Life story part 4. England and extraordinary adventures

After a long flight, I arrived at London Heathrow (my favourite name for an airport), at about 6am on the 23rd of November 1991. Remember the rules about having £2000 and a return ticket if you wanted a 2 year work visa? Well, I had £800 and a one way ticket. I strode up to the immigration guy and said “I hope you’ve had a good night”. I lied that I had the rest of my money in an account in the UK and if he could give me a week’s visa, I would bring it back to show them. He was tired or just not bothered and gave me the 2-year stamp. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went through the gates to be met by Finlay who had very kindly come to pick me up from the airport at such an uncivilised hour. I was absolutely exhausted as I had been travelling for over 50 hours now – 2 days on a bus and 2 days in a plane. Finlay decided to take me on a scenic tour of central London and was incensed that I was not more impressed with the sights. We saw Liz and Phil’s place, The Mall, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Oxford Street, Hyde Park and The Royal Albert Hall. “I can’t believe you aren’t more amazed by this stuff,” he said. I had been travelling for days; I was knackered and wanted to lie down. I just wasn’t in the best frame of mind for a sight-seeing tour, that’s all.

After recovering my senses and having a look around London, my focus once again turned to finding gainful employment. There are a couple of expat magazines you can get with jobs advertised in them. You will know that the Antipodean expat community in London is huge, so there is plenty of support and help in job finding. Somehow I ended up on a train heading for Kent to drive a tractor.

You may have thought my tractor driving and irrigation job in Australia was shit, and it was, but this job took shit work to a whole new level. I arrived with the place enjoying a black frost and freezing fog. I was shown to my accommodation. An unheated, park-home style trailer. I was then introduced to my tractor, a John Deere – so that was OK as I knew how to work a John Deere. The farm that I was going to work on was a turf farm. You will have all seen those rolls of lawn at a garden centre. Well, this guy grew the turf for that trade. I was going to work here in the freezing fog for minimum wage.

I was taken to a very large pile of what looked a bit like earth, at which was parked a digger. Only it wasn’t earth, it was ‘night soil’ (or ‘HuManPoo’ as farmers like to call it over here), which was obvious by the smell. I was going to spend my first day digging great piles of excrement and putting it in a muck spreader. I would then drive around in circles, spreading muck on the growing turf. Nice!

At what I thought was the end of the day, given that it was now dark, I was given my evening task. A large tanker lorry was spreading fresh sewage on a bare field freshly shaved of the cut turf. My job was to plough the ‘nutrients’ into the soil. Stop for a moment and imagine what it smells like driving a tractor around on freshly pumped sewage for a few hours. I finished late at night and went back to my freezing trailer to contemplate how funny it is how things turn out. I did much the same the next day then rang Fin to ask if he minded if I came back to crash at his place, as this job was somewhat less than I was hoping for.

I made my excuses in the morning and stood in a freezing lane somewhere in Kent for what seemed like half a day until a bus came along. I caught a train back to London and decided on another plan.

I read in an expat magazine about a job working in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands – that was more like it! I caught a train from Kings Cross, I think, to Edinburgh. It was very nearly Christmas and the train was completely full and somehow I managed to find myself in first class. I was sitting in a seat arrangement which had two seats each side of a little table facing each other. I was facing forward and beside me was a very nice looking older lady, across from me was an empty seat and a very sad-looking woman.

The trip to Edinburgh is a good few hours and as we were getting within an hour or so of arriving, I figured out why the sad woman probably looked so sad. Her husband arrived, I assumed from the bar carriage, and was an absolute caricature of a drunken Glaswegian. I just looked at him and he glared at me and demanded, in a barely decipherable accent, to know why I looked so bloody miserable and where was my ‘Christmas spirit’. I (maybe foolishly) replied that it looked as though he had probably just drunk it. I don’t think he got it though. The nice lady snorted a bit and the sad women just looked despairingly at her husband.

I changed trains at Edinburgh and caught my train for Blair Atholl. As we got further north the landscape became very snowy and Christmassy.  I was met at the little station by a very nice lady who drove me to the Tilt Hotel at Blair Atholl. I did not actually know what I would be doing and funnily enough, nor did Mrs Douglas who ran the place. She knew she always needed extra staff at Christmas and the New Year and would make her mind up what she thought I looked the part for when I arrived apparently.

So I was now the pot washer at The Tilt Hotel. I wore a Glasgow Rangers T-Shirt and a Dennis the Menace apron. I had a nice little room in the staff quarters and enjoyed wandering about the Highlands in my time off.

The job was only for the Christmas and New Year period so I hitchhiked off afterwards and found myself at a little town called Killin, where my Scottish ancestors came from. I had a fantastic night in the pub with the locals who assured me there hadn’t been a McNab in Killin for 150 years. We are descended from the McNabs, of course.  I was very happy that they were very pleased to buy me copious volumes of delicious Whisky. I would find myself back here again for a hilarious night which included a Police call out in just a couple of years’ time.

The next day I caught the bus back as far south as I could get in one go which was Manchester at about 3am. I made my way to the main station to get a train to London when they started in the morning. It was bitterly cold and the station was, of course, closed. I saw some Post Office vans coming and going so I made my way around the side of the station to the back where the mail vans where working. I somehow got into the station and found a bench to have a lie down on. There was some frantic banging at the front windows and I peered out into the darkness to see two blokes in t-shirts and shaved heads imploring me to let them in. I shouted for them to go where I had gone and two proper skinheads from Stoke-on-Trent join me in the station. I gave them my sleeping bag to cuddle up in as they were quite blue. One of them had ‘Cut here’ tattooed across his throat, as you do. The other had ‘Skins’ tattooed into his forehead.

We got chatting and they were very grateful not to have died from hypothermia, once I had explained to them what that was. They were amazed that I, a bumpkin from the back blocks of New Zealand, knew all the bands they liked. They were even more incredulous that I had many of the albums of those hard-core punk and ‘Oi’ artists.

Once more back at Fins, but just briefly as I got a job working in the pub across the road. I learned very quickly how to operate a bar at speed and how things worked in these sorts of places. We had a handful of regulars and you could set your clock by them. Old Charlie would come in at 5.10pm for example. He drank Guinness. I would start to prepare his Guinness at 5.00pm. You may wonder why I would not wait to be sure he was coming before potentially wasting a Guinness. If he didn’t come in it would only be because he was dead I was told. My regulars never wavered from their regular drink either. I became quite a good barman because just around the corner was the Olympia Conference and Event centre. They hosted huge events and at lunch time you would have people five to ten deep the length of the bar that only had half an hour to play with. I used to take the next order while still preparing the previous one. Luckily I have a pretty good memory.

I didn’t want to be a barman really though and wanted to at least tip a nod to a real job. I found one with a shipping company in Harlesden.  Mostly they catered to the Antipodean and South Africans sending stuff home. All their worldly goods in a tea chest or two, going home from the big overseas adventure. My job was to convince the people ringing up to accept my quote on the spot, rather than ringing around a few shippers and going with someone else.

