April 1997 – Living and Working in London – The Adventures of an Expat Kiwi
April 1997 – First Kiwi Contact in London
Now as we all know there is a huge community of New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans in London on their big OE (Overseas Experience – included for the Non-Antipodean reader’s benefit!). Most were on a two-year working holiday visa, which meant that they were supposed to only work one year of the two and spend the other year travelling around the UK and Europe before returning to their preordained life back home.
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I was a bit different, I had an English Grandmother, so I received a 4-year Ancestry Visa, which meant I could stay and work as much as I wanted during that 4 years, and could also renew it afterwards too and eventually gain Residency and Naturalisation…
So I had plans to experience life in the UK as much as possible, to explore, visit new places, meet new people… and see what happened…
I had also been given the phone number of the son of a colleague that my mother worked with. Come to think of it this may be where the myth of the bar work came from…
Not long after I arrived, I dutifully called up the guy, who I had never met and whose name I can no longer remember… He invited me to visit them in Neasden, North West London to have a drink in their local pub.
From memory, Neasden was an uninspiring suburb in Zone 3, somewhere near Wembley stadium with a massive IKEA Store. Until this point I had not left Zone 1, perhaps I had ventured into Zone 2 by mistake. But I was already a central London boy!
I ventured forth from my comfort Zone near Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to the uninviting badlands of NW10. I understand the Neasden has since become somewhat of a desirable neighbourhood to buy a family home and raise kids, but at the time I wasn’t keen to stay any longer than strictly necessary!
Let’s give this guy a name. I think it started with a G, so let’s call him Gary. Seems appropriate. He definitely wasn’t a Malcolm or a Gerald, so Gary it is!
I don’t remember how I got to Gary’s house, but somehow I found it. Maybe he met me at the station, maybe he just gave me the address and I found it myself. In 1997 this was a good way to filter out low-level people, only give them the address and postcode and let them find you with their London A-Z.
If they get lost, just hope they find their way home again. And you’ve got your evening back!
(For the youngsters reading this, there was a time before smartphones when we had to actually use maps that were printed out and put into books… It was a very different world!)
Once at the house Gary gave me the rundown. He told me about the friends that came over from ‘home’, about the new friends he’d met from Australia and South Africa, about the various jobs they had going… No longer working in pubs, instead, working in furniture removal, either sitting in the van and carrying stuff or for a couple more pounds per hour, driving the van and carrying stuff. He offered to get me a seat in the van. I already had an interview lined up so I said I’d try my chances with the bar work.
I think this might have been my first Friday or Saturday in London because I hadn’t started a job yet, but I’d already posted my CV to all of the pubs in the area, and I had already paid for a room in the hostel for another week. Funny how memories come in bits and pieces.
He also gave me the rundown on the housing situation. It was a big house with a nice lounge and kitchen, populated with Kiwis and Aussies. There were 3 or 4 rooms in the house, that cost say £200* per month, but they were all full. There was the couch that cost £100 per month, and once a room became free you could upgrade! But the couch was also full. And it was free to sleep on the floor, but that was also taken… Popular house!
*I’ve totally made up the prices because this was over 20 years ago and my brain just wasn’t designed to retain pieces of information like this, or names for that matter…
The guys also told me stories of House Parties and AC/DC concerts, and taking Ecstasy, at AC/DC concerts… That wasn’t something that I could relate to… AC/DC and Ecstacy seemed like a strange mix to me… Of course, all of these concerts and parties had a strong Kiwi, Auzzie and South African component to the mix… Hmmm… Was this what I came to the UK to find? Wasn’t I here for new people and new adventures?
Of course, in a few short years, my brother and a bunch of friends from Hamilton (New Zealand) were going to descend upon the UK and we’d have a great time together…But that little bit of hypocrisy hadn’t happened yet, so I was free to silently judge them in my mind!
We went to the pub. Gary was wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt and seemed quite comfortable in the April evening, while I was wearing just about everything I owned, including a woollen hat and a woollen coat, and still felt cold! Gary found this amusing! But I had just come from the balmy early autumn in New Zealand, to the frigid UK spring! I’m pretty sure that Gary and his mates were drinking ice cold Fosters.
As it turned out I didn’t contact them again, I didn’t see them again, I didn’t get a job in the van and I didn’t sleep on the floor, the couch or in a room… Instead, I went to Birmingham… But that is another story…
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