It’s All Good 

Over the last few months, I have felt totally unable to write anything that I thought would remotely be of interest to anyone. I’ve tried time and again to find the words to write, and they have evaded me on each and every attempt.      
I have always tried to be honest on this blog, as gloriously flaky and infrequent as it is. The only editing I generally do is to correct spelling and grammar, rather than the basic content of what has spilled out of my head onto ‘paper’, so to speak.

With this in mind, I went back over my old posts recently and found the ones about when we were newly-arrived in Australia, and how difficult it was for me to settle. We recently marked our 8th year here, and so this is my updated take on the whole journey. 

With this milestone, I decided to say in this post that I no longer feel guilt for admitting that part of me still feels a pull back to my English roots, especially at times of traditional family celebrations like Christmas and milestone birthdays. 
I find it almost refreshing to realise that where I live, and the experiences I have had here, have shaped me into a much more resilient and practical person but missing people does not mean I am ungrateful for the life I live here…it makes me human. 

For too long, I felt very wary of saying this out loud in case it came across as negative, backward-thinking or it upset other people (always my biggest concern). 

Emigration is a very different experience from person to person, (even within a family unit) and so it’s impossible and very wrong to say how someone should or shouldn’t feel towards it. 
After eight years here, I feel able to say that I’ll always be English at heart despite the fact that I love Australia and the people and things that have shaped my life here. 

I’ve heard other immigrants say that they consider themselves solely Australian now, and that they feel no connection at all to their country of origin. Although I respect that feeling of belonging, of ‘coming home’, its not one that I personally identify with, because I believe that both countries are amazing; that the experiences I have had and the opportunities I’ve been given in both places can’t be crystallised into pitting one country against the other. 

For me, put simply, I feel lucky to have lived in both places and it’s just too complex an issue for me to compare the two. Anyone who knows me well is also aware that we didn’t move because we hated the UK (far from it); we did it to broaden our horizons and push ourselves, and I think we’ve achieved that aim.

We may speak the same language, we may drive on the same side of the road, but in many respects Australia and the UK are very different places and I’m a product of living in both (but if you want a snapshot comparison without prejudice from me, Australian coffee makes its English couterpart taste like swamp fodder and the pubs are much better in England). 

I’m proud to have taken the path I’ve taken, but for me it’s not been an easy one. Yes, I live within a stone’s throw of the beach and I can plan sunny barbecues on any given day without having a wet weather plan, but I didn’t see my mum on her 70th birthday or sing Slade songs with the extended family at Christmas (we’ve done that once in the last eight years).

My personal feelings won’t be shared by everyone, and I understand and completely respect that. But I’ve finally made peace with the fact that I’ll always feel English – a little displaced, even – but very privileged to live in another country and embrace its diverse beauty and opportunities. 

Taking each day at a time and forcing nothing, that’s the biggest lesson I’m learning. And the realisation that I’m now feeling at peace with the fact that I’ll probably always feel like I’m a little ‘on the outside’ here is completely okay, too. Actually, it’s more than okay…it’s essential. 

As always, thanks for reading. Have a super day. 

The Loss Of A Dearly-Loved Pet

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Hattie in our local field

I’m writing this for (admittedly) selfish reasons to set down my feelings about losing my much-loved German Shepherd, who passed away yesterday after a short illness. To many people, a dog is just that – a dog. They don’t understand that they’re smart, intelligent, funny, selfless and loyal beings – or as I often say, “Like people, only better.”

It seems inappropriate for me to continue sharing these feelings on social media, because quite simply, it really doesn’t affect the number of people who would read it, and after all Facebook is meant to be fun. I have tried to respect the unspoken rules of social media by sticking to announcing her loss, and that is how it will stay.

So, should you choose to read this, it is probably because you’re a pet owner yourself or because you’ve lost one and know how searingly painful it is.

To set the scene, I should explain that our paths crossed with Hattie’s when she was a twelve-week old stray who was found covered in diesel and picked up by the council dog warden. My brother in law worked closely at the council with the dog warden and having heard about this gorgeous ball of fluff and knowing that we had been looking to find a German Shepherd puppy to join our family, he rang me to ask if we might be interested in meeting her.

We barely needed time to think about it, and not long after we were to be found introducing ourselves at the local dog pound to enquire after her. The pound worker smiled and turned around from the desk to retrieve what appeared to be a comically small cat carrier – from which they proceeded to unfurl a long, fluffy and exceptionally wriggly puppy. I fell in love with her the moment she began to emerge from this incongruous setting, and she seemed to grow before our eyes as though someone had “just added water”.

