JOURNAL EXTRACT #10

22nd of January

I am on a plane, again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a long day.

 

24th of January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

27th of January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 2

…my documents were rejected.

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

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

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

Wish me luck.

REGISTRATION ROAD – PART 1

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

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

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

I wanted to ask her the same question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My documents were rejected…

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


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

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

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

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

 

LIFE IN LONDON #06

I knocked on his door, an ornate blue slab of wood flaking from neglect, and heard movement from inside the residence. This was already a win — it meant my patient was home, could hear my knocking, and was capable of moving around the house. The door-knocker’s trifecta.

When the door opened, I was surprised to be met by a younger man (younger being anything under seventy) of around fifty-five who squinted at me through blurry eyes set too-close together over a vein-tattooed nose.

‘Good morning, I’m Jonathan, the community phlebotomist. You must be Gerald?’

He gave the question thought as if unsure of who he must be, before asking,

‘What’s all this then?’

I wondered if I’d gotten the wrong address.

‘You are Gerald?’

‘Yap.’

‘Gerald, I’m Jonathan, I’m here to take a blood test.’

‘I don’t know anything about all this. Come in.’

I was surprised, expecting further resistance from a man with no knowledge of a scheduled blood test and a stranger showing up at his door welding needles.

‘Okay.’

I followed him through his dimly lit hallway, further narrowed with a collection of boxes, clothes, and assorted piles of what can only rightly be called trash. He stepped into his kitchen, the food-preparation based equivalent of his hallway, and plonked down in a seat by a dining table, picking up a glass of apple juice and taking a drink.

I slung my backpack onto the table and withdrew my yellow sharps container and the pre-prepared pouch of needle, tourniquet, blood vials and cotton ball. Gerald squinted at me again and asked,

‘What’s all this then?’

I had a feeling of déjà vu.

‘Ah, the blood test, remember?’

‘I don’t know anything about all this.’

‘I’m guessing your doctor ordered some tests to be done. Have you see your doctor lately?’

‘No! I haven’t seen anyone in, oh…’ He trailed off, apparently forgetting he was talking mid-sentence and took another drink of his juice.

‘Someone should have rung you yesterday to let you know I was coming. Did you get a phone call?’

Gerald shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Maybe I did, I wouldn’t remember. I’m a drunk.’ He took another sip of what I was quickly realising wasn’t apple juice.

I stopped the preparation of my equipment, stunned slightly by his completely unabashed confession.

He didn’t say it like it was something he partook in, he said it as a title, like how I imagine a pilot would introduce themselves. “Good morning, I’m the pilot.”

Only in Gerald’s case he wasn’t in charge of piloting us south-west at 10,000 feet, he was steering me through the booze-addled maze of his poor logic and patchy memory.

I pulled on a pair of gloves and he glanced at the needle and tubes now neatly arranged on his tabletop.

‘What is all this?’

Now that I knew what I was dealing with, it was easier to handle. ‘I’m taking a blood test, remember?’

‘No. But I suppose I wouldn’t. I’m a drunk. Do you want a drink?’

I tipped my head side-to-side, giving the question serious thought. ‘That’s very generous, but I better not.’ My eyes went instinctively to my watch. It was ten o’clock in the morning.

‘Sorry I’m drunk,’ he said, unapologetically.

I shrugged and wrapped a tourniquet around his upper arm. ‘It’s your house.’

I instructed him to keep his arm still as I swabbed his skin and aligned the needle, slipping the splinter of metal into the curve of a vein. A flash of blood appeared in a tiny chamber at the base of the needle. I slotted the first vial into a canister and watched as a dark line of maroon snaked down the thin tubing, filling the glass container.

‘What’s all this, then?’

The query was calmly asked given, to Gerald, his memory had just reset and he’d blinked awake to find a young man draining his blood. I respect that in a person.

‘I’m taking some blood samples your doctor ordered.’

‘I haven’t seen my doctor in months.’

