LIFE IN LONDON #08

Shortly after moving to London, two friends of mine from the deep South-East (a.k.a Gippsland), also made the move to the cloudy city. When we lived in Australia, the three of us would routinely catch up and swap stories over dinner, and we saw no reason to change that habit now we had relocated in England. These friends happen to read my blog and subtly suggested that, given they were part of my life in London, they get a mention in a post. Over the weeks, this suggestion changed from soft promptings to an aggressive:

“So, I noticed we’re still not in the blog. What’s up with what?”

Their charming tact worked its magic and what follows in an extract from one of our exploits.

Quick aside: The two friends in question are Jess, who I recently learned stands at a little less than five feet, and Jen, who stands at a little more than five feet. Their height is in no way relevant, I just wanted to share how short Jess is.

After moving to London, Jess and Jen decided they were going to get the most out of their time overseas and downloaded an app called yplan that offers a random collection of things to do in the city (yplan = why plan? I know, the cleverness of the name wowed me too). They set up a system where each weekend one of them would scour yplan for an activity than ran for less than £20 a head, and as long as it fell below this price, they could go ahead and book it in for the both of them. This is how they discovered ice-hockey.

They knew nothing about the game, were not particularly fanatical about sports in general, but figured for less than £20, it could be a laugh.

They now love it. They went to almost every game for the rest of the season. They love it to the point that, when describing them to other friends, the first thing I say is, “They’re huge ice-hockey fans.”

Stunned by the passion with which they spoke about the game, I had to see what the fuss was about, so the three of us bused it out to Stratford for my first ice-hockey experience. I was not disappointed.

After making our way into the rink, we were met by two ladies sitting at a table and very officially were awarded wrist bands, proving we were paying supporters of the London Raiders. The London Raiders were Jess and Jen’s favourite team. They bleed blue and yellow, and after five minutes of watching the boys out on the ice, I did too.

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In addition to the very official wrist bands, we were also given a photocopy of the rules of the game, which I immediately digested (mentally, not physically), as, beyond knowing that the puck goes in the net, I had no real knowledge of the game’s particulars. Watching the Mighty Ducks film franchise can only get you so far, and I have a feeling that that rag-tag bunch of underdogs bent the rules on more than one occasion. (Despite all my reading, I found no mention of the famous “Hucklepuck” move as seen in D2: The Mighty Ducks.)

The photocopy of the rules was full of useful information such as the description of the puck being “a 3” disc of rubber which is kept below 0°C and is very hard!” and the warning to “keep an eye out for it because it can hurt if it hits you!” Beyond an over-enthusiasm for exclamation points, the writer of the piece was obviously very fond of pointing out the obvious.

The three of us made our way to the front row in the London Raiders fan club, obviously, because we are such huge fans, and we were soon joined by said fans. It was great to get some local colour, and one father of two quickly made himself known by spitting insults at the competition who were warming up on the ice. His allegiance to the London Raiders was inspirational.

The players disappeared from the ice and I felt a spiral of excitement unfurl in my gut as I realised the game was soon to start. There was commotion at one end of the rink, a gate opened, and I felt my pulse race. Then a giant machine trundled out and slowly and methodically drove over every inch of the ice. I learnt the vehicle was an ice-sweeper designed the clean the ice before each game. I also learnt that the machine moves at about 1km/hr and that the driver was very fastidious about his work.

They certainly know how to build the tension.

Finally, the moment came, and the players once again poured out onto the, now perfectly polished, ice. They lined up and were called out by name one-by-one so we could applaud those who would entertain us for the next hour. The father behind me went with a different tack and each time the announcer called out a player from the opposition, he gave a little “boo!”

Every. Time.

“Brandon Michaels.”

“Boo!”

“George William.”

“Boo!”

He was an excellent role model for his little boy and girl.

Game played started, there was the clack of hockey sticks, the swish of skates through ice, and the ping of the puck as it ricocheted off walls, poles, and helmets. The London Raiders burst into action, spreading out in formation, and, wow, let me tell you…they sucked. No, seriously, the other team was substantially better — the Raiders didn’t know what they were doing out there.

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But the poorness of the play didn’t reduce the enjoyment of the game, nor, judging by my favourite spectator’s comments, the ardour of the fans. Father-of-the-year had witty remarks such as:

“Hey, number 23, you wear your mother’s panties!”

And one time, when the opposition scored, just the simple and elegant:

“Knobhead!”

This explosion of emotion was followed about five minutes later by his five-year old daughter jumping up and down and our-favourite-fan turning to her and in all earnestness saying:

“You need to calm down. Hey, look at me. You need to calm down.”

He clearly led by example.

The timer counted down and before I knew it the siren blared, and my first hockey game had come to an end. Despite the Raiders’ rocky start, the final score was still a nail-biting…9 to 2. The Raiders had confidently lost.

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The three of us made our way from the rink with the crowd of departing spectators, and I had to admit to the girls that I could see now why they had fallen for the sport. The chill of the ice counted by the heat of the adrenaline, the thudding of players as they crushed each other against the rink walls, and the charm of the fans. And of course, the player’s children out on the ice, decked out in full gear. Did I not mention that? Oh man, it was fricken adorable.

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We left the light and glamour of the arena and into the dark and cold of a London night, crossing the road to wait at a bus-stop with a collection of other fans. But just when I thought the spectacle was over, I got one last little slice of entertainment as an intoxicated girl of around twenty-four scuttled into the trees running along side the road, and squatted to take a piss.

We had literally just let a place with toilets. We were standing about twenty meters from it. She could have easily headed back inside. Charming.

But in all seriousness, I had a brilliant time, and greatly enjoyed watching the game. If you’re in London and have a chance of catching the mighty London Raiders in action, I’d highly recommend it. Thanks, Jen and Jess, for sharing your world with me. This post’s for you.

REGISTRATION ROAD – CONCLUSION

Ten days ago I re-sat the OSCE, the final exam to garner UK nursing registration. I had no idea if I passed. In fact, if you were to ask me, gun to my head, I would have told you I failed. I don’t like this kind of pessimism, and consider myself an optimist, but the delay-riddled road towards nursing registration changed me in a lot of ways, and, when it came to this, I was not so naive as to presume anything.

