It’s Hogmanay and I’m writing this in Los Angeles. The sky is bright blue and clear, the air crisp and fresh. It’s safe to say that this is just about the last place I ever expected to be on any given Hogmanay.
I’m not big on reflection or looking back; I much prefer imagining what the future might hold, but the last few years have seen our lives change in some pretty big ways, so I’m going to take a moment to appreciate just how much. 2015 was a pretty exceptional year for us, as was 2014, so 2016 has a steep climb ahead of it to equal what’s gone before.
In 2014, I married the love of my life, Anita, and we were both immensely proud to have our amazing children, Evan and Amber, with us to celebrate the day. Anita and I have been together for eight and a half years, and I can say with total certainty that I love her more now than I ever have. Evan and Amber are the icing on that cake, two little people who amaze us every day with their humour, intelligence, madness and love. 2014 ended with me traveling to America to speak to the guys at Riot Games. They were interested in me maybe taking a job with them. Sure, I thought, I’ll go over and talk to you. Let’s see what might happen…
Fast forward six months and Clan McNeill were on a plane to LA. We’d packed up our house, said our fare thee wells, and made the move to America. The months leading up to this day were, it’s fair to say, pretty stressful. Turns out, it’s no small thing to move an entire family from one continent to another. Who knew? I was working on trying to get a novel finished (which I will this year, I promise…), while planning out the logistics of the move, our visas, getting a place sorted to live in the US and making sure we had as many loose ends tied up behind us as we could. We got to LA in the rain, and stepped into our house with no furniture, no power, no food, no beds, no…anything. Luckily the folk at Riot had stepped up magnificently and we soon had a wealth of borrowed mattresses, lawn furniture and camp tables to use until our furniture arrived from the UK.
Looking back, those first few months were incredibly difficult. Trying to get sorted for bank accounts, phones, social security numbers, a rental car, a school place for Evan, a nursery spot for Amber and the like made for a steep learning curve. Jet-lagged strangers in a strange land, we spent a lot of our early days in the mall across the road, because it was the only place we knew and it got us out of the house. It was exhausting and stressful, but we slowly got through it all and adapted. A week after we got to LA, I started work, which meant Anita had to take up the slack of two kids in a foreign city with no car and no friends on hand and no local knowledge. My respect for that achievement is boundless.
Having our furniture arrive six weeks later was amazing. Suddenly we had our stuff! Our books, our games, our plates and our beds! Though we’d managed fine with the borrowed furniture, to have our own things around us felt brilliant, like the house was finally ours. Took us a week or so, but we finally got most things unboxed and put in the right place. Finally, we’d arrived…
And then we got broken into.
Which was a gut punch in all sorts of ways. We lost the TV, my bike and a bunch of Anita’s jewelry – including a ring she’d bought decades ago and planned to pass on to Amber, the Skye Silver necklace my mum got her, which she’d worn on our wedding day, and assorted rings and necklaces. Our only consolation was that it could have been a lot worse; we could have been in at the time, they could have taken so much more. But that’s not much help when you imagine folk rummaging around in your house while you’re out. Everyone who’s been burgled knows that sense of violation. It’s horrible, it makes you feel unsafe and afraid to leave your house unattended. Hard enough any time, but happening just as we’d started to feel like, yeah, we’ve arrived now, was a bitter pill to swallow. But we got on with things, because what else can you do? We’ve replaced most of the missing items, but it set us back a bit, there’s no denying it. If there was a time we came closest to turning tail and heading back to the UK, this was it. But we didn’t, and I give full credit to Anita for toughing that one out. We dusted ourselves off and kept on keeping on.
In almost every way, I’ve had the easiest time of assimilating over here. Every day I come into Riot and spend time with a lot of exceptionally talented, very cool, very passionate people. It’s exhilarating and refreshing, but not without its challenges. Unnecessary bureaucracy grates, and I think, after so long in the freelance wilderness, I’d become institutionalised against being istitutionalised. Office jargon, endless meetings…HR… Having said all that, I absolutely love being here and the work I’ve done, am doing and will have the opportunity to do in the future makes me inordinately thankful that we made the move here.
Given the visas we’re on, Anita isn’t allowed to work in the States, so she volunteers at Evan’s school; helping out with Science Class and Gardening Club. Through that, she’s met a load of the school mums and built up a lovely wee circle of pals, who’ve been fantastic in welcoming us to the area.
Evan started at a new school, which was exciting and challenging for him in many ways. He’s had his tribulations, but definitely more ups than downs. His maths skills are tremendous, his reading goes from strength to strength – as does his love and knowledge of science – and his handwriting, which was once indecipherably alien hieroglyphics, is now clear and totally legible. All this in the space of four months. We’re very proud of how well the wee man’s done in so short a time.
Amber rules the Earth. Or, if she doesn’t yet, it’s only because the planet’s rulers just haven’t acknowledged it openly thus far. She does three days a week at Pre-School and has great fun there – though she did try and play us for a bit in an attempt to get out of learning her letters and numbers – and the kids there all love her. She’s funny, clever, cute, and knows it, which makes her all the funnier when she makes me laugh like no-one else can. Everyone here loves her and welcomes their new golden-haired overlord.
After the break in, we had a new addition to the family in the form of Chelsea, our rescue dog. A mix of German Shepherd and – we think – Aussie Sheep Dog, she’s a lovely animal and the kids adore her. Chelsea is my first dog and it’s great to have her in the house, whether it’s running around like a maddy after her Chewie Chewy or just sleeping with her legs in the air in front of the fire.
We’ve had all manner of new experiences; new schools, new work, new friends, new side of the road to drive on. We had our first Thanksgiving, which was excellent and I recommend you try and wangle an invite to a US Thanksgiving dinner sometime. We’ve had highs and lows, but through it all we’ve had each other – which is what gets us through everything. It’s been five and a half months since we moved here and we’re all at the point of thinking that, yeah, we like it here. We still miss home, our friends and our families terribly. And, oddly enough, greenery. Green isn’t a colour you see much of over here, and the lush grass and trees of our Green and Pleasant Land are also much missed. Given the scale of the move and changes we’ve been through, I think we’re well ahead of the curve in terms of where we could reasonably have expected ourselves to be.
But, like I said, it’s Hogmanay as I write this, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen in a New Year without being in Scotland, which gives me a whole bag of mixed feelings. This time last year, Anita and I were gathered with the ‘Skye House’ folk to celebrate Hogmanay with the traditional spread of food, drink, games, shite new year telly (c’mon, it was ages ago Still Game Live sold out night after night, isn’t it time it got back on the Hogmanay TV schedule?). Always a great night of laughs, drink and almost-stramashes between the men and women in the annual battle of the sexes Pictionary/Trivial Pursuit and Articulate tournaments.
And on New Year’s Day, we’d have the clan gathering at one of the extended family’s houses, where all those descended from the brothers and sisters who came down from Skye in the fifties would gather to catch up on the year that was and the year yet to come. And this year it’s being held at my mum and dad’s house, which makes it doubly sad to miss.
It’s been a year of big change, but change is good. Change avoids stagnation. Change keeps you fresh and invigorated. It makes you look down and see if that groove is actually a rut. It’s been challenging for all of us in very different ways, but the potential for the year(s) to come is incredible. The paths open to me, Anita, Evan and Amber are so varied and exciting that any trials and tribulations we’ve been through will, I’m sure, prove to have been worth it.
May you live in interesting times. I think I get that now.