This is one blog I’ve been meaning to write since packing up our Aussie-born pooch and 20 foot container of ‘stuff’ and waving goodbye to Down Under. I always meant to give an update on Life After Perth, but just to be sure my rose-tinted ‘happy to be home’ goggles were now a more realistic hue of clear, and to ward off all accusations of still being drunk on rolling green hills and Tesco prices, I thought I’d leave it a respectable 6 months before giving a verdict.
But time flies when you’re busy and it has been nearly 2 years since our return. More and more people have been contacting me to ask “What happened next?” People who want to be told that returning to the UK isn’t a one way ticket to WhathehellhaveIdonesville – that I’m not just another Pom that pinged the wrong way. Or, I suspect, be reassured that I’m not sat here rocking backwards and forwards in a corner, clutching a photo of a Skippy and muttering darkly to myself how we should have never left.
Well the good news is I’m still sane, I rarely rock and I never weep at the sight of a kangaroo.
Returning to a British way of life has been an interesting journey to say the least. Unlike our hasty departure from the UK 3.5 years before, the Australian exodus of 2010 was an extremely well-executed affair, with a year of meticulous planning and quite a lot of careful saving along the way.
It started with a trip back to confirm our decision, scout new areas to live and set up schooling. This was followed by 6 months of heavy-duty moving, haggling, sorting and packing – along with the selling of whatever we couldn’t afford to ship back. I thoroughly recommend a garage sale as the most effective way to clear unwanted junk. One night of preparation, 5 hours of bargaining and several 100 people trampling over our lawn later and we’d covered the cost of shipping the dog. That may not sound like much, until you realise his First Class cage back cost more than our 4 tickets combined. Whether or not he was worth the expensive remains a hotly debated subject to this day.
Touching back down on British soil was a happy occasion for the whole family. I would have happily kissed the ground, but for the fact I had half a dozen bags and a limp child hung off my person, and the Arrivals Hall floor was in need of a good scrub. It was an epic flight to say the least, but hats off to Air Asia, they may be a budget airline with a questionable line of stomach-churning Pot Noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the service was brilliant, and the cheap ‘Business Class’ sized seats ensured we arrived rested and with all vertebra working and intact.
There was no fanfare or line of excited faces waiting to meet us as we walked through. We took a taxi to the nearest Travelodge and laid there, all wide awake, wired from excitement and struggling to breathe in the unventilated room. After a few hours of listening to the kids flapping around on the sofa bed we decided to hit the road early (in the car we’d bought unseen on the Internet) and our get on with our new life. We rocked up in Norwich before even the earliest of birds were catching worms, and then, with hours to kill till the next Travelodge opened, spent several hours getting lost in the one-way system while looking for somewhere to eat.
A week after picking up the keys to our house (rented unseen on the Internet), and the fastest unpacking of a container in history, my husband disappeared in a taxi, boarded a plane and flew back to whence we had come. With a work contract still to complete in Sydney, I was left waving goodbye in the doorway of a new house, city and county, with no family or friends for miles around and 2 kids to look after till Christmas. Not quite how I pictured our happy homecoming.
The 4 months that followed were certainly a crash course in starting over. There were new roads to navigate, shops, doctors and dentists to find, schools and nurseries to start, utilities to organise and complicated contracts to decipher. Credit, I was reminded, is most certainly not your friend when you’ve left for sunnier shores.
During those long and lonely weeks I spent half of everyday on Skype and resorted to accosting strangers in the local park just to have some adult conversation. I endured a long running struggle with a tight arse landlord, a carpet that stank of cat wee and a shower that didn’t even work. I had to deal with a dippy, runaway dog, catch spiders the size of a dinner plate, buy and master a lawnmower with a mind of its own and battle through various strains of vomiting virus, ear infections and flu. And then, to top it all off, I had 6 long, glorious weeks with limited eyesight and an addiction to painkillers while I waited for my new eyes to work.
A walk in the park it most certainly was not. But despite all of the above, and the feeling rather lonely in my husband-less state, I loved every single day of being back. Even those when the temperatures hit -8 degrees and it took me 1.5 hours to travel an 8-minute journey in the snow. Or my car gave up the good fight and slid back down the icy hill with a boot load of shopping still to transport. Or the toilet cistern decided to leak through the ceiling and gave me a watery fright.
By the time hubby finally rocked up a week before Christmas life was in full swing. On his second day we went to collect the keys for a house I’d already bought – a run down, damp as a swamp, freezing, flooded old farmhouse in the middle of the rural Norfolk countryside. A few days into January and renovations began. Day after day we spent ripping down and building back up a shell of a house, while snow blew in through the open doors and we ate our diet of garage sandwiches whilst perched on upturned tool boxes wearing heat packs strapped to our bodies and 3 pairs of gloves.
6 weeks later with work still in progress we moved into the house with 2 kids and dog in tow. With bare walls and floors, no backdoor and not much a kitchen to speak of it wasn’t really an ideal living environment, but we had no plans to move for at least 10 years so it seemed worth all the ongoing hard work. Fast forward 8 months and with the house finally completed, we decided there was only one natural next step for us to take. So we put it back on the market, packed up our now 60 foot container worth of stuff (no, I’m still not sure how our possessions mutated in this time) and moved back towards the city.
This time in the sticks had taught us that rural living simply wasn’t for us. Too many unfriendly villagers with humps, dead pheasants on the road to school and the smell of ‘farm’ wafting in when we were trying to eat. So here we are again, new house, new village, another new life – and NO more plans to move.
So the big question to be answered is this: having now lived both lives and experienced the reality of a life Down Under, do I still (honestly, hand on my heart) think we made the right decision to up sticks and come back? Hell yes, every single minute of every single (sometimes) soggy day. Even when its grey outside, blowing a gale and chucking it down at great force. Or the news is full of doom and gloom, the streets of London are being burnt by delinquent rioters, petrol prices have shot up again and another great parliamentary scandal has been unearthed.
The truth of it is I simply don’t miss our old life at all.
I don’t miss our nice house or the crippling mortgage we paid. I don’t miss the high salary or the extortionate utility bills. I don’t miss the BBQ or the overpriced food we couldn’t afford to buy. I don’t miss the blue skies (well maybe a bit) or the long, cold, wet winters with no insulation, double glazing or heating to keep us warm. I don’t miss the beaches or the flies that just love to swarm in your face. I don’t miss the lack of culture or anything in the slightest bit old. I don’t miss the feeling of being trapped in the most isolated city on Earth. I don’t miss being cooked alive or keeping an eye out for sharks.
I do miss Tim Tams however. Now there was a chocolate biscuit that almost made it worth while staying.
There is one thing I’ve finally realised after our stint in Perth and that is the grass is never greener. Every country has it problems, its pros and it’s cons. Every country is run by politicians who over-promise and under-deliver. Every country has crime and drugs and those people you’d rather cross the street to avoid. Every country has bad weather and days when you think you’ll never make ends meet.
For me, England definitely wins hands down. So Rule Britannia, long live the Queen and bring out the china tea cups – it’s good to be home!