Six months in – here are the highlights

This week our family will hit two important milestones. First up, Olly turns 40 (gasp). And second, it will be six months exactly since we got on a plane and travelled 12,000 miles to our new home.  It feels like a long time since then. When we left, Belle was a crawling baby, still on the boob who we could just about squeeze into a bassinet on the flight. Now she’s a walking, almost-talking toddler. We arrived in the heat of summer and when I think back to those first weeks in our temporary accommodation I just remember us sitting around in very few clothes sweating which seems another world from the brisk albeit sunny days of midwinter.

During those six months we’ve come to feel quite settled. Our house kind of feels like our home – OK, we still moan about the disgusting carpet and other things we’d change if it were actually our house.  And the streets of our neighbourhood and beyond are coming to feel more and more familiar. But it’s telling that our plans for the second milestone of the week, Olly’s 40th, are quite muted. After some thought we decided it would feel less sad to pretend it’s not an important birthday than attempt a party lacking in old friends and family. Instead we’ll have a nice family day and a meal out and have the mother of all parties when we get home.

It’s not that we don’t have any friends here. We’re lucky that we already knew and have been introduced some lovely people  but I think I underestimated how important the social networks you’ve built up over many years are and how long it takes you to get anywhere close to those in a new place. I mentioned a similar thought to some friends in the UK recently and they said they felt the same way about their recent move to Hertfordshire, which (I think) was a comfort.

Anyway, rather than dwell on the fact that WE REALLY MISS EVERYONE STILL and sometimes-I-get-quite-lonely-actually, I thought I’d celebrate the highlights of the first 6 months of our New Zealand adventure. So here they are:

  1. The quality of life – it’s undoubtable that life in central Auckland is more pleasant than life in central Tottenham. The air is cleaner, I see the sea every day, the sun shines a lot and whilst I occasionally have to tell Elsie to avoid some dog poo, the streets are not strewn with it and I certainly haven’t come across any human excrement yet. It’s quiet too. I don’t think I’ve heard a siren once from our house. And I know the ‘Nam has many things Auckland can’t offer – like affordable, good humous for one…and yes, I know it’s unreasonable for a white middle class person to moan about poverty and deprivation in an area they’ve bought a house, whose value is rapidly appreciating on the back of their dreamed-of gentrification…but drudging around tough urban streets with a buggy and two kids was hard, even though my life was far more cushioned than many of the people around me.

    Bridal veil falls near Raglan. = Queen is Dead ear-worm.
    Bridal veil falls near Raglan. = Queen is Dead ear-worm.
  2. The holidays – we’ve had three long weekends away now to Coromandel, the Bay of Islands and Raglan on the west coast. All have been lovely – stunning coastline, gorgeous forests, incredible waterfalls. It’s fantastic to have these places two or three hours drive out of the city. Plus living in a different place and only for a finite time gives us the impetus to explore more. Each time we’ve gone away from Aukland  we’ve made a point of travelling in a different direction. Given that Aukcland’s located on an isthmus, it’s probably not possible to do this many more times but it’s been good for the first six months.
  3. Elsie’s kindergarten – or ‘kindy’ as it’s inevitably shortened to here. The kindergarten system is a cherished part of kiwi life. Lots of New Zealanders I’ve spoken to have very fond memories of their time there. Elsie’s is just round the corner and she loves it and asks excitedly every day, “Is it kindy day today?” On paper, there isn’t so much different from the nursery she went to at home – the kids are free to roam between activities and there’s no formal learning. But there’s a huge sense of empowerment given at kindy, really encouraging children to have a go and be independent. I’ve heard the teachers offering  kids advice on dispute resolution for example rather than stepping in to break up trouble. Or my favourite, some days a carpentry work bench is put out with REAL TOOLS and children are left to play at it UNSUPERVISED. Whilst i found that fairly petrifying at first,  I now think it’s brilliant. I mean, talk about allowing kids to learn their own boundaries.
  4. Work – in the last month I’ve landed a freelance contract with a UK organisation I used to work for. It’s only a couple of days a week for a few months but it’s a start and has possibly saved me from going a bit bonkers. I can say unequivocally now that being a stay at home parent is not for me, especially in a new place where I don’t have many friends. I’d like to write something witty here but the huge sense of relief I’m still feeling about not having to look after the kids every day is way too serious to joke about.

