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.

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.’

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.

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.

The “Flight So Long That You’ll Want to Tear Your Eyes Out Just For Something To Do” Bit…

We spent our last night in the UK in an airport hotel, one of those that looks exactly the same whether you’re in London, New York, Paris or Peckham (of course, only fools and horses would get that kind of reference, Rodney).

Our dear friend – whose daughter has always been one of our daughter’s best friends, and who had accompanied her dad on the journey to drop us off there – had long since left us. Another sad goodbye completed.

Our son, not quite a teenager, spent most of his time that evening asking for another pound for the Internet connection to be rebooted so that he could continue to chat to his friends on MSN. Our young daughter read stories and drew pictures. Pandaa (the cuddly bear dude) looked like the only one of our party who was remotely confident and relaxed about the whole thing. He had his leather travel wear, his little case and his all-important home made passport; what was the big deal, man?

We had intended to go and get a meal downstairs in the hotel, but in the end our spirits weren’t up to it. We felt exhausted and unsure for the future. We each wanted to be quiet and left to our own thoughts.Tomorrow marked the beginning of a new chapter for this little family of four, one that could only be played by ear as it went along.

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An early start to the crisp, snowy day that followed heralded our new adventure. We were just four ordinary people, two of them only children, loading our cases onto the minibus to go to the airport; nothing out of the ordinary to any casual observer. As we later settled into our seats on the aircraft, I wondered how many of the other passengers might be on their way to pastures new as we were.

When the aircraft took off, we observed from above the pristine white fields that the snow had worked so hard overnight to achieve. We were leaving now – really leaving – and who knew yet what may lay ahead for us?

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Anyone who has travelled from the UK to Australia will eventually realise that it’s a long way. Longer than you thought. An interminably, arse-numbingly, brain-scramblingly long way. All passengers who have attempted this flight have without doubt done ALL of the following (yes, really – all of them):

1. Watched all the in-flight films (even the ones they didn’t want to see).
– So, you’re a Jane Austen fan? Yep, the film entitled “Zombie Hairdressers from Mars” that you turned your cultured nose up at when you first boarded will be on your viewing list before this flight is over. No, of course you won’t like it but it’ll pass a few hours away and you’ve already seen The Vicar of Dibley nine times today.

2. Listened to the baby in the row 200 seats away from you shriek consistently like a tiny banshee undergoing a toe extraction. For the whole flight. Non-stop.
– Its parents (in their desperation) are the ones frantically looking for the emergency exits and the parachutes, but apparently not the child’s dummy.

3. Watched the in-flight journey tracker.
– Who knew it takes 23.5 hours to fly over India, and only half an hour or so extra for the remaining 10, 246 miles (or 16, 489km if you’re a Metric Mary)?

TIP: DO NOT use the in-flight tracker on such a long flight, or you’ll begin to imagine a life within the confines of India or Afghanistan as a very real possibility. Eventually though, you’ll reach the Land Down Under. Severely sleep-deprived and gnarly, but you’ll reach it.

And here’s where the fun begins….

The Sad Bit!

Dearest Douglets,

Don’t fear, I don’t want to bore you with details of Australian visa application categories, shipping requirements and having our various bumps felt at the required medicals.

Nor do I want to imagine you rolling your eyes as I drone on about the six-hour IELTS English exam that my husband (as the primary visa applicant) had to complete. “We speak Yorkshire, not English”, he loudly declared. “It’s not me with the regional accent – it’s everyone else”, he loudly declared.

Anyone who knows him knows that my husband declares very loudly and very often.

Let me assure you now that I absolutely did not see his tongue being firmly implanted in his cheek as he uttered these words. After all, who can speak clearly with their tongue stuffed in their cheek?

Yorkshire is widely regarded as God’s Own Country by its faithful brethren and who was I to argue, I reasoned. It’s in our blood.

Let’s get to the bit that I know has brought you here today – the sad bit. The bit where we leave our life – as we have always known it – behind, and what that felt like for us. It happened in February 2009, and describing it to you is a bit like coming back from the pub toilet with your skirt tucked into your knickers – rather embarrassing and public. (I’m not even going to comment on whether that has happened to me, just be satisfied with this episode of public sharing will you!).

I can say in all honesty that if you have always Iived in close proximity to your family and close friends, but have an overwhelming desire to potter off into the unknown to live in a country so far away that it’s not even possible to travel further without actually being on your way back home again, you’re nuts. Hell, I’m not judging you – we’re nuts, we did exactly that and this is how it went.

On the morning we left, we awoke to a house full of nothing. All our important stuff had already been shipped to the Land of the Unknown, Australia. It was eerily quiet as I awoke, as everyone else was still asleep (quite reasonably so, since it was only about 4am). I had slept fitfully all night and padded alone into the next bedroom in my pyjamas, where what was left of our essentials had been packed away into 4 suitcases.

Pandaa, my daughter’s cuddly bear, sat expectantly atop one of them; his coloured-in, handmade passport tucked between his leather jacket and trousers. He’s a dude, Pandaa – even his name has an extra ‘a’ in order to emphasise his coolness during pronunciation – and his choice of travel wear was both macho and practical.

I can still recall how everything felt slightly disembodied, like an out of body experience or a waking dream – the kind that makes you deeply grateful when someone shakes you awake from it. But nobody did shake me. This was it. After three years of planning, talking and paying out for some aspect or another of the visa process, my little family was moving to the other side of the world.

I didn’t feel excited or happy any more. I felt terrified and full of dread, like I did when I temporarily lost sight of my mum in the supermarket when I was about four. I had a very loud voice even then though, so she wasn’t able to go “missing” for long.

I don’t intend to over-dramatise, but I can only describe the leaving day itself as being something akin to what it must be like being a ghostly presence at your own funeral and seeing the effects of it on your loved ones. After many farewell get-togethers, we went for a final family meal to a much-loved pub in a neighbouring village.

This is the type of old English pub with stone walls, wooden ceiling beams and a roaring fire that screams out “homely” and makes you want to stay forever in a happy fog of alcohol and hearty steak and ale pie. To add to the overall twinkling beauty of this village picture-postcard scene it had started snowing, too.

Everyone cried, of course. My dad cried more than he was allowed to and was duly told off by my mum, who was trying her best to be stoic. If there was a degree in stoicism my mum would have it, followed by a Doctorate. My sister, nephew, other relatives and my oldest friend all tugged at my heart strings so hard that those heart strings wanted to wrap themselves around my loved ones and stay physically tied to them forever.

We had agreed that my parents would look after our cherished dog until we had become settled. I went alone to drop our furry baby off at my mum’s house just before we left. She leapt gleefully into the car, tail wagging furiously as she anticipated her usual car adventure. It was awful to observe how happy and blissfully unaware she was.

I walked back up my parents’ drive without her feet padding along next to mine, without her soft brown eyes looking up at me. I felt an almost overwhelming desire to run back in and announce “We’re staying. I don’t want to go any more.”

I didn’t though. I kept walking, my eyes brimming over like those raindrops on a windowpane that hang there tenaciously for a while before they finally break free into tiny, fast-flowing rivulets. My throat felt like rough sandpaper and I couldn’t breathe until I reached the car, where it was safe to let it all out…. because no one was there to see it.