Dear Friends

Letters home from Prince George.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Dear Friends 2

Written: Late February 2006
Published: March 31 2006

Dear Friends,

I suppose it’s possible that some of you may be thinking about what we’re doing, and wondering just how it is that one goes about disentangling life in one country and reassembling it in another. Let me assure you first of all that it’s probably a lot easier than you imagine – we’re moving to a country where we speak the language, we understand the customs, and we already know people. Therefore we don’t face any of the challenges faced by many families who undertake far bigger challenges, and often with much less notice.

At the same time, however, it’s fair to say that it’s a lot harder than you imagine, too. For me, there has been the prospect of walking away from the job I’ve done for more than 16 years. That job was our safety net – as long as I was working, we would be able to feed and clothe ourselves. Our roles will reverse, and I will no longer be the breadwinner; no longer the traditional ‘head of the household’, laughable as that stereotype may be to those who know me, I think there’s something primitive in there – something which makes me wonder if this really is a sensible move.

Actually telling my employer was hard – and finally leaving, walking out that door for the last time will be hard, too. And, yes, being at home with the boys, doing the school run, taking them to after-school activities, and all the million other things I will suddenly be doing; that will be hard, too, once the novelty has worn off. I’m certain I’ll miss the daily routines and the sense that I can shut myself off from domestic concerns for part of the day.

Selling the house has been hard, too. Not especially because of any deep emotional attachment to it, but because of the realities of selling a house in the south of England. As I write, the process seems secure, but nothing is signed yet, and everything could fall through at the last minute, and it wouldn’t be that unusual. Also moving the cats, which is becoming more and more expensive by the day – there has been a particular vet-related farce today, for example – and seems beset by obstacles which aren’t in the way of moving humans.

So, what would I advise? Firstly, there is no such thing as too much planning. We have known for nearly two years that we want to do this, and a significant amount of that time has been spent making plans of one kind or another – firstly for our holiday, which was our chance to come out and see for ourselves if this really would work, and since then for the eventual move. You have to set an objective, and you have to keep your eyes firmly fixed on it.

We set up a project plan, listing relevant milestones along the way, and setting ourselves tasks – often mundane, sometimes pivotal – which has helped to keep us focussed on what needs to be done. There are, even at this late stage, a number of things which remain uncompleted – I have to do something about moving my pension, for example, and we won’t even talk about where we are going to live when we get there.

Then everyone has to be on the same side. With the possible exception of the two cats, who really have no idea what is about to hit them, we have been working on this as a team. The boys were told as early in the process as we could, and they have been kept up to date with everything we are doing, and allowed to feel part of the process. They have, for instance, been doing ‘Canada projects’, colouring and activities which Zoë put together for them, and it has helped them get a good understanding of where they are going, and what life will be like.

And us? Well, we have to be committed as a couple to making this work. I think if one of us had doubts, it simply wouldn’t come off – there’s too much at stake for there to be any uncertainty. Sure, we’re both a little apprehensive about things – Zoë is going back into full-time work after years successfully self-employed, and that is daunting. But I return to that planning process again – we both know where we are going, and how we’re going to get there, and because we have regular ‘Canada time’ – originally Monday evenings, it has now expanded to be virtually every evening – we can see the pieces of the puzzle being put together.

Don’t underestimate the bureaucracy involved – paperwork upon paperwork, precise and maddening definitions of passport photo sizes, forms in triplicate, medicals, any number of seemingly unrelated questions. Don’t let it put you off, and make sure you leave enough time. Just filling in forms takes time, never mind the time it takes to send them back and forth, have them scrutinised and passed from department to department.

And get yourself a broadband connection. How people did things like this before it was possible to do it all online, I cannot imagine. I’m 43 years old, and at one stage in my life, I thought that the computer age was going to pass me by. Now, not only do I work in the field (but not for much longer!), I couldn’t live without the comforts and benefits. For instance, I’ve just been interrupted in my frenetic typing to be asked how we will register with a GP in Prince George. A couple of minutes searching, and there is the answer – I guess that 20 years ago, we’d have just turned up and trusted to getting everything done in situ.

