This is the final post in our series on Our London Adventure, which gives an overview of our experiences as accountants working in the heart of the old empire and our travels throughout Europe. The previous post (part 4) saw us though the peak of the Global Financial Crisis and the effect that it had on the employment market. Fortunately we made it through relatively unscathed…
We’ve still got jobs, so let’s celebrate!
Once we realised that we still had jobs, we were obviously pretty happy, so it allowed us to focus on other things for the rest of our time in the UK. For us, this was just about having more experiences of what Europe had to offer, including further travel, but we were then also focussing on what we would actually do when we got home to Australia.
We had signed a lease for our flat through until the end of February, so after returning from our extended trip on the continent we had about 4.5 months to do and see whatever else was on the list.
Some of the things that we did in that time included:
- Ice skating outside the Tower of London – part of the old moat is used as an ice skating rink which makes for a pretty amazing setting.
- Christmas markets, in London and throughout Europe. If you’ve never been to a European Christmas Market then you should really check one out.
- Another trip to Sweden before Christmas, with ice skating, ice hockey (we hadn’t seen that before since we don’t really have it in Australia) and the theme park / Christmas market Liseberg.
- Having my parents over for Christmas in our tiny studio flat. It gave them a new appreciation for how expensive the city was, but it was still good to have them there, especially as we wouldn’t have had any family with us for Christmas which would have been sad indeed.
- Travelling with my parents around the UK and also to Ireland, France and Germany. We managed to follow up on some old family history / ancestry which was awesome, including standing next to a gravestone from one of my ancestors from nearly 300 years ago. Being able to have pictures of Dad and I standing next to a 300 year old tombstone with the same surname (and ours isn’t a common name) was pretty awesome.
- Hosting my wife’s Swedish cousin and her friend in our tiny flat.
- Spending time with some Australian friends that moved to the London in that timeframe and showing them around.
- Planning our trip home, including Greece, Egypt and Bali.
Jobs in Australia
While we were deliberating for quite a while as to where we would go back to (our home city or one of Australia’s largest cities instead), we eventually decided that the lure of family and long-term friends was too great, especially with our plans for a family and the benefit that family support can provide at that time.
I always knew that I wanted to go back to my original firm and try to push my way through to partner, but that didn’t mean that it was a foregone conclusion as I didn’t really know what the scene was like back there. This meant a few email exchanges, followed by a very early conference call with two partners and a senior manager to work it all out.
One of the benefits of my three years away from my home city was that I had a lot more confidence in negotiating than I previously had, and I think that this seriously took them by surprise in our early morning teleconference. I walked away with them being a bit frustrated on one hand (they had to pay me what I wanted, which was more than what they were paying other managers), but happy on the other hand that the prodigal son was returning (maybe that means that I was the trouble maker that had reformed and decided to come home and toe the line!).
I was very glad to have that issue sorted out, so we then had to consider what my wife would do. We were hoping that we would be pregnant shortly after arriving home, but still wanted to find her a job so that she would have something to go back to after maternity leave, but there really wasn’t anything that we could do about that until we arrived home. So we started doing some research on the internet about the job market, but left it at that until we arrived home.
What to do with UK cash and bank accounts?
We had to work out what to do about our UK bank accounts as we had saved up quite a bit of cash while we there. I sometimes struggle to remember exactly how much, but from memory we had about GBP20,000 by the time we got home. At the time the British Pound was worth about two Aussie Dollars, but this was a bit down on the previous 2.25 that it had been for much of our time in the UK. Because of this, we made the mistake of deciding to wait until it came back up again.
This wait, which we originally thought would be quite short, turned into about three years, and saw the pound slide so far that it eventually reached about AUD 1.50. It bounced up and down a bit, but we eventually took advantage of a “spike” (which was actually quite pathetic given historical numbers) and transferred it all home at about GBP = AUD 1.60. Having all of our cash sitting in the UK for three years (at their pitiful interest rates of about 0.5%) turned out to be a very bad move, especially when Australian interest rates (say on our mortgage) were closer to 7%.
Despite this poor decision, we had to get over our regret of not transferring the cash home straight away, and once we transferred it back onto our mortgage it felt better immediately. That was the start of the avalanche that we dumped on our mortgage, where we payed it off in full in about three years from a starting point of about $180k. So even though we could have done things differently, we still got the right result in the end which was no mortgage. Woohoo!
And the adventure came to an end
We finished up in the UK in February 2009, and I can clearly remember the last day there. I finished work, and thought of the all of the things that I was doing for the last time. This was because I knew that we were flying out the next morning from a different airport to what we usually used, so we wouldn’t go on any of the regular trains again.
Saying goodbye to my workmates for the last time, getting on the tube for the last time, getting off the tube at our tube station for the last time, and even walking back into our flat for the last time, it was all a bit sad, but exciting at the same time.
Because we had some random possessions that we weren’t going to take with us, some Australian friends came around first thing on the Saturday morning and collected those items to take back to their own flat. We even took that opportunity to drink some leftover beer (Carlsberg from memory) at about 9am to make sure we didn’t leave any in the fridge. Just the shot to kickstart your day, and a good way to farewell good friends too!
When I think back on our time in the UK, I often tell people that it was the best year of our lives. That isn’t to say that the years since haven’t been good, as they certainly have (with the birth and raising of our two children as just a couple of highlights), but the sense of freedom and adventure that we had then was something that was so unique and something that we have never had since. It was something that no one in our families or group of friends had ever experienced, which made it seem even more special.
As well as being such a great year overall, it was also a year of quite profound personal development, where we grew significantly in confidence and became far more reassured of who we were, what we wanted to do and what our place in the world could be.
From a professional point of view, working in London gave exposure that was just priceless and that you would struggle to get back in Australia, so it was a hugely positive experience in terms of our careers also. Having experience working overseas in this way is something that never fails to make an impression on others, and so from a resume point of view it was a worthwhile experience indeed.
Occasionally we’ll be reading a book or playing a game with our kids (Monopoly of course) where we come across something that reminds us of our travels, and I will say to our kids that “Mum and Dad used to live near there” or “We’ve been there before”. To kids as young as ours this is impressive indeed, but every time we mention one of these places they ask whether we’re going to take them there next weekend. I always say “one day”, but the list of places to visit is becoming quite long! We don’t mind though, as it gives us a great adventure for the future to look forward to with the kids, and it will be interesting to see how much has changed (or is still the same) since that amazing year.
So that wraps up our series on Our London Adventure. I hope you enjoyed it, and I would be interested in hearing of any adventures that you may have had living and working overseas.