From Canada, meet the Jackson family: Khye, Howard, Cody, Kent, Janice and Colt. These were our wonderful hosts for the weekend. Janice is also on the teaching exchange programme, at a school in Griffith. She and Rachel met each other during our last visit to Sydney and we renewed acquaintances at their farm (for the year), about a 20-minute drive from Griffith itself.
Our car grew a beard on the three-hour journey from Albury to Griffith. Some of the not-so-main roads in New South Wales are littered with lightweight balls of dry grass blowing across the tarmac and we drove through a pile that must have been two feet high. No damage was done though.
The boys were so much fun, from the moment we arrived. While Howard and Janice went grocery shopping in town on Saturday, we stayed with Khye, Colt and Kent (above) while they finished their slushies. One of the food-court staff praised Rachel and I for the cleanliness of our table and our well-mannered children. We accepted the compliments without argument.
On Saturday evening, we were all joined for 'supper' by Cook and Cass, Australian friends of the Jacksons, and another English family who have recently moved to the Griffith area - permanently. This truly was a Commonwealth summit.
Sunday was a relaxed affair - as Sundays should be.
It was back to school for Janice and the boys on Monday morning, with Rachel also making an early start to spend time in the classrooms and observe the Griffith style of teaching. After visiting the library in town, I discovered the world's second-best sandwich shop where I purchased this magnificent roll filled with sliced beef, boiled egg and coleslaw. How better to accompany the sport sections from The Sydney Morning Herald (top) and The Australian (bottom)?
Once lunch was done, I parked outside the school and took a seat in Cody's Year 6 classroom for the afternoon Art lesson. Cook (sorry, Mr Cook) is the regular teacher but they had an Art specialist taking the class, which involved etching a design onto polstyrene - or some similar material - and making paint prints of it. My design was a Union Jack, Cody's a hockey stick. Do you think it was obvious who the foreigners were?
Of course, homework was on the agenda when we all got home. I helped Khye practice his counting - from one to 30 - and his letter sounds. Teachers, is this what you call 'phonics'?
Lots of cricket was played across the weekend. The garden served as an excellent square and the Jackson boys certainly belied the fact they'd been complete newcomers to the sport three months ago. The big kid in the yellow t-shirt spent much of the weekend batting, bowling and fielding too.
Colt (centre) ran evening farm tours on the quad bike, driving us out to the field where two horses lazily munched the grass. Away from the farmhouse, there was a real danger of multiple mosquito bites, so we went big on the bug spray before setting off. Khye rode up front as the co-pilot.
The whole Jackson family made us feel so welcome, they were so generous and you can expect to see them featuring on the blog again before this year is through.
We set off while it was still dark on Tuesday morning, headed for Cootamundra to meet our Albury football (soccer) team for the regional trials. In the photo, 12 of the 14 boys are from Albury and two were extra players from Young who joined us on the day. Of three pool games, the boys won one and drew two. Six were chosen to play in the 'Possibles v Probables' game at the end of the day and two made it through to the Riverina area squad which will play in Gosford (north of Sydney) at the New South Wales festival in May. For a group of lads from seven different schools who were only brought together two weeks ago, they played like a true team and did Albury - and us - proud. It was a privelege to coach them and see them develop even in such a short time frame. I may even help out the Riverina manager at the festival.
IN OTHER NEWS...
I am hopefully a step closer to picking up work after registering with two more recruitment agencies. One in particular seems significantly more proactive about getting me sorted.
We watched the grand final of My Kitchen Rules last night. It's a cooking show which draws the second-largest TV audience in Australia, a bit like Masterchef but more hyped up. We watched it most evenings and can thoroughly recommend it (if it ever gets broadcast abroad).
My best mate, Ed, is visiting Australia with work at exactly the time Rach and I are going to be away on holiday - gutted! But he and his wife, Helen, have another - longer - stay planned later in the year and we will definitely see them then. Other friends and family are also planning holidays to see us which is very exciting.