The story so far

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Tough going

It's my birthday, today.  I'm 36 and I've been at home all day today, trying to work while looking after daughter Zoe who is off school.  Yesterday they were both off with different illnesses.  Since the time is past 5.30, I'm going to see what I can write in sixty minutes while having a birthday drink.

We've witnessed a few more Australian phenomena since my last post, so I have things to write about.  The election and house hunting are the most recent experiences but I'm finding my current state of mind is not conducive to writing.  I've had a really hard six weeks and I find myself without much hope of good things in the future.

I guess the trigger was my attempt at optimism finally being eroded by Hannah's vocal dissatisfaction with our current living conditions.  I'd been trying to keep a positive view of it, after all, we knew we'd be in cramped conditions for a year, but she's not been happy for some time and I can't disagree with her.

The issue is not the size of the flat but rather the combination of that and some other factors.  We thought we were renting a flat with ample room to store our belongings in both the double garage and the large built in wardrobes, but that was before it started raining.

Our first experience of the rains were when we got a knock on the door from a kind neighbour who said "I noticed you've got a lot of stuff in the garage, you'd better move some of it as your garage is on the flood course"  Hannah and I went down to find that other garages were already flooded, but ours was only just starting to flood, so a bit of swift work prevented any serious damage.

However, an inspection the next day revealed that the waters had been six inches deep in places and that boxes we had had stored there for a few weeks were already showing signs of damp, just because the air down their must not get the chance to dry out properly.  We then had to move boxes into the flat, especially electrical goods and pictures and photos to prevent them being ruined by the damp.  I've been walking around boxes for the past six months, but have been grinning and bearing it.

That is until the rains continued for a few days and we started to notice that the bed sheets were not drying, the bathroom light kept shorting out and that we had mould growing on the walls.  Hannah reported this to the agent, but rather than ask for anything to be done, we just assumed that the issue was something that would go away quickly.  It didn't.

We then had a visit from our landlord who suggested that we should try and keep the wardrobe doors open and should not put clothes in the side nearest the outside wall.  Since then we've been using the bedroom floor, chairs and the cardboard boxes of goods we brought into the flat from the garage as makeshift storage.  What this means is that that flat is constantly in a mess because there is not enough storage.  We've also had to keep the windows open all winter which has honestly been colder than I've been in the UK.

The mould gradually developed until one morning, Hannah came across a story about a celebrity couple who had both died from mould poisoning in their flat.  It was then that I started to take it seriously.  Hannah reported it to the agent, who arranged for someone to come round and sort it out.  "Sorting it out" turned out to be to be a bunch of cleaners who were efficient, but entirely ill-equipped to ensure a mould free environment persisted in the flat.  Hannah took photos and even got one of a slug entering the flat to find somewhere nice and damp to live.  This time, I contacted the agent who, after three weeks.....

suggested that we open windows, refrain from putting too many things in the wardrobes and look forwards to the nice weather that we will have soon.

In that three weeks, fueled by the fact that the agent seemed to have it low on her agenda, we decided to do some investigating.  It turns out that the NSW government protects their tenants quite well and I was told by the NSW department of health that these were not acceptable living conditions (even for immigrants) and that I should contact the office of fair trading.  They told me that I was entitled to move out and get compensation if nothing was done to rectify the situation.

What made me consider acting on this advice though is when I realised it was actually affecting my health.  I went to the oval (local park) to play soccer with the girls and found myself unable to maintain even light exercise.  I had no energy and was out of breath so quickly I had to keep stopping and resting.  I also listened to a video I took of Esme at Putty and all you could hear was me wheezing in the background.

A couple of trips to the doctor, a chest x-ray and a diagnosis of Asthma later, I am still, dependent on the day, unable to run more than a couple of hundred meters at my normal pace and have found myself unable to breathe on the train to work and requiring in excess of ten hours in bed just to feel right the next day.

Since the agent's last suggestion, I have been very stern with her and told her in no uncertain but friendly terms that if she does not take action to rectify the cause of damp and mould in the flat, we will be terminating our agreement.  Actually the agent and the landlord are both reasonable people and that is why we are trying to solve the issues amicably.  We are currently waiting to find out if they want to spend the money to bring in a team of professional "Mould Men" or if they are happy to let us cut short our year's lease.

While all this has been going on, Hannah has also had to be taking exams to raise her level of Physics to the required level to be a science teacher in Australia.  She already has A-Level physics, but apparently, according to Australians, this is not to the level adequate to teach HSC Physics (Barely more than GCSE as far as I can make out)

So she has been doing two evening courses in Physics at at an exorbitant rate, to get certificates she has already earned at A-Level.  There's been a lot of coursework meaning she is working a full day and then having to do uni work in the evenings.  The last few weeks, she was also revising for an exam, so my life has been, work, cook, clean, take kids out from under Hannah's feet and then get pissed, which seems to give me a more positive outlook on life until I wake up with a Hangover as well as Asthma and realise, without time or energy for the level of exercise I'd like to be doing, I am putting on weight and getting less healthy.

