Serendipity

During my homesickness period, I was busy hosting a Pity Party for One when I received a call from my mum. She told me that she had recently bumped into a mutual friend who I hadn’t seen for a while with whom she had been discussing our move to Australia.

Our friend explained to mum that she herself had an Auntie living in Australia who had moved there many years ago. It appeared that we may even live in the same State, too.

My mum, who knows nothing about the mysterious ways of the Internet, said she thought I might be contactable on Facebook if our friend wanted to get in touch. Then they went their separate ways.

A few days later, I received a Facebook friend request from this lady, and she sent me a private message repeating what she had discussed with my mum. As we talked, it became clear that not only did we live in the same State as her auntie, we actually lived in the same city.

Our written Internet chat messages flew back and forth, and something emerged which was very strange indeed.

By way of explanation, readers, Brisbane is a very large city if you include its outskirts. As I typed, and Cal replied, it transpired that her auntie lived in the same part of Brisbane as we had settled.

In the same neighbourhood, in fact.

On the same street…in the house next door.

Next door! I burst out laughing at the sheer incredulity of this scenario – here I was, talking to a girl I had known since we were teenagers, about her auntie who lived next door – despite her emigration several decades before! This was crazy, you couldn’t make it up!

Cal went onto tell me that her Auntie Lin and her Australian husband were lovely people, and that she would quickly let them know who their new next door neighbours had turned out to be. When we finished that conversation, I think that both of us were in total disbelief at what we had just discovered.

A day or do later, I received a knock at the door. It reverberated around the empty house, which was still awaiting our shipping container. I looked out of the window to see a tall, slim lady with blonde hair waiting there.

As I opened the door, I came face to face with what was quite obviously my old friend’s auntie. Physically, they were unmistakeably related.

She opened her mouth to speak as her large blue eyes smiled at me. As she did so, she removed any last doubts that I may have had about her identity.

‘Hello love, I’m Lin, Cal’s auntie,’ she said in a warm Yorkshire accent which had been mellowed only slightly by her years in the Australian sun. ‘My husband David and I wondered if you’d like to come round for a cup of tea?’

I accepted gladly, and so began another unexpected friendship forged by fortunate chance.

Lin and Cal are alike in every possible way; as are all the female members of their family. They are all naturally graceful and softly spoken, with wide blue eyes, delicate features and clear skin. They share a gentle, kind nature which is laced with a delicious sense of humour.

Lin and her husband D quickly became valued friends. They looked out for us, extending the hand of friendship at a time when it was very much appreciated.

Given the circumstances of our meeting, one has to question the element of chance in these situations; we have shared some lovely times together. It is hard to resist the notion that something more than happy coincidence has brought our paths together.

We have since provided the mutual support that friends do through difficult times. This leads me to dedicate this chapter of the blog to D, who is very sadly no longer with us. We miss him sorely every day.

I also dedicate it to his wife Lin, who holds the honour of being ‘My Friend Met In The Strangest Circumstances Ever’…perhaps you may agree that some things are just meant to be.

It’s called ‘serendipity.’

Writing Challenge: The Devil is in the Details

The restaurant door opened to a sharp breeze from outside. He looked up to see a middle-aged, blonde lady wearing an expensive camel coat and an expression of apprehension tinged with hope.

She brushed her well-cut bobbed hair out of her face with manicured nails whose colour, he noted, matched her cherry red woollen scarf. In a nervous gesture, her trembling fingers sought out the delicate gold chain around her neck.

Her coat and scarf removed, she turned her attention towards the diners in this smart brasserie, and he caught her gaze then. Among the happy bustle and clinking of glasses, he instantly recognised those eyes as his own; those of the mother he had not seen since he was sixteen years old.

The Homesickness Caterpillar…’Snot What You’d Think…

Once the children had started school and settled into a routine, I was left largely to my own devices. This is when the little imaginary homesickness caterpillar really comes into his own. He crawls stealthily into your ear and sits there, whispering smugly and magnifying every doubt you’ve had about whether you made the right decision to move halfway across the globe.

