No Place Like Home: Couple's 'survivor's guilt' from fleeing UK for NZ during pandemic – Stuff

From an upstairs flat in Coventry to a sprawling rural Wairarapa lifestyle idyll, a couple of UK expats know where they’d rather be.
As medical professionals, Alison Payne and Richard Le Mare experienced the “coalface” of the Covid-19 pandemic on both sides of the world and made the wrenching decision to leave family to ride it out in New Zealand.
This was their second stint here, after living in Mana from 1994 to 2007 when Payne worked as a GP in Kāpiti and Le Mere was a radiographer in Wellington.
Le Mere said the UK was a “shambles” when they left for good for the second time in December 2020.
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“Working in the Covid environment in the UK I found really, really difficult. As a radiographer, you’re as frontline as you can get.
“I was scared, and I was anxious all day every day.”
Now he only wears PPE to feed the alpacas on their 8 hectare off-the-grid property 19 kilometres south of Martinborough.
“Because they spit and it’s horrible,” he said.
“I’m a city boy, and we’ve ended up not having a clue what to do, but we’re trying our best and having some fun.”
Le Mere said New Zealand seemed to have become complacent in tackling Covid after a great initial response.
He believed the country had generally coped well, but was disappointed by border policies’ “complete lack of compassion”.
“New Zealand got off to such a flying start… but it just seems to have slowed down on the race. It’s almost as if having been at the front of the race for a long time, we’re lagging behind.”
He said he missed his group of friends back in England, but had made plenty of new ones here.
“As a newbie to the valley, I’ve been really pleased that I’ve been able to come down and help out with local things and meet people through it.”
Payne agreed that Britain was “a complete mess” at the height of the pandemic with a lack of strategy and planning.
“People were just dropping like flies”.
They still had family back in the UK, and it was with her elderly mother’s encouragement that they decided to came back to New Zealand 18 months ago.
They returned nine months into the pandemic and being New Zealand citizens they were allowed back in.
Now happily ensconced on their rural Wairarapa property, they appreciated the contrast with what they left behind.
“I can’t believe how fortunate we are to be here after living in a flat in Coventry for 13 years. I look at this and think how have we ever managed to end up in this?
“We’ve got a foot in both camps. Got two passports, two homes, but I know where I’d rather be.”
Payne said she felt conflicted about returning and escaping the mayhem on the other side of the world.
“I feel so fortunate to be here, but I feel a bit like I’ve just opted out. The world’s in a mess and I’m in my little bunker.”
Her father passed away a few years ago but her mother remains in Coventry. Payne felt a bit guilty about not being there in her final years, but they kept in constant contact.
She works part-time as a GP in Martinborough.
“I don’t have to work. I’ve got my NHS pension now. I work because they need a doctor here and because I enjoy the job.”
The couple met 27 years ago “through the back pages of Private Eye”.
“One of the first things I said to Rich was that there are two things you need to know about me; ‘one, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in England, and the other is, I don’t want children’.”
Now they’ve got a variety of livestock who are such a part of the family that the lambs often wander into the house.
When the borders loosened up recently, Payne took a trip back to support her mother through a medical procedure.
She said it was surreal being back, but she seemed to slot into the community quite easily despite many of her friends contracting Covid while she was there.
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