Friday 31 May 2013

The reality of an International move

I will name the company as the following is fact. I made complaints via email and telephone at the time and as with all things once our container arrived and all was intact, the process of settling into life in South Africa began and I sort of let the matter drop as no one was actually that interested.

There are many blogs, web pages, advise in different formats available when selecting a firm to assist with an International move. There are lots of stories of what went wrong, there is lots of of info about how to choose a firm, but there is little about 'what to do if something goes wrong' or 'the reality of what is offered and what actually happens'

So here is my tale of an International move in regards to shipping our lives abroad. With a list of 'what I wish I'd packed'

We did the 'get 3 quotes' thing and opted to use a local firm affiliated with Britannia Movers International. My contract was with the local firm and there were many issues.

When arranging a moving date, ensure you have your visas prior to packing your furniture and requesting a shipping date.

On December 23rd 2010 they moved the final box out of our property. We called in at the local office to find out what happens next and make the final payment. We were then informed that a shipping date hadn't been booked as we had failed to provide them with our visa numbers. First time they mentioned that little fact. Our visas weren't issued until January 11th 2011, so in hindsight we could've stayed in our house until that date rather than the costly process of hotels and bedding down on family and friends floors.

On arrival in South Africa we still didn't have a date that our furniture would be shipped and after several calls and emails we were informed it left the UK on February 1st 2011 and would arrive end of March. We notified the agents of our new address 2 weeks prior to moving in on March 1st and requested the sealed container number for our belongings. Please note this number finally arrived via email 2 weeks after our container was delivered to our house.

We recveived a frantic call from the local agents in Johannesburg to say that as we hadn't been in touch and our container was ready for collection at customs, they had no driver available and they would charge storage costs for the weekend and also informed us that we hadn't completed any custom or release forms this end. Frantic calls and emails were sent to the UK, there was no answer. So hubby was recalled from work, we collected the paperwork from the agents, drove to Pretoria to customs, paid more fees, drove to agents and submitted forms. At this stage we'd been in te country for 6 weeks, we were still apprehensive about travelling to unknown places and worried about our personal safety. Our container then 'got lost' for 3 days and we were unable to find where it was, again the Uk agents didn't respond. So we contacted Britannia Movers International who unhelpfully contacted the UK agents with my complaints against them and reported back to me that there were no issues and everything was going smoothly. I replied and said 'that still doesn't answer the question of where our container and was' I received an 'out of office reply for the next 2 weeks.

For 2 days we had a team of unpackers sat on the drive of our house, waiting for our lost container to arrive. I fed and watered them, offered them shelter from the heat and the storms and my son played football with them for 2 days and watched the cricket as he was visiting us on holiday.

Nothing was broken on arrival, boxes unpacked, furniture assembled. They never did return to collect all the cardboard boxes, but we were in and had our 'home' back.

Should I move again, things will be done differently. I assure you.

Why there is no sense of permanency as an expat


We’ve been in South Africa over 2 years now, renewed our visas and moved house. We were also adopted by a cat just over a year ago. But during the time we’ve been here it’s been muted that we may move to Dubai or America, but we’ve got the children’s education to sort out, they need to finish that as they’re at local schools and aged 18 & 14 it would be difficult to move them around too much.

We rent our house out in the UK, all our family, including 3 grown up children are in the UK, but South Africa is our home now. I’ve decided, I’m staying put. I have a job (volunteer work) a good set of friends, I’ve created a home, most of the family and quite a few friends have been out to visit. We now say ‘this time last year’ and not ‘back when we arrived’ I know how things work, how to get things done. I’m happy here, I’m settled here, but I ’m always fearful of hubby coming home and saying ‘we’re off to………’

Two weeks ago I decided I won’t live with the fear of moving anymore, we moved all our furniture etc with us, the children’s keepsake boxes from the attic, all the family photos etc, sold the cars, spare furniture, we took toys to the car boot, clothes to the charity shop. Apart from family, all we left behind was the house, which we rent out and after a bad experience with tenants, it is no longer our home, which is good, as it means as and when we leave, we won’t be ‘going back’ but ‘going somewhere new’

I’ve stopped worrying about the possibility of a move. I put off doing so many things ‘just in case’ so I went out and got a dog from a rescue centre. I now feel more secure. Getting a dog was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but with 5 kids and work etc it never would have been fair on a dog, but now the timing and situation is right.