It has been nineteen months since I begun the paperwork necessary for getting myself registered in the UK. Back then, I was full of adrenaline and a dogged enthusiasm. I had been warned by many parties that it was a trial for an Australian nurse to work in England, but I surveyed the mountain I’d put in front of myself and decided that, as long as I kept walking, I could scale it.

This attitude worked for a year. A year is a long time to work towards something. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound so bad, but for three-hundred and sixty-five long days I thought about and put energy and effort into achieving this goal. That means from the outset, I awoke three-hundred and sixty-five times and resolutely pointed myself back up that mountainside. And in case you haven’t done it, it’s damn exhausting to walk uphill.

Which is exactly how it felt. Every step I took came at a great expense of physical and mental energy. Nothing was simple and straight-forward. If I had seen the logic behind the things I was doing, the documents I had to gather at personal cost, and the exams I had to sit, also at a high personal cost, then it would have eased the journey, I would have seen my destination getting closer and known that what I was doing was effective. Instead, everything I was asked to do led me around in circles, often having to repeat steps I’d already taken, like police checks, immunisations, blood tests, GP declarations of good health, and forcing more and more detailed paperwork out of my university. It wasn’t a matter of ticking boxes, it was ticking all the boxes, then going back and ticking them again and again as you watched your mark fade from the page.

Anybody who’s had a job that feels endless, who does all their work and finds the same amount or more waiting for them the next day can appreciate how this taps your motivation. It worms into that part of the brain that says to keep going and riddles it with holes. Defeatist thoughts begin to intrude, until you feel like laughing at the efforts you make while the out-box is consistently outweighed by the in-box.

This was me after a year, sitting and laughing and shaking my head when the latest report came online in my UK registration portal telling me the documents I’d already acquired needed to be reacquired, with no explanation as to why the previous version had been deemed insufficient. I was watching the ticks fade from the boxes, and it got to me.

My view of the world has always been one of hard work winning out. Not that every hard worker somehow becomes a millionaire, more that input results in an equal output. I had seen my parents work and save for their whole adult life, but the victories seemed to match up with the sacrifices they made. We had a home, and food, all the possessions we’d ever need, and the ability to go away in the summer and relax with family and friends. They worked, yes, but the payout of that hard work seemed justified.

For the first time in my life, hard-work added up to jack-shit.

But, slowly and resolutely, clinging more to an insane refusal to break than any real hope that I would achieve my original goal, I persevered, and eventually those boxes, now scarred and marked with repeated ticks, remained filled. It had taken sixteen months, a lot of money, and a huge chunk of my energy, but I finally only had one last box to check. Of course, it wasn’t this simple.

This last box cost money. A lot of money. I was to be tested, despite the testing that had already taken place when I completed all my placements, graduated from university, and successfully obtained, held, and was even promoted in my employment. I was to be held to their standards. This bothered me, mostly because I felt I had done more than could be reasonably asked from a person, but the logic of it was clear. What wasn’t clear was the obscure way they went about laying out the exam, feeding those to be examined scraps until the whole procedure became one stained with doubt and confusion, which led invariably to stress. This seemed so unnecessary, and not an accurate way to examine anyone. Shouldn’t we be taught first, and then be tested on what we’ve learnt? Instead, they seemed ready to test, and then tell you where you went wrong. This meant failing, and paying the huge sum of money just to find out one piece of information, one lesson, and then having to try, and pay, again. It seemed backwards, and horrible, and exactly like every other part of the registration process. I don’t know why I was still surprised at this point.

I sat the exam, and failed.

In the wound care station, I picked up a cotton ball from my sterile field with the same hand I used to clean the patient’s wound. It didn’t matter that I was wearing sterile gloves, that all those sterile gloves had touched was a sterile cotton ball soaked in sterile saline, I had reintroduced something into the sterile field that had left the sterile field, and this was deemed sufficient to endanger the patent’s wound to infection. While I can see the minute chance that this would have at creating an infection in a wound, and while I can agree that they should tell me not to do this in the future, it bothered me that this was enough for them to fail me. And by “bothered me,” I of course mean it almost brought me to tears of rage and utter frustration.

I had played their game, done the hard work, and this infinitesimally small excuse was enough to, once again, set me back.

Something changed inside me with this failure. I felt defeated. I felt that I had been beaten, and knew I couldn’t keep stepping back up and trying again because eventually I would go broke in the attempt. I knew what I had done wrong and would not make the same mistake twice, but part of me knew they’d just get me on another small hitch that would see me fail again and again.

Despite this, hanging onto the last threads of refusing to be broken, I signed up, paid the money, and rescheduled a resit of the exam. I didn’t think I could pass, but had come so far up the mountainside it seemed there was no way to go back down.

Ten days ago I resat the exam, and passed.

I was, unsurprisingly, pleased. Okay, I was fucking ecstatic. But also, more so, the dominating emotion was relief. Upon reading the email congratulating me, the weight and stress that had dragged at my shoulders for a year and a half suddenly lifted, and I could have collapsed as mental muscles released. It was done. I did it. I hadn’t been beaten.
And this seemed the greater accomplishment. Not the fact that I could now practice as a nurse again, not the easing of financial stress this fact resulted in, but that I hadn’t been broken. That I had kept scaling the mountain despite what felt like endless pitfalls and active opposition, and I achieved what I set out to do. That lesson, that reaffirmation of the belief that perseverance will win out, was the sweetest victory I took away in that moment. That was the win.

And it was communal win, because in no way did I accomplish it alone. Without my community around me, I would have buckled. I am infinitely grateful to all the people who supported me in my efforts to beat this beast. I have had nothing but support, encouragement, praise, assistance, and love from my friends and family. I am humbled by the people who have bothered to take the time to give me their time and kind words. That I have come this far is because they have held my hand and pulled me up each step of the way.

I have had countless conversations with friends about the madness of the registration procedure and they have all sympathised and empathised with me. My current housemates, Dom and Nikki, shared a lot of the same ill-logic England presented to me, and their mutual understanding helped tremendously.

My family supported me from the outset, knowing that a victory in this arena would ultimately mean time spent away from them. They didn’t hesitate for a moment in filling me with encouragement and pride.

My brother and best friend, Damian, for whom this absence would affect the most, actively bolstered my motivation every time it flagged. I lived with him and his girlfriend, and my friend, Holly, for six months before leaving Australia, and they patiently let me talk through every delay and frustration that tripped me up along the way.

