An Introduction to The “F***ing Hell” Birds!

After flying over India for what seemed like an eternity, we did finally arrive in Australia dear readers. Pandaa’s home-made passport was duly scrutinised along with those belonging to the humans of the family, and he was pleased to have been allowed in without fuss or fanfare.

We were collected at the airport in the warm, balmy evening by Mr S, who had known my husband since they were both sixteen. He and his lovely wife were old friends of ours. They had offered to share their Australian home of nearly two years with us so that we could explore the area for the first few days, before we moved to the City apartment that my husband’s new employer had paid for us to stay in for a couple of weeks.

We accepted this kind offer and to this day remain eternally grateful to them for all their unwavering support since then. It was so reassuring to see a familiar face as Mr S waved at us in the arrivals lounge, and it may seem tragic to say it, but it was even more so to hear a calm, fellow Yorkshire accent greet us with the words “All right? Welcome to Australia.”

We drove in our hire car behind Mr S, whose own was loaded up with our luggage. When we eventually pulled up on his driveway, we realised that Mrs S was already waiting for us. She rushed to hug us all tightly in turn, asking how we were and what the flight had been like. And then of course there was only one thing for it – the kettle went on!

It was getting very late by now, so Mr and Mrs S soon showed us to the rooms that would be our home for the next few days. And in what seemed like no time at all, it was light outside and a new day had begun.

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I woke with a start to sunlight streaming through the window (in February – yippee!) and the weirdest native bird noise I have ever heard. Well, two bird noises actually.

One sounded very much like R2-D2 from the Star Wars films, babbling away happily in an electro-type frenzy. We later discovered that these were magpies.

The other noise… well it sounded kind of like a cross between a child’s squeaky toy and the Home for the Clinically Profane. I kid you not. The high-pitched shriek that this bird made sounded like this: “F***ing Hell! F***ing Hell! F***ing Hell!”

We have NOT since discovered this bird’s real name, and it remains (in our house, at least) The F***ing Hell Bird. (These days, I rise at 5AM to go to work, so I can even be found joining in with that particular refrain whenever those birds begin their morning wake-up call).

These noises were amazing, unusual, hilarious! It was clearly time to go and explore outside……

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The “Flight So Long That You’ll Want to Tear Your Eyes Out Just For Something To Do” Bit…

We spent our last night in the UK in an airport hotel, one of those that looks exactly the same whether you’re in London, New York, Paris or Peckham (of course, only fools and horses would get that kind of reference, Rodney).

Our dear friend – whose daughter has always been one of our daughter’s best friends, and who had accompanied her dad on the journey to drop us off there – had long since left us. Another sad goodbye completed.

Our son, not quite a teenager, spent most of his time that evening asking for another pound for the Internet connection to be rebooted so that he could continue to chat to his friends on MSN. Our young daughter read stories and drew pictures. Pandaa (the cuddly bear dude) looked like the only one of our party who was remotely confident and relaxed about the whole thing. He had his leather travel wear, his little case and his all-important home made passport; what was the big deal, man?

We had intended to go and get a meal downstairs in the hotel, but in the end our spirits weren’t up to it. We felt exhausted and unsure for the future. We each wanted to be quiet and left to our own thoughts.Tomorrow marked the beginning of a new chapter for this little family of four, one that could only be played by ear as it went along.

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An early start to the crisp, snowy day that followed heralded our new adventure. We were just four ordinary people, two of them only children, loading our cases onto the minibus to go to the airport; nothing out of the ordinary to any casual observer. As we later settled into our seats on the aircraft, I wondered how many of the other passengers might be on their way to pastures new as we were.

When the aircraft took off, we observed from above the pristine white fields that the snow had worked so hard overnight to achieve. We were leaving now – really leaving – and who knew yet what may lay ahead for us?

