Juliet Sullivan
Juliet Sullivan 

The Diary of an Immigrant

 

These entries are taken from my blog which is published on the Province newspaper in Canada

Through a Dog's Eyes                     November 2016

 

Hello. My name is Hallie and I am an immigrant. Not by choice, you understand; I wasn’t exactly given the choice of where to live. No-one even asked me. I suppose that’s because I’m a dog, and dogs don’t really answer questions.

Just over a year ago, I was living a very comfortable life, though of course I didn’t appreciate it then. In hindsight, I was quite content with the ways things were. I was settled in a house I had lived in for 12 years — even if there was a cat there who seemed to hang around a lot — and I was looking forward to pending retirement, when I planned lazy days spent by the fire, with the occasional stroll to the park, and meals, snacks and beverages provided for me on a regular basis. This retirement was going to be a blissfully simple but satisfying existence, so much easier than the preceding years, when I had spent my days lazing by the fire, going for the occasional stroll to the park, and … wait … never mind.

But there was to be no peaceful, simple retirement for me. My humans had other ideas. As I approached the twilight of my life, at the tender age of 84 (12 in non-dog years), my humans decided to uproot my life and move. Not just around the corner, though. Not even to the next town. Oh no, they don’t do things the easy way, this lot; they move across an ocean.

I was born in Canada; apparently one of my parents is from Labrador and one from Germany, though from what I’ve heard, I think my paternity could be in question. Maybe this is the root of my “sad face”; something I am reminded of often when I overhear humans say things like “I have never seen a dog look so depressed.”

But I wasn’t depressed, I was happy. I had good friends, ageing old fellows like me, though in the last few years I didn’t see them so often, and eventually I stopped seeing them at all. First Finnegan, then Clancy, and recently Gus — I don’t know what happened to them but I heard the sad whispers of the humans and I didn’t like it.

 

And then one day I was bundled into a metal cage, the door was locked behind me, and I was forced to endure the longest day of my life in a giant, deafeningly loud, terrifying flying machine. I am pretty sure the cat was in on it. She even managed to find her way into a cage beside me, mocking me with her narrow, piercing eyes.

When I finally got off that nasty flying thing everything was different. The air smelled different. The people were different. And they all sounded like my Best Friend, Juliet.

Once I was reunited with my humans, I felt a bit more settled, but it was confusing. We went to a live in a kennel, which I soon realized was actually a house. A very small house. With something they called a garden. New people came into my life; some of them I remembered from when they had visited my house in Canada, and some were new, but spoke to me like they knew me. I decided to bark at everyone just to be sure.

My retirement is not the one I had imagined. I live with my Best Friend, but the rest of my humans come and go. I don’t know where they go, or why they are not all together. I miss them. My Best Friend tries her best; she takes me to the beach sometimes, because she knows it was once my favourite place. But I don’t like English beaches; the stones are too hard, and the sea is scary and loud.

I am hoping to meet a friend soon, maybe another immigrant who understands the challenges of starting a new life in a new country. As long as it’s not a cat.

Honey I'm Home!                        December 2015

 

For the first time in 12 years, I will be spending this Christmas with my family. In the time I have lived in Canada, one of the hardest things – as any immigrant will know – is to be away from family at this time of year. When your parents are ageing, this becomes even more difficult. So for now, I am not an immigrant; I am the prodigal daughter.

But this homecoming has come at a price. This is what you might call “living for the moment”, for the choices and decisions I have made that led me to this place do not reflect those of a sane, sensible person who might be in any way concerned for the future. My actions are those of a carefree 20-something hippie rather than a married, middle-aged mother-of-two.

I have temporarily (or not) abandoned a flourishing career,  a beautiful home, a full social life, a husband and two cats, to live in a cold, damp, tiny flat, where I am unemployed and slightly miserable.

Before you get out your violin, I should mention that the flat overlooks the stunning Brighton Marina; I am  spending my time indulging a dream to finish the book I started writing 8 years ago; and I am surrounded by family and old friends. My cats are happily being spoiled by their grandparents; Husband Lee arrives next week to spend Christmas here; and my dog is with me – albeit reluctantly. (That is another blog altogether).

I have been back in the UK for three months - halfway through a six month commitment to living here. The reasons I came are not important. The lessons I am learning are:

"You can't go home again".

It’s a quote by Thomas Wolfe, and it was repeated to me by  a friend before I left Canada. Having proved them both wrong, in that I actually did come home, I think I now understand the meaning of this quote. If you leave your home town for a length of time, you inevitably change.  When you come back, you’re bringing with you all your new experiences, good and bad, and because of that, you look at your old home town through altered eyes. Everything and nothing is the same. It creates a feeling of disjointed alienation.

Renting.

I  have learned the hard way about the joys of renting. I’m sure that not every renter’s experience is similar, and I would hope not. My experience is based only upon the UK, and only upon a dodgy agency whose name I won’t mention. OK, I will: Choices. If you ever find yourself renting a  property in the UK and you are tempted to use this company – don’t.

Apparently, just because you pay  an exorbitant amount of rent – in advance – doesn’t mean you are entitled to heat or hot water. Legally, you are entitled, but when you are dealing with an agency who have a blatant disdain for their clients, you find yourself shivering and smelly, in a very expensive flat, for a whole month. The renting experience has been a shock to me, and nothing has made me want to own a house again more than the past three, powerless months I have spent here.

I miss my domestic appliances.

It is a first world problem, I know, but things just don’t work as well here. I knew this already from when I lived here before, and it could be because things are usually older, but I suppose I got spoiled by Canada and its efficiency. Here I am struggling daily with a dishwasher that washes  a maximum of seven items – in cold water – but only if it feels like it;  a washer/alleged dryer that spins furiously for 90 minutes and sounds like a Jumbo Jet is taking off in the kitchen, and whose “dry” cycle lasts four hours, only to produce absolutely nothing that is dry; and a heating system that functions according to its mood. If it is feeling generous, it will heat the flat just enough for your toes not to drop off. If it’s feeling angry it will heat the flat so ferociously that you suddenly think you’re in a Finnish sauna. And if it’s feeling grumpy it will refuse to come on at all, and you will find yourself shivering in a corner clutching a bottle of wine and a photo of your old Canadian boiler.

Living in a small space.

I did not realise what a huge adjustment this would be. I assumed I was flexible and unspoiled, unimpressed by such trivial and materialistic  details as square footage, double garages, and walk-in closets. I went from living in 3500 square feet to around 900, with two other people and a dog. Turns out I am spoiled. Turns out I took my house for granted. I am sorry, House; it seems, in retrospect, that you were so much more than a house.

You provided me with things I can no longer enjoy:  space so that I could accommodate many visitors over the years, a venue for countless parties,  home for my animals, a kitchen table that saw copious amounts of good food, good wine and great discussions, and a sanctuary.

I do not apologise for feeling like this. I know there are people in the world who do not have a roof over their heads, and are in a far worse position than I. But this is my story, and I am allowed to feel melancholy about something that is making me sad.

There are a few problems I hadn’t expected. From trying to get a bank account (after three months I still don’t have one) or a doctor (ditto) to coping with crowded shopping malls, trolley rage (it happens almost every time I go into a supermarket), traffic jams, and crazy parking prices, I have had to forget the relative calm of the past 12 years in Canada, and readjust to what it means to live in the UK. And so, I don’t drive into town. I allow more time for grocery shopping. I accept the crowds, and I know that if I need a break from them, I can drive ten minutes out of the city to the wide open spaces and the beautiful rolling hills of the Downs.

Yes I miss the dramatic, pristine beauty of Canada. But at the end of the day, Brighton is home to me. I feel alive and vital when I am here. It might be slightly grubby in places, have a homeless problem, be overpriced and over-crowded, but it’s also pretty and vibrant and colourful and full of character. I am re-discovering its culture, its pubs, its people, its parks and beaches. It’s a truly beautiful place.

I think, in the end, it’s all about roots. I have a sense of belonging here that I don’t have in Canada. This comes from being around family, being in a town I know – and love – inside out, and the history of my previous life here; a life I always cherished.

Having said that, I have no idea what the future holds, which is terrifying as well as exciting. I do still have a husband, cat, career, and lots of lovely friends and family, 5000 miles away. And that’s why Canada, confusingly, will always be calling my name.

For now, though, this is where I am meant to be.

Home. I think.

The road to Sanix           May 2015
 

(Photo by Donna Moore, not me)

It is the Earl Marriott Senior Boys rugby tour to South Korea and Fukuoka, Japan, for the Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament. Sanix is a yearly competition where selected youth teams throughout the world are invited to take part. Earl Marriott is the only Canadian boys’ team at the competition. My son Liam is one of those boys. This is an account of the tour, written from the comfort of my own home.

