Saturday, August 24, 2002

It's funny you know this my ongoing relationship with England and all things English. I spent years living in Australia reaching out to touch anything that would bring me closer to this place, anything that would make me feel like I was somehow *there*. The dream to live here seemed to run perpetually in the background of my life and I grabbed anything to make it a reality.

I listened to British music, I watched anything that gave me even a glimpse of London and hung on every word uttered by my English accented friends. I sat on the floor of Borders in Chapel Street reading copies of British magazines [but honestly, who in their right mind would fork out $17 a pop for 200 pages of ads?!] and I even browsed the shelves in Coles that carried 'English' food. All of this was all supposed to make me *feel* like I was closer to living out my dream of finally ending up in England. And for a while it worked.

Eventually I got there. I made it. I lived and worked in London for 2 weeks short of a year. My office window overlooked St Paul's, I worked 2 minutes from the mighty Thames and the walk to my train station in the morning gave me a glimpse of the doomed Millenium dome. I rode the tube, I visited every landmark that had etched itself onto my psyche over the years and I even learned to moan about the weather. I'm here.

But why do I now find myself reaching back to Australia? Why do I find myself aching to catch a glimpse of the Yarra? Why do I yearn to hear an Australian newsreader? [I confess that even the Telstra lady will do sometimes.] I'm reaching back and I don't know why. Am I one of these people who can't be happy in one place. Am I an eternal 'grass is greener' person? Am I not happy? Do I want to be in Melbourne again?

I've thought about all these questions and the answer to most is no. What I realise is that over the distance and through the time I've spent here in the land of my dreams I have been able to view my own land through the same eyes I used to view England. But now I have the benefit of knowing what I reach back for. And along with the familiarity and safety it affords me I am finally seeing the elements about my life in Australia that I can now value and appreciate.

I was so bored in the last 2 years before I left Melbourne, I knew everything and everyone. I knew what cafe made the best coffee, I knew where to get the best sandwhich and who would give me credit on either when it got to the week before that elusive payday. I needed a challenge. And England has been a challenge - a great challenge in every sense of the word.

So I am relieved that I am not ready to up and leave now. Aside from that being an impossibility, unless I wish to resume our long distance relationship!, I know now it is not what I want. Of course I need to be a bit Australian at time, I need to hear an Aussie accent and hear somebody else say 'bugger!' and not 'bollocks' and to spread vegemite on my toast. I need a glimpse of Melbourne's skyline and if 'Halifax fp' gives me that fix, so be it. I like the feeling of melancholy homesickness I get when I listen to Tim Freedman's voice as he sings about my home and I enjoy watching 'Rex Hunt' on the Discovery channel when I get that way. All of this I now know is par for the course. I am Australian, I am living in England and sometimes I feel lonely. Not lonely for people - just lonely for my country. But she will always be there and this makes me happy.

I know that when I eventually return to Melbourne I'll take with me a wealth of experience, some amazing memories, hopefully some wisdom and Ian. I will see my city through new eyes - the eyes of my mate who will experience probably all that I experienced as I have made the land of my dreams, my home.

C x
Here's some more writing I did when I first arrived in London. Ahh, the innocence of my lost Australia sensibilities to the wildness of life in London ...

To an outsider, supermarkets in Britain can be a little daunting both in size and content.

Now I'm no stranger to the 'Supa' Supermarket. I mean one only has to visit a Coles or Safeway in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne to understand that phenomenon. However, when it comes to the British supermarket I have found I've had to draw on my reserves of quick wittedness...

To begin, when I first walked into a full sized Tesco [as opposed to a Tesco Express]everything was different - there was hardly a brand on the shelves that I recognised. In the early days I found myself buying extra tubes of Colgate toothpaste simply cause it was a brand I knew and possessing them somehow brought me an odd sense of comfort. Undoubtedly the most disturbing aisle was the one full of biscuits. McVities seemed to have a monopoly in the dunking business and there was not a Tim Tam or Teddy Bear biscuit in sight.

