Thursday, 26 April 2012

Finding Love When You Least Expect It

Do you ever really find love when you most expect to?

My own journey - and the journey of others like me - says you probably don't.

I spent last Saturday evening celebrating the birthday of a good friend's wife. We arrived at their ground floor apartment terrace to the distinctive rhythm of Latin American music, colourful garden lights twinkling from up high on the marquee, and the mouthwatering aroma of chicken and beef skewers grilling on the barbeque.

Chilled drinks were served and a mix of Spanish-English chatter ebbed and flowed around me. Half-closing my eyes and with the warm autumnal air on my face, I could have been in Europe. In Spain. In fact, anywhere by the Mediterranean.

Surrounded by a lively cocktail of Colombians, Israelis, Australians and Brits, it was a Saturday night with a uniquely international flavour - and the partygoers shared more similarities than first met the eye.

Photo credit: Photography by BJWOK /

Following similar paths

Engaging with old friends and new acquaintances alike, I realised we all had something in common.

Each of us was sharing our lives with a partner from a different place. From a country far removed from our own.

My British friend, Simon, and his Colombian wife, Lynn. His brother, Mark, married to Mel, an Australian. Tom, also from Australia, and Malu from Colombia. Scotsman Grant and his Israeli wife, Ilana. Aussie Dave with Vicky, another Colombian.

And I with my wife, Sarah. My own beautiful piece of Australia.

As the aguardiente was raised, I wagered a bet that once upon a time none of us could have imagined we'd be sat on this terrace at this party in this city sharing our lives with soulmates from around the world.

My unexpected love

I grew up in the south of England with an immediate curiosity in the world at large and an early desire to explore the environment around me. Part-English, Canadian, Welsh and Irish, overseas adventure was always on the cards.

I met my wife, Sarah, in my 20's. At the gym of all places. In a BodyPump class. My step behind hers. A fascinating place to find love and romance.

Treading water in my early career, I yearned to fly the coup and explore. Sarah was a shining light of positivity and worldliness in my small southern English town of grey. She saved me from the boredom of a life lived in front of the television or at the shopping mall or down the pub. She was also quite a good-looking sort.

Within two years, we were headed to Canada on the first leg of our travel adventure together.

I didn't intend to find Sarah but, deep down, I always knew I'd been searching for her.

I wanted someone with a passion for living life, not just getting by. I wanted to see and do extraordinary things with a like-minded friend and partner, not just follow the routine 9-5. And I wanted to be with someone who loved her own home as much as mine and, more importantly, wanted to share it openly with me.

Sarah gave me all that and more.

A world of positives

This journey from there to here has been remarkable and committing to someone from a different country has been no small thing.

We've had our ups and, sure, we've had our downs. From being far from loved ones to the travel distance between familial homes and the ever-present uncertainty regarding how long we live in which place are ongoing issues that will no doubt follow us to the very end.

But the understanding we have of each other runs deeper than water. We've lived in each other's countries. We've experienced how tough it is to be away from immediate family and friends. We intuitively know each other's thoughts and instinctively protect each other when the need arises as if second nature.

We are culturally enriched from exposure to each other's homes and histories, traditions and celebrations. We appreciate each other for what we bring to the table and are forever grateful for the sum of both our parts.

At the terrace party last Saturday, I saw that deeper understanding and affection in the eyes and actions of the others. They were there for each other, for the long haul, through thick and thin. And by embracing their differences and welcoming diversity, they'd created a strong and loving community within which to settle, establish and grow.

As for my story, I guess I never really expected to find the love of my life on that early morning at that gym in that southern English town.

And that, for me, has been the most pleasantly surprising thing.

Have you found love where you least expected it? Did you find love along an overseas journey of your own or did you set out with soulmate in hand as I did?

Do share your own story below.

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Thursday, 12 April 2012

One Dir Are Here And Here's What I Think

The word went out early Tuesday evening on Facebook. They'd been spotted in Manly, a local beach suburb. And drinking at Hugo's no less.

After screaming hysterically for an entire five minutes and dancing my way around the house with hands in the air and shapes being thrown, I jumped in the car, whacked the stereo on high to the sounds of 'One Thing', and drove the fifteen minute journey at high speed to find them.

Prepared for the biggest moment of my life, ever, I shoved the car into the nearest available parking spot, unfurled my favourite poster, pulled on my beloved t-shirt, and legged it over to the growing group of fanatics gathered outside the wine bar. We stood, we waited, we shared gossip, we laughed, we cried, we gripped each other's hands tightly in anticipation of their arrival. My idols.

Then the word went out on Facebook for the second time that night. It was all a big, fat hoax. A false sighting. A rumour. A vicious, dirty lie. They weren't drinking here after all. Never had been, never would be. They were down by the harbour, enjoying an early evening swim and sharing the limelight with other die hard fans. My precious idols were currently being adored by a bunch of undeserving little brats. It was beyond belief. I was devastated...

Now, if this story was true and if I was a teenage girl bursting with teenage hormones, then this might actually be the case. But if you live within 1,000km of Sydney, and unless you were whisked off to Mars late yesterday, you would have heard that the latest teen pop sensation to blast out of the UK landed here in Sydney on Tuesday. One Direction has finally arrived in the land down under.

One Direction.  Photo credit: Irfaan Photography (Creative Commons)

This popular troupe of British and Irish lads touched down to what can only be described as complete and utter pandemonium. Sydney Airport was packed to capacity with screaming teenagers intermittently breaking into 'What Makes You Beautiful'. One friend flew into Sydney and was greeted by thousands of these teeny tiny One Directionites whilst another was diverting an air ambulance to the Botanical Gardens to rescue a fan who'd fallen out of a tree in uncontrollable excitement. Tuesday was sheer poptastic chaos and there is a teen frenzy in town.

