Apr. 6th, 2013 10:38 am
chrishansenhome: (Cartoon)

So I flew from Wellington to Sydney after a delightful lunch and city tour from Jill G., a friend of Steven Levine's. I am indebted to her for the day and the lift to the airport.

As with New Zealand, there are strict quarantine laws about what you can and cannot bring into Australia. I had no problems, and took a cab to my hotel. Now if you're travelling on a budget, do NOT take cabs from airports. The cab was quite expensive and the driver had never actually driven to my hotel. Checked in OK, enquired about WiFi, and discovered that there was no signal in my room. I spent a restless day cut off from my online world while I tried to get connected.

Next day I ventured out to look for a SIM card. I had our iPhone3, now fairly obsolete but useful, as it was unlocked, as I thought. I went to a Telstra outlet in central Sydney, and bought a SIM with data. Problem was, I couldn't connect with it. Our former flatmate Win, who is a Sydneysider, brought his Android phone over that evening and I tethered to that for a while. Asked O2 what to do and the guru there told me that, sometimes, unlocked phones revert to locking when a new SIM is inserted. So, he unlocked the phone but I then had to get connected to iTunes to complete the unlocking and, of course, I had no way to do that. So I spent a second day unconnected. I was so miserable that Win gifted me with a three-day stay in a downtown hotel. I was grateful (my hotel was a bit ancient) but later on I regretted it, as I lost a lot of Thursday moving from one hotel to the other.

I did discover a museum, the Powerhouse Museum, that had good food and powerful WiFi, so I had lunch there twice. The first time, I went to Central Station and took the tram there. Then, I discovered that it was actually two blocks from my first hotel and I could have walked there. So I did that on Thursday between hotels and again took advantage of the WiFi and the excellent food. Highly recommended.

Next day I went to the Apple Store downtown and they happily connected me up and got the SIM working. I was very grateful.

Sydney's Central Station was within walking distance of my hotel (just). I must say, the signage there was quite deficient and confusing. And, it's huge. Almost all the transit in the city begins or ends there. The main train lines are somewhat like the RER in Paris; they are quite diffuse and go through the central city and then fan out to the suburbs. Some of them are quite old, especially the Circle Line (a very short version of London's). I saw something I've never seen, even in New York in the 1970's: graffiti on the floor. These elderly train cars are also not air-conditioned. It's quite hot in Sydney in summertime, and I was there at the end of summer--the autumnal equinox happened while I was there. There is one tram line that starts at Central Station and goes to, basically, Nowheresville. It does pass through the downtown market, and I enjoyed walking around that.

I did find the hop-on-hop-off bus at Central Station, and spent a day looking at all the sights. I had gone to Circular Quay (the main ferry terminal) earlier and gotten the obligatory pictures of the Coathanger (Sydney Harbour Bridge), including tiny stick figures climbing up it to the top. They said it was a climb not for the fainthearted thus I pled faintheartedness and didn't bother. The bus included the Opera House (amazingly utilitarian considering its outside configuration), and various other attractions. There is a Sky Tower, and I went up that (as there's a discount with the bus). Got the usual discounts. The people who built it must have been disappointed when a highrise office tower was built that cut off views of the Opera House from the tower. I bought my souvenirs there, including a kangaroo scrotum coin purse, as a prize for the Washington Post's Losers Invitational, which gives out wacky "prizes" for those who lose (ie, win) their competitions.

On Maundy Thursday I attended one of the highest of high churches in Sydney: Christ Church St. Lawrence, at Central Station. I have never seen a Mass as high as theirs, even as a Roman. The highlight was the procession to the Altar of Repose, where the priest carrying the Sacrament was preceded by two thurifers, perpendicular to him and facing each other along the aisle,"sweeping" the path in front of the priest with the thuribles full to bursting with incense. Afterwards I was treated to dinner by Andrew W., a parishioner who is a friend of a friend.

