My family and I have moved home. Nothing unusual there really – people move house all the time. The difference is that we’ve moved to the other side of the world! A big move from the leafy British suburbs to the even leafier Australian suburbs of New South Wales. A relocation that has taken months of planning, form-filling, packing and organisation, but a move that we have finally completed (well, almost).
So, here’s the start of the tale. And a quick summary of how we’ve slept in five different beds in the past 13 days…
Day 1: The Hertford Family Home
We start in Hertford, county town of Hertfordshire, dormitory town for London-based bankers and office workers and the place we’ve called home for nearly 10 years. I grew up around here, and after a few years in London, Hertford seemed like the ideal place to start a family. My daughter was born not far away within the white, antiseptic walls of the Lister Hospital, and we’ve made Hertford our home for the past nine years.
It wasn’t a huge house. A simple 90s-built, two-bedroom terrace house in a row of three, nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac with parking and a nice view of the woodlands beyond. It’s the only home my daughter has known and we were very settled there.
‘Why move then?’, you ask. A number of reasons. My partner is Australian and has lived in the UK for the past 15 years. But, lately, she’s been missing Australia more and more. A decade ago, the UK had a lot to offer, but things have gone downhill rapidly since the Conservative government got back into power and a certain referendum took place. The UK’s view of itself in the world seems to have shifted, harking back to bygone glories and a ridiculous view of everything as being ‘Great and British’. The economy is going down the pan, Brexit is adding to the woes and Europe looks on the verge of war, following the terrible conflict in Ukraine.
Leaving the UK wasn’t something I’d ever thought I’d do. But the time seemed right, the family were all eager to move and Australia seemed like a more optimistic, welcoming option.
So, we gave notice to the landlord (we were renting), applied for the relevant visa for me and started planning ‘the Big Move’, as it shall now be known.
Day 2: The Rural Cottage
The first issue we had was when to move out of the family home. We needed time to clear the house completely, get it clean and return the keys to the letting agent. So, it made sense to move out a week before we actually flew to Oz, find a temporary place to live and give ourselves time to get the old house looking sparkling and shipshape.
The plan was to move to a serviced apartment in Hertford, keeping us close to the shops and the town while we prepared for the flight. An apartment was duly booked and everything was sorted…until the company phoned to say ‘You can’t stay. There’s been an infestation of moths!’. Not the news we needed on the day before we were due to move out of our family home!
Several urgent phone calls later, and we’d secured somewhere to stay. A cottage in a development of barn conversions a few miles outside Herford in the Hertfordshire countryside. Not where we planned to stay, and a long way from the amenities but it got us out of a hole. We had a home for a week. We had a place to move our suitcases and a few possessions to. And, crucially, we had some beds to sleep in.
In retrospect, it was actually a blessing in disguise. It was a beautiful location, not far from a farm, with cosy cottages, a pond with ducks and pastoral views of the local countryside at dusk and dawn. Not a bad place to spend your last few days in the UK.
The beds themselves were in the eaves of the barn conversion, with very low ceilings (more than a few bumps on the head were had). But they were comfortable, clean and suited us perfectly from 2 April to 10 April.
Then, the day prior to our flight to Oz, we waved a tearful goodbye to my folks and my brother and stepped into the first vehicle of our journey – a large people-carrier airport taxi, that took us to the next bed near Heathrow Airport.
Day 10: The UK Airport Hotel
Our flight was on the morning of 11 April, so it made sense to stay in a hotel the night before and get to the airport in plenty of time. We had booked an apartment-style suite with a kitchen and all the facilities we needed and it looked pretty cool and funky on their website. The reality, though, was a little different…
We arrived at the airport hotel on the afternoon of 10 April and the immediate vibe didn’t bode well. A dark, moodily lit reception area with unnecessarily weird light fittings greeted us. There were guests already in heated discussions about some ongoing issue when we arrived, which is never a good sign. But we checked in after a short wait and got in the lift up to the room, lugging our three large suitcases, three carry-on bags and the food bag we needed for my daughter’s allergies. All fine so far.
That’s when we discovered the ‘kitchen’ had no oven. Not usually a problem, except we’d bought M&S pizzas with us to cook that night for dinner. It had seemed like the simplest and quickest meal to bring, but with no oven to use, we were stumped. Reception denied that any of their suites had ovens at all (despite their booking.com blurb very clearly stating that they did) and were not much help. But we did spot that the microwave was a combination microwave and grill. Great! We could try cooking the pizzas under the grill and could at least heat them up.
