So I’ve thought about it for few days.. and I’ve decided that summarizing 4 months of life is darn challenging!
I literally… don’t know where to begin. So. I am turning to my trusty skill of list writing!
Oh wow… I’ve just realised that I am about to compose … A list.. of lists!!
Let’s do it.
What I love about living at The Merry Harriers and in Hambledon, Surrey:
1. The amount of untouched green space there is around here.
The Merry Harriers is really, really fortunate to be located within a “Greenbelt” – This means that nothing can be built here, no development can be undergone, herds can’t even be farmed! without explicit permission from government.
And the result.. is seemingly endless, gorgeous, green countryside, which I have not become bored of in the least over the last 4 months. AND! Further! now spring is arriving! So hillsides of wild flowers are blooming everywhere! It is absolutely stunning.
2. The small village ‘community feel’.
The village of Hambledon is home to a mere 800 residents. And although I have only met a small portion of that number… the regulars who come into the pub every other night to have a beer and mingle with one another are just.. so lovely. I really do get the feeling that they would (mostly) be willing to help, lend a hand and give advice if I needed it. Actually, in fact, undoubtedly I have experienced this willingness first hand during my time here.. 4 locals have pulled over at some point to offer me a ride to the train station upon seeing me walking along the country roads. 1 man has lit the pub fire for me on multiple occasions when I’ve been struggling to get it going. I accepted (and very much enjoyed) chocolate from 3 residents over Easter. And once when there was a power cut in my first month here, all of the men in the pub at the time immediately sprung to action lighting candles and bringing in portable lights (that was a particularly cute candle lit evening). And of course, in general, no question I have had about England or English life has gone unanswered… and … I’ve received travel recommendations galore!
3. The llamas.
The Merry Harriers is a pub. A restaurant. A bed and breakfast. A campsite. A caravan park. AND a llama trekking facility.
Colin and Julie (the two landlords/owners of The Merry Harriers) own 8 or so llamas which live in a massive paddock on this property. And every day I get to see these unusual creatures popping their nosey heads over the fence to watch me work. And, when Colin and Julie go away on holiday, I even get to feed ‘the girls’.
They’re kind of just.. an added country sweetness, which I have very much enjoyed musing over during my stay here.
4. Fresh flowers in the pub. All the time.
I’ve just loved the huge variety of colours and scents that fresh flowers have bought into The Merry Harriers throughout my time here. As hayfeverish as I may be…
Flowers must be the most beautiful and diverse reproductive organs that this earth has offered us.
5. The village shop!
I love the village shop.
There is only one shop in Hambledon. And it’s ‘The village shop’.
It’s a wee outlet that sells basic groceries, a little bit of fresh produce, a small selection of home baked cakes and cookies, and offers postal services. It’s run by local volunteers. And its the cutest, quaintest, most gorgeous little place – located directly opposite the village ‘cricket green. So in my time off.. I often enjoy, walking down to the village shop, buying a cake and some juice, and just…sitting outside (at one of the shops picnic tables) and bathing in the sunshine and the country quiet. It’s beautiful.
6. The convenience of living AT work.. This is an appreciation that I can imagine would wear thin.. but for me, over a short-term duration. Being able to wake up 15 minutes before my morning shift starts and simply.. walk downstairs, to arrive at work.. is fantastic.
What I love about living in England in general:
1. The trains.
On my days off I try as often as possible to get on the train and go see SOMETHING. I mean.. its easy to do. Because everything is England is of interest to me. Everything is new. Everything is beautiful.
But the train journeys itself. Is something which I really enjoy. I like the white noise of the wheels rushing heavily against the tracks. I like the contrasting quiet that’s found inside the carriages as business folk and traveller’s wait to arrive at the destinations – some napping after a long days work, some lost in thought, some scanning the paper for interesting news, some mumbling quietly to one another.. trying to keep their conversations private. I like watching villages and countryside and cityscape fly past my window. I like the authority that the ticket man demands as he strides down the isle checking that everyone has paid the correct fare. And I also like getting off at new stations and drinking hot Chai as I wait on windy platforms for my next train to arrive. I like scanning the arrival and departure boards and determining which platform I need to find and when I need to be there. I just honestly enjoy the whole process.. after 4 months… it’s still a novelty for me to ride the train.
