Pre-departure 1 – the calm between the storms

Saturday 4th August

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. The Morgan family (well, this one at least) is leaving Australia after moving here just nine years ago.

This wasn’t actually something we planned well in advance. In fact, the decision to move came as something as a surprise for everyone – us included. So why are we leaving? Well, it’s complicated, and the devil is in the details. There’s no one single reason why. It’s more of a combination of things that all struck at the same time. There we were, minding our own business and enjoying life in sunny (ha!) Melbourne. I came home to find a letter had been sent by registered post. Hmmm. Must be something serious. It can’t be that I’ve been fired as I was made redundant some months ago and have been living happily ever since, slowly eating through my redundancy payout and writing books. I ripped open the letter to find that lightning had struck us for a third time. The landlord has decided to renovate and sell his house. The letter was his way of exercising his legal right to evict us with 60 days’ notice. Shit. This is the third time we’ve been kicked out of a rental home here in Melbourne. We occupied our first house for about two years before that landlord decided to sell. We were in the second house for five years when that property owner decided to move back to Australia from the US and live in it. And here we are once again being evicted. Gee it’s starting to wear thin.

Moving to a new house is a right royal inconvenience to be sure, but it’s not enough to tip the scales towards a full-scale emigration. The next major event was a sudden financial windfall that we weren’t expecting to receive. Ok, so I’ve been out of work for a good few months now and we’ve been stretching my redundancy payout to keep us going. We did half consider making the move last September when I got the redundancy, but we decided against the idea in the end. Because I hadn’t been in work since, we’ve slowly eaten through all that payout. What to do now? Well, I could hold out for finding work again but there’s an even chance we might end up eating through this latest windfall and finding ourselves back where we are again now, but this time backed into a corner with nowhere to go. If we were ever going to make the move, now would be the time – from a financial point of view – to do so. The kids are just at the right age – right at that boundary between primary school and secondary school, so from a schooling point of view, this is probably a really good time to make the move. Sandy’s Mother died a couple of years ago and Sandy wasn’t able to get there in time to see her Mother one last time. My parents are getting older and slowing down (although I daresay Mum may bloody well outlive us all – just out of spite). Australia is a great place to live but it does have to be said that it’s just too far from everywhere.

Once we sat and factored all of these reasons in, we hesitantly decided that we’d bite the bullet and make the move back to Europe. We discussed it with the kids, who were both hesitant – reluctant even. That notwithstanding, the decision to move was finally taken within 48 hours of receiving that initial vacate notice. From that point on, we were on a moving train that wasn’t stopping. My life from that point revolved around the logistics of bringing that decision to fruition.

To soften the blow, we (and by this I mostly mean ‘I’) made the decision to make a quick stop on the way back to Europe. By quick stop, I mean an all-singing, all-dancing, full-bells-and-whistles and no-holds-barred 3-month holiday to Florida and the UK. Buggar it! If I’m going to move half way around the bloody planet, I’m jolly well going to enjoy myself doing it and be damned the consequences.

With little more than a week to go before we fly out, we’re looking at six weeks in Orlando, including a five-night cruise around the Western Caribbean, then a week in Jacksonville and then about a month in England before we finally head over to Holland. Fortunately, Sandy’s Sister has graciously given us the use of her house until we get settled and onto our feet there. As much as anything else, this one act of kindness has sort of made the entire thing feasible. It’s a huge load off and allows us to concentrate on everything else in the meantime without having to cart around the worry of ‘what happens when we arrive?’.

I’ve booked us a rather nice five-bedroom condo in Orlando near the theme parks and organised a minivan for the duration. I’ve also bought us the most flexible set of theme park tickets. For the first couple of weeks, we’ll be able to hit any of the six Disney theme parks as often as we like. Then we drive to Fort Lauderdale to board our five-night cruise, taking in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. Then we have a couple of weeks back in Orlando again (same accommodation – we’ve been given permission to leave our bags there even though we’re technically not paying for those five nights) where we have two weeks to hit all the other theme parks, including those from Universal and SeaWorld. As it’s Joey’s birthday in September, I’ve booked us in to the LEGOLAND theme park for a day as well. We’re keeping this as a surprise for him. Finally, we head to Jacksonville for a week, where a very good friend and previous work colleague from my days with CSX Technology in Jacksonville, has offered to put us up for the week.

Once we’re done sunning ourselves in Florida, we head back to the UK. Paul will put us up for a couple of weeks and so will John. We’ll see just about everyone else in the family while there, of course. If all goes to plan, we’ll spend a weekend down in Basingstoke visiting Ann and her extended clan.

