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.