in the English countryside seem tied to stories we have read.

We have driven along admiring the purple heather on the hills - along with bracken it apparently makes a lovely springy mattress for outdoors sleeping. Finally we found some that was close to the road, and so we had to stop and test it out.

Yep. Definitely springy!

Out and about on August Bank Holiday

It was great to have friends (from Oz) Crosby and Susanne come up from Cambridge to spend the long weekend - not least of all because they have wheels and so we could traipse around and look at some of the sights without wearing our little legs right off (... if you know what I mean).

Eyam - Plague Village

We went to visit the village of Eyam - that's "ee-'m" - which is famous for the villagers' valiant attempts to prevent the spread of the plague in 1666 by isolating the village and not allowing anyone to enter or leave when they realised the plague was present in their village.

This little graveyard is where one woman buried seven members of her family at that time.

All through the olde worlde English village there are plaques on the houses telling how many died in that family. There is a lovely little museum, too, telling the whole story, but we got there just after 4pm when they stop selling tickets. We pleaded with the lady, telling her we had come all the way from Australia, and she relented and let us in. "They're from Australia so I had to let them in ... " she explained to the people who came just behind us and wanted to know why they couldn't come in.

Well Dressing

We also arrived just in time for the annual "well dressing" ceremony. This involves a Christian type service in which they thank God for the annual provision of water to their village. The three old wells in the village are lavishly decorated - this design is made with petals and leaves.

The ceremony also involves crowning of the new festival queen, princesses and even a "Rosebud" from among the young girls in the village.

There was a parade through the village from one well to another, and a brass band playing, and maypole dancing. We were there on the first day of what would apparently be a week-long celebration.

Peter was particularly pleased with this photo he took of the brass band because when you look closely at the tuba you can see everyone reflected in it. You can even see Peter with his dark red shirt and with his camera right next to the reflection of the tuba player.

A long day

At the end of a long day it's always good to have the boys in blue to rely on. Crosby and Susanne had gotten up early in the morning to begin their long drive up to come and see us. We are living in one room here, and we have nowhere to put anyone up, so they had booked into a Sheffield hotel - a nice cheap one, naturally. As it got to be evening and we had talked our way through the day and enjoyed dinner together, it was time for them to go to their hotel.

Crosby had a piece of paper with all the necessary information ... but had accidentally come away with the wrong paper when they left in the morning. The hotel had a funny name, which he couldn't quite remember. We looked through the yellow pages, and we tried to find it again on the Internet, but it didn't seem to be there.

In frustration Crosby went next door to the police station, which is joined onto our flats, so see if they would have any ideas. They did all the same things we did, coming up blank.

Finally by using various unusual Google searches we came across it. The police had nothing much else to do, apparently, so they insisted on giving Crosby and Susanne a police escort to their hotel, which was on the seemier side of town. (I noticed they slipped into their bullet-proof vests before they did so!)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Social English and British Culture

My afternoon classes have this rather fancy name. It's an "option" and popular with the students - maybe they think they will find the key to living comfortably in the UK.

But there's no syllabus as such, no specific book to work from, just a fairly vague list of suggestions and possible places to look for ideas.

So for my first lesson I had half an hour's warning that this was my class, and at least fifteen minutes of that was taken up with walking to find the actual classroom ... full of eager little faces looking at me expectantly.

I went around the class, asking them to tell me about themselves and where they were from - and one thing they noticed particularly when then came to Sheffield. They gave all the expected answers, except one lovely Japanese girl. She told me she was surprised by the "crime rate".

I was a little taken aback. I had seen a few drunks on the street - something we had not seen in either China or Turkey - had she seen them too, or had something bad happened to her? I asked her to explain a little more.

"It is very cold," she explained.

Oh! The climate! Yes, it is a little cool, isn't it.

It's a little bit funny trying to explain British culture when you haven't been here for 37 years. At least they didn't give Peter that task, it's all new to him.

We haven't heard a lot of really broad Yorkshire accents. The man in the hardware shop explained to us slowly and very clearly ( realising that we're not from 'round 'ere) how to find a place we were looking for, and all of his articles were neatly clipped:

"You go down t' road past t' pub ..."

