The Daily Grind

Bar work is hard.

Non-stop serving and cleaning up after alcoholic old men, hauling around trays of heavy jugs and other glassware, helping customers throw away thousands of dollars on our TAB and poker machines when I’ve seen gambling destroy the life of a loved one. After working various hospitality roles since I was 16, I thought pub work would be more of the same. But I now long for the relative ease of the Cornish chippy everyone loved to complain about.

Some shifts, I work over 9 hours without a break (definitely illegal), and my feet are so sore by the end, and my back so tight from all the heavy lifting, all I can do is collapse in bed. The hours don’t suit me either. I’m an early bird, and working into the small hours of the morning, way past my usual 10pm bedtime, is turning me into a fiercely reluctant night owl – not ideal when Tom is on a 8-5 time schedule.

The knowledge of recent armed robberies in the area does spice things up a little. In the past few months, local pubs and takeaways have been the target of gang hold ups, guys with guns and knives threatening staff at closing time to get their hands on the day’s earnings. Two workers at the Dominoes a few minutes away actually got stabbed not long back. So that’s pretty scary. We’ve been told that as long as we follow the emergency protocol (cooperate, be passive, preserve life) everything should be fine, but all things considered I’m looking to leave this place as soon as possible. Because worse even than the exhaustion and underlying threat, it’s painfully unfulfilling. 

I’ve been sending off application after application, but replies are slow or don’t come at all. Nothing has really grabbed me, either. I even turned down a job I was offered in a medical laboratory. It just didn’t feel right. The problem is, I’m still not sure what I want to do. All I know is that I want to be happy. Travel the world and have a loving family and do yoga and write books. I’ve struggled with not having clear direction a lot, but I think it’s ok. Not knowing, I mean. I’ve had a few breakdowns thinking, shit, I don’t want this to be my life – stuck working in a menial job for minimum wage, letting dreams remain dreams and all of a sudden your life has passed you by. But I won’t let it. If you want something, you have to be responsible for making it work, and wallowing in your current situation will never help. It’s all temporary and I feel super inspired to discover the next compass bearing of my journey and follow it. I just have to build up a little money first.

Yoga is really helping, with my strength inside and out, but even better posture doesn’t save my back from aching after a long shift. I’m also trying to stay connected with things I know I enjoy to avoid being lost in the ratrace. I’m volunteering at Orana Wildlife Park – Christchurch’s local zoo. I love my days there, wandering around the reserve, talking to visitors about the animals and seeing their eyes open to some of the important issues they face. Most of the other volunteers are actually retirees, and chatting with them is one of my favourite aspects of the job. They have so many inspiring stories to tell, of their lives and travels, and I’m so filled with hope of what I too can achieve.

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Something I’ve learned and like to focus my meditation on is this: when you feel lost, or when times get hard, remember…

You can change your whole world if only you change your mindset.

 

Culture Shock

Moving to the other side of the world, you expect there to be a few cultural differences. Here are some of the things I’ve found between the UK and New Zealand: 

  • Kiwi Nature
    People really are more chilled out here. Nobody seems to be in a rush. When I go to the bank, the staff are genuinely interested in my life and having a little chat, even if there’s a big queue behind me, and when I was getting my phone sorted I was given a sim card for free. A common phrase here is “She’ll be ‘right” – meaning everything will be ok, don’t worry about it – and that totally sums up my experience of Kiwis so far. Oh, and bare-footed grocery shopping is a thing.
  • Driving
    Driving is generally nicer here than back home. The roads are wider, there’s less traffic, and almost anywhere you are there’s mountains in the distance. Nearly every car in New Zealand is an automatic, so driving feels like your left hand side is weirdly redundant. Everything is in kilometres rather than miles, and the maximum speed limit, even on highways, is 100kph – equivalent to about 60mph. Luckily, most of the actual signs are the same as the UK, and we drive on the same side of the road. Unbelievably, you don’t need car insurance here. It’s highly recommended, but not essential.
  • Houses
    Most of the houses here seem like an ode to the 1950s. Wooden bungalows with top loading washing machines, mailboxes and single glazing, they’re super cute but with the complete lack of insulation and heating I can’t say I’m looking forward to my first winter. Gas is stored in cannisters in kitchen cupboards, and if you have a front-loading washing machine you are very lucky. Bills are cheaper though, and water isn’t charged at all.
  • Capsicums, Togs & Rooting
    Obviously, when you move to a new continent, you expect there to be some differences in language. Here’s a quick rundown of my favourite lingo differences:

