Friday, 26 November 2010

I'm off to a land down-under

It was with some trepidation that I set off for the land down-under with my new fiancee, our two dogs and, once again, the entire contents of our house.

Third time lucky in terms of making a big move?  We'd been here before.  First, in moving to Vancouver from the UK.  Then from Vancouver to Ottawa.  And now from Ottawa to Sydney.  Emotions were mixed as we packed up the house which had become our haven through the harsh winter climate, and traded in our comfort zone for the uncertainty of a new life literally on the other side of the world.

Selling up

I had only been to Australia a couple of times on vacation so what did I really know of Sydney and life on the Australian east coast?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

One Last Thing To Take Care Of

Before we left Ottawa, there was something to take care of first.

The perfect opportunity presented itself during a long weekend away in New York City.  Leaving Murphy and Milo with friends, we headed off early Friday morning, flying into La Guardia Airport not one hour's travel time from the Canadian capital.

Checking in to the Marriott on Times Square, we spent the next couple of days putting our worries about the future aside with a promise to deal with the uncertainty of what lay ahead upon our return to Ottawa.

New York City

I had never been to New York yet I felt a real sense of familiarity from having watched so many great American movies and seen untold iconic images taken from this great city.  We ticked off our tourist check list, taking in the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, Ground Zero, UN Headquarters, Rockefeller Centre, Wall Street and Chinatown.  It was too easy to feel overwhelmed by such a place, bursting full of renowned stories and characters, famous streets and suburbs. Three days was never going to be long enough but it somehow felt like a perfect end to our time in this part of the world, finishing on a high in NY.

As the weekend drew to a close, I had one thing left to do.  Following dinner at a cosy Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side, we took a horse-drawn carriage around Central Park, before strolling over to the Wollman Ice Skating Rink.

This really was the stuff of Hollywood. As a cold December evening set in, we too our seats in the stands and watched families skate around the rink.  I recognised this scene from so many Christmas movies.  Wrapped up in our warm winter jackets, we reminisced over the past 18 months of life in the east of Canada, of the friends we had made, opportunities we had taken, and the home we had made for ourselves and our two dogs on Irving Avenue.

We had come to the realisation that we couldn't stay in Ottawa.  We hadn't acclimatised well to the extreme winter and summer conditions, and knew that, if we didn't leave soon, we'd become further embedded into the community, finding it harder to leave later on. It was now or never and our minds were finally set.

We could have returned to Vancouver and the forests, ocean and mountains but we needed a clean break and a return to family. England was a serious contender but I was conscious that a return could mean the end of the dream, of this search, and I wasn't ready to give that up just yet. Then there was Australia.  My partner's home and a location that had always seemed a distant prospect until now. This would be our new home.

Huddled by that ice rink in the heart of this vast city, we were completely alone. Surrounded by strangers and with family dotted around the globe, we felt at peace with our decision. Safe in the knowledge that we'd come this far together, that we'd made it through thick and thin, that our adventure was set to continue, and that we had each other.

With this at the forefront of my mind, I got down on one knee, took Sarah's hand in my own, and asked her to be my wife.

As the skaters swept past us, the lights of New York City shone a little brighter that night as we pledged our future together for better or for worse.

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Grass Isn't Always Greener on the Other Side

The grass is always greener on the other side, so the saying goes. It’s human nature to look at other people’s lives and things we don’t have through rose-coloured glasses...  and want them for ourselves.

At the end of 2004, I looked to Ottawa and a dream government job in the national capital where I envisaged the grass to be not only greener but a far more interesting and exciting shade of green as I changed my career to put the finishing touches on our search for a life less ordinary.

Greener grass on the other side

I'd always assumed that leading a less ordinary life would involve me changing job as well as changing the local scenery and surely rightly so?  We'd changed that scenery by moving to Vancouver and I gave up my former job with a reputable multi-national and went 'back to school' to get a Masters. Yet, rather than stay in Vancouver and build on our new life filled with natural beauty and outdoors adventure, I had pursued this new career in Ottawa with an intensity of purpose and a tunnel-vision focus without stopping to consider the bigger picture.

And, as such, I had completely missed the point.

Our journey to carve out a better life was originally based on a number of 'must haves' - to be surrounded by an amazing landscape that you'd never grow bored of waking up to; to be able to spend weekends exploring this environment in exciting new ways; to work and play near mountains and ocean where such a less stressful setting would mean the job wasn't the number one focus; to feel satisfied and content that life had less routine and regularity but more fulfillment and satisfaction.

In moving to Ottawa, we inadvertently gave up many of these 'must haves' as our life returned to the ordinary existence we'd strived to leave behind. We returned to the regular office job routine, evenings spent glued to the TV, and weekends passed aimlessly at the local shopping malls. The grass wasn't greener at all.

I don't blame the job.  I was working for a relatively young government department in a liaison role with police, intelligence and customs officials. Post-9/11, this role was far from dull and the scope of the work at Public Safety was always increasing.  Our Minister was also the Deputy Prime Minister, giving me a number of opportunities to provide support on field visits, coordinate various major events, and involve myself in numerous activities related to transit security following the London bombings.  It was a decent job.

I don't blame the city.  Ottawa is a lovely capital city, which is safe and welcoming, well-planned and laid out.  There is plenty to do, with a full calendar of festivals, events and exhibitions, and we made many good friends who we remain in contact with to this day.  It was a decent city.

The problem wasn't the city or the job, it was us.

We pined for the coastal mountains and wild ocean.  Mild winters were replaced by ferocious blizzards and ice storms which we neither liked nor were prepared for.  We snowboarded on hard ice not deep powder and struggled to walk our dogs in -30 degrees.  We would become quickly depressed at the thought of a future life spent in this government bubble.  It was a great town but it wasn't our town.  We hadn't signed up for this life when we left the UK and this felt like punishment for giving up on Vancouver.

My dream job rapidly revealed its flaws.  I wasn't a Canadian citizen and was therefore a 'temporary employee', unable to secure permanent roles in the public sector.  Relegated to something of a second-class worker, I was beholden to my employer and at the mercy of middle management, which was both ineffective and out of touch with modern practices. My Director-General was a bully and esteemed colleagues left the department in droves. The work moved at a glacial pace yet I was stressed out and frustrated.  I couldn't understand why I wasn't content with this life as a public servant and I despaired at all we had left behind in Vancouver.

This reached a head when, in March 2006, I returned to Vancouver for a government conference, leaving behind the hard-packed snow and immovable ice of a lengthy Ottawa winter for the onset of a warm, colourful Spring in BC.  The flowers were already budding, the smell of a fresh new year was in the air, the mountain peaks shone in the early sunlight, and I literally wept for our previous life here.  How I missed all that we had given up in the pursuit of that perfect job.

With a heavy heart and muddled mind, I returned to Ottawa certain of only one thing...  we were going to have to leave.

Time to re-evaluate

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More
To contact me about writing or advertising opportunities, email