Should we have to move then the dog and the cat will come with us, they are part of our family now and I feel settled. I'm currently travelling in the UK, all my references are to South Africa as 'Back home' 'when I go home'

If hubby does come home and say 'we have the opportunity to move to.......' I will be wanting to know a lot more information before even considering another move and maybe this time I may just say 'No, I don't want a new home, I rather like this one, thank you very much'

Thursday 30 May 2013

The sponsored blog post and then what really happened

There are sponsored blog posts and there are the down right bloody hysterical.

OK so you've declared its a sponsored post...well done you are getting better, but we can spot the difference between a normal post about a day and a post written around the product you've begged for to review.

In the mind of the blogger:

After a good night, co-sharing with Mini and Moo. Dearest husband brought breakfast in bed as he does every morning before going to work as a environmentalist. The children's Nanny arrived and I luxuriated in my (insert name of latest bath product and price tag) which was sent to me by the lovely people at (name flowery online company) I dressed (insert picture, with photo credit link to catalogue page and name the wonderful people who sent todays outfit of choice) and joined the children for their organic breakfast (name company and price)

Using the twins new double buggy (again donated getting the drift yet?) we strolled to the (hideously overpriced location), where they children received education appropriate to the activity. More organic food for lunch from the (insert name of café)

We arrive home and are very excited to discover our Organic weekly fruit box from (insert name of company and price) and use a meal planner online to ensure we use the exotic vegetables with suitably named meals.

In the mind of the reader:

Kids up all bloody night, hubby doesn't quite match up to the wifes expectations and is in some lower paid job, he is happy but his job prevents the misses from climbing the social ladder.
The Nanny is totally made up and the blogger relies on the fact that she will hopefully never met anyone off twitter. Bath products from supermarket on offer, not sponsored but will write about them in hope of an offer in the future. Breakfast is white toast and jam and a mug of instant coffee, amongst last nights dishes, crying, snotty kids refusing to eat. Takes a further 2 hours to get ready to go out and you opt to stay in the jeans and baggy jumper.

Paid a fortune to go into a place that you know your kids won't enjoy just so you can tell the mums at the school gate how good you are planning educational activities. You didn't get asked to review it but will write about it anyway on the off chance they'll ask and it sounds better than the local park that everyone knows is full of druggies and my Boden skirt will be ruined)

Your kids eat sausage, egg and chips at the greasy spoon café for lunch after a day being filled with sweets and crisps and pop so they'll behave for the photo you take of them looking angelic (spaced out) for the blog post.

Arrived home to find a box of veg on your doorstep, sent by the local grocer, who like you is pretending to be something he isn't. It's free as you've told him you review products online and he wants a piece of the action, he's priced the box at £13 and you look at the 6 potatoes, half a swede, 5 carrots, 10 onions (all on the turn) a mixed salad bag and wonder how the hell you're going to get the kids to eat an avocado.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Why as an expat I don't think local schooling is a good idea.

Education and International schools

I have no knowledge of International schooling, it was not an option for us when we became expats and moved from the UK to South Africa.


I’ve read many articles and blogs about the benefits of local schooling, but when I look for further information in regards to my childrens education I discover that most of the information for local schooling is primary education and the benefits of your child emerging themselves in local schooling.


I google boarding schools for expat children and alarmed to discover that this choice is usually made when the child approaches secondary education and the parents are still livng abroad.


So why did we choose local schooling over international schooling? Because we were nieve, we listened to the advice we were given only to discover that the advice was based on…… knowledge of anything other than we had to have a school place for our children in order for us to obtain a visa to move here.


Our eldest child child school here in 2011. The school year starts in Jnauary, he entered in Grade 10. In the UK he had already completed 4 months of grade 11, his GCSE year. We opted to move him, prior to his GCSE’s as his UK school wasn’t really performing to the best of his abilities, he ran with the in crowd and every day was a battle. Local schooling for him here was the best thing we did for him, they helped him catch up with this grades, he joined the first team cricket and rugby, not bad for a Pomme, his grades went up, he still ran with the in crowd but the peer pressure was positive.


