The story so far

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Don't Panic

I've not posted for two months.  Its funny really because I started to write this a week ago and that seems just like yesterday, but as I read over my musings from last week I realise that the seven days has completely changed the way I feel about being here and that this experience is still a roller coaster for me.

This week has been good and the weekend has just ended on a high of wading in big surf at Narabeen with Hannah, Dave and Lucy with the warm Autumn sunshine causing us to lose track of time,not leaving until almost 6.00 p.m. on a school night!.
Tom, Zoe and Esme had the time of their lives getting into surfing posture as the waves raced up the beach to knock them over and roll them across the beach.

Esme, Dave and Tom in the waves at Narabeen

Tom and Zoe after rolling in the sand

Tom, Zoe and Esme, who were pretending to be beach sculptures were sprung by Dave. 

The hotel in Silhouette was playing good loud music and looked like a good place to while away a Sunday without the kids.  Not likely then!

Despite the good week, the previous was not so joyous and that has made me think quite deeply about the meaning of life life, what I expect from mine, what makes me happy and how to achieve that.  I got in the shower this morning and was singing "Don't Panic" by Coldplay.  We live in a beautiful world kind of describes how I feel about where I am right now but I wondered on listening more carefully to the lyrics if my choice of song wasn't more for the statement it makes about life.  Maybe it is just a great tune, but one thing is for sure, Chris Martin is a genius as a songwriter and musician.

The blog started last weekend and finished this, has been my therapy and I'm hoping that the conclusions I have come to will be the start of something new.  I think the act of re-evaluation itself has done a great deal to lift my spirits.  I decided to leave that for the end of the article though as I have lots of exciting news to impart first.

Some major milestones have been reached since my last update.  I had visions of moving to Australia and everything falling into place.  Well it didn't happen like that and it wasn't easy but we are making progress and enjoy life here.  A slight digression by way of example, Hannah attended three children's parties this weekend.  It doesn't take the kids long to develop social networks to shame their parents.

Importantly for our financial situation I am pleased to say I now have a job.  I work in the Central Business District of Sydney and in my first month have spent two weeks working for the Colonial Sugar Refinery or CSR, part of the which was spent at an Ethanol distillery in Mackay.  I am now working for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) at Darling Harbour in the Commonwealth bank building, the nearest building in the photo below.

I jump on the 7.20 bus every morning.  More often than not the sun is shining and I read my book for 45 minutes before being dropped off a short walk from my office.  I always get a seat and this is a good thing as Sydney bus drivers seem endowed with lead lined boots and use both brake and accelerator with alacrity.  Regularly, the standing folk are thrown backwards and forwards, up and down the bus and I have heard of serious accidents.

Lunchtimes are spent walking through the marina's at Darling Harbour or sometimes, when I feel I have a bit of time to spare, I walk round Hyde Park or even up to the Botanical Gardens.  This week I have taken up running with my Australian Project manager and find my colleagues to be more relaxed, more fun but just as good at getting the job done as their counterparts in the UK.  Work life here is definitely easier and expectations on hours spent on the job are lower.  I am enjoying the drop in pressure and think that maybe I am able to produce a higher quality and more creative output here than I was able to achieve under the volume of work in the UK.

Detica ex-colleagues might appreciate this, but getting into the CBD is so much easier than London, it being that much smaller.  The walk between my office and the client office is ten minutes through warm, lightly shaded, palm tree lined avenues.  The result is that I have started attending company functions with much more regularity, something I was not necessarily well know for in the UK.

The Second milestone is that this week, Hannah completed her re-training or indoctrination into Aussie teaching styles with distinction.  It looks like she will be getting casual work and possibly a full time role fairly quickly which is good because my whisky stocks are sadly depleted.  Two weeks ago we spent the whole of Sunday writing an application for Hannah to teach science in an Anglican school.  She was called for interview last week and met them on Wednesday.  Since it is an Anglican school its not quite so stringent as a catholic school on the religion front but it still leads to the old Creation versus Evolution debate.  My dad first raised this issue with Hannah, making sure he was quick to mention that principals do not buy food and shelter.  Hannah laughed.  I'm not sure it should have been taken as a joke.

I looked it all up on line.  Apparently there are people that believe in both creation and evolution.  I'm not going to try and explain it, but its down to interpretation of the bible and the fact that it shouldn't be literally interpreted always.  Maybe God created the building blocks for life rather than magically created Adam and Eve on one day.  One article I read had a Venn diagram to illustrate that creationism and evolution are not mutually exclusive.  They had a box with "Creation" in it, a box with "Evolution" in it and an overlapping area with "Both" in it.  The bit that confused me was the area around the edge where it said "None"

What does this mean?  That people believe in nothing or that there are theories out there which certain people believe in but don't advertise any of the details.  If I could make up my own theory it would be "Alien Transmogrification" I've just though of a name so far, I've not decided what this entails and how we got monkey, plant and man (and woman) from it.  I tried to discuss all this with Hannah, but she seemed unconcerned or uninterested.

