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14 Day Notice to Vacate

“I will not be defeated!” I thought to myself with each cold handful of soapy water that dripped over my scars. I had just come back from a good day’s training with a couple mates and desperately needed to wash up. Our useless electric shower had completely died mid-shower earlier this morning during my first attempt at washing myself and even then I had to resort to cupping handfuls of cold water from the basin to rinse off the soap I had lathered up. You may ask “Why didn’t you just have a bath this time?” Well, our bath taps don’t work. The landlady didn’t deem it necessary to get them fixed because, as she says “well the shower works, just fill up the bath with the shower head.” By now you’re probably thinking “Ok, so you can’t shower or have a bath, but why not use the HOT water tap from your basin?”… We don’t have a hot water service in our flat. We haven’t now for almost a month, once again, because the landladies either didn’t think it was necessary to fix or they just weren’t in a rush to fix it…. or the most likely reason was because they don’t want to spend money.

Lets back it up a bit.

So, over a month ago our flat experienced a large power failure for no apparent reason. Just our flat. The major fuse blew downstairs causing a carry-on effect which resulted in damage to the water heater. An electrician came out, got the power back and luckily we were able to shower. We washed our dishes by boiling a kettle each time. We persevered like champions. The landlady finally called in a plumber who fixed the hot water, well to a point where the water heats up, it just doesn’t flow out of the taps; essentially fucking useless. Another visit from the same plumber and the water flowed out of the taps about as much as the dribble you catch yourself doing just as you wake up in the middle of a computer science lecture at Uni. But we certainly can’t blame this on the plumber. He identified the need for a whole new system just as quickly as he figured out the landladies were cheap. At one point, he even pointed out how he could fix the bath taps but the landlady told him not to.

At this point we had no hot water from any of our taps (except the electric shower) and we continued to wash dishes with kettle water while the landladies were overseas on holiday. Then of course, the shower stops working. Nicky decides to email them and let them know while I’m out training. I had received a bunch of missed phone calls and messages asking me to call her. When I did, I found out we’d all been evicted.

That’s right, evicted.

For the full duration of our tenancy we have been have been the ideal residents. We have always paid rent well before it was due, we keep this place very clean and tidy and we haven’t damaged a thing. But, to quote the eviction email:

“Following the recent and frequent problems with the standard of hot water we decided to look into this very carefully. After much consideration, we feel that our best option is to do some major work to refit the system. As a result, we wont be able to renew our rolling tenancy agreement with you from next month. We appreciate that you have been very reliable tenants however everything has really come to an end, but we do hope that you understand our decision.”

The news practically ruined the rest of the day for me and upon returning home to 2 angry housemates, Nicky and Mary, I needed to wash off and freshen up. So I put on the kettle and boiled two large pots of water then poured all of this into the bathtub. It was unfortunately only enough to wet my feet up to my ankles but it was all I had. So, with a loofah and a puddle of cooling soapy water I endured the less than ideal circumstances and came out a winner.

We now have 14 days to complete one of the worst tasks I have experienced (twice now) since moving to London. That is, finding somewhere else to live.

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Ich verstehe nur ein bisschen Deutsch

… Aka, “The Berlin blog”.

Firstly, allow me to apologise for the delay. I have no excuse other than not dedicating any time to write this.  Reader beware, it’s a long one!

Back in May, Moods, Nicky and I got to talking about travel.  Moods was soon to be heading to Berlin for a small music festival called Friction Fest and he asked if I too would be interested. With two of my favourite bands playing and the lure of travel we began planning a short trip to Berlin. Nicky launched her preparation by downloading Deutsch instructional mp3s and practised them aloud in a way that only seemed to mock it’s strong American accent and the formality of its teachings. With Moods’ help, we narrowed it down to just “1, 2, 3, Please, Thank you, Schnitzel” and “Bratwurst;” what else was necessary?

A week before our planned departure, with flights, trains and accommodation booked and gig tickets in hand, Moods discovered that his credit card had been skimmed for thousands of dollars. These were his only funds and they were necessary to continue the travel lifestyle. This didn’t stop us though, Nicky and I decided to adopt him as our surrogate son and provide him with a daily allowance of Euros so that the trip would proceed as planned.

