Tag Archives: ex-pat lifestyle

Ping-Ponging? Nope! Happily Back To Australia!

Have you ever heard the term ‘Ping Pong Poms’ and do you know the origin? It refers to people from Great Britain, commonly referred to around the world as ‘Poms’, who move to Australia for a new life and ping-pong right back to the UK because they find that it’s too much of a change for them or that Australia isn’t British enough for their tastes. They usually return to the northern hemisphere within 12 months or less.

So, in our own case, if we moved whole-heartedly to Europe from Australia over 2 years ago and, in spite of that previous commitment to a European life, are now returning to Australia — does that make us Ping Pong Aussies? Actually no — it’s a very happy choice and we are getting more and more excited with each day at this point.

I consider myself to be a boots-on-the-ground documentarian of the places and social conditions where we are living. Although I sometimes report on the glossy travelogue version of Europe, at other times you will read my take on the current day-to-day facts about Europe.

The reasons we came to this side of the world and that we love it here are all still valid — the visual beauty, the greenness, the history, the architecture. But it’s quite clear that Europe, including the UK, is unravelling financially and unless you are in banking, medicine, or property sales — if there is no way to make a decent living, you’d be in trouble in no time. We just spoke to a building contractor here in Newcastle about an hour ago and he said that 8-10 years ago he made 3-1/2 times what he does now each month. If we ever DO want to retire, we have to be sensible and go back to a place where we can start building the accounts back up, not continue to deplete them. We actually feel very blessed to HAVE options when so many people are trying to LEAVE the UK and emigrate to Australia or New Zealand. There are several television shows over here about how to do that!

France would have been our happy-heart choice here in Europe, but the tax changes and pension changes just blew that out of the water for us. There is simply no work here in the UK and even the people with jobs all feel quite insecure.

I was relieved to leave Australia in 2010 — I won’t lie about that — but not because I didn’t love it there. I wouldn’t have bothered getting Australian citizenship if I hadn’t truly loved that country and I would have just carried on being a legal resident the way I was in France. The rural lifestyle just wore us both out. It was much too much in a way that neither of us could have anticipated before we tried it. But gosh — we did love all of the people we met out there in Central Victoria who are now life-long friends to know as we get older.

I am glad that I never-ever departed from Australia with negative feelings about it because, after having a bit of a think about it and getting our heads wrapped around it, we have both realised that neither of us is having ANY issues with moving back in the end. And isn’t THAT a nice surprise! It’s as if going away has given us a better appreciation for the country and made us understand that it’s still a darned good lifestyle in Australia compared the austerity of Europe and the UK and the dreadful financial mess that is ever-present in the USA.

The best part of Australia to me is the part that is the most European — Melbourne! So Mark has agreed that even if we live in a shoebox sized house, he’ll do city living (thank God because I had enough of snakes, bushfires, and heat in the countryside the last time!), join a city cycling club, and let us have the freedom of just walking out the door and catch a tram to the market, a club, a museum, a cafe. He always turned up his nose at the idea of a more centralised city lifestyle in Melbourne or even when we were visiting Sydney but thankfully that has changed. Maybe we’ll eventually have a weekend cottage in the country? Maybe not. We’ll see.

Once we were actually on this side of the world, Mark finally got into the groove of that urban lifestyle choice in places like Berlin and Amsterdam and London. Those two months in London in 2011 showed him that cycling in the city can be quite interesting and visually stimulating in a different way to the bleached brown rolling hills of Victoria, Australia. When we actually lived full time in St. Girons in the south of France, he finally had his eyes opened to how cool it was to have your own wee manageable space in your home, but then the greater world of entertainment was right on your doorstep — literally — instead of it being a long and boring DRIVE to get to anything.

Our life in St. Girons has set the template for what we want to go back and find in Melbourne. But we wouldn’t have know THAT either unless we had left Australia for awhile.

So to answer the questions that have trickled in about how I REALLY feel about moving back to Australia and are we both happy about it –it’s all good, we’re fine with our decision, and as much as it seems like a shockingly abrupt turn-around to some people, we will not only manage, we will thrive! Mark is quite calm about moving back, I am quite calm about it, and we will relish every minute of this little 2-1/2 year adventure and know that it was the right thing to do AT THE TIME that we did it. Now it is the right time to go back.

Next up? The list making, re-packing, staging, reservations-making, booking of moving companies, and then getting ON THE PLANE. Wheeee!!!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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So Where Is Home After Years Of Travel? A Very Familiar Place!

You know that sensation of beating your head against a wall? Of believing utterly in manifesting the life that you want into reality — but none of the tried and true methods that have always worked in the past are now producing any results?

I’ve always known that no matter how much I might attempt to will something into being, if it was not meant to be, it would not appear. All of my efforts would be a complete waste of time if the Universe had other plans for me — for us. And being stubborn or petulant was utterly futile and a complete waste of time and energy.

In spite of being oh-so-ill this week, I have continued to pump out CVs and cover letters for Mark’s job search — 70 applications in less than 5 weeks. But some hard truths are now completely clear. There are far too many people looking for work in the UK and far too few jobs, so potential employers don’t even give you the courtesy of a form letter email to acknowledge that they have received your application. Even people as multi-talented as Mark are all competing for the same small number of jobs at simply shocking wages.

