Friday, January 30, 2009

Last Day

(Audience participation in Year 8 Opera.)

This is our last day at Chelmsford. What a wonderful exchange it has been!

I gave my second presentation at assembly this morning and, although it was a little rushed, I was quite happy with how it went. The girls were full of compliments. They are all wanting to come to my school on exchange now. I'll have to see what can be arranged when I get home.

(Year 8 Opera Performance)

It seems that the time has passed very quickly and Zoe and I have experienced so much. We really have felt very welcomed and quite comfortable. The people we have met and worked with have been very supportive and encouraging.

Today I had the pleasure of talking with the Year 10 and Year 11 prefects. It was interesting to hear of the variety of activities they organise, and the enthusiasm they have for their positions. They include everything from History Prefect, to Library Prefect, Dance Prefect and Maths Prefect. They organise displays, competitions, performances and study groups. Very impressive!

Zoe's friends have told me that they are very sad to see her go, and I know that she feels that she has made some lifelong friendships. I also will be sad to say goodbye to Peter, Rosemary and the wonderful Tara. I hope that we will all keep in touch and that our paths will cross again.

(Zoe's class)

This afternoon, we travel with Peter back to London then we will catch a taxi to Heathrow in the morning. The long flight home lies ahead of us. Hopefully, the heatwave will have ended by the time we arrive. The shock to the system would be enormous otherwise!

Looking foreward to seeing Greg and my Mum and Dad and friends.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Zoe and I continue to enjoy our visit to Chelmsford Girls' School. It is a dynamic place to be, and the girls are enthusiastic and responsive.

Zoe had a wonderful time with her host family, Anoushka, Rainy and Rajiv. They went ice-skating on Thursday afternoon, and had more of their classmates over for a party on Friday evening. She was made to feel so welcome and looked after with such kindness and consideration. Anoushka lives in a lovely house in Shenfield, about 30 minutes from Chelmsford. The girls had to catch the train to and from school, so that was an adventure for Zoe in itself.

I have been able to observe more classes, and also to interview some of the girls about special programs that they are involved with. One memorable interview was with four of the outgoing senior prefects. They told ma great deal about the sort so fco-curricular programs that are initiated and run by the students. They even have homework clubs!

I had to give the first of my two presentations in assembly today. I had been very nervous in the lead up to beginning, but once i got started I was able to relax and feel comfortable. The girls responded very well, and many of the teachers and students have complimented me on how it went. Although I went over time, I have been told not to cut it for the next assembly as the "powers that be" thought that it was worthwhile in its entirety! I'll try to trim it a bit, nevertheless. Zoe was there, and she seemed to think it was "pretty good", so that's praise I can accept!

This afternoon, I visited a local primary school with a small group of Yr 9 girls on Music Outreach. The girls did a great job, playing musical games with the Grade 2 and 3 students. The Outreach program is a really interesting and valuable one.

Zoe and I are now staying with Rosemary, her husband Robert and son George. They live about 30 minutes north east of Chelmsford in Maldon, which is on the estuary. We went for a lovely walk along this waterway last night, and through the town. We stopped at a pub for a drink before heading home. We had an interesting and relaxing time.

Now I will have to turn my mind to the report I will need to give when I get back to my school. And to teaching on Monday!

Zoe and I miss Greg very much. It is great that we have the convenience of email to keep in touch.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chelmsford County High School for Girls

(Yr 8 students)

It's the end of our fourth day at CHSG and it's about time I wrote something on this blog.
Zoe and I have been having a happy and busy time, and have felt very welcomed by all the people we meet.

(The Samba Band rehearsal)
Zoe has been hosted by a couple of girls from her Yr 7 class: Georgia and Anna. They have been terrific - showing her around and helping her with the class work. They have become very good friends. Today, Zoe changed timetables so she could spend more time with Anoushka, the girl who is having her over to stay for the next two nights. The two of them had a lovely time today getting to know each other better, and left school this afternoon feeling very excited about the evening ahead.

