Thursday, May 27, 2010

Girl from Yorkshire

I was raised in a small village in Yorkshire, England. The main reason my upbringing was different to most was that my mother had had Multiple Sclerosis ever since I could remember. At first this didn't affect me too much, other than mum using a wheelchair when we went out, but as time went on, she depended on my brother and I more and more. Not many 10 year olds can say they can cook a full Sunday roast dinner from scratch hey - interesting note that I can't anymore... go figure!

As a girl, I tended to be asked to help my mum more than my brother. I remember having to come in early from playing to help my mum take a bath or help her to bed. As her condition worsened, we had to help her use the toilet as well. I still had a brilliant childhood - back in those days we could roam the streets and the village 'til the cows came home (literally - it was that kind of village!), playing with friends and so on. Yet there was an underlying responsibility to my mum, and one I didn't often begrudge.

Maybe it was this responsibility, but I didn't get into too much trouble as a youngster. I think I was pretty level headed. Does my dad know about the time my best friend and I stole as much booze from our parents liquor cabinets as possible, mixed it together, drank the lot and ended up at the local car auctions trying to bid on cars. Aged 13? Probably. I learned as an adult there wasn't much my dad missed, whether he let it pass was another story. Of course, I had my fair share of scrapes and arguments with my family, especially when it became somewhat extended at the age of around 12 or 13. My mum and dad had split up and my dad later went on to marry my step-mum, Brenda. Adjusting to a new family was tough on a young teenager, trying to amalgamate two very different (it seemed at the time) sets of rules and become one family was certainly a learning process for all. I remember being very disgruntled that I was expected (so it seemed to me) to do more chores around the house than my step-sister was and she was only a couple of years younger than me. It had the added oddity that my mum, unable to live alone because of her disability, lived with us as well. Although mum and dad were divorced, he looked out for her for the rest of her life. Anyway, we moved into a new house - dad, Brenda, my step-sister Tara and I and my mum lived in a little annex on the side. Other people have commented on how strange it must have been living with my dad, mum and step mum but really it kinda worked!

At 18 I moved away to Leeds to attend University. The best days of our lives they say, and they have a point. I had a blast. Not because of the studying mind, though I did come out with a Bachelors Degree in French and Linguistics. At the Fresher Fair, I discovered a group of people that would steer the next 4 years of my life and take me on adventures from Glasgow, Dublin and Paris and many places in between. This groups was RAG. A group of students who marauded around the country raising money for worthy causes. I became heavily involved even taking a place on the Committee (organizing collecting trips). In the name of charity I stood on street corners with my collecting bucket pretty much every Saturday of the year. In the name of charity I, wearing a ball gown, delivered roses to unsuspecting students in lectures. In the name of charity I dyed my hair bright pink (and many other colours). And in the name of charity I hitch hiked from Leeds to Paris. The friends I made during this time were from all over the country and are still the best friends I have.

After Uni I moved down to a town just outside London with my boyfriend (OK fiancé - not that that lasted long) at the time. Sadly I soon found out that this chap was happy to spend the foreseeable future living at his parents house and sitting around drinking tea. I needed more so I moved into my own flat in the summer of 1999. I got my first proper job as an Administrator at a college and things were going OK until I realized that every month my overdraft got that little bit bigger. I couldn't afford to live on my own so in January 2000 I made a life changing decision. I moved out of my flat and into a house share. This may not sound like an earth shattering decision but it was in that little house in Croydon that I met the man I would go on to marry, emigrate with and have a gorgeous little boy with.

I met Robert Phillips in that little house. At first he thought I was a prim and proper goody two-shoes and I thought he was a lazy sod who wouldn't help me move my stuff in. Well, we were both wrong and it turned out to be a lot of fun living there. We often went to our local pub to play the quiz machines and once, after the pub closed, randomly took a drive to the seaside! He took a couple of months to get the message but by April 2000 we were an item. Rob works for HMV and in the course of his career climb, we ended up moving all around the country. In the ten years we have been together we have lived in 10 different houses! It also means our music collections are vastly different in that he has some musical taste - and I don't claim to have any!

In the summer of 2002, Rob and I booked a vacation to Canada to stay with our good friends who had emigrated out there a few years earlier. We arrived in Calgary to hot sunshine and we immediately in love with the place. Over the course of the first few days Rob went up in a glider, we had many BBQs and really enjoyed meeting some Canadian people. After a couple of days settling in Barry, Rob and myself drove 3 hours south to the US border to camp in a beautiful park called Waterton. We pitched our tent in a quiet spot outside the townsite and had an enjoyable evening in town. That night Barry and I both woke up needing to pee but couldn't go outside the tent because Barry was convinced there was a bear out there.

