I have the best neighbours

Today was a rubbish day on the cycling front. Part of me feels I’m hideously under-prepared; the other part that I’m over-thinking the whole thing and it will be fine. The realist in me knows that the problem is lack of fitness but the lack of cycling savvy just makes it seem even worse. It’s too late now but I really wish I’d taken some sort of cycling lessons. After a terrible hour on the bike where I felt almost hopeless, I returned to the car in search of the water I’d accidentally left behind and, to add insult to injury, it started raining. I sank back into the car seat and made a sad video where perhaps I could be labelled as a cross between a catastrophist and a drama queen.

After running some chores, I returned home and by now the sun was back out and it was a glorious late afternoon. I remembered how much I love living where I do. The sun was coming through the trees, the cicadas were singing and I could the neighbours’ children playing and laughing in the distance. I am so lucky. I have just the best neighbours. In my previous few houses I didn’t really know the neighbours. In fact, I haven’t really had much to do with neighbours since I lived with my parents in our childhood home. Now I have neighbours who bail me out when I lose my handbag and resort to sleeping in the garden; neighbours who help push my car when I get it stuck on the driveway in a cyclone; neighbours who repair my car when I have my latest crash; neighbours who invite me in for wine and my fabulous next door neighbours who take out my bins, help me with my bike, feed my cats when I’m away and generally take care of me. In return, I give nothing – except I am generous with the trick or treaters at Hallowe’en. I don’t know what I have done to deserve to live down the same driveway as these amazing folk but I’m very grateful that I do. My next door neighbours have had their own sadness recently and yet this week, they have made me feel like a princess. So I sat in my garden and made another video. Here they both are, chalk and cheese and yet both are me just a few short hours apart!

Enjoy!

My brother has beautiful feet. Me, not so much.

It’s been a trying week and the cycle challenge of a lifetime is now just a few days away. In readiness, I have been dealing with my difficult feet… This has led to what I shall simply call Footgate. The video says it all really. In response to overwhelming feedback from the delicate amongst you, I have purposely not included any photos or video of the trotters themselves.

Other gems in this video include:

  • Mention of some other inspirational fundraisers – the Starship Troopers
  • Tales of other cyclists’ nether regions
  • Confusion about the term “pedalling softly”
  • The best little drink yet
  • A final plea to help me get to 50 bikes to donate to underprivileged Kiwi kids. We can do it!

Until next time xx

Nudists, but no foxes

It’s weird how themes develop isn’t it? A few years ago, I was asked to give a talk at work. It was a new forum for me and I was somewhat scared of the audience. However, in the end, it went extremely well, my trepidation was completely unfounded and it was possibly my favourite talk of that year. The audience members were interactive, gave great feedback and seemed to really appreciate what I had to say. At the end, one of them came forward proffering what appeared to be a gift. Now, usually at these things the gift is a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. Not so at this event. No, this time it was, er, a laminated certificate with a picture of a fox. I tried very hard to hide my disappointment at the lack of an offering containing calories and simply enquired as to the significance of the fox. “Well, everybody loves a fox, don’t they?” came the reply. Do they? Do they really? In the UK, where I come from, they can be a nuisance. They make noise at night, they scavenge through your garden and they have even been known to come in through the patio doors and attack children. So no, I don’t think everyone does love a fox.

Literally a few days later, I was on an outing as part of my quest to walk all the suggested itineraries in a book of walks based on the national park near where I live. In fact, I never finished all the walks and I likely never will now as a disease called kauri dieback is proving to be a scourge on our native kauri trees and so some of the tracks have been officially closed whereas the rest are subject to a rahui, a traditional temporary prohibition put in place to protect a threatened resource. Anyway, on this particular day, I was attempting a walk in an area where I had never been before. The walk started by crossing a suspension bridge over a river just to the side of the car park. As I rounded the corner to step on to the bridge, I noticed two people at the far end, one dressed as a fox including a full head mask, and the other photographing them. It took all my being to walk past and pretend this was nothing out of the ordinary and just a completely normal Saturday afternoon occurrence. As it turned out, I walked for about 10 kilometres and these were the only people I met all afternoon. The rest of the time, I was literally alone. The reason for the fox get-up will remain a mystery forever but it seemed such a coincidence that I had received the certificate and had a fox conversation only that week. After this, places I have visited that have been deserted have earned themselves the description of being so quiet that there wasn’t even a fox about.