    Yes people - THAT is what colour a cuppa should be.
    Yes people – THAT is what colour a cuppa should be.
  5. Visitors – as some readers will have seen on Facebook, we had our first family visitation this month. Woohoo! My parents were the most impatient relatives and so did the schlep first. It was so lovely having them here. So good in fact that I barely felt irritated by them in the whole three weeks they stayed. Plus they brought us tea bags which, like for so many British ex-pats across the world, has become our entry-tax on guests. Saying goodbye was not as hard as I’d imagined and in a couple of weeks a dear old friend of Olly’s is coming for a short visit. I’m not sure he realises yet that he is Olly’s big birthday night out. Good luck Pete!

Tramping in the rain

Last weekend I did something which I’ve been planning for a while. Something which I’ve kept secret from family and friends, except those closest to me. It’s been difficult for me to talk about because I’m afraid people might think that I’ve become a nerd-girl. But now I’m just going to out myself. OK, here goes…I’ve joined a tramping club. There, I said it. That’s not a trampolining club by the way. I don’t think anybody would let me in their trampolining club. I’d only do about five bounces then run out of puff and feck-off. No, ‘tramping’ is Kiwi for rambling. So yes, my friends – I have joined a rambling club.

I joined because I thought if we’re only in this country for a limited time, I damn well want to do some walking and see some of its great outdoors. Yes, we can do little ambles with the kids but its not the same. And yes, I may in time make friends who I could go out tramping with but I want to do some now. So when I saw a poster in the library for the Women’s Outdoor Pursuits Society or WOPS, I thought hey, I’m a woman and I like the outdoors – maybe that’s for me!

I went home and keenly looked-up WOPS online. Photos and videos of recent tramps assured me that the society would take me to some beautiful places, all in and around Greater Auckland. Yet as I scoured the images I don’t think I could find a face of anyone who looked under 45 and many seemed a lot older.  The FAQs confirmed that most ‘WOPERS’ (teehee) are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Ah well, I thought – just four months until I join that age-bracket, I’ll give it a go.

But getting in was not straightforward. To join I had to complete a two day course – one day in a classroom and the other on a tramp, which is what I did last weekend. I’m not sure what I expected from this – perhaps advanced compass-reading or tips for keeping your kendal mint cake dry. The reality was that WOPS seem to want to check that applicants are capable of putting one foot in front of the other and sporting a kagool before they’re admitted to the club.

I’m being a bit unfair, much of the course was on safety. How not to get lost and what to do if you do, including how to fashion an emergency shelter out of leaves, which was quite cool. Tramping safety is taken pretty seriously here, as there are often stories in the news of daft folks, usually tourists, who have ventured up the wrong track, with the wrong kit and ended up dead of hypothermia or swept away by a fast-flowing stream. The glib part of me (which has previously written about Kiwis making exaggerated claims about risks) is inclined to think that, because of the absence of proper news stories maybe you are more likely to hear about walkers’ mishaps here than you are about people falling off mountains back home. But I decided now was not the time to be glib but instead to take on board what my capable WOPS-leaders were telling me, after all, I don’t fancy getting lost in the woods.

A great deal is made by the New Zealand tramping community about kit and having the right clothes. Olly and I discovered this when we were in New Zealand back-packing a few years ago and walked the Kepler Track, one of the county’s nine ‘Great Walks’. It’s a three day tramp on the South Island, which took us high into the mountains. When we booked, we were bombarded with info about what we could and couldn’t wear. Jeans and cotton tee-shirts were out. Merino and manmade wicking garments were in. Plus we had to have hats, gloves, walking boots and a proper raincoat with hood. Olly and I were backpacking round the world at the time and had none of this stuff. We had trainers, ludicrously heavy backpacks and an irrational dislike of outdoor-wear.

Use the Force Em.
Use the Force Em. Me on the Kepler track in 2008.

On the second day of the trek we had to sneak past the Department of Conservation warden who was checking everyone’s clothes before allowing them to embark on the alpine stretch of the walk in a storm. We were wearing socks on our hands instead of gloves and plastic bags between our shoes and socks. I also had two hats (neither of them waterproof) ratchet-strapped to my head, making me look not unlike one of the rebels in the Empire Strikes Back.