As luck would have it, a long-lost Sister surfaced just a few days ago. And I do mean long-lost. The last we heard from her was around thirty years ago. We’ve arranged to spend time with her as well, which will be a nice bonus.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to organise the logistics for this epic three-month trip. At the same time, I’ve also had to manage the shutting down of our lives here in Australia and preparing for our departure. To say this has been keeping me busy is something of a ridiculous understatement. Sleep is for the weak! In no particular order, here are some of the hurdles I’ve had to clear in the past few weeks:

  • Renewals of the kids’ British passports.
  • Renewal of our Victorian drivers’ licenses, since they were to expire not long after we departed.
  • Renewal of Sandy’s Dutch passport. Alas, quirks of the Dutch immigration system have conspired to render Sandy no longer a Dutch citizen – yes, seriously! Ironically, me and the kids are fine since we have British (European) passports but Sandy actually needs to apply for a resident’s permit when we arrive there. Within a year thereafter, she can apply for her citizenship again – yes, seriously! Heaven knows what’s going to happen when Brexit actually kicks in! Best not to dwell on these things for too long. I’m barely keeping it together as it is.
  • Signed Joey out of school (he’s been suffering in recent months from severe migraines and has now been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to boot, so we’ve had plenty of fun and games in that department as well with paediatricians, psychologists, doctors, pain tracking charts, medications, sleep surveys, etc.).
  • Had to find a home for the cats, which was actually one of the most challenging and worrying things. As luck would have it, a friend has agreed to take them in. A good thing too, since it was going to cost about the same to send one cat as it does to send two adults – around $5,000!
  • Arranged for the shipping of our household contents. Since we are taking our time getting to where we need to be, we’re having it all stored here in Australia for three months first. It’s going to be a delicate feat of timing to arrange for the contents to arrive to coincide with us actually having a place to live.
  • Helped Paul with his travel plans. It just so happened that he decided to bring himself and a contingent of four others over here to Australia for a couple of weeks, which was nice.
  • Garage sales (yes two of them) to cull as much of our household content as we could. We arrived with a 40’ container – completely full. We’re leaving in a 20’ one. You do the maths!
  • Spent endless hours convincing Sandy to part with things. It was a necessary evil that I had to push her up that hill, despite the stress I know it caused her…and by extension, me. It wasn’t enough. In the end, the container was NOT big enough to fit it all in!
  • Cancelled our subscription services, like TV, Internet, health care insurance, etc.
  • Sold the two cars, which also required getting the Road Worthy Certificate completed – including all the associated costs. This was another one of those delicate balancing acts. We need a car for as long as possible, but I couldn’t leave selling them to the last minute just in case they didn’t sell. Fortunately, another local friend has offered us the use of one of his vehicles, so that worked out well.
  • Managed several trips back and forth to the paediatrician and psychologist for Joey.
  • Booked flights, rental car and accommodation – for the US and the UK. As luck would have it, we’ll have the use of Dad’s car while in the UK.
  • Packed up and cleaned house, making it ready to be handed back to the rental agency.
  • Arranged our final tax returns.
  • Paid off any remaining debts, etc.
  • Organised what’s to happen with a couple of investments that I have which still have a few more years to run here in Australia.
  • Renewed my PO box for another year and arranged for someone that I trust to have the key, so they can keep an eye on it for me.
  • Bought a shiny new laptop, so I can at least carry on working – I co-own and operate a publishing company.
  • Met various people for one last dinner date.
  • Bought a few new things to pop into the container so we have some new stuff for when we get to the other end.
  • Prepared for and delivered a two-our presentation at the City of Casey’s Bunjil Place, entitled Getting Published, to an audience of around 70.
  • Bought foreign currency to take with us (US dollars, British Pounds and Euros).
  • Bought a metric shit ton (yes, that’s the technical term) of LEGO to drip-feed to Joey to help keep him content and on an even keel. It’s a tactic that’s working and we’ve been given the all-clear from the psychologist to pretty much do whatever we need to for him given his current mental state – especially now that the secure and familiar walls all around him are coming crashing down, feeding his anxiety disorder. More than everything else – combined – we’ve had to delicately ‘manage’ Joey throughout this entire process.

Ok, so that list is by no means complete but it should provide some indication of what my life has been like this past few weeks. Through it all, we’ve tried as best we can to maintain our family relationships between the four of us. It hasn’t been easy on any of us.

A really important aspect to shutting down our lives here in Australia is saying good-bye to everyone. With just about zero bandwidth left over, we’re been fortunate that good friends of ours, Vanessa and Nic, have organised a going-away celebration at a local venue. As of this writing, we’re looking at well over a hundred people expecting to attend. I fully expect that the rollercoaster of emotions we will experience at this do tomorrow night will rival even the most thrilling and scary of rollercoasters that Orlando will throw at us. We will go through it all again soon thereafter when we do something similar with Ree-Ree and extended family. Please, someone stop the world just long enough that I can get off and take a breather.

The container came a couple of days ago to collect everything. It didn’t all fit. I’m having to spend a few more thousand dollars on the overflow. Oh well. Life’s a bitch…and then you die.
As a credit to Sandy and the kids, we came over with a 40 foot container, and going back with just over a 20 foot container! No small feat, and I am thoroughly impressed with what must have been the hardest thing to do for them.

A very good friend of ours, Paul, has given us the use of his house while he’s been in Tasmania. Along with the car we’ve borrowed, this has been an absolute life-saver. We can’t begin to express how fortunate we are to have so many good friends around us – especially at a time like this when the chips are down. Since we have another couple of weeks, we’re effectively living at Paul’s house out of suitcases, we’ve sort of turned his house into something like what our house used to look like. We’re living out of suitcases and everything is everywhere. It ‘aint pretty.

The good news is that [what was] our house is finally empty, and the keys have been handed back. The cars are gone. The logistics are arranged and in place. All the hard work is done. We’ve reached and surpassed the top of the hill. It’s now coasting the remainder of the way until the day of departure. Have we forgotten anything? Probably. Do I give a shit at this point? I’ve literally no more shits left to give. I’m shattered – mentally exhausted beyond words. I think I need a bloody holiday.