Tuesday, December 20, 2011
On December 20th, 2006, so five years ago today, Susan and I arrived on Vancouver Island to start a new life. The previous eight months in Brighton had been, to say the least, pretty stressful. We had both been laid off - Susan on her first day back at work after a visit here in May, me in August. Then on October 29th, we lost our home to a massive fire in our building, started by our upstairs neighbour's son (who didn't even live there), falling asleep drunk with a cigarette. There's a lesson therein. By some miracle, due to the configuration of the Edwardian edifice and the fact that we lived in the basement suite, we didn't lose any belongings. But we did lose our home in an instant, because while fire goes up, water to extinguish it goes down, therefore putting our ceilings at risk of collapse. They looked heavily pregnant in the days following the fire, that's for sure.
The fire was in many ways an incredible experience. We were watching The Royle Family on TV one minute, then we were outside in the street watching the building go up, engulfed by 50' flames, the next. Firemen and assorted emergency attendees scurried about, doing what they needed to do, as we simply stood there, motionless, helplessly observing the surreal scene.
When over here that May we'd made the decision to put the wheels in motion towards moving to Vancouver Island as soon as it was feasible to do so. By the time the fire occurred it really did seem that the universe was intervening to expedite that process. So, after being nursed through the situation with the extraordinary support and love of many friends, we landed in Vancouver just six weeks after the fire, ready to start anew in our forties. It was a scary proposition, but seemed like our only option, and we came here with the express permission and sympathy of the Canadian High Commission.
Upon arrival we had just over $1,000 to our name (though no debt), a couple of suitcases we lived out of for two months, and our dear old cat, Eddie - who by the time he was released at Susan's parents' home for a much needed meal and piss, had spent 19 hours in his carrier. We'd packed our belongings up in Brighton and spent most of our UK savings to send them across the world by ship. As we could not stretch to paying for our stuff to be insured, we thought, considering our recent run of luck, that for one reason or another we'd never see them again. But we did, as everything arrived intact, smelling of smoke, in February 2007. Phew.
We had no idea when dropping into Nanaimo what might await us. We had somewhere to live temporarily, in Susan's parents' basement - bless them for eternity - but Susan had absolutely no clue what she was going to do for a living; I had even less, especially as I had to attain Permanent Resident status - a process that would take several months - before being allowed to work. As someone who likes to keep busy, have projects on the go and targets to aim for, it was frustrating. Susan found a job that quickly proved to be a nightmare, and my heart broke in two when one night she returned home and just sat in the car in the driveway, crying.
Fast forward to today, we have come a hell of a long way, and life is truly wonderful. Since May 2007, when my legal status was assured, I have been writing for a living, published at least once a month, every month, and also working at Nanaimo's nationally famous independent music (and much more) store, Fascinating Rhythm.
Susan took a complete career shift and is now four years into working as a Service Advisor at an automotive repair garage. She loves it, and has a very good, extremely kind boss. We don't earn a great deal between us, but manage to keep our heads above water, staying out of debt and maintaining a good standard of living.
In August 2007 we bought and moved into our own lovely condo, so getting straight onto the property ladder here, with the help of a loan from Susan's parents that we' ve already paid back. We've created a lovely nest and enjoy sharing it when socializing with...
... a diverse group of very cool friends who have welcomed us into life here with open arms and much kindness. Some of them have transplanted here themselves from various corners of the world since we arrived, so it has been a pleasure for us to extend the same kind of welcome as was afforded us. We feel blessed to have encountered those folks we have so far, and lovely new people are entering our lives all the time.
As the result of my work and also because we love to do it regardless, we've done a lot of local travelling around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, as well as frequently visiting Vancouver and Seattle, experiencing magnificent scenery, and wildlife, like the scene captured in the image above. That's the Comox Valley, about an hour from our front door. As this may hint, we truly do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, so despite our difficult passage here, we really feel like we've landed on our feet.
It hasn't all been paradisiacal, as just like anyone we have had to endure the stuff of life that wipes away smiles for a time. I've had my share of health problems, as has our veteran cat - he's certainly in his twilight months now - and we had the tremendous stress of a flood in our condo a couple of years back. All in all, though, we have a quiet and simple, but fun and adventurous life here, and if anything untoward comes our way, we will battle through it as we always have, and always will.
So, wow, five years! Yay us! Tonight we celebrate with pizza and champagne and tomorrow, likely with a hangover, we will start our sixth year on Vancouver Island, and look only forward.