My next lecture was at a charity event with patients’ families as the audience. At the end, one of them lumbered forward with a gift and I joked, “it’s not a fox, is it?” As it happened, it was a box of Lindt (how do you say that word?) chocolates but I was left having to explain the fox comment and so I told the story of the gift from the previous talk. One of the patients came to my clinic shortly after this. I am especially fond of this little boy and his family. They had been having tough time and I had helped them with some advice. As he came in, I could see he was carrying a gift which he gave to me with a big grin. It was a lovely bottle of wine, complete with stuck-on pictures of foxes which he’d cut out himself. The card read something like, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and my family. Everyone loves a fox, don’t they? Love from L xx” It had me giggling for a long time afterwards and I was touched that they had remembered the story.

As the cycle trek approaches, I thought I had better start thinking about equipment and whether I needed to buy any supplies for the trip. My padded cycling shorts seem to be serving me well but clearly I am going to need more than one pair for an eight day trip. A friend had given me another pair but they were nowhere near as generous with the padding. And so I investigated my own pair wondering if the same ones would still be available as I had literally bought them about ten years ago. A quick look revealed them to be made by a company called Muddy Fox which, yes, is still churning out cushioning for the cyclist’s derrière. The joys of internet shopping meant that hey presto, five minutes later I had ordered two more pairs at 80% off to be delivered to my door with minimal effort. It had been a while since my previous fox anecdotes but I was pleased to be reminded of them.

Muddy Fox
I never thought I’d see the day where I sported fingerless cycling gloves…

This week we have had a public holiday and so off I took my Muddy Fox-sporting backside on my bike for a long overdue practice. The problem with these summer public holidays is that everyone and their dog seems to be out and about in the sunshine and I knew my favourite cycling spot would be crowded with people and, hence, cycling hazards. So I decided to try some cycle paths I hadn’t visited before, one of which was along an estuary a bit of a distance out of the city. The access was via a less than salubrious street and so it was a complete surprise that when I emerged on my bike along the waterfront, it was like a millionaires’ row with these massive impressive great mansions with the most lovely views across the water. Between the houses and the sea was a gently undulating path which hugged the contours of the cliff making for a scenic ride with a mild breeze and some loose native bushland providing some relief from the unremitting sun. Yet the strangest thing was that it was exceptionally quiet. I went past a few little beaches without a single soul on them. It was so quiet, you might say that there was not even a fox. I cycled for about 15 kilometres without a single fox in sight then suddenly, I spied someone – a man, sunbathing in his garden – completely in the buff! Why would you do that if your garden backed on to a cycle path and the fences were railings through which all details of said garden could be seen? He was lying face down and seemingly oblivious to my cycling past and so perhaps it was a case of out of sight, out of mind. I was mooching this point as I carried on my ride, only to be confronted around the next corner by another nudist, this time a woman striding through her garden with literally everything (and shall we say she was somewhat generous?) on display. As this was one of those rides where you go out and back, turning around at the end to come back along the same route, I came past the same gardens again. While the woman was gone, the man was most definitely still there, still lying prostrate upon his patio. How bizarre then, that the only people I spotted on this ride were naked? Let’s hope that this is a one-off and I won’t be reporting back in a few weeks’ time that my life has become a series of naked encounters in the same way as the fox coincidences unfolded. Although wait, there could be worse things…

Until next time xx

Friendship

My friend died this week. It was not unexpected but it was much earlier than we had all anticipated or hoped. She was only 48 years old. I am not going to talk much about her at this stage because her funeral has not yet been held, I am collecting my thoughts and I think I will do her more justice if I leave it a little while.

