Boxing Day

It’s been really nice to have a day off, just chilling out. Even though we’ve just had a long break from work, it soon catches up with you again. |-)

Sara is lucky enough to get a “free” week off work over the Christmas period but I need to book annual leave for anything except the main days. This year, unfortunately, I can’t take any extra time off at all because there’s a lot going on at work. So I’m back in work — and off to Sydney again — tomorrow morning. 😐

Today we took a drive out to Lilydale and the Yarra Valley wine region, stopping off to potter around Healesville. There was very little open, with it being Boxing Day, but it looks a really nice place. We’ll definitely go back and visit the wineries and the animal sanctuary in the new year. 3:-o :@) ~:> :(|)

On the way home we stopped off at Bunnings to pick up some “Baygon” insecticide. It’s been three months since I last sprayed around the outside of the house and we’re now starting to see the odd spider indoors, which is freaking Sara out a bit. So we’ve just bought a drum of the strongest type and I’ve been all around the perimeter, making sure that all the door frames, windows and eaves are covered. I’ve also bought an indoor version, just to make sure that all the nooks and crannies are spider free. :-ss

This evening we’ll just have a quiet meal in — Sara has become quite an accomplished cook since we’ve been out here, it must be all the fresh ingredients — with a few glasses of wine and we’ll watch a bit of telly. I won’t stay up late to see United tonight because of my early flight tomorrow, so I’ll have to watch the game when I get back home on Thursday evening. (Speaking of United, did you see Scholesy’s goal on Saturday? It was nearly as good as the one he scored against Bradford a few years ago.) b-)

Merry Christmas from Down Under

It’s been a very strange build-up to Christmas this year. The Aussies try their best, bless ’em, but Santa and sunshine at the same time just seems… wrong. :-\

Quite a few of the neighbours have gone over the top with their outdoor decorations, decking out their houses with dazzling displays of fairy lights and festive garden ornaments — but it doesn’t go dark until quite late in summer, so you don’t often see the full effect. Last weekend the neighbours threw a street party, with a marquee, outdoor barbecue and bouncy castle for the kids. The invitation said “bring your own beer or wine, some meat for the barbie and your swimming costume for the jacuzzi party afterwards”. Err… thanks, but no thanks. 😮

The pre-Christmas mayhem at the supermarkets and shopping centres still happens, but it’s not half as bad as in the UK where it seemed to go on for weeks and weeks. Since we didn’t get paid until last week, we only had a single weekend to buy presents so unfortunately it was all a bit rushed this year. #:-s

On Christmas eve the local fire brigade drives around the neighbourhood, with Santa on the back of the fire engine throwing out sweets to all the children who come out of their houses to wave. It’s a nice tradition, the younger kids really seem to love it.

An unexpected cool change in the weather over the weekend put paid to any plans of an outdoor Christmas dinner this year. Yesterday it rained heavily for the first time in several weeks and we even had flurries of hailstone on Christmas day morning. Hopefully it will revive the garden a bit (and help with the bushfires), but it’s probably too little too late; further water restrictions are likely to be introduced in the new year. 🙁

We were invited to Johanne’s mum & dad’s house in Berwick on Christmas day, for the full traditional dinner of roast turkey and ham. Even with 18 of us seated around the three dining tables, there was enough food to feed an army. It was a really nice day. 🙂

Back home afterwards, Sara struggled to call friends and family overseas — the Aussie phone network was overloaded. She eventually managed to speak to everyone back in England and, later on in the middle of the night, America. :)]

Pay Day

Woohoo! Today was my first pay day since June! :d

It’s been tricky living on savings since we arrived, with all the expenses of moving abroad, paying six months rent, furnishing the house and buying two cars. It’s nice to finally see money going IN to the bank after so much has gone out recently. $-)

When I received my payslip, I made sure the payroll clerk explained all the calculations and deductions — I didn’t want to accidentally be put on emergency tax, like I was at the College for several years. #-o

Aussie tax rates are a little higher than the UK — part of my salary is taxed at 40%, eek! — but there are fewer “stealth taxes” once you’ve been paid.

Everyone has to pay a basic 1.5% Medicare levy, which is a bit like the National Insurance contribution. On top of that, if your household income is more than a certain amount you have to pay a further 1% Medicare surcharge unless you have taken out private medical insurance — we’ll look into that in the near future. :-\

The only other deduction on your payslip is for your superannuation fund — a compulsory 9% of your earnings, paid into your nominated private pension fund by the employer.

G.S.T. on goods is only 10% over here, rather than the 17.5% V.A.T. in the UK. When you take into account things like fuel prices, cheaper car tax and insurance and that there are no ridiculous taxes like “TV licences”, I think we’re better off now even though we pay a bit more income tax. 😕

Everyone has to submit an individual tax return at the end of the financial year, so there’s plenty of scope for reclaiming some of the money you’ve paid for things that could be considered necessary for your work — i.e. lots of I.T. stuff for me. I’ll blog about that nearer the time when I’m doing my tax return. 😉

The other strange thing over here is that if you’re paid monthly, you are usually paid in the middle of the month: two weeks in arrears, two weeks in advance. Very strange. I’m not complaining though, I received a six-week salary today even though I’ve only been there for four weeks! 🙂

Manchester United 3 – 1 Manchester City

It’s been a while since I blogged about football but I haven’t missed a United game since we got here. Now that the clocks have gone forward I’m able to catch fewer live games — a 3pm kick off is now 4am over here — but I’m still recording them all and watching them the following evening. (:|

Today’s massive derby game, being a 12:45 kick off in the UK, meant that I could watch it live. So we bought pizza and a nice selection of imported beers before settling down to watch the game on ESPN Asia (it’s basically re-branded Sky Sports footage with alternative English commentary). 🙂

I won’t go into too much detail about the game, you can read that elsewhere, but I thought United played some excellent football and did well to withstand several City attacks after Rooney scored the first goal. We were fortunate to go in 2-0 ahead at half time, with Saha bundling Heinze’s cross over the line.

