Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dressing Up Christmas Past, Boxing On

I like Christmas. Always have. But, like a lot of people, I battle with mixed emotions amongst the happiness and good cheer. It’s no time to dwell, but there has to be a reason I steadfastly resisted the pressure at work this week to dress up in antlers, or a Santa suit. It just made me feel anxious.

IMG_0582

Anyone who knows me knows I love to dress up. IMG_3712I vividly remember waking up to find a cowboy suit on my bed on Christmas morning when I was five. It caused such jealously in the kids across the street they threw my pistol in the river. Later, Mum made me a Zorro cape which I swished about in with a sword made out of sticks. When I was older I walked about the neighbourhood in a home-made spy costume. Moustache. Dark glasses. Cocoa powder on my face. I was pretty conspicuous.

 

 

When I started playing in bands in my teens I would always buy a loud op-shop shirt to achieve the deliberately dressed-down/dress-up effect of the alt. rock scene. All part of getting up on stage.

IMG_0564

When I turned 19 friends threw me a surprise party, giving me a pair of ‘ironic’ leopard skin tights. It’s the last thing I would have worn. But I did.

I loved the dress-up parties my friends threw. Glam-rock (too easy), mask, famous art work (Diane Arbus, kid with grenade), dead famous people (Spot the dog) etc etc. I recognised how it disarmed everyone’s persona. It was liberating. Revealing. Fun.

Templar

The ‘dress-up’ aspect was one of the things that attracted me to acting in my 20s, especially when fast costume changes were required and you needed a ‘dresser’ to get it done in time .

052

IMG_0543

Dance parties were another excuse to be someone else. I got in the newspaper with one effort (not the one above). Thankfully the Pride dance party where I performed on stage naked except for a few crucial lengths of glad wrap happened before everyone started photographing everything.

Party

So why didn’t I embrace the chance to get out of my dull work uniform on Christmas Eve? There’s more to it than the options being better suited to my 90% female workplace (antlers make girls look cute/fun/sexy. Guys look silly/neutered. As for bows, sequinned hats and Santa suits… well).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s because it’s 10 years since the whole family I was with dressed up for Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was an ominous day. My partner at the time had chosen it to announce to her family she was pregnant. Her staunch Catholic parents had been arrested outside abortion clinics more than once. But it was fun. And the costumes were great. It was decided I should be a pregnant Mary. In a burka. To mix it up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While the stifling burka gave me a headache the day was a great weight off. Which made the irony of Boxing Day so ridiculous. We were flown by helicopter to hospital across a dark, quiet city while my soon-to-be ex miscarried.

 

IMG_1304

Some things can get so far in the past you forget to remember them. I can’t forget that day. What it meant. But I never dwell. My life has moved on to much better things. I have a beautiful daughter who is spending Christmas with her mother. I am well loved. But it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that I remembered the son lost 10 years ago, wondering once more what I could have done differently to nurture his life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is more. Another miscarriage 12 Christmases ago. My mother, gone, four Christmases ago. My daughter so far away on Christmas morning. Sisters now living in a foreign land. But today is for celebration no matter how you dress it up (or not).

IMG_4387

4 Days in Christchurch (part 6)

Accidental Monday

I woke early on Monday morning having kipped solidly through the night on a solidly comfy squab, shared a family breakfast of vegemite on toast then walked through the dunes with my friend and his son to his school in South Brighton. Threading through the regenerating native trees and scrub my feet and jandals got covered in sticky wet sand. Even better was watching his nine-year-old scramble up steps to a treehouse hidden in a macrocarpa. A pure hit of childhood.

02327

After a bit of relaxing in the shed with music and chat I headed for my rent-a-dent. Turned the ignition. Nothing. Checked the lights. Had I accidentally left them on? Er… Hadn’t turned them on. Had I? Tried again. Dead as. I called the AA. Friendly Trevor spotted the problem straight off. Not a flat battery. A connector worked loose by the corrugated, eternally pot-holed roads of a post-‘quake city. “Welcome to Christchurch. You got an authentic experience there, mate.”

