Somehow it is March 10th and I only have two and a half weeks left in Perth before I fly to Cambodia for a fortnight, then back to London for a friend’s wedding. I feel like I’ve been here for no time at all. The first month involved me being in an intense state of shock, burnout, grief and exhaustion. However, it also a time of happiness catching up with family and other overseas-based Perthites while we had the chance. It was a time of wildly fluctuating emotions – having a really nice day-trip to Rottnest Island for example, despite hiding the fact I was silently crying on some of our bike rides. Having a ball celebrating my Dad’s birthday dinner before being hit with a wave of low mood – kind of a low pressure system for the heart, and retreating to my room in an attempt not to ruin everyone else’s night.

The smartest thing I did during that time was go and see a GP, who asked me to give him a rundown of what happened. I delivered a matter-of-fact summary of the end of 2016 re: work, money, relationship, dog and living situation (i.e. residing with my whole family in the suburbs with no car and no job). I think the poor guy thought I had finished after the first couple of things, but his eyebrows rose further up his face as I went on. I wrapped things up as quickly as I could, and he slowly leant forwards and typed into his notes ‘situational life crisis’. ‘OMG yas’ I thought,  that is exactly right. He went on to explain that as my anxiety, depression and severe stress symptoms (I did that scale thing) were due to external factors, he did not want to put me on any antidepressant medication. I was cool with that. He also said he could write me a mental health care plan which would give me six bulk-billed Psychology sessions. I was definitely cool with that! I was about to stand up and leave when he said “I’m going to write you a medical certificate for Centrelink”. Say what?! He told me that he thought it would be good for my mental health if I had a break from working…but that I needed money for my self esteem and to reduce stress. When I arrived I had sold some employee shares that Woolworths had given me at the age of 19, and that had given me a boost of cash when I first arrived. To see it steadily dwindling away, however, created a tightness in my chest about having to find a job when I badly needed rest. The thought of re-inserting myself into the Perth Speech Pathology scene when I had been out of the loop for 5 years was intimidating and triggered off all kinds of ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy’ kind of thoughts. Although going through the initial process of signing on to the dole was arguably not great for my self esteem, I can see now that it was the best thing he could have done for me and I’m glad I stuck with that plan without giving into the internal monologue of “You’re a total loser”. I started working at the age of 14 and have not stopped since (besides a few months when I was travelling), so decided to (try to) stop judging myself so harshly, let myself get better, and take that sweet sweet Government cash. I knew I had another two months to start catching up with everybody else, so besides doing a few fun things, I kept my head low and just focused on getting better. I spent a lot of time with my Mum during the day as she took some time off work, and I gladly let myself be looked after. I caught up with my friends slowly and one or two at a time to keep things manageable.

At some point in the second month I stopped carrying my dog’s collar with me everywhere I went and moved on to another stage.

Advertisements

Homecoming Bean

Some of you may remember back in May last year when Jim and I woke up on a (sunny?) Saturday morning and decided to zip down to STA Travel to buy our tickets to NZ and Australia. We bought them so far in advance that we managed to steal a good deal. We also bought them so far in advance that I could shove ‘going home’ to the back of my mind and not have to think about it for the best part of a year.

London is good for that… you’re so busy rushing around making money, running maniacally for public transport, meeting up with people and schlepping to Europe on easyjet flights that you may very easily avoid huge, significant, life-defining, identity-shaking returns to places where everyone knows the ‘real’ you (aaaaahhhhhhhh)! That is, until you’re on the plane from Sydney to Perth by yourself and you suddenly feel like opening the emergency escape hatch whilst vomiting on everyone in the extra-leg room row. Thought you’d got the good seats? Think again.

Jump back a couple of weeks and Jim and I were leaving London very early on a chilly winter’s morning, even earlier than necessary due to Jim’s Woody Allen-like neuroses about being late – “I’d rather get there an hour early than be 5 minutes late!” It was only when we arrived at the airport that his nervousness re: missing our flight morphed into excitement. In fact, I’d never seen him so excited! I thought it was very cute so I giddily joined in. I had big-upped Singapore Airways A380 so much that I was anxious for Jim to like it, he hasn’t had the best experiences on long-haul flights so we had invested a bit extra to ensure satisfaction. By the way he was bouncing around, demonstrating all the different ways he could fold his legs and saying “This is amazeballs!”, I needn’t have worried. I always feel that sleeping on Singapore Airways flights is a waste of precious time; there are too many films to watch, crisps to request and camparis to drink! I stayed awake for the entirety of our 15 hour leg to Singapore, the best film I watched being Beasts of The Southern Wild. A combination of pent-up emotion, beer, tiredness and terrific film-making resulted in me quietly sobbing in my seat. Too embarrassed to keep wiping my face, I decided to just let the tears flow freely down my chin and onto my chest. When I turned to face Jim in the closing credits, the look he gave me was a mixture of bewilderment, disgust and genuine concern. After 3 days spent hot and jetlagged in Singapore (apart from an amazing meal at Fat Cow and our awesome hotel it all seems like a blur), and a gruelling 12 hour layover in Sydney, we finally arrived in Christchurch on the South island of New Zealand. I knew I’d be back! We landed just after midnight and Jim’s sister whom he hadn’t seen for 4 years drove us back to her house, where we passed out for a solid night’s sleep before driving down to Timaru the next afternoon.

