Category Archives: Blogs

Doubting Thomas

Last night I did something I never do. I posted a photo of our cat on social media. He was curled up in the way-too-small box he’s been trying to sit in all week. He has attempted resting his chin on the flimsy flaps but his head tips over when he falls asleep. He has twisted and folded trying to tuck in his head, but his tail or a shoulder always popped out.

It’s been very entertaining. What did cats do before boxes? Which came first, the cat or the box? The philosophical enquiry has been endless.

Thomas loves boxes. But each affair has only ever lasted a few days before the claws came out and rough-love was applied, shredding the cardboard; un-boxing the box.


I’ve always loved cats. They seem to love me. Sometimes a bit too much. Cats want to chat with me, jump on my back, or sit on my lap. It’s been a point of repeated jealousy from friends and lovers. I always say it’s because I’m part cat. Or some sort of very cat-like dog. Maybe I was a can of sardines in a past life.

When I posted the picture of Thomas, stubbornly content in his box, my partner said, “You will get lots of likes for that”. I did. In bed I showed her the pictures two friends had posted of their cats who had recently moved on. They were great final portraits.

20180302_085132Cats are funny things. Two weeks ago, on the last full moon, the witchy-poos I live with put all their crystals outside on a bed of salt in order to soak up the moon’s energy. Thomas spent the whole day sleeping below them on a hard wooden bench he had never favoured.


Over the week me and my sisters sat with our dying father, we repeatedly tried to get the facility’s so-called ‘Death Cat’ to come into the room to help Dad find peace. After five nights it finally did; to sit on my lap.

This morning, after my fiancé left for work, she sent a text saying Thomas had not come in for his breakfast. That is unusual. He is always at our bedroom door by 5am, demanding a fussing, or in the kitchen screaming at her feet for food.

It made me worried. He has never wandered. He only went missing when he got hit by a car, using up eight lives. His head was so misshapen he couldn’t eat for a long time, and we thought his handsome good looks were gone and he would never be right.

But Thomas is Thomas, a cat like no other. After escaping, and losing, three ‘cones of shame’ he was once more boss of the house, seeing off every other wandering cat in the neighbourhood so that he could stalk birds, mice, lizards and rats in peace.

As soon as the girls got up this morning I asked Alice, Thomas’s proud ‘wife’, to press the button to open the garage door below us, not saying why. I knew that if he had been trapped downstairs we all would have heard about it but, nevertheless, I still hoped to hear him barrel through the cat-flap straight after the button was pressed.

I said nothing about his absence as the three girls ate their porridge. But as Alice was washing her bowl she said, “There’s Thomas!”

I looked out the window and said, “Where?” masking the panic and relief in my voice. I couldn’t see him. “Where, Alice?”

“The birds. What are they?” She pointed at a sudden cloud of sparrows. I had shown her how the cleverer birds warn the flock of his lurking presence. Sparrows flap up and cheep. Starlings swoop and squawk. Seagulls fuss.

“They’re sparrows, Al. Did you see him, did you actually see Thomas?”

“No. But the birds mean he’s there. In the bushes.”

I turned away and began to dry the dishes.


After the girls headed off to school, happily unaware, I began to feel superstitious. His obsession with the box was a foreshadowing. I had empowered it by sharing a photo of him and his box, accompanying it with too-cute words in his voice. And by showing my fiancé the two final portraits I had seen. Two.

All writers are superstitious. Even atheists. Especially spiritual atheists.

Like my favourite author, John Irving, I often put my greatest fears on the page in order to rob them of actualization. Saying things out loud can defuse the trapped, amplified rattle of the head.

Before I sat to write, I replied to my fiancé’s worried text with a cheery ‘Will do!’ (Smiley face). She called back straight away, asking if it was time to call the vets. “Why, what can they do?” I asked.

“In case any cats have been brought in. He wasn’t on the road as I left…” That had been my worry. That the girls would find him as they walked down the hill.

“He’s only been missing for a few hours. That’s not enough even for a human.” She laughed, reassured.

I started to write.





Into the Night

Last night I went to a pub to see a band. It’s something I haven’t done in a long time. I used to be a regular in my teens and twenties in Christchurch. Thursday, Friday or Saturday. There was always something to see. Local or out of town.

