The week that was…week 53 (not sure how that happened): winding down

Bunnies! The rabbits around the neighbourhood are getting bolder and bolder. One seems to quite happily be living on the front lawn next door. Well, we know what we’ll be eating a lot of when the Zombocalypse comes.

2013-12-23 17.25.51The last two days of work for the year meant casual clothes and lots of shopping breaks.

2013-12-24 08.55.22And I had to wear my new t-shirt for my last day of work.

2013-12-24 10.32.32Christmas Eve also involved morning tea with the much diminished Branch.

2013-12-24 12.30.07And then lunch with James and the boys and Sean and Alice.

2013-12-24 16.37.42When Zac and I walk to the shops together there is the inevitable stop for a quick play in the playground.

The boys had been somewhat neglectful of the Star Wars Advent calendar, so there was a big catch up session.

2013-12-24 19.22.28Watching Doctor Who Christmas Eve to make sure we were up-to-date for the Christmas special.

2013-12-24 20.03.57And a beautiful sunset.

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Also the traditional drinking of the delicious sparkling red received as a Christmas present.

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Then a day of Christmas.

2013-12-25 15.47.12Boxing Day involved the now traditional viewing of the Peter Jackson film. We rode into town for that – the boys discovered this giant fluffball before we left.

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Sebastian and I tried to fly his new kite, but the wind really wasn’t being cooperative.

 

2013-12-26 15.49.06And we did lots of washing.

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The 27th brought Nana and Poppa – and more Christmas presents!

2013-12-27 14.06.11Sebastian was very pleased with his new Cricket Australia top – thanks Auntie Lucy.

2013-12-27 18.26.39We took Nana and Poppa out to the favourite restaurant – the Elk and Pea.

2013-12-27 18.41.38The next day Jude got to finally spend his K-Mart voucher which was possibly from his birthday (it has been months and months and months since I had been to Belconnen Mall).

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Meanwhile I bought some new shoes for $6 at K-Mart. The price is actually one reason I don’t shop at K-Mart too often – it is really hard to imagine that shoes can be produced for that amount without some kind of horrible exploitation of someone somewhere along the line.

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The boys and Nana and I went to the Gold and the Incas exhibition at the National Gallery. It was an interesting exhibition (who knew the Incas were only around for 100 years) and we took some time out in the very good kids’ activity room.

We finished the week with a lovely afternoon at the Reids – bbq, pool, cricket watching, beer, wine, friends – living the Australian dream!

Christmas!

The day really began with the watching of demonstrations of the small boys deploying their new boffer weaponry in the backyard. Santa visit = success.

2013-12-25 10.03.13Boys were also quite taken by the giant balloons in their box of treasure from Andrew who has looked after them post school all year.

We had a lovely brunch with Rachel, Jasmin, Paul and Young Andrew which included panckakes, fruit, bacon, German sausages, James’ gravlax and eggs which Rachel brought that had been freshly laid and then poached. Delicious.

2013-12-25 14.32.13Zachary was also pretty keen on the shirt he received from Natasha and made sure to wear it for the afternoon’s activities.

After watching Tomorrow When The World Began which was in Sebastian’s stocking from Father Christmas, we headed over to Jackie and John’s for presents and Christmas dinner.

There were a bunch of children – John’s grandchildren and grand niece and nephew were there so Jackie provided a post-dinner treasure hunt for giant bubble wands which lead to much delighted blowing of bubbles.

After a lovely afternoon and evening we headed home. The small boys went to bed and James and I enjoyed some Sons of Anarchy. And for those of us who had been on Designated Driver duty, there was a new bottle of Laphroaig PX to be opened.

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The week that was…Week 52: not quite the last week of the year

The week began with a lunchtime visit to Turner Primary School for the end of year assembly and to see Sebastian get inducted as vice captain. There was quite a ceremony and Sebastian was definitely as proud as proud can be.

Backyard cricket season is truly upon us. There has been a lot of cricketing in the last couple of weeks.

2013-12-16 19.49.01Tuesday night we went and checked out Jamie’s Italian with Steve. Verdict was positive, and it is very kid-friendly.

Jasmin did a fabulous job or organising the giving tree at work – and everyone in the building did a fine job of donating presents.

2013-12-18 13.50.41Wednesday night, Sebastian went off to the yr5-6 end-of-year disco taking a box of Wookie Cookies he had made for supper with him.

2013-12-18 21.41.18We played Ascension instead.

