Infiltrating the World of Rugby

I’ve lived in New Zealand fifteen years and I’ve never come around to rugby. But then I am opposed to all sports in general, aside from rock climbing and chess. My partner is the same. Tim was born in New Zealand, and he’s never gotten into rugby either.

You’ve seen The IT Crowd, right? Tim’s pretty much Moss. (Luckily for him, I happen to find Moss deeply sexually attractive.) You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when Tim, who was staying with his brother down south for a few days, texted me this…

Tim: We’re on our way to a rugby game.

I recovered just enough to type a reply that, even with a text message’s inherent lack of vocal tone, Tim would know was thoroughly sarcastic…

Me: Well I’m sure you’ll enjoy that immensely.

At this point, my mum asked who I was texting and, subsequently, what Tim was up to. She was just as surprised as I was. I proceeded to do an impression of Moss at a football match in that episode of The IT Crowd. You know, this one…

Then, a short while later, I received this text…

Tim: Hooray, he’s kicked the ball. Now the ball’s over there. That man has it now. That’s an interesting development. Maybe he’ll kick the ball. He has indeed and, apparently, that deserves a round of applause.

Me: Ha-ha! I quoted that to Mum just before. We are soulmates and I love you.

Tim: I love you too.

Tim continued to send me texts throughout the game, which should give you some idea of just how riveted he was. I’ve reproduced them here (with his permission) for your amusement…

Tim: Now the game is on hold so we can analyse slow motion footage of men diving onto a pile of other men.

Tim: A decision was reached. Now they’re running.

Me: You can get through this, darling.

Tim: I thought so too, but I’m not so sure now that I’ve spilled beer on my hand-knitted alpaca wool gloves.

Tim: One of the numbers on the digital display has increased, followed by positive music. This is a good omen.

Tim: My distress about the alpaca wool has been neutralised by more beer, this time taken orally.

Me: You might even get drunk enough to enjoy it.

Tim: I am full of beer and not drunk. Alas.

Tim: The game is on hold again. Some players take the opportunity to call their assistants to tie their shoelaces.

Me: Who’s playing? (Mum asks.)

Tim: Blues and Highlanders. There can be only one.

Hands up – who got that reference?

Soon, the game was over. Tim had survived.

When he got back, I asked him whether his experience had converted him.

“No,” he said. “I mean I was never really against rugby. I think it’s a good thing for a country to have something to rally behind. It’s a good excuse to go out, and there are lots of different kinds of people there, but I still find it fairly boring to watch. I’m not for it. Watching rather than doing seems a bit pointless. I think I only devoted about half my time to actually watching it. I was more distracted by the people and the advertisements. I don’t know… I just… I wish our national sport was less risky.”

“So, you’d prefer competitive programming?” I asked.

He laughed.

“Do you think this makes you less of a New Zealander?” I probed.

“Not really. Kinda. Yeah-nah,” he said. “There are different groups within New Zealand. Some would be against anyone who voiced a negative opinion of rugby. There are also lots of people who don’t like rugby. I suppose it’s nice to have something that the bulk of the country can relate to on some level. Most hobbies are specialised, so you don’t meet a range of different people.”

So, there you are. Over the years, I’ve had a few readers write to me to ask whether, if you live in New Zealand, you have to like rugby. The answer, of course, is yes.

I’m joking. Yeah-nah. Of course you don’t have to like it. Just do what you want. You don’t have to like rugby to get involved occasionally and encounter different sorts of people. Or not. It takes all sorts to make a world.

Hamilton’s Historic Estate

Woodlands Historic Homestead

Need help finding things to do in Hamilton, New Zealand? Probably. At first glance, it can seem like the only place worth visiting in Hamilton is the Gardens. At second glance, you have to concede that the zoo is a great place to go in Hamilton as well. Then you’ve got the museum, Taitua Arboretum, Memorial Park and the lake. Admittedly, after that you’re beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We’ve lived in Hamilton for two years and we’re rapidly running out of new things to see. We have to keep visiting relatives entertained somehow!

Last weekend, however, we visited somewhere we’d never been before, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens. It’s about fifteen minutes by car from the centre of Hamilton, in a village called Gordonton. (By the looks of things, it won’t be a village much longer. In a few years, it’ll be swallowed up by the growing city and become just another suburb.) We were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was. I mean it’s not amazing or anything, but we’ve definitely found a new place in Hamilton to take our families.