2. The street names…
Actually this one applies not just to Surrey streets, but streets throughout all of England.. which are often literally named after where they take you.. it is a simple.. and damn ingenious idea! And my realisation of this fact, has helped me significantly in navigating new places.
Every town I have visited has a Station Road (where the train station is), a Church Road (where the church is) and a High Street (where the shops are),and I’ve even seen a few Hospital Streets. It’s brilliant!
3. The close proximity of Europe and the super cheap flights that get me there!
A train from one end of England to the other is often more expensive than a flight to Spain or Greece or Italy. For a very reasonable £40… my options.. are pretty darn broad! It is absolutely glorious! And it means that jetting off for a weekend to some exotic European destination is completely affordable, AND generally involves a minimal flight time of between 2-4 hours. How could you not take advantage of that!?
Why working in the hospitality industry in England has been… weird:
It just doesn’t really happen in New Zealand.. and it’s certainly not expected!
Tipping makes everything more expensive than you think it’s going to be when you first sit down..
I’m awkward about asking for tips, and I don’t really want to give them.. I don’t know.. I’m just not sold on the idea. Especially seeing as the hospitality workers in this country ARE paid a “liveable’ wage (unlike those poor sods in America).
2. My accent….
The mere fact that I have an accent is apparently the most amusing conversation starter of all time.. Like, the number of guests who have asked me where my accent comes from.. is driving me nuts.
And the number of people who have pointed out the fact that I pronounce the letter ‘E’ differently to the general English population… is not just driving me nuts… it’s seriously starting to piss me off.
And actually this point leads neatly onto point 3…
3. EVERYONE thinks they have friends or family living in New Zealand!
So after determining the source of my accent… Every damned stranger feels the need to list off to me the names, jobs and locations all of the relatives and friends they know back in my home country!? And of course I’m expected to know them all..
Oh! And if they don’t know someone who is currently there… then point 4. applies..
4. EVERYONE has been to, or wants to go to New Zealand!
And when they find out that’s where I’m from, they expect me to either provide them with details that they will never remember about the places that are best to visit when they get there, OR they want me to listen while they tell me all about the trip they’ve already been on.. and no one has yet surprised me with any news of a trip to New Zealand that was anything outside of generic sightseeing.. so everyone has the same story to tell.
Oh! Ohhhhh… and then there’s the real self indulged individuals.. who come along… and think that they know the country and can pronounce the place names better than I can! (And trust me, the English do not even bother to try with the correct pronunciation of New Zealand place names…).
These are the people who tell me “no, Wellington is not in the North Island”, or “yes, the capital is Auckland”, or some… just, honestly… bullshit! along those lines.. And eventually .. I get tired of arguing, and I just go back to nodding and agreeing..
5. There are some small, often un-said service standards that vary from country to country.
For example – clearing plates off of a table – do you do it as each individual finishes their meal (as in America) or only once every one at the table has finished eating? (as in England). Or, providing a bill – do you do it immediately after the table has been cleared (as in America), or only after it has been specifically requested? (as in England). And ‘meal checking’ – should I interrupt a guests dining experience to ask them if everything is OK? … Its these little things… That employers could assume are obvious to any employee who is from their part of the world… But for me – A travelling nomad – I actually need the customs outlined. And I have had to ask seemingly silly questions about what guests expect from me on several occasions.
I mean this one happens everywhere… But perhaps more so when working around drinks and alcohol.. For every cocktail, every mixed drink, every wine spritzer and every shandy, and for every beer in general there are different norms, different names, different assumptions of preference and different expectations. People may like their Corona with lemon or with lime depending on where they are from. Likewise, people will assume that a wine spritzer is made with lemonade or soda water, they will call juice concentrate, ‘squash’, ‘cordial’ or ‘raro’, and they will give titles to various combinations of drink depending on where they are from and what they have been taught by those around them. And people will use these slang terms when placing an order, and expect you to know what it is that they are talking about. And although, sometimes, slang is logical.. Sometimes it makes no explainable sense at all.
