Monday, 16 September 2013

Oh sh*t, I'm a recruiter!


Hi Colin,
I hope you don’t mind, Marcus James gave me your details and suggested I contact you. I’m a friend of his from London and he said you’d be a good person to show me around Sydney.
If you’re up for it, I’m living in Potts Point and am more than happy to shout you a few beers in return.

Looking forward to hearing from you,


Hi Matt,
Nice to meet you.
Marcus eh? How is the little tart? Sure, hit me up and I'll show you around. I'm in Potts Point too, down near the bottom of Macleay Street.
Give me a call on 0400 123 124.
ps: what are you up to Friday night?

"Oh my god this view is amazing!"
"Isn't it? We're really lucky, the owner lives overseas and has no idea how much he could be charging us." Colin handed me a large glass filled with ice and alcohol and took a seat on the couch on the other side of the room.
"I mean you can see everything, the Opera house, the bridge, the gardens... It's beautiful.” I slowly savoured a mouthful of the cold vodka, barely tempered with fresh lemonade, “How long have you been here?"
"Three years I think... Hannah joined me about six months later. She's out with her boyfriend tonight, but you'll meet her soon no doubt. We're catching up with her brother Aaron later.” He grinned cheekily noticing my tentative sips, “How's your vodka, not too strong?"
"No, just fine thanks." I sat down on the opposite end of the couch and faced my host.
Colin was 5'7", stocky, shaven headed and impeccably dressed, in clothes that were obviously labels if you knew what you were looking for, but otherwise generated the air of his having thrown things on that just happened to work well together; a mixture of faded denim jeans suitably worn and frayed, a crisp white and blue shirt rolled up at the sleeves, all accessorised with matching belt, wallet with chain hooked into a belt loop and tiny ankle length socks which despite their being hidden by his footwear, still matched the colour of his belt and the pattern on his shirt perfectly. With small hands, a baby face and the largest brightest, pale blue eyes Colin looked fresh and innocent and totally disarming. Luckily for me, he was also a genuine, friendly person.
"So how's the job hunting going?"
I swallowed the vodka I’d been rolling around my mouth, "Pretty good. Actually, really good. I met with this recruiter on Monday at Hudson who recommended I get into recruitment, preferably within Retail or HR as that's where my experience lies," I set my glass down on the coaster at my feet, "...anyway he gets back to his desk to find a friend of his who heads up one of the recruitment teams, has just sent out a message asking if anyone has seen candidates suitable for Retail recruitment roles! He sends a message back all about me; I get a call within two hours of leaving the interview. Wednesday, I had my first interviews with the manager and then some of the guys I'd be working with  and I have to go back to meet the head of the division and some specialist or something on Tuesday of next week. If all goes well I'll do my psych test the following day"
Colin raised his glass, "Wow, that's fast. Looks like we have something to celebrate tonight."
"Well let's not get too carried away," I smiled, "but yeah, it is pretty hopeful."
"Hudson? I know someone who works at Hudson. Well, I say I know her, but she's really a friend of friends of mine, Damian and Justine. I could have sworn she works in the Retail section."
I sat up, "What's her name?"
"Kate. Kate Lascelles. You'd know her if you met her, stunning, great fun, couldn't miss her."
"No way! She was one of the team members I interviewed with on Wednesday!"
"That is a small world, maybe I should get Damian to give her a call, find out what your chances are..."
"No can do, she's gone overseas to London for a month, left yesterday I think. Anyway, I think it went well. I can't believe you know her, talk about coincidences, you living round the corner from me, knowing Kate and Marcus, although that's less odd really as that's who introduced us," I laughed.
Colin grinned at my continued rambling, "Remind me to tell you the story of how Marcus and I met, that'll keep you laughing," He raised his glass again, "Well here's to your new job," and downed the rest of his drink. Standing and stretching out a hand, he reached to pull me up out of the all-encompassing sofa "Come on, time to get you out into Sydney and show you what Fridays are all about." He walked around the room grabbing keys, slipped his feet into immaculately clean trainers, added my now empty glass to his own in the kitchen sink and turned all but the hall lights off. I joined him at the door. "I have a feeling you're gonna like it here, Mr. Ashby and I think Sydney might like you too," He raised an eyebrow and looked me over while pulling the door behind him, "I think we're gonna have a lot of fun."

“Matt! Welcome to Hudson.” My new boss strode into reception, grasping my hand with both of his and pumping it furiously. “Let’s get you upstairs and introduced to everyone”. I followed John, out of reception, through the shards of light being projected onto a large glass panel and back into the brightly lit, marble floored, sterile lobby.  
“We’re up on the twentieth floor. We take up five different floors here, non-exec are on the one above reception, Talent Management and Sales are the next up on sixteen, then there’s a gap of a few floors and exec are on nineteen and twenty.” Laughing at me obviously trying to remember these first facts, John smiled, “Don’t worry, We’ll drop off your bag and get you settled, then later after lunch I’ll give you the grand tour”
The lift arrived, mirrored doors opening to reveal a dimly lit, similarly mirrored interior, dark carpet and dull finished metal giving the impression of a warm, safe cocoon.
I leant against the wall, let out a breath and watched as John punched the button for our floor. His shirt was coming untucked at the back and he must have caught sight of it in the mirror as he quickly turned to face me, stuffing it back into his trousers as he blushed and asked, “Nervous?”
“Not as such, more unsure what I’ll find to be honest”, I fibbed, stomach tightening as the mention of nerves. Coming to a rest, the lift doors opened, bright light making me squint and I followed John out again and into a new lobby, the wall opposite reflecting the three lifts on our side and at either end, large glass doors out into the large open plan offices. John swiped his pass and opened the door and the noise of the floor bounded out, pushing me back a step.
John again registered the look crossing my face, “Did you not get a chance to come up here in the group interview?”
“Not so much.”
“Didn’t realise it was open-plan?” Registering the anxious frown on my face, he smiled, “Well not to worry, you’ll get used to it.”
Stepping through the doors, he held one open with one hand while directing me through with the other. Steeling myself I took my first step into recruitment.