Capsicum – pepper

Togs – swimming costume/shorts/bikini/literally any swimwear

Jandals – flip flops

Gumboots – wellies

Dairy – corner shop

WOF (Warant of Fitness) – MOT equivalent

Yarn – conversation/chat

Sharn – a awkward/boring/otherwise shit conversation

Root[ing] – shag[ging] (possibly my favourite colloquialism so far)

It’s weird how quickly you start picking up the local phrases and accent. Even with all the international students around, the Kiwi intonation is so dominant I often find myself speaking in some strange hybrid accent which I’m sure sounds absolutely ridiculous.

  • Outside Dogs
    Perhaps reflective of the fact about 50% of people here are from a farming background, it’s pretty common for pet dogs to be confined to the outdoors in specially constructed cages or pens. The 8-month-old (giant) puppy owned by my flatmate sleeps in a small pen in the garden, and spends a lot of the day in there too. As an animal lover, and someone used to pets sharing our homes, this can be pretty hard to see. Rest assured that when Tom and I get our own place, our furry friends will be very much part of the family.
  • Drinking culture
    This is something I’ve seen two sides to. Where I am in Lincoln, there seems to be a pretty chilled pub culture. People start drinking early and are in bed by 10pm – and anyone who knows my sleep pattern will laugh at how perfect that sounds for me. Apparently Christchurch has a big drinking culture, full of clubs and a huge 24-hour casino, but I’ve yet to have the delights of experiencing it. Even so, Kiwis definitely don’t go out with the intention of getting blackout drunk like some Brits do.The drinking laws are really strict here, which has been a steep learning curve working in a bar. If you’re visibly intoxicated, you cannot be served alcohol and may be asked to leave the premises. Intoxicated is classified as one step before drunk. This is worlds apart from the UK, where you’ll still be served until you can barely stand. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to drink in public here… but maybe that’s a good thing.
  • Veggies
    Being vegetarian, never mind vegan, is practically unheard of in New Zealand. With people so proud of their home-grown agriculture, meat is huge here, and alternatives are harder to find and way more expensive than in the UK. Whereas a restaurant in Falmouth would have 4 or 5 veggie options on any menu, here, you’re lucky if there’s one. I have heard there’s a few vegetarian restaurants out in Christchurch though, so I’ll be checking out these hidden gems for sure!
     
  • Wildlife
    One of the weirdest things about New Zealand is the fact there are no native mammal species here. That’s not to say there aren’t any mammals. Invasive species are unfortunately a big problem in NZ, threatening their endemic birds, so huge efforts are being put into eradicating animals like rabbits and possums. I haven’t seen a live possum yet, but marsupial roadkill is rife (and even encouraged). When you take time to just listen, you realise another stark difference: the birds. Gone are the familiar songs of English songbirds, so commonplace that you never questioned them. Here, every sound is new and interesting, and I have no idea which birds sing which song, but I’m excited to learn.


I’m sure the longer I’m here, the more differences I’ll discover! What’s the biggest culture shock you’ve had moving to a new country? 

Storms & Second Breakfast

Talk about a change in the weather. The glorious summer sunshine of my first week has been replaced with a relentless deluge – seriously, it hasn’t stopped raining for the past 5 days. I’ve never seen anything like it. At least it’s a blessing for the parched grass; it’s a lot less green here on the east coast of NZ than back home. The awful weather, along with Tom having a big presentation and deadline coming up, put a halt on our exploring for a while. So it’s been a week of snuggling up in bed with comfort food, Shark Tank episodes (our latest binge-watching obsession) and movies. Curious about the Maori-based story, we finally watched Moana, and I absolutely fell in love. If you haven’t already, go watch it. It’s beautiful, has an emotional original soundtrack AND a great message. Go strong female characters!

