For the past few days I have been able to recall to a frightening degree of accuracy, exactly what we were doing on that same day last year. The time of our move is indelibly etched on my mind, which I suppose is not so surprising, but it has been very strange in recent days to be doing our normal daily routines while thinking about the chaos and confusion of a year ago.
A year ago, we had just landed in this strange country where, although everyone was very friendly, we couldn’t help feeling out of place. Now, we increasingly call it home. I have looked back at the letters I wrote a year ago, and I’m afraid I might have been misleading you a little. I generally sounded calm and in control, but my memories are somewhat different. Certainly the first two weeks were a little stressful: we’d arrived here with only the possessions we could carry, then in that short amount of time we bought a house and two cars (all of which, I’m pleased to say, turned out to be shrewd purchases) and enough belongings to ensure that we weren’t eating off the floorboards.
We never did eat off the floor, but our meals were taken sitting on plastic garden chairs around a cardboard box for several days, until we were introduced to the wonders of Garage Sales. We’ve missed the sales during the winter – they were a reliable and cheap way of turning someone else’s junk into things we couldn’t live without. One of our neighbours cheerfully sold us a kitchen table and chairs which are still in daily use (although I really must get round to repairing one of the chairs before Zoë does herself an injury); others sold us toys and games which kept the boys happy in the weeks before our belongings arrived.
But most of our shopping was done in a way which is probably causing local businesses to shake their heads and wonder why April sales figures are so far down on last year. In that first month, we bought two huge sofas, five beds, an entire kitchen’s worth of crockery and cutlery, several television sets, various other bits of electronic equipment and even started on the garden furniture. Needless to say, things have settled down a bit now, and we hardly ever go into furniture shops waving handfuls of cash around any more.
So this April is a little different from last April, but we are still experiencing some things for the second time – the soccer season is about to start, and I’ll be calling the unsuspecting parents of the boys I’ll be coaching soon; school is back, and this will be the boys’ second summer term here. The holidays will seem familiar – Victoria Day must be coming up soon, and there will be no more new ones to catch us out the way Valentine’s Day did. Life is routine again now, and while none of us would change what we’ve been through, I won’t pretend it’s not a relief to have mundane daily and weekly things to do again now.
If I look back, there are, of course, many things we would have done differently; some of them were unavoidable due to the time pressures we were under, others were just bad decisions we made because we hadn’t yet come to terms with our new lifestyle. But there are, on the whole, no regrets.
We have got used to most of the differences between our old lives and our new ones; the boys have made lots of new friends – as I write this, Conor is at a birthday party, and Cameron is out playing basketball – as have we; we drive around on the ‘wrong’ side of the road without a second thought; we generally do things the way the locals do, and it all seems to make some kind of sense.
There are, of course, some things we still haven’t adapted to – some pronunciations and vocabulary items still trip me up, even when I hear them every day, and – to our great surprise – much of the food still tastes different. Of course, as is well known, I will eat anything, but the rest of us still find the differences, even in branded products, odd and slightly unsettling.
But would we change anything? On the whole, I think not. Our lives have changed, and mostly for the better. We like living here, and we like the more relaxed pace of life. We enjoy the scenery – especially now that the snow’s almost all gone, and we can see it again. We spend a lot more time as a family now than we did in England, and that has to be a good thing. I have even had time to write, which was, for me at least, part of the deal.
The writing, however, will change now. It’s time for me to say farewell to my newspaper readers – at least for now – before I start to repeat myself and rant about the state of the roads again. It has been a remarkable and rewarding experience, being a newspaper columnist, and I’d like to thank the Citizen and its editor, Dave Paulson, for making it possible. We will, of course, stay in touch with our friends around the world as we go on, although probably not quite as frequently. And these letters will live on – they are available online, and now I can begin the process of seeing if I can expand them into book-length. Assuming I can find someone willing to publish them, and still more people willing to read them, that is.
Right at the start of this correspondence, I wrote about being in a comfort zone, and wanting to break out of it. Well, we did that, and I think it will be some time yet before we feel like we are in another one. But when we do – watch out!