‘You haven’t, you know,’ he will opine. ‘You’ve just made a really big mistake that you can’t undo. Look at everyone back home, look on Facebook at their lives, don’t you wish you were there too?’

‘Look at the other people you know who have moved overseas. They’re doing well, they have no regrets or doubts. They’re all out with their new friends having a lovely time while you sit here with tears bubbling down your cheeks and snot dribbling out of your nose. Who’d want to be friends with you, Miss Snotty Blotch Face?’

The Husband would come home from work every weekday and enquire kindly as to what sort of day I’d had. Just hearing the quiet desperation in his voice, the hope that I might say ‘Its been good, thanks,’ was pitiful to witness. I felt terrible that I couldn’t love this place, as he and our children clearly did.

This beautiful, breathtaking country was not mine; I wanted familiarity and comfort. More than anything, I wanted my mum! The homesickness caterpillar was right; I was a sobbing, snotty, boring mess who wanted to go home more than anything in the world!

I had immense support throughout this time. A long standing friend who I had ‘met’ virtually through an emigration website was a source of common sense and comfort through my tears. She is English but had lived in Australia for fifteen years at that time, her daughter not much older than my own children when they had moved.

She seemed to have an uncanny knack of knowing when I was at my lowest ebb, no matter what time of day it was. She would phone out of the blue, beginning by asking me how I was. She did not believe me when I lied that I was fine, and allowed me to talk freely about how I felt and then reassuring me I was normal.

She is a very plain speaker, and doesn’t allow you to believe that you could fail. She made me laugh many times despite myself, and I know if she’s reading this now, she knows who she is.

Other people came equally to attend my exclusive Pity Party for One, offering sympathetic and sensible advice, or even just asking how I was that day.

To all of these people, and you know who you are too, I am immensely grateful. They number everyone from Mr and Mrs S, who you met early on in the blog, to my mum, sister, in-laws and friends of old who could see through my protestations of being ‘fine!’ as easily as they would through a fishnet stocking.

Even DM, my old friend and one-time boss who is not renowned for his outwardly soppy side (except where dogs are concerned), checked on me a couple of times via Facebook. He may not remember this but I do, and I always will.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, none of the people who feature in my blog have asked for their inclusion in it. I have therefore tried to allow them some degree of anonymity by choosing alternative identities for each of them.

Amy Pond, to whom you’ve also been introduced (but who will be undergoing a name change in the coming instalments because she “doesn’t like just being the Doctor’s bloody sidekick’) provided many much-needed laughs and company. As a new Australian arrival herself, I hope that I was able to support her as well as she did me at that time.

However, I’m not yet sure whether I should allow Amy to choose her own blog name, or whether I should throw it open to suggestions. I may even pick another name for her myself, in which case she may wish she’d stayed as good old Amy Pond…but we will see where that takes us next time!

Little Boxes, Full of Lego…

Emigration necessitates living with the very bare essentials around you in the time it takes for your shipping container to arrive in your adopted country of choice.

Accordingly, for three long months we managed quite well with just four purchased camping chairs, one cutlery set, four glasses, four plates and four cereal bowls. A borrowed sofa, TV and washing machine, plus a tiny fridge with an ice compartment the size of a toddler’s shoebox completed this picture of domestic frugality.

We became adept at pretending to appreciate instant noodles, canned food and sandwiches. The arrival of visitors meant that chairs had to be used on a strictly rotational basis, and that tea had to be consumed quickly in order for the next person in line to be allowed a drink before the overall visit ended.

Living on such a scaled-down level means that you learn to appreciate what you actually have. You also begin to wonder what on earth you managed to pack into a whole shipping container that you clearly don’t really need in order to live from day to day.

