Grumpy trolls from Down Under

Over the years I’ve received a fair few comments on my blog. Most have been great, a few have cheerfully disagreed with something I’ve said and others raised a differing topic to debate. A small handful have, unsurprisingly in this troll-infested world, been downright rude for the sake of just being nasty.

But unlike Twitter, where you have little choice but to put up with such drivel, here on my own blog I believe I have every right to keep those with a potty mouth from spoiling the nice, clean lines of my page.

So if something pings into my inbox that makes me wrinkle my nose in distaste, then of course I’m not going to “allow”. I’m all for freedom of speech – it’s not like I don’t make the most of it here – but quite frankly, if someone wants to wretch up a stream of ungrammatical drivel all over the screen, then they can bloody well take the time and effort to write their own blog, not just invade mine.

The other day two comments arrived in my inbox for approval. One was from someone who was kind enough to say she enjoyed the blog; the other was from a man who obviously took great personal offense to my reasons for leaving Australia.

Now his comment wasn’t littered with expletives and he didn’t even tell me where to go, but his patronising tone so rubbed me up the wrong way I thought I’d write a post about it:

What did you expect, you were living in perth full of Saffers jocks and poms.
If you had come to Melbourne and given yourself a fighting chance you may have made it.

Still at least you have the rest of your life to regret the decision best of luck with that.

Well, Chris W from Melbourne, what can I say. Thank you, I guess, for arguing my case so well as to why I wanted to leave Australia in the first place – and for so perfectly living up to that ‘friendly, unbitter about the prison ships’ reputation that so many of your fellow countrymen – for whatever reason – seem to strive hard to obtain.

So should you find yourself tossing and turning at night Chris, worried that I am wracked with guilt about throwing in the towel and giving up, then please, fear not. Regret is certainly not something I have, rather it was the best decision I ever made. Two years on and I still wake up every day feeling glad to be home and looking forward to enjoying the rest of my life in the very best place on earth.

And for the record I did spend time in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, but none of these places would have made me want to stay. How shall I put it, the reasons for leaving were far more ‘nationwide’…

P.S. In light of your being such a great ‘sporting’ nation and us being mere Poms, how’s that medal placement table working out for you?


A Pom returns: the reality of life after Australia

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!

Is the use of a forward facing pram really child abuse?

Professor Cathrine Folwer, a health expert in Australia, seems to be claiming that millions of parents around the world, myself included, are guilty of abusing their babies and small children.

As I look across the table at my happy, well-adjusted, healthy son eating his home cooked lunch it’s hard to spot any signs of this harm I’m supposed to have inflicted on him from birth, but apparently I have. Research says that I (and lots of other mothers I know) have cruelly subjected our babies to a “terrifying and very stressful situation’ every time we’ve taken them out to the shops or even for a walk.

So what have we done? Filled their bottles with vodka? Starved them? Fattened them up with a diet of chicken nuggets? Left them outside in the rain when they refused to stop crying in the middle of the night?

No, it’s something far more sinister than that. We’ve used, oh the shame of it, a forward facing baby sling and pram.

According to the Professor and a study carried out by the University of Dundee, these most heinous torture devices we’ve all been using to transport our offspring have not only caused untold suffering to our little angels, but they’ve also stunted their development and turned them into anxious adults. This is because, so they say, children facing forward rarely get their parents’ attention and therefore suffer stress and sometimes even ‘trauma’.

Imagine if you were strapped to someone’s chest with your legs and arms flailing, heading with no control into a busy shopping centre – it would be terrifying,’ said Professor Fowler. ‘Outward-facing baby carriers and prams give babies a bombardment of stimulus, creating a very stressful situation.

Who knew hey? And there was I thinking it was a good thing to let my children have a comfortable, reclinable seat to sit in, surrounded by toys, books and blankets and a great view of where we were heading. Better that than having to look at my tired, puffy face and standard issue eye bags I’d have thought.

And as for the baby sling – which incidentally shouldn’t be used to face babies forward before they’re strong enough to hold their neck up at about 3 months – how on earth can the use of one of those be considered cruel? Aside from the fact that mothers with multiple children – or even those who need the use of both hands – couldn’t physically manage without strapping a baby onboard, surely these pouches can only be an enjoyable experience for the child? Not only are they securely strapped onto their parent’s body (so as close as possible to be), they also have a great view and a chance to sleep. What’s not to love about that?

And now to the legality of it all. I’m pretty sure that nowhere in the 999 pages of instructions that came with either of my prams was there any mention of the possible side effect of long-term therapy for its pint-sized occupant. So does that mean the likes of Graco, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare are about to face the mother of all law suits from ill-informed parents?!