Imagine my dismay when after weeks of trawling I couldn't even find a close substitute for the humble Scotch Finger biscuit. Things were not looking good. I experimented with all sorts of cruel imitations but nothing satisfied and alas, nothing came close. But as the months went by I have found that those quaint shaped biscuits have since become my friends and I'm now a firm fan of McVities digestives. There is nothing like a couple of rounds with a hot cup of PG Tips at the end of a nice meal.

Sorry, I stray.

I find that the supermarket is an odd beast. It can be soothingly therapeutic in the times when chaos rules my world. To aimlessly wander down those neatly stacked aisles brings an inexplicable order to my whirling mind. And then, in those moments when time is of the essence I silently curse the fluorescent wasteland as I crash my way around desperately seeking egg noodles.

Now, as much as I've grown to love the Tesco & Sainsburys experience the one thing that turns me into that tourist again is the checkout counter. Both supermarket chains have a lovely ambience, wonderfully ordered shelves and clear signage but I fear the one thing they lack is service at the check out.
I know I go on about the British Service Industry but read on before you cast me into the Bloody Australian Basket.

At home Supermarkets offer what I would describe as a 'well rounded' service.

That is, you are expected to push the trolley around the aisles, pick the items from the shelves, place them in the cart. Then, when you are done wandering, you take your purchases to the row of numbered cash registers manned by smiling assistants who watch you place your items on the sensitised surface that moves your goods over to their reach. Now this, dear readers, is where your job ends and their job starts. They then take over the task and after scanning each item, they place said items into those ecologically unfriendly plastic bags.

Now in their mind this task is not a random event. These people are trained in the art of shoppingbagpacking - and by God they know their stuff. They know not to place that bag of sliced bread underneath those cans of tomatoes. They also understand that the dozen eggs you so carefully carted to the check-out go into a shopping bag all by themselves! Listen to me people - this is a specialised field of endeavour - it was never, ever intended to be undertaken by the masses! Why then does a country so advanced in so many ways leave such important handling to plebs like you and me??

Not only do we pack wrong - but as soon as the first bottle of still water is scanned the race is on.

You grab that bottle in one hand whilst madly groping the slippery supply of shopping bags with the other at the same time you watch in horror as item after item is slides towards you in a torrent of shopping that you can't stop 'cause that check out chick moves like lightning and then the time comes to pay but your shopping has slid faster than you pack and has quietly piled up at the end of the counter and the plastic flies as you desperately dig around your enormous bag for your purse and she's waiting - oh yes, she's waiting and the line of shoppers is growing and you fight the rising panic as you realise that there is no way you are going to achieve the perfect pack and pay at the same time and you look around wildly for someone to rescue from the madness that is packing your own shopping!!


Reading: Can't decide.
Listening to: 'Daybreaker', Beth Orton [trying to listen to] 'Everything Everything', Underworld. [Ian hates them but I love then – and going to see them live in November – whoohoo!]

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Another age has passed since I last wrote. Again, I've written loads in my head but given none of it substance. *sigh*

I need to write this down before I forget. What is it about slugs in England?! Now I come from the land of big bugs, spiders and assorted multi-legged things but there is nothing like your typical English slug. They come out after dark and slime their way across your garden path and can occasionally be found on your lawn. I know this because I have had the misfortune to actually step on one in bare feet and lived to tell the tale. Both me and the slug – I hope. Disgusting. I've even seen one bigger than your dad's thumb! Eeewww!

