Category Archives: Whanau

2 Days in Christchurch (part 3)

No Escape

It was hard to prise myself out my funky room at BreakFree on Saturday morning. I was four floors up, isolated from any noise with a generous (for NZ) 500MG of data.

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I opened the blind and saw the sun rising in the east as a steady stream of fluro-jacketed re-construction workers walked into the CBD through the empty waste of Cashel Street. Apparently their request for parking privileges as they rebuild the city has been declined.

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After some quick stretches (often hard to achieve in a studio room) I went down to the gym to do 15 minutes on a bike. I have a torn meniscus at the moment (cartilage in the knee) and can’t run (or sleep or sit or stand without discomfort), so low impact is the only option. It was great to get the heart going and to stretch the tendon on the same leg that was operated on 3 years ago to correct Haglund’s deformity. The Achilles’ takes a long time to heel. A 7mm bone spur was shaved off and the tendon scraped clean. I haven’t been able to run properly since and when in bare feet have the disconcerting sensation of feeling the cup of the Achilles’ on my heel. It’s not painful. Tendons are just slow to re-align. If I press on the scar on my heel an electric shock fires to the other side. It’s because tendons are piezoelectric, like a crystal in a turntable stylus or the starter for a bbq. The cells all line up and fire as one.

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After a shower in the coolly opaque en-suite I took my bags to the lockers at the bus exchange ($2 a locker for 24hrs). It was warm and sunny (in the sun) but the cool Easterly meant many people were in jackets (especially the South African rugby fans in town for the game against the All Blacks). I regretted wearing shorts. But that’s spring in Christchurch. I headed to the Pop-Up ReStart shops by the Bridge of Remembrance to look for a pressie for my mate who’s just turned 50.

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I went straight to Hapa and found the perfect thing as soon as I walked in the door, a pretty-as solar-powered retro Kiwi caravan nightlight. Lumilight is a UK company that does Alpine chalet lights, and a (surprisingly random) selection of NZ ones (Wool Shed, Otago Hotel!? etc).

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Then it was off to C1. Being a sunny Saturday morning it was packed with a long queue at the counter. On a tight schedule I nearly went somewhere else but I love the place (and food) so much. A group of Merivale/Rangi girls behind me whined about the wait, fussed over their friends who weren’t saving their table right, gushed about things on their phones, and repeatedly pushed into me trying to make the line go faster.

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I didn’t really want a big breakfast but I still chose the Super Choice Bro. Because I had to travel the city. Backwards and forwards. And because of the name.

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As I sat outside scribbling in my journal, ready for a half hour wait, I watched groups of mums rush to grab tables and big-bellied rugby fans look at the café with confusion.

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My pretty-as macchiato appeared after 3 minutes. My killer kai took 7. I was amazed. So fast, so beautiful. Not a hulking pile of fried stodge. The matching oblongs of smoked bacon belly and hash brown were almost too stylish to eat. Almost.

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Then down to South City to the only florist that seems to be open in the CBD, stopping briefly to drool over a couple of bass guitars in the window of CJs music store (where I bought two basses in the ‘80s). I wanted flowers to take to my grandparents. I hadn’t been in a long time. It’s tricky when you don’t live in town any more. I used to go with my mother but it’s nearly five years since she went to ashes, too.

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Tempted by the garish multi-coloured chrysanthemums at the door I settled on simple daffodils (they’re up everywhere in Chch). The florist said she hates the chrysanthemums and laughed. They’re dyed in Japan and people love them but they’re impossible to make an arrangement with.

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I headed back up Colombo St with my three bunches on daffys to catch the bus out east. The driver said I didn’t need to buy him flowers, and laughed. And then three tourists got onto the otherwise empty bus and sat right in front of me making me even more self-conscious. It was the refs for the All Blacks vs Springboks test that night (I do comms for rugby in Wellington and had worked with them a couple of weeks ago). They were sightseeing, killing time before the game, but didn’t recognize me.

