One year ago today my flight touched down on the tarmac in Townsville, Australia. 365 days since a ghostly pale redhead flinchingly emerged into the burning sunlight in a manner akin to someone who'd lived in caves for most of their life. Only October, the end of spring, and the heat at midday was vicious Unlike the UK, where summer rays seem to gently stroke at your skin in a loving manner, this sun felt aggressive. Dangerous. "Yeah, don't ever leave your credit cards in the car," warned Rhonda, the hospital worker picking us up, "otherwise they'll warp."
We were driven to our new home down palm lined roads; past unfamiliar shops. A cloud of cockatoos pecked like pigeons by our car as we stopped at traffic lights. Another warning from Rhonda: "Don't swim in the river, there's crocs." On our first morning we were almost joined for breakfast by a wallaby. We couldn't buy alcohol in the supermarket. I was definitely not in London any more.
My first two weeks were difficult in many ways. Unlike most backpackers, pitched into the centre of a hostel filled with people in the same boat, I was staying with my Mum. And my Mum lived 15km from the city centre, a city that only had hourly buses which ran until 6pm. Jobs and socialising seemed nigh on impossible. Don't get me wrong, I was very lucky to have my mum, my best friend, with me; I hadn't counted on it being so difficult not to have any 'friend' friends at all. Who was I supposed to discuss Downton Abbey with while drinking cheap wine? Somehow I had to change my situation. I knew I needed to do something, I just didn't know what. The buzzword for my first two weeks in Australia? Limbo.
Although I already knew I loved Australia (sunshine people, sunshine. In November) things didn't quite click into a nice new life like I expected them to. And it worried me. I've now become pretty used to this feeling and I've grown adept at just letting things slide into place naturally, they have a habit of doing that. But pre-travelling Cheskie, used to regular office hours and familiar friends was freaking the fuck out.
I'd love to visit the me from a year ago. Slathered in suncream, comfort eating tim tams and resigned to three months of banana picking because that was the only plan she could think of. I'd say*: "It's OK. You're going to visit a place for two days and stay there for three months. You'll fall in love with the ocean - being on it and in it - and change your mind entirely about what to do on a weekly basis (don't worry - your plans only ever change into better ones). One month you live on a beach, then in a city, the next an isolated farm; each time you move it gets easier to do so. You'll start nannying for three heartbreakingly amazing kids, decide to go home to work in comedy and meet Doctor Karl from Neighbours all in the space of a few days. Sure, there's an idiot or two along the way. A few speed bump like hitches in your plans. But don't worry, even the most devastating hour of the next year is going to send you back to a place you've been missing since you left. It takes a while to settle in somewhere: remember that. When you arrive back here from the UK the shops look normal, the sun doesn't surprise and the palm trees may well as be conifers. You don't touch down into an alien land, you arrive back home.
Oh, and p.s - please dye your hair back to blonde sooner. We really do have more fun."
*After explaining how I'd managed to travel through time and space, obviously.