It’s 2.42pm on a Wednesday, and I’m sitting in my little London flat. I’ve just turned the heating on because Autumn has arrived with deep orange leaves and gusts that just keep getting colder. The sun is weak in the sky and I know within the next hour most of the light will be gone. I should be doing a lot of things right now (hey, hi, hello there, taxes!) but I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.
Tomorrow, I will become a British citizen.
And it’s having a much greater emotional effect on me than I honestly thought it would.
Victoria Park, swans, and an Orphan’s Christmas in London
For someone who very strongly felt that she never wanted to be ‘that’ typical Kiwi who journeys to the Motherland (the UK) for her OE (Overseas Experience), I have often found myself wondering how the hell I ended up here. It’s not as if I immediately fell madly in love with London and decided this was the place for me. To be honest it has been a s t r u g g l e. So what on earth happened? How am I going to stand up in front of a flag that isn’t mine tomorrow, and pledge some kind of allegiance to it?
That first year in London was all about doing everything. And all the intense post-processing colours too, it would seem.
I always have been, and always very much will be a very proud New Zealander. There is so much I adore about my homeland, so much that I carry in my bones, that I’m sure I must come off as quite annoying. I always resist being lumped in with the Americans and Brits when I’m travelling, always proudly trumpet the fact that I’m a Kiwi (“Yes, Lord of the Rings! Yes, I know, very far away…”) I honestly never thought I would ever want anything else.
There’s a line in Keri Hulme’s ‘the bone people’ that I’ve always felt so succinctly sums up what it is to be from Aotearoa, and it is this:
O land, you are too deep in my heart and mind.
O sea, you are the blood of me.
The aching heart of homesickness is very, very real. The knowledge that those lands and that sea are existing thousands of miles away without me often makes me incredibly sad. Not only for my family who I am so very close to, but also for the smell of the rain in the bush, the clash of blue skies over green grass, fish and chips done our way, and, honestly, the tacit understanding of my people, who are just like me. That feeling of belonging. And of being understood.
Kiwi’s know that we are straight to the point. That we deeply value a work/life balance. We know that barefoot is better than not barefoot. That honesty and integrity is of the utmost importance. That kindness doesn’t cost. Sometimes I feel as though it’s only in New Zealand that I am truly understood.
Here I am, precisely 18,439 kilometres from where I store a large piece of my heart. A kind of joyous happy horcrux – not the kind that needs to be destroyed but the kind that’s more like an evergreen tree, just waiting for you to come home and sit under it. How, how, how? I’m so very often filled with guilt over being here. And never moreso than in these moments: Seeing a mother and daughter arm-in-arm. Catching sight of a gentleman around my Dad’s age, struggling along with a walker. Little girls that remind me of my nieces. Those moments take the breath from my lungs because those are the moments I am missing. And I’m not sure if my reasons for missing them are good enough.
And still… When I walk down past Trafalgar Square with the sun glinting off Nelson’s hat like it did this morning, I grin. I marvel when I get off a mere two hour flight and am immersed in another country, another language, another morsel I’ve never tried before sitting in front of me. I’ve grown accustomed to the pace required to successfully cross Liverpool St station at rush hour. I can bob and weave around tourists suitcases on Oxford St like a pro. I’ve become quite fond of a cream tea. And when I’m sitting on the top of a double decker bus honestly I feel deep pride. That London and I are still together, that we’ve made it work.
My own path has been a strange circuitous one – realising the partner I was living with in South America wasn’t the one for me, and not being ready to return back to New Zealand in my late 20’s, I decided to give London a whirl. What did I have to lose? I’d try it for a year or so… My two best friends were there, they seemed to like it, I was embarrassed that my big gesture of moving to Chile for looooooove hadn’t panned out, and well, what else was I going to do?
I can’t lie. Those first few years were tough.