2013-12-19 08.12.07Thursday morning Zac and I had our last early walk to school together for the year.

2013-12-19 08.14.56Thursday night was martini night! We went to the Ox at Kingston and took full advantage of their extensive gin list before heading to Penny University for dinner. It was good to catch up with Dave, see Caroline who I hadn’t seen since Delhi, see Anna for the first time in ages as well as Rachel, Jasmin, Young Andrew and Steve. A very enjoyable night.

On Friday we had morning tea to bid farewell to my wonderful ex-EA Krystal (now working for my boss) who is about to have a baby.

2013-12-20 10.52.08Here is a random Jude picture – school’s out!

2013-12-20 18.19.50James had been to the market so we got some lovely seafood for dinner.

2013-12-20 18.40.26Saturday morning was some casual skating at ANU.

2013-12-21 11.10.04And then it was an afternoon of Friend-mas! We ate lovely food including blinis and scallops, turkey breast and roast pork and a huge selection of desserts. It was an extremely pleasant way to spend Saturday late afternoon and evening.

It was super hot on Sunday, so it was a good day for the boys to try out their slip and slide.

George wasn’t entirely amused.

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And I was most happy with my book and a beer.

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The week that was…week 51: still sick, still busy but Christmas is coming

2013-12-09 11.56.56Whether it was trying to derby or just that my illness decided to enter a new phase, I felt absolutely terrible Monday morning and so ended up in bed for the day. Sebastian was also ill, so he took the couch while I stayed mostly in bed. With George of course.

2013-12-09 17.05.35In better news, our raspberries are being quite generous this year.

Fit enough to be walking to school again with the boys. Family walking together.

Wednesday was school concert night. It was actually better than usual this year. Zachary sang in the junior choir as well as with his class. The years 5-6 did a great compilation of songs from their years of school – the year sixes dancing with their kinder buddies for the Umbrella song made me positively teary. Also the Nelson Mandela tribute song. Maybe I am just getting soft and emotional in my old age.

2013-12-12 19.09.47On Thursday we went to Steve’s house for a BBQ. Seeing this on the fridge made me think of Jill.

Friday was our branch Christmas party. There was lots of fighting with water pistols and blowing of bubbles. I dominated on the pinball for quite some time, but then was at risk of having to give up being Branch Head when one of the guys got a gigantic hihg score. In the end, he decided it would be too hard to train me to do his job, so he’d stay where he was.

On Saturday it was Christmas afternoon tea at Jackie’s with Sarah and Simon and Imogen and Ryan. Sebastian had stayed over night at Jackie’s after she’d taken him to the cricket, and he helped her make cupcakes and shortbread. It was lovely to see them and have all the cousins play together.

2013-12-14 22.26.25Time for a bit of D&D in the evening – this is with the group (although some new members and some who have departed) that facilitated James and I originally meeting 18 or so years ago. Still going!

Sunday morning I went and got a tree and the boys helped decorate it. Yay, Christmas!

2013-12-15 19.42.05Zac constructing Lego Star Wars Advent calendar entries.

2013-12-15 17.08.46 2013-12-15 17.30.22We had our last training for the year on Sunday – it was more of a party and a free skate. Jude managed to get nearly as pink as the inside of his helmet.

2013-12-15 20.24.16I got a laminated poster of our posters for the year to say thanks for being line up manager. We are looking forward to another big year next year!

The week that was…Week 50: back, sick and busy

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We had one last day of meetings in Delhi, with government and the like, formulating plans for further collaboration. Once that was done, it was briefly back to the hotel before heading to the airport.

2013-12-02 16.36.12We managed to have a drink or two in the bar with some fellow Australian skills types, but had to stop – there was an election in Delhi and for that reason no alcohol was to be sold for 24 hours. We discovered that it was the same in the bar at the Singapore Airlines Lounge, and we weren’t even allowed alcohol on the plane until it was airborne – no welcome champagne.

2013-12-02 19.07.00Anyway, it was goodbye Delhi after a productive and busy week – with a little bit of fun added in.

2013-12-03 19.26.42Arrived into Sydney in time for sunset and got home to find I’d been missed.

2013-12-03 22.15.08A sore throat which I had carried all the way back on the flights turned into a raging respiratory infection so Wednesday was antibiotics and bed. George likes it when you spend a day at home.

2013-12-04 14.22.02Did manage to stagger to Ainslie for schnitzel night. Jude and Zac wore their new Indian shirts.

We have the Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar again this year.

