Tag Archives: emigration

10 years in British Columbia

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Outside the Rosellen Suites, our apartment that first month

10 years ago we arrived in Canada. It was night, and we barely made it through Immigration before the office closed for the evening. Some of our visas weren’t up to scratch and we had replacement photos taken, with our eyes red from the ten-hour flight.

Most of our belongings were in transit, crossing the Atlantic in a container ship, and wouldn’t arrive for another month. We had enough packed in our cases, hopefully, to last us that month. The taxi stand at the airport looked at our baggage and the travel-weary weasels and suggested we take a limo.

“It’s about the same price as a taxi big enough for all of you, and there’ll be room to spare.”

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We arrived at the apartment we’d booked for our first month. It was dark now, and cold. Whatever the real time was, we’d been up for around twenty four hours one way and another, and we just wanted to sleep. But the door code we’d been given didn’t work, so we had to call the Manager. Once we were in, we hauled our many cases up two flights to the room (finding out later there was an elevator…) Before we could collapse, however, there was one more thing – someone needed to go out and get supplies for breakfast. No one fancied the idea of waking up and having to dress and go out for food. I ran to the nearby 7-11 and picked up cereal and milk and bacon. That would have to do.

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Foraging for food turned out to be relatively painless…

From our perspective of ten years on, we look back on that night with a fondness and a vague horror. It was the biggest adventure we had ever considered, and the Weasels threw themselves into it with such courage. We were promising them a better life, new activities, a new house, a dog and all manner of great things, but the fact was we had no ACTUAL plan, beyond “Let’s get jobs and find a house.”

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That’s why this week we are trying to say thank you to all the people who have helped us in this first ten years. We got our jobs, our dog and our house, but we also found friends along the way who have done so much for us. We’re grateful to everyone who extended the hand of friendship and turned our crazy hopes of a better life into a reality.

Family group

The night before we flew out, March 2009

 

Graduation

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Seven years in Canada means there are now very few moments where we stop and say “Hey, that’s a bit different!”, but this week, there was a big one. Eldest Weasel has graduated High School.

*Puts on flat cap and lights pipe*

Back in my day, we didn’t graduate from High School. For a start, we didn’t GO to High School. Mandatory Secondary Education finished with the Fifth Year and G.C.S.E.s (I was in the first year to take these new-fangled replacements for the O levels). We spent May and June taking an assortment of exams (nine, in my case) and when you took your last exam, you were done. No more Secondary School. There was, I think, a final assembly, but I got sent out of that for talking, so I don’t know what happened in it.

As an avid consumer of North American film and TV, I’m familiar with the concept of High School graduation (though this one turned out very different from that Buffy Episode…). What I hadn’t realised was the ceremony is really worthwhile. Poor Eldest Weasel was consumed with nerves about the whole thing, which was a shame because this was a great way to mark the early years of education, the culmination of the time that this age group would spend together in school. From this point on, as was made clear by the statements read out for each graduate, they would be scattering to all kinds of different colleges, careers and ambitions.

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That’s not to say that the mood was entirely sombre. The Principal (who is also moving on to a new job) gave a speech that was upbeat and encouraging, inevitably quoting Dr Seuss, and making several jokes (some unintentional). There were catcalls and cheers for the students receiving scholarships, and many of the hats had been decorated by their owners, since they would be kept as souvenirs of the big day. It was a long ceremony, only broken twice by performances from the choir and the band, begun with “O, Canada” sung by one of the graduates and closed with “God Save the Queen” sung by another. The hats were thrown into the air after the Valedictorian’s speech (and you have to love Drama Students for stepping up when it comes to making a great speech) and the graduates filed out to meet the friends and relatives who had packed the arena.

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I had come to the event believing it to be overblown and unnecessary , just one more stress to drop on a group of young adults already being pressured to decide their futures. But I came away feeling it had been exactly right – a celebration of the time and effort these students had put into their school, an acknowledgement of what it will come to mean to them in the future, and a reminder that the friendships they have made here can be carried forward no matter how far apart they may travel.

They make you swear, they really do….

Actually, that’s not true. In the Citizenship Oath, you have the option to swear OR affirm.

