Category Archives: Blogs

3 Days in Auckland (part 1)

In the air

I first visited Auckland nearly 30 years ago. It was a different city, I was a different person. A fresh-faced 20-year old on the road (in a plane) with the band I had played bass with since I was 16. I wasn’t a great bass player, we weren’t a great band, but we had something; energy, attitude, good tunes and a freshly-pressed EP to promote and sell.

Like a lot of people who had grown up in Christchurch, I was pretty dubious about Auckland, the brash, domineering big brother in the national media and consciousness. The largest city in the North Island, it was a natural rival for the biggest city in the South Island.

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But that wasn’t on my mind so much when I flew in with my four bandmates, it was the gigs and interviews we had lined-up. The boxes of records we hoped to sell, and the crucial uncertainty of whether or not Radio With Pictures would play our video before we left town.

30 years in a long time in the life of any city. It’s the life of a human generation (although desperate marketeers and journalists have been shortening that natural span in the last few decades). Pressed-vinyl EPs are no longer the best way to get music to punters and music videos are available at the swipe of a device (as opposed to being confined to a single showing in a dedicated TV show once or twice a week. Miss the show or fail to programme your VCR correctly and you would have to imagine it from the descriptions of your friends).

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Our first gig was a daytime performance on a stage set up in the grassy quad at Auckland University. We banged and strummed away. The students ate their lunch. Maybe we drank beer. Afterwards we did an interview on BFM, the student radio station, promoting the EP and the pub gigs we were doing with The Letter 5 (was it? was it?! Or the Battling Strings?)

Then it was off to walk into the record shops dotted along Queen Street, trying to sell our wares at $6.99, sale or return. I think we got rid of a pitiful 1 or 2 in a couple of shops.

Queen Street was long, wide and steep to me. Chch is a flat city. I headed off up to explore the famous/infamous K’ Road at the top of Queen Street by myself, fuelled by one or two beers (and the Valium one of the singers had scored from a friendly doctor to calm our nerves).

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Why am I reminiscing about my first visit to Auckland? Because I am flying there now. At the moment we are passing over Kapiti Island, having taken off from Wellington into 120km winds. The take-off was as bumpy as it was sitting on the tarmac, buffeted and battered , waiting to taxi. But I’m a pretty solid traveller, I never feel queasy. Plus I was distracted by being allowed to write this while we were taking off…a first for me as I have been used to the ‘switch off all electronic devices’ rule that has only just been relaxed.

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It’s 3 years since I was last in Auckland. That time I spent little time in the city, heading straight to the ferry and 2 nights on Waiheke, my island home in the Hauraki Gulf I left 8 years ago. I spent that visit swimming at Palm Beach, my favourite bit of paradise. I had hoped to squeak in a visit this time, but I am only in Auckland for a little over 48 hours so it looks a bit tight. Plus I have been alerted by a friend to the fact that Waiheke is experiencing an outbreak of sea lice due to the exceptional, record-breaking summer. I ache to re-visit paradise and swim in the eternity of summers past. But sea lice?! Hmm.

The volcanic rump of Mt. Ruapehu has disappeared from my window and the plane has started to descend. I’m being offered sweets (hooray for the traditions of Air New Zealand which also gave me a snack and a drink without asking for payment).

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What will these (nearly) 3 days in Auckland hold? Memories and observations by the bucket load, I imagine. I lived there for 13 years. Flew into the watery isthmus countless times. As I am travelling alone my only plan is to write and reflect. Walk the old paths. Seek the old favourite eats. I may try and meet friends, I may not. I would be nice but time is short. We are all older with commitments of time and responsibility of all sorts.

The excuse for this trip (taken on a whim and Airpoints) is an old TV colleague’s 50th. I’ve never been to a 50th. It makes me feel old. A bit excited. Curious. Nervous. I hope I don’t bottle out. I’m terrible for that sort of thing.

There will be people there from all those years I worked in telly, including a few who I trained with at the NZ Broadcasting School in Chch 22 years ago. A small reunion of sorts. How did we get this old? What is everyone doing now? Why did we create a dormant group on Facebook?

Questions never end. Nor should they.

How have 30 years passed since I first flew into Auckland?

We are landing. Auckland is here.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 7)

Postscript

I started writing this blog on the flight to Christchurch. I intended to write fast, as things happened, on a 4 day visit to my home town. It was easy at first, when I had time to wander and play stranger in a strange land. But then I started catching up with friends. Devouring the experience rather than commenting on it.

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Once back onto the treadmill of Wellington I started posting a section each week. But life took over. And there was still more to say. More images to share. Then working through the rush of Christmas, and then two weeks away in a caravan, attempting to relax and unwind the tightened coil of the uncertain purgatory I had returned to.

It’s now 2016. My holiday is over. I am back at work, (hopefully) free of the stress that saw me make unprecedented cock-ups, and receive a call from my manager enquiring about my health/life.

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I have relaxed. But I am still living with the uncertainty that greeted my return from Christchurch.

That week I received the report on my fiction portfolio from Victoria University. It was a strong selection of stories. Better than I have ever written. NZ$2,600 well spent (on fiction and creative non-fiction).

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I was confident they may well get me accepted onto the MA fiction programme (one of the best regarded fiction programmes in the world). It is the third time I have applied. There are only 10 places.

The trip to Chch was as much reward for my hard work as distraction from the impending result. I wanted to do all the things I have mentioned in the previous posts but I also wanted to escape the imminent decision on my future. The day it turned up (report and MA decision) a massive cold sore erupted from my bottom lip; the first since the death of my father 3 years ago.

 

Uncertainty. Stress. Acceptance of loss. Understanding the past. Desire for a new future. All these played into my 4 days in Chch.

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The day before I headed to Chch I received a wonderful package from Scotland. A trove of several hundred slides taken on a world trip by my grandfather Sandy’s sister, Rachel, in 1968. It’s a wonderful trove I am yet to explore. She came out to NZ just after I was born. I grew up hearing stories of the visit. Fortuitously, the slides are meticulously indexed. Often still in order.

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I have used several in the posts but I am yet to find the time to go through them all as slides aren’t that easy to view or transfer. But I will. Amongst the few I have looked at I found a picture of Aunty Rachel with my grandparents, Sandy and Flo’, standing on the banks of the Avon with Aunty Lynette and my cousin Robyn. Treasure from the past.

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I could say much more about Chch. The wonderful art on the streets. The NZ flag flying everywhere at a time when the country is being offered a dubious new flag.

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How happy I felt seeing the statue of Godley (the visionary leader of the settlement) back on his plinth for the first time post-quake. How I sat every day listening to the resolute balladeer outside Ballantynes belting out ballads, rocking back and forth as if on a boat, eyes closed, tin whistle in hand. How amongst the 19th century tales he sang the wonderfully cheesy 1960s/70s song I have only heard once before, about a man in prison who will never see his home again.

Christchurch City is mighty pretty, when the lights are all a-glow

Christchurch City is mighty pretty, where the river Avon flows

I did not get accepted for the MA. But I have been shortlisted. At any moment before March I may be offered a place if someone can’t take it.

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The fate of the decaying carcass of Christchurch Cathedral was to be decided just before Christmas. The Anglican Church wants to pull it down but doesn’t have the guts. Or enough support.

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I’m not sure how I feel about any of this. Conflicted and uncertain. Certainly. Positives and negatives both ways.

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What does the future hold? Uncertainty. Again. And again.

But there will be holidays. And I will write about them.

And I shall keep writing fiction.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How many millions?

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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.

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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.

 

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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).

 

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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’.

 

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Nightshift studio, Beckenham 1985

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 3)

Wandering the Pretty

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After spending an enjoyable morning writing up/posting the night before, I went out to wander the empty landscape and blank blue skies. It is unbelievably beautiful. Yes, there are old facades held up by containers and steel beams awaiting their future. Oceans of empty lots are filled with grey river stones and wire fences. IMG_9764

But there is a trove of art amongst it all. So much I can’t keep my camera(s) in my pocket. This is the land of the unexpected mural. Sides of buildings, yes. But also the unexpectedly exposed arses that haven’t seen daylight in decades. Until the neighbor came down. I love the humorous murals tucked into crannies you may not notice unless you look. I can’t stop smiling.

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I had breakfast in an old remodeled building which is now called Supreme, or Supreme Supreme, or Coffee Supreme (all three are used throughout). It has a great style and feel. Kind of retro modern. A good range on the menu. I chose the pulled corned beef hash. IMG_9752When may sound heavy on a hot day but it was full of fresh herbs and flavour. Perfect after last night’s liquid dinner. I couldn’t help but post a photo on Facebook. I know haters hate, but I have been taking photos of meals forever. Nevertheless, when my waitress sprung me doing it I could only feel like a tool. A saddo sharing a solo moment with no one in particular. But that’s not my reality. Is it? I shan’t look too deep. I am writing a blog about next to nothing.

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Getting sprung meant I decided not to ask the waitress about her intriguing haircut. It’s always tricky commenting on the appearance of younger women. It’s taken me years to be casual and confident about it at work. To not worry if it comes across as sleazy. Or gay (not that I care). The waitress had a short, smart bob but the fringe wasn’t cut straight, it went down at 45 degrees to a point in the middle. I had a flatmate who did that in the ‘90s. It was ‘70s retro back then (in itself an echo of whacky ‘50s, maybe?) Was it just ‘asymmetric’ or did the style have a name? I didn’t ask. I had already indicated I may be a dick.