On Saturday Win and I took a coach to Canberra. The trip is miles and miles of miles and miles, with grassy meadows mostly looking like well-manicured golf courses. Canberra is flat and low-rise. There are few buildings taller than 5 or 6 stories. The old Parliament building is stately and Victorian. The new one is very trendily new. The House chamber (if you saw Julia Gillard's YouTube video lambasting the leader of the Opposition for sexism that's where it happened) is interesting as the leaders sit at a dispatch table, rather than sitting on a bench facing it. Win's friend drove us around,and I'm grateful as public transport seemed to be mostly absent. The coach back was again mostly miles and miles of miles and miles. I then packed for the flight to Melbourne.

I'm about to go out to meet my friend Ruth in the Melbourne suburbs, so I will leave Melbourne and Tasmania for next post.

Short addendum: My friend Ruth has just messaged me that her mother died overnight, so I won't be going out to see her. My condolences, Ruth.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.

chrishansenhome: (Default)
I'm off! I shall be in Singapore beginning Saturday afternoon, then on to New Zealand the next week. Auckland for 3 days, then a train trip to Wellington, where I'll be for four days. The week after to Sydney with a day-trip to Canberra, then after another week Melbourne, with a side trip of one night to Hobart, Tasmania for the Museum of Old and New Art. There was an article in The New Yorker about it, and after reading that I couldn't imagine being that near to it and not visiting. After nine days in Melbourne, train to Adelaide, where I'll be staying for four days. Then back to Singapore, with a four-day long weekend in Bali. Then home to London, arriving back home on April 26th.

If you're in any of these cities and want to meet up, please leave a comment below. I'm hoping that my feet hold out, and that I get back safe and sound.

Cheers! to you all!
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I checked the mailbox today and noted a letter from the last pension provider from whom I was expecting a lump-sum. I was expecting around £3,000 as a lump sum to me, and around £9,000 to my pension company. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and found that they were depositing £12,000 in my bank account as a tax-free lump sum, and £46 to my pension company.

I immediately called the pension company and, after following it up, they called back and said that, indeed, the £12,000 was a tax-free lump-sum due to me. However, if I want only 1/4 of that, then I should send them back a cheque for £9,000. What a bunch of twits. So this will push back my beginning to receive my pension for quite a while—probably about two weeks or so. I will be calling the contact at the pension company to enquire tomorrow morning. And I now have to look out for a deposit of £12,000 into my bank account.

I got the pension call as I was exiting Kensington High Street Tube station to walk to Trailfinders. They have a good reputation for long-haul complicated holidays, and mine will be both. I landed with a good-looking guy named Ross, who patiently worked his way through my wants and came up with a good approximation of what I wanted. He had lived in Auckland, NZ, Sydney, and Melbourne, and knew Wellington, so I ended up with two train journeys: Auckland to Wellington, and Melbourne to Adelaide. The rest of the long-haul flights are Premium Economy with a couple of exceptions. The accommodations are three-star. The eye-watering total so far, without living expenses and sundries, is £5,639 (US$9,169). I was thinking of £4,000 (around US$6,000).

Now I can easily pay this with my pension payout. And I am certain that I won't be spending lavishly (although a £8 pint of beer in Australia is the norm—not that I drink beer, but it's indicative. Usual price here is around £3). There's more.

I shall have to enquire about travel insurance. I can get normal travel insurance, but it won't cover pre-existing conditions (none of them do) and all my conditions are pre-existing. I shall have to call Diabetes UK and see whether they have any ideas about possibilities for insurance.

Now, I may be able to stay with friends in Adelaide, and that will save around £400. But otherwise I'll be in the soup.

Here's the first pass at the itinerary:

Arriving Singapore Saturday 9 March 17:05.
Leave Singapore Saturday 16 March 21:30, arrive Auckland (via Brisbane) Sunday 17 March 14:35
Leave Auckland Thurs 21 March, arrive Wellington the same day
Leave Wellington Sunday 24 March 15:25, arrive Sydney same day 17:05
Leave Sydney Sunday 31 March 12:00, arrive Melbourne same day 13:35
Leave Melbourne Tuesday 9 April 08:05 on The Overland train, arrive in Adelaide same day 18:00
Leave Adelaide Saturday 13 April 15:00, arrive Singapore same day 21:00
Leave Singapore 25 April 22:55, arrive London Friday 26th April 05:00

So, a week in Singapore, 4 days in Auckland, 3 days in Wellington, a week in Sydney, 9 days in Melbourne, 4 days in Adelaide, and 12 more days in Singapore.