We had an antiques consultant working for us. She was an incredibly well spoken strawberry blonde. I quite fancied her as she had a good sense of humour and a bit of a glint in her eye, but she was clearly incredibly ‘posh’. Her accent was what some would call ‘cut glass’, she made the Queen sound a bit common. Tanya (Tatiana) was also older than me by five or so years. I was quite flirty with her and was getting good vibes back so I dropped a little note offering her a date. She accepted and I had moved in with her within a few weeks. She had been a dancer and a vice cop among other things. She was once asked to audition for Hot Gossip, from the Kenny Everett video show, yes them!

For some reason or other, I asked her to marry me and she said she would not until I got a proper job. Certainly ‘Mummy and Daddy’ would not have thought much of me. Mummy was a Lady and Daddy was a ‘The Lord’ as opposed to plain old Lord.  Actually Daddy wasn’t Daddy at all, but ‘Mummy’s’ second husband, but she thought of him as Daddy. Her Mum and Dad were great chums with the Queen Mother and apparently had many boozy sessions at Clarence House.

Tanya had a lovely cousin called Flavia, (of course). Flavia lived in Richmond with a nice garden. Her upstairs neighbours were a couple of members of the London Symphony Orchestra. We were having lunch in the garden one day when they had a little string quartet practice on their balcony. It was all a long way from Te Uri.

Tanya taught me a lot about etiquette and how to behave; she polished up some of my very rough edges. My Mum hadn’t done too bad a job of bringing me up though – Tanya was amazed that I knew how to hold a knife and fork properly and to walk on the outside of a lady when you are walking down a footpath, for example

Tanya had left the shipping company to work as a secretary and I was let go a few weeks later. By chance, I actually had an interview with Jazz FM in London for a sales job which happened to be the day that the shipping company decided they needed a change of scenery. I went to my interview and it was pretty tough as my CV was pretty average and I had no experience selling radio advertising. They asked me “Why should we take this enormous risk in employing you Sandy?” I must have done okay though as they sent me to a room for 20 minutes or so while they had a think. I was offered the job on the spot and felt like I was walking on air. I had got a proper job in London!

Tanya was very pleased and now she couldn’t use the excuse that I didn’t have a proper job for not marrying me. I had to go and ask Daddy’s permission, of course. He gave me the third degree on my prospects so I lied about how good they were.

I had still not crossed the channel at this point and there was a long weekend bus trip to Holland, Belgium and France advertised in one of the Expat magazines. Tanya agreed I could go, (how kind) and I set off to catch the bus at New Zealand House at some ridiculous hour of the morning.  The bus was seriously cool, for a bus.  It was a big black double-decker affair that had once been the tour bus for rock band ‘The Cult’. There were 50 or so Kiwis, a couple of Aussies and a Chinese girl. We took the ferry and arrived in Holland mid morning. We wandered about this Dutch border town and were amazed at the number of sex shops and serious porn magazines on sale – the like of which you had heard about but it was still extraordinary to see so many and so extreme. I didn’t mix in the sort of circles that devoured this sort of extreme ‘depravity’ so it was quite an eye opener. Holland is very flat as you will know and largely featureless. The architecture in the countryside is largely modern looking. I guess this is because a lot of it was destroyed in WWII.

We then went to Bruges, a world heritage site and very pretty. Beautiful town squares, lovely canals and many, many bars. Bruges is a very popular tourist haunt and people come in their millions every year to see the architecture, walk the cobbled streets and just soak up the history and, of course, drink the beer. Belgian beer is very strong and there is an astonishing array of brands and styles. My favourite brand name is ‘Delirium Tremens’ – a fantastic name for a beer. Many bars in Bruges will have a sign saying ‘Recommended limit three beers’. You can imagine how this information was received by some young Kiwis who thought they could ‘hack their piss’. Well, three is the recommended limit for a reason and this was discovered by most that ignored it. There was much chundering back at the bus before we set off for our accommodation for the night.

The following day and night was spent sampling the delights of Calais (there aren’t many). Calais is okay but is obviously a staging post for greater adventures into France proper. My main memory of that trip was the Kiwi girl who wanted to ask for some water in French. We had another girl with us who had taken French at school right up to the 7th form and thought that she was pretty fluent. She wasn’t and her accent was appalling as well. French lesson girl informed water wanting girl that the French word for water was ‘eau’. She also informed her of the word for ‘waiter’ and ‘please’. The girl who wanted to order her water in French waved the waiter over to place her request (in French remember) and repeated the immortal words. “Garkon, can I have a glass of oh sulvuplays”. I am pretty sure I laughed until I cried.

I was doing pretty well at Jazz FM and had been promoted to Group Head, in charge of a team of four: Louise the bad-tempered Geordie goth; Eustace, the black ex public school boy who favoured designer spectacles; and last but by no means least, Trevor, my great mate. Trevor was hilarious and great company, he seemed to know all the good places to go and how to blag your way in. Trevor was to be my best man at my wedding.

I used to regularly win the monthly prize for the most sales and one month, it was a lunch in Paris. I took Tanya and we had an amazing day walking round central Paris. Paris is an easy walk and a completely beautiful city. The style of the residents was incredible to me after seeing the somewhat more scruffy Londoners. I loved Paris and I still go as often as I can. I learned what I love most about continental cities:  the wicker chair on the pavement outside a continental bar, with a cold beer or glass of wine (usually both), watching the world go by.

I asked Tanya to marry me on the Napoleon Bridge and she accepted. Once again, it all felt a very long way from Te Uri.

Mum came over for the wedding and Campbell had put in an appearance in London on his big adventure. He had rung me from Holland a few weeks earlier to say that he was coming on the bus and asked whether I meet him at the bus station. A quick investigation figured out that continental buses come into Victoria bus station, but this was not information he had furnished me with. He was with his good mate and ‘partner in crime’ from Dannevirke, Chris Gordon. Victoria bus station is a huge, busy place and a couple of young Kiwis can be hard to spot in the throng, even if one is your brother. Incredibly, Tanya declined to let Campbell stay the night so I had to take them to Earls Court to find a flea pit they could afford.

She was funny like that. Another time, two very great young family friends turned up in London. Guys I had grown up with. She wouldn’t even let them crash on the floor for the night, “because she didn’t know them”. The fact that I had known them since I was a kid didn’t seem to cut any ice.

So Mum and Bum were in town. Tanya actually did let Mum stay so at least that was something.  We got married in Wandsworth Registry Office and had a 1920’s themed party at her parent’s place the following weekend. Tanya went down early to prepare and I was left with the flat. We had a fantastic Kiwi night with a random collection of people. Mum, Bum, and my Kiwi friends Dawn, Geoff and Jo. We drank Morton Estate wine and sang along to a few old Kiwi classic tunes. It was a good night.