And we had no trouble understanding him despite the northern vowel sounds.

We decided to get really traditional and have some Fish 'n Chips. (Not that we don't have them in Oz, and very nice ones too!)

Peter asked the lady loud and clear, "A large serve of chips, please."

"Yer wha'?!" she asked with surprise.

Peter repeated his request, realising there may be a language problem.

"Oh! I don't usually get spoken to polite like that around here!" she explained.

My culture class are a grand mixture including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Saudia Arabian ... most of the Libyans seem to be in Peter's IELTS class. The Japanese students are mostly in a group travelling together, and they have a professor accompanying them. This weekend they are all going up to Edinburgh as part of their UK experience. The professor sat in on my class the day before, and we discussed the differences between England and Scotland and what they can expect - not that I actually know, never having been there.

And then we also did some pronunciation practice - we've got to work on those 'l's and 'r's. Just for fun (my fun?) I got them practising the tongue twister: "Red leather, yellow leather" - because 'th' is another problem they have. I told them for homework they have to practise it all the way to Edinburgh.

That's going to be a fun bus trip, ay?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rosy Red Cheeks

Why do English children always have such rosy red cheeks? Or do they?

In China we saw kids with bright red cheeks - they were the beggars, living it rough on the cold streets.

We have seen some kids here with those round appley cheeks, but not many.

Red cheeks are pretty much a winter thing, I would think, and this is summer. That's why the daytime temperature has been soaring to 14 degrees some days. And after our first week here of blue skies and sunshine - and the occasional threatening cloud, the clouds have finally made good their threats and we've had misty rain on and off all week.

Yep. We are definitely in England. Not that it has been unpleasant. It was 'orrible 'ot in Istanbul, and this is quite pleasant. We bought ourselves a couple of cheap little black brolleys - 2 pound each - and mine lasted a few minutes until a gust of wind turned it inside out and broke one of its little wires.

Beautiful Sheffield

Many people (like me) have (or had) an image of Sheffield as an ugly industrial city - an idea reinforced by the popular movie "The Full Monty".

Well, it ain't, not any more.

These are a couple of rather unusual flower displays in the city centre - the people are made of succulent type plants. All over town there are hanging pots, and stands of extravagant flower displays. It really is quite delightful.

And there are fountains - this one is rather fun, with the water coming up out of the ground and returning quickly into drains. We saw one like this in Zhengzhou, but with water shortages it was rarely working. Of course, as it's summer, there were little kids playing in the fountain - and it was so cold!

Where we live, a ways out of the city centre, there are the Botanical Gardens close by our place - great for an evening amble while we wait for our clothes to finish their cycle in the University Residences Laundry.

One of the fun things about wandering out and about in the evening is the squirrels chasing each other hither and thither and scrabbling around for - nuts ...? They are really fast, twitchy little critters ... but I did manage to pull my phone out quickly and catch this one.

So now it's the weekend, and we've no TV. There's nothing to do except sit here at the computer or get out there and chase squirrels. There's parts of Sheffield we haven't been near yet - I see a "boating lake" and all sorts of interesting stuff on the top left of my map. Time to fire up "Shanks's Pony" and go see ... when Peter wakes up.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No smoke without fire - ?

We have been here 11 days, and today we had our fourth smoke alarm.

The fire trucks came roaring out for the first two, but they didn't show for the third.

This evening we were just saying its about fire alarm time ... I went into the kitchen on my way to the bathroom, and smelt smoke. Looking for the source, I opened the microwave and acrid smoke poured out.

I turned on the extractor fan, went and got Peter, and went upstairs to ask our young Taiwanese friend if he left had some food on.

We started opening doors - the window only opens a crack at best - and then the smoke detector awoke from its slumber and that noise started.

The trucks were here again within a few minutes. They grabbed a huge fan and blew air through the front door, clearing most of the smoke.

It still stinks. And the interior of the microwave is a funny yellow colour.