Any LJ friends who are in any of those places are welcome to get in touch, as I'd love to meet friends from all over. And if anyone has any suggestions on interesting things to do while I'm in any of those places, please feel free!

After giving it some thought, I expect to have spent, when all is over, around £10,000 (around US$16,000). But this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I'll have more left over when I'm done. I doubt I'll be in that area again, so I need to make the best of it. I hope I'll enjoy it, stay healthy during it, and return home with a lot of experiences.

More when I know more.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I will turn 60 on November 8th. Big effing deal, one might say. Well, in the United Kingdom, it is usual that private pension funds "mature" on your 60th birthday. Any time after age 50, you can take your pension money and buy an annuity with 75% of it, and take as a lump-sum the other 25%, which is not taxable in the United Kingdom.

A few weeks ago my pension fund carriers noticed that I was about to turn 60. Therefore, I began to get material about it. However, the one time I clicked on a Facebook ad was for an outfit that shops around for the best deal with the money you have.

Briefly, the (gay) agent who spoke with me has gone through the entire process, and we have discovered that I will likely be able to take a lump-sum payout of a little less than £26,000. and buy an annuity that will provide me with around £430 per month. Those sums translate to a bit more than US$41,000 and around US$680 / month.

Now for the catch. While the lump-sum is not taxable in the UK, as I'm still a US citizen I will have to pay US taxes on it. My US tax accountant does not think it'll be excessive but I suspect that I'll lose up to 25% or so of that to Uncle Sam. Oh, how I wish I'd followed through and renounced my US citizenship a few years ago.

So, let's say that I'm left with around US$30,000 or around £19,000. What to do with that money? I have two ideas. The first is something that I've wanted to do for decades: take a trip to Australia. My health isn't getting any better, and if I don't do this now, I may never get to do it. I'm thinking March 2013. I would go to Sydney and Melbourne, with perhaps a trip to Ayres Rock on the way. I think this will cost somewhere around £4,000 for travel and lodging and mad money (just a wild guess). I would stop off in Singapore on the way there and the way back, of course.

But the other thing I would like to get is a gastric bypass. As the NHS is unwilling to pay for it, I would like to use the rest of the money for the operation and recovery. I think this will cost something around £13,000 in the UK. There is also the option of going abroad for it—Thailand and India specialise in this kind of operation for expats with ready cash and I suspect that it will be a bit cheaper there.

So after filling out the forms for actually getting the money, I will have to do some research on travel and health. In two years I will get my US Social Security (which I would have gotten even if I'd managed to renounce my US citizenship) and that will add another £600 or so to my monthly income. In five years, if I'm spared, I'll get my state pension here, which won't be a heck of a lot but will probably add a few bob to my total income.

I will continue to update here as I make my decisions.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Most of us aren't too thrilled with insects. Mosquitoes bite and carry disease, wasps sting, so do some bees, locusts eat our crops, ants sting too, termites eat our houses.

Most insects are pretty small—so how would you feel about a stick insect that is so huge it was nicknamed the tree lobster?

These insects, on Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia, were all eaten by rats evacuating a crippled ship. However, all was not lost. An expedition to a relatively small pinnacle of rock near the island discovered 24 tree lobsters, 80 years after they were presumed extinct. The story of how the species was saved is a heartwarming one; compassion for all creatures, whether great or small, or ugly or beautiful, is one of the best virtues one can have.

Do watch the video of a tree lobster hatching from an egg. You'll wonder how all that insect fit into such a small egg.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
[ profile] tim1965 has a picture of the Sydney dust storm in his latest blog post, and [ profile] phornax has one that, if anything, is even more stark. It reminds me of something that I witnessed in Phoenix in 1991.

I had given notice at Quantime in New York to move to Market Facts in Chicago. While I was serving out my notice, both Quantime and Market Facts asked me to go to Phoenix to do some work there with a client who was having some problems with a Quantime product. My first time in Phoenix (and, so far, my only time in Phoenix). It was a few weeks after the Episcopal Church's General Convention had met there.

I remember that the evening we got there it rained cats and dogs (which is out-of-the-ordinary for Phoenix, I think). So I went to the client's office building, which towered over most of the rest of Phoenix (I won't say who it was but it is a big company—gold faucets in the Gents', and so on).