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Anyone who has travelled from the UK to Australia will eventually realise that it’s a long way. Longer than you thought. An interminably, arse-numbingly, brain-scramblingly long way. All passengers who have attempted this flight have without doubt done ALL of the following (yes, really – all of them):

1. Watched all the in-flight films (even the ones they didn’t want to see).
– So, you’re a Jane Austen fan? Yep, the film entitled “Zombie Hairdressers from Mars” that you turned your cultured nose up at when you first boarded will be on your viewing list before this flight is over. No, of course you won’t like it but it’ll pass a few hours away and you’ve already seen The Vicar of Dibley nine times today.

2. Listened to the baby in the row 200 seats away from you shriek consistently like a tiny banshee undergoing a toe extraction. For the whole flight. Non-stop.
– Its parents (in their desperation) are the ones frantically looking for the emergency exits and the parachutes, but apparently not the child’s dummy.

3. Watched the in-flight journey tracker.
– Who knew it takes 23.5 hours to fly over India, and only half an hour or so extra for the remaining 10, 246 miles (or 16, 489km if you’re a Metric Mary)?

TIP: DO NOT use the in-flight tracker on such a long flight, or you’ll begin to imagine a life within the confines of India or Afghanistan as a very real possibility. Eventually though, you’ll reach the Land Down Under. Severely sleep-deprived and gnarly, but you’ll reach it.

And here’s where the fun begins….

The Sad Bit!

Dearest Douglets,

Don’t fear, I don’t want to bore you with details of Australian visa application categories, shipping requirements and having our various bumps felt at the required medicals.

Nor do I want to imagine you rolling your eyes as I drone on about the six-hour IELTS English exam that my husband (as the primary visa applicant) had to complete. “We speak Yorkshire, not English”, he loudly declared. “It’s not me with the regional accent – it’s everyone else”, he loudly declared.

Anyone who knows him knows that my husband declares very loudly and very often.

Let me assure you now that I absolutely did not see his tongue being firmly implanted in his cheek as he uttered these words. After all, who can speak clearly with their tongue stuffed in their cheek?

Yorkshire is widely regarded as God’s Own Country by its faithful brethren and who was I to argue, I reasoned. It’s in our blood.

Let’s get to the bit that I know has brought you here today – the sad bit. The bit where we leave our life – as we have always known it – behind, and what that felt like for us. It happened in February 2009, and describing it to you is a bit like coming back from the pub toilet with your skirt tucked into your knickers – rather embarrassing and public. (I’m not even going to comment on whether that has happened to me, just be satisfied with this episode of public sharing will you!).

I can say in all honesty that if you have always Iived in close proximity to your family and close friends, but have an overwhelming desire to potter off into the unknown to live in a country so far away that it’s not even possible to travel further without actually being on your way back home again, you’re nuts. Hell, I’m not judging you – we’re nuts, we did exactly that and this is how it went.

On the morning we left, we awoke to a house full of nothing. All our important stuff had already been shipped to the Land of the Unknown, Australia. It was eerily quiet as I awoke, as everyone else was still asleep (quite reasonably so, since it was only about 4am). I had slept fitfully all night and padded alone into the next bedroom in my pyjamas, where what was left of our essentials had been packed away into 4 suitcases.

Pandaa, my daughter’s cuddly bear, sat expectantly atop one of them; his coloured-in, handmade passport tucked between his leather jacket and trousers. He’s a dude, Pandaa – even his name has an extra ‘a’ in order to emphasise his coolness during pronunciation – and his choice of travel wear was both macho and practical.

I can still recall how everything felt slightly disembodied, like an out of body experience or a waking dream – the kind that makes you deeply grateful when someone shakes you awake from it. But nobody did shake me. This was it. After three years of planning, talking and paying out for some aspect or another of the visa process, my little family was moving to the other side of the world.

I didn’t feel excited or happy any more. I felt terrified and full of dread, like I did when I temporarily lost sight of my mum in the supermarket when I was about four. I had a very loud voice even then though, so she wasn’t able to go “missing” for long.

I don’t intend to over-dramatise, but I can only describe the leaving day itself as being something akin to what it must be like being a ghostly presence at your own funeral and seeing the effects of it on your loved ones. After many farewell get-togethers, we went for a final family meal to a much-loved pub in a neighbouring village.