Last night in Wellington was like a Christchurch gig of old. A dancefloor packed with people standing, staring at music, shuffling their feet on the sticky floor. But with no cigarette smoke in the air and a crowd like me; grey, middle-aged. Relaxed. Drinking craft beer. No aggro or thought of conquest.

It was my first time at Meow. It’s a nice venue. Quirky.


As I walked in John, the old friend I had come to see, shook my hand and apologised as he had to ready his cello to guest with The Bats. I had forgotten the nervousness of pre-gig organising. When I played music I used to leave the venue and march the streets until the last moment. Or share a spliff.

I went to the gig with my old school friend, Damian. We played in a noisy band called Swim Everything in the ‘90s. It was good to catch up. Talk about kids and getting old. His knees recently stopped working after a ski trip with his daughter. He reckons the change in the body from 50 to 60 is the same as from 10 to 20, but in reverse.

The Bats were the same as ever. But older. They’re the nicest people and were very supportive of my first school band, All Fall Down. Flying Nun folk are generally pretty amiable. It’s nearly 30 years since I saw them live (except on the telly at that gig after the first Earthquake).

It wasn’t too loud, either, but I still stuffed in ear plugs half way through the first song. I have such bad tinnitus that I constantly feel like the side of my head has just received an unexpected whack. Rock n roll.


It finished dead on 11pm (no sirens or flashing lights to shoo us out like the old days) and I caught up with Ruth who managed the student radio station I DJ-ed at in the ‘80s. She was featured in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum last year celebrating 40 years of RDU. Literally a museum piece (I didn’t point that out). I asked Hayden, a muso acquaintance, if he still played music. He laughed and said he just watches TV. I also said gidday to another old muso (name withheld) who runs New Zealand’s spy agency. Funny the connections that weave through a life. Five Eyes everywhere. Watching, accumulating. Leaking. I resisted giving a secret handshake.

As I dropped Damian home he said he’d send me a link to the loops he’s put up on Soundcloud. He is very pleased with them. I said sure, and awkwardly mentioned that his mother had a good raunchy poem in a collection of erotic writing I had failed to get a piece into. He laughed and said she had a play produced last week. She was stunned by the effort, tears and despair required. Surprised how it nevertheless came together on the night. I said there’s nothing harder, and more intimidating, than putting on a play. That a script isn’t like a song or a recipe. The same script never bakes the same cake.

By Night


As I write this a script has turned up for a play I’m going to audition for. The thought fills me with excitement. And dread.

“The night is dark and full of terrors, old man, but the fire burns them away.”

A polar front, full of snow, is approaching New Zealand from the Antarctic. I need to get in the ceiling and sort out the insulation I shifted to fix a leak last spring.

Writing, music, theatre. I do not know what draws me to them, when a fire offers such comfort. Too old to be young and stupid I stumble onwards into the night.

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A Number of Things


At work yesterday a colleague asked me what 47 and 5 was. I thought it was a trick question. Or, more likely, she was pointing out that I had incorrectly added those numbers. I may have; it was a hot day and I was tired. Hearing the exchange another colleague said to her, you should know that, you’re Chinese! She replied, that’s a stereotype, I can’t do maths!


Maths is a small but crucial part of my job. We’re always having to write down start times and add elapsed durations. It’s pretty easy, most of the time. The only bits that trip me up are when long durations have to be added to the 24 hour clock. Adding 113 minutes to something like 15:46 always causes me to stop and think it through (especially in the fuzz of the mid-afternoon). Some of my older colleagues use a calculator in such instances.



I was asked to check some addition the other day. We then discussed how we did the addition. In that example I rounded up then back. My colleague just added up the bits.

It got us talking. She asked me what my favourite times table was. I looked blankly at the question. Favourite? Most people like something like 11, she said, but I love 9. She then ripped off a piece of paper and showed me a nifty trick that revealed a beautiful symmetry to the 9 x table, writing 1 to 9 down the page, then 8 to zero beside those numbers. Each pair added up to 9 and was an ascending total of the 9 x table. She couldn’t believe I had never seen it.