The first thing to hit me was the noise. I walked in to see a large sprawling mass of desks, people standing up making calls, shouting, laughter, names being called out across the floor, TVs blaring news reports, stocks and shares out across the office, phones ringing, printers spewing out reams of marketing material and all set against an expanse of glass and the glorious, bright view of Sydney harbour from the 20th floor.
We turned into the room and headed for the far corner, John a good two strides ahead of me as I took it all in. Suddenly one of the guys backs his chair into my path, slamming his phone down in the same move, spins around in his seat, leaps up, punching the air, and takes off for the other side of the room over to a board where he grabs a bright red marker. He writes something illegible on a board along with a clearly written amount of $10,000, rings the dirty bronze bell hanging next to the board and begins a slow swagger back to his desk. The whole thing takes 10 seconds and he makes his slow stroll to a raucous round of applause.
“Way to go Moylan!”, one of his colleagues stands to pat his back as he passes.
“Nice one Lancey” the girl sat next to him says as he resumes his seat.
“Looks like beers are on me tonight, darl”, he drawls back, lounging in his chair and slowly spinning around again to face his desk.
John waited for me to catch up, “Accounting.” He nodded back at them, “Don’t worry, we’re not quite as brash as all that.” We turned a corner and the noise died away. “Welcome to Sales and Marketing”
John steered me to a bank of desks, six desks arranged as if facing into a figure of eight, three at the top, three at the bottom, making the most of the limited space they occupied. John points, “Rachel and Jenny you know from your interviews…” both on the phone, Jenny, small with long straight dark hair, brushed her fringe out of her eyes and mouthed hello while stabbing a figure at the headset she wore to indicate the call she was making.  She picked up a mug twice the size of her hands, blew into it, sipped and returned to her conversation “Oh I know, it’s a really hard decision to make, but Oroton are so going places, their expansion plans are just crazy, and to have been part of that, on your resume alone…”
Rachel didn’t look up from her screen. Her brow furrowed, she tapped her monitor “No we distinctly have an agreement in place for 23% at that level. You’ll just have to go back to the client and let them know you’ve made a mistake…” She ran a hand over her slicked back hair, patting the non-existent strands breaking form, her other hand coming to rest at the heavy silver choker around her neck, “There’s no point in us having an agreement in place if we’re not going to stick to it…” Her tone was formidable. I wouldn’t have wanted to cross her and I knew there and then that I’d be doing exactly as she said.
John pulled the chair facing Rachel out from its desk.
He whispered so as not to disturb Rachel’s concentration, “…we’ll leave them both to it for now. This is Kate’s desk. She’s in Europe for a month at the moment as you’ll remember, so we’ll just sit you here until we get something permanent sorted.”
I sat down, my feet kicking into a pile of something slightly resistant but at the same time heavy, pointy and sharp. I dropped my head down to see a sizable mountain of shoes under the desk, several pairs of heels, each dangerously high and fabulously expensive looking, two pairs of knee high boots, one brown, one black and an incongruous pair of smelly and worn trainers. I surreptitiously tried to nudge as many of them to the back of the desk as possible with limited success.
“Your log-ins are in front of you, … err, why don’t I let you get settled, y’know…” he raised his fingers in quotation marks “…logged in, then you can have a read of that,” he pointed uncertainly at the large bound book in front of me, “… your starter kit and err, we’ve got a meeting in an hour to go through day one and your targets an’ that…”
I’m plonked down in the chair, bag at my feet, surrounded by a sea of shoes and feeling less than confident. He beamed a smile reflecting my anxiety right back at me. “Right”
His smile faded by the barest breath, “So, yeah, err, you make yourself comfortable and I’ll be back over soon…”
He turned, nervously straightened his already perfectly knotted tie, pulled at the collar to make some more room and strode the three paces to the other end of the pod, sitting at the desk furthest away from me and hiding behind his monitor.

Rachel leant around the side of her monitor, face expressionless “Don’t worry kid; you’re with me for lunch.”

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

But would I do it for a visa?

‘Friends’ was what Tom wanted and true to his word, a friend is what I got.
Tom made sure that for the next week I was entertained morning, noon and night. Whether it was shopping for further items for the apartment, hanging out watching movies at his place, introducing me to his friends or boozing the night away on Oxford Street, Tom barely left my side all week except to sleep.
After ten days Tom called into work and took the following week off as well.
Further beer fuelled nights ensued becoming an endless round of VB and hangovers. By the end of the second week, my finances were looking tight. I’d not actually saved that much money to come out to Sydney, figuring I’d get a job after the first couple of months, but I hadn't accounted for a months rent and deposit on an apartment, let alone kitting one out. Coupled with seventeen nights drinking, it meant I needed to remedy the situation soon.
Sending Tom back off to work, it was time for me to hit some recruitment agencies in the pursuit of an income.

Sydney has more recruiters per capita than anywhere in the world. This can be both a blessing and a curse for all involved.
The simplest place to start was with the recruitment sites themselves, Seek and Monster; I found out who recruited in the HR space and then hit the phone. Within a morning I had eight different interviews lined up.

Michael Page’s offices were located in a domineering tower block encased in black glass and overlooking the Harbour. The large round facade cleft the sky in two, casting its shadow across George Street and into the face of the building opposite. The sun was streaming down through a cold, clear blue, autumn sky, bouncing of the cold white concrete pavements, challenged only by the dark column in front of me, blocking out the warmth of the light this oppressive, dark, corporate beast.

Admittedly the view from the windows of the 24th floor told quite a different story, 360 views of the harbour, bright sun filled rooms, glass panels and light wood everywhere denying the confines of the offices themselves; to be part of the inner workings of the machine had its privileges.