Later that night, the biggest thing in mainstream music since Bieber cut his hair moved onto the suburb of Manly (allegedly) on the Northern Beaches to enjoy an orange juice or two by the water. Outsmarted by the paparazzi, the 'boys' took a quick dip in the harbour before preparing for the next few days of unadulterated media hype. And that hype was spewing left, right and centre - from the national radio to the local newspapers, online forums to TV chat shows, the airwaves of Sydney were filled with the music of One Direction and interviews with the fabulous five.

So who exactly is One Direction?

I'm too old to know but I do. Heralding from a third place finish in the seventh series of the UK's X-Factor, the dapper five are as manufactured as the Ford motor car. When individually they failed to remain in the 'single artist' category, it was suggested that they form a band and enter the 'group' category instead. The rest, as they say, is history and Britain's latest pop phenomenon is on a trajectory to greatness yet they've not even climbed out of their teens (with the exception of the old boy of the group, 21 year old Louis).

So do boy bands like One Direction put the 'Great' back in Britain? Should I feel pumped with pride at the sight of such a roadshow of fame and fortune gracing these distant shores? Does it make me want to return home for more of this commercial fare or stay right where I am on the other side of the world?

I'll admit to a teeny tiny fluttering of pride at the arrival of these megastars from back home and thoughts that maybe Britain does it best when producing the boy band (alongside our American cousins). In my mind, Australia is too cool (and rightfully so) to produce anything so cringe worthy.

The UK has often proved how good it is at taking a seemingly average group of guys with the absolute bare minimum of talent, activating a hype machine the likes that NASA would be proud of, and sending these poor kids skyhigh into mainstream entertainment orbit. And they've done it before in the boy and girl band stakes, feeding us more of the same manufactured carbon copies until you'd think we'd had enough but no... think Bros, Take That, the Spice Girls, even Boyzone and Westlife. The boybands just keep on coming. In fairness, pop bands are the tip of the creative iceberg and Britain is well known for encouraging, developing and celebrating artistic talent, self-expression and all-round creativity... isn't it?

So I started thinking about whether some places are better at embracing creativity and nurturing talent than others - and where the best place is to be an aspiring creative.

What do you think? Are some countries better for inspiring and encouraging creativity? Or is it more about the individual than the place? Where is your best creative place?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

PS. I think I just wrote a post about a boy band...  I never would have believed it.

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Monday, 2 April 2012

Sydney: An Englishman's Parallel Universe

Walking up to the door, it seemed like a regular enough building. Rectangular and squat. Yellowy-orange brickwork and a flat tiled roof. Rusted lettering peeling away from the heavy swing door. An uninspiring and bland piece of design. But then it was just a toilet block.

Yet there was something uncannily familiar about this average-looking toilet block. Something almost homely about it.

Then I realised why.

I'd seen this building before. Many times before. This was exactly the kind of public amenity block you'd find across the length and breadth of England. In busy town centres of London, regional cities, even in the occasional village. This Sydney toilet block was a very English place to go for a pee.

The difference was that this very ordinary toilet block had multi-million dollar views. Set on the edge of the beach at Balmoral, it overlooked the entrance to Sydney's harbour, was surrounded by opulent waterfront properties and Sydneysiders with more money than sense, and faced a string of high-end restaurants and cafes lining the promenade.

It was a completely English occurrence sat a million miles away from home.

And this is the paradox of Sydney.

A parallel universe.  Photo credit: rasdourian (Creative Commons)

As you walk around this world-class city with its iconic beaches, faultless weather and sparkling deep water harbour, it is a city as far removed from any in England as the 17,000kms that separate the two. However, there remains those English throwbacks in Sydney that make it less of a polar opposite and more like a parallel universe.

The national dish here is not a serving of Balmain bugs, saltwater barramundi or prime rib of kangaroo, but the nation's most loved meal is the 'meat pie with veg', a food stuff as English as the pint of beer.

When someone behind me in a queue recently asked his companion "Are youse lot coming over to my place at the weekend?", my head snapped around looking to pick out the Scouser from Liverpool who might have booked cheap flights to Australia with his mates and was here on his hols. But this is the Sydney accent - a uniquely Australian mix of broad northern English dialects and occasionally the odd bit of Cockney rhyming slang thrown in for good measure.

The television programming here has a distinctly British flavour - from the witty comedies produced on the ABC to the regular flow of redeveloped variety and talent shows from the past. When I lived in Canada, the best of British on TV was Coronation Street but here I can watch almost any show coming out of Britain and often aired mere weeks not months after their British premieres.

Sport cannot hide its true origins. In Canada, I was exposed to uniquely North American fare including ice hockey, American football, baseball and lacrosse. Upon arrival in Australia, it was as if a spaceship picked me up in the night and dropped me in England... but in the sun. I watched cricket played in front of palm trees and red gums, rugby league under a bright winter's sun with a schooner of lager in hand, and soccer in a Central Coast stadium with picturesque views over and along the Brisbane water.

So much of Sydney's history and culture is derived from Britain but those sneaky little oddities - the toilet blocks by the ocean, the sight of a double-decker bus crossing the Harbour Bridge, the seat of Parliament in the Central Business District, the morning games of lawn bowls played at the local bowling club - continue to persist if you look long and hard enough about you.

Read the local press and you'd be forgiven for thinking the English and Australians live at absolute polar opposite ends of the earth in more ways than one. In reality, the people and places here are less different and, for better or worse, more often the same.

This makes Sydney an Englishman's parallel universe and that, for me, is quite a comforting thing.

What subtle English throwbacks have you seen in Australia? 

Are there similarities from your own previous 'home' where you currently live - things that make you do a double-take or give you some comfort? 

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