Anzac Day

April 25, 2011

It was New Zealand and Australia’s version of Remembrance Sunday yesterday: Anzac Day.  The day – a public holiday – remembers the contribution of past and current members of the armed forces.  The name ‘Anzac’ stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and dates back to when troops from both countries fought and died together at Gallipoli.

For the first time we went to the dawn service.  Feilding, my home town, was also the home town of Tim O’Connell, the first New Zealand soldier to be killed in Afghanistan last year and, yesterday, members of his family laid a wreath in his memory.  His was the first name to be added to the war memorial since the Second World War: a sad honour to hold.

Hundreds of people attended the dawn service at Feilding’s war memorial and I was pleased to be one of them.  And as we drove north to Auckland yesterday we passed through several small towns; each one had its own war memorial and each memorial was covered in wreaths, showing that dawn services had been held everywhere.  I like that.

Anyway, Pip has posted a couple of times about Anzac Day and my grandfather, Pat.  Read here and here.



April 25, 2011

My Nanna is dying and it is horrible.  I am so glad that I made it back to NZ to visit her in November, as she was still able to receive visitors then and hold a conversation.  Now, she’s barely able to talk and she is so weak and shrunken; it’s as if she’s vanishing in front of us.

My father and I visited her when I headed down to Wellington a couple of weeks ago, and we saw her again on Good Friday.  My parents visited her once again yesterday, but only stayed for ten minutes.  When we see her it’s as though she’s distracted and waiting for something to happen.

I haven’t been around a dying person before – by being abroad, I’ve been spared this experience when my other grandmother and my Grandad died.  My Nanna turned 96 on Good Friday: she’s done enough and, as my sister Pip put it in this lovely post about her, I hope that she will fall asleep soon, dream about her young life of parties and friends, and just drift away.

Back home

April 11, 2011

And here I am, through the magic of modern international travel, on the other side of the world.  I landed in NZ yesterday morning.

The trip was OK – we came over via Hong Kong and didn’t take a night off to break up the journey, but we both got a few hours of sleep on each flight.  It was lovely to know that we didn’t have to do the same mammoth trip again in three or four weeks’ time. 

Having said that, this feels like a holiday at the moment (albeit a weird holiday, where Tui has come with us and I don’t have to check work emails on my blackberry).  It must be different for Tristan; he’s stayed in Auckland had started work today.  I’m in my home town, population 12,000 or so, and I spent today hanging out with Katie, my oldest niece, running errands.  They were all very exciting chores: getting a new money card for my NZ bank account; talking to the council about registering Tui; finding out how and when to transfer our driver’s licences from the UK to NZ. 

None of that was very exciting, of course, but it was all made easier by the way in which NZ banks, councils and other organisations seem to be fairly decent to deal with – flexible about ID, that kind of thing.  For example, the lady at the bank agreed to deal with me and accept my UK licence as ID, even though it wasn’t on her list of recognised types of ID (my NZ one has expired, so she wasn’t able to rely on that).  She asked if I had my passport with me and I told her that it was at home, but rather than being a jobsworth and making me head back and get it, she just used her brain and made an executive decision, recognising that, with two driver’s licences with photos on them and two credit cards showing my signature, I probably was who I claimed to be.  From my experience of UK banks I’m fairly sure that this would have been fairly difficult to negotiate and I would have been on the receiving end of a ‘it’s not our problem: get the right ID’ response.  I’m certainly not saying that all UK customer service people are unhelpful, or that all NZ customer service people are awesome, but I do feel like, in the UK, good customer service is the exception and not the rule, whereas things just seem to be a bit more flexible and ‘human’ here.  Which is nice.

Nothing much else to report, really.   I was asleep by 8.30 last night and awake from 3.30 this morning.  Tui was slightly confused to see me when I arrived yesterday afternoon (and has been a very good girl for my mother and is very happy in her company, which is fantastic), but she soon got used to having me around around.  She’s absolutely loving life in a single-storey house: she’s sleeping in the kitchen, but she’s following me around from room to room and trying, in her own gentle way, to convince me that she should just sleep on my bed with me.  No chance, my furry little friend…

It is so strange to think that I no longer have a job.  I think that it’s going to take me a while to adjust to it, but I’m not going to give it too much thought until Tui and I have moved to Auckland.  I did fill my day with errands today, but I want to take it easier tomorrow and just lie around and read.  I’m really worn out – not just after the past few weeks, but after the past four or five years.  I think that my batteries need to be recharged.

