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It’s six months since I left Australia – though Australia hasn’t left me, and probably won’t. Haven’t written any entries since Dubai. Too shellshocked by hemispheric upheaval/new job/old house full of other people’s debris/living out of suitcases for two months then blocked in by boxes when everything arrived in Leeds. But it’s probably time to wrap up this blog. I wanted to share the experiences – good and bad – of relocating across the planet when not in first flush of youth.

The following are notes on returning to previous location but not previous life (The Shock of the Old?). Some are captured before Brexit vote, some after (e.g. What have I DONE???).

  • I’m driving up the M1 in my hired car and I can’t remember the speed limit.
  • Got lost twice today in Leeds visiting old friend – roads are familiar so I stay on them, but expected roundabouts fail to materialise.
  • After some years of ‘fancy a coffee/movie/meal today?’, it’s back to ‘ are you free in a fortnight’s time?’
  • Newscasters and reporters have aged – men more than women probably because they wear less make up.
  • Nicholas Parsons is STILL on radio 4  – but I can’t remember the schedule any more, so don’t know how to avoid him.
  • All the shops are part of chains & franchises – only independent retail seen today in Leeds far was the great Jumbo records, still going
  • But Huddersfield has cool indie coffee shops (#northernteahouse) and Sowerby Bridge has good food. I go for drives and am happy to eat alone – another legacy.

Everything looks strange – my anthropological eye is now cast homewards. This is exhausting so I spend  lot of time in my hotel room, asleep.

Then I move back into my old and much missed home, but it isn’t mine. Every cupboard is full of tenants toothbrushes, discarded duvets, old cutlery.There’s a gnome in the garden. I remember another life in that house, but it is a long time ago and I seem to be haunting it. Things improve when the stuff I shipped back arrives – nice pieces from the Blue Mountains – and I start fitting the Australian and Yorkshire parts of the jigsaw together.Six months on and there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, but no rush. Things also get better when friends come to stay and I recall that home consists of people not things.

The UK I have returned to is changed – 5 years of Coalition then Tory Government – creating a particularly cruel, vindictive use of benefits system to punish the poorest and most needy.  I don’t think Australians would allow this to happen (to non-Aboriginals anyway). They still have a public sector, and trade unions. UK has voted to leave Europe, having already sold its heritage to corporate speculators and hedge fund bankers. The place is full of toxic fantasies. Back to Blighted.

But I do like the bustle, the full trains, the coffee shops at every corner, the new M&S food hall at the bottom of my road. And I like the variety of human beings that surround me, in shops, trains and – a real contrast – work. So many non-white faces at last. It’s also brilliant that London is a train ride away, Spain a short haul flight. I can pop round for tea with my dad, find my place in the family again, while I slowly reconnect with old friends, whose lives have also changed in the past five years. There have been births, deaths, divorces, moves of all kinds. Lots of catching up to do.

The main thing, though, has been getting to grips with the new job. As usual when life feels chaotic, I turn to work as my anchor. Six months on, this has been a good call – my ideas and contribution are valued and I work with several talented senior women at Huddersfield Uni. There have been some teething problems with rooms and so on but I haven’t felt gender-conscious since I got back to UK. It’s a bigger relief than I expected. Seriously, Australia, you really need to make better use of your very fine females. Even the nice guys are in the way. I miss my lovely women friends, Bernadette, Jo-Anne, Michelle, Jane….

I miss the sounds ALL the time – the kookaburra dawn chorus, possums on the roof, the magpie arpeggios. I notice every gum tree (one, rather forlorn, at the back of my Leeds house and a beauty in Spain). I corner Antipodean friends and colleagues at conferences, parties, anywhere, to talk about the place. No-one here knows or cares that much. One person sneered that Australia didn’t even have a decent mountain range; I pointed out that it was so old a land mass, they had been eroded.

But then I didn’t know how old the land was until I got there and it told me. You feel it all the time, this ancient presence, just waiting, sometimes welcoming, sometimes shrugging us off. You can feel your feet sinking in – if you want to.  I have left but not forgotten. Australia introduced me to geological time.