We’ve heard from friends here in Newcastle that this has only been the case in the last 10 years and previously tradesmen could make a very good living at wages that were comparable to those paid in Australia. That certainly is not the case now and the numbers of people that are living right on the edge of abject poverty is simply shocking. I’m not going to engage in any sort of lengthy statement about the wisdom or lack thereof of allowing hundreds of thousands of immigrants to come into this small island nation and drive the wages down-down-down to mimimum wage or LESS in a mere decade, but the situation is going to get even worse at the end of this year when another unrestricted flow will be allowed from two new Eastern European countries.

So why beat ourselves up about it? We haven’t failed in any way, our adventure in Europe for the past 2 & 1/2 years has been wonderful, and we feel blessed to have seen so many places and experienced so many countries. We aren’t 20-somethings and we have to be sensible about economics and long term plans, so after a major re-think on where to go next, we’ve made a surprisingly happy decision to go home to Australia.

You’re going to be getting an interesting mix of travel posts and photos and planning-staging-moving posts from this point onward. We have to get back to Norfolk in a few weeks to organise what to ship back to Australia. Then we’ll do a wee bit more travelling in countries outside the UK, we’ll sell our left-hand-drive car, and then there will be a series of journeys via plane (my least enjoyable kind of travel!) as we hop, skip, and jump our way back.

Look out, Australia — here we come!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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The New Reality of European Economic Life

We are certainly betwixt and between right now and we’re in a rather large boatload of people with the same issues. Just as it happened in France AFTER we had arrived, felt keenly optimistic, and were ready to settle in, things are changing rapidly in England as well.

In France, after President Holland was elected and by the beginning of the new year, it was the hideous tax changes and pensions changes that forced not only us but also many other English speaking expats out of the country. The much-discussed ‘French lifestyle’ allows you to enjoy a less stressful lifestyle than the zoom-zoom patterns in many countries — but with a caveat about making a living. There is a distinct lack of encouragement about entrepreneurial initiative, you are expected to conform to the socialist agenda of poor-but-equal, and even large businesses frequently incur the wrath of multi-nationals who cannot understand why there is not a stronger work ethic or higher productivity as noted in this article in the Telegraph.

Here in England, (and literally in the weeks since we have arrived!) we are watching as the costs of living are going up-up-up every single week whilst the wages are dropping. I have placed quite a few links within this article, so do click on them for a more thorough explanation of the current state of affairs here. Consumers have been warned that their energy bills are about to rocket skyward. And the BBC afternoon news told their viewers that the price to fill up the tanks of their vehicles was about to edge upward again in the coming weeks.

After sending out well over over 40 CVs (resumes) and cover letters in the last three weeks, Mark finally had a job interview yesterday and if it had been a good fit, it might have allowed us to settle down here in Norfolk, a part of England that we dearly love. But what the foreman of the construction company offered was ONE-FIFTH of what Mark made in Australia. It wouldn’t even provide us with enough annual income to meet the requirements for me to get residency. Any extra income that I might produce in the UK would also be on hold for a minimum of 6 months until I got (1) the UK Resident ID Card, (2) the UK tax number, and (3) the UK driving license.

Whereas in France there were no minimum income requirements for me to obtain residency, here (effective January 2013 JUST as we were leaving France!) the UK citizen (my husband Mark) who is bringing in a non-UK citizen (me!) has to make a minimum of £27,500 per annum which is about $40,000 AU per year and even that figure is ridiculously less than what Mark was earning when we left on this gap-year-plus adventure. What the man offered him at the interview was HALF of the minimum required for my immigration status to be completed! And he had so many job applications that Mark said to me later (even knowing that he would never take that job) that he was one of the ‘lucky few’ who got a call for a face-to-face interview.

It’s only going to get worse and I think this ‘new reality’ extends to most of Europe. Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland are awash with unemployed and increasingly homeless people — but is the UK headed in that same direction? There is this odd going-down-with-the-ship feeling right now — and at the end of the year the flood gates are going to open again when Romanians and the Bulgarians are allowed free entry into the UK job market. Why? There are already too many people on this island and there are far too few jobs for the ones that are here. The wages will plunge yet again since many of these people are willing to work for minimum wage — £6.19 an hour. Here’s an article that explains why. We’re certainly in that ‘incomer’ category to some extent, but Mark is actually British although he has lived in Australia or New Zealand for most of his life. We are thanking our lucky stars that we have choices.

This is not the upbeat England that we knew when we lived here in the late-1980s or early-to-mid 1990s. It feels like everyone is hanging on by their fingernails — the same sensation that we had in the south of France. And it is distinctly uncomfortable. In another blow to people who are struggling as wages actually go down instead of up, it must be horrifying to think that you have the deposit money for a house and then you are unable to buy one because the banks and formerly customer-friendly building societies are shifting their lending practices more toward buy-to-let (rent) landlords who are scooping up investment properties than they do toward people who are trying to get onto the housing ladder. This is both madness and incredibly unfair. England will end up as a nation comprised predominantly of renters.

