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I’m in Melbourne, and without wanting to give too much away, I love it.

In fact, I love it so much that I feel settled enough to start blogging again. It’s early days for the new site – and there’s not actually much about Melbourne on it yet, as I seem to be in nostalgic mood at the moment – but I’d love it if you’d pop over and have a look.

http://alifeontheflipside.com/

 

 

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That’s it. It’s over. I’m out of Perth. Which means, of course, that I’m no longer ‘down under, out west’, so it’s the end of this blog too.

It’s been nearly three years since I landed in WA. I think I gave it a good shot.

Regular readers and indeed, anyone who knows me, will be well aware of the things I didn’t like about Perth.

But despite what they might think, there were some things I did like:

My commute by bike, on safe cycle tracks alongside (mostly) friendly riders.

The weather, which allowed me to plan ahead in a way I have never experienced. (Barbeque next Saturday? No problem – it will be sunny!)

The fact I didn’t have to compete with four million others to get decent seats for gigs.

My job, which gave me some of the most fun times of my career.

The friends I did make, despite my pretty constant rudeness about the city we all chose to live in and some truly horrendous experiences.

But at the end of the day it wasn’t enough. For me, Perth was like an outfit you like the look of but that has a really scratchy label inside, or a zip that threatens to break every time you do it up. Eventually these little things get so annoying that you forget about how good you look and have to take the outfit to the op shop.

So that’s what I’ve done. I’ve put Perth back on the shelf for someone else to enjoy; someone for whom it’s a better fit.

If Melbourne doesn’t work out, well, at least I can say I tried.

Thanks to everyone who has dropped in here over the last couple of years. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and hope we meet again some day in another part the blogosphere.

But for now, I’m starting again. Again.

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I’m back in Scotland for a holiday before making the move to Melbourne; my first trip to the motherland since moving to Australia in 2009. I’ve been excited about going ‘home’ for months. But now I am here, I’m not sure ‘home’ is the right word for it.

Everything is so familiar – yet so strange at the same time.

I smiled as I stepped off the plane onto Scottish soil – only to feel intense pain from my suddenly-sensitive front teeth as the cold air hit them. The fleece I had worn to travel in (I’ve given up any hope of ever being upgraded so dress for in-flight comfort, not style) wasn’t enough to keep me warm as I walked to the terminal.

And I haven’t really been warm since. I have been told that had I arrived a week earlier, I would have experienced a heatwave – a 10 day period of warm weather that one friend said would be recorded as the famous ‘long hot summer’ of 2012.

But except for – literally – a couple of hours when it was warm and dry enough to sit outside, all I’ve experienced is miserable weather – in June! The rain has been relentless; the skies grim and grey and the temperatures positively Baltic. A former manager of mine used to complain that all Scots were dour and lugubrious. Well, I would tell him now, you try being anything else in these conditions.

The weather has not been the only surprise.

Everywhere I look I’m overwhelmed by the choice available to consumers, and the low prices. I had what was pretty close to a panic attack as I tried to choose a pair of shoes in a Glasgow department store, so numerous were the options available. I got so distracted by the cheap food and household items in a supermarket that I forgot to buy the milk I went in for. Ayr, the home town of my inlaws, has only 46,000 residents – yet its two main supermarkets are open 24 hours a day. British retail rules mean you need never shop anywhere else – you can get anything you might require, from food and clothes to foreign currency and insurance.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of such a system, it’s the system I’ve been used to for nearly 40 years. But a few years in one of the world’s most isolated cities, with incredibly restrictive trading regulations and a population that’s not big enough for firms to take advantage of the economies of scale, and I’ve simply forgotten what it is like.

The Scots accent is far stronger than I remember too. ‘Do I sound like that?’ I asked my husband, suddenly anxious that my Australian friends might struggle to understand me. More than once I’ve had to ask shop assistants to repeat themselves.

The whole experience has left me unsettled. I didn’t feel at home in Perth, but nor do I feel at home in Scotland. Is this normal for emigrants? And if home is where the heart is, will I be able to give mine to Melbourne?

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Ask any immigrant about making friends in Perth and many will mention the city’s cliquiness.