Anyway, Hannah's interview seemed to go well and she tells me the subject of creation vs evoluton did not come up.  There was a lot of competition and the post is only a 3 days a week role, with that time spread across five days.  If she doesn't get this one, it won't be an issue as she is likely to earn more and make more contacts casual teaching her way around greater Sydney.

During the interview, I was "looking after Esme" (playing on my iPhone while she talked to her rabbit in the back of the car)  Suddenly, without warning I became aware that she was writhing around and making choking noises.  I didn't know what to do, there was real panic in her eyes and she seemed to be unable to speak or breath.  I quickly unbuckled her and got her out of the car onto the pavement and standing up she was breathing but finding it difficult and screaming at the same time.   She was saying "help me daddy" I asked her if she had swallowed something and she nodded.  At this point I amazed myself, I didn't feel at all panicked, I don't know why but I had established she was breathing but that she had something big in her throat, so I made her bend over and squeezed her underneath the ribs about five times.  On the fifth time, she vomited and out came a 20 cent coin (as big as a fifty pence piece)

I have had nightmares about it all this week and realise she actually came quite close to dying.  I'm not sure if it is a big deal to me, I mean she didn't die, so all is good, but I am feeling that maybe it would have been nicer to take her for a walk and play with her than spend time playing on my iPhone, even if she was asleep when we arrived.  It could be one of the drivers for my review of my habits and attitude that I seem to have been having, unplanned, this weekend.

Getting back to the subject in hand, the third important achievement was the cooking of my first steak on my own barbecue.  Technically it is not my barbecue because I didn't buy it, but it was given to me by Matt and Tim who no longer needed it.  It is falling to bits as the heat of many barbies has caused the metal shelf and the burners and the grill plate to corrode but I have it working and it cooks a beautiful steak.  Esme can attest to that as she came walking out to see her mother on the barbecue and Hannah, asking "What's that dripping down your chin" realised it was the blood from the steak.  Both girls love a good rare steak and it's good to train them how to eat meat properly from a young age.

Having one is great because standing at a barbecue with a beer in one hand and tongs in the other is what I had in mind as a big part of the Australian dream.  Sadly, I found it hard to argue the cause when the kids still don't have beds and we owe Zoe's school and Esme's Nursery enough cash to account for two months wage surplus.

The reasons why a spare barbecue is available are not clear, each of Matt and Tim giving different accounts.  Apparently the evidence would suggest that Matt's lack of cleaning of the barbecue, Tim's over enthusiasm with the sausages and beer both contributed to a build up a liquid and vaporous animal fat based explosive.  The resulting charring of the roof beams together with the once molten control knob remnants corroborates their story of a sudden and enormous fireball.

Another great thing to happen was that our stuff arrived from the UK three weeks ago.  We now sleep in a bed, we have a working DVD player and I have taken my surfboards on their first outing on Australian waves.  All in all, life is really happy.  The blue skies really do make me feel happier and now the humidity has dropped off and the temperature has dropped to 30 degrees or lower, it is really pleasant.  I still have not worn Jeans since October.

We are careful with money, but we can afford a few small luxuries like going out with Dave, Lucy, Tom, Lucas and Euan last night for Pizzas at Killarney heights pizza restaurant.  After last night, we will also refer to it as the Killarney Heights Nightclub because on a good evening, they move all the tables outside around the children's play area and play loud music in the empty restaurant.  It was not long before the place was full of kids, some of which had clearly been watching "So you think you can dance".  Zoe gyrated seductively, Tom was doing a cross between hip-hop and breakdance while Esme was just trying to stick her bum up in the air, all encouraged by the fact that Lucy had brought rave-style glow sticks for them.

This week has been a bit of a revelation though.  I've not been as happy as I could have been in Australia and I've been a bit sad recently.  I've done a bit of soul searching and I think I've relaxed a bit.  Dropping my sights on some of the goals I had set has helped me put things in perspective and re-assess what I want from life in Australia.

Last weekend I looked after Zoe and Esme on different occasions as the other attended a series of birthday parties.  I wasn't really thinking anything consciously but it was probably slightly depressing to feel that I couldn't really achieve much, my weekend being forfeit due to my daughters' already vibrant social lives.  As if my priorities aren't important any more, a lack of control to drive my own future.

As I sat in the living room listening to Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan singing Abba's "last summer " from the film Mamma Mia! I felt angry because it made me feel happy in the way I hoped to feel in Australia.  The realisation is growing that the reality of life here is mundane in the way it is back home.  This type of movie life makes you feel happy, because you don't feel the negative emotions or sensations of the people involved but in real life, even in happy moments, there is always something in the back of your mind or just round the corner which takes the edge off pure, unbridled happiness.

I still had the dream that life in Australia was all blue skies, surfing in a clear warm ocean and girls in bikinis.  It's not.  There is some of that, but also throw in a mixture of dodgy Lebo car dealers, dense seaweed, over bureaucratic teaching agencies and just the general complexity of setting yourself up again in a new country and the reality is somewhat mundane and sometimes quite disappointing.

