2018/19

2018 was one for the books.

This appropriate phrase was first uttered by my brother as he, his fiancée, myself and my then-fiancée, sat in an AirBnB in New Zealand, sharing a drink and fervently wishing the clingy and slightly creepy owner of the place wouldn’t come down to his lower storey where we were residing and interrupt us again. At the time the statement was more of a prediction as 2018 had yet to happen, but the plans were laid out before us and all signs indicated that it would indeed be a year for the books. My brother was not wrong.

Of course, not everything went to plan.

I referenced my partner as “then-fiancée” because in the past year she transition from my fiancee to my wife. That was part of the plan. At the time of writing this we’ve been married for four months, but do not live together. Not even in the same country, in fact. That is the part that did not go to plan.

But I should start from the start.

 

The first half of 2018 continued as my previous few years had. I toiled in London, working stupid hours as a Rapid Response nurse, while Alex continued to labour away in her office job in Vienna. Between these activities we also planned a wedding, and by we, I mean Alex. I contributed where I could and all decisions were reached as a team, but due to the language barrier, and distance barrier, the lioness’s share of the work fell on Alex’s shoulders. She somehow managed to balance this weight of work and produced spectacular results, both professionally and extracurricularly, and for this I will be forever grateful. Luckily for me, I am now legally bonded to her and so have a lifetime to repay her kindness.

This routine continued up until July when two best friends came knocking and the first of those well laid plans for a year worthy to be one for the books was enacted. My twin brother, Damian, and his fiancée, Holly, had taken three months of leave to spend a chunk of time with us, attend our wedding, and cross as much of Europe as they could in the process. They started with Austria, and I took two weeks off to revel in their company while simultaneously completing a two-week intensive German language course. Because what fun time isn’t improved by completing a two-week intensive German language course.

Having my people come to a place they had only previously visited via video chat was like putting the last jigsaw puzzle piece in the picture that was my new home. Despite my continued residence in London, Alex’s apartment was my true home on this side of the planet, and having Damian and Holly physically present gave it a solidity, turning my European fantasy into reality.

They saw the sights and the city, and thankfully for me fell in love with it all as much as I had. But the best times we spent together were dinners around the dining table, movie nights, picnics by the river and drinks on the balcony. Domestic things not unique to Vienna, and therefore all the more cherishable because it wasn’t the location that made it special but the company.

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Damian and Holly ventured on into forests and mountains, and for a brief period life resumed its normal rhythms. Alex and I added the extra task of collecting various documents for my residency in Austria amongst work and wedding planning, each of us reaching out to assorted governmental bodies for an equally assorted list of paperwork. Each of us had to prove identities, incomes, and criminal histories, the latter of which we thankfully had none. We hoarded these documents like a squirrel hoards nuts, ready for the day we acquired the final piece of paperwork, the marriage certificate, and could put them all into action.

Then family descended upon Vienna. If Damian and Holly gave my new home solidity, then having my brother and his family, my parents and my cousin and his partner, and Damian and Holly back again, all together in the same four walls made it as firm as a foundation. Which only made sense, as the foundation of my life is exactly what all these people are.

Life became wedding centric and after bbqs and crafternoons, buck’s nights and venue decorating, the day came and Alex and I were saturated in love for each other and from our community of family and friends. The rain pushed away, sunlight poured down on us, and we had a ridiculously picture perfect wedding day, the kind you see in wedding magazines, roll your eyes at and mutter “as if.” Yeah, we were those people.

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After soaking up as much family time as possible, Alex and I ran away to Greece to get to know one another as husband and wife, while my family ventured off into unknown parts of Austria and then on into wider Europe. The year once again was living up to its reputation.

To add to the book-worthy status, 2018 also saw my beautiful sister, Angela, have her first child, providing me with an adorable new nephew by the name of Eli. For the first time in years, all of my immediate family was off from work, either through annual leave or maternity leave, and all of us were adventuring. Our family thread of messages became clogged with photos of some of the most stunning and dramatic parts of central and eastern Europe. I watched my sister be a mother through videos provided by her fiance, Ben, and met my cherub of a nephew this way. I saw my other nephew and niece, Ella and Harry, casually take to planes, exotic landscapes, and new languages and cultures as if it was just another Wednesday, getting on with it and smiling all the way with the adaptability of kids. My ongoing video messages with my older brother, Matt, became a lot more interesting as the backgrounds behind our heads transition from the same tired bedroom settings to Santorini beaches and old beautiful cities.

