Pride after a fall

Happy New 2017 everyone!

First let me apologise profusely for the hiatus in posts. The last 3 months have been somewhat of a whirlwind (literally, we had 50kmph winds yesterday) and for quite a considerably part of that time we haven’t actually been in New Caledonia, making the whole ‘blogging from the Pacific’ thing a little pointless.

So, what have we been up to, I hear you ask?….

Well, following my return from Melbourne, Team Helen & Phil got on with some major logistics.

The start of December saw a fantastic weekend spent on a catamaran with 5 of our fabulous New Cal mates. The weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful, fishermen Phil & Andrew caught us dinner, I played with sharks and touched a sea snake (Pacific living is making me well’ard) and we survived the weekend with only 2 broken fingers and some mild seasickness. For a group containing: ‘Liability Phil – there is no Pacific Island he can’t get injured on’, a guy that on occasion has got lost at sea and myself (to which my failings have been well documented) I think this is really quite good going. The skipper, who has now taken us out 3 times has already planned our next adventure & told us very firmly that next time we have to speak entirely in French. And only feed him French wine.

Phil and I then had a quick pre-holiday-holiday (because our lives are tough) to Lifou, the last Loyalty Island on our list (coz, like Pokemon, it is important that you catch them all). It was stunning, interesting, we had adventures in French and on the last day Phil asked me to marry him. Not a bad trip really.

 

A mere 24 hours after that bombshell we got on a plane and took the long 32 hour flight back to the UK for 5 weeks of merriment, over-indulging and reveling with friends family and general hangers-on (thank you postcards are on their way). It was lovely to catch up with everyone and we enjoyed ourselves fully.  We traveled over 3000km within the UK. We were quite tired. And Cold. So very very cold.

So now what?

After a plane journey that seemed to last forever we are back to the unusual existence I call normality. We have blundered through jet lag and for the first time realised just how royally it can mess with you. After a mere 18 hours back in the country Phil and I went shopping. I decided that I did not need a handbag. This turned out to be quite possibly the most stupid decision I will make in 2017. Well maybe. Turns out supermarkets are distracting places and I am easily distracted.  Shopping is often a chore that requires both hands.

I wandered off. So did my purse.

Cue: panic, hysteria and the realisation that this was a problem that couldn’t be solved in English. I would have to speak French. Quickly.

And oddly I did.

Even though I was sleep deprived and on the verge of tears.

Even when 12 hours earlier I had been failing to understand the French plane announcements which I have heard thousands of times.

I found an army of helpers. I got announcements made. I was able to give all my details and make people understand me.

Cards were cancelled. Banks were contacted (coz in New Cal it isnt enough to just cancel the card centrally.) I understood that my bank at anyone time does not know the contents of my account and that I would have to wait 3 days to see if I had been defrauded. I understood when the lovely lady who found my purse called me. I understood the instruction to pick it up.

I UNDERSTOOD. AND PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD ME.

Finally after two years (practically to the day) of living here, I feel like I have actually achieved something. Yes, I speak french in an English accent. Yes I, make up words or freely add in the English if I don’t know the French. Yes, I use the wrong conjugation and blatantly miss out any words that don’t immediately seem important to me. Yes, I have decided to be zen and only live in the present (there is no past or future). Yes, I pick gender on a whim and change half way through a sentence, but god-damn-it, I can get shit done.

For this, I am proud.

I may be stupid and a calamity and loose stuff idiotically.

But I am proud that  I can deal with it when I do.

 

 

Projects for 2017:

Get better.

Cultivate French friends.

Be awesome.

 

Guilt Free English

I was luckily enough to spend last week in Melbourne, Australia, the result of a rather snap decision on the back of cheap flights, wanderlust and the realisation that my current time-rich situation will be fleeting and that do I really have to ‘use it or lose it’. Life is short and there are adventures to be had.

So I booked my flights, found myself a hostel and started dreaming of proper coffee and art galleries.

As I boarded the plane, I realised that this was the first time that I would be going to an English-speaking country in 11 months.

11 MONTHS.

This was a fantastical revelation.

Everything is going to be SO DAMN EASY.

