In Which We Cling To The Lifeboat…

The arrival of the Doctor and Amy signalled a period of mutual support and encouragement as we all slowly adapted to our new surroundings and the challenges they brought.

Amy is what I would describe as a force of nature; a person apparently at ease in any social situation although I think to put her in the company of The Pope might be to encourage a comedy of epic proportions.

She and the Doctor are superficially different to each other and yet are very alike when the surface is scratched. They complement each other well; yin and yang, I think the phrase is.

I knew instantly that they would get on well with Mr and Mrs S, and their friendship has proved to be a strong and dependable one based primarily on an appreciation for the need to laugh at themselves and, more importantly, each other.

I am, by nature, a person who does not trust people easily. I am honest, loyal and trustworthy but I am also stubborn and very unforgiving, if you prove unworthy of the trust I eventually place in you.

If you don’t believe me on this, just ask the collection of little voodoo dolls that I keep in a shoebox on the top shelf of my wardrobe. (I’m kidding, of course. I don’t keep voodoo dolls in a shoebox… I really keep them in an old biscuit tin. Beware if I ever try to pull your hair out, that’s all I’m saying).

These personality traits (I won’t call them faults, as they have served me well many times) do not make for the bonds of easy friendship to develop.

The Husband has observed many times that moving to a new country and establishing friendships there with other emigrants is rather like throwing random people into a lifeboat together and then watching the proceedings develop. They will initially cling to each other for mutual support and have no choice but to trust more quickly than they would usually choose to.

Eventually, each one will chance the uncharted waters around them, increasingly finding the seas less daunting. They will leave the lifeboat and start to swim for shore. When they reach it they will all start to feel more secure, putting down their roots and relying on each other less and less.

This phase of Lifeboat Life can sometimes prove to be demanding and traumatic. Everyone is looking to people that they don’t know that well for emotional strength, practical help and a mutual understanding of the turbulence that emigration engenders.

However, today I am delighted that these friendships have stood the test of time. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to place my hard-won trust in these fellow human beings, and been rewarded with relationships that respect the rights of privacy whilst enjoying each others’ company. The ability to make each other laugh when it seems impossible to even smile. The emotional intelligence to either be there or not be there depending on the circumstances.

These building blocks of friendship
are precious, and those of us who have managed to construct them with any kind of balance and only one or two wobbles along the way should be grateful.

Grateful that people we would never otherwise have met have been there to wipe away tears, collect children in emergencies, cook a meal in times of illness, lend an ear in times of concern.

These people are not our families, they owe us nothing in life. And yet in my case, they have proved themselves to be there time and again, and for that I feel truly blessed.

In Which Medical Attention Is Required…

As the evening approached, we found ourselves catering for more people than the 4 friends who had just arrived in Australia.

We had also taken in another family who had moved from the south coast of Australia but wanted to move on and have an adventure traveling around the country. They had given notice on their rented house but didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we had offered them a roof over their heads for a couple of nights.

We hadn’t known them more than a few weeks, but they seemed nice and our respective daughters got on very well. The plan was that they would sleep on their camping mattresses on our living room floor while all their wordly goods were packed into a caravan parked outside.

The evening meal itself went well, other than Amy’s attack of pure terror when she stood on a palm leaf in the dark outside that she had mistaken for a huge snake. Her shrieks could be heard several streets away as she danced on the spot like a panicking toddler until her young son brandished the offending leaf in front of her to show her it meant no harm.

In the middle of that night, I thought I could hear a quiet disturbance, as though someone wasn’t sleeping well downstairs and had decided to walk around. In the morning, I awoke to find that only two of the family seeking refuge with us were still there.

The teenage daughter had fallen very ill with stomach pains in the middle of the night. The noise I had heard was the mother’s attempt at a dash to the hospital without waking anyone. As the day progressed, it became clear that our temporary guests would be going nowhere for the foreseeable future – their daughter had acute appendicitis which needed surgery….

In Which You Will Meet Doctor…Who?

The name of each person who features in my blog has been changed to protect the innocent, who after all did not expect their part in my life to be immortalised in writing. In the coming instalments, you will be introduced to The Doctor and His Companion, and their sons O and B.

Eight weeks after our arrival in Australia we were joined by this family from the UK, who we knew a little through our mutual interest in emigration to Australia. As it was now Easter, we had found them some affordable accommodation for their first few days, after they had previously torn their hair out in frustration at being unable to find somewhere that was both available and affordable. We furnished their fridge with essentials such as milk, cereal and tea bags (well, they were English people likely to fall victim to ’emigration shock’ – what else would we give them but tea?)