Jim’s family live in a gorgeous country-style house with Molly the dog and their two cats Kanga and Roo. Ten glorious days were spent in serene relaxation –  pottering around in the sun amidst the flowers, walking Molly in the rocky rivers that are quintessentially Kiwi and just spending time getting to know each other. In the lead-up to Christmas more lovely family members arrived from around the islands, meaning there was always an air of festivity and somebody new to meet. A highlight of our first few days was watching the end of year school production at the boys’ boarding school that Jim’s mum works at. It was a musical take on Robin Hood, mysteriously opening with a performance of Footloose then unfolding as a 3-hour panto. The boys did an amazing job and were all so sweet, especially Maid Marian (played by a tall slender 12 year old boy with fantastic cheekbones). He completely outshone Robin whose only memorable moment was emitting a Napoleon Dynamite-esque ‘YES’ with fist-pump action upon receiving Marian’s hand in marriage. I totally get excited about kids achieving things, so I had a great time.

There were trips to quaint towns, fresh pasta making sessions, delicious lunches at The Shearer’s Quarters and Verde Cafe, drunken blister-inducing totem tennis matches, as well as a viewing of The Hobbit at a tiny independent cinema built in the 1920s. But the most exciting thing of all was Jim and I getting our Christmas present from his Mum and Dad early…the Air Safari Grand Traverse flight over Aoraki Mount Cook! We got it early because a) I was leaving for Perth before Christmas and b) we needed time to choose a perfectly clear day to fly. On our fifth day there, Jim and I got the all clear and jumped into the family car, reaching Lake Tekapo at 10am. We arrived just in time for me to use the loo (where I sneakily put on some mascara despite Jim hopping around in a rage brought on by nearly being late), board the light plane and take off into the amazingly blue sky. We were in the air for just over an hour, soaring over glaciers and rivers carving their way through mountains, finishing their journies in lakes tinged turqoise by glacial ‘flour’. We flew so close to the highest peaks in New Zealand we felt like we could just reach out and touch them. It was all so magical, I can’t put into words how awe-inspiring it was to see such massive mechanisms of nature at work. We heeded our pilot’s warning not to spend too much time looking through our viewfinders…making sure we were soaking in the experience firsthand. I was keeping a close eye-out for the huge mountain goats who apparently live up there, but instead caught glimpses of tiny huts on the barren, frozen mountainsides. Our pilot informed us that a few people live ‘off-the-grid’ in the Alps, far away from the bothersome presence of others. For someone now residing in one of the biggest metropolises on Earth, it was reassuring to see the wilderness in all its humbling power, as well as to know there are people still committed to stillness and solitude. On our way back we flew near a sheet of cloud cover where the coast meets the Alps, resulting in a dazzling strip of whiteness stretching as far as we could see. Aotearoa indeed.

 

 

My time in New Zealand was over far too quickly. As Jim’s Mum put it “I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for you to get here, and now that you’re here you’re leaving again!” I was sad to leave, but excited to get to Perth. I left Timaru with a bag of presents from Jim’s family, in a mini-van full of octogenerians bound for Christchurch airport. Something about NZ just makes the soul feel good.

Next time: the Perth leg (Gah!)

Spornwall

It’s probably once in a lifetime that your holiday in Spain ends with your Spanish neighbour joining you on the street to help your friend contain a drunk, elderly Russian man on crutches who has pulled up outside your villa in his car. I’d say it happens once in TWO lifetimes that the neighbour is wearing only a bath towel, and once in three lifetimes that there is a handgun tucked into the back of it. Frightening enough, but what happens when your Russian friend kindly ups the ante by starting to rant about Spanish fascists? My knowledge of the Spanish civil war is limited to what I learnt from watching Pan’s Labyrinth and reading Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, but it doesn’t take a war fact enthusiast to know that a Spanish man with a gun might get a bit pissed off at a Russian man calling him a fascist outside his own house at 2am. Our randomness rating reaches the lofty heights of once in four lifetimes when the neighbour, once satisfied with your friend’s ability to manage the Russian man, tells him he’s heard us all making noise and hands him a huge amount of weed so we can ‘keep quiet’. Jim says I happen to run into weird situations, but I never really thought he had a point until looking back on that holiday gem.

