Before I came to the UK the one thing I wanted Mum to teach me to make was her gingerbread loaf. It is the stuff of dreams, not just because of the sweet ginger flavour but also because it lasts for up to a week without going weird AND it can be frozen. This gingerbread loaf is a total fixture in my mind when I think of my childhood (although Mum isn’t convinced she made it that often), those doorstop thick slabs covered in butter are the answer to almost any problem.

But even though I marched the streets of London with recipe in hand I have never successfully made it. Once a year Mum gets an enraged Skype from me about how I have failed yet again at the fail safe recipe. To be honest the numerous gingerbread loaf disasters were part me and part the UK. I always thought I knew better than the trusty recipe, changing the proportions or on one shocking occasion trying to substitute the milk/vinegar combo for buttermilk (learn from me kids, don’t do it). The UK does have a part to play in this ongoing saga however because the golden syrup over here sucks ass. It is weak watery rubbish that has as much flavour as licking the side of a London telephone box after an autumn shower.

Enter SANZA stage left. Antipodean expats in the UK will all know of SANZA, the website that has all of those treats from home that solve homesickness time and time again (INCLUDING ORIGINAL FLAVOUR BBQ SHAPES!!!!!!!!!!). SANZA offered to send me a box of goodies and to say I leapt at the opportunity was a slight understatement. They might have been slightly surprised at the first thing in my basket, because it wasn’t the Shrewsbury biscuits the Twisties or the Whittakers…it was Chelsea Golden Syrup – time for me to finally conquer the gingerbread loaf.

175 g butter                         
2 tsp baking soda
¾ C sugar                             
2 eggs
1 C golden syrup                  
1 C milk
1 T ground ginger                 
1 T vinegar
2½ C flour                                   
½ tsp cinnamon

  1. Add the vinegar to the milk & let stand to sour.
  2. Cream butter & sugar, add the syrup and beat well. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  3. Sift the flour, baking soda and spices into the mixing bowl.
  4. Gradually beat in the milk & vinegar.
  5. Pour the mixture into 2 lined loaf tins or 1 x 20cm square tin.
  6. Bake at 170°C – loaf tins for approx 50 mins, large tin for approx 1 hr 20 mins.

I was primed and ready. In preparation I put on Dave Dobbyn and ate an entire packet of BBQ Shapes, it was time for me and gingerbread loaf to become friends. This time, I had the right ingredients and I was going to follow the recipe to the letter. No exam had ever been so stressful, no relationship as high risk; but step by (totally easy why the hell had I failed before) step I went through the gingerbread loaf recipe sent over from Mum. And do you know what? I only went and bloody well did it.

My gingerbread loaf was perfect. I feasted off it for the next week and froze two mini-versions to have at a later celebration. Turns out, with SANZA to the rescue and if I actually follow the recipe, all is right in the world.

Oh and since I was on a roll I did something that I had never attempted before, I made lolly cake. I was worried that after 29 years without making it, the NZ Embassy was going to revoke my Kiwi card. Lets just say that it was a tasty few days in the Runawaykiwi house.

People keep asking me when I am going to move home. I don’t know if it is my advancing years (apparently at 28 I should have kids and an alcohol habit already…I have one of those things), that I have been in London past the 5 year limit or that recent terrorist attacks have made everyone work hard to justify London life – but it has made me really think about why I am still so in love with London.

I don’t know if it is even love any more. I have written time and time again about how much this city gives me life, I’ve written sonnets to its energy and beauty. But now? Now something has changed in my feelings towards London Town, it’s all becoming a little less exciting and a little more stretched out and comfortable around the edges.

I’ve always said that London is a hard city to live in, it steals your energy and your money. Unless you put effort in it is an isolating place to be and don’t even get me started on the practical side of things like rent and windowless bathrooms. Today though, today I think my perspective of easy and hard has changed. I am so time poor these days that I want to be able to experience life and friendship in small intense bursts because that is all I can manage. And my dear London is perfect for that.

Last weekend I had two hours free before hopping on yet another plane. I got the tube to Old Street, had breakfast at Ozone (massive benefit of dining alone is you never have to queue for a table), then wandered through the world of street art that is Shoreditch before heading to Heathrow once again.

In those two hours I got more stimulation, relaxation and felt more like ‘me’ than I used to in an entire weekend when I first arrived. I used to be so concerned about what everyone else thought of my life, that I was doing everything ‘right’ (shout out to my fellow perfectionists), that I got overwhelmed by the city. Now that I have to focus so much more on getting the most out of small bits of life that I have finally played into London’s sweet spot.

Forget trying to do everything. Forget long days traipsing between markets, attractions and halfway across the city to meet a friend you don’t actually give a shit about. London now lets me experience a world of amazing opportunities, just a little at a time. I spent so long caught up in what I was missing out on that I exhausted myself in the attempt. Now I am getting pure childish enjoyment in taking London one bite at a time.

If I was in New Zealand I would wait for months anticipating (hoping) a new brunch place opening up. In London with hundreds to navigate (download my app if you want help!) it was more a ticking off the list exercise rather than relishing the moment.

