Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Hyper Reality of London

A lot of people come to London with the view of using it as a base to travel around Europe. Coming from Sydney the main weekend travel option is Melbourne. But here you're only a few hours from a whole myriad of interesting and diverse countries. Isn't that a romantic idea?  Whisking away to foreign lands for a Bridget Jones style mini break. All your friends in Australia will be insanely jealous as you flood their facebook newsfeed with you eating seafood on the Almafi coast, lounging on deck chairs in Santorini and drinking wildly at Tomorrowland. It's not real life but some form of hyper reality.

The reality of the situation is travelling is tiring. And people who do those weekend trips on a regular basis are REALLY REALLY tired. They've had to work all week just to rush to the airport on a Friday night, run madly around a new city for 36 hours, then catch a late flight home before flopping into bed at 2am just to wake up 6 hours later to start the working week again. There are countless tales of expats booking all these wildly ambitious trips only just burn themselves out after a few weeks or months at best.

Don't get me wrong, I love travelling and I'm really enjoying London. But after spending 6 months around the America's, spending 36 hours in a city doesn't seem enough to get to know it. To build up bonding memories and feel like you're discovering something new. One person even told me they weren't sure which place they liked best because they all just ended up blurring into each other.

So I've thought through my London game plan and decided that what I really want out of London is not to travel out of it but to enjoy living in it. Take a week off every now and then to go to gigs and try different restaurants and just sit around in parks when it's sunny. Sure I'll go on the occasional trip away but only if I am actually interested in the place and for at least 5 days at a time. It's a luxury but I think in London, you can get away with it. And if  I want to see more of it then I'll do it after our Visa runs out for a good few months. To slow travel. Just how I like it.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Guide to London Gigs

OK I admit it, I like London. Despite all the moaning about work and the weather there IS actually a lot to do here. There's definitely a high speed momentum that propels you to go out and try to see it all. After all, if you know your time is limited in a place, you want to make the most of it. Here's my review of the shows and gigs we've been to so far. 

The Drowned Man at Temple Studios
Best show I've ever been to. A truly unique experience that immerses you into a whole new world as opposed to merely watching something from afar. Set in a three storey building, you wander around the various sets and watch different scenes play out. You're asked to wear masks which adds an air of mystery. 

The sets are so detailed, a bit creepy and often surprising. A whole floor of sand dunes, a deserted trailer park, a film studio and a western saloon. You follow whichever characters you want, Kevin and I had vastly different experiences (Kevin got covered in theatre blood and got holed up in a spooky room with one of the actors). 

I read a review that described the production as a whale, too large to appreciate in its entirety but that's what's amazing about it. You don't have to 'get it', you just appreciate that you came out feeling completely different from when you walked in. Mind blowing. 10/10

Book of Mormon at Prince of Wales Theatre
Yes it's about Mormons but don't let the name put you off. It's produced by the guys who did South Park so you know it's probably going to be satirical with hilarious results. Supposed to be THE play to see and yes, it was funny and the songs were catchy but I wouldn't say it completely changed my life or anything. Still worth seeing just to hear the words 'I'm going to man up, do what Jesus did and grow a pair'. 8/10

Matilda at Cambridge Theatre
This one I just spontaneously decided to go to because timeout were doing cheap 20 pound tickets for a random Tuesday I had off work. Despite thinking it was going to be more a kids kind of show, which was re-affirmed by all the high school kids in the audience I was blown away by the witty dialogue, the absurd yet hilarious twists and the catchy tunes. Ms Trunchbull was by far the best thing about this play. A villain who was both villainous yet inexplicably endearing at the same time. There's nothing like a tall man with giant bosoms swinging a small girl around the stage by her pigtails to get that funny bone going. Wish we had invested in better seats but all in all, a gem of a play.