The rain also brought with it an onslaught of nightmares. Despite being so happy and relaxed while awake, I’ve been having persistent, vivid and terrifying bad dreams, often either to do with some strange creature trying to kill me, or my sister dying in horrific circumstances. I have the kind of nightmares where my dream-self recognises I’m dreaming, and tells me to wake up, to escape, but no matter how hard I try I am stuck. Sometimes these dreams become fully fledged night terrors – something I’ve suffered with infrequently in the past – where I wake up screaming, usually as my dream-self screams at the crux of the horror film in my head. I wake up in a blind panic, throat raw and heart racing. Once, this happened on a field trip in the middle of the Bornean rainforest, and it’s safe to say I gave everyone at camp the fright of their lives. I wonder if the dreams are my mind’s way of catching up with my body. So much change has happened so suddenly – it’s like my brain is processing all stress and worry of the past few months now that I can finally lay it to rest. Maybe, deep down, I’m still anxious in some way, even though I don’t feel it consciously. The distance and sheer joy at being reunited with my person has made the problems I left behind seem so much smaller, more manageable. But maybe they’re still niggling at me somewhere, whispering that I will have to leave, that my sister is suffering. Maybe it’s just a meaningless product of jetlag. Either way, I hope I get some more restful sleep soon.

Before the storm settled in, I met up with an old friend from home – Lucy, who I worked with in Cornwall, made the move to Christchurch a year ago, and we arranged to have much needed catch up. I was so tired courtesy of the nightmares that I almost didn’t go, but I’m so glad that I did. It was so nice to see a familiar face and hear all about the experiences of someone who’s taken this leap before. I also met the coolest bunch of Kiwi girls. I was made to feel so welcome, plan17203204_10154856351465700_5664110200943983779_nning trips together that may or may not ever happen to hot springs, horse trekking and birthdays in Wellington, that so many of my fears about connecting with people here melted away. When two of them downed their drinks and nipped off (pun intended) for a spontaneous sordid piercing, I knew these were my kind of people. I’ve been lucky enough to get an interview at the bar a few of the girls work at, so hopefully some of our alcohol-spurred imaginings will one day become a reality.

This weekend, Tom and I had planned to go to the Mind, Body and Spirit festival I’d heard about in town. Well, I say ‘Tom and I’… I was super excited to go and Tom had begrudgingly agreed to accompany me. Clearly trying to find a way out, the day before we were due to go Tom sent me a link to ‘Armageddon Expo’ which, surprise surprise, was also happening this weekend. I hadn’t heard of the convention before, but oh my god I was more than happy to relent when I saw the guest list: Billy Boyd aka PIPPIN from Lord of the Rings was going to be there! I couldn’t believe my luck – less than two weeks in New Zealand and I had the chance to meet a bloody hobbit. So on Sunday, we donned our favourite fan shirts and embraced our inner nerds. The con itself was fairly small, but it was fun to see all the amazing cosplayers and look around all the merchandise stalls: replica Middle Earth weapons, old-school comics, Game of Thrones jewellery, hundreds of anime books I’d never heard of and a ridiculous amount of superhero t-shirts for Tom to ogle over. I couldn’t resist getting a Leafeon plush for myself (it’s my favourite Pokémon, ok?! And you’re never too old to enjoy cuddly toys). But the absolute best bit was of course Billy Boyd. Despite having met ‘famous’ people from my favourite films before, it was so surreal seeing a character I’d grown up with and loved for so many years in the flesh. He gave a hilarious Q&A session on stage for about an hour, telling us all about what it was like working on LOTR, kissing Aragorn and hanging out with Frodo, with a plethora of Scottish anecdotes thrown in for good measure. I even got a special mention after he spotted I was wearing my Fellowship top – Pippin, much to Billy’s disappointment, was last on the list. Afterwards, Tom and I queued for the photo opportunity (again, couldn’t resist). Totally worth it. I don’t know how someone as skinny as me managed to look so chubby, but man I am happy in that photo.

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The weather is due to perk up over the coming days, and I’ll be glad to see the sunshine again. There’s so many places to explore here, from the wetlands around the corner to the mountains in the distance, and I want to make the most of the last tendrils of summer before autumn really sets in. I’m off to somewhere called Molesworth next weekend, helping Tom’s friend with some fieldwork, and I’ve got an exciting interview coming up, so hopefully I’ll soon have some more sunny stories to relay. Until then: peace, love, and second breakfast.

Finding My Feet

I can’t quite believe it, but I’m finally in New Zealand.