That said, if I compare my life now to my life in the UK, yes we have no disposable income, yes we don't get to see our friends and family, but those things aside, living here is a happier experience and actually looking at what we have risked but what we have already achieved, I think we can feel fairly proud in a way we wouldn't have done if we had just stayed where we were.

There are a few aspects to that which I think are interesting.  I'm pretty happy this week and I know that it is because my expectations are lower and I have achieved well against the goals I have set myself.  I think that suffering some unhappiness and disappointment although not pleasant at the time, is good because it helps you re-assess your goals and to appreciate small things all the more.  I'm not seeing Australia as the perfect place that I had in my mind and that any Australians will have you believe if you ask them about it.

My mum and dad once went to Africa and they were amazed at asking Africans the question "How far is it to ....."  If you ask an African that question they will always say "Not far".  Apparently you need to ask them "How many miles/hours to .....?" for which they will tell you their honest answer but if you load the question, their culture is such that they do not want to disappoint so they will make you feel better by saying "not far"

Australians, I have noticed have a similar cultural driver which makes it very difficult for them to admit that their nation is inferior in any aspect to any other nation, especially Britain.  They are rightly proud and in many aspects they are better, but one fact given to me by an Aussie stays in my mind.  "The rain in Australia is better than in England"  How? Why? What?  Is there anything more ridiculous to claim?  I have gotten used to feeling ashamed any time a heartless Aussie sees fit to compare the weather in our two great nations.  I mean, I can't win, can I?  But to say that the rain in Australia is better, that is not only ridiculous but also cruel, it is the one thing England does so well.

So I think my expectations were rather high due to the way Australians talk about Australia, especially in comparison to England.  I've now learned to take heed of this advice, but also appreciate that they are driven by some greater force to sell Australia and have been known to exaggerate on occasions.  Another thing I've heard is "The food in Australia is much better than England"  It's not.  I think that supermarket fruit and vegetables are better but there are good and bad restaurants in both countries.  Certain food types like Thai and Chinese seem to be a better standard on the whole than in England, but the standard can drop off significantly outside the major centers.  So I would concede that in Sydney I can find some really nice places to eat and that if you took an average across eateries in Sydney and London, Sydney would win.  Probably because London has a lot of bad greasy places to cater for English tastes for Chips, Kebabs and the like.  But Australians would not be able to say "slightly better" in fact they can't say better without the word "much" in front of it.

This positive attitude is also one of their great strengths, they are very upbeat and friendly people and I love living among the Aussies.  Even if they are deluding themselves slightly in some respects, they know this really and they are proud of their nation, they are a much happier people than the British and their country has an awful lot going for it.

So it's all about expectations.  My expectations of Australia were high, my own natural ambition and high level of expectation exacerbated by Australian exaggeration.  Now my expectations are lower and that means I can achieve satisfaction with life much more easily.

The other issue is that I'm not happy with myself at the moment.  I drink too much, I'm overweight and I know I have the abilities to do something great, but waste a lot of my time doing things which I don't think add to the bigger picture of being proud of what you have achieved in your life.  I just don't have the impetus or get-up-and-go to do it.  I had thought Australia would solve all that, but I am beginning to realise that I need to solve it myself and I need to understand that I should feel happy with some small steps, not depressed all the time that I cannot see myself ever achieving my goals.

This week I went running twice.  I only ran for 2.5 km each time, but afterwards, I felt good despite the fact I used to be able to run for 21 miles once a week.  I am going to focus on cutting down drinking and losing some weight and spend less time playing computer games, something which I spend a lot of time doing but which I ultimately get nothing from.

I've also been thinking about happiness and how I felt in the UK.  I look back fondly at memories of the UK, even though I know I was not what I would define as happy at the time.  Or perhaps I did not recognise I was happy at the time.  I remember the last days of being in England and these memories do not access visions of Hannah throwing ornaments at me as we got stressed about packing, or the nightmare of being given a tough assignment at work for the last four weeks and dealing with the drudgery of zero motivation but not wanting to let my mates down.  I remember going for a walk through the Newbury countryside in October and smelling the first winter woodsmoke on the air, combined with iPod soundtrack and the purity of light and air that comes from the drop in temperatures.

I have to dig deep to access the memories of how I was actually feeling at the time, I remember feeling tired and rushed and had a pain in my side, but those are small pains really in the grand scheme.  I was really lucky to know that England would be somewhere I would miss and I really focussed on taking it all in before I left.  The memories I have of the place, friends and times spent are really happy ones.

So it's not good to be negative because a few things are going wrong for you.  I'd like to think that with focus I can make myself understand that perfection is unattainable and that some obstacles along the way are expected.  I just need to find a way to still be driven to achieve the goals I have and know I can achieve without being unrealistic about what I can achieve and what is outside my control.  The issue is, I have always known this but it is harder to put into practice than it is to talk about.  I will try though, that is all I can do but my chances of success, I think are improved by the beautiful world I live in.

1 comment:

  1. We certainly do live in a beautiful world Nick. Whether Australia or Blighty!