The story so far

Sunday, 23 May 2010

East Anglian Popular Fiction

Having not had much time recently to write things on the blog, I find myself in a position of news delivery again, I’m not able to discuss random aspects of life as I prefer to spend my time doing because so many important things have happened in the two months since my last article.  These include my new job and I do mean a new job, I only lasted in the previous one for three months.  Also Hannah has regular work, we have a social life, and Zoe has had her first school report, which I might say was very good.
It’s a shame I have so many other things to recant because I’m keen to discuss the pro’s and cons of Australia and England.  Not only do I have the knowledge now to do a comparison more justice, I also feel that certain commentators on our Australia adventure would benefit from an objective discussion of the topic.  Surprisingly people have really polarised, emotive views on the subject.  I understand there is competition and I fully subscribe to this in the realm of the sporting arena or national achievements, but the emotive nature of any comparison between Australia and England has at times surprised me.
A typical critic might make it clear that they disapprove of Australia and our embracing of the country and its culture.  This might even extend to an apparent excommunication of us from all things British. While I can’t really take this type of criticism seriously, for it is often dealt in jest, I can often detect the harbouring of real anti-Australian sentiment.  I mean beyond what you would expect from someone with an objective view.   I suspect this is a reaction and an attempt to balance equally subjective pro-Aussie views from other quarters, so I feel that both critics and the proponents of Australia need someone to provide them with an unbiased view. Having given up everything to move here and having no vested interest in creating the view that Australia is anything but a wonderful place to be, I feel I am well placed for the role of neutral observer.   In all seriousness, I have come here and struggled.  I chose to give it a go with an open mind and I am still open-minded enough to consider going back to the UK if things don’t work out.  I don’t like to fail and that will force me to keep a positive outlook on Australia and try to make the best of the experience.  I am also prone to bouts of mild depression in which I dwell on all things bad about my current situation which means I think I have a very good handle on what is good and what is bad.
Having said this, part of moving to Australia is the challenge itself.  I enjoy a challenge and I really believe that all four of us have overcome adversity and have already made several steps up the ladder we need to scale to be able to say that we have made it in Australia. For Esme it has been easiest and possibly hardest for Hannah, but all of us has had to undergo a struggle of sorts and in rising to that and overcoming it, we are made better people and our sense of achievement is likely to enhance our view of what is great about Australia. 
But what motivates people to feel so strongly about or against Australia?  I think it is fairly simple.  Relationships are most important to all of us and that is a big part of what makes one place more special than another.  Beautiful food consumed alone in a restaurant overlooking Sydney harbour for example may not leave me with such a fond memory as arriving at a country pub, soaking wet and cold with Mum, Dad, Mike, Hannah and the girls to sit down, stare out of the window at the pouring rain and enjoy a warming meal, pint and roaring fire.  What people don’t always think about is other people’s perspective.  One place feels better than another because our experiences and memories make us feel good about the place.  More often than not these are about times shared with people whose company we enjoy. So I completely support the idea that Australia is better than England and that England is better than Australia in the eyes of different
people.  I can also understand why people see things only through their own eyes and why they get emotional when highly subjective statements are made as if they were fact.  I also believe that Hannah
and I have made a difficult choice which has applied certain unwelcome pressures to members of our family which although unintentional may have made their lives more difficult, presented them with unwelcome
choices or introduced threats. 
Having said all this, as is often the case, it has forced me to think. Why did we come here if family is so important?  Well I think Hannah and I both have a risk taking attitude.  We don’t want life to be simple and the thought of insulating ourselves in the easy and comfortable monotony of life where we were I think horrified us.  So maybe we came through fear of conformity, maybe it was a sense of adventure, maybe we were doing it for family as I genuinely believe that Zoe and Esme will have a healthier life and more opportunities to do things out here.  But I do miss my mum and dad, brother and George and I also miss seeing people like Gary and Beth and all Hannah’s extended family.  One thing I do keep in my mind though is that other people make their own choices based on their own motivations and these quite rightly are not usually taken with your needs in mind.  Being in control of our own destiny and making the right choice for my own immediate family was more important and I still believe the right decision to make. 
I have been rambling again.  But in order to set the scene further, I’d like to give a bit of a biography on a typical critic and proponent of Australia just to give the reader a view of where they might be coming from. A typical critic might be an East Anglian antiques dealer and a lovable rogue.  I would say he is one of a kind, but that would be to deny the uncanny similarities with 80s mullet haired antique peddler Lovejoy.  He is very patriotically English and also holds fairly firm political views which on some subjects seem to lean towards the far right even to the extent that he has admitted a support for Ipswich town and sympathy for Max Mosely.  I enjoy his company especially over a couple of pints and have, in the past shared many such occasions with him.  On one occasion, one of the last actually, I was pressured by a group of his peers into whipping his naked bottom with a studded leather belt in a cellar in Estonia.  Perhaps he has a fetish for fictitious East-Anglian characters, this time choosing to mimic, not too unconvincingly, East Anglian fictional attorney, Peter Kingdom.  It was soon time after this that Hannah and I started plans to move to the other side of the world. 
A typical proponent of Australia could be a socialite and someone who sees Sydney as the centre of her hedonistic youth, not that I’m suggesting in any way that her (or his) youth is over, but it’s where she became accustomed to living the good life.  I’m sure there are other facets to her past, in fact there could even be confirmed stories of struggle and hard work.  A crinkled black and white photo of her wielding a shovel accompanied by an innocent looking daughter and an earnest looking son.   Flares and flowers from the 70s.  That is the evidence of a past working life for her.  Times change, fashions change and sons and daughters change, but certainly she fits into Sydney’s lifestyle like they were made for each other. 
Most importantly, both of these entirely fictional characters are blessed with a sense of humour.  It might be considered, that both have baggage which makes it difficult for them to view the differences between the two great countries in an objective light. An example in point, without giving the game away, is that in my mind at least, comparisons between Australia and England are often subconsciously comparisons between Norwich and Sydney which isn’t really fair.  While these are not necessarily my personal views, it cannot be denied that while Sydney has Bondi, Norwich has Yarmouth, Sydney has the Harbour Bridge, Norwich has, well, an old stone bridge, Sydney has a fusion of Eastern culture and cuisine, Norwich has a Fusion of East Anglian culture and cuisine, built on a local strength in root vegetables and bulk turkey processing. 