What I will say is this: she was unique. The outpouring of sadness since her passing has been everything to those of us left behind – phenomenal, touching, unbelievable with a generous smattering of superlatives sprinkled on top. You sort of expect that at some point in your life you will have to deal with the death of your family members but you certainly never expect to be involved in planning the funeral of a friend. It has been a confusing and disorientating time.

But, as always, with one emotion comes the opposite. I am sad because I never got to say things to her that I wanted her to know; happy that we shared a lot in the 12 years we knew each other. I feel guilty about being left behind, seemingly perfectly healthy; yet relieved. I feel somewhat angry that she was robbed of the other half of her life, yet thankful that our paths crossed and that she packed so much in to the time that she had.

T was persuasive. She had a knack of getting people to do things that they may not necessarily have ever planned or wanted to do. She was also skilled at coaxing you to do things that you did want to do and to which you had never got around. And so it is that this blog exists. I have wanted to record my many anecdotes for a very long time but my mind was too full to be able to think logically enough about where to start. Would I do it as a book or a blog? Should it be chronological or themed? Shared or private? Ultimately it is what it is and much like my anecdotes and capers themselves – random, unscripted, unplanned, certainly not curated which was one of T’s pet hates. I like it this way. There is the freedom to write things down which pop into my head, have provided some laughs or which are important to me at the time without the stress of sitting her thinking “what will I write today?” One day there may be a video, others a photo or two and sometimes just words. There is always something to draw on because life and people are amazing and nothing ever stays the same.

The cycle trek started with T. I am not sure I have ever explained how it came about but it was almost spontaneous. After previously completing a trek to Vietnam where I raised a lot of money despite losing the soles of my walking boots, I was tempted into another to Sri Lanka. However this was called off to due lack of interest and while on the one hand I was relieved to not have to walk up 5550 steps to Adams Peak in the middle of the night, I was thoroughly disappointed as well. I spent a little time mooching about considering other options and then T became sick. We were sitting in a cafe a few days after she and I had learnt of her terminal prognosis and she told me she’d been invited to take part in this cycle trek for her pet charity via which she sponsors two children from local underprivileged families. I giggled. I’d never cycled anywhere before, ever. She persisted, “go on, do it for me” and with a cheeky wink of her eye it was done. One side of me loves making a ridiculous spontaneous decision and so that afternoon we also booked a girlie weekend to Wellington and I came home and agreed to go to the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland. Three trips in a day! The exhilaration was addictive.

Espresso martinis
A round of espresso martinis; one of many of a espresso martini tour!

I have long been panicking about this trip. Can I do it? Should I do it? Now I have to do it as people have sponsored me but will I end up walking half the way or riding in the support bus being laughed at and feeling that I’ve let people down, especially my mate. In the last few days, the sheer panic became almost visceral and at a time when emotions are in overdrive and my body and mind are exhausted. The trip is incredibly close, I haven’t been on my bike for weeks and my body feels weighed down by an overload of carb-laden junk food grabbed on the go in recent weeks.

So, what do you do when you need help? You reach out. I hate the way this phrase is now used so commonly in North American English that it devalues it, but that is what I did. I just needed people to say simply “it will be ok”. If T was here, she’d just say one word: IDIOT. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer number and nature of replies to my desperate Facebook posting that I received from all over the world from friends old and new. And they confirmed what I knew deep down – of course I can do it. I can do it because I want to, I’m determined and T will be with me in mind just as she would have been anyway as she was never coming with me in person. There won’t be the little recovery packs she made for me when I went to Vietnam but she’d obviously already bought some of the contents and I will take them anyway. More than that though, all of these amazing people will also be there, egging me on, willing me to the finish line and they will be there for me, not just for T.