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Feeling amused, and slightly aggrieved that I couldn’t escape work, I listened to the Australian video ref school the French officials how to speak NZild English. It was funny and awkward but I didn’t want to surrender my anonymity (or explain the flowers). When they expressed amusement/bemusement at the 185 white chairs lined up on Manchester Street as a memorial for the victims of the 2011 earthquake I spoke up, becoming a tour guide for a block or two before saying gidday (and explaining the flowers).

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I’ve been going to the crem in Linwood since the early ‘70s after my grandmother died when I was 6. My grandfather, Sandy, finally joined his Flo’ in the mid ‘80s. Immigrants from Scotland, they escaped the post-WWI slump in the 1920s. With most of the large family they had in Christchurch now moved on themselves I expected their stone to be untended. But there were flowers. It made me happy. As I kneeled and cut the stems of enough flowers to jam into the plastic vase a small boy ran up to me. “Don’t run in here, Latham!” his grandmother called out behind him. “Do you have a granddad Russell, too?” he asked.

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It’s hard knowing how to remember the past. I try to always think well of it. After touching the stone 3 times, feeling the loss a little less each time, I took the remaining flowers to look for the memorial of close family friends I had yet to pay my respects to. They had loomed large in my life. Throughout my childhood and teens I had spent many holidays with Aunty Marie and Uncle John. Their metal vase had no flowers, and 13 holes. Exactly the number of flowers I had left.

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It was now noon. Time to bus back to town, retrieve my bags and head out to New Brighton to listen to music, drink and laugh, escape and remember the past.

 

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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

 

 

Flo

One of my earliest memories is from 1969. I was 2. Nana Flo walks through the door from the kitchen towards me. I am tiny. On the floor, maybe standing. Either way, she looms over me. She is carrying a sponge cake. I am excited. Unsure. Is it really for me? I loved Nana’s baking. Everyone did. Lamingtons were my favourite. But on this day, my birthday, there is a sponge cake because I am 2.

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I don’t have many memories from that time. Who does? But I vividly remember going to see my new-born sister, Michelle, at the hospital nursery when I was 3. The babies were lined up behind a glass window. Dad lifted me up to point out Michelle who was by the wall on the right. As I looked at the rows upon rows of babies I remember thinking, I have seen this before. I saw my sister Sonya here when I was 2.

This is snapshot of the few memories I carry of Nana Flo, my mother’s mother. This tiny woman was a giant of my infancy, the matriarch of a large immigrant family who gathered every Sunday to eat food and tell stories.

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Flo as a girl (back right) with her Mum & Dad, sisters & brothers

I remember little of these times. Young as I was the world was an exciting blur of the new and the familiar. I never knew what to take note of so tried to soak everything up. At a family gathering at Nana and Grandad’s, I was about 3. Surrounded by various aunts and uncles relaxing by the fire, Uncle Robert was showing us his guitar. So small I still lived on the floor, I reached up to take the pick he held out to me. Not knowing exactly what to do, I popped it into the round hole behind the strings, treating the instrument like a slot machine, expecting to hear music. The laughter that erupted both startled and unnerved me. I thought I had broken it.

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By the fire, Morley St

My grandparents, Sandy and Flo, lived in a council flat in Bryndwr on the other side of Christchurch from where I grew up. Once, Mum walked us there. With my sisters in the pram (Michelle in the seat, Sonya sitting up on the hood, bags underneath), I tootled along beside them on my blue trike as we covered the 8 kms from Stanbury Ave to Morley St, sometimes dubbing Sonya in the tray of my trike to give Mum a rest. It was a great trip. We stopped at every dairy on the way, rewarded with sweets for good behaviour. Dad picked us up later in our little Morris 1100.

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Morley St. No shed or wood-box down the driveway today

One of the most enduring memories I have of my grandparents is them sitting together on the wood-box in front of the shed at the end of the driveway, smiling and waving to us as we stood on the back seat of the 1100, waving back. They seemed so happy and content. Pleased with the visit. Happy to be alone with each other.

