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Relationships

Allyson Gofton opens up about her marriage, having no regrets and why she left Auckland

''There are times in life you just know to go, 'Actually, shut up Allyson, just go with it.'''

By Emma Clifton
When Allyson Gofton is feeling charitable, she might refer to her new family home just out of Cambridge as "a blank slate".
But she also might refer to it as "the vanilla mousse", "the crème brûlée" or – to borrow a phrase from her 16-year-old son – "the drug baron's mansion". And all of these aspects are true (minus the drugs of course!).
The new house, located on a sunny patch of rural land just outside the main town, is both very cream and very sprawling. It is very nice, and the land is beautiful, and Allyson feels lucky to be living in such a lovely spot. Would we say that the house is her style, though? No, we probably wouldn't.
"I love old, I love character, I love wood. I love everything that has a bit of history to it," Allyson says.
"So my husband found this home, which I've called 'the plastic palace', and he said, 'I like it – we're buying this.'
"There are times in life you just know to go, 'Actually, shut up Allyson, just go with it.' And so it was that we came to making the move."
Allyson and her family are adjusting to the next chapter if their lives in Cambridge.
The seeds had been sown for the big move late last year, when Allyson and Warwick, her husband of 25 years, where driving back up to Auckland after dropping Jean-Luc off at his boarding school in Cambridge.
For the past two years, Jean-Luc had been recovering from a bad concussion from a sporting accident that had seen him pulled out of school and needing to relearn basic skills such as how to write.
It was a challenging time for the family, and had highlighted the things we all have to relearn when life takes a dark turn: the importance of family, the importance of finding joy when we can. So Allyson used the opportunity of the car ride to start a conversation.
"My husband had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting in the car with me for two hours – he couldn't get away from me, so I had two full hours where I could earbash him," Allyson recalls.
"And the conversation went: 'I am tired of you being a grumpy, middle-aged male. How many Christmases do you think God's given you? Are you going to remain a grumpy old man for the next 15 years you are probably guaranteed (not that anything is guaranteed)?'"
Her point, she says, was this: "Life is too short to be just doing the same thing over and over again. And it's always a brave move to do something different."
Two weeks later, Warwick agreed.
Then he found The Plastic Palace and suddenly the family of four were on the move within mere weeks of The Great Earbashing, with Olive-Rose (11) enrolling at her brother's school in Cambridge and Allyson taking on the job of packing up the house in Auckland, the first home they moved into after they were married.
"I packed over 400 boxes: four containers worth of stuff," she says. "I didn't really have time to get upset."
But she remembers telling the kids, as they left the house for the final time: "Don't look back. Don't ever look back."
This is a rule Allyson has lived by for a long time. "Looking back just breeds no positivity for a future," she says.
"It doesn't mean you don't understand what you might have done wrong in the past but I don't think there's anything to be gained by being regretful of the past. I'm sure we've all made mistakes, but you can't turn the clock back."
A sudden move to Cambridge is not the first time Allyson has upped sticks and left – it's something she was capable of even when she was in her 20s.
At 24, after an engagement fell through, she decided to become a flight attendant and moved to Wellington.
"I did it for about a week until I realised I was not going to sort out magazines for the rest of my life and quit."
She rang up her old boss, famed foodie Robyn Martin, begged for her job as food writer back and continued on.
"I never looked back," she says. "I had parents that only looked forward. They said to me, 'Follow your dreams.'"
Allyson, Olive-Rose and Jean-Luc in a market in France 2013.
Packing up and moving when you're 24 is one thing, it's considerably more difficult once you have a husband and children.
And yet, back in 2013, the whole family moved to France – a new house, a new country, a new language. And then they all moved back again.
"I've had a lot of friends say that they couldn't do what we're doing," Allyson says.
"The concept of moving and finding a new job, replacing the income you're used to earning – all of these things can seem mountainous to try and conquer. But inevitably, most of us can; it's the decision that seems daunting. But life is short – and we just got to the end of that chapter. That's what I say to people – my life is a book, and I've done all these chapters. What a great read!"
In 2013, Allyson and her family moved to the small village of Caixon in France, where they lived for 18 months, learning the language and enjoying the lifestyle.
A constant character throughout these chapters has, of course, been Warwick. This year they will celebrate their 25th anniversary.
They first met just as Allyson was writing her first cookbook – The Great New Zealand Baking Book – and was in the middle of a bad divorce, and she needed a flatmate to pay the lawyer's bills.
Warwick applied for the flat but she didn't give it to him. Instead, Allyson asked him out on a date.
They fell into a groove quickly – Warwick would bring over wine, Allyson would cook, and Warwick would type up the recipes for her.
"It's how he got his nickname 'Muffin', as it was the first chapter he typed for me," she remembers fondly.
But she is also very honest about the fact that, with that many years together, marriage is as much about work as it is about love.
Asked what she's learned about what her marriage requires, she laughs to herself.
"Look," she says.
"I learned a lot from my mother. My father got an Order of Australia medal for his services to charity and we'd gone to Government House in Tasmania to see him receive his medal. My mother was on a walker, as she'd not long had a stroke, and I was pregnant with Jean-Luc. At the ceremony, Dad was up on the stage and my mother turned to me, looked me straight in the eye, and said, 'And you'll never know how many times I almost left that man.' Then she put her head to the front and she never spoke another word about it.
"There's a lot to be learned from zipping," Allyson says, miming zipping her mouth shut.
