A Grand Day Out, Gromit!

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In Which We Find A Home!

So, after a short period of spending time in the city pretending we owned a waterfront apartment and spending days feeling like we were really only on holiday, we had to buckle down to reality and find somewhere real to live.

Having two almost-teenagers in tow that we had uprooted from everything familiar to them, this was not a decision to be taken lightly. We had to get it right first time, and the pressure was on.

We had some money in the UK that couldn’t be transferred until we had validated our Australian bank account. Now we needed to spend it on boring, everyday things such as a car and a house rental bond.

The Husband had spent fraught Skype time explaining the intricacies of international money transfer to his parents. They had been assigned to assist with the task of ensuring our money reached us without it making any kind of inadvertent detour towards unscrupulous scammers.

Faced with the very real possibility that one mis-typed digit could spell potential catastrophe and homelessness for our shell-shocked family, he rang his mum one final time to walk her through the actual act of depositing the money.

I could vaguely hear fear, patience and trepidation creep into his voice as they solemnly completed this task over the phone, thousands of miles apart. Both of his parents shared this burden of responsibility with reasonably good outward spirits, no doubt masking their insecurity that the failure to get it right was the difference between us being able to establish a life here and…well, the alternative was too scary to think about.

We went and arranged the purchase of a car and viewed some properties to rent, eventually settling on a house some miles away from the city in a pleasant area. The Husband tottered off to the bank, still suffering from his suitcase injury from a few days before.

And…the money wasn’t there.
No. Heart-stoppingly, it really wasn’t.
It. Wasn’t. There!

They’d said it would take a few days to clear but oh no…the much-feared drug barons were surely dining out on that one, mis-typed digit right now!

Frantically checking the holding account, we confirmed that the funds had left the UK some days beforehand. We had a house bond to pay for, we had a car that we had placed a deposit on and now we couldn’t pay for it today as planned! The horror!

We retired to consider pooling our daily allowance of what we could withdraw from the bank and using that to try and bargain an extension to our financial commitments. The Husband walked into the bank branch to try and discuss our predicament.

Having explained our woes as the bank teller tapped our account details into the system, she then looked up with a puzzled expression and said slowly “Why would you want to make multiple withdrawals for little amounts when you have all this money sat in here? Why not just withdraw what you need now… after all there’s plenty in here?”

The Husband met her gaze with what can only be described as slack-jawed gratitude as her words sank in. He hardly dared to hope that what she appeared to be implying might be true.

“What do you mean?” he blinked.

Patiently, as if talking to a toddler who has temporarily lost sight of his mother in the supermarket, she repeated her words. “There’s plenty in here. Your money appears to have just cleared. How much would you like to withdraw?”

To this day, the staff in that bank recognise The Husband as the slightly delirious, eternally grateful and deranged Pommie who performed an impromptu Happy Dance in their branch.

We could pay for somewhere to live, and even a car to get us there! The relief and joy were overwhelming! We could start to build a life!

It was very comforting to know that The Husband’s parents, unused to the weight of such huge electronic responsibility, are indeed quite capable of performing international money transfers and outwitting the criminal gangs whom we were so sure had our life savings earlier that day.

We are forever grateful that they fulfilled this challenge, and even more grateful that they wore their best glasses to do it!

In Which Reality Bites At the Supermarket Checkout!

Nine days after our little band of intrepid explorers arrived in Australia, my husband started work. In this short space of time we had done all the “official” bits of bedding down in a new country; registering for new driving licences, opening bank accounts and so forth.

My Australian driving licence photo unfortunately looks rather sombre. As you would expect, a British person would not dare to indicate jollity or any other type of frivolous emotion on such a serious document.

British officialdom does not encourage smiling, creative hairstyles or other perceived tomfoolery on its citizens’ identification. This is not the British way, Tarquin old boy! – in fact there is a distinct possibility that Churchill legislated against it (with a stern seal of approval from George VI).

My husband’s driving license photo, on the other hand, looks like someone has passed him a glass of champagne and told him to enjoy Rihanna smothered in vodka for lunch. His delighted expression could not have been cheesier if we’d written “Brie” across his forehead and sat him inside a Deli counter.

This was solely because the lady in the vehicle licensing office had encouraged him to beam after declaring my own photo “a bit miserable.”  “Crikey!” she exclaimed, looking disappointedly at my expressionless offering. “It’s alright to smile, you know!”

So, with this beneficial knowledge in hand and secretly pleased that
I looked like a Victorian workhouse matron on mine, he beamed happily for his photograph. I admit that I glowered, slightly peeved at the realisation that I could have appeared rather more chipper if only I’d known. This  probably caused the vehicle licensing lady to feel that she’d been right about me being a grumpy old sod after all.

During our first week in Brisbane, we had also attempted numerous small shopping expeditions. These exercises were conducted primarily to prepare me for the complexity of paying for one’s groceries alone, without the assistance of my husband to help me.

Now, I am at pains to point out that I am not usually a person who needs any type of assistance with any part of the shopping process. I am female, therefore the selection and  payment of shopping does not cause me concern. In fact like most women, I excel at shopping.

However, no one had prepared me for the fact that shopping in Australia requires you to choose one of three payment buttons at the checkout.