To preserve their identities, I shall call them The Doctor and Amy, since Amy was Doctor Who’s last Assistant at the time of writing. People who know them will find these names fitting, since one of them is highly educated and the other has proved herself to be feisty, loyal … and somewhat prone to speaking her mind. Sometimes with unintentionally hilarious consequences, it has to be said.

Their family arrived exhausted and with the barely-imperceptible look of ‘what-have-we-done’ panic in their eyes that only those who have trod the same path will recognise. We had a chat outside on their apartment balcony in the warm evening air, and invited them for an informal evening meal the next night.

And so begins another chapter of our lives in Australia…

In Which The Bin Goes Out More Than I Do…

I wish to put something of a disclaimer out there at this point, dear readers. Emigration for the brave hearted and free of spirit is not an issue. They will embrace the differences easily, seek out things to do and fit in well.

However, this is not their story; it is mine. I can speak only from the perspective of someone who had taken this brave step in the belief that they were one of those bold, fearless souls. I found out that I was none of those things, and it is only honest for me to share that fact with you before you read on. I don’t expect sympathy, I do perhaps expect some shaking of heads might happen but I do assure you that I don’t feel sorry for myself.

This is the truth and yes, it did hurt.

Three weeks in, three out of the four of us had something to do that resembled a structured life. The Husband was working and had been earmarked to go to Adelaide on business already. The kids had started school and were coping admirably with the huge changes to their lives.

“And what of you?” I hear you ask. “How did you adapt from your busy life where you had a job, friends and something to do?”

Well, I didn’t. Not for a long time.

If I was to write down the pattern of my early days in Australia, there would be many blank, white pages here stretching ahead for you to admire. However, bear with me dear readers and I’m sure we can find something to talk about instead of staring at our shoes in uncomfortable silence.

The first thing to note is that the belongings we could not carry were sloshing their way through the seas on a slow, seemingly interminable journey on a container ship from the UK. This meant that our little band of intrepid travellers were currently sitting on fold-up deck chairs and, later, a much-appreciated borrowed sofa. The day that sofa arrived felt like being showered in sheer luxury, I can tell you.

We each had one cup, one glass, one knife and fork, and a plate. A borrowed washing machine from a lovely colleague of The Husband also appeared one day, along with a bed and a TV that was placed on the shelf otherwise known as “the floor.” The sheer lack of belongings echoed around the house whenever one of us sneezed or coughed….or breathed.

It is nothing short of amazing just how little you actually need to survive. We bought beds for the kids to sleep on, but they had no personal stuff to keep them occupied other than some hand-held computer games.

All three of my family members pottered off out of the door every morning to their various daily commitments, leaving me alone with nothing but my thoughts. This is a very dangerous place to be for someone so used to having company and familiarity around them.

We had settled on a house not far from the friends who had initially offered us shelter when we first arrived. They both worked full time and were the only other people we knew here.

The days stretched out for me in that empty house so badly that they felt like they would never end. I was consumed with doubt and fear over what we had done, and the apparent finality of it all.

If I’d had unlimited funds available to me, I could have at least been a Lady Who Lunched (albeit one who had to do it alone). But the experience of moving to the other side of the world takes every last penny or cent that you have, then unashamedly comes back with its hand outstretched like a greedy toddler, demanding ever more money.

I will admit straight away that I am the baby of my family and have always been looked after by someone or other. In the UK I was surrounded by a small circle of of people I trusted implicitly that I had invariably known forever.

I had never driven a car on the motorway, or ever lived more than ten minutes away from my mum or my sister. I was supported, loved, respected – even cosseted – to some extent. In short, I had never really had to stand on my own two feet before.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t had a perfect, skip-through-the-daisies existence up until this point. I had experienced the deaths, serious illnesses and heartbreak that life throws around its stage to prepare its actors for life’s long-haul challenges and sorely test their resolve.

But when I look back, I really had no idea that this would be one of the biggest ever challenges for me as a person. It has held up a powerful magnifying mirror to my every foible, fault and weakness.

It has forced me to evaluate everything about myself, outside of the comforting blanket of those who will love you despite everything – because everything is exactly what you are to them. When those people are not around every day, well – you’re on your own, kid!

In those first few weeks by myself, I would go for long walks to clear my head and hope to find some passing pedestrian who I could even say hello to. I craved the company of other people and counted the days down to the weekend when I could spend time with my family.

I cried. A lot. I missed my family so much that it hurt physically for me to think about them. I am sure that I did a terrible job of pretending I was fine when I spoke to them, as much as they did a terrible job of pretending their lives were fine suddenly without us in it. It was all very false, but absolutely necessary to get us all through such this emotionally turbulent time.

Hopefully, you will walk beside me as I begin to recount the highs, the lows and the in-betweens of the amazing and exhausting times that our emigration has presented to us.

Please feel free to comment on this blog entry – I am always delighted to hear what you think, whatever your viewpoint.