Of course I also don’t remember either of my children sitting (or hanging) there, paralysed with fear and suffering untold trauma. And yes I think I’d have noticed; babies aren’t best at keeping a stiff upper lip when not happy. In fact if memory serves me correctly, my two spent most of the time looking around them with interest, fast asleep or crumbling whatever snack they were clutching into a million crumbs – all of which disappeared into the inaccessible cracks of said heinous torture device.

So when weighing up the facts and research presented by Professor Folwer alongside the knowledge that neither of my children, now 10 and 5, seem to scream in fear every time they see a crowd or develop a nervous tic when I leave the room, I don’t think I’m going to panic too much about the findings of this report.

But perhaps all this time, money and academic intelligence would be far more beneficial if it was directed towards finding solutions to bigger issues, like SIDS and other life threatening childhood diseases, rather than giving new parents one more thing to worry about before the stork swoops in.


Diary of a Pom in Western Australia

I got forwarded this a while back and thought it was too funny (and close to the truth) not to post.

August 31

Just got transferred with work from Leeds UK to our new home in Karratha, Western Australia. Now this is a town that knows how to live! Beautiful, sunny days and warm, balmy evenings. I watched the sunset from a deckchair by our pool yesterday. It was beautiful. I’ve finally found my new home. I love it here.

September 13

Really heating up now. It got to 31 today. No problem though. Living in air-conditioned home, driving air-conditioned car. What a pleasure to see the sun every day like this. I’m turning into a sun-worshipper – no blasted rain like back in Leeds!!

September 30

Had the back yard landscaped with tropical plants today. Lots of palms and rocks. No more mowing lawns for me! Another scorcher today, but I love it here. It’s Paradise!

October 10

The temperature hasn’t been below 35 all week. How do people get used to this kind of heat? At least today it’s windy though. Keeps the flies off a bit. Acclimatizing is taking longer than we expected.


October 15
Fell asleep by the pool yesterday. Got third degree burns over 60% of my body. Missed three days off work. What a dumb thing to do. Got to respect the old sun in a climate like this!


October 20
Didn’t notice Kitty (our cat) sneaking into the car before I left for work this morning. By the time I got back to the car after work, Kitty had died and swollen up to the size of a shopping bag and stuck to the upholstery. The car now smells like Whiskettes and cat shit. I’ve learned my lesson though: no more pets in this heat.

October 25

This wind is a bastard. It feels like a giant fucking blow dryer. And it’s hot as hell! The home air conditioner is on the blink and the repair man charged $200 just to drive over and tell me he needs to order parts from fucking Perth ….The wife & the kids are complaining.

October 30

The temperature’s up around 40 and the parts still haven’t arrived for the fucking air conditioner. House is an oven so we’ve all been sleeping outside by the pool for 3 nights now. Bloody $600,000 house and we can’t even go inside. Why the hell did I ever come here?

November 4

Finally got the fucking air-conditioner fixed. It cost $1,500 and gets the temperature down to around 25 degrees, but the humidity makes it feel about 35. Stupid repairman. Fucking thief.

November 8

If one more smart bastard says ‘Hot enough for you today?’ I’m going to fucking throttle him. Fucking heat! By the time I get to work, the car radiator is boiling over, my fucking clothes are soaking fucking wet and I smell like baked cat. Fucking place is the end of the Earth.

November 9

Tried to run some errands after work, wore shorts, and sat on the black leather upholstery in my car. I thought my fucking arse was on fire. I lost 2 layers of flesh, all the hair on the backs of my legs and off my fucking arse. Now the car smells like burnt hair, fried arse and baked cat. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

November 10

The Weather report might as well be a fucking recording. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny, Hot and fucking sunny. It never fucking changes! It’s been too hot to do anything for 2 fucking months and the weatherman says it might really warm up next week. Fuck!

November 15

Doesn’t it ever rain in this damn fucking place? Water restrictions will be next, so my $5,000 worth of palms might just dry up and blow into the fucking pool. The only things that thrive in this fucking hell-hole are the fucking flies. You don’t dare open your mouth for fear of swallowing half a dozen of the little bastards!

November 20

Welcome to HELL! It got to 45 fuckin’ degrees today. Now the air conditioner’s gone in my car. The repair man came to fix it and said, ‘Hot enough for you today?’ I wanted to shove the fucking car up his fucking arse. Anyway, had to spend the $2,500 mortgage payment to bail me out of jail for assaulting the stupid prick. Fucking Karratha! What kind of sick, demented fucking idiot would want to live here!

