Posts Tagged ‘weather’

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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Some years ago, my husband and I bought a brand new house on a modern housing estate in Lancashire. He had been transferred to an office in Manchester, more than an hour away in rush-hour traffic; the long daily commute necessitated a low-maintenance home near the motorway.

At first the house seemed great. Yes, we missed the character of our previous home – a turn of the century terrace – but the new one was so much bigger and easier to look after. There were no draughty floorboards to trap the dust or walls covered in 1970s woodchip to strip, then glue back together with Polyfilla. Friends and relatives envied the tranquility of the estate, which was occupied largely by very nice young families.

But after a year, we had had enough of the easy life. The distance from any kind of activity began to grate. Our featureless home was boring, and we felt cut off from the real world. We sold up and ploughed our money into a magnificent but dilapidated sandstone villa in an old and much more lively part of town. Not long after we took our search for the perfect city life to Bristol, a bustling, vibrant cacophony of a place.

I now realise that for me, Perth is the Australian equivalent of that modern housing estate. It’s modern, clean and shiny, safe and unthreatening, and for many people, the ideal place to live.

I’m trying my best to love it, I really am. I take advantage of what it offers. I have bought a kayak. I cycle to work. I go to open air concerts and use public barbeques. I’ve met some truly lovely people who I hope I will be friends with for a long, long time and I love my job. I don’t regret moving here for a second.

But the truth is, I miss the chaos that results when you put too many people into too small a space. I miss old buildings that are a bit shabby round the edges. I love Perth’s climate, but I miss real weather. I miss being able to go out for a meal at 10pm and shop seven days a week, including the evenings, if I want to. I worry that Perth’s isolation increases intolerance and find that my political and ethical frameworks are challenged all the time, be it by newspaper articles like this or the rampant desire for stuff displayed by so many people whose main aspiration seems to be to own a McMansion with multiple cars in the garage and a massive TV in every underused room.

I’ve always felt like this, but I’ve largely managed to suppress it until I visited Sydney last week. I don’t think Sydney is the perfect city by any means, something even the people who already live there seem to acknowledge. Maybe it’s the fact everything in Sydney is a bit older, that there’s less money around to clean it up or that the humidity simply makes the dust stick, but the city is undeniably grimy in places. The public transport system is, frankly, a bit of a mess. The traffic is a nightmare, and I suspect I would abandon the idea of commuting on two wheels if I lived there, despite the council’s efforts to make it a bike-friendly city.

But the trip was enough to start me thinking about whether Perth is the right place for me to be in the long term.

Maybe the car stickers that are all-too-common in Perth are right: I should love it or leave it. Only time will tell which it will be.

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