Moving to a new location inevitably causes us to miss things from home. Here are a few things I still miss from the UK, even after 6 years of living full-time in Fiji.
In UK cities and around the world the standard lunchtime fare often comes from the local sandwich shop, deli or coffee shop. And so it was with me in my days as a young enthusiastic whippersnapper not wanting to leave the desk for too long. A quick stroll around the streets of London totally oblivious to the sights the tourists come and pay fortunes to see, and into a small nondescript doorway to peruse the menu, passing time in the queue so as not to engage in eye-contact with a potential nutter. The menu redundant, order already written in the head. Turkey, ham, sweetcorn, mayonnaise, salad, salt and ground pepper all stuffed into a granary bap. Or maybe chicken, bacon, mayonnaise, salad, salt and black pepper. Or, on Friday’s, two fried-egg and bacon toasted sandwiches with HP Sauce and plenty of napkins to wipe wonderfully greasy fingers and clean up the keyboard.
In Suva there are a few places that sell sandwiches; on Taveuni you’ll have to visit a resort and pay resort prices – there is no such thing as a sandwich shop. At Nadi Airport you’ll pay resort prices for bread slightly thicker than kitchen towel filled along the front edge with a teaspoon of grated carrot and half a leaf of 3-day old lettuce, the remainder of the inside filled with margarine spread to a thickness of 2 microns or less. For active muscular chaps such as myself, this does not keep the motor running. If any enterprising young sandwich maker out there is reading this – open a decent outlet on Taveuni and I’ll quite happily pay you $15 a day for anything that reminds me of my old London sandwich shop favourites.
The British love pubs and they are another staple of the city lunchtime routine, particularly for those who find themselves two weeks into their career with some of their whippersnappery whipped out of them. Whilst any day is a good day for a pub lunchtime, on Fridays workers are expected to go to the boozer, and bosses are expected to chase them back some time around 4pm. The boss’s boss is then expected to give the boss a roasting every couple of months as a reminder to keep his staff in line. Two weeks of sandwich lunches later, the cycle starts again. The boss regularly arrives at the pub after a lunchtime keep-fit session at the gym and opens a tab for the less healthy staff who haven’t been to the gym and are already half cut. The boss’s boss inevitably turns up and joins in the fun and everyone agrees it’s a bad idea to go back to the office – best to wait until at least til 7pm, pick up the suitcase and log off. The Managing Director then gives the boss’s boss a roasting every few months as a reminder to keep his staff in line.
And so it goes.
On mainland Fiji there are bars and restaurants, and even a few drinking holes in the traditional pub style. On Taveuni we have a range of great resorts with their own bars and restaurants, but nothing that remotely resembles a great English pub. A pub crawl, or resort crawl as would be the case here, requires transport between each venue, whereas a 100 yard stroll will get you to the next port of call in most towns and cities in the UK. I have a vacant acre of land here, so a potential solution is to build a pub on each corner. The land is only 5 minutes walk away too. A Kickstarter fundraising campaign could be on the cards….
Finding good chocolate, much like Feargal Shearkey seeking a good heart, is hard to find here. I’m not totally sure, but I think chocolate manufacturers use different ingredients for tropical and hot climates to raise the melting point of the product, and this affects the taste. However, the shopkeeper neutralizes this strategy by storing the stuff in a shed for 6 weeks whilst the temperature rises to the equivalent of Mount Vesuvius’ magma chamber. Opening a chocolate bar after it has been subjected to such abuse is nigh on impossible – inedible wrapping and edible chocolate now deformed and morphed into a single entity. And, disappointingly, the strange taste has managed to survived.
Back in Blighty an ideal evening in for me consisted of sitting in front of TV with a stack of triple-pack deep-fill sandwiches and a couple of 500g bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. No chance of that here – no sandwich shop and no decent chocolate, and the TV is crap most of the time too.