Now Europe looks so young, with all its pointy bits still sharp and edgy. All the workable land is worked and has been for thousands of years, unlike the vast emptiness of Australia. Took a visiting prof with a farming background over the Yorkshire moors and he could see how many farms there were occupying space that would have been one maybe two stations back home. The land here tells of lords and peasants, strip farming, inheritance law and people striving to feed themselves over millennia. It’s just a different story.

I guess that’s my conclusion – everything is altered by the experience of living in Australia. What was familiar is no longer, but then its new strangeness has a new wonder. At first I wasn’t sure about going back, it’s not something I do much. Now I can see I haven’t gone back, but forward.

 

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Started this two weeks ago, feels inadequate already, as deeper feelings about leaving Oz surface, but, for the record (and with more pix to come) …….

 

Sitting in Dubai airport cum space station, digesting the fact that, after four and half years, I no longer live in Australia. Fewer than five years, but this time has had such an impact. Will take me more time, more words to understand how much it has changed me, but here’s a first stab at what I will miss, in no particular order

Coffee – flat white here is quite different from its pale, late imitations. On a trip to New Zealand recently, I learned that NZ is home of the FW – or so they claim. The cafe at Sydney airport where I would gasp for real coffee after 30 hours of airline chemicals….  Luckily, I plan to spend time in Spain whose café con leche rules supreme.

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Sydney festivals – I didn’t make Mardi Gras, but went to Sydney Vivid several times – the best illuminated buiildings I’ve ever seen. The exuberance and playfulness seemed to sum up something very Sydney-ish. Loved the Writers Festival too, great setting on the harbour, interesting speakers, large literary crowds. Talking of harbour faves – Grilled


Barra and chips sitting looking out  at the sun setting across the Harbour. Watching La Traviata performed on a pontoon on the Harbour, with fireworks and flying foxes accompanying the arias in the dusk

 

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Australian journalism – the ABC broadcasts current affairs, investigations, media analysis and Any Questions discussion panel across prime time Monday nights. Puts BBC shoving journalism out of the way in favour of Come dancing or whatever to shame. SBS broadcasts a range of shows to engage and reflect the range of cultures in contemporary Australia – reminds me a little of early channel 4. Both channels are largely in public ownership.

Public ownership – as are the trains (about a fiver for 200 kms from regional NSW to Sydney); utilities (not all), roads, and much more. This leads to a mix of low costs and irritating obstacles (imposisble to access outside working hours). Trade unions still determine conditions for most workers. Pensions funds are obligatory and employers make substantial contributions (17% in my own experience!!)

Language – finally realised that Australians speak Tabloidese – fitting as Murdoch’s birthplace. – love the Rego/servo/arvo/doco compressions. Also everyday use of more arcane language, so that rort is a common verb for scam or fraud, as in ‘pollies rorting expenses’.

Now the big ones: living quite differently in and on the land, and making friends far from home.

I want to write something substantial about how the Australian land has changed me, so will not say much here, except that the wildness of this continent generates an inner freedom to which I have responded deeply. Two years in the Blue Mountains have given me audio memories of the Kookaburra dawn chorus. Night skies that reach down to the rooftops in regional cities. The unfamiliar language of trees, not symmetrical, not shapely, the magnificent scruffy gum trees that scent the world. The light, shooting everything in HD, each leaf visible across distances.

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People

Nothing is impossible but it seems unlikely I will work again with such a creative bunch of colleagues – the location of my discipline (public or organisational communication) in a creative rather than business school meant I shared corridors with performers, writers and directors. People interested in bodies as well as brains, like the lovely Dan Aubin,  handstanding past my office door, an image that sums up SCCI at its best (pic to follow).

 

Last night in my Blue Mountains home – the owners want to sell so there’s a rather brutal 90-day notice routine. I hereby vow to talk to my tenants in Leeds before issuing any eviction orders. As a result, I’m moving at the end of a killing teaching session, completely exhausted by the technical and administrative demands of a 250-student subject with complex teaching arrangements, on campus and online, multiple staff and loads of new technology.  Too old for this lark.