Tanya and I didn’t have a honeymoon. I took my Mum to Scotland instead. We drove up in a rental car. On the way, we found ourselves wandering around Lord Byron’s old place completely by chance at about 8.30am. We stopped for the night in York and crossed into Scotland over the Cheviot Hills. There was a drunk piper in a kilt by the Menhir advertising the Scottish Border. Mum shed a few tears. Mum is very into her Scottish heritage and it was an emotional moment for her crossing that border for the first time in her life.

We had a great tour round the main Highland highlights. Mum got all ‘Fey’ at Culloden, but the real highlight was the night in Killin. We booked a couple of rooms at the Breadalbane B&B and had been for dinner at the McNab restaurant. We were walking home along the deserted High Road and the pub I had visited a couple of years earlier was across the road from the B&B. The famous last words were uttered: “shall we pop in for a quick wee dram?”

We stood at the bar and were discussing the merits of the many whiskys behind the bar. A few locals heard the accents and, of course, each one knew best which whisky we should be trying. What is one to do in these circumstances? Well it is only polite to try everyone’s suggestion. We were not allowed to buy a drink all night and we drank an awful lot. The door was locked at closing time and an accordion was produced for a sing along. We heard all the usual suspects and Mum decided we should reply with Hoki Mai, of course.

We had very few senses about us but we did know that kick off in the All Blacks v The British Lions match in New Zealand was imminent. By imminent, I mean in the next few minutes. We dashed across to the B&B to find we had been locked out. We went back to the pub that luckily had rooms spare. We were shown to very nice (non-ensuite) accommodation and made ourselves drunkenly comfy. I had got the TV working when I heard a shriek from the hall. I raced out to hear mum calling for help from the loo. I opened the door to find her sitting on the loo with the enormous basin in her lap. In her state, she had used the basin for leverage off the loo but had pulled it off the wall instead.

When I had finished laughing I used my finger nail to try to screw the basin back to the wall but, as I am sure you can imagine, that doesn’t really work. We retired to our respective rooms and I lay on my bed trying to focus on the rugby. I came back to consciousness in the daylight and tried to remember where I was. The TV was still on, as was the Lions match, but it was several hours later. That took a wee while to compute but eventually I figured out that it was a replay. The All Blacks won of course. They only lose when I am actually at the game, but that is another story.

We drove home and a few days later sent Mum off back to New Zealand. Campbell had a tremendous job at the time sweeping the streets of Soho from 9pm until 6am. He just appeared at Gatwick somehow to say goodbye to Mum. We were sitting in a café when he walked up in his Donkey jacket and I am impressed to this day at how he found us (remember this was before we all had mobile phones).

One thing that sticks in my mind was on a sales team meeting in Kensington. Louise, the bad-tempered Geordie Goth, and I were travelling down in the lift and five lads tumbled into the lift on the next floor down. They were clowning around and pushing each other about. One of them bumped into Louise and she hissed at them to “Cut it out you Fooking prats”. They were very taken aback but settled right down. We emerged at the ground floor to see several hundred screaming girls outside the front of the hotel. The girls were clearly here for the lads from the lift and I asked Louise who they were. “Fooking Take That”, was her reply.  I had shared a lift with the biggest boy band in Britain and my little colleague had given them an earful. I thought that was pretty cool.

I also won the annual prize for most advertising sold in the year; this was a long weekend in New York. Tanya and I flew with Virgin Atlantic to Newark Airport. We stayed at the Intercontinental in the wrong part of town. It seemed ridiculously hard to find a place to get a drink. I also found New York to be very scruffy, dirty, noisy and treeless compared to London. Tanya decided she wasn’t well so I ‘did’ New York on my own. I went up the Empire State Building, had a look at Radio City Music Hall, visited ‘little Italy’ and ‘the village’. I saw the Twin Towers and rode in a yellow cab. I found New Yorkers rude and the food was rubbish. American beer also leaves a lot to be desired. When Tanya felt well enough to have a walk, we went down to Times Square, which actually was pretty underwhelming. As we were walking along a street, a black Mercedes with blacked out windows roared past us and screeched to a halt just up the street a bit. All four doors flung open and four big nasty looking dudes hurtled out of the car and came running towards us. I thought, oh here we go! But the guys ran straight past us and into a small park to greet some friends. Phew!

During the year I had sold the sponsorship rights to the station’s flagship programme, Dinner Jazz. It was one of the biggest sponsorship deals in UK commercial radio at the time and it was a big deal for the station. Sadly the station program controller didn’t see it that way. At our Christmas Party he accosted me in the restaurant in front of the gathered staff and poking his drunken finger in my chest told me I had compromised the integrity of the station and the music. I reminded him that we were a commercial station and the show had been for sale, and asked how the hell did he think his wages got paid if it wasn’t for advertising revenue. We had a small row about it and he was led away grumbling by a couple of his presenters.

Later that week in the media section of the London Evening Standard, it was reported that we had a vicious fist fight and “were really going for each other’s throats”. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story I guess. The big American breakfast presenter wasn’t a fan of the program controller and whispered that he would have paid me to actually hit him and was very disappointed that I didn’t.

By now my relationship with Tanya was only ‘so so’ and after a while she decided that she didn’t need to be married to me any more so I moved out. One thing that has occurred to me just now though is that Tanya didn’t have any friends; I don’t mean not many, I mean not any. It is funny how that has just occurred to me, we used to socialise with my friends or her family.

So my posh wife was now an ex-wife to be. It turns out though she wasn’t my first encounter with a ‘posh’ bird. Back in New Zealand when I lived in Auckland there was a very nice girl I was trying to woo, but failed. I did once see her in her knickers though, big Bridget Jones pants. I bumped in to her totally by chance in a couple of very random places in London. Then one day I discovered she was running a very smart, saucy knickers company. Bit of a step up from the big pants I once saw her in. The big knickers’ girl from Auckland was some sort of descendant from the Earl of Cardigan, him from the Charge of the light Brigade. Who knew such smart girls were lurking in New Zealand?

Anyway, I moved in not too far away from where I’d been living with Tanya, as I knew the area and the local people and didn’t fancy moving to a new part of London. I rented a little flat above a kebab shop, a few doors down from where Bum was now living in Earlsfield.

Jazz FM was becoming a total bore as we had huge targets and unrealistic expectations. I secured a new really nice job as Sales Manager for RCI,  in international advertising. I worked for a company that represented international airline inflight magazines. Selling the ad space in them to luxury goods companies mainly. I was going to get to travel the world and get paid for it. I got to visit Amsterdam, which is a stunning city but clearly where the great unwashed of Europe go to get stoned and laid.  I learned that you need to get a hotel a decent distance from a Cathedral. I know now how the Hunchback of Notre Dame felt when he kept screaming “The bells! The bells!” My parent company was in Paris so I got to go back to Paris many times. I also learned that in Geneva when you stay in a Hotel looking over the lake, you ask for a lake facing room. Otherwise you might get one facing the railway sidings.