“I’m going to the bank to get the cash to adopt her.” my husband announced without hesitation, his eyes not leaving  Hattie’s as he spoke.

The pound worker told me that while we waited for him to return with the adoption fee, she would have to sit on my knee so that she did not pick up any diseases from the floor that other animals had brought in, as she had not yet been immunised. There was a window on the wall behind us and she sprang up to watch my husband leave the car park, then stayed in that position until he returned. Her tail wagged frantically and she squeaked as she realised he had come back for her.

We took her home and, letting her out of the car to explore her new surroundings, she became alert to a small group of young teenagers passing the garden gate. She immediately began barking, as if to claim her territory and her family. The youths laughed at the sight of this tiny black and tan puffball doing her best to force them to go away and we took her into her new home to meet our excited children, then aged 5 and 7.

We named her Hattie, as our surname is Sykes (anyone familiar with Eric Sykes’ UK sitcom in the 1970’s will know that Hattie was his sister). She began her life with us, as most puppies do, as a determined and repeated chewer. Someone had imparted the wisdom that to discourage this, we must liberally coat our skirting boards in tabasco sauce. This had the undesirable effect of not only turning our wood-stained skirting boards a fetching shade of crimson, but also resulted in them disappearing faster than ever – Hattie had discovered that she loved strong tasting food and hey, who doesn’t love a chilli-flavoured wooden plank?

As she got older, she became more curious and I came home one day to find she had opened the cupboard under the kitchen sink, removed a bottle of bleach (and, inexplicably, its lid) and was lying on the floor happily chowing the plastic contents down. After this, we insured her against further mishap and bought child-proof locks to avoid a repeat episode.

And what a good job, too! Because no sooner had her insurance policy taken effect, than she tried to jump a small wrought-iron gate in her attempts to follow my husband outside one night. A blood-curdling scream alerted him to the fact that she had seriously hurt herself, and he ran back to find that she had got her foot trapped in the scroll work on the gate and snapped it. A desperate trip to the vet’s surgery confirmed the obvious break, and she spent the following six weeks making endless trips to the vet’s surgery to be fitted with a variety of cheery-coloured plaster casts chosen by our young children.

Thankfully, she spent the remainder of her life avoiding bodily injury or destroying wooden household fittings. She grew into a protective, beautiful, sociable, eager-to-please dog whose only fault was her inability to realise that she was just too big to sit on your knee. Not that it stopped her.  She spent many happy hours pogo-ing through the long cornfields, trying to catch rabbits that were always too fast for her.

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Hattie and me

When we decided eight years ago to look into emigrating to Australia, Hattie was firmly on the list of family members we would be taking with us. There was no question that she would join us there, we thought. As the plans drew closer, and it became obvious that finding a rented home there would be much harder with a dog, my mum offered to keep her in the UK until we were settled enough to bring her over.

There were several factors involved in why this sadly never happened. I had never really imagined staying in Australia for a long time, nor had I considered that finding a job would be so difficult for me. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that the skilled party was not in fact me; it was my husband, and it was on his wages that we have had to survive on more than one occasion.

This meant that finding the money to bring Hattie to live with us here became increasingly swallowed up, and if I had known that when I walked away from leaving her with my mum six years ago, crying until my eyes could no longer see, I do not think I would be living here now. I ask anyone reading this not to judge me for what happened, for I did not abandon her and nor did I stop thinking about her every day, just as I do all of my family.

The fact is that Hattie has been loved by all of her extended family during the time we have lived here. My mum became her mum, my dad became her dad, and she in turn became their faithful protector and best friend to their little dog, Leo. Leo and she would lie together in front of the fireplace, Leo curled up in the gap between Hattie’s front and back legs. They had spent their lives together in the same family, but now they were just living in the same house.

They played in the garden together and when Leo became too inquisitive as to what was going on between his female friend’s legs, she would pee on him to dampen his ardour. Many is the time when his notions of romance have resulted in him skulking into the porch, dripping with urine, indignation and humiliation.

I got a call from my mum last week explaining that Hattie was unwell. She had lost control of her legs, a common health complaint for German Shepherds of advancing years. She was now unable to walk unaided, and was injuring herself falling over. There is no cure for this progressive disease, known as Degenerative Myelopathy, which affects both the spinal casing and its nerves. Mum waited anxiously for a few days to see if she would get better, but her symptoms became worse and it was clear that if this continued, she would be suffering unnecessarily.