IMG_0473

Bit shagged, Sumner 2012

 

 

 

He advised a 30 minute drive, just in case. I headed around the estuary to Sumner. With Trevor’s advice in mind I couldn’t stop and wander about the imposing wall of containers retaining the cliff face, or the sad pile of rocks that used to be Shag rock.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unshagged 1968

 

One of the reasons I got the car was to head to south Christchurch. I wanted to walk the streets of Somerfield/Spreydon where I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Kids were sitting outside eating their lunch at my old primary school. There were new buildings but the classrooms where I spent my initial years hadn’t changed at all. At least from the outside. Concrete and brick with tall white wooden windows. I felt somewhat strange sitting outside staring at them.

4809a6fbc566a309ffdfabf159909b41

The ‘Big field’

I drove down Stanbury Ave remembering moment after moment on the seemingly endless childhood journey to my home at the end of the street. I stopped outside the red brick house my parents built in the 1950s. The surrounding streets and park were named to mark the centennial of the founding of Christchurch in 1850.

4._Baron_Lyttelton

Lord Lyttelton. Visited Chch once. Went home & killed himself

Pioneer Stadium, Centennial Park. Stanbury Ave sits between Lyttelton and Barrington streets (both acknowledge the grumpy depressive peer, Lord Lyttelton, who chaired the Canterbury Association that put together the first four ships of ‘pilgrims’ who founded the settlement). I did a bit of research about this during the sesquicentennial in 2000. The motives. The aims. What actually happened over the ensuing 150 years. I set out to explore the utopian tensions in a novel set in an alternative Christchurch. It was humorous. Iconoclastic. But then nature offered up its own icon-smashing alternative.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Centennial 1st 4 ships float 1950 (photo by Dad, the year he came to Chch)

That 3-bedroom house in Stanbury Ave contains all my founding memories. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, the start of adulthood. My sisters. My parents. Grandparents. Cousins, aunties, uncles, friends. Bootsy, Tiger, Casomi, Norma Jean, Angus, Kiri, Cyril, Sid, Otto, Alf. Too many to categorize or name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

But as I sat in the car with the engine running (in case it wouldn’t start), it wasn’t the old nest that drew my eye, it was the houses across the street, the ones I looked out to day after day, year after year, imagining what my future held.

IMG_3891

I left home when I was 19. South Christchurch was too far away from where my life was. University in Ilam. Friends in St Albans and squats in the CBD. Band practices and gigs, theatre rehearsals and plays in the city. I lived in five different places before I headed to Auckland eight years later. I drove past the most historic one in Redcliffs that afternoon. Mother Hubbard’s was built in the 1860s.

Ma hubbards

Ma Hubbard’s, Redcliffs

Along with Shand’s Emporium it’s one of the oldest surviving buildings in Christchurch. It was already at its second location (on Armagh Street) when I lived there in 1989. A bit of dive with huge character. It got its name from the 2nd hand shop that used to occupy it. I still have bits of furniture the shop left when they moved on. A desk. An iron chair. One night a girlfriend saw an old lady standing in my bedroom. That moment made it into my first published story, a grab bag of ghost ‘encounters’ sold as short fiction. I guess it’s actually creative non-fiction.

 

IMG_0411

Ma Hubbard’s kitchen

After we shifted out it was threatened with demolition. There was a story in the paper outlining its history. A sub-editor made prominent note of the fossilised pieces of white bread I had impulsively pinned to the cupboard doors the night I had a few drinks pre-loading before an Art School party. It was nice to see my artistic statement (whatever it was) recognised.