‘Michael’ met me at the front desk.
“Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me; I was really excited when I saw your resume,” Michael gripped my hand tightly and pumped my arm up and down.
“Oh, err thanks,” I stumbled, slightly taken aback by the enthusiasm and the vigour of his handshake.
“Let’s go through to my office, can I get you a coffee?”
“No thanks, I had one not too long ago.”
“No worries. Please,” he gestured to one of the small wooden chairs around the large round table, “take a seat.”
Taking off the jacket of his navy pinstripe suit, flashing the pillar-box red lining before throwing it onto one of the spare chairs, Michael straightened his red checked tie and sat opposite me.
“I’m sorry; I forgot to make a copy of your resume. Do you have a spare with you?”
“Of course,” I reached into my portfolio and drew out two sheets of paper, stapled at their corners: The summation of my entire career history.
“Right first off, this is a UK resume, the two pages thing. We want a lot more detail in Australia, achievements, reasons for leaving and such, I guess we have more time to read a resume than people in London,” He relaxed into his seat, and stifled a yawn, “but we can just find out those details here and you can update it and get a more detailed version to me later on.”
We talked about my history, the roles I’d had, achievements and successes and what I was ultimately looking for.”
“Ideally, I’m looking to be sponsored to stay here. I’m happy to stay in HR, but realistically I’ll consider anything you think I’m suitable for.”
“Of course,” Michael nodded knowledgeably, stroking his chin as if deep in thought, “Well I have several roles on at the moment I think you’d be more than suitable for. I’ll go back to my desk and go through the details and get back to you to discuss what we’ll put you forward for. In the mean time if you can get your resume updated and back to me as soon as poss, we can get the ball rolling.”
“Great, I can get that done this afternoon. So when can I expect to hear back from you?”
“Sometime in the next couple of days,” he shrugged, “you don’t need to worry.” He stood up offering his hand again, “Well, again thank you for your time and I’ll be in touch.”

My appointments grew from eight to fifteen and each one ended with the phrase ‘I’ll be in touch’. I soon learnt that the statement really wasn’t complete without the final words ‘when hell freezes over’. No matter how many messages I left for the numerous ‘Michaels’ I heard nothing back.

“Good morning, can I speak to Matt please?” a cheerful Scottish voice asked, way too chirpy at 9:00am for my liking.
“Speaking,” I grunted, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and pulling the cord of my newly purchased phone to extend it over the mountain that was my doona clad bed.
“Matt, my name’s Angus McNeil and I’m calling from Hudson. You sent your resume in for us to consider for an HR position.”
“Oh right,” though still sleepy, the lack of enthusiasm in my voice was more the deep mistrust of recruiters I’d built in the previous three weeks than the looming hangover from the previous night’s carousing with Tom.
“Is now a bad time?”
“No, no,” I slumped back down onto the pillows, waving an arm expansively, “Please go on; I’m totally free to talk.”
“I wandered if you had some free time to meet with me this afternoon, I might be able to help you.”

Hudson’s offices were a stone’s throw from Martin Place - the location for the Red Woman scene from the Matrix. The lobby of the building was cool and quiet, and rose up to a large café bordering the lift wells. A low hum of conversation hung in the high ceilinged room, people in hushed tones discussing business items, broken occasionally by a burst of laughter from the group of girls in the corner who along with their effervescence, stood out from the monochromatic uniform of the suits with their orange, yellow and purple t- shirts.

I made my way up to the lifts and took a ride up to the fourteenth floor.
“Good morning, how can I help you?” the receptionist’s grin matched her bright neck scarf, bold and confident.
“I’m here to see Angus McNeil.”
“Oh lovely, you’ll like Angus, I’ll just buzz him." She punched in a couple of numbers and announced my arrival in to her headset before turning back to me. "You just take a seat and he’ll be right down.”
I moved over to the wall of seating opposite a large pane of glass showing CNN, looking around to see where it was projecting from.
“Just above your shoulder,” the receptionist pointed, “it gets people every time.” She got up from the reception desk carrying a clipboard and walked towards me, “Angus asked me to get you to fill this out while you wait. He won’t be long.”
I filled out a form with my referee details as well as a form authorising Hudson to represent me and looked up just as a tall, slim, well groomed man walked over to me.
“Angus, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise, come on through.” He took the clipboard from me, “I’ll get rid of these for you. Suzanne can you hold onto these for me, you know I’ll lose them again otherwise,” He grinned, handing the forms and clipboard back to the receptionist before ushering me into an interview room.
Angus gestured to a seat on the opposite side of the round table and made chit chat about the weather and my arrival in Sydney while pouring us both glasses of water.
“So look Matt, I wanted to get you in today, because… well your resume intrigued me because your background’s very similar to my own, retail, HR and such. I wondered what it is you’re looking for here in Sydney.”
I sighed; I could already sense this was going to be a waste of time.
“To be honest Angus, I’m not sure that what I’m looking for is actually out there. Everyone keeps telling me to use recruiters; that people rarely hire directly here, but I never hear anything back from them…”
“It’s a nightmare isn't it?” He nodded, “Let’s start at the beginning: what brought you here?”
“Well I guess I came out here thinking I’d find a job, get sponsored and stay. You've seen my resume; I figured HR would be in demand here like it is back home.”
“Six months ago yes, but right now, we’re in a bit of a candidate rich market. Whilst there are jobs out there, people aren't sponsoring for them. They can get Aussies to fill the roles instead.”
“So I guess I am wasting my time,” I shrugged, “I just wish the other fifteen bloody recruiters had told me this.” I sighed and slumped in my chair, “I’m sorry, it’s just been a very frustrating few weeks.”
“I totally understand,” Angus soothed. “When I came here, I was looking for the same thing. As I said before, it’s why I called you in. I’d worked in retail for ten years and then came out here looking for an HR role only to find there weren't any. That’s how I got into recruitment. So let me ask you this, is it just about staying in Sydney, or are you set on an HR role?”
“Well right now, it’s Sydney. I’d love to stay in HR, but if it’s not going to happen I can be flexible.”
“OK. In that case, have a serious think about recruitment. It would utilise a lot of your skills, the money’s pretty good and it will enable you to stay. Talk to your friends about it, you have got people here I take it?”
“A couple.”
“Good. Ask around. Take a look on-line, do some research into the companies you've met with. Those that you like reach back out to and see what they have to offer. We’re always able to sponsor for recruiters and frankly Matt, your background is perfect, HR, Sales, you've got it all there.”
“Really? It’s not something I’d considered…”
“It often isn't, but honestly it’s not that much of a leap.”
Angus closed his portfolio, “Here’s my card, if you need any more info or you want to discuss potential companies, feel free to call me. Of course if I see anything in HR I’ll call you, but I wanted to be honest and set some real expectations rather than just get your hopes up.” He pushed his chair back and stood up.

