Category Archives: General Information

Australian Election Presents 40 inch/101.6 cm Long Ballot with a 34 Party Choice!

Australian elections have been called and we will either have a new Prime Minister and some new Senators and Representatives on Saturday night, or our current (returned!) Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will still be hanging in there. It’s been a contentious few years for the Labor Party with the whole Kevin Rudd then Julia Gillard then back to Kevin Rudd saga and it has soured quite a few people on the reliability and just-plain-sanity of the party.

 

Election time in Australia

Election time in Australia


 

At least we are mercifully spared from of the American style campaigns that go on for months and months. Over here there is a small window of a mere few weeks to be bombarded with campaign ads from both of the major parties.

But I had to laugh when my ballot arrived in the post this week and I had my charming postman sign it as my witness. I opened the envelope and took out the ballot which kept unfolding and unfolding and unfolding. It is 40 inches long — 101.6 cm over here. And there are THIRTY FOUR party choices!!!

 

34 party choices on the Australian Federal Election ballot for 2013

34 party choices on the Australian Federal Election ballot for 2013


 
A 40 inch/101.6 cm long paper ballot gives 34 party choices on the Australian Federal Election ballot for 2013

A 40 inch/101.6 cm long paper ballot gives 34 party choices on the Australian Federal Election ballot for 2013


 

Some of them are rather ‘interesting’ — so I thought I would share those group names.

We have the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (Hemp) Party rather amusingly placed on the ballot right next to the Family First Party, the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party snuggles right alongside the Shooters and Fishers Party, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party stands next to The Wikileaks Party in this paper parade, then of course we have the Sex Party and the Bullet Train for Australia Party, just to name a few. But wait, we mustn’t forget The Pirate Party! Who knew???

Just thought it would be informative for the rest of the world to see what’s on offer here in Australia. Now where did I put that pen?

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Australia Can Be the Back of Beyond Some Days

Really? Do internet and phone ‘service providers’ think that people have nothing else to do other that WAIT for days on end for answers to their email questions or sit with the phone, redialing again and again, as a message tells them that they are TOO BUSY to answer the phone?

I’ve had a truly dreadful 3-4 days with AMAYSIM, our mobile phone provider here in Australia and honest to god, I feel like I have moved to the ‘Back of Beyond’ where technology is concerned. There is no customer service ethic on display even if you DO finally make contact with someone. And I have read a rather lengthy list of complaints today online, so I’m not alone in this leaky boat.

Both of our iPhones (which are working for now) and my iPad (which is NOT working unless I use the household wifi) are with Amaysim — a division of Optus which is one of the ‘Big Two’ here downunder. I’ve finally gotten responses from them this afternoon by turning to — wait for it — social media!

Today after hearing an automated response (again!) saying we’re too busy to answer the phones, I went onto both Facebook and Twitter and began blasting Amaysim. I honestly received a response within minutes, but then that effort was simply washed away when the women who wrote a contact email said she didn’t understand why I thought their service was ABYSMAL. I wrote back that a quick glance at their OWN Facebook page would show that people are ready to go onto one of Australia’s dinner time consumer affairs shows, Today Tonight, and tell their own story about the lack of customer service or lack of connectivity — full stop. I have had absolutely no connection on my iPad for days, but the customer service person told me my iPad probably defaulted back to the original carrier. They ARE the original carrier because I have a 30 day old NEW iPad! And her suggestions for changing things in SETTINGS proved useless, too.

For me personally, the biggest issue is that there seems to be no accountability. They certainly are quick to debit the monthly payment from my credit card, but if I can’t get connected and no one answers emails or answers the phone, how is that behaving in an ethical manner? Simply writing to me via Facebook posts saying that they are in the process of hiring new staff is not the least bit helpful. If they didn’t have enough people to man the phones and computers and the staff wasn’t fully in place and FULLY trained, then Australia’s telco regulatory agencies should never have allowed them to open their doors!