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It wasn’t that long ago that I shared this post about sitting our citizenship exam, and we began the wait for the Oath ceremony. Certainly the exam was the more nerve-wracking of the two – though there were several dire warnings about what could happen if you failed to repeat the oath, or didn’t produce the required documents.

The main difference this time was taking the entire boatload of weasels along. Only Eldest Weasel was actually required to make the oath, the other two being below the age of fourteen, but we made this emigration as a unit, and we signed in as a unit too. They seated us together, a row of five seats on the right hand side of the same room we took our exam in. The clerk explained what would happen when Judge Nguyen (pronounced “Wen”) took her seat and began proceedings. The judge was a calm, smiling presence, and took the opportunity to tell us about her own history – nine escape attempts from her home country when she was only a little girl. At least six trips to “Re-education camps” before the successful escape which led to a refugee camp and finally Canada. Mrs Dim and I exchanged glances. Suddenly the various stresses and panics we’d suffered in the run up to our own arrival here seemed very, very minor.

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

The flags were waiting for us on our seats, along with copies of the Oath and little Maple Leaf pins

We were all asked to state our full names in loud clear voices, one at a time. I was happy to note that even Tiniest Weasel had no trouble with this, and then we were reciting the Oath in English and French. After that it was a simple matter of lining up to receive our certificates and take photos with the judge.

DSCN0837After that it was much like the day we took our exam – with a beautiful day outside and no one having to really be anywhere for a while, we walked the seawall all the way up to Milestones on English Bay. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that’s the first restaurant we visited after arriving in Canada. It’s just round the corner from the apartment we rented during our first month, and we’ve celebrated at least one arrival anniversary there. Since we missed the five year anniversary meal out, this seemed like a great opportunity for a double celebration.

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver.....

Walking the Seawall. I love Vancouver…..

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Messing about in Milestones. Good food, though!

Every time I think “Ok, that’s it, now we just start living…” another big moment pops up. Is there more to come after gaining citizenship? Now we have to apply for passports and things, and I already miss the security of carrying my Permanent Resident Card with me. But I can vote now! I get to take an active interest in the things going on around me, because I have a voice and I am going to use it. Local, Provincial or Federal, I will get out there and use my vote!

When people ask me “Why did you emigrate?”

WP_002610San diego 6 060Me and the weasels eat lunchThe view from the Yacht ClubWP_000331Viewty spaghetti and doors 017 095 Viewty Victoria ferry trip 015 Deep Cove 011 007 Katie Lily Doughnut Skating and fireworks 117Rocky Point November WP_000713 WP_000753 026 036 (2) Bloedel conservatory 165Any questions?

Prices rise and fall….

Next month I’m experimenting with price points by raising the cost of all my e-books. Except one.

It’ll be the fifth anniversary of our emigration on March 9th, so I thought I would drop the price of “The Great Canadian Adventure” for the whole month. It’s the true-life account of our first year, from the week before we flew out to the purchase of our house. I’ve tried to include helpful links and also added in material from my wife’s viewpoint to balance my own writing.

It’s currently available for $4.99 at Amazon, but will be down to just $1.99 from the 1st March.

Find it in the US HERE

in the UK HERE

and in Canada HERE

And if you’ve already got it, don’t forget to leave a review to warn… I mean, encourage other readers.

Preparing to recross the pond

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about emigrating. Long ago life settled down into a regular form, became just the ordinary every day. Yes, there are still times I marvel that we live in Canada, that I tell which direction I’m driving by seeing the mountains on the North Shore, but I don’t convert dollars into pounds any more, trying to see if things are cheaper or more expensive. I don’t flinch from saying “pants” instead of “trousers”, and I no longer think “parkade” is a fizzy drink.

Soon we’ll head back to the UK for our second visit since we emigrated. This time we’ll be going back in the winter, with all the added unpredictability that brings. Will there be a sprinkling of snow that closes roads and railways? Having once shoveled my driveway clear three times in the same day, I’m inclined to roll my eyes at that thought. And we don’t get “real” snow here in the Vancouver area… Just ask someone from Winnipeg.

Our last trip back was a summertime thing, and we met friends on the beach in Bournemouth. We walked through parks, in London and Worcester. When I think of going back, those are the images that come to mind.

