Welcome home

There’s been quite a few occasions I’ve come to start to write this post, and I’ve given up. Sometimes because I have no words, sometimes because I’m not sure to write, and sometimes because I’m just exhausted.

It’s because there’s been so much going on.

The other week, a few days after I got home, I sat on my big yellow chair and just started at the wall. After a while Ben looked up from his laptop, noticed me just sat there staring into space, and said, ‘are you OK?’

‘Not really,’ I said.

I felt so overwhelmed. It just hit me how much change, and ‘stuff’ I was dealing with. Again.

I’d just got back from nearly 3 months away to a house I’d only lived in for a few weeks. The garden was a jungle, and there was all these jobs I’d left until ‘I got back’. A.k.a put off, and I was now realising I’d actually have to do them. My to do list was continuously growing.

I was exhausted from being in so many places and seeing so many people in a short space of time. The emotional toll of seeing and then saying goodbye to people I love was pretty hefty.

Ben was there and we were getting used to being together in person, and we were spending the whole of my first week back together. I loved it, and at the same time was also overwhelmed by my feelings. They felt so strong for someone I’d spent more time with virtually than in person.

My Dad was critically ill in intensive care. He’d fallen ill unexpectedly just as I left the UK, and was taken into hospital while I was in Canada. I didn’t know whether I’d be having to look at flights back to the UK just after I’d left. I didn’t really have the money, or the time – I didn’t have any holiday allowance, having not yet even started my new job. I’d be at the end of the phone, anxiously waiting for updates from my brother. My heart would pound when I’d look at my phone each morning, not knowing what I’d read. There were days where each day brought worse news. I’d dread the phone ringing, living on a permanent edge.

I was about to start a new job. The usual thing of needing to have that new job energy – be at the top of your game. Be reliable. Be the person they’d interviewed. I felt so far from that.

So yeah, it’s going well. <sarcastic laugh>

Obviously I just want to retreat into a hole and pretend I’m not an adult with any responsibilities, but that’s not really an option. So it’s the usual look after myself, lean on people and try to keep it together as much as possible. I’d say it’s working 90% of the time but my capacity for pretty much everything is definitely reduced, so please don’t expect too much from me right now.

Cananda rocks [sp]

A week into my Canadian trip and I’m just starting to wind down. OK yeah, it might seem strange because I’ve been on ‘holiday’ for two months already but just because I’ve not been working doesn’t mean I’ve not been on the go.

Originally me and Katie had talked about a big Canadian roadtrip up to/through the Rockies, seeing all the things and having all the adventures, but we soon realised that neither of us had the energy for it. It’s been a busy and intense couple of months for both of us, and a few weeks ago we decided to stay on Vancouver Island and rent a little cabin by the ocean where we could chill out and just go exploring if and as we wanted to.

The trip to the UK and Canada this year was always about people, not about ‘travel’. I didn’t really care what I did as long as I spent time with the people I’ve missed so much over the last few years. I told Katie as long as I saw a few nice views and got to hang out with her that’d be enough.

So we find ourselves in the most wonderful little cabin right on the beach with views of mountains across the water. We’ve watched seals and whales play just metres from where we sit with a glass of wine (or mainly tea now, after going way overboard with the wine on the first night due to over excitement), and the sunrises and sunsets every day have been INCREDIBLE. We’re spending our days walking, chatting, reading, writing, eating, and exploring.

It’s perfect.

I’ve been reflecting on my time in the UK. It was the BEST. It really was. I’ve had a decent chunk of time to catch up and reconnect with so many people, and loved having so much fun. I’ve laughed SO MUCH. I’ve been so burnt out the last couple of years it’s been a real treat not having to think about ‘work’, because of finishing up one job in July and not starting the next until I get back. Knowing that I don’t have to rush because I always seem to have that little bit more time is a luxury I don’t feel like I’ve had for a long time.

