Thursday, October 29, 2015

Escape to the Country - That show has a LOT to answer for!

Someone asked me a while back if I would write down my thoughts and feelings about my BIG year. At the time I thought, what a great idea, but as I sit down now to put it all into words, I'm thinking, crikey, it's going to be one hell of a long blog!! Whatever.....here it is!

Here's my story condensed!

If you don't know me or much about me, I'm Ali. Many moons ago I studied Textile Design at University in the UK. I'm English. After finishing my degree my husband (boyfriend then) and I did a fair bit of travelling and I put my design career on hold whilst we "had fun." We continued to have fun for many years :)

After having our first child, we decided to give Australia a "go" for a year. We had never fancied Australia before, but we thought it would be a great place to bring up babies. And it is!! We were oh so innocent and very carefree back in those days. We dreamt it and made it happen. Easy!

This is a pic of me on the first weekend we arrived in Aus.

The first year we were there, we had a ball and decided that it was a much better place to be whilst our child was little, so decided to stay a while longer. I was then working as an Aerobics instructor and we had a great life. Little girl number 2 was born and we were then caught up in crying, nappies, kinder then school....you know how it is!!Life was busy, but life was good, very good.

We bought a house and spent the next few years doing it up and the years just flew. We never missed the UK at all and in nine years we didn't return to old Blightly, not even for a holiday.

This was our house back in Aus. We spent many years renovating it.

But in year nine something happened to my husband and I. All of a sudden we started to feel home sick. It was a very gradual feeling, but one that neither of us could shake. All of a sudden we were glued to the TV and we couldn't get enough of all the British programmes; Escape th the Country (after speaking to a few Aussies, it seems that they were hooked on that one too!!) Location, Location, Location and Downton Abbey.
What did we miss?
The green countryside, the lovely old villages, the people, the humour, the frost on a winters morning, the old buildings, the history, the cobbled streets, Boots, Tesco!!! LOL! You name it, we missed it!

Because of a family situation my husband had to go back to the UK in the September of year nine and he decided to take our eldest child with him. Even when he'd booked the flight I had no intention of going back. One it was too expensive for us all to go and two I really didn't want to. It wasn't until he was calling me up from the UK and telling me all about it that the pining to go back really started to kick in.

On holiday in Queensland

When he returned we talked about going back to the UK to live, but it was very light hearted. When you feel homesick you don't really know what it is you are homesick for. Is it friends and family? Is it the green countryside? Is it the humour and the people? Do you really want to go back for a few weeks and then your homesickness will go away or is it something deeper?? It's all the unknown and thinking about moving back after 10 years is very, very scary, especially when you have a 10 year old, 7 year old and a dog in tow!! But you know deep down that the only way you will get to find out all the answers to your burning questions would be to actually do it. But did we have the balls, that was the big question.

So we continued to pine, knowing that to make the decision to move back was just too huge for us to contemplate. So we carried on with our daily lives in Australia and tried to push it to the back of our minds.

One of the big problems was that we really loved Australia; it was our home. The house we bought and lived in for the last 8 years was the longest we had ever settled in one place, EVER. So we felt that we really had roots there. Also Australia itself; you really can't fault it to be honest. Yes the weather is great, the beaches are stunning, but more importantly the people are just ace! They are so positive, friendly and just lovely. I can honestly say that in ten years I have only come up against a few grumpy Aussies.

What is there NOT to like?

At some point decisions just have to be made

Everything came to a head on Christmas Day. Having no family in Australia, we always felt rather sad and alone at that time of year and Christmas 2014 was probably the worst we'd ever felt. When the kids are small, you can get away with having no family around, but as they get older, you do start to feel bad that you have taken them away from their family. So we sat there all day (in our PJ's) and talked and talked about what we should do. In that 24 hours we talked about moving to Brisbane, changing jobs, running a business together....anything but what we knew we really should be discussing and what was in our hearts. And that was to go back home.