So it was with great sadness that my mum and brother-in-law accompanied my 19 year old son (who is currently in the UK short-term) to the vet’s office once again. The vet agreed that Hattie’s time on earth was at an end, and that it would not serve her best interests to keep her alive, only to struggle on.

I do not want to write about that, only because it is not my place to comment on the experience of others and their personal sadness. I just want to express how grateful I am that she was surrounded by people she loved dearly, and they her. In particular, I have been comforted by knowing that my son was there with her.

Suffice to say that Hattie was loved right up to the end, and will continue to be, forever and always. And I hope that if you’re reading this, you’re doing it because for you too, there’s no such thing as “just a dog”.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Saving The English Language

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We all know by now that Fall Out Boy, together with the valiant assistance of the legendary Sir Elton of John, recently attempted to “Save Rock And Roll”. We do not know whether they succeeded, but since Elton is as rich as Croesus and is a friend to all in need, it is highly likely that they did.

Which brings us to today’s burning question: can we save the English language from its downward spiral of (mainly Americanised) abuse?

Let us first consider Exhibit A: Nicki Minaj, an unapologetic mangler of the English language. I have reproduced below some of her insightful lyrics to one of her latest offerings, “Anaconda” – a ditty apparently concerned with the wellbeing of reptiles:

“Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
Oh my gosh, look at her butt
(Look at her butt)
Look at, look at, look at
Look at her butt.”

Let us compare this to Exhibit B: a quote from Romeo and Juliet. Written by one William Shakespeare, we might assume that the appreciation of his work will continue for quite some time longer than Ms Minaj’s might:

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

I know that it is hardly fair to compare the two, but both represent popular entertainers of their time. Imagine if the actors in a Shakespearean play had bounded onto the stage to declare in tremulous tones, “My anaconda don’t want none…unless you got bunz, hun!” I think this demonstrates very well the systematic destruction of the English language in quite an alarming way.

There are many terms that have worked their way into everyday modern language that really grind my gears (see what I did there?). Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you “haters” “date night”, and “cupcake”.

The contraction of normal phrases also seems to have become the norm, as if it is almost too much effort to say two words when an invented one will do the job just as well. For example, VIP’s with nothing useful to do no longer sit on the front row at fashion shows – they sit on the “frow”. The models no longer sashay down the catwalk, they “walk the runway”. To me, that sounds both dangerous and instantly regrettable.

Even films don’t get released on the correct day of the month any more – you can’t see one on January the third, you must see it “from January three” (complete with growling voice-over – go see it if you dare).

I know that language evolves over time, and of course this post is only tongue-in-cheek and designed to be humorous. Well, at least slightly.

So I will have to “suck it up and move on”, as they all now say, leaving the last word to Shakespeare himself (had he been alive today):

“Listen to many, speak to a few. And for pity’s sake, stop writing dreadful songs about your bottom”.

Where Have All The Manners Gone?

Back in 1964 (when loving your fellow man was almost compulsory in some form or another, along with interesting facial hair and a general lack of clothing), Peter Paul and Mary hit the charts, bemoaning the lack of flowers in their lives. The song title was probably a euphemism for something or other, but no matter. I have things to say here.

Fast forward 50 years and Peter, Paul (and quite possibly Mary, too) would be rather less concerned with floral deficiency in the modern world and instead be releasing a song entitled ‘Where Have All The Manners Gone?’

The total and utter disappearance of social grace and niceties appears to been gathering slow but steady progress over time. Let me explain further.

I was brought up in a household where ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ were words that automatically tripped off the tongue to express gratitude. If you didn’t say them, you were reminded forcefully that ‘manners cost nothing.’

If you deliberately chose not to use these ‘magic words’ as my mother called them (and still does), you were liable to find yourself on the receiving end of a lecture on how rude you were and the consequences of your social ineptitude. Many a giant Wagon Wheel biscuit has been forfeited in he absence of manners in my childhood. Thus ended my feeble attempts at rebellion.

Growing up, my pockets were full of litter that I carried round with me when I’d been unable to locate a bin in public. As I swapped pockets for handbags, they too began to contain the remnants of sweet wrappers and bus tickets; I physically cannot throw something away unless I have first found a suitable refuse receptacle.

I was taught to smile at people and say ‘Hello.’ To remain standing in other people’s houses until you were invited to sit.

To keep elbows off the dinner table and not speak with my mouth full. To hold doors open for people and offer to help those clearly struggling.

Heavens above, my dad would even ask men in public not to swear in front of my mum! How quaint is that?