It’s also been an emotional rollercoaster. It’s so lovely to see everyone, and then such a wrench to leave again. Just as it’s a wrench to be away from my New Zealand life and people, and it feels SO long now. And of course there’s fabulous Ben, the guy I met just before going away. Who I’ve had to date virtually for the last 9 weeks. When I went, I was like, oh yeah, this is fine, it’s only a couple of months. Wrong. It’s the longest time EVER and I’m impatient and he’s LOVELY and I’m excited and nervous and a bit giddy. It’s been so weird having to get to know each other virtually. Great, and nice, but a bit strange because there’s obviously a dimension missing, and all we can do is talk and talk and talk. But I reckon we’ve got to know each other pretty well, and it seems we still like each other, so that’s got to be a good thing, right?

We have a few more days here at the cabin before heading back to Victoria, then I head back to the mainland to catch my flights to Aotearoa (New Zealand). I’m ready for it now. I’m ready for my own bed, for the little red cottage, and some routine. Not sure I’m quite ready to start work again, but I have another week after I get back before I start my new job. I’ll put off thinking about it until then.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the unseasonably great weather, soak up the island views and keep ploughing through my kindle reading list.

Halfway house

I’ve been in the UK for just over five weeks now, so I’m just over halfway through my trip. In two and a half weeks I’ll be leaving the UK for a couple of weeks in Canada before heading home to New Zealand.

I’m having the BEST time. I’m seeing all the people and doing all the things. Of course, this is exhausting (and all my own doing) but LOVELY. You know what I like the best? All the hugs. The proper, come-here-and-squeeze-me-hard-I’ve-missed-you hugs. I feel loved.

I’m lucky to have a lot of wonderful people in my life, and I’m stoked to have the time to meet up with most of them. To catch up with what’s gone on the last few years, chew the fat and reconnect. And laugh. Oh my word, have I laughed and laughed and laughed.

It’s weird being back. Everything in Lincolnshire was so familiar, it was like I’d only just left. Cheltenham is different, and it feels like AGES since I’ve lived here. My memories are a little hazier, and the town that little bit more unfamiliar. Likely because I only have 3 years worth of memories compared to 30, but still, it’s disconcerting. I loved my time in Cheltenham, and I adored my life here. This was the life I gave up to move to New Zealand, and I felt the loss for a number of years, so to feel a bit of a disconnect was a surprise.

New Zealand seems a little further away now, and the UK becoming more usual each day, but I don’t feel a pull to come back to live. NZ is home now. Ben sends me pictures of the mountains, and I’m a little homesick for my life there. I’m excited to see him again, to see what happens. Starting a relationship over video calls and messages isn’t ideal, and I’m impatient.

Covid has affected everyone in so many different ways, and conversations have gone beyond ‘what you been up to the past few years?’ Priorities have changed, conversations are deeper, the hard stuff is up for sharing. I’m feeling very enriched, grateful and connected. I fucking hate this saying, but it feels right: ‘my cup is full’.

I’m also absolutely LOVING: old buildings, pints of beer, the green English countryside, walking everywhere, sunshine, not having to work, halloumi.

Not loving: traffic, roundabouts, crowds of people, litter, not being able to sleep past 7am (even when I go to bed at 1am), living out of a bag.

Back in the UK.

It’s 3pm and I’m sat outside the Royal William on the Brayford with a pint of Moretti in the sun. There’s a lot of algae on the water and as I take a sip of my beer I wonder briefly what causes it. I should know, I think. But I don’t, and the thought slips away as quickly as it formed.

I watch people walk past, scanning faces in case I see someone I know. I’m expecting to, I realise. Surely I’ll see someone I know? It feels like I should, but I’ve not lived in Lincoln for nearly ten years, and people – and places – change. In some ways it feels like I’ve gone back in time, like I still live here, and that’s a disconcerting thought. 

My friend Sarah left New Zealand in April to go back to Scotland for a year. The pandemic took it’s toll on migrants being separated from their families, and Sarah wanted to spend an extended period of time living back with her family. ‘I can’t wait, but I’m worried about reverting back to the person I was before I moved to New Zealand though. To living life with values that are different to how I live now. To feel like an outsider.’ she said.