Seriously, we knew to never say never, but unless something truly amazing presents itself in Newcastle or Scotland in the next few weeks, it looks like we might be going back to Australia. And that is not making us happy little campers on any front except the future-economic one. Yes we love Australia dearly, yes we love all of our friends back there, but yes also — this part of the world has the culture and art and history and architecture that makes our hearts sing. We left Australia over two years ago totally debt free, with perfect credit, and with a deposit for a house still safely tucked away in the bank. But these life changes in Europe have really eaten into the ‘extras’ part of the bank account.

We certainly loved France, embraced it fully with all of the lovely quirks involved, and felt safe sending for all of our household goods to be shipped over from Australia. Then the Monsieur Holland saga arrived and the financial aspect of the country began to shift dramatically within a very few months. We could never have anticipated those events and frankly it’s unnerving to think that we will have to ship everything back across the world, pay for that expense, AND buy a new vehicle in Australia where the costs are half again as much as what vehicles cost in Europe or the UK. We have a storage unit (that is costing us a fortune to rent!) full of packed things that we will have to sort through and sell off some of the items like washing machine and refrigerator and armchairs etc. What a mess! After all of that, we will somehow have to figure out how to incorporate the costs of a trip to the USA to see my family over there on the way back to Australia.

I do understand, we both do, that this is no failure on our fault since we are not responsible for global changes and we have NO REGRETS about the things we have seen and done for the last two-plus years! But here we were, ready to settle down, buy a house, get involved in a community, and get on with our lives and the ground beneath us is shifting as fast as we are making plans. It is truly, truly eerie and stomach churning to watch it unfold.

You might wonder why I am sharing distinctly non-upbeat news on this site. But I am a life-long journalist as much as a photographer and I can be a mirror of the unfolding world — eyes and ears ‘on the ground’ so to speak. The sands are certainly shifting in every part of the world and it is worth staying apprised of the trends from country to country. No matter how hard things might seem at this very moment, other people are in much more dire situation and we do continue to consider ourselves to be amazingly blessed. We’ll remake our lives somewhere new and it will be wonderful once the stressful part of it is over and done with.

I will keep everyone posted on the unfolding ‘adventure’ in the coming weeks. We are leaving Norfolk at the beginning of the week for a short work assignment in Newcastle and then perhaps another one in Scotland as we try to wrap our heads around the best way to proceed.

Wish us well!

Good Progress for Day 2 Back in UK

The movers were an hour late this morning and it took over 2 hours for the two drivers (and Mark!) to unload it all and fit it into our storage room like a puzzle full of box shaped pieces, but it looks like everything arrived from France unscathed. Hooray!

The storage building I had rented online was perfect and incredibly clean, we had a nice lunch in Norwich, and now we have new phone numbers today too.

Proceeding apace quite nicely!

More soon…

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Out The Door We Go!

There have been quite a few up-close-and-personal moments with these objects below over the last 2 weeks. And frankly, I am exhausted! But the movers arrived today, everything went out the door smoothly, and we are tucked up in a hotel for the night with just the final cleaning to do tomorrow and turning in my wifi box before we can hand in the keys and hit the road.


Tape dispenser and packing tape in France


We’ve been very lucky. The previous movers who evaporated into thin air were replaced by what seems like a rather nice company. The car sold, the excess items sold, and last night the cooking stove sold. So we are taking absolutely NO superfluous things with us to England!

Tomorrow we’ll drive toward Paris and stop for the night up there. Then there is a museum we specifically want to see north of Paris and I’ll be reporting on that as soon as possible. On Saturday we take the ferry from Calais to Dover, on Sunday we rest at Mark’s parents’ house, and on Monday we meet the movers at the storage unit and put everything safely away for awhile.

Then in about a week after that, we’re off on an adventure to see parts of the UK that we have never visited. And hopefully within a few weeks of departure, we’ll know where we’d like to stop, settle, and buy another house. And you can be sure that I’ll be posting along the way whenever I have a stable internet connection.

Wish us luck — we’re off on the road again!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Cycling At Night in the South Of France

Daylight was slipping away as the scraping sound echoed up the stone walls and through the street. Barricades were being dragged across the end of the block, people began unpacking their cars in the parking lot across the street, and men in safety vests began taking up positions up and down the street.

Officials and riders preparing for a night-time road race in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees in France

Cycling is such a passion for people of all ages in France and the Tour de France is not the only racing or touring event that attracts attention. We discovered yet another reason to love living in St. Girons 10 days ago when a night-time cycling event was held here that circled the town and passed right beneath our window again and again and again.

Cyclists preparing for a night-time road race in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees in France

Hours passed, the light changed from twilight to darkness, the streetlights illuminated the pavement, and the cyclists went around and around the circuit until after 10 PM.
Cyclists on a night-time road race in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees in France
Mark was a very happy man as he watched some fellow cyclists going around and around the curve at the end of our street. And he did it all from the best spot possible — out the front window of our apartment.

Watching the cyclists go by in a night-time road race in St. Girons in the Midi-Pyrenees in France


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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