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.

Happy birthday houses

Oh hiiiiiiiii. It’s been ages.

So much has happened, yet as I go to write about what that was, my is blank. Oh, I changed my hair colour which is a nice change.

But I guess the main thing is probably that I turned 41 since my last post. Like most years, I feel no different. But like most people in their 40’s, I do still wonder how it happened. Little by little, day by day, until you realise all the little moments add up and you complain about being old. Only you’re not old really, 40 is nothing, but everyone of similar age joins in the joke because no one actually wants to talk about the fact it starts a realisation of aging and mortality that’s no one knows quite how to deal with.

I had a lovely birthday. Woke up in my van, by myself, in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by low-hanging mist giving the campsite an ethereal feel. No signal, no road noise, and few people. I stretched out, enjoying waking up slowly and lazily, tucked up all cosy in my duvet. No rush to be anywhere or do anything.

By the time I got some water boiling on my little camp stove for a [birthday] cup of tea, the sun was breaking through the mist. ‘Hi there! Good morning!’ shouts a voice. I look up, and there’s a middle-aged man looking down at me, looking concerned. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Good morning! Er, yes thanks, lovely morning isn’t it?’ I shout back.

‘Do you want a hot drink?’ He asks.

‘No, I’m OK thanks, I’ve got a cup of tea on the go,’ I reply, gesturing to the pan on the stove.

‘Oh.’ He looks confused, and there’s a pause. Then, ‘You’re in the shade.’

‘Yeah I know. I’ll be sitting in the sun soon though,’ pointing to my chair that’s in the sun, but wondering why it matters.

‘Righto. Jolly good.’ He waves and wanders off. I’ll see him later on the walking track near the campsite where he’ll tell me he was going to ask me, his campsite ‘neighbour’, to join him for a walk. I’ll politely laugh and continue on alone, enjoying the peace and quiet.

At lunchtime I met Charlie at Maruia Hot Springs where we had facials and lounged around in the hot pools. When I got there she was already outside on the deck, because I was about 15 minutes later than the rough time we’d plan to meet.

‘Oh my god where were you? I thought you might have got lost in the wilderness or broke an ankle or something and I was about to have to come looking for you!’

I laughed. ‘Of course not. I was just cruising,’ I replied. ‘I’m having a very leisurely day.’ She looks at me and I realise we have slightly different viewpoints on meeting times.

We lounged, talked and laughed before heading to Reefton where more friends came and joined us for bubbles, shots, dancing, food, walks and good times.

Then on the Monday I look at a cottage for sale on a whim and decide to buy it. In terms of birthday presents to myself, it’s the biggest one yet.

And so here I am, two weeks later, half way through the process of buying a cottage in Reefton in rural New Zealand, 3.5 hours drive away from Christchurch when I had no intention of even looking at house buying until at least towards the end of the year. Desperately hoping that it all goes through OK and there’s no last minute issues that could make it fall apart (still possible) because, my god, am I in love with this little character cottage.

The house buying process is very different here to the UK. It’s much, much quicker, which is just as stressful as how long it takes to buy a house in England. It was very much a ‘fuck it, do it’ decision and work out the actual details and logistics later, and later is still to happen.

But it’ll be fine. I’m sure I’ll figure it out and make it work. (Pray for me, ha)

Having your shit together

A couple of people have commented recently about how I’ve got my life / shit together. My instant thought was to say ‘oh hell no, no I haven’t, no one’s got their shit together’ but that reaction felt like a deflection of a compliment, and as soon as I thought about saying it, I could feel my body get uncomfortable, because it’s just not true.

Actually, I do have a lot of my life and shit together right now. Mainly because it’s taken a hell of a lot of work to get there. I mean, it does depend on what people mean, and it’s going to be subjective right, but I know myself pretty damn well, I know what I like, what I don’t like and I know how I want to live my life. I make (mostly) good choices and get out there and make things happen.

Obviously having your life and shit together doesn’t mean you’re infallible, that everything’s going well, or you have everything figured out, and I don’t say it to brag. It’s just this is where I’m at right now, the reward of doing a shit tonne of personal growth, pushing myself and making lots of mistakes over the last ten years.

It doesn’t mean you don’t have crap things happen, or tough times, and it doesn’t mean you always know how to deal with it. But it probably does mean you have some good coping strategies about how to get through it. I have a big trust and belief in myself to be able to deal with whatever comes my way, and that everything will be OK. Admittedly that got tested heavily last year, but I’m still standing.

I’ll always keep learning, I will make more mistakes, and because of that, no one ever FULLY has everything figured out. But they can have their life together in a way that works for them. Which, right now, I do.

Tales from lockdown revisited – author’s note

Well that’s it folks, the final Tales From Lockdown – Revisited has been published. What an absolute JOY it’s been to chat again to these people and tell more of their life stories. Nearly two years have passed yet the first conversations seem like only yesterday. So many different things to talk about, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.

It shows that life still happens, doesn’t it? Whether we want it to or not, even in a global pandemic with multiple lockdowns. People change jobs, lose family, have babies, fall in love, fall out of love, move house, make mistakes, do great things. It happens, we deal with it, we get through it.

A big thank you once more to everyone who’s given their time to chat to me again, and for opening up their life for my little part of the internet. These stories are my gift to you.

It’s hard to think that before I started this I hadn’t really interviewed people, I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was all new. Now it feels as familiar as an old comfort blanket I can hold in my hand, and I’ve found I LOVE it. I bloody LOVE it. Interviewing someone, learning about them, and writing it down. It’s a wonderful way to spend my time, and has helped me understand that feature journalism is the path I want to take for my writing just now. Although if anyone has any other ideas of how to monetise this stuff I’m all ears – I don’t want to earn a fortune, just enough to be able to spend more time writing.