To put this into context I should tell you that at the end of July, immediately after my contract finished for the school year, I joined in on a plan hatched by my friend to hire out a villa on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Seven people originally from Perth ended up going, with people arriving and leaving at different times throughout the week. We hired a villa set into a steep and rocky hillside, with an amazing view over Pueblo Mascarat. It took around 6 hours for me to get from the airport to the villa via buses and taxis, but the long journey was worth it and I did some light exercise to help with the nerve pain caused by sitting down for hours on end. The setting was idyllic and it felt like we were starring in some holiday special of Bold and the Beautiful. The seven of us settled easily into each others’ company, despite some of us not having seen each other for  years. Some of our group still lived in Perth and were on short holidays, one of us had been living overseas for years and was quite used to catching up with transient groups of Australians passing through the UK and Europe. The rest of us were in various stages of being or becoming emigrants. After being on the move for so long and meeting lots of new people, it felt really good to be around familiar folk who you don’t have to ‘try’ with. I think because most of us seemed to be at a transitory stage of our lives, we managed to bring enough prior knowledge of each other to feel comfortable without including presumptions or rigid expectations that sometimes come with long-term friendships. We swam, drank, played games, explored, ate good food and enjoyed the sunshine; the stark landscape with its tough scrub and bright reflections reminding me of home. At the end of my four days there I was feeling more optimistic than ever about returning to Perth and seeing everyone.

Previously I mentioned that Jim was going to show me where he spent every summer as a child, and that we had already bought a car hire voucher from STA when we bought our tickets to Australia. About a week after I returned to London, we put aside 9 days to brave the wilds of Cornwall. We had a rocky start, both of us traipsing to Kings Cross from our respective homes via public transport, me laden with the camping gear not already transferred to Jim’s flat. We arrived at the car rental place only to be told that our insurance policy was a bit dodgy and that we should cancel it. Terse phonecalls ensued, my anxiety rising due to memories of paying 800 pounds excess thanks to a dented wheel arch the last time I hired a car in the UK . After all of that was sorted and I was certain that I wouldn’t pay a single pound even if I somehow managed to completely demolish the car due to my own stupidity, I stood waiting to be handed the keys. Then the man behind the counter asked for my passport. Which was in a drawer. At home. Around an hour and several tube rides later, we finally hit the road. We cleverly avoided the congestion zone and slowly and terrifyingly made our way to Jim’s house in Queens Park. We threw armfuls of CDS and the rest of the gear in the car (sans bedclothes thanks to someone!), and set off again towards the motorways. We suffered the same communication issues as any couple would when one person doesn’t drive, one person hasn’t driven in over a year and all they’re armed with is an incomplete google maps printout and an iPhone3 that is rapidly going flat. However, we managed to talk about why we were both a tad snappy using excellent ‘I feel…because…’ phrases and finally ended up barrelling down the M5, blood returning to our knuckles and jaws gradually unclenching.

Driving in central London was already a tense reintroduction to the joys of driving, but as the weather grew worse and we drove deeper into Cornwall, I was challenged anew by the narrow, winding lanes, impatient local drivers and eventually the thick fog that descended upon the claustrophobic landscape, decreasing my vision to zilch. Somehow we made it to Wadebridge alive, where Jim’s Uncle and his wife had left a home-made shepard’s pie and a bottle of french red for us on their dining room table, over which we finally unwound and realised that we were far from London. Due to the weather and the welcome insistence of Jim’s family, we extended our stay with them from two to three nights. Jim and I went on day-trips to Lanhydrock and Padstow after long breakfasts with Chris and Anne, returning in the evening after they had left for their night shifts. One of my favourite nights involved wandering down to The Swan pub after our early dinner, once again kindly provided by our hosts. We drank a bottle of Chilean Sauv Blanc and played rounds of rummy, and I FINALLY beat Jim at something, ha! On day four of our trip we bid Chris, Anne and their (literally) braindamaged cat Gandalf goodbye. Gandalf had fallen off a balcony as a kitten and as a result, moves like an unpredictable, malfunctioning rubber robot with seven legs. I am the least cat-friendly person (mostly due to being allergic), and had avoided him all the more after finding out he’s a biter. Anne loaded us up with food and wine and we set off for the southerly village of Coverack.

Jim was facing the particular problem that I’ll be facing in December – how do you recreate the nostalgic experiences that you hold so dear for someone you love? To show them the way things are done, to let them inside your past and hope that they accept it at the very least, or at best love it too? Do you try to stick to the formula and make the new fit the old, or create your own new memories on an old stomping ground? In the end I think our conclusion was to have a mix of both. It was so much fun camping again, and we had some sweet gear thanks to my friends Bi and Nick. Amazingly, another family who Jim saw every year as a child were continuing to camp there every summer, so we spent some lovely time with them as well as doing our own thing. Cornwall is such a unique and awesome place, and it was a really special trip for both of us. There’s so much to say about what we did (I literally have a whole noteboook full of things and this is long enough already), so I’ll just list my highlights:

– BBQ on the beach at sunset with Jim’s family friends and walking back to town with headtorches in the dark
– Huddling in our tent as it poured down with rain, eating freshly cooked whole crab from Cadgwith Cove
– Walking to the pub in the evening as bats swooped for insects overhead
– Feeding some horses mandarins (if horses could say WTF, these totally would have)
– Eating Roskilly’s icecream
– Watching everyone in the village have fun at the Coverack Regatta, even though we didn’t win the raffle
– Seeing Jim so happy about showing me this special place