Feels like a series of endings heading my way: having to leave has thrown ‘what am I doing here?’ back into sharp relief. A few weeks ago, a really nasty crash into leaping kangaroos on a mountain bend in the dark killed the roo, did nearly $10k of damage to the car and disrupted the well being I had enjoyed here until then. Impossible not to reflect that the kangaroo was just being itself; it’s the road that’s the intrusion. So the move closer to work will at least leave roos one car freer to roam at peace.

And while I already feel the loss of the dawn across the ridge, watching the sun, moon and stars from my beautiful brass bed, it was very helpful to learn from a friend that Aboriginal people never lived in the mountains: you go there to heal not stay. Time to move on.

Naturally, I’m writing this instead of packing. I tend to rely on magic – or my sister – to complete a move. After days and days of putting things in boxes, the removal van always arrives to a place that shows no sign of departure. Just a bit messier than usual. So heartfelt thanks to friends who came to the rescue in the week and just got on with the tasks that paralysed me.

Somehow, by this time tomorrow most of my stuff will be back in Bathurst – including furniture from local antique shops which I’d like to come with me wherever I go. Travelling heavy, as usual. My most loved books and prints, shipped over from UK only a year ago,  now back in boxes for who knows how long.

This was my Australian home and and I thank the trees for their fine company.

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A day on Jamie’s boat, an 1879 Dutch sailing barge, with dad, Kate, Jamie’s partner, Cathy, and dogs Spanner and Frankie.imageimageimageimageimage

Walking through Mayfair on a warm afternoon. I was here in 68. image

matisse at Tate Modern imageimage

Lunch with Leah.  imageimage

The drivers seat on the DLR.imageimage

Flynn’s parkour palace down at old East India docks, a part of London that feels like Brazil, but has a tiny pocket of community on Trinity Buoy Wharf.  imageimageimageimage

I moved out of London in 1993, first on an experimental basis, to do an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, then permanently, a year later,  to take up a position at the university of Central Lancashire. So I’ve been a visitor to my home town for the past 21 years. But until moving to Australia in 2011, such visits to family and friend were pretty regular, only a few hours drive or train journey.

Now it’s an annual event and I’m finding that place has usurped chronology in my personal story-telling. Having been struck by the Indigenous emphasis on land not time as the main unifying narrative, a recent trip to London has illustrated how this works for me.  Every bus journey takes me through a jumble of pasts: that supermarket was the swimming pool where I learned to swim; I kissed a boy there, broke my heart here; saw Hendrix there; got drunk, got sober, worked, organised, lived, here, there, then.

None of my memories of Australia are more than two and half years old; London is scored through four decades.

Watching cop shows on the ABC here, I know from the colour of the house bricks exactly where the body is buried; can still tell north from south London accents (and loved it when the recorded announcement at Waterloo, in contrast to the usual posh advice to mind the gap, told us the next platform was dahn the escalators). This knowledge carries a poignancy, as it’s quite redundant in a new country. Who cares?

Then, walking through Regent’s Park with a friend one summer evening last week, describing the loss of this personal history, she laughed and said ‘how liberating’ and I realised she was right. I see people living in mausoleums to their own histories, defined by what they’ve been, not what they are. (And I am not immune to this – with 5 boxes of memorabilia in transit as I write.) I need to go home at least once a year to be with people who know me in the way only family and ancient friends can know you (my father recalled a childhood scene at the (long gone) Primrose Hill swings where my oppressed little sister surrendered her place to me& waited her turn –  only to be grandly informed  that ‘we don’t do turns any more’ ).

But it’s rather marvellous to come back to somewhere that tastes of the future.

 

Just watched my first Australian election night coverage. Major differences from UK – including compulsory voting, elected upper house, a complicated form of proportional representation and no returning officers in town halls – but remarkably familiar array of vacuous clichés from highly groomed people who don’t seem to stand for anything. New lot offer to protect one of the wealthiest and least populated countries on the planet from the Terror of asylum seekers and plan to start mining the Barrier Reef asap. Sigh.