My parents don’t have any internet access at home and I don’t have a working iPhone here, so don’t be surprised if updates are thin on the ground for the next week or two.  I’m going to Wellington later in the week, though, and will stay with lovely Davey, one of my oldest and best friends, so I might be able to manage something when I’m down there.  And I will definitely manage a few beers when we’re out on Friday night.  And I’ll get to catch up with some other wonderful friends as well – the prospect of seeing my favourite people on a regular basis is just magnificient!

I do think that I need to rename this blog, though – or start a new one that better reflects my new life.  Stay tuned…

Christmas 2010

December 28, 2010

Sorry for the lack of updates! I write most updates at work, and this has been made difficult by our aged computer system.  It hasn’t been able to handle the rigours of uploading photos for a long time and now it crashes whenever I open any website with ‘wordpress’ in the url (which is cutting in to my time spent reading other blogs, as well).

But don’t worry – all you’ve missed is me writing variations of ‘it’s flipping freezing’ for two weeks.  This was the frost a couple of weeks ago:

This was the snow storm on the Saturday before Christmas:

And this was the snowy and sunny scene on Christmas Day:

That flying figure is none other than Tui the Christmas Wonder Dog.

Anyway, we’ve had a lovely and relaxing Christmas break – we’ve been at home the entire time and have eaten a lot, drunk a lot, slept a lot and watched a lot of rubbish on TV.  I’m heading back to work tomorrow, but it’s only a three-day week, followed by a three-day weekend, followed by a four-day week.  That’s the kind of schedule that I can handle.

I did work on Christmas Eve.  I don’t understand why anybody at my firm would take that day as annual leave: we arrived at 9.30am, we started drinking champagne at 11am, and we left at 12pm – the office closed completely at 1pm.  And most of my colleagues went to the staff restaurant for an hour-long breakfast from 9.30am – 10.30am (but not me: I was good and actually finished some work, like a girly swot).

My lovely family spent Christmas Day visiting my Auntie Jen and her partner, Denise, at their fab house in the Wairarapa.  Apparently my parents went, as did my two sisters and their respective husbands and boyfriends, and one niece and one nephew (the others were with their respective fathers).  And the weather was splendid and no fights broke out.  I’m sure that my family isn’t unusual in being liable to have a squabble or two after a few hours of close contact, but my sister pointed out something when I spoke to her last night: my grandmother wasn’t there (too frail to withstand the rigours of a day out), so she’s obviously the trouble-maker of the family.

There and back again

November 9, 2010

Hola!  Did you miss me?  I’ve been to New Zealand and come back again.  I didn’t intend to be so silent for the last couple of weeks, but my parents don’t have internet access at home and this cramped my online style.  It was quite restful, though. 

I am so pleased that I went home, albeit for a very short trip.  My grandmother was delighted to see me and I visited her three times during the week or so that I was there.  She’s absolutely fantastic and I am lucky to have had her in my life thus far.

Speaking of fantastic: my family rocks.  It was SO nice to spend some time with them.  I stayed with my parents for most of the trip and although we didn’t get to have a vast amount of time together (Dad was travelling around the country with three Brazilians and Mum was pretty busy with work), the time that we did spend was good.  I also got to hang out with my sisters and my nieces, which was lovely.  We played a bit of Singstar and also a fantastic game called ‘Buzz’.  Does anybody know it?  It’s a TV/playstation music quiz and it’s great fun.  I got beaten at the last moment a couple of times by my sister, the dastardly Vickie.  Damn her and her fast reflexes.

We also visited my Auntie Jen and her lovely partner, Denise, on their cool lifestyle block and witnessed a calf being born!  It was the miracle of life in action, people.  Money can’t buy that kind of excitement.  I also got to hang out with my mother’s first cousin (which makes her my second cousin, I think), Janet – such a nice woman.  I had crashed her holiday somewhat, as she’d organised her trip out to visit Mum and Dad a while ago and I then turned up at the last minute, but it was cool to spend some time with her and it meant that Mum was able to crack on with some work, safe in the knowledge that Janet and I were pottering around.  Mum, Dad and Janet are off to Fiji later this week, the lucky sods.