The Grand Old Duke of York

The all-day-Saturday trip to York proved even more popular than the trip to the Peak District. Our multi-cultural group filled six large coaches.

Soon we were zooming along on the M1 - yeah, driving on the left! - to "the NORTH".

York is a beautiful old town, full of old buildings - and full of tourists. The city centre was almost as crowded as Istanbul. The circus was in town, and this little boy desperately wanted mum to come see the float that was passing through town.

After our first week of work in a new job, a cruise up the River Ouse was about as energetic as we felt.

On this lovely summer afternoon there were lots of people messing about in boats ... and cars!

There were quite a few teams practicing their sculling skills - apparently there are frequent boat races of all kinds on the River Ouse.

York has a big ferris wheel like the "London Eye" - you only go round once, it takes quite a long time, it moves continuously and people step on and off as it slowly passes at the bottom.

We took an hour to putter down through the town and back again, under a series of well-maintained bridges bearing various old crests, and we heard stories of Vikings and battles long ago on the river and in and around old York.

Then, of course, we had to wander through town and take a look at York Minster.

It's magnificent ( - but we had to admit that seeing the cathedral in Prague had taken the shine off this one considerably).

The place was full of strange and interesting people. Some of them were us, and other tourists, some of them were doing a pub crawl 'for charity' - like these ladies.

Tired and leg-weary we headed back to meet our bus. We saw a group of foreign students also taking a rest, and stopped to chat.

But it turned out they weren't among our 300, they were some of the 50 that had come into York from Newcastle for the day.

Sunday tomorrow - so glad we are in England and not Istanbul! Sunday was always our hardest day, here it is a time for rest and even church.

The Peak District

When they first announced this excursion, I thought they said we were going to see the "Pig District" and I screwed up my nose.

Then they explained about the very popular Peak District National Park. So on a Wednesday afternoon we piled aboard the coach with our students - "you don't have to go, you know", we were told - delighted at the opportunity.

Within seconds we were out of the city and driving past the purple heather on the moors. In places the countryside was really rugged.

And then there were farms and fields, and black-faced sheep with long tails.

We were going to the little town of Castleton - very popular because of several caves or caverns that can be accessed here (for a price).

On this beautiful summer afternoon, our large group of foreign students made up a small fraction of the hoard of tourists packing the town. But the local people were, as ever, gracious and friendly.

Up between those hills is the entrance to Speedwell Cavern, where you descend and travel in a boat on an underground river. By the time we made our way up this hill (which is a lot steeper than it looks) there were more than sixty people waiting in line to go into Speedwell.

We joined the queue and waited. After a good twenty minutes - during which time the line had shuffled forward minimally only once - Peter went down the hill and around the corner to the head of the queue and discovered that they take about twenty passengers every twenty minutes ... we would miss our bus back to the Uni if we stayed. So we gave up and decided to maybe come again another day.

Back at the carpark I had time to bond with some of my students. And we puzzled over this sign:

We've heard of "Cow Tipping", and we have seen a Far Side cartoon about "Boy Tipping" (a revenge thing) ... but Fly Tipping - ?

[So we did look it up on the 'Net, and it has something to do with dumping rubbish. I still prefer the image of trying to get those tiny flies to fall over.]

Lions and Tigers and ... Squirrels, oh my!

English Wildlife.

We haven't actually seen any lions and tigers. But where we are living it certainly seems possible that they are here.

Even though we are living in the city of Sheffield, we are surrounded by gardens - thick bushes and extensive lawns.

This is part of our drive - it's about 100m long. If I was a kid I would be unable to resist building cubbies in the deep dark hollows under and behind those bushy hedges on the left. On the right there is a beautiful sloping lawn - perfect for rolling down. A stern sign on the wall announces "no ball games".

But that doesn't stop the grey squirrels from frolicking. They pause in their nervous jumping and chasing and twitch as we go by. We did see a cat - one cat, after the millions of cats in Istanbul - and I guess he was hunting for squirrel ...

