Home and Back Again

17 January 2018

As I write this I'm sitting in a cafe on Tottenham Court Road, sipping a latte and looking out on the winter street scene. It's about four degrees outside and just past 2pm.

Back in New Zealand it's 3am the next day. The weather forecast for the coming day is 24 degrees. The MetService recommends one layer of clothing. I'm wearing four right now.

I just got back into London a couple of days ago after spending a month back home in New Zealand. So I'm still in that summery, Kiwi mindset and winter feels incredibly inhospitable right now.

It was an amazing trip - I'd been planning it for the better part of a year and the first time I'd been back to Aotearoa for five years. For several years, I had kept on telling myself I would go back for a visit "next year". But next year never came. Until I sat down and forced myself to book flights before another year slipped of the calendar.

We won! Let's make it count!

29 October 2017

We won the election! National is out, Labour is in and the Greens have ministers in government for the first time. This feels like victory! But what is it really?

I've been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack a lot over the last 18 months. I've heard it enough that I can pull lyrics out of my subconscious and fit them into real world situations,  often in ways that non-fans don't seem to quite understand.

But there's no subtlety in the final lines of the first act - "We won!", "We won!", "We won!", "We won!" exclaim the lead characters after the British surrender at Yorktown. It's a unambiguous expression of victory after years of effort and uncertainty.

This Is My Home Now

17 January 2017

I've lived in London for five years and six months. To be exact, it's been 1989 days since I landed at Heathrow on August 6, 2011 to begin my new life. Let's call it 2000 days for simplicity sake.

The days and years have slowly rolled off the calendar since that Summer's afternoon half a decade ago. 

This time around, I landed at the crest of the London Riots - engulfed by news stories about how the violence was spreading. I had no way of putting the whole thing into context. I didn't know the city outside of a few familiar stations and famous landmarks. This was an unfamiliar city and a whole new experience. 

I look back on that week when I landed and it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in my life and in the world since then that it's hard to believe its part of my same era. No one ever talks about the riots any more. It's part of history. And it makes me realise that, for the first time in my adulthood, my life has moved slower than the world. I haven't found an excuse to go somewhere else. I've settled down here.

For as long as I can remember I've always subscribed to the idea that the grass was greener on the other side of the mountain. I always craved new experiences. Every time I've moved, I've justified it to myself. My moves may have been impulsive but they all worked out and contributed to the person I am today.

I love the feeling of opportunity when you move to a new city. Packing up and starting anew means a whole new world of possibility. For most of my life this is what I did - when I got bored I'd pack up and move on. Find a new place to live, a new group of friends and new places to explore.

I left my hometown of Palmerston North in 2003, aged 18 and headed down to University in Christchurch. I made a whole bunch of great friends there but it lasted just two years. I moved to Wellington in 2005 and spent another great year there with two of my closest friends, studying politics, learning the hotel industry and devouring cinema. 

Then I moved to London, met more great people and explored the world. I flew back to NZ and spent 2007 training to be a journalist in Wellington again - more great memories, more great friendships made.

In 2008, I moved to Whanganui - real, small town NZ - and then moved back to my hometown one year later to take up a great career opportunity. When that got old, I moved back down to Christchurch and settled into a very comfortable and satisfying life. I could have stayed there for a long time. But then there was an earthquake, my workplace closed and I was faced with moving again.

So I decided to move to London. And I'm still here almost five-and-a half years later. I never intended to stay here this long. But I'm still here.

I suppose there comes a time where you have to put some roots down and find some place to call home. And I guess I found it right here. London is pretty much my home now. I've settled in and I've lived here for so long that I can't imagine moving. 

If you asked me a few years ago where my home was I would have said Palmerston North - that nondescript, medium-sized provincial town in the middle of the North Island. The place I went to high school and where my parents and my oldest friends lived. But my parents have recently moved down the coast to enjoy  a well-deserved retirement by the beach, and most of my friends have found other places to call home around NZ or the world.

So if I ever went back to Palmerston North I would have a close circle of all of half-a-dozen people who I love to bits and miss terribly. But it's not the same place as I grew up in.

There are other places I could move back to. I could go back to Christchurch, the city I love most in New Zealand. But all the great people I met there have mostly left following the earthquakes. I had an unofficial family there, but now they've scattered.

I could move to Auckland. A lot of my friends have ended up there but mostly because it's the best place to live in New Zealand for their careers, and my career is going much better on this side of the world than it could back home.

I'm tempted by Australia - some close friends have made a good life for themselves in Melbourne and I've always thought Sydney is one of the world's greatest cities

Or I could go back to my surrogate home town of Wellington, the city of my birth, and where my closest friends live. It's mighty appealing to be able to hang out with them again, sitting on the couch eating junk food and watching movies, going for rides in each others cars and enjoying each others company. 

I've come close to leaving London before. A year-and-a-half after moving here I was all set to pack up and move to South Korea of all places. My brother spent a year teaching English there and it sounded appealing - get your own apartment, save money, travel around East Asia and experience a new country.

I got as far as handing in my resignation. I was so used to moving that the idea of packing up everything I had built up in London after 18 months made perfect sense. I had to keep moving and keep hustling because life was always greener on the other side.

And then something stopped me. I realised I liked living here. I liked it a lot. I felt comfortable and had quietly built a life. In the short time I'd lived there this place felt more like home then anywhere else before.

So I cancelled my plans to move, rescinded my resignation and doubled down on life in London. Since that time in 2012 I haven't even thought about leaving. And now I'm coming up six years and looking back on my decision with the benefit of hindsight.

So much has changed since my first day here in 2011. Back then I carried around an A-Z in my backpack because GPS wasn't a thing. I had my trusty iPod instead of Apple Music. Connecting with NZ had to be done at home on your computer rather than through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. The world has moved a lot, but I'm still here.