At the end of Christmas day we finally admitted that what would really make us happy would be to move back to the UK, but the reality was that we were scared silly. How was schooling going to work? What if we hated it after a month? What if we wanted to come back? Nothing other than our guts and hearts were telling us that it was the right thing to do.

We spent the rest of Christmas day googling the ex pat sites (we had never been on any of them before) and reading horror stories about "ping pong" pommes. How they return only to ping pong back after 6 months because they hate it so much. It was hard, but we read every single story, good and bad. We researched the schooling system differences and how hard it would be for the kids to catch up. We did an online grocery shop to see if we'd be better off. We researched jobs, holidays, utility bills. You name it, we googled it!! Going back is a much harder decision than coming out in the first place to be honest.

We were so nervous, but also excited about the fact we had finally (almost) made a decision. The next step for us was to go back to the UK for a few weeks to make our final decision and look at places to live and schools.

We booked flights for Easter 2015 and excitedly started to research moving companies, rental agencies, jobs etc all ready for if/when we finally made the decision to go back. We jumped on the plane, nervous as hell, knowing that the next two weeks would be the catalyst to what happens in the next stage of our lives. ALL of our lives.

The tea rooms in Chester

So many friends wanted to catch up but we knew we had to stay focused. Schools was the main research project for us. If we couldn't make that work, then we weren't coming back, that was final. We had held our youngest back a year and so when I tried to work it out, I realised that when she was in Year 1 in Australia, she would (because of her birth date) be put straight into year 4 in the UK.

This was a no brainer as far as I was concerned and it was just not going to happen. They HAD to keep her back a year. It would be crazy not to!! But rules are rules in the UK and God forbid anyone who challenges them. Well I did (three months of emails to the local council) and I won. I was told that if I could find a school that was happy to hold her back, then they would agree to it. Yay!! Now I just had to find a school that is nothing but excellent and then had to get them to agree to holding her back. I wasn't feeling too positive to be honest, but we'd come all this way. It had to work out for us. We looked around lots of schools, many of which refused to hold her back. But finally we found one and it was perfect in every way. They were more than happy to hold her back. In their words "parents know their child better than anyone". So we'd found a school, we'd found a stunning area to live it. It was a small town, surrounded by the most beautiful, green countryside. It really did feel like we were Escaping to the Country!!!

Our new local cafe

So that was it. Decision made.  

It felt so good to have finally made the decision to head back home. We'd decided to return in the August so that the girls could start a new school year in September. We headed back to Australia in a really positive frame of mind, but also slightly apprehensive at the task that lay ahead for us; finding work for my husband, selling/renting out our house, relocating our furniture, leaving our lovely big Australian  house in exchange for a little house back in the UK, what to do with the dog, UK passports, costs etc.

Deciding to move to the other side of the world is not for the faint hearted.

I look back now and wonder how we actually did it, but we did. We decided early on that the best thing to do would be to sell almost everything we owned. Houses in the UK are small (compared to Aussie houses) so most of our furniture wouldn't fit, plus we had so much.....where on earth would it all go?! So we sold the lot.....which took ages!

We were still extremely nervous about turning our lives upside down, so we decided the best thing all round would be to rent our house out for a year, meaning the move would feel less final. That way if we wanted to come back, we could. Thankfully the house was rented out straight away to a really lovely English couple, so that was one weight off our minds.

My husband landed a job and all of a sudden things started to slot into place. I applied to sell with a popular online selling platform in the UK and was surprised and utterly delighted to be accepted. Looking back I was so stupid to have applied so early, because all of a sudden I had a deadline to meet (they give you six months to set up shop) when I already had a ridiculous to do list with the move and two kids to settle into their new life and new school.