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After a second macchiato (at what a friend commented on my post was the coolest café in Chch) I set off to wander the pretty.

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4 Days In Christchurch (part 2)

Day 2 (or, the rest of Day 1)

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At the Pop-Up

Day two emerges as the morning after the day before. What time is it? How many beers? It’s a sunny after the gentle southerly that bashed away the nor’wester yesterday afternoon as I was having lunch in the pop-up mall. The change was needed. Big fat raindrops were splatting into the ground filling the air with the smell of hot asphalt. Tourists had their brollies up but there was never enough rain to actually get wet. It was so warm I stepped into the Barkers container shop to look for some shorts. My used-to-be-smart shorts now feature so many holes they haven’t made the trip. The type I wanted were on sale for $60, but as the shop is a container, it only has two changing rooms. The sales assistant was friendly and chatted while I waited, showing great interest in everything I said. She was tall, in some sort of 1-piece pant suit (if that’s what you call it) and heels. We talked eye-to-eye about the changes in Chch, how you are as likely to hear a language other than English on the streets as a NZ accent. How cool that is. How that could make her job hard. Sign language doesn’t always get through. I resolutely ignored her plunging neckline and tanned, prominent side-boob as she made me aware off all the specials on offer.

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Pop-Up Art

 

I love the food area at the Pop-Up. It’s full of interesting food and people. It’s what I miss about the Arts’ Centre and its weekend markets. I had a wee job in the early 1990s setting up the stalls for the Arts’ Centre market with a crew of other young guys. The stories we heard about the tensions between the different stall holders are so good they deserve to be told in detail. Another time. Greek souvlaki vs. Czech potato pancake. With knives. Sellers of scented candles are not as peace-loving as you may think. Drama, conflict, lust, betrayal.

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Town of many Trams

 

Greatly tempted by the Tiki Taco caravan (kiwiana/mex!), but having had a burrito for breakfast, I sidled up the wild game panini hut. Wild pig, venison, ostrich, rabbit. Deliciously too much to choose from. I shuffled sideways to the Thai next door opting for egg noodles with veg and egg. It was delicious. Not too heavy on a hot day. I couple of orange-vested rebuild workers sat down opposite me. A chicken stir-fry and chips. Real worker food. Young, impossibly fit and good looking I took them as Maori. Until they spoke. Spanish. Mexican or South American. Workers from around the world have come to rebuild my hometown. I love this.

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Funky t-shirt from Pop-Up

 

By 2pm I was at my hotel. A studio on the south part of the CBD. Even though the name of the street was familiar, it wasn’t until I got to the strip of apartments (the first new building started post-quake) that I realized it was right next door to the NZ Broadcasting School where I did my TV training in 1994, the year before I left Christchurch. I was a great course. Good people. We have hooked up again on Facebook to mark the 20 years. Shared a few memories. But there are no photos. At least, only one or two. It’s hard to recall the world that existed before everyone carried a camera in their pocket and obsessively recorded their day. Of course, we shot tons of video. VHS and SVHS. I have a large suitcase of tapes slowing falling apart downstairs, unable to be played.

Tidy, cheap and functional my studio apartment is also very hot. Air-con is via a fan I keep going the whole time. You can open the windows (yay!) but then you let in the skill-saws and hammering of the construction all around. It’s the soundtrack of this city. Impossible to resent. (Except at 8am this morning, Saturday, when it pushed me out of bed to write this).

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Yesterday afternoon, after checking in, I made use of the best feature of this apartment. The free Wi-Fi. I posted the first part of this blog, had a shower, watched some of the Thanksgiving NFL games (praise be for football and excess, and TVNZ playing this weapon of cultural imperialism live!), and went to meet an old friend for a beer.

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Back of Smash Palace

 

 

Beers el Fresco

We met at Smash Palace, a movable garden bar that was one of the first temporary bars to open post-quake over by Victoria Street and Bealy Ave. Wire fences and enclosing white tarps made it impossible to see into from the street. Now it is in a pretty, open location on High Street right across from C1. The bar is an old bus, opened up. There are wooden tables and roses blooming on the fence. At a covered snug around the back I spotted a former mayor of Christchurch sitting with a group of people. I saw him tending this garden when I was here last December. He said gidday. It felt very Christchurch.

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Mmm, Brew Moon

 

From 4:30 to 11:30 pm I sat supping pints of stout with my old mate, watching workers of all descriptions pop in. We had a lot to talk about. I have known him since he played drums in our school boy band in the ‘80s. He had an ad up in CJ’s Music store (Charlie Jemmet is the patron saint of the ChCh music scene). It was 1983. I was 16. We played our first pub, the Star and Garter, months later. He turned 50 earlier this year. I’m not far off. We marveled that we ever got this far. In one of the short stories I wrote for my portfolio this year I used incidents from our rock ‘n’ roll past, including a sad attempt to throw an old TV out a hotel window. It wasn’t a hotel. Or out a window. Or very satisfying. We carried an old heavy B&W telly up a 10-story building that was under construction. It was hard work but we were determined. And a bit drunk. It was the Equity Corp flagship that went bankrupt in the ’87 crash. The re-named building came down after the ‘quake. It’s where the pop-up food stalls now stand.

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Like myself, my old buddy has turned from music to writing. Less noise, more control. But we both miss the instant response of an audience. An audience will always let you know if you suck or have their interest. That said, when I checked my phone I found an alert from WordPress announcing ‘massive’ traffic on my blog. My numbers were greater than they have ever been. I was astounded. Checking to see the new total whenever I bought another round.

Blogging is a funny thing. It can give you something lacking in so much writing, an audience.

Late last night I looked up from our table to examine the crowd. Me and my friend were sitting at a table surrounded by a crescent of 14 women. As I looked around them, many made eye contact. It was a little strange. There were plenty of men and mixed groups around the garden bar, chatting and listening to the wonderful mix of music emanating from the shipping container that housed the DJ, but they were all lurking behind the near circle of young women that surrounded us. I couldn’t help wondering if we were messing with a segregated seating plan. But then a group of men approached the women, there introductions and shaking hands, and they settled into pairs.

It was an odd sight. Unworthy of great note. Nevertheless, I have written it down. Why? Because I am in Christchurch. And it is time to find some breakfast.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 1)

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DAY ONE

Above Te Wai Pounamu

I’m flying to Christchurch. I didn’t entirely expect to be on this flight. As much as I am looking forward to seeing old friends, and checking out the how the rebuild is going, I’m ambivalent about my excuse to visit my hometown. I feel little excitement.

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Harwood International Airport (Chch)

It is 20 years since I left Christchurch. Through 13 years in Auckland and 7 years in Wellington I have regularly flown down to see family and friends, or to work, at least two or three times a year. Often more. It’s what internal migrants do. Notably, however, this is the first year it has taken till the end of November to find an excuse to get down.

Last night I packed as soon as I got home. Put some washing on then fell asleep in front of NFL on the telly until I stumbled to bed at 12:30am. Up five hours later to be gone by 6:30 in order to beat the morning rush into Wellington. Wading through treacle I got away at 6:50, so it was tight all the way into the queues and reluctantly merging lanes. It was 50/50 I wouldn’t make the flight. I could always book another, or just use the ticket I have for tomorrow morning (to be explained later). After all, I got an email last night saying that the reports on my fiction portfolio (from the writing course I have just completed) are now available. To pick up or post out. I’m gagging to read the result. It’s a big preoccupation in my mind. How nice it would be to go and pick them up and see what I did right, what opportunities I missed.

The van at the Long Term Parking took forever to come. I had 10 minutes until check-in closed. I sat listening to Australian tourists talk about the Eagles wondering what I would do.

I made check-in with two minutes to spare. The friendly lady made me run.

I try not to fly Jetstar. They are Australian. Unforgiving with time and weight limits. But it was the only cheap ticket available to rectify a booking fiasco. They also tend to turn the loading of passengers into an unpleasant affair. This time people were relaxed and orderly. Except for a woman who pushed in front of me to jump the queue. Dressed in head-to-toe traveler wear, she resolutely turned her blonde pony tail away from me and the elderly couple beside me, who I exchanged a bemused smile with. Was it worth saying something? Any words would sound angry or petty. Instead I let her have the full force of my inner wanker, that narrative we all share but few voice. Who could be so self-centred? And rude. In her self-absorbed mid-20s. Israeli or South African? Swiss? I latched onto any stereotype who places themselves above others.

I lost sight of her (and my petty grumbling) as we were funneled along the aisle. When I got there, she was sitting in my seat. Friendly, apologetic, I showed her my ticket, eager to hear her accent.

It was a bumpy flight to Crikey. Rocking side to side, up and down. Nor’westers gusting to 110kms on takeoff and landing. Just enough time to write the above during the short flight. To salve anxiety and dismiss the small victories of the morning.

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Chch Railway Station

 

The Purple Line

I’m on the bus into Chi-cha. It’s warm. Dry warm, unlike the humidity of Wellington. I wish I was wearing shorts. It was 28C yesterday. Hot for late spring. We’re yet to hit 20 in Welli. The bus is full of tourists looking at maps, shuffling their bags and packs out of the way. I have never caught this bus into town before. There has always been someone here to meet me. But the last of my family left New Zealand earlier this year. I look up to see the cemetery where we buried a friend over 10 years ago. Through the familiar flat wide streets of Ilam to my old university. Past the ballroom where I played many times. Riccarton Road. So familiar. Early childhood, teens. Beyond. I went to high school just up the road, often going to Riccarton Tailoring after school where Mum ran an alterations business. And the big-arse mall where on a stinking hot Christmas Eve when I was seven, doing last minute shopping, I suddenly felt sick in the sun. Spent Christmas Day in bed with measles. I got a Big Jim doll who could karate chop wood. I only wanted to sleep.

