When I was growing up in the Auckland suburb of Howick in the 1970s, I was reliably told that I was living in the most English of all places outside of the United Kingdom.
And despite having never travelled to England, I believed it.
After all, our little suburb was called the Village and like English villages throughout the old country it had a pub, a post office, and a church. It had a grocer and a butcher and a fish n chip shop – though the fish n chip shop was actually run by a Chinese family and offered Wontons in a sticky orange sauce.
We lived in a country that still had the Queen’s head on our money, we sang our allegiance to Queen Liz on formal occasions and we even had Coro on our TV – along with Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, and The Magic Roundabout. In fact our TV was so English I remember asking Mum about ‘the Common’ the Wombles wombled on.
As an Australian she gave me a vague reply.
Many of our neighbours were English, some had even travelled from England in the 1970′s as £10 Poms, settling on the other side of the world and assuming they would never travel back home to England ever again.
Because of all of this Englishness around me, I assumed that I lived in a very English part of the world, and I assumed that when I eventually got to England I would fit right in. That wasn’t really the case. I did find the whole experience raised up more differences than than I’d expected. And now I’ve returned home, living not too far from the old stomping ground of Howick, it’s been interesting comparing life here, with life there.
Is NZ still as English as I had once thought?
Last night I sat down with dinner on my lap and turned on the TV. I watched a couple of home grown comedies and then settled in to watch Graeme Norton - exactly as I would have done on a Saturday night in England. An ad came on for Smith and Smith Glass, it sounded like a UK ad with a Kiwi accent dubbed over. I flicked through an online newspaper, past ads for global brands – Specsavers, Vodafone, HSBC – just like in England but warmer. Much warmer.
On Thursday night I can settled down with Miranda (Hart) and on any given night of the week I can even pop over to see how Doc Martin’s getting on in Cornwall, review the architectural brilliance (or not) of Grand Designs or catch up with Jamie and his 15 minute culinary delights.
But I’m not just surrounded by British accents on tele, down at the Marina I often hear a northern lilt or a home counties’ lazy vowel or glottal stop. Cars on the Auckland streets are increasingly smaller and more compact, just like in England, and even Howick has returned to the olde village feel – with a Saturday Farmers’ Market, cafes and antique shops it’s like a sunny version of Brighton – after a couple of decades lost in an identity crisis. But the real kicker was in the supermarket the other day.
I was happily rediscovering old Kiwi faves and marvelling at some of the new wonders – there’s a Voodoo Rocky Road bar that is delish for example - when I remembered my Englishman telling me that NZ just doesn’t know how to make great chocolate, not like the English!
“It’s too warm, like Australia,” he opined.
“It’s true, you really have no idea it’s all too sweet…”
I let him warble on, and had forgotten the conversation until I was in the supermarket dribbling over the Voodoo. Alongside it, on the shelf was that ultimate sign that the English have been here and have truly settled the place.
My Englishman take note! – It was a packet of Green and Blacks’ chocolate!