I can’t wait to show my 9 year old this. She’ll love it. She loves maths and has just started learning algebra. When she told me last week I mentioned that algebra is named after the Arabic mathematician who invented it. Wow, she said, I’ll tell my teacher. Immediately I became unsure. Was it algebra or algorithms?  It’s one of them, I smiled uncertainly. Heard it in a podcast.


After work yesterday I listened to a podcast about Maths in the Early Islamic World. It seemed a good dry subject to get me around the harbour and lagoon on a 30 minute run on a stinking hot day, rehabilitating my knee after a recent arthroscopy.


It was fascinating, full of the stuff I had been trying to tell my daughter. Babylonian and Greek maths were taken up by the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in the 800s where the great mathematician and astronomer, al-Khwarizmi (Latinized as Algoritmi i.e. algorithm) solved quadratic equations with something he called al-jabr (algebra) using Indian decimal numbers (which later made it to the West in translations of his work).


Algebra was poetry in this world, and fabulously wealthy patrons paid for the House of Wisdom to explore its beauty.

It wasn’t till the 1600s that Descartes replaced the words with symbols giving us the algebra we know today.

And now algorithms rule our lives. Deciding what news we should see, what we should eat, who we should consider loving.


My running app sent me an email this morning saying I ran my fastest 4-6 km run ever yesterday. It’s a handy thing to know.

But it’s the podcast about the House of Wisdom, and the infinite beauty of numbers, that have made me write these words.




2 Days in Christchurch (part 4)

2 Men in a Shed

No one knows what men get up to in their sheds. Books have been written, TV series made, but the mystery remains.


When I think of a shed I think of (Great) Uncle Willie on the way out to New Brighton. Uncle Willie and (Great) Aunty Lizzie had no children of their own (and ate pan-fried chips every night). When Mum took us out to Breeze’s Road to visit he would usher me and my sisters out to the shed to show off his meticulously tidy tools while Mum talked to Aunt Lizzie in the formal sitting room surrounded by elephants and other nick knacks from their African travels. I was fascinated by the little shadows of each tool painted on the shed wall (so you knew where each tool went). I would lift up each one to look at their shadow. Better still, Uncle Willie had a dart board on the shed door where he taught us to play ‘round the world’. We were under 5 (or thereabouts), very wary of the sharp darts, thrilled to be allowed to chuck them at the numbers on the board while Uncle Willie made a steady stream of funny whistles and duck noises to amuse us while the women talked about who knows what.


I spent Saturday afternoon and evening in Blair’s shed in New Brighton. We weren’t making wooden toys for the grandkids, fixing a car or boat, inventing the internet or escaping her indoors. We were talking, listening to music, drinking snakebites and eating unsalted peanuts. I’ve known Blair since I was 12. We met on my first day at high school at the dawn of the ‘80s. We were both from the wrong side of town, so to speak, and had to bike across Christchurch to get to the manicured fields of Boys’ High in Fendalton. We started playing music in our first band in the 6th form, practicing several nights a week in Jason’s garage in Ashgrove Terrace, playing our first songs in front of people in Damian’s carport at the end of the year.


I got my first bass guitar from Blair for $100. A maroon Diplomat copy of a Gibson. I had no idea how to play it. I just hit the stings and hoped no one glared at me. Thud thud thud. Thuddy thud thud.


A few months after that first party All Fall Down (as we now called ourselves) played our first professional gig at the Star and Garter overlooking the Avon River on a hot summer’s night. I was 16. We were awful. How do I know? Because I recently listened to a tape if it.

We must have had some charm because people kept booking us to support every Flying Nun band that came through town as we relentlessly practiced, practiced, practiced morphing from the (somehow) endearingly-naïve yelled kiwipunk that I played with Jason, Blair and Brett into the crafted ‘60s melodies and harmonies (with a shifty dollop of country twang) that I played with Blair, Esther, Stephen and Bert in the final AFD gigs four years later.


Like all bands, there were a lot of drummers, but only Blair and me played all 77 gigs (and countless rehearsals).


So it was great to sit and reflect. The tapes of the early stuff I had digitized from Damian were as awful as we remembered. Unlistenable. Our on-stage chat failed to charm the audience and the endless tuning killed any flow to the set.