Avenue Q at Greenwich Theatre
A show about muppets who are struggling to figure out what they want out of life in New York, the themes are very contemporary and hit home. Young people who are confused and are fumbling through life. Funny yet slightly awkward watching a sex scene with muppets but overall a funny show with great muppet work. 7/10

Titus Andronicus at Globe Theatre
What a great atmosphere, I love the feel of this place. I think if you're in London you'd be remiss if you didn't squeeze in a Shakespeare play. Big bonus that we got to see my favourite play, the gruesomest of all Shakespeare plays. And it didn't disappoint, pretty much every character dies in a pretty spectacular manner. The set design was dynamic, the acting brilliant and the overall interpretation spot on. 9/10


War Horse at New London Theatre
There wasn't much appeal at first glance for me with this one but it was highly recommended by a friend so we thought we'd give it a go. Also helped that we snagged 15 pound tickets. Well it far exceeded all expectations. The puppetry with the horses was so well done that by the end I forgot they weren't real. I laughed, I cried and overall I was just super impressed. 9/10

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at the Vault
This show has scarred me for life. I thought it'd be kind of cool going to see a play in  the vaults underneath Waterloo station, it's kind of cool that you walk through graffiti tunnels to get there. However, the venue itself is pretty crappy though with benches for seats which they cram you into. I'm not young anymore, I need to lean back! Also the set design was dismal and I really didn't need to see an fat guy's wiener or ass crack thanks very much. So terrible we had to leave halfway. 1/10

Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at Harold Pinter Theatre
An unexpected rendition of one the best plays ever written. The twist is that the beginning of the play starts with the actors gathering at one of their houses to rehearse. It's a bit disorienting when the first thing you see is one of the actors walk on stage wearing a pair of red Nike's on but the more you settle into the play the more you appreciate the effort they've made to differentiate this production from all the countless productions before them. And yet it keeps the essential bones of the play with it all it's scathing witticisms and social commentary on the British upper crust. Also, stunning stage design. 9/10.

Janelle Monae at the Brixton Academy
I like the slanted floors in this venue, great for short folks like myself. Also Janelle Monae herself blew my mind. The amount of energy she put into her show was almost physically impossible. To be dancing that much and that well whilst singing was impressive. We had crowd pillow fights, confetti, she crowd surfed and made us all crouch down low. Her voice is so much better live. Best concert thus far. 10/10

First Aid Kit at the Islington Assembly Hall
There were a surprising number of over 50s at this gig, regardless it was a good gig. They sound great live but there wasn't that much energy in the crowd which was a bit of a downer. I guess that folky kind of music doesn't lend itself to bouncy dancing.  7/10

Lucius at the Oslo
Great smallish venue, I didn't know that much about this Brooklyn band before the show but both Lucius and their supporting act Cousin Marnie made me get my dancing shoes out and dance like it was a Saturday night. Great band, great performance. 9/10

Two Door Cinema Club at the O2 Arena
I honestly didn't really want to go as I didn't know their music that well but I'm glad I did because even though it was mostly under 18s at the show (some with their parents, awkward!) they had great energy and with a cider in me we danced the night away like it was 1999. I even saw one dad bob his head a bit, good on ya for trying dude. Massive venue though, a bit impersonal. 7/10

Tim Kasher at the Brixton Windmill
Very weird venue, you get a BBQ cooked by some old dudes beforehand. Hilarious that there were two dogs in a balcony above us staring down at the sausages, drooling all over the place, the longing clearly in their eyes. The room is tiny and awkwardly shaped for a music venue but we did get quite close to the stage, like REALLY close which was nice. Good songs and great humour in between. A decent effort.7/10

Chvrches at Scala
Sadly I can't comment too much on this gig as Kevin and I were suffering from severe food poisoning and really should have stayed at home. Kevin even fainted at the gig! From what I could hear they sounded great and the crowd was getting into it for the whole 30 minutes that we stayed there before deciding to crawl home.  