We’re now heading through Hagley Park, through the two Hagley Parks, which I ran around when I was here last Christmas. A steaming hot morning. One year on from my Haglund’s Deformity operation. My first run off a treadmill. I had a rush of euphoria, went too hard, and paid for it for the next week. It’s two years since my op to take bone off my right heel and scrape my Achilles’. If they had told me at the time it was a two year recovery to being 100% I would have been reluctant to go through with it. Still, as of two weeks ago I’m a 100%. Yay!

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In the CBD

Now at C1, the must-stop place for coffee in Chur/Chur since, er, last century. It’s a new, better building post-quake. The re-vamped old Alice In Videoland (the best video shop on the planet), which used to be a pretty deco Post Office. The building survived the quakes (unlike video shops and post offices which haven’t survived the 21st century). C1 retains the original quirky charm. The water dispenser made out of an old Singer sewing machine is a familiar survivor. The old murder house water dispenser beside me is new. Soda water for those who can work out which knob to press (90% give up and look around until I tell them the trick. Are we all out-of-towners?) The pneumatic overhead food delivery tubes featured on the telly are gorgeous, an anachronistic echo of futures past. It’s too early to get sliders and curly fries delivered through the clear tubes so I settle for a breakfast burrito and short macchiato, to which the perky waitress says “nice!”

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It’s three hours until I can check-in at my hotel (one that didn’t exist when I was here last December). But the city is more together. The new bus exchange is open. It is Euro pretty and efficient. There are lockers to leave my bag (only $2!!!) Quite a change from the open makeshift bus stops and port-a-coms of the last few years.

Right, time to send a few messages to Chich friends, wander the rubble and rebuild. Try and find some Wi-Fi to post this.

Under the Spell

I believe in magic: the power of language, history, and story. This potent brew whipped-up a perfect storm of understanding and insight when one of my favourite podcasters featured on another of my favs the other day.

littlest_witch___halloween_spell_practice_by_brandrificus-d6qc0o2Both podcasts are in-depth histories by enthusiastic amateurs. One, an Englishman called David, spends weekends in his shed telling a wonderfully good-humoured history of England (in the summer you can hear the birds in the trees). The other is a lawyer called Kevin composing a marvellously detailed history of the English language from somewhere in South Carolina. linguistic-treeBoth have posted over 100 episodes. I have learned so much about the quirks and fun of a gripping story. I now know bits of Indo-European, Old Germanic, Old Norse, Frankish, Old English, Celtic (all which made the killer TV series Vikings more thrilling). It has been a treat to listen to these passionate enthusiasts as I painted the house and pottered away at renovations.Vikings_S02P12,_cast

So when my fav amateur language geek did a guest spot on the latest History of England episode last week (which has just made it to the end of the 100 Years’ War) I was thrilled. His topic? The word ‘spell’. Here’s the magic.

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The Indo-European languages

Spell is derived from Indo-European (the parent language of many Eurasian languages). It originally meant to recite, tell or speak. In Old Germanic it came to mean a tale, fable or saying. The Anglo-Saxons brought it to England in the 400s to refer to ‘story’, especially a good or ‘true’ story (gospel is a contraction of ‘good story’). Over the next few hundred years it slowly applied to short phrases or sayings that held special truth or magic (think how we spout short phrases as if they contain a truth or agency ‘do the crime do the time’, ‘touch wood’, ‘I do’, ‘Go Broncos!’ etc).How-to-Spell-Success

When the Normans invaded in 1066 they brought the same Germanic word via their Norse and Frankish (the Germanic founders of France) roots. Except for them spell meant to break a difficult text or idea into its parts so that it may be understood i.e. to ‘spell it out’ and reveal the truth.

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By the 1400s that meaning was refined to include breaking words down into the letters used to represent it. Dictionaries came later, and the spelling of words lost the fluidity they had always had (even the most educated people routinely varied spelling).MagicSpellBook

Today, all these meanings still exist in English. We refer to truth as gospel even in a non-religious sense. We spell things out to explain them. We break down words into letters to spell them. We talk of being under a spell (albeit of love, an idea, celebrity or charisma, as opposed to magic).

Even those who claim not to believe in magic use the idea in the old Anglo-Saxon sense, repeating phrases they believe hold a power. Think of all the hashtags amended to causes and sent out into the world. Does hash-tagging a phrase, cause, belief, or favourite sports team have a measurable effect on a physical object or outcome? It depends if you believe in magic and the power of language.

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The History of England                                                     The History of English Podcast


By George

I started blogging two years to find a way back to the joy of writing fiction. The pattern of success and rejection that writers face in their empty room had become too much, especially as life was swelling up around me with such persistence that making up stories seemed a futile dance in front of the inevitable.

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I wanted to exercise my writing muscle, clear my mind; find that joy. I found it crafting pieces I was happy enough to share with whoever cared to read them.

This year I applied for an undergrad workshop in creative non-fiction at Victoria University, using some of my blog posts as examples of my writing. They got me in, and I loved it. So much so that I applied for the short fiction workshop. I’m reading great stories; loving talking about writing with writers.

writingAfter three weeks of exercises it has become even more apparent that non-fiction and fiction are not mutually exclusive. Two of my pieces have been drawn straight from life. One has been made up. My classmates are writing a similar mix.

On Sunday I had a crack at our latest exercise, ‘Negotiating With the Dead’; an exercise reflecting on the hypothesis that writing is motivated by a fear of, and fascination with, mortality. We had to write a 1st-person piece of prose where the dead are given voice via audio technology (a phone, a computer, radio or stereo). Given my run of writing about the subject (“love your writing but less about death, please” said one comment) I wanted to make it purely fictional. And fun.

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That morning I read a wonderful story for class by George Saunders about a hapless old man trying to off himself so he doesn’t end up shitting the bed/being a bother due to Alzheimer’s. It was inspiring in its approach, and humour. It also resonated given my father’s suffering from the disease. I was party to many conversations about ‘exit-strategies’ as we waited for his undignified end.

writI decided to write a help-desk story with the voice of the operator as the only prose. As I wrote it I wasn’t sure if it was people trying to reach the dead, or the dead trying to reach the living, but once I had milked all the gags and Kafkaesque frustrations I could think of it became clear that The Helpless Desk is about a help desk for helpless ghosts.

I was very pleased with it. Even more so to have pulled it completely out of the air.

Elated, as I always am after writing, I went to bed and did something I try not to do; I checked out Facebook. An old friend had died. As I read through the tributes it became evident that it was the type of death that has begun to plague my various peer groups. I was so sad. George was a well-liked person, a true character. A lot of people were hurting across the digital ether.

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I thought back to our many conversations in our youth, when we were student-radio DJs, and live music fans; the memorable night we had to flee a massive house fire just as our private conversation was getting life-definingly interesting. WCBN_main_FM_studio,_University_of_Michigan_student_radio_stationAnd, more recently (around the time I started this blog), when in great despair about whether I would qualify to get my Haglund’s Deformity corrected, he PM-ed me regarding my bleak post-assessment status (stuck in a carpark, crying behind sunglasses… eek! Not like me to be like that, or communicate it without self-deprecating humour). It was a long message that talked about other things, conversations we had had in the past, things he had wanted to say at the time but hadn’t had the maturity or courage… it was incredibly revealing and encouraging. I was stunned and thankful; diverted from my self-absorption. Reassured that support can come from the most unexpected quarters.

Poster0015As I sat in bed on Sunday night feeling like I had failed him, I looked for that message. Was it as long and interesting as I recalled? Yes. A good 1,000+ words or more. And it was two years ago. To the day.

The co-incidence made me smile and grieve. More so having conquered an unsettled weekend wondering how I would give voice to the dead.

I wish I could be at George’s funeral tomorrow, more so at his wake. I want to be amongst my peer group from those formative years. I ache. But it is in Christchurch and I just cannot get away from Wellington. Life holds me tight as it bleeds into fiction.

In the year that surrounded the 4-month gap when my parents died 3-4 years ago, 7 people I know took their own lives. That’s a lot of pain to go around. At the time I tried hard not to look for connecting meanings and patterns, especially as they were all male and around my age. It felt like a curse I wanted shot of. How could I resolve this with having just watched both my parents struggle for life?

memory-loss-mauro-celottiI cannot be there to celebrate George’s great wit and intellect; his sensitivity, humour and life. The bouncy way he walked, the measured way he talked. But I can write this. And I can, when I feel up to it, listen to his voice on the radio shows people are sharing from Soundcloud on Facebook.

I wish he was still around. The world is a poorer place without him.

New Paths, Unsilenced Streams

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.

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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:

  1. My classmates. Who were of a higher standard than other writing courses I have done (all can write and have something to say.)
  2. 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?

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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).

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Cafe Breton

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A menu to devour

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.

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Mmm, croque-monsieur

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.

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Under The Terrace

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.Kumutoto

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.

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The hidden river speaks

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.

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Affairs of the Heart

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. It just seemed so fake, driven more by commercial incentives to conform and spend $$, rather than love. I don’t say this as a bitter long-term-single; it has always been my opinion, even when in a committed relationship or in the throes of new love.

