Summer’s End

Summer ended abruptly this year. One day it was warm and bright and cicadas were chirping outside; the next it was cold and dark and my mum had cancer. I mean a month’s worth of rain fell in a day and a night.

There’s flooding, of course, and warnings of more severe thunderstorms to come. Rather ironically, Auckland is now facing a water shortage – unsettled silt in the dams due to flooding, apparently. And my mum has cancer.

It’s all I’ve been able to think about for days.

There was a brief respite when, during a shower, I heard a knocking at the door. I hurried to answer it, flustered, dripping, and with a towel held awkwardly around me, only to find that it was a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They asked me, quite patronisingly, if my husband was at work.

Okay, one, I’m not married; my BOYFRIEND is at work. Two, I’m also at work, actually, as I work from home. Three, THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO MONTHS THAT YOU’VE GOTTEN ME OUT OF THE SHOWER.

It didn’t even occur to me until after I’d gotten rid of them that some people find solace in religion at times like this. I’m not that kind of person. I’m the kind of person that obsesses over the worst-case scenario of any given situation. And I’ve been in this situation before. Three years ago, my partner’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago, she died.

“I know you’re thinking ‘not again’,” my mum told me over the phone.

She knows me so well.

Fortunately, my boyfriend and I already had plans to visit my parents this weekend. We booked the coach a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my parents live right beneath the big, red, swirling thing on the ‘severe weather warning’ map. The road there is going to be… interesting.

***

I’m on the coach. The clouds are such a deep grey I can barely see to write. (The light above me isn’t working.) The driver says we’re going a different route because of a collapsed bridge. My mum had surgery again yesterday. I rang today, but she felt too sick to talk to me. Dad’s picking us up when we get there. I don’t know why I even tried to write.

***

I’m at home. My parent’s home. It’s still weird calling Hamilton home. According to our flatmate, the pavement in front of our house is knee-deep in water. It’s not actually too bad here. Weather-wise. There’s more of a depression inside my dad than outside the window. That was a bad joke, but ‘storm’ wouldn’t have worked because he’s not angry. I can barely hear him his words are so heavy.

***

I’m at the hospital. Mum’s good. Well, as good as you can be when you’ve had two major surgeries in as many weeks. She’s had chunks out of her legs and lymph nodes out of her groin, but she’s up and laughing and worrying about her hair.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only gone all flat and greasy.”

She laughed. She tried to show Dad a picture of her stitched up shin, but he couldn’t bear to look.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only like Nightmare Before Christmas.”

She managed to do a lap of the toilet block with a walker. (When she came round the corner, I held out a coat like a flag.) She’s doing so well it’s hard to believe she’s got cancer at all. Maybe she hasn’t anymore. Maybe they caught it early enough and it’s all been cut out. Maybe she won’t have to have radiation or chemo. Maybe her legs haven’t been screwed up for life. (Because, you know, removing lymph nodes isn’t exactly good for the body.)

Maybe. We’ll see.

It’s the ‘we’ll see’ part that’s driving me crazy.

***

The old woman in the hospital bed next to my mum’s said, “I’m very fastidious when it comes to cleaning. I can’t stand to have anything crooked; I’m always straightening things. I’m a bit AC/DC, you know.”

Mum whispered that to me. She knew I’d want to write it down.

***

I’m back in Hamilton. And guess what. IT’S SUMMER AGAIN. It’s warm and bright and cicadas are chirping outside. Typical bloody New Zealand weather and, I might add, not at all symbolic. Mum’s still in hospital.

Sorry for the patchy blog post this week, but I’m feeling too weird to fix it.

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Healthcare in New Zealand

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination, but now it seems more so than ever. My Best Place to Live in New Zealand article suddenly became popular at the end of last year – no prizes for guessing why – and continues to be one of Poms Away’s most-viewed. So, with no sign of global interest in moving to New Zealand slowing down, I thought I’d write an article of use to both potential immigrants and tourists. (Also, I registered at a new medical centre just this morning, so the topic happens to be on my mind. I moved house last week, you see.)

Socialised Healthcare

In New Zealand, the medical system is socialised. This means that hospital visits are free for citizens and permanent residents. Even tourists can get help with accidental injury treatment costs through ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation. Yes, it means you pay for the nation’s healthcare through your taxes, but most people are fine with that and wish more was spent on it. And it means you’re not screwed if you can’t afford health insurance.

