“Hi everyone Ok, ok, so I have been incredibly slack and haven’t written for ages. There is a lot to report which is actually why I haven’t written – we have had a very busy few months interspersed with trips and holidays, a houseful of people and a property purchase! So where do I start? I think here is as good a place as any. A few months ago we started getting emails from various friends from Oz saying that they were all coming at some stage – all independently and as it turned out nearly all at the same time! Some were coming for a holiday for a week or two, and some were coming on a more permanent basis to get a job and work for a few years. As the costs and culture shock of London are quite nasty and because all these people are our friends our lounge room became a dormitory – and at the most we had 7 people in our 2 bedroom flat! It is hard living with so many people as it decreases your personal space – but it also increases the necessity to socialise more (I mean go to the pub and drink [for the uninitiated]) which has had its toll on our sanity, and on our hip pocket! But it was great to see everyone – and we are now down to only having one guest so it is much better now! Jon has 5 weeks a year holiday that he must use at work or else he loses them, and although we felt like we had had more time off than that because we have done so many trips in the last year, Jon found that he had to use 2 weeks of it. Initially we wanted to go to America where our friend Megan was studying, but following the recent events we decided that we would go somewhere with sun instead. So we looked around for a place to go, but all of the affordable places with sun seemed to be in places like Turkey etc which we weren’t sure what would happen in those countries should there be a war (these decisions were being made sometime in mid September, so a world war could not be ruled out!) So against our better judgement and also against advice from everyone we asked, Jon and I decided that November (ie Winter) would be a great time to drive around and see some of the UK. We hired a car for 2 weeks and set out on our road adventure. We had some time before bought a book on walks in the countryside and we intended to do some of those. So we started out at the Roman town of Bath, very pretty and very cold! The night we arrived was fireworks night (good luck rather than good timing). So we saw the fireworks, and then in the morning set out for walk number one in the Cotswolds. The walking was somewhat hampered by the mud and the threat of rain and then also by a bull which was alone in a paddock that we were supposed to walk through (according to the map). I was ready to risk the bull,(it was only a little one) but Jon decided that it would not be a good idea, and that instead we would walk up the biggest, steepest hill ever to avoid it. We got to the end of the walk somewhat more tired than expected. And I had begun a new craze of falling over once and once only on each walk (it’s a relief when I’ve fallen and got it out of the way), so was really dirty. After an uneventful night in Bristol we headed to Wales. We went via Cardiff and were too lazy to find somewhere to park the car so we just drove around for a while so we could say that we’ve been to Cardiff. We then headed to the wilds of Wales where my boss has a little weekender stone cottage set in the middle of cow paddocks separated by ancient stone fences. It was absolutely beautiful and very cold, but the best thing was that we were there for the first snowfall. We stayed there for 2 nights and then it was off to the Lake district. The Lake district was a highlight of the trip. It is really beautiful at that time of year – the leaves were falling off the trees and the place is full of little lanes that run alongside a lake that makes you feel like you’re in a scene from a car ad (with the wind blowing the leaves up behind you as you drive along). We did more walking in mud, more falling (me anyway) and it really was beautiful. On one walk we were waling through a paddock past a small dam that was frozen over on the top. Jon and I discovered that the art of skimming rocks was much easier when there is a layer of ice! While we were in the Lake District we had dinner in a little Italian restaurant, and they asked us to sign the guest book – there was a signature of someone in Wagga (where Jon’s parents live). Very small world. The Lake District is quite far North, so we decided that while we were up that way we should just pop over to Scotland. So we decided that we had to see Loch Ness (which is very far North) and it just looked pretty much like the 5 other Lochs that we saw on the way there. But I did have my photo taken with the Loch Ness monster in an Information Centre – which I guess is a reasonable consolation?! The area of Scotland that we went to was beautiful and some of it was very craggy. The Lochs themselves do not look that much different from Wyangala Dam (near Cowra) but some of the other countryside is really beautiful. The people are also