Although my trip was so short and I spent most of it in my home town, I did manage to see quite a few friends.  My friends are awesome.  They’re the most low-maintenance people I know, never inclined to cause drama and always happy to see me.  My sister Pip and I went to Davey and Carla’s house for a BBQ and some rugby-watching on the first Saturday that I was in the country and it was great to chill out and shoot the breeze.  Davey is a legend and I’d consider him to be one of my best mates.  His friends are cool, too.

Towards the end of my trip (last Thursday, in fact), I headed down to Wellington and had dinner with Matty, who had moved back to NZ from London last year.  And I had a coffee and a catch-up with Amy, a friend of mine from way back.  And I had a cup of tea and another catch-up with Melissa, another old school friend.  And I sat in the sun with Davey and co, drinking beer and shooting the breeze.  And I watched a great fireworks display over Wellington Harbour on Guy Fawkes night. 

My last day in NZ was spent in Auckland, where the sun was shining and the world was looking good (I’ve discovered that I quite like Auckland, much to my surprise: all non-Aucklanders are raised to think that Auckland is pretty sucky, but it’s actually a nice city).  I spent the morning with Anthea, who used to range around the Manawatu countryside with me on horseback, causing mayhem.  We sat in the sun in her garden and watched her husband, the lovely Greg, assemble a new barbeque.  The afternoon was spent catching up with Anna, one of my dearest friends and the person that I would love to live next-door to!  She took me to the airport and we spent some time planning a brilliant long weekend in Melbourne – a trip that we will take whenever Tristan and I move back to NZ for good.

I also loved being at home, in general.  I just love that country.  The people are super-chilled, everybody is easy-going and friendly, the food is great, life moves at a nice pace – it’s great.  I am very happy to be living in the UK, but every time I travel home it reminds me that, in the long term, NZ is where I’m going to want to settle down.

I’ve got to rave about the service I received from Air New Zealand on this trip.  I’d decided to mention the circumstances of my trip when I checked it, which paid good dividends.  On the way out, they made sure that I got the window seat I’d requested and marked all my luggage as ‘priority’, which helped me to get my connecting flight from Auckland to Wellington without a hassle.  On the way back, the lovely check-in lady heard my tale of flying home for a very short trip and having to go straight back to work the day after getting back to the UK and did the best thing ever: she gave me my window seat and blocked off the two neighbouring seats, ensuring that I had three seats to myself for the first leg of my flight home.  This meant that I got around seven hours of sleep while flying from Auckland to Hong Kong, which is, I’m sure, the reason why I haven’t suffered from any jet lag.

I slept really well on the flight to NZ as well, come to think of it.  This is a first for me: at my height, a long period in an economy class seat usually means that I get no sleep at all.  The magic formula was: lots of high pressure work for a week before the trip, wearing me out; two double vodka and tonics at the airport; a glass of sparkling wine with dinner, on the plane; two Night Nurse capsules (a fantastic cold remedy that makes me super-drowsy); an inflatable neck support thing; an eye mask; and my own pillow on the flight.  In each of the two flights (London to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Auckland) I slept for at least five hours.  It really helped me to get to NZ without feeling like a zombie and meant that I didn’t waste any time there, being knackered.

By this stage of the day you may have realised that I’m in a fine, chipper mood.  As past blog entries have suggested, I have had a fairly hard, long, stressful year – and I was feeling sorry for myself and downtrodden for the first part of my trip home.  However, for various reasons (and after some good conversations with lovely family members and a telephone call with Tristan), I decided that enough was enough.  Sod being stressed out and miserable!  I’m over it.  Although I know that I have valid reasons for feeling that way at times, I’m afraid that it has become a bit of a lifestyle choice recently.  I refuse to accept that I don’t have any control over the way that I view the world, so I’m choosing to be positive and optimistic from now on.  I recognise that I may still have hard days, but I am DETERMINED to keep things in perspective and just get on with it.  Life’s too short, etc.  Yay!

