Chapter 1 DISCOVERY: Part 8

The weeks that followed were filled with nervous energy.  As soon as I heard the mail drop into the lobby three floors below, I’d run down the stairs, hoping against hope for an envelope with “New Zealand Immigration Service” stamped on the front.  The days were spent chasing up bits of missing paperwork required for sale of the flat; though we had a buyer the process was proving to be protracted and painful.  I made lists of what we would and wouldn’t take with us and took my little silver Vespa on trips to bits of London I thought I ought to see before I left.

A month later James and I were worried. We’d been promised a letter from New Zealand House within two weeks letting us know what was happening and who our case officer was:  Nothing had arrived.  Ever since we’d moved into my Lambeth flat our post had been being stolen at various points in the delivery system, something that we’d been unable to resolve with the post office in spite of James’s tireless efforts.  Now we were convinced that our promised letter had been pilfered.  Telephoning was an option, but a friend had cautioned us that the immigration service did not appreciate phone calls, and that to call would be to risk having our application put to the bottom of the pile.  So we bit our nails and waited.

Then one Saturday morning in October as we lazed in bed after our customary Friday night out clubbing we heard the post drop in the lobby.  Neither James nor I are morning people, especially after a party, but hope had our adrenaline pumping and he leapt out of bed, threw on a dressing gown and galloped down the stairs.  Something had to arrive sooner or later, why not today?  The way he was singing as he raced back up told me there was news.  He threw an envelope down baring the NZIS logo and I took a sharp intake of breath before tearing it open, heart in mouth.

“We are writing with regard to your application for residence which was accepted for consideration on 21 August, 2002.” I read, “We are pleased to inform you that your application for a residence visa for New Zealand has been approved in principle.”  

There was a tangible silence while we took it in.  I read it again, skimming quickly through the rest of the letter that outlined the fees we needed to pay and the money we should deposit into a New Zealand bank account – things we were already prepared for.

“Oh my god.”  I hardly dared smile.

“What does it mean though?  Is that it?  Are we in?” asked James, not wanting to be let down when he discovered he’d been fooled.  We read it through again, slowly and carefully, just to be sure.  There were no loopholes, nothing unexpected.  We stared at each other for a moment, smiles daring to creep up our cheeks,

“We’ve got it!” we exclaimed breathlessly; hugging hard and bouncing up and down on the bed.

“As long as we can get this bloody flat sale through.”  I added as a gloom-filled caveat.

But we couldn’t believe it.  It had only been two months since I’d taken the paperwork in; they were efficient, these Kiwis.  I immediately liked them even more.

From that point on I became solely focussed on our move and the new life I was going to have in New Zealand.  I made more lists, got quotes from shipping agents and hounded my solicitor and the council about the desperately slow flat sale.  New Zealand House provided us with all the information we needed and I set up an account with a New Zealand bank, ready to receive the money from the flat when it was finally sold.  Nothing was going to stop me getting to New Zealand now and I wanted to be there for Christmas.

When my solicitor called two weeks later to say that finally everything was in place to exchange and complete the sale, I couldn’t feel relieved.  Not yet.  The British system is such that until you ‘exchange’, usually just a few weeks from your moving date at most, nothing has been signed by either party, no money has changed hands and either side can pull out at any time.  We didn’t dare book flights to New Zealand, just in case.  Then, on a blustery November day, the shipping agents arrived to help us pack and wrap the furniture in heavy brown paper.  We were moving out – exactly six months to the day since we’d agreed on the sale.  Countless trips up and down the wide stairs of our old Victorian building later and the removal van pulled away into the night.  I slung my leg over the seat of James’s scooter and pressed myself into his back.

“Okay.”  I said simply, and as we moved off down damp, dark London streets.  I didn’t give the house so much as a backwards glance.

Motherhood: Example – Thursday 16th June 2011

Hello Readers,

I thought I’d start to add a little to my blog. Break up the book posts (though they’ll still be coming).