A word to the wise to my readers worldwide who might think of using Amaysim for their travels Down Under simply because it can be set up as a Pay-As-You-Go with no contract — just read the above tale of woe and ask yourself if this is the kind of phone service you want to deal with when you need to contact family and friends back home in whatever country you come from. Or if you are a business traveller who depends on one of their sim cards for your computer’s Pocket Wifi or the micro-sim for your iPad — if you can’t get connected to the internet, it’s simply a useless piece of plastic now, isn’t it?

There are probably some lovely people at Amaysim — and I do mean that. But how would I know that since they only answer their phones with a voice message saying that they are too busy to answer their phones???

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Crunched Communication & Quick Catch-Up

It’s rather ridiculous that it takes SO LONG to get the internet installed in a world-class city the size of Melbourne! We’re still a week away from getting our broadband connected, so I am completely reliant on a dongle wifi that has severe limitations on both the speed and the amount of information (photos!) that I can upload per day.

After being a bit down in the dumps for the last week, I’m feeling MUCH brighter today. Could it have something to do with the fact that the sun came out about an hour ago for the first time in 4 days?

Still wading through the process of unpacking boxes and it feels like I just did this a few months ago. It was actually a full year ago that we moved into our apartment in St. Girons in the south of France, but we’ve done so much travelling in the last 2 and 1/2 years that everything feels alternately jumbled and compressed. I need to get DONE with the unpacking and setting up so I can finish writing one book and do the layouts on a separate photo book. Here’s hoping all of that globe trotting pays off.

Mark is downtown at his new job on an inner city construction site. SO COOL that he can take the tram to work and not even drive the van or worry about finding a place to park. He loves that!

Life is good and we are both fine and, in spite of moments of missing Europe, happy to be back in Melbourne.

More soon — hopefully WITH images!

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Counting Down to Departure from Northern Hemisphere!

It’s now only ONE WEEK until our household goods get picked up by the moving company! I’ve spent my day filling out ‘Unaccompanied Goods’ forms for the Australian Customs folks, refining the inventory sheets so they know what is in every single box we have packed, getting specs online for our fridge-freezer to ship back to AU, and finding out what the coolant in that appliance contains (nothing negative, thank heavens!).

 

Australian Fridge Form


 

I was and HOPING to find some time to do photo editing this afternoon and I am SO far behind and my agencies in New York and London are awaiting images that should have been there already. Sheesh!

We spent the day at Hadrian’s Wall yesterday and in spite of the breathtaking cold, we had a wonderful time. That will be a future post full of pictures, but it might have to wait for awhile.

Back to work I go!

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Unseen Forces At Work To Keep Me Safe From Harm

It didn’t take long after yesterday’s “Debacle In Toulouse” at the Hôpital Rangueil for me to realise that unseen forces had been at work to keep me safe from harm. I’ve named the hospital today because they really should be ashamed of treating anyone in that manner and they do need to clean up their act!

But as we exited the building and began to walk to the car, I told Mark that none of it had been right and I felt like we were leaving for a very good reason — not simply because it had been a farce from beginning to end and I was angry.

Mark was just a smidge grumpy about losing a full day of paid work when we’ve had so many unexpected settling-in expenses this month, but he too recognised that it was all far too not-quite-right. And having had those dreams ahead of time that I’m about to relate to you and which Mark was already aware of meant he laughed with good nature as we ate lunch and smirked, “Why, you’re positively psychic!” and I laughed back, “Yes, I actually am! And it serves me well.”

Any time I have ever had to have surgery or a complicated medical procedure in the past, I have taken the time the night before to do a longish session of meditation and guided imagery to smooth the way. I sat on the bed on Sunday night, did all of that, felt a glowing and twinkly light wrap around me, sensed the presence of several spiritual beings or now-departed people around me including my mother, and then off to sleep I went. But I awakened again and again throughout the night and each time it was from a vivid dream that was a different version of why the next day was not going to go well.

In the first dream, I saw us explaining to someone in charge that we had left far enough in advance, but we’d gotten behind an accident on the motorway and the delay was not our fault. The drive to Toulouse takes just over one hour, but we left here yesterday morning 2 hours and 5 minutes ahead of time. And yes, we did get into gridlock commuting-to-work traffic AND see an accident that was slowing things down even further.