A trip home

October 11, 2010

Ordinarily, the prospect of a trip to New Zealand is one which fills me with glee.  Today, however, I’ve just booked a trip home because my mother called me last night to give me a familial update: my 95 year old grandmother (my father’s mother) has bowel cancer and, in the words of her doctor, ‘anybody wanting to visit her should do so this year and not next year’.  The good news is that she doesn’t seem to be in pain (and will be given morphine if things do get bad).  The bad news – obviously – is that my Nanna, who I love very much, is dying.  I will miss her a great deal.

My mother counselled against travelling home one last time, pointing out that it is sometimes better to remember people as they were, rather than as they are towards the end.  I can see the wisdom of that and I know that I will find it easier if I stay in the UK and deal with this from afar, but I also feel like I will regret it if I don’t see her again.  So I’ve just booked an eye-wateringly expensive economy class flight home, all to spend ten days in NZ and, I hope, have a few decent visits with Nanna (during which she is bound to ask, more than once, where Tristan is – she worships Tristan).  It will be really nice to be home again for a few days as well and see the rest of the family, of course!

It’s times like this that living abroad really sucks.  Thank goodness that I work for people who are very decent and understanding.  And thank goodness that we’ve got enough money to afford a trip – it would be too grim for words if  I couldn’t go.

Weekend at Strattons

September 27, 2010

Party people, we had such a lovely weekend away!  We went to a hotel called Strattons in a little market town called Swaffham, in Norfolk.  To date my only experience of Norfolk was a visit to the outskirts of Norwich to buy Tui, early in 2007, but I’d heard good things about it.

The hotel was pretty fab, actually.  I’m not sure that I would stay there again (mainly because it doesn’t take long to suck the marrow from Swaffham), but we had good dinners in the hotel restaurant on both Friday night and Saturday night and our suite was gorgeous.  It was also open-plan and this led to Tui the Wonder Dog ruling the roost.  Ordinarily the only time that Tui sleeps on a bed is when she stays with the dog sitter – we have schooled her to regard ‘upstairs’ as a mystical land that she has little hope of visiting – but at Strattons she slept on our bed for both nights.  Both mornings I was woken up when she decided to ‘visit’ me at 6.30 and loom over me at the head of the bed, wagging her tail excitedly.  She was absolutely delighted with this new development and the Tui-shaped marks on the bedspread suggested that, whenever we left her in the room, she spent all of her time lounging around like a little person in furry black pyjamas.  But rest assured that this doesn’t indicate a general softening in Tui-management standards: we put her to bed in the conservatory again when we got home last night.

We spent the weekend doing a lot of lying around and a lot of pootling around.  Norfolk is absolutely beautiful, with pretty villages that haven’t been ruined by high street blandness.  The only bummer was the dreadful weather.  We went to the beach on Saturday because we thought that it would be nice to take Tui for a run, but the wind coming off the sea was so strong that we could barely walk upright.  After 20 minutes of battling we gave up and went to a local deli for hot chocolate and cake instead.

The location and the company were, of course, brilliant, but the best thing about the weekend was the opportunity it gave me to switch off.  Tristan confiscated my Blackberry at bedtime on Thursday and I wasn’t allowed it back again until first thing this morning.  In the two or three years since I’ve had a Blackberry I have never gone for a day without checking it, so to leave it behind for three whole days was splendid and definitely helped me to unwind.  This has been a really hard year for me, for a variety of reasons, and my stress levels have been very high.  Although I have had some dramas at work, they really shouldn’t have caused me such angst: it’s more that, when really stressed, I struggle to cope with anything more taxing than getting dressed in the morning.  But by forcing myself to ignore work for three days I realised that I had lost perspective, big-style: Tristan commented that he was finding it difficult to grasp which of my work problems were ‘big’ problems and which weren’t such an issue, and I replied that I wasn’t surprised, given that I was finding it difficult to separate the two categories myself!  Having the space and time to realise this has already made it easier for me to take a step back.

So, it was a great weekend and three days off felt as relaxing as three weeks.  Many thanks to everybody who urged me to take Friday off!  It reminded me that I shouldn’t take it all so seriously and that I’m very lucky to have such a lovely and supportive husband (and a lunatic dog).