The sound of "clopping" brought me to the window the other day to see a couple of mounted police arrive in the courtyard outside our flat window. But, of course, they are hardly "wild"animals.

The other night we lay in bed and listened to an owl hooting outside as it flew from tree to tree.

We are not exactly in the British Outback here, but there is lots of "green", and if I was a little furry animal I would love it here.

This isn't our garden. The Sheffield Botanical Gardens are just opposite the end of our driveway. Great place to stroll, and relax.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Crying "Wolf!"

But it wasn't us this time, honest!

It was our first day of work here in Sheffield, and although we had only been marking placement tests, not actually teaching, we were tired after the walk home, and just settling in for the evening.

And then there was that noise again! The fire siren really hurts your ears - no chance of sleeping through it - and it sounds in every single room.

So we slipped our shoes back on and trotted outside with everybody else ... wondering who the duffer was this time. A whole lot of foreign students have only just arrived, so the possibilities are great.

The trusty fire crews didn't seem to arrive quite so quickly this time ... it made us wonder if they would come at all if we ever do have a fire.

It did give us a chance to meet the other students who are living with us. I found out that the scrabbling in the ceiling above our room is actually 'Jackie' from Vietnam, who lives in 'U' flat along with 'Town' from Zhengzhou.

Friday, August 3, 2007

It's a long way to Sheffield

Dreading it.

I love visiting new places, but I hate travel, and most of all airports. I especially hate hurrying along, towing a heavy case and lugging a second, through crowded lobbies looking for a check-in counter and hoping the queue won’t be so long that we miss the flight. (Not that that has ever happened to me.) Getting our cases through the rough cobbled streets of Bakirkoy while looking for a taxi was another of my dread factors. Deciding what to take and what to leave, and keeping our suitcase weights below the limit – well we’d already had most of a month to work on and agonize over that. Moving all you own from one country to another in a mere two suitcases is a bit of a tall task for the best of us.

Getting on with it.

So we decided to travel with British Air for several reasons. Firstly, their baggage allowance is 23kg, but (until the end of September) they actually allow up to 32kg. Then also, they have no weight restriction on hand baggage – it must fit into the overhead locker and you must be able to lift it there yourself. They also allow you to carry on a laptop or briefcase. Thirdly, they also have online check-in, so you can arrive at the airport last minute, drop your bags, and not have to wait in a long check-in queue.

So we were already checked-in and we had printed our own boarding passes, and we got our two heavy suitcases, two heavy carry-on cases, heavy briefcase, and laptop with a jam-packed case down to the street at about 7am. There are no taxis that wait in our part of Bakirkoy, so I guarded the cases while Peter went off down the street and came back in a taxi.

At the airport, as we got out of the taxi, a little man with a big trolley came by. He looked at me and I nodded at him, and he piled our bags onto his big trolley and set off towards Security Check. I didn’t really think about it until we were trotting along behind him and it occurred to me he would be expecting a tip. No sweat, we still had Turkish liras in our pockets – most of our money we had already converted to British pounds.

At the security check our little man unloaded our bags, had himself and his trolley checked through, and then picked everything up at the other side. He headed off through the crowded lobby looking for the British Air counter. There were huge crowds at every airline counter, and at the enquiries counter there was a man gesticulating and yelling in English that he had missed his flight while waiting in one of those queues.

When we arrived at the bag drop for British Air our porter asked for 10 YTL, we only had 20s and he claimed to have no change, so he got double pay. No worries – our bags had “heavy” labels, but they were through, we were on our way.

The British flight.

I love uneventful flights. For the first time in three years we were on a plane where all of the announcements were in clear English, and only English. (We weren’t even told to “injure your fright” like they say in China.) The internet site had informed us we would have only a snack, but instead we enjoyed a full cooked breakfast – scrambled egg, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, as well as muesli and fresh fruit (peeled and sliced grapefruit, orange, melon, and a grape), and a roll with butter and jam. The Turkish girl seated next to us put hers aside in distaste – she would be missing her usual kahvalti, Turkish-style breakfast of cheeses, vegetables, and pastry.

Into the country.

