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 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!

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.