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It could be pointed out by an observant reader of this blog that I do not exactly have an ‘immersive’ language experience here in Noumea. Yes, I live in a French-speaking country, yes, if I want to get anything done I have to operate in French, yes, it is part of living overseas that you try to immerse yourself in the new language and culture in an attempt to integrate.

BUT.

Turns out this is harder than it looks. I live with Phil. We converse in English. Granted, I often do not have a clue what he is on about (early in our relationship he told me he had spent the day making a model – I naturally assumed he was a sculptor) but we do still clearly speak almost identical versions of the same language. Indeed, the majority of our friends speak English as their first language, or at least speak English to us (as their English blows our feeble attempts at French right out of the water). I also have the luxury of working almost entirely in English (and Google Translate) and there can be some days where I actually end up not speaking any French at all.

HOWEVER.

Relying on others is  a constant source of guilt and shame for me. I really wish I could speak better French and it is something I am going to put a lot more effort into improving next year. I try hard, but not being understood is frustrating and learning any language is difficult.  Currently, every interaction has to be planned and practiced, and if someone doesn’t stick to the script all hell breaks loose (see my previous post Girlz on tour).

I feel guilty when someone speaks English to me. I feel guilty when someone has to translate for me. I feel guilty when I feel I am taking up too much of someones time because I don’t understand and I feel guilty when someone (?understandably) gets pissed off and ignores me.

Therefore, you can imagine, after so long, that the prospect of going somewhere that speaks English was somewhat of big deal.

So I found myself on a plane Melbourne,  excited by above all else, the promise that I would be able to speak fast, unthinking English, freely throwing in as many colloquialisms, idioms and general ridiculous slang as I could think of…. HEAVEN.

….I think however, I might have got a little carried away, such was my delight in guilt-free English-speaking.

I asked for help, often needlessly. I spoke to everyone I came in contact with…..often unsolicited. I started conversations to rooms, aimed at no one in particular and waited for someone to respond…

Yes, I am aware that this is not really socially acceptable behavior and could be considered the actions of a crazy person, but in my defence I was travelling alone, I like people and I appear to have developed a word daily word quota that I must communicate, even if no one else is around.

But it did pay off.

Fortune favours the bold.

And bold I was (quite uncharacteristically).

I even started conversations with people in restaurants and cafes, who nearly all turned out to be truly lovely and fascinating human beings who I hope I will spend a lot more time with in the future. It also appears that since I moved to the other side of the world, I seem to have become at least 50% more interesting as a person. Turns out not many people have met a Brit that lives on a tropical island, and that fact alone can at least keep a conversation going for long enough that people forget that you accosted them whilst they were having some alone time or enjoying a private meal.

Proven fact.

I took the advice of my newly-enforced friends and I went (slightly) off the beaten track. I went to some lovely places and saw some amazing things (ironically the 2 big block busters in town were Banksy and Hockney respectively….a little taste of home). I made snap decisions, tearing myself away from my natural instincts to plan everything. I found seats to comedy an hour before it started, I went to gigs and revelled in the fact that I could understand (almost) everything. It was awesome.

But blimmin’ heck it was cold.

It’s suppose to be Australia – a place to which my opinion has sole been formed by watching Neighbours, Skippy and Round the Twist. It is always sunny and warm. That is why people from the UK go there! You always wear ‘thongs’ (which still make me giggle) and short shorts and pretty summer dresses.

I was freezing at 14°C and wanted to do none of these things.

Socks, jeans, fluffy boots and a jumper were worn.

I am very much starting to worry about my imminent trip to the UK.

I am hoping that in the next 2 weeks I can absorb and store enough heat that I can then slowly radiate it back out throughout my 6 weeks in the UK.

Failing that I am going to hibernate until my flight back to the sun…..

If I don’t speak to you beforehand, have a lovely festive period and I will be back, blogging about my Pacific adventures in 2017 🙂

Girlz on tour

Having visitors is awesome. Phil and I are still both overwhelmed that people are keen to give up their holidays to come and see us, particularly when it is so ridiculously far and the cost of a ticket is so incredibly hefty. Granted, we do live in a pretty cool place, but still, we do really appreciate it. And seeing the place where we live and love through other people’s eyes makes it even more special.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly cool as they saw the arrival of my friends Jane and Ali, both from the UK and both eager to get some extremely well deserved R&R South Pacific stylee.

Or so I thought.