I was sitting working at a computer terminal and looking out over the city while I worked. On the horizon I saw what I thought was some sort of cloud in the sky. However, as time went on it seemed to get closer and closer and turned brown. I asked the client what it was and he shrugged and said, "It's a dust storm. We get them from time to time."

Some dust storm. It moved rapidly toward the building and, suddenly, the entire skyline of Phoenix had disappeared into a brown haze of dust and dirt. This continued for a few minutes and then, as suddenly as it had arrived, it departed.

At that point I swore never to move to Phoenix. I guess I'll have to say much the same about Sydney—although, to be fair, our former flatmate Wyn MSNed me this morning and said that it had never happened before in his experience.

I'll probably still give Sydney a miss (except for a long-hoped-for sightseeing trip).
chrishansenhome: (Default)
As we were walking along the river this afternoon, I suddenly remarked to HWMBO, "I think that next year we should holiday in Australia/New Zealand." He was a bit taken aback, and asked why. I said, "I don't know how long I'm going to be healthy, and I've always wanted to see Australia. We can throw in a week in New Zealand as well."

The plan is to spend a few days in Singapore, then go on to Australia, spend 2-1/2 weeks there, then a week in New Zealand, back to Singapore, and then back to London.

What I'd like from my livejournal friends, wherever you are, is recommendations for:

--where we should go in Australia (Sydney and Melbourne, maybe Perth too as HWMBO has relatives there) and what we should see there;
--ditto for New Zealand, with the additional factor that we will only be there for a short time;
--what time of year is best to go for good weather.

This will likely be The Trip of a Lifetime for me, as I'm not likely to go more than once at my age, so I want to see those things that Australians and New Zealanders are proudest of and that are the best things to see there. We have probably a year to plan.

Thanks for helping us out.
chrishansenhome: (Default) the Age's report on the consecration of Bishop Barbara Darling, the second Australian woman bishop in the Anglican Church.

I especially enjoyed these three paragraphs:

At the start of the service, Canon Darling — renowned for her calm poise and gentle tone — wore purple, but after the oaths she retired to don the same ecclesiastical garb as the other bishops.

She returned for the laying on of hands, an ancient ceremony symbolising the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Then came the presentation of her new tools of the trade: a Bible (though she already has several), a shepherd's crook, a bishop's ring and cross, and cope (robe), mitre (bishop's tall hat) and stole (long scarf).

These garments arrived from Wimple's, the famous London ecclesiastical outfitter, on Monday and were partly funded by a gift of $8500 from Melbourne parishioners.

First, I would think that Wimple's might be a chi-chi nun's habit outfitter, and suppose they meant Wippell's, where bishops-to-be from all the world over come to admire purple birettas in glass boxes in the foyer.

Second, I am enormously heartened by the news that Bishop Darling actually owns a couple of Bibles and is not encountering one for the first time at her episcopal consecration. One would assume that possessing Bibles is something that most clergy would be likely to do. However, when you become a bishop and get another one to put on the shelf, perhaps it's a good idea to crack it open occasionally.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
The Anglican Church of Australia has become the fourth province of the Anglican Communion to select a woman as bishop. The Venerable Kay Goldsworthy will be consecrated Assistant Bishop of Perth on May 22nd. Hooray! Four down, 34 provinces to go. The other three provinces which have women bishops are the Episcopal Church of the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland are two other provinces which have approved women bishops, but they have not yet actually consecrated one. The Church in Wales last week narrowly defeated a bill to allow women bishops,
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Well, yay for Australia! Hopefully there are only two reactionary conservative parties left to be swept out of power in the Western world: Republicans, and Labour. It will be even better if Howard lost his seat (I think it's still in doubt at the moment). Of course, he'll then do a Tony Blair and give speeches to rooms full of little old blue haired ladies at $100,000 a pop or so. They can have him. Now we'll see whether Prime Minister Rudd will do a good job. I'm hoping so; I'd like to visit Australia and it would be nicer if a good Government were in place.

Singapore is mourning the loss of the 5 men from the crew of a dragonboat that was racing in Cambodia. Please pray for the repose of their souls. I believe that some of my LiveJournal friends knew these men personally and to them I offer my condolences and e-hugs.