In the second dream, we went to the wrong office after arriving and were then directed to another incorrect office. That is exactly what happened! We arrived early with my appointment sheet, went to the building, wing, floor, and office that were listed and the woman who told me “you don’t conform to our schedule” then let us know we were in the right building and wing, but on the wrong floor of the same department. So she walked us down to the correct place where the further unravelling of our day began.

In the third dream, we drove into a vast medical complex of buildings and were caught up in some round-and-round you go set of roads that led us everywhere except to the door of the correct building. That did happen! And Mark ended up dropping me off in front of a large central building, going down the hill to park the car, and then when he returned we walked through endless connecting passageways until we were in the correct building and wing.

In the fourth and final dream, a group of departed relatives were standing in a long white hallway leading to a set of double doors and they were all shaking their heads silently as if to indicate no-no-no. But in the dream I walked past them, waved at all those familiar faces, and went through the doors only to be confronted by someone with the body of a woman, the head of a dog, and a barking voice. Trust me, I met that woman too. She was the one who shrugged, told me the wrong time to come back, and told me to take another pill.

Let’s be truthful, I’d certainly received lots of psychic warning in advance. But I did the right thing, went to the appointment as scheduled, and watched as it all unfolded in spectacularly unprofessional fashion.

But what if that unfolding farce kept me from harm? What if all of those loving faces in my visions, meditations, and dreams were there because I summoned them and they made certain that no one did their job badly, harmed me, or gave me incorrect treatment or results afterward? That is the strong and very peaceful conclusion that I have come to. And everything will probably go well when I am rescheduled.

And if it doesn’t? I’ll be right back here reporting to you, faithful readers, on my impressions of the true state of medical affairs in France!

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Finding Housing Means Beating My Head Against A Wall

No — haven’t dropped off the face of the planet, but I have been firmly beating my head against a wall whilst trying to find us a place to live for a minimum of a year or so when we will qualify for a French mortgage or we find some cheap-as-chips property to buy for cash and subsequently renovate (while living in construction rubble — again!.

It’s a VERY good thing that I am feeling all bright and perky and healthy right now because I think I would have gone back to bed this morning and pulled the covers over my head otherwise. And I’m trying to deal with this 90% on my own since the darling Mark is off at work every day and it wouldn’t help him one little bit to cope with that PLUS this.

We didn’t get the house we interviewed for on Saturday. The owner rented to another French woman and in case you mistakenly think that I am feeling persecuted or discriminated against — no, I am not. It’s just one of those things and I’m not feeling dramatic about it.

This picture below is the view through each of the three French doors onto the balcony, the scene that would have been presented to us each day. It was a perfectly splendid large house and it even had the lock-up garage Mark needed and a separate office-library for me in addition to the 2 bedrooms, large kitchen, and large living and dining room. We had already begun to mentally envision where we would place the furniture and hang the artwork that is on the way from Australia. Now THAT was certainly a mistake we won’t make again!
 

View from the balcony of the house we did NOT get in St. Girons, Midi-Pyrenees, France


 
We are having a nightmare trying to find someone who will rent to us here. We don’t have French tax returns for the past year and even with sparkling references, they want a guarantor who will declare that they will be responsible for our rent for three flipping years!

Our friend Becky (whose husband Matt my husband subcontracts for) went with me to make the rounds of all the agencies in St. Girons on Friday and I saw her face when the agent told her that and then she turned and translated it to me. I immediately told her that there was no way I would ever place them in that situation and she said, “We just couldn’t!”

Even the private owners here are asking for the same things —
1. Proof of income (we have that)
2. Proof of local bank (we have that)
3. Bank statements to show solvency (we have that)
4. References from past landlords (we have that)
5. Copies of passports and French residency (we have that)
6. Tax returns from France for a minimum of one year (we do NOT have that!)
OR
7. A guarantor who will promise to pay our rent for up to THREE years (we certainly do NOT have that!)

