We met at the beginning of 1978. I had completed my Shorthand Typing course at Polytech and was being interviewed for an Office Junior position at a firm of town planners, surveyors and engineers. I spotted him mooching around the café bar enjoying a coffee and a joke with the partner in the firm who would be interviewing me. I won’t say it was ‘love at first sight’ but I did feel attracted to him and was very pleased to learn that I had got the job.
He was a town planning draughtsman with long, sandy hair and a cool, hippie-ish look that made me wonder if he might be a bit too alternative for me. I can’t help thinking now that I must have imagined that because, as I later found out, you’d have to go a long way to find someone more conservative. Too shy to make any direct advances, I went into a complete flutter when I ‘accidentally’ found myself next to him at the coffee machine. I used to talk about ‘my draughtsman’ amongst my friends without realising that on one occasion a friend of his was present. With a little bit of welcome intervention from this mutual friend, we finally got together at his leaving do. Our courtship had a few shaky moments, but we finally made it to the altar on December 19, 1981. I was just twenty-one and he was twenty-three.
Our honeymoon was spent in a pop-top camper with my sister, who had come out from England to be my bridesmaid, and a group of friends in Cowshed Bay near Portage. It might not have been one of the sexiest of honeymoons on record, but I wanted to have as much time with my sister as possible. I was young, happy and very naïve.
A few months prior to the wedding we had done the standard Kiwi thing and bought a three-bedroom summerhill stone house on a quarter acre section with a view to renovating it. After we returned from our rather unorthodox honeymoon, my new sister-in-law came to stay with us for a few months. She is one of those women that permanently look like they’ve just stepped out of Vogue magazine and when she was around it didn’t matter how many hours of careful attention I spent on my appearance. I always looked and felt as though I’d just flown, non-stop to London and back without my toilet bag. Blonde, petite and drop dead gorgeous, her social skills were flawless and on top of this she and her husband were extremely wealthy. Pretty much everything that I wasn’t, and I was far too immature to be anything but in awe of her.
To make matters worse, my new husband constantly suggested that I should try to be more like her, not only in looks but that I needed to pay close attention to the way she acted socially. He felt too embarrassed to ask people round to our home because of me. I wasn’t serious enough and couldn’t converse on the same level with the set that he wanted to be mixing with. I was holding him back and needed to learn how to interact with these people, ask the right questions and not make the mistake of confusing social events with the idea that they were supposed to be fun.
I was devastated. Nothing had prepared me for this. I had always tried to be supportive and say and do the right things in his eyes and my self-esteem plummeted to an all-time low. I couldn’t begin to even envisage that I was ever going to transform into this ideal socialite wife and furthermore, I didn’t want to. But I also didn’t want to hold him back from having the sort of life he wanted. But was I the sort of wife he wanted? He told me that he loved me often enough, but he would equally tell me how selfish I was. I certainly loved him but I felt so confused and I remember thinking how much easier it would be if I didn’t.
His parents were also a source of angst for me although they themselves weren’t really the problem. I don’t think his mother approved of me from the offset and I could tell from the way she drew breath when I’d said or done something that met with her disapproval. His father was a lovely man, very patient and considerate and the love and respect he received from everyone who met him was well deserved. They lived on the West Coast and used to come and stay with us occasionally. In those early days of our marriage, the prospect of an imminent visit would put me into a state of utter despair because I knew I would get the inevitable run down beforehand on how to behave, what to say and what to wear.
It sounds ridiculous, and probably a sign of that mid-1980’s era, but I resonated with the plight of Princess Diana. The new wife in need of relevant training and instruction in order to observe an obligatory code of behaviour and thus avoid potentially embarrassing breaches of family etiquette. I gave serious thought to buying a flag to hoist in the garden so that the townsfolk would know when “The Family” were in residence. Of course, the harder I tried the more mistakes I made. It was as though they were on a level so high above me that I couldn’t even hope to come close. I used to yearn for the respect and consideration he gave to his family but all I ended up with was criticism and instructions on how to improve myself which I naively made an earnest attempt to follow.
I often wondered why he wanted me around at all since I obviously fell far short of what he was really looking for in a wife. And why I stayed was an even greater mystery. I just got so hooked on the promise that it was all going to get better at some point in the future. He would always say that I was his number one priority, but even back then I wasn’t quite that naïve. Social status and business ventures, no matter how financially unsuccessful, earned a much higher place on the podium than I ever did.
Eventually it became like an out of control game of Monopoly. He wasn’t satisfied unless he had more than one game on the go. Setting up a new game was always exciting and challenging but as soon as there was any hint of him not being the winner, he would lose interest and move onto the next game without necessarily taking the time to pack up the old one. We clearly had different priorities and I made several attempts to break away. I even had a one-night stand after getting so aggrieved and disappointed over the whole shitty mess that I seemed so unable to control.
It was a time of dark days and long conversations for both of us. By this time, we had a young son and began to talk about putting the whole personal and business fiasco behind us and start a new life somewhere else. I seized on the opportunity. I had always wanted to go back to the UK, which was after all, the place of my birth, so we sold up our house and possessions and off I went to scope out the possibilities for starting a new future in England.