It used to be that I could measure world events by where I was at the time. I could tell you the exact year a great song was released by matching it back to where I lived at the time. Jesus Walks? 2004! Since U Been Gone? 2005! Love In This Club? 2008!

I can trace those moments back to where I was living at that moment. Just like I can tell you exactly which year Pope John Paul II died, or when John Key became Prime Minister. Because I lived my life one year at a time. 

One year. One city. Give or take.

Over the last five years I've lost the ability to play that kind of mental game. The last 2000 days have come and gone in a blur. I couldn't tell you if Fidel Castro died last year or three years ago. I have to count back in my head to remember when the last NZ or UK election was, or look forward to when the next one is.

When I landed in the UK, the Arab Spring was still a living thing and Barack Obama was still halfway through his first term. The world...the world has moved on. And yet I'm still here. Still existing in London.

On a personal level, things have changed even more. All the friends who lived in London when I moved here have long since moved back to New Zealand. Kiwis have come and gone. So have some of the best Europeans I've known.

I've forged deep and meaningful bonds with a lot of people in this town -- over pints, parks and bike rides. Work and play. It sounds like a cliche, but something about being an immigrant in this city makes you appreciate your very best friends more. I've made a very small handful of friends that I would sincerely call my brothers and sisters. That's by virtue of a shared experience of being in this place at the same time.

But there's always the pull of elsewhere. Some of the best friends I've made through work have moved on to more satisfying opportunities in Europe and my Kiwi friends have been hamstrung  by either two-year visas or tempted by the lure of home. 

I hate the sinking feeling in my stomach when someone tells me they're leaving London and I cling desperately to those who are staying on. Girls have come and gone too. Some moved back to NZ, some back to Europe, some just moved on. 

It's hard to realise that I've become the opposite of what I was before - the rock in a certain place compared to the pebble which skipped through.

So is this it for me? Is London the place I land on and end up in? This London feels very different to the place I moved to five years ago. It no longer feels like the city of possibility and opportunity. I don't feel the thrill and exhilaration of a new start any more. 

I get up, I go somewhere, I come home. There's no magic in a double-decker bus. The iconic buildings have all merged into each other and the Thames has lost its sparkling charm. 

I've considered what the next step of my life holds. I could move to somewhere else in the UK. I like Birmingham and Cardiff and Dorset. I was intrigued by the low rents in Sheffield when I visited good friends there. Prior to Brexit I imagined parlaying my soon-to-be British Passport into a move to somewhere on the continent - Paris, Berlin or somewhere further east. 

But right now it feels like London is the right place for me. I didn't intend to stay this long  but nothing else feels quite right yet. 

And I do like it here.

It's much different than the London I expected. I grew up on a combination of The Clash, Hugh Grant, Blur and The Bill. I'm just a colonial kid in the motherland. It's nothing like pop culture prepared me for. It's real life and I'm living it. I go to work, rent a flat and go to the pub.

I've blogged before about how much I love this city and how it changed my life. And I still feel like this city can define me. It's one of the world's greatest metropolises and I'm privileged to call it home. If I do feel stuck in a rut sometimes, that's on me. I need to open my eyes to the millions of things happening here everyday. 

It sucks when my friends leave town or when I have to find a new place to live. Previously for me, thats been a catalyst to pack up everything in my car and ship out. Find a new scene, if only for a year or so. Find the greener grass elsewhere.

But right now I live in a city where I can act whatever age I want and do whatever I want whenever I want. Its up to me to seize that and make it happen. It's on me to find new places to explore, or new things to appreciate. I can find new friends or new girls to date. I can do whatever I want with my career and pick and choose the neighbourhoods I live in. 

Because I've stuck it out. Not just one year, but more than five. This feels like home to me now.

The London Riots feel like a lifetime ago. If I had kept moving they would have defined my time here. I would have experienced them, moved on and moved out. But I'm no longer stuck in the present.  This city belongs to me now and I can write my own story here. And this is probably the best canvas to write it on in the world.

Christmas Upside Down

23 December 2016

As far back as I can remember, Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. I love the festivity and warmth of December and the fact that people try really hard to be nice to each other. Christmas memories are some of my fondest.

Moving to the Northern Hemisphere hasn't dampened my enthusiasm. Christmas is equally magical in this part of the world but also very different. That took some getting used to. It's still amusing for me to show pictures of Southern Hemisphere Santa (sunglasses, board shorts and all) to confused Europeans. It's as if they never quite clicked that Christmas was warm below the equator.

Of course, those of from down south are well-versed in Northern Christmas traditions. Celebrating my first proper winter Christmas in 2011 didn't feel so foreign after a lifetime spent listening to Phil Spector's Christmas album, watching The Shop Around The Corner and revisiting "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the very first Simpson's episode every year. It was new, but also familiar and all very exciting.

I'm still not sure if I prefer Winter or Summer Christmases and none of my fellow immigrant friends have really come up with a decisive answer. So I thought I should sit down and go through the pros and cons of each in a systematic fashion. Disagreement welcomed and encouraged.

How John Key won

14 December 2016

So its goodnight from John Key, New Zealand Prime Minister for the last eight years and very possibly the most popular man in New Zealand today.

Certainty, if not quite that, he's still far and away the most popular politician in the country. Maybe ever? No other NZ leader has left on such a high and on such good terms with so many voters. His National party has led the polls for almost the last decade and it was a better-than-even chance he would have won another election next year had he decided to stay on.

Which is why we were all taken aback when we heard the news last week. It was so...out of character.

In a career marked by deliberate dullness, Key's final act has evoked far more emotion and surprise than anything else he's done. Over the last eight years he's been "comfortable", as Key himself would put it, with pretty much everything thrown at him. He never rocked the boat himself. Never surprised us.