It’s quite something to peak back at your youth and cringe. Our voices sound the same. But what was encouraging is how good we got. I had no idea. There are many good songs and performances in those final recordings.


After heading inside for a cracker lasagne with Amanda and their son, Nico, we returned to the shed to listen to some Swim Everything jams (the band I played with Blair and Damian (and Brett) in the early ‘90s). It was a lot more rock than AFD. And so much better with Brett’s drumming, as opposed to the more ubiquitous (and awful) drum machine.



Blair still plays and records music in his shed, and makes a lot of art. I’m lucky enough to decorate my home (and blog) with several pieces made there over the years. He has recently released a solo record which is bloody good.


Some local young musos/fans have tracked him down and they’re learning the songs to play live next month.

Late in the evening as we sat in the shed, Blair suggested something I had never considered. That we played some of the old AFD songs. Live. Inconceivable. The logistics and effort. The lack of interest. The death of Stephen 4 years ago. But one of the musos Blair is playing with goes out with Stephen’s niece. So maybe, maybe.

Sheds are like garages. A place to escape. And dream.

Second-hand copies of the AFD EP are selling for $239 online. Next year it will be 30 years since we recorded and released it.

There’s a target to aim at.



Blair’s album ‘Cardigan Bay’

All Fall Down ‘Eastern’


2 Days in Christchurch (part 2)

Hanging in the Square

Working in theatre, television, sound and health I’ve travelled most of my life. Either up and down New Zealand or through bits of the world.

Even when I’m travelling just to see new places I rarely sleep well in hotels. I think it’s the fact I’m always aware of the unfamiliar, waking to check where I am, rather than due to any discomfort.

That said, I’ve slept in lot of noisy, hot or stuffy rooms. Last night was not like that.


I’m in one of the new hotels that are slowly rising from the rubble of Christchurch. Breakfree on Cashel Street is the fifth different hotel I’ve stayed in post-quake and I think it’s my favourite.

It’s stylish, interesting – fun to be in. My room is a tiny studio but the design makes it seem huge thanks to clever mirrors and a chunky, industrial glass and steel en-suite in the corner of the room. I almost had to pry myself out of it last night to wander the CBD.

I had hoped to catch up with an old friend and drink beer in the air of a warm nor-wester but he had to work on Evita so I took the chance to be in this nice space and write without the pressures of home nagging at me (fix this, sort that, clean the blah blah blah).

That’s the thing about being alone in a town, you can do what you want. It’s one of the great pleasures of solo travel. The biggest drawback is eating. Eating alone can seem a bit empty. That’s why I sat in my room and wrote and wrote, and it wasn’t till 7:30pm that hunger drove me out on to the streets to see what the CBD had to offer.


Over the past five years there hasn’t been a lot. The temporary food stalls that have popped up tend to close at night (except for the late-night pissed-folk ones that open late). After a stroll through road cones and re-build, and groups of tourists standing outside burger bars, I found a cool wee Japanese place called Hachi Hachi on Hereford Street. It was very appealing. I wanted a ramen but fell for the sushi burger with kumara chips and lychee Mogu Mogu… just because.

It was delicious. The tastes and mix of textures. I slowly savoured it watching a steady stream of locals bringing their kids in for a treat.

I wanted more. Writing and travel always increases my appetite.

But I had to find somewhere different. Resisting the lure of chips at Wendy’s or BurgerFuel next door I decided to head across the Square to New Regent Street where I’ve eaten many times.


That’s when I discovered what I should have gone straight to. A night food market in the Square. It was wonderful. The food looked great. Exotic and interesting. The people were hanging and happy. I did three circuits of the stalls before I decided on a wrap with 12-hour slow-cooked pork and slaw (the beef cheek was sold out) from a stall run by friendly chaps who called themselves something Horse (sorry, too distracted by the deep-fried Oreos & ice-cream next door to get the name).


I ate it sitting at the feet of the restored Godley statue (Christchurch’s founder) feeling like I had stepped into some comforting mix of the past and the future. The Square was alive. In use. Not some sad relic full of tourists standing around wondering what to do in a disaster zone. Maybe it was because it was so dark the crumbling carcass of the Cathedral was hidden. You weren’t constantly invited to mourn, unable to move on.



