Monday, 24 September 2012

The Greatest Expat Of All

We're often influenced by people from different walks of life. By men and women we respect, admire and look up to.

This is the story of one such person.

He was born to Raymond and Mary Windsor on the 29th November 1918 into a world recovering from a great war that had ended eighteen days before. He grew up in Tilt Cove near St. John's, Newfoundland in an environment where mining was the lifeblood of the community and miners were at its core.

This man's family moved to Montreal when he was still a boy and he and his brother would eventually leave for the far north to pursue a lumberjack's life and run a small farm in northern Ontario.

The wanderlust in this man was ever-present. The desire to follow an opportunity, have an adventure, chase a dream. In his early twenties, this would manifest itself with the ultimate sacrifice and lead him away from his peaceful Canadian homeland to a region viciously tearing itself apart.

His attestation papers for the Canadian Army.  Photo credit: Mrs Joan Windsor

An expat for country and for love

On the 20th June 1941, he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Engineers. Trained as a sapper, his role was to perform military engineering duties such as bridge-building, demolitions, field defence and general construction. He remained in Canada for three months before shipping out to the United Kingdom. Final destination: Continental Europe.

He served for 54 months during the height of the Second World War. He served in the UK, in France, in Belgium, Holland and Germany. He was awarded several medals for his actions but he wasn't an entirely 'model' soldier, his military papers revealing an occasionally disobedient side that would cost him forfeiture of pay and allowances for relatively minor offences.

While serving in the UK, he was biletted to stay at a house in the small southern English town of Basingstoke. It was there that he met little Joan Tarr Davies, a shy Welshwoman and the daughter of his wartime hosts. The pair were soon smitten with each other and, on the 8th April 1944, they married.

Not long after, she fell pregnant with twins and the young family set sail on the Queen Mary for Montreal in 1945. Joan was now one of thousands of war brides leaving England for Canada, with her twins swaddled in Moses baskets close by. They lived with his parents in Montreal but Joan suffered bouts of homesickness and the family returned to the UK. For the second time, this man became an expat - the first time for his country, the second time out of love for his wife.

They would emigrate to Canada eight years later to support his father when his mother died but, again, returned to England after several years. Unselfishly, this man gave up his home for the third time and he would never see the Great White North again.

A life cut short

This Canadian expat who had fought abroad for his country before finding love on the British Isles developed an aggressive form of cancer and died in May 1972, still in the prime of his life and leaving behind a grief-stricken wife and three heartbroken daughters. He never met his grandchildren, the first who was born just two years after his death.

He was a man who followed his heart and made serious decisions that would affect the entire course of his life. He stood by those decisions, from enlisting in the army to marrying the love of his life in a foreign country, and he stayed the course in a country not his own during a long post-war period of uncertainty and unease.

He was a family man first and foremost. He may have missed his home, his own people, his Canadian family, but his priority was his immediate family and he embraced his new home and the British way of life as if they had always been his own.

His untimely death was tragic and unfair and, on that day in May 1972, a bright and beautiful Canadian light was extinguished.

His enduring influence

This man is a stranger to me and my biggest regret is never knowing him.

In the remaining black and white photos of him, I can see that we share a likeness in our height, some similarities in our faces, and possibly a seriousness in our attitude. I believe we also share something more profound. We share a particular outlook on life.

A love of adventure, a desire to take life by the horns and shake it hard to discover what falls out, decisions made by the heart over the mind.

We share a passion for Canada. I moved there seeking opportunity and adventure, exploring the country as he had and treading in the faint ripples of his wake. I am deeply connected to the country of his birth, yet like him I also hold dear to the love of my homeland.

We both gave up our homes for love yet gained infinitely more in the process. I married my lady from a far flung land and I adopted her home as my own. There was no backdrop of war, of devastation and crippling loss, but the decision had serious consequences and was made entirely out of our feelings for each other.

We share an outlook on the world around us. Both rebellious towards authority, above all we believe in right over wrong, fair before unjust. It guided him in his choices and it underlines everything I do.

I think he'd be proud of me. Proud that I didn't sit still. Proud that I followed my dreams, that I came to his country and sought to understand more. Proud that I met my true love and committed to her, stood by her, and made her own home my own.

Yet, in all this, he continues to sit at the periphery of my vision. He is always out of reach, unfocused, not clearly defined. This is the way of things and this is the way it will always be. The sad reality is that he's long gone even though he remains an important figure in my life and his influence is apparent in all that I've done.

For his full and wholesome life, the ultimate sacrifice for his country and the love of his wife, his strength of character, and his big ole Canadian heart, this tall and well-built man from the far reaches of Canada is for me the greatest expat of them all.

His name was Victor Gordon Windsor. This man was my grandfather.

Who or what have been the major influences in your life? Did someone or something trigger your own expat / travel / life journey?

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

What To Expect When You're Not The One Expecting

My wife is now 31 week’s pregnant. We’re getting there.

In reality, she’s the one getting there and I’m the one still playing catch-up. I watch from the sidelines feeling mainly admiration and a fair bit of apprehension at that fast-approaching event called ‘fatherhood’.

Her pregnancy symptoms come and go, as routine as the time I spend on Google seeking out this week’s potential changes to her body and next week’s unexpected little surprises.

Photo credit: allegr0 (Flickr Creative Commons)

As a first-time dad-to-be, my wife’s pregnancy has been a real eye opener. My mind has boggled at some of the subtle changes I’ve seen. Who knew her hair would grow this shiny? Who knew her skin would get so smooth? Who knew she'd develop the glow of pregnancy as well as she has?

Other side effects have been less subtle.