My boss left after a while and I was made Commercial Director, dizzying heights indeed for a bumpkin like me. I knew what I was doing though and had good relationships with my advertising clients and enjoyed the job. I used to have a VIP account with a London Taxi Company. If I was feeling like a treat I used to take a good client out for dinner and be ferried to and from the restaurant in a Mercedes S Class. I felt on top of the world.

Business travel though can sometimes be a little more gruelling than exiting. One day I had to go to Japan to re-pitch for our Japan Airlines contract. I was to be joined in Tokyo by my French M.D. I worked during the day on Monday and was taken by a very nice Mercedes to Heathrow to catch a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo Narita. I was in business class, of course. Upon arrival at Narita Airport, I caught the train to Tokyo Central Station. Leaving the train and walking into a seething mass of humanity was quite an assault on the senses. It was knocking off time in Tokyo and it seemed that all of Japan was moving through this enormous station. I think it took me a good half an hour to get from the train to the taxi rank.

I had a little Japanese guidebook and I knew where I was staying, The Imperial Hotel no less. No expense spared by the French M.D as usual. It was raining and I had no idea of the geography of Tokyo so when I finally got in my cab I just said “Imperial Hotel Kudasai” and the cabbie looked at me blankly. I asked again and was met with the same blank stare – a statement I assumed meant that he spoke no English. I thought even the most simple cabbie would be able to decipher Imperial Hotel, surely? Apparently not, so I fished out my guide and phrase book and was not particularly amused to learn what Imperial Hotel was in Japanese. I cannot help feel to this day that the bloke was just being difficult. Imperial Hotel, in Japanese, is Imperia Hoteru. Like I said, had he been in a mind to be helpful he might just have figured that one out.

So now we knew where to go we set off into a traffic jam you can only imagine in Tokyo. There was a sumo wrestling commentary on his radio. We inched forward every so often for quite a while and eventually swung into the Imperial Hotel reception. I think it was about 400 yards from the train station. It would have taken 5 minutes to walk it. Funny, very funny.

I checked in, met my French M.D and was shown to my very impressive room. We were then going to be taken out for dinner by our Japanese clients. Meeting and greeting in Japan is a very formal affair and I had read up on it all before I left London. We had an excellent Japanese meal in a private room in a very smart restaurant. I don’t remember too much of the evening as the sake was plentiful and we finished the evening at Maxims, where the price of a whisky will take your breath away. I believe it was in the region of £80 for four nips!

The presentations and negotiations were the next day. I had an hour or so presentation on the UK figures, the Frenchman would do his bit, the Japanese theirs. It was going to be a long day. The exchanging of business cards is even a formality to be observed in Japan. You hand yours with both hands. They take it with both hands, bow a bit and study the detail. This procedure is then reversed with you doing the two-handed take and bowed study. The card is then placed by where you sit at the table in order of importance of the card giver. Don’t get this stuff wrong!

The day was looking long and then we realised that the Frenchman’s accent was too strong for the interpreter to understand his English. I had to translate French English into English for her to translate to Japanese. Like I said, it was going to be a long day. The deal was done and terms agreed and the Japanese took us out for dinner again, to a Chinese Restaurant… yeah, me neither.

I think it was Wednesday now or maybe Thursday, I had no idea, I was shattered. My plan was that as I had come all this way, I was going to take a couple of days to see Kobe and Kyoto and have a little holiday. At breakfast, the Frenchman told me that he had to go back to Paris and I would have to go to Sri Lanka in his place today. Who the hell had mentioned Sri Lanka? He gave me his ticket and a pile of cash and told me to let Air Lanka know that I was coming in his place and could they change the ticket. He then raced off. Today was a national holiday in Japan and I was heading for the airport with someone else’s ticket to go to Sri Lanka. Luckily I got hold of Air Lanka and the ticket was amended. I was then asked by a chap if I had a jacket on me as I was being upgraded to First Class. My first and only flight in the front seats. How exciting! I was going to Sri Lanka to pitch for the representation rights to their magazine in Europe.

I was shown to Seat 1B and a seriously beautiful Sri Lankan woman was shown to seat 1A. She was with a terribly handsome chap who was given the seat across the aisle from us. I would just say that First Class in Air Lanka was a little ‘retro’ by modern standards. The beautiful woman and the handsome man were being fussed over by the cabin crew. It turned out her name was Gheeta something or other and she was a huge Bollywood star who had been to some film festival in Tokyo with her co-star. The chap was invited to the cockpit and we didn’t see him again for the entire eight hour journey. I hope he wasn’t flying the plane! Gheeta was absolutely hilarious, great fun and really down to earth. She was married to some Swiss restaurateur in Colombo.

I arrived in Colombo late at night and the terminal was quite a change from the huge modern airport I had left in Japan. It was a bit more like a large hanger. There were old Russian planes out on the runway. I found the airport desk for my hotel and was welcomed and informed that a limousine would be waiting outside for me. A small man in nappies carried my bag to the bay marked ‘Limousine park’. Across the road was a large chain-link fence with hundreds of Sri-Lankan faces peering through, I guess to see who was coming to visit their country? Remember this was a country still under siege by Tamil tiger separatists, or terrorists, depending on your political leanings.

While I was waiting for my limousine a beaten up old Datsun 120Y station wagon pulled up into the bay. I told the man in nappies to shoo this heap away. He informed me that “This is your limousine sir”. Ah yes, we are in thethird world now aren’t we! I was starting my first visit to athird world country.

We drove for an hour or so along a rutted road, round sleepy, big horned and humped cattle. Past corrugated iron shanties with a few dead chickens hanging from them, people in the road everywhere. Eventually we arrived at a large ornate goddess in a roundabout. This seemed to signal the outskirts of Colombo. As we were driving past a changing scene of squalor and deprivation, the likes of which I had only ever read about or seen in films, I finally saw some towers of light in the distance. I asked if that was downtown Colombo. He replied “Those are the hotels sir”.

We pulled up at a large, very imposing gate and were waved through by armed guards. We drove into tropical paradise; the transformation from open sewer to the Garden of Eden was total. Plush manicured lawns, beautiful tropical trees, Palms as well, of course. The place was incredible. The greeting was nothing less than grovelling. My new friend from the flight, Gheeta knew the hotel manager and had phoned him to make sure I got proper treatment. I was shown to my very sumptuous room by an army of helpers and had an excellent sleep.

When I threw back the curtains I saw properly just what a third world city looks like. Crumbling and squalid is what it looks like. My meeting was at 1pm so I had all morning to kill. I decided on a tour of the city in one of those little tuk tuks. I walked out of the air-conditioned hotel to be greeted with a wall of almost edible, stinking, unbelievable humidity. I had arrived at night so while the humidity had been significant, this day time stuff was a whole new experience. I was dripping in sweat in minutes.

