The Mouse Goes Down Under
A couple months ago, I gave up my sweet little house in the wild northern borders of England, said goodbye to dear friends and neighbours and just about everyone else I knew, and moved to New Zealand. My entire lifestyle has been turned completely upside down - literally, in this case. After nearly a decade of living peacefully and quite contentedly on my own (albeit most of that time sharing my home with an elderly cat who supplied the vast majority of any company and conversation I required), surrounded by all the accumulated possessions of around five decades of existence, in the heart of a tiny rural village where neighbours behaved more like a bunch of eccentric relatives wandering in and out of each other's houses for tea and gossip, I'm now living in the middle of an Auckland city suburb, with a family of two young girls and their widowed father - as a nanny. My new home is a tiny basement flat with basic amenities and borrowed furniture while what fraction of my possessions I could afford to keep are now in storage, waiting to be shipped. My dear old friend the cat has stayed behind in the UK, buried under a couple of apple trees in a neighbour's garden, overlooking the Tyne River.
I've been talking about moving to New Zealand for a number of years now, but it was always something that would happen... sometime... later. In the future. Once I earned my Master's degree (check), once the elderly cat had passed on (check), once I'd found a viable job opportunity (check)... I eventually ran out of 'onces', and it happened. Almost overnight. Almost out of the blue. It stopped being simply a pleasant hazy daydream and suddenly became a very lucid reality, hard edges and all.
Regardless of how many other times I've moved from one country to another, I have always either done it in the company of other people, or knew people already there to supply the company. As wonderful as New Zealand genuinely is, I honestly had no concept of just how damned emotionally difficult it would be to move halfway around the planet, all on my own, to a place where I knew precisely... no one. After nearly a decade of living peacefully and quite contentedly on my own, where I could happily go days without seeing or talking to anyone, I'm now constantly surrounded by people and never felt lonelier. It's been much harder than I expected; being intimately involved with yet entirely peripheral to other people's lives, in it but not of it, welcome but not welcomed. In Britain, I had everything I ever wanted, but nothing of what I desperately needed. Here, I have everything I could possibly need, and damned close to nothing that I so viscerally want.
Not yet, anyway...
I have no regrets. Because I know this is, of course, a temporary inconvenience and trying to force relationships in a bid just to lessen the loneliness has been a bad idea (oh, such a very bad idea!) It will simply take a bit more time, and patience, but I will again find kindred spirits floating past by sheer chance, make new friends and enemies who will mature into comfortably old friends and enemies, find my footing and stop stumbling over the smallest cultural difference made much harder to spot before tripping when (most) everyone speaks English and it all looks so bloody normal. Contrary to the hype, New Zealand... or more accurately, Auckland... is not like England at all. Nor is it like the States. Nor anywhere else I've ever been. It has its own culture and nuances, still completely alien to me, and I'm far from understanding it enough to relax. But I've made a start, met a few other writers and academics in New Zealand's literary circle, looking forward to sailing with the ladies group at the local yacht harbour in a couple weeks, even had a lovely lunch and deeply satisfying conversation with a regular poster off C&L. Soon enough, I'll start to understand the politics here as well. And then I really will be back in my element at last...
But for now, I have this photo that I took on a chilly winter's day in the middle of July, on a drive down the coast not that far from the desolate Kafke-Californianesque sprawl that are the soul-destroying suburbs of Auckland, to remind me of why I wanted to come here in the first place. A little initial loneliness is a small price to pay for a shot at a brighter future in such beauty and peace.