Since then, I’ve matured and accepted that it might be wise to wear proper outdoor clothing for walking, so listened intently on the first day of course when clothing was covered. I was surprised when Claudia, one of our leaders, said that she rarely bothered with waterproof trousers and braved wet-weather in just shorts. The checklist, provided by the trainers suggested that thermal long johns could be worn underneath shorts in cold weather. As some of my girlfriends back home know, much to their hilarity,  I own some thermal leggings made from bamboo, so decided to give the shorts-long johns combo a go, without waterproofs, just like a roughy-toughy Kiwi.

The night before our induction tramp, I scurried about the house, trying to tick-off the other things on the compulsory check list. Whistle – check! Packed lunch – check! Extra snack – but of course! Survival blanket – err, well, never mind, maybe next time. I was packed and ready to go!

Who are you calling nerd-girl?
Who are you calling nerd-girl?

Now, earlier posts in this blog may have had you believe that New Zealand was the land of endless sunshine. Indeed, for the first four months of our stay it was. Now it is quite different. It’s quite wet. Actually it’s more than quite wet. It really bloody-well rains here. Like one minute it’s dry and the next, a huge amount of water is falling out of the sky, often with very little warning. And on the day of our tramp, it pretty much rained all day long. But did I tog-up in my waterproof trousers? No sir, I did not. I was not going to be a namby-pamby Brit. I was going to tough it out in my super-wicking shorts and long-johns – even when it turned out that most of the other ladies on the tramp were in waterproofs. And guess what? I got soaked. And quite chilly. It didn’t help that my boots seemed to fill with water too. Thanks Gor-Tex. I’d have been better off with plastic bags on my feet.

Top tips for the temporary and unaccustomed lone parent

Disclaimer: I understand that for the many many single parents in the world this post may seem like a lot of fuss over what is their normal life. You are right and I salute you. Ditto if you have a partner who works all-hours or gives bugger all help with the house and kids. But I suppose we are all used to getting along in a certain way and when that changes for a while, it can seem a bit tougher, hence this post.

It’s just two more sleeps until Olly gets back form his ten-day work trip, which means I’ve almost done it – woo hoo! I usually find the reality of him being away far easier than I’ve anticipated and that by day 3 or 4 the sense of dread has been replaced with quiet determination (except daily at 6.45pm when there is often a distinct fraying of nerves).

Olly’s been doing a global job since before Elsie was born, so I’ve got pretty used to his absences which are normally about a week long. This one of course had extra significance as we’re uprooted from our support networks but I’ve got through! So I’ve been thinking about what are my top tips for surviving when your other half goes away. And here they are:

1, Get organised – plan your week, plan your meals, plan your playdates, make sure your cupboards are filled with treats (for you) and invite friends over at least one evening to break the monotony. It might seem like a lot of effort to cook for other people but as long as they’re close friends and don’t expect fine dining, just getting some adult company will make it worth it.

2, Stay tidy – boring but necessary. You’re going to get bugger all time for keeping the house clean, so do it as you go. Most important of all, do the dishes before bed otherwise you are DOOMED.

3, Eat with the kids – OK, so fish-fingers at 5.15 might not be for everyone but frankly, if I’m on my own I am only clearing up one dinner sitting. Once I’ve got the kids to bed and washed up from their tea I am not starting all over again. Plus, I’m usually starving by about 5pm and end up eating half the children’s dinner anyway, so it suits me.

4, Don’t get stuck in a rut – over the years I’ve got into a habit when Olly goes away of putting the kids to bed, pouring a glass of wine and vegging in front of the telly. This will get you through but it can make you feel a bit bleak. Like you’re just surviving whilst your other half is away – almost like being in prison (albeit one where good Pinto Noir is available). So this time I ditched the glass of wine and have tried to do other things in the evening, like write this blog. I have to admit that I’ve also watched a lot of episodes of Nurse Jackie, so it’s possible that this is more of a personal goal than a well-worn ‘tip’.

