P-DAY II

Years ago I wrote a post titled “P-Day” celebrating the face that I had been published for the first time (The P stands for published. Clever, right?). A short story of mine had been published in an Australian science-fiction and fantasy magazine, and I was pretty ecstatic about it. Someone had given me money just for writing some words down. And I like writing words down, it’s something I do even when I’m not getting paid for it.

At the time, the story was literally the first one I had ever submitted to a magazine. I had typed away during my off hours working as a nurse in my graduate year, and once it was done, I decided to try to get it published. First story sent off, and three months later they got back to me saying that they wanted to publish it. I thought this was pretty fantastic, that getting published wasn’t all that hard, and so after writing my cleverly titled post, I already anticipated the joy of writing the next post sharing with the world that another piece of writing had been published.

That day is today.

My first story was published four years ago.

In the intervening years I have submitted a plethora of stories to a plethora of magazines, and now have a plethora of rejection letters (I read through them when I’m in need of a good cry). It turns out that first one had been a fluke, and my presumption that published stories would come thick and fast was entirely incorrect.

Recently, I wrote a piece about the protection needed to work in the medical field, the process I had undergone in order to still function in an environment where you deal with sickness, disappointment, depression, and death. I thought it might be relevant enough to other nurses, and to really anyone who deals with stress in their job, and so submitted it to the American Journal of Nursing.

Four months ago they told me they wanted to publish it. A week ago they did just that.

If you’re interesting in reading it, you can find a link to the website here.

As the writer, I received a physical copy for free (swish), and am luxuriating in the first printed version of something I wrote (the first publication was an e-magazine, and so I never had the tactile pleasure of holding it in my hands. Or holding it tightly to my chest while I sleep. Leave me alone, I’m excited).

It took four years, and a lot of rejection, and even more persistence, but I am glad to finally share this post with you.

Thanks for sticking with me.

THE AUSTRALIAN GOOD-WILL MISSION – PART 2

Alex’s birthday took place in April, and I had been determined to give her a memorable gift. During my initial visit to Vienna, but far enough in that all the feelings had started to bud where Alex was concerned, Alex had mentioned that for her previous birthday her work colleagues had given her a huge helium balloon. The glee in her face indicated to me that balloon + Alex = happy, and I therefore decided to give her the biggest balloon anyone had ever given her.

This I accomplished in the form of a hot-air balloon ride.

Well, truth-be-told, this I accomplished in the much less climatic gift of a home-made voucher for a hot-air ballon ride. Part of the gift was that she could choose the location of the flight, and given that we frequently moved between London and Vienna, with the odd side trip to Greece and Prague, she had her choice of location. At the time of said gift-giving, we had already begun preparations for our Australian sojourn, and so she decided to vote for the city that had helped shaped the person she loved (me).

We both agreed that, given the fickle nature of Melbourne weather, we’d try and take the hot-air balloon ride as soon as possible to avoid the risk of missing out altogether, and so in the week leading up to our departure, I went about finalising the date of the flight. We landed on the Saturday and thought we should have recovered enough from the day-long ordeal by Monday in order to take to the air again.

Unfortunately, the day before leaving for the airport, the coordinators of the flight informed me that the weather for Monday didn’t look good, and that, in fact, the weather for the rest of the week wasn’t looking good either. There was one ray of sunlight, however (metaphorically and literally):  Sunday was clear. Even though we knew we’d be exhausted from our hemispherical commute, we thought fuck it, and booked it in.

So, after touching down at five pm Saturday, jet-lagged and generally fatigued from the energy it takes to cram yourself into airline chairs for twenty-three hours, we woke up at four am Sunday and drove into the fine city of Melbourne to see it from the air.

This was Alex’s first taste of Melbourne, and was rather anti-climatic given the sun was not yet up  and we were we just driving through dimly-lit suburbia. She was polite enough however to ohh and ahh as I pointed out landmarks from my life despite the fact that most of it couldn’t be seen at this time in the morning.

We wove into the heart of the CBD, parked, and walked the final stretch down Flinders Lane to the Grand Hyatt, the meeting point. There we met some of our fellow aviators, a young couple from Sydney, the male of the pair being kind enough to ask if we’d heard about the hot-air balloon crash that morning in Florida. Tactful. It kind of killed the conversation.

Once all had gathered, we were loaded into a van and driven to our take-off site — the park behind the Royal Children’s Hospital. We all assisted in dismounting the balloon and basket from the trailer and unrolling the expanse of nylon that was going to pull us up and above the city. The pilot set up a giant fan and directed air into the material, and quickly followed it with what we’d all come to see: fire.

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This was literally the combination of ingredients that would levitate us into the sky — air and fire — proving that the hot-air balloon truly lives up to its name.

