Cold House

3rd July 2011

From October, when I first set jandled foot upon this verdant isle, through to the early days of May this year, I felt like I was basking in an endless summer. Though we endured the odd dip in temperature and occasional rainy afternoon (and when it rains in New Zealand, it rains biblically), that whole period was basically one ongoing heatwave. For this wee scrap from England, where the extent of summer is usually a solitary scorching week in the middle of June, it felt like being on permanent vacation in the tropics. I think perhaps more than anything else I have experienced in my adopted country of residence, being able to wear a t-shirt outside for over six straight months has made me realise that I’m a long way from home.

What I didn’t realise at the time, but which is now abundantly clear to me, is that the long warm New Zealand summers are offset by the significantly less attractive conditions it offers up in the winter. Now before you all start rushing to direct your web browsers to wikipedia, I must make it clear that, in terms of actual temperature, the winter here in Auckland is nowhere near as painful as it is back home. We don’t get snowstorms or much in the way of frost and a walk in the park does not necessitate the unedifying purchase of a balaclava and a pair of thermal underpants. However, the UK does have one significant benefit over New Zealand at this time of year, and that is central heating.

It didn’t really occur to me until the temperature starting dropping off a couple of months ago that the interior walls of most Kiwi homes are not adorned with large ungainly radiators like their British counterparts. While this is almost certainly a good thing aesthetically, the unfortunate upshot during the winter months (ie. now) is that the houses over here are absolutely bloody freezing. Indeed, as I sit here typing this out at our kitchen table, my body is wrapped in as many layers as you’d expect to see during a snowball fight on Hampstead Heath, right down to the thick woolly scarf and fingerless gloves. And I’m still shivering like a wet dog emerging from an ill-advised paddle in the North Sea on Christmas Day.

The lack of central heating has nothing to do New Zealand not inventing it yet, or anything like that. It’s simply that, because the climate is generally is so mild here, it’s just not worth the investment for the benefits it would bring for only a couple of months each year. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who are forced to sit in our little homes every night trying to talk through chattering teeth and struggling to keep hold our cutlery with our icicle fingers.

I didn’t notice the problem so much when we were living out in Kumeu, mainly because of the whacking great Rayburn that handily heats up the whole house, but now that we have moved into our own pad in Auckland, the cold is hard to escape from. The high ceilings, single-glazed windows and wooden floors that characterise our new one bedroom apartment in the eastern central suburb of Epsom will, I’m sure, do a great job of keeping the place cool during the summer, but at the moment I think we’d be better insulated in an igloo. Fortunately, we have an open fire to contribute a bit of warmth, and we can huddle round a couple of portable gas heaters in the evenings, but I think it’ll be sometime before we feel truly comfortable here.

The process of flat hunting turned out to be relatively straightforward for us in the end, though it’s still something I’d rather not have to indulge in too often. The main resource for budding buyers and renters in New Zealand is the mighty Trade Me, which is a local auction site built on the successful Ebay model. Properties are handily listed by area and price range by either agents or by landlords direct, so it’s fairly easy to narrow a search down as long as you know your budget and preferred location. Initially, wearied by the months of commuting back and forth from the country, we were keen to move as close to our places of work in Freeman’s Bay as possible. However, we soon realised that floor space would be quite radically compromised if we were to mandate such a prime location and though we viewed some nice enough properties in the Ponsonby and Grey Lynn areas, including a lovely little flat in an old colonial mansion block with a driveway festooned with two large brass elephants, it would have been difficult to perform 360 degree turns in most of them.

Ultimately, we decided that space was more of a prerequisite than proximity to work – and in any case, we weren’t particularly attracted to the idea of doing our weekly shop in the same supermarket where we buy our lunches during office hours. Our search finally led us to Epsom, which sits a similar distance from downtown Auckland as my old Maida Vale flat did from central London, so we at last have a commute that gets us door to door in no more than 25 minutes. Though the area lacks a decent local pub – a common New Zealand failing, I must say - it’s otherwise a fine spot, minutes away from the modern Newmarket shopping district and a only a short walk from the cafes and restaurants of Mount Eden Village. The natural haven that is Cornwall Park is also only a few minutes’ walk from our front door, and the lesser known Mount St John, a breathtakingly steep-sided volcanic hump that offers fantastic views out over the city, is just around the corner.

Summer will surely be perfect here, and the local scenery has already provided us with the same sort of crisp winter day walks we used to enjoy on Hampstead Heath and Regents Park in London.

But until our landlord decides to splash out and install some proper radiators in the flat, I suspect the satisfaction of having our own place is likely to be tempered by the sub-Arctic conditions inside.


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