This was a new experience for the two of us, going through different channels at the passport check. Charlotte had warned us that the queues for British passports would be much longer than the “All Other Nationalities” line, so I was quite unprepared for a completely empty half of the room – I nearly got lost as I meandered my way across to the two waiting officials who glanced at my passport, stamped it, and waved me on. Peter was only moments behind me with his “settlement husband” visa to show off at one of the other counters …and we were through to the baggage carousel.

Here there was some sort of a hold-up – there were several announcements apologizing for the delay … all in English again! Such a marvel after all the other airports I have been in recently.

Then we chose the “Nothing to declare” gateway – there weren’t even any officials there to wave as we passed through into England. (This all seems remarkable to me, if that seems strange to you then I can only presume you have never entered Australia!)

Getting the bus.

We had booked a National Express coach trip to Sheffield online. We weren’t sure if we needed to, but we didn’t want to get there and find there were no seats. And then in order to allow for the possibility of the flight being late, or customs being slow … yadayadayada … we had booked a slightly later trip and we now had three hours to kill before our bus would be leaving. The time would have been considerably more enjoyable if we didn’t have a wunking great big heavy trolley full of luggage to lug around. It meant we couldn’t go far; any sorties were done by one of us at a time while the other guarded.

The bus station was not the most pleasant place, mostly because of the ear-splitting loudspeaker announcements every couple of minutes. It didn’t take long for us to be feeling really frazzled and negative about being here.

We were hungry, and concerned that we may not get another meal for a long time – our bus was due in Sheffield about 9pm. There was only a fairly pathetic little café in the bus station. So we lugged our bags back up to the airport – in a lift going down, along some long and sloping passageways, and then in another lift going up – to the crowded departure lounge in terminal 1. There was a restaurant, but it could only be accessed up some stairs – impossible with all our bags, intended for people who have just checked their bags before getting on a plane. So, back down, along, and up to the horrible bus station again.

Feeding the birds

We bought some sandwiches and coffee at the pathetic café, and sat in the bus station. Some sparrows came hopping by so we dropped a few crumbs. Soon a couple of fat pigeons came strutting by too, and were eager enough to steal the crusts Peter offered with his fingers. It all helped to pass the time more pleasantly … although the waitress came and shook her head at us when she was picking up dishes.

The bus trip

The bus trip was pleasant enough – we were enjoying watching England go by. Peter was busy taking blurry photos of the London he had never seen before. It’s changed a fair bit in 37 years for me – not that I remember it that clearly – but the changes are about the people more than the buildings. I think I saw more burkas in the streets of London than I’ve seen in Istanbul.

There were no toilet or food stops – there was a toilet on the bus, and the toilet door swung open and banged loudly ever time we went around a fast corner. The people sitting near it kept trying to jam it with tissues, but then someone would come and use it and the banging would start all over again.

I sat on the bus vaguely aware of people around me talking on mobile phones. In Turkey you are not allowed to use phones on buses, ferries etc. But what really bothered me about it was being able to hear and understand what they were saying. We’ve spent three years surrounded by mostly incomprehensible babble – I had never before realized how relaxing that can be.

Finding our new home in Sheffield – the fun part

This turned out to be the hard part.

Everybody clambered off the bus onto the pavement outside the bus station at about 9.30pm – the bus was running over half an hour late. The other passengers disappeared almost instantly, and then there was just us and our luggage in the gloom in a deserted part of town. Once again, I guarded while Peter wandered to find a taxi. He had just disappeared around a corner when I noticed a taxi in the opposite direction – the driver had caught sight of me and paused, so I waved at him and he very slowly drew up next to me. Peter came back down the street taxi-less, and so I started trying to tell the driver where we wanted to go. The man stepped out in his rather dirty beige dress – I don’t know the word for those tunic things Pakistani men wear. His English was a bit limited, but we managed to explain where we were going.

He brought us, as per the instructions we had received in an email, to the “Porter’s Lodge” of one of the university residential halls. There we were to get a key, a map, and a bedding-pack each, and then go to “Crew Flats” to find our new home.

