The hardest decision of our lives

It will change everything. I don’t know how it got to this. But now we are at a point where we have to make what feels like an impossible choice. It feels so hard because it will change the course of our lives entirely. It’s terrifying. 

A week ago our Canadian visas were approved. Our flights are booked for a month from now. One month to move our entire lives to Canada. We don’t have the money this time. There’s no going back. But if we can’t find decent income, a house, an au pair, all the stuff that goes along with settling, we fail. Who knows where we’ll end up. The kids get dragged around the world. It’s not good, not what we’d hoped for. Even if we do find enough income, we won’t save money. Which means we can’t buy a house. Which means continued instability. And even if we did eventually save the down payment, we’re getting to that age where a 25 year mortgage really isn’t viable. We’d be working far beyond normal retirement age. We’ve left everything so late. 

I actually have regrets. I really can’t believe I do but it’s true. It’s so counterproductive to have regrets too. I need a fresh start, drop all that past and just begin afresh now. 

So then we stay. We build up more savings until we have a decent ten percent deposit in 12 months. We find a place in Melbourne. We buy it. We move. We settle. We make it our own, as close to anything we could get in Canada. We stay forever and have a happy, comfortable life, casting aside our discomfort at hot summers and mediocre seasonal traditions because we’re comfortable. We don’t have to worry much about money. We cruise along and forget all about how much better it might have been as Canadians. 

Is this it? If we stay will we never achieve anything else? A Melbourne future used to be my dream for many years. And then I lost it, for the sake of a new and illogical yet idealistic dream. Can we return to the happiness we felt at the prospect of moving to Melbourne five years ago? We need to decide now, tomorrow is the final deadline. I have no answers and neither does Mr Chewbacca. This is so very hard. 

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To my extended family

I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.

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my family. none of the people in this photo are alive any more and i never met any of them. this is my great-grandparents’ wedding, taken at St Bartholemew’s somewhere in London’s East End, Boxing Day 1923

I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.

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countdown to departure, July 2007

I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.

So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.

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at Telstra Tower, Canberra, in 2013

When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.

Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.

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London. Nuff said

So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.

As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.

Pacific Ocean
I just don’t like Sydney but I must admit it was nice living across the road from this

I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.

My research interests

I’m going to write a little bit about what I’m doing at uni, purely to document what’s happening. I am obsessed with documenting personal history, so this is part of that. So if you find academic stuff a bit boring, click away now!

One of the pages of the first edition Alice I had the chance to study
 
As I have mentioned, I’m doing an MA Italian Studies and a collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. This means I’m doing six courses this term! I remember finding three or four a heavy workload, and that was during my undergraduate studies when I had no children or responsibilities. I didn’t even have a job!

Anyway, just as a bit of background, I mentioned previously what my journey to this masters program has been thus far. I went on to do a Graduate Diploma in creative/professional writing and got part way through another one in editing and publishing but it wasn’t really stimulating me so I didn’t re-enrol. I kind of wish I’d stuck that one out as maybe I’d have gotten some more editorial work. Anyway.

An illustration by Maggie Taylor from a 2008 edition of Alice
 
So upon planning to give Canada a go, and realising the easiest way to do that was for me to study, and given I’d wanted to do a masters for years, ten years actually, I set about deciding exactly what to study. Initially I planned for creative writing but I very quickly realised I didn’t have what it takes. Not only were my English marks shockingly poor during my BA, I didn’t do particularly well in my postgraduate writing studies either. I think the best word to describe my achievement level is “mediocre”. Marks in the 50s and 60s amounting to a Credit average. In addition to this, there was no way I could get the required two academic references from professors who probably didn’t know me during my study, let alone over a decade later… I found one program I could apply to using a portfolio, so I did that. I also applied to a comparative literature program, an English program, and an Italian program. I’d done well in Italian and my professors were only too happy to give me references, despite not having heard from me in about 13 years. I was a bit sneaky and asked them for references for the non-Italian programs too. I actually thought I might have a shot at the literary/writing programs and somehow they’d overlook my dodgy grades. Yeah right!

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat, original printing of first 1865 edition
 
I ended up getting into only one of the four programs I applied for, the first one I’d applied for, the one I least expected because it was the most prestigious university of the lot. UofT apparently has the largest Italian department outside of Italy! Not to mention world-class teaching staff and amazing facilities. I must admit, though, as soon as I realised I was in, I developed a lump in my throat which I swallow at various intervals but which has remained since. I didn’t feel true drive and passion for Italian. But I was excited, and knowing how well I do with languages I knew this was the right choice as it would be easier for me than something literary. Little did I know that in fact it was a literary program I’d gotten into! Just Italian literature! Uh oh… my undergrad was pretty much straight language… and no, reading “Spotty va al circo” and a bit of Italo Calvino doesn’t count!

