It’s strange being back. I’ve now been in New Zealand for a week, and I’m getting used to the culture shock of moving from one country to another on the other side of the world. Of course I’ve done it plenty of times before, but it’s always a little unsettling.
The first thing I noticed, as I followed the well-worn trail down from the family home to Onehunga Mall to buy a new SIM card for my phone, was the punishing winter glare. It was a warm, clear-skied day, with traces of rain evaporating from the mismatched concrete on the footpaths, and the light of the sun was piercing and disorienting to my eyes, which have grown accustomed to the gentle, pollution-filtered rays in England. And the precipitation - it comes every day in punishing, increasingly subtropical waves. On Tuesday I was out driving in a lightning storm, with sky-splitting dazzling cracks and relentless, teeming rain bouncing off the roads. At journey’s end I lurked in the parked car as long as possible, hoping it would abate. When it didn’t I pulled my hood up to offer feeble protection from the elements and I ran, skittering between the largest puddles as they merged into one, and re-entering the dry with soggy trouser-legs and a dripping coat.
Some things remain constant. New Zealand TV is still relentlessly lousy. TV1 and TV2 are a complete write-off and have been for years, but even TV3 seems to have joined them with a slew of reality programmes and identikit American shows about grisly murders. And TVNZ7, which is right up my alley in terms of featuring intelligent programmes, is being killed off next year as soon as its existing funding runs out. Is it any wonder that so many of my (clever, high-earning, ideal audience demographic) friends have almost entirely given up watching TV in favour of internet news and podcasts?
Some things have changed. The combination of the rise in GST and general inflation means that prices now seem prohibitively expensive here. I was in downtown Auckland awaiting my first ride on the new train line to Onehunga and I needed to find a cheap lunch option. Strolling up to Burger King, I discovered that a regular burger combo now costs $9.90. Ten bucks for fast food!
But the main thought that crossed my mind as I took my usual walking route to Tin Tacks Corner and south past the down-at-heel shops of Onehunga Mall, is that for every house on the back streets of this part of Onehunga I can still visualise the dogs. Dogs who for many years punctuated my after-school paper route delivering the long-defunct Auckland Star with sudden bursts of peril. Some would charge at me from behind their garden fence as I reached across to shunt a newspaper in the letterbox. Some would yap at me from behind closed windows or at straining at the end of leashes and chains. And others, the most troublesome, were allowed to roam free by their idiot owners, and would chase my bicycle, barking madly and nipping at my ankles.
It was a long time ago, and they’re all dead now, those dogs. But I still keep a wary eye on the houses they lived in as I walk south, down the hill to Onehunga.