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Auditioning for friends

When we moved here, one of the things I dreaded was making friends. They’re such an overhead of time and money: the phone calls, the constant demands for reassurance, the endless thoughtful birthday presents (I mean how many birthdays can one person have?), the three hour lunches  . . .

No, wait.

I meant to say: I dreaded the process of MEETING people.

The circle of friends we had in Dubai were in many ways the closest thing we had to family. I miss them every day. Now we have to start all over again.

Making friends gets harder as you get older. You look for deeper qualities than an extensive wardrobe to pilfer borrow from, your boyfriends being best mates, a frothy sense of humour, or whether someone will talk to you. Admittedly, I am still drawn to people who talk to me; but these days I prefer a sense of humour that’s crisp and refreshingly dry. As for our partners being best friends? Well, all that indicates is both of us has dubious taste.

Not only is it harder; the process itself takes longer. Teenage friendships were so easy:-

“Polo mint?”

“Yeah thanks. My boyfriend is SUCH a jerk. You’re my best friend.”

“I know! I feel like I’ve known you forever, instead of, like, six minutes.”


Now, with benefit of hindsight and a dash of maturity, I know it takes years. The potential of a new relationship sparkles, but nothing surpasses the lustre of an enduring friendship.

Of course, the effort is worth it. It’s just . . . well . . . why can’t friends just spring into your life fully formed? How long does it take to learn the in-jokes, for goodness’ sake? If you trust me, I’ll trust you. There. Any freaky character traits you want to share? No, me neither.

Ok, I know, I know, I KNOW. *kicks sofa*

I was flattered by the number of people who assumed Husband and I would have no problem Making Friends, that there would be so many hopeful applicants we would have to hold auditions every Wednesday and beat them off with a stick.

The only thing we’ve been beating off is mosquitoes.

Much of this has to do with where we’ve chosen to live. We will move to South Island within two years, so there is not the same imperative to meet people. Socialising is complicated by a half hour drive to civilisation and Husband working evenings.

My first attempt at procuring a friend was an abject failure. At the Christopher Howard Seminar, I met John and Yvette. Many of the attendants I sincerely hoped I’d never come across again – especially if I were alone and unarmed – but John and Yvette were different.

For a start, John’s ‘cynic shield’ (as one woman described my attitude) rivalled mine. He refused to partake in the hyper high-fiving, so I high-fived Yvette across him and occasionally high-fived the upside of his head when he wasn’t getting the message.

Afterwards, Yvette asked for my phone number and we exchanged contact details.

“I have a FRIEND!” I crowed to Husband. “We’re meeting for lunch next week. She’s LOVELY. Do you have a lovely friend? No? I do. Bet you wish you had a friend. We’re meeting for lunch next week. She’s LOVELY. Do you have a etc.”

For the rest of the week, I seized upon every opportunity – and even made up a few – to remind Husband about MY FRIEND and how great she was and how I was really looking forward to lunch.

The day before lunch, Yvette called to say she couldn’t make it for a reason which, at the time, sounded entirely genuine (washing her cat).

“What’s up?” said Husband as I mooched around the living room moodily dodging advancing dust bunnies.

“My er, friend postponed lunch to next week.”

“Never mind, baby,” said Husband soothingly. “She’s probably just busy.”

During the week, my self-confidence returned and I promoted Yvette from Erfriend back to My Friend. I also stepped up the guerrilla tactics, sneaking up on Husband unawares and shouting: “My friend!” into his ear.

I’m sure you can see exactly where this is going.

Yes. She cancelled again (Christmas shopping).

“What a cow,” said Husband, instead of: “Where’s your buddy now, huh? Ha ha HA! Niamhie No Mates! Niamhie No Mates!”

The compassion is all part of his long-term devious scheme to drive me over the edge.

“Maybe you should advertise for a friend on Trademe,” he suggested.

“What? Like: ‘Friend: low reserve, very loyal, never returns books, no funny stuff?’”

In the end, we didn’t have to. Last time we were in South Island, we learned that Husband’s college mate’s brother lives just down the road from us (that being about 8km).

The first time we met MarkJ, we went around to his place. We wondered whether we had got the right house – the entire place was dark – but rang the doorbell anyway. There was a bang, followed by a mechanical hum; then the garage door groaned up and it was like that scene in ET – you know where the aliens stop by to pick up ET and you wonder what’s going to come out of the spacecraft?

When the garage door opened fully it was still pitch black, and I don’t know about Husband but I was holding my breath. Then the light blared on and there was MarkJ perfectly framed in the doorway.