Anyway, I was excited. I had some time to think about my research interests and I had a vague idea that they resided in two areas: a kind of editorial/textual area, which involved loving words and books and language structure; and the other is about migration and cultural identity, how we come to know where we belong and find peace with our culture. So two totally different areas. My main goal through this program is to nail down exactly what my research interests are and specialise in one area. Not as easy as it sounds for an all-rounder lazy person like me.

When I finally worked out how to enrol in courses and that I’d be doing six of them (what?!?!), I found there wasn’t a big pool to choose from. I had to choose one particular introductory course for book history, then what was described as a “pedagogical” compulsory course for Italian. The other four courses were up to me, although there was only five to choose from. I opted out of studying Pirandello, given I’d never heard of him before and the prospect of having to read an entire book in Italian freaked me out. So I ended up enrolling in one about film and perceptions of China and Italy from both camps, one about something I’d never heard of before but that I got extremely excited about (philology), one with an extraordinarily long title that had something to do with new ways that Italian language and culture is being mixed into Canada and vice versa, and the last one was about a migratory diaspora from a particular part of Italy that I’d never heard of. Very exciting but very scary given how little I knew about what I’d be doing. I felt both thrilled and terrified.

Another stunning Maggie Taylor illustration from Alice
 
So this is supposed to explain my research interests. Well, I’m halfway through the first part of the program now, and I can safely say that my interests still lie in those two areas but I think I’m leaning more towards the migrant diaspora stuff. And not necessarily Italian. I’m finding the textual stuff interesting but there is also a lot of boring stuff that seems like much ado about nothing sometimes, whereas the cultural identity stuff feels like me, I want to know more, and my personal connection to and experience with these issues means it is somewhat cathartic for me to study this stuff. There is purpose there. I absolutely adore the philology, it’s amazing, but it feels, I don’t know, kind of abstract. Like it’s great but it doesn’t relate to me enough. Gee, that sounds so self-indulgent! Oh well.

I think I want to tell stories, those of people I know, myself, but also others. I want to create connections with culture and investigate the concept of home and belonging. It’s something I’ve been looking for in my life and I daresay there are many others in the same situation with less capacity for or interest in finding the answers. So that’s where I’m at. The density of information that I’m absorbing, the sheer volume of it, is surely going to mean I’ll be clear on exactly what I want to do after this, whether it’s a PhD or something else.

Never love

It’s been about four months now since we landed in Toronto. I’m proud of how we’ve managed to pull ourselves together and make a life here. I hate that we have no money and are financially so much worse off here. I knew that would happen but somehow it’s a worse prospect now it’s actually happened. The weather is beginning to cool down, not enough really, and the amount of snow thus far has been pretty pathetic, but Torontonians assure me there is plenty of time for that and I should just be grateful for the continued lack of it for the moment.

I miss Australia desperately. I don’t remember ever missing it like this. It’s not so much because I don’t like Canada, there’s a lot to like, the weather and the nature being two of the best aspects. I like that my son has made friends and we know our neighbours. I love my uni course even though I don’t know how I will get through the amount of work I’ve got. I’m not really liking how conservative Canadians are and how they don’t seem to get saracasm and are a bit up tight, but they’re not all that way – you get different people everywhere, it’s silly to generalise. I absolutely hate the safety obsession though and I’m not overly impressed with my son’s school. The way they’re teaching, the behavioural policies, the way they relate to the children, everything is sub par. People are nice, but that doesn’t account for everything. The systems and processes and ‘the way things are done’ are all pretty lame here in Canada generally. Well, no, I can’t speak for the whole of Canada. Here in the GTA, there are a lot of crazy, convoluted, ridiculous, weird, confusing, illogical and just plain stupid ways of doing things. I come across something every day that make me pause and say, what the fuck?! So that drives me insane on a daily basis.