“Thank you.” I stood and shook his hand, “Really Angus, thank you. You don’t know how refreshing this has been.”

Friday, 23 August 2013

Down with a crash more like...

We walked up the stairs leading up the side of another twenty foot high grass verge and into the Botanic Gardens. On the other side of a small road was a large gated fence marking the start of the gardens proper. We dodged a pack of cyclists and headed down the steps leading in. Immediately the greenery took on that of a jungle. While the grass and paths were well manicured and swept clean, the beds were packed with dense foliage, trees soaring into the sky, vines winding their way back down to the ground, caressing the wide trunks as they circled round their bases. Squirrels darted from tree to tree, adding an oddly clashing sense of an English garden to the proceedings. We followed a sign to the Bat colony and walked out into a junction in the road, forking in three different directions. Above us the breeze whispered through the palms and caused an occasional squeak from the colony above our heads. Looking up, I could see how many there were, hundreds and hundreds of little furry bundles. Occasionally one would toss in its sleep, stretch its wings to their full extent and settle down again, ensuring that their audience got an understanding of exactly how ‘not very little’ they actually were.
“I remember this place; this is where u brought me on my last night.”
“Thought you might recognise it. This time in the daylight though.”
I yawned. “Come on no stopping,” Tom ordered. We need to keep you moving before a food coma moves in and knocks you out for the rest of the day.”
We walked up through the western side of the gardens, back towards the far edge of the Domain, a large open park area used for concerts and festivals, down Bent Street and into the city itself. Giant trees were replaced with giant office blocks, soaring constructions of glass and steel, the sun finding chinks between them to glint and sparkle and dazzle as I looked up into the reflective windows.
On the corner of George Street we found a Commonwealth bank and getting an account was as simple as handing over my Passport and my letting agreement. Twenty minutes later and we were back on the pavement.
“Right, if I remember rightly the Tax Office is over on Market Street, so we need to walk this way.”
Tom and I continued walking through the city, through the bustling, suited business people in the CBD and into the pedestrianised zones of Pitt Street mall.
“That fountain back there, very familiar. But I don’t think I came down here last time.”
“You’ve seen the Matrix?”
“Of course”
“That’s Martin Place, they used it for a lot of the city scenes in the first one. You remember the scene with the woman in the red dress?” I nodded, “right there.”
“Cool! So that must make Sydney the model city of the future then.”
“Oh I don’t know I’d go that far,” he mused, “OK, we take a left here and it’s just on our right I think.”
He was right.
Once again I was amazed by the simplicity of it all. Ten minutes after walking through the door, I’d been given the correct form and handed it in to be given a copy with confirmation that I’d applied, thus enabling me to register for work as I wished while waiting for the official document and my Tax File Number to arrive in the post. I remembered the process that non-residents went through before they’d been able to work for Sainsbury’s and getting the bank account alone was nearly impossible.

All in all, we’d been out of the apartment this second time for three hours and I was dying.
“Let’s get you home, you look fit to drop.” Tom flagged a cab and once again we headed back to Potts Point.

Once back indoors, Tom and I collapsed onto the small green sofa. I looked out of the window through the buildings opposite at the green-blue waters of the harbour. Boats would flit in and out of the view as if leaping from one apartment building to the next; small sailboats, tour boats and the occasional small green ferry making it’s way over to Darling Point on the other side of Elizabeth Bay. I could see large trees blowing in the wind across the other side and people walking dogs and jogging in the park. Leaves were being swept up, the sun was setting behind us into what must have been a greying sky and it looked like it might rain.
I got up to slide the window open, I wanted to see if I could hear the water and a cacophony of people, cars and music rose up to meet me.
“It’s the cafés on the street down there,” Tom said.
“At this time?” I turned to see Tom had stood too and was reaching for his coat.
“That’s when they come alive. You’re in a pretty vibrant area.”
“You off?”
“Yeah, it’s getting late, you should sleep. I’m off tomorrow, I took next week off too, I wanted to make sure you get settled and aren’t too lonely y’know?” He beamed another of those amazing smiles.
I moved closer to him, “I can’t thank you enough; you’ve been so amazing sorting this out for me, the apartment, and showing me around today and everything…” I put a hand on his chest, the other resting on his shoulder.
Tom took a step back. “I don’t know how to say this, but…” he sighed and steeled himself to speak, “I don’t think I want anything else, y’know the boyfriend thing, I don’t think I’m ready for that right now. I think... He stopped, sighed and then released the tension in his shoulders, resigned to my reaction, “I think I just wanna be friends.” He dropped his eyes and quietly spoke, “Can we do that?”
I pulled my mouth into a smile and shrugged, “Yes, yeah of course, I see, no that’s fine. It’s cool. Friends is cool. It’s probably what I need most right now anyway.”
He could see the disappointment behind my brave face.
“I’m sorry. I just don’t wanna set us up to…”
“No honestly, say no more. It’s all good with me.”
The sounds of the street below covered the awkward silence between us.
“Ok. You’re sure?” I nodded. Tom sighed again, relieved, “Well in that case, I’ll be off. I’ll call you first thing tomorrow. Your  UK mobile still works right?”
“Yep, I didn’t wanna turn it off until I get a landline installed.”
“Ok, well I’ll call you and you can come over to mine for breakfast and we can build a plan of attack, sort out what else we need to provide you with to get you all set up. OK?” I could tell he wasn’t really asking if I was ok with the plan of attack. “That sounds great and again, thanks so much.”
“The pleasure was all mine,” Tom answered, giving me a quick hug and heading for the door. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I dropped onto the couch and watched the first drops of rain hit the window.
“Oh great,” I muttered to myself “Just what I need, pathetic fallacy. Thomas Hardy would love it! Well weather, don’t get all upset on my behalf, I’m too exhausted for emotion right now, maybe tomorrow.”
I stripped off my clothes, leaving them in a heap on the sofa, pulled down the bed from the cupboard and threw myself on top of the new quilt.
“Doona.” I reminded myself. “It’s too bloody warm for that even with the rain” I mumbled and promptly fell asleep.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Of Doonas and Tigers