7. The demographics of The Merry Harriers.
I am admittedly used to working with a much younger demographic than is largely present here at The Merry Harriers.. And also, probably a more ‘working-class’ kind of clientèle. But in Surrey.. Well, the people who can afford to move out of the compact, garden-less housing of the city, to live in the endless green acres of this county – are those who worked in the banking or IT sector in their early days and then made enough money to buy a pricey house out here and never have to think about working that hard ever again. So it’s all middle aged couples who are obsessed with their gardens, with the weather and with their next holiday, that come into the pub. And although they provide some good chat at times (and I honestly have loved hearing their stories over the last 4 months)… I do also miss hanging out with people of my own age group. I miss the playful banter and drink-oriented gatherings of the other ’20-somethings’ – who seem not to exist in this little village. And as a result, because I have failed to find any one else who is near to my age in this town.. on my days off I have become a very solitary creature.
I guess the thing is.. I might listen to the 40 year old men who enter the pub every day with some actual interest in what they have to say… But I certainly wouldn’t want to meet up with them on my days off to have lunch.. So, although I will leave Surrey having met and gotten to know several of The Merry Harriers regulars really quite well (heck I’m even fond of a few of them).. I guess I wont really leave here having made any extra friends..
I didn’t intend for this one to be such a sad sounding point..
Ways in which I feel I have ‘grown up’ during my time here…:
1. I am not so scared of the dark any more…
I honestly am aware of how irrational it is to be afraid of the dark.. But my imagination is quite spectacular.. and if I am walking along an empty road alone at night, I will more than likely be imagining every possible scenario that could take place to make my stroll go horribly wrong. And like… this is to the extent.. that I CANNOT watch horror movies any more, because they put me on such high-stress alert (for zombies/creatures/monsters/freaks/psychopaths) that I can hardly go to the toilet alone and feel safe about it.. HOWEVER, since working here, I have kind of been forced to face that fear.. I’ve been required to show guests out to their rooms in the middle of the night (the rooms are out in a reconverted shed at the back of the property that the pub its on) and walk back to the pub by myself in the dark(on a gravel path – that makes it even worse! because all of the horror chases start with the sound of a twig breaking or gravel crunching just behind the victim..). I have had to spend hours out in those same rooms, alone, cleaning them out and turning them over (on one occasion in the middle of the night) with no other employees on the property, while my imagination runs wild. I have had to close the pub late at night, when I am the only one left on the premises and know that I am the one that is responsible for checking all of the doors are locked and all of the strangers are gone. AND on multiple occasions – due to my own inability to manage time effectively – I have had to run-walk back to the pub after a day off, along thin, winding country roads, trying to beat the gathering darkness.. and I have had to accept in all of these situations.. that everything was going to be OK. That some demented creature was, more than likely, NOT about to pop out of the bush behind me.
And I do have to say that I don’t think I’ve ever been completely sold on the whole.. ‘face your fears and they will go away’ idea… I do believe that that theory has a lot of potential to cause more harm than good.. BUT … In this case… In these small doses, over this extended period of time.. I think it may just about have done the trick..
2. I am now, quite comfortable going down into the cellar.
The cellar here at The Merry Harriers is a cold, damp, dark space which serves not only as the ideal storage space for commercial beverages.. but also as the perfect hidey place for slugs and spiders.
This of course is nothing unusual! – It is actually a completely typical cellar space. But it is none the less the type of space that I would usually try to avoid having to enter.. However, just as with my fear of the dark.. I guess the fact that I have actually had no choice but to go down into the cellar and face this fear.. has enabled me to overcome it…and honestly.. I quite like going down there and rearranging things and sorting it all out now.. The slugs even king of fascinate and amuse me..
3. I am very content spending time by myself.
… I don’t have much to elaborate on this one… I just really really like to spend my days off alone. I like to lunch by myself. I don’t mind having a pint and sitting in the sun with a book, instead of with a human friend. I like the quiet that exists when you aren’t forcing conversation to continue. I like being able to listen to the birds and the wind and the general clatter of the earth and the activities that are taking place around me. I am completely content to be alone (or alone with my own mind).
4. I don’t at all mind retiring to bed early and getting a good nights sleep – in fact, I like the sound of that very much!
I sleep a lot. I may actually sleep too much. But I would rather wake up for work in the morning well rested after a night in, than hungover and tired from a night out. And as obvious as that choice may seem… It is not one that I had often found myself making back home in New Zealand.
