Sunday, 28 June 2009


I haven't posted much about New Zealand, mainly because there has been very little to post. We submitted our application for permanent residency at the beginning of April, they took the money, and then it all went quiet. This was to be expected; the London branch website has a rather nice little application processing time note on it (which is not updated as regularly as anyone who is waiting would like) which gives the processing time to be just under three months, taking us to the 4th July before anybody actually opened our envelope. (and this, in branch times, is actually a good waiting period - the poor folks whose main branch is NZIS Bejing have to wait up to a year).

So imagine my suprise to open my emails up Monday evening to see that we'd been allocated a Visa Officer two weeks ahead of when I was expecting, and he wanted a bit of extra paperwork to prove that we were still in a relationship (marriage certificates and the like don't count for much - all that proves is that you went through a ceremony!), and then asked whether I'd be available for a phone interview at 11am on Thursday.

My first feeling was of relief - we've got to the next stage; they don't want to look further at John's medicals (a couple of elevated results, not by much, and even noted by the Dr as being ok, but if you get an arsey officer, they can refer anything they want up to the Medical Assessor which means more tests, more time, more money); they don't want us to actually travel to London for the interview. Then panic... I had a business trip that was going to last from Tuesday afternoon to Weds evening - it was going to be difficult to find the time to prepare. But, I wanted to get it over and done with, so I agreed to the Thursday.

Concentrating properly over the next couple of days was very difficult, and I actually stopped breathing for about ten seconds when the phone rang at 11am on Thursday morning. But I needn't have worried - Tom was absolutely lovely. He had a great way of putting me at my ease (and it helped that he laughed at my Lord of the Rings joke and that he is a Welly boy, meaning that I could really enthuse about the city!), and the 45 minutes just flew by. At the end of the interview, he told me that he had three options open to him; the first was to decline us "and I'm not going to do that", the second was to grant us Work to Residence, the option open to him if he didn't think that we were serious about finding work or settling "and you've proved to me that that is not the case"; the third option was full Permanent Residence, "which is the most likely". So already, I was feeling pretty good. He then said that he would make the decision by the end of the week, and get it signed off (someone else has to check it just in case we were trying to bribe him!) at the beginning of next.

Again, I was wondering how I'd be able to concentrate over the next day and a half of work, and then through the weekend... So it was amazing to hear the phone ring on Friday afternoon, and Tom's voice saying that he'd approved us for full PR, and that it had been signed off, and did we want the visas put in our passports now?

I've been floating around a little bit over the last day or so - getting our visas is still only part of the challenge (we've also got to find jobs), but it is such a major hurdle to clear, and so much sooner than we expected (the website said that it would take 1-3 months to be given a decision after allocation, so we weren't expecting anything till August at the soonest!). We're expecting to clear out of the UK by the beginning of November; we've got a number of things going on over the Autumn (seeing David Attenborough doing a narration of "Nature's Great Events" with the BBC Concert Orchestra in September; doing a 10k run September; the Reading TKD competition on the 11th October) that I don't want to miss!

There are going to be major stresses over the next few months; job hunting, sorting out removals, working out when we hand in our notices at work and on the flat, many logistics that I haven't even thought about. But for now, I can relax...

And how better to do that than sat outside at my in-laws using their wireless network on my new netbook, and waiting to go to see War of the Worlds in concert? :-D

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Another post mainly about sport...

June is half over already - this is incredibly scary! I've had a lot of sport recently; no hockey, as the matches have been on Thursdays for the last month, and I'm not missing orchestra for anything, however, TKD and running have more than made up for it!

I had the Cornish TKD competition two weekends ago - it was a great atmosphere as 15 of us from our club were competing (plus associated families and supporters); I came away with two bronzes - my patterns one I don't really feel that I deserved, particularly as I mucked up, and only got the medal because I had a bye into the second round. However, the sparring one was definitely mine! My first match was very tough - it was against someone who I've fought before and lost (she is two belts above me); however, as I was really frustrated at mucking up on the patterns, I really went at it hammer and tongs (apparantly quite scary from the sidelines!), and ended up with a draw after the initial two minute round. So we had another thirty seconds, which ended in another draw, then *another* thirty seconds, which was a draw again! So the umpires all put their heads together, and decided to make it a sudden death round; first point to be scored was the winner. I was very lucky in that about a month earlier in the squad training, we'd actually done this, so I knew the tactics :-) Unfortunately, the first time they ran it, it relied on three of the four corner judges actually seeing the point, and only two of them saw me bop her on the head... So they changed the rules, and, after stop-starting it two more times, I finally got them to see one of the points that I scored!

So - through to the second round... The next person I was fighting was three belts higher than me, and I was already incredibly exhausted from the first round - however I wasn't going to give up ;-) We actually had the fight stopped because the umpire thought we were being a bit too heavy handed (ironic given what happened later on...), and after the 2 minutes, it was a draw... (I'm ready to melt into a little puddle by this point!) We then had the next thirty seconds; when that was up, all I could think of was "I don't care if I win or lose, just please not a draw!" I did end up losing it, but it couldn't have been by much, because of the flags I could see, one was for me, and one was a draw (the other two were for the other person).