This is the type of old English pub with stone walls, wooden ceiling beams and a roaring fire that screams out “homely” and makes you want to stay forever in a happy fog of alcohol and hearty steak and ale pie. To add to the overall twinkling beauty of this village picture-postcard scene it had started snowing, too.

Everyone cried, of course. My dad cried more than he was allowed to and was duly told off by my mum, who was trying her best to be stoic. If there was a degree in stoicism my mum would have it, followed by a Doctorate. My sister, nephew, other relatives and my oldest friend all tugged at my heart strings so hard that those heart strings wanted to wrap themselves around my loved ones and stay physically tied to them forever.

We had agreed that my parents would look after our cherished dog until we had become settled. I went alone to drop our furry baby off at my mum’s house just before we left. She leapt gleefully into the car, tail wagging furiously as she anticipated her usual car adventure. It was awful to observe how happy and blissfully unaware she was.

I walked back up my parents’ drive without her feet padding along next to mine, without her soft brown eyes looking up at me. I felt an almost overwhelming desire to run back in and announce “We’re staying. I don’t want to go any more.”

I didn’t though. I kept walking, my eyes brimming over like those raindrops on a windowpane that hang there tenaciously for a while before they finally break free into tiny, fast-flowing rivulets. My throat felt like rough sandpaper and I couldn’t breathe until I reached the car, where it was safe to let it all out…. because no one was there to see it.

Dougie Digs Down!

Greetings, Douglets!

I felt that now might be a good time to explain why this blog is named DougDownUnder.

The reasons for this are twofold:

One – as you may have previously read, I had promised my dear grandad when I was small that I would one day dig a hole in his garden all the way down until I reached Australia.

Two – a few weeks ago we adopted a wild-eyed Collie with a winning smile from the RSPCA. I wanted to name him ‘Flower’ because “Collie Flower” is such an ironic name (isn’t it dear readers), but my daughter is in love with Dougie McFly, so that was final.

Dougie the Dog has thoughtfully spent every minute since then trying to make my childhood wish come true – in reverse – by attempting to dig our Australian lawn down all the way back to my grandad’s old garden in good old Blighty.

Perhaps he really does do this in some kind of grand tribute to my childhood promise to my grandad. Then again, perhaps he’s just another unhinged Collie who strategically creates potholes for us to fall into when we look for him outside after dark. I swear that dog can laugh.

My money’s on the latter, but if you live in the North of England and you happen to find a black and white dog with a happy grin sitting in your garden amid what appears to be a huge molehill…give me a call because he hasn’t had his rabies jab.

In all honesty, I initially wanted to call this blog something very “Yorkshire”because you can take the lass out of Yorkshire but you can never take Yorkshire out of the lass. But sadly, anything to do with puddings, tykes, whippets, flat caps and grimness was already taken (it really was!), so DougDownUnder it eventually became.

And I actually rather like its dual meaning, so maybe it was meant to be after all.

Anyway, I hope you stick around and keep me company as I add to the blog, it’d be awful lonesome here all by myself.

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The Inane Musings of a Little Tyke Down Under

As I seem to spend a great deal of time withering about my thoughts on the Internet anyway on certain social media sites, I felt that the next natural and logical step was to find a way to bother people in some other form as well.

I am not famous, although the size of my arse can probably rival Kim Kardashian’s these days and I didn’t even need to pay for surgery. She should have waited until her forties like me, and it would just have appeared overnight like mine did – free, gratis and for nothing.

I don’t have any particular talents other than my amazing ability to whistle so loudly that I can be heard several miles away by the hard of hearing, and knowing all the words to songs by th Foo Fighters.

I am not even sure who will find these additional musings in the least bit interesting, but I aim to please by making them as readable as possible. I might even make you laugh now and again, but we’ll see about that as we go along.

I will try to describe what my life has been like moving from the UK village I had called my home forever, to the other side of world whereI had never even visited before.

I promised my dear grandad one day in his garden (when i was little enough to believe in the impossible) that one day I would dig all the way down to Australia. And this is the story of how it happened….