The new New Zealander

Moving continents in midlife

How we got here


A mosaic of a Tube sign saying Walthamstow Central

The 1980s


Before we begin properly, a bit of a history lesson.


I'm a Londoner, born and brought up in Walthamstow, Waltham Forest, a borough in the north east of the UK's capital.


Actually, that's not strictly true. When I was born, Walthamstow was in Essex, only becoming part of the metropolis in 1965 when the Greater London Council replaced the London County Council and sucked in large, mainly urban chunks of the home counties surrounding it.


When I was a teenager, kids at my school split firmly into two camps. Those who looked inwards for their social life – the music venues, bars and cultural offerings of central London – and those who went clubbing in Ilford and Romford.


I was very much the former and spent my teenage years getting to know the capital by travelling to a series of small, sweaty music venues like the Greyhound in Fulham, the Nashville in West Kensington and Porchester Hall in Queensway (to see Spizz Energi, Madness and Bauhaus, in that order.)


Like so many of my generation and beyond, I spent a lot of time hanging out in Camden Town. At the market, buying 8-hole oxblood boots at the Doc Martens shop by the Tube, then popping next door for the best chips in London before heading home to E17. And at various venues, most notably the Music Machine opposite Mornington Crescent Tube when, on 24 July 1978, I went to see The Clash, supported by Suicide and The Specials.


Lots of people can name a pivotal event that changed their life and that was mine.


I can pinpoint the exact moment. During Garageland, Clash frontman Joe Strummer crouched at the front of the stage, clutching guitarist Mick Jones's left leg like he was afraid someone in the crowd was going to jump on the stage and run off with it. With the vein in the middle of his forehead pumping as the sweat poured off his face, Joe roared: My bummin' slummin' friends have all got new boots (at that moment he points down at Mick's feet,) Someone just asked me if the group would wear suits (he points up in the general direction of Mick's groin.)


Whether it was the atmosphere, the noise, my 14-year-old's hormones or a little bit of everything, I decided then and there that music was going to be part of my life.


Unfortunately, attempts to play the recorder and guitar in junior school hadn't ended well and I was never going to have the confidence to get up on stage and sing in front of people. But I was good at English, could write a bit and had spent the previous few years devouring the music papers Sounds and the NME every Thursday.


I went home and wrote a review of the gig in my diary (I was a 14-year-old girl – of course I had a diary) and began doing the same every time I went to see a band.


When I left school, I didn't really see the point of leaving London when all my favourite bands played there. Instead of applying to university, I ended up on the journalism option of a media studies degree course at PCL. At my interview, I was told they placed two students each summer with Spotlight Publications for a month's paid work experience between the second and third years of the course. Spotlight published Sounds, the music paper I'd been reading for years, and that was enough for me.


When the time came, my tutor knew I was obsessed with music and put me and another student called Simon through for the two placements – one with Sounds and one with its sister publication Record Mirror. RM was more of a general pop magazine and was partly in colour, although still on the same 'bog paper' the inkies used. It wasn't cool.


By then, Sounds had become the home of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and with the best will in the world, I was never going to convincingly fake an interest in Saxon or Iron Maiden, so I applied for Record Mirror. Unfortunately, so did Simon.


We were interviewed together by Spotlight's publisher, along with the two editors. Afterwards, Simon sneered at me, 'They're bound to choose you for Record Mirror because you're a girl'.


This was the mid-80s – the era of Reclaim the Night and institutional sexism worn as a badge of pride by many companies. The idea that being 'a girl' could count in my favour was frankly ludicrous and I told Simon so.


Except... At the time I was a bit of a goth – for the first time in my life I'd grown my hair long and, being naturally curly, I had a wild, dark mane, along with a liking for black eyeliner and statement lipstick. I turned up to the interview in fishnet tights and frighteningly pointy shoes. (I was wearing more than that, obviously, but they were the things that stood out.)


I was chosen for RM and Simon went to Sounds.


The first time I went to the Record Mirror office, I noticed a huge pinboard next to the editor's desk, covered in pictures of young women, many of them wearing not very much at all. I soon found out that this was what the editor called his 'boiler board.'


One day, not long into my placement, I interviewed the American singer August Darnell, frontman of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Afterwards, we had our photo taken, to run alongside the article. A few days later, I walked into the office to see my picture had been added to the board. Which was about as uncomfortable as it can get when you're 19, a year out of an all-girls high school and still going red when you talked to boys.


Luckily for me, the editor left soon after and his replacement ended up giving me my first job. He didn't have a boiler board and I ended up staying at RM for seven years.


Years later, I was working at another company when the original editor joined as a senior manager. By now, I was a proper grown up, an editor myself and a mother, but he still made me feel uncomfortable whenever our paths occasionally crossed. I'd like to say I said something to him about how creepy his actions had been, but I didn't. We never did back then.


So yes, Simon may have been right. Being a girl possibly helped me get my big break in journalism. But the patriarchy will always get you in end.


Getting back to the point...

You might be wondering why I've told you all this in a blog that claims to be about an older woman moving to New Zealand.


Well, two reasons.


First, I've always regretted not taking the chance to move out of London to study. I'm well aware my decision led to a job and the opportunity to spend much of the 1980s leading a privileged and occasionally excessive lifestyle, immersed in the music I loved.


But as I got older, I realised it was a missed opportunity. So I guess, without even realising it, I was primed and ready to accept a chance to escape when one came along.


Second, my love of music was a major reason why, on the evening of 25 January 2013, I entered Camden's iconic rock 'n' roll pub, the Hawley Arms, and met Phil for the first time.


We'd connected on Match.com, both divorced. I'd liked his profile and got in touch. (I'd not shown up in his searches because I was 2 inches shorter than the height he'd specified.) But we chatted about music and sparred over football – I'm Tottenham, he's Arsenal – and agreed to meet up.


Spotting him in a dark corner, with his glasses perched on the end of his nose, trying to read the text I'd just sent him to say I was on my way, I knew instantly he was going to be an important part of my life. I know it sounds like one of those things people say to be dramatic but honestly, I still get goosebumps when I think about it.


What I didn't know, was that eight years later, I'd be leaving behind by family, my friends, my job and my city, to move to the other side of the world with him.



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