Our First Year in New Zealand

I’ve been going through Dad’s old photographs, watching my sister and I grow up. The photos from 2001, our first year in New Zealand, brought back so many memories: places I’d forgotten we’d visited. I thought I’d share them with you now.

I was ten years old when we moved to New Zealand; my sister was seven. Dad emigrated six months before us, so when we finally arrived with Mum, he was bursting to show us the places he’d discovered. He couldn’t even wait for us to get over our jetlag!

It was the middle of winter, but the weather was still nice. Dad immediately took us to buy wetsuits and surfboards. I’d never been surfing before, as we’d lived nowhere near a beach in England, but I took to it at once. It was like riding a rollercoaster!

My sister enjoyed it too, at least until we realised her lips had gone blue! Maybe surfing in winter hadn’t been such a good idea after all. My sister had already thrown up in the local newsagent’s after OD’ing on kiwifruit, the first time we walked into town. She can’t stand kiwifruit to this day.

Despite the rocky start, and the frankly comical number of accidental injuries she gave herself that first year, my sister thrived in New Zealand. She’s a true nature-lover, so New Zealand is the perfect place for her. She’s currently down in the South Island studying wildlife conservation.

I, on the other hand, didn’t thrive. I missed England too much. I still managed to have fun, though, whether playing at Kariotahi Beach,

Kariotahi Beach

crawling through lava caves on the island volcano of Rangitoto,

Rangitoto

or pretending to be Merlin at the Waikato Museum.

Waikato Museum

We visited Auckland Zoo a lot,

Feeding Giraffe at Auckland Zoo

saw many of New Zealand’s North Island waterfalls,

Hunua Falls

had a ride on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway,

Glenbrook Vintage Railway

and found this old plane that someone had converted into a garage somewhere out in the wop-wops.

We went to Cathedral Cove,

Cathedral Cove

the Auckland Domain,

Auckland Domain

the Hamilton Gardens,

Hamilton Gardens

and so many other places – I’m not going to list them all. But I will mention Muriwai Beach so I can show you this picture Dad took.

Muriwai Gannet

It sure was an action-packed first year in New Zealand!

Finally, here’s a picture I found of our first Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s me and my sister jumping on our new trampoline. You couldn’t do that on Christmas Day in England!

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Kiwis Keep Dialling 911 Instead of 111 and Here’s Why

You know something? I’ve lived in New Zealand for sixteen years and I still think the emergency number is 999.

“I mean I know it’s 911…” I said to my partner the other day, to which he replied:

“No, Abby, it’s 111. 911 is America.”

Oh. I mean I knew it was 111, but… come on! I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old – how can I still be making this mistake?!

Well, maybe it’s because 999 was the number I had drilled into me as a child. As for 911, well, we get a lot of American TV shows in New Zealand.

So, I’m screwed, right? If I’m ever in an emergency where I have to dial 999 – I mean 911 – I mean 111 – oh, f**k it! See what I mean?

Or am I screwed? You know what? I’m going to google what happens when you dial 999 in New Zealand.

*A short time later…*

Well, I googled what happens when you dial 999 in New Zealand. Apparently, it goes straight to a recorded message telling you to dial 111. There must be a lot of British immigrants in New Zealand who are just as useless as I am!

According to this article from 2013, however, if you dial 911 in New Zealand, it goes straight through to the 111 emergency line. But, wait, I thought there were significantly more British immigrants than American immigrants in New Zealand? To Google!

*Another short time later…*

Yes, I was right. (Although US immigration enquiries increased significantly after the 2016 presidential election. LOL.) So, the question is why does the US emergency number work in New Zealand? Why doesn’t it just go to the same recorded message as when you dial 999?

The answer seems to be simply the influence of the US media on New Zealanders. Too many Kiwis have been corrupted by American movies and TV shows. We hear 911 quoted way more than we hear 111 and, well, in an emergency our brains go to custard. Oops.

Of course, I’m including myself as a Kiwi in this, given what I said to my partner the other day.