Woodlands EstateWhen we arrived at Woodlands, we were greeted by the sight of uniformed children playing cricket on the lawn. How very English, wot! Also, in the carpark, there was a rustic stall selling produce from the gardens. Things already looked promising. We decided to look around the house first. This usually costs $5, but in the summer holidays it’s just $2. That day we got in for free, as we couldn’t go upstairs. (They were preparing for a wedding. Because of course they were preparing for a wedding.) Going around the gardens is free, but there is a box for donations.

Woodlands Estate SofaIt was by no means the most impressive historic house I’ve been around – not even in New Zealand. It was nice enough, though, and there was a big book you could flip through, explaining the history of the place. (The house was built in the 1870s.) I fell in love with the sofa, and with the book collection at the opposite end of the sitting room.

“No, we’re not coming back here under cover of darkness to steal books,” Tim said.

He’s such a spoilsport.

There was a mildly interesting little cellar and an old kitchen range. I think I saw some William Morris wallpaper. (Recognising William Morris wallpaper makes you sophisticated, right?) Then we stepped out into the gardens. The grass was still saturated from the spate of storms that still haven’t stopped, but that afternoon the sunlight gave the gardens a heavenly aura. We wove between the hedges and down the path to the pond.

Abby at the Woodlands Estate

The bridge over the pond looked quite magical, especially as we were coming up the driveway. The white ducks appeared to glow in the sunlight. It was a lovely place to just… sit. Or take wedding photographs, I suppose. Speaking of which, we found this beribboned swing waiting for the bride.

Woodlands Estate Wedding Swing

It didn’t take us as long as we’d expected to walk around the gardens, so we decided to check out the onsite café. It’s called Prof’s, and, apparently, there’s a quiz there on Friday nights. (Might be worth going to one of these days. I love quizzes.) We found the café to be beautifully decorated on the inside and the menu to be quite irresistible. Sitting in the café was when we decided that we had to bring our families to Woodlands.

The café seemed to cater very well to children. There was sports equipment outside, and board games and books inside. Everything looked very… civilised. Especially with the cricket going on in the background.

Woodlands Historic GardensSo, if you’re travelling around New Zealand and don’t know what to do in Hamilton, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens is a relaxing place to have lunch, with enough to keep both children and adults entertained for a couple of hours. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan trip, the nearest free camping spot (for self-contained vehicles only) is the carpark at Porritt Stadium.

For more places to see in Hamilton, check out the Hamilton category of this blog. (Yes, Hamilton has its own category now. I do live here, after all.)

Accepting New Zealand as Home

I did not immigrate to New Zealand willingly. When my parents informed me they were dragging me to the other side of the world – in an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh when I was nine years old – I threw a tantrum and threatened to run away. I’ve already told that story in Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand. In the end, I say I’m glad now that we moved; that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Clearly, I’ve come to accept New Zealand as home.

But when did that happen?

I pined for England for years after moving to New Zealand. Only recently, I uncovered a video diary I made when I was seventeen. Just the one entry. In it, I’m sitting on my uncle’s old bed at my grandma’s house, and I’m crying my eyes out.

It was the first time I’d been back to England since emigrating, and I was flying back to New Zealand the next day. I’d been staying with my grandma for three weeks. It wasn’t enough.

“I’ve just done something I haven’t done for seven years,” the seventeen-year-old me says, showing the pretentious dramatic flair that, apparently, my whole career has been built on. My nose is pink; my eyes glossy. Above my left eye is a fresh, red scar. (I’d fallen on my face at the school ball a few weeks earlier.) My voice is a blubbering whisper:

“I’ve just sobbed into my pillow.”

After a brief hesitation, during which I no doubt I felt very silly, I continue:

“It didn’t even feel like me sobbing… It… There’s something so deep inside me I can’t even reach it. Every sob was wrenched out of me… I was just clutching the edge of the pillow and I was trying to imagine it was someone’s hand… It’s just… It’s like I’m ten years old again, about to be ripped away from everything I’ve known, and my home, and I… I don’t want to leave. I really don’t want to leave.

“Elizabeth’s here.”

A selfie I tried to take of me and Liz

Elizabeth was my best friend. After moving to New Zealand, I never found another friend like her. I have never been as close to anyone, except my partner, Tim. When I returned to England at the age of seventeen, I was terrified that we wouldn’t fit together anymore. But we did. Things immediately snapped back into place, like I’d never left.