Autumn leaves I collected while waiting for Thumper to wake up – she fell asleep during a drive to Niagara on the Lake

My course is great, really. I kind of wish I wasn’t doing the Book History program, as, aside from it being yet more work, I’m not particularly inspired by it. I am enjoying aspects, like researching the assignments, but the reading is a little boring and the size of the class just isn’t conducive to good discussion. I find myself wondering whether it’s all much ado about nothing a lot of the time. Like seriously, who cares what database storage application you use to access your journal articles and whether it changes the way you approach your reading of those articles? Okay, well maybe some people do care about that. I don’t. On the other hand, I’ve been privileged to be able to handle some very rare books, read some interesting articles, hear about really fascinating topics, and study some wonderful primary source material. I’ve used a hand printing press and flipped through a first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I think my feelings about this course are telling me that I really don’t have a future in pure literature, like I’m not meant to do this sort of stuff.

The varsity stadium, I think they call it. The oval, sports ground, at the uni

So what is thrilling me? Well, my favourite course is philology, although there’s a lot about that which is just fun and interesting rather than something I’m actually going to pursue at the next level. I think the course that’s made me realise where my future lies is one on a particular diaspora. I am really inspired by the process of gathering the stories of exiles and emigrants, by this question of home and cultural belonging. It’s something that plagues me constantly, and probably always will, and I feel as if I have a lot to say about it and I just want to know more. So if and when I do a PhD, it will be something relating to that. I would like to do comparative literature but you need a third language for that so I’d need to learn one. Maybe German? Or would French or Spanish be easier? Because of my German blood, it would make more sense to learn that I think. But it’s a hard language. At least I don’t have a mental block about it like I do with French which drives me mad with its ridiculous pronunciation! Anyway, that’s the plan.

I got into a subway carriage that was only Star Wars ads, and lots of them!
 
But I digress. What this post is really about is what I’m feeling about staying here in Canada. Mr Chewbacca wants another year, and I do too, kind of. I can see why it would be an advantage. I feel terrible about uprooting my kids, the Dude really, as Thumper is still little. I guess no matter what he’s going to be uprooted and sent to a different school regardless. I feel like I’m working so hard and not getting enough time to enjoy life here, plus the constant worry about money and when we’ll ever settle is really getting to me. I want to go home, find a niche. But at the same time I know we still won’t have money. It’s all gone, all that we could have used to buy a house in Australia. I don’t know if I can come to terms with that just yet. I feel like we might have made a mistake. And yet, I know if we didn’t come here, we’d always have wondered.

On my side of the family, they did it, they took the plunge and moved across the world. Twice, in fact. Both sides of my family actually.  On Mr C’s side, they didn’t. There was talk of that possibility and it just never eventuated. Lots more stories to be told there. It certainly feels like history repeating itself for me, anyway.

One thing’s for sure, and I thought about this as I glanced out the window as my train approached the city: I will never love Toronto.

What is home? (Part 1)

I’ve had part of this post sitting in drafts for quite a while now, since January this year. When I hit ‘publish’, I’m making things real. I’m announcing to the world (or the one and a half people who read this blog) that yes, we are moving our family across the other side of the world. Here goes…

When I used to visit my friends in Melbourne about four or five years ago, I’d wake up in a state of pure bliss and relaxation just knowing I was here and not in smelly old Sydney. Here in Melbourne, the city I’d loved since my first visit at age 16.
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I vowed that once I was old enough I’d move there. But life happened. I finished school, went to uni, found a boyfriend, moved into a share house, got a job, a car, bought a house, broke up with my boyfriend, went overseas, came back, got married, had a baby, sold a house… and finally, the time was right. And I moved to Melbourne. And finally, finally I could make myself at home, feel settled, stop the search for home. Couldn’t I? No. It appears not.

As I mentioned previously, I don’t feel very Aussie and there’s a lot about this country that doesn’t work for me. So over the last year or two we’ve been toying with the idea of leaving Australia. The prospect scares the crap out of me, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t. But the prospect of staying in Australia is somehow more daunting.
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Let’s backtrack: about two years ago while living through yet another revolting, endless summer in the South Western suburbs of Sydney, Mr Chewbacca and I decided it was time to leave. Finally he’d come around to my way of thinking: Sydney was not for us. Not long after that, the tenants renting my house in Canberra for the past six years announced they were moving out. I had an agent go through the place and it became clear that the house was not really fit for renting out or sale without some freshening up. We decided selling was a good option as we’d never settle in Canberra and wanted to offload the house given how much work it needed. So in July 2013 we moved to Canberra for six months while we renovated and sold the house. Once that was done, we moved here to Melbourne, on Australia Day 2014.