Sarah Blasko at the Islington Assembly Hall
I've seen Sarah live a few times now and she never disappoints. Despite the slightly awkward but adorable dancing that looks more like marching) her voice is amazing and this venue was perfect for her. Small but charming environs and great acoustics. Funny when she forgot the lyrics to one of her songs and was quite embarrassed about it. We all have those moments. 8/10

Lorde at the Shepherd's Bush Empire
Sure, she's only 17. But she's got an amazing voice that is even better live. Her songs are cool and catchy and oh so modern. Even if I only really like 4 of her songs, her crazy dance moves and lack of self-consciousness makes for a cool performance and I thoroughly enjoyed dancing to half of the songs in the gig that were good. 8/10

Camera Obscura at the Forum, Camden
I only went to this gig because a friend of mine had a spare ticket and it was her favouritest band in the whole world. They play the kind of folky, indie stuff I like but I couldn't get over just how bored and detached the lead singer was. Everyone else in the band was getting into it but she had this perpetual frown and kept turning her back on the audience. A bit disrespectful if you ask me. But other than that, solid performance. 6/10.

Coming up: Daughter, Conor Oberst

Sunday, 4 May 2014

How to Locum as a Vet in London

On paper, an Australian Vet in London shouldn't have too much trouble getting work. You apply for a working Visa. You register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). You find a job.  However between each of these steps are thousands of other steps that need to be done before you get that paycheck. One should note that the English do beurocracy like no one else. They love paperwork and shuffling it about in a non-productive manner until your brain explodes. So nothing happens efficiently here. In fact, I've been in the country 8 months and I think I've only just managed to sort out all my bits and pieces.

So here's a summary of my experience and hopefully it helps to prevent any further Vet brains from exploding.

It took about 6 weeks to complete my registration, numerous emails and phone calls and a lot of confusion. They outline all the documents that you need here. Most of it is pretty straight forward. Print, fill out and email through your forms and documents. Await confirmation. Pay your registration fee. Agree on an appointment time for your interview to get 'sworn' in. 

The points of grievances for me were due to the need to bring your original Vet degree to your interview (which had to be sent from Australia for me) and the fact that they ask you for a 'letter of professional standing' which costs $50 to have done by the NSW Practitioners Board 

HOWEVER they actually do not accept this if you have removed yourself from the list for more than 3 months (which I did as I traveled for 6 months before arriving in UK). So don't bother. Instead what they actually ask for is a 'sworn declaration' which is like a affidavit which just says you are a legit person and you pay a local solicitor 5 pounds to sign and stamp it for you. 

Annoyingly, it was only after I put through all my documents INCLUDING my defunct letter of professional standing did they actually tell me it was defunct despite calling them to double check what I actually needed. Even more annoying, they don't have it anywhere on their website a copy of what you need to include in your sworn declaration so here is what I used and it was accepted.  So don't do what I did and get both after getting mixed messages from the RCVS, it's one or the other. 

Sworn Declaration

I, My name, of my address on the today's date state that:
a.    I graduated from my university, degree and date that I graduated;
b.    the reason why  I am not currently registered with a regulatory authority in Australia is because legit reason;
c.    I have not been found guilty of serious professional misconduct in the UK or elsewhere,
d.    I have not been convicted of any criminal offences in the UK or elsewhere.

I swear that the information I have provided is true and complete.


OK, you've that little piece of paper in your hand that says you can now work as a Vet. Before you start contacting people you have to decide how you want to get paid. If you're lazy or are going to be working for less than 12 months, you would probably want to use an umbrella company. Basically they 'employ' you and you don't really have to worry about doing too much paperwork. The downside is that you're probably going to make less money in the long term because they're going to take a much bigger cut from your pay. 

The other option for a locum is to set up a limited company in which you are the director of and you have to produce your invoices to send to your clients. This sounds like a ot more hassle but actually it's not that much more hassle and most people would do this if they were working for longer periods of time. 

I started out using an umbrella company (FPS - great experience) because I hadn't organised myself beforehand so I could start working straight away. They set it up so each week I would put in my expenses and they would pay me directly into my normal bank account. Easy. 

I then contacted an accountant (March Mutual - absolutely rubbish, had to change) who set up my limited company. You just need to come up with a company name where you appoint yourself as a director, pay yourself a wage and the rest of your income as 'dividends' from your company. Am I losing you? Don't worry. It's straightforward when you actually go through the process. 