I’ve just got my two children settled into a new daycare for a few days a week.  The idea being that I can, at last, focus on my writing.  Ah, the best laid plans.  Here’s how Thursday (supposedly a work day for me) went… 

Thursday 16th June

3 ½ has a bad cough/cold.  17-months has it too.  They should be going to daycare so that I, mother, can get stuck into my new, soon-to-be-burgeoning, writing career. They are going nowhere.

Cat 1, the girl cat, pees on 3 ½’s bed.  Again. We moved a month ago and this delicate-natured feline is having issues.  I shouldn’t risk washing the sheets since the washing machine is on the blink and last night flooded the laundry.  No option – I stick it on a short cold wash and cross my fingers. I ‘Google’ the cat pee issue and discover she might be ill, so I should ring the vet.

I wonder what I should feed the girls for lunch? Quick rummage in the ‘fridge comes up trumps with some wraps and various things I can put inside.

After breakfast (washing machine not leaking so far) I stick the girls in their playroom (it feels damp, mental note to buy another oil heater and a dehumidifier) while I sort out the house.

In the girl’s bedroom Cat 2 is coming through window I’ve opened to let the cat pee smell out.  Something disgusting is running out of his rear end.  I think.  It’s hard to tell since it’s all over his lower back, tail and what not and is dripping everywhere.  Oh GOD. I grab paper towels and mop him – he yowls.  There’s a nasty wound on his back. Oh GOD.

Girls are whining.  I find a DVD and some crackers and ensconce them in the living room while I ring the vet.  Washing machine looking good.

I wonder what we could have for dinner.  And are there any muffins or anything about for afternoon teas later on?  The fruit bowl is quite full – good.

I can take the cats to the vet in a couple of hours. Make an instant coffee. Grab children and dress them.  3 ½ thinks every moment of the day is a game and is currently refusing to dress herself.  Take a deep breath.  Not working.  Take another deep breath.  Wonder whether to take up smoking again.  Banish the thought.  Tell 3 ½ I don’t believe she’s able to put her top on.  Bingo.  In about 6 minutes she has most of her clothes on (provided I watch her prove she can do it) while I manage to dress 17 months.  Get teeth and hair done.  17-months has a tantrum (she’s good at these). 3 ½ cottons on and whines for cuddles.  Phone rings. I take deep breaths.  Shit – I should have locked the cat flap.

Oozing cat is in the garden – I go out slowly and gently and manage to get him in before he scarpers.  Actually he feels rather limp and un-scarperish. He’s a lot lighter than usual.  Think.  Hmmm.  Been sleeping a lot these past few days…. Off his food… I put the guilt on a shelf somewhere and concentrate of finding sticky tape to keep the cat flap shut (yes, it has a lock – and the cats know how to use it!).

Washing machine is on spin and no signs of flooding.  Phew.

Right – get myself ready; brush through hair, basic 5-minute makeup job, find shoes.  I guess I should cook some muffins or a cake sometime soon.  I wonder what we could have for dinner today, and then have leftovers for tomorrow. Is husband in or out for dinner tomorrow?  Must check diary. 17-month is crawling around saying ‘poo poo’ (not yet walking, but the child can TALK). Damn it, now I am in a rush to make the vets on time.  Speedy nappy change, 3 ½ quickly on the loo, everyone’s hands washed, grab bags, Argh – shoes for children.  3 ½ wants gumboots, I am not about to argue.  17-months screams and kicks when I try to put her soft little shoes on.  I ‘d skip it but it’s a chilly day.  I pull different shoes out of a box and hold one of each up.  She emphatically points to the new pair – tantrum over.  Shoe preoccupation at 17 months?  God help me.  Right, dump everyone in the car.  Back in for the cats.  He’s really, really limp.  More guilt to shelve.  She’s not – little minx, I have to tip her travelling cage upright to get her into it. Phone rings, I ignore it.