“Do you want to pay by cheque, savings or credit?” the helpful checkout assistant would prompt as the queue behind us grew longer and I became more perplexed. “I don’t know, I don’t know!” I wanted to wail. “I’m English and I’ve only ever had to type my PIN number before! Three buttons is two choices too many! ” I wanted to lamely plead.

I had no idea what the payment buttons for cheque, savings or credit might mean – I felt a bit stupid as the realisation that something as fundamental as paying for shopping was not as simple as I was used to. I do realise that this is probably only a feeling that someone such as HRH Prince Charles or Paris Hilton could sagely nod in recognition at as they recall the distress that they felt when their flunkey once wandered off to look at the magazines, just as they really needed them to press the buttons on their behalf to pay for a Snickers bar at the supermarket checkout.

Okay, so not even Prince Charlie or Princess Paris would feel any degree of sympathy for me at my payment predicament. Nevertheless, as contestants on The Apprentice are partial to saying, it was a “learning curve,” even somewhat of a “journey” for me.

So, nine days in, and I was on my own! (well, as on your own as you can be with two “tweenagers”). “Let’s see what you’re made of, you incompetent, dithering Pommie shopper!” Australia challenged me. “Come and explore!”

The apartments we were staying in on the Brisbane River were situated close to a little ferry station, which connected on the other side of the river to the main water taxi, the Brisbane City Cat. On the morning that Husband began work, the three of us decided to explore the unknown… The Other Side of the River.

Truly, Brisbane is a beautiful, well-maintained city. The area known as South Bank is home to a gorgeous, large man-made beach and pool area which sits incongruously against a backdrop of glossy, high-rise office buildings. The beach is a magnet for people from all walks of life. New mums with babes in arms share their space in the shimmering sunshine with tourists, couples, the retired and teenagers, or seek the protection from the heat under the dappled shade of a well-placed palm tree.

The South Bank beach area is serviced by well-organised changing blocks complete with showers and toilets, and you can choose one of the many cafes nearby to refresh yourself with a nice cool drink or a fantastic coffee when you have had enough fun and frolics by the “sea”.   There is a profusion of magenta flowers which creep along the metal “vines” that hug the pathways. It really is very, very pretty.

Whilst we are on the subject of cafes, I would like to point out that it is physically impossible to purchase a rubbish-tasting coffee in Australia. I have tried. I have failed. Australian cafes, even the grubbier ones you consider crossing the road to avoid, produce the most excellent coffee I have ever had.

Considering I am something of a coffee and sunshine aficionado, I resolved find out more of what other delights Brisbane had to offer….

In Which We Arrive In Brisbane City!

Only a few days after we arrived in Australia, we bade farewell to our friends Mr and Mrs S to make our way down to Brisbane city. My husband’s new employers had paid for us to stay there for two weeks in an apartment overlooking the Brisbane river (ooh, get us!)

We had grown used to having our friends look out for us over the short time we had been with them, kindly helping our family through those first stages of life in a new country. Having made the same move only a short while before us, they had helped with obtaining driving licenses, registering with the tax office and all of the other little things that we take for granted when we know where to go for them and how they work.

When we expressed our concerns, fears, hopes and wishes they looked to us with smiles of recognition and empathy.They had been in our shoes, those smiles said – they knew exactly what we were feeling. We were indebted to them for providing that comforting security blanket, but now it was time for us to go exploring!

We arrived at the Brisbane apartments in mid-afternoon on Valentine’s Day. They were spectacularly situated right on the river bank. We opened the balcony doors to appreciate the view. The City Cat, Brisbane’s water taxi catamaran, cut through the waters below, creating a shimmering path for its passengers.

We watched the world go by for a while up there; people jogging in the afternoon warmth, others picking their way lazily along the riverbank for an end-of-day stroll. The sun bathed everything below it in a honey-toned glaze of relaxation. This scene of Brisbane before us, we agreed, was truly beautiful.

Our friend Mrs S had insisted we would need our remaining food supplies that we still had left over from our stay with them. It was only approaching evening time that we realised we needed something more substantial than the Cornflakes, crisps and butter combination that had accompanied us. My husband had injured his back earlier in the day by trying to stretch too far over something else to pick up an overloaded suitcase. He was hobbling around looking wan and pained, but nevertheless we decided to go in search of food.

The restaurant over the road appeared to have a nice menu and was close by. This fitted our simple criteria and so we had decided earlier in the day that it would be a good place to eat our evening meal. We strolled across there in the early evening, freshly showered and dressed in the best attire that our “emigration” suitcases had been able to offer.

“Sorry mate,” said the waiter when we arrived on his doorstep, “It’s Valentine’s Day and so tonight, we only have tables available for people who have pre-booked.” Oh – Valentine’s Day, of course it was! We hadn’t even realised what day it was. We tried a few more restaurants in vain, but all understandably gave the same response and we trudged dejectedly back to the apartments to eat takeaway pizza.

The pizza wasn’t nearly as nice as the contents of the menu at the twinkly-lit restaurant we had earmarked earlier. In fact, it was distinctly ordinary. My husband was by now in agony from his back injury and the kids were bored and tired.

Suddenly, I was very aware that we had done something huge with our lives. We were thousands of miles from everything familiar and cosy, my husband could barely walk and we didn’t even know where the local shop was for the morning’s supplies.

Our family turned into bed early that night, each of us lost in our own thoughts, missing everything we had left and wondering what the future might hold for us in this beautiful new country.