At the end of 2016 TS & I were living somewhat dissatisfied lives in London. We didn’t “hate” London, as was suggested, but we were overtired, overworked and struggling financially. Renting in London is awful – the prices are astronomically high and because you either have to put up with it or move further out of London, you never manage to save anything. We had, however, finally managed to find “our piece” of London out in Hackney. It was the first time we’d lived anywhere that felt like we actually belonged, we had a community and good neighbours we were spending time with (somewhere in that awful work-eat-sleep cycle), our cats were happy and comfortable, and we were enjoying being part of the hipster scene. But we were still poor, tired and wondering how to make some changes to our lives for healthier, happier existences.
TS is from the South Island of New Zealand, a country that had never really been on my radar before. I dated one other Kiwi before, a relationship that had many ups and downs, but that was a relationship rooted in London and although I was curious about New Zealand, in the time that we dated it had never been a question of, “hey, you want to see where I’m from?” In fact, the first thing I learned about New Zealand was that there were no native mammals, and when I had been shocked at this, my ex had looked at me incredulously and yelled, “God, read a book Jackie!” But only a few months into our relationship, TS went home for a 3-week holiday and when he returned expressed a desire to bring me with him next time to see his country. He told me how great it was, how much I would enjoy it. And a couple of years later we went.
The trip back in 2015 was pretty formative. I couldn’t get over how incredible the scenery was, how beautiful the water (“it’s so blue! It’s so beautiful!” “You have to find a different word, you can’t just keep saying everything’s ‘beautiful’,” “But it is! Look at it!”), how nice the people, how good the produce. It was 3 weeks of paradise, and when we left I didn’t want to go. We sat forlornly in Auckland airport waiting for the first of our many flights back to the UK, eating sushi (yes, airport sushi) and taking photos with an All Blacks player (apparently I fulfilled all of the stereotypes of this trip). I more or less vowed at that point that we would be living and working in New Zealand by the time I turned 30 – 2 years away. We discussed it and decided that maybe we could think about emigrating as early as October that year – maybe it could work.
Of course, returning to London meant returning to routine, and what was at first a new lease on life became the usual humdrum – New Zealand was a very long distance away. We started quietly talking about emigrating, started figuring out what sorts of things we would need to put in place, I changed jobs to have a better work-life balance and be able to enjoy London in the time we had left, and then TS took me out for Mexican food to tell me that actually, we might have to stay in London for just a little bit longer. The terms of his work had changed, he had been offered an opportunity which would mean we’d have to stay for a few more years and he would be foolish to turn it down. The New Zealand dream bubble popped. I started looking for another job, one that I could see myself in for a few years, we moved house to start saving money for the “one day” move, and things got back to normal; or as normal as London gets, at least. We started making plans for another holiday to New Zealand, a holiday around Europe to do a bit more exploring, we worriedly watched the political situation in the UK and US, wondered what would happen in a couple of years, and quietly kept on trucking with our lives. I had changed jobs again, TS was still working himself to the bone at his job, and really we were just too busy to think about a plan that was still so far away.
But plans are for suckers.
In November 2016 we were served notice on our lovely little Hackney home for no reason other than that our current landlord had decided to repossess the property for personal use, something we had been assured wouldn’t happen to us again after it had happened once before in our first rental together in SE London. We had 8 weeks to vacate the property, termination being dated for the 26th December: that’s right, Boxing Day.
I got the email at work when I checked my phone after the lunch rush, I called TS straight away and the first thing I said was, “do you think we should consider moving to New Zealand seriously?” There was barely a pause. “I think we should. Let’s talk about it when you get home.”
That night, we sat in the kitchen for hours discussing the ins and outs of leaving London. We had both decided that we were pretty much done with London – TS had been there for 8 years, I was born in London and – aside from a few years here and there spent living away – had lived there for most of my life. We discussed moving outside of London, we discussed moving to Scotland, we discussed making it work for one more year then getting the heck out of dodge.
“But what’s the point,” I asked, “if we’re only going to do one more year, and then we know that we have to pack everything up again and move to the other side of the world?”
“Well, this is the thing. I don’t know if there is a point.”
“So why don’t we just go? We wanted to go, let’s just go.”
“Yeah. Fuck it. I’m just so fucking done with London. Let’s go.”
I handed in my notice the next day and TS scheduled a meeting with his boss. We were on our way, but it wasn’t quite how we’d expected it to go and now we had 8 weeks to get everything together and just go. It would mean we’d have to leave the cats in London for 6 months (rabies shots) but we managed to find somebody to look after them in that time so that was a huge relief. “Six months will fly by,” everyone told me as I tearily wondered how our cats would do without us, “you’ll be reunited in no time.” I cried, hugging the cats to me, apologising repeatedly whilst they purred and struggled against my embrace, loving the attention but confused as to why I was getting their fur all wet with my tears. As the boxes started to mount up the cats were alarmed – they eyed me suspiciously as I packed, scurried away to hide and watch from a distance when people came over and pieces of furniture disappeared with them. The day we moved them to their temporary home they cried the entire journey there, then settled down as soon as they got into the flat – it was warm, there was carpet on the floor, they got fed almost immediately, it was nothing to worry about. We said our goodbyes, left and I then promptly burst into tears in the street outside.
When we told the family and friends they were supportive if surprised. My father asked us to spend Christmas with him in Hong Kong, my brother expressed concern at the dramatic decision, my mother didn’t know what to say, TS’ mother was surprised but happy. The 8 weeks were a blur of packing, saying goodbyes and savouring all of the “lasts”. I kissed my baby nephew goodbye and wondered if he would even remember me the next time he saw me. “Lots of Skype dates,” my sister-in-law promised, as did our friend looking after the cats and my entire network in London.
I finished work at the beginning of December, TS finished 3 days before we left the country. He had managed to arrange to keep working for them as a contractor, which meant we could still have income as we travelled around – a huge relief as I wasn’t going to be able to work for some time. We sent our life’s belongings away on the Saturday morning (our entire life, packed up into half a truck) and spent the next few hours cleaning up the house and charity shop-ing various things we hadn’t been able to give away to friends. When it was done we headed to the local hotel we would be staying in for the next couple of nights and collapsed. It was done and it was so weird to think that we would be leaving the winter and heading for summer. That evening we sat in a community garden in Dalston drinking hot cider, clutching water bottles and looking at fairy lights in the darkness.
“We’re doing the right thing?” I repeatedly asked.
“Too late now,” he responded, “but yes. I think we are.”
We left London in the early hours of Tuesday 20th December and arrived in Hong Kong via. Moscow on the 21st. We stayed in Hong Kong for 9 days, 9 days filled with dinners, lunches, friends and doing all the Hong Kong things we normally did, and then it was time to board the next flight to Queenstown via. Sydney.
Probably because we had been on the go constantly since we had decided to leave London I hadn’t really had much time to think about leaving. I was excited to go – this was the dream, after all – but once I’d boarded the plane from Hong Kong I found myself crying, looking out the window at the bags being loaded into the belly of the plane.
“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I apologised to a concerned TS, “I think it suddenly feels a lot more real now.”
“Everything up to now has kind of been ‘normal’ for us,” he reassured me, “it’s not unusual for us to go on holiday to Hong Kong.”
“No, but now we’re going to New Zealand and we’re not coming back and I don’t have any support network any more.”
We landed in Queenstown on the 30th December, collected our bags, went through immigration without a hitch and emerged into the New Zealand summer. When TS’ mother saw him she almost cried. I almost cried. It had been a very long journey but we were finally here: new country, new life, same me. We thought the hardest part was over. We were wrong.