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.