As my ongoing photo a day project will attest, we’ve now been in our new home in Australia for six weeks, and now that I’ve finally got round to blogging the rest of our amazing South America trip, I can start to talk about the real world, insofar as we find ourselves back in it.
After a few days back in Southport, the final legs of our journey took us briefly back to London, then on to Singapore and finally Melbourne, where everyone except for us, it seems, is either getting married, having kids, or has already done one or both of those things.
So far, we have completed only two-thirds of the back-to-the-real-world life trifecta: we’ve both managed to find employment and so are able to start replacing the savings we splurged in South America, and thanks to a brief upturn in the pound/aussie exchange rate that saw us transfer some cash over at almost $2.50 to the pound a few weeks ago, we have bought the car that is sadly a necessity in a spread out city like this one, but with most of the rest of my savings languishing in a heavily depressed index tracker that’s been faithfully following the FTSE’s recent journey downwards, the house might have to wait a while, and so for the moment we’re staying with Sal’s folks.
I don’t think we’ve outstayed our welcome yet, but then Sal was away for six years, so that’s got to buy us a few months before we need to find our own place.
I’ve nearly been in my new job for a month now, and working life in Australia appears to be much the same as it was in London, albeit for me personally with a longer commute and a slightly smarter dress code than I’ve been used to.
One interesting difference is that, for no discernible reason, my new employers choose to pay their staff on a weekly basis. It’s very odd.
My first payslip was emailed to me a few days after I started, showing my annual salary recalculated as an hourly rate, and applied to the precisely 22 hours and 48 minutes that I had apparently worked since starting (it took me a while to work out where that figure had come from, since I don’t have to clock in and out, but of course it’s just three fifths of a 38 hour week).
Best of all, my first payslip informed me, I’d accrued 1 hour and 46 minutes of annual leave. I won’t be using that all at once, now.
I remember when I used to commute in London that occasionally you’d be joined in the carriage by some holidaying Aussies who’d be loudly complaining to each other that no one talks to each other on the tube. “Why’s everyone so miserable?” they’d ask.
So now that I commute to and from work every day on Melbourne’s own public transport, it’s a pleasant change from London to experience the joyful world where people strike up conversations with random strangers and everyone’s just happy to be there.
No. Of course not.
Commuters are miserable the world over, no matter how friendly they might be in other social circumstances or how sunny it might be outside. If anything, the fact that it’s a glorious sunny day out there just makes it worse that you have to go to work rather than the beach.
The other day I was joined in my packed train carriage on the way into the city by a couple of middle class white teenagers looking a bit miserable and pretending to be hard while cranking up the volume on their mobile phone speaker so that the whole carriage got to listen to some rubbish sounding tinny music. It was just like being on a London bus, and despite the fact that it was clearly annoying to everyone in the carriage, of course no one said anything to them. Just like London.
When they pushed their way through the standing commuters and off the train at North Melbourne, one of the middle class white teenagers brushed against a businessman who was standing near the door. Obviously feeling affronted in some way and realising that this was the perfect opportunity to show just how hard he was, the middle class white teenager involved turned to the businessman and said something like “You wanna back that shit up? Huh?”, then paused briefly inside the train carriage before getting off and making an angry face back at the guy on the train. It was, shall we say, rather amusing.
There is one part of my commute that comes close to the ludicrous idyll imagined by those holidaying aussies in London who’ve probably never used the public transport system in their own home in their lives–the bus I catch in the mornings to take me from the end of the street to the local train station, and then again in the evenings to get back. Not only do the drivers wait at the stop by the train station for the train to come in before leaving, they smile and say hello to you, remember the names of some of their passengers, wait for people when they see them running for the bus, and actually open the doors early when they are on the way to the station if they get stuck at the traffic lights around the corner so that the commuters can dash over the road to catch the next train instead of missing it while the driver waits for the lights to change so that he can pull up at the stop.
It’s not quite like that on London buses, is it?
Of course I miss our old London friends and our old London life in general, as much as anyone living there while the city struggles into winter might find that hard to believe, but then I knew that was going to be the case when we left. I’ve been clinging to the bits of home that I can–picking up my Weekly Guardian from the newsagent at Flinders Street on a Thursday morning, reading the Private Eye that finds its way across the world and into the letterbox every other week, and taking the edge off that commute by listening to the Collings and Herrin and Adam and Joe podcasts–but being in Melbourne in Spring has its advantages.
We’ve just had the annual Spring Racing Carnival, for starters, during which two weeks of horseracing just down the road at the Flemington racecourse stops the whole nation. I don’t have any particular affinity for the sport, but it means standing in a field and drinking in the sun, which is always a fun day out.
And of course, there are the beaches and barbies. It might be a cliché, but it’s still good.