I can totally relate. Not that there’s anything wrong with those lives we led once, but they’re gone now, they’re in the past, and it’d feel like going backwards.

I feel an urge to tell people I don’t live here anymore for some reason. Shop workers, bar staff, people in queues. Just now, when I was buying my drink, I found a way to tell the girl behind the bar I lived in New Zealand. Maybe it’s a way of reminding myself. The longer I’m here, the more familiar everything becomes and the more my memories of life over there get buried a little deeper.

I’ve only been here for just over three weeks but it seems a lot longer. And then I think maybe I’m overthinking (likely, we all do that right?), but coming back after 4 years from a place that I never 100% fully committed to living long term, after a global pandemic, feels like a big deal for me. There’s been times over the last couple of years that I’ve not known if I’d ever get back (catastrophising, but the threat felt very real to me). Sounds and smells trigger all the memories and all the emotions.

This isn’t really a holiday, although I’m having the BEST time. Better than I could hope for. I have so much gratitude for the people, the time I’m getting with them and their generosity. And the FULLEST time. My days are full of people, life admin, running, biking or just STUFF. And isn’t England just amazing?

It’s a trip to reconnect but also disconnect. I’m finally sorting out all my stuff, and figuring out how to get it to NZ. Saying out loud to people who want you to come back, that you’re choosing not to. Feeling guilty I’m not spending enough time with people. But really, there’ll never be enough time. I’m just trying to make it quality time.

Then there’s the fledgling relationship waiting for me, where these 10 weeks seem a lifetime before we can see what happens. I feel guilty a small part of me is looking forward to when I get back, because this amount of time off is a gift and a privilege, and I feel torn at how much time I want to spend connecting with Ben.

Yesterday it all felt a bit much. I’m surprised it took this long to be fair, there’s so many emotions floating around, and I felt anxious over nothing in particular. I went out for a run and had a cry. That helped. Then went to Karl’s and drank beer. That also helped.

Bye New Zealand

I haven’t left New Zealand since April 2018, only a few months after I moved here. Back then I didn’t feel I’d been here long enough to warrant a trip back, but I already had the flights booked and I was feeling pretty battered and bruised after the break up with Mike, so I embraced it wholeheartedly. Little did I know there’d be another four years until I’d get back again.

My flights in August 2020 were cancelled, and I spent the next 18 months not knowing when, or if, I’d get back to the UK. If you’ve read any of my old posts, you’ll know this was stressful as fuck, and I’ve been in the little safe bubble that’s been Aotearoa New Zealand ever since.

Until now.

I was surprised earlier today to find I felt apprehensive about flying. It’s been so long since I’ve travelled internationally, and the world’s changed, that I was (still am) sure I’ve missed something. That I’ll get to an airport and not be able to get on a plane because I’ve not filled out a form, or got the wrong passport or something.

There’s also a part of my brain that has wanted to do this for so long, it still doesn’t feel real. I’ve spent so long accepting the fact I can’t see people I love, that it seems surreal to know I’ll actually see people IN THE FLESH in a couple of days. I think my brain, in some self preservation mode, had actually prepared itself for never seeing people ever again, so I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

Add to that I feel a bit nervous about seeing everyone. It’s been SO LONG. The world is different. We’re all different. A global pandemic has changed us as people forever. Maybe I’m different. Will people remember me? Will we have things in common? Has everyone moved on?

So I flip from weird apprehension to being nervous, to sadness at leaving. I think I’ve *just* got my NZ life to where I want it right now, absolutely bloody loving it, and now I’m leaving it for 2 months. Honestly, life is SO good for me right now. I love my cottage so much you wouldn’t believe, I’m LOVING the life I’m making in Reefton and all the people I’m meeting, I’m excited for my new job and I’ve just met someone who makes me smile and fizz inside.

You couldn’t make this timing shit up. Good things come to those who wait though right?

See you soon, UK, and NZ? Wait for me, won’t you?