I went off on my bike yesterday, just for a short time and it was another glorious day in Auckland. The harbour performed and put on a magical display of green-blue waters against the blue sky backdrop with tiny white sails dotted here and there. When I came home, there were flowers on my doorstep. “Our most difficult task as a friend is to offer understanding when we don’t understand”. I’m going to leave it as that as it says everything that needs to be said. Friendship is special, precious, enduring. It comes in many guises and can catch you unawares. Make the most of it every day.

Back on the bike
Get back on yer bike woman!

THANK YOU – for every text, email, photo, social media message and for just being you and being available to write a few words at a special time. It was an honour and privilege to provide that friendship to T. She would be delighted that it is now being returned to me.

Now I’m off on that bike…

 

 

 

Tiger balm, table wars and transplants

Last week I had the privilege of attending the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland. Not that I have had a transplant myself, but I went as a supporter. I was fortunate enough to be able to escort a young patient who attended a children’s ski camp as part of the games. He certainly had a ball and after just a few days of skiing looked almost like pro!

My time at the Games was mainly spent skiing in the daytime. I first went skiing in 1982 with my school. I am not the sportiest soul and quite possibly the clumsiest person I know. Mrs Bowen the PE teacher had a right old laugh when I declared I would be attending the school’s ski trip to Italy. She was laughing on the other side of her face a few months later when I came home from the trip as the only bearer of a silver medal, and a two star silver medal at that. Over the years I have been skiing again several times to countries such as France, Austria, Germany and New Zealand. But my last trip was probably about 12 years ago and I had lost my skiing mojo.

I look now at these fearless young kids racing away down the slopes leaving clouds of powdery white snow behind them and I am in awe. The older I get, the more of a scaredy cat I become. Who knows why? Someone said there is a lot more at stake. Maybe, but I don’t think so in my case. My 11 year old self had my whole life ahead of me with hopes of careers and families in the future. My much older self has already had a decent career and I don’t have a family of my own to leave in my wake should something terribly tragic come to bear. But perhaps stories of people falling and having devastating head injuries have had an influence. Natasha Richardson died after hitting her head skiing and Michael Schumacher was left in a (presumed) vegetative state. Not that this has ever been confirmed, but one has to think that his life must have been catastrophically altered given his complete disappearance from the public eye. Obviously these are just celebrity faces of tragedy and there will be many more whose names we will never know. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of people hitting the snow-strewn slopes on a daily basis who have the most fabulously exhilarating time and come to no harm whatsoever, other than to their wallets which seem to shrink in an instant that the words “ski pass” and “equipment hire” appear on the horizon. As cautious as I may have become, my childhood memories of whizzing along (or slipping as Big Li would say) on the white stuff and the complete exhilaration that brought with it were beckoning to me and were ultimately too much to resist.

So along I went to the ski hire shop on the first day with my wads of cash, hopes and fears and took the plunge. In the good old days we wore hats. Now I had a helmet, a modern day precaution I was pleased to see almost universally embraced in the resort I was at. I felt instantly unwieldy with my bulky clothing making me almost unable to flex any joints and the ski boots making it impossible to walk any distance. One day I left my glamorous padded trousers undone so I could bend over properly to manhandle my legs into my ski boots. If only I had remembered to do them up again when I stood up. It would have saved me embarrassingly realising they were heading south as I walked awkwardly to the bus, skis over my shoulder and so in no position to be able to pull them up with my be-gloved hands. Then there is the major decision-making as to just how many layers you need to wear. Ski chalets are designed to be warm. You get lulled into a false sense of security that maybe it is not so cold after all. I returned from a day on the pistes and was so incredibly hot in my apartment, I stripped down to my thermals. Sadly I forgot this until I was striding across the road to the supermarket for milk, the sudden rush of coldness all the more tangible when one is only wearing matching snowflake-emblazoned thermal undergarments.

