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In my last blog post Emigration Preparation Part 1, I detailed how I finally got my permanent residency visa in Australia, why I decided to go backpacking across Australia’s south coast, and the terror that set in once the whole notion of migrating had sunk in! Here are the grown-up hurdles I had to go through before actually getting on that plane.
HURDLE 1: Quitting my Job – Goodbye 9-5, Hello Freedom!
“…was it really all worth it when, for the first time in ten years, I was going to have to start paying for my own biros?”
The first major step after being granted my Australian skilled migration visa was to hand in my notice at my ten-year-long job in an office, which felt a lot like telling a not totally unpleasant but very mediocre lover that I wanted a separation. Feeling nauseously nervous, I put it off until the last day before the Christmas holidays, quickly blurted out something along the lines of, “I’m moving to Australia have a nice Christmas bye,” then ran out the door. Phew!
Two months later the big day of departure finally came around.
Leaving work after a decade in the same company was exactly how I’d imagine the end of a long jail sentence to feel: an enormous relief but a terrifying journey into the unknown. In the way that people who’ve been abducted get attached to their kidnappers, looking at those depressing grey skirting boards and beige 80’s filing cabinets all day was as big a part of my routine as getting dressed in the morning or brushing my teeth. As was spending winters scraping ice off my car semi-comatose and getting up and arriving back home in the dark.
Not dissimilar to Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption after his 50-year stint in the slammer, I had become seriously “institutionalised” and fearful of what life on the outside would be like for a long-timer like me.
It wasn’t just the obvious worries like who would prevent my workmates slitting their wrists from boredom once there was no one there to make amusing artwork for the walls, sneak pictures of semi-naked men into male colleagues’ paperwork, or sit at our bosses’ desks in their absence, donning their glasses and winter knitwear and doing, in my opinion, hilarious impressions of them. No, I had much more pressing concerns about my upcoming travel expedition:
1. How would my eyes react without spending eight hours a day staring at a screen under artificial lighting? Would the sudden switch to sunshine and blue skies require special tinted glasses? Should I give myself exposure therapy to daylight first?
2. Would I have withdrawal symptoms from not sitting half asleep in traffic jams every morning, inching forward at the pace of a tortoise whilst watching the driver behind me picking their nose in my rear-view mirror? Would stopping this too abruptly give me headaches or shaky hands like an alcoholic? Was there a rehabilitation programme available?
3. And most importantly, was it really all worth it when, for the first time in ten years, I was going to have to start paying for my own biros?
Endless reservations aside, I had come this far and, fear or no fear, I wasn’t going to back out now. So with a pocket full of pens and an irrational feeling of guilt I stepped outside, free as a bird, into the surreal, luxurious world of eating porridge in my pyjamas and leisurely mornings with Lorraine Kelly.
HURDLE 2: Home Renovation – Retro Ruin to Rentable Real Estate
“I was living in my very own version of 60 Minute Makeover, but trapped in a repeating cycle of those frantic, final few minutes.”
The first few days of being unemployed felt like I was doing something wrong; I half expected a policeman to come knocking on my door and drag me back to the office in my dressing gown. But it wasn’t long until the last ten years seemed like a (not particularly exciting) dream and my new-found freedom felt perfectly normal and exactly how life should be.
But lovely as my new life of leisure was, and lovely as my daydreams of long days spent at my local hotel gym, flitting between swimming pool, hot tub and the café for afternoons of novel writing were (didn’t happen once), the relaxation didn’t last long as I had actually left work early for a reason: I was the proud owner of a property-in-need-of-renovation. And after many years of labour it was still only half luxury urban abode; the other half being pink-wallpapered retro eyesore that desperately needed finishing off if I was ever going to find a tenant.
As anyone who’s ever owned an older property will know, refurbishing one isn’t just a case of painting the walls and replacing the carpets; it is plaster crumbling off to reveal missing bricks, choking on clouds of disintegrated underlay, risk of asbestos poisoning from ugly artex and the undoing of decades of cut corners and terrible taste.
Since I come from a family of avid DIYers, the next four months were spent scraping, painting, steaming, digging and turfing. While it didn’t seem too pressing at first, as time went on the matter became increasingly urgent and a seemingly endless task involving more and more members of my long-suffering family. I had sisters painting ballustrades, brother-in-laws steaming ceilings, OAP parents threatening to call Help the Aged, and nieces and nephews breaking all manner of child-labour laws in the garden.
As my nerves about leaving grew and my need for calm reached critical levels, my house became a constant merry-go-round of makeshift manual labourers. I was living in my very own version of 60 Minute Makeover, but trapped in a repeating cycle of those frantic, final few minutes.
Needless to say, by the time my emigration date came around, my stress levels were off the chart and my last few shreds of sanity had been carted off to the tip with the sacks of 70’s wallpaper.
HURDLE 3: Emigration Preparation (or Lack of)
“…the overall feeling inside me was not really one of excitement but more of utter madness and a persistent urge to vomit.”
As you can imagine, my new full-time position as Bob the Builder left little time for the long list of tasks that needed to be completed before I left for Australia, such as cancelling utilities and phone contracts, sorting out bank accounts and preparing for my backpacking trip across the Australian south coast. Not to mention the small task of sorting through all the items I owned and squeezing them, Tetris-style, into a finite number of storage boxes. A seemingly never-ending job that I started months in advance but somehow didn’t finish until 7pm the evening before I flew out.
Migration by itself is stressful enough, but as a triple-whammy with house renovation and preparing for a long, solo backpacking stint it is a recipe for needing a straitjacket.
As my leaving date loomed closer, the overall feeling inside me was not really one of excitement but more of utter madness and a persistent urge to vomit. By the time I’d reluctantly attended my own leaving do I felt like the only place I should really be going was a rehabilitation centre.
HURDLE 4: Getting on the Plane
And that is how, in my final hours in the UK, I ended up highly panicked, fraught with exhaustion and still had a to-do list that covered two sides of A4. It was, however, all doable. My family would put the final touches on the house and sell my car, the letting agent would find a tenant, and with the magic that is the internet, all of the remaining tasks could be done online.
So nine months after my visa was granted and four months after I’d left work, with one hour’s sleep and only a few days to go before my entry period to get into Australia would expire forever, I finally made it to Heathrow Airport (telling myself that I was just going on a little holiday) where I stumbled, slightly delirious and utterly exhausted, into the doors of Terminal 4, through the gate and into my seat on the plane.
Australian adventure, here I (dazedly) come.