The cab was humming its way along the highway, palm trees bowing in the wind as if pledging fealty to the dominance of the traffic. Light clouds skimpily covered the bright blue sky, a low sun hanging by a thread on the horizon as if it couldn’t quite make its mind to get up: I knew how it felt. I wound down the window to take a lungful of the clean warm air hoping to wake myself up.
“Y’know it’s nearly winter here, that’s a bit cold.”
I smiled, “Sorry. It’s like a summer day to me. How cold does it get here?”
“About 12 centigrade during the winter. Of course it’s colder at night. And it gets down to freezing in the mountains.”
“Right, so no need for a winter coat for me just yet!”
“Yeah, you’ll probably do fine for the first one,” Tom smiled, flashing that luminescent smile again.
I reached over to squeeze his hand, “I’m really glad to be here.”
“It’s good to see you.” He pulled his hand away and reached into his bag, “So I gotchya this guidebook of the city. This map here shows you the Inner East, that’s where your studio is, see – Potts Point, that’s you. You see how close you are to the city? You could walk it, easy.”
“That’s good; I could do with the exercise apparently.” I gave him a smile, and he bashfully smiled back.
I laughed, “You’re a cheeky bugger Mr Forest.”
“So anyway, our first stop is the letting agent. Basically Phillip was happy to rent to you on my recommendation, but we have to go sign a contract at the letting agent's, pick up keys, etc. and then we can go drop of your bags and stuff.”
“Righto. Sounds easy enough. I take it I just need my Passport?”
“Yeah that should be fine. Then I thought we could go downtown and get your bank account sorted and your Tax File Number. That’s really all you need before you can start work.”
“Tax File number?”
“Yeah, it’s like a social security number in the states, says you’re legit, that you can work. Employers use it to pay your taxes…”
“Oh, so like your National Insurance number back home.”
He shrugged, looking blank, “If you say so.”
I flicked his shoulder with the back of my hand, “Trust me, you goof, it is.”

Paperwork signed and keys in hand, I pushed open the door to my new home.
I was looking diagonally from the corner into a large room, simply but tastefully furnished with a small sofa, round dining table, chairs and next to me at the entrance, a tall wardrobe against the wall to my left and a much larger version on the wall to my right. In the opposite corner was a doorway leading to a semi open kitchen – the wall between the two rooms having been partially removed - with microwave, stove, fridge and oven. The bathroom was through an adjacent doorway next to the Kitchen. The whole thing was light and open giving the allusion of greater space, caused by the best thing of all; the floor to ceiling window across the entire wall of the main room. This looked out onto the street below and showed a fairly decent sized glimpse of the part of Sydney Harbour I would soon know as Elizabeth Bay.
“Tom this rocks, I can even see the water!”
“When I saw that, I knew you had to have it. People would pay serious money for that kinda view.”
I turned around looking for another doorway and then faced Tom quizzically, “Where’s the bed?”
Tom threw my suitcase onto the sofa and exclaimed “Aaah this is the beauty,” crossed the open space in the middle of the room and reached for the doors of the larger wardrobe. "It’s like those beds in New York hotels!”
“Never been,” I shrugged.
The doors ajar, he grabbed the frame and pulled down a large Queen sized bed from the wall.
Throwing himself down onto his back, “And I tested it; the mattress is really comfortable too.”
“Tested it?” I bounced down next to him onto my stomach.
Tom sat up again grinning, “Not that kind of testing,”
He turned to face me, “Doona.”
“Doona. You don’t have a Doona.”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re on about, let alone a… Doona?”
“Sorry, a quilt. Bedding. Sheets and stuff.”
“A Doona is all of that?”
“No. A Doona is just the quilt part. But you don’t have the rest of it either,’ He pulled himself up and walked over into the kitchen, pulling open drawers and cupboards, before walking back into the living room. “Or plates. Cutlery. Pans. All of that. Looks like we have another mission for today. Come on lazy arse stop lounging around in bed, if we head out now the stores'll just be opening and we can get it all out of the way.”
“Where to?”
“The Junction.”
“Where’s that?”
“Bondi.” He grabbed his jacket and turned to see the question on my face, “It’s a large shopping mall, in Bondi.”
“At the beach?”
“No silly, Bondi Junction.”
“Oh right. Of course. I should’ve known that”
Tom pulled me up, grabbed the keys from the table and dragged me out of the front door. “No stopping now, there’s no time for jet lag to kick in if we keep you moving.”

The mall was like any other shopping complex in the world, large, concrete and grey with trees dotted around trying desperately to add a little colour and nature into an artificial environment. It was packed with people zipping everywhere. The major differences of course were the names of the stores and the products themselves. Nothing as dramatically different as Narita airport, but still a change and a culture shock of sorts, if a cultural tremor rather than a tsunami.