Navigating the trains

Wednesday afternoon on the 5th of May the three of us flew over to Berlin Schönefeld Airport where we began our battle with the public transport. Luckily we caught an express train, possibly by accident, and after a quick change, a fresh and successful attempt at navigating the maps and schedules, and a short walk we arrived at our hostel, The Odyssee. We were in Friedrichshain, the heart of the artistic quarter of Berlin where the streets were heavily populated by bars, clubs, and restaurants while featuring a rich and unique East-Berlin subculture that was home to its artists and students. Graffiti dressed almost every surface but in most cases it was artwork spawned from oppression and creativity rather than just boredom.

Remaining portion of the wall at Checkpoint Charlie

The following day we began our exploration of this grand city as we joined a walking tour, led by the English-speaking, Scottish born, Kenny. He was a naturally exciting story teller and a real treat to listen to. The tour was called the “Famous Walk” and it was run by Insider tours.  The 4 hour walk took us through many historical sites of World War II and the Cold War including (but not limited to) Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, large remaining portions of the wall, the site of the Nazi book burning, the site of Hitler’s underground bunker and the Holocaust memorial.  This tour was an eye opener for me and a real valuable history lesson.

Inside the dome

There was, unfortunately, a dampener on the tour as it rained quite heavily for the whole day, and being a walking tour there really wasn’t much cover to take. The funny side of this is that I actually had packed my wonderful, waterproof jacket for the trip but I had misplaced it to the back of the lock-up chest under my bunk bed. I only realised where it was once we had returned at the end of the day, drenched from head to toe. After the tour we checked out the Reichstag (parliament building). Atop this building was a large glass dome which you could climb to get a 360-degree view of the surrounding city, albeit grey and gloomy due to the weather.

The following day saw more exploration and the weather was considerably better. We re-visited a restaurant that we had tried the night before and once again gave our very best attempt at ordering in Deutsch although, the waiters everywhere are quick to save you when you have that confused look on your face. However, today was about Friction Fest for Moods and I. It was a 2 day music festival, of which only the first day was of interest to us, held in a run down venue-hub salvaged from the disused buildings of an old train repatriation plant.

The rear of the venue viewed from the train station

This was home to an underground culture that seemed cold and intimidating from the outside, yet warm, vibrant and inviting once inside. We took a couple of minutes to explore the surrounding buildings before heading to the indoor venue of the Astra Kulturhaus. Once inside, Moods and I passed through dark curtains shrouding the entrance to the main foyer where they had set up the smaller stage. We quickly B-lined for the bar and with a purchase of 2 pints of Astra we were also given two plastic tokens. Not knowing what they were for, Moods placed them in his pocket. We didn’t realise until the second round that when you return your pint glasses to the bar with the token, there is a 50c refund.

Hacride, Friction Fest

Hacride, (a big reason why I came to the show) kicked off their set on the main stage. They opened with the 15 minute epic  “To Walk Among Them” and only had time to play 2 more songs after that to fill their 30 minute allocation. I was one of a handful of people in the small crowd that actually knew this band from France and was so ecstatic to see and hear them live. Between seeing the bands that we came for, Moods and I headed outside to grab some Bratwurst and rest our ears. There was such a cool vibe about this place and about the show.

The Ocean, Friction Fest

More beer, more bratwurst, more bands and soon enough The Ocean came on. These guys are quite an intelligent and talented group of musicians. Sporting a new singer (who in my opinion did a better job than their previous front-man, even on their old songs) and backed by a 3-piece string  section, a pianist and a wall of illuminated visualisations, The Ocean blasted out an hour long set covering their recent back-catalogue and new album. I had only a couple weeks of learning the new album before hearing it live but they sure as hell nailed it!

A couple of other stand out acts during the day were Entombed, who were just outright metal-rocking fun and the final act Bohren & der Club of Gore who’s minimalist, midnight jazz could put you to rest after such a collection of heavy music. The day was a great experience; I was in Germany witnessing such varied music that I would otherwise never get a chance to see. If you are at all interested in the festival, or metal music in general, head on over to Noise Road; Moods has written an awesome review that describes the whole show better than I ever could and at the risk of writing the same material I’ll leave it to him to explain.

Upon returning to the hostel the midnight clerk, Dean, thought we were strange for each buying a 1L carton of water to take back to our room. However there were no hangovers to be had the next day and we were ready to kick on.