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

After a while out here the view of the UK becomes somewhat idealised, like this:

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

But we’ll be there for early nights, cold, brisk days. And probably rain. We’ll be spending almost every day going from one place to another so we can visit as many friends as possible, but we also have to set aside time so we can celebrate Christmas with the family we’ve been away from for so long.

The travel is, as ever, the part that bothers me the most. Our appreciation of distance has changed significantly. To illustrate, let me show you our last but one holiday : we went to Cardiff-by-Sea, Encinitas, by way of San Francisco. We drove, and it took a week or so to get there. It was fun (except for going through LA, obviously.) Here’s what that journey looks like:

Thank you, Google Maps!

Thank you, Google Maps!

You can see (perhaps) that that journey is 2197 km. If you need a translation, that’s 1365.153 miles, or a trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End and more than halfway back again. We did the journey home again in three days.

We won’t be traveling nearly as far in our trip around the UK, but our nomadic lifestyle prior to leaving the country means we have friends all over the place, and I look at the map of the UK Mrs Dim has pinned to the wall and the little flags stuck into it and I think….”How hard is that going to be?”

Four and a half years is quite a long time. It’s time for a child to be born and reach school age. It’s been time for one of our Weasels to reach High School and settle in. Middle Weasel is now in the top age group in her school. I’m on my third job, and am convinced the ancient curse has followed me to Canada (I worked for TVS – they lost their franchise. I worked for Peter Dominic’s – they went out of business. I worked at the Bell Hotel in Alresford – it looks like they did  a good job of rebuilding it after the fire. Here in Canada I worked for Canpages and they went out of business.) But I’m happy in my library job and hope to stay with it for a long time to come.

I guess the idea I’m circling here is that the only part of the UK we miss is the people. We moved every two years all the time we were married, and learned to place value on friendships, rather than places. We loved the old stuff like the Cathedral in Winchester, the Standing Stones in the Avebury Ring, or Roman ruins, or Iron Age Forts. We loved medieval towns and historical buildings, and we loved the modern parts of the country too, but they’re not why we’re going back. *

We’re going back to see our friends and family, and we’re only sorry we won’t be able to visit everyone in the time available. And of course, if it snows, we may not get out of the airport….

*There are certain factions within the family that maintain the ENTIRE reason for the visit is The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. If anyone from the BBC is reading this, we know the perfect person to co-ordinate a Doctor Who Exhibition in Vancouver – she already knows EVERYTHING about Doctor Who.

Doctor Wheasel - TARDIS not included.

Doctor Wheasel – TARDIS not included.

Book Launch: The Great Canadian Adventure

The terrific cover designed by Eduardo Ramirez

The terrific cover designed by Eduardo Ramirez

It’s been almost exactly a year since I last worked in an office for someone else. In that time I’ve increased the trade through the Lazy Bee Appraisal Service, completed hundreds of play reviews for my publisher and written a handful of new plays and sketches.

Behind it all, I’ve been polishing old blog posts and working with some neat software to repackage that material with some new entries and information to make this book : The Great Canadian Adventure.

The whole family, just before we left the country

The whole family, just before we left the country

This is the true story of our emigration to BC from the UK. Starting the week before we flew out, it tells of our rush to clear the house we’d been living in, the whirlwind tour of family and friends and the first twelve months finding our feet in the Vancouver area.

But it’s not just a memoir – along the way I’ve collected useful links and made note of things I wish I’d known in advance, and laid them out in the book. Thanks to the Amazon Kindle technology, you can read this book on your PC, your smartphone, your iPad…or even your kindle… and follow those links to learn more.

Writing this book took over four years and several thousand pounds – I had to apply for residency in Canada, and move three children and one wife. We had to get new jobs, a new car, a new house and a dog. And dogs aren’t cheap.

Enjoying our new life in BC!

Enjoying our new life in BC!

Officially launching on May 1st, if you’re seeing this blog post it means you’re special enough to warrant a head start on everyone else! Plus, for the first month, I’m lowering the price by fifty percent. Buy now to avoid disappointment!

