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. 

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Time For Another Chapter In Life…

Dearest Douglets

I have decided that this will be the last blog entry about our move to Australia. Part of me feels that I’ve really put myself out there by writing down my innermost thoughts on our experience of trying a new life, and surprisingly, I’m not a natural ‘sharer’ of all things personal.

It hasn’t been easy to remember or recount some of the more difficult times, although there have been many more such episodes that I haven’t written about. Suffice to say that I’m much more resilient (and wiser) than I used to be, and that those things could have happened wherever in the world we may have been at the time.

I have some other plans that I’d like to work on, and for my writing to take a different direction now that I’ve finally had the courage to share my words with you. Thank you for taking those first steps alongside me.

I’ve been asked the question many times, ‘What’s it like to move to another country?’

I would like to reassure anyone thinking of taking the emigration plunge that if the itch is there, that you should scratch it and see for yourself.

Your experiences will invariably differ from someone who is identical to you in every imaginable way; your dreams, hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses are what make you a person and you can’t base your assumptions on someone else’s life.

Only you can tread those waters for the first time and see if it makes you want to swim further out, or reach back for the shores you have left.

What’s my life like now, I hear you ask. Well, two months ago we became eligible for Australian Citizenship after four years here. My children are better swimmers than i could ever have imagined, thanks to the incredibly high standards of the swimming coach they had when we first arrived here.

My son has qualified as an Australian Surf Lifesaver following hours and hours of rigorous training on the beach and in the sea that had me watching him in panic from afar. He’s just got his first car, and hopes to pass his driving test soon.

My daughter has discovered a love of horse riding, which also had me watching in panic from afar as she has gained confidence and too much speed for a mum to be comfortable with.

They have developed ‘dual accents’ – a true blue Aussie one for school, which they cannot replicate for the lives of them when they get home, and so slip into their easy familiar Yorkshire vowels.

They have grown in confidence, and the prospect of travel does not fill them with the same trepidation that consumed their parents four years ago.

We have visited some of the most visually stunning places on earth within Australia, it is hard not to wax lyrical about just how lovely it is without sounding self-congratulatory and smug. But at the same time, we still go to work and school, argue over emptying the bins, hanging the washing out and cleaning up after the famous Dougie dog that we adopted.

There are no glamorous sunset cocktails to be had on a Tuesday evening when someone’s school uniform has gone missing.

I am fortunate to have met many lovely people here, and to work among some genuinely inspirational and selfless colleagues who have become my friends. I live quite far away from work, which means that I don’t have an enormous circle of ‘3am-emergency-call’ type Australian friends immediately around me who would miss me if I ever left these shores.

Although I wish that was different, life at the moment is what it is and I am very blessed and content with the friends that I do have. I have to keep reminding myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that truly special relationships take time and effort to evolve, which is what makes them lasting and worthwhile.

If I had any wishes granted to me now, it would be that I had the money available to go back to the UK and visit my family as my parents can never travel here again due to health concerns.

I look forward to what life holds for the older, newly-independent me. I’m more open to possibilities; these days, the thought of exploring new horizons and ideas now fills me with curiosity and a sense of ‘Why not?’ This world is small and our time here is not guaranteed.

So hold your breath, and step off the edge into the unknown. No one will ever give you this day to live again, so make sure when you look back on your life that you laughed hard, loved completely and tried something new in between.

Enjoy.

Mojo Finds Her Mojo Once Again!

Little Mojo stayed with us perhaps longer than any of us had expected. Her adoption price was reduced, her plaintive face was made ‘Featured Pet of The Week’ on all the charity’s promotional material, but all to no avail.

It seemed that nobody wanted to give a home to an elderly lady who had apparently been forced to churn out puppies until she was no longer useful.

However, this unexpected delay with finding Mojo’s forever family gave her practice at being part of a family who cared for her. Slowly, her button eyes began to lose their glaze of despair, and were replaced by a brightness borne of knowing that she would be fed, walked, cared for and talked to every day.

We saw the beginnings of a wagging tail when she saw her lead removed from the hook, an expectant face appear at hearing her dinner bowl being filled, a sigh of contentment when she could lie down and snooze in comfort at the end of a busy day.

We watched her cheeky personality blossom as she caught sight of something interesting on a day out, causing her to break away gleefully, her red lead and her foster family in hapless pursuit.

She met our friends’ dogs and learnt to play with them on her walks, despite the initial misgivings of our friend Mr S, who jokingly declared: ‘That’s not a dog, it’s a mouse on a lead!’

All these things combined caused a lovely family to fall in love with Mojo when they came to meet her one day. They had an elderly dog who needed a companion, someone who would be a buddy but not exhaust them as a young dog undoubtedly would.

We instinctively knew that this family would allow Mojo to see out her remaining years in comfort, warmth and happiness. As her little face peered out of the window of her new family’s car as they drove away, part of me felt a little bit sad.

But mainly, I felt a great sense of pride at the transformation this little dog had undergone in only a few months. And only a week or so later, Penny would arrive and our jobs as foster carers would begin afresh.

In Which We Decide To Foster….

After a few months with no job yet on the horizon, I decided it was time to find something useful to do. Being in a rental property, we couldn’t commit to owning a dog so I looked into fostering a pet through our local animal charity.

I found the process appeared to suit us well – a rescued dog waiting for its forever family to come forward could live as part of our family for as long as their wait took.

Our first foster dog arrived soon after, accompanied by a representative from the local animal shelter. This tiny, terrified girl was an elderly black and white terrier, chubby and greying around her muzzle and eyes.

The rescue worker thought that she had probably been used and abused on a ‘puppy farm’ somewhere, churning out litters of pups to make some unfeeling character very rich. Judging by her physical state, it was hard to disagree.

Her eyes were so fearful and bewildered, and they spoke volumes about the unhappy truths that her voice could never hope to tell. Humankind had clearly not lived up to its name for this pitiful little soul with the tail between its legs.

The Husband has a generally innate understanding of small children and animals. They trust him instinctively, and with good reason. As the rescue centre worker deposited her trembling little body onto our floor and then left, The Husband suggested we allowed her some space to get used to us.

As this sad little dog immediately sought refuge in the farthest corner of the house, we held a family vote on what her name should be. Fearfully, she watched us from a distance; occasionally peeking out from behind her blanket to see what we were doing.

By the time her curiosity had got the better of her later that evening when she tentatively climbed up onto my lap for a reassuring hug, she had a name. ‘Hello, little Mojo,” I smiled. ”I think that you’re going to enjoy your stay with us.’

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.’

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.