It just seems to fall into an ickily-commercial herding imperative that leaves so many feeling empty except for longing or discontent (and a good chunk of those in relationships can fit into this category).

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Love is apparently an act of violence

The day always spoke to me of secret yearning, offering a chance to send a card or gift to someone you were unable to confess your feelings for, be it because of shyness or social barriers. And that is how I have participated in the past, one or two times, very self-consciously.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social rituals, but when a New Zealand friend (resident in L.A.) posted a photo of all the ‘Valentine’s candy’ his young children received at school I just saw the ugly hand of the sugar industry hungrily grasping for more $$… as if their rapacious conquest of Halloween (and Easter to come, the eggs have been in the shops for weeks) isn’t enough.

But my heart isn’t made of stone, I actually see myself as a true romantic. I don’t give my heart easily, it is precious (as are all), so I refuse to hand out cards and chocolate because it is expected/demanded.

Of course, my soon-to-be 7 year-old knows about today and drew a wee love heart on the calendar. She even made hints about making me a card. So when I was at the shops yesterday, I bought her a little teddy bear with a chocolate in a cardboard love heart. She was very happy when I gave it to her this morning, saying ‘Yay, I love chocolate’. Clever wee thing knows what it’s about as much as the retailers (the supermarket where I got my daughter’s treat has raised the price of the giant 1.25 kg boxes of chocolates leftover from Christmas they are struggling to get rid of from $15 to $20 for the day…they were $40 at Christmas).

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As for me, my most memorable Valentine’s was 22 years ago when I awoke covered in flowers beside a former girlfriend. It was, on the surface, a very romantic scene. But I was panicked and perplexed as the night before I had gone to sleep after a passionate encounter with a secret lover in the very same bed. I could not work out what had happened. Yes, we had drunk some wine but I am not one to drink too much or ever lose track of what is happening. How had my former lover got into the house (and my bed)? Did she know about the secret lover? Had they conspired? Was there a hand-over?! As my unexpected bed-mate slept I was left with plenty of time to consider the various scenarios that had played out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

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(As a side note, this took place right across the road from where a notorious and passionate encounter unfolded a few weeks ago unknowingly in full view of a bar full of eager observers/voyeurs who posted pictures and videos online making the secret passion ‘news’ around the world. I doubt they are having a good day today).

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A lovely, private romantic moment in the process of becoming less private

After my would-be par amour awoke I found out she had climbed the fire escape outside my bed room window while carrying the flowers in her teeth. I showed my appreciation for her stunning gesture in an appropriate manner, but my heart lay elsewhere.

While I have been happily single for the last few years (too battle-scarred? too long-in-the-tooth? too old to bother? contentedly free of yearning? still swimming in grief?… take your pick, I can’t work it out), over the last week I have begun to yearn for someone to turn to in bed, to enjoy and be near as the day ends (and begins). It has made the moments when I close my eyes and seek sleep a little panicky.

Maybe I am ready to love. I know it is around. But it won’t come out of a chocolate box or a bunch of flowers. At least, not today.

Later that day…

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Couldn’t resist 🙂

Ghosts of Sevens Past

I’ve just completed my second day setting up for New Zealand’s biggest dress-up party/bacchanal (which features a little rugby on the side).

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Te News-style Billy T Jameses(s) 2010

I wrote it about last year it in my Confessions of a De-fluffer post (at least, I attempted to before the 35,000 revellers overloaded the cell-towers attempting to hook-up with each other, post selfies to InstaBook and hashtag ‘groupies’ to TinderSnap).

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An interesting costume can provoke interaction 2009

So if you’re unfamiliar with what I do give that a look as this post is covering slightly different ground. It’s not an explanation of the Wellington Sevens or which team is ahead on the points table, it’s a look back at some of the photos I’ve snapped from the sideline over the last eight years as I marvelled at the bizarre sight of one of the least dressy-up societies in the world dressing up (as opposed to the usual down), albeit for a weekend.

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Where I hang 2012

Essentially, my job is to turn referees off at the end of a game. Not hard given my advancing years (and the exposed flesh of the revellers). I’m paid well for it because if I get it wrong then the world ends (at least, in terms of live TV sport which, as everyone knows, is more important than brain surgery). Of course, I am belittling my skills, but that is the droll nature of those who work in sound.

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Dress for all conditions 2010

But the crowd doesn’t really interest my TV/soundie mind, it’s the writer in me who is intrigued; the student of history and religion and drama (with a particular interest in festivals and display where the normal rules of society are inverted and people are given licence to behave in ways that cause scorn or incarceration on any other day of the year).

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Always a pack of Smurfs in the house 2009

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Things hot up in 2013

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Year of the Black Swans 2011

After eight years standing on the sideline in rain and shine, it seems that there are basically only a handful of costume options. Like Carnival and Halloween there are the usual suspects of straight-out-of-the-box Superheroes and/or slutty fill-the-blanks (exposed flesh is important for both genders). There are also very straight men (in both senses of the term) taking the opportunity to cross-dress (while cross-dressing women seem rare). There are also large groups of people dressing en-masse, which can be quite effective visually (this option also gives the unconfident somewhere to hide).

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How many Adam & Eves(s) does it take…? 2013

But what catches my eye are the lateral thinkers who create a visual pun or seize on a pop culture reference of the day.

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Home-made Bucket fountain 2009

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Passionate Susan Boyles 2009

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Them Crazy Horses won them 7,000 bucks in 2011

Of course, there are also some people who go to watch rugby in a form that is so TV friendly it will debut at the Olympics in Rio next year, but they are a fast-dwindling minority. So much so that an event that up two years ago sold all 35,000 tickets in minutes, still has 14,000 tickets unsold the day before kick off.

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Everyone loves the Kenyan team 2011

Why is this?

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They know exactly what’s going on 2012

The media is full of theories but my 2 cents would be that it has fallen foul of its success. That is, like a lot of human endeavour, what made it strong has proven its greatest weakness. Because people go to dress up (and piss-up) many find it unappealing.

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Fun for the whole family  (& the rarely spotted cross-dressing woman)  2012

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You may meet a player 2013

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Scored a Frenchie! 2013

Yes there are other factors, but from where I stand singing along to songs that nearly 40,000 voices know

Alice, Alice…who the fuck is Alice?

We found love in a hopeless place/ We found love in a hope-less place

All I can think is I’m glad they pay me to be there.

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Not the sort of visual pun I meant 2012

It Was 30 Years Ago Today… A Month In The Life, oh Boy!

I always say I was born in the Summer of Love; a deliberately wry comment as I was born in the middle of a Christchurch Autumn at the bottom of the South Pacific far from Haight Ashbury, of parents not just of a generation before the hippies, but even before Elvis et al influenced the infant Beatles.

That said, as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released a month after my birth giving me a(n admittedly) wishful spiritual connection to that album I’ve decided to look back at my life 30 years ago today.

Yes, I know Paul sings …it was 20 years ago today… but I’m choosing 30 years as that was when I started a (nearly) daily writing habit.

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Barrington Park Mall with Port Hills behind, where I biked with Sonya to buy vogarts, black felt and 50c mixtures

In August 1984 I was a 17, in my last months of school, living in south Christchurch at the bottom of the Port Hills with my parents, 2 younger sisters, dog and a pet mouse called Alf (named after Alison Moyet, who was still in Yazoo). As that last comment would indicate, music was a big part of my life: Rip It Up, NME, The Face were all regularly consumed and I spent a fair amount of time trawling through record bins and buying records (Planet Records, Radar Records, Record Factory). I had a part-time job at a bakery in Sydenham, Coupland’s Hot Bread Shop* (CHBS, not to be confused with my school, CBHS) where I worked in the early hours of Saturday morning earning $14 an hour (you got double time working weekends back then) to spend on ($10?) records or musical equipment (at the start of the year the school boy garage band I had joined/formed the year before had gone ‘professional’ playing in pubs).

Okay, to say we were professional is a stretch, we were endearingly enthusiastic amateurs, but we were getting paid as much as we were not…often the standard $50 fee given to support acts at the Star & Garter or Gladstone. Quite a cool feeling for a cocky/unconfident schoolboy aged 16 at his first gig. I never drank alcohol, hated the taste, plus I was also terrified of the intimidating police who marched into the pubs looking for people like me.

All this I can write off the top of my head without looking back into what I wrote at the time. I could write a heck of a lot more, after all I decided I was writer as a child in the 70s, but I want to keep this focussed: it’s about August 1984, for no other reason than it is August 2014.

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What I did in August

At the start of that year I bought a calendar filled with cartoons by New Zealand cartoonists raising money for Amnesty International. For some reason (the inherent writer/historian/memoirist in me?) I started writing down odd things that happened each day. On Jan 1st I apparently got a postcard from my mother and read Animal Farm. That’s all I wrote, but why did I get a postcard? Reading ahead I see her and Dad were visting Perth whanau and me and my sisters were staying in Whitby with cuzzies, just up the road from where I now live…going to Porirua Mall and Petone to buy vogarts…crazy…but stick to THIS story, boy!)

Vogarts: ball-point tubes of fabric ink, $7 each. Tricky to draw with as material stretched (and no such thing as white-out). Detail of band t-shirt.

Like all writing, once you start, it’s hard to stop and the days quickly filled with as much as I could fit in. By August each wee square is chokka block with detail. Which isn’t to say that it is interesting detail; no secret crushes, pashes, binge-drinking or school boy hi-jinks, but what I’ve come to believe as a historian is that it is often the mundane that is most ignored and absent. I always wonder, but what did people do with all their time? And if we know, how did they do it? What’s missing? It tends to be the BIG things that get written down.