A few things have transpired since I last reported. The weather has improved again which is good for my soul. And my sanity. Last Friday night we had dinner at home then got dressed up and wandered down the road to Pleasure [our local bar/cafe/hangout] and shared a bottle of lovely red wine and a shot of Goldshnappes. To say we got terribly drunk is an understatement. So I won’t. We sat outside on the window ledge as it was far to warm and smoky inside and simply watched the world go by - well, given the bar faces the busiest bus route in Europe we actually watched the world go by in an assortment of double decker buses. It was great. However on our way down we were lucky enough to time it so we got to watch the fireworks the Games Committee put on to end the party they threw for the 10,000 or so volunteers in Platt Fields. We stood in the middle of the road open mouthed as the sky was lit up by thousands of tiny coloured explosions. It was a little bit magic.

Saturday we walked down to Fletcher Moss Park in order to get some exercise but it was such a hot, sunny day it was nothing like exercise. Well a little bit like it. We wandered through Didsbury, in and out of shops then found a park bench and read the paper. A nice loungy afternoon which was rather spoilt when Mark called to tell us the 2 missing girls' bodies had been found and it was now being treated as a murder case. Quite distressing but one can't ever imagine what it must be like to be family in situations like this. I said a little prayer for them.

Mark ended up coming over for dinner and for the first time since my birthday BBQ in May we ate al fresco! I dragged the table, chairs and slate tile placemats [don't ask] outside and set the table, lit some candles and tried to make lentil bolognese look special. It was a great night and as darkness fell and the sun made pink criss crosses out of the vapour trails we lit some lanterns and talked ourselves through 2 bottles of wine and too much food. What a great way to spend an evening.

I'm looking forward to Barcelona in November and I'm pleased to report we've booked a hotel right off the Ramblas in a quite little part of town. I like that - close enough to the action but quiet enough that it feels far from the noise and hoards. I'm making a little list of things I want to do, see [and buy!] this time around and I'm hoping the weather is still nice.

I've had some great chats with my girlfriends in the last couple of days. My friend Sharia who has been in Amsterdam with her lovely bloke Ian is moving back to Australia soon and I'm going to miss her loads. Not that I see much of her really but having her in the same time zone makes me feel like I've got an expatriate in arms and I almost feel like I'm being left behind. I know this is not the case but given my recent case of homesickness I'm feeling her leaving a little more acutely. We had a great chat last night - the last one as neighbours - and I felt good when I hung up the phone. I'll miss her.

My beautiful friend and soul buddy Helen called me over the weekend and we talked for what seemed like hours. What? It was hours. Oh. It was so nice to hear her voice and just share some of what has been on my heart and in my head and to hear of her life down in Melbourne town. I miss our lunchtime excursions to various eateries in Melbourne and I especially miss our $4 'lunch' - a 'flavour sensation' from DJ's food hall. Can't wait to share one when I'm back in March Helen - how about it?

I might just post this entry to get it off the screen and think about things a bit more. I'll post some more thoughts again soon.

Oh, I discovered to my delight and horror that I can text both my brother and Helen for a mere 25p a pop! I know, I know ...


Listening to: 'Best of Blondie', Blondie / 'Torch the Moon', The Whitlams / 'Chilled Sessions Vol 2', Ministry of Sound / 'Daybreaker' - Beth Orton
Reading: 'Tales of the City', Armistead Maupin [can't put it down!]

Thursday, August 01, 2002

I’ve not updated this for ages. I’ve just checked when I last blogged and it was nearly 3 weeks ago. Very slack indeed. Sorry. I’ve written so much in my head but can not seem to find the motivation to write it down. I don’t know why I’m like that. A friend suggested I should carry around a Dictaphone to record thoughts etc. but I have enough in my bag as it is and to add another bulky item would be the end of me.

So much has happened. Too much to pick through in this entry so I’ll encapsulate a little of the last fortnight here and maybe add other stuff later.

Centre stage I suppose are the Commonwealth Games which arrived in Manchester last week. It has been a blast! I love what the Games have done to Manchester – the city is alive and buzzing and the streets are full of people carrying AtoZ’s and looking perplexed. Can’t tell you how many folk I’ve directed through the labyrinth that is Manchester’s wonderful city centre.