Being a limited company means you have to have a business account, not just your own private Barclays bank account Well, with my first accountant they booked me in to see a 'business specialist' at HSBC which I had to wait 3 weeks for. This was overall a complete waste of time and I was rejected for the account in which my accoutant left me to fend for myself to find myself another bank who would give me a business account. Useless. So I left March Mutual and joined Paystream who sent me a whole bunch of forms which I promptly signed and after 4 weeks (I did say that nothing happens quickly here right?) I had myself a business account with a private bank - Cater Allen. You can't get paid til you have that account (unlike with the umbrella company which you can get paid straight away). 

I'm also VAT registered (kind of like GST). I'm not quite sure why, but I get 20% more for my services and I assume I get some of that at the end of the tax year. IR35 is a law which prevents people who would be technically be permanently employed from working under a limited company. There are a whole bunch of rules you have to follow to make sure you stay 'outside IR35' but basically you can't work at a place for too long or appear to be a member of their regular staff. I got my own work indemnity insurance because it helps keeps me outside IR35. Asleep yet? I know, it's tedious but all necessary.

All your travel and food expenses are tax deductible so it's pretty important to keep all your receipts and oyster card journey histories. Again, they love their paperwork.

I contacted about 5 different recruitment agencies and now primarily work with Syneryvets and Recruit4Vets. When you look online at what jobs they have, they're generally kind of crappy. Never in central London, after hours, weekend work, longer commitments. All the stuff you wanted to move away from. I first took on work that was really far out of London. I live in central London (zone 1), all these jobs were in zone 6-7. about 60-90 minutes commute time each way. Exhausting. When my first job got terminated early, even though it was quite rude of them, I was secretly thrilled I wouldn't have to commute that far again. Also I was underpaid. 

After speaking to other locums I realised I should be getting a better daily rate for a Vet that's 6 years out. Also that there is PLENTY of work. Don't settle for the shitty jobs unless you have to. Recruiters are generally quite slimy (though nice to your face) and will make up all sorts of reasons to get you to accept that underpaying, far away job that no one else wants. Just be firm with what you want. They're working for you.

I've also accepted a job that was closer to home which then suddenly had a 'change in venue' and suddenly it was much further out. Ummm, no. That's underhanded business there. I told them I won't accept it and stayed firm. The recruiter tried to pressure me into accepting it because it was still central enough and said that it would damage my relationship with that Vet chain if I got difficult about it. Well, I told him I thought it was unprofessional of THEM to try to completely change the work. They still gave me other work afterwards and I  now realise that recruiters are just full of BS. 

Nowadays, I'm getting jobs that are walkable from home, I'm getting paid what I deserve and the work has been steady. I'm not aiming to work ALL the time. Jobs can vary from one day cover to 2 months. I'd like the occasional week off and the more I'm working the more I could get as the places I've already have worked at will keep me in mind if they need more locum work done. I just started a job that was extended from 2 weeks to 6 weeks. Jobs also pop up last minute so it's worthwhile waiting for the good jobs than just accepting one that doesn't seem that great.

I've been working really hard here in the UK. Some of the places are pretty quiet and you're just sitting around but most of the places have enough work for two Vets and it's just you there from 9am to 7pm trying to get everything done. I've had days where I've had no time for lunch and am left shattered afterwards. I avoid those places afterwards. It's not worth the pain. Also night work and after hours work pays pitifully and I've outright refused to do it. Nurses are generally really good and can take blood etc. Just like anywhere, some clinics have better facilities than others though the one interesting point is that I've only seen digital x-ray in one clinic out of 12. Also, a lot more clients do have insurance here but not as many as I thought.  

Working life in Sydney was much more relaxed but breaking out of routine is still a good thing for me and I'm learning a lot from being at so many different clinics. How to be adaptable, working in different teams, how to work on my own and just generally building up my confidence as a Vet and as a person. The main thing I'm enjoying is the flexibility I have just to say 'I'm going to Paris for the week' and not having to beg someone to give me the time off for it. It may be worth the trouble after all.