Who knew she’d develop an obsessive fascination with birthing documentaries? The British show, One Born Every Minute, is one of her favourites. Thanks to the wonders of Foxtel IQ, this undeniably graphic TV experience plays out on our television set most nights, generally coinciding with dinner.

I try to ignore the feral sounds coming from the surround sound speakers. I force myself to focus on the dinner plate, concentrating hard on my meatballs and sauce. But I’m just a mere man and weak in the face of such temptation. I look up at the screen - taking in the red-faced screaming lady, bare legs hitched up in stirrups, pain etched across her face - and I feel indescribable terror as I stare at the baby’s crowning head displayed across the entire 38-inch widescreen TV. One of the meatballs accidentally slips down my throat.

No-one warned me about these unusual obsessions. Equally, no-one warned me about my wife’s strange new sleeping habits.

At Week 31, our marital bedroom has become a haven for odd behaviours of the non-sexual variety. She sleeps deeply through the night, as I ram plug after plug into my ears. Call it pregnancy congestion or call it a good old fashioned snore but, in the small hours of the morning, I can’t hear myself call it anything over her mighty roar.

The dog sleeps peacefully in the corner, twitching through another canine dream. I, meanwhile, wrestle with a third body in the bed, fighting a life-size pregnancy pillow that seems to want me out of the bed and onto the floor. I retreat to the cold and lonely back bedroom, banished from my domain, imaginary tail between my legs, wife and dog continuing to noise-make next door in complete and utter ignorant bliss.

Unusual TV obsessions and strange new sleeping habits aren’t the end of it.

I’d heard about family members giving expectant mothers unwanted baby and pregnancy advice, but I never realised I’d also be on the receiving end.

Somewhere down the track, near strangers and friends-of-friends have begun to share things with me about pregnancy from a distinctly male perspective. Somewhere down the track, the in-built filter (if there ever was one) that stops a man from saying exactly what is on his mind simply… vanished.

Blokes I’ve met on a handful of occasions will share their deepest and darkest (and most explicit) war stories about living with a pregnant partner. From the perfect time to copulate (“when her belly’s big and round, she'll be up for it”) to the best time to avoid my wife when the hormone-filled, emotion-laden weeks take over (“she’ll be a moody, crying, wretched thing so steer well clear”), I’ve been told it all.

I have recurring nightmares of standing with my plumber in the front yard a few weeks ago. In one hand, he pulled out some gnarly tree roots from our sewer pipe. With the other, he outlined in great detail how ripe his wife’s breasts became during her first pregnancy. Horrified, mortified, traumatised, I had nowhere to run to. So I smiled and nodded and squirmed in my boots, pledging that I’d not mention my pregnant wife to any man, especially this man, ever again.

Three-quarters of the way along the pregnancy journey and this dad-to-be is already learning far too much. I’ve discovered that I’m squeamish and I’m good for nothing without a full night’s sleep, I’ll avoid unwanted advice from strangers, and I’ll have to find a way to avoid that blasted TV.

I’ve also learned that being a husband during a woman's pregnancy is an abstract sort of thing. You’re not the one expecting but you should watch and support from her side. If you thought that meant you’ve got it easy, fellow dads-to-be, think again and expect the unexpected on this wonderful and eye-opening ride.

What pregnancy-related surprises have you experienced (as a mother or father-to-be)? How did the dads-to-be in your life react? Any advice for me?

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Monday, 3 September 2012

Drowning in a Sea of Blogs

I'm overloaded with favourite sites to keep up with, sinking fast in a wealth of fantastic reading material I can never realistically hope to get through. I'm drowning in a sea of blogs.

From expat blogs to travelogues, personal journeys to writing adventures, there's so much good stuff out there and not enough time in the day to read it all.

When I started blogging, I followed everyone who followed me and then some. I subscribed to blogs by email, followed blogs through my Blogger account, and made a mental note to regularly check on those blogs I hadn't followed by other means.

My email subscriptions went through the roof because I'd signed up to anything and everything half-decent, I couldn't remember the blogs I needed to pay a visit to, and my Blogger account rapidly spiralled out of control.

Photo credit: MA1216 (Flickr Creative Commons)

I now generally follow other new blog posts through Twitter. When a tweet flashes up from a favourite blogger, I'll click through and read the post. If I get a comment on a post of my own by a fellow blogger, I'll also often head over to their site, my memory triggered by their actions.

All this feels a bit ad hoc to me and it isn't working out.

To become better at managing my reading material, I've tried focusing solely on email subscriptions but all I find is an inbox inundated with blog post summaries every morning. And I fear getting many more emails, I really do.

I've had to unsubscribe from some blogs and then re-subscribe to others I prematurely unsubscribed from. It's almost impossible to reciprocate the comments I get on ISOALLO and Twitter is a beast in itself to manage. Then try following a blogger who posts 2 or 3 times per week and it's game over.

I've not experimented with RSS Feeds or Google Reader or Triberr or any other way of organising my reading material for fear of adding yet another social media application to my growing box of gadgets.

I need a better way to keep up with my favourite sites and a means of ensuring I don't sink further into a quagmire of reading material that can only add noise to an already overloaded daily schedule. I don't want to miss the excellent words written by those star bloggers and I want to comment, give my support to their efforts and contribute to the online conversation.

There's also an illogical fear within that says if I don't spread myself around and give back some of the love so willingly given to my own blog, I'll lose valuable readers who are avid bloggers themselves.

So help me out. Tell me what you do.

How do you keep up with your favourite blogs? Google reader? Email subscriptions? RSS feeds? What works best for you?

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