Expatriate Lifestyle - - Contents -

“It’ll be amaz­ing”, he said. “You’re ready for new hori­zons”, he said. “Think of all the dif­fer­ent types of plants”, he said. And I agreed. I agreed to walk away from my suc­cess­ful Gar­den De­sign & Land­scap­ing com­pany, months af­ter win­ning Sil­ver at the Chelsea Flower Show. But be­ing the daugh­ter of a diplo­mat, grow­ing up with the adage of ‘Pay, Pack and Fol­low,’ I fol­lowed my mil­i­tary hus­band abroad; mov­ing, lock, stock and two dippy-dogs half a world away, ini­tially to El Paso, Texas.

It has been eight years now since we left the UK, mov­ing ev­ery two or three years, from Texas, to Rome, to Naples and now to Pe­nang with each move sub­ject to the ‘whims’ of the ser­vice. But the ini­tial five months wasn’t at all easy. My con­fi­dence came from my suc­cess of what I did for a liv­ing. In Eng­land, I was my own boss, the owner of a well-re­spected com­pany I’d built from scratch. We built beau­ti­ful gar­dens; I had a large num­ber of strap­ping young chaps carry out my in­struc­tions (usu­ally); I had true work sat­is­fac­tion and I earned a more than re­spectable amount of money. Sud­denly I was just some­one’s wife with no sta­tus, no in­come and no iden­tity. Rather than a day full of ac­tiv­ity and achieve­ment, I was faced with the sole stim­u­la­tion of su­per­mar­ket shop­ping, clean­ing and cook­ing...

It took a lot of soul search­ing to re­alise I hadn’t lost my iden­tity; I was still the same per­son, still with the same faults and the same qual­i­ties. I was just mov­ing into a new chap­ter of my life. Slowly, I be­gan to per­fect the art of ‘swan­ning’. It is some­thing I rec­om­mend to all who are tak­ing any time off from their nor­mal work, or who have fol­lowed spouses to over­seas post­ings.

In all se­ri­ous­ness, swan­ning is not to be con­fused with lazi­ness.the skill lies in not be­ing idle, but keep­ing your days full only with those things that you want to do. In my case, bul­ly­ing lo­cal land­scap­ers, ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers into us­ing my gar­den de­signs; learn­ing more about pho­to­graphic im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion; learn­ing to play mahjong; rev­el­ling in or­gan­is­ing road trips to places I’d only ever read about; throw­ing my­self into learn­ing how to play ten­nis; speak­ing a new lan­guage and daft though this may sound, even started cook­ing some of Ju­lia Child’s recipes – but then you re­ally do need three hours in the kitchen for those.that said her beef bour­guignon is some­thing quite mag­nif­i­cent.

I’ve learnt that there is much to en­joy in each place we live; quite apart from the lack of stress in not be­ing in full-time em­ploy­ment, I come across some­thing to make me laugh at least once a day. If it’s not be­ing asked (in Texas) what lan­guage we speak in Eng­land, it’s com­par­ing Pe­nang driv­ing to the in­fin­itely worse lu­nacy of that of Naples, but at least none here carry guns like they do in Texas. Then of course, ad­ding ‘lah’ to end of ev­ery sen­tence.

Each move is filled with changes; from the size of our house, the job I do, or whether I work at all to the ac­cents around me, the places to visit and the places to shop. Each coun­try a new set of de­lights and chal­lenges. There is no moral to this story, it is just one woman’s ex­pe­ri­ences of a no­madic life and how long since I’ve re­alised that I’m more than just a gar­den de­signer. I clung onto my per­ceived iden­tity think­ing it was all I was. I am now en­joy­ing life more that I thought pos­si­ble and with­out wish­ing to sound corny, the sky’s the limit when you have time to look up and see it. EL

“It took a lot of soul search­ing to re­alise I hadn’t lost my iden­tity; I was still the same per­son, still with the same faults and the same qual­i­ties”

A travel junkie since she was six months old, Drusilla Gillen spent 20 years as a suc­cess­ful gar­den de­signer, mar­ried an Army of­fi­cer and now in­dulges her twin loves of writ­ing and travel

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