I agreed a price in advance with the driver and off we set on our mini adventure. I saw where the rich people lived in their beautiful colonial mansions. I was taken to the main market area and also watched an elephant working. I saw some incredible temples and managed to convince a couple of army checkpoints to let me photograph them. After lunch, I was deposited back at my hotel to get changed for my meeting. It went fine and I was back at the hotel by 2.30pm to wait for my 1.30am flight. I tried some local delicacies and read a few magazines and books until about 8pm when I got too bored for words so set off for the airport to make use of the first class lounge for a while.

I flew back via Dubai, where the duty-free hall has to be seen to be believed. I arrived back at Earlsfield in time for a beer on Saturday night, knackered. Tanya was in the bar and thrust a paper at me. It was a full-page obituary in the Times Newspaper. ‘Daddy’ had passed away.

I was hoping to stay in the UK as I was enjoying my job and Tanya had said that she would support my application. She didn’t.

JENNY

I used to frequent the 366 Bar in Earlsfield (South London). I amused myself teasing the locals, one of which was a girl called Pat Turnbull. Pat worked with a woman called Jenny. Pat decided that Jenny and I would make a good pair so she organised an evening for us to meet. Charades or some other rubbish that I didn’t fancy at all. Also the night in question I had been invited to a party by a leggy blonde that I did rather fancy.

The leggy blonde pursuit didn’t pan out and one night a few weeks later I was perched in my usual chair in the 366 bar when Pat walked in with a very tanned person in tow. (Jenny had just been on holiday, she goes quite dark in the sun). “Sandy this is Jenny” Pat said.  I was accompanied by a long-haired Kiwi surfie who was a friend of a friend and was dossing at my flat for a while.

Jenny spent the evening listening to me talking rubbish. When I asked for her number she declined to give it.  Pat assured me she would get Jenny’s number for me and a couple of days later now armed the details I rang her. Eventually we went out for dinner. Jen devoured a large rare steak and professed a fondness for rugby. This was going to go well.

Because Tanya hadn’t wanted to support my application, a few months later my visa expired and I had to return to New Zealand. It was very sad to say goodbye to Jen and certainly not helped by a movie on the flight being Forest Gump. You will recall the lines “Goodbye Jenny”. I arrived back in Auckland at 6am on the 1st of January 1995. The bloke who checked my passport saw how long I had been abroad and said “You’ve been away a while mate, welcome home”. I doubt you would get that greeting anywhere else in the world. Auckland was deserted. I had a coffee with an old chum in Auckland and caught my flight to Palmerston North later that day. I believe I got my first ever hug from my Dad at airport arrivals in Palmerston North at the age of 31.

I went back to Mum and Dad’s new place in Dannevirke and couldn’t believe somehow that after all I had seen and done, I was back in this little country town in New Zealand.

Jen came out for a visit in February 1995. Ostensibly to see how we would get on in my own habitat I guess. We had a wonderful time including a few days at Tutukaka and Jen decided she would move to New Zealand for a while, to see how things turned out.

I am not going to go into too much detail about our life as Jen is a very private person so will just try to share some of the many highlights of our time up until now.

Jen decided to rent out her house in London, leave her job and move to New Zealand for about six months. Her Mum’s words “that there were plenty more fish in the sea” ringing in her ears as she left the UK. Jenny’s mother is French by the way. Her father was a Doctor of Science who had also been a navigator in Mosquitos in the war.

Making a life for us, I got off to a great start by making her live in a house which we came to call “Second goat house on the left”, in the foothills of the Ruahine ranges. It was a pretty miserable place though and in winter you could see the steam from your breath while watching television. You would go to bed with a woolly hat and socks.

I got a little stint on Central FM in Waipukurau on a Thursday night, doing the 7 – 12pm slot. I enjoyed doing a bit of radio work again. I am not sure anyone actually listened to the station though.

I then secured gainful employment working as a Regional Manager for the Hospitality Association of New Zealand, H.A.N.Z. This was a terrific job and I worked from home so we could live anywhere in the Central North Island. We decided to move up to Hawkes Bay proper and rented the old shearer’s quarters on Morea farm. This is on the Kahuranaki Road out behind Te Mata Peak at Havelock North. A truly wonderful location and we had many happy times there in the Hawkes Bay sun. We made great friends with our neighbours Nicky and Philip and had many brilliant boozy afternoons on our veranda and late nights playing cards and laughing a lot.

Over the years, Jenny has taught me many things. A bit of tolerance, manners, etiquette, patience, a smattering of French and generally how to behave. Jen has taught me far more about how to behave in polite company that Tanya ever did. I was introduced to all her friends and they have also taught me many great things. I am pleased to call them my friends also now.

I have also taught Jenny many things though. How to run over possums or deal with them in the outside loo with a baseball bat. How to drown a dog mauled wild turkey when no blunt or sharp instrument is handy. How to feed a starving lamb with a washing up glove and a pin. Jenny has also learned how to shoot peach eating possums off telegraph poles in the garden from the bedroom window, naked. Speaking of naked, Jenny also now knows how to evict a freshly weaned calf from the garden at 4am, naked, but with wellies on. Jen is still at a loss as to why I didn’t find this as hilarious as she did. I just hate being woken at 4am by lost and confused livestock in the garden, that’s all!  She also learned how to deflect a mouse flicked into her face from under a dresser. So being married to me Jen has learnt some really useful stuff.

I had learnt that Jen wasn’t showy or pretentious. so felt she would be delighted to be driven to our actual wedding in the old shearer’s quarters in a beaten up Holden utility vehicle (Ute in kiwi speak) with a broken fridge on the back. And we got married by a fat and drunk J.P. We had a fantastic wedding day. Close family and friends only, in our little shearer’s quarters. The reception was held at a lodge nearby. We took the place over and just Mum and Dad, Ally and Des, Nicky and Philip, old family friend Kerry Ellingham and my brother Finlay spent a great night with us being waited on hand and foot. We had chosen the menu ourselves and Dad said that it was the best night and meal he had ever had.

As I said, I was then working for the Hospitality Association of New Zealand. A fantastic job which meant I got to travel around the central North Island a lot … going to the pub. Jen wasn’t allowed to work in New Zealand so she sometimes used to join me on adventures. I took her to all the best places. Like the pub in Ruatoria where I advised her to stay in the car with the doors locked while I went inside. Jen loves to ride horses and a neighbour lent her a barely broken in, ex polo pony to ride. Her first attempt to get on it resulted in her breaking her foot right off her leg (which subsequently got re-attached).  Our life then became more complicated. I don’t cook so it’s lucky for me that Jen loves to. She was then non weight-bearing and could not stand without a pair of crutches. I very considerately rigged up a rough disabled friendly sort of system in the kitchen to allow her to continue her love of cooking (and washing up).

The broken leg saga is a horrible story for another time.