Day One: I drive Liam to school, where he and the team will board a bus to the airport, and I am feeling quite weepy. I go early with plans to take photos as I wave the bus off, whilst wiping a tear from my eye no doubt, and to generally turn the event into something emotional and memorable. As we arrive at the school I am instructed by Liam to drop him off and drive away – quickly. Ah, I think, he’s sad and wants it to be over fast, to avoid the pain of leaving. He gives me a quick half-peck on the cheek and doesn’t look back. Come to think of it, he doesn’t seem to be all that sad. Well. That’s good.

I slink off home, this day no different to any other. Except my little boy is about to embark on a 5000 mile journey alone (albeit with 30 of his friends) and will play the hardest, most physical rugby of his life over the next two weeks. No big deal. I console myself with the knowledge that I will receive many calls, texts and emails while he’s away.

 

Day two: I wake up to an empty, silent house. It feels really strange. One child is 5000 miles away in the UK, and now the other is 5000 miles away in the opposite direction, in South Korea. I think it`s the opposite direction anyway. I check my phone; they have landed. I know this because the text from Liam says simply: “Landed”.

I wonder what the time is there. I know they are 16 hours ahead, but for some reason my brain is incapable of devising an efficient way to work out what this means. I finally settle on a method: I deduct 8 hours from our current time, which gives me the time in Korea, but ahead. So, if it’s 8am here, I deduct 8 hours – which gives me 12am. Now I know it’s 12am in Korea, the next day. I proudly tell friend Kathie this, and after she has stopped looking confused, she says “Or you could just put it on your phone”.

Day Three: In the absence of any news, I conclude that they are having a good time in South Korea – perhaps this is what they mean by “silence is golden”.

Day Four: The boys land in Japan, allegedly. There is still no contact from my son.

I feel like I should be there. I check the prices of flights and decide that I shouldn’t. I consider starting a crowd-funding campaign. I could call it the “Get this pathetically needy mother to Japan” campaign, but realistically it`s unlikely to generate enough for a sushi roll, let alone a flight. For me, it’s not just about being there in case my son gets injured, though that is something I think about. It’s about the whole experience. I know there is limited time left to watch Liam play rugby, and annoyingly I have only just started to enjoy seeing him play. I have wasted eight nervous years watching his games from behind my hands.

Day Five: We get an email update from Coach Adam Roberts (Robo). In it, he mentions the boys’ first game – which they lost to a big, fast Japanese team. The score seems irrelevant though, as Robo tells us about something far more important which happened before the game. The team took some of Cody Kehler’s ashes to Japan, and before their first game they gathered together to spread them on the centre field. Afterwards, Liam gave a speech about Cody, who was a team-mate to many of the boys, and a ladybug landed on his foot. Ladybugs have a special significance around Cody’s passing. Liam bent down to pick it up, and it stayed on his hand throughout his speech. Robo says they were all very emotional and it is something they will never forget.

I am at work when I receive the email, and it stops me in my tracks. Like many others, I still struggle every day with the loss of both Cody and Chantal, and this whole episode gives a small comforting reassurance that they are somehow still present. I hope Liam, their friend, feels this too. I can’t ask him as he seems to have forgotten how to use a phone.

i

Day Six: Our friends Jim and Donna Moore (Liam`s parents) are at the tournament, and they are keeping the rest of us updated with Facebook posts and photos. I devour these posts and am very thankful for them. We all are. Jim also keeps us informed via text with real time game reports. As Husband Lee and I sit waiting for updates, we feel as much tension as if we were there. Today’s game is another tough one. Part of me is glad I am not there to witness how tough.

Day Seven: What? They have another game already? And it`s against New Zealand? I need a rest. At this point I stop caring about wins and losses, and just want everyone to get through the tournament uninjured. Sadly, they don`t…

the liams

Day Eight, or maybe Nine: I think there might be another game today but I can’t be sure.

Day Ten: Daughter Kerri asks how Liam is getting on. For a minute I am confused. Liam? Who’s that?

I am joking of course. But I realise I haven’t been in contact with my son for five days and then I realise that I have only just realised that. We have been told that there is currently no WIFI at the “compound”. I imagine this is a life-changing experience for the boys. As well, of course, as the fact that they are playing rugby against the best youth teams in the world. In Japan.

Day Eleven: I am starting to get used to this empty nest thing. Yes, the house seems empty, but so is the laundry basket. And the fridge seems unusually full.

Day Twelve: The tournament is over and I am quietly relieved. I finally manage to speak to Liam on Facetime. The team is on a high-speed train to Tokyo for one last night before coming home. I used to worry about my 17-year-old roaming the streets of a bustling foreign city, but somehow, it seems, after the past 12 days, I no longer do.

Day Fourteen: The boys are back in town. As they walk through Arrivals at YVR, wearing their new Japanese headbands and rugby-player’s tans, they are greeted with a round of applause from their fans and parents (which happen to be the same thing), who are relieved to have them back, and very, very proud.

The team look tired, battered and bruised. There have been a few nasty injuries, and in fact they have had to return one man down – leaving Second Rower Stefan behind to recover in hospital from a spleen injury. He will return home this weekend.

The Sanix tournament is not for the faint-hearted, and it’s been a gruelling, character-building and tiring tour… probably for Liam and the boys too. But it’s not all about me.

Seriously though, I am really glad that my son got to experience it. I feel that the tour, the tournament and the time away from home has had a hugely positive impact on him as a person and as a player.

As for me, well the whole tour experience has exhausted me, and I really, really hope I won’t have to do another one any time soon.

To see more on this story plus video please go to: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2015/05/16/cody-and-liam-half-way-around-the-world-mourning-turns-to-magic-for-rugby-brothers/

 

Going home for the World Cup

                                   March 2015

Exciting news for me this week. I have been granted World Cup press accreditation from the RFU. This means that I will be writing a regular World Cup update for Rugby Nation – the biggest rugby site in the States – throughout the tournament.. sometimes from the pub, sometimes from the couch, and sometimes from the stadium.

I don’t yet know which matches I will be allocated (I’ll find out in May), but I have applied for all US games, as I am writing for Rugby Nation; as well as all Canada games, as I am Canadian; and of course all the England games, as I am also English. I don’t think I am being greedy…

Slight problem – I am currently in Canada, will need to get to England by early September, and will have to support myself for two months whilst there. Minor detail; one which I am not going to trouble myself with right now. I will be there, I will be at the games for which I get tickets, and I will be soaking up every minute of the tournament. I can’t wait.

There is another slight problem, and with it comes a confession – one which I freely admitted to the RFU when I applied for press passes. I am not a rugby expert. Despite many years of watching the game and being a fan, I still don’t fully understand it. My son, 17 year old Liam, is frequently testing me on my knowledge, usually after a declaration from me that I have been watching rugby since long before he was born – which is true, but kind of immaterial. My knowledge is poor. Husband Lee once recruited me as his stand-in coach at a Grade 6 rugby practice, and I soon realised that I only really knew one rule; I won’t say which, as it’s the most obvious one. My knowledge has improved since then, through necessity and a wish not to appear totally stupid when watching Liam play over the years.

 

Somehow I have managed to get away with limited understanding, especially at international games, where often I am so wrapped up in the thrill of being there, the songs, and the atmosphere, that my perception of what’s happening in the game seems largely irrelevant.

In my quest to know more, I googled “how many rules in rugby” and came up with an answer suggesting it was 504. That can’t be true can it? 504 rules is roughly 500 more than my brain is capable of storing. This search naturally led me to the “Rugby for Dummies” site, and I have a feeling I might be visiting that often. I already know several more things than I did before I looked at it. I just hope I can remember those things when I am at the World Cup.

When I discussed this with Husband Lee, in the form of me asking around 45 questions, he had a good point: what I don’t know doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the game. What other sport can you love without really knowing that much about it? He insisted that being a fan is not dependent on full understanding… lucky for me. He also insisted I stop asking him stupid questions.

This is what I do know: rugby is an exciting, all-inclusive, physical but intelligent game. It brings with it a culture of acceptance and respect which is unlike any other sport. It is social and fun, for both players and spectators, and for the purposes of my reports from the World Cup, I don’t think I really need to know anything more than that. My job is not to write match reports, it is to write about the culture of the game, the thrill of the tournament itself, and the heart of rugby. I don’t think I need to worry too much about the rules.

That culture of acceptance I was talking about? That applies to writers too.