Sandy and Flo, Cathedral Square Chch

Nana also features in my only memory of turning 5. I was running out of the front door at Stanbury Ave when she called to me from the lounge. Had I done something naughty? I could see through the window that she was waving a parcel. For me. Why was she growling? Inside the uncertain package was a book about ponies. I loved it. I grew up loving horses. Race tracks, stables, paddocks, training tracks with family friends. I have an early memory of watching a foal being born. Being told to be very quiet or the mother may get a fright and kill it. It was an extraordinary sight.

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The book of Ponies

The year I turned 5 Nana got sick. I remember going to visit her in 2 different hospitals, Christchurch (very dark) and Princess Margaret (very sunny). Outside her room I was instructed to be quiet. Told that the doctors couldn’t make her better. I found it difficult to understand. Years later, when I was an adult, Mum talked about the shock of seeing her mother lose confidence in simple things. Cooking, looking after kids. I saw this in a vivid event at Stanbury Ave. No birthday cake or presents, guitars or epic journeys; it was a fire in our kitchen. I was sitting with my sisters watching the old B&W TV in the dining room when I heard Nana scream. I turned to see a pot of oil on fire. The flames taller than Nana. Flickering light. She was panicking, calling for Mum, who rushed in and sorted it out.

After one of the hospital stints Nana came to live with us for a week or two. It was pretty exciting as a bed was set up for her in the lounge, and she got to use a yellow wooden stool in the shower. I really wanted to do both of those things, too.

Nana died the month I turned 6. She wasn’t old, still in her 60s. I remember going to Morley Street to see Grandad when it happened. There was shouting between Mum and her brother, Alex, both hurting from the loss of their mother. Mum crying. Me scared, behind the table. So much tension in those moments of grief. I instantly recognized, and relived, such raw ill-directed pain when my parents died less than 4 years ago.

Flo’s wedding and engagement rings, cut off in hospital

I don’t think I went to Nana’s funeral service, I was considered too young. But afterwards everyone came back to our place at Stanbury Ave to eat food and remember Flo. There were a lot of mourners, too many for our house. Flo had 6 brothers and sisters, 7 adult children. A sprawling, ever-growing clan. On that sunny day in April, a white canvas tent was set up in our back lawn for the tables heavy with food. I thought that was pretty exciting at the time.

It’s funny what sticks in your memory. Of all the countless hours I spent with Nana these are the few I recall. I wish there were more, that she had been part of our lives for longer. But this tiny lady was too big a presence to entirely disappear. I have heard stories of her for the rest of my life.

Nana’s swans sit where I write

Earlier this year I attended a workshop in Creative Non-fiction intending to write the stories Mum told me about Nana and her Scottish family. What brought them to Christchurch. It’s quite a tale. Trying to write it down was a great exercise, I’m proud of what I wrote. But it still needs a lot of work. You can’t do such stories justice in 7,000-12,000 words. No single thread can be teased out without pulling on so many others. Me, my parents. My sisters, my daughter. My aunties and uncles and cousins.

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A party at Morley St

Florence Hall was born in 1905, 110 years ago today. I have thought about her most days for the last year. Not just because I was writing about her, but because 1 year ago today, on the day of her 109th birthday, major renovations started on my house. Walls disappeared, floors vanished. Ceilings came down, windows popped out. Through the turmoil and renewal I have kept a small arrangement of old photos as a constant among the dust and grime. This photo of the patron saint of the rebuild used to sit by my mother’s bed.

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It is Nana (now Flo Boyd) taken just after her first child, Alex, was born in Scotland. Her long hair has just been cut short in a 1920’s bob. In the clench of her lips and nearly-smiling eyes I see my mother, my sisters my daughter and me.

Happy birthday, Flo. Your memory endures.

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)

On a Sandy Shore

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This morning I woke at 4 am. Not unusual, especially on a full moon. It was so bright and my mind was active, writing narratives that will never see the light of day. It’s been a couple of long, challenging days at work with overtime and 4 hours travel each day, a situation exacerbated by the short-staffing that the health service routinely endures, further compounded by the panic that occurs when sickness and injury removes any meat from a workplace already shaved clean to the bone.