The odd thing about all this though is that despite my desperation to move to Melbourne for so long, as soon as we made the decision to move and the wheels were in motion, we began discussions around moving away from Australia all together! When I realised just how little Australia fits us, I was so disappointed. I wished we’d come to this conclusion back in London, saved ourselves a bunch of money at least! But for some reason it didn’t work that way.
So, where to? We discussed our options at length. Staying in Australia was out: too hot, no winter, no defined seasons, southern hemisphere, cultural desert. New Zealand? No. The only thing it has going for it (for us) is breathtaking scenery and snow; we don’t identify culturally. And we still have the problem of it being in the wrong hemisphere. So back to the UK? No. That would be a step backwards. And we are used to the space now. Plus you’re not guaranteed proper winter and summer there either… Somewhere in Europe? But we don’t speak the language. Italy? Nah. I might speak the language and have a degree in it but culturally I don’t really identify. The US? I don’t think I could handle the political extremes. Plus it’s near impossible to get in as migrants. Somehow we narrowed it down to Canada. I still don’t really know how.

First we looked at what sort of migrant programs are available and discovered we don’t qualify on a skills basis. I know some people get jobs and sponsorship but that’s hard if you’re not in the know and making connections within your field. So the options were narrowed down to one really: study. I’ve been talking for years now about doing a Masters and there’s no reason why I can’t do it overseas. Why not Canada? At least if we don’t love it or it doesn’t work for some reason I’d have a Masters so would be more employable. But a Masters in what exactly? Oh dear, I think I finally need to specialise!

It has to be a creative writing MA, surely, I thought to myself in the few moments I had as we packed for our Melbourne move. But can I really do this? Do I have what it takes? Am I really cut out to be “a writer”? What if I’m total shit? Will I be laughed out of the program, told a few home truths about just how big a mountain I need to climb before my writing is good enough for a postgraduate level award? For publication? Fear of failure has caused me not to make an attempt in the past so I decided that this time I’d go for it and ignore all those little critical voices in my head. As I looked further into my options for writing masters’, I began to get excited. Some of the programs looked fantastic and I began to imagine myself as a published author, writing away in a warm study with snow outside. But then I noticed something which made my heart sink. A successful application required solid grades and great academic references, neither of which I had. My English marks were pathetic, and that’s being kind. And there’s no chance any of the tutors or lecturers would remember me after 14 years, and even if they did they wouldn’t give me a good reference as I frankly don’t deserve one. My postgrad marks weren’t much better, and that was pure creative writing. I even emailed a few faculties and asked if there was a way to get around the references, given its been so long. But they all said the same thing: apply to a program that doesn’t rely on references and grades if you haven’t got those, because ours does, deal with it. So I was at a dead end.

When I was cleaning out the shed at my old place in Canberra I came across all my notes from my uni days. I didn’t have the heart to throw out assignment after assignment with great marks and detailed comments from one of the best teachers I’ve had, my Italian teacher. I googled him, and was amazed to discover he was lecturing at a university in Melbourne! Then I looked at my academic transcript and suddenly it was a Gru moment: “Lightbulb!” My marks in Italian were good, excellent even, and given I’d received a scholarship from the Italian government I suddenly realised how good I looked on paper when it came to studying Italian. And I knew without a doubt that my Italian teacher and the departmental head would remember me and I was pretty sure they’d happily give me references.

To be continued in Part 2…

The big move

So now our big overseas trip is over, we’re planning our even bigger move to Melbourne. This kind of thing is so hard to plan, given neither of us have lived there before and we’re really on one income so Mr Chewbacca finding a job is imperative. It’s all a bit chicken and egg really. To complicate matters further, Mr C’s job might be changing a fair bit, which is a fantastic opportunity for him but might mean he needs to put in the hard yards for a while here in Sydney and build up some experience before he can apply for something in the same vein in Melbourne and expect to get a look in. We’ll find out at the end of the week what the verdict is there. In the mean time, we’ve also got a friend’s wedding in Thailand in October, and although I wasn’t totally sure about going – spending all that money, dragging the Dude to Thailand – Mr C made a very good point: this might be our last holiday for a few years, given we’re planning the big move and making a new baby later this year. Okay, so that might not all pan out, but still he has a point. Plus the wedding is going to be freaking awesome, because our friends don’t do anything by halves.