2014 - DO ONE!       December 2014

If ever there was a time when an insult could adequately be aimed at a year, it is now, it is aimed at 2014, and it is this: DO ONE!

“Do One” is taken from the Northern English expression meaning “to get lost; go away; get out of my face” according to the Online Slang Dictionary. It also has another, more direct, ruder meaning, according to the more direct, ruder, and in this case more accurate Urban Dictionary. If you need a clue, their translation has two words and the second word is “Off”. And if you need further interpretation, put it his way: 2014 can take a hike. With knobs on.

It has been a terrible year, not just for me but for many people I know. Some of the things that have happened this year have been so tragic that writing about them here could not adequately express the impact they had on so many lives. My own trials and tribulations do not compare to those who have suffered the most, and I know that. My heart aches continually for those who are still suffering unbearable pain. The three people we personally lost – father-in-law Bill Sullivan, and Liam’s friends Cody Kehler and Chantal MacLean – left an irreplaceable gap in the worlds of those who loved them. They are remembered, and missed, each and every day.

I know of many others who have gone through hardship, personal loss and tragedy in 2014. I feel sad for them all.

 

For us personally, I don’t have the time or space to convey how bad this year has been. Suffice it to say, it’s been bad. A combination of bad luck, bad decisions, bad vehicles, bad people, and badness beyond our control, including being rear-ended on the freeway and me now living in almost constant pain, has all led to one bad situation. On top, and because of, all this, personal relationships have suffered. Somehow though, we survived it all.

And then, two weeks before Christmas, daughter Kerri left for England on a one way ticket. I knew when we moved here 12 years ago that this might happen. One day my kids, having been given the opportunity to live in two countries and experience two cultures, would use that against me and pick one of them. Of course, I don’t really think it’s against me. And in my head, I know it’s a good thing that she has the bravery and independence to move so far away from us. In my heart, though – well in my heart I am a little broken. I didn’t move to Canada so that I could eventually split my family in two. Saying goodbye to my daughter at the airport was hard, to put it mildly.

There have been moments of light and hope, though.

People have helped us. I won’t mention names; they know who they are, and what they have done. To them I am eternally grateful. I like to think that we too have helped people who needed it, if in a very small way.

The day that Kerri left, many of my friends checked in with me to make sure I was OK. That made me feel very fortunate. Friends are important, and I am lucky to have lots.

In mid December, one of my best friends visited with her husband and daughter from England, partly to support us through a dark and difficult time in our lives. I am lucky that I still have friends who live so far away and are prepared to do that.

And yesterday I spent two hours of my afternoon playing Cards Against Humanity with my family in England, even though I am 5000 miles away in Canada. I sat at the table with them (albeit on a phone screen), listened to their evening, laughed with them, joined in as a guest judge, and we even had a sing-song. This one simple experience did make me feel very grateful. Grateful to live in a time when technology enables us to do that. Grateful that I have family who invite me to spend an evening with them, even when I can’t be there. Grateful that I have family, and friends, in two countries. I do not take that for granted, however bad things get. I know I am lucky.

But still. I meant what I said. I cannot wait for this year to be over.
So if you’re looking for cliches or platitudes you’ve come to the wrong place.
I have one message and one message only.
Goodbye 2014, you are no longer welcome here.

My New Obsessions                    January 2015

 

Since moving here, I have noticed that I have developed some new obsessions:

1. Cleaning. I don’t think anyone who has ever been to my house would agree, as it does not in any way reflect the standards of most Canadian households. But in England, my house was a mess, all the time, and that’s the way I liked it. Here, my house is tidy and (somewhat) clean – and now, suddenly, that’s the way I like it. I am not sure if I am happy or not with this state of affairs.

2. The price of real estate. This could be explained by the fact that I am a Realtor. In my previous life in England, I wasn’t a Realtor, and so property prices were not high on my list of things to concern myself with. Now, it’s my job to be concerned with them. Unfortunately, this means I am also concerned with the house I sold to move here 11 years ago, which has risen in value by around 800%.

3. The sea. I come from Brighton – the definition of the seaside town. I miss the smell of the salty sea air, the incessant screech of seagulls, the bustle of the crowds of people who flock there. To make myself feel less homesick, I spend ridiculous amounts of time in White Rock, the nearest beach to where I live, and the nearest place I can find to Brighton. It’s nothing like Brighton of course. But it does have a sea right beside it, and I find myself staring at it – a lot.
4. Rugby. I married a rugby player, and I knew what I was getting into. Rugby is not just a sport, it’s a way of life. If you marry into it, you marry IT. But when we lived in England, I don’t recall rugby taking up so much of my time. Here, I am defined by being a rugby wife (more accurately described as a rugby widow) and now a rugby mum. I have tried to live up to the rugby wife thing, by being supportive at games, events and fundraisers; I have been drunk and maybe a little wild when necessary; and I have found things to occupy my time when the husband is involved in countless rugby “events”, including but not limited to: any game of rugby being played within a 50 km radius of our house; any game of rugby on TV, ever, for whatever reason; or any rugby “meeting” that may or may not have something to do with him, or someone he may or may not know.

As a rugby mum, I have stood on the sidelines watching countless games, through which I have fretted and cringed as piles of young bodies fall on top of my precious little (6 feet tall, 200 pound, 16-year-old) boy. All of which means that through default, I now am obsessed with the game of rugby. I still can’t tell you the rules though.

5. England. I am certain that I was not obsessed with England when I lived there. I don’t think I even really cared one way or the other that I was English. I quite fancied being Irish actually. Now I find myself obsessed with the country I ditched 11 years ago: its TV, music, people, and food. I defend it, praise it, and talk it up at every opportunity. I have become way more English than I ever used to be (though I draw the line at the quintessential British tradition of discussing the weather).

6. People who say “just kidding”. It annoys me. If what you have just said was funny, there is really no need to say “just kidding” afterwards, unless you are talking to a complete dimwit. If you are talking to me, I would prefer you didn’t assume I was a complete dimwit. If what you have said was not funny, then saying “just kidding” will not suddenly make it so.

I think this outburst shows that I am either a) getting old and grumpy or b) generally less tolerant since I moved here. This is one of those things that has inexplicably started to bug me to a point way beyond reason. What next? Will I start shouting and waving my hand at drivers as they attempt to cluelessly navigate a roundabout?

7. The weather. Haha, just kidding.

Top Ten Tips for the Holiday Guest

                                    January 2014

 

Finally, the holiday guests have gone. They arrived in mid December, and they have only just gone home. In light of this experience, I have compiled a list of handy hints for the would-be holiday guest. I am naming no names here, and I am not suggesting that these tips actually have any bearing to the five long weeks I have just endured. I am simply trying to help anyone who feels the need to go and stay in someone else’s house next Christmas. These tips will be invaluable to you, and your host. They may well save your relationship, maybe even your life. This is a free public service. You’re welcome.

1. Do not book your flights without speaking to your host.

Your host may not be as excited by the prospect of a five week return date as you are. Should you mention that your return date is five weeks from your date of arrival, your host may well suddenly remember that they are planning to go on holiday, move, or kill themselves. They will certainly help you by suggesting you rethink your plans. They may hint at a more reasonable length of time: a week, say. Two weeks max. Five weeks is not acceptable, ever.

2. Do not bring items from England and then ask for the money.

Yes, I did request some toothpaste, shower gel and gravy granules to be purchased, but I have to be honest – I was never going to be paying for them. You are staying in my house for five weeks, rent free. I am picking you up from – and returning you to – the airport, without requesting a fare to be paid. I am paying $18 to park – twice. You can pay for the toothpaste.

3. Do not boil the kettle 45 times a day; sometimes for no reason.

Your tea habit should not be costing me hundreds of dollars in electricity. And your weird obsession with boiling kettles should not be indulged in my house. Whilst on the subject of making tea, do not use all my tea bags within four days of your arrival, and then announce in an irritated voice that “we have run out of tea bags”. Neither should you complain when I bring home “no name” tea bags as I can no longer afford Tetley.

4. Do not drink all my alcohol.

Your penchant for using other people`s stuff should not force me to hide every last drop of alcohol in the house, resulting in me not being able to offer any other guests a drink as I can’t find any to give them. Do not resort to filling your wine glass with balsamic vinegar when no alcohol can be located. I am not being judgemental here so much as frugal. Believe it or not, I am sympathetic to your alcohol problem. I have one now myself, actually.