He is finishing Grade 12 in December, he will be 18 years and 11 months. He is on course for Matriculation and entry to Varsity…or is he?


Arriving in Grade 10 he was exempt from Afrikaans and learning a 2nd language. So far entry to Varsity here is going to be difficult. An undergraduate course is 3 years and should he be accepted, as an immigrant all fees have to be paid on being offered a place. To complete his degree and obtain the Hons, he has to reapply and study for a further year.

Should he want to study at a UK university he is required to spend an additional year and move over to the Cambridge school to convert his Matric to A level equivilant, then applky to UK University meaning he wouldn’t be able to start until October 2015, that would leave him with no visa and have to return to the UK in December 2014 and wait 10 months before taking up a UK university place aged 20 years and 10 months, where as had he stayed in the UK he probably wouldn’t have done A levels but if he had he would’ve started University in October this year. He is effectively having to do an additional 2 years of schooling for his A levels.


The youngest child entered schooling here in Grade 6, still in Juniors, he had already completed 4 months of secondary school in the UK. Due to a monumental cock up, the company had informed the local school we were only here for 2 years. He wasn’t exempt from Afrikaans as we’d been informed and his Educational Psychology and learning need reports hadn’t been forwarded to the school as they had needed to secure his place, again for our visa application. It became apparent in Grade 7 at the end of the first term, March 2012 that his educational needs were not being met and after reassessment and additional support being given for end of term exams, he had missed out on vital education with him failing terms. I’ve attempted to address his needs with his current school. But as with other local schools I’ve approached, Special Educational Needs are NOT catered for in main stream schooling. I’m banging my head against a wall, the last correspondence I received from him school was a suggestion that he may be suited to schooling else where, but no suggestion as to which school. Schools in Jo’burg are out of the question and trying to find an international school that delivers International GCSE’s and that also caters foor his SEN within a reasonable driving distance is proving impossible. There is a Montesorri school near by that we have applied to but as he had no Montessori experience and is 14 years of age, it doesn’t look likely.


We also don’t want our youngest to be in the same situation as the eldest so our only option is looking like UK boarding school for him. He was a pupil at The Downs Malvern College prior to our relocation and he loved boarding, we took this option as the whole boarding approach seemed the best way forward for his learning needs and style, but we only lived 4 miles away and he could come home in the holidays or the odd night if he wanted to. This is not my preferred choice of schooling, but having exhausted all the other options, we need to move fast as he is due to start his GCSE’s in Year 10 this coming September.

For the eldest child we should have chosed International schooling from the start. For the youngest, it seems that UK boarding is and was and should've been our only option. I'm just hoping now we can get a place in time for him to start his GCSE's this year and that he can catch up with the last two years of missed education.


Friday 17 May 2013

Do you buy condoms for your teenagers?


It feels as if your kids are little forever and then all of a sudden without you realising it, they’re all grown up.

There comes a time when you can’t blog about them or post photos online because they are grown up and they have a say in how their lives are run.


When your kids are little (I’ve got 5) you look at older kids and hear their parents complain and you can never imagine your kids being like that, answering back, wearing clothes you don’t approve of, make up, have unsuitable friends and then you remember being a teen yourself but it’s only when your kids reach their teens that you really remember what it is like.


As a parent you have lots of hopes/dreams and visions for their future, your future. You relish the forthcoming freedom of nights out without baby sitters. You have moments where you don’t think they need you anymore. More moments where they don’t think they need you. They make their own decisions, friends, they refuse to wear the clothes you buy them, the bedtime routine is forever a battle, screen time, phone bills, using your car, waiting up all night for them to come home. But they never stop needing you, just their needs change.

You know one day that they’ll leave home, they go slowly over a period of time, staying out with mates, going to college, Uni. They get girlfriends/boyfriends.


You worry they’ll get pregnant before they’re ready to become a parent. You give them the talk, advice.


You’ll think you’ve prepared them, that you have an open relationship with them, and that they’ll talk to you if there are any problems. You hope they’ll act responsibly.


There was a discussion on twitter about Thorpe Park selling condoms, on the shelf amongst the sweets and the concerns of encouraging young people to have sex before they’re ready, of having to explain to younger children what they are when asked and the difficulty of explaining sex in public to a child that isn’t the right age to be learning these things.