"Pick your battles – you have to pick them with your kids, you have to pick them with your partner. I hate the expression 'it's a journey'… but it's true. It's not about tomorrow, it's about growing old together."
Allyson and her husband Warwick have been together for 25 years.
This level of honesty about the mutual effort required to stay married is far, far more relatable than the idea that every day is rainbows and sunshine.
Allyson says she and Warwick have made it work with a shared belief in family, and great support and respect for each other's careers.
"I said to Jean-Luc, 'Being in love is just one of the most magical feelings. But love isn't always being in love. Love comes with responsibilities, it comes with tolerance, it comes with understanding. It comes with knowing that the bloody corner is just a bit curvy at the moment but there will be a straight soon… and remember to laugh. That's really important.'"
With the family currently in a period of transition, Allyson has taken a slight step back to help everybody settle in.
New school, new home, new routine. It's come at a good time, as her latest book *The Baker's Companion* has just hit the shelves.
It's the third incarnation of her very famous baking book, the first of which came out in the 1990s, and is "a brain dump" of all the knowledge Allyson has acquired over her 35 years of cooking. What does she hope her food is to people?
"Love," she says immediately.
"A bit like my mother – I give you love by feeding you. My food to other people is a gift from me to them – it's my knowledge, and I'm grateful I can pass all of that knowledge on."
Allyson with her children, Olive-Rose and Jean-Luc, on their new property outside Cambridge.
Being in the kitchen cooking for her family, as opposed to working on one of her many other projects, is one of the sweet spots of Allyson's life in Cambridge.
"It's one of my greatest joys that I get to cook for my family most days of the week. I realise for a lot of people that sounds like the most boring or stressful thing in the world – and I understand that if you don't like cooking, you don't have to do it. You might enjoy bike riding. Well, if my hips had to get on a bike, I think I'd flatten the tyres. But I can cook and I can nurture and I can help with homework."
It's a role she's very happy with, for now.
"There will come a time in the not-so-distant future where I suspect I'll go, 'Okay, that's done. I need a new project.' I just need to settle the family in for now, because I am a great believer that a mother is not just the heart and soul of the family… the mother has the ability to ease troubles in the home, and they are the roles that we never see.
I'm aware it's a very privileged role in today's environment. I'm also an older mother, so there are things that you might do if you were a 37-year-old mother with an 11-year-old daughter that I would never be able to do."
Having taken a step back to settle her family into their new life, Allyson is loving being back in the kitchen cooking for her family.
At 57 and 60 respectively, Allyson and Warwick are older than a lot of their fellow parents and sometimes this is very hard, and tiring, and it takes a conscious effort to look at the silver linings of this – but there are many, Allyson believes.
"We can still be young," she says.
"Where our friends are looking to retire, we're looking to go rowing with an 11-year-old and go horse riding and I say to Warwick, 'Let's just grasp that. Let's not let age come into it, let's see the opportunities we can have as a family.'"
Jean-Luc is a boarder but can now come home on weekends. His parents have strict rules about the amount of computer time available to both him and Olive-Rose.
"Man, are we disliked by our son at times," Allyson says, with a small grin.
"We are simply the worst parents in the world. When my children yell at me and say, 'I hate you! This isn't fair,' I say, 'That's good – that means I'm doing my job properly.'"
For the record, Jean-Luc and Olive-Rose are total delights – and considerably more grown up than the last time they were seen in The Australian Women's Weekly.
They both love life in Cambridge – Olive-Rose is working on her parents to get a horse – and seem at home in the cream palace.
When Jean-Luc interrupts at various times to discuss plans with friends, computer games and snacks (the teenage boy trifecta), Allyson chastises him for disturbing our interview, but can't wipe the grin off her face as he quips back at her.
Being an older mother – she was pregnant at 42 and 46 – means that when the children did come along, there were no doubts for Allyson and Warwick about how lucky they were.
"I couldn't believe how much I loved motherhood," Allyson says.
"I was a successful career person, I had big dreams – and then suddenly you're given this little bundle, and your whole world just changes. He was the light of my day; it's very hard as a parent of a first-born to explain the intense joy that comes from seeing that little face every morning."
Jean-Luc was conceived through IVF on the first round.
But Olive-Rose was a trickier path. It was a generous offer from a close friend to be an egg donor for Allyson that led to her arrival in 2007.
"A girlfriend left a message on our phone: 'I'm going to help you. Give me a ring.'"
Olive-Rose was the second to last embryo, and that friend is now referred to by the family as her "fairy godmother".
"I wrote a beautiful poem, which hangs near the portraits of them when they were babies," she says. "It was just a complete gift of love – a miracle."
Allyson is not what you would call a nostalgic person – "I'm too practical to be sentimental" – but she holds the things she loves very tightly in her arms.
It might be why she's able to uproot her life every few years or so – when family is the constant, all the other variables don't matter.
Jean-Luc's concussion, Warwick's passion for moving to rural France and then rural New Zealand, the battle to conceive their two beloved children… these are the things that add contrast to the overall mix.
Yes, there are plans to "rustic-ify" the new house, to rip up the cream floors – "I just do not do cream" – and replace them with French tiles, to change the kitchen, to paint the exterior, to plant a field of sunflowers in front of the house and maybe truffle oaks too… There are always many projects in the world of Allyson Gofton, but the day-to-day life, the heart and the home, that's the part that matters.

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