Having visitors is easy right? Show them the beach, warm sea and tropical fish and they will be happy to get on with it?

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Well not entirely.

Turns out my friends are of the active and adventurous mindset.

OK, I shouldn’t have been really surprised by this seen as I met them both over a decade ago through ‘outdoor pursuits’ but I thought that age, heat and keeping there blood-alcohol level high might slow them down a bit.

I was really quite wrong.

What ensued was a veritable ‘fat camp’ of activities that included hiking (approx 6-8 km per day), mountain biking, swimming, horse riding, boating, SUPing, dancing, road tripping, camping (wild, normal and glamping) and of course catching up with either copious amounts of tea or an alcoholic beverage, all at 27°c+. We didn’t really waste a single minute.

And I have never been so exhausted.

To add a certain level of challenge (coz let’s face it, all that in 3 weeks is a doddle), all this was largely arranged and carried out in what I (and my companions) believed to be passably correct, understandable French. Hell, I have been here 2 years, I can do this shit. Of course, in reality this turned out to be (best case) laughable or (worst case) incomprehensible French. This of course (it being me) led to some truly ridiculous situations which I am sure you would like me to share.

Noumea is a useful place to live. It has amenities. It has beaches. It is where we work and generally where stuff gets done. It is not however, a good representation of New Caledonia as a whole. I once played devils advocate and wrote: ‘Noumea is a beautiful city’ on the board in a class. The reaction this received was both violent and heartfelt. Noumea is not a beautiful city. So therefore to fully experience New Caledonia you need to get outside the capital – a road trip was high on the list of things I wanted to do with my friends.

The 4 day trip that ensued held most of the hilarity.

Following my Martin Randall Travel training (where I used to work), before leaving I drew up an itinerary and tried to confirm campsites and activities the day before leaving. It even had estimated timings and contact details on it. We had a plan. We were feeling great.

Unfortunately after only a few hours people cancelled on us, but we promptly rearranged stuff, using the age old method of just calling the next person on the list. No probs. This was probably mistake number 1.

We were waved off by a gleeful Phil who, after watching us noisily pack a ridiculous quantity of stuff into our car, was obviously rather relived that he was staying at home. First stop was Ouano, on a peninsular about 2 hours north of Noumea.  We hiked through mangroves and found a lovely spot to wild camp.

 

We made camp, I invented a new TV cooking sensation that will be called ‘Cooking with a view’, Ali went swimming in nature and there is a 80% chance that the drivers of 2 Utes watched me pee. The night passed fairly uneventfully and we woke up to another beautiful calm New Caledonia day.

At this point we decided to look at a map and realised that our destination for night 2 was not quite where I had envisioned it, that the road on my tourist map looked a bit questionable and that there seemed like there was only one route there. Mistake no.2. We stopped at the nearest town and the rather bemused lady at the tourist office told us that it would take us at least 2 hours to drive there and that the road was erm…. twisty. She did however let us use her toilet and she did have very nice soap which cheered everyone up. After a really lovely walk through the Fern forest spotting Cagou (cool, shady and definitely preferred to the previous days walk) we embarked on our journey North.

Our destination was a tribune where we were looking forward to experiencing traditional New Cal life. We found the turning after a mild detour. We drove. The road did not match the map. We had a few mild panics but decided that, as there was only one road, we must be on it.

The road got steeper. We left tarmac. Dirt road turned into 4×4 road. Car parts miraculously started appearing in trees. The road fell away to our right leaving a vast ravine.

Driver Ali was marvelous and Jane and I did our best ‘we are not at all nervous about this situation’ looks. And then we found the lovely tarmac road that had come off the motorway, but had not seen as it was on a different map…..Oh well we thought never mind. Mistake no. 3. Strike that one up to experience.

You would think that finding yourself on a challenging piece of road with front bumpers and wheels strewn in trees would be the most exciting thing we witnessed on our drive.

It was not.

A little further along the road we came across this:

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Quite an innocuous bit of smoke right? Well not really, as we discovered that the hill we were driving along was covered in it. We got out to investigate – coz who doesn’t like watching things burn?

As we were watching the fire started getting bigger. Was it someones campfire? Well, it might of been, but as we were watching tress started catching fire.

Trees don’t normally catch fire. Campfire flames are not normally 3 metres high.