Perfection
Perfection

And then there are the bigger elements of a decision like moving to another city. It’s not just whether we’ll be happy there or not, it’s more that Melbourne is a last ditch attempt to settle in Australia. Just this morning, before work, I was watching an episode of Who Do You Think You Are (the American one, not the best) and Brooke Shields went to France to discover her royal ancestry. I watched the amazing shots of Paris, the city, the life, the history, and then the even more incredible footage where they drove out to the countryside to find the 300-year-old farm house of some ancestor, a huge stone building sitting in the middle of an exquisite forest, thick snow on the ground, grey birch trees’ delicate branches like the fingers of a ballet dancer reaching elegantly into the soft white sky. As usual, when I see footage like this, or read Soulemama‘s blog or look at some photos I took while living overseas, I felt the tears begin to well up hot behind my eyes. Nothing brings that surge of emotion into my heart like the Northern Hemisphere. I love Australia in a way, some of the landscape is stunning, and the space is just fantastic; but it doesn’t make my heart soar like a European winter. I definitely feel more at home in places where proper winter happens (ie. south east, and not Sydney). Here, the winter is, to use a typical Aussie expression, piss weak. It gets down to about 12 or so, maybe a little cooler overnight, and sometimes there’s a bit of a half-arsed frost. You need a heater and a jumper and jacket. But you don’t really need gloves and you don’t need central heating. It’s only cold for a couple of months. Canberra, at least, gets much colder, into the minuses, and frosts are common, as are frozen pipes, woolly hats and gloves, and wood fires. But it only snows regularly in the snow fields, which are a good couple of hours from Canberra in NSW and Melbourne in Victoria.

Just last night we finished watching The Sopranos, all six seasons. Both Mr C and I would sigh in almost every episode at the sight of the natural landscape shown. The trees, autumn leaves, snowy fields, black forests, bright grey skies, huge Georgian houses with rambling verandahs, attics, French windows, peaked roofs, wooden panelling, wood stoves… We both have a connection to that kind of world. A world where it snows in winter, you can get lost in a pile of leaves in autumn, and summers are spent on a big wraparound deck. This world of the northern hemisphere is nearly impossible to find here in Australia. In fact, yes, it’s not possible. You can build the house, of course, but you won’t get the weather, and even if you did get snow, it’s not ingrained in the culture here like it is over there. So our move to Melbourne will be done with a little hesitation and hope. We both wonder whether we’ll be able to settle there, and we both hope we can get some sort of resolution and feel at home. But I think both of us are a little apprehensive. The pull to the northern hemisphere is pretty strong. It’s certainly been with me my whole life, even though I was born and grew up in Australia. And for Mr C, it’s his home.

An amazing image I captured on my phone after a wintery afternoon at the Christmas Markets in Hyde Park (London) sometime near the end of 2008
An amazing image I captured on my phone after a wintery afternoon at the Christmas Markets in Hyde Park (London) sometime near the end of 2008

So that’s the consensus: if Melbourne doesn’t work, and we’ll give it a few years, as we did Sydney, it’s back to the UK for us. Something about that possibility doesn’t seem quite right either. There are some drawbacks about living over there and I always begin to think about living elsewhere in Europe, which we could do given we’ve all got British passports. And that’s when I think that home really is where the heart is so we could be happy anywhere, providing we are all together and have opportunities to make life good. I don’t want to end up regretting not following my heart in later years, but by the same token I don’t want to uproot my family and never feel settled because I didn’t really make an effort. Which is why I will be putting every bit of my heart and soul into settling in Melbourne. Now it’s just a waiting game, waiting for our mortgage to be refinanced, waiting for Mr C’s job to be sorted out, waiting  until we have the money to move. It’s been done before a million times, but I can’t help feeling like it’s the hardest thing in the world.

The quest for belonging

As I’ve mentioned here before, we’re not sure whether moving to Australia was the right choice. When we were in the UK, we had this idealistic view of Australia. I thought I wanted to go home to settle down. I couldn’t imagine how people have children in London with no space and high rent. I imagined us finding a nice big family home with plenty of space outside and bringing up kids. Mr Chewbacca, who’d been to Australia about five times previously, had this rosy picture of Aussie life: days lying on the beach, nights drinking in the pub and watching rugby. Between us, it was a foregone conclusion that we’d move back. And we were in a rush, for some strange reason. Not once did I really contemplate the idea that I might not feel very Aussie any more after having lived in the UK for a few years. Let’s face it, Aussie culture never made a lot of sense to me and I always considered myself ‘European’ before going to Europe and realising I actually did like my own country. I don’t think Mr C ever thought it would be what it has turned out to be either. Without going into details, neither of us are particularly happy here, for a variety of reasons.  We’ll be giving Australia one last chance in September next year when we move 1000km south to Melbourne.