If true-life stories of emigration, excitement and orthodontics aren’t your cup of tea, then perhaps you’d rather take a look at some of the other ebooks I’ve written in the past:

Troubled Souls : Three short stories told from the male perspective, each dark and a little disturbing.

Coffee Time Tales 1 and 2: Easy reading for coffee time, two collections of five tales with warmth and often, romance.

Sci-Fi Shorts: Four stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, including “Twist Stiffly and the Hounds of Zenit Emoga”, a golden-age sci-fi romp.

Writing a play for the Amateur Stage: Guidance and advice on writing plays for community theatre groups, written from the perspective of someone with over a decade of experience in the field. (Me.)

If you’ve produced an ebook, or have some other kind of project you’d like to shout about, HOP ON THIS BANDWAGON! I’ll be posting links to this page as I travel the internet, hawking my books, so why not drop a link to YOUR brilliance in the comments section?

2011: The year of the return visit.

My first car, after I paid the price for overconfidence.

It’s been something people have asked quite frequently over the last two years: “Have you been back to the UK?”. I was always surprised to be asked – moving to a different continent was a big undertaking, after all. We’re two years in and I only just feel like we’ve got all the variables sorted out. I feel settled, so yes, maybe now is the time to go back and see friends and family.

We’re at the start of the planning process, and with five people to transport, it’s a lot to figure out. We’re looking at calendars, at flight prices, at suitcases – this isn’t going to happen in the next couple of weeks, or even the next couple of months. But we’re odds-on for this year.

The thing is, I’m scared. Not of the friends and family, obviously. It’ll be great to see them. What scares me is…Well, a couple of things.

Firstly, the silly fear. Driving. I’m not a good driver. My Driving Examiner told me at 18 that I had passed the test by the skin of my teeth, that I drove like someone who’d been driving for ten years, and he’d hate to see how I’d be driving ten years from now. At 18, that kind of statement makes no difference whatsoever, and I lasted nearly a year before writing off my car. Over here, the pace of driving is slower. My car has developed a worrying vibration at sixty miles an hour, but you know what? I don’t often feel that vibration in everyday driving. I’ve become accustomed to the Vancouver driving style, to the quieter roads, the lack of bottlenecks. For nearly two years I’ve been driving on the wrong side of the road in an automatic, and when we step off the plane after ten hours of flying and three hours of that weird “Sort of picking up bags and doing Customs but mostly just walking through the airport”, I’m going to have to get into a manual shift car and drive on the OTHER side of the road through English traffic on English roads. Do you think someone could make some sort of announcement, for the safety of other people?

And the second fear, the important one, is getting to see enough people. We’re lucky enough to have a good number of friends, but thanks to our pinball lifestyle, they’re spread far and wide across the UK. For some, travel is a challenge, and for others it may be an awkward time to ask them to scoot across the country to say hi. As someone who once spent five hours on the road in the UK, taking the family to visit friends and then had to turn back when an accident closed the only access, I can appreciate that crossing the UK to see us may not be easy, but what a shame to fly all that way and miss out on seeing folks who are so close (in Canadian terms, at least.)

So this post is part confession – I’m scared – part apology – We may not see you, sorry . But we’re flying back for the best reasons, to see family, to catch a friend’s wedding, to give the weasels a chance to see THEIR friends. If we call you and say we’re around, we’d love to see you. And if we don’t get a chance to call this time around, don’t panic – there’ll be other visits. I just might not be driving at all by then.

Happy New Year, eh?

Watching the eagles at Brackendale - this year, we actually saw some...

The trees are still up and there are still strings of lights festooning houses down every street, but people’s thoughts have turned from Christmas to the coming year. And, of course, to the year that’s past.

It’s a funny thing about this emigration lark. We didn’t arrive in Canada on the first of January, but it’s hard to avoid thinking of this as the end of our second year.  End of the year is what it’s all about, after all.

One of the truths we’ve come to understand in this second year, is that it was both easier and harder than the first. The things that seemed so strange and difficult at first have become everyday. I know where to shop, I know how to get to a doctor, dental checkups are a snap. Mrs Dim and I both have jobs. We have friends, and as much of a social life as we can cope with. So much for the hard things. But this year we have felt some of the strain of being so far from family and old friends. Technology has been a big help, with Skype, email and FaceBook keeping us up to date with events and even helping us send real-time video greetings to my family on Christmas morning, but it’s not the same as the regular visits to and by friends. Or even the sporadic visits. Or those ‘Didn’t know we were coming, but found ourselves in the area” visits. The recent ructions over my working weekends and weasel wrangling showed us how much we missed the support of our families when it comes to getting a break from the weasels, or giving them a break from us.