But I’m a believer in answering children’s questions at whatever age, although I agree that the location and/or timing may not be right. I also don’t believe that a child being able to buy a condom will encourage them to have sex. I’d rather if my child thought about having sex they were able to buy the condom without having to search for it, ask for it as that is more likely to cause them embarrassment and just not to use one. I know that people say if a child is embarrassed to buy a condom then they’re not mature enough to have sex, but come on…real world people it happens. What you do in private you don’t necessarily want anyone else to know what you’ve got planned do you?


So when my kids reached around the age of 15 and/or had girlfriends that they spent most of their time with, I bought condoms and left them in their rooms. Yes the younger kids found them, yes they blew them up and made water bombs (expensive exercise) yes they giggled over them and teased their older siblings. But so far no one has knocked on my door telling me their daughter is pregnant, boys are 23, 21, 18 & 14



Tuesday 14 May 2013

How to get credit as an expat


It costs a lot of money to move abroad, even when you move with a company that pay your expenses. There are hidden costs, which you can’t claim back. Such as selling your car in your home country, you need a quick sale, you’re not trading up, and you lose money on the sale. Your house is empty, you fail to get tenants before you move. Your container is delayed due to an issue with your visa after you have gone abroad, so you need to buy basic equipment, a bed, bedding, towels, kitchen equipment and don’t forget the school uniform and stationery items you need for the children. You may get an allowance for that but by the time you’ve paid the deposits for your utilities, the deposit on the house you are renting, funds are running low.

Prior to moving to South Africa, we shopped around for International banking, we were promised with one bank, that we’d have an account set up for us, full credit history and the ability to borrow funds.

Our first and only major purchase in South Africa was a car for me, hubby had a company vehicle. Unfortunately I hadn’t sold my car in the UK at that point so I called the ‘World’s Leading International Bank’ and asked to borrow some money. Apparently, as they don’t have an actual branch in the country none of the benefits we’d been promised were available to us, they even cancelled my bank card for ‘unusual activity’ despite us only opening the account to move to South Africa in the first place.

At this point we didn’t have local bank accounts as promised, so to open accounts we had to have documents copied and verified by the local police station, provide references, full copy of contract of employment, and a wage slip. We got stuck in a vicious circle. The company couldn’t provide us with a payslip until we had a bank account to pay the money into, couldn’t pay us the allowance for the same reason, without a car I couldn’t get to the police station to certify our documents and we had almost depleted our UK finances. Without a bank account there was also no way we could rent a property, which meant we couldn’t get proof of residency and I couldn’t get a SIM card.

The circling continued for a while. We finally got local bank accounts; hubby had to give his permission for me to have an account. He also had to take time off work to ‘sort me out’ we approached the garage where he got his company car from and they organised finance with the help of the company, but there were hidden costs. We had to have a 50% deposit due to our nonexistent credit record here. The loan had to be repaid within 2 years, before our visas expired.

So I withdrew the daily maximum from my UK account, having now sorted my UK card out, using a street corner phone box to make the call from having discovered Telkom’s ‘World Calling Card’ I had to walk the short distance to the Mall each day, I was VERY scared, this is South Africa after all. Then when I had enough money I had to walk to another bank, outside the Mall with R50,000 in my bag, to pay the deposit to the garage, and then walk to the bank where the garage had sorted finance to prove we had paid the deposit, then walk to the garage to collect the car.

This was a very difficult and complicated experience, but a necessity which we couldn't avoid. I am currently purchasing a car for my son, we have credit, extended visas, money built up in local accounts, not limited to our immediate area to search for vehicles so the process isn't actually any more complicated than our experiences in the UK athought the interest rates here are much higher.