5, Prepare for some fallout – so after a week of struggling with kids who all miss their mother/father terribly, said parent comes home to be embraced by their family and to muck in with childcare, creating a warm glow of re-unitedness about the household, right? Well, not necessarily. First up, shock-horror, you might find you’ve quite enjoyed being the sole-carer for the kids. The two or three or four of you will have got into a rhythm and having someone come in on that might feel like an imposition. Secondly, the travelling parent is probably exhausted from a crazy week of meetings and a long-haul flight. Not that you care because they’ve stayed in a hotel every night and have been woken up by an alarm clock instead of a child wanting something. Then throw into the mix your children’s emotions which rather than overflowing with joy that mummy or daddy is back, they may well feel quite angry that the bastard ever went away in the first place. Elsie is usually a total pain in the arse the first couple of days after Olly comes home, which is all anybody needs after a tough week. You might therefore want to consider making plans on your own the day after your other half gets back to be sure that you get the break you deserve and they have to deal with the stroppy kids regardless of how knackered they are.

7, Be specific about gifts – it’s not a good look to throw things at your partner when they fail reward your temporary lone-parenting efforts with a present. The frequent-flyer especially might not think it’s necessary to buy you something on every trip. If this is not the case, then make yourself clear in advance of their departure. Better still, make it easy for them and tell them what you want. I’ve done very well for posh duty-free make up over the years. I’m not sure I reciprocated when I did work trips before Belle was born. Maybe I bought Olly some gin once. But there you go, he obviously doesn’t feel he needs presents and I do. So if you’re reading this at the airport, Ol, just veer towards the Lancome counter. Thanks.

Surviving the long-haul

This week I feel like I’m facing my first big test of being away so far. Olly left yesterday on a work trip – a mammoth one, taking in four European capitals in a week and leaving me on my own long-haul  – 10 days as a lone parent, 11,000 miles from home and all my usual support networks. Help! However, am I going to cope?! Will my sanity survive?! Will the children survive?! Will our kiwi adventure survive?!

‘Course they will.

Two things are getting me through. First up, I actually do already know a few people here. And they’re really nice. Last week we bravely threw a little housewarming, inviting people over for drinks on Sunday afternoon. Obviously we were gripped with the usual oscillating panic. One minute – no-one’s going to come, we’ll just be handing round nibbles to a neighbour and the man from the corner-shop (a bit like Daisy’s housewarming in Spaced). The next,  imagining the whole Greenpeace office might descend demanding vats of homemade humous and feijoa wine. Of course the reality was somewhere in between and we had a great bunch of people here – a mix of friends of friends, colleagues old and new, neighbours and one or two mums I’ve picked up along the way. They’re quite a friendly bunch these Kiwis it turns out.

But having some people drink wine in your garden, nice as they are, doesn’t completely keep the home-sickness at bay. I have plenty of moments where I remember Elsie scooting around with her bessies, or think of a night out with my ladies and have a little cry. But that’s expected. We’re three months into this daft caper and it’s inevitable that once the novelty wore off and daily life set in that there’d be a few speed bumps to contend with.

My second strategy to keep me going in Olly’s absence, is to do nice things and have some treats – starting today. After a lot of shitty weather, the sun was shining, so I took the girls for an explore to Vineyard Quarter, a regenerated dockland area in the centre of the city. It’s like what Cardiff Bay would be if the sun shone and shitloads of millionaires turned up in yachts. It’s got a really cool playground nestled amongst old fuel silos, bars, cafes, street performers etc and a nice vibe. It feels less

Ice cream - it can only make things better.
Ice cream – it can only make things better.

corporate than similar redevelopments and has quirky installations and exhibits, like a reading room in a shipping container, which Elsie loved. The water is blue and sparkly. And did I mention the sun was shining? So we played… we mooched…we picnicked… Elsie had a look for seals…we ate posh ice cream. It was a really very pleasant day out – even with two small children.

And then when we got home, one of our ‘new friends’ popped round for a cuppa.

Well isn’t that a pip!

De-stressing, the NZ way.

