So today, after almost exactly 7 years in this fine land, a curly-haired clown from Crewe finally became a fully-fledged Australian. And quite emotional it was too.
It's nearly 15 years since I first set foot on Aussie soil with my pal Di to wander down the East Coast for a month, pretending we were fresh-faced backpackers. It may possibly have been our 5* treehouse in the rainforest that alerted our fellow travellers / the great unwashed to the fact our A-level results were just a distant memory but I can't be sure.
That trip was inevitably fraught with dramas - Di and I were admittedly slightly more focused on the prospect of a month off work and seeing in the Millennium in Sydney than we were on doing any actual trip planning. I think I started reading the Lonely Planet guide to Australia on the plane but got distracted by the free choc ices on offer instead.
We learnt the cost of our laissez-faire approach in a hostel in Brisbane (our treehouse fund was depleted by then) when we realised our complete lack of planning combined with our lack of Greyhound bus timetable-reading abilities and general lack of organisational skills would see us stranded in a fairly rancid Brisbane hostel on Christmas Eve instead of spending Christmas Day in Sydney with our mates.
Pretty sure Mary and Joseph didn't get embroiled in the level of blame-apportioning that happened between Di and I that night when they were searching for a room at the inn but who knows what goes on behind closed (stable) doors?
But despite spending Christmas Day in a Brisbane restaurant with a heavily perspiring Father Christmas (that's another story), it was a truly unforgettable trip.
For a start, there was that time that we learnt to scuba dive on a liveaboard boat on the Great Barrier Reef and spent our first proud solo PADI-qualified dive circling a tiny underwater rock, pointing at the same single bored stripey fish 38 times till we ran out of air, popping up like total amateurs in the same spot we'd been dropped off. We lied obviously and told our fellow divers we'd seen 3 sharks, a manta ray and a dolphin. Not sure they believed us but a lot of them were Canadian so they just said 'awesooooome!' and carried on drawing pictures of obscure fish in their logbook, the jobsworths.
Then there was that time we hugged some koalas and rode jetskis on Magnetic Island like total legends until we got told off by the instructor for deliberately hitting the waves at angles so that whoever was on the back would fly off. Hours of fun for 2 immature flashpackers. Don't try that at home, kids - strictly for stunt riders only. Like me, obviously.
Then we went horse-riding up in Cape Tribulation, which was the first time I'd been on anything resembling a horse since that time I'd been plonked on a donkey as a child at Rhyl Pleasure Beach in Wales. Ironically, I didn't remember that experience as being remotely pleasurable but Di, being ever the accomplished horsewoman, convinced me I'd be fine going slow at the back of the pack.
This was, as it transpired, initially a good strategy. However these horses genuinely did not give 2 hoots whether or not their rider knew the difference between a canter, a trot or a gallop - to be fair, they do the same route every day and at the same point on said route they get to have a canter / gallop / trot / whatever.
Needless to say, as the speed suddenly picked up, my feet flew out of the stirrups, the reins might as well have been made out of spaghetti and I was convinced in those few seconds that I was actually going to fall off and be trampled underfoot on just my second day in Australia. I therefore took control of the situation and, much like a sack of spuds, simply flung myself off old Grey Thunder before he could throw me off. "That showed him", I thought as I lay winded and groaning in the long grass covered in red ants while he galloped off into the distance without a backward glance, no doubt glad to be rid of his curly burden.
But, despite the predictable ups and downs of our trip or maybe because of them, I fell in love with Australia and vowed one day to return to its fair shores.
Procrastination is my forté however so inevitably it took me 8 years to get my act together and my bag packed but when I finally arrived in Sydney in June 2008 with nothing but a rucksack, a CV and a winning smile, I knew straightaway that I'd be here a while.
Over the last 7 years, Australia has given me the greatest of new friends, re-connected me with tremendous old ones, showed me the very best of good times and even by my heady standards, bestowed upon me the most nauseating of lifestyles in one of the most fabulous cities in the world. None of this goes un-noticed or un-appreciated by me and I'm grateful every day for that moment of mid-thirties madness in 2008 when I sat in my lovely new flat in London that I'd spent months getting just right and thought 'right then, I think I might resign tomorrow and push off to Oz'.
This year in particular, I have been so thankful to have both my treatment and recuperation in a place as beautiful and restorative as Australia and I think just being here has played a big part in helping me just keep cracking on with this cancery tale without too many dramas.
I got all choked up reading out the pledge at the ceremony earlier and it wasn't just because my low-key gold heels got wet in the rain or because I was worried Jez would fail to take enough good photos or because I thought I might trip up the stairs. Although I was genuinely anxious about all the above.
Today I became a fully paid-up citizen of an amazing country that for 7 years has delivered nothing but good times, great people and happy memories, and thinking about that during the pledge brought on the old Connerty waterworks. Well, less waterworks, more of a controlled welling-up really - in my defence, I was fake eyelash'd up to my eyeballs (literally) and didn't fancy them shimmying down my cheek like runaway spiders 5 mins before the official photo...priorities, people.
Thanks and love to my esteemed and honourable 3 guests / slaves Matt, Jezza and Clare who dutifully dressed up, came along, took photos, waved the flags I bought them and ate more free pavlova than a small nation. You all made my day that bit more spesh.
Chemo #6 aka The Last Hurrah is looming on the horizon next week - big few days ahead so Clare and I have taken ourselves off to a Zen retreat this weekend in the Hunter Valley to prepare. Luckily her broken ankle and my #chemoface
mean we've already been excused from most of the 'activities' that the other Zen masters are doing but I might pop to the class called 'breathing' tomorrow and see if I can manage that...sigh.
Sorry it's a long one - blame the Aussie me...