September has long been one of my favourite months, all the more so now I live in a place where it marks the start of spring.
It’s probably the most unsettled time of year here weatherwise. It’s entirely possible to have a 2-degree night immediately followed by an 18-degree morning, and a simple trip to the shops can involve sunshine, rain, hail, snow and then back to sun again. Thank goodness for layered clothing and rainbows.
It’s a colourful time across the city. The brilliant yellow wattle is starting to look a little tired, but there’s pink and white blossom everywhere, and when I walk through our neighbourhood I catch bursts of honeysuckle on the breeze. It’s beautiful.
This September marks two anniversaries for us. Four years in Tasmania, and ten years of marriage. I’m not sure which of those feels more astonishing now, or which was the more surprising decision in the first place.
It’s a measure of how much Hobart feels like home that I was close to tears the other night when I realised that if we’d been unsuccessful in our residency application last year, we’d currently be getting ready to pack up and leave. Where would we go? Brexit Britain? Trump’s America? What a choice, and how many people and places it would hurt us to leave now. We feel incredibly privileged to be bringing DorkySon up somewhere so safe, where he gets to enjoy a childhood many people can only dream of.
A friend asked a few weeks ago what I mean when I say the lifestyle is better in Australia. It’s one of those words that gets thrown around a lot – often as a euphemism for lower house prices. But her question prompted me to dig a little deeper into why we feel so settled here.
Tasmania is similar enough to where I grew up that I felt comfortable here immediately – there is something consistent about island communities, whether they number in the hundreds or the tens of thousands – but it’s different enough to ensure there will always be new things to discover. The novelty of rosellas in the playpark still hasn’t worn off.
The list of things we love is a long one: festivals, a vibrant art scene, good food and wine, accessible outdoor activities, a friendly community, small local shops, clean air, reasonable climate, unique wildlife, good customer service, accessible healthcare, and an education system that works well for our family.
But there are also those important things that are slightly less tangible. I like that I can scoot in and out of the CBD to pick something up in less than half an hour and can always find a parking space. I really like the respect that Tasmanians show for emergency service workers: the firies and ambos are the heroes of every community here. I like that when I call a utility company I get a real person on the end of the phone without having to loop through twenty layers of keypad prompts. I like the level of trust that exists: when we’re having work done on the house we’re happy to leave the tradies unattended and ask them to post the key back through the door afterwards. In return, they always hoover the carpet before they leave and bill us for work a week after completion. It’s a long way from the upfront payments and regimented timeslots of small town Hertfordshire.
I think it’s telling that when we looked around DorkySon’s new school last week the thing his Principal was most thrilled to show us was not the new classrooms that opened just last year, or the stage that was being set for a Grade 5 performance that night, but the ‘cubbies’ that are currently appearing in their playground – great piles of branches and leaves and sticks around the base of each tree, with different entrances for older and younger kids.
DorkyDad and I exchanged glances and swallowed down our fears about redbacks and tiger snakes as we watched DorkySon literally jump for joy and absorb the outdoor area that will be his to explore in just a few months.
That is a bit of a ramble. I suppose the most succinct way of describing a better lifestyle would be to say that I don’t blog about my life so much anymore because I’m so busy living it.
We all are.
As I write this, DorkyDad is texting me updates from the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival where he’s taking part in the late-night poetry event, and DorkySon has just shouted his eighth or ninth goodnight down the stairs after coming down to tell me one more thing he’d forgotten about his day at school. We are all busier here, and yet we breathe more easily too.
It is four years on, and we are fundamentally the same people. There may be three wetsuits hanging in the wardrobe and a tangle of Blunnies by the front door, but we are certainly not out bushwalking or kayaking every weekend. Sometimes we light the fire, make lasagne and read our books. But whatever we end up doing it is always a conscious choice, and we take a moment to appreciate joy that comes from simple things.
The bits and bobs I miss about the UK haven’t really changed. The friends, grandparents, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins are a given. I would love to sit down with a copy of the Guardian on a Saturday morning and enjoy the smell of newsprint and good journalism. I haven’t found any yoghurts here without added sugar. I hate shopping for clothes at the best of times, but a city with so little choice leaves me longing for a day in Covent Garden and a blank cheque to spend in Gap or White Stuff or Boden. Even a busy afternoon in Clarks trying on school shoes would be a treat.
I miss being engaged with politics. I applied for a job with the Tassie Greens and never even received acknowledgment of the application, which was a bit of a thump. But we are in this strange limbo land of non-voters with no representation. The citizenship laws have changed since we moved here, so that’s likely to remain the case for at least the next four years.
DorkyDad and I watch debates rage locally about cable cars, fish farms and foreign investors. We shake our heads at the letters page in the local newspaper and start writing our responses. But then we remember the first advice we were given here, which is to live as tourists for as long as possible. And so, we wear our discreet rainbow pins, we make targeted charity donations and we have as many quiet conversations with as many open minds as we possibly can.
DorkySon though. He and I watched a gameshow the other night that asked the contestants to pick out their home flag. He didn’t go for the Stars and Stripes, nor the Bonny Saltire. Not even the Union Jack. He poked the Australian Flag on the screen – smudged his finger across the seven stars – that’s ours, he said, He’s no tourist. He’s the biggest fan the Sea Shepherd has and he’s got a keen eye for injustice. The keepers of the cubbies should make sure he’s a pal.
Probably the only time I miss the familiarity of the UK in a visceral way is when one of us is ill. God, what I would give for a Boots. When you’re knocked out with flu, or when someone has a blister, or even if you’re just surprised with a headache when you’re out shopping, never underestimate how wonderful it is to walk into a chemist and know exactly what product to reach for on the shelf just by the branded packaging. Even after four years, every trip to the chemist here requires both a negotiator and a translator to work out what I need, what I’m allowed and what’s not actually legal here.
So that is the island.
As for the marriage…. I suppose everything and nothing has changed in the last ten years. Sometimes when you’ve got a really good thing it’s best to just let it be and not try to dissect it too much.
So, I could tell you that we make each other laugh every single day. I could tell you how patient we are with each other and how every time there’s an argument in the air we both sense it and choose to walk away. I could tell you what confidence DorkyDad instils in me, and what confidence I instil in him, and how we look at each other sometimes and wonder how it could have been if we’d had such a champion all the way along. I could tell you how full my heart is when I watch the big boy and the little one chat with each other and try to sort out the problems of the world. I could tell you how good Saturday mornings are when we read together in bed. How much we like fried chicken and apple pie and weeding the garden.
But none of that would really be enough.
Instead I’ll tell you that the other night I fell asleep holding DorkyDad’s hand and even in the deepest, most still and quiet part of the night, I refused to let go.
Can you blame me?
If you’d found the fella who filled you with love and laughter, contentment and confidence, interest and insight, then you wouldn’t let him go either.
Happy Anniversary, us.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our story so far.
We hope you’ll stick around for more.
While you’re here, please do pop over and say hello on my new writing website. I’ve returned to freelance life and started offering services in copywriting and feature writing. I have a second blog over on that site which I’d love you to check out!