Jenny loved to go to the beach but as she was on crutches this became far more difficult. I would stand at the surf’s edge with my surf casting rod while she sat at the edge of the beach on the solid ground. This made conversation difficult of course and even more so, the sharing and lighting of cigarettes. Luckily we had little Sterling, a miniature pointer we were dog-sitting. She shuttled between us with ciggies and notes in a plastic bag round tied to her collar. Yes, I smoked for quite a while.

Car journeys became less comfortable for Jenny and I guess not helped on occasion by me taking her over the most direct route between Hastings and the central North Island with her leg resting on the dashboard. A winding pot-holed gravel road called the Gentle Annie! The Gentle Annie is a tremendous drive through the back country of New Zealand.

After a time we moved back to the UK. Jen got her house and old job back and I went back in to the media scene in London.

We had a fantastic second wedding reception dinner for our English friends. It was a hilarious night where one of our more flamboyant friends decided to kiss another of our friends upon being introduced to him. He wasn’t at all gay, just liked to do the unexpected from time to time. He was horrified to learn that the bloke he had kissed was a retired army officer.

We had some great nights in Soho and many long lunches as we worked just around the corner from each other. It was good to be back in London, but we are both country people at heart and wanted to move out of the city and do something more rural. One day before we moved out, we had a knock at the door at 6am. Bum was on the doorstep having arrived again in the UK. Jen gave him a big hug and said he could stay as long as he liked before I could stop her.Six months later I decided that Bum could go and stay with our cousin Sarah in north London. It’s not that I don’t love Bum but a ‘two up two down’ terraced house is not really big enough for three.

We had secured jobs out-of-town and we were able to move out to Hampshire at first and latterly to Surrey, where we live now. I got a great job back in insurance as a Senior Agent/Group Secretary for the NFU Mutual/NFU. I loved that job and was doing well running my little local office up the road. Jenny was working about 20 minutes away in Petersfield. I was going through a very homesick stage for some reason and wanted to go back to New Zealand. Then in 2004, I had a nervous breakdown. This was caused by the poisonous actions of a work colleague who sought to destroy my career to further her own. I do not want to go into details but it meant that for the next six years I was on anti-depressants and suffering anxiety and panic attacks all the time. All this while being very homesick as well. It was a miserable few years all in all but I don’t want to dwell on it as I am glad to say I have recovered.

So to continue…

Jen and I share a sense of humour, except about flatulence. I am a bloke and some of us find farting funny. Apparently it was not funny though to teach the six-year-old son of a good friend about farting in a swimming pool. It is not funny either to attempt to squeeze out a quiet fart whilst sitting on a canvas chair in polite company, especially when what was supposed to be quiet turns up loud instead. It seems that another thing that is not funny is to run, screaming, out of the darkness to frighten a small gathering of friends, in the dark, in rural France.

We dine out quite a bit and Jen adores it when I have a chat with the proprietor of an establishment that I feel is on the expensive side. I might ask something like “Do you have a Michelin star?” “No? So can you please justify to me the prices on the menu?”

Did you know that at very smart dinner parties, when the port arrives, you pour your glass from the decanter and then pass it to the person on the left? I didn’t, but I do now. I found out the hard way, but Jen loves it when I learn things in polite society.

I am very proud that my wife can name more members of the All Blacks team than any English side. Jen is also now pleased she knows all the reasons for the games the All Blacks have lost. There are always mitigating circumstances, and no I am not just a bad sport.

The All Blacks owe most of their woes in the last few years to me I am sad to say. You will know I love my rugby but I have had a hideous time when the Rugby World Cup has been on or the All Blacks have been under-performing. I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time since I left New Zealand back in 1991. Let’s look at the facts.

In 1991 when we lost to Australia in the RWC semifinal. I was in Australia, in the outback, surrounded by Australians. I arrived in the UK in late 1991 and in 1993 went to Twickenham to watch the All Blacks lose to England. In 1994 when the All Blacks lost their first test series to France in New Zealand, I was working for a French company. I was at home to watch the All Blacks try to play the Springboks despite the fact they could barely stand. At least I was at home with family.

I returned to the UK and in 1997 returned to Twickenham with some English chums to watch the All Blacks draw against England. I secured tickets at £75 to watch us give the French an assured beating in the Rugby World Cup semifinal at Twickenham in 1999. The All Blacks had a head explosion and let the French play their favoured style. We lost. I now have a French mother-in-law.

I don’t remember what happened in 2003. I did cheer loudly when Jonny Wilkinson slotted the drop goal to break Aussie hearts. I have always loved to see the Aussies get a beating.

I am an optimist though and when the RWC returned to Europe in 2007 and the All Blacks were to play France in the quarterfinal at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, I had to go. I got tickets, just £125!  Bargain. How could we lose again surely?

The guys at work said to me on Friday night as I left the office “What’s going to happen tomorrow Sandy?” I told them their boys despite being unfancied would beat the Aussies by boring them to death. Our boys. The All Blacks, I know in my heart of hearts are going to have another head explosion against the French and lose. I am confident of this happening so to make me feel better, I decided to bet on both of those results going against the book and win thousands of pounds which will console me somewhat. The odds were massive against both Australia and New Zealand losing the quarterfinals. So we drove to the magnificent stadium and watched the French look like men possessed and the All Blacks look bereft of ideas. The roof was shut and the noise was deafening and the French won. As had the English that afternoon. I realised I had forgotten to place my bet! I now also had to speak to my French mother-in-law. I wished I was dead!

One thing I will say is that the Kiwis sling off at soccer a bit, I certainly used to. But the thing is that it is the world’s most popular game. The English national game. Most Englishmen support a club, they are all passionate and well-informed about their club. I would even venture, better informed about their club that your average Kiwi is about his provincial team. Englishmen spend most of their spare time discussing the merits of various players and teams. When you have watched the likes of Barcelona playing Manchester United in front of 80,000 tribal fans at the Nou Camp or Old Trafford stadium you have to concede it is a tremendous occasion, world-class sport in anyone’s language. Liverpool coming back from 3-0 to beat AC Milan in the final of the Champions League is an incredible thing to see. Watching Tottenham play Arsenal in a North London Derby is a fantastic affair. David Beckham scoring a last minute free kick against Greece to get England into the World Cup was an extraordinary moment. Soccer is OK you know and I have come to really enjoy watching it.

We have always had dogs in our life together. Jenny had Pedro when I met her and then we got Meg, a Westie. If you have two dogs, you might as well have three so we got Bruno, a hairy French hound. Then Pedro died and Jeff joined us. Jeff was a Jack Russell Terrier and very much Jenny’s dog, he loved his ‘Mummy’ and would do anything for her. Sadly after five years of living happily together Bruno and Jeff started fighting all the time. Sometimes in life you have to make some tough decisions about things. Jen was heartbroken that little Jeffie had to be re-homed. Bruno is a bit special-needs and cannot embrace change so would have been impossible to re-home. We also now have our ink faced puddle puppy. So called because she has a black muzzle and loves puddles.  Jessie, she is the sweetest little terrier you could imagine and everyone loves her. Our dogs have given us great joy over the years and we could never be without at least two.