 

Eventually this exotic period had to end, and Alex and I headed back to reality, jetting from the Greek Islands to Vienna for too few days before I had to return to London. Despite our new status as man and wife, that alone didn’t give us any rights to reside together, and so I had to say goodbye to my bride. After three years of a long-distance relationship we are sadly well-practiced at these goodbyes, but doing it as a newly married couple came like a punch to the gut, and the wedding high evaporated as I sat on a plane and took off from the place I really wanted to be.

I submitted my application for residency at the Austrian embassy in London the next day, slipping in amongst the mountain of other documents the all important marriage certificate stating I belonged to Alex and she to me, and therefore it would be nice if we could be together for our mutual ownership. I was told it would be approximately three months until I got any sort of response, and so I returned home and picked up my routine of work, trying hard to pretend every day wasn’t a small torture of missing my wife and waiting for an email that would say I was allowed to be with her.

After about a month this wait was briefly paused when a letter arrived in Alex’s mailbox, but it was only to ask for even more documentation. Alex had queried with three different officials if the police check I provided needed be from the UK where I’d resided for the past three years, or from Australia, where I had resided for the previous twenty-eight years. All three officials scoffed and said they didn’t care where I had lived, only where I did live, and that a UK police check was all that was necessary, please and thank you.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, that letter in Alex’s mailbox stated in no uncertain terms that we had failed to provide an Australian police check, and that we needed to do so in a timeframe of eight days. Apparently they hadn’t figured that postage time alone to get the document from Australia to Austria would exceed our allotted time, not to mention the collection of yet more documents and processing time required for the Australian government to run my background check and determine I was not a criminal. Alex contacted the residency office and explained the situation, and they very reluctantly granted us a bit more time, huffing all the while as if the delay was our fault and we were lucky to be getting the extension. How generous of them.

We resubmitted and the wait began again.

Thankfully, they arduous process was interrupted by the wedding of my best friends, the aforementioned Damian and Holly. The distraction was welcomed, and I’m sure they timed their wedding purely to give us something else to think about. They’re good like that.

Alex and I boarded a plane and flew away from our distance and our problems for a time, swapping winter for summer, her home country for mine, and landed in Australia and sunshine, and the always warm company of my family.

The next three weeks saw us visiting family and friends with the speed and frenzy of speed-daters, and amongst it all we geared up for the second wedding of the season. We also had a small sewage problem that constituted of the contents of the toilet bubbling up on the soon-to-be newlywed’s front lawn, that was ultimately remedied by diggers and the loss of the toilet the day before the wedding.

Despite this small hiccup, Damian and Holly’s wedding was a thing of beauty. Once again, the clouds rolled away, literally last-minute as the groom and I eyed the dark dripping sky on our way to the park where the wedding was to be held, a pocket of sunlight opening up and drenching the clearing with sunlight so warm a groomsman had to sit down mid-ceremony to avoid fainting. The pre-ceremony whiskey, beer, and lack of water may have also contributed to his condition.

Damian and Holly’s story was said for the benefit of the crowd and they exchanged vows so honest, so loving, so real, so silly, so thoughtful and so aptly them that there was not a dry eye in the garden, the eyes of yours truly amongst them.

The party kicked off and I danced with my family, and celebrated my two best friends legally bonding themselves to one another, and drank and laughed and sang too loud and all the good things you can do when life for the moment is just about love and nothing else. In short, the wedding was kick-ass and book-worthy.

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The three weeks passed too quickly and Alex and I found ourselves morosely packing suitcases for the return home, buzzed with the high of the wedding, but sad to be leaving when we’d just gotten into the holiday rhythms. The parting was as hard as ever, and I shed tears with my family, both happy and sad for it to hurt because as least it meant I was so lucky as to have a community who loved me and whom I loved that the distance mattered so greatly.

But I am doubly lucky, and upon touchdown we were greeted but the second community in our lives and soon celebrated Christmas with the Vienna side of our widespread family.

Throughout it all, despite my best efforts, my heart still raced every time my phone pinged announcing I had a new email. Logically I had reasoned that I wouldn’t get a response about my Austrian residency until the new year, despite the fact that the eighteenth of December marked the three-month anniversary of when the application was submitted. But every email was nothing of note, and at the time of writing this no decision has yet to be reached.

 

Which brings us back to where I started. As demonstrated, my brother did indeed prophesise correctly and 2018 was undisputedly one for the books.

But, sadly, the continued dual lodging of Alex and myself also demonstrates that not everything went to plan.

