Chapter 1 DISCOVERY: Part 2

Travel diary, March 22nd 1999: Flew to Christchurch. Felt nothing about arriving in New Zealand, but mountains look nice, so should be okay.

It was a weary entry in my diary. I really don’t know why I even bothered. I’d travelled non-stop for four months and suddenly I felt like I’d had enough. Another new place. Who cared? All I really felt like doing was sleeping. I found a quiet hostel, climbed into my bunk and slept, long and deep. It was as though the months away had allowed years of accumulated fatigue to finally catch up with me. Fatigue I’d eluded and run from as I hopped around London from job to job, rented flat to rented flat, party to party. A weariness that could surface now that I was no longer in England pretending that everything that looked good, was good.

Lazing in my hostel I couldn’t remember sleeping so well. It was as though my very bones were relaxing, my brain grinding to a slow halt. I let fatigue take me and slept long into the day. When I was hungry I cooked simply and ate in virtual silence, exchanging only enough words with fellow travellers so as not to appear rude. After three days I finally began to feel curious about my surroundings and ambled into the city.

New Zealand has two main islands, named in New Zealand’s typically down-to-earth fashion the North Island, and the South Island. Although Christchurch is the capital of the South Island, it didn’t feel much like a city to me. There was no hustle and bustle, no rush and dash. It felt a bit like the historic English town of Oxford crossed with Bournemouth, a coastal town popular with retirees, only with fewer people. The place exuded a kind of rustic charm with its cobbled central square, its tree-lined roads and old-fashioned academic institutions. The pace of life felt easy, measured. I visited the cathedral, finding calm in the hush of dusty shadows, still candle flames, carved inscriptions, in the shuffle of feet on stone. Outside I was amused to find a man holding forth from a wooden stepladder dressed in long purple robes and a pointed black hat. Against the stone wall behind him was parked a curious vehicle that I was sure could only be his – a kind of motorised Pushmepullyou comprised of two Volkswagen Beetle front ends. The Wizard of Christchurch, as he turned out to be, was an eccentric academic who held regular lectures on a selection of topics aimed at arousing the ire of his listeners and provoking them into debate.

Over the next few days as I continued my relaxed exploring an unusual trend began to niggle at my curiosity. I’d pop into a green grocer’s to buy an apple and emerge twenty minutes later having, without any effort whatsoever, spent the time setting the world to rights with the shopkeeper; I’d jump on the bus and ten minutes later get off armed with the gift of hand drawn map to some local curiosity or the best muffin shop in town. To me, brought up in big English towns and lately residing in London, the idea of someone I didn’t know talking to me in a public place was alarming. If people you didn’t know talked to you on the tube or in the street in London, you either had a good look in their eyes to see if they were insane, or pretended you had neither heard nor seen them and hid behind your newspaper. But here people didn’t appear to be mad nor regard me as such – they were simply and naturally friendly. I felt welcomed, almost as though I was the very person people had been hoping would come into their shop, ask for directions or sit next to them at the bus stop. I began to get the curious sensation that I had arrived somewhere special – that I had somehow, peculiarly, come home. Six days after my arrival I declared myself fit to travel, booked a place on a bus headed north with the intention of circumnavigating the South Island.


Chapter 1 DISCOVERY: Part 1

Coldly damp and greyish yellow, my skin in the mirror of the cramped lavatory space seemed to me to epitomise the life I’d left behind. It had that pulpy quality that skin deprived of fresh air and daylight soon assumes, as though if touched it would come away in my fingers. Stale, dull, flacid and fragile. I stared at green eyes that stared straight back at me, darkly ringed and saying nothing.

Food, deposited in moulded trays at regulated intervals held no appeal. I forced it down for something to do. An unusual panic, claustrophobia fuelled by a lack of sleep, pecked somewhere at the back of my sanity. Daydreams of a liquid forest path swept by a cool ocean breeze mocked me. I paced up and down the narrow aisles again and again. To and from the toilet, to the tap to fill my paper cup with flat water, to stare out of a different square of window at the same endless cloudscape.

Finally the plane began to descend and I looked wearily at James in the seat next to me.

“Thank God,” he groaned, and we stared blindly out as we came in to land, too lobotomised to notice the heavy grey and pervasive damp of what was supposed to be a New Zealand summers’ day. Our plane touched down neatly and taxied to an uneventful stop just like a million planes in a thousand airports all around the world. Planes full of people arriving somewhere new for a few weeks, a few days, or simply passing on through seeing nothing more than the inside of yet another airport.

For James and me though, it was a milestone. For two years we’d talked of little else; packing up, shipping out of England for good. For my part the plan had occupied my mind far longer, ever since I’d happened upon New Zealand during a round-the-world holiday, since I’d spent two months falling madly in love with a land eleven thousand, four hundred and fourteen miles away from the place of my birth.

I wanted to have a moment. I wanted to fall from the bottom step of the plane like the Pope and kiss the ground of my new land. I wanted to speak that wonderful line from Shakespeare’s Richard the Second, ‘I weep for joy to stand upon my kingdom once again…’ I’d imagined my return, how I would feel, what I might say. But you rarely get to walk down the steps of an aircraft these days and after a total of twenty-five hours locked in a pressurized container, I felt more like a vacuum-packed ham than a Shakespearean actor. No doubt my flying companions and I smelt as ripe when the seal was released and we piled out into the relatively fresh air-conditioning of Auckland International Airport with four hundred sighs of relief.

It really was relief, too. Any sense of excitement eluded me although the emotion I hoped I’d left with my farewells at Heathrow ached in my throat. I’d thought so much about this moment and here I was. It didn’t feel real. How could it possibly be real?

About this blog

I’ve set up this blog as a place to share my writing.

In the first instance this will be a ‘chunk by chunk’ posting of my book ‘Jumping Off The Edge Of The World’.

In 1999 I threw in the towel on a relationship and my job and blew the deposit I’d saved for a flat in London on a trip around the world. During that journey I travelled through New Zealand, and when I left I knew that I had to live there.

In 2002, dragging my boyfriend with me (he didn’t actually mind too much), I left life as I knew it in the UK behind, quit the rat race and moved to New Zealand to see what life would bring.

‘Jumping Off The Edge Of The World’ is a thirty-something city girl’s experience of starting all over again at the other side of the globe. It’s honest, entertaining, educational and a a jolly good read.

If you’ve ever considered running away and joining the circus, emigrating to a new country or you just like travel books, then this is a good place to come.