We discussed. I rang Phil (cos obvs he knows about these things). He yelled at me and told me to ring the fire brigade.

I have never rung the fire brigade before.

Or the police, or ambulance for that matter.

I tried to find someone to palm this responsibility off onto. None were there. I psyched myself up. I phoned the pompiers.

In response I got a rather bored sounding woman who didn’t really seem to care less about my rather panicky description of the ‘feu dans le foret‘. I duly told her where I was in my best French: on a road, by a river, near a bridge, under a tree, next to a forest. She didn’t seem that enthused.

In retrospect, I probably could have been describing anywhere (with the exception that I did at least know which road I was on)….but I think I at least pointed them in the right direction.

So, we were on a road, bye a river, next to a tree, taking pictures (oh look its spreading again!) and we had a decision to make. What do we do now? Onward towards the tribune (we were about 30 mins off by this point) or backwards, away from the fire. We put it to vote. Retreat was favoured. But now I had to cancel the tribune. Nobody was answering so I left a message. I hate leaving messages. I always end up saying something ridiculous.

The message went something like this:

‘Hello, My name is Helen, I have a reservation for this evening. I am terribly sorry but on the way to your tribe we encountered an awfully big fire and we are really worried that if we continue we may not be able to return. I am really incredibly sorry for the inconvenience and I hope that the fire does not increase and that you are all safe. Truly sorry again. Helen ‘

You would agree that that is quite a lot of French. And said in a very British way. Which doesn’t usually translate. And I was a bit panicky. And I had already used a lot of my daily French quota on calling the fire brigade.

Which meant that inevitably, the above is not what I said at all.

I ran out of French. I got confused. My genuine worry for their safety got lost in translation. Particularly as I forgot the word for safety mid-sentence. What actually happened was a garbled apology which ended with me wishing that they all had their gilets de sauvetage, in case of emergency. Yes, in the event of a bush fire on a mountain, my recommended course of action is to wear a life jacket.

FRENCH FAIL.

I bet they had a laugh though….stupid English.

 

 

There were also plenty of really amazing things on our holiday, that were largely free from cock-ups (including a few New Cal firsts for me as well) and I think these are best portrayed in a photo-montage:

 

Thanks to Ali and Jane for making the 3 weeks so fun, putting up with my inability to function and for stealing their photos.

Next stop: MELBOURNE ON MONDAY!

Je déteste les moustiques

For the avid reader of my blog, it is probably pretty obvious that life here in New Cal is pretty awesome at the moment.

The sun is shining, the weather is fine, it’s not too hot, there are vegetables in the shops, I am embracing the extensive holidays of the teaching profession with open arms and I (probably) have another years worth of paid employment. We have been off adventuring with our last set of visitors (Stephen & Alex, Phil’s father and brother) and have added another couple of things to the list of reasons why we love this wonderful, beautiful country.

But there is a However.

And it is a pretty big HOWEVER…

There is one aspect of life here which could potentially be a deal-breaker.

I can deal with the absurd bureaucracy, the strikes, the paperwork, the language barriers, the mafia and the appalling driving. These are really just part of what keeps life entertaining and interesting here. Indeed, they all play a part in my love for this place. Without them it just wouldn’t be the same.

What I do not find funny is this:

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Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito, and all his vile little mosquito friends that seem to be able to detect me from a vast distance and know exactly which part of my body I have failed to hit with repellent (literally – they will home in on the one un-touched nano-meter of skin).

Even after the best part of two years on the island, it appears my Anglo-Saxon blood is far too tempting for this hideous little imp, and despite copiously lathering myself in a delightful mix of chemicals, I still on average get bitten twice a day.

Usually on the arse.

I have been told that after 5 years you stop feeling them, but that seems a very long time to this thoroughly pissed off and perpetually itchy Brit.

To add a certain je ne sais quoi to this situation, we are just coming out of the the ‘cold’ season. The time of year where there are supposedly a lot less of these little blood-sucking sods, as they all die of cold and are much slower and easier to satisfyingly squish. This however hasn’t stopped there from being a major dengue epidemic in Noumea, to which quite a few of my friends have succumbed. And it sounds freaking hideous. Fever, hallucinations, rash, aching….all symptoms of this delightful ailment.

