I didn’t mean to move to London. Back in the early nineties, well before the Spice Girls asked me what I really, really wanted, I bid a hasty farewell to New Zealand in search of a quick adventure. Everyone else was at it, in fact some had gone and already come back again. My turn, I thought. “I’ll be gone a year, two at the most” I told Mum.
So, armed with my hard copy of Lonely Planet (oh yes, early nineties indeed), an oversized backpack complete with hand sewn NZ flag (thanks Mum) and proof of a British grandfather, I boarded my first international flight.
Growing up in seventies New Zealand, British humour prevailed in our house. Bruce Forsyth was The King of Saturday Night. We adored a bit of Dick Emery fast-forward action, Dave Allen was the definition of wry wit and I could rattle off any number of Morecombe & Wise sketches. I had a thinly disguised crush on Richard O’Sullivan and my older-woman-role-models were Yootha Joyce and Frances de la Tour. (Those cheekbones! That voice! respectively).
My Fair Lady was my favourite musical and yes, I did pretend to be Cockney just because the accent was so fabulous. I even used rhyming slang occasionally. The fact that no-one had any idea what I was saying was no Barney Rubble. It helped that my father bore a more than passing resemblance to Rex Harrison.
Back to ’93. I’d been told that London was a bit grey, a bit chilly, a bit damp and a bit dark. Well, in April 1993 this was all true. It didn’t make a jot of difference to me, I was far too busy laughing my way through half the pubs north of the river. Then, I moved flats and did the same on the other side of the Thames.
I was drawn to people with a story to tell, a twinkle in their eye, a firm grasp of the double entendre and the inability to take themselves too seriously. They were easy to find in London.
“This’ll do me”, I thought. “Two years should do it”.
And then I met my husband
Originally from Liverpool and now a London boy, accomplished at all of the above, plus some. Thus began my 12 year London tenure.
Fast forward to 2004, a baby daughter and the inkling that we should think about going home, maybe.
It was his idea. Initially, I was resistant – his family! My friends! My job! The proximity to Paris! (Side note: if you’re contemplating jumping on a train to Paris for the weekend but haven’t gotten around to it: just do it. For me).
Suffice to say the decision was made to head back and so we packed a container full of memories and set off to The Other Side of the World, aka Auckland, aka home.
So…. why did going home feel like a scarier proposition than leaving?
Well, everyone had buggered off, for one. Family and friends had left town, mostly for other parts of the country (did someone tell them we were coming back?). Life had not been preserved in amber, after all. We needed to forge a new beginning – there was no slotting painlessly into a comfortable routine. Hubby had to re-train, and I found myself working in a soulless finance company full of people who – dare I say it – took themselves too seriously.
I was missing the UK terribly. We were still pre-Skype so my girlfriends would take photos during “our” dinners in Soho and text them to me so I could be quietly miserable simultaneously at my desk in Downtown Auckland.
In my post-UK funk I couldn’t even turn to chocolate – it’s a different kind down here, and although I now fully appreciate it, some might say a little too much, back then I was mourning my loss of access to the Yorkie Bar. Nowadays there are shops that sell UK produce and Yorkies are for sale, but at a price.
There is a but and it’s pretty big – almost Khardashian-esque. New Zealand is a beautiful and relatively easy place to live. Auckland is a cosmopolitan and exciting city. Kiwis do have a sense of humour – it’s not the same kind but I have found friends who make me laugh till I cry. It’s not as easy to make friends in New Zealand but once you make them, they are yours for life, whether you like it or not. I found myself able to drive the car, with our baby girl, to the beach for a quick swim. I could sit on a hilltop overlooking Auckland’s harbour to watch the yachts, launches, ferries and container ships coming and going. Hubby could go fishing whenever he wanted. Eventually hubby qualified and I found a job I love.
Ten years on, and we’re home. But it wasn’t easy. Sometimes our dog will find a spot on the floor she thinks she’ll like, then walk around in a circle for a while before finally settling down in that spot with a contented sigh. We circled for a good few years.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in two great places and we hope to visit the UK again soon. I often find myself wishing NZ and the UK were closer – like Paris – how wonderful to catch a train! But New Zealand is the place it is partly because of its isolation. And now I realise that’s okay. But only just.