But the moment I stepped out of the cable car onto the snow, it was like the old days. Who can resist a scene of glittering white snow against a deep blue sky and how amazing is it to ride up the mountain in the gondola and see all the beautiful tracks of skiers and snowboarders in the almost virgin snow below? People suggested I should not be scared or nervous as the techniques would all come back to me “just like riding a bike.” How ironic given that we all know that until recently, I’d never really cycled. However, they were right. These people always are. I tentatively headed my skis down the nursery slope and it was fine. I tackled my first drag lift with unfounded trepidation and after only half an hour it was like being transported back many years. Admittedly I fell off the ski lift on the first day but some sort of disaster was inevitable. As my sister would say – this is H, so anything is possible. The next few days I had mixed luck; a day of cancelled skiing due to bad weather and the lifts being closed; two wonderful private lessons with a local guide, mainly helpful from a navigation and confidence point of view; skiing with new friends; losing my gloves in a cafe after another obligatory vin chaud stop; my first ever fondue with my mate Liz; falling while stationary; my skis falling out of the outside of the gondola car in mid air after I put them in the snowboard slot. But all the while, I was captivated by the frozen beauty of the slopes which had sucked me in all those years ago. This early in the season the pistes were quiet. Sometimes I would be skiing along and notice I was totally alone for a few moments. It was picturesque, breathtaking, serene, all at the same time. Mind you, I am more than four times older than I was the first time I ventured out skiing and copious amounts of tiger balm and generous helpings of vin chaud were needed to soothe my aching muscles. Thank goodness for my mate Jean who was able to source these brilliant giant tiger balm patches. The aforementioned thermal undergarments held them in place very securely and I even slept with my calves encased in these delights. I think you’re meant to keep them on for a maximum of an hour or so but the packets are in a language I can’t understand so therefore this information didn’t exist in my mind!

Yet the real inspiration on this trip was not the skiing but the totally incredible people I met as part of the Games. Such is the modern era of medicine that a transplant recipient can now expect to have many years, often a whole lifetime, of restored health – all at the expense of a generous deceased donor family or a selfless living friend or relative who puts their own good health at risk to transform the future of their loved one. Some people were there as sole participants, others members of large national teams. We were grouped into restaurants for our meals and so I spent most of my time with people from Canada, Australia, Ireland, Norway, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Spain and Poland. Aside from the ridiculous table wars which saw the restaurant absolutely insist we sit with our own compatriots and not mingle, those of us from countries with only a small contingent having to buddy up to form a table of orphan nations, this was the most sociable time – one of bonding over shared tales of transplant experiences. As an observer, it was striking that one could look around the room and not know who had undergone a transplant, who was a live donor, who was a family member and who was a health professional. These people’s tales were touching, poignant, sometimes almost unbelievably so. Yet any suggestions of tragedy or bravery were universally dismissed as they had all refused to be defined by their illnesses. While there was occasional questioning as to who was “a liver” and who was “a heart”, for the most part, these were ordinary people with ordinary lives except for an extraordinary interlude from which they were now recovered. That is not to say that they had not experienced pain, hardship, loss and sadness, but they had just got on with what needed to be done to rebuild their lives after organ failure and transplantation. My own charge, who had the most wonderful time at the ski camp, was just a tiny baby when I first met him, his body ravaged by liver disease from which he would never have recovered save for a transplant. He raced down those slopes faster than me despite never having been on skis before, all the while half of his mother’s liver playing a constant reminder inside him of how differently things might have been. The boy is incredible. He has never even had a day off school. I should be led into thinking that my own silly tales pale into insignificance except that these amazing people would say that they are equally affecting as it is context and timing that makes upset and tragedy what it is to an individual.

What we must remember however is that these people survived transplantation because of positive attitude, supportive families and friends but most of all, the selflessness of their donor or donor family. Every day, thousands of people die while awaiting a transplant. Not everyone has a suitable or willing live donor. Some people live in countries with no access to transplantation. If, by reading this blog, even one of you changes your mind about being a donor when your time here is up, or takes this opportunity to discuss your wishes with your nearest and dearest, then my job will be done.