Health Insurance

Only about a third of New Zealanders have health insurance. It’s a good thing to have if you can afford it, as in the public system waiting times for surgery can be horrendous. (But, hey, it’s a lot better than nothing at all.) Obviously, you can get a better quality of care if you go private.

Doctors’ Visits

doctor-1825417_960_720Seeing a GP in New Zealand isn’t free, but it is subsidised as long as you’re enrolled at the medical centre you’re attending. Enrolling is free – just make sure you take your passport with you. Depending on which medical centre you choose, visits can cost anywhere from $10 to $70, with about $40 being normal. Under-13’s are generally free. You usually need to book appointments a few days in advance, but you can get emergency appointments, or go to an emergency clinic – but they’re quite expensive, maybe between $50 and $100 per visit. (This is New Zealand dollars, remember.)

Prescriptions

Most medicine you get on prescription is subsidised, so you’ll only pay $5 for it, no matter what it is. There was a bit of excitement recently following the announcement that the contraceptive pill might soon become available in New Zealand over-the-counter, but my excitement dissipated when I read that it would cost $45 for a three-month supply. (That’s the same as the cost of a six-month supply of on-prescription contraceptive pills, including the doctor’s visit you need to obtain the prescription.)

Doctors’ Visits for Tourists

Long story short, if you’re going to be visiting New Zealand as a tourist, get health insurance. Casual appointments for non-residents can cost in excess of $100. And don’t even ask about the cost of an ambulance.

Ambulances

Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. If you have to take a ride in an ambulance and you’re not a New Zealand resident, it’ll cost you $800. (Yeah. Get travel insurance, tourists.) But it’s less than $100 for residents, and if you’re rushed to hospital following an accident, ACC pays.

Abortion

Abortion is legal in New Zealand up to 20 weeks, but only if two separate, properly certified abortion doctors declare you physically or mentally unfit to have a child. There are allowances for cases of incest, sexual abuse, foetal abnormality and extremes of age. After 20 weeks, an abortion may only be performed to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury.

Dentistry

Children can visit the dentist for free in New Zealand, but adults can’t. For the majority of the population, dentistry isn’t subsidised at all. Indeed, less than half the population sees a dentist on any kind of regular basis. People simply can’t afford it. You’re looking at an average of perhaps $100 for an examination with x-rays.

Optometry

Similar to dentistry, children can get free vision checks in certain places, and people with community services cards are entitled to a children’s spectacle subsidy, but not so for adults. The cheapest eye tests I’ve found are $60, and you can expect to pay up to $600 for mid-range glasses. The ones I’m wearing now cost, I think, $250, including lenses.

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Overall

Overall, I’m happy with the quality of healthcare available in New Zealand. Because it’s socialised, I’ve never had to worry about going to the hospital. People looking at immigrating to New Zealand, however, may have their application declined if it’s judged that they would be an undue burden on the health system.

I would like to add that, last week, my mum had to have surgery. She doesn’t have health insurance, so, of course, it was done through the public health system. She says she is very pleased with how everything went: she felt the treatment she received was professional and efficient, and her standard of care was excellent. The surgery would have cost a lot of money, but she didn’t pay a thing. I’m especially thankful for socialised healthcare right now.

My First Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand on a Beach

When you’re an immigrant, that first Christmas hits you hard. The rest of the year, you’re distracted by work and house hunting and getting on with life. Then Christmas arrives and everything stops. You realise what’s missing: family.

My first Christmas in New Zealand, the house felt empty. There was tinsel everywhere, draped over everything except my mum, dad and little sister, but it couldn’t fill the hole. There were presents – I remember getting a Harry Potter wand, but opening them felt weird. There was a turkey, but I could barely eat any of it.

The absence of Grandma, Nana, Grandpa and Uncle Damon had drained all the Christmas spirit from the air. It didn’t help that the air itself was warm and humid. Our windows were thrown open to catch the non-existent summer breeze. They should have been closed, with the curtains drawn, keeping out the winter gloom. Maybe curtains were responsible for keeping the Christmas spirit in.

christmas-1904536_960_720Years later, my mum admitted that she cried, that first Christmas in New Zealand. I didn’t cry – I’d already cried enough that year. I simply felt numb.

Someone suggested that we go to the beach. That was what New Zealanders did at Christmas, right? But we couldn’t bring ourselves to. We sat around our dining table, forcing ourselves to eat a heavy mid-winter meal in the sweltering heat. Stubborn Brits if ever there were some.

Just as I’d resigned myself to a Christmas of misery – well, not even misery, just… nothing – the day was saved. By Super Soakers.