(Yr 7 English class)

I have been kept very busy by Peter and Tara's action-packed program. It's been non-stop class observations and meetings with important people. It's wonderful to be able to see other teachers at work; an opportunity we rarely get. I have seen Latin, French, Religion, English, PE, Drama, Art and lots of Maths classes. All have been dynamic and engaging. The girls are getting a great education at this school. Since it is a select entry school, all the girls are keen learners, and they come well prepared for all lessons and eager to be involved. It is unfortunate that the UK has such an extensive and intensive assessment program, as this seems to keep too much pressure on both students and staff. All feel they have to constantly jump through hoops. We are lucky in Australia not to have to work under this much pressure but to have time for a bit of exploration, and the flexibility to pursue interests specific to the class, rather than those dictated by the system.
I have had the opportunity to talk with the teachers responsible for Leadership, Student Voice, Languages Outreach and Citizenship. I have got lots of new ideas to take back to my school.

(Yr 7 Art class)

The girls have been very helpful in finding my way around. They are keen to ask questions about Australia. I showed them some pictures of the girls from my school and they thought our school shoes were hilarious!

Five more school days to go and then Zoe and I will be ready to go home. We miss Greg, and my Mum and Dad. Two weeks of exchange is about the right length of time - any more would seem just too long!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Homer and Lovely Lavenham

After leaving Manorhouse Farm, we headed to Oxford. This was our first day of rain (and there hasn't been anymore yet) so we were a little restricted in our explorations.

In spite of the rain, we climed the tower of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin. This was great fun in the rain and the wind, and we were rewarded with magnificent views over Oxford (as you can see from the picture above). The climb was very long and steep!

We made a thorough tour of Christ Church College, seeing the dining hall, the stairs where "Harry P0tter" is filmed and making a visit to the beautiful Cathedral. There was a terrific activity for children, finding faces around the Cathedral, and learning about the saints and people commemorated there. A really interesting one was Saint Frideswide, a princess who had hidden in the forests of Oxford to escape a nasty suitor in around 1000 AD. Zoe and I had a great time on this detective activity.

(The tomb of St Frideswide, in Christ Church College Cathedral, Oxford.)

We also visited a surprisingly interesting exhibition on choral music that had a beautiful choir book from Eton dated around 1500 - we are constantly impressed by the age of so many things here!

(The birthplace of Shakespeare, in Stratford-on-Avon.)
We visited Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, which was rather touristy but interesting.

We stayed in the most delightful B&B of our stay for two nights. This was Windy Ridge Farm, and was a very impressive estate with house-keeper and gentleman farmer. The home was filled with lovely things and we were offered drinks in the evening. The owner, Nick, obviously loves opening his home to visitors and told us many funny stories about his life and the area. One was about his father's old dog, Homer, who when it died, was mistakenly buried in the 2500 pound Persian rug!

(Homer's descendant is the biggest dog we have ever seen: Winston is as big as a lioness!)

(Breakfast at Windy Ridge.)

Much to Greg and Zoe's embarassment, I went for a run in the village and the county lanes while we were there - my outfit was not my standard running gear!

We then headed to Cambridge, which we loved. It is such a pretty town, and we loved crossing the Rinver Cam to get into the centre. We visited the impressive Fitzwilliam Gallery and Zoe was fascinated by the Egyptian mummy. We pursued her interest in archeology and anthropology by visiting a couple of excellent museums.


(The entrance to the Fitzwilliam Gallery.)

(These helmets were in the Fitzwilliam Museum and date from the time of the Trojan Wars!)

(The mummy, with body encased.)

(Zoe undertaking some archeological training.)

Our B&B outside of Cambridge wasn't so comfortable so we spent only one night there and headed to Lavenham.What a delightful village this is! We stayed at the excellent pub, The Angel, and wandered the streets and lanes, admiring the very old, very crooked houses, and the magnificent church.

Our touring has now come to an end, as we have arrived in Chelmsford, where we will farewell Greg and Zoe and I will begin our exchange at the school. We have a very comfortable serviced apartment for our stay and have had fun visiting the local supermarket to stock up on supplies.

It will be interesting to see how we get on!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jane Austen and the Famous Five

(The view from our window in Upavon.)

We have just had three days of literary adventures.

On Friday, after leaving the lovely Manor House in Upavon, we travelled to Bath to explore Jane Austen territory and to see the famous Roman Baths. Both aims were fulfilled with great satisfaction.