And itt certainly doesn’t take a genius to work out that at the current rate that these repulsive imps are feeding on me, it is not really a question of ‘if’ I will get dengue, but more a question of ‘when’. Especially as now the only way is up. Higher temperatures, more rain, more mosquitoes. The odds are certainly not in my favour.

BUT HARK! Cue a flash of genius from the local public health department (which give it its due, is pretty good with these things – you can read about that here).  We receive an email from the government stating that to preempt an escalation of the current epidemic, before the season gets underway, we are all going to get issued with a red bag. Phil’s would be delivered to his office. ‘OOhh how exciting!’ – I did actually think. Yes I am that easily excited.

What might be inside it? What will I get in this exciting extermination goody-bag? DEET? My own personal hazmat suit? Some kind of mosquito-blasting-sonic-screwdriver?

As Phil was on holiday I had nearly two weeks of anticipation.

But alas, when my wait was finally over I was handed:

A SINGLE

(EMPTY)

RED

BINBAG

Yes, dear friends, in Noumea, the government stance on disease prevention is to give everyone coloured refuge sacks.

After my initial disappointment abated a little (I could really have used a sonic screwdriver)  I began to realise the ingenuity of this campaign.

When used like this, mosquito bites are unlikely:

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It also has the added benefit of potential suffocation. If you don’t have people, you are unlikely to have a dengue epidemic.

PROBLEM SOLVED.

Joking aside, it did prompt Phil to go and clear out the gutters and I went and bought 20 more bottles of the insect repellent that I like (effective, moisturising and doesn’t smell as bad as some).

I think it says a lot about you as a person when your credit card company dosen’t bat an eyelid when you buy large quantities of toxic chemicals, but deems 7 tops from Warehouse as ‘suspicious behaviour’…

…But then, this might be a small price to pay for this:

Helen, the jury have spoken and you have been saved…

Editors note: This blog was going to be a jolly tale of my time in Tokyo. Another installment of my current series of: ‘live while you can’, ‘isn’t life great!’type vomit inducing drivel. Yes Tokyo was awesome. But turns out real life in New Caledonia is just far more amusing….

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will be very much aware that aspects of my life are quite frankly laughable.

Not only is this down to the complete state of ignorance that I adopt as I bludgeon my way through this rather surreal existence, but also by the downright bizarre system that I operate in (country, job, bureaucracy) which has kept you, dear reader, entertained for the past year.

And the events of today have been no exception.

So firstly, let me take you back a few posts when I discussed my employment prospects for the next year. After a 30 second conversation with the bloke who is trying desperately not to be my boss, I learned that I ‘should not worry’ about my future employment status.

Okay then.

But of course this can be interpreted in two completely different ways:

  1. ‘Do not worry, of course you are going to be employed. Do you really think we would go to the effort of replacing you needlessly? That would take effort….

OR:

2. You don’t need to worry about working for us next year…. Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

You see my dilemma.

In the mean time I still seem to be on the staff mailing list and rather optimistically keep getting invited to meetings and training sessions. I also got sent some planning documents for 2017, so I assumed that everything would be OK/ ignored it in favour of strutting around Tokyo pretending I was on my Gap Yah….

However, time has now passed and I am very aware that I only really have 7 days left in the office until the end of my contract. I have heard nothing of the future, and decided that my colleagues might need a helpful reminder that I still exist, and that I am quite keen to continue existing for the foreseeable future. Preferably, a form of existing that elicits a regular wage packet. I decided to bite the bullet and attend another staff meeting.

I have been to exactly 4 staff meetings since February. They all pretty much go like this:

Enter room. Sit awkwardly on my own and try to make pleasantries in my crap French to a room of complete strangers. Colleagues clock I am English and therefore decide I am not worth/ too hard-work to listen to so go back to ignoring me. Meeting commences. I try my best to understand a veritable storm of technical and often argumentative French. I miss the point completely, and usually wait until it is obvious that we are allowed to leave (usually signaled by people physically leaving). Sometimes we have to vote on stuff. To date my rate of understanding what exactly I have voted for tends to be about 1/5.

Before the meeting today I bravely go and talk to Mr ‘trying to not be my boss’ and he assures me that I should be employed (I think he had mostly forgotten about this) and that my contract should just roll over. Its automatic. Phew! Problem solved.