So, folks, remember that the New Zealand emergency number is 999 – oh, f**king hell! I swear that was accidental and not a feeble attempt at making this article funny. 111. F**king 111. The New Zealand emergency number is 111.

Healthcare in New Zealand

From the Diary of an Immigrant Child

POMS AWAY!

I’m rubbish at keeping diaries. Only once in my life have I kept one successfully: my first few months in New Zealand. I was ten years old, friendless in a brave new world, and I wrote. And guess what? I recently found that diary in the bottom of my old toy chest at my parents’ house.

AbbyAged9 The ten-year-old me

I’m twenty-four now, so reading through what the ten-year-old me had written was both hilarious and heartbreaking. I was absolutely obsessed with Harry Potter. I know we all were at that age and still are, but the number of Hogwarts-based dreams I recounted is ridiculous! The number of times I reported my little sister Lucie hurting herself is also ridiculous. I remembered her being a clumsy child, but not that clumsy!

Anyway, I thought I’d take the best bits from the ten-year-old me’s diary and share them here. If you’re…

View original post 2,165 more words

10 Reasons New Zealand Is Better Than England

“Better” is a subjective term, but we’re doing this anyway, so hold onto your monocles, Brits!

1) New Zealand is less crowded than England

The population of England is approximately 55 million; the population of New Zealand is approximately 5 million, and New Zealand is significantly larger than England in land area! Last time I returned to New Zealand after visiting family in England, the relief I felt was palpable. I like not having to push through crowds or queue for ages everywhere I go. I like having room to breathe.

2) New Zealand actually sees the sun sometimes

It’s hard to dispute that New Zealand has better weather than England. My mum, after sixteen years living in New Zealand, still can’t get over the fact that she can, at times, sunbathe in the middle of winter. (Then again, she does live in the Bay of Plenty. Dunedin, for example, might be different.)

3) New Zealand offers a more outdoorsy lifestyle

The aforementioned good weather, combined with an abundance of nature, makes New Zealand an absolute paradise for outdoor pursuits. As a kid, I experienced far more family picnics in New Zealand than we ever had in England.

4) New Zealand’s got way more unspoilt countryside

There are very few places you can go in England that don’t bear the mark of man. New Zealand has a greater range of natural scenery that simply takes your breath away.

5) BEACHES!

They say nearly three quarters of the population of New Zealand lives within 5 km of a beach. Going to the beach in New Zealand is an activity so common that it’s taken for granted. When I lived in England, it was a rare, long-prepared-for daytrip, and the beaches in question were cold, crowded and lined with tacky shops. New Zealand’s beaches are beautiful, clean and unspoilt by manmade structures.

Cathedral Cove

6) VOLCANOES!

When you’re a kid from England, the first time you see a steaming volcano is something special! Sights such as geysers, sulphurous lakes and mud pools that bubble like gloopy hot chocolate still seem utterly magical to me. Many people object to the eggy smell of certain places like Rotorua, but I love it. To me, it smells of excitement and wonder; of a place very different from home that fires the imagination. England, of course, hasn’t had any active volcanoes for many millions of years.

Ngauruhoe

7) New Zealand sport teams actually win occasionally

I mean I don’t give a f**k, personally, but still…

8) New Zealanders give less of a f**k about things

Sport aside, New Zealanders are way more relaxed about things than Brits are. This is probably where the “Kiwis are so nice” stereotype comes from. Brits are generally harsher towards each other, and care more about keeping up appearances and keeping up with the Joneses. I once had to explain to my Kiwi boyfriend that the way my family interacts with other is actually very warm and loving. Taking the p**s out of each other is how Brits show affection.

Mount Maunganui

9) New Zealand’s political system is arguably better than England’s

New Zealand is one of only four countries in the world that has MMP, or the Mixed Member Proportional way of voting, as opposed to FPP, or First Past the Post. MMP means that everyone’s vote has equal power, and minor political parties hold more sway. This means New Zealand is less likely to be governed by extremism, although the Kiwi attitude to life itself is a good defence against extremism. (Kiwis are relatively apathetic in general.)