Speed to the vet (well, actually I stick fastidiously within the speed limit in built-up areas, today I am at 50ks on the nose the whole way).  Cats in cages times two up the steps and dumped. Run back to the car and children times two up the steps and in.  When WILL this child learn to walk?  Oh yes, the vet door is a ‘pull’ and not a ‘push’, damnit.

While 3 ½  fiddles with all the things in the vet’s surgery and 17-months crawls around the floor picking up germs, the vet informs me that Cat1 may have a urinary tract infection or may be suffering from anxiety – cures for which can include dosing with Prozac. I’m wondering whether she might like to share her prescription…  The vet needs a urine sample (from the cat, not me) but Cat1 has just recently emptied her bladder onto 3 ½ ’s bed, so will need to stay at the vets until she produces.

Cat 2 has an infected cat bite that’s apparently about a week old, if not more, and all that goo flooding out of him this morning was a burst abcess. The guilt falls off the shelf and I explain to the vet how much we love our cats, that I only de-flead them yesterday, a process that included combing them and paying them not inconsiderable attention, that the children love them, that I feel terrible for not noticing a fetid wound on my darling moggy’s back.  After listening to my complaints for a while he assures me that under all his fur the abcess was easy to miss and states that he thinks none the worse of me.  Bless him.  Then he shows me the hole in my cat’s back, that is still oozing, and gives it a squeeze for my benefit.  He recoils slightly when a bubble of yellow pus squoozes up through the flesh.  My stomach relocates to my throat.

One cat down we meander home through the gloomy streets.  Find old cloth for oozing cat to sleep on.  Find lunch for two children and me.  Nothing yellow.  Field an unfeasible number of phone calls.  I go DAYS without a call – why today? Then it’s back into the car to run some errands I’d promised to run that I can’t get out of. I’m trusting that the two small ones will sleep in the car and thus do some getting better, which was the idea when I kept them out of daycare.  17-months has about a 30-minute nap. 3 ½ doesn’t so much as doze. Them’s the breaks. 

In the interests of not banging on more than is pertinent, I’ll sign off for right here. I think you get the picture. Yes, I did succumb to yelling at at least one child at least one. Yes, that did result in more guilt – and cuddles, and apologies, and everyone agreeing that we are all human and mummy sometimes gets a bit stressed.

My tip for the day?  (This is not a cheese-free zone):  Don’t even try to pretend to your children that life is a bed of thornless roses – just help them to understand that prickles mend, that you can learn better ways to lie down, and that the smell of the roses makes it all worthwhile.