And most recently, Alex, who showered me in unfailing love and support, and kept me together when the first failing of the exam threatened to have me fall to pieces. Her perspective of me gave me the drive to sit the exam again when my own perspective of myself left me devoid of incentive. Her own determination and tenacity is a constant inspiration, and I am blessed to have her in my life. I simply cannot thank her enough.

So this was a win. A win for me, and for my community. It took a lot from me, and scoured away some of the naive optimistic from my personality. It had me doubt my world-view, and face a society stripped of the beliefs I used to navigate life. But ultimately it proved that some things are true, and no matter how hard and exhausting the climb, it is possible to scale a mountain.

That persistence can win out.

Thank god it’s over.

JOURNAL EXTRACT #11

7th of February

I am sitting in Guangzhou airport, savouring the taste of peanut m&ms and wearing two jackets because apparently the air-conditioning in this terminal is set at zero degrees (fahrenheit or celsius, it really doesn’t matter once it hits freezing point). I have left Australia, again.

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It’s been eleven days since I’ve updated this journal and I’m happy to say this is because my trip has been a flurry of connecting with friends and family, leaving no time for self-musings. In the past two weeks I have met my new nephew, spent Australia day with my family, married off two friends to one another, celebrated my sister’s thirty-third birthday, and even managed to sell two pieces of white-goods that were sitting in my brother’s garage gathering dust. It’s a comfort to know that if the interminable battle for UK nursing registration never culminates, I can make a healthy living flipping second-hand appliances. Really living the dream.

Also during my time in Australia, I have managed to sleep in six different beds, of which I’m weirdly proud. I have assured my girlfriend I was alone during each of these sleeping sessions, excluding the few times Damo crawled in with me for a twin cuddle and conversation. Sharing a womb means you get a free pass. Alex is surprisingly understanding of this.

When I last wrote, I was wallowing in melancholy in my childhood home, indulging in bittersweet reflections on my past. After extracting myself from this swim in the pool of the past, I returned to Melbourne and spent an evening with my parents where we got to sit back and talk, enjoying being in the same room together rather than smiling at each other through computer screens. Even when I lived in Australia, having one-on-one time with my parents was a rare occurrence as the Robbs are of the mindset that more is better, and our gatherings usually consist of a minimum of five to eighty guests, the most recent inclusion in this family circle being Ella and Harry, my niece and nephew. It’s hard to get a grandparent’s attention when there’s an adorable two-year old granddaughter dancing in the centre of the living room. In my parent’s defence, she is one hell of a dancer.

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It was reassuring and relaxing to sit with my folks and discuss what had been happening in our concurrent lives, and to talk to them about my plans for the future. I’m twenty-nine now, but I think no matter how old I get, decisions and events won’t feel real until I’ve talked about them with my parents. That casual nod of assent and the comment of “That sounds good” seems to solidify and officialise whatever action I’ve taken or am planning to take. Far from resenting this emotion, I embrace it. There’s something innately comforting about knowing my parents are on board, and I’ll take their advice and understanding for as long as I can get it. Luckily for me, I have the world’s most supporting and encouraging parents, so obtaining their alliance is never a difficult thing.

From their home in Richmond, I spent the next day with my sister, Angela, again relishing some one-on-one time with a family member. She’s recently bought and is renovation a new apartment, and it was very cool to see her future home and her efforts at turning it into the comfortable and warm environment so reflective of her nature. I even moved some furniture both in and out of the apartment, so can later claim credit for helping in the renovations. History is written by the victors.

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Next on the agenda was a four-day getaway to Phillip Island, which was the location of the eternal and legal binding of my friends, Erica and Brian. Also known as a wedding. They chose to be married on a cliffside overlooking the sea, and the view was incredible. Erica and Brian decided to forego a lot of the more traditional elements of a wedding ceremony and had no bridal party, and because I had made the effort of coming halfway around the world to attend, I got the honour of sitting next to the bride during the reception. Because of this, I’m claiming the title of man-of-honour. There’s no competition, so it’s mine by default. I even got a shout-out during the speeches, which immediately made the twenty-eight hour journey to Australia worth it. Apparently I can be bought with a self-esteem boost.

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The time in Phillip Island was perfect as I stayed with four other friends and past work colleagues in a holiday house by the beach, where we spent most of time eating, drinking, and catching up. They told me about changes within my old workplace and I detailed to them the backwards and archaic nature of the UK health system. Sitting back and debriefing about the idiocies of our employers; it was just like old times.

I then made my way back to Melbourne, spent a night recouping from the three-day party that was Erica and Brian’s wedding, before training it to Hillside where I spent the night enjoying the company of my brother, Matthew, sister-in-law, Rosie, and their aforementioned spawn, Ella and Harry. I loved getting to sit and participate in the microcosm of family and domesticity that they have made, watching on with awe at the way these two people had metamorphosed into parents of two, apparently taking it all in their stride with ease. I got to engulf my new nephew in hugs and kisses, and play with my niece who, in the past six months, had grown into a proper person with words and personality, and the ability to imitate any animal I could put to her, excluding a giraffe. But who the hell knows what sound a giraffe makes anyway? After the exhilarating chaos of bouncing across the globe for half a year, being able to sit back in my brother’s world was a privilege.

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The following day was my sister’s birthday, which had the traditional elements of too much food, a table full of lollies and chips, cake, and singing all three versus of happy birthday, with each verse split by a chorus of hip-hip-hooray. For those of you who don’t celebrate birthdays like this, you’re doing it wrong.

And then, after feeling like I had only landed days before, I found myself saying goodbye to my brother and his family, and my sister. Until this point I had been so focused on the hellos I would make, the people I would reconnect with, I hadn’t given much thought to the goodbyes that would inevitably follow. I see now that this was an error on my behalf because those goodbyes kicked my ass. Dropping back into the semblance of my old life had been immediate and effortless, so extracting myself from it once more felt like doing it for the first time all over again. My siblings gave me nothing but love and support, so as sad as the goodbyes were, I waved them off feeling acutely loved and lucky.