I wouldn’t say New Zealand’s parliament buildings are better than England’s, though…

10) New Zealand has a more peaceful pace of life

In New Zealand, people expect less of you. You could say this discourages the populace from being the best they can be, but, at the end of the day, I think it’s a good thing. People are under far less pressure and have a much better work-life balance. They’re free to hang out at the beach and take advantage of all the natural beauty New Zealand has to offer.

Now read: 10 Reasons England Is Better Than New Zealand

10 Reasons England Is Better Than New Zealand

That’s right – we’re doing this. Suck it, Kiwis!

1) England has better pubs

The oldest pub in England dates back to 1189 and is built into the sandstone beneath Nottingham Castle. There, you can drink your warm, flat beer in a cave containing a tunnel up into the castle. And if you just scoffed at the words “warm, flat beer”: it’s warm and flat so you can actually taste it. This means English beer has to be good beer, unlike the fizzy, frozen sheep’s p**s that Kiwis call Lion Red.

2) England has cheaper groceries

This one isn’t at all subjective. The weekly food shop in England is easier on your wallet than the weekly food shop in New Zealand. England has many competing supermarket companies, whereas New Zealand has only two. New Zealand needs an Aldi!

3) England has more artistic opportunities

Artists are often made to feel undervalued in New Zealand. Many leave to find success in countries like Australia, the US and, of course, the UK. England has a greater appreciation of art in general and, due to its population, far more of it. Kiwis are generally less willing to “waste” their hard-earned cash on the arts.

4) England isn’t in the middle of f**king nowhere

From New Zealand, it takes a lot of time, preparation and money to visit practically any other country. You can’t just pop to Europe on a whim. (Yeah, yeah, Brexit. Grr.) Sometimes, New Zealand feels depressingly isolated. Of course, being in the middle of f**king nowhere has its advantages, but cheap luxury items isn’t one of them.

5) England has better history

You might think I’m a hypocrite for saying this, as I wrote this rather impassioned defence of New Zealand history, but – face it – at the end of the day, England’s history is more exciting. (If only because there’s more of it.) Viking raids, murderous kings and castles under siege is the stuff Western fantasy’s built on!

Stonehenge

6) England has better buildings

I mean it’s not New Zealand’s fault it doesn’t have grand, medieval cathedrals, Tudor pubs or Georgian palaces, but…

Lincoln Information Centre

7) English houses have central heating

It is New Zealand’s fault that most of its houses were built without central heating. New Zealand might have a generally warmer climate than England, but it’s not exactly tropical. Whose bright idea was it that Kiwis didn’t need central heating?!

“Ah, she’ll be right – just throw another sheep on the fire!”

“Nah, mate, we’re not wasting any sheep. We’re hardy frontier folk. Anyone says they’re cold, they’re a bloody wuss. Stop coughing, Jono – harden the f**k up. We’ve got a tractor to mend with number eight wire.”

8) England doesn’t tax books

Or essential food items, but it’s the books I care about. (Because my priorities are on point.) Books are expensive as in New Zealand. It sucks.

9) English. Comedy.

Need I say more?

10) Umm… to be honest, I’m struggling at this point… uh… SQUIRRELS!

Yeah, squirrels. When I visited England with a group of Kiwis, they were immediately taken with the squirrels. Watching the cute, furry things scampering about under trees and snatching your offerings of food with their little hands is simply delightful. One even climbed up my grandpa’s trouser leg once, and I’ve seen a couple playing on a fallen branch like it was a seesaw! I don’t know if this necessarily makes England better than New Zealand, though, because New Zealand has its own delightfully amusing wildlife in the form of the kea

Next time: 10 Reasons New Zealand Is Better Than England

My Wandering Accent

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be a New Zealander. As soon as I open my mouth, people assume I’m on holiday here. Or that I’m one of Britain’s post-Brexit escapees. It’s the same conversation every time:

“No, I’ve lived here since I was child,” I say.

“Oh, your accent’s still really strong,” they say.

“They don’t think so back in Britain,” I say. “They tell me I sound slightly Australian.”