December 1

WHAT!!!! The FIRST day of Summer!!!! You are fucking kidding me!


Peace, quiet and fishy friends

Of all the places that I’ve sat to write a post, I have to admit that this one sure beats my sofa. Not in levels of comfort perhaps, but definitely when it comes to the view.

Today I’m stretched out on the boardwalk at Manley wharf as I watch the ferries arrive and the sea gulls bobbing around on the water as they wait for someone to drop their chips. My new MacBook Air is being given its first official outing and I’m completely alone – give or take the several 100 other people milling around me having a drink. So granted I’m not strictly alone alone, but on my own, if that makes sense.

I know to many this wouldn’t be a particularly special event, but for me it’s a very rare occasion indeed to be out on my own during daylight hours – let alone out with my laptop and two free hands no less.

Weekend trips out are normally far more child-orientated affairs for us, involving a playground, somewhere dispensing food, hot drinks and tranquilizers and the necessary toilet no more than a quick sprint away.

There’s usually ice cream to be administered and squabbles to be broken up.  There’s always a pram loaded up besides me with at least 10 bags containing sandwiches (that never get eaten), spare clothes (that never get worn) and 5 litres of water (which never get drunk). It’s the basics of Parenting 101 – always be prepared.

On this trip however – or for this precious hour and a half at least – my beloved offspring are being entertained by Daddy, a clown fish and a couple of sharks. No, they aren’t on the set of ‘Nemo the Seaquel’, just gazing at all things with fins across the water from where I’m sitting in Oceanworld.

Now I don’t normally like to be absent on such outings with them, after all, one of the perks of being a parent is watching your child see new things and have fun. But over the course of the last few weeks we’ve already covered most of Sydney’s attractions – including all the fishes, turtles, sharks and stingrays that the average adult can handle.

So no offense to Oceanworld, but I think I’ve had all the aquatic action I need to keep me going for a year or two. Besides, I’m safe in the knowledge that two cameras have gone forth and at least 100 photos will return.

My daughter has an air of Japanese tourist about her when it comes to picture-taking. If something happens to be in front of her, whether it’s standing, sitting, sleeping or even stuffed, then it’s snapped – several times over. If it’s a particularly large object she’ll take a series of pictures, presumably so they can be joined up at a later date.

I do keep pointing out to her that taking a photo of a very small fish in a very large glass tank won’t really result in anything except her reflection and a rather grainy looking blob, but she is determined to prove me wrong. And indeed she has on a number of occasion. Most recently with her in-depth study of a sleeping turtle in Sydney Aquarium.

Bless her, if I printed out everything she photographed there would be a gaping great hole the size of England in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest, or wherever it is that Kodak harvest their photo paper from.

I can’t complain of course. Her shutterbug nature was passed down through the umbilical cord and all of her compulsive tendencies to document are learned direct from the master herself – me.

Right, my time is now up so I must go reclaim my family and make a hasty beeline for the car park. We’ve got 5 minutes till our 2 free hours are up and then we’ll be charged a small fortune for every extra minute that we take.

I may not have had long to sit and relax on this occasion, but it was just enough to remind me how much fun it can be to trail behind my children as they dash from bored-looking fish to bored-looking fish – camera at the ready.

Ready. Steady. Pack

Moving house is considered one of the most stressful things you can do in life, along with illness (tick), death (tick), divorce (tick), marriage (tick), pregnancy (tick), changing jobs (tick) and debt (tick).

Yes, over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to experience them all. Some several times over in fact. Actually, when I come to think of it, most of them several times. How depressing. There are however a few situations I’ve managed to avoid thus far (including retirement and jail time) but there’s still 6 months left of this year, so best I not count my chickens before they’re blessed.

Strangely enough ‘moving country’ has never featured in any Top 10 stress list that I’ve seen. A major oversight on someone’s part surely. Anyone who’s ever tried it knows that there’s nothing quite like packing up your family, baggage (emotional and household) and pets, and then relocating them all around the world. It really does get those grey hairs a growin’.

So why, when I’m fully aware that the combination of packing boxes, shipping companies and small children make for newly formed wrinkles, do I keep on getting itchy feet and moving?

I blame my parents. Naturally. Most things in life come back to our parent’s decisions, choices and wrongdoings. It’s not the fault of the parent necessarily, just the way it is. As a parent myself now, I fully expect to screw up my own two children along the way and be held to account at a later date.