Pete, on the desk at the Porter’s Lodge was in a mess because 15 new Asian students had just turned up days early. Nevertheless he turned aside from his task to give us our keys, forgot the map, and said the bedding should already be there. We had noticed a building marked “Crewe” on the way to the porter’s lodge, so we directed the taxi driver back there, and he dropped us off by the road.

Well, as it turned out, this wasn’t it, this was Crewe Lodge – and it was empty, so there was no one there to ask for help. We figured Crewe Flats must be somewhere nearby. Once again, I guarded the bags, and Peter wandered and searched. He disappeared up the driveway by the Lodge, and was gone for a long time.

(We couldn’t phone each other because our attempts to activate the SIM cards for our phones we bought in a vending machine at Heathrow Airport had failed for the lack of an acceptable postcode to tell the operator – probably in India – on the public phone in the noisy bus station …)

A student came by, and I asked him if he knew where Crewe Flats were. He was very nervous to talk to me – maybe because he was a foreign student and/or his English wasn’t too good – but he told me it was down the driveway where Peter had disappeared, so I waited and hoped.

It was about 10.30pm (12.30 Turkey time), and I had been up since 3am English time, just wanted somewhere to sleep. Peter finally reappeared; he hadn’t been able to find anything that our keys fitted, nothing that was labeled Crewe’s Flats.

We hailed another taxi, piled everything aboard, and went back to the porter’s lodge. This time we were helped by a different security man, Bob, a man of action who straightaway got into his own car and told the taxi to follow him. He led the way back to where we had just been searching, down the end of the dark driveway. We dragged our bags out of the taxi and paid the driver, and Peter and Bob (who didn’t seem too sure himself where it was) went looking for the door to our flat.

Getting in

There was no sign (we saw some men came and plant a sign the next day!) The rooms we were allocated are T1 and T2.

We found a door with a tiny label that read “Flat T”. But our keys didn’t fit, we needed a code. There was a code on the envelope our keys were in, but it was indistinctly written – we later realized what looked like a ‘4’ was really a ‘Y’.

Our new home

But we were finally in. We have two rooms, each with a bed and a desk. The bigger of the two rooms also has a tiny washbasin and a mirror. At the other end of the house there is a kitchen, and through that a toilet. Upstairs there are two more rooms – a Taiwanese student is occupying one – and a bathroom (well, shower and toilet.)

Bob, efficient and willing as ever, wanted to know if there was anything else we needed. I told him that I was a diabetic and our last meal had been sandwiches at the bus station, I was desperate for a bite to eat. So he took us in his car down the street a ways to a little shop. There was a restaurant there too, but being 11pm it was closing up as we arrived. So it was sandwiches again, from the 24hour “Spar” shop. We grabbed a few food items for breakfast, and waved for our third taxi of the night (yes, a third Pakistani driver) back to our room – and this time we knew where to find it.

The REAL fun

The beds are attached to the walls, can’t be moved, so we dragged the mattresses together on the floor of the large room. But there was only one bedding pack – one tiny pillow, one sheet, one doona, one towel. We were so tired, we would sleep somehow.

We trundled ourselves through the kitchen to the toilet. As we left the room we searched around for the light switch to turn the light off – neither of us could remember turning it on. (We hadn’t realized at this stage that this is one of those buildings that thinks for itself, lights turn themselves on and off as you walk around.) The only thing was a small square red box, which had no signs, warnings or explanations … Peter brushed it lightly and (to our horror) the alarm started sounding. A fire alarm!

The building is designed to be safe. Every door is marked “Fire Door. Keep Shut” and has a sturdy closer that drags it shut behind you. There are wordy signs in red and blue explaining what you should do if you “discover” a fire. Near the front door there is another small red box, but with a flap-down clear cover and a warning sign next to it.

We staggered outside along with a crowd of student from “Crewe Hall” next door, our young man from upstairs, and some from “Flat U” next to ours. They were all excited, we were just tired and jaded. Nobody seemed to have a clue what was going on, there was nothing anyone could do except wait.

