Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite
Sample of Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite
There’s This Job …
Six months earlier
‘The trip’s off. There’s no Phenergen Airways,’ I call out to my husband from the study, but my eyes keep skimming the list of airlines hopefully. I pause to consider asking him if he can swipe some gear from the hospital on his last day at work. After all, what’s the point of being an anaesthetist if you can’t keep your two small children comatose for a 22-hour flight? Sadly, however, something tells me he won’t spring for this option (he’s always so damn ethical about these things), so I end up buying tickets on an airline that will take us through Dubai.
Less than 24 hours after I book, a friend will let me know everyone leaves Dubai in June, as the temperature soars up to 45 degrees. When I’m told this handy fact about Dubai, I take a deep breath and remind myself to keep calm. I’ve been taking a lot of these deep breaths lately. So many I’m starting to become afraid I’ll soon be hyperventilating on a daily basis.
Here’s how it has come to this gasping-for-breath business: I met my husband quite some time ago. Twenty years to be precise, which means that we’ve been together since we were 15 and 16 years old (this is where people either say, ‘awww …’ or quickly locate a handy pot plant to vomit in). We’d both finished high school and I’d gone on to a few years at university. He’d gone on to more than a few years at university; this included two degrees, then medical specialisation, which saw him turn 34 before he was emancipated from study and the public health system telling us where we’d be living next.
While my husband was busy learning to save lives in I-Was-Drunk-And-Rolled-In-The-Campfire, New South Wales and I-Was-Drunk-And-Asleep-In-The-Driveway, Queensland, our friends were all having a ball doing the Aussie rite of passage: living and working in places like London, New York, San Francisco and Boston. We’d always wanted to do this too, but it seemed an impossibility. There were a hundred reasons to put the overseas adventure in the too-hard basket — my husband was still specialising; he could make more money in Australia; it was cheaper to live in our home country; we were thinking about buying a house. And then we had two kids and there were suddenly a thousand reasons to put living overseas in the too-hard basket.
When the studying was almost over, we finally got back to our home town and my husband’s original hospital in Queensland. Our daughter started school. Every so often, we’d sigh wistfully and wish we’d done the overseas thing like everyone else, but the moment either of us spoke about it as being anything close to a reality, we’d pull back once more. School! His permanent job! Money! And we still needed to buy that house! Not to mention we’d since had another child and the last time we’d taken him on a plane, he’d bitten me when I’d had to restrain him for takeoff.
But the wistfulness was always close to the surface. My parents had always been travel nuts and I’d been lucky to travel extensively as a child — Egypt, Israel, the UK, France, Belgium, Malaysia, Switzerland, the USA. I missed travelling, yet the too-hard basket remained a furniture staple.
That is, until my husband sidled into the living room looking slightly sheepish. ‘There’s this job …’ he said, his eyes not quite meeting mine. The job, as it turned out, was in Cambridgeshire in the UK, 16 000 km from our home.
All of a sudden, before we thought again that it would all be too hard, we decided to go for it. The truth was, we were staring down the barrel of another 15 years of sensible living. My daughter was installed at the same school I’d been to, I was living a five-minute drive from where I was born, shopping at stores I’d been going to for 36 years, and I’d taken my kids to the same parks around ten million times now. Somehow, another big serving of sensible wasn’t looking quite so appealing.
He applied and got the job. And, at the start, I was excited. We were really going to do it! We were going to move to Cambridge for a year. All four of us (sorry, cat, you’re off to Grandma and Grandpa’s for an extended stay). We were going to do the whole bit: house, school, job. It would be living, not holidaying.
We made a list of things we needed to do — visas, passports, medical registration, insurance, schools, furniture storage, selling both of our cars … and immediately wished we had done the UK the normal Aussie way in our late teens or early 20s, with two passports, two backpacks, two brain cells and 222 other Aussies packed into a two-bedroom apartment in central London.
We tried very hard to hang on to the excitement and not to think about how this was going to eat into our savings. Every so often, someone would innocently ask if my husband had been ‘headhunted’. This would give us a really good laugh. ‘Headhunted’ would suggest there was a company involved, willing to pay for things like flights, medical cover, accommodation and schooling. This job was more … well, my husband put it this way: ‘It’s the medical specialist equivalent of travelling halfway across the world to pull beers.’
To try to up the excitement again, we told the kids about our plans. And it worked. They immediately got into the act by calling England ‘the Snowy Place’ and peppering us daily with random questions.
‘Will we catch the 444 bus to the Snowy Place? Like we do into town?’
I wished. The 444 took approximately 15 minutes to get into town. I was still checking daily for a Phenergen Airways start-up in the hope of changing our tickets.
I subjected the kids to long and involved discussions on the Fens, how Cambridge is very flat and it rarely snows there. Then, on the news, they watched scenes from what was being forecasted as the coldest winter for 1000 years. Throughout the UK, it snowed like crazy, weeks before Christmas even, to the point where several terminals at Heathrow closed down. And then they subjected me to ‘You lied to us about the Snowy Place, Mummy’ wounded glares.