Well, as it turned out for us, our chosen shipped paraphernalia consisted of the following eclectic items:

Our squashy leather sofa (the older it gets, the more comfortable it becomes)

Our fridge freezer (which, having survived the three-month journey across the world’s seas, suffered the indignity of being dropped and dented when the delivery man tripped over his own feet on the doorstep)

An enormous box of Lego, which no-one could remember the urgency of bringing

…and other than some sundry items of no note whatsoever, that’s basically it.

It seems, dear readers, that when we began the process of what to take with us and what to leave behind, our brains fell out and were unknowingly replaced by runny blancmange.

In essence, we gave away – yes, gave away – perfectly good bicycles, furniture, tools and the lawn mower. We asked our parents to store treasured framed photographs, my wedding dress, more tools, important furnishings and our brand new tent.

Two months before we left for Australia, my husband proudly presented me with a sat-nav device, which was loaded with UK maps and for which any Australian maps would cost more to buy than a new sat-nav. So he gave that to his dad, too. It now has the dubious honour of being “The Worst Birthday Present Ever Received”.

We look back now and wonder what on earth we were thinking of. We are reasonably intelligent people who are able to form words into sentences, and steps into walking – so what went so badly wrong?

We have come to conclude that we were suffering from some form of temporary condition affecting all reasonable judgment, along with a possible desire to keep something of ourselves in our home country.

Although most emigrants do not give away their essential items and retain Lego on an industrial scale, I think that most will agree that at some point along the way, their brains have also fallen out and been replaced with runny blancmange.

I am comforted by this knowledge and anyway… when all you have are camping chairs and instant noodles to keep you occupied, Lego comes in very handy indeed.

In Honour Of Brave People

Today, we are departing somewhat from the timeline of what has happened in our lives as intrepid globe-trotters.

There is a reason for this. Two years ago today, devastating flood waters hit Queensland, causing damage to property, essential services, livelihoods and in some cases, injury and death.

Today, having been without proper rain for months, we find ourselves grateful that the bush fires which have raged in our district all week have claimed no lives or homes.

I stood in my garden this morning looking at the plumes of smoke belching from the bush fire in the next suburb. Darkness fell over the neighbourhood in the eerie way it does in a total eclipse.

This is life in Australia, a land of extremes.

This blog post is written in acknowledgement of the fortitude and bravery of the Australian people when faced with adversity. I am also writing in honour of all those brave souls who have risked life and limb to ensure the safety of others – who are often strangers to them – in the dangerous conditions that Australia sends its people now and again.

————————————-

I often jokingly say that a toddler in the sky is in charge of the weather and time controls here. I believe there are big buttons marked ‘Day’, ‘Night’, ‘Rain’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Wind’ up there that some unseen being presses at random, because there are no half-measures here.

Daylight ends abruptly, almost like nature’s Angry Dad just switched the light off and proclaimed: “Do you KNOW how much it costs to light this place? Turn the bloody lights off!” And that’s that, literally seconds from daylight to total darkness.

It’s the same in the mornings, except this time it’s nature’s Angry Morning Mum, barging into your bedroom and flinging open the curtains to blind you with sunlight, declaring ‘Get up! You’ve been in bed long enough now, the day’s half gone!’ Angry Morning Mum Is accompanied by a cacophony of whooping, shrieking, giggling, raucous birds outside whose volume is permanently set to ‘Deafening’.

There are no lie-ins to be had in Australia.

When it rains, it doesn’t start gently with a smattering of delicate raindrops.

It’s often a total deluge, preceded by no clouds or any kind of the usual clues. Sometimes, the Angry Weather Toddler will fling a few truckloads of hail in with it as well, with stones large enough to grace any gin and tonic. Or bigger, if you’re really unlucky. Unless you have incredibly large gin glasses, of course.

Two minutes later and the sun is beating down on you so quickly that you’re not sure whether your reddened limbs are the result of hailstone damage or sunstroke.

Twenty four months ago, I set off to work in my car. It was raining heavily, but Angry Weather Toddler had not yet woken and was not throwing any unwelcome meteorological surprises our way.