Jen and I have had a fantastic life together and I have been very lucky to have had so many incredible experiences. People often, make that always, ask me why I live in England when I could live in New Zealand and for many years I would agree with them that I was mad. I felt England was like a prison, I was stuck here because I was married to Jenny, because her mother would never entertain us moving to New Zealand. I wasn’t about to leave Jenny so therefore I was trapped in England. It was a really depressing circle for me and it has taken me years to come to terms with but now I actually enjoy living in England.

The catalyst for finally understanding what I have was the trip home for my Dad’s funeral a couple of years ago. I had only been home on holiday in the last 20 years so it was always great. Good times, beers by the beach, the great Kiwi holiday experience. When Dad died I had to do mundane stuff and drive his 4×4 from Fielding to Auckland. My first trip through the heartland for 20 years.  What struck me was that there is not really a single town in New Zealand worth making a special trip for. The road passes just through each town on the way to somewhere else. There was little going on here on the far side of the world and what I had come to know as civilisation was very far away indeed. I was very pleased to get back to England.

A little about the death of my Dad.

We had planned a holiday in New Zealand but three weeks before we were due to fly my Dad died suddenly of a heart attack. He had no history of heart disease and was actually 5 kms into a 110 km cycle race.  Which is completely normal weekend behaviour for a 70-year-old man. The phone call came at 1am. Bad news always seems to come from New Zealand in the middle of the night. We had friends around for dinner so that spoiled the mood a bit. The next night Jen had to go away on business so I stayed up all night watching the email traffic going back and forth. Many tributes pouring in and people popping out of the woodwork I had not spoken to for years!  The next night Jen’s plane was delayed so she didn’t get in until 2am. The following night we agreed I would go to the funeral alone as we were unable to move any of the holiday plans so would have to cancel the accommodation and so on. We were able to cancel the places we had booked to stay but my plane ticket was not refundable or flexible. I now had to make some very urgent plans to go home to New Zealand.

I spoke to Air New Zealand about my ticket which was bought at cheapest rate of course, so set in stone. They informed me that they could arrange a compassionate alteration to my booking and all I had to do was get confirmation of my relationship to the deceased. That’s easy enough to get from the funeral home, so I sent it off to them and the ticket was changed. Due to time differences and urgency this was all completed at 3am Wednesday morning UK time. I am now able to catch the flight leaving at 4pm on Thursday. I leave home midday, very tired, and head on a long lonely trip. I was going home on NZ1, this must be the most evocative flight number of them all surely? As for the airport, London Heathrow, again, is there a more wonderfully named airport in the world? London Heathrow just radiates great adventures started and finished. NZ1 from London Heathrow to Auckland has an amazing resonance for us Kiwis. Almost makes me well up thinking of it. It’s the flight you take to home from the far end of the world.

When I got to the airport I was given a pass for the business class lounge, even though I was travelling in economy. I was given an exit seat for the extra leg room. On the first leg of the flight, a woman in a very smart uniform quite different to the cabin crew came down the aisle. She stopped one of the crew and spoke to her and then the crew member pointed at me. I had my ipod on but of course, was wondering what was going on . The smartly dressed woman came over to me and leant in so I could hear. She took my hand and held it and said “Mr Abbot I am so sorry we aren’t meeting under more pleasant circumstances. I am so sorry to hear about your father. Is there anything at all we can do to make the trip more comfortable for you?” I said I was fine and then thought I should have asked for a front seat of course! I was quite shocked actually and thought how nice is that!. The woman was the concierge from business class. It’s a nice little service Air New Zealand have.

On the second leg from LA to Auckland the same thing happened with the new crew. Same concern and question. I asked for a brandy if one was going. I was bought a large glass of brandy from business class in a warmed glass and also a pair of very high tech noise cancelling headphones.

As an aside. When you are exhausted and emotional and haven’t slept properly for days. When you are two hours from home, where you haven’t been for five years. When you have flown around the world and you are going to bury your father. Do NOT listen to Hayley Westenra (who your father loved) singing Hine E Hine on your ipod. Tuck that away for future reference.

Back to England though. What is great about here is all the amazing stuff you have all about you, look at what is within an hour of my house!

London, Brighton, Portsmouth, Southampton, Chichester, Guildford, Goodwood Racecourse, Ascot Racecourse, Epsom Downs Racecourse, Goodwood Racetrack, The Festival of Speed, Mercedes-Benz World, Brooklands Race Track and Museum, The New Forest, Southdowns National Park, Arundel Castle, Amberley Castle, Hampton Court, Richmond Park, Wimbledon, Heathrow, and Gatwick Airports, Southampton Airport, Petworth House, Petworth Park, Losley House, Farnham Castle, The Surrey Hills, Guards Polo Club, Kew Gardens, Wisley Gardens, Broadlands Estate, Cowdray Park Estate, Bisley, Farnborough Airshow, Sunningdale and Wentworth Golf Clubs, Twickenham Stadium, Goodwood Sculpture Park, The South of England Show, The Henley Regatta, Winchester Cathedral, Farnham Castle, Marco Pierre White’s Wheelers of St James at the Kings Arms, thousand’s of excellent ‘olde worlde’ Pubs.

That’s just off the top of my head without looking it up. What’s within an hour of your place?

I can drive to Heathrow or Gatwick airport in 45 minutes from where I can fly to most of the civilised world in under five hours and direct to almost anywhere in the world. I can take the train to lunch in Paris and be home in time for dinner. I can drive my car to the Swiss or French Alps quicker than the majority of Kiwis can get to the Southern Alps and I don’t have to use a plane or a ferry, which they do. I can drive my car to places like China, Mongolia, India or Thailand if I chose to. Or more sensibly it’s an easy long days drive to the French Riviera or a short days drive to the Loire Valley. I can easily have a night out in Amsterdam. In two and a half hours from my house I can be sitting in a wicker chair in a pavement cafe in my choice of three countries, drinking a continental beer in a foreign culture.

In New Zealand you have the beauty and majesty of the many lakes, the Southern Alps, Central Otago, the New Zealand bush and places like Fiordland or Urewera. But I’m pretty sure none of my New Zealand based friends have actually been to many of the really good bits there as you just go to work and then go to the beach for your summer holidays. Or you live abroad. What New Zealand has in spades is nice scenery. I have a whole lot more of all the stuff you can actually use.