Which isn’t to say nothing happened in August ’84; the month starts with the L.A. Olympics and there seems to be day after day of NZ winning gold or silver in something or other (it was our greatest haul, shitting-off the Aussies no-end, who got nowt causing them to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into sport to fix that politically/socially important situation). The All Blacks whopped the poor old Wallabies, too, thanks to Robbie Deans being at full back, I note (I recall a rivalry with the walrus-moustached, pantyhose-wearing Wellington full back Allan Hewson).

On the 28th Stan Ogden died (never a big Corrie fan, this was none-the-less worthy of note). On the 21st I ate my first piece of quiche (prompted by the popular book of the time about what real men did/didn’t do).

And, rather quietly, with nothing else said, on Tues 7th there was a 5.0 earthquake at 4am.

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Colour TVs were big$$. Phillips K9 rented for $7 a week for 8 years before this snap of RTR 11 Aug when Bob Marley was # 1

On the mundane level, I appeared to watch a lot of television (an indicator of my life working in TV, maybe?): MASH, I Dream of Jeannie, Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, Love Boat, Eight Is Enough, One Day At A Time, Fresh Fields, Little House On The Prairie, The Old Men At The Zoo, What Now?, Flipper, Capt. Scarlett, Return To Eden, Gliding On, The Smurfs, Me & My Girl, The Mainland Touch, Beauty and The Beast, It’s Academic, Shazam, Kids from O.W.L, Benson, Bad News Tour, Ready to Roll and Radio with Pictures all get a mention.

The last two were the most important by far, being the only place to see music videos in a pre-MTV, YouTube world. RTR was a countdown of the Top 20 which played at 6 pm on a Saturday night so was essential viewing before going out. RWP was more cutting edge; at 9:30 pm on Sunday night, giving a coda to the weekend, a peek at what is to come, something to be discussed on Monday morning. I watched it every Sunday. On the 5th they played The Verlaines and Joy Division (that morning: snow on the front lawn, listened to Children’s Requests on 3ZB 07:20 to 08:00 – not very good).

Of course, I aspired to be on RWP (and managed it 3 years later) which is why, in my memory, All Fall Down, practised incessantly (no girlfriend, eh?) throughout those years.

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Pretty poster, possibly by Hamish Kilgour?

But if I look at that August, there were only 7 practices, and, goodness, 5 gigs!!?! That’s a pretty good ratio, I doubt if it got any better. The first was on the 3rd at the Gladstone with The Great Unwashed. I was pretty over-awed, The Clean (their precursor) were heroes/gods of the Flying Nun scene who I had watched on RWP and Dropa Kulcha (and maybe Shazam) and when David Kilgour jumped off stage at the sound check to shake my hand, saying ‘Hi, I’m David’, I had to stop myself from saying ‘I n-n-know’. I remember none of the gig but we must have done okay as we were asked to support them in Wellington at the end of the year (on the road…with The Great Unwashed?! sort of…wow).

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My cool Maton semi-acoustic bass looked better than it sounded, but was only $250

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My effort, for the Senior Common Room, doodled in Applied Maths

Next was a lunchtime gig in my school hall at CBHS on the 14th where we had assemblies or were entertained by Hey, Wow! type Christian groups or blind organist Richard Hore and has Farfisa (why did he have to wear slippers?) It was quite a thing to organise as Blair was now working, Jason went to Cashmere, Esther to Linwood and there was some sort of rivalry between the principals to be negotiated in these pre-Rock Quest days when any music other than orchestra or jazz was seen as a rather sketchy activity, educationally. To top it off, drummer Brett was required to go AWOL from the army (we were a ‘dangerous’ band..ho ho). All I remember is that it was wonderfully loud and I took off my school tie to play (I went to a rather formal school). What I’ve noticed from my calendar is lots of mentions of Miss Heinz…Miss Heinz called re. gig…gave posters to Miss Heinz…borrowed PA from Miss Heinz’s boyfriend…returned mic stand we mistakenly took to Miss Heinz…got $31 from Miss Heinz from door (minus $11 Esther’s taxi = $20 profit). I cannot remember what she looked like or what she taught, but I was clearly in want of a girlfriend.

The next two gigs were at the Bill Direen’s Blue Ladder in Cashel Mall on the 23rd & 24th. There’s a lot I want to write about this place so I will keep this short (I wanted this blog to be 700 words, tops, and am already at 1,443…sigh). The Blue ladder was an informal ‘warehouse’ venue with plays, alt music performance and recording. On the 2nd night we ‘head-lined’ playing at midnight after Vague Secrets, A Fragile Line, a play, a film, and a duo.

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Bad puns do not suit a man of arts and letters like Bill Direen. But, hell, we got in the Press!

Then on the Sunday afternoon (3 gigs in a row, wow!) we played a Christchurch crusty hall gig (lots of such informal gigs in those days) at England Street Hall with lots of scary/friendly alt. types smoking and drinking. I remember cowering around the edges, not drinking alcohol. I went to the dairy and got a can of coke after the McGoohans played (apparently).

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Wonderful England St poster

But apart from all the music guff (20th tried out Michael Dalzell on vox… rejected because of ‘musical differences’…no memory of that!… 12th student radio station, Radio U, finished transmission with The The’s ‘This Is The Day’, the same song they started with) what sticks out from all my tiny, scrawled words is all the food. In fact, I felt a bit sick reading it. Every Sunday I walked the dog, Angus, to Johnny Marten’s Food Mart (a charmer of the ladies, lots of young lads helping out…a police raid) with my sister Michelle to get the Sunday News and ‘skulls’ (white choc, er, skulls with red liquid inside; bite them right and blood squishes out their eyes). Many mentions of Mary Gray green apple lollies, Krispy Chips, chips & vinegar from Deb’s, Paddy’s Food Lane, banana milkshakes from Gloucester Food Bar, Beaver Bars (pineapple?!), KFC Video Box (no McD’s or BK in ’84 Chch), and Big Garry’s cheeseburgers from Selwyn Street on a Thursday night (best ever…the way he crisped the melted cheese..mmm, can still taste it).

But it wasn’t just the junk that got noted. On the 25th sister Sonya made her and me porterhouse steak as Mum and Dad had gone to Glen Poad’s wedding. 29 Aug we played French cricket on the front lawn when our good friends the Wagtevelds came to dinner where we had fried rice, wontons, garlic ginger chicken and sponge cake (all home-made). The meal was followed by ‘Benson’ then us kids (me, my sisters and Michael) played knucklebones and 4-handed patience (a family fav.) listening to Monty Python records from the library (the adults would have sat at the table with a little alcohol, many cigarettes and much talking). On the 31st Michael came round having got his driving licence the day before (funny he waited till he was 17 while his father taught me how to drive when I was 15) and we had chips and donuts from Milton Street. Later I made pork fried rice for Mt.Cook and helped Mum pack for the trip (it was the school holidays and we were about to head off on one of our excellent occasional holidays amongst the Southern Alps at Mt. Cook, this one where ‘Uncle’ John shouted us kids a flight up in a helicopter into the mountains which made him rather green).

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Uncle John looking forward to landing at Glentanner

Over all, a funny month; I appeared to sleep into near noon each day as we had time off to do test exams for the end of year exams…something I couldn’t get my head around so it was quite a waste of time. Of course, all the late night gigs plus working in the bakery in the wee smalls didn’t help (and I was 17). On the colder days when I biked to school for said test exams (a distance of about 6 kms) I wore gloves, scarf and oilskin. You don’t see many oilskins these days: must be something to do with peak oil. Then, later in the month it was the school holidays, hence the trip to Mt Cook.

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Lake Pukaki, heading to Mt Cook. Clearly, I’m struggling with the weird viewfinder. Knitted jerseys de rigueur for the mountains.

On the 11th, one of my other great passions was fed when Dad passed on to me the Zeiss Ikon camera he had used since the early 1950s. A good camera, but a bit of a beast, it was fully manual with a peep-hole viewfinder which explained why he often took badly-framed photos.

It also had an external light meter which I thought was pretty cool. I note that he showed me how to use it, but that on the 20th I went to Fox Talbot in town to get some pointers from a professional.

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The Mighty Zeiss Ikon

I was soon shooting a roll of 24 a month (kids take more selfies going to the dunny these days), and, unsatisfied with the patchy results, I soon made my first big-ticket non-musical instrument purchase buying a 2nd hand Nikon EM SLR from Fox Talbot under the Canterbury Centre for $499.

So, what became of all that, the hopes and dreams of a 17 year old?

On the 3rd Mr Fitzgerald gave me an application for Teachers’ College, but I never filled it in – I had had enough of school. But I hadn’t had enough of learning and on the 16th I went to an open day at the University of Canterbury and, liking what I saw, the following year I went to do Religious Studies, History and Classics (it’s all about story for me).

Big surprise, I didn’t become a rock star, even though I tried (to a certain degree). That said, when my daughter said to me last year, ‘Dad, the best thing in the world to be is a rock star’ I replied, gilding the lily a tad, ‘Daddy used to be a rock star’. She was so impressed she told everyone at school (so her teacher said). I’m not sure squealing school girls chasing you for autographs in Chancery Lane on the Friday night after we played at Hillmorton High counts, although I think it’s enough for me.

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Back of my Applied Maths book. Clearly more interested in writing and drawing, I got 16% on the mock test.