Thank you World Transplant Games Federation for the amazing work you do and for the opportunity for me to spend the last week with you all. Until next time… x

Thirteen years in paradise

Thirteen years ago, I left the motherland and emigrated to New Zealand. It was New Year’s Day so symbolic in terms of making a new start. It was not intended as a permanent move. I had come to the end of my training in the UK but there were no suitable jobs for me but there was a temporary position available in Auckland for just over a year and a half. It made sense for me to apply and, if I was successful, bide my time and gain some valuable experience while awaiting the perfect job to become available back home. What could possibly go wrong? I had personally never been to New Zealand but anyone I knew who had ever been there had only positive reports, whether they had been for travel or for work. One colleague said there was only one problem with living in New Zealand and that was that I would never want to come home. On the other hand, I was chatting to some people about it at work one day and they said they’d bet I’d never return to the UK to work, to which one of my supervisors offered his opinion that I was too hot-blooded to stay there as it was “not Latin enough” for me, whatever that meant.

I had a telephone interview one evening. It was a UK public holiday that day and I was sat on my sofa in my pyjamas surrounded by Post-It notes containing jottings to what I thought would be the obvious questions. I had my cats of the time, Parsley and Saffy beside me. They always fought over who could sit the nearest to me, Parsley usually trying to squash his generous form between me and the arm of the settee while Saffy snuggled on up to my other side. On this particular day they were both insistent on my lap as the only suitable place to lie down which made for some discomfort mid interview. On the other hand, if I threw them out, they would just meow and scrap in the hallway. I was also armed with a large glass of wine for Dutch courage. I didn’t actually drink any until the torture was over. I say torture but the interviewers seemed friendly and kind and did not ask anything testing or controversial. I guess if I had been applying for a permanent role I would have done more homework. I read the Rough Guide to New Zealand, bought a book about where to live in Auckland, did what needed to be done for the visa process and that was about it. It didn’t really matter because the plan was to go for the year and a half, do what there was to do, see what there was to see and make the most of it. I couldn’t imagine that I would not like it and I sort of believe that such experiences enrich us anyway.

The decision to leave the UK on 1st January was not intended to be a big statement. My contract in the UK ended on 31st December, the team in Auckland wanted me to start as soon as possible and so I decided to just get on with it. I had one last festive season with the family, not that I knew that at the time of course, and then headed straight on to my new venture. To some extent I was pleased that my mother’s knee replacement, for which she had literally waited years, had finally taken place just before Christmas. This meant she was not able to come to Heathrow with the rest of family to see me off. My sister’s sobbing as we all said our goodbyes just before security was enough. My mother’s would have been unbearable.

My employer in Auckland had been very generous with the relocation package and so I travelled in business class for the first time with a stopover in Penang. Unfortunately the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 had just occurred and the island had experienced some tragedy, although to a lesser extent than neighbouring countries. I had spent some time looking at the information from the British Foreign Office to ensure it was safe to travel to Penang and not alter my plans to go directly to Auckland, especially given the threats of possible aftershock tsunamis. In the end it was a relaxing few days where I did a little sightseeing but nothing too stressful.

Although the satay sticks were absolutely delicious, I stressed for my of the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland as the landing card was confusing and it looked as though I’d have to pay tax on anything worth over a certain amount. Of course I had many of my worldly possessions in my cases so undoubtedly I had far more than this limit. In the end, this did not apply to me which was a huge relied but knowing so beforehand would have saved my sleeplessness for 12 hours. I landed in Auckland around lunchtime on a sunny day and, in fact, it did not rain again to any significant degree until April. I couldn’t understand the complaints of my new colleagues about what a terrible summer it had been because by British standards, it was spectacular. What I did not know was that it had rained all over Christmas which is the largest sin the New Zealand weather gods could bestow upon the Land of the Long White Cloud.