However, I was very pleased with my performance, and actually quite glad that I didn't get into the next round, as the other finalist was the lady that I'd been losing weight to avoid (unfortunately as there were so few of us competing, they'd lumped together both the belts and the weight categories...). She and the lady I'd been facing started the final, but it wasn't long into it before the scary lady thumped my opponent extra hard (after she'd been pummeling her all over the ring without the umpire stopping it!), and she collapsed... To compound it, the umpire decided to take off her helmet - not good with a potential head injury, and this was verified when she came round about ten seconds later complaining about a pain in her neck and not being able to feel her legs!

Obviously an ambulance was called, and they had a medic on duty as well, and fortunately, by the time the ambulance actually got her into the big white van, she had regained feeling in her legs and was laughing and joking - my instructor said later that she had been discharged at 7.30 with nothing wrong (apart from being annoyed at missing the rest of the competition!).

John and I stayed down in Cornwall for the Monday, and took a trip around the Lost Gardens of Helligan - definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Cornwall - a most amazing story, where the 200 acres of gardens had become completely overgrown following the loss of most of the garden staff during WW1 - the same chap who did the Eden Project was involved in their restoration, and the result is astounding!

Then back up to Bristol Monday evening, and had a relaxing but busy birthday on the Tuesday; we went out to an all you can eat pan-asian restaurant for lunch (we were a bit disappointed that, although we could watch the sushi chef making sushi, we weren't allowed to actually have any of it - it was all for the evening diners! However, they did make up for it with an amazing dessert selection...) and did some shopping (which did include buying some takeaway sushi for tea - I was determined to have my birthday sushi!), and then loads of baking in the evening for cakes for work (I have the most *amazing* brownie recipe - the "Secret" ingredient really does work!).

This weekend just gone has also been manic! All the running training that I've been putting in paid off dividends. The Race for Life went really well - not only did Alice and I run it in a new personal best of 32 mins - helped by having to overtake a whole load of people who went into the "runners" section, ran about 50 yards, then decided to walk, and also by an amazing sprint at the end - I paid for it the next day with thighs that did not want to speak to me! There was also a whole load of my TKD group there (most of them being completely insane and running it in their doboks!), and we ended up having a 'blink and you'll miss it' slot on TV - as John was doing his 'photographer' act (with about 8 cameras) for the post-run group photo, the HTV cameras snuck up behind him. I missed the actual broadcast, and can't catch up on it, so I'm waiting for someone from the TKD group to post their recordings online...

I've managed to raise £249 for Cancer Research as well, which is a fantastic bonus - everyone has been so generous!

I'm really looking forward to the next challenge now - there are a few 10K races coming up in September, and I'm hoping that with a bit of a push, I'll be able to take part in those as well.

Sunday we did manage to grab a bit of a lie-in (finally! First time in weeks!), and I had my TKD grading in the evening. It went reasonably well - I'm a bit disappointed that I fluffed some of the step-sparring (but I've never been very good at them in a pressure situation - I can do them in lessons, but I seem to lose concentration when I'm being examined on them), but when sneaking a look at my grading card (I like being able to read upside down!), I got B's across the board again, so should be getting my blue belt next lesson! (This puts me at the highest grade in the Adult Juniors group, and I'm not likely to grade again before we leave for NZ, so it is a nice goal to have met...)

I also have a nice new toy - an Acer Aspire Netbook - it is a very small laptop (it fits onto an A4 sheet of paper with space all round the outside); whilst it isn't something that I could use to play mega computer games on, it is absolutely perfect for writing stories and surfing the net (when I can get wireless access!) It's also Linux based, rather than Windows, which means that when I turn it on, it is fully loaded within a few seconds - I am able to get a lot of writing done on the 8 minute train journey to and from work! (webpage link - ignore the spelling errors!) There is a possibility that when not working on my story (it's currently at 4,000 words, and most of those have been Twittered to myself), I might even get some blog posts done, which might make my updates a little more frequent than they have been!

Monday, 1 June 2009

5 Minute Chocolate Cake

This one isn't my recipe; I got sent it on an email on Friday. I had to try it out over the weekend - I'm not a big microwave cooker, using it mainly for reheating or defrosting, so I was a little sceptical on how this would work...

4 tablespoons self raising flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
Chocolate syrup (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (MicroSafe) (I used my large Starbucks mug, and the mixture rose about an inch above the edge)

Add dry ingredients to a bowl, and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again.

Pour a little chocolate syrup into the bottom of the mug; just enough to coat the bottom. Pour the cake mixture in.

Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts (My microwave is 800 watts, and 3 1/2 mins was enough to cook it through). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed! Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired. (though I ate it directly from the mug with a fork whilst it was still steaming hot :-) )

EAT! (this can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

This is an amazing recipe - incredibly easy, and makes a very good sponge. Without the chocolate chips and the syrup, it might be a bit dry, though...