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A Kiwi’s life in the ‘ugly city’ of London amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Ben Clark never wanted to live in England, yet now he’s in the “ugly city” of London with his passport getting dusty.

The 36-year-old Kiwi has been living away from Aotearoa for the past six years, and was in Istanbul and Doha before arriving in England four years ago.

Clark says London’s an ugly city in a country he never wanted to live in.

“Work circumstances and passion for international news meant it seemed like a place with more opportunities than any other. I also had no visa dramas because my father was born in Britain’s North.”

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He’s been working for an international TV and digital news channel for the past two-and-a-half years, booking and producing on-screen guests.

“It’s a weird niche in a strange business, but I love to craft, chase and play with the conversations that drive the agenda of hectic, spicy news stories.”

Clark also used to travel on a weekly basis – to destinations as diverse as the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Melbourne, and Moldova’s Chisinau.

London’s big advantage for Clark is the work opportunities, as he’s passionate about international news.

Peter Summers/Getty Images

London’s big advantage for Clark is the work opportunities, as he’s passionate about international news.

But the UK was hit hard by Covid. It was mentioned as a cause of death in 170,000 cases, according to data registered up to November 26.

More than 10 million people had tested positive for the virus. Clark was one of them.

“I got the disease the day after getting my second vaccination, and my parents suggested I draw up a will. Their concern wasn’t misplaced when, a week later, I got blood clots on my lungs after my corona symptoms subsided.”

He has since recovered.

“I’m healthy and happy that the UK’s back open. Masks are mandatory again on public transport with Omicron’s arrival.”

“They’ll be boosting close to everyone soon and the borders remain open with tests unless you’re flying in from African nations and a few other places.

“There’s fear Christmas might get cancelled, the NHS again overwhelmed but, for now, it’s the wilfully unvaccinated filling the beds and struggling to breathe In the Covid wards.”

Ben Clark with brother Dan Clark at home on the Barbican Estate, City of London.

Brigid Preston/SUPPLIED

Ben Clark with brother Dan Clark at home on the Barbican Estate, City of London.

Clark says the UK government lagged behind Europe and delayed border closures or any other restrictions.

“The elderly and vulnerable paid the price, dying on an outrageous scale and driving the National Health Service close to collapse.

“Restrictions came but weren’t policed or enforced, leaving people to make the best decisions for themselves.”

Clark said it felt like the world was coming to an end but that changed when vaccines were first deployed, bringing life back to central London and some hope there would be a future.

One of the big non-Covid differences between New Zealand and London life is the anonymity, he said.

“I miss that sense of knowledge, control and belonging I feel in Auckland where I’m from, the sense I know everyone. In London people are too busy to be friendly, too guarded to be open, but there is incredible diversity and talent.”

Clark loves walking the streets hearing dozens of different languages, and the fact few people are truly from London.

“It’s a destination for the world’s smart, ambitious, asylum-seeking, hardworking and, unfortunately, mega-rich.”

Clark loves London’s diversity, but misses the sense of feeling he knows everyone, which he had in Auckland.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

Clark loves London’s diversity, but misses the sense of feeling he knows everyone, which he had in Auckland.

London is the classic base from which Kiwis travel around Europe and even further abroad, but Covid clipped Clark’s wings.

“Shifting work restrictions, government policy, Delta, now Omicron mean it’s been hard the leave the island of Great Britain for two years now.”

Things were different in the 18 months pre-pandemic.

“I was on a plane or train on a weekly basis. Tbilisi, Auckland, Amsterdam, Whanganui, Brussels, Melbourne, Chisinau, Cairo, Whangapoua, Istanbul, San Sebastian, Berlin, Almaty, Alexandria, Nur-Sultan, Sofia and more.

“Despite that, I’m hopeful I’ll be celebrating the end of this year in Istanbul with some wonderful friends.”

Clark is hopeful restrictions will ease, so he can spend a month of London’s winter in the sunshine at Piha on Auckland’s west coast without too much drama early in 2022.

“Fast, easy access to breathtaking natural beauty and my friends and family are the things I’ve been missing most.”

In saying that, Clark isn’t packing his bags anytime soon.

“London’s home now and for the foreseeable future. It’s Aotearoa that’s overseas for me these days.”



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