The best places I know in Fiji for some decent books are Prouds in Suva (or Nadi Airport) and the University of South Pacific Book Store. Most other places that claim to be book shops actually sell school text books, exercise books and stationery. The only place to pick up non-school books on Taveuni is a second-hand store in Naqara – or it was until it closed recently. Most of my reading is now done online, or downloaded to read on Kindle – much cheaper since decent books here are also ridiculously expensive.
Back in the UK, when lunchtimes were not occupied at the pub or the sandwich shop I would regularly browse around the book shops – my favourite being Foyles just off Oxford Street, and Waterstones in Leadenhall Market. Commuting every day an hour or so each way gives plenty of opportunity to read and lose oneself in a story, or get clued up on the latest whizz-bang technology or cant-fail business strategies. When a blockbusting bestseller was in the charts it was common to see a whole carriage load of commuters reading the same book – Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code for example, or the JK Rowling’s 73rd installment of Harry Potter: The Curse of Alzheimers. Technical and business related books served a dual purpose – firstly to learn, and secondly, should anyone take a sneaky peek inside the suitcase as it briefly exposed it’s innards, a blinding aura of intelligence would emanate to dazzle and wow the onlooker. It was a big hit with all the barmaids who never dated me.
Eh ? Public Transport ! Are you kidding me ? The British wouldn’t be British if we didn’t complain about the public transport. The commute to and from the office I can live without, with the exception of summery days when the female city workers brightened up the journey and fired up a few imaginations with their seasonally adjusted attire. Public transport is great when you know buses, trains and trams run to a regular schedule and you can hop on and off traveling about the local area or taking a full day trip to mooch about the city.
Buses are fairly predictable here on Taveuni – there will be 0, 1, 2 or 3 a day and the schedules are classified material. Unlike the UK, where the wrong type of rain, wrong type of snow, and wrong type of temperature will grind the transport system to a halt, we have much more reasonable excuses: the wrong types of road, the wrong types of buses and the wrong types of drivers. Excuses aside though, I would love to be able to stand by the road with confidence that a bus will come along in 10 minutes or so. A big red double-decker would be nice.
Clean public toilets to be precise.
In Suva city centre the shopping malls usually have a public toilet, and usually an attendant, and usually they are well kept. Elsewhere, searching for a public toilet, clean or unclean, you’ll have more luck finding the Ark of the Covenant.
On Taveuni the worst toilet I have the somewhat desperate displeasure of infrequently frequenting is that at MH Supermarket in Somosomo: A Toilet Of Almost Certain Death Should You Touch Anything Once Stepping Inside. A sign on the door reads “Please Treat As Your Bedroom”, obviously targeted at ex IRA prisoners who conducted the Dirty Protest at The Maze prison during the 1970’s – and it looks like they have indeed visited and stayed for a couple of months. To push the disgust-o-meter a notch higher, these retch-inducing cubicles of squalor are a few feet from the products stored ready to fill the shelves of the supermarket. In the UK the whole place would be closed down by the Department of Health in the blink of an eye.
The best option when caught short, and the one I regularly employ after three cups of coffee in the morning and returning from the school run, is to drive out of town, pull off the main road and pee in the bush. Last week I surprised two horses and a small piglet, so it’s far more entertaining than MH and the risk of being trampled to death is less than picking up an exotic necrotic infection.
Friends and Family
At the top of any list such as this friends and family will feature very strongly. When we move to a completely new environment, even a tropical paradise, those comfortable and easy conversations at the local bar or over a sandwich lunch seem a long way away. Wherever we are though, even places such as Birmingham are pleasant when surrounded by the people we know and love, grown up and worked with. And they are the first that we miss.
As time moves on we gain new friends and become comfortable with them in the same way as the old ones, and the wonders of modern technology and a 24/7 switched-on world allow us to keep in contact with the social circles of yesteryear. Face-to-face and in-the-flesh though is always better, and that’s why next year I am very much looking forward to my 50th birthday, and the arrival of a sizeable group of old friends and colleagues here on Taveuni to relive some of the old times, have fun in the present, and look forward to the future.
So, the countdown is on, and you never know – someone (other than me) might build a pub before 13th April 2017. What a great present that would be.
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