great, they have a great sense of humour and are much nicer than people in London! After a few days in Scotland we decided that it was time to start heading back down towards London (slowly). We did a walk which we started way too late in the day and we got lost in the woods which was pretty scary because it was also getting dark and we kept startling pheasants which ran away and then we in turn were startled. After eventually making it to the other side of the woods and back to the car we found a little hotel to stay in in the town of Seahouses (that’s the name of the town). We then drove further South the following day, stayed in York (no sign of the 10,000 men marching up to the top of the hill and down again) which is a beautiful town which has managed to preserve most of its medieval buildings and castles etc. It really is a beautiful little town. On the second last day of the trip we were driving to Sherwood forest (home of Robin Hood) and our car broke down. The car was automatic and would not go out of 2nd gear, so we had to drive it really slowly to Nottingham to get it repaired. To cut a long story short they couldn’t fix it and we had to have it replaced with another one which we drove back to London. So, although the holiday was not in a sunny spot it actually was a pretty time of year to be travelling because of falling leaves and snow on mountain tops (and from time to time snow on us). There was also the benefit of going to places and being the only guest in the Bed and Breakfast. I think if you were looking for mud, it was also the best time of year (although I don’t know why you would be looking for mud). So we came back to London and spent a few more weeks eating out and partying. The Megan that we were going to see in the States had moved to Finland for a few days to study, and since it was nearby, Jon and I popped over to Helsinki for the weekend to see her. We arrived in Helsinki to –4 degree temperatures and the place was covered in snow! It was very cold and it was snowing while we were getting to the hotel. Our hotel was well chosen (a fluke really) because it was right in the middle of town. Jon and I looked around the shops and later met Megan who arrived shortly after we did. We went to a great restaurant down the road from the hotel which had a series of small rooms to eat in, each containing a tractor or part thereof! Very strange. But the food and the atmosphere were great – Jon had a hard time choosing between the reindeer and the moose – but since it was almost Christmas he chose the deer! Megan and I had more traditional meats. The next day we did a tour around Helsinki. It is a fairly small city with plenty of open space and it is very modern. We saw a modern church that had been dug out of a rock and had a huge dome ceiling. We also caught a boat out to a snow covered island just off shore. The island has an old fort and we spent about an hour looking around before we decided that the boat back to Helsinki would be warmer! But it really was beautiful and great to be out on the water, even though it (the water I mean) was literally beginning to freeze. The Finns are lovely and can all speak English and are all more than willing to do so. One waitress was so embarrassed that she had greeted us in Finnish – she should have known we were English speakers! Megan came back with us to London and stayed in the dormitory (lounge room) for a few days. The next big excitement is that I couldn’t contain my property purchasing habits any longer so we have decided to buy a flat in London rather than paying off someone else’s mortgage. We looked at a few areas that would have meant that we could only afford a box, and then happened upon a place called Bow which is in the heart of the East end, but is (hopefully) a little up and coming. We looked at a flat there a few weeks ago in a large warehouse conversion development and really liked it – but when we put an offer on it it was already sold. We were devastated because the development has a few hundred apartments, but we really liked this layout because it was bigger and also had a balcony. So I kept my eye on all the agents and one came up last week, exactly the same layout – and in much better condition and with the added bonus of a car space (good for resale). So this time we put an offer on it on the spot so we didn’t miss out! We are just waiting for all the legal stuff to happen (it is much more risky here because either party can pull out at the last minute) but hopefully we might settle in January! The flat is actually on the top level (the agent called it a Penthouse!) but the building is huge and there are actually about 100 of them so it kind of takes away from the exclusivity of having a Penthouse! The flat is over 3 levels, and is all open plan – photos soon when we move in! So there you have it – the story of our lives for the last few months. I really hope you are all well and the long letter hasn’t bored you to death. Most of all have a wonderful Christmas and I hope to see you all soon! Best wishes Jane and Jon”