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!

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.