A stranger relaxation comes from the acceptance that we’re here for the long haul. Mrs Dim was saying today that she’s not in such a tearing hurry to try all the winter sports on offer, or visit every corner of British Columbia RIGHT NOW, because she finally feels that there will be time for all of that. We’ve accepted, for example, that Middle Weasel really doesn’t want to give skiing a go again this winter. She got cold last year, she said, and she doesn’t want to do it again. That was a blow, because if she’s not skiing, then one of us has to not ski too. Brilliant grammar, Dim, try again. If she’s not skiing, then one of us has to stay with her, and the other has to ski with Eldest Weasel (who is competent) and Tiniest Weasel (who is a natural disaster on skis, hurtling down the slopes like a football in a helmet, but armed with two sharpened poles….). So, as you read this, I shall be off to the Mountain with Eldest Weasel only, taking my last ski of the year. Also, as it happens, my second ski of the year, but I’ll take what I can get.

We’re homeowners now, able to bore folks with our tales of renovation, and feeling a lot more Canadian because we have a piece of the land to call our own. In a year we’ve gone from being Newbies, renting and living off foreign earnings, to landed Canadians, paying tax and contributing to our community.

Back in March, celebrating our first anniversary of landing, I said we’d pretty much run out of firsts, but I think I spoke too soon. I’m finding, like a lot of people, that there are many, many firsts in a lifetime, and many more that you don’t regret having to do again and again. In the year to come we’re facing Eldest Weasel going up to High School, further employment ambitions and business expansions and the hope of a Christmas trip to the UK. Whether those things will be problems or challenges we’ll have to wait and see, but we’re ready for them either way.

Happy New Year, eh?

The house I grew up in…..

One of the places I've called home.

The weasels were a major reason for our emigration. We wanted them to have a home, and life with the RAF meant a lot of moving around. I worried about their childhood being little more than a series of half-forgotten friends and a collection of school photos where the uniforms changed year after year.

I moved around a little myself as a child. I was born ‘Oop North and managed seven years in Sunderland before we came south. That’s long enough to have an accent you could bend steel on, by the way, which is a tough thing to carry in a village school of only fifty kids, all of whom have grown up in the depths of Hampshire. We were only there a handful of years before we moved again, and then in my college years we moved within that town.

All this strolling down Sentiment Lane was prompted by listening to the excellent Amanda Palmer on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast . In the session (which contains the odd rude word, please don’t be offended) she prefaced a song called “House that I grew up in” with the story of her parents telling her the house that had been her childhood home was going to be sold. She said that travelling the world and having no real base had been fine because she’d always had this home in her mind, and now that was going. That made me wonder how the Weasels might feel about their nomadic life to date – have we deprived them of an important piece of childhood’s landscape : The Family home?

So that’s why I was examining my past. I’ve been ok with the many moves since marrying Mrs Dim, and part of that was the preparation of my own roaming past. I see how Middle Weasel struggled to cope with change during her first two moves and realised that allowing her to stay and put down roots at an early age might have exacerbated that problem – someday, for some reason, we would have had to move, and then the explosion might have been nuclear, instead of only…well, conventional doesn’t seem the right word.

Mrs Dim’s folks lived in the same house for thirty years. Almost until the time we moved to Canada we could go visit and she could show the kids the room that used to be her bedroom. She could describe the many changes to the house, including the extra rooms that were built on while they were living there. I envied her that history, but then I never suffered that feeling of loss when the house was sold.

As we have travelled around the UK, home has been the place where we keep our stuff, the place where the five of us are together. The apartment we stayed in on landing was as much home to us as the first rental house, as much as the RAF house in St Athan. For now, the New Wonkey House is shaping up to be a pretty good home, and I hope we’ll stay here for a long time. For one thing, it’s going to be years before I get round to sorting out my garage room.