5. Do not tell my cat every morning (when you think I can`t hear you) that she is a nuisance and to “go away”.

My cat is a nuisance, and I tell her regularly to “go away” – but you are not permitted to do this. The cat lives here – you don’t. If the cat wants to trip you up, bite you or wake you in the middle of the night, she has my full permission to do so.

6. Do not hide your bread.

I am extremely grateful that you purchased two loaves of bread as a contribution to the household food supply. However, it does seem a little mean when you freely admit that you have hidden one of them, and this will be for your consumption only. If this is acceptable behaviour, then I will insist on hiding everything that I buy – which is just about everything else.

7. Do not hide your brandy.

You may well believe that your brandy is `medicinal` and that this entitles you to keep it in your room. However, you lost the right to do this when you drank six cans of Guinness, eight bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka, all the balsamic vinegar and some ten year old cooking sherry, all purchased by me. You are also staying in my house, rent free, for five weeks. Did I mention that already? If I want a glass of your brandy, I think it should be available to me. In fact, it is your duty to provide me with regular doses of brandy throughout your stay.

8. Do not re-organise my house at 6am.

What I love more than lights being turned on all over the house at 5am is being woken by the sound of cupboards being emptied at 6. I also love coming downstairs for my morning tea to find every pot, pan and plate scattered around the kitchen in random piles. Even more than this, I like to be told in my own house that I am the untidiest person you know, and that I must now spend the whole day cleaning said pots and pans, and putting them all back into the cupboards. Whilst you go back to bed.

9. Do not keep walking into my bathroom when I am in the middle of bathroom type activities.

I know I spend a lot of time in the bathroom, but this does not mean you are invited to join me. The bathroom is meant to be a place of solitude – something I am learning to cherish. Whilst on the subject of bathrooms, do not use my expensive designer shampoo and conditioner and then replace it with Dollar Shop stuff called “Simple”. I am trying to work out if this is irony. Or maybe you are sending me some kind of message? Now you mention it, you could be right.

10. Do not suggest we go for lunch on your last day, and then not pay for mine.

You have stayed in my house, rent free, for five weeks. You have invaded my privacy, embarrassed me in public, knocked four of five years off my life due to stress, and caused me to investigate therapy, rehab and self-imposed exile. You have used up my electricity, gas, water, toilet roll and tea bags. The least you can do is buy me lunch.

 

Best of British Cookery Book: an oxymoron?    2013

 

I am not a great cook. I am an OK-ish cook; the sort of cook who discovers a recipe and then sticks to it (as in repeatedly cooks it, over and over again) for years. My kids have grown up on three regular dishes; anything outside of those regulars are met with a dinner time mixture of excitement and fear. People coming to my house for dinner know what they are getting, long before I do. The choices are limited, you might say. I am not particularly domesticated, either. I am what I would call reluctantly house-trained. I resent all time spent in a kitchen. So why, you might ask, do I have the audacity and arrogance to create and publish a cookbook? Not only that, a cookbook full of recipes from Britain! You know – the land of fish’n’chips, Yorkshire pudding, and Haggis. Not exactly known to be culinary delights. And not exactly health-conscious. In a time when we have progressed to becoming kale-munching, quinoa-consuming, sugar-eschewing, enlightened eaters; when we have educated ourselves on the horrors of cholesterol and trans fats, and the evils of sugar; here I am, pushing a book choc full of all of the above. It’s downright irresponsible.

But, to me, this food is a taste of home. It’s a reminder of my childhood; a memory of my Grandma – the best cook I have ever known. She fed my sister and me throughout our childhood on Steak and Kidney Pies, Beef Stews, Victoria Sponges and Treacle Tarts. Even though I now know how unhealthy that sounds, I am glad I grew up on those hearty foods and that my parents weren’t yet educated on what they should actually be allowing their children to eat. I loved that kind of food (and still do). And anyway, my Grandma ate like that her whole life, and lived to be over 100 years old. My Grandad used to say that the copious amounts of suet we ate (bacon pudding, dumplings, syrup pudding, steak and kidney pudding etc) would “line your ribs”. I really am not sure what that meant, but I would say my ribs are well and truly lined.

To us Brits, these dishes are pure comfort food. And they are really, really delicious. Just ask world-famous chefs Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver – both of whom base most of their cooking on traditional British recipes. Yes, I am comparing my recipes to theirs. Well, they both seem to be doing quite well.

 

In my defence, it wasn’t arrogance, so much as nostalgia, that led to the creation of my book. When I first moved to Canada over ten years ago, my English mother-in-law Rita told me that in the 30 or so years she had lived here, she had always trouble finding recipes for the food she and her husband Bill had grown up on, and she wished there was a book where she could find everything in one place. And so, the idea for The Best of British Cookery was born. It took me a few years, a lot of research, and much help from family and friends, many of whom donated their favourite recipes, but eventually I put together a book containing over 120 dishes, from all over the UK. The book is split into six sections: Soups and Snacks, Great British Dinners, Stuffings and Sauces, Gravies and Accompaniments, Pastries and Puddings, and Cakes and Bakes. When I first published the book around 6 years ago, I sold over 1500 copies… but it was hard work and I didn’t really make money, so it was a labour of love more than an enterprise. Now I have had the book re-designed and revamped, and have decided to unleash it on the world again.

If, after all that, you would like to buy one of my books (maybe you feel like you too would like your ribs lined), please go to: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1494330814/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

Through Their Eyes               2013

Forgive me diary, for I have sinned. It has been over two months since my last post, and I have no excuse other than – well – summer. What? Summer ended weeks ago? Someone really should have told me. I suppose I have been reluctant to let it go; in fact I have been hanging on to the laziness of summer like a dog hangs onto a bone. I apologise; even my analogies are lazy.

Summer is not good for the writer or the self-employed person. It comes sauntering along, tempting you with the promise of stress free days spent at beaches, BBQ’s and lakes; playing in water, napping in the sun and sipping G&T’s (though not all at the same time). Suddenly you are seduced by its balmy relief from tension, anxiety and, most of all, work. Suddenly, instead of turning on the laptop, you find yourself packing a picnic and a swimsuit, and when you do eventually turn on the laptop, it’s to research another delicious summer cocktail.

Summers here are different to the ones I spent in England. In England, it was about getting away, preferably to Greece or Spain; somewhere with sunshine – something which is often missing from the British summer. Here, it seems like there is no reason to get away. For a start, there’s the weather. I am not really a talk-about-the-weather person. I know us Brits (and us Canadians too) like to discuss weather relentlessly, but it’s not my style. I always feel a little awkward when the subject of weather comes into a conversation; clearly at those times there is absolutely nothing else going on in the world that would force people to discuss something so dull. Yes, I did notice it’s raining. Yes, it’s wet. Yes, it’s the really fine rain that gets you wetter than the other (fat?) kind.

 

But, to get to this very interesting point: the weather here on the west coast has been nothing less than spectacular this year. I mean, there were nights in July and August when I lay awake in stifling, nasty, uncomfortably sweltering heat, wishing desperately for rain (fine or fat would do, preferably freezing – so I suppose actually I was wishing for snow in the middle of summer), but I have forgotten those nights; the days were glorious. It was a real summer, where you could actually make plans, knowing that the weather could be trusted to behave.

So when my family (Mum, sister and niece) came to visit at the end of August, my summer continued well into September, as I enjoyed three weeks of being a tourist in my own town. I may have made a slight misrepresentation here. For a start, the town I am talking about is not the one I live in. As much as I love where I live, a holiday in Cloverdale would probably not fill up three weeks. And secondly, the town I amtalking about (Vancouver) is of course not mine. I am just claiming it for the purposes of showing off.

It was during these few weeks of being a tourist guide to my family, that I saw this country through their eyes. I have to say, I was impressed. There is so much to do here that we couldn’t fit it all in. And what we did fit in was pretty great. As my sister and I swam in an outdoor pool in Whistler one Sunday morning, wearing our shades, with the sun-kissed, snow-capped mountains in the background, whilst our daughters ziplined through canyons nearby, I started to wonder if I was ever so slightly lucky to live here. This was the second week in September, a time when parts of Britain were suffering storms, cold winds and relentless rain. That same day, whilst on the Peak to Peak, we went on to see three black bears playing on the mountain, and when we drove home on the Sea to Sky highway, it was of course on one of the most stunningly beautiful drives in the world. Despite the fact that sometimes I moan and complain about certain things here, I am also very grateful that I live in this amazing country. Though of course I am now broke, and strangely obsessed with weather.