I didn’t really believe it until I experienced for myself, but when I did, it almost floored me.

A while ago, someone I had met briefly invited me and my husband to a party at her home. I always get a bit nervous when meeting new people so I accepted with a slight feeling of terror – only just outweighed by the thought that I might meet some interesting potential friends.

It was to be a fancy dress party – not usually my idea of fun. But I had pledged to say yes to everything until I could afford to be choosy, and I genuinely liked the woman who had invited us, so I spent the best part of a weekend sourcing material for my costume and sewing it up into my best attempt at Madonna’s equestrian look from her Confessions on a Dancefloor tour. Another evening was spent hunting for a hat to reinforce the fact that my other half looks uncannily like a certain Irish rock star.

We deliberately arrived unfashionably early at the party, hoping we could get chatting to people before the craziness started. The hostess was lovely. She recognised me (no mean feat as we had only met for half an hour and I had since changed my two most distinctive features – my glasses and my hair) and welcomed us into her home like she’d known us for years.

But it was her birthday, and she had a party to throw. So we headed out to the garden, where the other guests were congregating around the firepits set up to take the chill off the winter’s evening, and set about being sociable.

The first conversation lasted about 30 seconds. After politely responding to my compliments on her outfit and my (admittedly not very original) question as to how she knew the host, my first target headed over to the drinks table, never to return. The second actually turned her back on me as I attempted small talk by the fire. The third moved away as quickly as she could after my initial approach, and never acknowledged me again. At no point did anyone ask me what my costume was – which left me wondering if they thought I normally paraded around in a lacy blouse with a basque over it, keep-fit leggings and knee-high boots.

Perhaps I should have kept trying. But frankly I was scared of being rejected again. And as the evening wore on, it became physically quite difficult, as impenetrable huddles formed around the house and garden. Not wanting to offend the woman who had invited us – and still slightly hopeful that someone might speak to us – we stuck it out for another couple of hours. But it wasn’t until we were about to leave that anyone even seemed to notice we were in the room – and that was only because our lovely host decided to award a prize to my other half for the best lookalike of the night.

I woke up the next morning feeling angry at what had happened. I questioned my own actions. I know I can be an acquired taste, but had my behaviour really been so off-putting? All I had done was express an interest in some people.

I felt – and still feel – no ill will towards the host of the party. She was warm and friendly and did her best to make us feel welcome. And I think she would be appalled if she realised how her friends had treated us.

But I’ve since heard many similar tales from immigrant friends. The western suburbs wedding where one was actively excluded from conversations; the invitations to dinner parties known as ‘Perth promises’ because they never arrive.

And it seems many born and bred Perthites are aware of the city’s reputation for cliquiness too. I ranted about the party on Twitter the morning after and I got many sympathetic responses – and genuine invitations from locals who were horrified by their fellow citizens’ behaviour.

As I get ready to move to Melbourne, I can’t help wondering what it will be like there. I hope more people are more open to newcomers – although I suspect my Madonna outfit wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in this most quirkily-dressed of cities.

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Mi Goreng noodles - the staple of the frugal dietI’ve never been a particularly big spender (okay, okay, get your borderline racist jokes about Scottish people out of the way here, then we can move on…) but I’ve been lucky enough to always earn a decent wage. That, combined with a complete ignorance of how much our household actually needs to keep going, and a husband who likes to keep a close eye on the cash, means I’ve never really had to worry about my credit card being rejected at a checkout.

But having known since January that I would be giving up a perfectly good job in June to move to Melbourne, my attitude to money has changed.

You see, despite assurances from everyone that I will find a job over there easily enough, I have been working on the basis that I will be unemployed for a while. At least I have had some warning of this pending joblessness – my manager hasn’t requested I clear my desk by the end of the day.

The fact is that while I still have a husband in work and some assets, our income is likely to be considerably reduced once I move over to Victoria. And unlike the girl in Common People by Pulp, I won’t actually be able to call my Dad to stop it all. I’ll just have to save some money now.

So I have embraced the frugal life.