Van Der Sar made some very important saves and Vidic, who seems to have settled in nicely, also stood out defensively. Up front Ronaldo and Rooney, in particular, could’ve easily have had hat-tricks on another day. #-o

Once again I was amazed by Fergie’s tinkering — as soon as he took off Saha to bring on John O’Pie to “firm up the defence”, I just knew City would score and it’d be a nervous last half hour. :-ss

United are now 9 points ahead of Chelsea at the top of the league (although they do have two games in hand). They face Arsenal tomorrow. I’m hoping that Mourinho does a “Keegan” under the pressure. :o)

Bushfires in Victoria

We’ve been hearing news reports this week about a number of serious bushfires in rural Victoria.

RESIDENTS in Victoria’s fire-ravaged regions are bracing themselves for what could be the worst weekend in the state’s bushfire history as fire authorities warned they would not be able to defend every home and settlement.

Today’s temperatures are expected to reach 39 degrees in the north-east and firefighters will face at least three days of extreme weather. Authorities fear the five menacing fire fronts could compound into a 600,000-hectare blaze and have warned that the fire’s front could extend for 100 kilometres.

Eighteen fires are burning across state forest in the alpine and Gippsland regions, with more than 170,000 hectares burnt so far.

I must admit that haven’t really given it much thought — a bit like when you see film reports from other countries on UK television — but this morning we woke up expecting a clear, sunny day and instead found Melbourne covered with a thick, smokey haze. It smells like Bonfire Night outside today, even though these fires are hundreds of miles away.

Although we’re safe here in the suburbs, it’s scary to think that this could also happen right on our doorstep; only 20 years ago several areas around Mount Dandenong were caught up in the terrible “Ash Wednesday” fires when over 200 buildings were destroyed and several people died. It’s really important that people living in semi-rural areas take sensible precautions.

Today the Country Fire Authority has declared a a “Total Fire Ban” throughout the entire state:

Total Fire Bans prohibit the lighting of any fires in the open air. The ban includes all campfires, all solid fuel barbecues and portable barbecues in excess of 20 metres away from a permanent dwelling. It also includes incinerators, welding, grinding, soldering or gas cutting.

Sunday in Mount Dandenong

Today we’ve been driving around Mount Dandenong and the surrounding suburbs. Since we’re approaching the end of our six month lease on the house that we’re currently renting, we thought we’d take a look around to see what else we could find if we decide to move in the new year. 😕

As we both work in the Eastern suburbs, it makes sense for us to stay on this side of Melbourne. Sara catches the train into Ringwood, so anywhere on the Belgrave line would be good for her. I work in Knoxfield, so anywhere within a 20 minute drive is good for me. We like the suburbs in the foothills of Mount Dandenong (at the bottom right of this map) — Belgrave, Tecoma, Upwey and Upper Ferntree Gully all seem quite nice and fit our criteria. So today we’ve been to look at a few houses in these areas but didn’t really see anything with the “wow” factor that would make us want to move immediately.

We also took the Land Rover off-road for the first time, braving the “Basin-Olinda Road” — a simple-looking orange squiggle on the right-hand side of the map which is actually a 20-minute twisting climb up a steep, gravelly, corrugated track through dense bush. It was fantastic. :-ss

To finish off the afternoon we dropped in for Sunday lunch at the Pig & Whistle Tavern at Olinda. The game pie (duck, venison and rabbit in a cranberry and brandy gravy) was absolutely superb, as was the draught Boddingtons bitter (one of eleven English beers they have available). :@)

Back from Sydney

This week I’ve been working from the company’s Sydney office. That sounds very glamorous when compared to my time at the college, where a business trip might have involved visiting the Coppice Link centre or a rare trip to Wigan or perhaps Lancaster. But in reality the long working days, living out of a suitcase in an anonymous hotel isn’t exotic at all. 🙁

Being based in the Parramatta district meant that I didn’t get to see a great deal of the city itself, although I managed to squeeze in a fabulous lunch at Café Sydney, with spectacular views of the harbour and bridge. b-)

Like most Melburnians I’ve met, I didn’t really like Sydney much though: it seemed loud, busy and a bit dirty. Comparing Melbourne with Sydney is very much like comparing Manchester with London. The traffic was absolutely horrendous and the weather was sticky and humid, with the temperature touching 40°C. #:-s

I suppose Sydney may seem a nicer place if you visited as a tourist, with plenty of time (and money) to enjoy everything on offer. It’s only an hour’s cheap flight from Melbourne, so I’ll give it another go with Sara once we’re ready for a weekend break later this summer.