The end of an era…

And so this update brings me to the end of my time in Australia….

With Hannah’s departure I tried to busy myself as much as possible, both with work and play. It turned out (I found out just before Hannah left) that there was another neutron experiment that needed to be performed, this time back in ISIS in England. Being “not too far away” from finishing my PhD I was given the following task: finish my PhD, write my thesis and hand it in, be flown back to the UK for free and help the others perform the experiment there before going home for good. This wasn’t a task I seemed to have much choice in, so I embraced it. From the time I found out I was definitely going home to the date I would have to leave I had about 2 months. Mammoth task!

It’s safe to say that finishing my experiments, tying up loose ends, and writing my thesis were of top priority. The thesis writing process could make a post all by itself but I will shorten it to this: Starting to write is quite hard. I decided to use LaTeX instead of Word and, while I do not regret this decision one bit, it was a rather steep learning curve at the beginning. Once I was into the swing of it, drafting a chapter – sending it to someone to go over – then sending it to Paul for the final check, things went relatively smoothly. Writing the introduction and putting it all together into a coherent package was also challenging, but I got there! Paul was very complimentary, saying it was the easiest thesis he had ever had to proof read and was very well written. Jumping a little ahead of the story, I handed my thesis in (electronically) at 11:11 on 11/11/11 :) I was quite pleased with that result (that and beating Arthur by about an hour! Haha!).

Anyway, all this work didn’t mean I became a recluse. In fact, far from it. I decided to enjoy my final few weeks in Australia!

The first weekend after Hannah left Ben & Tilly took Lisa and me on a 40 km bike ride. As my first time on a bike in about 4 or 5 years, this went surprisingly well and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Sadly, I was wearing a wife beater and I missed two patches of skin on my back with the sunscreen. Safe to say I will not be missing those patches in the future. 2 months on and I still have uneven tan there because the burn was so bad!

The last weekend in October involved a camping trip to Inskip point, just across the water from Fraser Island. It was the most “in the sticks” camping a posh boy like me has ever done. No showers, no drinking water, just two nasty “hole in the ground” toilets and nature. It was brilliant :) There was a pretty big group of us and we all had a great time. The water was AMAZING for playing on the beach both days. Ellen and I embarked upon a “bacon challenge” and managed to have bacon for 5 meals in a row. It turns out there might actually be a bacon limit… Highlights include all the bacon, and sitting on the beach with drinks to watch sunset by Fraser.

The following two weeks were occupied with the final thesis touches, and breaking the lease on our apartment. As incompetent as Ray White had been throughout our tenancy, our property manager was away on maternity leave. In her place was a very helpful lady, who in the space of about 5 days from us handing in our break lease forms had already re-leased the place! It was a huge weight off our minds to know we could move out of the apartment just after I left Australia and stop paying rent.

The day after handing my thesis in (and having beers at the RE / my apartment to celebrate), CP kindly invited a bunch of us to hers for mexican. Much fun was had by all and Ben, Tilly & I even stayed over so nobody had to drive home. The leftovers were much appreciated :)

With just one week left to go before I vanished, madness ensued as I attempted to pack my life into two suitcases. I managed to post home a 25 kg case for $300 with DHL, leaving me with one suitcase to carry home myself. I did my best to sell anything worth selling (which roughly paid for sending the case home), and Ben & Tilly have received almost everything else that I didn’t sell. It’s very difficult to pack 4 years worth of your life into 50 kg and a small volume. Turns out you have to throw a lot of stuff away!

The Thursday before my last weekend, Ben and I went to Indooroopilly for some late night shopping. As we were leaving we realised “there’s the pub, we could just have a quick one!” So in we went. Two pints later we realised that it was too expensive to stay drinking at the Pig and Whistle. The plan? Home via the bottle shop to get a bottle of Famous Grouse. Long story short, Ben and I demolished said bottle of famous grouse, sitting on my balcony for the last time, setting the world to rights and getting emotional about my departure. It was a really really nice evening (albeit an absolutely horrible Friday morning….) :)

On my last Friday, Paul had asked Fiona to organise cakes for everybody in the lab to wish me off. Gotta love carrot cake! That night I thought it best not to break from tradition. 26 of us descended upon the RE for drinks before heading to a Night in India for one final curry. I started as I began, with a goat madras. I could not have been happier with the choice. It was a brilliant curry to end on! After the meal I went back to the RE with Sarah, Stewart and Ellen and we stayed there drinking “jug-o-nauts” of VB until closing at which point I took my last walk home to the apartment!

The following day, Alison and Arthur had their “4 years too late” housewarming party. It was a nice relaxing affair with plenty of snacks, a bit of pizza, then loads of dessert. As my third night of heavy drinking in a row my age was starting to show! I walked home with Ben & Tilly and was glad of a tiny bit of exercise!

The fourth day in a row of drinking manifested as “Fake Christmas” at Andy & Ellen’s place :) Ben, Tilly, Karyn, Ellen, Andy, CP and I all gathered for a day of merry-marking, swimming pools, crackers, christmas dinner, drinking, presents and sauna. Highlights include lying on the floor after overeating watching David Attenborough on DVD as well as all the “breaching whales” impressions Ellen, CP and I did in the pool :) My secret santa sent me an LED torch and some solar powered fairy lights (which sadly broke by that evening! Haha). Merry fake Christmas one and all!

Tuesday 22nd November marked my final day in Australia. Ben stayed home from work and helped me to demolish everything in my apartment, clean it up, and finish my packing. Thanks mate! I couldn’t have done it all without your help :) I popped into the lab to say one last goodbye to everyone and pick up the samples for the experiment in England. I even got a special handshake and smile from Michael as I left the lab for the final time! That evening was spent with the core friends :) Ben, Tilly, Andy, Karyn and Ellen. I cooked “Beef Dinner Winner” for Ben, Tilly and myself. We shared a couple of beers, then at 9 pm my taxi showed up and it was time to go. It was quite emotional! I still don’t think it’s quite hit me that I have left that place….

The taxi driver was incredibly chatty and check-in at the airport went very smoothly. I passed my time in the departure lounge looking around the shops before finally boarding the plane. I was hoping to have some space around me (the online checkin had me by myself!) but sadly I wasn’t so fortunate. Luckily there was no one in the seat in front of me, so nobody moved the seat back into my face which helped a bit. 8 hours later I was in Singapore and I managed to go through immigration (getting a stamp in my passport!) and I met Chris for a quick coffee in the airport. Was really nice to catch him on my way through, glad I got to say goodbye! Then it was back onto the plane for the long flight and what do you know….. I had three seats to myself! I have never had such a brilliant long-haul flight in my life. Being able to lie down and actually be comfortable made the difference between 14 hours of hell and 14 hours of relaxing with movies and catching up on sleep. I guess that’s what it’s like in business class! Well done Singapore airlines :) Highlights of the flight were seeing Pakistan and Afghanistan out the window as we flew through cloudless skies. There was something really cool about staring down at these foreign places I’d never imagined seeing with my own eyes. What also struck me just before landing in Heathrow was how small the UK was. As we circled around London in a holding pattern, the south coast was only half way to the horizon! What seems like a long way on the ground and by car was “just over there” in the sky. Amazing.

Anyway, I landed, got through immigration (used the electronic passport and didn’t have to speak to anyone!) and I was collected by a taxi driver and whisked away to ISIS before I knew what hit me.

I was back in England with only 1 week of hellish neutron experiments between me and freedom to go home, see my friends, family and Hannah! And this is where I shall leave the story…. for now :)

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