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Posts Tagged ‘emigration’

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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I always knew I would inherit my dad’s piano. A dark wood Knight K10 upright, it had been part of my family for as long as I could remember. Only my dad and I had ever shown interest in playing it; only my dad ever showed any talent.

I did inherit the piano, prematurely. My parents had moved to a small, modern semi-detached house, where the thin walls made my dad scared of playing loudly, even although the neighbours never complained. He bought an electric one and a set of headphones, and soon was entertaining only himself with Greig’s Piano Concerto and other great works perfected over 40 years of practice. The ‘real’ piano became an attractive, if redundant, piece of lounge furniture.

So when I moved to a large house in Bristol with a wall seemingly created for my inheritance – out of direct sunlight, and not attached to the neighbouring homes – a van was arranged and the piano duly delivered.

But then the move to Australia came up. ‘What will you do with the piano?’ was one of the first questions my parents asked. I assumed it would come with us, and it did. Packed into a wooden box, it travelled to the other side of the world, where it found a new wall seemingly created for it in our rental home. During a coffee break, one of the removal guys made it sound better than I could ever imagine. The piano was home.

But then we found the apartment. Once again, ‘What will you do with the piano?’ was asked. It’ll be fine, I said. I’ll stick cushions down the back and play quietly. Look, there’s a space for it by the door. I’ll order these ridiculously expensive castor cups from Germany which people who have Steinway grands in their New York (or indeed, Seattle) apartments use to stop the noise travelling to the flat below.

But in reality, the piano wasn’t a great fit for the space in the hall. While convenient for laying car keys on, it stuck out just a little too much. The stool had to be kept to the side, and ‘playing it quietly’ turned out to be harder than I thought. The castor cups never arrived and I felt uncomfortable inflicting my Grade 1 battering on my neighbours. I bought an electric one, just like my dad’s, with headphones, and every time I walked past the real one I thought guiltily of my husband’s face when I had insisted on bringing my ‘inheritance’ halfway round the world.

So the decision was taken – it had to move. The only logical place was a spare wall in the study, round two corners and down a corridor from its original position. It’s only a few metres, but it took hours. The castors have never been brilliant (so my dad told me afterwards) and we ended up having to shunt it along, sliding it along off-cuts of carpet to protect the floor.

With no burly pals we could call on to help us, it fell to my other half to do the heavy work and manoeuvre it round the urban living equivalent of a hairpin bend. At one point it just wasn’t budging; stuck in the corridor between our living and sleeping areas it simply refused to move, no matter which way we pushed or pulled. But finally we – or more accurately my husband – did it. We got it round the corners and into the study.

And that is where it’s staying. If I ever decide to sell it, the buyer will be responsible for getting it out, but I like to think one day we may end up living in a house again, one with a perfect piano wall.

For now, I’m concentrating on learning to play (on my electric one), in the hope that improving my playing ability will make up for the expense and the trauma this beautiful instrument has caused since I’ve owned it. I’ll never be a virtuoso, or even average, but it’s not just about talent. It’s about the appreciation of classical music I was so lucky to have been given as a child. It’s about the challenge of trying to learn something that is actually bloody difficult – even if that something is only a simplified version of a Scott Joplin tune. And yes, it’s about the regret I feel at not having had the patience as a teenager to stick at the lessons, but also about the pleasure of knowing that even when I’m too old to cycle and kayak and dance, I’ll still have the piano.

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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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I’ve written here before about the difficulties of making friends in a new town, so an article in The Guardian caught my eye this week.

Apparently, in the US you can now rent friends by the hour. Of course in Japan, where you can buy almost anything, rentable friends are nothing new. According to this story, there are 10 rent-a-friend agencies there (although you are yet to be able to get them from vending machines). And elsewhere in the world, even ‘relatives’ are available by the hour.