With the exception of the last example (since I have no wife but rather an embarrassing fondness for the odd muttered swear word), I have brought my own children up with these values. They too have pockets overflowing with the assorted detritus that comes with being a young adult. They hold doors open for people without thanks and suchlike, and are generally nice human beings who are frustrated at the same things I am.

Being from a different era, Peter Paul and Mary would appreciate and understand these values. So, where have all the manners gone?

Routinely, we jostle each other for space; the best view; the last train seat, the place in the queue we know is not really ours.

Pregnant woman? She should have caught the train earlier. Elderly couple. Why are they travelling at peak time when they could go at any time of the day?

Pah! We don’t have to give up out seats for these people! We can just plug in our iPods, whack up the volume to the maximum and ignore the world, not caring that everyone else can hear the tinny thump, thump, thump that irritates their fellow passengers so much.

I’m alright, Jack. I’ll just put my feet up on the seat opposite as well. They’re only a bit muddy.

We announce on social media with barely-disguised glee how we have belittled, abused or sworn at someone undeserving of our wrath in the course of doing their job; no matter that they were trying to help us or that it wasn’t their fault we were angry; we are the customer, we are always right and we demand to be treated with huge amounts of respect we haven’t earned, and we’ll have a freebie too!

We encourage and propagate these feelings of entitlement amongst ourselves, collectively baying for the scalp of service providers, shop workers and restaurant staff – you tell them! They deserve it! Any level of abuse is acceptable, no matter how disproportionate it may be to the original problem ( whether it be perceived, real or invented)!

When did we become so ingrained in our rudeness towards our fellow man? Why do hospitals need to display signs stating that violence will not be tolerated and that you’ll be expected to wait your turn, and medical staff now consider it an occupational hazard to be assaulted, insulted or shouted at?

Next time you feel yourself getting ready for a showdown with a fellow commuter, the checkout guy at the supermarket, the triage nurse at the hospital or the person driving too slowly for your liking in front of you, instead go and chill out and have a look around for your manners.

You’ll find them right next to your worth as a human being, on a shelf marked ‘Making Life Nicer For Everyone Concerned.’

….P.S. You’re welcome! Never say I forget my manners.

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The Price of Being Clumsy

I have a confession to make.

I have always wanted to be that flippy-haired, colt-limbed, dainty princess with a voice like a tinkling brook of fresh water.

I’m not, though. I’m forgetful and scatterbrained. I often look as if I got dressed in a tornado and unfortunate things happen to me with alarming regularity.

I have unwittingly stepped in a dog poo in the street only seconds before attending an interview, with only a passing large leaf and facial mist with which to clean up and thus halt my shame (and damage to the nasal passages of the potential employer).

I have held serious discussions with my former senior manager whilst walking down the street, at which point the large buttons on my coat attached themselves to the hinges of a wheelie bin which careered down the hill after me as I tried furiously to unhook myself.

I have queued (at my husband’s behest, and against my better judgment) for The Hulk roller coaster ride at Universal Studios in Florida, only to beat a hasty retreat when I reached the top and saw a sign advertising that ‘spectacles and prosthetic limbs may unexpectedly fly off die to the speed of the ride’ (neither of which I possess, I hasten to add).

I looked for the way back. There WAS no way back.

Incredibly, they expected you to just board the ride and get off at the other end, minus your glasses, limbs and dignity, apparently.

I began to make my way through the queue…backwards. Members of the queue eyed me in a puzzled fashion, perhaps expecting to see me being pursued by a team of paramedics or someone shouting ‘Stop! Thief!’

After all, when was the last time YOU saw anyone reverse queuing for a fun, adrenaline-pumping theme park ride?

I made my way back down to the bottom of the spiral queue, and looked around. There was no sign of anything I recognised around me, so I cautiously peered around the corner to find that – horror of horrors – I was in an area designated for STAFF ONLY. And there was only one way past this staff meeting that was currently underway, so I was going to be absolutely obvious in my state of being utterly lost.

I reasoned that the only possible solution was to brazen it out, and walk past ‘the team’ with my head held high and an exuding an aura of quiet confidence.

So, with this in mind, of course I ran past the staff area as fast as I could, red-faced and apologetically eyeballing the somewhat confused members of staff who had seen me.

My husband and the rest of my family discovered me some time later, wandering round in need of water and gasping ‘I’ve been to the staff meeting,’ when they expressed concern for my prior whereabouts.

I’m going to catch a plane to Melbourne all by myself for the first time ever in two weeks’ time. If you’re on my flight and you see someone without a uniform heading towards the staff quarters with no apparent purpose and no discernible sense of direction, please don’t call the police.

Call my husband instead. He’ll know where to start looking.