The big news here over this week is two-fold. First, the England national soccer team was beaten by Croatia 3-2 and thus is no longer in the European soccer championship tournament. There has been much recrimination, the manager has been fired, and the poisoned chalice that is the managership of the England squad has been turned down by two very senior experienced managers from commercial soccer teams.

I'm happy as it will mean a quiet summer, with few if any drunken louts either celebrating the national team's wins or drowning their sorrows over the national team's loss.

The second big piece of news, closer to my own specialty, is the fact that two CDs containing Child Benefit information with names, account numbers, bank names, National Insurance numbers, and children's names was mailed by regular intergovernmental post from HM Customs & Revenue in Washington, Tyne and Wear, to the National Audit Office in London. They never arrived. They were not encrypted, but were password protected. There is now a frenzy at the banks, with people calling to change their account numbers.

Child Benefit is paid to all families with young children in the United Kingdom. So even very wealthy people may have their details on that list.

The government's line is that a junior clerk (pronounced "clark" here) did this without authorisation. This clerk, a 23-year old man, has been moved to a room in a hotel with a 24-hour guard^Wminder to keep him away from the media. I expect that the newspapers this week will find out both who he is, and will get him to talk. The National Audit Office told the HMRC that they didn't want account numbers and such, only a few non-specific details. Someone at HMRC replied that it would be too expensive to remove the superfluous information. The head of HMRC has retired/resigned to take responsibility for this. The government says that the banks will cover any losses traceable to fraudulent use of this information. The banks are saying, "Hold on just a minute, you caused the problem, perhaps you should pay." It's all good fun.

The Brown government seems to be made up of stumblebums, always falling over another crisis and not quite being able to handle it. I look forward to the next one that will come along (perhaps another tranche of Northern Rock banking money going down the toilet) I rejoiced when they said to me, "Gordon Brown is having another crisis he can't handle." I expect he'll blow up at a reporter in his next news conference, or be reduced to showing himself to be the stuttering stumbling packet of hot air that he has so far been able to hide at Prime Minister's Questions.

The LibDem leadership ballot came through the letterbox this week. I voted for Huhne. The better of the two, in my opinion. Much better than Ming the Merciless.

I ordered a cassock and cotta this afternoon. The Vicar of St John's Larcom Street has been saying that my monastic alb looks like a sack of potatoes when I'm wearing it. I disagreed, but broke down and decided to get measured for it. Our friend Simon, who is an honorary curate there, did the honours and hopefully I'll have it before Christmas, or at least before the end of January. It has no slot at the front for a collar, as I'm not entitled to wear one, but otherwise is identical to a priest's cassock. The cotta is long, trimmed with braid. A cotta is a surplice with a square collar that's usually used at the Eucharist (whereas the surplice, with a round collar, is used at the Divine Office). I have been wearing my alb with a biretta when in the sanctuary for a preaching assignment, and that looks rather bizarre. Cassock and cotta will look much better with a biretta. It was about £280. for both.

Now to do some other stuff, and to bed.
chrishansenhome: (Default)

I laughed until I cried. Thanks to ronslog.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
They're now able to get regular breaks. You gotta admire those Ozzies; they don't overwork the sheilas.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Heard this on the news this morning and could see the funny side of it. I've even taken up "mate" for various friends, as I'm often around Australians and others who use it (hi, Win!)

One of the great defining characteristics of an Australian is informality to everyone, great and small. I recall that a former Prime Minister (was it Bob Hawke?) put his arm around the Queen's back to steer her toward a receiving line or something. There was a furore here, as it's well known that the only part of the Queen you touch is her gloved hand.

Unless you're the Duke of Edinburgh, in which case it's your duty.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I met [ profile] curlygrrrl at Tufnell Park station this morning for our day at the Tate. What a lovely day we had too. She's just delightful to talk to--we had lots of things to say about Australian and UK politics, along with our fellow motsseurs and ljers.

I now know someone in Melbourne, Australia apart from my low-life ex-bf. HWMBO and I might even visit someday. [ profile] curlygrrrl assures me that Melbourne is a big place and chances of running into the ex are slim.

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