The two-day journey was expectedly unpleasant – minor but constant turbulence on flight #1 which my meds barely took the edge off, being delayed and stuck in Guangzhou airport for 10 hours alone, hopelessly sleep deprived and without social media (I never knew the Chinese regime was so militant!). The second flight was more bearable. I think I was so tired and Valium-riddled by this point that no amount of aviophobia could keep me awake. After the first meal, I drifted in and out of consciousness and didn’t fully wake up until we were flying over Brisbane. By then, the excitement of closing in on my long-awaited destination became overpowering. I enthusiastically tried to overcome the language barrier with the Asian lady beside me, pointing between photos of Tom and the terminus glowing on the in-flight tracking system. Willing us safely on, I watched the miles rush by until we at last touched down in Christchurch.

After getting my luggage from the conveyor belt ridiculously quickly, and passing the hand luggage biosecurity checks, the ‘exit’ doors were in sight, concealing Tom from view for the last precious moments of our four-month long distance marathon. I went through the final security checks where your main luggage is x-rayed (biosecurity – keeping invasive plant and animal material out – is a huge deal in NZ, threatening signs being plastered all over the arrivals terminal), excitedly glancing between watching my bags come through smoothly and the tantalisingly close sliding doors. Then, as if to add one final flourish of drama to the journey, bag number three ominously slid to the far side of the conveyor – the side reserved for biosecurity concerns. I started to inwardly panic, running over any possible criminal contents. What on earth could be the issue? I’d been super careful to remove anything that could be deemed a breach in the law, having taken the time to savvy up on NZ arrival protocols, already declared the walking boots I was wearing… I watched other unfortunate tourists have their bags searched by the burly (and very intimidating) staff, some taken away with the illicit items for interrogation. Eventually, the largest of the guards brought over my bag.17176075_10209309083583967_1253408695_o

Is this yours?” He asked. Even his voice was menacing.

I nodded, and a series of questions regarding the contents of my bag ensued. I was shown the x-ray, which had strangely shaped area in the bottom-left corner circled in red. The security guy didn’t seem too happy that I couldn’t tell him what the item was – I literally had no idea – and I was asked to open my bag to let him search. Moving expertly to the area in question, the guard gingerly picked out the culprit: my tiger wheatie-bag. I couldn’t believe it. After a hasty explanation of what it was, and the guard muttering in return that they had mistaken the contents for seeds, the ordeal was over and I was sent on my way, cheeks glowing with embarrassment. How ironic that the subject my boyfriend moved here to study almost got me deported as soon as I arrived – and all for a microwavable cuddly toy.

And so,  at long last I was free to enter the world lay beyond those hallowed doors. I won’t go into the details of our reunion, but let’s just say running at Tom and leaping into his arms made everything worthwhile.

So now, I’m busy settling into a new house, in a new country, in a new life. It’s strange (and definitely not my favourite thing) living in student accommodation again, although the house itself is really spacious and nice. Most of the houses here are kind of cutesy detached bungalows, and ours is no exception. My favourite part is the wrap around garden, full of flowers and a vegetable garden and Hank – the giant, lolloping puppy owned by our flatmates. Tom and I will be looking for our own place once I’m sorted with a job, and hopefully getting a pet or two to start our little kiwi family.

The morning after my arrival, Hank was so overwhelmed by my sudden presence in his life that he unceremoniously peed on our bed. I’m not talking a little excited dribbling, I mean full-on squatting and letting it flow. It might be the jetlag, but I found it pretty hilarious, and it certainly made for a memorable introduction.

The week flew by in a whirlwind of exploring, errand running, strange sleep patterns and meeting too many new people to remember the names of. We traversed Riccarton mall for phone and bank essentials, ate the most amazing ‘animal rights’ burger and far too many other takeouts, tested the local cinema and spent at least 20 minutes deliberating over which bedside lamp to buy in a store – did someone say old married couple??? One evening we met up with Tom’s research group at cool bar/restaurant called the Laboratory a short walk from home – everyone seemed so nice and it really helped my anxiety about making friends here. Tom’s supervisor even brought along his adorable 14 month old daughter Zelda – such a badass and quirky name which I feel makes my own unusual choices a little more socially acceptable. By far though, our trips to the local coastlines in the blazing sunshine were the best fun. By Thursday my jetlag was subdued enough for a day at the beach – here’s some snaps of us at New South Brighton:

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Our plans to go on a mini-camping trip up into the mountains this weekend were rescheduled after a small bout of homesickness the night before, and we decided to instead do some more local exploring and make sure I’m properly set up to start job applications galore. After addressing the boring stuff like IRD numbers and phone plans, on Sunday, the last day of freedom before Tom had to get his head stuck back into his PhD, we decided to take a day trip around the Port Hills and Governor’s Bay. Aside from a heated debate on the benefits of spiritualism, we had the most beautiful day. You can check out what we got up with this cute video…

(shout out to Avalanche City, a band I’ve loved for years and only recently discovered is kiwi!)