However, on the way out of the bathroom I bump into the head of department, and she drops this bombshell:

‘Ah good, you’re here…coming to the meeting? Well I just have to explain….during the meeting we have to vote on whether your contract gets renewed. It’s just something we formally have to do, but don’t worry about it. You will however have to leave the room.’

So yes, you understand this correct: in order to continue to be employed, a large group of near strangers, whose only interaction with me has been the odd awkward meeting and occasionally witnessing me swearing at the photocopier, had to vote to save me.

These people have no clue about my ability to do my job or indeed no what I actually do, or probably even who I am (although I did wave helpfully on departure). If they have had the pleasure of meeting me, probably their lasting impression is that I am a blank-faced imbecile…..

…But apparently I am a blank-faced imbecile that warrants another year of employment, because I seemed to be let back into the meeting, so I assume they voted to keep me. Either that or they were feeling particularly malicious and just wanted to inflict another hour of mind-boggling tedium on me before giving me the axe.

So hurrah, I live to fight another day. I rather feel like I have been on the x-factor – there are quite marked similarities between the voting procedure and I am feeling (marginally) more reassured of my future.

And so now I can (tentatively) go back to the very arduous task of being on holiday for pretty much the next 4 months. Photos to follow…..

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Too lazy to strike

When I tell people that I am a French civil servant, usually the first thing I am asked is whether I have been on strike yet. And no, it is not just my English acquaintances that ask this…..it seems that this is a rather universally recognised stereotype (even for the French themselves) which makes me wonder whether this is just a stereotype?

I have been asked this so often now, that it is starting to occur me that this may be a major part of the French/Caledonian working experience that I have thus far been unable to participate in.

Not that I have any complaints what-so-ever about my current working situation, indeed I suspect I am never ever again going to have it so good (some people have rather rudely suggested that I am ‘ruined for life’). But still, quite frankly, if striking is part of the course, I feel that I should, like all the other experiences I have had here, jump into it, head first, with my eyes closed and with no real idea about what I might meet me at the bottom.

It turns out that this week I might have got the opportunity to indulge in this seemingly great French tradition, as the 1st September marked a day of general strikes in Noumea, with shops, services closed and some of the schools closed whilst the strikes stood in Place de Cocotiers looking a bit miffed (apparently striking here is less pun-tastic than in the UK).

So, on the morning of the 1st September I woke up and considered the following:

  1. It’s strike day today: even though I have not read any emails that suggest the university staff would be on strike, this does not necessarily mean that they are not..
  2. I’m not sure standing on my own in a car park counts….
  3. If it is a general strike would the buses be running? Could I actually get to work to not do work?
  4. Its raining. Striking would require me to stand in the rain.
  5. I don’t actually have to into work today, my teaching has finished. I don’t think I suggest to anyone that I would be in the office today did I?
  6. Going into work seems like a lot of effort…
  7. Can I really be bothered to protest for a reason I do not understand, about conditions I currently find better than London, especially given that I could end up travelling 40 minutes in the rain to stand in a car park on my own?
  8. My students already think I am an idiot (I refer you to early posts). Do I really want to compound this by standing in a car park on my own?
  9. My bed is really quite comfy… Let’s drink tea and read the news.
  10. I’m sure drinking tea is a form of protest. Somewhere.
  11. And I’m sure if I play Les Misérables really loudly people will get the message.
  12. Yes, good solution, well done brain.

So to conclude, no I did not strike. I slept off my hangover (in protest), wrote another exam paper (in protest) and had coffee with some friends (in protest), and watched some TV (in protest) because term is coming to an end, my days are starting to free up and the countdown has started… I believe I have approximately 10 more days where I have to go to work….. until February.

How freaking ridiculous is that?

I have 2 more exams left to invigilate this week and then puff….end of semester. A mere 120 exam papers to mark, a few paper to prepare for resits and a couple of resits in October and November and I am pretty much free for the next six months to do as I please.

I have already started a what is seeming rather infinite list of things I am going to achieve in November.

Unfortunately this correlates with the start of a manic travel period for Phil, so in order to combat this I have started planning a few trips of my own. So, big news, on Thursday evening I am leaving on a jet plan (my first time off this island since Christmas) and will be heading to Tokyo for 6 days of gorging myself on Ramen, bingeing on art galleries and cultural institutions and pretending I am sufficiently ‘youth’ enough to find hostel friends that will indulge my secret ambition to get smashed on cocktails and sing awful karaoke.

