Friday, February 10, 2012

"Oh, stop worrying, it will be FINE!" and other famous last words of our marriage

Dark days are upon us. The barbarians at the gates. I never thought I would stoop so low. Yes, that's right, I am drinking tea made with local water again. Dear Lord it is disgusting. I hope my tastebuds adapt soon. Perhaps I could purchase some clingfilm and put a protective layer over my tongue. Oh no, hold on, I couldn't, because we're skint, and that is why I'm not buying bottled water right now. Dear Lord, please let my tastebuds adapt soon.

Sorry, I know nothing is as boring as hearing about others' money worries, (except possibly stories of undrinkable tea). Bear with me, I'll try to make it as brief and entertaining as possible. Fact of the matter is (does that sound bank-managerish-enough?), this emigration lark is a jolly expensive business. First you have to buy a car. You can't get credit as a new arrival, so you pay cash. Ouch. Then you look at the rental prices, say "eek" and hastily buy a house: without having sold your home in England due to the credit crunch and consequent housing collapse meaning that you don't really have anything in it except a lot of debt. You need a four-bed house because your boys are not safe to share rooms. Your husband expresses concern that this will all end up being unaffordable, and you say "Oh, don't worry, it will be FINE." It turns out that new house needs a roof with tiles on it, and a couple of new retaining walls to stop it all twisting and falling down in the next gust of wind. Ouch. Oh, and a new French drainage system, to stop all your nice new walls getting washed away in the next storm. By this time you don't say ouch any more, because you are numbed to the pain, the financial equivalent of losing the feeling in your toes. Then there is making sure the house is safe to live in for three crazy boys: window locks, extra door locks, gates, balustrades, extra staintons (no, I didn't know these words either six weeks ago). And the fact that utilities all want a month in advance, plus the first month's payment, plus a connection/set-up/scratching-the-engineer's-arse fee so you end up paying double on everything: and then there is the recognition that the previous owners have left highly toxic rubbish in a corner of a property, none of the local recycling centres will accept it and you have to bribe someone handsomely to wink at you and say they have a mate who will get rid of it safely. YOu pay up and wait for the headlines "Local Children Killed by Highly Toxic Waste Washed Up On Local Beach." You just think you are cleaned out, that there is no more money to be found, and then you find you do have to find a little more, because there was the broken boiler in England that had to be repaired. Oh no, it was condemned and had to be replaced: then the replacement boiler didn't work and good heavens, someone misread the warranty and it wasn't valid so suddenly you are paying for TWO new boilers instead of one. If this was Monopoly, you'd be overturning the board by now and demanding a new game.

When we arrived in New Zealand I made exciting plans about all the travelling fun we would have, exploring far-flung corners of this beautiful country. Now I am excited when we can afford to fill up the car. On our first evening out together without the children, we went and swam at the local beach. Exclaiming at the warm water, my husband said "We paid a lot of money when we lived in the UK to fly to beaches with colder water than this." That is true, and thank goodness it will be easy to have stay-at-home holidays, with glorious beaches at hand, and a pool in the garden that mysteriously didn't pump up the price of the house that we bought. Thank goodness it does feel like living in Paradise, because we ain't gonna be flying - or even driving - anywhere else for a while. I have checked the Bible, but I can't find any clear theological consensus on whether staying in Paradise gets boring after a while. I do hope not. I imagine my teenage kids turning round and saying "Look Muvva all we did was swim in the pool and play board games and walk in beautiful countryside and play on the beach, I mean what kind of rubbish childhood is THAT? And by the way yes we DID notice when you stopped feeding us fruit."

I am thinking rather ruefully of the conversations we had in England, hunched over a typewriter: my economist husband saying prudently "I don't think we can afford to move there, look at the living costs in New Zealand these days" and me saying cheerfully, "Oh, no, it'll be FINE, I am sure." Fine is a very elastic term, fine can mean eating out once a month or it can mean having enough cash to get apples AND bananas this week. We are the latter, mostly: but there are benefits. My middle son's stomach issues have almost completely cleared up, now that I have given up the anxious middle-class English habit of thrusting fruit into him at every meal. Who'da thought it?

And there is truth in the old saying that poverty makes you grateful for what you have. We are not poor, by any means: we are choosing to live this way so that we can have a niche in this beautiful land, which is totally different from enforced poverty: but the excitement with which I purchased at a Moccachino in the hardware store cafe here today was of a wholly different order to the greedy, nonchalent, affluent way I would have bought one, or a couple, whilst in England. I would not appreciate that Moccachino so much if it was as easy to come by. Rather like having kids with Special Needs, when the excitement of a shared toy or a tantrum-free school run is approximately equivalent to that felt by those irritatingly smug righteous few, if they ever get the news that Jesus IS coming back for them after all. I don't like having no money, but I do enjoy the high that comes from finding that you can afford some mugs in the Sally Army shop, or taking kids to the Factory Shop to buy icecream. Frugality, of course, is fun. It's just being skint that's hard. Just like creative parenting is great, it's just HAVING to be creative because nothing standard works with your tricky kids that is hell.

There was a conversation we had about three years ago, when I was pregnant with our third child and had just come back from my first appointment with a surprisingly concerned paediatrician. "You know, I am frightened, what if there IS actually something wrong with No.2 and No.3 turns out to have it as well?" said my husband. "Oh, no, stop worrying, it will be FINE," I said blithely (are you spotting a pattern here yet?) Well, it WAS fine, in the sense that we expect our kids to lead fully independent adult lives. And it was also spectacularly NOT fine, in the sense that our family turned out to have the kind of genetic profile that makes counsellors' faces blanch and paediatricians ask if we would mind being referred for a scientific study in inherited crapness. Whilst studiously avoiding making eye-contact, because obviously all health professionals interacting with our family assume we must both have autism too.

So here I am drinking the most revolting tea I have ever tasted, in a gloriously spacious house where we are all getting some sleep for the first time in three years, swimming in the pool every day and wondering if we have money to pay for groceries next week. Is life currently fine or difficult? Hmm. I dunno. It's a bit like our experience of living with Special Needs, on the one hand it's difficult, on the other it's lovely. Gosh, it's not like me to be so indecisive. I tell you this, it would be much easier to decide if I was drinking a proper cup of English tea. But then I'd have to be in England, freezing. It must be fine, then. Living the dream, that's what we're doing. Hmm, but I would never have suspected that living my dream would involve doing without fruit, or a nice cup of drinkable tea.

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