All the time in the world

I have all the time in the world. Well, kind of. I’ve got just under two glorious weeks stretched out in front of me without a single plan. A blank diary, no entries apart from reminders of birthdays and a couple of tradie appointments to sort out the leaky shower.

When I started writing this article I had just under three weeks, but the last week has disappeared, *poof*, just-like-that. I’d floof my fingers around in the air to emphasise the point, if there was anyone here to watch.

And you know what? It feels just darn lovely. This is the first time in over four years of constant work and adventures where I’ve really had the time to just be. To not have to think about work next week, or have my brain self-guilting itself into going and doing something because I’ve only got a couple of days before being back at work.

It’s winter in New Zealand, and although there are still adventures to be had, I feel no desire to ‘make the most’ of this time. I’ve just moved into the Little Red Cottage, and I want to hibernate and nest. I’m going to spend each day doing whatever I feel the urge to do. Some days that’s been getting out into the bush, other days it’s been lighting the fire and reading one of the million books I’ve got lined up. I feel no guilt, just self-care salvation. I might do some writing, and I’ve got a couple of paid articles to get done, but I’m not rushing around looking for more. I probably should be, but meh. I can do that later. I need a rest.

Really, I needed this rest this time last year. I was heavily burnt out and stressed to the hilt. I’d sit in my counsellor’s office each week and tell her the same thing.

‘What do you think you need Tara?’ she’d say.

‘A couple of months off, ideally in a secluded cabin somewhere, where I don’t have to think about work, or visas, or pandemics. Where I can potter about, and spend each day doing basic things so my brain can chill the fuck out and remember the joy in life.’

‘Ah. Yes, bit tricky though that, isn’t it?’ she’d reply, knowing I couldn’t just quit my [new] job and take a few months off because my work visa didn’t allow me to be unemployed. ‘What do you think you can do instead?’ she’d say gently, and we’d work through my options to stop me going postal.

And so I worked through the burnout as best I could and feel way better now, but when I realised I could have some extended time off between jobs, you could bet your bottom dollar I sure as hell was going to take the opportunity. The break is still most welcome, and the fact I get to spend most of it going back to the UK is a huge billy bonus.

In the meantime, I might do some stuff soon.

Or, I might not.

One week in.

One week in Reefton (four days since moving into the cottage) and I feel like I’m on holiday. I’m floating around feeling relaxed and chilled, wanting to (and doing) little more than pottering around and sitting in front of the fire with a glass of red and a book. Oh, and a bit of unpacking and work. It feels goooooood.

It’s not all butterflies and jelly babies. It rains a lot, my roof is leaking, it’s cold (and I hate being cold), my stuff is still everywhere and the fire is a faff, but still, I feel fine about all of that. Maybe I’m still in a honeymoon period, maybe I’m not. Doesn’t really matter, this is how I feel right now and I’m going with it.

Today I realised I was living one of my dreams. I’ve wanted a veranda for as long as I can remember. Not entirely sure why, I just have. I remember watching American films as a kid and loving the front porches with a rocking chair, so maybe it’s from that. Anyway, the sun came out this afternoon, lovely and warm winter sun, and my ver-ann-dah gets the afternoon sun, so I sat there, with a cup of tea and the sun on my face, looking at the hills, feeling super thankful for my life. I’m quite literally living my dreams right now and ohhh, does that feel a-ma-zing.

Downside: not many people to people watch on my street. I live opposite the Freemasons Hall/Lodge thing and there’s not much activity there. What do people actually do there? Should I be curtain twitching?

I’ve had a few moments of ‘ohhh-what-have-I-done’ but I expect them. Just normal adjustments with moving from the only place I’ve known here. I had the same in the UK when I moved to Cheltenham from Lincolnshire. Like then, this move will only ever be what I make it, so it’s up to me to do with it what I want.

