In the late 1700s William Boxall left the village of Trotton in Sussex to work in one of the big houses at Clapham Surrey as a coachman. Apart from venturing back to Sussex to marry a local girl, he and his descendants, by now not only Boxall, Boxell but also Boxill (illiteracy is a wonderful thing), remained in the Clapham area and nearby Wandsworth and Earlsfield, which by now were part of London.
The house in which I was born, 337 Earlsfield Road, had previously been occupied by my great –grandparents with my great-uncle and his family just up the road. I lived there until 1969. I loved the house but the area was getting too built up, Durnsford Ho was having factories built on it, Springfield Ho a housing estate, the marshes between the River Wandle and Wimbledon were getting covered with industrial units and fingers of light were appearing on the wooded West Hill as gentlemen’s estates were replaced by blocks of high rise flats. The final straw was when the paddock for retired horses attached to the alms houses at Summerstown disappeared under an instant slum council estate. Besides, the area, indeed the whole country, was filling with strangers. If I was to live with strangers, then why not do it in a green land? So in 1969 I and my new wife Lyn emigrated to New Zealand.
I suppose the thought in our mind was that we would give it 3 years; if we liked NZ we would settle there, if not, well it would be an extended honeymoon. Within 3 years, we had a son, had become NZ Citizens and my parents had decided to join us.
It is very helpful for immigrants to have some contacts in the country they intend to settle in. In our case we had a long standing family friend, to whom I was more of a surrogate son and an ex-work colleague who had emigrated to NZ with her husband and family in 1967. Originally we had thought about living in Hamilton, which to our English eyes was a very small city. To this end we stayed with the work-mate in a village called Kihi Kihi some 37 km to the south of Hamilton. We had looked at a map and seen the railway tracks so assumed that, until we got a place of our own, we could commute by train each day. Oh the innocence. Public transport in NZ is poor and in the rural areas almost non-existent. There was/is a bus service from the nearby town of Te Awamutu, so you can actually get into Hamilton but, because it does not link up well with any of the internal Hamilton buses, you needed a job along the route of the Te Awamutu bus.
Lyn actually managed to get that handy job. In the late 60s there were far more jobs in NZ than people. Lyn and I went to Hamilton and walked into the equivalent of the Employment Service; they instantly offered her a job just up the road with NZ Housing Corporation. Meantime I got a job with NZ Post Office. I had walked past the lines depot in Te Awamutu and seen a sign that said ‘Linesmen Wanted’. I fancied an outside job so I went in and applied. It seems there was no job and the sign had been there since the place was built just after the Second World War. However, not wanting to lose a likely lad, they took me on as a temporary labourer. In time the work ran out, but as they had a vacancy in the telephone exchange for an operator, I was given a job there. I flourished. The job was easy and the management and administration skills I had learnt in my work whilst in London saw me move up the ranks rapidly ending up within 5 years as a Supervisor at Te Kuiti, a small town 45 km to the south. Lyn, meantime, had given birth to another son and was soon carrying our third (and last) son. Mum and Dad seemed to be settling into their new house built next door to ours.
When we decided to build a house we looked at both Kihi Kihi and Te Awamutu for a vacant section, for in NZ you buy the land and then built a house of the design you choose, unlike most places in England where new houses are built en-block of the same or similar design. At that time, almost all houses were single story bungalows; in fact Lyn’s thought was that they looked more like seaside holiday homes that proper houses. Well Lyn was from St Mary Cray in Kent and had lived near the open countryside and I had always been a country boy at heart, so we bought an acre of land in Kihi Kihi. Because it was less ‘fashionable’ than Te Awamutu it cost no more than a ¼ acre section in a less desirable sub-division in the town.
As time went by I became a Senior Supervisor (I turned down many opportunities for promotion as it would have meant leaving our home, to which we had become increasingly attached) and we had expanded the house. NZ houses were small compared to both the large council house Lyn had been raised in and the spacious Victorian terraced house I had been born and raised in. So, to the end of our 1,000 square foot brick box we added a 1,600 square foot two storey extension. A drama in its self as originally I had wanted to buy a ‘shell’ finished house and stick it on the end of the existing house (saving a wall in the process) with me only having to line the inside and put up dividing walls. First the pre-framers went on strike, then the carpenters from Auckland wouldn’t travel our way and a local couldn’t be found and then even the roofers were not available. So, with help from a guy who worked for me in the exchange and who was a qualified carpenter and a young mate who had just returned from his big ‘OE’ in England, I set to turning what looked like a 20,000 piece jigsaw puzzle into 4 bedrooms and a garage. Around this time Mum got cancer and had to give up her part-time job and the Lord blessed us by putting a full-time job Lyn’s way; they split the wages and Mum looked after the kids and did housework till Lyn got home in the evenings and it all worked out rather well.