And while I tend to thrive on the adrenaline of panic (it’s how my shy character once found a comforting home on the stage), I am still only 8 months into a 2 year recovery from surgery on my ankle, and I tire easily. Yes, it’s a long recovery. If I knew it would take so long, I’m not sure I would have done it. Especially given that it’s only in the last few weeks that I could say there has been an improvement in my condition. That said, my general fitness is a lot worse than it ever was. I try not to think about it. I do exercises and stretches every day, and go for short walks, training my heel, ankle and knees to walk again. Who would have thought that shaving a 9mm spur off the ankle would have such an impact?

Given that situation, you may think I would be glad of a lie-in. But there is too much to do, and I have a mind that never rests. Often when I sleep I dream of running (something I have done all my life until Haglund’s Deformity knocked me on my arse and on to crutches). Last night I had an incredibly vivid dream where I was about to play a match with the Warriors (the only sports team I love). It felt great to be moving, running, passing the ball but I soon realised that I was about to take the field in the hardest professional Rugby League competition in the world and the Australian opposition was bound to target me. I got very, very anxious, afraid for my bones and life, waking suddenly at 1am, relieved (and a little disappointed).

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Ouchie!

None of this is what got me out of bed at 4am on a day when I have no work or child to tend to. I got up because I wanted to write about my grandfather.

It is his birthday tomorrow, and, were he alive, he would be 111 years old. Crikey, that’s quite a number. Apparently, when the New Zealand cricket team is on 111 runs, the players in the shed all lift their feet off the floor to avoid losing a wicket. (I had a girlfriend once who was a great cricket fan and she always insisted we did the same. I can’t recall if it worked).

On a more personal level, my mother, my grandfather’s first daughter (who he always called ‘hen’), died on 11.11.11: Remembrance Day (as if I could forget). Once, during those impossibly short, endless months as we waited for the unthinkable, I told her she had to make it to that date. But, then, many things are said as you wait, wait, wait.

My grandfather, Sandy (the Scots shortening of Alexander), was born in 1903, and though he left Scotland in the 1920s, he never lost his sing-song Scots accent. I have, by chance, a quick snippet of it recorded 4 days before he died in 1985. I treasure those few seconds of audio.

He was a lovely, gentle man who, like most of his generation had a hard life. He married my grandmother, Flo’, in Forth in 1926 and they had my uncle, Alex (my mother’s big brother who passed in January), in the historic ironworks town of Wilsontown.

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An imagining of Wisontown in its heyday

A significant player in the Industrial Revolution (the first use of coke instead of charcoal, the first hot blast form of the blast furnace) it was in decline by the mid 1800s.

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Long demolished housing, Wilsontown, Scotland

My wider family worked the coal mines that remained and my grandparents and wee Alex escaped the soon-to-be demolished insanitary slum in the late 1920s, on a boat that took them to the coal mines at Dobson, on the West Coast of New Zealand, where my mother was born on the kitchen table, to the sound of my granddad’s squeaking boots. (“Will ye no stop that dreedful pacing, Sandy?!)

When I visited Wilsontown (now a Scheduled Ancient Monument) in 2000 it was beautiful, a wild field of flowers and forest with a few ruins. Annie, the elderly cousin of my mother, her husband Bill, and their daughter, Rae walked me around the ruins and I picked up a piece of slate from the place where my grandparents lived.

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Annie & Bill attacked by midgies, Wilsontown 2000

Bill, in his 90s, recalled living there, pointing out the spot where, as a child, he had gone to see silent movies (!?!) They also took me to the place where my grandfather had taken my grandmother by motorbike when they were courting, impressing her not with the red Panther, but with his skill on the cornet.

When I lay in bed at 4am this morning, eyes closed, willing myself to rest, I started to grasp for a verse Bill had recited when we went to see my grandfather’s old school. They asked if I wanted to get out the car to take a photo. I didn’t. This was the pre-digital era and, unlike now, photos were rationed (more space in the backpack, more expense).

But I have the picture in my head because Bill pointed to a hill; a Marilyn (a hill of 150m) named Tinto, and recited a verse. It seemed to me that whenever a subject came up Bill would burst into a relevant song or verse. I only heard it once, but it is a much stronger image than any photo.