I grew up hanging in the Square. Waiting for buses. Waiting for friends. Just waiting.

Last night I got to do it once again.




3 Days in Auckland (part 4)

5 Hours in Paradise

When I booked my weekend in Auckland, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would make the trip. It was all a bit of a whim, anchored around a 50th. And since I was using Airpoints there was nothing to lose.

But once I got here on Friday, I was in love with my one-time home. It was as comfortable and stimulating as an old lover. The familiar was exciting, the changes intriguing. I didn’t quite know what would happen, and I loved it.

Bean Rock

I woke at 7:30 am on Saturday, a sleep-in for me. Before I pulled out the ear-plugs needed to dull the noise of the city and lodge I rushed to open the blinds. The Sky Tower stood amongst cloudless blue.


Okay. Okay. That was a surprise. Grey clouds had been forecast. A cool Easterly. That, plus reports of an awful outbreak of sea lice on the beaches of Waiheke, had made me think twice about zipping across the Gulf to my former island home. But clear skies were enough for me.


The CBD was Saturday morning-quiet as I headed down the hill, making the trek I had done countless times after spending the night in a cheap hotel after a late finish at work (or a night in town).

Showered and packed for the day-trip (water, journal, camera, towel, tablet, portable power supplies) I found myself rushing, anticipating the phases of the lights, knowing which crossing I had to make to avoid being trapped at an intersection for several precious minutes. Although I was in no real rush (the ferries go every half hour in the weekend), the need to make a 12 minute walk in 8 minutes flat (to avoid being stranded) remained. The phases of the lights, and my memories of them, had not changed.


The queue for the 9am ferry was Saturday-large. Day-trippers and wedding parties. I got my $36 ticket (not a bad price to visit paradise), and was on board with 10 mins to spare.


While the day-trippers crowded the open upper deck I headed inside to grab a table out of the sun (and wind to come). With a coffee and a Gulf News (yay, the good old ‘70s-feel local rag is still going!), I pulled out the tablet and started tapping out my post about Friday night.

Maybe I should have been gazing out at the Hauraki Gulf and the islands whizzing past. Rangitoto, Motutapu, Motuihe, Rakino, Bean Rock. The line of terns diving at bait balls of fish. The pods of dolphins or orcas that sometimes slow the commute. But I was back in the forever of the past, where the journey was precious time to read or write, have a beer with friends as the city disappears on the ride home.

I got on the Onetangi bus. I could have gone straight to Palm Beach on the Rocky Bay bus, but I fancied breakfast at the Ostend Market, a regular Saturday ritual when I lived on the Rock.


The bus was packed. Locals and first-timers. I grinned like a loon as we wobbled and wound our way up the lumpy, bumpy road from Matiatia to Oneroa, ecstatic for no good reason. Behind me an elderly couple narrated every thought and sight. That’s a nice village. Lovely. Oh. A market. Look, a 4 Square. This is a lovely drive through the bush. Very nice. It’s a real holiday place, this. A real holiday place. Yes, I agree, they must have a hospital here. They must.

At first I took them for a rural couple up from the South Island. But when the woman stopped filling in her husband’s words I pegged the slow, slow, drawl of an Aussie bloke. I resisted the urge to turn and correct their assumptions. There is no hospital. You are either ferried or choppered off, depending on urgency.


I wanted to take in the experience, not play tour guide. But I enjoyed their commentary. Noted it down in my journal. As we approached Ostend they wondered about the vineyards on the slopes of Te Whau. I turned. They’re grapes. It’s a vineyard. Waiheke is world-famous for wine. You should try some.


The market was wonderful. Full of the familiar. Touches of the new. It was 10am. The sun was hot. I realised I didn’t have a hat.


It’s very much a local market. Unlike others (in Auckland or Wellington), it’s uneconomic for outsiders to ferry over and set up. Which means you get old 2nd-hand books, bits and pieces, local produce and crafts. Kids sitting on blankets selling off old toys. I wandered it all before deciding what to eat. First up, pizza man. Still here after I first scoffed his crisp, thin bases 10 years ago.


Then a new one. North African rolls and empanadas (apparently). I had lamb with the works. Wow.