Last weekend we got our first taste of the loveliness New Zealand has to offer outside of Auckland. Forced to leave our temporary accommodation for a weekend because of a prior booking, Olly and I packed up the car and headed to the Coromandel Peninsula about three hours drive away for some good old-fashioned sun, sea and sand.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

The trip couldn’t have come at a better time. I think I had my first wobble last week. It wasn’t home-sickness, more the stress of all the things we’re juggling right now. All the usual things that cause you anxiety – house, money, work, family and the fact of having to deal with them all at once.  I decided to make the focus for all this my hunt for childcare, specifically trying to find the ideal arrangement for various hypothetical scenarios which may or may not happen. By Wednesday, I’d got into such a flap, going round and round in circles with various possible configurations of nurseries, nannies and pre-schools that I had to curtail more than one phone call to a childcare provider because I’d started to sob. At that point I decided to give up planning for not yet acquired employment and enrol Elsie for her free place in our local Kindergarten and deal with Belle when the need actually arose. Phew.

The stress wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to pack up all our things and clear out of the little apartment we’ve been calling home but not so that we could move into our new house (which isn’t available until next week). No, just so that some people on a stag-do or  similar could come into the flat for a long weekend. This felt like a particularly arduous and unsettling task, which I found myself quite unable to engage with until about two hours before the owners came round to clean the apartment, at which point we had to dash round randomly shoving things in suitcases and black bin bags. It felt like one of those awful flat-moves from your mid-20s, except we piled everything into a people carrier instead of a shopping trolley.

But it turns out we’d been done a massive favour, as we were pushed into getting out of the city. Coromandel, which according to the Lonely Planet is where New Zealanders go on holiday, is absolutely stunning. Covered in forested hills and edged with golden sand beaches, it’s one of those places that makes me want to give up completely on normal life and live in a bender on the beach.

Mind you, it still took us a while to get into it. Olly especially was suffering from a severe case of the decompressions. That is, the need to take a huge sigh and get rid of the stresses of new job, house hunting, home-sickness and all the other mixed-up emotions we might have been feeling underneath the excitement of the first couple of months. In him, this manifested itself as severe grumpiness on day one of our mini break. Admittedly not helped by our misguided decision to stay in a cut-price cabin in a holiday park, which resembled a building site portacabin with bunks that had been conveniently placed opposite the campsite sluice. A setting which was only enhanced by the presence next-door of a chain-smoking forty-something  in the process of a difficult break-up, which she needed to discuss at length on her mobile. Sweet.

But after a few dips in the crystal clear ocean none of that mattered. By day two we’d regained our sense of adventure and embracing the Octonauts’ motto (Let’s do this!) did the walk from Hahei, where we were staying, to Cathedral Cove round the coast. This formed an early stage of our programme to get Elsie walking, the overall aim of which is to get her up a mountain before we leave. Walking tracks here are all really well-marked and the Department of Conservation (DOC) usually gives estimates of how long a specific walk should take you. Without kids, on shorter walks, the times given seem ludicrously over-estimated but they come in about right when you’re dragging an unwilling three year old around. Obviously we used all the usual bribes and incentives: snacks half-way, promises of ice-creams, exaggerated claims of potential wildlife spotting opportunities (“Well, I suppose we might see some orcas,”) but the thing that really got Elsie motoring was a couple of boys about her age passing her on the track. Come on, let’s beat those boys, I said and off she went. All complaints of tired legs gone. I feel a bit ashamed to have fallen back on inter-gender competition, but ah well, can’t be any worse than coaxing a child down a track with half a mars bar, can it?

Beat those boys, Elsie!
Beat those boys, Elsie!

And by golly, was it worth the minor amount of whingeing.  A forty-five minute walk through shady ferns and pine trees dropped us down to a beautiful cove, split in half by a spectacular stone arch. The water was just right, cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough to dive straight in. There was a rock about 50 metres out you could jump in from and the water was so clear we spotted little shoals of fish right up close to the shore. There was even shade on the beach where trees were overhanging, so the kids could amuse themselves for a while without fear of sunstroke. Yes it was busy but who cares? It just meant there were other kids for Elsie to play with. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

As Olly said in a Facebook post, it’s times like this that will make all the upheaval worth it. This was what we came all this way for – wrenching ourselves away from dear family and friendships we’ve been nurturing for twenty years – to be able get in a car after work on a Friday and drive for three hours to somewhere so beautiful and life-affirming that you end up not caring that people are emptying their chemical toilets ten metres from your breakfast table.

Soya-lattes here we come!