I moved here in summer (best idea ever) – when the beer gardens are overflowing and people are smiling and sure you don’t have any money but MAN! What a city to be ALIVE in! Then winter comes and you feel kind of hoodwinked. Darkness at 3pm, a cold that settles into your bones, and all of a sudden everyone from those heady summer evenings in the beer garden is just spending a quiet night at home, meaning that’s exactly what you’ll end up doing too… Except home is a flat you’ve rented with a bunch of strangers and you didn’t realise they’d be dealing drugs from it and now you’re trying to get out of a lease that you only just signed and goddamn this city is HARD.
Those first few days in London were spent with best friends Ruth and Josh. They bought me my first ‘Welcome to London’ drink, and 12 years later it’s a tradition I continue with all friends who visit here…
In between though, there have been so many moments of joy. Of actual pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-life moments. Throwing tomatoes with thousands of sweaty bodies in a Spanish village, stumbling across frescoes in tiny Venetian churches that I studied many moons ago, meeting up with friends in Morocco, a 30th birthday in Paris, 35th in New York and 40th finally here in London itself. World class art and hearing 5 different languages on the bus here in my adopted city. And all the buses and trains and boats and planes to places my bed-bound childhood self could only dream of. A lot of the time, I think I do what I do for her.
Sardinia. A place I’ve returned to often, always solo, when I’ve needed some sunshine
For a period of time, I lived in an older woman’s attic. There was no insulation and the wind would come through holes in the walls. There were no windows, just a skylight I could see out of if I went on my tippy-toes. I got swine flu when I was living here and have never been so sick in my life. But you make the best out of where you are.
Barcelona in 2018. I got bitten by bedbugs and wandered the city covered in scabs and bruises from scratching. It was magical.
One of my first jobs in London and my first British friend, Kerry ❤ And my typically rain-soaked leaving-do picnic
I’ve said it a bunch of times, but I truly believe London is like a mercurial lover. One minute she has you in raptures, totally in love and dancing down the footpath. The next she’s broken your heart and has you lying in the gutter trying to just catch your damn breath.
Now, after 12 years here, I feel as though London and I are comfortable comrades. We know what to expect from each other, are happy when things work out and commiserate with each other when they don’t. The highs are just as sweet but I have a firmer footing for when the lows try and knock me over. From those early days with best friends full of drunken evenings and 20’s hedonism, to having a knife put to my throat on my way home one evening in Stoke Newington. From the joys of reaching career highs to realising that toxic environments have a terrible impact on your mental health, and finally starting therapy to deal with it. From being broke, to flush, then pretty broke again (thanks, career change). We’ve grown up together, London and I.
After freelancing for a while, being mugged at knifepoint, leaving England then returning again, I found myself Art Directing this magazine for the next 6.5 years. After that time I decided to take the plunge and return to my first career of photography – a move I am so glad I made.
So tomorrow, I’m making it official. We’ve been seeing each other for long enough. We care about each other. New Zealand knows that it is my forever love. But for now, I’m choosing to add another passport to my collection. Freedom is what it will give me. An ability to head back home to New Zealand for my parents with the comfort of knowing my time here in London won’t have an expiry date. An ability to stay here with my partner and the family of friends I am so lucky to have around me. To try and forge a life with the love and support of the people who know me best.
I don’t take any of this for granted. I am grateful for my Scottish grandfather, my Commonwealth nationality, the money I earned working here and my privilege that have all allowed me to apply for the visas that allowed me to stay here. It’s not a path many can take and I know it.
She who was raised near the beach still gets very excited about snow. Ha.
Look, I don’t drink tea. The haka still brings me to tears. I will always cheer the AB’s (sorry about the World Cup, fellas) and I will still always proudly announce when asked that I am from New Zealand. But I’m starting to embrace the darkness of a local pub. I’ve finally found a winter coat I like. And I’ve perfected the art of walking on the dirty ice that all new snow eventually turns into.
I like being under the wing of two nations. Thank you both for keeping me warm.
And if there’s one thing I know to be true, you’ve gotta sit at the front top seat of the double decker bus, always.
Appreciating summer and the sun when it shines now makes the long dark winters that little bit more bearable. That, and regular trips back to NZ at Christmas time