 

 

 

 

IMG_9823

Hereford Street

Back in town, I was happy to see my old flat in Hereford Street still occupied. I lived there in 1993 when doing drama at University. The landlord was a scion of one of the great squatter families that grabbed the high country for themselves in the 19th century. The Canterbury settlement was an attempt to halt such rapacious greed. My Uncle Barrie made friends with a kid of the same name when in hospital as a child. Got invited to the estate. My grandmother had too much working class pride to let him go. I had the prime bedroom in our upstairs flat. Facing the sun, with my own deck. I could lie in my hammock learning lines, keeping an eye on the hubbub at the Arts’s Centre and Dux de Lux across the road. I felt like I was living in the centre of the world. I was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arts’ Centre 1980s

After dropping off the car I headed back to C1 for a final meal where I ate my first ever risotto cake. Wow. It was a revelation. Walnut, mushroom and sundried tomato. The crispy edges! So unbelievably delicious I can still taste it. My next risotto is destined for cake-hood. The sweet to accompany my macchiato was a challenge. The display case was full of IMG_9908enticing variations. Chocolate eggs (filled with flowing marshmallow!) Lollie-cake on a stick (with allsorts!) Espresso mousse served in Agee jars (with screw-top lids!) White chocolate lamingtons (with a syringe of jam to self-inject)! I wanted them all. Yes, I have sweet tooth. It’s genetic. I had no choice. I chose the lamington. Not because I like white chocolate (I don’t), but because lamingtons were my favourite Nana Flo’ treat when I was a nipper. Also, I couldn’t resist the irony of injecting blood-red jam into a sweet treat on an unplanned day off from phlebotomy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Content, ready for home, I caught the bus to the airport. I sat at the back looking for photos to pick off for to the blog. Was I writing travel or memoir? Both? Whichever, I was entertaining my mind at the end of a wonderful, and unsettling, trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And then the most unnerving thing of all happened. An awkward confrontation that made me feel threatened, and a bit sick. Whether it was due to the day, or something from the past, I will never know. The people of Christchurch have been through an unimaginable amount of stress. I don’t mean to be coy but the encounter is so rich it is best explored in fiction.

When I booked my long weekend in Christchurch, I had planned to have three days, Fri to Sunday, returning for work in Wellington on Monday. Somehow I messed up my bookings leaving the cheapest resolution having four days. While I saw a fair bit in that time, caught up with friends, had interesting encounters, there are so many old friends, whanau and faces from the past I did not get to see.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I shall return. Again. And again. And again.

Christchurch is my hometown. Since the ‘quakes I have ached to live there once more. But my roots are set across this land. I am pulled towards a lifetime of memories, and possible futures.

The homes of an internal migrant are many. Their unresolved tensions continue to jostle me about these shaky isles.

 

IMG_9891

Cathedral Square

 

 

4 Days in Christchurch (part 5)

A Run, Sunday Grey

Sunday morning emerged cool, grey. Quiet. The ceaseless sounds of re-build were taking a rest. Up early, as I always am after a drink or two, I headed out for a run. When I was here a year ago I ran around Hagley Park. This time I was at the southern boundary of the Four Aves (Moorhouse, Bealy, Fitzgerald, Deans) that form a square box around the CBD, so I decided to head south along Colombo Street, to Sydenham. It was eerily silent, a misty rain falling. As I ran over the overbridge that seemed so high when I lived in this flat city I looked to the gap where the railway station used to be. Its absence was disconcerting. It’s no exaggeration to say my stomach lurched.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At first, Sydenham seemed like a gem. The old artisanal village on the southside of Christchurch was covered in wonderful street art. But as I passed empty shop after empty shop I realised that the Colombo, the box mall further down Colombo Street, has sucked all the life out of the area. IMG_9857

IMG_9860

Even the relocated Honey Pot café, one of my old favs from the CBD, had gone bust. I ran towards Beckenham, swimming in memories from my childhood and youth (fairs at the school my mother attended as a child in the 1930s; the band practice room I shot a video for a ‘90s grunge band; the pet shop where I got Alf and Sid, my pet mice; the Hot Bread Shop I had my first job, earning $$ for my music gear and cameras; the snooker hall where I played on full-size tables with comical ineptitude; the church I watched my girlfriend dance covered in oil with $$ stuck to her by parishioners, and so on and so on). All gone.