 

Long Distance Grief     2013

 

So, those of who have been following my blog will know that my Grandma turned 100 last December. Sadly, Grandma passed away last week; inevitable but still sad. In over ten years of living here, this is the first time I have lost someone. When my Grandad died suddenly 10 years ago, I happened to be in England, and was subsequently able to go to his funeral. I was able to share the sadness with my family, and it really helped with the shock and grief that followed. I am here to tell you that long distance grief is different. When I got the call from my sister, I was expecting it, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear. There is an obvious distance from the rest of your family, at a time when they are all pulling together, which makes you feel excluded, detached, and a little lost.

I have decided to go home for the funeral. I think it’s necessary for my own closure, but also to support my Mum, sister and cousins. The next time I land in England, one less loved one will be there. I know that will be strange and emotional. Leaving could be even more so; I will be leaving one less loved one behind.

Speaking of landing, and leaving again, obviously I have had to book a flight to get back. Grandma died at the height of the flying season – the most expensive time to fly. When I set about researching the cheapest way to get back, I was shocked to find that flights are almost double what they are normally. I had heard of bereavement fares, and so I emailed all the airlines to ask if they could help – as in offer a discount. I received varying degrees of responses from the airlines, most of whom were not even remotely helpful. I belong to an ex-pat forum, and recently there has been an outpouring of criticism against the airlines here. I was reluctant to join in, because I always have this overwhelming sense of gratitude that a plane has managed to get me home, and back again, safely. Flying just doesn’t seem natural to me, and so I am always really amazed that it works. I am not one of those people who claps when a plane lands, but I do sometimes feel like cheering and sending the pilot a gift basket.

 

But now I am forced to join the criticism. Over the past 25 years, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars flying between the two countries. I am the bread and butter of these airlines. (I don’t mean that literally – I’m not that arrogant – I mean people like me: the immigrant who insists on frequent trips backwards and forwards like a flying gypsy). Any business has a duty to recognise and reward the loyalty of their customers, especially at a time when it is most needed. Bereavement flights should be the norm, but they are not. Hardly any airlines offer them any more. Air Canada were the only airline who made the effort to call me to offer sympathy (and a reduced fare – though it still didn’t beat the cheapest charter fare). Virgin, who I had always believed to be one of the best airlines for customer service, hinted in an email that they might be able to offer a cheap standby flight, until I phoned them and they told me there was absolutely no chance of that happening, and then ignored me altogether when I tried to pursue it.

I have decided that if I ever own an airline, I will ensure that bereavement fares are available to everyone. But, as I have had to spend practically all the money I’ve ever had on flights over the years (and I know that’s my choice), I regret to inform you that I probably won’t be taking over BA any time soon.

A trip down Memory Lane                2012

 

You knew it was coming, eventually. The sad lament … the woeful trip down memory lane… the cries of homesickness. The fact is, I miss Brighton. This is entirely separate to missing my English family and friends… I think. What’s weird is that I am not actually, officially, homesick at the moment, though I do go through bouts of it quite frequently. The last time it was bad (and I am aware that I speaking of it like it is an actual sickness) was a few weeks ago, when my sister turned 50 and my dad turned 80. I should have been at home for those occasions, and I wasn’t. That wasn’t so much homesickness as a feeling of guilt, a feeling of missing out, and a realisation that I would never get those times back. And I am not just talking about the big party (though I was pretty upset to miss that).

I think homesickness comes simply from a connection to a place, for whatever reason. I don’t think you need to be born somewhere to be homesick for it. I think if I moved away from here, I would probably experience a similar kind of feeling. So it is nostalgia? I do think that’s part of it. I think it’s easy to romanticise a place in its absence, just as it is easy to do with relationships. Memories are linked to places, and I had lots of good times in Brighton.

But it’s also the feel of a place. Brighton is eclectic, and vibrant, and cosmopolitan. Where I am living now – as much as I like it – is not really any of these things. I live in the ‘burbs. I tried living in the ‘burbs once in England, in a place called Woking. Anyone who has ever been to Woking will know what I am talking about. It’s dull; lifeless; soulless. I didn’t last long in Woking. I have lasted much longer here in the Canadian suburbs, but I think it’s because I am at a different place in my life… what I mean is that I am older. As a family, we make the best of where we live, are grateful for what it offers us, and I think we have created a full, happy life for ourselves, which I suppose is what it’s all about.

I have spent the last couple of weekends in Vancouver, and being there reminds me what I fell in love with about Canada. Apart from how spectacularly beautiful it is, it’s so clean, uncrowded, and it feels safe. This is all such a generalisation, I know that. It’s really very useful to use generalisations when you’re trying to make a point. What was my point again?

Ah yes: I miss my home town. Also beautiful, albeit in a less spectacular way; but not particularly clean, definitely not uncrowded, and (so I am told) not so safe anymore. I will conveniently ignore all that. It’s a matter of lifestyle. I miss being able to walk to the beach or the shops, ride a roller coaster on the pier, catch a bus somewhere (that’s a lie, I never caught a bus anywhere, but some people do), be in London within 45 minutes, and buy a bottle of wine in the local supermarket. That reminds me: I miss Sainsbury’s. A lot.

Here (in Vancouver, not here in the ‘burbs) they say you can ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Now that sounds pretty good (if you can ski or play golf, which I can’t.) But in Brighton, you can go to the city shops in the morning, go for a country pub lunch in the afternoon, and then go to Sainsbury’s in the evening. Beat that, Vancouver.

 

HobNobs and Patriotism               2012

 

I have decided to change the name of this blog to Diary of an English Immigrant. The reason for this is that I wanted to be more specific about what kind of immigrant I am. By adding the word “English” I am not suggesting that I am superior to any other kind of immigrant, though being English I admit that I am prone to smugness. It is just really a definition of who I am and where I come from. Just in case you weren’t sure.

I thought about deeming myself “British” in the title, and this would have been fine too; in fact probably better, because then I wouldn’t be restricted to one part of the British Isles as to what and whom I can claim as my own. I would be able to take credit for all things British rather than just English. After all, I don’t want you to forget that I am somehow, by way of nationality, linked to Sean Connery, or Colin Farrell, or Christian Bale… or haggis, or Welsh Rarebit or…Northern Irish food. (OK, the food reference was a mistake). But it doesn’t roll off the tongue so well: “Diary of a Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and English Immigrant.” See what I mean?

Of course, now I think about it, I do class myself as British, and naturally, in doing so I also idealise all things British. Especially now I live in Canada. And that’s not because I don’t appreciate Canada and what it has to offer. I have always loved this country, and I am proud to be a Canadian. It’s just that, since moving here, an unexpected patriotism has taken hold. As Husband Lee says, I “fly the flag” at every opportunity. Not literally though. That would be weird. His point is that I romanticise everything: British TV, food, people, even songs.

 

“God Save The Queen” – which I hardly even knew before I moved here – can bring me to tears in an instant. This from someone who once – literally – did not cross the street to see the Queen. (We were at the South of England show. I was in the wine tasting tent. Enough said). Hearing the song “Jerusalem” can make me sob uncontrollably. Don’t ask me to explain this. I am not religious, and I am pretty sure this is a hymn. I am also certain it’s named after a place that isn’t even in Britain. It does contain the line “In England’s green and pleasant land”, so this could help explain why I am suddenly overcome with emotion when hearing a song to which I have absolutely no connection. I also cry when I can’t find HobNobs here in the shops, or gravy granules, or cheap wine.

I may romanticise all things British, but I am not in complete denial. I know that there are problems in Britain; I know that HobNobs sometimes break off when dunked in tea. And that the cheap wine is sometimes sold out.

What is strange to me is that I feel way more English / British living here in Canada than I did when I lived in England. I am guessing this is because when you are living something, you are not always really aware of it; you don’t appreciate it. Now, I look back and realise how when I lived there, I took for granted so many things – public transport; British eccentricity; the easy accessibility of HobNobs. I didn’t need to question my patriotism, or rather I wasn’t really aware of its place in my life. And now, I think it’s a case of absence makes the heart grow…idealistic.

I have to say, I am not really sure why I have focussed so much on HobNobs. I don’t even like them.

I think I just made Husband Lee’s point for him.

Angry Bird                                       2012

 

Recently I had a bit of a meltdown. You know that all-consuming rage that takes over your body and turns you into a crazy person? I had that. In fact I have never been so angry, probably. What drove me to this place of mad frustration, you ask? I’ll tell you. It was my phone. I was walking my dog by the river and doing some online banking. Then in the middle of a really important transfer, my phone unexpectedly and inexplicably shut down, and wouldn’t come back on again. After a few minutes of boiling rage, and threatening out loud to anyone who cared (which was no-one) that I was going to throw my phone in the river, I calmed down. And then I realised: I was walking my dog by the river and doing some online banking. When did I get so spoiled?