I continue to be an obsessive photographer…I have a collection of many cameras. It’s how I see the world, and the internet (and Facebook) have been wonderful for indulging that passion. However, I don’t draw anywhere near as much as I once did, which is a shame. I want to remedy that.

I’m not entirely lost to music but my last ‘rock’ gig was in Auckland in the late ‘90s. Being in a band was like being married to several people at once and I just don’t have the oats for that any more. However, I have a guitar I occasionally play, knocking out satirical ditties to salve perceived wrongs in the world, and, best of all, I have joined a local singing group which I thoroughly enjoy. Amongst others, we’re learning Bill Wither’s Lovely Day and I am astounded to be only one who can hit and hold the 7-bar ‘Daaaaaaaay’ in the chorus…it feels as transcendent as flying without wings.

But my main engagement with music is intellectual; I listen to it, think about it a lot and could write about it till a cow jumps over the moon.

But hell, this was meant to be 700 words and here are 2,500…far more than a blog should be. My next will be shorter, and about music, I promise.

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4 days in August ’85… getting wordier

I will finish on something mundane, yet important, I discovered reading my calendar. On the 29th I picked up sister Michelle from the bus station (where the Casino now is) from a holiday with whanau in Oamaru. She gave me a present of lollies and a diary. It was my first diary and my obsession with filling it with words grew ever bigger, as you can see.

The following diaries would have a page for each day, with at least 1,000 words (at a guess).

I’m a bit scared to look at them. Imagine what I could unpack from those mundane rambles?

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My first selfie

 

 

 

 

 

* A lot of the what happened at the Hot Bread Shop is in this short story The Baker’s Boy published in Takahe Magazine 69 (somewhat unsurprisingly, not my only story about food)

To What End

Stupid Death, stupid Death,

Hope it doesn’t find you

I started blogging a year ago to clear my head of recurring themes in my life. I wanted to use it like a journal, making sketches of things that take my fancy, to salve recurring fears, to beat a pathway out of the clusterhump of grief that has surrounded my existence in the last few years and stroll back into the arms of fiction.

child heads with symbols

I’m loathe to list it all that has happened, it’s all been referred to in various blogs over the year, and I have always intended to (and managed to) write about other things.

But it’s been a funny 10 days or so and some things can’t be avoided.

On Sunday morning, as I lay in the darkness, scrolling through news sites I saw an article about a woman I briefly met about 8 years ago. She’s a very distinctive ex-pat Brazilian model who has just attained a degree in psychology (something she was doing part-time when I met her at a party of Brazilian ex-pats in Auckland, all those years ago).

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Grace on the job

When I met her, I was working in television, doing a programme on Brazilian food. It’s was a great week and I ate many things I had never tried before. But that is not this story, and she wasn’t on Stuff because she had finished a degree. The point was she was familiar to people, and was dedicating her degree to her husband, who died 2 years ago.

Reading that, many parts of my life converged and I immediately wanted to leap out of bed and start writing it out of my head. I knew I would not be able to rest until I did it. But it was 6am on a cold winter morning and my 6 year-old would soon be clambering in to join me.

So I waited and she joined me within minutes, complaining of a nightmare where giants wanted to eat her. I cuddled, listened, diverted by saying it was just a bad dream and could she remember any good dreams? She smiled and said, yeah, she had one where her princess castle had turned into a rocket ship. With a TV! It was AWESOME!!!

But my self-congratulation at diversion was short-lived as she immediately changed back to her sad tone and said her snuggles had bad dreams, too. Gorilla Lilli had dreamed she/he was a baby and …and…a hyena was trying to eat him/her (Gorilla Lilli is a boy AND a girl). While Bucky (a giraffe/something hybrid) had dreamed of being chased by tigers. I kept quiet, a little shocked, letting the story continue, while she danced the two soft toys on the bed singing the song at the top of this blog.

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Bucky and Gorilla Lilli

Stunned, I said I had to get up to go to the toilet and wrote down the musical refrain.

The thing is, 10 days before that I had one of those dreams that affects your whole day. Someone I didn’t recognize had come to me, claiming to be someone I knew who had died in the Christchurch earthquake. She was so sincere, I didn’t want to contradict her. But, even in the dream, I was unsettled.

That day, I worked in a venue that was, likewise, unsettling. The weekend before an adventurous university student had stepped onto a skylight, falling through onto the hard floor 10m below. While he had not died immediately there was still a pall over the place from the stupid, accidental death. The skylight he went through had not yet been replaced, with only a bit of loose plastic keeping the rain and hail from our heads.

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The skylights

Throughout the day, workmates and members of the public quietly looked up to the flapping plastic and down to the floor at a gaffer tape X.

I so wanted to pull it off.

The next day I was working at a different venue, one where the roof, co-incidentally, had just been fixed to remedy persistent leaks. There is no other connection to the previous day. But something happened, linking the narrative in my head.

I had just put the needle in a donor’s arm and gone to the next donor (it was a busy day and we were short-staffed due to illness). When I turned to look at the donor I had just left I saw he had fainted, eyes rolled back, tongue pushed forward, looking like death. I called for help and as soon as I got to him he stared to fit, arms flapping; body flexing. I threw myself on his arm to prevent the needle from doing damage. As my colleagues put themselves on his other limbs I pulled out the needle, doing everything not to be stabbed (or stab him). He has big and there weren’t enough of us, so his arm became loose, spraying blood all around.

Of course, we exuded calm and control, not wanting to distress the other donors, and he soon came round with a smile. However, it was one of the worst faints I have seen in my 5 years as a phlebotomist, and I was wrecked for the rest of the shift.

The following day was a day off. And despite the continually foul stormy weather, I headed to the pool to aqua-jog away the stress. As I waited for the bus, a good friend called who needed to talk. She/he was distressed, facing an awfully mortal health scare, unable to talk to anyone else. I listened to their distress, knowing there was little I could say. Awaiting results from tests, I was sworn to secrecy.

The next day I crashed hard. Exhausted, tonsils swollen, black rings under my eyes, I was certain I was coming down with one of the myriad of ailments that has taken out all my colleagues over the previous month. But with rest, and the news that my friend’s results were clear (plus a bottle of beautifully medicinal cider each day of the weekend) my body rallied and I was not taken by any lurgy.

Nevertheless, on the Monday night after work I fell asleep as soon as my daughter was in bed, waking to the noise of a strange sit-com featuring Sarah Michelle Geller and Robin Williams. It was set in an ad agency and they were trying to re-brand Australia to some densely comic Australians. It was pretty funny. I hadn’t heard of the show and was surprised to see Robin Williams doing TV.

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The Crazy Ones

The next day, as I aqua-jogged in the pool, rehabbing the ankle and Achilles I had surgery on over summer I thought about the challenging 3 days of the previous week. How each illustrated how close we are to not being here. How my friend’s scare was by far the worst. How 2 years ago, as I watched my parents struggle for life (and the release of death) over a few short months, a mix of 6 old colleagues/friends/acquaintances from various past lives had all chosen suicide. How could such a cluster happen? And why…

Though they seemed randomly connected (all male, all around my age), I know that we are built to inject meaning into seemingly-related events.

The next-to-last was the closest, a former bandmate from my formative years. The day before his funeral a colleague had picked up a guitar pick from the floor of the hall where we were working, saying to me, ‘you’re a musician, you must have a use for this.’ I took it with me to Auckland, and when my (then) 4 year-old daughter insisted on viewing Stephen in his coffin, I gave her the guitar pick to place with him.

Later, at his wake, while my daughter played and ate food, I uncovered the final stanza of this inexplicable group. A friend’s partner had lost her fashion-shoot photographer to suicide in the months before. As he said his name I knew that I would know him. What I didn’t know was that Craig had married the Brazilian model I had met at that party in Auckland. Small world. Strange life.

When I got out of the pool last Tuesday after thinking about that strange year, I checked my phone, succumbing to dumb addiction. That’s when I saw that Robin Williams had died.

I felt sad, yet unsurprised. Not because of the co-incidences. More because I had been thinking of that year of loss of those I had known. How it sat in such a strange cluster. Which thankfully ended. Why? Why?!

When I came back to bed and my daughter on Sunday morning, I asked about the Stupid Death song… had she made it up? No, she said, it’s from Horrible Histories! I was so relieved.

Craig was a wild-card, a crack-up, full of life. Stephen was clever and caring; sharing so much beauty with the world.

There’s a Chinese saying I am fond of, ‘no co-incidence, no story’.

I don’t believe that gaffer tape X was marking where the student fell. It was for something else, surely.

People chose death for different reasons. Everyone who expressed pain and loss (or anger) when the beloved Mork left us looked to different, personal explanations.

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Rocket-ship Castle (TV not included)

When, later on Sunday, my daughter went to stay with her mother for the next 2 weeks, I knew what I had to write. As soon as she went I started bashing it out but it was too bleak, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to show this face to the world, it would serve no good. But why did I feel this need, to what end?

Instead I went to the couch and dozed to the bland noise of silence. I awoke feeling awful. The only thing I could do was write or exercise, and as I still could not face this topic, I marched off to the beach to stretch-out my slowly recovering Achilles.

At the top of the path down to the sand, full of anxiety and impotent distress, I found this new piece of graffito.

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At Bay

I think I laughed.

I had something difficult to write. It’s taken a bit. But some things can’t be avoided.

Technology Paralysis

I’ve been suffering from technology paralysis lately…a term I use for the inability to buy new technology as you’re not entirely sure what you want it for (and don’t want to buy something that rapidly becomes redundant).