2nd-hand books were set up in banana boxes. I don’t need any more books. But always explore. I found a Horrible Histories Annual for $5. My daughter will love it. The man asked if it was for me. Called me a good dad.



After buying a very large jar of Jenny’s Kitchen Tamarind Chutney (best in the world, a constant gift I always passed on to those who didn’t live on the Rock) I decided to look for a hat. The market hats were either too small, or too hippy/old man for me. I wandered along to the Surf shop and found a cap with a large brim. Very street.IMG_0582

After necking a macchiato from a funky van (skulls and antlers, worn out poster decoupage) I decided to head off to Palm Beach. It wasn’t a big walk. 25 minutes of up and down across the back of the island (that maybe looks like a long, thin dog lying west to east). But my bag was now heavy. Loaded with too much chutney, the book, sun screen, market snacks, Waihekean t-shirt bought with the cap. All the rest.

I needed to load up on fluids. Chose a smoothie from Revolution Juices by the war memorial.


You must be a visitor with that big bag, the woman making my ‘Pink Love’ berry smoothie said. Yip, just over for the afternoon. You should stay the night. There’s a great band playing. Radio Rebelde. Kind of Latin, ska. My friend is the DJ. She’s good.

I smiled. Wished I was staying.


3 Days in Auckland (part 3)

Into the Night

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I’ve always felt comfortable in Auckland at night. I’m not sure why. Christchurch always seemed to have an ugly underbelly waiting to slip a knife. Wellington conceals a solid seam of nasty, ready to swing a punch from behind.

Such impressions, valid or not, are hard to shake.

I headed out at 9:30pm having spent more time than I had intended bashing out the last post. Uploading the photos was the worst bit as the Wi-Fi went to shit as the travellers hoovered up the bandwidth with Netflix, or whatever.

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As I walked along the neon darkness of K’ Rd I realised something that made me quite uncomfortable. I was wearing shorts. At night. In town. My bare legs exposed to the pre-loaded revellers piling out of taxis to line up for bars and clubs. It’s not something I had ever done except on random occasions going out for beers after a long day at work in the sun on a big job like golf or cricket or the Aussie V8s. But then I looked at all the women with their bare legs and short skirts and thought, if they can be comfortable being so exposed, why can’t I? Of course, that argument wouldn’t hold sway with any of the bouncers guarding the bars.


I headed down Queen St looking for something to eat. A Korean place near the top called Nanas looked the best bet. It was the busiest and the menu looked great. But I would be the only person sitting alone. Not a problem. But I wanted to keep walking, consuming the sights and the night.

I wandered along Lorne St to Vulcan Lane, wondering if I would find somewhere funky and appealing. Half of it was roped-off with a long table of revellers listening to a New Orleans-style street brass band playing ‘Happy’.


I half-considered a pub feed at my old stand-by, the Occidental. It’s a Belgian Bar with nice beer, pomme frittes and buckets of mussels. I would meet 1st dates there back when I was internet dating. It’s where I met the mother of my daughter on Waitangi Day 2007. That was the last time I spent our National Day in Auckland.


But I didn’t want to sit in a pub of the past. I had a belly full of honey bourbon I needed to soak up/walk off. It’s too easy to drink more than you intend when writing and wrestling with Wi-Fi.

As I turned into Fort Street I was overtaken by the waft of weed. Four Canadians walking behind me copped it, too. That’s pot. No it’s not. Yes it is. Him, in that phone box. Go and ask him.

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Fort Street, like K’ Rd is one of the old sex districts. It has been made over, but the colour and sin remains. I love it. It was so good to see the White Lady parked up. Flipping burgers since 1943. But no, not for me. Not tonight.

Disappointed rugby fans were filling the downtown area, spilling off the trains from Eden Park. The Hurricanes had pipped the Blues in a thriller. I’m not a huge ruggers fan, but I’ve worked on the games for years. I was happy to be a Wellingtonian at that moment.


By now it was 11pm. I couldn’t face the Viaduct in shorts (more on the Viaduct later). So I headed back up Queen Street past the gaggles of people swarming the gelato shops (they didn’t exist in my day), up to Aotea Square where I spotted a Carls’ Jr. They don’t have those in Welli. I went in, and had a Memphis burger.

It was perfectly fine.