Later we extended again. By then I had left my job as Manager of the Putaruru Telephone Exchange for that of Administration Manager at Telecom’s Network Centre. Technology was catching up with us and it was time to move. Back to the extension: Lyn had said that she wanted a bay window in the lounge and one in the kitchen. I interpreted that as us needing an extension to the lounge and a separate dining room. The boys added on a request for a veranda and separate exterior doors and I then decided to convert the garage into another bedroom so that the small one in the original house could become my den. All up another 400 square foot to the house, if you include the lean to for storing wood and an enclosed front porch using re-cycled bricks salvaged from the extension work. One of the big advantages in NZ is that the houses are wood framed (even the brick houses are only ‘brick veneer’). This means that alterations are not a major. There is no way I would have undertaken the building that I have if the house was the traditional English double skin brick.
It was just as well I did the building when I did as in 1994 I was made redundant by Telecom. Well, they did offer me a job, but at 2/3 of the salary package I had been on. They told me to take it as at 47 I would never work again (the job market in NZ by that time having completely collapsed). Well I left on the Friday, had an interview at the University of Waikato for a job administering a new Master’s degree on the Wednesday and started with them the following week. I enjoyed that job and whilst there I put some more strings to my bow by first writing a published novel and then commencing to be a part-time tutor for their Continuing Education Programme teaching my favourite subject; English History (and I still do this). It lasted 5 years before a new Dean arrived and moved the Master’s programme to the School of Management. The problem was it appeared that I should have had a doctorate for the work I had been doing so successfully; such is life. After an unhappy 6 months on a short term contract with a technology firm, I started work as a debt collector for HM Queen. Again I was blessed with walking straight into a job, albeit one that paid a lot less that I was used to, as Lyn had been made redundant too and only managed to get a part-time job as a replacement. And we did need the cash as we were part way through our purchasing of 3 rental properties and any interruption to our cash flow would have been disastrous. My unhappiness during this period was exacerbated by Mum dieing from her third bout of cancer.
The debt collecting job was not taxing and I am used it as a wind-down to retirement Meantime Lyn's health had packed up and she had to take early retirement on health grounds. In 2013 I too retired. Living where we do on the edge of a country village with ‘grounds’ rather than a garden we can spend hours just pottering around in clean fresh air (though being careful not to catch too much of the fierce skin cancer inducing sun). The grounds also ensure that we enjoy plenty of fresh produce from our fruit and nut trees and give us the chance to relax watching the myriads of birds that haunt the large number of trees we have planted.
Are there things I do in NZ that I would not have done in England? I don’t know if one can honestly answer that, for one does not know how one’s life would have developed elsewhere, but my opportunities to indulge myself in various forms of motorcycling (including what must have been the world’s only National Speedway Coach who had never ridden a speedway bike), writing, story telling, re-enactment and period archery have been freely available to me here, as were radio operating, software programming and other past indulgences for, until recently, formal qualifications meant little to Kiwis and thus their renowned ‘can do’ attitude, especially if it involved a proverbial 6 inch nail and a piece of number 8 fencing wire. The less structured society in NZ also meant that social status never held anyone back, though this again is slowly changing as the country becomes more ‘globalised’.
We have been back to England three times now. We would love another trip, but Lyn's health problems means that she finds walking very difficult, so baring a miracle, it won't happen. How do we feel about visiting England? I think if we went back with the attitude that it was still ‘our’ country, we would be heart broken as neither of us are happy with the way things have gone ‘back home’. However, we are now Kiwis and have been such for most of our lives, so if we treat it as another country we love it. The problem is, scratch us, and we are still very English underneath our assumed Kiwi skin and as NZ moves further away from the Motherland in its policies and outlook, the less comfortable we feel. Maybe we are just getting old. Even after all these years are there things we miss? Yes. Lyn still misses walnut whips (except when one of our two younger boys, who work most of the time in the UK, or a friend sends them to her) and has still yet to find an NZ crusty roll that meets her standard. Myself? Pie, eels and mash, tawny cider, regular traditional jazz and quality team based speedway racing (on bikes only!). Overall though, we do not think we made the wrong choice. Our boys have now come back home to NZ and the younger ones married and given us four grandchildren so now we have another generating to amuse ourselves with. regrettably my dad died just months before the first daughter-in-law announced she was pregnant.