My final day, also known as yesterday, although given that I’ve crossed the date-line, technically it’s still today (it’s messy, I know), was spent with my brother and his girlfriend, and getting to see Damo in his role of scientist. He brought a certain casualness to the position, opting for shorts instead of the more tradition white coat. He totally pulled it off.

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We grabbed one final Melbourne brunch before heading back to Brunswick where I spent the day in a weird limbo, enjoying the company of two of my best friends whilst the knowledge that I’d be parting from them in a matter of hours lurked at the edges of my consciousness. Holly’s sister, her friend and her adorable niece joined us, followed by mum and dad, and I had a last supper of home-cooked pizza on the lawn. I will miss the Australian summer.

Finally, I was back in the land of airports, hugging my family and preparing to leave the country of my birth once again.

I thought this holiday would let me experience Australia as a tourist, but of course that wasn’t the case. The minute I stepped back onto Australian soil and was enfolded in family and friends I was back, I was accepted, I belonged. I didn’t know I needed it, but it was a relief to see my old life and know the crucial elements were still there, that all the beautiful relationships I’ve been removed from for the past six months were waiting for me, and that distance hadn’t really effected them at all.

Knowing this, really knowing it on a visceral level, meant leaving wasn’t as wrenching. I boarded the plane comfortable in the knowledge that wherever my life takes me, my family and friends will always be willing and waiting to enfold me again when the opportunity presents itself. This is an incredible thing.

I’m on the last leg of the trip now, from China to London, where I’ll see my roommates, Dom and Nikki, and on Thursday, mob my girlfriend in a hug that I have warmed her may take a good forty-five minutes. I literally cannot wait to be back in Alex’s presence — her hello is the balance to all these goodbyes.

To be able to leave one family and fly halfway around the world only to be greeted by another is a damn special thing.

JOURNAL EXTRACT #10

22nd of January

I am on a plane, again.

My day started at 0120, London-time, when after three-hours sleep my alarm chirped with way too much enthusiasm for such a disgustingly early time of the morning. Although I don’t know if it can rightly be called morning. Late night? Technically I had slept, and it was a different date than when I first closed my eyes…for the purpose of clarity, let’s say it was early morning. But please bear in mind, the term “day” in this context gets very warped and wiggly, and may in fact last longer than the traditional twenty-four hours. International travel refuses to play by the rules of space and time.

So my “day” started in London, at 0120, when I pulled on clothes, splashed water on my face, completed the cursory pocket check of wallet, phone and passport, before grabbing bag and backpack and venturing outside to wait for a bus. It’s a weird thing to stand on a deserted London street in the freezing cold with the moon overhead, pacing back and forth to keep the feeling in your feet, and expecting a bus to show up. It took me back to when I first moved to London and got absurdly lost coming back from Vienna. Ahh, good times. At least in this case, I planned to be standing outside in the middle of the night (sorry, early morning), waiting for a bus. And just like that fun night, eventually headlights broke the darkness, rumbling broke the silence, and the deserted street was suddenly occupied by a red double-decker bus.

It took two changes, two-and-a-half hours, and three buses to get me from Morden to Heathrow airport. I was sustained by chocolate-chip cookies baked by my girlfriend during this trip. My love grew for her with every cookie.

The next leg was a plane that took me from London to Paris, which is a flight that basically gets up in the air only to come down again, albeit in a different country. Damn, but Europe is all smooched so close together. There was, however, enough time to enjoy a chocolate croissant — a perk of flying Air France.

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I arrived in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport at 0900 France-time, which is 0800 London-time, although to my sleep-deprived body felt like 2200 Internal-bodyclock-time. I had been awake for seven-and-a-half hours off of three-hours sleep and the sun had not long been up. Feeling confused? I certainly was.

From France, I boarded another plane at 1135, headed to Guangzhou, China. I forced myself to stay awake long enough for the first meal to come round (beef and mushrooms with rice, for those playing at home) before folding my knees up on the back on the chair in front of me, squishing my body into a weirdly comfortable accordion-style position, and disappearing into sleep for six hours. Six hours, not bad, right? I did wake up with completely dead legs and a back that took about ten minutes of coaxing to straighten, but it was worth it.

China was foggy and cold, and I saw exactly none of it as I paced the terminals looking out the giant glass building at a wall of fog. I killed two hours, breaking the time between watching episodes of Seinfeld on my laptop and watching a cute four-year-old Indian girl wearing a onesie dance up to people singing her ABCs in English. I can’t decide which was more entertaining.

From China, I boarded another plane at 0900 China-time, which was 0200 France-time, and 0100 London-time, this time headed to Melbourne.

I can hear the loyal readers asking, “Melbourne? But don’t aren’t you Australian? How can you put this entry in a travel journal when where you’re travelling to is home?” Firstly, thank you for your loyal readership, and for your astute observations about my origins. I’m honoured that you’ve followed this blog so closely, and glad I have a readership that asks such penetrating and pertinent questions.

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I can justify the title of travel journal because this time, having now established myself in London, I will be a tourist in my homeland. It’s a dislocating sort of feeling to be heading home and knowing it’s only temporary, that this time “going overseas” means travelling to Australia. To be simultaneously both an insider and an outsider. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’m going to leave it there because I have three percent battery left on my laptop. Right now, the time on my screen says 0509, the time on my watch says 1409, my body would swear is about midday, and truthfully, given where my plane currently is in the world, none of them are probably right.

It’s been a long day.

 

24th of January

I am sitting in my bed writing this. It feels very strange. Not that I’m in bed, that’s a natural state of being for me, but because of the bed I’m in.

Seventy-two hours ago I was rising from my other bed, my London bed, and now I’m back in my Australian bedroom, a room that hasn’t changed since I left it six months ago. The room may not have changed, but the person within it has. (That’s me, by the way).

I landed in Melbourne at 2130, made my way through the ordeal of border security (after now having some experience with airports, I can safely say Australia is the most uptight country when it comes to customs. We’re number one!), and stepped out into a crowd of family. Mum greeted me with tears in her eyes and a hug that felt like home. It was a nice moment.

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Yesterday was the perfect easing-in day. Damian, Holly and I headed to Lygon Street and, after exactly ten seconds of looking, found a cafe for some brunch. Out of all the things I’ve missed about Australia, Melbourne breakfast-food would have to be one I’ve missed the most. (After my loved ones and friends and all that).

