The Glass Ballerina

My skin crawled with sweat as I wrestled the tinsel around the tree. I was only wearing a slip, but summer had come hard. I sighed and dug through the bag of decorations: relics of my childhood in England. Every year, Grandpa would take my sister and I to a special shop heaving with the spirit of Christmas; every year, we were allowed to choose two new tree ornaments each. The result was a wonderful, eclectic mess.

To my child’s mind, the shop had been truly magical. It was so filled with shiny things that time and space had seemed distorted within it. Choosing just two decorations was always a trial, but I’ll never forget the year I found the glass ballerina.

Back then, I dreamed of being a ballerina. (I wasn’t yet lonely enough to dream of being a writer.)

The glass ballerina had me immediately enchanted. She was beautiful. I made a stage for her on the palm of my hand as she hung from her display. She was delicate and clear, like ice sculpture, balancing on the point of one slipper.

She wasn’t actually glass; she was plastic, but I didn’t realise that at the time, and she was forever glass to me.

Every year from then, when we were decorating the tree, my glass ballerina was the first ornament I looked for. It was the first ornament I looked for now, sweating under the New Zealand sun. I found her and fished her out, only to see that the foot she balanced on had broken off.

I searched for it to no avail. Indeed, I found that many of the decorations we’d bought back in England were broken.

I wasn’t surprised. Plastic degrades, and they were all two decades old, give or take a few years. It was just more evidence of my life in England crumbling under the relentless onslaught of time.

I put them on the tree anyway. You couldn’t tell they were broken from a distance.

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Of Calf Club and Culture Shock

lambs

I hadn’t long been in New Zealand when I was confronted by the sight of sheep on the school field.

And cows.

And goats.

Walking amongst them was a surreal experience. Adding to my surprise was the fact that none of the other children were wearing shoes. Neither did they seem bothered about stepping in the ever-increasing quantity of dung.

I’d found it strange enough that there were no uniforms at my new school, and that classes finished half an hour earlier than they had in England, and that there was no fence around the school, and that everyone had a meat pie and a chocolate milkshake for lunch, and that they all thought I spoke posh even though my Retford accent was as broad as a donkey’s backside.

Now the school field had become a farmyard.

It was Calf Club Day, an annual event that had been part of rural New Zealand primary school life since the 1920s. Each kid got given their own lamb, or calf, or – err – kid to raise, and then they’d bring them into school and show them off. Then they ate them.

I wasn’t against the killing of animals. I just wasn’t used to children my age being so blasé about it. Typical bloody townie, I suppose. Still, the experience did nothing but add to my impression that the plane which had brought my family to New Zealand had also taken us back in time.

It was as though chaos, the world of the animals, was encroaching upon order, the world of the school. I didn’t like it, but I knew I should have done.

Despite feeling a little left out, I had no desire to raise a farm animal of my own. At that stage, I had no desire to take part in any aspect of New Zealand life.

Those first few months in New Zealand, I felt like I was in a dream. I kept expecting to wake up back in England. I’d write and write until my immediate surroundings disappeared. I’d wish my characters were real, so I could be friends with them.

One day, I ordered a pie and a milkshake from the school tuck shop, but they made me feel sick. The pie was like warm, wet cat food and the milkshake was revoltingly sweet. I didn’t regret the experience, however. Ordering something from the tuck shop, rather than bringing sandwiches from home, seemed to me a sign of integration; of getting into the swing of my new life.

That was over half a lifetime ago. Surely, I’m fully integrated into the culture of New Zealand now? Well I was reading something about ‘being British’ the other day, nodding along as I conformed to trait after trait. Slowly, however, I realised that I was no longer British in at least one respect: I no longer gave a fuck about formality. That’s very Kiwi.

But I’m still not a Kiwi. It’s impossible to feel like one when every new person I meet assumes I’m on holiday, or I’ve just moved here and am therefore ignorant. (Or worse, depending on the individual’s prejudices regarding the English.)

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

“Oh, you’ve still got your accent,” they say.

But I haven’t. I no longer sound like a Retfordian. How could I when I’ve spent nearly twice as long in New Zealand?

So, what is my culture? I was thinking about it last night. (I couldn’t sleep.) I may not be entirely Kiwi; I may not be entirely British. I’ve agonised so long about not fitting in, but I have friends. I have lots of friends. And they’ve all got one thing in common.

I have a culture.

I am a nerd.

female tenth doctor cosplay

Read more about

Kiwis not wearing shoes

Starting school in New Zealand

New Zealand being back in time

My accent dilemma

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!

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