I haven’t bought meat in months. Vegetables are cheaper, and better for you. I have become inordinately fond of Mi Goreng noodles, which retail for the princely sum of 62c a pack. Chuck in a few mushrooms and it is almost a proper meal.

My clothes shopping has been scaled right back. Apart from what I really would term essentials – a pair of (cheap) boots for work and a pair of fluffy slippers for the freezing Melbourne winter – I have bought just one top since January, $22 in the Target sale.

I get a little thrill when I save $5.70 by riding to work instead of taking the train. Yesterday I almost punched the air when I discovered my health insurance would cover the entire cost of an essential podiatry appointment.

Of course I have still frittered away some cash on ‘extras’. When S first moved to Melbourne, I went out quite a lot to ease my loneliness and boredom. With every sip of overpriced wine I felt a pang of guilt not usually experienced by those who have had an atheist upbringing.

But overall, I’ve managed to keep my spending to a minimum, and coped remarkably well. It feels good to know that when I do spend money, it’s on something I really need. And of course the less I buy here in Perth, the less I have to ship over to Melbourne when I finally go – which will be another saving in excess baggage charges.

I know this tighter financial situation is my choice, and that I’m still lucky compared to many people. S is earning, we have a few bob in the bank for a rainy day, no children to support and I’m pretty confident someone will give me a job in Melbourne at some point. My frugal is no doubt someone else’s extravagance.

But it’s been a useful exercise in reminding myself about what’s important in life – and it isn’t ‘stuff’.

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It’s been a while since I posted on here – almost a year, in fact.

Stopping writing was a conscious decision, albeit one that I didn’t announce. When I got back from China, I decided to really make a go of living in Perth. I didn’t think my whinging about the place on here was helping me settle, so I stopped – simple as that.

I started to try getting more involved in my community. I tried to organise more social events. I made friends with my neighbours. I started volunteering. I missed my online rants but got my writing fix at work and writing comedy reviews.

I was busier – but still something was missing.

A trip to Melbourne to celebrate my birthday in October made the decision for me. I simply felt drawn to the place.

Sitting in a laneway cafe (yes, it’s a cliché , but they are cool), I considered the reasons why.

Some were understandable, and disappointingly predictable:

There are people in the streets of the CBD at night, and they are not all homeless.
It looks a bit like Europe, at least in the centre – there are old buildings, lots of them, and trams.
It’s the cultural capital of Australia, and has an amazing comedy festival.
There’s a wider choice of restaurants than in Perth, and they don’t tend to shut their kitchens at 9pm.

But my other reasons, well…no rational person would move to the other side of Australia for them:

It rains, and gets properly cold.
You mostly have to cycle on the road, rather than on nice, safe, segregated paths – especially if you’re heading to the CBD.
There’s a choice of daily newspapers.
In most restaurants, you don’t have to queue at a till to pay your bill like you are in a school canteen – they’ll let you pay at your table.
It has Aldi, with its twice-weekly special buys, a huge haberdashery shop right in the centre, and it’s fairly safe to assume that if H&M is ever going to open in Australia, it will be in the Bourke Street Mall.

Of course, there’s more to these reasons than meets the eye.

The weather would allow my wardrobe to be more varied (I miss boots and opaque tights, goddammit!). This, when combined with the cultural nature of the city, would mean that on bad fashion days (which I have frequently) I am more likely to get away with pretending I am just being quirky and eclectic in my clothing choices. I’d also get to use the jackets that have been in storage since we brought them from Bristol to Perth.

The relative lack of cycle lanes is countered by the massive number of people who actually use bikes for transport, rather than recreation – and despite the constant risk of doorings, the sheer quantity of people on two wheels makes on-road riding relatively safe. And perhaps because car drivers are used to sharing the road with bikes, they seem to drive less like maniacs than those in Perth.

While I would always choose The Age over the Herald Sun, at least there is a choice. In Perth – at least in terms of actual physical newspapers – there is only The West Australian.

As for the restaurants and the shops, well, I just miss the UK.

So the decision was made to move. My husband knew he would have to find a job first – his job is very specialised, and he doesn’t have a lot of choice in terms of employers. We thought it would take a while, so didn’t get too excited. But within a few weeks he found a job – so the move was on.