It was possibly the most dramatic greeting I’ve ever experienced. Subsequent meetings can only suffer in comparison, but each has been full of chat, frequently entertaining, and often freaky. MarkJ is a multi-talented, all-purpose friend: he can conduct simultaneous conversations with Husband about cars while discoursing the nature of solitude with me. We will see much more of him.

Some time ago, our Dubai-based buddy JohnM sent an email to me and Shelley, a friend of Sylvia’s living in Devonport on the North Shore. It said:-

Niamh, meet Shelley.

Shelley, meet Niamh.

‘Do Lunch’

So we did. Husband got bored around the two hour point and went to – ok, I’m not sure where because I didn’t notice him leave – but Shelley and I talked for another hour and a half and could have kept going.

Last weekend, we met her husband Greg who is almost as nice (Shelley’s Irish. It’s an unfair advantage, I know), and daughter Victoria. They are an awesome family.

And finally, can we claim John and Haze as new friends? John is less grumpy having left Dubai, and Haze less dusty, so it’s almost like they’re different people.


Takapuna Beach, early morning

Snot vapour

Shortly after we arrived, Husband and I moved into a house belonging to Father In Law’s friend, who was on holiday with his family for a month. They had two cats that seemed to spend obscene amounts of time licking their arses. Husband erupted in explosions of snot vapour as soon as he walked in the door, which meant the cats were particularly fond of him: one liked to serenade outside the bedroom door at 3am, and they left him dismembered gifts strewn around the living room floor.

Since we were still eating at The Outlaws’ we were effectively living between two houses, which was quite unsettling. After a couple of weeks we moved back in with The Outlaws and 24/7 fridge access, and unpacked our bags.

We were keen to find our own place, so embarked on an intense campaign of house hunting – despite the entire country being shut for Christmas holidays. Father In Law donated a vintage Mazda redolent of wet dog, mould and rotten fabric. The windscreen wipers were rusted in place and the car hosted a colony of industrious pet spiders. The hazard warning lights were possessed and turned on randomly of their own accord. Husband grew proficient at driving with his knees, while shoving the driver’s window back up with both hands. It also had a wide turning circle, as Husband discovered when he did an illegal U-turn and took out someone’s dustbin.

“Think I’ll miss that?” he asked, three milliseconds before booting it across the garden.

Three days into its touring career, the car refused to start. It didn’t look great waving goodbye to prospective landlords as we pushed the car down the road.

Husband took issue with my jump-starting:

“Niamhie, you have to POP! the clutch. Just let it go. POP! Like that.”

“Well, you know, maybe you need to PUSH! harder. PUSH! There you are.”

Husband had barely schooled me in the art of POP!ping when he intimidated me into attempting the reverse jump-start:

“What are you complaining about? It’s easy. Just do the same thing, backwards.”

I was so flustered by the POP!ing in reverse – and Husband’s straining face in the windscreen – that I nearly backed into a parked car.

It hasn’t taken long to become disillusioned with the rental market. The standard of property ranges from almost habitable to ‘hovel’. This was Husband’s pronouncement on a couple of properties (I never knew he was that high maintenance; it came as quite a shock). In a couple of places, the owner’s crap was stored on the premises. One had locked the door onto the back deck (Real Estate Agent: “Don’t worry: the landlord can come around the side of the house, he won’t bother you at all.”) and another had a garden studio/shed filled with rusty lawnmower rotors and teddy bears with one arm and computer monitors with the face kicked in.

There are frequent disagreements between the budget and the wish list, never mind the frequent disagreements about what comprises the wish list. Auckland City has never much appealed to me, so I’m looking for something quiet and private outside the city.

Husband’s wish list is more . . . let’s call it spontaneously organic. He agrees with the private and quiet – but not countryside because there are no shops and it’s too exposed and damp in winter and cows give him the willies. He turned down a property on Huia Road, on the brand new basis that a three-car garage was a minimum requirement. After accompanying Father In Law on a business trip to Sydney, Husband requested a beach-front location with direct access to the pounding surf.

I assumed he was joking when he specified a helicopter pad.

One morning, we went to see a privately owned property in Greenhithe on the North Shore. Although it was uncomfortably close to a main road, it was surrounded by bush and newly renovated. We were almost tempted.

“I won’t lie,” said Husband to the owner, “we’re very interested. But we have more properties to view, so we don’t want to commit just yet, you understand. We’ve got appointments with several Real Estate Agents today – stop POKING me Niamhie – they’ve been closed for the holidays, you know, so we’ve got several lined up. But this is a lovely house and thank you for your time and I’m sure we’ll be in touch.”

“You know earlier, when you were going on about our action-packed property viewing schedule?” I shouted back through the open window as Husband pushed the car down a hill.

“<grunt!> Yes?”

“You know it’s Sunday?”

“It is? Oh.”

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