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Tomorrow we’ll be taking the Dude across the world to meet his British family in Manchester, via South Africa. This is the first time he’ll meet his nanny and granddad Chewbacca and the rest of the family, and it’s the first time we’ve been back since we first came back to Australia in 2010. I can’t express just how mixed my emotions are about the trip. I agreed to a stopover in South Africa on the way, to stay at a friend’s parents’ game farm just outside Johannesburg.  I’m not apprehensive about being in South Africa as such, as I’ve been before and it’s not a scary place. I am a bit concerned about being the only one with a small child in a group of 30-somethings, most of whom don’t seem to have worked out they’re not in their 20s any more, but it’s only five days so I’ll be right. I’m not keen on the flight at all as the Dude isn’t two yet so he won’t have his own seat, which means I’m going to have 12 plus kilos of wriggling toddler sprawled across me for most of the 24 odd hours each way. How we’re going to entertain him when he’s hyped on the plane is completely beyond me, but I’m sure we’ll manage.

The major part of the rest of the trip will be a couple of weeks in Manchester and London. I’m so looking forward to the cooler weather and soaking up a bit of real northern hemisphere Christmas spirit, which feels somewhat diluted here in Australia. There’s something so special about those Oxford Street Christmas lights, despite the crowds of chavs in their soggy ugg boots fighting for a bargain in Primark. And the Christmas markets, the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, ice skating, ferris wheel, mulled wine, the possibility of snow, shopping for warm boots and being relieved at the stagnant heat trapped deep underground in Victoria station.

Our street in West Hampstead, London – February 2009

After five days braving the rough heat of the game farm, we’ll fly straight north to London, where Mr C’s good friend, let’s call him the Northern Intellectual, is going to pick us up at Heathrow and drive us straight up north a couple of hours to Manchester, where the Chewbacca grandparents reside. Hopefully by then the Dude will at least have recovered from jet lag, as, although South Africa is a good ten hour flight from London, it’s only an hour or two time difference. Anyway, needless to say nan and granddad C are very excited at meeting their grandson. And Mr C and I are looking forward to catching up after so long.  We’re also secretly looking forward to a little bit of time off from the Dude, whose nan will I’m sure be happy to hang out with him while we go to a movie or two.  We’ve also got tickets for Ben Folds Five on the night after we arrive, which is particularly exciting as we had tickets to see Ben Folds on 13 May 2011, which was one day before I was due to have the Dude.  Needless to say, he came a week early, and I missed the concert.

We’ll spend most of our time up in Manchester with a couple of nights at Mr C’s nan’s place in Carlisle.  There we’ll see her of course, along with most of the rest of Mr C’s extended family, as that’s where they’re all from and where most still live. We’ll catch up with two of his sisters back in Manchester and a few friends there, then we’ll end our time with five days in London. It’ll be mainly catching up with friends there, checking out our old haunts, and doing a few touristy things before the big flight home.

The most nerve-racking element to all of this is that I’m not sure it will be as we remember. Yeah, okay, it’s only been three years, but I have this feeling I’ll remember pretty quickly why I left. It’s been pretty hard for me not to get sucked into all Mr C’s ‘everything Aussie is inferior to its European equivalent, if it has one’ mentality, and I kind of secretly hope he gets a bit of a rude shock and realises it’s not quite the utopia he remembers. It’s hard because he is actually English, and he feels at home in London. Me, on the other hand, I don’t feel truly at home anywhere. I wanted to leave London, even though I did develop a love for it, and I wanted to leave Canberra, even though it was where I grew up.  I’ve never wanted to be in Sydney and wish I could leave every day. I’ve not had enough time in Melbourne yet to say anything, so we’ll see.

Furio Giunta: The Sopranos (image courtesy of Wikipedia

Watching The Sopranos the other week (we’re finally watching this brilliant drama after everyone else did a decade ago), we saw the episode, season four I think, where Italian mobster with a heart of gold, Furio, returns to Naples after an extended absence setting up his life in New York State. He tells someone, Carmela, I think, about how he can never go back for good because he has changed too much. He just doesn’t feel like he can belong in Italy any more. Yet when he returns to America, we see him staring wistfully out of the window of the taxi as it passes typical suburban middle-America, star-spangled banners displayed almost defensively in front yards, and we know he feels no affinity with that America either. Culturally, he’s suddenly in no-man’s land. I wonder, will we have a similar experience in the UK? We’ll see.