Day trip to Lyme Park

So many times from the time we made our decision to the day we left, we thought of stopping the whole thing. It was such a huge thing we were doing and things like the girls finishing up at school (many tears) and last coffee dates with friends (more tears) closing bank accounts and our last visit to the beach were enough for us to just scream STOP, WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING!!!
We had a great life, why on earth were we turning it upside down?? So the way we got through it was to say, let's try it for a year and if we don't like it, we'll come back. We hoped we would love it as the cost of returning would have killed us, but we just kept that in our minds to keep us moving forward.

The last week in Aus was a bit manic and I'll never forget the last day. The removal men came in and worked like a whirlwind. I manically ran around cleaning and throwing out so much stuff. It's amazing how many last minute things you find when you think you've got rid of the bulk of stuff. We jumped in a taxi and drove away from the house, our home. The house that the kids had spent most of their lives in and that we had renovated and sweated over. We were leaving behind so many beautiful memories. It's a weird and very sad feeling to drive away from somewhere (a home, a country) that you have spent so long, thinking that you may never, ever go back again. It's also weird not knowing for certain if you are doing the right thing. Even when we were sat on the plane, we still didn't know.

Our new local park in the UK. We love autumn!

Going Home

We arrived back in the UK and pretty much knew straight away that we had done the right thing. We've been back almost three months now and LOVE IT!!! My husband loves his job. His working hours are better, the stress is less and he's once again having a laugh at work. I've never seen him this happy to be honest. The kids started school and in one term I can see a massive change in their work and their general happiness. Little one struggled to settle at first, but is now loving it. My eldest has made some lovely new friends and she has settled beautifully. I'm super busy getting ready to go live on the popular selling platform. It's literally like starting my business from scratch; finding suppliers and manufacturers. It's been a massive job, but I'm almost there. Phew!!  (I so wish I'd waited before applying!! Silly me!!)

Every weekend we are off into the hills going on walks, something that we really love to do and most Fridays we pop into our nearest pub for a quick drink..... Dougal in tow. Yes, it cost us a small fortune, but we decided to bring our gorgeous dog home with us. SO glad we did too.

Walks in the countryside

Walks with Dougal

We are very lucky. We took a huge gamble and it's worked. When you can feel it in your heart that you are making a good decision, then I think you usually are. We decided to rent here in the UK for a year, but have recently put an offer in on a house that we fell in love with. It was accepted and after only being back in the country 5 weeks, we found ourselves in the midst of buying a house!! How did that happen!! Again, it feels like the right decision and  we are waiting very impatiently for our completion date, which should be very soon.

The one thing that I love about being back is the fact that we look at our country with new, fresh eyes.  Being away for so long, really makes you appreciate all the stuff that a lot of Brits take for granted. I'm loving the people and their/our unique humour. I'm loving watching the leaves turn from green to brown, to red and golden. I'm loving the hills, the history (I don't think I've been to a castle before - they were just always there. I now can't wait to visit as many as possible)

We have just booked a trip to York, a stunning historical town. We are going just before Christmas and we can't wait to show the girls what Christmas is like in the UK. The lights, the cold, dark nights, the smell of holly and chestnuts roasting. I'm, so excited!!!

York at Christmas time

So there you have it. That has been my last year and the reason why I haven't had time to blog since last May!! I'm hoping that we can move into the new house before Christmas and that next year will be a little less stressful. But hey, you only live once. Go for it I say!!

Our local pub

Notes to those thinking of doing the same thing

If you are thinking of doing something similar, then I'd say to go with what your heart and gut tells you to do. If you are still undecided, imagine if someone told you that you couldn't do that thing you are thinking of doing. How does that make you feel? If you feel devastated, then that's your answer.

If you are in Australia and thinking of moving back to the UK or wherever else you are originally from, please remember that when you return, you will have NO financial history here. We had to buy our cars outright because we couldn't get a loan, so it's something to be prepared for. Same with buying a house. It's almost impossible to get a mortgage. We used a mortgage broker, but it was still very hard. Just be warned, but don't let it stop you going for your dream. Good Luck!!!

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