IMG_9853

IMG_9868

By the time I reached Sydenham Park I felt so good I wanted to run all the way to the hills but as soon as that thought hit the calf of the leg where I had my Achilles’ operation two years ago suddenly constricted in pain and I was forced to start walking: 10 minutes into a gentle run. Grrr. Two years to being 100%? Seems it’s going to be more than that. I stretched and tried not to limp all the way back into the CBD.

IMG_9870

IMG_9874

After showering (and stretching, and stretching some more), I checked out of my hotel, took my bag to the lockers at the bus station and returned to wandering the CBD, taking photos and writing down my thoughts. Which can get you enquiring looks when you’re travelling by yourself. People can regard you with suspicion, or that’s the way it sometimes seems from the way they look at lone males. Maybe the locals are sick of disaster tourists taking snaps of the corpse. Fair enough. More than once I would stop and point my camera at some piece of rebuild or tumbled pile only to find other wandering tourists suddenly stop and photograph the same thing, as if by obligation. I began to feel I should be leaving a tip for the locals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not fancying the overwhelmingly fried food at the pop-up mall I headed across the Square to the other anchor of normality, New Regent Street. Like last night, it was full of people hanging out and walking by. I overheard some locals complain about the fabulous piece of giant art at the end of the street “How many millions has that cost us?” stopping myself from saying it looks even better when lit up at night. I cruised the overflowing cafes trying to decide where I would have my lunch/breakfast, saw two wizards having coffee (that felt reassuring), then stumped for the only café with no one in it: often a bad sign.

IMG_9788

How many millions?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Selfie with the Wizard of Chch (& apprentice)

‘Shop Eight’ looked pretty. Stylish, recycled, handcrafted furniture. The menu: sparse. Just half a dozen items for lunch. Handpicked, biodynamic. Served cold. Hmm. I went in. The waitress looked tired, spoke too quietly, saying both my choices (the chicken, and asparagus & egg) were off the menu. Undeterred, I chose the wild pork and rabbit terrine. I sat on the street watching the trams slide by, eerily within reach, listening to the jazz guitarist across the way noodle out gorgeous tunes, and the old ladies at the overflowing muffin shop next door remark “Look, you could imagine you’re in a different country!” while wondering what a terrine was.

IMG_9887

When the waitress brought me my lunch she forcefully pointed to a corner of the plate and said “that’s the chutney!” My $18 open sandwich was fantastic. Tasty, filling, a joy to eat.

 

Sun Comes Out, Head Inside

In the afternoon I did something I have never done in NZ: I rented a holiday car. I have rented heaps for work or when overseas, but there has always been a car available when I had family or friends to visit in Christchurch. I could have caught a bus to visit my friends in New Brighton, but I had an urge to tiki around bits I hadn’t seen in a while. And at $58 for a 24hr cheapie it was a perfect way to experience the pot-holed, dug up, resurfaced, re-dug up and resurfaced (and repeat) again and again, ever-changing roads of Christchurch.

 

IMG_9894

Heading East

I could write heaps about New Brighton, the sea-side suburb on the east of Christchurch. The ‘70s heyday as one of only two place in NZ where you could shop on a Saturday. The excitement and bustle, the treat of going there. The big long beach at the edge of the Pacific. Getting smashed by the surf. Nothing between the horizon and Chile. The whale park. The pier(s). The Shoreline Cabaret where a crooning Val Lamond (who I had only seen on the telly) sang to my father on his 50th. The decline and neglect (post and pre-quake).

 

0001 B&W 85

Dad’s 50th Shoreline Cabaret 1975

I saw out the day in a garden shed in the company of two good, old friends listening to music, drinking snake-bites mixed from a chilly bin. We have known each other since school, shared a lifetime of experiences. Become parents. Had many holidays at Jonathan’s family bach perched on rocks on a rugged West Coast beach. Made a lot of music and art amongst us. It was reading Blair’s music blog that inspired me to start my blog. He writes a music memoir and posts his art at blairparkes.wordpress.com We were in bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Jonathan made the giant kaleidoscope that stands at the top of New Regent Street (and many other pieces around the city). He organises Greening the Rubble, volunteers installing public spaces on rubble that won’t be rebuilt for some time (they have a Facebook page if you’re interested). We played in a disco covers band in the ‘80s that never made it out of the practice room, even though we had a great name, ‘The Hot’.