Santa had brought them. (My little sister still believed in Santa.) We filled them up and went out into the garden, into the scorching sunlight. We were wearing T-shirts and shorts and no shoes, and soon we were wet through. On Christmas Day.

I began to have fun. Perhaps Christmas in New Zealand wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps we were lucky. I mean my friends back in England certainly wouldn’t be able to have a water fight on Christmas Day! They wouldn’t be able to sunbath on the trampoline, or drink a cool Buck’s Fizz on the deck.

christmas-village-1088143_960_720As the years went by, I got used to Christmas with just my mum, dad and sister. Our other relatives rang, of course. It still doesn’t feel right, though. Things improved when my nana emigrated from England to live with us. Now, every Christmas, she turns her lounge – and our garden – into a perfect winter wonderland. Even though it’s summer.

I wrote about my nana’s winter wonderland – and the mind-boggling paradox that is the New Zealand Christmas – in my Christmas in New Zealand article. I quite like the Christmas we have now; the traditions we’ve created over last fifteen years. One day, though, I’d love to spend Christmas in Europe again.

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That’s It – I’m Moving to New Zealand!

Three weeks ago, one of my articles started getting a lot more views: The Best Place to Live in New Zealand. Can anyone think what could have happened three weeks ago to warrant a surge of interest in living in New Zealand?

A similar thing happened after the Brexit vote. New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency became one of my most-viewed posts.

I wonder how many people will actually end up emigrating as a direct result of either Trump of Brexit. Emigrating takes a lot of courage, even if you have a job waiting for you, like my dad did. I must say, though, I’m glad I already live in New Zealand.

I wasn’t always, but this annus horribilis has made me grateful for what I have.

On a personal level, 2016 has been a pretty good year. It’s the year I snatched my life back from depression’s thieving fingers, finally finishing my novel and finding the courage to get up on stage again. Not to mention the courage to socialise.

space-travel-154020_960_720On a global level, however, not so much. From the Syrian refugee crisis to –

Actually, you know what, I’m not going to list everything. It’s too disheartening and you’ve heard it all before. New Zealand is a very good place to be right now. Even with the earthquakes.

Yes, even with the earthquakes. And I know that’s easy for me to say, living in Hamilton. We felt that one long, scary tremor, but our lives haven’t been disrupted. What I mean is… well, I’m better off paraphrasing the sentiments of a few of my friends on Facebook: At least New Zealanders aren’t battling each other – just Mother Nature.

New Zealand was recently ranked as the 7th safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum. (The UK was 63rd; the US 73rd.) It was ranked as the 4th safest country in the world on the 2016 Global Peace Index. (The UK was 47th; the US 103rd.) And it always appears on lists of the best places you could hope to be in the event of World War III!

Our biggest threats are earthquakes and volcanoes. Sometimes, being tucked far away from everything is good thing.

New Zealand is also arguably one of the best democracies in the world. Having MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional, as a voting system means that everyone’s vote actually counts. Everyone’s vote has equal power, and a vote for a party like the Greens isn’t wasted.

new-zealand-890250_960_720With MMP, it’s rare for a single party to be able to rule without having to form a coalition with a minor party. (Although, of course, that’s exactly what we have now.) It’s a good defence against extremism. Only three other countries have MMP: Romania, Lesotho and Germany. (Germany seems to have learned its lesson regarding extremism, even if the rest of the world hasn’t.)

New Zealand had a referendum over whether to keep MMP in 2011, and voted to keep it by a significant margin. I, myself, have little to no memory of the referendum, which I’ve just realised is strange, seeing as I turned eighteen in 2009, and should therefore have voted in it.

Ah.

I’ve just realised that 2011 was the deepest, blackest year of my depression. I spent a significant portion of that year scared to leave my room, wrapped in a blanket, trying desperately to blot out not only the world, but my own wretched thoughts. That probably explains it.

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

New Zealand good. Kiwi spirit and all that.

No, but seriously. I’m glad to be living here.

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A Walk around Hamilton Lake

So I finally got around to going to Lake Rotoroa, or Hamilton Lake. It’s inexcusable. I’ve lived in Hamilton since January! (Well, okay, I did visit the lake once, but that was before I lived here and before the awesome playground was built. Anyway.)

Hamilton Lake

The Hamilton Lake Domain is a five or ten-minute walk from the Hamilton city centre. The lake isn’t massive, but it still takes nearly an hour to walk around. It’s not staggeringly pretty or anything, but it’s great to have such a nice walk in the middle of a city. The paths are well-maintained and there are plenty of places to sit down as you go.

