Olly has his own hard labour company. He set it up a few years ago so because of this he has a lot of burly Auzzie, Kiwi and South African men that work for him; putting up grandstands and marquees for gardening exhibitions, media events and the Lord Mayor’s Show.
During dinner in a pizzeria in Clapham North last Saturday, Olly leant over and tapped me on the shoulder as I was tucking into a 14 incher.
“I was talking to one of my guys the other day - a kiwi - and I told him where you’re from. He says it’s a bit of a dump.”
The Scoobies are fascinated about New Zealand, and who I was there. When I bring up something indigenous they cock their heads. “I forget you’re from over there,” they say, looking intently at me as if I might suddenly sprout wings or do the haka.
This may say a lot for my assimilation into British Culture, but my response to Olly shows that perhaps not too much has changed. I squirmed. When I think back on my hometown in New Zealand - let’s call it Tapanapi - it still hits a raw nerve. (That’s a fictional name by the way, not to hide my identity but to protect the town. New Zealanders' are notoriously insecure about their beautiful nation so I want to avoid a crisis by alluding to the place as being anything other than an ideal “Middle Earth”).
I moved to Tapanapi with my Mother and sister when I was four. We travelled all the way from London and with no prior knowledge of New Zealand it seemed as good a place as any to settle. Resting in a valley and by a river, it boasted a population of nearly 40,000 and a reputation as Wife-Swapping Central back in the 80’s. It was quintessential New Zealand suburbia; bleach blonde kids playing cricket in the streets, pausing every now and then to avoid a car or to watch a tennis ball break the neighbour's greenhouse; a ten minute drive to black sand beaches; the constant drone of lawn mowers, and the ritual convergence to Kmart, the only shopping complex in town.
As I grew into a closeted young teenager, Tapanapi became a post-pubescent war zone. Young folk find it hard in any small place, but my town had a bit of a reputation, what with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and a violent undercurrent that still makes it scarier than all the other places I’ve lived in, even on a good day. Sure there was racial dissension and raging alcoholism but the thing that really got to me was seeing people give up all hope of ever leaving. Me, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. I guess I’ll go back one day (My Mother and sisters moved to Wellington, NZ’s Capital, over five years ago,) but only to do a black and white documentary with lingering shots of smoking teens despondently sitting outside fast food restaurants, an old man asleep on a park bench, clouds - you know the sort of thing.