None of it my fault of course as I don’t have a vote. I do have Permanent Residency however, granted last month, which allows me to stay with the full range of civil rights, bar voting. This change of status fed into a range of conversations in London, Barcelona, Chicago and Point Reyes over recent months: I have been in Australia for nearly two years but my ‘real’ life has stayed in Leeds and London, where my friends, family and home are. The main focus has been on my job, understanding the organisation, my colleagues and the challenges faced by Australian higher education. But I’ve been wondering if its OK to have so much of my energy tied up in work – should I change something or accept this as an opportunity to write the papers and books that are bubbling up? I would think wistfully of my warm kitchen, friends sitting at the table, something made with lentils in the oven,  sigh and return to my companion iPad. Hmm. Then one conversation shifted everything and I realised I don’t have to be mildly miserable all the time and that I can have fun here without that constituting an act of betrayal against friends or family or even my Leeds home. Some part of me was behaving as if too bereaved by loss to engage in the present let alone the future. I wonder if this is common among people leaving the familiar for the unknown? Or just older single people doing likewise? This blog was always intended to explore such stuff so it seems right to record it.

Anyway, came back from conference travels to Europe and US with a willingness to embrace what Australia has to offer (this was before the election of course). And bugger me if the most beautiful house didn’t come on the rental market within a week of my return. Looking at these pictures (See link below), it was as if I already lived there. My books are on the shelves and – look – those are lentils simmering on the stove. Met the owner, a delightful woman who clearly loves the place, the following week and we could both see the match – same sort of age, same taste, both writers. She was as happy to find a tenant so clearly besotted with it as I was to realise I really can live there with the kangaroos and possums and parrots and gum trees. Just have to work out if I can finish the MS for Routledge before I move or if that’s impossible. Can’t wait to have friends round, planning a house-warming, hoping people will stay over on the way to or from Sydney and following the FB post, expecting many more visitors. A new start in my new home.

New home in the Blue Mountains

Reeling from the weirdest jet lag ever (18 hrs asleep, 18 hrs awake) seems like as good as time as any to reflect on travels to Istanbul, London and Leeds. Don’t know if this is meaningful for anyone else, but if you’re even thinking of relocating, esp. if not in first flush of youth, then maybe these experiences are informative… Anyway, it’s been a brilliant couple of weeks. Professionally, an enjoyable and useful European PR conference in Istanbul, with plenty of papers in my field of professionalism and a couple on ethics, as well as interesting discussions with fellow academics around the world on trends and issues in the field. My presentation was well received and I picked up a really useful methodology for future research, so good trip. Plus Istanbul is a marvellous  city, made me want to be a 20 year old arts student on a course there; something about the chaos and noise and old and new, Europe and Asia, Byzantine ruins and bike repair shops. I love cities, the way everything crashes together , past and present. Definitely worth a longer look later. Photos show bits of book Bazaar, tea stalls, roof tops and dawn over the Bosphorous.

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Also managed to spend a few days in London and a few in Leeds, catching up with family and friends. Somewhat full-on with many meetings and a tight schedule – next time I’ll take more leave and move at a more leisurely pace. Managed to meet a new baby and say hi to old friends, which felt important however brief – a way of renewing ties, stating the commitment to friendship whatever the distance. I notice few friends ring or email me but I think that’s a bit like when a friend starts a new relationship and everyone assumes they’re too busy for chats. Not true in my case, but that’s OK. What I felt very powerfully is that I do have a continuing existence in their lives, as they do in mine. It was really, well, nutritional, to feel so valued. It was also very reassuring that my UK life is still there at the other end of a plane journey, that tea with my Dad, take-away on the sofa with siblings or an afternoon in Leeds Tiled Hall, is easily arranged. It all feels much more accessible than before, which is crucial just now as I am in the middle of deciding whether to stay on for longer than the 2 year contract.

I had also been concerned that visiting my house with tenants would be weird – either it would be trashed or I’d have lost my connection to it, but neither was true. The place is scruffy, with three PhD students’ mess, but feels really lived in and the guy I met said what a great home it was, not just a house. So again, if I am away for longer, I sense the house will be fine and it’ll still be there when it’s time to come home.

So, if I was worried I’d be more homesick after a visit, I was wrong – I feel much happier being here now. Also I’ve heard myself say what I like and don’t like about being in Australia and that’s helpful. I can value being in a small town as a great place to work and as a base for adventures;  I recognise that I have fallen for the high open sky and wild bird song; and that whatever the ups and downs, I feel very alive.