In my time here and in particular while being with Jenny I have done and seen some incredible things. I have stalked a stag on a Scottish mountain. We have been to the Monaco Grand Prix. We have driven the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, one of the world’s greatest drives. We have been to the opera at Glyndebourne and the ballet at The Royal Opera House. We have enjoyed some world-class jazz at Ronnie Scotts and seen the Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall. We have spent a week on Capri and had lunch on the beach at Positano. A New Year in Prague, Paris in springtime, cricket at Lords and rugby at Twickenham. We have seen flamenco in the back streets of Madrid and had a bottle of Cristal champagne in Harry’s Bar in Venice. I’ve driven an AC Cobra and ridden, at speed, in an old Aston Martin. I’ve driven a single seat racing car around the famous Goodwood Racetrack. We have walked through the Brandenberg Gate, walked alongside Lake Geneva and drunk beer in Munich.  We have been to Mauritius and snorkelled with beautiful tropical fish. We have had many wonderful trips to many parts of France, Italy and Spain. We’ve eaten the efforts of some of the world’s best chefs and we live in a house that is 400 years old.

I am 46 years old. I started life in the back-end of nowhere on the other side of the world and I have hardly had a boring day in my life. I am very lucky.

Update. I got divorced and moved back to New Zealand in July 2013. Seems there is more to the story yet

MY FAMILY

As a post script I would also like to point out that I have a family as well. The immediate family I have mentioned but I have relatives as well that I haven’t mentioned much, or at all, in my story. I don’t know most of the people I am related to and have never met them so I am just going to mention the lovely family I have that I never see anymore. Dad’s parents had two boys and three girls: Dad, Clark, Toni, Ashley and Chris. Mum’s parents had two girls and a boy: Mum Ally and Malcolm.

Clark sadly died of a tumour at about 60, which must be 13 years ago now. His first wife was killed when they had three young kids, Kerry, Russell and Tracy. Her sister Kathleen came over from Ireland to look after the young family. They fell in love and got married. They had Erin. I haven’t seen Kerry or Erin since I was 13 and Tracy, I haven’t seen for many years. I saw Russell last year and he is now a missionary based in the USA but works in the world’s troubled spots. Tracy lives in Ireland and is a teacher, I don’t know what Erin does and Kerry is a recluse. Kathleen died within about six months of Clark’s death. Clark and Kathleen deserved a rest after a hard-working life. It’s a shame neither got to enjoy their retirement.

Dad’s elder sister Toni married Ron Sylvester. He was a university lecturer and Toni spent most of her life bringing up the kids and looking after their magnificent garden in Greenhithe in Auckland. It was huge and absolutely stunning. They live somewhere between Auckland and Whangarei now. They had one boy and three girls, Todd, Holly, Kate and Jo. Todd is a marine biologist and I saw him at Dad’s funeral in 2009. Kate is now one of New Zealand’s foremost fashion designers and was recently given a Honorary Doctorate, in fashion I guess, from Massey University. I don’t actually know what Holly or Joanna do, which is pretty rubbish. I haven’t seen the girls since they were little more than teenagers. Holly is my age. There are some children among the girls but I don’t know anything about them. Ron told great stories to we kids and Toni was always so serene with all the chaos around us on the rare occasions we went to visit.

Dad’s younger sisters are Ashley & Chris. Ashley passed away a while ago. I don’t know what of, I last saw her when I was 13 as well. Chris, Dad’s youngest sister runs an alpine tramping lodge somewhere in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Guess how old I was when I last saw her? It was the last time the whole family got together.

On Mum’s side, her younger brother is Malcolm. He always made me laugh and people say I sound like him. He was married to the beautiful Marie and they had Anna, my baby cousin as I call her, together. Anna is a lawyer in London now. I first met Anna when she was 18. Malcolm and Marie split and Malcolm is now with Jenny, who I haven’t met. They live in Paihia. Mums little sister is Ally, she is married to Des Crene. They had two girls, Sarah and Amanda. I know them best of all the family really as we saw the most of Ally & Des. Amanda is married to Steve and they have a young son Zach. Amanda is the most photogenic of the entire family. I am pretty sure that there is not a bad picture of her in existence. Sarah is the older sister, she has travelled a lot and spent a big chunk of her life in Australia. She is a beach lover and seems to have a permanent tan. She is very close to Bum. Ally & Des moved about a lot as Des was a bank manager until he retired.  Ally was just always referred to as my favourite aunt. She is the one who reminds me of what I got up to when I was younger.

I do think of my family a lot and will sadly probably never see any of them again. It’s just how things have turned out. I wish them well and if anyone ever decided to get in touch I will always be happy to hear from them.  I hope they read this. That’s it.

All this also exists in book form, which you can buy or download as an ebook

My Book ‘Funny how things turn out’

18 thoughts on “Life story part 4. England and extraordinary adventures

  1. Dennis Dickinson

    Sandy – it’s not where you start in life that matters – it’s where you finish !

    You have had an exciting life – so far – what’s next ?

    Good luck

    Dennis

  2. sandysview

    Whats next? Well imminent is another trip to France, a holiday in NZ hopefully in 2012. Long term? If I have learned one thing it is that plans are only a guide. Life is to a degree what you make it but ultimately life is what happens to you.

  3. Ashley

    Im halfway through and loving it…have had too many red wines tonight tho so have to hit the hay and wiil finish reading tomorrow 🙂 Ash x

  4. Jo Moynihan

    Hi Sandy and Jenny – it has certainly been a very long time since we last saw one another. It was probably at that cute little cottage at Te Mata many many years ago. I have really enjoyed reading about your “life” since then. And I just love your house – envious! Best wishes for a lovely Christmas and New Year. Jo (ex-Abbot) Moynihan. xx

  5. Debra Harris

    Where are you now?…got a bit lost reading this story :-)…such beautiful metaphorical prose …envious of your ability to make a life story flow…I have always wanted to be able to write my life story …but the mind moves quicker than the pen :-)…Would you consider marrying me ?…hahahaha

  6. graym

    Wow! I ended up here after reading your letter to Emirates Team New Zealand. Spent most of my afternoon at work reading it and loved all of it. Perhaps due to a slight age difference but I couldn’t work out who was the prettiest girl in the world (or did I just miss it). Especially liked the part about where you can get to and what you can do from an hour of your house (your old house in Surrey), as we have also moved to the UK from NZ we are always asked why to you live there! On you reasons are the same as ours. My goal is to have visited a new country for every year of my age (I’m 42) and I’m a few years ahead at 45 countries. Perhaps towards the end I’ll have enough to fill a few pages too.

  7. Fiona Henderson

    Another awesome read Sandy, totally loved it. You are a man of many talents and most certainly get around without any hassles. I am astonished at what you did in your first 2 years in England, you even meet and married Tanya in that time. I don’t like to read much, but I am impelled to read your stories every now and again, I get glued to it until I end up at the bottom of the page. So sorry that you and Jen ended up separated, because from what I was reading you were both very much happy together. Your stories of England sound wonderful and you depict as just that by stating the distances between here and there. I have heard many English people say it is a very gloomy, cold and dismal place to live and that the sun sets at around 3pm in the afternoon.

    1. sandysview

      Cheers Fiona, I was quite busy getting about the place. It does get dark quickly in the winter, but the summer is often pretty awesome. The cold is a different cold to here, miserable, grey and gloomy. Not crisp and fresh. 🙂

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