The problem is that my laptop is now at least 5 years old and giving every sign of giving up the ghost… most worryingly the hard drive starts it do a repetitive clicking followed by a total freeze. Even my 6 year old has begun to recognise the strange blue screen of no-drive-found.

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But what to replace it with? Do people use laptops any more? Has it all gone to tablets? Or do I want to go grunty desktop with sexy large screen for my ever-deteriorating eyes?

My (rare) spare time has been (begrudgingly) wasted on wandering around retail stores looking at all the options. At one point I was convinced that desktop plus tablet would do and headed off to make the purchase only to spot a flaw in the plan and head home empty-handed.

It’s too cold in winter to be stuck at a desk in the office, much better to have something that can be positioned by the fire… my office doubles as a guest room and I would have no access to my computer in such a scenario… laptops are still pretty grunty and it could sit in my office while still being relatively transportable to avoid cold & guests…maybe I should lease rather than buy so I can write off the expense and not lose the capital in an asset that never retains value… etc etc

And while I’m a big fan of technology, I’m not a big fan of shopping… so much time spent doing nothing… unless you impulse spend and live with (possible) regret.

Anyways, after looking at every option I have finally made a tiny (piecemeal) step away from the paralysis and got me a tablet… it’s what I’m writing this on.

I had been going the iPad way (but dislike their many limitations), then Android Samsung tablet (way too many options), but have ended up with a sexy wee Surface 2…mainly as a friend has one, raves about it, and it ticks all my boxes (transportable, rugged, expandable memory, USB etc etc). But most of all, it’s the deliciously soft keyboard cover which means I don’t have to type on unresponsive glass. I have blogged on my iPhone (it was my most-viewed blog)… great for on-the-go but just way too tiny… and glass. This, I am hoping, will let me blog when out-and-about without getting ultra-RSI text thumbs/fingers.

I guess we shall see. Now, what to do about the dying laptop…

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Second Thoughts

Today is a special day. I feel caught at the edge of something; marooned in the calm swell between past and approaching waves.

Why? Because I am exhausted and lost.

I have just come back from taking my daughter to the airport to fly off to visit family. She will have a great time, but as she had been with her mother for a week, the brief minutes together have mixed with my bone-wary exhaustion leaving me adrift in a cold, grey sea.

I know why my body is wary and trembling, giving rise to some loneliness and despair. It’s most probably because I have been working non-stop day and night in jobs which require levels of physical exertion I am probably not yet fit for (something I hate to admit).

It’s 5 and a half months since the operation to fix the Haglund’s Deformity on my heel and though I try to be patient and not think about it, there hasn’t been a moment when I could honesty say that I feel less pain and exhaustion than before the operation. No, I lie. I have many times marvelled at the improved movement and lack of pain, but each time that has happened I have had to remind myself that I’m on painkillers so have no real idea.

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Do I regret the procedure? No. I won’t allow that thought. Do I hate my jobs? No, they are enjoyable and rewarding on so many levels. Do I yearn for a relationship? No, not yet. I need time to heel on all levels.

With my girl gone to have fun I decided to do something I haven’t done in ages; wander around town, looking in second-hand bookshops. It’s not like I wanted to buy any books (I have so many still in boxes), but I just wanted to be free of my thoughts and look for the author I am presently obsessed with, Penelope Fitzgerald. She’s a wonderful, but unfashionable, writer and her books are never on the shelves. That, of course, could be read as a sign of the strength of her work; people hold on to books they like.

First, I tried Pegasus Books in the Left Bank of Wellington’s Cuba Mall.

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It is where I walked on crutches in January, finding a copy of The Gate of Angels, which I am reading at the moment. It’s a choice wee book and I am reading it as slowly as possible, savouring each word and image. It has the thing I require of every book I read, a great opening line (“How could the wind be so strong, so far inland, that cyclists coming into town in the late afternoon looked more like sailors in peril?”).

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But she was not on the shelf, so I went to look for Nicholson Baker, who was also absent, however I did spot a copy of John Banville’s, The Sea, something I read when it won the Booker in 2005. I loved it at the time and something about it has stayed with me. I checked the opening line (“They departed, the gods, on the day of the strange tide.”) I wanted it.

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I checked the price, $15, which seemed steep for a second-hand book I had already read. I put it back and kept looking, but returned three times to re-read the opening paragraph. The beauty of the craft was as compelling as Fitzgerald. After turning to glare at the unthinking woman who twice pushed past me while talking to her companion, both times rubbing her backside against mine (if I did it to her, would it not be sexual assault? Never mind, never mind…), I decided that in my fractured state I was being impulsive, so I left the deliciously book-filled shelves and headed for Arty Bees on Manners Street.

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Yet again, no Baker or Fitzgerald. But there was The Sea, in a different (and cheaper) edition. I read the first page again.

I so wanted it. Not just because it sparked my mind, making me want to write, but because I was intent on buying myself something to mark the day; the last day before I became a year older.

As I walked back towards Pegasus Books, reminiscing about how hard it was to cover this distance 3 months ago when I was still on crutches (noting that for all my moments of despair, I was making progress), I spotted a second-hand book shop I had never seen before; The Ferret Bookshop.

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It’s much smaller than the other two but amongst the fiction I found The Sea, in the same edition I read back when I lived overlooking the sea, on a city island north of my present home. While it wasn’t in as good a nick, it was only $10. Score!

As I went to buy it and head home to rest I noticed another book I had read at the same place by the sea, 10 years ago; Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin. Like Banville’s novel, this biography had slipped inside me in unexpected ways; partly because of the subject but also, as I have come to realise, because Tomalin is a great biographer who I adore (Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Mansfield, Austen… not to mention a biography of Dickens’ secret lover, now the film The Invisible Woman).

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Pepys is like no other writer. Yes, he was writing (secretly) close to great people and events, but it is his startling emotional honesty that compels interest and keeps him relevant. A man of his times, he wrote in code fearing discovery, joyfully recording his sexual ‘conquests’ which we now read as sexual assaults.

And through this, he wrote and lived with the greatest of pain, enduring a horrific and dangerous operation to remove crippling bladder stones. I think of this often, especially when my relatively minor pain chips away at my resolve.

Through the Great Fire and plagues, Restoration surgery, and the distractions of the court of Charles II, he was compelled to examine himself in a way which is stunningly modern.

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Um, I’ve changed my mind

At $15 I had to have this book, too.

As I have mentioned many times, I am awash in the competing currents of fiction and creative non-fiction, pulled one way, then the other, unsure where I am heading, certain they are part of the same body.

Some writers write for money, and the physical sustenance it gives. But most, I believe, write because it is like breathing, and they don’t want to drown.

$25 has purchased me the greatest of birthday presents, and I couldn’t be happier.

I am no clearer which way I am heading, if I’m caught in a rip or heading for paradise. But sometimes, being at sea is the only place to be.

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Thwarted Action

I woke early this morning with the intention of writing a new short story. It was going to be a fast first-draft 1000 -1500 word ANZAC Day-themed piece of speculative fiction for a competition on a New Zealand SpecFic website for ANZAC Day (the day when Australians and New Zealanders commemorate the loss and sacrifice of war).

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Dawn Service at Gallipoli Cove

Although I have had soul-draining week at work due to cock-ups and short-staffing, and will be working this afternoon and evening on this sacred holiday, (it’s sport, mate, Aussie Rules, so the usual restrictive laws don’t apply here, digger) I wanted to bash out a piece of fiction using the skills I’ve been trying to develop through blogging.

Last night, I was nodding off by 19:30, rousing myself to stay awake so I could get a good night’s kip before rising early to make the most of the time when my mind is most active (I’m definitely a morning writer). Through the night I woke every hour or two from dreams that had nothing to do with the story but seemed to focus on the paradise where I used to live. I was in the house where on my first morning there I saw a pod of orcas swim past my kitchen window, a dream-like vision that actually happened.

In the dreams I was climbing around the coastal rocks of my former island home with sea lions and pups, staying well clear of their teeth. Bumping into my former partner, pretending everything was cool, taking my first run after the operation I had on my Achilles’ and heel 5 months ago, feeling naughty and dangerous.

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An active mind never sleeps

While dreams have been great food for my fiction, none of these played into the story forming in my head. Nevertheless, as I woke from these (for me) startling images, a voice and a story started forming, quickly followed by a tone and a likely plot.

By 06:30 is was up, determined to carve out a narrative of a young girl in South Canterbury setting off to find her brother fighting the Bosch somewhere over the Alps. She had crafted a death ray on her farm, and needed to give it to him before the war ended. I had 3 or 4 hours before I had to be at work. The house was cold but I went straight to the computer and made my fatal mistake.

Writing is a fascinating challenge. For the overwhelming majority of writers, fiction is more pain than reward. But acknowledging that reality is not a ‘poor me’ statement (as anyone who plods away at the craft will know). It’s simply something you just have to do.

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Is there a middle way?

I have said many times that blogging is my attempt to find a way through numerous barriers, across the no-man’s-land to fiction. But like anything involving sacrifice or reward it takes many futile attempts. The more I blog, the more I want to blog. My brain writes them every day. But at the same time, the more passionate becomes my need to explore the truths of fiction.