 

AFD

Nightshift studio, Beckenham 1985

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Kaleidoscope, New Regent Street

We talked and talked. Laughed and laughed. There’s nothing like old friends. Time collapses. The past becomes present and the world seems less harsh. I wish we lived closer.

4 Days in Christchurch (part 4)

Saturday in the City

Christchurch is a flat city. Always has been. You can walk or bike around with a lot less effort than every other NZ city where you’re invariably marching up a hill or significant lump.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I spent Saturday afternoon walking the CBD. I could have cycled. There are bikes you can use for free or a fee via an app. IMG_9831I love riding bikes and they’re a great new addition since I was last here, but it’s not something that appealed. That’s the thing with solo travel. Some activities work better by yourself (setting the agenda, following your nose), while others simply don’t appeal (the Eiffel Tower, roller coasters etc).

With few tall buildings standing there is a serious lack of shade. You can see forever with whole blocks down but it gets hot fast. In Victoria Square a lot of people were lazing on the grass. IMG_9794I had an Ice-cream Charlie, choosing my fav, a mid-size sundae. I have been having them since I was a child. The unique soft ice goes so well with the un-whipped cream, choc chips and raspberry syrup. IMG_9793The young woman in the van said it was a good day to sell ice cream, quickly adding that every day is a good for ice cream, but, actually, she had only worked there for two days.

 

I ate my sundae by the Avon, staring into the gutted shell of the Town Hall, trying to remember all the shows I had seen there. Glen Campbell (twice), Transvision Vamp, Elvis Costello, Devo, Ultravox, The The, From Scratch, Sam Hunt, Peter Ustinov, Pamela Stephenson, The Wombles, Thunderbirds Are Go!, Icehouse, Blam Blam Blam, Coconut Rough, The Exponents. There must be many others hidden in my memory, alongside the ones I wish I had seen. The Clash, The Sweet, The Fall.

IMG_9792

 

I found more shade at the Canterbury Museum. First time post-‘quake. I grew up amongst the exhibitions and collections. The animals stuffed and skeletal, the insect drawers, the weapons, the colonial street. So many years of familiar. It was like nothing had changed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I made a bee-line for the da Vinci exhibition; his drawings and sketches made 3-dimensional. Interesting but somehow a bit weird. Treasures that never really existed.

the-auricle

The evening was the reason I made the trip; a memorial night of music for a friend who died a couple of months back. I couldn’t make the funeral. Wrote about it in my By George post. I polished off half a bottle of Pinot Gris in the hotel room resting up from all the walking, sun and dust before heading to the Auricle (a wine bar and sonic arts gallery) at the top of New Regent Street. DSC0013It was a gorgeous evening. Summery. People glammed-up to see Swan Lake at the restored Theatre Royal promenaded to and from the show as I drank wine from a stemless glass, talking to the old friends I knew, and others I didn’t. 20 years since I left Chch. 25 years since I did student radio with George, seemingly bumping into him at every gig and party. There was live music upstairs and some via Skype, but I spent most of the evening on the street drinking in the air of a city finding its feet wondering what had changed. Me, my city, my friends.

IMG_9834

Around midnight I headed off. There were so many people around. On Manchester Street a car load of young guys cruised past and one shouted, “Where’s the pussy at bro’?” I stared for a second, wondering if they were trying to provoke something, then slowly pointed at them and smiled. They cracked up saying, “he knows, he knows!”

IMG_9849

At the bottom of High Street where the trams stop before rolling back the way they came I spotted Mr Burger, a wee van parked outside the first night spot to re-open in the city, the Nucleus. It was the best burger and chips I have had in years. I sat watching the taxis and groups of people heading towards the thump of the night club, happy there is now somewhere to go after midnight, content in the feeling that I had no desire to join them.

IMG_9844

 

IMG_9826