We read the instructions, we put the pizza in the microwave and we turned on the grill. That’s when the smoke started. I’m assuming that a previous guest had used the grill and splashed fat or oil onto it, but within seconds there was smoke coming out of the microwave and the beginnings of small yellow flames licking along the inside of the grill. Eek!! Hastily, we turned the grill off, opened the suite door and fanned the acrid, oily smoke out into the corridor. No pizza for us tonight, it seemed.
After a dinner of cold sausage rolls and crisps, we showered (nice bathroom, I’ll give them that) and retired to bed before the flight. My daughter had a pull-out bed which looked very comfortable, but the double bed was weirdly high. Like climbing the Eiger to get into bed. But we slept well and woke around 6am to head to the airport and the real start of the journey.
Day 12: The Darwin Airport Hotel
As you will probably have guessed, Heathrow Airport was a nightmare. Short-staffed and dealing with a surge in Easter holiday makers, getting through check-in and security was most definitely NOT a pleasant experience. The flight was fine and we were prepared for a long and tiring journey. You can now fly direct to Australia from the UK, and we’d originally booked to fly to Perth in Western Australia and then on to Sydney. For reasons never adequately explained, Qantus cancelled those flights, so we ended up flying to Darwn in the tropical Northern Territories instead. Not what we’d planned, but it actually worked out fine.
Darwin International Airport is far smaller than Heathrow and was (quite literally) a breath of fresh air once we got off the plane after 17 long hours in the air. The hotel we booked was 500 metres from the airport, so we walked out of the terminal into the warm fug of tropical heat with our suitcases on a trolley and a comfortable bed foremost in our minds. Obviously, we walked the wrong way and ended up in the car park, but we did, eventually, find the pedestrian path and made our way to the cool, air-conditioned reception of the hotel.
The room was another apartment suite, and seemed older and well-used. But it definitely felt more welcoming than the Heathrow hotel. And, much to my daughter’s delight, the hotel had a pool! After nearly a whole day on a stuffy plane, she was very excited to get in her swimmers and to splash about in the bath-warm water of the pool.
Suitably splashed out, we retired back to the room, fighting the jetlag and trying to stay awake. Some very tasty chicken schnitzels were ordered from room service (when in Oz, you’ve gotta go for a ‘schnitty’) and my partner even had the delight of finding a tiny caterpillar in her accompanying salad. Meeting the wildlife already.
By 8pm, we were all shattered, and bed was calling. The beds were clearly well-used, but felt comfortable, and I fell asleep reading to my daughter. We all woke up again just after midnight (damn this jetlag!) but managed to get back to sleep by 3ish and had another 4 hours’ sleep in preparation for flight two, from Darwin to Sydney.
Day 13: The NSW In-laws
We left the Darwin airport hotel just before midday (after a very quick second dip in the pool) and went through the usual rigmarole of check-in and security. I have to say, Aussie security checks definitely beat the UK kind – nicer customs staff, shorter queues and a more pleasant experience, although I don’t think I’d be saying that if I was flying out of Sydney this week.
The flight to Sydney was delayed for a while, but by 2.30pm, we were in the air and cruising over Australia at 35,000 feet, heading for a final destination in New South Wales. A few movies later and we were coasting down into the rainy Sydney night to touch down once again on terra firma. It was a wet night, for sure, with some very British drizzle falling as we arrived. But once we found my partner’s sister, we were into a car and heading out onto the highway and the country town of Bowral – our final destination, after three days of being on the move.
My partner’s family are not technically my in-laws (we’re not married) but they are in-laws in every sense other than the legal one. They have very kindly offered to put us up for the first few weeks of our new life in Bowral, and that’s something I’m eternally grateful for. We may be on the other side of the world, but we still have family close and people to welcome us – and that makes a huge difference after such a massive transitional move to a new country.
So, just after midnight, we fell into bed in our new temporary home-from-home, and slept the sleep of three very tired, emotional and jet-lagged people. I may have woken again at 4am (damn you, jetlag, once again!) but it feels good to wake up in the fifth and final bed of this journey.
Now all we have to do is start the search for our next family home…
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