The limp and flaccid stretch of nylon slowly engorged with air and fire, and eventually rose to stiff attention above us to blot out the sky. (If you found an erection metaphor in that previous sentence then that was your doing, not mine. I was just describing the process of inflating a balloon. Shame on you.)

We all piled into the basket, that, while big, felt cramped with the ten of us squeezed in to create the smallest mosh pit ever. The pilot also boarded, released a few eruptions of flame up into the cavernous balloon, and after a few bumps along the grass, the impossible happened and we floated off the ground.

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The first two minutes involved clinging as tightly to the basket edges as my fingers would allow, and trying desperately to keep every muscle in my body perfectly still and balanced in case any movement tipped the basket and had us all tumbling out. My brain avidly pointed out that the ground was going away, and that we liked the ground, and that maybe that was a safer place to be than suspended in wicker underneath gouts of fire and a thin nylon sheet.

Alex was a pro. Despite the near-panic attack induced by looking at photos on the company’s website a month earlier, she calmly pivoted around, capturing the miracle of drifting from the ground and lazily weaving between the tips of skyscrapers. A few “Oh boy!”s were whispered through pursed lips, and the odd chuckle tinged with just the tiniest hit of mania slipped out, but otherwise she was totally calm.

After five minutes of my brain alerting me again and again that the ground had gone, the lack of any actual harm and the apparent lack of threat despite the unusual location we found ourselves in soothed the flight-or-fight in me enough to for it to curl up in the back of my skull and enjoy the view.

And what a view. We headed straight over the heart of the city, and Melbourne was laid out like the most detailed of maps, complete with toy-trains shooting out across tiny rails, minute figures of people strolling the pencil thin footpaths, and the building stretching up to meet us, suspended there above it all. If you are impressed by the satellite feature on google maps, just know you haven’t seen anything yet.

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Eventually the fear disappeared so completely that we leaned over the basket’s edges, looking down on the patchwork of homes, pools, and footballs ovals that made up the suburbia as we drifted away from the city, taking the winds blowing South-East. Someone made the comment that we were lucky to have such a smooth flight, and the pilot remarked that all flights were smooth. We were never stationary, and so never offered resistance to the breeze, and we had no form of propellent of our own to drive us through the air currents and cause turbulence. We were a feather caught in the breeze, a leaf drifting down a river, and being part of the movement made it feel as if we were still while the world scrolled below us. It turns out there’s some perks to going with the flow — there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Eventually we made our way to the Moorabbin airport where, upon descending, out pilot calmly informed us that we were going fast enough that our basket would tip on landing. We absorbed his words, fought down a bubble of panic, and giggled nervously, because what else do you do when someone tells you your hot-air balloon would crash land.

It turns out this is a rather normal occurrence and we adopted the brace position we had been taught, bending our knees and sandwiching ourselves between stands of wicker. The edge of the basket kissed the ground, trundled along for a while, then the whole thing slowly and elegantly tipped until we settled on our backs in the grass. It was nice to lay there next to Alex, grass blades tickling my cheek, safely back on solid ground. The strangers crammed around us I could have done without.

Euphoric from the spectacle we had just partaken in, we helped pack away the balloon, now once again shrivelled and flaccid, its work done for the day and all air ejaculated from its insides (keep it clean, people). We were then driven back to the Grand Hyatt, given glasses of sparkling wine as is customary, and gorged ourselves on the lavish buffet breakfast offered by the hotel.

As we retraced out steps down Flinders Land and back to the car, walking through the city that only an hour before we had floated above,we were greeted with one last sight. Alex, being without her glasses, squinted as we approached the edge of a street, emerging out of buildings to a small park on the opposite street, and asked, “What kind of dog is that?”

It was a ram. In Melbourne. Just chewing grass beside the skyscrapers.

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The worst part was nobody else was acting like it was a weird thing. I could envision Alex’s phone call back home, her family asking her impression of Melbourne and her response, “It’s nice and all, but they just have livestock roaming through the streets.”

I tried to assure her this was completely unusual, and she seemed convinced. Mostly.

So the birthday gift, and Alex’s first experience of Melbourne, had been a success, and we’d only be in the country for nineteen hours.

Luckily, there was plenty more to come.

JOURNAL EXTRACT #12 (A.K.A THE AUSTRALIAN GOOD-WILL MISSION – PART 1)

I am sitting alone in my London living room, feet sore from a long day of nursing on the streets of Westminster, stomach full of spicy pumpkin soup, and deciding it is long overdue that I wrote another blog entry. My time has been rather absorbed recently with my efforts at learning the German language, visiting my girlfriend in Vienna, and working to fund these two things. But I did take a break from this lifestyle to board another plane and skip across the planet, so it seems only fitting that I add another entry to my travel journal. The trip in question: A return to Australia. Only this time, I didn’t go alone.