This is relevant because the next morning, there was a knock on the tent and the police were outside. My first thought was that the bear had killed someone. But in actual fact, the police were after me! I had to drive into the townsite and call my dad. As soon as I heard that I knew something bad had happened. I quickly got dressed and got into the police car (funny note - I got into the back, the policeman said I could have sat in the front, I wasn't under arrest!) During that journey I convinced myself that my dad's mum has died. As the eldest of my living grandparents, it seemed the obvious reason. So when I finally spoke to my dad (who had been trying for 2 days to track me down) and he said "mum's died" I still thought it was my grandma. We packed up the tent and drove back to Barry's house. When we got there I spoke to my dad again and was asking him if my aunts and uncles from the US would be flying in. He must have been confused for a moment and they the penny dropped and he had to explain to me that it wasn't my grandma who had passed away, it was my mum. Mum was only 52 but the MS beat her in the end. It was a real shock and surprise though and entirely unexpected (though trying to explain that to the travel insurance company was interesting). I was in total shock and remember the others sitting around staring at me. I think I held it together OK and insisted that, since we couldn't get a flight back til the evening, we continued our day and went golfing. We were only in Canada for 3 days! I don't remember too much about the flight home - I do remember Rob giving me his pillow and blanket and letting me eat his meal when I decided I was hungry. I held it together until we got back to Heathrow and laden with luggage and golf clubs, tried to get a cab. The driver refused to take us because we would have had to stop at an ATM. I don't know if he thought we were going to jump out of the cab with 2 suitcases and a set of golf clubs and run away or what but at that point I lost it and started screaming and swearing at him and the unfortunate police officer who stopped to intervene. I then ran off into the terminal. Poor Rob must not have known what to do - stay with the luggage or come after me! It was very hard losing my mum when I was just 25, but there was definitely the blessing that she was no longer suffering with this horrible debilitating disease.

In the Summer of 2003 we went back to Canada and loved it just as much, the idea of moving there had been planted. We continued to move around with Rob's job moving out of London to Slough, Ipwsich, Milton Keynes and in 2004 we were lucky to get to move to the tiny Channel Island of Jersey. It is a beautiful island, only 9 miles by 5 miles, and the first year we really enjoyed island life. The winters were definitely tough with not much to do and by the second year we were both suffering from cabin fever.... the mainland beckoned. And so did Canada still. In August 2005 we submitted our application for permanent residency. We knew it would be a long time coming so we put it to the back of our minds. In 2006 Rob was transferred to Bournemouth. We settled there and took our first (oh the benefits of hindsight) venture into the property market. We bought a lovely 2 bedroom flat about 20 minutes from the sea, I got a job working for an Estate Agents (realtor) specializing in the high end of the market and often got to nose around houses costing up to 10 million pounds. Life was pretty good.

November 2007 was a milestone month. As well as our application for PR, Rob had constantly been in communication with HMV in Canada and in that month, he started having discussions on a possible move. The other key event, and not a happy one, was the sudden death of my grandma (mum's mum) from a heart attack. My granddad had been deteriorating for years following the death of my mum and I think everyone had expected him to go first. I had visited them two weeks before and Grandma had confided in us that she was finding caring for my frail granddad harder and harder. Grandma and granddad had made a pact when they were younger that they would never let the other be put in a nursing home. I sometimes wonder if Grandma's sudden passing was in some way her way of not having to make that inevitable decision. Being present while we broke the news to granddad that she had gone is definitely one of the worst moments of my life. You could literally see the lights go out from his eyes and he visibly sagged. We all thought he would follow her but granddad ended up hanging on, though to a questionable quality of life, for another year. My granddad was definitely one of the biggest heroes of my life. A man from another generation with a level of morals not often seen today. He was a real gentlemen. And to this day if I catch myself saying "me and Steven..." I can hear him correcting me from the heavens...." Steven and I". One of the two biggest heroes of my life - my granddad - now guides me from heaven (egged on by my grandma and mum of course). The other, my dad, still guides me from this Earth and I am honoured and proud to have had both men in my life.

Anyhoo, to back track a while. Rob and I moved to Canada in January 2008 on a work permit with HMV. Although I was devastated at leaving my family behind, especially an ailing granddad, it really has been a great move for us. And a great place to bring up a family. As if to prove that there is not much to d when it is -40C and 2 foot of snow, I became pregnant in February 2008. Much as I loved being pregnant, it didn't love me so much as I turned out to be allergic to my own son. In the latter part of pregnancy I developed PUPPPs rash, an excruciating rash pretty much all over my body. I ended up having to be induced a week early because of this but it turned out Mikey didn't want to come out just yet so after being induced on the Wednesday morning, finally at 3am on Saturday 8 November, Michael Ayrton Phillips arrived into this world by emergency C-section. As much as I wanted it, parenthood blows your head off in a way that you think you'll understand but until you are there - you never will. The sleep deprivation, the worry, the responsibility, the strain on your relationships. But it is all worth it to have this (mostly) happy, gorgeous little boy in our lives. I could write as many words as I already have about my little guy - how he makes me laugh, how he stresses me out, but I think that is a whole other story!

There's not much more to tell. In November 2009 we made a run to the border and officially became residents of Canada. We bought our first house here a few months later. We finally managed to sell the flat in the UK after our tenants stopped paying rent, turned it into a drug den and eventually trashed it. We try not to think about the money we lost on it, it was definitely the biggest mistake we have ever made, but you have to look at the positives. We have our house here and there are many people in the UK who have lost a lot more than we did. Now we can focus on the fact that we can now move forwards with life in Canada without any worrying financial obligations in the UK. We are starting to decorate our house here and make into a real home. We have already had several of those "is this really real" moments when we are out in our large back yard kicking a ball with Mikey or watching him go down his slide or sitting out on our deck looking at our view of the Rocky Mountains. Yes it is real. It is our life. And it is good!

this is really real


Sarah said...

The stories continue to inspire every week! I'm so glad that this writer has had a happy ending of her own!

Teffanie said...

Thanks Sarah! I agree.