I fly back to London tomorrow, on the second of January, 2019, once again saying goodbye to my wife for a period of time. I don’t know what 2019 will hold, when residency will come and Alex and I can finally start building our life together under the same roof. I’m not setting dates in mind or making plans because it hurts too much when things don’t go according to those plans. But I know however the dust settles, 2019 will contain more family, and laughter, and problems, and solutions, and Alex, and that with our widespread community we’ll do everything we can to make 2019 one for the books.

That’s all any of us can ever do with a year.

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2017/18

2017 was an exhausting year.

It was a year that found me working more hours per week than I ever thought I would. Twelve-hour days became the norm, bookended with hour long bus rides through the suburbs of London, crawling my way north over the Thames and back again, german audio courses filling my ears for the morning journey, and Alex’s voice filling them for the return trip home.

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I went in and out of a thousand patient’s homes, into apartments of squalor and into estates so grand they could have housed five families instead of the single rich elderly resident that they did. I took endless blood pressures, felt an infinity of pulses, and inserted blessedly few suppositories. Maybe around four. Not too bad, really.

It was a year that found me spending more time away from my loved ones than in any other period to date. I was away from Australia for thirteen months, and saw my partner for only three and a half days of every fortnight. I was either working or in my tiny bedroom in Tooting, where my primary activities were eating, skyping and sleeping.

It was a year where the news reports seemed determined to bend us and bow us, to convince us the world was a doomed place being run by morons and bigots. The endless stream of click-bait fed us a diet of hopelessness and negativity, and sapped already depleting reservoirs.

It was a taxing year, certainly, but don’t believe it all, because 2017 was also an exhilarating year.

It was a year that saw my brother, Damian, become engaged to his best friend, Holly. It was a year where, in an uncharacteristic display of twinliness, I also became engaged to my best friend.

My voice quavered and my hands shook, and I asked my lady a question and she gave me a lifetime of happiness by answering in the affirmative. This happiness commenced almost immediately when, at four o’clock in the morning, with both of us too juiced up with adrenaline to sleep, we sat in bed, watched TV, and ate potato chips. Perfect wife material, my friends.

It was a year that contained a visit from my parents who crossed oceans and continents to meet me, my new fiancée, and my new fiancée’s parents, in Greece. The six of us soaked in the sun and the sea of the Mediterranean, ate our body’s weight in delicious food, and shared in the excitement of the coming nuptials.

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We explored the city of Vienna, my second home, and I journeyed with my parents across the United Kingdom. My previously isolated existence was suddenly occupied, and places and streets and homes that had been segregated from my former life became infused with the flavour of family. Those lonely locations in London now carried memories of Mum and Dad, causing the loneliness to have a harder time taking hold.

The year contained adventuring as the three of us road-tripped, dipping into the wildness of the Scottish highlands and tracking the coastline of Northern Ireland. We explored the isle of Skye, trekking on foot into the beauty and fierceness of the land, standing at the crest of the Old Man of Storr and whooping into the wind that tried to uproot us from the rocky soil.

 

It was a year where I shared texts and photos and videos with my older brother, Matthew, and spoke to my sister, Angela, through computers and phones, and realised I wasn’t as cut off as I imagined myself to be.

It was an exhausting year, and an exhilarating one, and one that helped highlight the significance of each of these attributes. Because although the adventuring was eye-opening and inspiring, and it was for the adventuring that I originally stepped out of my house in Ardeer and trotted off to Europe, it was the more subdued moments that really made my year worthwhile.

It was weekends with Alex, chatting over coffee or making meals together, or doing nothing at all but sitting on the couch and watching TV, that made the hours of work slip from my shoulders.

It was sitting with Mum and Dad in an irish pub or an Airbnb kitchen and having a beer or a cup of tea, and talking as if the miles that had previously separated us and the months spent physically apart were a brief nuisance already evaporating from our memories.

It was seeing my family’s faces in my laptop and mobile, and laughing like we always do until I could have sworn they were in the room with me, our conversation creating a temporary bubble where the laws of time and space were suspended, that punctured my isolation and deflated it.

It was all these interactions, these small and intimate moments amongst the labour of work and the highs of adventuring, that made the external stressors of the rest of the world that usually hammered at my attention become nothing more than the sound of rain falling somewhere outside while I was tucked up warm indoors.

2017 exhausted me, but it also exhilarated me to learn that what I really want from my life is these quieter moments, moments with Alex, conversations with my siblings, tea with my parents. Because while the adventuring is great, and standing on a mountain in Scotland laughing and screaming into the wind will have your adrenaline racing, it’s the getting warm and dry at the bottom with someone you love that gives it significance.