I'm flying in for Britmums Live

Name: Suzanne, although most be just call me Chickenruby these days
Blog: Chickenruby
Twitter ID: @chickenruby
Height: 5ft 7in
Hair: medium length, sometimes purple or blonde or a mixture of the two. Sometimes I add a monkey as a little accessory
Eyes: Greenish

Is this your first blogging conference?
Yes it is
Are you attending both days?
As long as I get my arse into gear and book a hotel room (contact me if you need a room share, I'm toilet trained, but I may snore)
What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2013?
Putting names to faces and finding out what more I can get out of blogging
What are you wearing?
No idea, depends whatever is not creased or dirty in my suitcase, after being on tour in the UK for the past month
What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2013?
Absolutly no idea, I have an open mind
Tell us one thing about you that not everyone knows
I live in South Africa (there may a few people that don't know that) I play the clarinet and know the off side rule

Thursday 9 May 2013

We all speak English, but what happens when it has a different meaning?

Some English regional phrases that may have a different meaning to you.


I have South African friends travelling to the UK tonight for a holiday. It made me think about the differences in the use of the English language of which I’ve battled with a little here. It’s not just the words used, it’s the context in which they are used.

I’ve lived ‘oop north’ and dawrn souf’ and have been thrown with ‘daps, pumps and pimpsels as well as ‘muffins, bread cakes and baps’ so I thought I’d put a list togheter for them to use should someone say something that they may think has a different meaning.

I’d love it if you’d add your own to the list.

I would also like to add that I will NOT be held responsible if these words/phrases are used and you get into trouble with any of them. You are advised to proceed with extreme caution.


Arse about face                                                  this means you are doing something back to front.

Arse over tit                                                        falling over in style

Barmy                                                                   to describe the weather as in mild

Bum us a fag                                                        not a request for sex, but ‘give me a cigarette’

Blow me                                                                again not a request for sexual favours, used instead of ‘well I never’

Bob's your uncle                                                 used at end of sentence to exclaim ‘it’s easy’

Bung                                                                      as in ‘to throw’ ‘bung us your keys mate’ or a bribe

Butchers                                                               to take a look at something

Can you borrow me a …….                              as in a lend of

Cheerio                                                                  to say goodbye, not just a breakfast cerreal

Cock up                                                                                 again NOT a sexual request but to make a big mistake

Fagged                                                                  ‘I cant’ be bothered’

Gagging                                                                 ‘she’s gagging for it’ as in she wants sex and now

Going out on a Bender                                      heavy drinking session

Gutted                                                                   upset about something ‘I’m gutted’!

Hiya                                                                        to be used in Wales to great everyone

How’s it hanging?                                               ‘How are you?’                   

Hump                                                                     when you have the hump with someone you are in a bad mood

I'm easy                                                                as in ‘I don’t mind’ not just sex

Just a minute                                                      as in South Africa you say ‘I’ll do it now’ means NEVER used in


Knob                                                                      another word for Penis and a door handle, you can also call someone a knob when they do something stupid

Mobile and text                                                   cell and sms

Mug                                                                        if someone is a bit of a mug, it means they are gullible

Narked                                                                  as in ‘pissed off or fed up’

Nesh                                                                      being pathetic, wimpish                                                                     Not my cup of tea                                            something is not to your liking  

Numpty                                                                 polite way of calling someone an idiot

Off your trolley                                                   meaing ‘you’re completely mad’

On the job                                                            either ‘at work’ or ‘having sex’ think context

On your bike                                                        polite way to tell someone to ‘fuck off’

Pants                                                                     polite way to say something is crap/rubbish

Pavement pizza                                                  found outside pubs and kebab shops on a Sunday


Queer                                                                    as in ‘you look a bit queer/ill’

Quid                                                                       a Pound coin

Bladdered, Rat arsed, shitfaced, Trollied    very drunk

Round                                                                    as in ‘your round’ your turn to buy the drinks in the pub

Shag                                                                       a greeting used between male friends as in ‘alright mate’

Shagged                                                                knackered/tired

Shufti                                                                     take a look at something ‘I’ll have a shuftie’

Sick                                                                        as in cool, used to describe something good

Slash and Waz                                                     Take a slash and have a waz mean ‘I’m off for a wee’  quite

                                                                                often an outdoor event

Sorted                                                                   everything is ok or will be made ok

Ta                                                                           to say thank you, to be used in Wales

Tosser and wanker                                            used more as a hand signal for other drivers on the road if they

                                                                                are driving erratically

Totes                                                                     as in ‘I’m up for that’

Waffle                                                                    Brits are good at waffling, talking about nothing, usually the