The fire crews – two trucks!! – were here in about two minutes. They paid very little attention to any of us waiting around outside, just went about their business checking every part of the buildings, talking to each other in code on their walkie-talkies. They were incredibly efficient and obviously knew what they were doing, inspiring a great deal of confidence in case there ever was a real fire.

A cold night

Finally they left, though the students mostly stayed outside chatting for a while longer. I flopped into bed, but soon realized Sheffield is much colder than Istanbul. I pulled on socks, and dragged several layers of clothing out of my case. I even tried to use my winter coat to get warm. Peter made himself a pillow of clothes, and we tried to get warm under the single doona. Despite my weariness, it was an uncomfortable, shivery, restless night.

Starting work – and the longest day of all

It was Friday, and we don’t start teaching until Monday, but there was supposed to be some sort of orientation meeting sometime today – we knew neither where exactly nor what time.

I was up and about at 4am, nervous and restless. I wandered upstairs and had a soap-less shower – we hadn’t bought any yet – and by 7am I just wanted to go outside and explore a bit. Peter was awake by then and pulled on some clothes to join me – we would walk back down to where Bob had driven us the night before.

There were a number of things we needed to get done – not the least of which was to find a bank to deposit the money we were carrying around. So we wandered – and eventually we hailed a taxi and got him to help us find a suitable bank. The bank wouldn’t let us open an account without a letter proving our living address. So we needed to find our way to the university and get that letter. And anyway, there was that orientation thing.

It’s great being in a country where they speak English and you can ask for directions! We managed to catch a “Supertram” to the “University” stop, but Sheffield is a University City – the Uni has purchased buildings all over town – so then we wandered about a bit until we discovered the ELT Centre where we will be working. Richard, the man who had phoned and invited us here happened to meet and recognize us on the doorstep, and took us in … just in time for Orientation, the other new teachers would be there any minute.

Ah well, breakfast could wait. We were carrying a shopping bag with soap and shampoo (for the showers we had been planning to have before breakfast before going to the work meeting …) and a packet of muesli bars (we were excited to notice them in the shop after not seeing anything like that in China and Turkey), so we munched on a bar each with the coffee Richard offered.

Then there was a staff meeting with all the other teachers (not just the new ones) and a drinks-in-the-garden celebration for the centre passing a recent inspection. As we still hadn’t managed to catch up to our breakfast time, we had a sip of wine to be sociable and because we needed to hang around to get our letter.

We went back into the office and got our letter, and then found our way back to the bank – Sadie, the lady we had spoken to there the first time had promised she would be available until five, and it was three now. But she wasn’t, she was at a meeting “for the next two hours”. They gave us directions to get to another nearby branch …

The opening an account interview session took nearly two hours – we munched on another muesli bar in one of the many intervals when our man said “Will you excuse me for just a moment …” and left us in the booth.

Banking finished, 4.30 in the afternoon … surely now we could go and eat? But what if the shops all close in the next few minutes – this is not Istanbul where things are open till late. We waited a little longer while we purchased a couple of essential items. Then finally we went into Macca’s – first time since China! – for a bite to eat.

Barbecue and bed

We couldn’t work out if any buses went our way, and we had had enough taxis for a day or two … so we walked. It takes about 25 minutes.

They told us that there would be a barbecue at 6.30 over at the hall where we got the keys – good chance to meet some students, pick up a second bedding pack, and have some free food.

We were already a little late, but we went, we socialized, we ate a little, and then we found our way back to our room.

With a doona each, and a long, long day behind us, we were fast asleep by 8. Sleeep!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Looking for Old Friends

When I get back to Britain, I'd really like to catch up with some old friends.

That's me on the right with the guitar and short hair (bad haircut).
The other guitar player is Helen Frost, who I would dearly love to hear from.
Frances Elliott is over the back with short dark hair singing "oooh!" I have heard she married a butcher with surname Parker, but I don't know where to find her.
And on the front left, the really pretty one, is Marilyn Bishop. I have tracked her down and I'm looking forward to seeing her again.