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Tinto in Lanark (the verse is at the end of the blog)

My grandfather, ‘Sandy’ Alexander, died 4 days after my father’s 60th birthday, his lungs drowned in fluid caused by all those years down the mines (helped on by the fags). Long-widowed he was living with us at the time, that’s why I have a (brief) recording of his wonderful voice (“like a set of bloody bagpipes”, my Uncle Alex would say). In his last week he would call out in the night, “I’m coming mother, I’m coming”. We weren’t sure if was calling to his actual mother, or to Flo’, who he missed dearly and called ‘mother’ (or ‘hen’).

Sandy had escaped the rapid decay of Scotland with his young family for the promise of New Zealand, but ended up smack-bang in the Great Depression, and WW2 Christchurch.

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Sandy, ever-present rollie in mouth, Christchurch c.1930s

He worked for the railways and helped build the causeway to Sumner to provide for the ever-increasing brood of my uncles and aunties. Flo’, with my mother’s help, fed the kids and whoever else needed a feed (like a lot of the now-despised poor, they were always generous with what they had).

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Sandy, Mum, Flo’, Alex and new baby Anne, Lyttleton c1930s

As a child, my mother used to sit on his knee as he taught her the old songs.

He died in my bed in the dark of night in my mother’s arms, struggling for breath as she sang him the old lullabies, one of which, Sandman Grey, I sang to my daughter when she was a restless baby.

We sang the same song with my dying mother, the last time I saw her. It was agonising saying goodbye. With Mum in one arm, my infant daughter in the other, my sisters beside me, it was the hardest day of my life. I will hear the pain in her tears forever.

But what can you do?

Life is hard. Death is harder. But amongst both, there is immeasurable beauty.

It’s a long time till I will walk with ease again, let alone run. At the moment I head to the beach whenever I can to march up and down the loose sand, working on unstable movement, gentling increasing impact and stress to my withered muscles, tendons and ligaments, helping them to get stronger.

I cannot believe my grandfather was born 111 years ago tomorrow, 2 years after the death of Queen bloody Victoria. I sometimes wonder if my relatively long roots (Antipodean pun intended) have fed my hunger for history and memoir.

I shall sing the songs and stories that made me, each verse and chorus of love, lust and loss for as long as I breathe.

But now it is light, the full moon outshone by day.

I need to head to the beach in search of loose sand to test me.

 

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‘On Tintock tap, there is a mist,

And in that mist, there is a kist,

And in that kist, there is a cup,

And in that cup, there is a drap.

Tak’ up that cup, and drink that drap, that’s in yon kist, on Tintock tap!’

Knock knock

What a strange feeling seeing my daughter’s door shut and wondering if I should knock. It’s always open. Always.

She only shuts it with a conspiring friend inside or after a storming huff, and I never knock in those situations.

Maybe she is tired and having a nap. It is the second day of the 6 week summer break, her first one, something she’s not entirely down with.

This is a child who got up and walked into the kitchen on the morning of the last day of school crying, “I don’t want school holidays”.

Who on the first day of the school holidays snarled, “I hate school holidays”.

There have been play-dates each day and we have read books together, been up in the garden, hula-hooped on the deck. But it’s only day 2.

I imagine she misses being part of a gaggle of children most. So many friends to flit about, so much to do and say in a world built for them.

With a cast on my leg I’ve been spending a lot of time down there, it’s a different world at their height, eye-to-eye with a 5 year-old. I can see why they leave so much on the floor; it’s a very handy surface with everything in reach.

It’s at least 45 minutes since she tootled down to her room after playing by the Christmas tree while I did the lunch-time dishes. I came down to see what was up about 15 minutes ago and, finding her door closed, slipped next door to the office to wonder if I should knock. Maybe my girl is growing-up, wanting private time? Or is she just having a nap?

I shall knock quietly as I imagine she will indeed be asleep. We’re not far off the longest day so each day stretches out with a tiring reach. She had a sudden snooze yesterday, in the sun on the spare bed while I wrote. She hasn’t napped here with me since she was 3.

It’s been a big year: her first at school.