Hannah is absolutely knackered and has fourteen weeks of this to go.  We have no time to keep the house in order and the kids are not getting the energy and attention they deserve.  But its not all bad, we do make sure we have some time to spend with them and actually they both seem really happy, despite the fact that both Hannah and I frequently lose our tempers with them and are totally inconsistent with our treatment of them.

One thing that keeps me going is that I look at others of our generation and see the same and worse struggles.  Others we know for example have even harder lives, working, looking after kids, trying to study and coping with the stress of high costs of living, nursery fees etc.  When I look around I can see we are better off than some.  At least our kids are older and I have a job which pays well and only really requires eight hours, five days a week to maintain, unlike some of them.

I'm sure that these people would be heartened by the fact that I am taking solace in their discomfort.  But seriously, why is life in Sydney so hard?  Partly for us it is the pain and struggle of setting up in a new country.  Until Hannah has her qualification we won't be able to relax and until we move to a bigger, drier place, life will continue to be hard.  But I can't help think that if we wanted to, we couldn't survive on one wage.

I've often been told by members of the older generation, generally who have forgotten what it's like to make a start with a new family in the world and think things haven't changed since they were our age....... "You just want the lifestyle, that's why you have two people working" but what I think they so often miss is that in their day, you could buy a house on one person's wage and live a modest lifestyle.  We just can't afford to do that, not in Sydney, at least not in the expensive sought after suburbs that Hannah has in mind (and no, the oldies don't have a point), which brings me onto the final stress factor on us - the search for a new place to live.

I honestly have only seen house buying behaviour like it once before and that was in Kent, with the wanky stockbroker sector, flashing cash and speaking loudly to agents in a crowded office, "I'm looking for a house between 1.5 and 1.8 mil, I need a weekend getaway".

In Sydney, they have these things called "open houses" where everyone has to turn up to view the house at the same time in a 30 minute time slot.  What this means is that you end up basically "mingling with the opposition".  Go to a cheaper house, you're hanging out with chavs, go to a more expensive house you end up bumping shoulders in the laundry with materialistic arseholes, the kind of men who own nasal hair clippers and women who can't leave the house without standing in front of the mirror for an hour.

The problem is that we know we won't have enough money to afford to compete with this lot, it seems if you want to buy a house in Sydney, you look for houses about 20% below your budget and then hope that no-one else has the same idea.  Renting is similar, the competition is fierce.

If I had the choice, I'd prefer to hang out with the chavs.  At least they are trying to make a better life for their families rather than make some kind of status statement, which seems to be very important for a growing number of Sydney-siders.

What I'm saying is that Sydney does seem to have its share of snobs.  I've often heard it referred to as a classless society which I did not believe but now I'm thinking that given its alternate meaning, these were definitely a classless lot.  This is stressful and thinking about where we are going to live does not help when I'm depressed about my health and under pressure to pick up the balls Hannah is normally juggling, but the good news is I haven't given up.

I'm delegating the act of house hunting to Hannah, who seems to like it, although shares the same view of the feeding frenzy open house events I do.  I'm also not homesick.  I miss the affluence I had in the UK and the standard of living, but I'm not homesick, just sick of living in a damp flat.

Yesterday Hannah saw the Financial Adviser and worked out what we can afford to spend in buying a house and the results, although not exciting, give us a firm set of boundaries to work by and are helping us make the decision whether to buy small, move out of the area to somewhere cheaper or rent for a while.

There are positive aspects.  I have consciously reduced my BWS (Beer, Wine and Spirits, there is a shop here called just that) intake and am taking positive steps to eat more healthy.  Also, we have a better social life now than we had since our days in Maidstone.  Days at the footie with a group of mates who I get on really well with, weekends at Putty, invitations for dinner or just lazy days with Dave and Lucy are what keep us going.  I keep looking forwards to six months time - I'm convinced our life will be better, I'm just over all the challenges and not relishing the path we'll have to tread to get there.

Anyone worried about us after that should not be.  Hannah and I are good at working our way through things and it these challenges that will make us look back on our first year in Australia with a real sense of achievement.  Just writing all this down has put me in a better mood.

If anyone reading this is enjoying our torment.....well good luck to you!

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about your trials and tribulations Nick. I'm sure you'll get through them and come out the other end smiling broadly. Huge respect to you and Hannah for battling through. As for 'classless society', it's a joke. I met more snobs when I was going out with a girl in Oslo, than I did at 'snobby' Durham University! People are people. Best wishes John