New Zealand Pukeko

There’s a lot of birdlife around the lake. I’ve never seen so many pukekos at once! They were really friendly too. People obviously feed them, because one came practically running up to me as soon as I arrived. There were quite a few coots as well, along with the expected pigeons and ducks.

Hamilton Lake TrainI didn’t go to the lakeside café, but it looked decent. It was in an interesting building, at least. Tucked away behind it, rather surprisingly, was an old train. I didn’t spot any signs explaining its presence, but then again I wasn’t particularly looking.

The best thing about the Hamilton Lake Domain is it’s got a very impressive playground. I would have loved it as a kid. It was only built this year and it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s huge, overlooking the lake, and it’s got a few fascinating water-sculpture-type-things. I recognised one as an Archimedes screw.

Hamilton Lake Playground

There’s also a rose garden, which, unfortunately, looks a bit lame at the moment. Wrong time of year, I suppose. I quite liked the sculpture next to it, though.

Koru Sculpture Hamilton Lake

I don’t know how anyone can say Hamilton is an awful place to live when it’s got places like this. Even the nearby water tower is the prettiest water tower I’ve ever encountered, adorned with columns to give it the suggestion of classical architecture. (Well, okay, it’s not pretty, but at least it’s ugly in an interesting way. Anyway.)

Water Tower Hamilton Lake

For more about life in the New Zealand city of Hamilton, see:

Exploring Hamilton’s Parks

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Hamilton Lake

My Upside-down Summer

I’m English and I’m a June baby, which means I was born in summer. Believe it or not the English summer can be quite lovely. Yes, it’s overcast a lot of the time, but it’s not overly humid. I remember with great fondness the sunny birthdays of my childhood, running around on the grainy, over-exposed grass and splashing about in the paddling pool.

Montana walk

On a summer bush walk in New Zealand

Summer in New Zealand really is quite different. For starters, it’s on the opposite side of the year, so now my birthday is in winter and Christmas is in summer, which is just wrong!

Living in New Zealand, I feel the approach of summer with a small sense of dread. You see, summer in New Zealand is humid. It’s hot – the sort of heat that makes your brain go all drowsy – and all you can hear is the drone of cicadas. You can’t leave the house without putting sunscreen on, (and you sweat it off anyway,) and the mosquitoes – argh!

I much prefer spring and autumn. They’re warm and sunny without being scorching. In fact, if you’re thinking of coming for a holiday in New Zealand, you might want to consider coming in spring or autumn instead of summer. It rains a bit more, but it’s not bad. Besides, it’s cheaper to hire a campervan then anyway.

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

Oh, I don’t want to sound like I’m grouching. New Zealand’s summers are still a lot nicer than England’s, and, having been to Australia on holiday, I can say that New Zealand’s summers are nowhere near as bad as Australia’s!

The New Zealand summer has come to mean something special to me, and I’m sure I’ll miss it when I go on my ‘Big O.E.’ in Europe next year. Summer in New Zealand means beaches, barbecues and bush walks, (which, come to think of it, I’m sure is what it means in other countries too,) but it also, rather bizarrely, means Christmas shopping and parties with fireworks.

I’ll write more about Christmas in New Zealand next week, when I’m more into the spirit of the thing, (because it’s somehow hard to get into the spirit of Christmas when it’s over 30°C outside and your cat is stretched out on the kitchen tiles trying to keep cool,) but now I’m concentrating on summer itself – insofar as one can concentrate in this heat.

A New Zealand summer means cold beers and crisp white wines. It means going up to a friend’s family’s bach (beach house) and vegging. It means the deep, bright red of the pohutukawa blossoms and deep, bright blue of the crystal-clear sea. It means tanned surfer guys and ice-cream; campervans and jandals. (Jandals is Kiwi slang for the flip-flops that every Kiwi wears everywhere.) It means the infamous togs-undies ad. Here it is for non-New Zealanders – well worth a watch:

Okay, maybe I’m a bit harsh when I talk about New Zealand comedy – that advert is funny!

Most of all, summer means a break from school, which is ridiculous because I’m twenty-two and I’ve been out of university and in the real world for over a year now. I wonder how long it will take for that association to fade from my consciousness?

Aaand that’s it. I can’t write anymore. It’s too hot and the cicadas are too invasive.

Beach 1

The summery view from a friend’s family’s bach in the Coromandel