Market Bratwurst

Saturday was market day and we viewed the local produce and sampled more Bratwurst. We used the day to travel around Berlin again on foot to take photos that, unlike last time, didn’t involve getting wet. We witnessed the aftermath of a German run/marathon where thousands of beer cups littered the streets. These Germans are hardcore, they wash down their exercise with gallons of beer. Later that night, instead of heading out to discover the Berlin night-life, we stayed in at the hostel. The night evolved quickly from a chilled drink in the bar to a riotous night as Dean joined us for the next 5 or so hours. He was a bald, gay, Canadian born dual citizen living in Berlin with a pessimistic attitude and travel experience that would rival the best! The night was hilarious and possibly one of my favourite memories of the city. We eventually went back to our dorm room and after many more laughs crashed at around 5am; good times.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

With very little of the following day remaining after eventually getting out of bed, we headed to a Salvador Dali Exhibition at Potsdamer Platz; but you can’t view surrealist art on an empty stomach so we fueled up at a nearby restaurant. The food was fantastic and the exhibition wasn’t too bad either. Continuing on foot, as we had done so for the majority of the trip, we discovered more of the impressive streets and buildings of Berlin; one of which was the remains of a church, bombed in WW2, left as a reminder of the destruction of war. In contrast, however, one thing I loved about this city was the grand architecture and the incredibly wide streets and foot paths. I regretfully didn’t take any photos of what I mean here, but honestly, the whole city was very well spaced out. It made our return to London feel claustrophobic.

Ampelmann says "Walk"

I also came to love Ampelmann, the Stop/Walk traffic light man of East Berlin. There’s quite a story behind this figure which resulted in the public fighting to keep him after the reunification of Germany. He is said to be friendlier looking and safer for the children crossing the streets compared with the western figure. I just thought he looked funny from afar with his larger than life ‘member’; it’s actually his arm, but that’s not so apparent when you are looking at it from across the street.

Our final day arrived sooner than we had hoped and we spent it on our second walking tour: “Cold War Berlin.” We were taken to many sites and told of life behind the wall. This tour was just as informative but a little more sombre as we were shown sites of major oppression and even torture. We ended our part of the tour at Bornholmer Straße Station. This was the first border checkpoint that caved under the pressure of the people and allowed them to cross the wall (famous footage from 1989).   Whilst many of these destinations may not mean anything to some, what we can relate to is that some of this history is as young as 20 years ago. What that means is that people our age were part of this history. We weren’t just hearing dated stories of insignificant names of the past, with lives that wouldn’t even to compare to how we live our own.

BratwurstUnfortunately we never finished the tour as we had a plane to catch. There seemed to be so much more of Berlin that we never got to do and Moods even toyed with the idea of moving there to live. Berlin is a great city and I’ve realised how much I loved it since being back here in London. I hope I get another chance to explore more of Berlin and Germany but there are still many more countries nearby that I need to see, money permitting. I would definitely suggest Berlin to friends and other tourists, especially those who are into their history, or for anyone who enjoys a good bratwurst or bockwurst!

It’s only a ‘small leak’…

Bath Taped

Package tape around the edge of our bath

When you are faced with the question “How do you stop a leaking shower that is dripping through to the flat below?” some might say “call a plumber.” Not our landlords. In fact, pretty much any problem is met with the same “we’ll monitor it and see if it gets worse” attitude; like the time the toilet was leaking as we used it. Less than a month ago we had a visit from the tenant who lives in the flat below us. The ceiling of her kitchen was dripping so Nicky and I frantically searched our flat for leaks and found nothing. We let our landlord know immediately so that they could look into it but they believed “it wouldn’t be coming from our flat.” In the weeks to follow we were visited by our neighbours a couple times, and even got blasted for using water. Yet again we called our landlords to sort it out and they finally got in a plumber who diagnosed, but wasn’t paid to fix, the complete degradation of the silicon seal around the bath. In the interim we had to be resourceful; we couldn’t just stop using the shower, so armed with a roll of packing tape I covered the corners of the bath. Our landlords, who don’t like spending money, called in The Handyman (the landlord’s boyfriend)  last night to finally complete the job. To be honest though, I still like living here, the area is really nice and our room is huge, I just wish our landlords understood ‘maintenance and upkeep.’