Not so long ago, banking was the sort of thing you could only do – well, in a bank. And phones were the sort of things you could only use as – well, phones. Now I expect to be able to perform all sorts of banking tasks, at any time I choose, wherever I happen to be. Let’s face it, I don’t expect my phone to do just that. I expect it to be able to work out how many calories I had for lunch, download any song I decide to listen to, play Scrabble with my sister 5000 miles away, tell me when my friends have a birthday, and direct me to any address in the world.

Speaking of directing me to an address, another recent meltdown was caused when I was driving alone and the Maps app stopped working in the middle of a very stressful episode of Lost in Maple Ridge. I actually started thumping my phone at one point. (It didn’t help at all, and now my phone is broken.) I remember the old days, when all we had to get us around was a hand-held GPS. And, if you’re really old like me, you may even remember actual paper maps. They were a lot of fun. Even more fun was when we had to work out an address and how to get there, using – get this! – our brains! I know, it all seems so last century. But that was then, and this is now. Now we rely on satellites and … well, other technological things that I don`t understand. I am getting bored waiting for the time when we can just say an address into our phone, phone will communicate with car, and the car will just take us there. It doesn`t seem that much to ask.

 

I am ashamed to say that I do have phone attachment issues. It’s a real condition apparently, where if you suddenly find yourself without your phone, you start to get the shakes, jitters, pains in the chest, and feelings of inadequacy. That is a real condition, right?

Revenge of the Cat           2011

I don’t dwell in the past. But I am occasionally, and unexpectedly, haunted by it. Leaving my family and friends to move here 10 years ago was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Looking back, I am not sure how I managed it. I think it takes a certain kind of person to be able to announce to your entire family that you are planning to live five thousand miles away. A cold-hearted one, you might think. I am not cold-hearted – I have been known to cry whilst watching car commercials – but I do think I am quite cool. OK, wrong word. I am definitely not cool, in the modern sense of the word. I am cool, as in somewhere between hot and cold. I think this comes from having a very effective protection device. It’s called denial. I am very good at denying anything that might be potentially upsetting. In fact I shut it away in a box and only let it out when I’m ready. I do not recommend you try this at home. You might find yourself, ten years later, opening that box and not really knowing what to do with what’s inside.

The memory that haunts me most from that time ten years ago is the fact that we abandoned my cat, Cokie. Cokie was 20 when we left England, and I’d had him since he was six weeks old. I remember him sitting on the stairs of my little house, watching as we packed up the last of our things to leave. He was confused, and so was I. He didn’t yet have a new home to go to and right up until that day, I didn’t know what to do with him. He couldn’t have come with us – at 20, he would never have made the flight. I hadn’t wanted to face giving him up to anyone and so hadn’t made a decision. And then my good friend Veronica stepped in – a cat lover and ultimately Cokie’s saviour. Cokie went to live with Veronica for the last year of his life, and Veronica got repaid for her kindness with violently scratched sofas and old-age-induced incontinence (the cat’s not her’s).

He died a few months after we arrived in Canada, and when I got the phone call, it was my turn to sit on the stairs, in my new Canadian home, and mourn the cat I had abandoned. I have never fully got over Cokie, because I felt, and still feel, so guilty. Guilt is a funny thing, in a completely unfunny way. It can really ruin your sense of – well, common sense. As a way of dealing with the shoddy way we had treated Cokie, we decided to adopt a new cat. New cat (now 9 years old) was named “Trouble” by the adoption centre where we found her (I really don’t know what we were thinking. The clue really was in the name). She leapt onto son Liam’s head as soon as we saw her, and it was so endearing and hilarious, that we chose her straight away. It wasn’t so hilarious when we realised the cat was completely crazy. We renamed her “Rosie” (such a sweet name…so misleading).

 

For years, Rosie ruled not just our house but our street, strutting through the neighbourhood like a territorial lioness. Nowadays, she stays closer to home, opting to rule just the house, and the people (and dog) in it. Middle to old age has not mellowed this cat. She wakes us in the middle of the night for no reason, demands attention that she doesn’t really want, and bites us at every opportunity. She once brought a live rat into the house and dropped it onto our sofa. We had to throw the sofa away. We won’t talk about the kitten we brought into the house a few years ago; we are certain that Rosie drove this poor kitten to its death; probably suicide. Every time Rosie attacks me, I think about Cokie, because I am certain that he sent Rosie our way, as a kind of punishment for abandoning him. After being awoken this morning at 5 by a punch to the chin with a sharp claw, I have to say to Cokie: consider us punished.

Writing and Real Estate           2011

 

I sold a house! It’s not really that surprising, as my job is to sell houses. But lately, I have been having an affair with my other career (writing), and I am ashamed to say that I have been slightly neglecting the business of real estate. I’m not really that ashamed, because I love both jobs the same. They bring something different, and equally satisfying, to my life.

Can you be in love with two jobs at once? If not, how do I choose the one that`s right for me? Luckily I don’t have to choose. I can have my cake and eat it too. Here I go talking about cake again… though I don`t really understand the `have your cake and eat it too` thing. Does it mean I can keep the cake as well as eating it? How does that make sense? And why do I want to keep the cake? Won’t it go bad? And how does this have anything to do with real estate and writing?

Real estate is demanding and time-consuming, and sometimes very stressful. But it is also rewarding and fulfilling, and there is nothing like the satisfaction I get from helping someone buy or sell one of the biggest investments they will ever make. I am good at my job. I am dedicated and efficient, and now I sound like a commercial and I apologise. But writing is – pardon the pun – a different story. It is solitary and lonely and yet addictive and rewarding in a totally different way – though mostly a non-profitable one.

 

For the past eight months, I have been writing a book. It is the story of Suzie Derrett, who beat cancer twice naturally, and then helped her husband and daughter do the same. All without chemo, radiation or drugs. Her story is touching, and enlightening… and has just been released on Amazon. I cannot tell you how excited I am. That’s not true, I can tell you how excited I am: very. I have been writing for my whole life. I have had lots of articles published in newspapers and magazines, but I have never written a book. I have started to write books – and one day I may even finish one of them. But this time I have actually seen a book through to the end. It feels good.

Husband Lee is terrified though. As already mentioned, writing is not typically a lucrative career. It feeds the soul, but not the kids. Because I am now in full writer mode, and also maybe because I am ever so slightly flighty, I keep announcing my new plan to move abroad (again), live on a beach somewhere, and ‘just write’. To prove that my artsy side is in full swing, I recently spent two hours in bed writing poetry. I may as well have been wearing a kaftan and a daisy in my hair. I wasn’t; I was wearing a onesie, which doesn’t quite fit the bohemian image I am trying to pretend I portray.

The thing is, real estate is not necessarily a lucrative career either. Real estate is the classic “feast or famine” business, and unless you are one of those lucky (but hard working) realtors who has established themselves as a main player in this hugely competitive business, then you will experience periods of being both insanely busy and interminably quiet. Read: loaded or broke. I don’t like to brag, but last year I won a sales achievement award. This year has been a bit different, with deals being less frequent, due partly to the market and partly to my affair with writing. That is why I am celebrating today. In the space of two weeks, I sold a house and published a book. I’m sorry, I said I didn’t like to brag didn’t I? I lied.

PS Shameless plugging of the book can be found at http://www.all-shook-up.com

Milestones and Cake

In the next three months, my dad and step-dad both turn 80 and my sister turns 50. You may already know (because I do bang on about it quite regularly) that my Grandma just turned 100. They are all 5000 miles away… which means for me that this year is a bit of a sad one.

That may seem a little selfish; after all, these milestones are not about me. But with the passing of time comes a very real feeling of missing out. And I don’t just mean on birthday cake. I have to choose which family and friend events to go home for. Over the past ten years, I have missed weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and births. This is the price I pay for living here, I know. Well, that and the small fortune that I have spent on airfare in that time. I’m not complaining. I know you find that unlikely, but it’s true. I am lucky to have been able to go home regularly. Most people who moved here from distant lands 20 or 30 years ago didn’t have the option, or funds, to go back. Some would go years, or decades, before they could visit their loved ones back home. They would have to make do with the once-a-month phone call.