Life for my clan is steadily approaching becoming settled. We have sealed the deal on a house, bought a car and I’m about to enrol Elsie in a pre-school. Next steps find work and friends!

Getting the house was a huge relief. The rental market here in Auckland is pretty bonkers, especially as we timed our arrival perfectly with all of Auckland’s uni students’ return for the new academic year. Houses up for rent have viewing times of 15 minutes only during which tens of people descend on them, barging each other out of the way to get a first look and try to charm the agent. At one viewing of a slightly stained and damp house, some students looked visibly crest-fallen when I walked through the door with my kids – aka proofs of being a responsible grown-up – and tried to persuade me that the vast garden wasn’t big enough for a trampoline, as if that was a household necessity for a family.

I became completely obsessive about checking Trademe, NZ’s version of eBay on which property ads are posted. Having bragged of my reduced smart-phone usage a few weeks ago I was now reloading the Trademe app every ten minutes or so that I could be the first to call an agent the minute the ad for our perfect home had been placed. Finally, after three weeks of looking and several upward reviews of our budget we found a place in Westmere, a central suburb right next to Grey Lynn, which is as much like Stokey as you’re going to get in New Zealand: health food shops, yoga classes, nice parks and hipsters. After our year in the badlands of Seven Sisters there was no way we were being ousted to an outlying area away from our tribe – even if it does mean paying through the nose.

Belle absolutely insists on sour dough with her soft-poached eggs.
Belle absolutely insists on sour dough with her soft-poached eggs.

I want to be somewhere I can take the kids to music classes run by out of work musical theatre actors with ukeleles; where gluten intolerant vegans are catered for; and where I can feel secure in the knowledge that I live close to some really cool vintage stores, even if there’s absolutely no way I can ever afford to shop at them.

So now we’re just waiting for move-date. Out container has apparently arrived and is waiting for custom clearance, so we should get our stuff within a day or two of moving in. The other day we passed the docks and had a moment of excitement wondering if one of the shipments we could see on the harbour contained our things.

Is our stuff in there?
Is our stuff in there?

There’s definitely going to be a few surprises when we unpack it. The removals guys were so efficient, sweeping through the house like a swarm of packing-locusts, that I’m pretty sure a box destined for the charity shop made it in there. I just hope it wasn’t joined by any garbage bags, especially of the dirty nappy variety.

Hob-nobbing with Tories

This week I learnt how small New Zealand is when I went to a party with New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key and several members of his cabinet. An occurrence which meant I’d achieved a better level of access in three weeks in New Zealand than in over 10 years as a campaigner in the UK.  I’d been invited to the launch of a friend’s new public affairs consultancy – Hannifin de Joux. Kiri (our friend) was a political advisor to Helen Clark’s Labour government, whilst her business partner, Jo de Joux managed four election campaigns for the governing centre-right National Party. Despite the consultancy representing both sides of the political spectrum, the bias amongst dignitaries at its launch was definitely to the right.

When I told my mum what I’d been up to, she asked what was I doing hob-nobbing with a bunch of Tories. This was a fair question. Probably because I still feel like a tourist here. I  wouldn’t have gone to a similar event in the UK, not in a social capacity anyway but these were someone else’s Tories, so it was OK. I don’t have any axes to grind with the New Zealand government (yet!). And what better way for a politics-phile like me to get acquainted with my new surroundings than hear what members of the government were saying over a glass of sauv blanc (!)

This slightly surreal experience (am: story-time at the library, pm: Blockhouse Bay playground followed by drinks with the Prime Minister) was so very New Zealand. This is a country where it’s joked about there being not six degrees of separation but one or two and where people seem to have more time on their hands than back home. (I can find no better example of this than the other day being on a bus where the driver waited so that a passenger could go across the road to a mini-mart to get change and wasn’t even grumpy about it.) Suddenly finding I’m connected to someone who, through her antenatal class forged a friendship, which turned into a business partnership with someone working for the other side,  for whom five government ministers and the PM found time in their schedules to attend a drinks party 400 miles away from parliament and the seat of government – somehow I don’t think that would have happened in the UK. Not that I’d underestimate the collective kudos of Kiri and her partner in bringing the big-guns to their launch but there was still something quintessentially Kiwi about the event and the fact that I was there.