So bring on 2018, a year where I will marry the woman I love and build a life with her. A year where, by the end of it, I will no longer be torn between two cities, but will finally have a home in Vienna. A year where I’ll celebrate two weddings with my family, and see my brother marry his best friend.

A year where I’ll work less, and probably adventure less, but instead make time for the quiet moments that make both things worthwhile.

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.

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.

JOURNAL EXTRACT #09

I am sitting in a sun-strewn park in Barcelona in the shade of the Sagrada Familia on a bench with my brother reading beside me. So much about that sentence makes me happy. That I am in Spain, that it is sunny (the four-thirty pm sunsets of London were a novelty for exactly one day before they just became depressing), that I am in the presence of an incredible man-made structure, and that I am reunited with my brother. And that he’s reading, because, you know…books are awesome.

It’s kind of mad when I think about the fact that Damo pulled on shoes in his side of the world, sat in a car, boarded a plane, then skipped his way across countries and oceans (three planes and two countries for those playing at home), while I pulled on shoes in London, train-hopped to the airport and flew out of England, and that our paths, which had diverged for the past four months, came together again. That in this ridiculously huge globe filled with an infinity of spots, Damo and I crossed an airport, hugged, shoe-tips touching, in the exact same spot in Barcelona. Life is fucking amazing.

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For the official record, four months is the longest we have spent apart. And it’s not that we’re the clichéd co-dependant twins that dress the same and finish each other’s sentences, the ones that creep you out a little and you avoid on the train. We’re normal. We hug a little too much, and laugh hysterically at each other’s jokes until you wish that you had avoided us on the train, but besides that, we’re regular guys. The reason we’ve never spent more time apart isn’t because we’re twins – it’s because we’re friends. We hang out. And the fact that we lived together for the first eighteen years of our lives, and intermittently in the intervening years since, also helped maintain our attachment.

When I decided to dig myself out of Australia and replant myself in London, we knew it’d suck not to hang out, but that we’d be okay. We’re our own people with our own lives, and our own wardrobes – we’d survive.

But I have missed the man immensely. It’s not until you’re away from someone that you realise how much of your own identity and self-assurance stems from relationships like the one I have with my brother. Every time he laughs at a joke, he validates that I’m funny. Every time I share a thought and we discuss it, he validates that the thought was worthwhile. Every time I have an interest that he shares, he validates that interest. And every time, and I mean every time, I suggest we go get a pizza, he validates that we should in fact go and get a pizza. It’s a bond we share.

Needless to say, it’s good to be enjoying his company again. To be enjoying it in the beautiful city of Barcelona is icing on the cake. Or maybe I should say chocolate on the churros.

We arrived late Saturday night and taxied it to our hotel, found our room (two single beds – I told you we were normal), then headed out for some food. Literally around the corner from out hotel is a street called Rambla del Poblenou, which is an open stretch of tree-lines road spotted with restaurants. We found a place selling €1 sandwiches and fries, and got to work. The beer was also €1. And just like that, Barcelona had seduced us.

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It’s now Tuesday and in the past two days we’ve explored parks bursting with greenery and stunning fountains, tagged along on a walking tour through the gothic quarter of Barcelona, seen ancient Roman ruins, eaten mouth-watering paella, strolled the docks, and pretty much stumbled onto every incredible landmark this piece of Spain has to offer. We’ve also swung on the truck of a Mammoth statue, because, when in Rome…

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Barcelona is an artistic city dotted with old-world tenements and modern architecture. The food is fresh and tasty, and, excluding the fact that some of them take it upon themselves to lighten your pockets, the locals have been friendly people. So far my pockets have remained unpicked, and I thank my skinny jeans for this. I have a hard enough time getting my wallet from my pocket, I figure a thief stands no chance. I bet pick-pocketers the world over gave up and got real jobs when skinny pants came into vogue.

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I’m going to sign off here because the Spanish sun has made us warm and we’re going to go get an ice cream before our tour of the interior of the Sagrada Familiar.

Hey, what do you know, that sentence made me happy too.

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LEGACY

Today my family and I celebrated my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday. As part of the event each member of the family – children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – all contributed a few pages of writing detailing their own accomplishments in life and memories they had of Frank Robb. The book that was eventually collated, in no small effort by my eldest uncle, Chris, who harvested well over fifty entries, stands as a legacy of not only my grandfather’s life but of all the lives he went on to father. In a sense, each one our accomplishments are also his, for without him the beautiful collection of talented, kind and incredible people who are my family wouldn’t exist.

For this post I’ve decided to put up my contribution to Grandpa’s book. For those reading who aren’t family, some of the following may be obscure references to people you don’t know, but if you’re happy to preserver let me just state one pertinent detail: I have a twin brother named Damian.