After reigniting my love affair with Melbourne’s brunching culture, we made our way to a pub called the Ale House and talked and laughed while enjoying beer, one of which was called peanut-butter-jelly-time and tasted like rocky road. I would highly recommend it.

It was brilliant to sit and talk with two of my favourite people. As incredible as the miracle of Skype is, (and it is a miracle — we are living in the future, people!), it still falls short of the intimacy and communication that comes from sharing a space with a person. I don’t know if it’s in the body language, the minute facial expressions, or some unconscious connection that comes from being physically present, but there was something inherently more satisfying in being able to sit in the same room as Damo and Holly and catch up.

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From the Ale House, we headed to the Edinburgh Castle where we were joined by my sister, Ange, and her boyfriend, Adam, and my friends, Erica and Brian. The latter two are the reason for my Australian vacation, as I’m attending their public and legal binding to one another in a week’s time. It should be a nice affair.

I got back to my brother’s house at around 2100 where, after assuring everyone all day that I was fine and had craftily avoided the effects of jet lag, I promptly fell asleep on the couch, absolutely jet lagged.

It was a good day, and a perfect slice of exactly what I hope to achieve from my brief time being back here.

 

27th of January

I am sitting on the couch I used to sit on as a teenager, looking out the window of my childhood home and breathing in the scent of gum trees. The odour is triggering memories across my cerebrum like wildfire. It’s disconcerting in a pleasant and bitter-sweet sort of way.

Since leaving London, it’s felt like I’ve walked backwards through my old life. Landing in Tullamarine and driving through the suburbs where I worked as a nurse, to arrive at the house I lived in straight out of uni, and now back to the root of it all in Traralgon, where I’ve spent the past half-hour touching items on my old bookshelf and reconnecting with teenage-me, a person I now realise I had almost forgotten.

It was strange and sweet and sad to stand in my old bedroom surrounded by pictures and drawings of a simpler me and look back across this timeline, and to see the way I’ve hopped from a country town, to an Australian city, and now across the ocean to London. Teenage-me never even saw it coming.

Yesterday was Australia Day, a day which has never really had much significance to me other than getting paid double-time when working (both in the supermarket and as a nurse, I was never one to have public holidays off). But this year’s Australia Day was particularly potent as I used it as an opportunity to see the family I’ve been apart from for the past six months, giving the day a whole lot more meaning than celebrating the landing of Europeans on Australian soil. Granted, I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t done that, but I got to meet my nephew for the first time yesterday. Nothing trumps that.

Harris Robb is a chubby little ball of baby that pulls funny faces and bobs his head against my chest when he wants a feed. Sadly, he was pumping at a dry well, but luckily for Harry, my sister-in-law had the goods. I have only just met the little man, but it’s safe to say I love him. He automatically gets the love card due to sharing genetic material with me.

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The day was spent in Trugania Park in Altona, right by the bay, where we indulged in the closest thing Australia has to a cultural meal: the BBQ. I slapped sunscreen across my skin with my niece, cooked snags on the hotplate with my dad, and drank beers with my brothers. It was familiar and special, and recharged the much-depleted family-time batteries.

I also got reacquainted with my niece, Ella, who took about half-an-hour to win over (she was obviously still put-out by my move to the UK), but once we splashed each other with water from a drinking fountain, we were firm friends again. I spent the majority of the day swamping her in hugs and kissing her cheeks, whether she liked it or not. She mostly liked it. I think.

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Afterwards, I drove the two-hour drive to Gippsland with my mum, the drive going in a blink as we shared all the thoughts we’d each been thinking since seeing each other last, to the point that I was mildly surprised to be easing the car into the driveway of my old home after what felt like only twenty minutes.

Being back in a home that evokes a life that no longer exists, but that gave me such an incredible start, is a melancholy and yet inspiring thing. I miss the easier life I used to have where my family was always just in the adjoining room and all I gave much thought to was which book I’d read next, but I’m proud of the complex and fulfilling life I’m living, and the strong ties I still have with every member of my family, even when we’re living in rooms oceans apart.

2015/16

This time last year I was writing about how 2014 had felt like a year of waiting. It had been a strange year, one of routine that had become monotonous, and of a sense of disquiet. Of waiting.

It’s hard to wait for something, but even harder still to feel like you’re waiting for something that might never come. For most of 2014, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I knew that the lifestyle I had set up was only a way-station to something bigger, only that something bigger kept not happening. I stuck to my routine and waited for the universe to deliver the next turning point in my story. The universe did not provide.

So I did. I could only wait so long, and in the end I decided to make the turning point myself. I resolved to move to London to see the world and, more importantly, to just do something. I wasn’t sure what I expected to happen, if anything would happen, if anything would really, on a fundamental level, change, but I knew at the very least I’d be doing something. That seemed like a better alternative.

So the end of last year’s blog post was hopeful. The waiting was at an end — I would be moving to London come the new year. This turned out not to be entirely true. The waiting continued for another six months, but at least by this point I knew what I was waiting for. The waiting had a different flavour to it, an anticipatory taste at the back of my tongue, and the tedium at least felt like it was building to something. And it did.

It’s safe to say that, despite the first half of the year still being consumed by waiting, the second half more than made up for this period of inaction.

2015 was a year of exploration, of trying new things, and, to a certain extent, of making it up as I went along. I’m sure I’ve been doing this since the moment I was born, that there isn’t a book somewhere with the plot points of my life already written down in easy to understand step-by-step instructions, but I’ve always sat and thought things through so that by the time of decision, what I’ve decided to do felt planned and preordained. I would convince myself that I’d mentally explored every possibility, and the one I’d chosen was the most logical and responsible. This has not always turned out to be the case, but it felt like it at the time. The illusion is a comfort.

But after literally disbanding my previous life — renting out my house, selling furniture, quitting my job, and buying a plane ticket — it seemed not to be in the spirit of things to fall back on my previous method of nutting everything out first before taking action. That way of thinking had certainly provided me with security, but it also ended with me living in an empty house, repeating what felt like the same day over and over. I was trying something different, now. That was kind of the whole point.

So instead I had a loose framework. I would catch up with my cousin and his girlfriend in Italy and we’d explore the country before heading to London. I knew in August I would head to Vienna to catch up with a friend for a few week before the both of us, and a few of her friends, went to Greece. After this, I had vague ideas of working and travelling, the ratio of those two things dependant on my financial status at any given time. That was it.