Beware the killer fruits

We had a bit of a drama this week when I thought that B had consumed some poisonous berries. Last week Olly came home from work with a warning to watch out for ‘date-like’ fruits falling from trees, which were reported by a couple of his colleagues to be extremely toxic. On a par with a death cap mushroom in terms of deadliness, Olly was lead (or lead himself) to believe. I was to take great care, as Belle is still at the stage of indiscriminately shoving things into her mouth. I’m forever removing wood-chip, pebbles, sand etc, so sticky, date-like fruits could obviously be a problem.

So the other day at a playground, where I’d put Belle down on the floor in order to push Elsie on the swings, I turned around expecting to have to deal with some munched-on wood chip (which is ubiquitous in New Zealand parks) only to find Belle squishing two yellow, sort of date-shaped fruits in her hand. I couldn’t be sure if any had gone in her mouth but there did seem to be a bit of something yellow on her chin. At first I thought, oh that’s OK, picturing the shriveled-up brown things which you eat with a strange plastic prong at Christmas – dates are brown. And then got a flash of the outside of a turkish grocers and realised that fresh dates are yellow.

Quickly I got Belle back in the buggy and coaxed Elsie down from the crow’s nest she’d climbed atop of. I sent a text to Olly, trying to sound all casual -Y’know those poisonous dates , what colour are they? – and started to head back up the hill home. A few minutes later a reply came in from Olly – dark, red – sometimes yellow. At this point, I started to feel a wee bit anxious. Soon followed a photo from Ol, as it just so happened that he was passing by one of the trees in question.

Karaka fruits – native to New Zealand.

Oh christ, this was indeed what Belle had  been sucking. I had to get home and drive to a hospital – quick. I got Elsie on the buggy board and somehow mustered the strength to push them both up the hill from the beach back to our flat. I imagined myself as the wolf-mother who’s able to rip the door off a burning car to rescue her child as I huffed and puffed up the steep incline. I was hot and I was sweaty but I didn’t care – my baby’s life was in danger!

A minute from home, another message came in from Olly, they are called Karaka seeds, it’s the inner part of the fruit that’s deadly, the rest isn’t so bad. At this I felt my panic  lessen. The inner part of the fruit that Belle had been handling was a hard, large stone. There was no way she’d eaten that. She’d have choked to death before she was poisoned. But still, she may have eaten the fruit which I still believed to have toxic qualities.

Once home I thought I had enough time to give the girls some lunch whilst I googled this nasty. Belle seemed fine, munching on a cream cheese sandwich, oblivious to the fact I was still imagining her on permanent dialysis. But within seconds of accessing the world wide web I discovered that, in fact, the fruit of the karaka is, edible. A little bitter perhaps but nonetheless not in the least bit harmful.The kernel is poisonous, although not necessarily deadly and certainly not equivalent to one of the UK’s most poisonous fungi. Actually the karaka has more in common with an apricot, which also has edible flesh and a poisonous kernel and rather than being avoided, is sold in most green-grocers and often fed to small children.

So why had I been given such a grave warning about this fruit? It’s not likely that my daughters would have eaten its hard stone. I thought, from the way the information had been conveyed, that this must be ‘a thing’ in NZ, a phenomena. I imagined that a few infants and children die every year from eating these soft, squiggly, date-like fruits. But no, it was nothing of the kind.

Belle shoving stuff in her mouth
Belle shoving stuff in her mouth. Luckily sandwiches on this occasion.

My explanation for this scare-mongering is that it relates to Kiwis huge national pride. Most people who know a Kiwi will recognise a bit of the Kiwi psyche which has enormous self-belief in their little country. They believe that their mountains are the most beautiful, their coffee tastes the best and that the flavour of New Zealand kiwi-fruit is far superior to those grown in Italy. This isn’t boastfulness, it’s a very gentle form of patriotism. But whilst the coffee is great here and the mountains are stunning, this tendency to want to claim difference or superiority sometimes strays onto territory upon which New Zealanders don’t have such a sure-footing. (Best not to mention to a New Zealander that kwi fruit are not actually native to NZ.) And rather than leave certain topics alone, they still need to make a claim. So instead of settling for the fact that New Zealand is a ridiculously safe country and leaving the shit-that-can-kill-you to their Ozzie neighbours,  Olly’s colleagues apparently felt the need to create a sense of danger from the presence of these sort-of but not-so poisonous fruits.

