The Best Things In Life Are Free…

This weekend I was determined that Gidday HQ would take a little more shape in all areas – not just the relatively finished kitchen and living room – but in order to do this I needed to find a way to get rid of the 45 odd flattened boxes from my move a month ago (plus 5 filled with packing paper – never let it be said I am a wasteful girl!)

Enter Freecycle.

The Freecycle Network is a non-profit organisation that allows people to offer and find things FOR FREE. Started in Arizona in 2003 the aim was to create a worldwide network of ‘gifting’ groups to divert reuseable items from being sent to landfill. Since then, Freecycle has grown to more than 8 million members across almost 5,000 communities and operates under the mantra ‘changing the world one gift at a time’.

And what a gift it turned out to be. At around 5.30pm Saturday, I registered as part of my local Freecycle Group (that’s Barnet, if you must know) and posted my OFFER of 50-ish packing boxes/paper.

It is now 5pm on Sunday. From the 8 contacts who professed interest via the network, 3 visited Gidday HQ over the course of this afternoon to avail themselves of My Free Stuff.  I have 3 flattened garment boxes left. In the meantime, I have unpacked and found homes for much other stuff and moved furniture between rooms all in the space afforded me by the departure of said boxes.

So Gidday HQ is really taking shape. I feel so productive and exhausted and happy, I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Almost…I can hear last night unfinished bottle of Grenache Blanc calling from the fridge…

Anyway, props to Freecycle and a bit of community spirit. Both now up there amongst my favourite Fab Finchley discoveries.

To find out more about The Freecycle Network in the UK, you can just click here. There are also links to Freecycle in other countries on the landing page and if there’s not, there’s even a link to start your own group. 

See how super easy it is?  What a community-minded soul I am becoming…wonder what it is I’ll find out about next?

Life’s Classroom…

Every week I get an email newsletter from Australian Times.  It keeps me in touch with what’s going on with Aussies in London and also with some of the big stories Down Under.  But this week’s article by Adrian Craddock, Does Being Australian Make You Less Employable? hit a particularly sensitive spot.

I arrived in London at the age of 34.  I had achieved a great many things in my career up to that point and my move to London, while sudden, was a permanent one as far as I was concerned. I had great references and could give many examples showing the results I’d achieved and how I’d ‘managed’ to do this. I’d qualified easily for my work visa under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme. Note that this was not the 2 year working visa, or youth mobility visa as it’s now called, that most Aussies who are under the age of 30 and without UK ancestry come on. I’d sold my apartment and had a shipping container of furniture on the way. 

No-one actually said anything but as I trawled the recruiters and the job boards and built my networks, I felt an undercurrent of disbelief from the locals.  Had I actually done all of those things at such a ‘young’ age?  Was I really here for good and how could they count on me not to get homesick and flee back to Melbourne? And for that matter, why hadn’t I stayed in Australia if my career had been that great?

On top of this, I was faced with the constant refusal to believe that the skills and experience I had put to such good use in Australia (and in dealing with suppliers and customers in overseas markets while based there) could possibly be transferred to the UK.

And the longer this went on, the more difficult it got.  Added to the great unspoken was the question, ‘Why aren’t you working yet?’

My networks were gone – the Australian ones I’d left behind could do little to provide any pragmatic help and the new ones, while delighted with the opportunity to ask me ‘what I was doing here’, proved a bit of a closed shop.  I didn’t resort to spending my time fulfilling the common view of Australians as hard-working wanderlusts, ready to ‘make the most’ of the plethora of multicultural experiences just a couple of hours and a few quid away across the Channel.  I kept working – temping and working in the kinds of roles I’d worked in 8-10 years prior – trying to get a foothold in the market and earn enough to pay my bills and build my life here. 

Seven and a half years on and a whole rollercoaster of ups and downs later, I’ve learnt a lesson or two.  

The first is around dogged hard-graft, relentless persistence and above all, emotional resilience.  It’s tough to start again.  Really tough.  And it’s destabilising to be without those taken-for-granted ways of life, the unconditional daily support networks and, not to put too finer point on it, money.  It made me dig deep to find new ways to keep going and new things to embrace about my life. 

Which leads me to the second lesson: humility, integrity and faith that it would ‘happen’ for me.  There is no such thing as being ‘too big for your boots’ when doing the coffee round for the office was helping me to pay my bills.  I was employed to do a job, whether I liked that job or not. And I’m someone who always wants to do a job well, sometimes in the face of much cynicism and comments like ‘why are going above and beyond? No-one cares!’. (I am not a proud, proud Leo for nothing!) 

I’m emerging from a 2 year dip now, enjoying the sunshine (so to speak) as I climb to the top of the hill again.  It’s good to feel inspired and hopeful.  Everywhere I look, the future is looking bright and shiny. 

And the best part?  I feel grounded, like I can deal with whatever comes, and lucky to have such valuable lessons from Life’s never-ending classroom under my belt.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of…

I was happily ensconsed at a local cafe this afternoon, sipping my coffee and picking at a slice of quite sublime lemon and ginger cake, when I came across an interview in The Times with some of the Brisbane-ites who were affected by Australia’s shocking floods 100 days ago (yes I thought, ‘only 100 days’ too).