“She came round this afternoon, when I was packing. We made a video of us singing Mamma Mia together, and I’ve just watched it, and we’re both pissing ourselves laughing and falling about on the bed. It was wonderful, and I started laughing watching it, but then I started crying as well, and I just… I cried so, so much and now I can’t stop.

“I hate this. This is my home and I don’t want to leave it. I mean, obviously, I want to see people in New Zealand, but I want to see the people HERE as well. I just… I don’t… It’s going to be another few years – YEARS – before I’m back here. Before I can afford to come back here, and… and when I’m in New Zealand, yeah, it’s a home, but it’s not MY home.”

At this point, I become incomprehensible. The next thing I can make out is, “I need to blow my nose,” and, “Some video diary this is.”

My final view of Grandma’s house… from the pavement beside Uncle Damon’s car

After a somewhat mucousy interval, I continue: “I can just imagine it tomorrow. We’re going to be standing on the pavement by Uncle Damon’s car, just like last time, and Gran will be there, crying her eyes out, and I’ll be trying not to cry, but inside I’ll be so sick – it’s like my stomach’s tearing itself apart and my chest is breaking and my heart’s just… going down a whirlpool… that’s full of thorns… What the…? A whirlpool full of thorns – where did that come from?!

“I’m seeing Liz again tomorrow. It… It was like, even though we hadn’t seen each other for seven years, even though we’d missed out on everything, like puberty and all that stuff, it was as if no time had passed. But now, the next time we see each other, we’ll be adults. It’s like… this is the last time I see my best friend as a kid… like… like…” And, in the video, the seventeen-year-old me cringes at my choice of phrase here. “Those blissful summer days are gone.

HISTORY!

“It has been a good summer. And every day since I’ve been here, I’ve been so incredibly, incredibly happy. And now I’ve got to go back.

“Mum and Dad think I’m unhappy because I have to go back and immediately start revising for exams. I don’t mind exams. Once you’re inside, they’re quite relaxing. You just sit there, and it’s nice and quiet, and you write down what you know for a few hours. I don’t mind going off to uni either. Not really. It’s just… I don’t want to get on with my life and get stuck there. I want to come back here. I want to do comedy. I want to get my books published. I want to make history documentaries.

“My worst fear is I’ll wake up, early thirties, and still be living over there.”

Wow. So… I said that. Huh. I’m in my mid-twenties now. Umm…

“I’m going to stop this now, I think,” the seventeen-year-old me says. “Yep. Maybe I’ll look back at this one day and be inspired to write new material. Maybe. I’m dreading tomorrow. I need to sleep now, or when I get back to school I’ll be so, so jetlagged that I won’t be able to catch up on my work. But, at the same time, I’m scared that if I fall asleep I’m wasting the precious hours I have left here. So… Goodbye.”

And the video ends.

The next day happened exactly how I imagined it. I flew back to New Zealand (on my own) and I never saw my grandma again, because she developed Alzheimer’s and died before I could get back. (Incidentally, I tell that story in Saying Goodbye.)

I went on to ace my exams and spend the next four years at the University of Auckland, where I developed severe depression. A uni counsellor told me that it’s not unusual for immigrant kids to develop depression, (and you can read more about that in The Existential Crisis of the Immigrant Child,) but I don’t know if moving to New Zealand is solely responsible for my mental health issues. I mean I find it extremely difficult to interact with people, but that might have happened anyway as I grew up. Even when I lived in England, before the age of ten, I was the sort of kid that wished other kids would leave me alone so I could read. (Except Elizabeth.)

Maybe I was always destined to never fit in anywhere.

Obviously, I didn’t accept New Zealand as home back when I was seventeen, but I’m twenty-five now. I’ve lived in New Zealand for three fifths of my life. If I can’t call New Zealand home, I can’t call anywhere home. And I do like living in New Zealand. Everything I’ve written in this blog is true. It wasn’t New Zealand’s fault that I didn’t accept it as home. It was just that my heart belonged to England. Now, however, my heart belongs to Tim.

Port SunlightI met Tim in my final year of uni. I was a post-grad; he was a third-year. (But we were the same age. I started uni when I was seventeen.) I’d never met anyone like him. He thought like I did. We fit together. I hadn’t fit together with anyone since Elizabeth. This was what I’d been missing. For ten whole years of my life, I’d been missing someone with whom I could share my life.

It’s such a terrible cliché. It really is. But when I’m with Tim I feel whole.

We’ve been together five years now. We’ve known for a long time we’ll be together forever. We might still go and live in Europe for a bit, but we want to settle down, raise a family and grow old in New Zealand.