Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

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A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

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Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

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Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

Observations on London: The Weather

British people love to talk about the weather. This is no secret. Living in London, the locals constantly complain about the cold days, the overcast days, the wet days, and if a hot day comes along, they’ll complain that it’s too hot. Although it is true that London weather isn’t the best in the world, the time I’ve spent here so far I’ve been a little underwhelmed. London weather is quite manageable, if not calm and pleasant the majority of the time. Far from the completely miserable conditions Londoners act like they live in most of the time. Auckland seemed wetter. Dunedin seemed just as cold. Admittedly I’ve only been here four months, and just in time for one of the better summers in recent British history, so I may have just got lucky. It does make me wonder why British people are so much more obsessed with the weather than other nations of a similar climate (New Zealand being one of these).

Another horrible London day in Hampstead Heath

Probably it’s just that English people like a good moan, or so my co-worker has suggested as a reason for the London obsession about discussing the weather. It is the most obvious and consistent topic one can moan about, so I guess the theory makes some sense. But I would be a hypocrite if I claimed it was only the British over here complaining about the weather, because as this blog proves, the immigrants, over-stayers and ex-pats are doing it too. I guess I’m only going to raise more questions than give answers here, but is England weather so bad that it deserves all this attention?

When I first arrived, I was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. Not exactly the image of England I had been expecting based on the images of this country I had seen broadcast on TV back home. Coronation Street always seemed grey and grim, the same with most crime dramas and the news reporting never delved much into British weather. I was warned before I arrived about how bad British weather is, so much so that one of the large reasons for me delaying my UK arrival was due to fear of weather. To my surprise, almost all of the first three months I’ve spent here have been in pleasant conditions. A British heat wave was reported on New Zealand televisions back in 2012, but the way it was reported seemed only a few days exception to the depressing norm. It barely rained the whole of June to September, which is more than can be said for my first summer in Auckland where I was constantly caught in torrential downpours. Forward to the present time in London, and although late October is seeing the climate getting colder, it’s bearable and not even as cold as my home town Dunedin would have been in early Winter.

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The view outside my work window – The Westway

For example, we are nearing the start of November and on this particular day at 4.30, it’s not terribly cold and sky has plenty of colour to it. The grey British sky that I was expecting to see constantly seems to be partly a stereotype. Perhaps I got the wrong end of the stick, and London weather was always calm. Or could it be evidence of climate change, global warming or whatever name you like to use, that things are getting calmer around these parts. I can’t claim to be an expert of the weather of this country though – I’m yet to experience Wales or Scotland, which I’m sure is where all the really turbulent weather is found.

There is much to suggest that I am currently merely inexperienced and the bad weather has not yet hit. I am start to have to wear coats, and the sun is setting much earlier. I must admit that some nights after work, sitting outside having a pint with the work mates, it’s been pretty damn cold. But I’m adjusting. My friends and co-workers say that the worst is yet to come, so I’m bracing myself. Will it turn out that like other things in London, the worst weather will be a little bit over-hyped? (on a side note, other over-hyped things include – Hyde Park, the coolness of Hackney/Shoreditch, the quality of the local bands & the general social scene). Although I’m betting on a harmless winter, I will update you all in another few months time with word of whether things have gotten any worse. It won’t be long I’m sure that I’ll be eating my words.

Basically, if I can say anything constructive on the topic of British weather, it would be: don’t let it put you off coming over here. There’s plenty of other reasons to be turned off moving or visiting England, but the weather I don’t think should be the dominant reason. Unless you’re from California or Hawaii and you’ve never had grey skies and some cold ever in your life. But if you’re from a normal place like Auckland, Toronto or even Melbourne – London is probably on par with whatever weather conditions you’ve already faced. The winters are kind of cold, but not horrifically miserable and the summers are actually quite pleasant. Or at least so my fairly naive experience has led me to believe.

People reluctantly leaving their London houses