2013-12-04 18.55.42Games night! The boys got to play a new game Paul had bought – “Walk the Plank” before the adults got down to some Arkham Asylum.

Thursday I was back at work and, in addition to catching up with everything, we had a delegation from Korea (including some of the people I knew from Korea – in particular, the delegation leader). Given we have always had such good hospitality in Korea, we took them to Water’s Edge for dinner. Food was fabulous, and it is a great location for visitors.

More staff gifts of food.

2013-12-06 10.45.23And here we are with the Korean delegation after a day of meetings on Friday.

2013-12-06 16.57.32Zachary took it upon himself to teach me Walk the Plank on Friday night.

2013-12-06 20.22.15Saturday morning involved a tennis tournament. Not just any tennis tournament, but Evan’s genius invention – the Wooden Racquet Tournament where players were required to dress in whites and use wooden racquets – found or purchased in op shops. Naturally, as a 60s-70s style tennis event there was Pimms and gin and much food. I didn’t manage to play given my ongoing respiratory troubles, but am looking forward to doing so next time as this will now become a regular Canberra sporting and social fixture.

Sebastian and James in the meantime went and skated around the lake and then skated up to Reid where we were.

2013-12-07 12.44.20And Zac managed to save a strawberry from the Pimms.

2013-12-07 13.32.33Here’s some more George.

2013-12-07 15.05.28Saturday night we took to boys out to the Elk and Pea to celebrate the fact that Sebastian had been voted school vice captain on Monday.

Sunday was Paul’s 60th birthday, so we were at Craig and Fiona’s for a BBQ lunch. If it looks familiar, yes, that is where we used to live.

It was then time for derby training. I really wanted to get back on skates after nearly two weeks and I did, but I limped through training and had to sit out because clearly my lungs were not quite up to it yet.

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Agra

2013-11-30 10.20.10 - CopyAnd so it was up early and off to Agra on the Expressway. After an uneventful drive we arrived in the town of Agra. Delhi seems chaotic – and then you get to Agra which is a whole nother world. Goats and cows and buffalo and pigs roam the streets and eat rubbish from piles. Donkeys carry bricks on their backs.  There are open air barber stalls where you can see men being shaved. There is rubbish, both industrial and household, all over the place. Traffic and people everywhere. As we didn’t stop, I didn’t get many photos except from the back of the moving car – but there are a million extraordinary shots one could have taken.

Our plan was to head to Fatephur Sikri first, although our driver did try and talk us out of that “no, Taj”. But in the end we triumphed after Caroline referred him back to the tour operator, so we picked up our tour guide before stopping for some Indian sweets. Delicious.

2013-11-30 10.48.39 - CopyAnyway, off to Fatephur Sikri. It took us another forty minutes or so to get there. Right next to the carpark – an actual snake charmer! i didn’t take his photo because I figured he might want to charge me. Also, pretty sure his cobra was non-living, but he also had a huge python. And I don’t mean that euphemistically.

The complex at Fatephur Sikri, the home of an emperor and his family for a period (and their 15000 retainers, servants and soldiers) is very impressive. Our guide told us many fantastical stories of life there and I must admit I could not be sure where documented history and folk myth started and ended. But it was amazing to imagine games of parcheesi played out in the courtyard with human pieces being yelled at from the roof top pavillon, or a singer coming to sing every night from the middle of a pool. Whatever actually happened, life would have been something quite out of fantasy. It was also something to consider exactly how much more impressive the place would have been when gold cover the roofs and an elephant meted out justice in the front courtyard (apparently he sniffed you and stepped on your head if you were guilty).

The red sandstone is an impressive canvas though for a complex like this one.

Caroline got to stand under the banyan tree to absorb good energy.

2013-11-30 13.09.36 - CopyWe also were slightly distracted afterwards by the family of very cute homeless puppies who lived just outside the complex.

On the way back to Agra we stopped for lunch. It was quite nice to look at the fields while we ate our lunch.

2013-11-30 13.34.40 - CopyThen it was time for the Taj.

Through the gates…

And there it was. It really is a magnificent building.

The Taj Mahal is all about symmetry so clearly some of my photos fail badly to capture it as they are not at all symmetrical. However built for the beautiful dead queen who asked for something that would symbolise their love for ever, it certainly works. The whole complex was 22 years in the making by workers who were actually, apparently, quite well payed. All 30,000 or so of them.

When building it they used some Egyptian techniques with walkways spiralling around up which elephants carted the huge marble pieces. The top part is all one carved piece and weighs tonnes and tonnes.

