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I’m back in Bristol, my spiritual home, the city I thought I would settle in forever…then left on a whim to move to the other side of the world.

It’s been an emotional experience. Driving our hire car up Park Street I was reminded of how amazing this city is. The Wills Memorial Building at the top of the hill still takes my breath away. While my other half sorted out the paperwork to hand the car back, I stood outside, looking towards the Triangle, tears in my eyes for what I have left behind and what I may never find again.

And it’s not just been nostalgia that’s made me sad on this fleeting visit. Due to my pending unemployment, we have been staying at the Harbourside YHA. Unfortunately so have a group of very noisy German schoolchildren, who appear to have mistaken our corridor for a football pitch. I knew I should have learned to speak German, or at least some swear words.

The chuggers – charity muggers – are still out in force on Clare Street. This morning I was accosted by four separate representatives of Greenpeace as I made my way along the street, which can’t be more than a few hundred yards long. I will never understand how, but even in a recession this direct and intensely annoying approach to fundraising clearly works – just not with me.

More seriously, the city centre is looking a little depleted. The shiny new Cabot Circus shopping centre opened not long before we left, and it is still as shiny and lovely as ever. But it is clear that the recession has had an effect, with Broadmead, the other shopping area in the centre of town, now sprinkled with empty units and cheap outlets where major stores used to be.

I’ve met up with some great friends who did not abandon me when I abandoned them for Australia. I’ve realised that others, who I had thought would still be around, have moved on. We didn’t need all the tables we’d reserved at the pub for our homecoming bash – and I have had to remind my paranoid self that it’s about quality, not quantity.

Tonight we’ll visit our old neighbours and feel resentful of the people living in our old house. Then there’s a curry planned at the Sheesh Mahal, possibly the best curry house in the world. I wonder if the waiters will remember us?

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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 knew the minute I decided to move to Australia that it would alter the friendships I had in the UK; how could it not? But I had high hopes of maintaining most of the relationships I’d built in Preston and Bristol, albeit from a distance. I left Britain with a selection of VOIP providers installed on my computer, and looked forward to taking advantage of the technology that makes emigrating so much more feasible for those susceptible to homesickness. For months my emails back to Blighty would be signed off with a cheery ‘Get Skype!’.

But not many people did. While I fire up Skype and Messenger most evenings and weekends, the truth is they’re not used that often outside of the regular Sunday night call to my parents. Most contact from British friends is restricted to a few emails a year, the odd comment on Facebook or Twitter and the very occasional Skype conversation, organised meticulously weeks in advance to work round the time difference and other commitments.

There are some real stars – one friend in Bristol emails me religiously every Monday morning, which I appreciate so much, and an ex-boss of mine is great at responding to the pleas for conversation I make on Facebook from time to time when I tire of talking to my husband. I really do value each and every contact, no matter how brief or infrequent.

But I have accepted that people back home have moved on without me. Who can blame them? I’m the one who decided to leave, and let’s face it, I probably wasn’t the best friend in the world even when I lived in the same town. The eight-hour time difference is a pain, and if you’re not online most of the time like me, it probably is a bit of a faff to get on Skype.

In terms of making friends here, I am definitely past the must-say-yes-to-everything-or spend-every-non-working-hour-at-home stage, so Mum, if you are reading this, don’t worry – I’m fine. But my confidence was knocked by a couple of potential pals moving away within months of our meeting (although one may be coming back – yay!) and when I do meet someone I think I might get on with I often hold back rather than suggest doing something in case of rejection.

In that, at least, I am not alone; I stumbled across this blog post and as you’ll see from the comment I left, it really struck a chord with me. Like my fellow blogger, I’d really like to make one or two friendships here that would last the distance. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, I suspect it may not happen – although I remain hopeful. It’s number one on my list of new year’s resolutions.

And while I am working on that, I will keep waiting for those calls on Skype, and will be grateful for the friendships I do have, here or overseas, for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

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A year ago yesterday, I landed in Perth from the UK to start my new life. I’d only visited Perth once before, and only very briefly as part of a two-month trip through New Zealand and Australia. A surf life saving competition meant every hotel in the city was booked up so my husband and I stayed in a guest house in Quinns Rocks for two nights and just passed through to the centre en route to Fremantle. The city made no real impression on me and if you’d told me then that within six months I’d be packing up my perfectly nice life in Bristol to move here, well, frankly I would have laughed.

While we had often talked about retiring overseas (New Zealand and for some unknown reason Costa Rica being the destinations of choice) my husband and I hadn’t ever really considered Australia, at least while we were still working.

So the speed and the ease with which our emigration from the UK happened was a bit of a surprise. Someone mentioned that an ex-colleague of my husband had moved to Oz. We googled him, his name came up as the contact on a job advert, my husband said: ‘I could do that’, he applied, and got it. Within a few weeks our house was sold, we were getting quotes for shipping containers and flights, and were too busy to really think about what emigrating would actually mean.

It was certainly very different to the experience of many immigrants here. For a lot of people, moving to Australia is a lifelong dream. And while you’ll be hard pushed to hear anything other than a British accent in large swathes of the northern suburbs, not that many Brits actually manage to make the move. For those over 30 who want to live here permanently, Australian visas are a bit like passes to an exclusive nightclub. If your name – or at least your profession – isn’t on the list, you’re not coming in. We were lucky.

For me, the timing was good. I’d recently instigated a review of my section at work that I knew would lead to my own job disappearing, probably to be replaced with a more senior post that I wouldn’t get. I’d become disillusioned with a job that I enjoyed, but that was so stressful at times that it damaged my physical and mental health. The dance group that had been so crucial in helping me settle in Bristol, and which had provided me with a great set of friends, had disbanded and my social life had taken a blow.

I needed a change – and had I stopped to really think about what I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to make it.

But the decision was made, however rashly, and now I have survived the first year. I’ve even enjoyed it most of the time. Every day brings a new challenge, whether it’s meeting new people or working out what shoe size I am. I rant a lot (I always did), but in reality the list of issues I’ve faced is pretty pathetic. I had a job I didn’t like for a while and I once went to a party where everybody ignored me. Oh, and I’ve found it really hard to find decent baking potatoes. True, I’ve not made any close friendships yet, but I seem to know an alarming number of people in this big country town already so I am sure that will come in time.

Of course I still get homesick, or more accurately, people-sick and shop-sick. I’d kill for a curry at the Sheesh Mahal with Katie and Marc, and I find myself fantasising about walking through Debenhams in Broadmead: in through the cosmetics section, up the escalator to ladieswear, Red Herring straight ahead, Dorothy Perkins through to the right, Top Shop and Oasis to the left…

But I’ve survived this far, and discovered I’m much braver and much more resilient than I realised. So this weekend I will be raising a glass of Margaret River’s finest SSB to a spur of the moment decision that has (mostly) worked out. Cheers!

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