Wildlife that I have been super excited to spot in the Surrey countryside!:
They are just such gorgeous birds.
Like full out bambie style deer!.. But unfortunately also the style of deer that the locals like to hunt…
Actually. This one I got quite uncontrollably excited about. They are so sly and cute! But all of the locals just think they’re pests – and so they also though that my joyous reaction to spotting one across the road.. was crazy.
Its spring time – so wild baby bunnies are frolicking about everywhere!
I should probably make this the last list before I get too carried away…
Travel tips – ones which I haven’t been given, but that I come to learn having lived in England for a wee while:
1. The London tube/train system is not nearly as complex and daunting as it appears on the maps.
In fact there are dedicated staff at every station whose sole role is to aid lost tourists and bewildered traveller’s in finding their way. And these staff are amazing! I don’t know what kind of training requirements are involved in the job… but these guys/gals know the arrival time, stops and final destination of every train that passes through every platform of the station which they are working in.. it’s amazing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them speak multiple languages…
And the stations are generally well sign posted and well laid out spaces. They are actually built to efficiently funnel people from one place to the next with minimal time wasted.
2. Public transport may be more or less effective in different parts of the world .. but it is always prone to delays..
This one applies more to over ground train services than the underground “tube” – but as a general rule, I would say that if your using public transport to get yourself somewhere within a specific time frame… allow for a 1 hour buffer. In other words, if you need to be somewhere by 9.. undergo the travel plans that you think will get you there at 8.. and you’ll probably arrive at 9 anyway.
3. 1 hour.. is no time at all.
I have often made the mistake of believing that I can ahieve a lot more within 1 hour than is actually possible.. the truth is that if your in transit to some destination and have an hour to spare between trains or at an airport… well, that’s actually not a lot of time at all. You can hardly finish a meal within an hour, you can’t have a very in-depth conversation with anyone, you can’t cover any great distance.. you just don’t have a lot of time.. with 1 mere hour.. you probably shouldn’t make any significant plans.. grab a coffee, read a couple pages of a book, or just rest for a bit. Try and enjoy the fleeting moments of task-less downtime that you get.
AND it is very easy to get fed-up in advance with an hours worth of waiting time if you are expecting to have to endure it.. People just don’t like to have to wait around. But if you actually look outside of your own pre-disposed and instinctively negative mind, the truth is… that an hour is no time at all. Enjoy it.
4. England is only a small island.. but it takes a while to get anywhere within it!
When I first arrived, I actually thought that I would be able to visit ALL of the counties of England during my 4 month stay here… now however.. I realise how utterly mad and naive that idea was.. It takes at LEAST an hour to drive directly through any one county in England.. this means that a couple days away in a county that neighbours the one which you are leaving from – is very much achievable. However, if you want to travel any further than this very localised area, you’ll need to account for 3 – 5 hours travel time, each way.. My point here being.. if your working a standard 5 day week (like I have been) – then your meagre 2 days off each week is probably not going to be enough to travel very far from home.. you’ll just end up spending too much of your 2 days off in transit, and won’t get to properly see the destination your headed for.
And this point goes hand in hand with the next one..
5. England may be a small island.. but there is a LOT to see. And 4 months.. has not been enough time.
England is incredibly diverse! What ever kind of a person you are, I really do believe you’ll have few troubles in finding something that interests you in England. There’s history, architecture, art, theatre, shopping, naval and army bases, pubs, casinos, bars, wildlife, reserves, beaches, forests… There’s everything! There is just SO much here. You won’t see it all 4 weeks.. and you won’t see it all in 4 months.. don’t kid yourself. I haven’t even made a dent!
6. The museums are all free! And so are the national art galleries.
… So.. that’s some where to start I suppose.. But even then…. There’s a lot of museums!
7. Waste no time with other banks… go straight to Lloyds.
I have to put this one in – as advice to anyone thinking about moving to, or working in the UK. If your looking to open a bank account here… just go to Lloyds… the others will ask for hordes of documents from you, and will generally waste your time. Trust me. I’m not going to explain my story… because it will make me mad. Just GO TO LLOYDS BANK FIRST.