Obviously that is entirely unfair on Norwich and meant as an example to push the point and it’s not to say that Norwich would lose on all counts against its Opera House and Harbour equipped rival.  It has pubs which sell decent beer; it has a wonderful homely character, picturesque villages and a feeling of History which Sydney does not share.  Yes, Sydney has history, but not in anything like the depth and breadth of its Fenland counterpart. I will end this little ramble by saying that I will perform a comparison soon, and that I believe that as an inhabitant of London and Sydney and as lover of Tyrells mustard crisps, reconstituted turkey snacks Bondi burgers and Kylie Minogue, I am well placed to offer an unbiased view. 
So what has happened in the last two months?  Well first and foremost in my mind, I have left my job.  I decided that the company I was working for was not going to offer me the type of opportunities that I needed to keep me interested and also to develop my skills further.  I just decided one day that I didn’t like what I saw and that I should expand my horizons.  And then I discovered other companies were willing to pay me 20% more.  In the end, without going into details which are probably considered confidential, I decided a move was best, but did have some regrets about leaving my old company.  I’m sure a lot of people reading this would have left a company at some time in their lives.  It’s generally a well respected and understood decision.  You’ve done your time, people may be sad to see you go, but they also understand and respect your decision.  Doing it after three months is a rather more sheepish affair.  Basically it says “I don’t like the company you work for”, not necessarily true, but nonetheless, I’m sure it’s what people are thinking.  I found the whole thing excruciatingly uncomfortable, especially as I was invited into the office on at least a couple of occasions to speak to the regional director.
I’ve now completed week 1 with the new company now and am expecting to take up my first role early next week.  Also importantly, where I was earning only just enough to cover basic living expenses, that has now changed and while we intend to do some saving next month we’ve had a couple of nice bottle so wine, been out for lunch together and are planning a trip for the kids on Saturday to the Powerhouse museum.  I know money is not everything, but just having a bit of breathing space is making all the difference right now.  Hannah has also started working as a casual teacher which is great and she has made a good impression.  So far she has worked every day possible and if it wasn’t for her lack of a certificate to teach, she would have been employed by her current school as a full time science teacher a long time ago.  Her boss in the science department has also lined her up to teach at her husband’s school, just in case an ongoing role can't be found for her there.
One thing Hannah and I have both found working in Australia is that the competition is less.  It is not so difficult to make a good impression here because standards are lower.   It’s a sweeping statement I know and there are exceptions, for example my last Project Manager at the ACMA was dynamic, intelligent and able to drive forward a project in a way I have only ever seen by much more experienced practitioners in the UK before.  However, the point is, in general standards are lower.
I don’t think it is a lack of talent, more a lack of drive or need to hone skills and tackle the efficiency or efficacy issues that are current in the UK.  Perhaps due to the smaller resource pool and lower competition?  I don’t know and there are certainly examples of good people with great skills, it's just that the general level is lower and expectations also seem lower.  At Detica in the UK for example, I felt under constant pressure to perform above average and spend extra time doing it, just to keep up with the norm, here I have felt it much easier to stand out make a difference, just by performing at a normal level.
Hannah, has ten years teaching experience and has ten years experience using IT in the classroom and several years of using modern teaching and learning techniques which are only just being discussed in Australia and are certainly not widely adopted.  This means two things to me.  Firstly she should do well here and has already observed that using these methods and skills she has for the UK gives her an advantage.  Secondly, all that moaning that Teachers do in the UK about the government trying to drive up standards might actually be the work avoidance that we all thought it was.  Some of these initiatives have actually worked and we should be pleased with the Government for that if for no other reason.  Despite all this, the Institute of Teachers, who apparently employs a bunch of people not suitably trained to be effective teachers, still won’t grant Hannah the rights to a full time job due to her lack of science study at degree level, something for which I can only hold her father responsible.
All in all, the land of work goes well though, Hannah and I are both making names for ourselves and building back the reputations we discarded in making the move and we now have a level of income which could support a mortgage for a reasonably sized house, if only the exchange rate, stock markets and economy in the UK would pick up a little.
Zoe and Esme are doing great things as well.  Earlier this week, we had Zoe’s first parent’s evening and this was a very pleasant experience.  She was described as “having a very expressive personality” (She talks to much, like the other women in her family as Beth has proposed) and “taking great interest in what is around her” (Easily distracted) but the main feedback was that she is clever, considerate and very keen, especially to learn French, which she apparently practices in the playground with her friends.  The French teacher is very pleased with her and explained that her accent is also very good.  I am also amazed by her accent because she often asks me to tell her a word in French but when she says it back to me, her pronunciation is so much better.
Esme is now in Nursery five days a week and is doing lots of creative and rather skilful art and crafts which sadly we have to pop straight in the bin due the cramped conditions in which we live.  Both kids are now swimming much better and are confident in the shallow ocean waves. 
A great improvement in recent weeks has been our social life which seems to be growing fairly well.  Hannah and I have been fairly stand-offish in the past, mainly, I think because we couldn’t be bothered to make the effort as we both didn’t feel like we were ready to settle in one place.  It has resulted in us having some fairly good friends, but relatively few of them.  Imagine my surprise when at Zoe’s class picnic last Sunday, I found myself not only engaging in social discourse but actually introducing myself to Zoe’s friends parents, who, mostly Australian but with a few Frenchies and Yanks thrown in, seem to be a nice bunch.  I was very enthusiastic on the way home, saying what nice parents Zoe’s friends had until Hannah pointed out that we couldn’t actually invite anyone around to our house.  I went through the class list later that evening and discovered that none of them had the word "Unit", "Flat" or "Apartment" in their address.  Maybe we should keep quiet as Hannah proposed, we wouldn't want anyone to think we are poor afterall.