Nowadays, I am in daily contact with my sister and niece, thanks mainly to Words with Friends… and I chat online, email and text my UK friends regularly. Technology has made the world a much smaller place. Not for my mum though, who refuses to enter the 21st century. (I am not even sure she is yet in the 20th century.) She insists on doing something which most of the world gave up on ten years ago: writing letters. I receive these epistles in batches of 30 or 40 pages at a time. The main problem here is that she expects to get hand-written letters back. Have you tried to actually write a letter lately? It hurts. I guess we just don’t use our hands any more for writing – somehow I can sit for six or seven hours typing on a keyboard, but if I try to write one page of a letter, my hand seizes up. I have learned to compromise here; now I type letters to my mum, cleverly using a hand-writing type font, which I hope fools her into thinking I did actually write them with – you know – an actual pen. She probably brags to people about how beautiful and neat my hand-writing is. Or possibly she is telling those people how lazy I am.

Because my mum doesn’t own a computer or smart phone, which is  very annoying and inconvenient, I still have a landline. (That in itself seems so ’90s). She is the only person who I speak to using this antiquated method of communication. (I am being a bit down on landlines because I just worked out what we pay in this house for our various means of communication; something has to go. Not my mobile, or my I-Pad, though, and actually now I think about it, not the landline, either).     
The problem with long-distance phone calls is the occasional occurrence of the long distance fight. I try to avoid these, for obvious reasons. But sometimes, just sometimes, my mother can say something that will upset me, and being the fiery mousey-head that I am, I cannot help but react. This has happened to me today; I have just had an argument with my mum on the phone. We were discussing the normally non-contentious issue of our family tree; not really something that should have caused us to start shouting at each other, but for some reason, it did. I am putting it down to the emotion of dragging up family history (it’s very stressful when you find out your step-great-grandad was a “refuse collector” when you were sure he was a lord or a knight of some sort.) I am not scared of arguments, but arguing with my mum when she is 5000 miles away does not make me feel good. In fact, whether I am right or wrong in the argument, and even when she slams the phone down on me, it makes me feel nothing but guilt.

And so we come to that nasty little emotion, which has become a part of my life: guilt. I know that guilt comes with the territory of being a daughter, and mother – OK, of being a woman – but I find that since moving here, it has compounded into something bordering on what I call Mega Guilt. I blame myself for everything that goes wrong in the UK. And I mean everything, whether or not it is connected to my family and friends. I actually have been known to wonder aloud if I was responsible for the recent economic downturn there (how would Marks and Spencer, Next and Neal’s Yard survive without my patronage?)… at the very least, I am pretty sure I am the reason for the local cake shop closing down.

Speaking of cake, have you ever noticed how it makes everything better? I am off to eat cake.. and to call my mum.

The New Immigrants

There is a Welsh family living in my basement. They have been here for two months and are not showing any signs of leaving. Now don’t get me wrong. I love Welsh people. And I love families. But I also love my basement… which, by the way, is not really set up to accommodate a Welsh family (and their dog). It is set up as a bar.

As a Realtor, my job sometimes involves helping new immigrants from the UK. This family was referred to me a few years ago, and at that time, in their planning stages of immigration, they were researching the possibility of buying a property when they moved here. In 2010, I took them out looking at homes, and they were excited about their pending move. Fast forward three years, and their pending move became an actual one. Their plans had changed, though, and now they had decided to rent a house rather than buy. I was still helping them, but they weren’t sure which area they wanted to live in, and so I offered them my basement while they made some decisions. I was a little embarrassed about offering them a two bedroom bar to rent, but it seemed to be a good, temporary compromise, and they were grateful.

Some of us have easy transitions when we immigrate. We don’t realise it at the time, and maybe don’t always appreciate it. By we, of course, I mean me. I have moaned and complained my way through ten years of various trivial “problems”, but compared to the Welsh family, I now realise, I have had it easy. These people have had a run of pure bad luck which would be enough to make anyone question if they are doing the right thing.

They came to BC on a working visa, which means the husband was sponsored by a company and could only work for that particular company whilst living here. After just two weeks, that company told him they had no more work. Suddenly, their whole move here was in question. If the husband could not work, they could not survive. Their search for a more permanent home was put on hold while he searched for another job. The only way to find work was to persuade a company to sponsor him. Not easy. He started applying for jobs all over Canada. Hundreds of applications later, he was thankfully offered another local job. The company agreed to sponsor him, and things started to look up. The family breathed a sigh of relief and found a townhouse to rent. They signed a lease agreement, paid half a month’s rent, plus damage deposit for the dog (a total of $1200), and finally started to feel that they could settle into their new life in Canada.

 

A week before they were due to move to the townhouse, and two days after paying the deposit, the husband was laid off again. This was enough to test the hardiest new immigrant. How could they take on a tenancy knowing that they may not be able to pay their rent next month? They went to the landlord, told him the situation, and said that regretfully they were unable to take the townhouse after all. The landlord refused to return their rent. I can – maybe – understand that the landlord has his mortgage to pay, and – maybe – was prevented (for two days) from renting to an alternative renter, and that – maybe – he is entitled to keep the half a month’s rent. What I really cannot understand is how this landlord can justifiably keep the $400 damage deposit for the dog. If the dog never moved in, what exactly is the deposit for? Even if the landlord is legally justified in keeping this money (and I am waiting to hear from the Residential Tenancy Branch about that), doesn’t he have a conscience, or some kind of empathy for these people?

So now the Welsh family are $1200 down, with no job, no sign of another job, and nowhere to live – apart from my basement. I am sure one day they will look back on this time and laugh. Actually, I’m not sure about that at all. Immigration is tough, and sometimes, it’s just not funny.

Rugby: A Mother (and Adam Kleeberger)’s perspective

“Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”. It’s been said so many times that it’s almost a cliché. But no-one really knows from where, or whom, this phrase originated, although some credit Sir Winston Churchill; others Oscar Wilde. The fact is, despite much research, some of it my own, it seems the quote cannot be correctly attributed to anyone. My son did shout it out in the middle of a game once (with an added expletive), after witnessing an unprovoked attack on his team-mate, but I don’t think he can claim the words as being his own.

Mothers watching their sons and daughters take to the field, unprotected, to face an oncoming full-on running tackle from an opposing player, will take little comfort from the fact that rugby is “played by gentlemen”. But as one of those mothers, after watching countless games over the past 20 years – including many professional games in England and Scotland – I have never witnessed an injury in rugby as bad as some I have seen in other sports.

 

I still cover my eyes sometimes, if my precious (six feet tall, 200 pound) son Liam happens to be at the bottom of a ruck, or a scrum, and I am always grateful when the full-time whistle blows and there are no injuries – on either side. Please don’t ask me to explain what a ruck, or a scrum, is. I may have watched countless games, but I still struggle to understand the game fully. I still find rugby, whilst an exciting spectator sport, to be complex and multifaceted, and the rules are not always clear to me.

It’s our instinct as women to be protective, and our instinct as parents to be scared if we perceive our kids to be in danger. The fact is, rugby is no more dangerous than other sports, though it is almost impossible to back this up with statistical evidence, as the numbers of players involved in each sport varies considerably, and there is very little research being done to record injury statistics.

Now throw in the fact that I now live in Canada, where rugby is still largely misunderstood, and where people look at me like I am an abusive parent when I tell them my son plays the game – and here we have a problem. That problem is ignorance, and the key is education. We need to educate people about the benefits of kids getting involved in the sport; we need to show that it is a great game and that it is not dangerous, as it is perceived to be. The perception has shifted slightly in the past few years, due in some part to the attention received by the Canadian national team in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. All nations need a sports celebrity, and this came for Canada in the unlikely form of Adam Kleeberger, whose talent – and overgrown beard – caused a surge of publicity for himself and the sport.

Kleeberger says, “Typically in Canada people perceive rugby players as being these goons who go out on the field, smash each other around, get bloodied and bruised and then go and drink beer afterwards. I think it comes down to exposure and getting people to see there’s more to it than that.”

We all know that rugby is actually one of the only games that promotes respect on the field; something that inevitably translates into life off the field; and something we all want our kids to be is respectful.

Kleeberger says, “The biggest thing, I think, rugby can give a young player is the idea of respect. I think rugby is the only sport where if you are going to address the ref, (it is usually only your captain who can do so), you address them as ‘sir’. If you have an issue, you have to address it in a proper way, in a manner that will help get your point across without being insulting.”

That’s great, but what about the fact that the idea of the game is to run at each other full speed, and bring each other to the ground in a battle of brawn, strength and skill? Kleeberger says, “Players realise you’re not wearing helmets and pads, and you have to learn to do things in a proper manner, not only so you don’t hurt the other player but so you don’t hurt yourself.”