Firstly we visited the Jane Austen museum where we listened to a talk about her life, then inspected the rooms and memorabilia. Since all three of us love Jane Austen, and we have all seen the films and TV series, there was a lot to enjoy. We then wandered around the streets of Bath recognising familiar places from the films. We particularly enjoyed seeing the Assembly Rooms which were such a social centre in Georgian England.

The Roman Baths were first constructed around 2 thousand years ago, then renovated and reused in the years since but particularly during Georgian times. They are magnificant with clever plumbing, an interesting design and stunning decoration. The museum was mostly open-air so it was very cold - hence our warm coats and hats in spite of the steaming baths. The baths were lined with lead and can't be used anymore, just admired.

We then travelled through freezing cold countryside to Church Knowle near Swanage. There was a hoar frost which meant that the countryside was coverd with frost - we have never seen anything like it. Everything was white and the trees were full of white frost. It was magical.

Church Knowle is just down the road from Corfe Castle which we had come to see. Before visiting this, we went for a walk along the beach near Swanage. It was a similar beach to Noosa but very different weather!
All we knew about Corfe Castle was that it was the inspiration for George's Kirrin Castle in the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. We didn't realise that the castle has a long history itself having been first constructed in about 1000 AD then having extensions and improvements until it became a refuge for royalists escaping the parliamentarianists in 1642. They eventually surrendered but the castle was then destroyed using gunpowder to prevent any further use as a refuge. It is atmospheric and delightful.

The village of Corfe Castle is also charming and we enjoyed dinner in a local pub with a very funny Glaswegian host. Our stay at Bradle Farmhouse was also a lot of fun. On their recommendation, Zoe and I went walking through the fields down to the beach at Kimmeridge Bay. We managed to get covered in mud but loved walking along the beach.

There was no sand but pebbles, flint and shale. Zoe and I had skimming stones competitions.

Today we travelled to Chawton near Alton to see Jane Austen's home. It was the house in which she spent the last 8 years of her life with her sister Cassandra and their mother. It was full of charming things, including her writing desk and a gorgeous quilt that the three women had made out of scraps of fabric collected by friends and family. Zoe even played a small piano-accordian that was similar to one that Jane had. Of course, Zoe played the theme from "Pride and Prejudice"!

We hoped to visit an old friend from South Africa, Merran, and her family but, unfortunately, they were not home when we got to their house - we suspect they may still be visiting family in South Africa.

We are now staying at the Manor Farmhouse in West Challow, near Oxford. We went for a bracing walk when we got here and are now relaxing in front of the TV.

Oxford tomorrow.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Our last morning in Paris was spent in Mont Martre as it was still too icy to climb the Eiffel Tower. What a delightful alternative! Mont Martre is such a pretty place with cobble-stoned streets and the beautiful church of Sacre Coeur. We found a delightful patisserie for morning tea, and then had to hurry back to the hotel and then to the Garde du Norde to catch the train back to London.

Once in London, we wandered the streets looking for a pair of gloves for Greg then had dinner at the Crypt.

Yesterday, Thursday, we picked up our hire car and headed out into the countryside.

We visited the gorgeous village of Avebury where there is a circle of stones similar to Stonehenge that almost encompasses the village. The stone would have been placed here at about the same time as Stonehenge - they form a much larger circle but the stones are about half the size. It's very atmospheric.

Then we went on to Lacock, which is one of the prettiest villages in England. The village is used for a lot of films and TV productions as the buildings are very old and in good condition.

We are now at Upavon where we spent the night at Manor House. It's a lovely place with a frozen pond that we can see from the window. On the recommendation of Isabel, our host, we had the most amazing dinner at the local pub - the owners worked in restaurants in New York before returning to take over this pub. Delicious!

On to Bath today!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Musee D'Orsay

Although the snow in Paris was beautiful, it meant that we couldn't climb the Eiffel Tower as it was too icy. And, again, we had to try to stay out of the cold as much as possible - a visit to the Musee D'Orsay was the perfect solution.

This gallery is a collection of art from 1848 to 1914 and includes works from all the major Impressionist artists. Since we love this period of art we were in heaven. We loved the Degas, the Monets, the Renoirs, and everything else. Although the gallery is much smaller than the Louvre, there was still too much to see it all.

