Year 1 in the UK - By Gary Heather

by Liz Heather in ,

GUEST POST! I asked my brother Gary to write a post on whatever he liked, so off we go!

As I write this, the heat of a radiator fills the room and a fire is roaring about 8 feet away, but in spite of these incendiary sources, every part of me is cold.  I thought I knew what it meant to be cold coming from Canada; a place I lived my entire life before moving here to Glasgow this past summer.  In Canada we have extremes, but in this large, 14-ft ceilinged apartment, the temperature rarely changes no matter what happens outside.  On the rare hot days, it’s still cold inside our place.  On cold days, just as cold.  When it’s raining - cold.  Sunny?  Cold.  It doesn’t change in here, it’s as if there’s some sort of force field around the apartment that maintains the internal temperature.  Somehow, the interior walls are also always cold, and they radiate this steady chill that permeates through to your bones and just stays there.

For those that don’t know, about a year ago my wife and son upped and left our lives in Toronto to try out a new adventure across the pond here in the UK.  I took an extended leave from my television career of 9 years, we sold or stored all of our stuff, leased out our condo, and just left.  Since the wheels touched down at Belfast International (where we lived for the first half of the year), I’ve been thinking about the reasons behind why we embarked on this journey in the first place. The answers differ daily depending upon my emotional state - from the exciting highs of cruising through some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen to the depressing lows once I realized we couldn’t get a good poutine anywhere.

It’s different when you come here for a vacation, obviously, as a week or two is just enough time to find all the little quirky things very appealing.  Like the different words for things – they say ‘maths’ instead of math, the 5pm meal (what we call dinner in Canada) is called ‘tea’ here, the meal at noon (our lunch) is called ‘dinner’.  The ‘toilet’ refers to the whole bathroom.  ‘Biscuits’ are any type of cookie, and biscuits as we know them at home don’t exist.  A picnic basket is called a ‘hamper’.  ‘Pants’ mean underwear for some reason.  There’s just so many of these, where it’s not just a different word, it’s a different usage of the same word.  The thing about prolonged exposure to this environment is that there is a constant stream of these new word meanings that you keep on learning as time goes on.  It hasn’t stopped yet and I’m not sure when and if it ever will. That’s the quirk about it all; it’s not like a new language, it’s basically people telling you that blue is really red or up is really down – and you’re just supposed to believe them.

Somewhat unsurprisingly though, the thing I miss the most is any sort of support system.  Families, friends, colleagues - all gone.  In spite of Skype and letters and email, I may as well be on Mars with the feeling of disconnect I have.  From simple things like having someone available to watch Camden to being able to easily chat with someone I see pretty much every day, to spending time with friends at the cottage and thanksgiving with the family.  It’s rough not being able to do these things.  I’m sure in time, probably years from now, I can build a type of support system here, but I don’t think it will ever be the same.  Homesickness has given way to the realization that we are alone here, and it’s the loneliness that is starting to get to me.

So will we stay?  I can’t say yet - even though it’s been almost a year I still consider it early days.  The people I’ve met here are very friendly, welcoming and open.  The companies I’ve worked for and with and have been fantastic and I’ve been lucky to have worked on some big-name projects and with some exceptionally creative and talented individuals.

One thing I can say about this journey is that I do not regret embarking upon it; I complain about the UK’s quirks and whine about missing Canada, but I generally expected to feel that way coming into it.  Taking a chance doing this was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t go back and make a different decision for any reason.  It pains me that I hurt some people I love to take this chance, but in the end I know I would’ve always regretted it if I didn’t try.  It was a question I asked my sister many years ago when she was considering moving to New York – I asked if she would regret not moving there if she didn’t, knowing what she may miss out on if she stayed in Toronto.  She knew the answer – we both did.

It’s safe and easy to live your life according to external expectations, but it has the potential to leave you with regrets.  These days I get to spend most of my time with my son and my wife, take long walks around a city looking at beautiful architecture, eat amazing food, play video games, write 2 different blogs, develop shows with creators and companies from around Europe and the UK, and edit wedding Marryoke videos.  I didn’t even know what a Marryoke video was before coming here, they’re pretty fun to cut.  Meanwhile, Amanda has also embarked on a new career and social path, getting out, meeting people, being a part of various organizations – I’m very proud of how she’s embraced the change in our lives.  Camden is…well…running around bumping into things here just the same as he would back in Canada.

I wouldn’t say Year 1 of our journey has inspired some sort of big epiphany in me, but I do look at the value of relationships a lot differently. I realize now how important human connection is, how important my friends and family really are to me.  I’m getting to a point where I could do my job anywhere on earth with a stable internet connection, and we’ll need to make a decision in the near future about where we finally want to plant some roots.  What will that decision be?  Currently, it’s a question I throw to the ether.  I may not know what that choice is yet, only that it’ll be the one that makes us all truly happy.

Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my sister Liz for a couple of things – one, for asking me to write this guest post on her fantastic blog - and two, for being a part of what inspired me to take this journey in the first place.  Her courage to take a leap into the unknown played no small part in helping push me towards what has been one of the most adventurous, scary, amazing, memorable and important years of my life.

By Gary Heather

(Thank you so much for doing this, Gar! I love you way more than a sister should and I'm definitely going to ask you to guest post again.)