Anyway, in this case, the danger was none-existent. Belle was fine and continues to shove things in her mouth indiscriminately. Thank god for Wikipedia, which saved me a first trip to New Zealand casualty.

Fun in the country, fun in the town.

It’s been a long weekend here in Auckland as the city has been celebrating its 175th anniversary. That meant me and the family had ample time to sample both rural and city pursuits. On Saturday we were invited by one of Olly’s colleague’s to stay at her house at one of the west coast beaches. It was lush – lovely big lawn overlooking native bush; pizza oven in the garden and close enough to the beach to throw ourselves into the ocean the next morning. The house itself was amazing –  built by Olly’s colleague and her ex and looked like something out of grand-designs – all glass windows and recycled materials.

Elsie on tramp

It was a fun night, chatting to locals – most of them escapees from the city. Elsie especially had a wild time trampolining until well-well past her bedtime with a gaggle of other barefoot kids.

Then today we headed down to Auckland’s harbour area where loads was happening as part of the anniversary celebrations. Food-stalls, buskers and fairground rides amidst tourist bars and luxury yachts. It felt a bit touristy but fun nonetheless. E thought a unicycling juggler called Justin was silly and it felt good to be part of hustle and bustle in what can be quite a sleepy city.

Ol and else

So how did our contrasting excursions influence our ‘where to live’ debate? Well, I’m sat here itching my legs off because of mosquito bites endured in the bush. And despite getting a good vibe from the mum’s I met on the west coast, we can’t quite place ourselves living that remotely for now. So we’re going to look for a home in the city – exorbitant rent and all. It feels good to have made a decision and now we can get on with stuff. Top of my to-do list this week – FInd. A. House.

This is why mums drink wine

Olly and I have made it to the end of our first working week. Him at Greenpeace and me looking after the kids. I was expecting the week from hell but surprisingly had quite a nice time. I’m not predisposed to the role of stay at home mum and don’t intend to be one for much longer (work, please – anyone?) but definitely felt I was doing a much better job of it this week than I have been in London. So what’s different? Well, a few things. (Surely a great opportunity to do a list? That’s what you do on blogs, right – lists?) So here it is –  my five things which make being a full-time mum more bearable. And I’ve resisted putting wine as number one, despite overhearing a mum making the comment, “This is why mums drink wine.” to a disobedient toddler the other day.

1, Sunshine – sunshine makes everything good, so that’s a no-brainer.

2, A car – there, I said it. A car makes your life easy. One little move to the other side of the world and I have become climate criminal No. 1. I can’t deny it though, bundling children into a car instead of drudging around pavements and on buses is much less hassle. A friend sent me an email today about sitting next to a smelly man on a London bus  and I thought, thank god I don’t have to do that anymore.  Not that I use the car everyday. Today we walked to a local park because I want Elsie to remember she’s got legs but when I got home I was absolutely exhausted. Cream-crackered. And I wondered how much of the last year’s tiredness has been because I’ve been pushing a bloody buggy and buggy-board around? Anyway, this is merely an observation and not an endorsement of fossil-fuel use. Ahem.

3, Sleep – no shit Sherlock. But I thought it’s still worth stating for the record in case any parents reading this are humming and harring about sleep training. Getting more sleep makes you a better parent – fact. The move to NZ has jigged B out of her ludicrously early mornings and it’s made a huge difference to my demeanour.

4, Open plan living – yes, I was surprised too. I thought having fewer gates, barriers and doors would be a pain in the arse with two small people but actually it works quite well. The girls cause merry havoc but at least I can be doing something useful in the kitchen whilst they do.

5, Slowing down – maybe I’m in holiday mode but I’m feeling pretty relaxed and therefore spending better time with my kids. It helps that I have no friends to meet, so don’t mind that it takes Elsie 15 minutes to walk 200 yards. Plus my new phone’s too big to fit in my pocket, so I no longer fiddle with it absent-mindedly whilst ‘playing’ with the girls. And generally am just being more ‘present’ nstead of trying to get other stuff done. I’m sure that’ll change as life gets a bit busier but still, I feel like I’ve learnt a bit this week.