I didn’t have it in me to explain again. ‘Weird, that.’

‘Well, maybe I did. I forget things. I’m a drunk.’

He went to reach for his glass and I clamped my hand on his, stopping him from moving it, dislodging the needle and bleeding all over he table. He blinked at where I clutched him, and then stretched out with his other arm and took a swig of wine.

‘Do you think that would affect my memory?’

I pulled the needle from his arm, pushing a cotton ball to the site and taping it down, and then snapped of my gloves.

‘Alcohol abuse can affect memories, absolutely. So I’d say that has something to do with it.’

‘Yeah, I’d say,’ he said, leaning forward and chortling a laugh as if we were sharing a joke. I didn’t want to be rude: I laughed too.

‘Well, we’re all done, my friend,’ I said, packing away my things and slipping my backpack on. ‘Thank you for your time, and your blood.’

I headed for the door and reasoned he had probably donated just as much alcohol as blood. Given his state of inebriation, someone could use his blood samples as smelling salts.

I reached for the door handle and was about to make my escape but Gerald was too quick for me.

‘I still don’t know what all this is about!’

‘I took your blood, Gerald!’ I said, dropping all tact.

‘Oh. Okay. Thanks then.’

‘And thank you, Gerald. I’ll leave you to it, mate.’

‘Right,’ he said, easing the door closed. ‘It’s about time for a drink.’


When relocating to London, I moved in with my cousin, Dom. Dom is a primary school teacher, and has spent his time in England working throughout different schools. He also has a blog, and has recently written an excellent piece about an intense conversation he had with a student. It’s worth a read, and worth a click of your mouse.

Click here to read: http://29andprimed.weebly.com/blog

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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PATREON

I am a writer. This is how I perceive myself because this is the thing I’m most passionate about. It’s also the thing I’ve spent the most time working towards. Ever since Year 9 English when the class was instructed to write a five-hundred word piece of creative fiction and I handed in a short story of one-thousand, two-hundred and six words to my poor over-worked teacher, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I left school knowing this and did a writing course to chase this dream down and grapple it into a reality.

But, I am also a nurse. I’m a nurse for two primary reason:

  1. I wanted a job that exposed me to the world’s realities, that showed me stories, and that let me connect with people in a deeper sense than the superficial, “How are you? I’m good,” sort of way. A job I could respect and be proud of. A job that let me help people.
  2. I also needed the money.

I don’t like the latter fact, and I don’t like that the latter fact is a motivator in my decision-making process, but that doesn’t change it from being a fact. The world is expensive and often unforgiving in this regard, and I can accept that if I want to live in the modern world, it comes at a cost.

But ideally, this fact would be addressed by my writing. To be able to make money from my writing, to fund writing with writing, is the dream fifteen-year-old me had back in high-school. It’s what I’ve been working towards for the past fourteen years.

But working full-time as a nurse leaves very little time for sitting and writing, to dedicating myself to the craft I love. After years of working as a nurse and collecting stories from the people I’ve worked with I’ve reached the point where I want to shift away from gathering stories and towards sharing them.

Because of this, I’ve joined Patreon.

Patreon is a website built around providing artists with an outlet for their work while also allowing them to obtain payment for their art. It works like this:

I upload short stories or chapters from my novels and people can subscribe to be a patron at a price of their own choosing. Patrons pay what they want for the uploaded work — a dollar, fifty dollars, or nothing at all, they can have it for free if they like. It’s a way of my work getting out their, people getting entertainment and enjoyment from it, and a way for readers to support the writers they love.

If you wish to read my stories and be a patron, and to support me along the way, please follow the link below:

https://www.patreon.com/jonathanrobb?ty=h

So far one piece of writing, a story called When You’re Older, has been uploaded, but more will follow. For those wishing to read it on a iPhone or iPad, please download the .epub version, or for those who want to read it on a kindle, please download the .mobi version.

Thank you for your support, and for reading.