London TowerBut, of course there is more to life in London than leaks and miserable weather. Well, I say miserable, this week is a heat wave; grey with highs of 20! And it just happens to be the only week that I am stuck inside with the flu. Back when I was feeling fine, Nicky and I checked out the Tower of London. We gave it 3 hours and still didn’t see it all. The tower is something like 900 years old and is located on the north-bank of the Thames, right next to the Tower Bridge. It has been used as a prison, fortress, and palace. We took a walking tour with a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) who had plenty of information to share and told some great stories. The guards actually live within the outer tower walls. The job is more than a responsibility, it’s their life. We also saw the crown jewels, the golden plates, cups, cutlery, golden everything really. – those Monarchs aren’t skint! The tower is well worth the visit; make sure you take a tour with a guard to get the extra information.

Pho at Cha Cha Moon

Nicky enjoying her Pho

Since settling in we’ve trekked out into town almost every day, checked out our local high-street (and local pubs) and sampled many great dishes including some of the best Taiwan Beef Noodles from Cha Cha Moon. There is a little bit of a back story to this one. Back in Adelaide, one of my best friends, Chinny, took me to a Vietnamese Restaurant in Ferryden park where we ate huge bowls of beef noodle soup. This was a weekly tradition for him as it soon became ours too. Since moving to London Nicky and I began pining for the ol’ ‘Phở‘ and we stumbled across said restaurant. It’s a must-taste for those interested in Asian food and let’s be honest, there’s only so much British cuisine one can endure.

Nicky and I having our feet nibbled on.

Nicky and I having our feet nibbled on by fish

And whilst on the topic of  food I should mention the time that Nicky and I paid to have little fish feast upon our feet at the Camden Markets – where else? In the natural springs of Turkey and Japan you can go and immerse your feet in the water where these little Gurra Rufa, or Doctor Fish, come up and nibble with their toothless mouths at the dead skin on your feet. It is considered a therapeutic treatment. These fish have been harvested for use in stalls like this one so that people can experience it within a controlled and filtered environment. Nicky and I gave it a go and quite enjoyed it. It was like a light brushing or tickling of the feet as the little fish moved over your skin. Our feet felt so good after just 15 minutes.

Ricky Gervais on stage

Ricky Gervais - Live

Another highlight has been the Ricky Gervais live stand up show ‘Science’ at the Wembley Arena. It was a last minute purchase for Nicky, Martin (Moods) and myself and it was absolutely hilarious, I laughed so much for the 1.5 hour set that my jaw was hurting. Our seats were fantastic; right near the front!  The elaborate stage resembled a dungeon laboratory that he rarely interacted with, however. His humour is certainly not for the prude, which is (I guess) why we absolutely loved it! Leaving the show afterwards turned out to be a busy task; an arena full of people all travelling home on the same tube line. The crowd was so massive that we decided to wait a short while before boarding the train home. So we sat and ate burgers on the steps out the front of the arena, watching people drench themselves by running through a large fountain that decorated the arena square. We were comfortable staying dry.

The 3 of us (Nicky, Moods and I) have also since been to Berlin for a short trip. However, since I left it so long between blogs I’m going to keep the trip to Berlin for another update because this one is already getting too big. Stay tuned!

I have only been to one training session with Parkour Generations since arriving in this country and immediately I was reminded of how intense it was and how unfit I have become! Prior to that session it had been months since I last did anything close to the magnitude of that training. I had substituted all of my strength and fitness with a large amount of beer and pub meals.  So needless to say, after one session I was wrecked. The plan was to go on a weekly basis but the Berlin trip the following week put a break on that. I might need to go for a couple of runs around the block just to work away the lethargy of alcohol and bratwurst that I have accumulated. This is Binge Britain, as I have been told on many occasions, a culture where your local pub is your lounge room. Your attendance is not just accepted but expected!

Enter the burger and chips, it’s London.

Penny for my thoughts?

A penny for my thoughts? (Courtesy of Nicky)

There’s something about London that makes my beard grow. It could just as easily be attributed to the non-existent shaving routine of the past 5 weeks, and even influenced by the lack of employment. However, the fact still remains, I’ve been in London for almost 3 weeks and my beard is getting thicker.

Between earthquakes in the southern hemisphere and volcanoes in the north, life has still continued to present its unexpected obstacles including Australia vs Korea in Finchley, the almighty Diane vs Humanity in Hyde park and most recently the clock vs our patience at St. Thomas Hospital. Bare with me here.

“Wait a sec, you’re where?”