So why do I blame my parents? By the way, if either of them happen to read this, which is unlikely I know, I use the word ‘blame’ lightly. Because when I grew up I never called anywhere home for more than a few years at a time.

When I was born, a good 35 years ago, I emerged from the womb with a suitcase clutched in one newborn paw and a boarding card in the other. I had a monogrammed luggage label securely tied around my neck. Well actually I had an umbilical cord around my neck, but you get the gist.

Having been plopped straight onto the luggage conveyor belt at Heathrow I’ve  spent the majority of my life since bouncing from one country and continent to the next. I’ve lost count of the homes I’ve had and even the number of countries I’ve visited over the years.

We started off in Africa, as all self-respecting, jet-setting babies do. First were those early years in Nigeria, with its crowded marketplaces and beautiful beaches  – except for the one where they executed criminals every week. Not that the beach wasn’t lovely mind you, it’s just that there’s nothing like the sound of gunfire to really ruin the atmosphere when you’re having a picnic on the sand.

This was later followed by time amongst the animals and spectacular waterfalls of Zimbabwe – in the years before Mugabe decided to exorcise his ‘rights’ to be an arrogant, murdering dictator.

Those years, combined with the many visits to neighbouring countries installed in me a great love of the sounds and smells of this continent from a very young age.

Next on the list came the Middle East, with 3 fun-packed years in Bahrain and a short stint in Oman. Then came Asia and the hot, humid shopping mecca of the Far East – Singapore. Twice I moved there to be precise. The second time with a husband, child and two cats in tow.

3 years after that I returned home (minus the husband and the feline friends). Turn the clock forward another 3 years – having added a long-lost love/second husband and extra child to the brood – and I set off for Australia. Perth to be precise.

And that’s where I’ve been until now. Or should I say up until 2 weeks ago.

Not wanting to buck a trend, 3 years after touching down on Perth’s dry and incredibly sandy soil, my boredom threshold was crossed with military precision. So the movers were called in, boxes were packed and I left –  one husband, two kids and a dog in tow. Yes, we’ve now gone canine.

That probably all makes moving sound like a breeze I know, but it really it isn’t. This last upheaval has involved sifting and sorting our belongings with great brutality, huge garage sales and months of living in, on and around packing boxes. It has also involved a flying dog and coming up with a great pile of money to pay for it all.

The process came to an end three weeks ago, when an empty container turned up early in the morning with 3 packers – who, no word of a lie, closely resembled Beavis, Butthead and that gangly, useless looking one from Scooby Doo. They drifted around the house, wrapping furniture like they were stoned (strong possibility). They then told me, with at least 30 items in the garage still to go,  it wasn’t all going to fit in the container.

Now if I hadn’t heard this from packers 1000 times before I might have been more concerned than I already was. Though I have to admit that ‘concerned’ at this point meant pacing up and down the road, flapping my hands as I watched them roughly shove in our precious cargo and calling my husband at work every 4 minutes to shriek “It’s not going to fit, what the hell are we going to do?”.

Of course his response went along the lines of “I’m not there I can’t really tell you what to do – tell them they’ll have to re-pack it”. My response to that was… well it was a response of a sorts.

Recounting all of this makes me realise two things. Firstly that I must have spent an exorbitant amount of money shipping ‘stuff’ around the world. The sort of rubbish that usually goes into the kitchen bits drawer and never comes out. Only on a much larger scale, like a kitchen drawer the size of a 20 foot container.

Secondly, this latest moving experience has made me realise that I only seem to last anywhere for 3 years at a time. And 3 years, let me tell you, is barely long enough to get in, unpack, decorate and start living. And that brings us nicely back to why I blame my parents.

They brought forth a child with wanderlust in it’s veins and the complete inability to put down anything resembling a root. It may not sound like a bad thing, but life as a serial expat can be tiring, and rather unsettling to boot. It can also prove a very hard life to give up. I know, I’ve tried. A good many times.

Not that I’d ever want to change the life that I’ve had I hasten to add. It’s been amazing so far and I feel incredibly lucky to have seen, done, experienced and enjoyed all the things that I have. But really, enough is enough.

So, in two weeks time I’ll be re-packing (for the 8th time in 6 weeks) and waving this particular continent goodbye. Then, after a brief pit stop in KL to recharge in the sun, it’s back home we all go.

This time when I say I fully indeed to stay put, I really mean it. So if you’re driving through Norfolk in 3-years time and see a strange-looking woman shackled to a fence and eating something that looks suspiciously like a passport, then that will be me.

Please don’t stop to help.