Tom dragged me along as I gawked at all the differences; a ye olde worlde style sweet shop called Darryl Lea, all brown wooden façade and plate glass windows showing shelf upon shelf of chocolate, marzipan, glace fruits, and other variations of sugary goodness, (although I was soon informed that sweets were called lollies here and lollies were lollipops and not to get them confused - not that I could see the danger in it, what was the worst that could happen, I get a soft, chocolatey, caramel treat instead of a hard, round, sugary one?); a trendy, jeans and t-shirt, skateboard style shop which would be Urban Outfitters were it in London, but here in Sydney was called General Pants, kitted out with a factory floor assembly line pulley, running through the top of the window and constantly rotating pairs of jeans, t-shirts and jackets in a never ending merchandised fashion parade; banks such as Westpac, Commonwealth and ANZ with their bright red, yellow or blue liveries advertising cheap loans for cars, houses and holidays; Bunning’s the hardware store, its very name sounding quirkily Australian and down to earth and row upon row of shop fronts enticing me in to discover their Australiana. So where did we end up going? Target.

Admittedly, it was a good call, they had everything I needed, bedding, crockery, pans, cutlery, towels, a vacuum, mop, all the basic essentials and it was relatively cheap, which was good because I hadn’t budgeted for laying a month’s deposit and a month’s rent down on a studio, let alone kitting it out. The other more Australian stores would have to wait and as it would soon turn out, I’d get paid to see my fair share of their insides soon enough. Instead, we bundled my new home into the back of a large white cab and headed back to the studio.

With the bed made and folded away, the kitchen cupboards stocked and towels hanging over bathroom rails, it was time for the second part of the day’s projects. Making me employable.
“Basically, we’ll just head down into the city and get you signed up for your Tax File Number and then we’ll get you your bank account sorted, easy," Paul nodded confidently. "Any preference?”
“For banks? God no, I wouldn’t know where to start!”
“Well they’re all pretty much the same; I’m with Commonwealth and St. George, so you might as well go with either of those.”
“Any chance food is on the itinerary? I’m bloody starving and knackered and if I don’t eat soon I’m gonna die.”
“Ok, food, Tax File, Bank. Gotchya.”

We decided to walk down into the harbour, heading west towards the city, first heading out of my building and turning the corner onto Challis Avenue. Trees ran down the centre of the street with cafes lining the sides for the first half of the street before turning into large three and four storied houses. The patrons were decked in designer threads, large sunglasses perched on their heads, ladies who lunched and gay couples who clearly didn’t work on a Monday.
“They can’t all be hairdressers, these people have cash.”
“The boys? Yeah you’re in a nice part of town.”
“Yeah, so-so. Pretty Gay, but very trendy.”
“You don’t say.”
“See this house here? That’s where Paul Keating lives.”
Tom saw the vacant look on my face.
“Our ex-prime minister? I thought you liked history?”
“I do. Fourteenth and Fifteenth century European mostly. I’m just getting to grips with yours”
“Aaah yeah, probably a bit early for us.”
“So is he Gay?”
Tom made quotation marks with his fingers, “Allegedly so.”
“That explains it.”

We reached the end of the street as it met a small drop overlooking a park.
“It’s built on the roof of a car park. As beats go around here, it's very popular with the locals at night, but a bit dangerous, so watch yourself.” Tom informed me.
"Yeah, this here's a beat. Y'know - a cruising ground. Think Hampstead Heath, y'know that one?"
“Oh right, yeah," I smiled as the light bulb pinged into life over my head.
I soon found out that Aussies loved their open air nigh time proclivities and that give two Aussie guys a patch of grass bigger than two meters squared and they'd turn it into a 'beat'.
"Not my style anyway,” I shrugged, "I prefer my creature comforts. That and the fact that mozzies love me way too much for it to be worthwhile."
"They go for ya do they?"
"Like kids in a sweetshop! And I swell up like crazy when they get me too."
"So no outdoor fun for you then, eh?" he pouted.
"That'll be a no from me, thanks".

To the side of the park leading down from the street into the harbour proper was a set of steep stairs, about 60 or 70 in total, rickety and lit at night by Victorian style street lamps. The lighting combined with the condition of the stairs to make for a cutesy Dickensian scene, if you could block out the definitely Australian gum tress blocking out the parking garage itself.
Once at the bottom we started the walk around the harbour edge towards the Botanical gardens.
“Aaah, dunno why I didn’t think of it before, your first day in Australia, you should have an Australian lunch.”
“Really? Please tell me it’s not Kangaroo or Alligator?”
“Nah, a meat pie from Harry’s!” he said, pointing down the road.
Coming up on the right hand side on the harbour front, was a cabin about twenty by ten feet. Open on three sides, it proudly displayed the name 'Harry’s Café de Wheels' over the large awning in red and yellow, neon lit script. The walls were lined with larger than life fifties style images of soldiers and their girls and around the hatches themselves were black and white photographs of celebrity guests who had eaten there, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Brooke Shields and Keanu Reeves among others.
The man behind the counter nodded at me, “What can I getchya mate?”
“Err, Tom?” I raised an eyebrow his way.
“Pie or hotdog?” he asked me.
“Two Tigers please, oh and if you’ve something to put ‘em in, we’re gonna walk round to the other side of the wharf.”
Tom handed over a bright blue ten dollar bill, took his change and was passed  an empty Kleenex box with a layer of greaseproof paper over the top of it.
“Come on, let’s go round the other side.”
“We walked round to the other side of the large blue roofed wharf building into the sunshine and a dock which held roughly forty or so privately owned sailboats and motorboats belonging to the locals in the apartments on the other side of the dock.
Tom sat down on the edge of the dock, legs dangling over the side and feet six inches above the gently lapping water. He patted the ground next to him for me to join him and then reached into the Kleenex box he'd placed on the floor next to him.
“Here’s your first Harry’s pie,” he said, passing it to me, “they’re legendary and not just here. You ask anyone who’s visited Sydney and they’ll know all about ‘em”
“How come we didn’t do them last time?” I dunno, I must’ve forgotten they were here, I haven’t had one myself in ages.”
I looked down at the brown and green, steaming parcel in my hands, “So what exactly do I have here?”
“Beef pie, mashed potato, mushy peas, you should love those they’re from your neck of the woods, and topped with a little gravy. Oh here, you’ll need this and one of these,” he said, handing over a plastic fork and a napkin.
It was sensational: Two of my favourite foods, mushy peas and mashed potato on top of one of the best pies I’d ever eaten and topped off with a delicious beefy gravy. While it might not sound like much, ask anyone who’s had one and they’ll tell you the same thing; phenomenal!
We sat there on the edge of the wharf for a good half an hour after we’d finished, just soaking up the atmosphere. The light was making silverfish on the surface ripples in the water, the gentle constant slapping of the water against the rocks was lulling me, rocking me back and forth and with the sun on my face, arms and hands the two conspired to send me to sleep.

