Yesterday marked 365 days since I arrived in Manchester. I was thinking about that first week, well actually 9 days. And many other elements of this past year...
Pre-flight: The days preceding my flight to Heathrow were such a mix. I was heartbroken to leave my boyfriend, sad to leave Abby (but knowing she'd be joining me eventually), excited to be fulfilling my heart's desire by returning to the UK and happiness at seeing my mom also moving on to a new stage of her life by moving back to Phoenix to her new home there. My sister was visiting to help my Mom (emotionally too as well as all the muscle Shannon brings!) and she was also giving me a hand. I had 4 suitcases that I had packed soooo poorly, because they weren't organized. I hadn't yet thought about how having everything mixed up between them would possible effect me later. Anyway, I remember a pile of items I had needed up until that final day and four already full suitcases and I asked Shannon to pack the remaining items and to, in the words of Tim Gunn, "make it work" which she did! We loaded all the stuff off and headed to LAX on that sunny day, that was April 7, 2008. To avoid long goodbyes both for me, (once you're at the airport, you kind of want to be done with the emotional goodbyes and get on with things, don't you?) and for Mom (who was not only sad to see me go but had a million things she also needed to do), Shannon helped me unload (did I mention she brings muscle?) and I queued up. They snapped a pic of me as I waited to check in and off they went:
Arriving: After sailing through customs and immigration (yay for being a British national!), I had all of my luggage once again on my trolley (note to self: do not take a book that ways 10 pounds in case you want to read on the plane, you will have to carry the damned book through the airport on arrival too!), I distinctly remember rolling out the doors of the terminal at Heathrow. Well, it was nothing special. Looked like a road by an airport. But the brisk air caught my nostrils and I breathed in many deep breathes. Holy cow, I'd actually arrived! I rolled over to where I could get my courtesy bus to the car rental place. Once I'd hoisted my bags into the rental car (those damn bags are a feature of all my first experiences, it seems!), I plugged the destination into my SAT NAV (GPS): a hotel in Stockport (Manchester area) that I had booked (thanks to Mel!).
Getting to Manchester: It seems to me in my memory, that 3-4 hour drive marked the start of a long day (especially having already been up close to 24 hours). I adjusted to the motorways without much problem and savored my first Marks and Spencers sandwich at a services stop somewhere along the way. But I was getting tired and then I hit road construction (I assume) and the last 60 miles were looooong. At times I was at a standstill, so at least if my lids fell closed, I wasn't in a moving vehicle. A few peppy texts from Rich helped as well. Eventually, I knew I was getting close to my destination (SAT NAV told me so!). I saw Stockport for the first time. Lots of red brick. My first life in the UK, I recall the 2 hours from Heathrow to Bournemouth full of my exclamations of how green everything was (I was moving from Phoenix that time), but this time I wasn't as in awe of the differences. I had lived in the UK before after all. But there was a lot of brick and I could tell this was much the industrial north that I had read about. I spied a B&Q (like a giant Home Depot, even the same color scheme) and a Staples as I got off the motorway and headed the last couple miles to the hotel. Checking in was easy apart from...wait for it...the baggage! I had no idea what suitcase had what and I had booked the hotel for a week, so I had to get all those bags up to my room. Of course, this is England, so there was no elevator to the different floors. Thankfully an employee of the hotel took pity on me and while there was no bellhop, she helped me lug those buggers upstairs.
Priorities: Get a power cord for my laptop. After getting directions from the hotel, I raced to the nearest PC World to try to get a power cord that I could use. I felt it imperative to have internet access (which the hotel had) because then I could stay in touch with back home. They didn't have the right cord, blah blah blah, not an interesting story but it took several days before I had a proper power cord for it. After I got back from my mission to get a power cord, I took in the nightmare that was the hotel room. Awful bed, remote to TV chained to the table (remote didn't even work), towels with blood stains on them (small but still...ewww) and a shower I couldn't work. Thankfully, despite my insomnia issues, the 32 hours of being awake finally hit me and wearing layers to bed (just didn't want any part of my skin to actually touch the bedding!), I crashed out. Day 2 my priority became: find a place to live. With the help of an estate agent who I had been in touch before my arrival, day 2 I did find a house. Unfortunately it wasn't going to be ready for another week but we did the paperwork to get it going. So THEN my priority changed to: find a different hotel for the week. I located a hotel that had one more star (and was worth the extra money) but they could only take me in the following day. So I managed one more night in the hotel and finally rearranged the contents of my suitcases so I was much more efficient when I checked into Hotel #2 (which also didn't have a lift) on my 3rd day here. I finally enjoyed my first home-cooked meal thanks to Mel and Simon (and for this I really say thank you!) My last urgent priority became: get a bed bought and scheduled for delivery on moving day. I went to a local furniture store and I bought a double bed which was luxurious and comfortable and scheduled it. I then jumped online (I spent the first month at Starbucks with the laptop for internet usage) and bought two crucial purchases: Swedish memory foam (for the already comfortable bed) but I needed to make sure this bed was an indulgence as sleep was a problem for me and it was just so important for me emotionally for some reason and the 2nd item was a Flavia drinks machine. My first night in the house I curled up in my new bed (with soft bedding I had also purchased), my hot water bottle filled and watched The Mummy on my laptop (had brought a few movies with me). That first week living in the house the boiler broke (so no heat but more importantly no hot water for several days until it was replaced), I shopped (Ikea) and tried to start meeting people and making connections. Once that was all done, it was time to start my job!
It's been a really rich year full of just life experiences! I started my job, which I had a feeling would not be long-term, and did that for 6 months. I got to know the area with covering my sales territory and enjoyed the freedom of the car. I started making some great friends (thanks to Lesley for inviting me to a comedy night in Manchester from which I started to make friends with more and more folks). I was proactive in making friends and found the people so welcoming. Their support and growing friendship has been the high point of this first year. I also caught up with old friends (Allie, Tonia and Mahmuda). Thanks to technology (IM, Skype, Facebook) I was able to keep in close and regular contact with loved ones which was such a blessing. Other highlights (or low lights depending how you look at it): I was laid off from my job, got to go to Budapest, visited Dumfries, had a few parties and so much more! But I've learned so many deeper lessons: patience, living in the day, acceptance, the value of contrary action, trusting in the universe...and many more.
So now a year on, I have no regrets about moving here (I have never had one actually even when facing obstacles here). Change is in the air (I hope) as I continue to look for jobs and a career I can once again thrive in. I'm outgrowing this house, not in size and function but in location, decor and the outside space (and the Stairs of Doom - where I fall down the stairs and Abby seems to fall going UP them!) I'm broadening my search criteria to include places which would require me to uproot once again, but that feels like the right thing to do (Scotland? Yorkshire? Who knows?) I'm so grateful Abby is with me, she is the one steadying thing day to day no matter what. She doesn't seem older to me and is adored by all (okay - most) who meet her. I am looking forward to things too: a trip down south (finally!) soon to see all my old friends, DMB concert end of July (only about 90 minutes from here via train!) a visit from Mom and Shannon in September and another trip to Dumfries in October.
I wonder what I will write a year from now, after I've completed my second year in the UK! Time will tell....