I suspect most of us would say we were horrified by the idea of renting a pal for the day. But the truth is, a new city can be a very, very lonely place. Even if you have a partner, or friendly work colleagues, the desire to talk to someone else can be quite overwhelming. And when everyone else in the office is chatting about their exciting plans for the weekend, and you know you’re going home to a bottle of sauvignon blanc and yet another re-run of Back to the Future on the TV, it can make you rather depressed – even when a bottle of Marlborough’s finest and Michael J Fox on a skateboard is your idea of the perfect evening’s entertainment.

So this is a plea to anyone who meets a newcomer to their town/city/country: invite them out for a drink/coffee/lunch. Yes, I know you’re busy and that frankly, you’ve got enough friends already, and that you don’t need some homesick billy no-mates hanging on your coat-tails.

But here’s the thing. It’s only an hour. Half an hour, even. And in that short time, the newbie will have been introduced to a new bar/cafe/restaurant where they can go when they eventually make some ‘proper’ friends, and it’s long enough for them to learn a bit about their new home that only an insider like you could tell them. They’ll feel warmer towards their new town, knowing there are people who are making an effort to make them feel welcome.

They’re unlikely to start stalking you (particularly if they’re British; it’s hard enough for us to chat to someone at the bus stop, never mind plot a campaign to get into someone’s life). In fact, they might not even LIKE you, and will spend the rest of their time in your city hoping they don’t bump into you in the supermarket.

Truly, the worst thing that could happen is that you go out, decide you’ve not got much in common and leave it at that. And unless you’ve signed up to one of the aforementioned agencies, you won’t get paid. But you’ll have done the right thing, by your hometown (which I bet prides itself on its friendliness – most places do) and by society. You might even enjoy yourself.

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On paper, the road rules in WA are not so different to in the UK. They’re so similar that if you hold a UK driving licence, you don’t have to sit another test to qualify for a WA one – you just take a quick eye test, do some paperwork, pay your money and the licence is yours.

But on the freeway in rush hour, I’ve found myself wishing some extra lessons had been compulsory – although I can’t see any reputable instructor actually teaching you to drive like the average West Australian.

There is little, if any, lane discipline. On the freeways, according to the Government’s Drivesafe booklet, you’re not supposed to drive in the right-hand lane except in special circumstances. In reality, however, everyone drives at whatever speed they like in whatever lane. So you have to expect to be overtaken and undertaken, and don’t be surprised if someone swerves across three lanes at the last minute to get onto a slip road.

If you leave a safe gap between you and the car in front, it will immediately be filled by someone who can’t understand why you’re not driving close enough to hang onto the other vehicle’s towbar. And indicating is too often an afterthought.

All this would be fine if we weren’t all driving around in lethal weapons. In 2009, 193 people died in 178 separate crashes in Western Australia. In the first month of 2010, 12 people died in road smashes.

And if I ever needed another argument in favour of high-density living, it would be the number of incidents involving vehicles ploughing into houses. At least living three floors up in my city apartment, I’m unlikely to find a car smashed through my lounge window, unlike this family in Cannington, the Lord Mayor’s parents in Churchlands, or this household in Beaconsfield.

Sometimes there’s a variation on the theme. In Scarborough, a car ended up in a family’s swimming pool, while only last week a car smashed through the window of a restaurant in the city, narrowly missing a young girl having lunch with her dad.

In this sprawling, car-centric city, too often there’s no option but to drive, so I’ve had to get used to it. And on the upside, it made choosing which car to buy much easier – the one with the most airbags.

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Thanks to http://socialhoneycomb.com/So I’m in Australia. I have a permanent visa. I have a job I like. I am about to move into a rather nice apartment, where I hope to stay for several years. So it’s probably about time I made some friends.

Perth is a friendly city – it’s one of the reasons I wanted to move here. I’ve had more conversations with random strangers on buses here than in my whole life in the UK. But I’m a married woman in her late(ish) 30s, with no children and a tendency to pretend I’m 10 years younger – which apparently means I am not a mate-magnet.