It’s the most rural move I’ve made, and rural/small town New Zealand is a whole other level to UK rural. I’ll write about that another time though. Like not having a rubbish collection, the chip shop only opening when they feel like it, the hot water pressure being abysmal, the incredible community spirit, forgetting the supermarket closes at 7pm and people already knowing who you are before you meet them.

I don’t feel isolated though – because I’ve had so many people welcome me to the town (literally everyone I’ve spoken to), I already know many people by name and where to go if I want to speak to a living human being.

I mean, I have been a bit ‘HI I’M PAPS AND I’M NEW HERE, I’VE JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE WHO ARE YOU PLEASE TALK TO ME’ to everyone, but that’s my usual style and it’s done me well so far in life, why stop now?

Also my friend Emma lives here, so I know at least one person, which is nice. Not that I’ve seen her much since I moved in as she’s been away and ill, but it’s nice to know someone’s there.

I feel like I’ve earnt this. It’s been a rough ride for me in New Zealand. I’m torn in two constantly because I still love the UK and people in it. I’ve had a hard time in jobs that couldn’t change because of visas and burnt out spectacularly last year. I’ve saved my money hard to buy this place and give me options. I’ve been lonely and confused. I’d love to find someone to share life with, but can’t seem to meet the right person. I’ve made hard choices and still procrastinate on things because I don’t want to fail or don’t think I can do them.

And so I’m just human. Feeling proud of myself, as well as excited, overwhelmed, daunted, optimistic, and all the other feelings. All at the same time. As is life hey?

Oh and also, I fly to the UK NEXT MONTH. I can say that now. Next month. Holy moly I’m so excited, I feel like I could burst right now.

Moving Day

I stood in the background, looking nervously at the van. ‘It’s quite small, isn’t it?’ I said to Bruce.

‘Well, it is a bit smaller than I imagined.’ He looked at me. ‘I’m sure it will be fine though,’ he said, trying to reassure me.

We spent what felt like 10 hours (it was about one and a half) squeezing the contents of my life into this tiny u-save van. The last bits were all awkward shapes. ‘Are there any boxes or regular shaped stuff we can fit into these gaps,’ Bruce asked. ‘No,’ I replied.

‘Damn.’ He took stuff out, put it back in, twisted it around and gave it all a good shove to make it fit. I watched nervously, hoping nothing would break and everything would survive the 4 hour journey. It’s only stuff though, I figured. But still. I want it to get there OK. It’s my stuff and I love it.

I walked back into my empty flat and realised that, once again, the physical contents of my life were in limbo, sat in a small van on someone’s driveway, waiting. All the single items that together, make up the backbone of my life, but by themselves are just things. Things that each have a special meaning.

I don’t think I’d quite taken it all in. The change in location, the buying of a house, the leaving of a flat I loved, the finishing up of a job, and the change in lifestyle this move will likely bring. I’ve been so concentrated on the practical things I’d not really thought about the emotional stuff. As I stood there looking at the empty flat, I felt a wave of sadness, but I wasn’t quite sure why. I knew living there was only ever temporary, so I already knew I wouldn’t be there forever, but I still felt sad.

It’s the end of an era. Just over 4 and a half years in Christchurch, and I only lived there because that’s where Mike lived, and then it was where I had a job. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great there, but getting my residency earlier this year means I can choose where I live and how I live my life, and for some reason I feel an urge to cut the cord with Christchurch.

Why Reefton? One main reason – houses are cheaper there. The simple fact is I can’t really afford to buy in Christchurch by myself without taking out a huge mortgage, which I don’t want to do. My friend Emma lives there, and I’d visited a few times. It’s a quirky little town, with a really nice feel about it. The day after my birthday we were walking towards Broadway, the main street.

‘Let’s go and say hello to Linda [Reefton estate agent],’ said Emma, ‘I want to ask her about the house on the hill. We can say you’re looking for a house to buy.’

‘Well, I guess that’s not strictly wrong,’ I replied, although I’d decided to not look for a house to buy until the end of the year.