I don’t doubt that my relationship is going to change time and time again with London, but for right now I have no intention of moving on. This city is still full of likeminded friends, opportunities beyond what I could get in New Zealand, and pretty damn good coffee. And now that I am not killing myself to see it all, I can finally get round to enjoying it.

I don’t think I have ever told this story on my blog, the story of the first time I lived in London. I was 18, loved a good headband and was ready(?) to go to the other side of the world for a semester abroad. Questionable fashion choices aside it was a life changing experience driven purely by sisterly one-upmanship (I was a horrible little sister!). The exchange lead to me vowing I would never again live in London because it was such a terrible and boring place – clearly I shouldn’t vow things quite so often.

I have to back track quite far for the start of this journey, back to high school. My sister is three years older than me and when she was in university she investigated doing an exchange (to America I think?) but decided not to go in the end. It was a completely rational call but to my jealous 16 year old brain saw this as a cop-out, and I vowed that when I was in University I would go further than my sister and actually go on an exchange. Little sisters are just the best. Fast forward to my first year of a double degree and I had backed myself into a corner, I had no option but to start filling out the forms to apply for my exchange.

There were so many thinks I was particular about (I think I was wanting one to fall through so I didn’t have to go). I wanted to go to the university closest to London (ironically it was in Kingston-upon-Thames which is where my parents lived during their OE in the 70’s), I only wanted to go for six months and I categorically did not want to stay with a host family. I was so afraid of ending up having to stay in the spare room of some real life British people that I applied for university halls before I had even submitted my exchange application (I ended up being the only exchange student to get a place in halls thanks to my eagerness).

I almost backed out so many times. I realise that I should have just been grateful at this amazing opportunity, which I was analytically but emotionally I was a wreck. Moving to the other side of the world terrified me, I am such a control freak homebody that London was the opposite of what felt right to me. But, but… I had vowed that I would not be my sister, I would go ahead with the exchange. So I did. It was my first flight by myself, first time living away from home, first time managing money by myself, first time making new friends since primary school. It was fucking scary.

When I arrived in Kingston after a 30 hour journey I discovered that the Middle Mills halls where I would be living was more like flats rather than dorms, my one was 8 bedrooms with a large shared kitchen and two bathrooms. I looked to the reception guy to make me feel at home or give me any words of encouragement at all, but he was a tired uni student who probably had an essay due. He showed me to my room, gestured over to the other side of the car-park “that’s where the washing machines are”, warned me about the fine for setting the fire alarm off and then left me to it.

My room looked like a cell. It was freezing outside. I had gone from my nice house and parents who brought me gin on demand to sharing with 6 strange boys and one girl. The bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper in it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I needed a shower as first priority but I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the light or make the water hot, a cold shower in the dark felt appropriate given how I was feeling about the move in that moment.

After my shower I was doing my best to unpack through the jetlag when I heard a knock on my heavy duty, automatically closing,  fire proof bedroom door. It was the only other girl in the flat, Jenny, who just so happened to have the room across from mine. I kid you not it was like my guardian angel was there to greet me.

I think she was just happy that another girl had moved in (let me tell you, living with 6 guys in their late teens is…interesting), but for me it was a ray of hope that everything was going to be ok. She had put aside half of the dinner she made just in case I arrived hungry that night, gave me a spare roll of toilet paper and offered to show me where the supermarket was the next day. I still didn’t know if I had made the right decision moving to London, but at least I had made my first friend.

This post has been slightly longer than intended, so I am going to leave off here and create a part two featuring my first adventure to the pub, bring stalked by foxes and lectures.

By now I hope you have seen the Life in the UK test I did for you based on the actual study guide (if you haven’t you can take it here). Today however, today I bring you something special. Something a little more ‘me’. I bring you the official Runawaykiwi Life in the UK test, the one that we should actually do to test peoples knowledge of the UK.

Watch the video below and then the answers can be found if you scroll down further. DON’T CHEAT, because cheating is for not-British people. Just like the real test you have to get 75% right to stay in the country, let me know how you do by commenting or tweeting me.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. They mean “Hello”…this is not an actual question, they really don’t care how you are.
  2. Underwear
  3. The French
  4. The English
  5. No one, the Welsh just want to be loved
  6. Every house puts the kettle on
  7. EVERYONE
  8. Horse
  9. Never, you must ask this at all times
  10. 2013 = Bear and the Hare, 2014 = Monty the Penguin, 2015 = Man in the moon, 2016 = Buster the Boxer
  11. You can’t
  12. No top sheet, they go straight from the fitted sheet to the duvet
  13. Cake for tax reasons
  14. Whenever the sun comes out
  15. Rage silently at them and hope someone else tells them to be quiet
  16. On the pavement outside
  17. Grey, always grey
  18. We are now the knights who say ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing
  19. I hope we never see each other again, in fact I am leaving the country just to avoid ever running into you.
  20. David Attenborough
  21. The weather
  22. You end up at a kabab shop
  23. The Queen
  24. Very good