Chapter 1 DISCOVERY: Part 7

It was the year two thousand and the economy was taking a dive, companies were being taken over left, right and centre and redundancies were rife. James’s small investment bank was bought out by a larger one; suddenly he found himself jobless. Furnished with a little spare cash and a lot of spare time it made sense for him to take a holiday.
“Would you mind if I went and visited my sister in New Zealand for a few weeks?” he asked. This sensible woman had gone travelling fifteen years previously, turned up in New Zealand and had never left.
“Mind? No, I think it’s a fabulous idea. Then you might understand what I’m going on about!”
It was perfect. James’s sister was ten years his senior. Their father’s air force job had meant that the family moved around a lot and the children were placed in boarding schools. James and Jacqui had only really spent time together in the holidays and her memories of James were of a brattish younger brother, while his of her were of a grumpy, teenaged sister. Now that they were both adults, he was keen to meet her and strike up a new relationship on better terms. This trip would give him the chance to spend time with Jacqui and see a bit of my beloved New Zealand as well. If James didn’t fall in love with New Zealand, I doubted I’d fall in love with James. His holiday would decide whether a move to New Zealand would be alone, or as a couple. Before his trip was half way through, James called to pass his judgement.
“Let’s do it,” he said, his voice brimming with enthusiasm “It’s amazing here.”
On his return our relationship seemed closer than ever. I’d really missed him – I couldn’t remember missing anyone before, I just wasn’t that kind of person; it took me by surprise. Added to that, James had experienced something of what I had been droning on about for months, and our mutual understanding ran deep. We confessed our feelings to each other and started talking excitedly about the move we would make, together. I downloaded information from the Internet and found out what we needed to do to emigrate. There were seemingly endless forms to complete and whole books explaining the immigration system. We could either apply for working visas that would allow us two years in New Zealand to consider our future, or we could go the whole hog and emigrate straight off. On my part there was no question, I wanted to be a fully-fledged New Zealander as soon as possible. I knew absolutely that I wanted to live there forever, I didn’t want to fuss about with working visas or anything else, I wanted residency. James was never in love with England, he wanted out and for good, so the decision was made.
Never the best at filling in forms, they sat and gathered dust while we talked and dreamed about what we might do if our residency application was approved, and made contingency plans in case it wasn’t. Every other week when work was getting me down, something that was happening with increasing frequency, I’d dig out the paperwork and fill in a little bit more.
As my thirtieth birthday loomed, I began to think longer and harder about immigration to New Zealand. The assessment system awarded points based on a number of things, one of which was age. I sat down and worked out that if I didn’t apply before I was thirty, I wouldn’t have enough points to get in. Together we knuckled down and filled in our forms, with me ever nagging James to get his done. Almost daily I checked the New Zealand Immigration Service website to make sure I was up to date on requirements and what I saw there one day made me nervous. Eligibility for immigration was determined on points scored against various categories such as age, education, work record and how much money you had. The pass mark had remained at twenty-four for years, but this week it had suddenly been put up to twenty-six and they’d changed all the forms. We had to start again.
With a groan I printed off piles of paperwork and we diligently pored over the information. Somehow more than two years had passed since I’d returned from my trip, since I’d met James, and since he’d moved into my flat. Friends we’d told of our plans had left the country themselves for a year in warmer climes, returned and asked us how our own trip had been. We began to feel like frauds when we had to explain that we hadn’t actually been anywhere – though we were at great pains to emphasise that we weren’t planning a trip, but a move. Then I was given a shove that forced me to act. The fledgling company I’d been working for folded and I was suddenly unemployed. Usually this wouldn’t bother me; I’d worked on contract for years before I went travelling and never had trouble finding work. But over the past two years I’d grown to hate the environment of the corporate office – it didn’t matter what the subject matter. Office politics and inflated egos turned my stomach and I knew that now I was free of it, I simply could not return to the corporate world. The fact of the matter was that I didn’t give a monkey’s for someone else’s business and I trying to force myself to just made me miserable. Perhaps I was just too self-absorbed for that sort of thing. Perhaps it was a deep-seated feeling that I had more to offer the world than attending endless meetings, producing fancy pie charts and reports that proved that all my ducks were in a row, that I could sing from the same hymn sheet and toe the corporate line. Whatever the reason, I’d hit rock bottom in the city with a sudden thud. My business life was confined to the history books and its absence left a yawning gap. I had to do something new. I had to move to New Zealand.
The first thing I did was to put the flat on the market, assured by the estate agent that there would be no trouble selling it. I hoped he was right. Violent crime in the area seemed to be escalating; an increasing number of requests for witnesses to indecent assaults, kidnappings and shootings appeared on yellow police boards by the side of the roads and on the nearby common. It made us all the more keen to move, but it wasn’t a great advertisement for the area. I tried to put my worry aside and turned my attention to my future career. Six months before someone had recommended a book-based course to me aimed at rekindling creativity and I went to a bookshop and bought a copy. Ever since I’d left college I’d harboured a desire to work in creative areas – to write and act. Acting had been my passion since I was twelve, I’d studied drama and theatre studies for my degree and I’d written stories and poetry ever since I could pick up a pencil; until Life and London had taken over. New Zealand would be different, I told myself, there I would do only what appealed to me, what rang true, I would not become another corporate clone; I would be different. The book helped – I began to feel the creative juices flowing through my veins again, I felt more active, lively and alive. Finally in August two thousand and two, with a sense of ceremony and portent, I took our application for immigration into New Zealand House on the Haymarket in the centre of London.