“Right sleepy head; let’s kick on, before I have to carry you back to bed.”
'If only', I thought.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A bumpy landing?

While making myself emotionally ready for a move to Sydney seemed fairly straightforward, the physical practicalities of the move were more drawn out.
To start with, I needed to save £2000 prior to applying for my visa. This meant continuing in my job at Sainsbury’s. Obviously I didn’t want to let them know I was planning to leave within the year, which meant keeping my plans secret.
I’d checked with friends that I was able to leave my books and CDs in their basement, I went ahead and booked my flight, I let friends and family know of my intentions and with all the boxes checked, settled in for the long wait: Making plans to move is one thing, waiting a year to actually do so is another.
Time dragged on. It was an interesting year: Having previously had no real interest in domesticity, buying furniture, crockery, decorating etc, I suddenly found myself admiring sofas, bowls, paintings, random items I’d never contemplated before. It was as if with my life on hold, sat interminably in the departure lounge, I suddenly craved roots, some semblance of permanence and stability.
I managed to speak to Tom once every ten days or so. We’d email fairly regularly, but it was the long talks into the night that meant the most. When I told him I planned to move out to Sydney for at least a year his initial reaction was ecstatic.
“Aaah Mate that’s great news! How long would you be here for?”
“Well I guess a year at least. I can get a year long working holiday visa, but I shall probably look to get sponsored pretty soon into it so I can stay longer if I want to.”
“And when are you thinking of?”
“May next year.”
“Awesome! I’ll keep an eye out for somewhere for you to stay nearer the time. I can’t believe it – it’s bloody brilliant!”
“I’m glad you think so,” I laughed.
“Of course I do, I can’t wait! May next year, only eleven months to wait then.”

Of course over time the reality of the situation set in. Not that I expected Tom to hang around, or be available, but of course it was what I was hoping would happen and I guess it scared him.
“Look I’m stoked you’re coming, y’know that right?”
“Yeah I know...” I paused sensing the hesitation in his voice, “Why what’s the matter?”
“Well it’s a big move y’know and I just want to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, that you’re doing this because you want to, not because of… well not for me.”
I sat down on the edge of my bed, “Hey don’t worry, I like you, but I’m not crazy honest!” I tried to laugh it off, “To tell you the truth Tom, I’ve been wanting to get out of London the last few years, it’s never really been home for me, and I can only do this now – once I turn 27 I’m no longer eligible for the visa. I wanna do this while I can.”
“I know, I get it. I just don’t wanna put any pressure on us.”
“Of course, I understand and neither do I. I admit, you’re a draw card, but at least 70% of my decision to come has been about exploring another country, living somewhere other than the UK for a while.”
“Good. And we’ll have a great time when you’re here anyway. I miss you y’know?”
It was a theme we returned to often and I should have seen the signs there and then. Instead I convinced myself that I was going to Australia for the experience, that Tom was just an added bonus and that if for whatever reason that part didn’t work out, that it would all be worth it anyway.

And then suddenly I had a month left. I planned to leave in style, a final weekend with the boys down in Cardiff, before moving out of the house I shared with Claire to stay rent free with a friend for the last ten days. My life in London was finally coming to a close.

“Hey Babes, it’s me. I’ve got some great news for ya.”
“Oh yeah? I hope it’s about the weather; I’m sick of the grey skies and bloody rain here. Tell me it’s sunny in Sydney right now.”
“It’s bloody gorgeous mate! You should see the sky here at the moment, bloody lovely… Look, I can’t talk long; I just wanted to let you know I’ve found you a place. A studio in Potts Point, overlooking the water, furnished, it’s perfect. A friend of mine is renting it out, I’ve spoken to him already and he’s happy to let you have it. I’ll pick you up from the airport and we’ll go straight to the estate agents to sign the paperwork and pick up the keys. I can’t believe it, bloody perfect timing… Err are you still there?”
“Sorry I’m just a bit gob smacked. To think in a week I’ll be living in Sydney!”

Kingsford Smith International Airport is the gateway between Sydney and the rest of the world. It’s named after Charles Kingsford Smith; one of Australia’s pioneering aviators. He made the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Australia. He also made the first non-stop crossing of the Australian mainland, the first flights between Australia and New Zealand and the first eastward Pacific crossing from Australia to the United States (thanks Wikipedia). Ironically few people outside of Sydney let alone the rest of the world know who he was. And I think Sydneysiders know of him only in reference to their Airport. He was also saved from drowning by a group of bathers at Bondi Beach. This same group of bathers went on to form the world’s first official lifesavers a week later, probably in response to his rescue, so he’s also inadvertently responsible for hot blokes in tiny Speedos (called budgie smugglers by the locals – a budgie being a small bird) running around dragging hapless souls from the water while pulling said Speedos as far up their bums as possible. I’m not sure whether this improves their speed in the water but as the locals say, “it’s a good look”, so who cares.

