Thursday, March 31

The first look

The new outdoor lounge suite has arrived. Here's a quick photo to wet your appetite. Our next challenge is to work out how we fit it all on our balcony! More pictures and details shortly.

It's here!

Our final apartment refresh purchases are about to arrive. Over the last couple of days we’ve been contacted by the company manufacturing our new window blinds and the retailer supplying our new outdoor lounge suite. Both suppliers are delivering their wares a week ahead of schedule. The suite arrives tomorrow while our blinds will be installed on Sunday. We’re thrilled that everything will be in place before my parents visit in ten days time. They’re in town for a long weekend to see the fruits of our labour (and see for themselves how boldly we’ve burned a hole in our wallets). Stay tuned for more images. For now I’ll leave you with a wonderful rainbow over the SCG and a look at our refurbished home office balcony.

Thursday, March 24

The prodigal Saab comes home

We've completed the final step in relocating back to Australia. This week we collected the Saab from Quarantine & Customs and registered it once again for Australian ownership. It been quite an experience getting the car home. The endless paperwork and delays have almost driven poor Garry to distraction.

At one point we even had the receiving agent in Sydney call us and ask us what we'd done with the car keys. Garry rather curtly pointed out that their UK partner had collected the car from our London home and thus we weren't in possession of the keys. Other stressful highlights include paperwork disappearing between our UK relocation agent and its Australian partner, being pursued by bailiffs after the UK agent incurred a London congestion charge penalty and finally being ordered to pay for steam-cleaning by Quarantine before our car could be released.

The congestion charge penalty was particularly galling. The removal company arranged for a car transporting company to collect the Saab directly from Swiss Cottage. The driver then drove through the London Congestion Zone without our permission, incurred a transit fee and failed to pay it. It took several months for the resulting penalty notice to finally reach us by which time the penalty had trebled and then been refered to the County Court for collection. Fortunately the Uk agent accepted liability, but did do only after we chased them and spoke with the local authorities.

Sadly the car arrived in Australia with a few more dents than when we'd last seen it. In particular the roof has a large dimple where something was obviously dropped. The relocation company had to build an wooden frame over the car to fit all of our house contents into a shipping container which clearly increased the risk of damage. Perhaps the most galling aspect of this particular incident is the simple fact that the removalists in London were rather inefficient with their packing, ultimately forcing us to pay for an "overcase" frame.

For example, when we originally relocated to London the Australian removalist carefully packed cushions and other loose items under the legs of dining chairs to save space. It also wrapped our glassware in protective cardboard tubes, allowing more to be packed into every shipping box. By comparison, the UK agents packed our glassware loosely and on occasions packed nothing more than a toilet bruch and dush pan in a large box. I'm convinced these lax packing practices added at least another ten boxes to our load.

We've chalked up the entire relocation experience as yet another examples of the shoddy service we constantly encountered in Europe. I'm glad to be back in Australia where the service is already more attentive and efficient.

Tuesday, March 22

Just like the catalogue

Our new outdoor dining suite has arrived. Ironically it was delivered on a day of heavy rainfall, giving its durability an immediate test. As I noted in my last post, our table was floor stock used for photos in Harbour Outdoor's new season catalogue. The catalogue went on online today. You can see our furniture in catalogue photograph above. The store even gave us the bowls that appear in this image. Below is the same table at home on our own balcony.

Below are the chairs that came with our suite. The first photo comes from the catalogue, the second was taken on our balcony. Perhaps we'll publish our own catalogue? We love our new dining suite!

Saturday, March 19

Some finishing touches

Our apartment refresh reached another milestone this week. After week of searching and driving all over Sydney we’ve found the perfect outdoor furniture for our main balcony. Even better, we took advantage of the end-of-Summer sales, and saved thousands. Our shopping spree has netted us an outdoor dining suite, an outdoor lounge suite and enormous BBQ. With luck it’ll be delivered by early-April.

Our dining suite was floor stock used to shoot photographs for next season’s catalogue. It’s delivered next week. We’ve been promised a catalogue when it comes back from the printer. However, you can see last season’s range in white, above. Our table is the same style but has a light tan frame with charcoal coloured slats. The chairs also have a tan frame with white fabric. We’ve bought the six-seat version. To give us additional seating capacity we’ve also ordered a smaller two-seat version. It will live on our bedroom balcony and move any time we need additional table space on the main balcony.

The lounge suite we’ve bought looks identical to the one you see above. The cushions are covered in the same chocolate brown tone but we’ve bought a sofa, two armchairs and a coffee table that doubles as a sun lounger. It was marked down 25% but we managed to get delivery and scatter cushions thrown in for free. We’ve been promised delivery by April 7. The frame is constructed from artificial wicker and aluminum so it should survive life on our balcony without problems.