It’s the inflection, I think. I’ve picked up on the Kiwi inflection, but not the vowel sounds.

People say I haven’t lost my accent, but a while ago Dad was digitising some home movies, and we were all shocked at how strong my accent used to be! There’s a video of a tiny me reciting Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and my short ‘a’s and short ‘u’s stand out like gunshots.

That’s the Northern accent. Those harsh, practical vowel sounds are obviously so ingrained in me that no amount of Kiwi influence can erase them. Only smudge them.

“Your accent’s all over the place, to be honest,” a British friend told me recently. “But you can still tell you’re fundamentally a Northerner. I couldn’t say where in the North…”

My accent’s partly all over the place because I spend a lot of time putting accents on, especially the various British accents. If I watch Shirley Valentine or Red Dwarf, I’ll briefly become a Scouser. Once, I binge-watched the entire first series of The Crown and, without meaning to, spoke in an awfully plummy RP accent for the rest of the week. I find it surprising difficult to put on a Kiwi accent, though.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I was very stubborn about keeping my English identity. I didn’t want to lose my accent. I exaggerated the Northern as a matter of course. (This was partly because my Kiwi classmates thought that being English automatically made you posh. I. AM. NOT. POSH.)

As with my accent, I accidentally, and then accidentally-on-purpose, wrote £ signs on my maths work instead of $ signs. Then, one day, I realised I’d been using $ signs without thinking about it. My parents also pointed out that I was beginning to sound Kiwi. I stopped. I haven’t started again.

The Kiwi accent is so laidback, you see. All the vowels end up sounding the same. They get blurred together in a sort of lazy, monotonous mumble. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian. (And you can’t fake an accent without putting any conscious effort into it.)

The only time I’ve ever come out with a Kiwi accent is when I haven’t been thinking about it.

Once, I had such a sore throat that I was putting as little effort into speaking as possible.

“You sound like a Kiwi right now,” a Kiwi friend said.

Another time, I was pretending to whine about something, and my Kiwi flatmate said, “Ooh, you sounded Kiwi then.”

“That’s because I was whining,” I replied.

He pulled the finger at me.

“I’m not trying to insult the Kiwi accent,” I continued, battling to construct an academic argument through our laughter.  I really hadn’t meant it as an insult. (That time.) “It’s just the truth.”

Various Kiwi comedians have pointed out the whiny and monotonous nature of the Kiwi accent. It sounds like an accent that’s trying its best to be unobtrusive. Maybe it’s all to do with Tall Poppy Syndrome. Kiwis don’t want to stand out. (As a country we do, but not so much as individuals.) I occasionally catch myself deliberately toning down my articulation so people won’t think I’m pretentious.

Hey – I never realised quite how many metaphors for the Kiwi attitude to life can be found in the Kiwi accent. (I should also point out here that, on the whole, unpretentiousness is a good thing, and one of the reasons I like living in New Zealand. Laziness – or, to put it another way, carefreeness – can also be a good thing. What’s the point of working hard if you don’t enjoy life?)

I may not habitually speak in a Kiwi accent, but I have, of course, picked up plenty of Kiwi slang. I criminally overuse the word ‘awesome’. I never say ‘sweet as’, but I quite often respond to people with ‘sweet’ – in a Kiwi accent, I might add. I don’t try – it doesn’t work in any British accent. (Try grunting the word ‘swede’ with an upward inflection. That might get you close.)

I feel like my years in New Zealand have kind of neutralised my original accent; averaged it out across all of England. I definitely sound posher than I did as a kid. More Southern, even though those harsh, Northern vowels can still be detected by someone who knows what they’re listening for. It’s easy to slip back, though.

It’s so funny meeting another English person at a party. I met someone from near Nottingham (Not-ing-um) once and, before I knew it, I was speaking with the broadest Nottinghamshire accent imaginable. So was the other person. It was like a positive feedback loop. My partner said the same thing happened when we met a lady from Yorkshire in an antiques shop. He said he watched in bewilderment as our accents just got stronger and stronger. It’s a wonder all the Yorkshire didn’t explode and knock over a table of antique teacups.

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.