The gallery was created from a converted railway station, so there is a grand sense of space about it. You can see the shadows of people walking high above the central courtyard, and you can walk past the backs of magnficent clocks. We had lunch in a delightful cafe that is behind one of the clocks that hangs outside the building. From where we sat, we could see the back of the clock and out onto a terrace surrounded by beautiful sculptures.

In the afternoon, we visited the department store, Gallery LaFayette, but the crowds were so thick that we escaped quickly and went in search of a patisserie. Believe it or not, we had no luck so returned to our hotel for hot chocolates.

We are hoping to climb the Eiffel Tower today before taking the train back to London. Cold again but no more snow.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Snowing in Paris

What an exciting few days we have had so far on our trip!

After a delay of 2 and a half hours, sitting in the plane at Hong Kong airport to fix faulty wiring, we arrived in London late in the afternoon on Tuesday.

Our hotel, in St James' Place, was charming! The entrance in a little laneway was covered in ivy and mistletoe and little Christmas lights. We had a two room suite, with huge couches and comfy beds. It was just around the corner from Pall Mall and Old Bond Street. Behind were Green Park and Buckingham Palace. After exploring Old Bond Street, admiring all of the Christmas decorations, we had a reasonable night’s sleep, although woke far too early.

On Wednesday morning, we got on one of the double-decker bus tours of London. Our first stop was Trafalgar Square where we visited the National Gallery. There were many beautiful artworks to see; one particularly caught our eyes, “Lake Keitele Gallen” by Kallela. After taking our fill of art, we headed to St Martins on the Fields, and the Crypt. Lunch was magnificent – an atmospheric crypt with brick arches, and delicious food. Afterwards, ZoĆ« completed a brass rubbing.
This was more challenging than it sounds as she had to work hard to get the right pressure and consistency. The result is lovely.

At St Martins, we read about a New Year’s Eve Operetta performance that was going to take place that afternoon. We couldn’t resist the opportunity, and attended in our own box to the side of the stage. The performances were terrific and the event a highlight.We returned to our hotel then got ready for New Year’s Eve on the town! There were to be fireworks on the Thames near Big Ben, so we headed in that direction. We knew that once Westminster Bridge was full, the area would be closed off. We didn’t get there before 9 pm when the area was closed, so we missed out. We didn’t mind though as it was freezing.

We went walking through Kensington Gardens on New Year's Day, admiring the hardy runners participating in a 10 km race. I was rather sad not to have brought my running shoes with me! We visited the V & A and then just saw more of the sights of London.

For "dinner" we had high tea at the Ritz. Our seating was for 7:30 pm and included sandwiches, scones and petit fours with a glass of champagne. Delicious!

On Friday we watched the changing of the guards parade and explored the area around St James' Palace and Buckingham Palace. We then checked out the London shops. Almost all were having sales and they were crowded! We didn't really want to buy anything so mostly just window-shopped.

One of the highlights of our trip was the visit to the Tower of London on Saturday morning. We got there as early as we could to avoid the crowds and managed to see the jewels before there were many people about. We then enjoyed a wonderful guided tour by a beefeater - very informative and amusing. We kept marvelling at the lives they must lead living in the Tower.

Sunday was spent travelling to Paris - first class on the train and tunnel. We were served a delicious meal with wines and spent time just looking out the window watching the countryside go by. That night, after settling in to our most charming of hotels, we walked the length of the Champs Elysee then had dinner in a wonderful French restaurant recommended by our concierge.

Today, it has been snowing. All day! As Zoe has a cough, we tried to spend most of the day indoors, so we went to the Louvre. Magnificent! We loved the sculpture gardens and the apartments of Napoleon. Visited another wonderful restaurant for dinner where Zoe ordered snails by mistake. Fortunately, she was able to change her order and got a cheese salad instead. This was like a savoury yoghurt with herbs and bread. I had the snails and the most delicious duck, while Greg had onion soup and a fabulous steak with pomme frites. Sorry to write about food so much but when it is this good I can't avoid it! The meals are part of the experience!

Our room in this hotel is in the attic and has windows angled into the ceiling - very charming!