I figured this cavalier attitude towards my future would liberate me, would eliminate the weight of expectation. Expectation can be a hazardous thing. On one hand it gives you something to hope for — a future you expect and anticipate is one you can prepare for, and look forward to. But expectation cuts both ways, and sometimes the stressors of the future, those far-off jobs we can do nothing about but sit and chew over regardless, can get to us. I had no expectation for the future and so reasoned I could neither stress about it nor be disappointed if what I expected never came to pass.

It worked, to an extent. I said teary farewells to my family and friends, and dived in to the rest of the world. I met my to-be roommates in Rome and, through a forty-degree summer, we ate and drank and trained in across a country I’d been hearing about since primary school. I had no expectations, and every new wonder was an unanticipated joy.

Eventually we made our way to London, and a new apartment, and before I knew it I was boarding a plane to see a friend I’d made in Vietnam two years previously. Alex and I had maintained contact through Facebook and the mutual pastime of writing. This mostly involved her writing essays for university and me editing those essays. I am very thankful to her university for making her write long and detailed essays in her second language as it gave us cause to stay in contact.

I hadn’t seen Alex since the trip through South-East Asia, and wasn’t sure what would happen when I got to her house in a country I knew little about. From memory, she was lovely, and her messages and generous offer to have me stay with her while I travelled reinforced this, but spending two weeks with someone you haven’t seen for two-and-a-half years is full of potential social risk. She could have been crazy. Or I could have been. We were both gambling.

But, armed with my new outlook, I dropped expectation and just let it be what it was. Thankfully, after landing, hugging Alex, and about five minutes of conversation, I realised it was going to be fucking amazing. And it really was.

Alex was as kind and funny as I remembered, and it didn’t take long for us to discover we had more in common than just booking tours through Vietnam in 2013. The city she showed me was stunning, and her family’s generous proved to be equally incredible. Those weeks in Vienna will forever be one of the greatest times in my life.

Part of this may be because I fell for Alex in that time, and we spent a certain portion of the second week kissing (I made the first move, for those of you playing at home). After another two weeks in Greece, I had a girlfriend. Another unanticipated joy.

But months of holiday had to come to an end eventually and I returned to London and set about procuring employment. And it was during this process I learnt that, just like expectation, a lack of expectation also cuts both ways.

I stressed about all the things I hadn’t thought through. I stressed about money. I stressed about the future. It fluctuated, this stress, my “take it as it comes” attitude gaining the advantage for a few days when I reflected I was halfway around the world and who cares about anything else, only to be knocked off its perch by my more experienced responsible self, who sat in the den of my subconscious crunching numbers and sweating about the results. I had nights of blissful sleep and nights of anxiety-ridden tossing and turning. The consequence of abandoning my secure life had finally hit.

The beauty of it all, the lesson I can take away if there is one, is that the benefits still far outweigh the consequences. Yes, of course having a lack of plan results in anxiety, particularly for someone wired like myself. Of course working three days and then disappearing to Vienna for a week causes financial stress. Of course stress doesn’t just disappear because I decided not to focus on it. Idiot.

But when I flick through the photos in my 2015 album, holy crap have I had some amazing experiences. It’s hard to be resentful when I have so much to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the places I’ve seen, the breath-taking, mind-boggling places from documentaries and travel guides that literally spread out from my feet, feeling both intensely real and unreal as my brain tried to assimilate my new reality.

I’m thankful for the meals I’ve had, for the pizza eaten on cobbled Italian avenues, the home-cooked Austrian feasts of pork-belly and dumplings shared around a family table, the meals in London pubs enjoyed with a pint and friends from home, and of mugs of steaming punsch held in cold hands burning warm paths down my throat.

I’m thankful for the work I’ve had, walking the streets of London and disappearing into the homes of the locals, getting to see how the citizens of this land live and love and cope. Of strolling through the west-end past theatres and shops, of accidentally stumbling into Camden markets, of wandering the tiny cafe-lined streets of Soho, and eating lunch in Trafalgar Square.

I’m thankful for the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the generosity given to me that I never anticipated.

And most of all, I’m thankful for Alex, for the joy of having her in my life, for the hours of conversation and sharing of her fascinating and beautiful self, for her endless kindness, and for her making me stupidly happy.

So, all in all, all things weighed and measured, all stock taken, and all pleasure balanced against pain, I can confidently say 2015 was an incredible year. It was a year where I took risks that paid off. A year where I felt elated and exhausted, liberated and anxious. It was a year where things happened.
A year where the waiting came to an end.

 

P.S. I also got a new nephew this year. His name is Harris, and he’s beautiful. That was also pretty fucking amazing.

REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 2

…my documents were rejected.

Not all of them, to be fair, but enough to delay me considerably. The document the university drafted for me apparently wasn’t detailed enough, so I had to get back in contact with the incredibly generous staff member who’d helped me previously and beg her to give a little more. She was a lecturer, and class had started by this point, so it was a further two months before she got back to me. Given that I was the one asking the favour, I figured it was rude to harass her.