The carvings and inlaid detail are fantastic. Many of the decorations are carved into the marble and the precious stones inlaid directly. It is fantastic work when you get up close.

Around 80000 people a day visit the Taj Mahal and the “low value ticket holders” wait in an enormous line, potentially for hours to see the inside. You have to either remove your shoes or wear shoe covers to walk around on the marble. It is a wonder well worth seeing.

It was Dave, Caroline’s partner’s birthday, so she called him from the Taj to say happy birthday.

2013-11-30 16.53.05There were also some cows. We were warned they were dangerous, I am not sure why.

2013-11-30 16.55.20After a good day of sightseeing it was time for a G&T and a cocktail. We couldn’t get into the Oberoi, so the ITC was the next best thing.

It was then another two and a half hours back to Delhi.More fascinating sights as we left Agra and then a pretty clear road all the way back. And after a long drive and day, nothing for it but more cocktails.

2013-11-30 21.51.35While most of the rest of the trip was packed with work, I feel privileged I got the opportunity to see Agra and all it entails.

 

The week that was…week 49: Delhi

2013-11-25 09.52.32So time to head off again – Delhi this time for a whole week. Almost a whole day of travel to get there, though time differences meant we arrived before midnight Delhi time.

2013-11-26 00.06.182013-11-26 07.22.23Compulsory hotel room view – the haze is smoke which is particularly prevalent at this time of year. It was actually surprisingly pleasant weather – I guess my concept of India was super hot, but we had ideal days of high twenties and nights in the teens. Would have been completely lovely except for the pollution haze and terrible air quality at times, especially at night and in the mornings.

2013-11-26 14.27.43It was straight into work with meetings all day on the Tuesday followed by a reception at the High Commissioners residence. We had a meeting with the Minister for Human Resource Development, Mr Pallum Raju, at his house. As we were leaving he showed us some pictures – his grandfather with Gandhi, another with Nehru, his father with Indira Gandhi… Quite a political legacy.

Drinks at the High Commissioner’s residence were pleasant. There is a very nice lawn.

The next day it was conferencing, but at a different hotel.

2013-11-27 10.26.32We had a site visit in the afternoon to see a training provided. I went to Don Bosco where they teach printing and some engineering trades.

It is useful to see a training site like this and get a sense of the challenges. While they were learning printing a in an environment where they were actually producing things, it is hard to imagine the place passing an Australian quality audit.

Being out of the bus allowed us to see a few more of the sights of Delhi.

Joanna who was travelling with me and I managed some time to go shopping in the evening on Wednesday and discover some particularly Indian Christmas decorations, amongst other things.

On Thursday we didn’t start until 10am, so I had time for a swim in the morning.

2013-11-28 08.24.19It was pleasant to float on one’s back and look up at the birds of prey which constantly circle the skies of Delhi.

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From the pool you could also see this building – the shell had been completed but nothing further. Apparently there are a few around Delhi – if a property dispute arises (which according to stories is reasonably regularly) then all work stops until it is resolved, which sometimes takes years.

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For the rest of Thursday and Friday, however, I didn’t leave the hotel and it was all conferencing and dinners.

On Saturday Caroline, who by happy coincidence was in Delhi with the aid program, and I headed out of Delhi to Agra. But that is another story – here is a brief preview.

2013-11-30 15.47.42On Sunday after another swim and a sleep in Caroline and I caught up again – meeting at the Christmas Fair the the German Embassy. That was a little surreal. We then headed a proto-hipster style shopping area in South Delhi where, hidden amongst the standard Delhi shops and alleys are stores and cafes of both Western and Indian style fancy-ness.

We then went to the Imperial Hotel for some high tea. Sometimes being a rich westerner in developing countries is fun.

Of course, time in places like India does make you think about the scale of the problems faced by developing countries. The scope and challenges of India of simple but fundamental things like clean water are enormous. Or rubbish collection. Or dealing with the many many dogs which roam the streets. And the poverty and opportunities, or lack of them. We try to play small roles in overcoming these things, but honestly, sometimes the scale and scope is enough to make one despair.

But when you can’t solve poverty, it is on to cocktails. We went to a bar called P.O.C. (I think) which required us to call ahead to get the code which we had to enter to get the unmarked door to swing open. It was all speakeasy style with waiters in 1920s gear. While the bar was fairly empty while we were there, it is a haunt of Bollywood stars and the like. They did make a good corpse reviver!

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