I wrote my last piece of fiction about a month ago and it made me feel bullet-proof for days. It was a piece of speculative erotic fiction written to order for a NZ ‘zine. I worked on it right up to the deadline, got it strong and polished then went to submit it. As always, I re-checked the publication’s requirements as every publisher has different rules. That’s when I realised that they had cut their word-length by 1000 words since I was published. Man, I felt like sacking my personal assistant on the spot (no matter how good she looked doing the filing… and if I had one). It was too late to take an axe to my story. What a wasted effort.

Of course, no matter how much a writer needs a personal assistant, or an editor, only very few have them. You do it all yourself. Which is both a strength and a weakness.

Despite being well over the word limit I submitted the story anyway. No point in laying down dead in no-man’s-land. Once I got the rejection I would extend it into the bigger story it felt it wanted to be and find a publisher, hopefully off-shore.

So this morning, with this snafu in mind, and as people gathered at Dawn Services across NZ in the cold and dark, I decided that before I carved out my rushed ANZAC tale, I would thoroughly check the competition requirements.

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Happy belated 450th Birthday, Bill!

That was my mistake. If I hadn’t, the story would have got writ. Instead, I grumpily got up, did the washing and vacuuming cursing my constant tiredness and stupidity.

While I had read the deadline as midnight tonight, the stated deadline was “Midnight 25 April NZST”. Not fatal, but questionable. I furiously googled whether that would mean the deadline was to come or had passed. I found no consensus. Like a battle, midnight could be the start or the end of the day.

This did not put me off; resilience is as essential in writing as it is in life. I would write and submit it anyway; taking the same philosophical approach I had with my story last month. After all, unlike many competitions, this one was free to enter and I would get a good wee story out of it. However, as I looked deeper I found that in order to enter you had to join the SpecLit society for a (recurring) fee of $30.

That’s what turned me from that task and towards this blog.

Writing is a battle where, even though the pen is mightier than the sword, no-one dies. Well, there are exceptions, of course. Countless people have been killed or condemned for putting pen to paper. But today, my society remembers those who took up the sword. I chose not to join them but to take up the pen instead.

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I heart fountain pens (much better for stabbing)

Last year I took my daughter to the local Dawn Service and blogged about it in A Post-Rugby Post. It was an interesting day.

I am a committed pacifist who will never kill a stranger in a foreign land just because someone told me to.

But that’s another subject for another day. And there are other stories to tell.

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Hire Aims

It’s a long time since I’ve blogged, and although my internal narrative constructs new ones every day I never seem to find the time to get the words out of my head. Of course, everyone is busy and time has to be found to hurdle the excuses which block any output. My major excuse has been learning to walk after so long on crutches or in a moon-boot (a process I seriously underestimated). My knee wobbles, my ankle is uncertain and my toes feel like they will snap. The physical demands of getting back to work has been hard enough in itself, and any time not working, doing chores or caring for my child has been spent elevating my leg to deal with the inevitable swelling and pain.

That said, for the last three weeks I have been walking down to the beach whenever I can, something that takes 40 minutes and leaves me covered in sweat – quite a comedown, as even with my pre-op Achilles and bone deformity I could easily run for an hour up and down the tracks where I live (well, maybe not so easily but it seems that way compared to now).

Nevertheless, my exercise over the last few weeks has stripped over 3 kgs off my body, and even though I’m always tired and puffing, I feel much better than I have in many months. Not as good as I was pre-op (disabling condition and all) but I try not to think about that. As my CEO said when I expressed frustration with my slow recovery, that’s why we call them patients…because they must be patient.

After I dropped my daughter at school this morning I decided not to rush through my to-do list and stopped for a coffee at my favourite local espresso bar. It’s little more than a hole-in-the-wall and I like that. The owner is friendly and I prefer to support these small enterprises in preference to the awful homogonous franchises that dominate every retail area. It has character (and wonderful homemade caramel slice).

I’ve stopped there in the past chatting with the groovy old Dutch lady who always has New Zealand music playing at a reasonable volume. There’s never anyone else there but this time I was surprised to find it chokka with people waiting for coffee (there were 4 people).

As I happily waited, enjoying the stillness of a hot autumn morning, I noticed a stack of fliers by the ceramic clog on the counter offering a ‘Hubby 4 Hire’ service to do the jobs you either have no time to do (or resent doing).

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I wanted to pick it up because:

1. I hate doing lawns (such a waste of time with no satisfaction).

2. The rate seemed very reasonable.

3. The logo on top was hilarious, while also being a little bit insulting and rather true.

4. I collect ephemera like this if it catches my eye.

But I suddenly felt self-conscious and didn’t want to be adjudged as a lazy, or a somehow deficient, man (a belittling narrative that gets pushed in our culture).

When the other punters got their coffees and went out to enjoy the sun I slipped a flier into my bag. Then another man walked in, and while he waited for his coffee he picked up one of the fliers, looked at me then put it down saying, nah, makes me feel guilty. Yes, I said, but I really hate doing the lawns. True, he said, such a waste of time. Don’t even feel good once it’s done.

We both laughed at ourselves. He was younger than me, a burly Samoan with his lineage tatau-ed on giant fore-arms.

In the minute it took me to sip down my macchiato he asked the barista if she was missing her family who had gone back to Europe. She looked over her glasses and said in her heavy Dutch accent, can I tell the truth?

Well, I have known many Dutchies and been part of more than one Dutch family (in fact, although I am a Scots/English Pakeha I identify as part Dutch), and they will always tell you exactly what they think. She then said that the problem with Dutch Dutchies is that they think that their bloody opinion is how things are. I laughed, knowingly, and she smiled saying, I hope I have been here long enough to lose some of that.

Every moment is full stories to a writer. Whether they are bashed out there-and-then as a blog, or whether they percolate into a piece of fiction; all depends on time.

While I have no Dutch blood, I can swear in Dutch and regularly employ the same guttural ‘ach’ of frustration/contempt that the barista expressed when she made a mistake with one of the punter’s coffees.

I am a man who hated his deformity, and is frustrated with the resulting incapacity; who has little time for any so-called rules about what makes a man a man, or dull stereotypes about shirking husbands and bossy women.

Or so I like to believe.

Which brings me to the real reason I blogged today – I wrote a new piece of fiction in the weekend, something I decided I needed to do before I could allow myself to prattle away in this form.

Whether fiction or memoir is my higher aim comes down to mood and identity. I’m still not exactly sure which I am, but both forms involve storytelling and self-examination.

I will not be employing anyone to mow my lawns. I intended to do so over the summer when I was on crutches, unable to perform my manly duty. Instead, I waited it out until I found a way to do it by hobbling around on one crutch, swinging the weed-eater in circles around me. What could be more like a man?

There is something else to the story of this Hubby 4 Hire flier. The contact number is for a woman called Rachel. Is she the ‘hubby’ looking for work, or is she ‘the wife’ finding things for her man to do?

In these questions lie my own answers.

If I am patient.

Confessions of a De-Fluffer

I’m on the train to the Wellington Sevens, which is a 2-day carnival of dress-ups punctuated by watching a little bit of rugby (in its shortened form).
I’m not participating in the festive atmosphere but will be standing in the middle it, as I have done for the last 7 years, watching the 30,000 grown-ups act in way quite foreign to New Zealand at any other time.
This blog will be an attempt to say something about this event which none of the plethora of other blogs observe or say.
This may be my greatest writing challenge as all sports events tend to generate maximum cliche.
So, here we go, the train is pulling into Wellington. Let the sun & silliness begin!

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2 hours until the first of the 24 games kicks off and it’s pretty quiet in the stadium. All of my equipment is checked and ready to go. Of course, if there are going to be problems, they will pop up close to kick-off when all electrical and RF equipment is running. It’s happened before and since rogue RF is hard to track down (it will usually come from an unaccredited TV crew sneaking in & switching on a mic, or a dodgy taxi parked outside) it results in a big panic as the 30 or so match officials listening to our system rush up to tell me the comms aren’t working.
You have to be an adrenaline junkie to thrive in such situations where hours of boredom are punctuated by minutes of sheer terror (to use a war analogy).
In such situations I go very calm, in fact, calmer than I am in any other social situation. It’s a skill that’s helped me in various guises; playing music, acting on stage, being a TV soundie & working in sports comms.
So, what exactly is a de-Fluffer? Well, since I’m also a writer I shall keep that detail unexplained until we are underway.

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5 mins to kick off. All systems go. First up, Scotland vs. Canada, 2 underdogs close to my heart. I have Scots roots & my daughter has Canadian. Not sure who to support. Maybe Canada, as they are the biggest/smallest underdogs (and their motto is ‘Canadian Rugby…BeLeaf’).

DAY 2

Well, the rest of yesterday’s attempt to blog was a bit of a washout. It turns out that touch screens don’t cope that well with rain, light or heavy, both of which dampened my sideline possie.

And while I could get into the players tunnel for a bit of shelter at times, I soon churned through my battery and couldn’t find a place to recharge. That said, even if it had stayed fine and my phone was capable of the days of charge our phones used to easily achieve, by the evening the stone age cell-phone/internet coverage at the CakeTin was at capacity making it impossible to even send a text.

This is probably one of the reasons attendances have slumped. People expect to be able to text their mates to hook up or post photos of themselves at the venue. It’s so bad that an Australian crew I worked at this venue with last year had been warned by previous visitors.

But I’m not here to grumble.

With the burning summer sun of the morning & the heavy rain of the afternoon, and 10 hours of being PAed by the latest singalong hits, I was pretty shattered by the time I got home at midnight.

After 6 hours sleep I’m back, ready for another day of shirt-lifting and de-Fluffing.

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