Ian and I have been to the Athletics twice now – on Saturday morning and again on Tuesday night. We got a great tan on Saturday after the sun broke through the grey covering and then drenched as the heavens opened in response on Tuesday afternoon. It was brilliant to be right in the centre of what we knew was a point on the planet millions of people where watching. Some fantastic highlights and the odd tussle as Ian and I got behind our countrymen who, of course, come from different countries!

At the same time it seems when events like this come along I find myself feeling a kind of homesickness that is unique to me here and now. The same thing happened during the Sydney Olympics when I had only been living in London a few months and I was totally unprepared for what I felt. If you have never watched a major event like this from a country other than your own you may not understand but those of you who have will know the frustration an event like this can thrown you into. Without making this one huge whinge about the BBC’s coverage [which is exceptional I have to say] it is an experience I will be happy to see end.

I suppose I’m homesick most of the time in one way or another but it seems to hum along in the background of my life unnoticed. I have settled here really well and I love living in England. I love the people, the place, the culture and the million tiny details that amount to a completely different existence to the life I had in Australia. It is an amazing experience that I know many would love to have had, so I will try to highlight the positives while expressing my recent frustration.

Just before the Games began Ian and I watched a ‘Lonely Planet’ program on Sydney. The camera panned over the locals enjoying a meal cooked on the outdoor barbies by the beach, the sun was shining in that huge Australian sky and I suddenly felt a huge pang and longing for my homeland that took me completely by surprise. I can’t excuse it away or try and make it seem less real that it was. The veracity is I love my country and the lifestyle it affords and there are days when I miss it acutely.

I knew, before I even left Melbourne two and a half years ago, that I could not live away from Australia for too long. I am who I am because of where and how I grew up. I love Australia, I love the people, I love the feel of the sun on my skin, I love being able to drive to the beach in any season and stand before that amazing expanse of water and be infused with a sense of location and space that it brings my soul to order. There is nothing else like that for me and there are times when I find myself physically longing it.

When the Games began in Manchester I noticed there were more Australians around than usual which added somewhat to my pining. Also, we live just past the athlete’s village and a few times I got off the bus so I could walk past it in the hope that by being that close to other Australians it was assauge my angst. Sadly it only made me feel further away and more far removed. We then watched started watching the Games on telly via the BBC. Wonderful coverage but as any Australian in the UK or any Brit in Australia will know – it is bloody frustrating to try to find out how your athletes are doing when the coverage focuses on its own for the most part. I can’t complain cause I am a visitor here and I have to expect that the people watching here only want to know how their athletes are doing – but nevertheless, I find it hard and I need to say so. Without taking away from anything British at all I simply have to express how I feel.

This has been the added difficulty I suppose for the underlying yearning for home that I live quite happily with seems to rise to the fore and I find I get cynical and bitter and, well, angry. In my eyes I feel my feelings are justified for I feel like I’m trying to get a glimpse of something I believe will make me feel less sad but it is like trying to watch an entire event through a small hole in a fence that is just beyond my reach, even when I am standing on tip toes. That hole in the fence is made even more unattainable when my beautiful English husband and I are both struggling to see through it at the same time as we jostle between BBC1 and BBC2 in an attempt to see our own countrymen run and swim for their, and our, respective countries. I really will be glad when this is all over.

People around me understand my feelings and for this I am eternally grateful. The jibes are playful and respectful and people expect me to be proud of my country and be a little arrogant in the process. There is much to be said for spending time living abroad in a culture not your own – most of it is brilliant, eye-opening and an extraordinary privilege. But there are certain threads in the fabric of my life right now I’d rather unpick and discard. However I think I’ll leave them there for now for I know in time the pattern they will make will be more beautiful, rich and fulfilling than I can see from the vantage point of today.

C x

Listening to: ‘Amplified Heart’, Everything But The Girl / 'Torch the Moon', The Whitlams
Reading: 'About a Boy', Nick Hornby