Unlike so many other aiports, Kingsford Smith seems to spit you out fairly quickly and it was only half an hour between landing and standing nervously at the gate, having  survived immigration, baggage claim and customs; my eyes flitting back and forth hoping to catch a glimpse of Tom amidst the sea of people waiting to greet their loved ones.

“Hey there stranger.”
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to be blinded by the pearly whites of Tom’s beaming smile. I dropped my carry on and threw my arms around his tall, lean frame.
“You look good, you’ve caught the sun.”
“Yeah well we had a long summer, although it seems like years ago, it is May now y’know, I hope you’re not expecting to hit the beach anytime soon.”
“It’s so good to see you!”
“Yeah well and it’s good to have you here too. It’s been a long time coming.” Tom held me at arms length and looked me up and down, wrinkling his nose “You’ve put on weight.”
I must have looked taken aback: It was true I’d put on a few pounds in the year in the UK, nothing extreme though, but as an opener from Tom I was certainly surprised. He saw the look on my face and changed the subject, “C’mon we can catch up in the cab.”

Tom grabbed my large suitcase, leaving me to pull the smaller carry on case and wove his way through the crowd.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Far from my finest moment...

“Door’s open baby.”
I could smell the chicken before I even reached the door. The doorway from the corridor opened up into a small hallway and directly opposite was the kitchen. Terry was standing in front of the oven, wearing a blue, striped butcher’s apron, matching oven mitts on his hands and a pair of maroon rugby shorts.
“Isn’t that a bit dangerous with all your fur?” I nodded to his scant clothing, “I can just see you going up in a woosh of singed hair standing there looking like a plucked turkey!”
He grinned, “I thought you’d like the view”
“Mmmm yeah, oven mitts really get me going”
“I know what gets my baby going,” he pulled me into a bear hug wrapping his big furry arms around me, making me feel small and safe. This was going to be harder than I thought.

I pushed the empty plate away, wiped my mouth on the napkin and sighed, “Y’know you didn’t have to dress for me.”
“Oh I didn’t want to distract you from the food” he teased, his sky blue eyes twinkling, matching the New South Wales rugby shirt I’d brought him back from Sydney.
“That was delicious thank you. I’m stuffed!”
“My pleasure, I like cooking for you.” He held my gaze, studying me, sighed and said, “Why don’t you go sit on the couch and I’ll go crack open another bottle…”
He picked up the empty wine bottle and started stacking the plates.
“Here let me help…”
“No babes, I got it,” he soothed, “you go relax.”
I took the two wine glasses from the table and moved them through into the living room.
A minute later and Terry walked in twisting the cork from a bottle of red.
He poured and handed me a glass before sitting on the couch, slightly apart so he could face me.
“So I think we need to chat, baby. Something’s going on with you and I don’t know what, but I can feel it. So come on hit me,” he paused catching the surprised look on my face, smiled and softly whispered, “are we ok?”

This was it. If I told him the truth it could, it would hurt him. But he deserved the truth didn’t he? This sweet, generous, warm man deserved honesty right? It would be selfish and lazy to offer anything else. Who was I trying to kid, I wasn’t trying to protect him; if I lied it would be to make things easier for me.

“Terry, this is hard, really hard. I dunno how to say it…”
He put his glass down on the coffee table, reached for mine and gently set mine next to it, so close they shared the same coaster, placed one hand at the back of my neck gently kneading it and rested the other hand on my knee, “Baby its ok. Talk to me, you know its fine to tell me anything. I’m big enough and ugly enough to handle it”
I took a deep breath... and lied.
“I’ve been offered a job in Australia. In Sydney.” I swallowed, “HR. Basically mine to take when I’m ready. And y’know, I’ve never had the chance to do this before. I think I wanna do it.” I looked up at him, desperately hoping he wouldn’t sense the lie, that he’d just take it at face value so I didn’t have to push him away, reject him.
“That’s amazing baby,” he breathed, squeezing the back of my neck, “I’m proud of you.”
He paused, letting it sink in. “When?”
“It’s an open offer. If I can be there in six months, great, but I have to be there within a year. They have several vacancies right now and I think it’s pretty much a revolving door.” I stopped. I could see the holes in my story myself. Great, huge gaping holes and if I could see them, so could Terry.
“Well then I guess you have to go and do it baby.”
My eyes were welling up, tears were starting to fall and suddenly I wanted to take it all back. Here was this gentle giant of a man letting me get away with it. Knowing that I couldn’t, wouldn't tell him the truth, but allowing me to ease myself out of it, telling me to go and be happy, to follow my dreams, that this was an opportunity I had to take, convincing me to go, even though his heart was breaking, tears dripping from his square jaw line as I was pushing him away, casting it all aside, ruining everything.
“But if I’m not going for a few months, we can still see each other right? It’s not over yet is it?” I was sobbing, the voice in my head chastising me for doing this, causing this, hurting this man who loved me, who to the last was giving; the impact of my decision, the pain I was causing this beautiful human, weighing down on me.
“Baby we both know it’s not good for us. You need to go and do this. Go explore. Conquer Australia. We’d just be complicating matters if we stay together; making it harder than it needs to be.”
He rocked me in his arms, hugging me so tight I could barely grab my breath between sobs. His tears splashed down onto my head, his hand drying them as he stroked my hair.
Finally, when our emotion was spent, he stood me up, put my coat around my shoulders, and walked me to the door. Having covered my face in kisses and held me to his chest one final time, he closed the door behind me.
I walked the three miles home that night in the rain, a self imposed penance that barely scratched the surface of my guilt. There have been times in my life when I’ve loathed myself more, but they are few and far between.