My declaration of good health was rejected on the basis that I hadn’t been seen by the GP who assessed me in the previous six months. Of course I hadn’t — I’m in good health and have no need to regularly see a doctor. That was the whole point of the declaration. This line of reasoning was lost on them.
They also took issue with the fact that I hadn’t any experience in the field of midwifery. When I rang and explained that was because I am a nurse and not a midwife, the confused adolescent at the other end of the phone responded with: “Oh yeah, that’s tricky.” Tricky isn’t the word I’d use.
Round two: I eventually liaised with the contact at my university and she provided me with a second, more detailed, document. After all this, I wouldn’t be surprised if how regularly I went to the toilet at uni was listed in the document. I got checked over by another doctor and was once again deemed to be fit of mind and body to work as a nurse. And I had my current employer complete a document stating I had some experience in the world of midwifery. Which isn’t a complete lie — I had cared for two pregnant women in my career. My thanks go out to those two woman for allowing me to honest when checking that particular box on the endless requirement list.
Round two was sent off and I waited once again. I was told it could take up to three months for them to process my documents and get back to me. Three months after I’d already waited ten. By this point I had rented out my house and moved back in with my brother and his girlfriend in preparation for my overseas relocation in what was meant to be a very temporary situation. Luckily for me, they were unfailingly patient as I continued to reside in their home, month after month.
This was getting ridiculous. I had mentally made the move to the UK a year ago and that I was still in Australia was starting to grate, on principle alone. Plans I’d made to meet up with people overseas were falling through as I pushed my timeline back, and back again. So after talking it over with my brother, I decided to make the move before hearing back about my documents. I had provided them with every form, identification, history — personal, work, health, love life — that they had asked for, and I didn’t want to kill three more months that could be used for relocating. (Okay, not love life. That form wasn’t mandatory). So, fuck it. I bought my ticket.
And life was grand. I travelled through Italy with my cousin and his girlfriend, my soon-to-be roommates, and finally begun the trip I have envisioned a year ago. After three weeks of explore Italy, the three of us made our way to London, to our new home, and I picked up the task once more of battling for registration.
By this point it had been three and a half months since mailing off round two and I had yet to get an email confirming that my documentation was complete. Needless to say, I was a trifle nervous. I contacted them, waiting on-hold for half-an-hour before getting another juvenile young man who sounded as if he’d started work only the week before judging by the helpfulness of his answers.
I asked him why it was taking so long for my documents to be processed and when I could expect a response. He said he couldn’t access my account and so had no way of knowing. I asked why, when he worked for the organisation that managed the account, he couldn’t access it. He said that was how it worked, and seemed to think this was a completely satisfactory answer. I asked him if I was ever going to get a response, or had the organisation lost my paperwork, forcing me to attempt to gather the documents once again, a process that had taken me months to arrange. He suggested I wait one more week and see how I go. I asked if he really though one more week was really going to make a difference. He said it was worth a shot.
He was blowing me off.
But I couldn’t care. I was in London for only one week before jetting of to Austria for two weeks followed by two weeks in Greece, and registration stress could wait post-holiday.
A week later, in Austria, I received an email saying my paperwork had been received and to now wait for the outcome of the processing. Even though this was good news, I was kind of annoyed the vague and apathetic adolescent had been right.
It wasn’t until I was back in London that I received another email. They’d processed my paperwork. And according to them, things were outstanding. 1) The document from my university, and, 2) A declaration of good health. I fought the urge to cry from frustration.
I immediately contacted my helper from the university asking she resend the document, only to get an automated out-of-office email saying she was on long-service leave. Until December. At this point, it was September, meaning I wouldn’t get registered until at least the next year.
This was the lowest I’d felt during the whole process. To begin with, I’d met each hurdle with grinning gritted teeth, determined and resolved that, as long as I played the game, I’d win out. But over the months I’d felt my metaphorical back bend, and with each needless delay my resolve had warped and twisted into a cynical continuance, a plodding one foot in front of the other, more out of habit than the enthusiasm I had started with.
An old colleague of mine once told me not to let the bastards win. The bastards being anyone or anything that tries to beat you down. This expression has stuck with me during the years, and every time I felt like David in front of Goliath, completely dwarfed by the weight of stress or disappointment or expectation, I reminded myself of it. With this mantra in my head I straightened my metaphorical back, grinned my gritted teeth, and emailed the university asking if there was anyone else who could assist me while my contact was on long-service leave. Thankfully, they responded.
They couldn’t draft any new documents for me, but luckily they were able to assess the documentation that had already be created. They sent me a copy, and, reassured that the file did indeed exist and had been sent to the UK, I went about defending this position.
A phone call, a half-hour wait on-hold, and I was speaking to another person who was ready to dismiss my issue. I wasn’t having it. I insisted that all documents had been provided and if there was any issues, it was at their end. I detailed all that I had done, explaining that my university contact was on leave, that I had been doing this for a year now and I wasn’t going to be deterred. After a grumpy sigh like I was asking them to do more than their job, I was transferred to the correct department. They didn’t answer. When I bounced back to the original staff member they said I should try again in a few hours. I said I would’t do that, that every time I called I was on-hold for thirty minutes, and politely requested that they called me. She sulkily agreed. They never called me back.
Three days later I rang back and had a repeat of the same conversation. Again, the department I needed wasn’t available, but I the worker I spoke to this time was more proactive and promised they’d get in contact with me by the end of the day. I was skeptical, but two hours and forty minutes later, my phone rang.
I pleaded my case for the third time, this time to the right department, asking that, given that two documents from my university had already been sent, couldn’t I simply send the electronic copy I had to them? She was empathetic (or as empathetic as the organisation was capable of being, by which I mean she listened), but insisted that all documents had to be originals. She made me one allowance: If my university sent the same document I had to them, they would accept it.
Despite the fact that the electronic document was literally the same collections of 0s and 1s regardless of whether it came from me or my university, I didn’t argue, I thanked her and said she’d have it by the end of the week.
My new contact at the university was as confused as I was, but pleasantly agreed to send the form on. Her pleasantness may have come from the fact that my email to her practically dripped with platitudes and words of praise.
Meanwhile, I went about obtaining a NHS number, giving more forms of identification and proofs of address, so that I could see an English GP and get a third declaration of good health. If nothing else, it was validating to have three practitioners deem me mentally and physically sufficient.
This form was mailed off, I waited two days, and emailed asking if all documents had been received. She responded saying she’d look into it later that day.
That afternoon I got an email saying all paperwork had been cleared and I was free to book in the final exam. The final hurdle between me and registration. I was mildly pleased with this news. I’m pretty sure I literally clicked my heels at one point.
The final exam. It was a practical exam, meaning I have to physical demonstrate some aspects of nursing. This I knew, and was rather confident about. I think after six years working as a nurse, I’ve got my practical skills down. What rocked me, what I didn’t anticipate was the price tag that came with the exam. For the honour and privilege of sitting a one hour exam, I paid a grand sum of £1000. Roughly, $2200 Australian.
I knew there would be a cost associated with the exam, mostly because they had taken money from me at every juncture, why should this would be any different, but I didn’t realise it would be so much. But what could I do? I had come this far, and the wage difference working as a nurse as opposed to working a health care assistant as I was presently doing, was substantial. If I had any hope of recouping my loses due to the registration venture, it was through becoming registered.
I paid the money. It hurt.
And, at the time of writing this, I now have exactly one week until I sit the exam. The 23rd of December. An early Christmas present to myself.
I don’t think I’ve been more nervous about an exam. Not because I feel underprepared, but because I’ve never gambled $2200 on my own wits before. It adds a certain spice to the process.