Despite the profound beauty of the landscapes and super-friendly locals, my favourite thing is still laying in bed with Tom, just cuddling and catching up on lost time. At the end of the week, we were dozing beside one another, and our bleary-eyed conversation went a little like this:

Me: Thank you for showing me around and looking after me this week
Tom: Thank you for coming

I would have said ‘no problem’, but…

Tabula Rasa

Four months. It’s been four long, tear stained and skype-saturated months since I have seen my darling Tom. Since we said our goodbyes at Heathrow airport last October, my boyfriend of over three years jetting off to start a PhD in Christchurch, NZ, so much has happened. I moved to Peru, as expected, and very unexpectedly returned. I have questioned my life aspirations and discovered what means the most to me. I have battled with crooked companies to retrieve thousands of hard-earned pounds. I have seen my dad – a long-suffering victim of mental illness – get better, and then get spectacularly worse. I almost lost him. I have fallen apart and put myself back together more times than I can count. I spent hours playing ping pong in a psychiatric hospital. I have watched my niece grow from a sleepy newborn to a mischievous, mobile little monkey. I stared in disbelief as Trump was elected, inaugurated and lay waste to Western values. I protested. Friends gained jobs, moved cities, got engaged, I waited, and waited, and waited for the visa that would bring us back together at last.

Finally, armed with diazepam and Harry Potter audiobooks, I’m sat in departures at Heathrow airport, anxiously awaiting the first of my two eleven hour flights. I’ve said all my gut-wrenching goodbyes – something I intend to blog about once I’m settled – and against all odds my adventure down under has begun. My visa was issued on the very last day I could have received it, exactly ninety-eight minutes before the office closed. By this point, I had honestly resigned myself to the fact I would not be going. Everyone had given up. It was two days before my flight, which I was planning to ring up and cancel – I knew I wasn’t entitled to a refund, but thought it was worth a try – and I was attempting to mentally prepare for the inevitable: the date of our long-planned reunion would come and go, and Tom would remain an unattainable collection of pixels. I was sat with my dad, trying to cheer him up after the latest avalanche of life’s finest bullshit, when my phone buzzed. As with every time this had happened over the past month, I leapt to see the source – an email. And not just any email. Adrenaline shot through me as I saw the sender and tried to stay calm enough to read the text.

“Your application has now been completed and your visa has been issued. You will receive this within the next few days.”

 HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

 I stared in complete shock. What?! What does this mean?! “Issued” – so, accepted?! YES! But – “a few days” – did this mean I would get it in time?! Emails flew back and forth, and eventually amongst the garbled panic of messages it was established that the only way to guarantee I had it for Saturday was to drive to the embassy and collect it. So at 6am the following morning, the day before my scheduled flight, my mum donned her superwoman cloak and we flew South down the motorway to the New Zealand embassy.

 Needless to say, I collected the hallowed document without a hitch – well, other than the closed Jubilee line provoking a minor detour and a stoke of panic in my driving-unknown-routes-phobic mother. When I opened the package to check everything was there, I couldn’t even find the damn visa – turns out it’s just an inconspicuous sticker in the middle of my passport, nothing like the magnificent, life-saving certificate I envisioned. So much stress for such a tiny thing… I’m pretty sure that’s reminiscent of a LOTR quote, ironically enough.

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 So, it’s really happening. I’m emigrating to New Zealand, just 48 hours after finding out it was possible. Talk about being unprepared – although I don’t know that something this huge is something you CAN prepare for. I feel like I am about to take a blind leap into the deep unknown. It’s terrifying and exhilarating – and not just because I’m petrified of flying. My mind is whirlwind of impossible questions: Will it meet my long-held expectations? Where will I end up working? How will I make friends? How does x, y & z work there compared to in the UK? Will Tom and I have the same bond, just picking up from where we left off? And crucially: Will it all have been worthwhile?

There are a few things I am certain of. After all this time, and everything that has happened,  I am so ready for my clean slate. But most of all, I just want a cuddle from my person.