The new BBQ is Garry’s pride and joy. It was floor stock and the last in the store. We got it for a bargain and talked the store into throwing in a filled gas cylinder. Garry then decided we could save the delivery charge if we partially dissembled it and carefully fitted the pieces into our tiny rental car. After several attempts we finally managed to squeeze it into the car with millimeters to spare. I still marvel at this feat as it has to be the largest BBQ I’ve never set eyes on. Needless to say Garry’s fired it up at least twice since we got it home.

Finally, inside the apartment I’ve been spending my evenings working on the new staircase joinery in our entrance lobby. Unfortunately the custom woodwork I ordered was poorly installed. I arrived home one evening to a scene that almost made my blood boil; two immaculately crafted joinery pieces had been literally butchered by crude saw cuts and other unsightly flaws. Repairing the damage involved a ten-day remedial project. I meticulously prepared paper templates, cut and glued new sections and finally painted the entire ensemble. The result is now much like the image I’d been carrying in my head.

I almost forgot to add that we've successfully secured the services of a cleaner. Incredibly the cleaning lady we had five years ago was still available. She'd even kept the same mobile phone number. Juilet was thrilled to hear from us and immediately made herself available to clean and iron once a week. She's easily the most efficient, thorough cleaner I've witnessed. Life in Australia is definitely falling back into the same familiar rhythm.

Friday, March 18

Hello Saab

We heard today that our Saab has finally been released by Australian Quarantine. However, we were forced to pay for a comprehensive steam clean before they'd sign-off the paperwork. Garry's now making plans to collect it from the warehouse next Tuesday. With luck it'll be back in our garage by next weekend.

I've also found just the car I'd love to get as a second city run around. It's the Peugeot RCZ coupe. You can see a photo of it above. I've been told its the poor man's Audi TT; a car I'd been fantasizing about until now. I think I've found a huge incentive to save hard for the next year or so!

Friday, March 11

Another big one hits the Pacific Rim

Northern Japan has been devastated by a massive earthquake today, the nation's largest for more than 150 years. The powerful tremor registered an astonishing 8.9 magnitude, shaking much of Honshu for almost two minutes. Its epicenter occured 382km northeast of Tokyo, approximately 100 kilometres offshore from the coastal city of Sendai. According to US Geological Survey data, the strength of this quake makes it the seventh largest in recorded history. I'm relieved to report that staff from my company's Tokyo office and its local clients are all safe. However, everyone is now stranded as the city's entire subway and train system has shut down.

The unfolding disaster also has a personal connection. On my last trip to Japan I caught a shinkansen train to Sendai for a weekend excursion. My day trip included time on the water in picturesque Matsushima Bay, roughly 30 kilometres north of the city (that's the photo opening this post, along with one above that I snapped of ubiquitous tsunami evacuation signs you see everywhere in the town). This entire coast has now been devastated by a destructive tsunami. We've been watching dramatic television footage of a giant ten-metre wave sweeping across farmland and the Sendai airport. As I type news reports are reporting that a ship with more than 100 passengers was swept away by the tsunami. We're bracing for a terrible death toll as the news fog clears in the days ahead.

Earlier this evening my mother called from New Zealand some what concerned. The nation's automatic tsunami warning system had been triggered by the quake so coastal towns began receiving alerts. This meant that emergency broadcast messages interrupted television broadcasts and internet services where my parents live. They live less than 500 metres from the beach on New Zealand's Pacific coast (that's the photo below). As my mother noted, its a little unnerving when your television tells you without warning to flee for higher ground. The alerts were soon lifted.

UPDATE: March 16
I found the following story about the tsunami's impact in Matsushima. It seems that the bay's chain of limestone islands saved the tourist town from the worst. The town central is flooded, the boat wharf I once disembarked from has partially collapsed and many waterfront homes are damaged. However the story is very different a few kilometres up the coast where thousands are missing and entire towns have been literally wiped off the map.

The big reveal

It’s done! Our relocation back to Sydney is complete. We’re about to unpack the last box. After more than a month of painting, repairing and unpacking our apartment finally feels like home again. We’ve reached a point where Garry’s been filling his day finishing minor handyman jobs rather than painting ceilings and finding new homes for the contents in dozens of boxes.

Here in all its glory are a few photos of our almost normal home. You’ll see the new carpet adoring our internal staircase, the new feature wall and the painstakingly assembled TV bed. You’ll also see the joinery that went in yesterday at the base of the stairs (yet to receive a coat of paint) and the bookcase wall I’ve assembled in the spare bedroom. Our new blinds have yet to arrive and we’re still searching for the perfect outdoor dining suite. I hope you’ll agree it’s all starting to come together. Home sweet home.

Wednesday, March 2

250 boxes are on their way

We heard yesterday that Customs and Quarintine have inspected and released our household effects without incident. Tomorrow the removal company will finally deliver our worldly goods to the apartment. No doubt the next couple of days will fly by in blur of cardboard and bubble wrap. We had more than 250 separate boxes and furniture items removed from the house in London. Three months later I can barely remember half of what was packed. Stay tuned for an update on this final phase of our relocation.