In addition to Zoe’s friends' parents, I have been going for drinks with Euan, Surfing with James, lunching with Julie and Matt and am planning drinks with Glen tomorrow evening.  And they are all Australians or have at least lived in Australia most of their lives.  Next week I am even going to State of Origin (New South Wales vs Queensland at Rugby league) with four Aussie blokes.

So I think the conclusion so far is that life here is really good and that is despite the struggle we have had.  The best bit by far is that we are beginning to see the fruits of our hard work and the risk looks like it might pay off.  Financially no, but in terms of quality of life and opportunities for the girls, definitely.  So watch this space, especially if you want an impartial comparison between these two great nations, including an amusing, but shocking trip to an Australian golf course and an incident in the men's toilets.


  1. Nick, given that you have chosen to assassinate my character in such a public manner, I think it appropriate to respond here. Not only is your blog self-centred and patronising, it is becoming increasingly ridiculous and insulting. I find, for example, Max Moseley... See more’s political views abhorrent, and any comparison with me equally so. I’m not running a second-hand sales operation from the back of a lock-up either, but a serious business that has been acknowledged by, amongst other publications, the New York Times. Something else that you miss entirely is that I have a huge respect for Australia and Australians. Of course there is comparison and fierce rivalry – that is a given – but I think also a shared sense of history and common values. I hope that Beth and I (and the boys of course) will get the chance to visit Australia some day but I have to say the incentive has diminished as a result of your writing. Perhaps unwittingly, in attempting to embrace your new home, and in an effort to add humour to what you perceive to be a serious dissection of Anglo- Australian relations, you have only managed to come across as someone who is lost and unhappy. I am sure that Sydney is an amazing place and that, by comparison, Norwich is smaller and less glamorous, but we are happy and content here. I suspect that you will always need to ‘take a risk’ because contentment eludes you. I certainly don’t think you should think of becoming a writer – stick to mending phones and burning chicken on barbecues.

  2. Gary, sorry if I offended you, it was not meant in that way.

  3. Nick,
    Great post as always. Tanya enjoyed reading it the other day, too.
    I'm so glad that things are gradually coming together for you all now.
    I enjoy your analysis of Anglo-Australians. On occasion, it's 'laugh out loud stuff'. Keep it up.
    Best wishes,

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