The rest I think you can figure out yourselves.

MY first encounter with Grandpa has, regrettably, been forgotten. I was three months old and it was just after my family’s departure from Launceston, Tasmania. My perpetually generous grandparents had agreed to temporarily house the in-transit Robbs, and brave a household that contained four children under four.

Although I don’t remember the first time Grandpa picked me up and held me in his arms, that first contact, I appreciate the effort involved in providing a roof over my young head. I’ve since wondered, as he cradled me, if he had any clue whether it was me or Damian he was holding.

IT was in Barry Street, Preston, that I have my first memory of Grandpa. I remember waking under the layers of sheets and blankets in a foreign bedroom, seeing my brother in a bed opposite me, and creeping out of the room into the sun-splashed bedroom of my grandparents. Grandma would usually see me first as I stood unsure in the doorway and call out a greeting, giving me the invitation I was waiting for. I would crawl over the bed and wiggle down between my grandparents, and Grandpa would wrap an arm around me. I remember the weight from the layers of coverings and the warm clean smell of that bed. I felt safe, and happy, and Grandpa would turn his head, focusing on my face, a smile in his eyes, and ask, “Now, which one are you? Damian?”

THE next memory I can conjure is in the early Traralgon days. These were the days of the mazda van, of a crowd of cousins playing in and around the almost clean pool, of food in huge platefuls emerging from the kitchen, where a collection of aunties and uncles laughed and talked, to be taken to the carport where Dad was preparing the perfect coals for a barbeque. These were the days of long weekends and bonfires.

I can remember the frenetic pre-cleaning of the house and then the silence before the storm as we waited for our family to arrive. Then that first car would appear, its white hood emerging from the head of the driveway, with Grandpa behind the wheel. The bubble of anticipation would burst inside my stomach, sending waves of excited energy through my limbs, because it meant the holiday had begun. Next would follow the cries of happiness and hellos, the procession of kisses and hugs, with Grandpa stopping amongst the activity to hold me at arms length, study me, and ask, “Damian?”

MY teenage memories are of a plethora of Robb-Family gatherings, of the Stewart’s backyard, the Donahoo’s house, and the Benalla-Robb’s shed, of Christmases, birthdays, and twenty-firsts. Of speeches (always peppered with a call-out from Lindsay), of food and dancing, and talking and laughter.

And always amongst the mass of family and the thrum of conversation I could be sure to find the matriarch and patriarch in the thick of it, the foundations stones that had brought us and held us all together. Grandpa would recite stories with nods and smiles from those who had heard them multiple times before, and keen interest in the faces of those first-timers, myself often among them. There was always a hand shake and a hug, a quick query to determine who he was talking to, “Don’t tell me. It’s Damian?”, and I was folded once again into the festivities and family.

AS I moved into working life as a nurse and relocated to Brunswick West and the charm of McLean Street, my memories of Grandpa moved as well to Latrobe Village, which the Robbs quickly infiltrated with our large numbers and animated chatter. The memory that stands out most of the Village actually occurred towards the end of my high-school days. We had congregated in the function centre to celebrate Grandpa’s eightieth and I, against warnings from my mother, had consumed too much alcohol at the after-Deb party I had attended the night before. Alcohol poisoning would later be used to describe my state, and while I, regrettably, was in no form to interact with Grandpa that day (as my sister who found me spread-eagled on the lawn bowl’s field can attest) I was led to his bed where I was left to sleep it off.

Ironic that after all those years I found myself back in the bed of my grandparents, and more so, that the warmth, weight, and cleanliness of those blankets still offered the comfort and safety that they had ten years before.

FINALLY I’ve arrived at the most current stage of my life and the most recent memories of Grandpa. I live in Ardeer, and work as a district nurse across the North-West of Melbourne. My work as a nurse has given me a particular insight, and bred a distinct admiration, for the endurance and energy my grandfather continues to display. At an age where many of his contemporaries settle into a sedate and unchanging lifestyle, bowed by their weariness and ailments, Grandpa continues to make the most from his life, refusing to let age be an excuse, even to the point of having a knee replacement in his late eighties. His love for life and family act as a guide and a benchmark, and are attributes I would be lucky to emulate in my life.

THIS book has been made to commemorate ninety years of living. From the stories he shares, from his collection of memoirs, and from the sheer scope of his progeny, it seems to me that’s exactly what Grandpa has been doing.

And, thanks to him, so are all of us.

AND because I wouldn’t exist without Grandpa, I guess I can overlook his mistaking me for Damian.