Half an hour later, upon reaching the train station, an enormous clap of thunder shook my car like a rag doll, and then the storm really came.

I had only just started my job at the time, and any thoughts of going home just because of some rather inclement weather seemed to me to imply I was a lily-livered milksop. So I ran the seven seconds from the car park to the platform, never once questioning why the car park was almost completely free of cars.

When I arrived at work, I looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower fully clothed. I was utterly drenched.

My manager took one look at me and asked me why I was there. ‘Your district is on high alert for flooding, you need to go back home straight away,” she said.

I was incredulous; it was a bit of rain, what could possibly happen? However, taking her advice – as a born and bred Queenslander – seemed to be the sensible option, and so I left and caught the train back home.

As the train travelled back through the stations I had been through not half an hour before, I was filled with mounting trepidation. This was clearly no ordinary storm.

The rain beat down relentlessly, lashing across the windows of the carriage. The sky was black and forbidding, and for the first time, I noticed that the waters were rising on the land surrounding the train tracks.

I began to panic just a little, realising that my phone battery was dangerously low. Cursing myself inwardly for not charging it the previous evening, I decided to preserve what little battery remained by sending a quick text to my husband and switching it off.

The flood waters had taken hold quickly, and I felt sick as we clattered along the railway track and I caught sight of the school field alongside the train track. Thirty minutes ago on the journey to work, it had a puddle or two here and there. I realised with horror that now, barely visible above the water levels, were the circular tops of the speed limit signs.

I virtually flew off the train and into my car, the rain still hammering down on top of the roof. I switched my phone on to see a text from my husband telling me that only one road home was now open. Rivers had burst their banks and cars were being washed away like toys. He was coming home from work too, straight away.

I sent one final text before my phone battery died, telling him that I would take his advice and come home via the road he recommended.

I wanted to cry. There was no one there to reassure me, I had never in my life driven in conditions so bad that I could barely see the road through the windscreen.

‘Stop it,’ I scolded myself. ‘ ‘Pull yourself together and just drive home.’

I drove at a snail’s pace for safety’s sake even though every fibre of my being willed me to go faster and get home to my kids, who were fast asleep at home on school holidays.

My heart was hammering against my chest as I came up to the junction where I had to decide whether to follow my husband’s advice. Did I use a route I didn’t know well, or continue along the usual road in the hope that it might still be open for a few minutes more?

I indicated left to take the road my husband had heard was the only one still passable. And then, for some reason I still can’t really fathom, I changed my mind right at the last second.

I decided I would follow the small amount of cars in the queue headed for my familiar way home. It was the best decision I could have made.

As I edged along the road with the other nervous commuters, wondering if we might get turned back, brake lights began to illuminate in front of us. The river had indeed burst its banks and the water was rapidly rising ahead.

I did a quick calculation in my head to decide whether to turn back or keep going: where was the water reaching on cars like mine coming the other way?

I saw cars smaller than mine heading towards me and decided to just plough ahead and hope someone was watching over me. The car chugged along through the water, which by now was almost to the top of my wheels by my estimation and continuing to swell.

It seemed like an age before I realised we had got through. A few cars behind me, I could see the police had now decided the road could no longer be considered safe, and they began to set up their roadblocks and turn people back.

I drove on in silence. I reached home at the same time as my frantic husband, who had driven to the road he thought I would be travelling on. He had been sick with worry to find out that the road had already been closed, and the police could not allow him through to look for me.

‘I have never been so glad to see you,’ he said as he rushed through the door. ‘I came to look for you, they wouldn’t let me through…’ I could see genuine fear and relief in his eyes.

‘Aren’t you glad I never listen to you now?’ I asked in a much wobblier voice than I intended.

We laughed then, despite ourselves and the danger of the weather outside.

The kids awoke to the sound of our voices, thankfully oblivious to what was going on outside in the world around them.

I was home, I was safe, we were together.

I was beyond grateful.