She has learned to read and found a singing voice: grown noticeable inches in sudden spurts.

There is one other ‘maybe’ and that is maybe she is crying. But that is the smallest maybe of all.

Here we go. Knock-knock.

Wait, how do I knock on crutches?

I guess I’m about to find out.

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From the Nest

Families are nests where stories grow. What each tale will become is often unclear. But with the transformations of time the nest remains: familiar, fragile, strong.

I grew up in a family of stories. Everything and everyone had a story, from the chipped and glued figurine on the mantelpiece to every member of my family. All had a story.

In our immediate family of five (six when granddad was with us), Mum was the storyteller. The eldest girl of seven siblings, she, like her elder brother, told stories of the greatest length with the most detail and funny voices. They took interjections, allowed any and all anecdotes each auntie or uncle offered up with great mirth. Dad always sat there and laughed.

As a kid sitting at a table over-loaded with food and drinks I was taught not to return to the same plate twice, to be seen and not heard. There was always too much food to choose from and you couldn’t just pick at your favourites or you would miss out on the desserts: fruit salad, lamingtons, always a pav, with its sweet hard shell and soft chewy centre.

I don’t know how many times I heard about the day my uncle fell into the duck pond in the Gardens and how Mum, as the eldest, got the blame. Or the summer Granddad biked into the Square to get Ice-cream Charlie’s for everyone; balancing the nine ice-creams in a box on the handle-bars for the ride home.

When I was young it was the jokes and clowning of the younger uncles (two jokers and a clown) that opened my ears: they were never repeated, always new. Even today, I remember the best of those jokes. The fart that went Honda. The polar bear who had just eaten an ice-cream.

Family get-togethers were frequent in my childhood. They seemed an echo of the shared meals my mother grew up with where, every Sunday, everyone came to my grandparents’ house (married and moved on, or not). There were always room for friends, a meal provided for anyone who needed it. Such is the rhythm and noise of extended families.

The harmonic I experienced began after my grandmother died and everyone moved away seeking better jobs and lives. When someone came back to visit the old hometown of Christchurch we would flock in for meals shared across two tables as no one table was big enough for adults and children. As always, the old stories came out with interjections and anecdotes, the familiar funny voices.

Outside the shared meal we kids were told to get lost, which we did: packs of cousins, in country or town, heading somewhere to do something. Creek, domain, paddock, park: making huts, sitting together singing to a 45, imploring Billy not to be a hero, telling Laura that Tommy loved her.

The thing about family is you never want the stories to end. You may get bored of oft-repeated tales but as you get older they take on a glow you want to add to.

Today, I live alone. It’s not what I intended. I expected to be near whanau with a partner and children, a living reflection of how I grew up. But the demands of an economy that puts little value on being near the support of family has turned me, like many, into an internal migrant far from my shared stories.

I’m not entirely alone. I have a daughter who is five. I share her care with her mother every other week (far from family, she also lives alone). I love being a parent but struggle being so far from my nest. There are no siblings to squabble with; no cousins leading my daughter into mischief, no stories patiently ignored while waiting for the funny bits.

I do my best to replicate what I miss. There are many others like me in the Bay, far from family. We regularly get our kids together so they may roam free and create mischief while the adults talk.

I’m inching towards a whanau of sorts with aunties and uncles keeping an eye on things, gently teasing and cracking jokes.

Mum has been gone nearly two years. I have her box of photos of people I do not know, and the memory of her voice. There are many other bits and pieces around the place and I tell my daughter the story of each one. The chipped Hummel figurine of a boy eating a pudding sits by the dining table where I eat meals with my daughter. It was broken the night we kids were throwing a ball with Mum. It was a spontaneous moment, we weren’t to throw balls inside, and Mum cried when she saw what she had done. I glued it back together but it’s a rough fix.

I haven’t told my daughter this particular story but I will. We talk a lot, about everything. She’s a very chatty girl. She knows where nearly every object in this house came from, who gave her each toy and all of her clothes. In time, this closeness will change and we will have to part. Until then we tell jokes, and interject, weaving stories built for flight.