His new employers wanted him to start work four weeks later. A plan was hastily formulated to minimise the stress of moving yet again. He would move to Melbourne at the end of January to take up his new position. I would stay in Perth, earning as much as possible and wrapping our old life up, until the beginning of June, when we would fly to Europe for a month’s holiday. I’d find a job in Melbourne when we got back.

And so here we are, in April. Just a couple of months to go until I find out if I really want to be in Melbourne – or just don’t want to be in Perth.

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I’m not known for my sense of style. No-one will ever ask me for fashion tips. I’ll never appear in the Sunday Times Magazine summing up my personal style in two words*.

I do actually adore clothes, just not generally so much that I let what I wear get in the way of more practical considerations. I love funky shoes, true; but I also love to walk everywhere so end up alternating between flat sandals, Converse All-Stars and Merrell walking shoes. I look at my trendy colleagues with envy; but resent spending money on work clothes so tend to choose more classic officewear that will span the seasons.

So why, when fashion isn’t that much of a concern for me, do I spend so much time thinking about it in Perth?

It’s probably just homesickness in another guise, but I have really struggled to get used to clothes shopping in Australia.

In the UK, I was a chain store girl. But what chain stores we had to choose from! Top of the list was H&M, which allowed me to indulge my love of the quirky for minimal cost. Miss Selfridge kept me in casual tops with interesting features (I’m a big fan of unusual sleeves and pockets), and I was enjoying the previously-rather-staid Marks and Spencer and Next, which were beginning to really up their game around the time I left.

There are several Aussie chains that I suspect think they are a kind of down under H&M. Cotton On and (the horrific) Supré spring to mind. But there’s no originality in their goods, and with the hugely inflated prices we suffer in Australia I just can’t bring myself to buy. They would probably claim I’m not their target market, but I missed the memo about having to restrict yourself to Witchery and Country Road‘s oh-so-boring and oh-so-expensive beige creations when you pass 30. Myer and David Jones do their best, but they’re no match for Debenhams.

Locals tell me that city centre chain stores are not the way it’s done here. All the best clothes come from suburban boutiques, they say. That may be true, but when one of the biggest proponents of that theory used to turn up to work in…well, let’s just say outfits that weren’t exactly my style, I began to have my doubts.

Maybe I’m foolish to expect things to be as good as back in Blighty. Our isolation and smaller population must have an impact. In the UK, the sheer quantity of merchandise available meant that with some clever styling, you need never see anyone in an identical outfit – even if it was purchased from a store with a branch in every high street. Here, I spotted others wearing my first Australian purchase – a maxi dress from Just Jeans – numerous times within my first few weeks of owning it.

The weather has an influence too. Is it really any surprise that in summer, the shops are full of denim shorts and vest tops when the temperature doesn’t drop below 40 for weeks at a time? 

But understanding those factors doesn’t help. So while I continue to ask for suggestions for stores I might like in Perth, I shop online, and look for any opportunities to buy European.

I left space in my suitcase when I travelled to Sydney recently, knowing that Gap had recently opened a branch in the city and Top Shop had a concession in trendy store Incu.

Gap was a huge disappointment. Yes, I appreciate that they are known (in the northern hemisphere at least) for their jeans and in a Sydney summer it must be hard to sell heavy denim trousers to shoppers, but only two styles to choose from? A range of candy-hued cotton crew-neck sweaters didn’t have me reaching for my wallet either.

Top Shop was better. Its concession in Incu’s Paddington store is clearly aimed at the fashion-forward crowd. A pair of dogtooth woollen shorts caught my eye, as did a long-sleeved chiffon blouse, but I frankly don’t have the kind of social life that requires such things. And woollen shorts should really be worn with opaque tights and boots, but unless you really crank up the aircon, you can only do that for a few weeks a year.

I’m heading to China in a couple of months, and will be spending the last few days of the trip in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has eight branches of H&M and the same number of Marks and Spencers. Let’s hope there’s also somewhere that sells suitcases, because I think I might need an empty one.

* Although, for the record, they would probably be ‘clean’ and ‘comfortable’.

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