Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Update on James' life on the other side of the world

Longwell Green - Swansea - Gower Peninsula - Cardiff - Peterborough - Ramsey - Birmingham

Dear all,

Here is a quick (ha!) summary (ha! ha!) of my life in Longwell Green, Bristol, England since January...


I had always thought that living in a small countryside village like Longwell Green, would be romantic, beautiful, peaceful and exciting.

I was right about the first three. Excitement however, seems to be lacking, simply because there is nothing to do!

So, what is Longwell Green like? It is pretty much a typical old English village, with old stone houses, some still with thatched roofs with occasional moss, medieval wooden painted houses, hilly curved roads, meandering creeks and rivers. The locals are quite friendly, courteous and pleasant. It's really quite nice here if it wasn't so cold and boring...

Being in a town situated halfway between Bristol and Bath means that you hear two types of English accents: the "Jane Austen I am Posh Upper class" accents from Bath area, and the "Aye me lover Pirate working class” accents of the Bristol area. (It's fun getting them to say "Shiver me timbers!" )


I'm currently again lodging at the house of John Barnett, who is a 52yo language teacher. An avid bird watcher, walker, soccer player and fan, John basically works to travel! He's been to over 150 countries around the world, speaks 10 languages, and by the time I leave here in late April, he would have done mini trips to Portugal, Hungary, Germany and Estonia. He is going to do a 6 month trip to South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand later this year, with plans to be in Melbourne to visit when I get back home by December.

Goes to show you're never too old to travel...

We agree that Portugal is the best country in the world, Berlin is one of our favourite cities, but disagree totally on Greece (he hates it, I love it).

He is also my "travel advisor", whilst I am his "IT technical support guy".


I'm here working again for the Kingswood Partnership Pathfinder Project, a collaboration of 7 schools in the Bristol area, prompted by the government to find ways to combat disaffection, improve learner engagement, reduce drop out rates, and allow learner flexibility and personal choice via use of an extranet system, work related vocational learning practises and personalised learning processes. My job is to train teachers and students to the extranet system, run pilots, and think up, develop, and test ideas, modifications and solutions to meet the above aims.

Beats working for a pittance in a pub...


Unfortunately not much really, since I’ve been pretty much stuck here working. I've worked in the London British Education Trade Show, went to a football soccer match (Port Vale vs. Swindon), walked through snow, proposed marriage to Cheryl the pretty funny 24yo welsh school librarian (long story – the kids made me do it I swear!), a few parties, visits to friends and some little trips to Wales and parts of England..


Went to Peterborough for Jasmine's birthday party, a 27yo English gal who I met in Lisbon, Portugal last year. A very independent lively vet nurse with an admirable tendency to know what she wants and then does it. She's worked in many places around the world that people dream of, from working at an orphanage in Madagascar, to vet nursing in Ibiza.

The party was also a farewell party as she is going to South America and the Galapagos, followed by Australia. Unfortunately she'd be back in England by the time I get home, but she may come back on a work visa if she can find decent work in Oz.

Peterborough, like most East Anglia towns, has an impressive gothic cathedral to rival Spain and France. It also boasts a Greyhound racing stadium (I made a net loss of 40p) which is where the party was held. That's about all Peterborough seemingly offers though.


The party ended up in her little home village of Ramsey, in the only pub that was open till 1am, meaning the whole village was in there drinking - it was that crowded! And apparently it was one of their quieter nights!

Legend speaks about a ram and a bull having a fight on top of a hill. The ram won. For some reason the town though it was such a significant event that it was worth naming itself after it.

Ramsey's "attractions" consist of an onion factory and a new windmill. Hmmm. Actually, it does have the largest Abbey in England (big, bold, beautiful - an interesting place to go to school which it is now used for).


Birmingham is England's second largest city, and indeed a shopper’s heaven, with shopping malls, shopping malls, and shopping malls...and did I mention shopping malls? And if that wasn't enough, there are outdoor shopping malls and walkways (lined with, funnily enough, shops) linking all the malls to each other!

But apart from that, Birmingham does have some impressive neoclassical and gothic Victorian architecture around the joint.

Also a very noticeable large ethnic population - Anglo Saxon people do seem to be the minority.


Went to Cardiff to visit Aurore - a 22yo sweet melancholy French girl from Rennes, Brittany. A penchant for creperies, good coffee, soppy movies, fashion, and anything French (just like a typical French girl), she was an au pair who lived nearby and hung out with me before the uncontrollable kids finally made her give up and go live and work in a casino in Cardiff instead! Alors!

Anyway, Cardiff - a university city with its state of the art football stadium that seems to dominate over everything else in the city. Apparently one of the best entertainment venues in Europe is the Millennium centre by the waterfront. Pleasant, but not the most exciting city I’ve been too (but then I’ve been spoilt).


During school holidays I Went to Swansea and Gower Peninsula nearby - considered an area of outstanding natural beauty in the UK. Unfortunately, the poor weather and a nasty fever made me ditch my plan to go to the picturesque Brecon Beacons mountain national park afterwards.

Anyway, Swansea... Despite everyone's opinion that it is an ugly town, I thought it wasn't so certain parts anyway. The town is surrounded by hills that have along its slopes colourful muted townhouses with peaked roofs all lined up close next to each other, facing the sandy beach below which goes out for miles in low tide.

Swansea has not much to see, besides the small ruined castle, the beach, the largest Tesco convenience store I’ve ever seen, and a prison on the beach - meaning that prisoners can smell and hear the beach, but can't see or enjoy it. That'll teach them!

However, Swansea does has a vibrant nightlife, all seemingly centred on a small street in the city centre where a plethora of bars, clubs, pubs, and shivering girls in short skirts and furry boots (fashion similar to Bristol) abound.

In all, I do like Wales... the countryside is beautiful indeed, and the people are extremely friendly and talkative with a great sense of humour. Shame about the lousy weather though.


I'm going to Morocco for 2 weeks during the Easter break, then at the end of April I plan to leave for Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Rep, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, then back to England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, then back home by December this year. That's the idea anyway...

Au revoir!