I’m in London, UK. I arrived (WITH my partner this time) on a 2-leg, Qatar airways flight which featured a well deserved, chemically induced sleep. We had trusted our STA travel agent who said they were good to fly with. He said they were a “5-star economy” – in fact it was part of their advertising. I guess the look on our faces, and the question of “who are they?” warranted his defence of the airline. In the end I’m happy we travelled with them, I enjoyed their food! Once we were through the gates at Heathrow we were greeted by our sign-waving friend, Mary who escorted us back to her home (for the past year) in West Finchley (zone 4 north of central London).

Meet Shoji; Mary’s Korean landlord. She seemed nice and accommodating. Seemed, until 2 days later when she expected us to leave. Mary had done an amazing job putting up with her for the past year because Nicky and I didn’t fare so well. We luckily negotiated (by throwing money her way) to pay rent for the next week so we could occupy the remaining single bed in Mary’s room and a portion of the floor. Then another 4 days later Mrs Shoji kicked us out, stating to Mary that she wants to advertise the room for future tenants. A last-minute booking into a hostel secured us for a night as we continued negotiations for a flat of our own.

Our Room

Our room in our flat-share

Searching for flats is something I do not enjoy doing. Then, increase the difficulty by searching for 1 flat with 2-3 rooms available and then stalling the landlords whilst you relay the information back and forth between your other friends to see if they wanted the rooms as well; this was a very stressful time. I believe, and I think my awesome flat-mates agree, that we came out with a winner. It’s a 3-bedroom flat on the 3rd floor of an estate in Clapham North, south of the Thames. Newly refurbished and still smelling of the white paint covering every surface (stopping doors from being opened or closed), it became our fixed address for a minimum of 3 months; Nicky and I in one room, Mary in another, and Moods (another friend who is currently travelling) in the third.

Since then we have begun having loads of fun. We’ve been to museums, galleries, markets and pubs and our little Ewok friend, Wicket, has been along for the ride. Then on the weekends we have spent our Saturdays at Camden Town for the wildly eclectic markets, and Sundays in Hyde park for the always-controversial Speakers Corner. There we met Diane; the most openly racist, bigoted, contradictory, narrow-minded person that I have ever heard speak in public. She believes in her blonde-haired, British God who will destroy all foreigners! Whilst trying to comprehend the logic behind Diane, Mary quite rightly advised me that my biggest problem was that I was searching for coherence from a woman who makes no sense, and she’s right, the woman is quite clearly insane. Week after week she pulls a massive crowd who heckle, mock and laugh at her. She is a joke. But the ever-changing audience always bites and grand conflicts erupt. In the end you just have to laugh, it’s entertainment. If you get a chance just google her. It speaks for itself.

The Tate Modern

99m High-light of the gallery.

Furthermore, we have visited the V&A Museum, the Queen’s estate, Covent Gardens, Tower Bridge, etc, but a highlight has been the Tate (WANK!) Modern Gallery. As we laughed our way through the 7 levels of pretentious, effortless ‘modern art’ we couldn’t help feeling slightly offended that so much crap is immortalised in these tall rooms when hard-working artists, sculptors, photographers, etc put so much effort and heart into magnificent pieces of work, only to get an audience as large as their 2 metre wide stall in a market will get them! – breathe Daryl… There were some standout pieces in the gallery that I did actually like and I do understand that art is often about the individual. I was impressed by the building though which was, up until about 30 years ago, a power station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott; the man who also designed the red telephone booths. Can you see the likeness?

Nick at St Thomas Hospital

Nicky at the St Thomas Hospital

We’re also now registered with a local GP, only a 20 second walk from the flat. As part of the registration we each used a computer to do our ‘new patient health check’ – no doctor necessary, diagnose everything yourself! (hrmmm, that’s odd) It was just protocol for myself but Nicky actually needed to see a doctor. After a quick examination the doctor referred us to the local NHS (National Health Service – public health system) hospital for an operation the next day. What should have been a very simple, quick procedure turned out to be 30 hours of waiting for only 1 hour under a general anaesthetic. Overall, not a great experience but Nicky is recovering well. We’re putting the travel on hold for now; there’s still plenty to see and do locally.

The weather is getting better too, the sun had a bit of warmth to it today. Dr Pepper is still readily available and Pop-Tarts are no longer a novelty – they’re a staple. We’ve already spent plenty of money on pub meals and a bunch of other things we can’t remember, but who cares? We’re unemployed, overseas and enjoying ourselves. We’ve got our sights set on a couple small trips within the UK and then who knows where next (or even if they’ll allow air traffic any time soon). The world is waiting, this is only the introduction.