So, will there come a time when rugby players have to wear protective gear? “I hope not, “ says Kleeberger. “Rugby is a contact sport, and with contact sport comes injuries – I am a prime example of that.” (He is currently recovering from a back and shoulder injury). “You have to understand going into the sport that it does have that risk. But you can get injured playing football, soccer or hockey. There have been a lot of changes in hockey; players used to not wear helmets, and they didn’t have the same injuries they do now; they didn’t have sticks to the face because there was that element of respect. Players realised that they should keep their sticks down. Whereas in today’s game, you see sticks all over the place, you see injuries to the head; it’s just a case of understand and respecting.”

Kleeberger’s rugby career started in White Rock when he was 14. He had been involved in ice hockey up until that time, but was getting sick of the politics in the game. He got a taste of rugby in Grade 8 after going on a rugby tour to Argentina.

I am interested to know how Adam’s parents coped with his transition from hockey to rugby. “My parents were like a lot of parents – they didn’t understand the game very well. They had been around for hockey and they support me in whatever I do, but it’s a little more difficult when they don’t understand certain things. My mom would come to my games and cringe every time I went into a tackle. But unless you’ve grown up with it, it’s hard to understand that it’s not the same kind of contact as, say, football. It’s much more controlled, and there is more respect, and you are actually trying to make a proper tackle, whereas in football guys can just jump out of line and just charge at you and grab your legs. You can’t do that in rugby because you are responsible for the tackle, and if you miss a tackle, that puts your entire team under pressure.”

Something I love about rugby is that it seems to be all-inclusive; there are players of all sizes and abilities. Kleeberger, who is studying kinesiology at The University of Victoria in British Columbia and is coaching the rugby program there, says “Rugby is the one program in the school where nobody gets cut. We have a lot of guys who are there because they want to be a part of the team, and want to be a part of the rugby atmosphere; they don’t have maybe the same skills as some of the guys playing at a higher level, but they are still involved and they still feel like part of the group.”

And there is something else. Rugby is not just about rugby. It’s about socializing, community, acceptance, team spirit, camaraderie – and creating life-long memories. As a mother, I like that. I want all of that for my kids. And as a parent, I get to experience that myself too; my own social life has centred around rugby for over 25 years. I guess that makes me a rugby groupie, but that’s OK.

Kleeberger says, “Rugby is the sort of sport that people get so much out of it that they really want to give back. We have a lot of parents and ex-players who still want to be involved in it because they have had such a good, positive experience.”

Rugby is a culture, one that keeps people involved, sometimes all through their lives. I personally know of one player who played well into his 80’s.
Kleeberger, who is not recognised so much now that his famous beard has been shaved (“and I’m fine with that”), says that the sport helped him build confidence. “I would say I am fairly shy, so I think rugby has brought out an ability to be in social situations. I feel more comfortable being around a wide range of people. I think rugby generates a more well-rounded person.”

And as a mother of a 15-year-old rugby-playing giant who is a budding gentleman, I would have to agree.

For more information on Bayside, please go to:http://www.baysiderfc.com

The Post Vegas Blues

I just returned from a weekend in Vegas. You might notice that the weekend was actually about five days ago. That is how long it’s taken me to recover. Vegas is exhausting. It is the only place on earth where you feel completely alive when you are there… and almost dead when you come back. I am just starting to feel un-dead, though I am pretty sure that quite a few million brain cells have not been so lucky.

This was my fifth Vegas experience. Since moving to BC, I would say that it’s almost obligatory to go to Vegas on a regular basis. It would simply be wrong not to go. I mean, it’s practically on our doorstep. Everyone does it; it’s kind of expected. And it’s almost free to get there. OK, that part is not true. When I first moved here, it was quite reasonable to go; there was always a deal to be had. Nowadays, a weekend in Vegas costs around the same price as two Pomeranian/Shih tzu cross puppies. I only know this because I was in the pet store yesterday, thinking that if I hadn’t gone to Vegas I could now be the proud owner of two of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. But, of course, a puppy is for life, not just for a weekend of debauchery. Or rather, instead of a weekend of debauchery.

The real reason for going to Sin City, of course, is because it offers pure, hedonistic escapism. And we all need that once in a while. This time, though, the (other) reason for the trip was to accompany my 15 year old son on his first ever rugby tour. Hence the photo above. This is the Bayside U16 touring team. We went down there to watch the World 7’s and for the boys to play four games. I cannot tell you much about the rugby side of it. After all, what happens in Vegas (and on tour) stays … on Facebook.* I guess that means I can’t tell you about the non-rugby side of it either. You only need to know this: as much as I love puppies, I will still be back in Vegas next year.

 

* Quote courtesy of Gerard.

Ten Years On: the backlash

Three weeks ago, The Province published Diary of an Immigrant – Ten Years On. It was a follow-up to the series I had published in 2003 and 2004 after arriving in Canada as a new immigrant. The Diary series was intended to be a humorous, slightly wry look at my experiences as I battled various obstacles; bureaucratic and personal. My recent article was also intended to be humorous, but it somehow morphed into a bit of a tirade. After ten years of living here, I felt qualified to rant about certain things: the cost of living, accent mocking and roundabouts. I tried to make it fairly innocuous and inoffensive, as well as balanced (I also mentioned the good things about my move here), but it seems that however hilarious I thought it was, some readers did not agree. As a result, an angry mob appeared at my door carrying pitchforks. I may be over-dramatising here. What actually happened was that I received a few irate e-mails. Two things struck me, though from the tone of some of the e-mails, I am sure those readers would have been happier if there had been more than two things that struck me; preferably heavy things. One thing I noticed is that the people who felt the need to “complain” didn’t seem to notice the positive, or humorous, side of my piece. The other thing that struck me is that those people, mostly, were what I like to call – wrong.

Roundabouts: I happened to mention in my piece that drivers seem to be unsure how to use roundabouts here. Anyone who knows me (and I am sure they regret that enormously) know that my favourite hobby is educating people on the use of roundabouts. I have been known to deliberately drive around my local roundabout several times a day, trying to teach the unfortunate people driving behind me that when exiting the roundabout, they must signal to show other drivers where they are going. I do this by driving around the roundabout very slowly, then deliberately moving my indicator to its upward position in an overly dramatic fashion as I make my exit, whilst staring intently in my rear-view mirror as if trying to convey my superior driving skills to the driver behind. It rarely works, and I know this because I have a camera installed in my car so I can watch my unwitting students as they leave the roundabout behind me. I am providing this as a kind of free community service. It is unbelievable to me that drivers scoot round these things and just suddenly shoot off without any warning. Oh, I haven’t even got started on this, but really I am starting to bore even myself. The point is, I received an e-mail from someone who gave me a lesson in the difference between roundabouts and “traffic circles” and informed me that you do not in fact need to signal when leaving a traffic circle, though you do need to signal when you leave a roundabout. Right. OK then. So, what, exactly, is the difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle? And why do we need both? And who named this ridiculous, confusing, superfluous “traffic circle”? Please don’t email me to answer any of those questions. It’s kind of irrelevant. To pass my rigid roundabout testing, my unwitting students will need to signal on both circles and rounds.

Accent: I moaned in my article about people mocking my accent. The people who felt the need to defend or explain this to me were suggesting in their correspondence that when people who I don’t know repeat what I say in their false British accent, they are in fact complimenting me. They are doing it out of respect or sometimes even reverence. Wrong! They are doing it because I sound different to them. And as I have pointed out to the e-mail writers who suggested this to me, the accent mockers would not dare to do this to a Chinese or Indian person. One e-mailer even suggested that perhaps I don’t speak properly, which is why I am mocked. Ironically, after receiving this particular e-mail, I actually could not speak properly for quite some time. My words were coming out in a mixture of swearing and spitting.

Cost of living: I mentioned in my rant that I find living here extremely expensive, compared to living in England. I was not talking about tourism – which in London is particularly extortionate – I was talking about cost of living, and to illustrate this, I am pretty sure I mentioned cost of living type things – utilities, insurance, groceries etc. My favourite e-mail was from someone who felt the need to point out that I was probably forgetting to convert pounds to dollars before making a comparison. Because pounds are, like, three-quarters of what a dollar is, so obviously everything would seem cheaper – three-quarters of the price in fact! And back in 2003 when I moved here, a pound worked out to less than half of a dollar, and so based on this logic, everything was half price!

OK, now I feel I have gone on another rant, and I will probably have to go through the whole thing again. I would like to publicly state that these topics are now closed for debate. Unless of course I need to mention them again. But I won’t. I promise my next entry will be non-confrontational, non-offensive, and will not mention roundabouts. Or even traffic circles.

Juliet Sullivan: writer, realtor, and rock dealer

Send me an email:

julietsullivan@outlook.com

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