As we got closer to our departure date, I really started to lose the plot. With the job lined up, my husband left the general freaking out duties to me, as husbands tend to do. Oh, and there was plenty to freak out about. Flying with two small children was just the beginning of the long list of things I could lose sleep over. We also had driving on black ice; farewelling the only supermarket on earth where I could locate any given item; how on earth you handled the layering of clothing in the winter months; and driving on black ice. Oh, and then there was driving on black ice. Yes, I was more than a little worried about that one. You don’t get much black ice in the subtropics.
I knew I was starting to sound like a first-class, first-world whinger, but when you’re a mother, it’s hard to change your routine. It’s confronting. You have a set list of activities and places to be that have been vetted and approved and that, well, work for you. Stepping out of this routine is difficult and stressful, especially so when your kids are happy and settled at school and kindy and the Type A stamped on your driver’s licence refers not to your blood group, but personality. You wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Mainly at 3am, after several other mums have told you, ‘Wow! You’re so brave! I couldn’t do what you’re doing!’ Moving out of our library on Saturdays, swimming lessons on Sundays routine was the stuff of nightmares for me. Throwing away all the many and varied ways I had made our lives easier and more fluid felt very foolish indeed.
The thing was, I was secure in our routine and secure in our level of security. Because we were secure to the hilt: we had home insurance, health insurance, car insurance, life insurance, trauma insurance, income protection insurance, pet insurance and probably a whole bunch of other insurance policies I can’t even remember right now because, let’s face it, that’s a lot of insurance. In the UK, we would have close to none of this and the security we did have would be downscaled considerably.
It made me grind my teeth at night.
To make matters worse, there’d been a family at my son’s kindy who’d just spent some time in Canada doing medical training and come back early for various reasons, mainly to do with him being flogged half to death on 36-hour shifts and his children forgetting what he looked like. Would that be us, too?
Despite all of this, the only thing scarier than going, was not going.
As time passed, my concerns started to come to a head.
On Christmas Day, I choked up when I realised that we wouldn’t be spending next Christmas the only way I knew how — sweltering in 40-degree heat with the oven turned up full-bore cooking a traditional roast turkey. I despaired when English real-estate agents started telling me that showers in UK bathrooms were ‘optional’ and that my six-foot-one husband would squeeze into an 18th century, six-foot ceilinged cottage kitchen ‘just fine’. I wasn’t sure how that would work — a quick hobbling?
I found out that watching hundreds of YouTube videos of people driving on black ice is probably scarier than driving on actual black ice.
And maybe everyone started to realise I was getting more than a little stressed, because they quit it with the ‘you’re so brave!’ comments — or maybe they just started to cotton on to the fact that I wasn’t brave at all. I’m sure my mum realised I’d practically dug my fingernails into the plastered walls of our home, because she gave me, for no apparent reason, a framed poster for my study. ‘I saw it at the shops,’ she said, breezily, ‘and thought of you.’
‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ the large, tomato-red poster said. I looked it up online and found out that it dated from WWII and was a slogan meant to raise the morale of British people living under the threat of German invasion. As I inspected it that evening, mounted on my study wall, I pondered that it was odd that I was the invading party and the one who needed the calming down — the phrase ‘running around like a headless chicken’ was starting to become quite apt.
But the poster worked. Sort of.
As I spent more and more hours at my laptop, planning our trip — there is only so much ‘sensible’ a type-A mum of two can give up — the poster reassured me from above.
Keep calm and carry on, it whispered to me.
Until, one day, I sat making a list of necessities that we simply could not forget (my son’s blankie, my daughter’s treasured Dolly, what was left of my sanity …). And as I added one last, oh-so-important item to the list — one of my kids’ staple foods — I happened to look up at the poster at the same time. It gave me an idea and, with a laugh, I gave the poster a little tweak by way of a well-placed Post-it note.
Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite.
It would be my mantra, I decided.
And it’s working. Kind of.
Every time I read my newly worded poster, I take a moment to remind myself that if I can just do those two things, simultaneously, for 24 hours per day, for 365 days, I might pull through this move in one piece. I might be able to embrace change.
Or at least give it a quick hug.
Embrace change and lose your sanity
When Allison Rushby’s family, including two small children, decide to make their way halfway across the world to live in Cambridge for a year, many a mother tells her she is ‘awfully brave’ (read: crazy). Leaving behind a tried and tested, scheduled world of swimming lessons, lunchbox packing and her school gate tribe, she joins the many women before her who have penned a travel memoir.
And quickly finds out why they are all single and childless.
Over her year abroad, she struggles to embrace change and make the most of a new and different life, learning all she has to lose is thousands of dollars and her sanity.
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Having failed at becoming a ballerina with pierced ears (her childhood dream), Allison Rushby instead began a writing career as a journalism student at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Within a few months she had slunk sideways into studying Russian. By the end of her degree she had learned two very important things: that she wasn’t going to be a journalist; and that there are hundreds of types of vodka and they’re all pretty good. After several years spent whining about how hard it would be to write a novel, she finally tried writing one and found it was quite an enjoyable experience. Since then she has had published many books in many genres. She keeps up her education by sampling new kinds of vodka on a regular basis.Find out more