So that has been my project for the past fifteen months. In between working, moving out of my house and into my brother’s, and eventually moving to London, I have been chipping away at a mountain at times I doubted I could level. One boulder now stands in my way.

Wish me luck.

REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 1

About eighteen months ago I had the idea to move to England and work as a nurse. I thought it’d be fun to go and explore the world, and to pay my way with the skills I’ve earned. I knew that to work as a nurse in the United Kingdom, I’d first have to register. I figured I’d fill out a few forms, send a few documents over, and before I knew it I’d be cleaning out wounds and sticking people with needles while they said charming things like, “Are you having a laugh?” and offering me copious amounts of tea. This was a delusional and naive presumption. (Not the charming things British people say, more the few documents thing. I’ve already genuinely been called “Poppet.” Twice).

It didn’t seem like a naive presumption at the time. The facts are these: I went to university for three years to train as a nurse. During that time I sat many exams and went through months of placement to prove my skills and knowledge were sufficient. After university, I completed a graduate year at Austin Hospital, one of Melbourne’s major metropolitan hospitals. I then worked for five years for the Royal District Nursing Service, becoming a team manager after the first year. I’m skilled up to my eyeballs, dammit.

I figured another first-world country, a country that is the mother of the commonwealth, the international collective to which Australia is a part of, would recognise these skills. I was wrong. I had to prove myself.

And over the last eighteen months I have learnt one thing: The process to register in the United Kingdom is a cold and unflinching bitch.

I’m now going to detail the arduous requirements that all Australian and New Zealand nurses have to go through in order to do the job they’re already trained for. I had to live through it, people, you only have to read about it…


To begin the process, I went online and punched my details into the registration website. This created an account for me with the various stages of registration mapped out — although all I had access to was the first stage. They put me firmly in my place; they didn’t want me getting ahead of myself. Looking back, this could be their catch-phrase:

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

The first stage was asking for the scores and ID number of an exam. As yet, I had not sat that exam, so I went about booking myself in. The exam cost somewhere in the vicinity of $400, and I was strongly encouraged to study and prepare for the day. I felt I had been studying and preparing for the exam my whole life — the exam was an English exam. I had to prove I had the necessary English skills to work as a nurse. This is despite the fact that English is the only language I know, a language I’ve spoken since the age of two, a language I completed school and five years of tertiary education in, two years of that tertiary education being in an English diploma. None of this mattered; I had to sit the exam.

So I did. I filed into a classroom with a collection of people for whom English was a second language, showed my passport (it was all very official), took my seat, and spent five hours writing, reading, interpreting, listening and speaking in English. The speaking component was a one-on-one interview, and when I met my interviewer and sat down, and it was obvious I was Australian-born, she looked at me and asked: “So why do you have to do this?”

I wanted to ask her the same question.

You’ll all be relieved to know I passed the exam. Shocking, right? In fact, I got full marks except for the listening component where I drifted off for a second and missed something the pre-recorded voice read out, and lost half a mark. So I’m officially a bad listener.

Exam done, I excitedly logged back in and put in my results details, and was rewarded by being able to access the next stage in the process. The next stage was an exam. Another one. Once again I went about booking myself in. This exam was to test my nursing theory, and cost somewhere in the vicinity of $350.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for this exam. The body of medical knowledge is a rather large one, and I didn’t know how to prepare for such a general topic, given that any aspect of health theory could technically be tested. Luckily, I was sent a document of what to study. This document was a forty-four page table consisting of minute areas to be tested, broken in to headings, sub-headings and sub-sub-headings. Most of it was entirely useless.

The table gave vague one-line wanky descriptions of what would be covered, saying very little of actual substance. Things like: “The ability to express the desires of the patient.” What? How do I study for the ability to express the desires of the patient? What sort of multiple choice question summarises something as subjective and variable as the ability to express the desires of the patient?

The document followed this up with links to various sites to which I gathered were places where I could get my answers. I would estimate that ninety percent of the links were dead, taking me down pathways to websites that no longer existed, and the ones that did work took me to journal articles with obscure titles such as: “Interpreting body language – A case study.”

None of this was helpful, and there were no questions in the exam relating to body language.

I did my own independent study on what I reasoned were the fundamentals of nursing theory and I passed.

At this point, I thought I was through the crucible. I knew once I got to London I’d have to sit a third and final practical exam, but this didn’t worry me greatly. I had passed two exams and was ready to be on my way. I was drafting my letter of resignation in my head. Thankfully, I never put the words to paper. It was a further ten months before I resigned.

I logged back on to see what was next expected of me and discovered that a mountain of paperwork was needed before anything further could be done. So, one by one, I went about obtaining, scanning in, and sending off the required documents.

I had to order a birth certificate, providing verified copies of various forms of identification to prove I was me and entitled to a record of my birth, I needed police checks, one for both Australia and the UK (although how I was supposed to have a criminal record in a country I’d never been to I have no idea), I contacted my registration board in Australia and for a $80 fee they agreed to send a single piece of paper to England proving I was a registered nurse in Australia. I had a multitude of blood test and booster shots, provided bank statements, and obtained declarations of good health from GPs stating I was mentally and physically fit for work.

And, hardest of all, I got in contact with my old university, a different campus from the one I attended as the one I attended no longer existed, and cajoled them into producing an eight-page document detailing down to the exact hour the subjects and placements I completed six years ago during university.

After months of administration and paying more money for these documents, I sent off a packet to the UK, and sat back and waited for my paperwork to be approved. This was it. The final hurdle before jumping on a plane and dropping into the rest of the world.

My documents were rejected…

(To be continued in Part 2…you lucky things)


Recently I created a Patreon page as a way to share some of my creative fiction, as well as a means to fund my writing.

I’ve recently put up a new short story called “Thermodynamics and Reincarnation.”

If you want to give it a read and become a patron, head here: https://www.patreon.com/jonathanrobb?ty=c

You can pay whatever you like – $1, $5, or nothing at all. The important thing is that you read it.