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My most recent exploration was one back into my old life, and was prompted by my girlfriend, Alex, who suggested that rather than sun her summer away, relaxing by the absurdly white beaches and blue oceans of the Greek Islands as is her tradition (a perk of living in Austria), we head to the southern continent so that she could meet my family. Not only did she trade a European summer for an Australian winter (and I know what any Europeans reading this are thinking: “An Australian winter. How cute. It might get so cold you need a light jacket.” But screw your condescending tone, it gets cold, damn it!), she also gave up two weeks of perfect idleness so that she could rush around and do the Robb tour. Given that my dad is one of nine children, and that he and his eight siblings are ferocious breeders and averaged at least three offspring a piece, and often more, and that those children and now off making people of their own, it’s a pretty damn big tour. On top of all that, this was also her only break from her own strenuous routine of juggling work and a master’s degree.

If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

Almost exactly a year ago, I headed to Vienna for the first time and caught up with my then-platonic friend Alex who gave me an amazing two-week tour of all that Vienna had to offer, drowning me in delectable foods, sights, and the pleasure of her company. These two weeks went incredibly well, and not just because I won a girlfriend out of it (although that didn’t hurt). She showed me the beauty of her home, and the pride she had in the city she’d grown up in. And here we were, twelve months later heading to my home, and I was desperate to return the favour.

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After months of planning, which mostly involved alerting my family that we’d be visiting, purchasing plane tickets, and then just sitting around getting excited about the whole thing (there’s definitely perks to still having a bedroom in your brother’s house filled with all your crap: instant accommodation), we boarded a plane and begun the twenty-three hour journey to Australia. Alex and  I were probably more excited about the prospect of spending a day cramped inside a metal tube thundering across the lower atmosphere than the average traveller. This was because, despite the fact that our relationship is largely composed of hopping on planes every few weeks to see each other, we had never actually flown together. We were like giddy school kids going away to camp, savouring every aspect of this novel experience. To further reinforce this image, let me confess that we packed plane snacks and travel scrabble. We were ready to tear it up.

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The first five hours went quickly, both of us high on the fact that, rather than the lucky-dip of people we normally sat next to, some with questionable hygiene habits and the impressive ability to encroach on personal space, we were able to enjoy having our favourite person in the chair beside us.

This euphoria dampened slightly when we landed in Doha, and the budding flu that had been invading Alex’s sinuses burst into full form, leaving her feeling drained. We purchased drugs at the airport pharmacy, and I was happy to note that the cold and flu tablets in the United Emirates were full of the good stuff. I told Alex they should dry her up, but that they might also make her a little drowsy. I was not wrong.

By the time we boarded the second and final plane bound for Melbourne, Alex was struggling to keep her eyes open, commenting in an adorably drowsy and mildly anxious voice that her legs felt weird. Once we were up in the air, she groggily commented that her hands felt squishy, concerned that she was unable to make a fist despite the fact that her fingers were curling in and out of fists as she spoke. I reassured her that it was normal, just the medication kicking in, and my soothing nurse-voice must have done the trick because approximately twenty-two seconds later she was deeply asleep. She didn’t wake again for the next eight hours. Thank you United Emirates for your excellent cold and flu drugs.

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We landed in Tullamarine Airport at five pm to be greeted by the majority of my immediate family, my mum and dad, my sister, Angela, and my twin brother, Damian and his girlfriend/my close friend, Holly. The only exception was my brother and sister-in-law, who were taking a well-earned family trip away with their two children. They sent us all pictures of their children being adorable while exploring beautiful bushland, and so were forgiven for this oversight.

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It was more than a little surreal to drive home, to my Australian home, in the back of my brother’s car, catching up with Damo and Holly while familiar streets flicked by, with Alex beside me. My relationship with her had taken place solely in Europe, and except for fleeting encounters with Damo and Holly, my Australian life and my European life had had little crossover, at least in the physical sense (Skype meant that the people who immediately swamped Alex in an avalanche of hugs upon landing were not complete strangers).

The sensation was only further reinforced once we returned to the always-homey Brunswick and I sat in a living room I’ve sat in countless times before with the gang, enjoying a meal of pulled-pork Holly had lovingly prepared. I looked around and saw Alex chatting comfortably with my parents and sister, chowing down on Twisties and agreeing with my mother that they were indeed a delicious chip, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

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(Photo credit: Susanne Robb a.k.a Mum a.k.a The nominated family paparazzi)

This dual-life vision made me supremely happy as the two halves of my world came into focus. I was sitting in a home with my favourite people around me, eating good food, and not having to achieve this combination through the compromise of Skype.

The trip to my old life was off to a good start.

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.