There weren’t any real themes for these stories like there was in the first series, since it was less about Covid and the shared lockdown experience, and more about where individual lives had gone since then.

I didn’t stress myself out with deadlines, even though I took a couple of months to write some of them up. I was honest with myself, and the people I wrote about, with what was realistic. See, I’m learning and growing.

I doubt there’ll be a Tales from Lockdown Revisited, Revisited, but I don’t think this’ll be the end of me writing about people. I’m just not sure what form it’ll take.

What do you all want to read?

Babies and back to work

‘We last chatted in May 2020, so it’s been nearly 2 years since we last spoke,’ I say to the screen. ‘How’s it been for you?’

Natalie looks at me and laughs. ‘Well, this,’ she says, holding up the cutest little baby in a pink babygrow. ‘This happened! We’ve been pretty busy, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.’

Nat found out she was pregnant in November 2020. ‘Lockdown made us both realise that we just wanted to have children now, because life is precious and things can change. We’re not getting any younger and so decided to start a family.’

Little Olivia came along in August 2021 and Nat says she’s been an anxious mess ever since. ‘Having a baby has turned me into an anxious lunatic,’ she laughs. ‘It was interesting to be pregnant in Covid-times.’

Pete, Natalie’s husband, wasn’t allowed to many scans or appointments. She says: ‘The only scan partners were allowed to go to was the 20 week one, so that was the first time Pete got to see our baby. I think it’s really hard for any partner who’s not carrying the baby to go through pregnancy but not actually see the baby.’

Because the UK kept going in and out of lockdowns, Natalie didn’t see her Dad all through her pregnancy. ‘I kind of got used to it, but I was quite anxious the entire time and if I’d been able to see people, to talk in person, I think it would’ve really helped. My best friend was pregnant at the same time [they had their babies a day apart] and I never saw her. We had video calls but it’s not really the same. We’d have loved to go shopping for baby clothes and stuff together.’

In our first chat, Natalie found spending time with Pete in lockdown made her realise just how much she loved him. ‘Now I’ve spent too much time with him. Now I want to kill him,’ she jokes. ‘Don’t put that in, will you?’ I give her a wry smile.

Nat’s going back to work soon but will be mainly working from home rather than having the same amount of travel she used to, an unexpected positive of the pandemic. Pete has sold his share of his business and is going to become a stay-at-home-dad. ‘Our priorities have changed, things have changed, and we’re thinking about doing things differently,’ she says. ‘It feels like having a baby is a lot about trying to find a balance with everything. Pete will do some work, but we’ll have more flexibility. He’s really excited about it. I think it’s really important for men to have that time with their children, because sometimes it’s hard for men to get so involved when they’re quite small. Pete’s such a good Dad, he just loves it. It’s so cute to watch them together.’

Natalie loves her job, and is excited to go back to work. Her eyes light up as she looks at me through the screen. ‘You know what Tara, I love working. I love being a mum, but I need more than that. For me, that’s really important. I have to use my brain. I had a KIT day the other week and I struggled to write the letter N on a piece of paper. I’ve not written anything in so long.’

Natalie picks Olivia up with that ease that mothers just seem to have, and Olivia looks at me through the screen, transfixed. ‘Sorry there were no cocktails involved in this chat,’ laughs Natalie.

‘Is that chapter of your life over now?’ I ask her, ‘Or will they be making a comeback?’

‘No they’re definitely not over, the cocktails will be making a comeback. Pete’s going to make me a tiki bar for the garden, and that’s when I might relaunch them. I want to be Instagram famous,’ she laughs.

My 40th year – April (month #12)

Well it’s been quite the year. I started it terribly burnt out and am ending it feeling much better. Slightly battered and bruised, but much, much better.

I’d known I was burnt out, I’d already spent months trying all sorts of things to keep a handle on it. Float pods, reflexology, exercise, you name it, I probably tried it. All the things the articles tell you to do. It took me too long to remove the source of the burnout (my job) but that’s what I did a year ago, and I started my current job just before my 40th birthday last year.

Starting a new job with trauma from an old one was so hard. I was being triggered all the time yet felt I had to be on top of my game. I was finding it so hard but there wasn’t an option to fail because my life, my visa, was tied to the new job. I was so scared I’d fuck it up and lose the option to live in New Zealand, and I just wasn’t in a place to deal with that.

Hence the year of self-nurture; I knew I had to slowly try and help myself recover while still trying to get through life. The option of taking a few months off (what I really wanted to do) wasn’t an option. Well, it didn’t seem like an option. I actually spoke to my boss recently about how I actually felt last year, and he told me if I’d said something back then, he was sure we could have worked something out. He made me promise that if I ever felt like that again to talk to him about it.

Lesson learnt; honesty is always a good call (and people are kind).

This final month before I turn 41 next week has been about reflecting back over the year, seeing what’s resonated, and thinking about what I might want to carry on doing. It’s been good to remind myself of the things that are already meaningful to me, as well as remembering how important it is to me that I keeping trying new things, so I don’t stagnate.

Putting myself first has been necessary, and I’ve enjoyed leaning into slowing down. I feel a lot more grounded and chilled now than I did a year ago. I’m comfortable with where I’m at in myself and life.

But oh do I want some fun now. I want to laugh. I want to play. I want to leave the serious stuff behind for a bit, or it at least be in the background rather than taking centre stage.

May my 40’s be fun, carefree, a bit wild, meaningful, creative and on my own terms. Just not necessarily at a million miles an hour, like my 30’s. I’m wiser (and older) now.