Has this put you off, or has it inspired you further? I hope the latter, because the truth it, it is not an impossible dream we’re fulfilling, it’s a possible one, and it’s just about within our grasp now. If you’re still reading, my next missive will be about our impressions of Canada and Prince George from our holiday last year – it will be interesting to see how our impressions change when we see it all again.

Until next time….

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dear Friends 1

Written: February 2006
Published: March 29, 2006

Dear Friends,

I’m writing this in the departure lounge at Heathrow, en route to Milan, because the prospect of my imminent departure for Canada has not stopped my employer sending me abroad from time to time. To be fair, I more or less send myself abroad these days; my job changed dramatically in the last 18 months of its existence, and I’m more of a frequent flyer than I ever expected to be.

I’m proceeding on the assumption that you all already know that the frequent flying is shortly going to stop, and that we will be heading off to the Great White North (as I believe I’m supposed to call it) of Canada in – let me see – 7 weeks from now. If not, let take a moment to explain.

It’s not something done lightly, moving ourselves to the other side of the world, but it’s something which we have thought and dreamed about since we were first married, so it feels to us that we have been waiting for nearly 20 years for the right time, and it certainly now feels to us that we have reached that time. How, you may ask, does anyone decide to change everything in their lives? For me, it’s always been a question of being in a comfort zone – I think that once you get to a certain place, it is too easy just to stop trying; to settle for what you have, and I think that’s dangerous.

In my head, I am still about 17 years old – it comes as quite a shock to see a balding, overweight, middle-aged man looking back at me from the mirror - and I often approach situations as that 17-year-old would do. Therefore my first reaction to the idea that we might move to Prince George, a place which most people in Britain – I’d suggest many people in Canada – have never heard of, was to say “well, why not?” The journey from there to here has been longer than we anticipated, and probably just as complicated and difficult as you imagine it has been, but this close to seeing it come true, it feels right, which I’m taking as a good omen.

So why Prince George? Well, it’s not just a leap in the dark; we have friends who have lived there for many years, and who have always been enthusiastic about the lifestyle and the standard of living, and it was talking to them about that perennial Home Counties subject, house prices, which actually sparked the idea off as more than just a faint dream.

We could see quite clearly from that conversation that it would be perfectly possible for us to walk away from our heavily mortgaged lives and live more freely; to do things we’d always promised ourselves we would do. In particular, I was very clear that I was heading along a long road to retirement without any opportunity for remission, and that perhaps the chance to learn new things, to go back to doing drama, or playing music, or learning new things was already in the past. And I wasn’t particularly comfortable with that assessment.

It is too easy – way too easy – to become engrossed in one’s work; to see it as a raison d’etre, rather than a way to fund the kind of life you would actually like to live, and I know, because I’ve lived that life. I’ve worked 12 hour days; I’ve got into the position where I spend 2 hours each day just getting to and from the place where I work; the journey stretched to that length because it is only by living so far away that one can afford to be comfortable – if living with a mortgage which takes around half of one’s net earnings per month can really be said to be comfortable. If you look at it dispassionately, it’s madness. Yet it’s a madness which afflicts a good many of us, and we don’t really see how it works, let alone understand that there is another way.

I’m not advocating a return to living in caves, and hunting for food; we will live very well indeed, probably better than we do now, and we’ll still have to do all the mundane things as well, but we’ll do so knowing that we got out; we did what we wanted to do, and that when it is time to look back at it, we won’t have regrets for things untried.

And I know it’s not a bed of roses, either. This will be hard – it already has been. We’re going to be living a long way from all our families, all our friends, and all the things we know. We’ll go through periods of wondering what on earth we’re doing, and periods when we are sure we’ve made a big mistake. But the fact that we know that now is surely going to help us get to where we want to be. And right now, that’s a city in the middle of British Columbia where they have proper winters. And bears.

So, with you permission, I’d like to keep you up to date with our progress as we go with these messages. They will, I hope, chart our adventures and our reactions to living in a new place; give you a feel for where we are and perhaps begin to explain how we got here, and how we are making it all work. Because the truth is, we will make it work. We have too much invested in this – our hopes and dreams as well as our bricks and mortar – to let it slip now. Before we go, I’ll try to bring you up to date with what we have been doing to make it happen; then, with any luck it will be ‘home thoughts from abroad’ for as long as it takes to become ‘abroad thoughts from home’.

Wish us luck, won’t you?