After the Second World War the British economy was exhausted and its productive capacity diminished. The shortage of manpower, equipment and fertilisers meant the Great Britain was unable to feed itself and had to resort to rationing until 1954. Great Britain's lack was New Zealand's gain and for the post-war period until 1973 New Zealand was Great Britain's larder shipping enormous quantities of meat and dairy products. New Zealand grew extremely rich on this trade. And complacent. The party finished for New Zealand in 1973 when Great Britain joined the Common Market and its exports to Great Britain were severely restricted. In particular, the Common Market operated a protectionist agricultural policy and so effectively from one day to another New Zealand found its principle market and producer of national income closed to it.
As seems often to be the case, economic theory follows fashions. The fashionable economic theory applicable to New Zealand's plight in the early 1970's was "import substitution". The idea was that instead of responding to the loss of the British market by opening its economy to the world and finding its comparative advantage in world trade, New Zealand should instead close its market to foreign goods on the basis that they would then be substituted by New Zealand-made products. This meant the application of import quotas. As a child I loved English Airfix Models and Matchbox model cars and trucks. Of course, being subject to quotas they were normally unavailable in the shops but when the ship arrived from England carrying that year's quota of Airfix and Matchbox models my father would ensure that he was there, with many other fathers, the minute they went on sale and his evening arrival on these days was a time of great pleasure and excitement.
But New Zealand had never made watches and it never would. So watches were handed down from Grandfather to Grandsons. They were rare, and expensive and of great value. When one was old enough to need a watch, the gift of the watch, apart from being a rite-of-passage, also meant an act of great generosity on the part of the parents.
As I entered adolescence my interest in watches as statements of masculinity was peaked. My Godfather was an Officer in the New Zealand Army based with his family in the New Zealand military base at the time in Singapore. The first time my Godparents returned on leave with their kids was the first time I saw a large chunky Seiko quartz watch with stainless steel link band, stop watch function, and showing the day and date. The watch was passed around and we marvelled at it. None of us had ever seen anything like it and we could hardly believe that something could be so accurate and remain so true to time. It was something from another exotic world and I had to have one!
Sitting here this evening in Italy, in middle age, it is hard to remember the exact sequence of things that happened long in one's past. But I do remember that that very Christmas I got my own Seiko watch. I knew I was going to get it because on a subsequent visit of my Godfather furtive conversations were had and adults disappeared upstairs and later, when home alone, I found the watch put away. I savoured that watch many times when alone, sitting in its luxurious-looking box, and the enjoyment of it on that Christmas morning when presents were opened was all the more for the delicious months of waiting anticipation.