Child-free – so no chance of me meeting other mums in the playground. Too irresponsible (and neurotic about hygiene) to have a dog – so no chats with other pet owners in the park. A husband – so people tend to assume your evenings and weekends are already booked up. And while Perthites are friendly, at the end of the day most people drive home to their detached houses and do their own thing. Distances between suburbs are huge and there isn’t a focus on the city centre like there is in most places, so people socialise in a variety of suburbs.

I do actually have a semblance of a social life that occasionally involves people other than my husband. I made one good friend within weeks of arriving, and although she’s now gone overseas, she’s left behind a few nice people who I’m now getting to know. But I am conscious of the need to widen my circle of friends. Oddly enough, those few nice people are all immigrants to Perth, or have lived overseas at some point, and who knows? They could decide to try another city or country at any time. Besides, I want to meet some locals, who can show me parts of Perth I might not discover on my own.

In the chaos of moving, finding friends was not a particular priority. As new arrivals, my husband and I did get a few, very welcome, invitations. Nearly eight months in, we are expected to be finding our own way.

I know the best way to meet people is to join a group doing something you’re interested in. It worked for me in Bristol. Practically all my friends there I met through dance. It’s not been so successful here. I’ve tried a couple of dance classes. Hip hop was full of REALLY young people wondering who the old bird was; tap, while providing the requisite number of kooky, verging-on-middle-aged women (hair in bunches – CHECK; wacky socks – CHECK), didn’t offer enough opportunities for interaction with the rest of the group…and frankly I didn’t enjoy the class much, which didn’t help.

Here I am doing a lot of cycling – but most cycling groups take it a lot more seriously than I do. It’s a similar story with kayaking, or to more accurately describe what I do, drifting around on the river trying to remember which way to paddle to turn round. Pilates is doing wonders for my flexibility, but so far zero for friendships. Websites directed at new immigrants organise meet-ups, but they don’t appeal – I’m desperate to integrate and while it can be comforting to speak to others in a similar situation, I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing in the long run.

So I’m now looking for something else that will bring me into contact with like-minded people. A cause for which I can volunteer, or a course I can do. What really appeals is something that is focussed on making Perth the groovy state capital it deserves to be, but a trawl of t’interweb hasn’t thrown anything up just yet. I found out about PERTHour too late for this time, although I hope to make it to the next.

And I’ve just got to be careful not to appear too desperate – as one of my (old, UK-based) friends pointed out, there’s always the risk you’ll ring someone in another office to get a piece of information and before you’ve hung up you’ve invited them round to dinner and to stay for the weekend.

So if anyone has any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them.

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The internet is full of ex-pats banging on about what they miss about Britain. Indeed, importing Persil and Bisto gravy granules is something of a competitive sport here in Oz.

There are of course some things I miss about the UK.

My pining for H&M is well-documented elsewhere, and I will no doubt revisit the subject here sometime.

Following the Persil theme, I haven’t found any washing powder without optical brighteners. For now, I have to put up with the double-bleaching effect of the washing powder and then the sun hitting the washing line. I may wear less black in future (and more grey).

Dairy products have proved problematic, not because you can’t get them but because the Australian descriptions of what they are tend to be rather odd. Cheese of the non-mild variety is described here as ‘bitey’ or ‘tasty’. They’re not even very good at giving their cheese brands sensible names (I hesitate to say inoffensive names as I have a friend with the very same surname, and the presence of a popular ice cream known as a Golden Gaytime suggests Australians are not too concerned about what connotations their brands have).

My famous lemon and lime cheesecake has suffered due to a lack of double cream. I am sure it is available – there are too many overweight Australians for it not to be – but it will be called something so utterly unrelated that I fear I will never find it. I think it’s a conspiracy to make me eat Tim Tams instead.

And prawn cocktail crisps just don’t exist here (outside the Harry Enfield ‘I saw you coming’-style shops for ex-pats), despite the huge quantity of real prawns consumed. Which leads me to think that there may not be any real prawn in prawn cocktail crisps.

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