Understandably, people who are landlords need to protect their interests and the housing market here is quite protective of the rights of tenants. So it is nigh onto impossible to get a renter OUT once you have them in. For those reasons, property owners are very, very conservative. Having owned a small portfolio of property when we lived in the USA, I can see it from both sides of the fence and am completely sympathetic to the position of the landlord as well as our own. But this is, at the moment, very difficult.

I was all chipper this morning and I thought that perhaps the Universe was trying to tell me that it wasn’t that particular house that would be right for us. But the rental apartments or houses are disappearing as fast as they are online and they have that full list of requirements that we can’t meet. I have been on the phone since 9:30 this morning calling property owners who had listed their mobile numbers on the listings. I’ve even had Becks and our other friend Caty calling around for me since they’ve lived here for years and their French is better than mine. The results thus far are a firm brick wall!

I’ll figure it out even if we have to go and rent some caravan for a year. Ah well — back to the online listings since the agencies are now a solid no-go zone. It certainly is NOT as straightforward as England, Australia, or the USA by any stretch of the imagination! Who knew??? (sigh!)

Life In A Tiny French Village

Perhaps I should title this article “Life In A Tiny French Village — For Now”?
 

The Midi-Pyrenees village of Engomer


 
We arrived in the Midi-Pyrenees almost 4 weeks ago and have settled — temporarily — into a house that we are renting in a small village. It’s a pretty little bend in the road, I won’t deny that. But this particular village is so small that there isn’t even a village shop or bakery or any kind of amenities.
 

River bend in the village of Engomer in the Midi-Pyrenees in France


 
Pretty and quaint is all well and good, but you know a place is wee-tiny when the post office is only open a few hours in the morning, and only for 4 days during each week. The woman who runs the place was actually quite put out that I wanted stamps for cards and letters to Australia and the USA instead of to other locations in France. Sheesh!
 

Village post office in Engomer & it is only open 4 mornings a week!


 
The picture below is of our way-too-large house as seen across the village tennis courts. We rented this house sight unseen at the recommendation of a friend here since she knew we’d be arriving with no place to live and no time to search because Mark would be starting work a mere few days later. It’s charming and fully furnished, but thank heavens we have a month to month option!
 

Our rented house seen across the village tennis court


 
For those of you who have followed my writing for years and were familiar with our darling little eco-cottage back in Australia, you will know that a big barn of a place like this is not really our style. The ground floor of this house is as large as our entire little house back in Australia! We are firm believers in a frugal lifestyle with low energy consumption, and this house may be charming, but it certainly won’t be energy efficient. If we want to splash out a bit, we’d rather invest in a new piece of computer or camera or sports equipment — not an electric or fuel oil bill!

A plan is being formulated. Twenty minutes from here is the larger town of St. Girons and that is where I plan to aim my search. We are going to look for a house with a much smaller footprint and a lock-up garage for Mark’s tools and supplies. We are putting the wheels in motion for our household goods to be shipped from Australia as soon as the shipping company can pick everything up within the next week or so.

We had hoped to manage with only one vehicle. But Mark needs the van every day for work and there is no public transport in this tiny spot. In a similar way to our life in Australia, the distances between each village or town means that we are going to be forced to purchase a small car for me. We may have that sorted out in the next couple of weeks and then I can begin the search for another house to rent.

St. Girons is a lovely and old-fashioned market town, but it has quite a lot of amenities. There are narrow streets and tall old houses pressed shoulder-to-shoulder, market squares, and lots of cafes and pretty little shops. It’s the kind of place where you can get out and walk to the shops, the hairdresser, the bookstore, or to a cafe for lunch or dinner with friends. How fab would that be!

As always, I will keep my readers apprised of our progress as things unfold. And thanks for all of the charming off-site notes that you have sent to me privately expressing your happiness about our adventure in resettling in a new country.

Finally, enjoy a slideshow of more village scenes including two shots of the snow covered mountains as seen through our livingroom window.
 


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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
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