The new New Zealander

Moving continents in midlife

In search of smalls

It's our second full day out of MIQ and I'm going shopping.


Anyone who knows me won't be surprised at this news, because that's kind of what I do.


My mum was often reluctant to venture outside our house while we were growing up, for a variety of reasons I only began to understand as I grew up.


A teenage assault that I didn't find out about until after she'd died was, I think, the root of her fear of leaving the safety of home. She also never really felt safe in London, having spent the first 20 years of her life moving between Aberdeen and Cleethorpes, depending on where her father, who worked on fishing trawlers, was stationed.


But Mum liked to shop. As the eldest of five children, money was tight growing up, so being able to go out and spend brought her real joy. Shopping for her daughters helped her overcome her reluctance to leave the house, although not her reluctance to use the Tube. Living in Walthamstow, we were under 20 minutes away from Oxford Circus once the Victoria Line opened in 1968. But that was an escalator too far for Muriel, so she would wrap us up and walk the 50 yards from our home down the North Circular to the 144 bus stop at Wadham Bridge, to head to 'the big shops' at Ilford.


Caption: Me, in my C&A top, with my best friend Joanne, hanging out on Wadham Bridge, mid-70s


At the time, I suffered from really bad travel sickness in cars and on buses. Those journeys would often, literally, make me throw up. But the promise of a visit to Bodger's wonky department store or a new top from Clock House at C&A made my suffering worthwhile.


If I could get as far as the Roundabout pub in South Woodford, I was usually OK. Years later, I became friends with the grandson and granddaughter of the man who had run the pub, and after whom the area now known as Charlie Brown's Roundabout is named. The pub was knocked down in the 1970s, and my childhood home, 3 miles further along the North Circular, met the same fate a few years later.


When we both got older and Mum, now living back in her native Aberdeen, found her mobility affected by worsening COPD, we would still catch the bus and hit Marks & Spencer when I visited. It was our thing – and even now, if I'm feeling stressed or bored, I instinctively look to retail therapy for relief. The difference now is that I'm more likely to go to a charity shop or scan eBay listings than buy something new. Climate change has filled me with guilt if I buy things I don't really need unless they're second hand.


Auckland has hundreds of what they call 'op shops' over here, and I can't wait to visit them, but I draw the line at wearing someone else's knickers. So, with my mind set firmly on clean gussets, I set off with Sarah to catch the bus to the big city.


I've spoken about how sad Queen Street is before, but that's where we head. A quick visit to COS confirmed what I already knew (that it was exactly like the COS stores I'd visited in the UK) and after a quick trip to Farmers to view the skincare and undies with no success, we headed, knickerless, to the square behind Britomart station for a coffee. Auckland is a big city – home to over 1.5 million people – and we were in the equivalent of Kings Cross's Granary Square or Liverpool's Street's Spitalfields, yet there was hardly anyone about.

When we'd talked about moving here, Phil had warned me that the centre of Auckland was dead and that the guts of the city had been ripped out by years of investing in one area after another without finishing any of them. I was beginning to see what he meant.


I did get to see my new office, though, which was just around the corner in a buzzy road parallel to Queen Street full of independent shops, cafes and what I'd read before I left was 'one of New Zealand's top 5 vintage clothes shops', so we set off for home with no purchases but a feeling of positivity about what was to come. Which, as anyone who has ever met me will know, is not very 'me' at all.




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