Every Friday, for the last few months, I have walked a path that hardly ever changed, joining the waves of black-clad commuters ejaculated from the railway station every morning into the narrow pathways of Wellington. It’s quite an experience. Especially as I usually commute to work amongst the impatient, and erratic, cars that bustle their way up the choked motorway of State Highway 1.
I’ve enjoyed taking the train. It seems so relaxed compared to driving. I would take it to work, given a choice. I took the train on Friday’s because, as described in My Word, I have been attending a workshop in Creative Non-fiction at Victoria University. It has been quite a ride. I loved the readings; loved/struggled with the course (as seems my wont with academia and writing).
The bits I have no mixed feelings about are:
- My classmates. Who were of a higher standard than other writing courses I have done (all can write and have something to say.)
- The weekly walk up the hill to Vic.
The second of these points has contained a hidden gem for me. At the start of the year, full of nervousness (about the course and the process), I mapped-out logistics. What time to drop my daughter to care so I could catch the train to get the bus to get to Vic in time for class? What bus to catch three hours later to get to the train so I could get to my daughter in time for the end of school?
But on that first day, with my backpack full of sandwiches, snacks, water, tablet, notebooks and jacket (it was summer back then… but with Wellington you learn to count on treachery) I arrived in town with enough time to check Google, noticing that it only takes 25 minutes to walk up to the campus above the city. Which is an indicator of how little I know Wellington, despite having lived here for nearly 8 years. I guess the old cliché of Welli not being a city so much as a collection of little villages has an air of truth. Of course, I can also give myself a pass as I have been raising a child 20 mins up the line during that time, and your horizons always shrink in that particular boat.
I was so early not only could I walk to Vic, but I could also have a coffee at my favourite café by the station where the friendly barista wears marvellous dresses and cowboy boots, and spreads a deck of cards on the counter so you can attempt to win a free coffee. Unfortunately, the café was gone. Replaced by development and/or reconstruction.
So I walked on, joining the next stream of hustling commuters, looking for a place to replace my favourite spot, rejecting any ‘chain-store’ franchises (why would you?) or ones which had too many people (popular, but the wait may be too long), or too few (a sign of something amiss).
After several blocks Café Breton caught my eye. I looked in the window. Not, too busy, not too empty. Unique and authentic. The staff were so French they struggled to understand my attempts to order pain au chocolate in French. I took a seat in the corner, listening to the staff chat in a language I do not understand while I devoured le décor de Brittany (‘scuse my franglais). I have been fascinated with Brittany since I learned it was one of the five Celtic ‘homelands’, settled 1, 500 years ago by Britons fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invaders. And that their ancient native language is still suppressed by the French state.
Needless-to-say, I came back week after week, abandoning my attempts at French after hearing how authentico (so to speak) other locals could order en francais, instead heading to my corner to re-read my course readings while awaiting my macchiato, croque-monsieur, croissant or pain perdu.
It is a habit that with the end of the course (and the handing in of my 7,000 word portfolio) has been hard to break. But breaking habits is good, so we are told. I learned that halfway through the trimester when, while following my usual path up the hill from Lambton Quay, I decided to take the non-descript pedestrian tunnel under The Terrace. While it made little difference to the time taken, it did put me on the right side of The Terrace for the climb up to Vic.
It wasn’t until my second time taking this now-favoured path/tunnel/route that I noticed the sound of water in the tunnel. At first, I thought it was an over-flowing pipe. But the next time I spotted something peculiar about the sound; there were birds. Birds of the bush which do not live underground.
It’s a beautiful Kedron Parker sound-scape played from speakers along the tunnel. Made prettier, and more poignant, by the lack of a bush-scape mural in the tunnel. The installation is a tribute to Kumutoto Stream which flows below the tunnel, under the city, and down to the harbour.
Today, I miss my walk up the hill. I miss the routine as I miss making new discoveries.
What to do? Well, I am writing a post on my much-neglected blog. I have also applied to do the companion paper in fiction which, if I pass the selection, will start in a couple of weeks.
I’m a bit nervous. I started blogging to find a pathway back to fiction, my neglected first love. But I have discovered that non-fiction and fiction are not separate streams, or even tributaries of the same river. They are a contiguous element, mingled like a river of fresh water in an ocean, or a sea-tide pushing far inland, each on the way to becoming the other.