I am unbelievably excited. Another adventure, this time of a completely different kind.  A new continent and completely new language, culture and style. And shops and people and a buzzing city and all the things that I miss about London.

So stay tuned…the next time I blog, may well be from a different country (or at least immediately after) with another location to add to our crazy South Pacific adventure.

In the mean time I will leave you with a picture of my office today:

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Times… they are a’changin

Timehop announced that 1 year ago I sent this photo to Jane:

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This marked the momentous occasion where I got my first ever tips for tour guiding and I was super proud of myself….but this achievement seems to pale in comparison to what has happened since. As the events of our first 18 months here (YES 18 WHOLE MONTHS – I can’t believe it either) have moved at rocket pace (which in itself is rather contradictory for a Pacific Island) this seems like a different lifetime, a completely different chapter of my experiences here in New Caledonia.

Oddly this milestone could also mark the halfway point in our adventures here in the South Pacific, which has rather alarmingly started prompting people to ask us about ‘THE NEXT STEP’.

The WHAT?

Yes. People have started to ask us about when we plan to leave.

Charming. Obviously the Bowden-James phenomenon is too much for the quiet people of Noumea.

This has all really rather come as a shock.

I am pretty sure that it was only last week that Phil and I were mulling over whether our stay here would exceed 12 months, and only yesterday that I rather cautiously took the giant plunge into a job I knew very little about.

Leaving now is something I can’t really contemplate. Life is just too good at the moment.

EDITOR’s WARNING: Yes, I am full of the joys of winter and the mood of this blog post is going to be particularly upbeat and may be just a little too sickening for the miserable gits out there. If you are of this disposition, I suggest you stop reading now. You have been warned.

Lets face it….I am only really just about feeling that I have finally got my shit together:

It turns out that I love my job. Yes, I am as surprised as you. Its stimulating, fun and I only seem to have to turn up for 2 hours a day, 30 weeks of the year. I am still waiting for the catch and/or to wake up and for someone to tell me it was all part of some lovely/lengthy dream (granted a  dream where you still seem to have to do the washing and scrub the loo – Phil can do that – but meh)…

I am coming to the end of my second semester and actually feel now like I am doing a reasonable job. Certainly my second year’s written production has come on massively, and I am highly optimistic that the 28 exam papers currently sitting in the spare room may not be complete unintelligible drivel. I have also broached the subject of getting my contract renewed. In the 20 second conversation I had with my (probable) boss, I was told ‘not to worry’, so I am assuming this to mean that I will continue to be employed through 2017…

I also seem to be making (some) progress in French. I have been to the High Commission no less than three times without feeling the need to burst into tears. I have also managed to get through an entire ‘fit for work’ medical in a van in the uni carpark, with only marginal errors. Turns out hearing and sight tests become a lot more challenging when your grasp of the language is patchy at best – even frantic revision (yes I did revise for a medical test) cannot prevent you from almost failing hearing tests due to a minor mis-understanding of the instructions and sight and colour blindness tests become downright hilarious when you are painfully aware that your shit pronunciation will determine your fitness to work.

Granted every small victory does tend to come with a generous dollop of complete and humiliating disaster….but I have learnt rapidly to celebrate when I can.

We also seem to have perfected the whole work/life balance and have found a merry band of friends who share our interests in music, food and alcoholism. We have been off adventuring when not feeling the effects of the aforementioned alcoholism and discovered some amazing hikes, relaxing spas, made some rather promising attempts at gardening (current harvest: 2 courgettes, 4 tomatoes and hopefully come Christmas we will have more passion fruit than we can work out what to do with), found the one decent kebab van in the city and Phil has developed a taste for fishing under the tutor-age of Aussie Andrew (also of Brexit boozing fame).

It’s deepest midwinter in New Caledonia, the duvet is on the bed, my winter boots have been dusted off (and worn) and it is unusual that I leave the house without a cardi. Yes, it is 20º+. Yes we are cold and swimming is certainly not something that either of us fancy, but we are doing well and life is pretty blissful.

What a difference a year makes….