I was fortunate enough to have booked a wonderful B&B in a trendy suburb not far from the city centre and run by a really helpful couple who gave me plenty of advice. In my room was a bottle of New Zealand sparkling wine and a bunch of flowers with the simple message “we will miss you” arranged by my bestie, the aforementioned Big Li. I was not about to cry though as I was on an adventure. I spent most of the first day just trying to stay awake and acclimatise to the time zone. I took a bus trip around Auckland to get my bearings. I had no idea what the term CBD meant at this stage – that was how naive I was. On my way back, I was hungry so I stopped at a nice looking cafe near my B&B and had an early dinner. Little did I know that I had just walked in to one of Auckland’s most iconic dining establishments. Choosing what to eat was easy. Selecting a wine was a much bigger challenge. I was not used to such an expansive wine list where the wines are simply listed as where they are made and the year. I was procrastinating over my choice when the waiter asked if I needed some help. We settled on a glass of Craggy Range Chardonnay. I don’t remember the year but wish I did as I would love to have a bottle in my current collection. It was delicious and probably heralded the start of an interest in wine which had been only bubbling away under the surface until that point.

The next few days were a mix of formalities and fun. I had to take my ID documents to the CBD to formalise my opening of a bank account and in the opposite direction to complete my professional registration process to allow me to start work. I did some more exploring with a trip to Waiheke island to do more wine tasting and sight seeing. This was the first time that I experienced to magnificent Auckland Harbour and she put on a mighty fine show that day with me returning to the B&B to be told off my the owners for being a little sunburnt.

I started work the following Monday. What I did not appreciate until this point was that because Christmas, New Year and the long school holidays are in the summer, New Zealand workplaces are like graveyards for the first few weeks of the year. I met new colleagues in dribs and drabs over what seemed like a very long time and I spent some protracted period being the “new girl”. The team in which I was working was small. There were only two other senior personnel and while they had worked together for some time, they had taken on some new work which was really in its infant stages and it was this to which I could bring the most experience. I suddenly felt as though I had a valuable role to play and that I wasn’t just here for the party. Over the next months I must have made my mark because people started to mention how good it would be if I could stay. This was not possible as prior to my temporary appointment, a permanent staff member had already been appointed and sent away overseas for further training. The strange thing was that even as his arrival got nearer, which of course meant my departure, I didn’t panic about joblessness. There was still nothing suitable back in the UK but I had this feeling that things would work out. My nana Williams had this fatalistic phrase of “what’s for you, you’ll have” which often proved right, and so it did. The most senior of my colleagues came to my office one day and said she had decided to retire and would I consider staying. And that was that.

People often ask me if I might go home one day. The answer to this is emphatic. No. Why would I give up a lifestyle which I enjoy so much? I have a lovely home in a private setting in a small friendly village far enough away from the city to be in the country but near enough to work to be convenient. I have a lovely group of friends whom I know I can turn to at any time. I have been able to shape the job to be mine. I am now the leader of a team which I have grown to be much larger than when I arrived and of which I am really proud. We are consistently recognised as punching above our weight in terms of the quality of our work and performance improvement. I have built up a national reputation and people look to me for expertise and experience. I live in a peaceful country which may not be hot-blooded as my supervisor put it but it is beautiful, progressive and exciting all at once. It is not perfect, but then nowhere it. None of this is intended to take anything away from my motherland at all. I am fiercely patriotic to my birthplace of Wales and forever grateful for my upbringing and education in the UK. I miss my family and UK friends every day. But the world is a smaller place now. Travel is easy and advances in social media and our virtual connectivity in even the relatively short time I’ve been away mean that no-one ever seems too far away. But New Zealand is my home now and this is where I shall stay.

Usually on the 5th of January I raise a glass of Craggy Range Chardonnay to this amazing place. A good friend of mine who has the most amazing memory for people’s special days usually provides it. But not this year as I am off on an exciting holiday. This posting is long, so more of that later…

Thank you New Zealand. Thank you for having me and for all you have given me and done for me. I am eternally grateful.

I’ve been struggling for days to upload the video that goes with this posting but the dodgy wifi has got the better of me. Another time perhaps.

Arohanui xx