We peered over Linda’s shoulder as she showed us pictures of houses coming up for sale in Reefton, and one little cottage stood out. ‘It’s just this one, over here,’ she said, pointing out the window. ‘Look, you can just see the roof.’

Something about it intrigued me, and it was empty, so I asked her if we could go and have a look, given it was just over the road. Why not, I thought.

‘Oh my god.’ I said out loud as we walked through the door. ‘What?’ asked Emma.

‘I love it. I love it. Oh I love it, I love it, I love it.’

She laughed. ‘Yeah, it’s a great place.’

‘I need to buy this house. I’ll work out the logistics later.’

And that’s how I came to be standing inside my little red cottage, surrounded by my furniture (which did make it safely here, by the way), and a belly full of excitement for whatever comes next.

Cortisol hormone high

I’ve spent the last few weeks high on cortisol. Oh yesssss, my body’s main stress hormone has been a little elevated while I navigate myself through the New Zealand house buying process, which is quite different – and therefore strange and unfamiliar – to the UK. It’s like walking barefoot through a room full of mousetraps blindfolded, with someone occasionally shouting vague directions in words you don’t understand, hoping you won’t stand on something that will hurt you.

I’m nearly out the other side. WIthout explaining the whole process (you can read about it for yourself here if you really want to) – mainly because I still don’t really understand it – I’m a few days away from the point where it becomes legal and binding and no one can back out without losing a lot of money. This is the good point, because it when I know it’s definitely going to be my house, and I can legitimately start to dream about where I’ll put my yellow chair so I get a view of the mountains without fear of intense disappointment.

The process is normally pretty quick here (sometimes less than a month), which by itself is stressful to us Brits who are used to having months to get our heads around 1) committing to something/somewhere and 2) spending a shit ton of cash. You have mere days to sign stuff, send it back, pay things, make phone calls, move money, make decisions, all while trying to work and live at the same time. Especially hard when it’s just me who has do Everything. Single. Thing. <tired sigh>.

This purchase has been stretched out a bit (I first put the offer in at the beginning of May), because we’ve had to wait a few weeks for a valuer to be available because my mortgage company needed it. Then we had to extend the timeframes as the vendor is waiting for the council to sign off some building work. So as long as that’s done by Monday, it’s all systems go. If it’s not, the timeframes will have to be pushed out again.

I’ve broken the lease on my flat and need to move out on the 4th July, so I’m hoping they don’t get shifted back again, because then I’ll have to move all my stuff twice. But hey, can’t do much about what I can’t control, and I’ve got a Plan B so it’s all cruisy baby.

I’ve also gone and got myself a new job, not related to the move, just for shits and giggles, and the decision-making, negotiations and uncomfortable act of telling my boss I’m leaving has just kept that old friend cortisol hanging around when it’s outstayed its welcome. Joy.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be having 4 months off from mid July and won’t start my new job until October, so I’ll get a well-deserved break – something I’ve desperately craved since burning out and melting down last year. I’ll get a few weeks of downtime to potter around my new house without having to work before flying to the UK and I can’t wait to just be for a little bit IN MY OWN HOUSE.

I’m wondering if having a base of my own that I don’t have to sign a lease for every year (and can put up picture hooks if I want to ), in a small community, will give me some grounding that I still don’t feel I quite have yet here in Aotearoa. My residency helped me to feel less temporary, and having a house of my own to make a home feels like the last part of a jigsaw that’ll allow me to start living my NZ life on my terms – where I want, and doing what I want.

Over the past few weeks I’ve realised I get a bit lonely here in Christchurch. I don’t feel part of a community, which is really important to me. I miss the intimacy of being in a relationship, and the connection of deep friendships with a lot of shared history. Whether it’s because it’s nearing the time I can go back to the UK and I’m thinking about what I had in the UK, or just I’m ready for a change, I don’t know, I just know I’m feeling it quite intensely right now.

I’m excited to start a new chapter, to live life a little differently, to enjoy the ride, and see where it takes me, but without going a million miles an hour. This one’s gonna be more chilled. At least, that’s the plan.

Watch this space.