Right in the middle of the first column was a paragraph that really made me stop and think – it went something like this:

Someone said to me ‘You should be thankful you’re alive.  What you’ve lost is just stuff’, she said.  ‘But your ‘stuff’ is what validates you.  Now we feel invaild and invisible.’

When I arrived in the UK over seven years ago, I had planned to be living with the one person I knew and had arranged for the contents of my flat in Melbourne to be professionally packed up and shipped here.  Long story short – he freaked at the ‘responsibility’ for me coming over here and I moved out after six weeks into a share-house with someone I didn’t know. As one does in London…you know the adage ‘When in Rome…’

So my ‘stuff’ (and my dreams) sat in storage.

I moved into my current flat a year later and I cannot even describe the joy of unwrapping MY couch, unpacking MY books, MY music, MY photos and pictures and basically surrounding myself with MY stuff.  It made me feel whole again, reminiscing over things that had been by-the-by in Melbourne but that had suddenly taken on a comforting and joyful nostalgia.  I remember unpacking my stereo, unearthing an adaptor from somewhere and, in the midst of the mountain of bubble wrap and paper wadding, listening to one CD after another: Kylie, Aussie Crawl, Bachelor Girl, Savage Garden, Noiseworks (just in case the neighbours did not realise that there was an Aussie ‘in da house’) as well as some vintage Madonna, Elton John and Neil Diamond.

And in that one afternoon, it became MY place.  A haven to recover from the knocks I had never expected, and the ones I suspected were still to come.  To catch my breath and take stock of who I was and to assess what I had always thought I wanted.  And to realise that in this ‘stuff’ lay not only the life I’d had so far but also the building blocks for the new chapter I’d started to write.

Six years later, I am sitting in my front window, the late afternoon sun is streaming through the dappled leaves and it’s lovely and warm on my face.  I’ve written many more chapters since – the good, the bad and the heart-breaking – mostly ones I never expected I would write. 
And I remain resolutely and inordinately attached to my stuff…and dream of the chapters that are still to come.

Expat: Born or bred?

On one of my especially long commutes home this week (3hrs!) I stumbled across a blog, Adventures in Expat Land by ‘accompanying wife’ Linda from The Netherlands.  As I sat on the top deck of the number 14 bus (having been ejected from King’s Cross Station after a ‘reported emergency’ with the rest of London’s peak-hour commuters and then walking 20mins to get on said bus), her post Seven Reasons Not To Become An Expat struck a chord…

It can be fun. And exciting, educational, eye-opening, energizing, amazing. It can also be uprooting, disruptive, alienating, challenging, lonely and just plain hard work.

I knew no-one here and had no job (just some leftover redundancy package money) but buoyed by fierce determination and an unrelenting belief that it was where I was meant to be, I packed up my comfortable Melbourne life and started again. Just like I did many times over as we moved up and down the east coast of Australia and around Melbourne, changing schools, jobs, friends, creating new habits and leaving the comfortable predictability of old ones.

But then so did my sister…who stays happily ensconced in Australia with not so much as a twinkle of expat life in her eye.

Which then leads me to wonder whether an expat is ‘born’ a nomad rather than being a product of their upbringing.  You know, nature vs nurture and all that.  Bit like a personality flaw trait.

So are expats actually born or bred?  And what’s the difference between those that up sticks and settle somewhere else vs the constantly relocating expatriate lifer?

Does anyone know?
ps…and if you even have a inkling that you might like to try on ‘expat life’, you should read Linda’s post for yourself by clicking here…or not…

A Conscious Incompetent…

This week I started my new job and I find myself back in that uncomfortable place of Conscious Incompetence…when you know that you know absolutely nothing.

Without a shadow of a doubt there’s some Unconscious Incompetence there too (I don’t know what I don’t know) but that doesn’t count because I don’t know about it…yet!

And this has all been combined with some god-awful jetlag which resulted in me hitting – no, head-butting the wall vigorously and repeatedly about Wednesday.  (What a joy I must have been to be around!)

So I’m frantically trying to muster some of my Competence (Conscious or Unconscious – I really don’t mind at this point) to offset that first day at school feeling of ‘how on earth will I fit in’ and ‘what will be my contribution to this new community’.

A bit like when I moved here 7 years ago and began ‘Life in the UK’…

…and here I am, tap tap tapping away in my front window and taking a brief few moments before the inevitable Sunday evening maelstrom of getting ready for the Work Week whilst watching entertainment of the mindless, sparkly variety (currently Dancing on Ice for those of you who don’t live in the UK).

Now that’s something I know about!

ps…I’d also like to take this opportunity to welcome 2 new followers to the Gidday From The UK peanut gallery…Lil Chicky and Anji.  Hooray! Bonza! You Little Ripper! and all that…now settle in and make yourselves right at home!