Tag Archives: memoir

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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Dressing Up Christmas Past, Boxing On

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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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.

We, Too, Have Paris

Everyone knows there’s something about Paris, something eternal. 10 years ago today (or thereabouts) I flew to Paris. Which makes it 9 years and 11 months since I was last there. Time flies.

ratatouille-1I first spent a night in the city of light back in the mists of the Millennium. It was very much a

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Paris 2000

stopover as I had no real desire to visit, but somehow the 24 hours I spent wandering around Montmartre and the Champs Elysees, the Place de la Concorde and Napoleon’s tomb got under my skin. The people were colourful, friendly; not at all as rude as the reputation that proceeds them. Like London, it felt international. A city that belonged to the world.

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Euro 2005 Travel plan

Five years later (10 years ago today, or thereabouts) I flew back to Paris, buttressing a month in Europe with two five-day stints. I loved it. Fell for the Ile de St Louis. Saw someone dragged from the Seine. Visited the flowers left at the spot where Diana died. I wrote about it last September in Songs of September if you wish to know more. Suffice to say what happened changed me, for better or worse (I choose better).

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Rescue on the Seine

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A tribute

My seven year old daughter sees something special in Paris. In fact, she recently asked if we could go there one day, together. Of all the places in the world it seems an interesting place for her to fixate on. Better than Disneyland. Excellent. Love my girl.

SouzaMaybe it’s the place Paris holds in popular media. She loves Home (full of Paris). Adores the Triplets of Belleville (not Paris, exactly, but a hybrid of Franco/US excess). Delights in A Monster in Paris (a wonderful film for kids full of cool non-Hollywood music). And last weekend we watched Ratatouille with its representations of Parisian streets so precise I could say to my girl (who has a French name thanks to her Francophone mother), “that is where I sat and ate meringues by the Seine as gendarmes leaped over me and my, er friend, waving pistols to keep us to quiet”.

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It’s not just kids’ movies. On my writing course last week we talked about Midnight In Paris discussing what age we would most like to visit. I had to resist blurting I was watching the third series of Vikings (a series I love so much I wrote about it) where the attack on Paris is so stunningly realised it takes up 3-4 episodes of the 10 part series. To see Medieval Paris, such an unbelievable treat!

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Even Vikings heart Paris

10 years is a long time in any life. Even when it seems like yesterday. I remember almost every meal I ate. Every surprising sight. Every fight. Every reconciliation. Every ridiculously romantic moment.

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Pre-smartphone travel plan 2005

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Meringue by the Seine

I was going to let the anniversary of that September go by without note but this morning I read a great short story by Lorrie Moore called ‘You’re Ugly, Too’. It’s very dark and funny. A history teacher from Maryland tries to teach complacent, uncurious Mid-Westerners in Paris, Illinois about history. Just the idea of there being a place called Paris, Illinois is mind-bendingly awful, and funny.

Today, I remember Paris, and look forward to my next visit when I will go with my girl and we will do whatever the future may hold, be it meringues by the Seine or whatever she may fancy. Paris is like that. Always there. Constantly defying expectations.

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A Small Crikey

I remember you. You did me last time. You were a Boys’ High boy, right? I was a Girls’ High girl. Remember?

Ah, Ker-istchurch, I thought. The place where everyone is supposedly obsessed with where you went to school (as if that question is never asked in any other city), but which now, post-‘quakes and stalled rebuild, brings forth very different questions.

Ah, Ch-rist…church, that lame cover-up of a sweary/blasphemy word employed by children from other cities (something I didn’t learn until I left Crikey).

Ah, Ker-ikey, that place I tried to escape 20 years ago, moving to Auckland where every second person seemed to have a link to my hometown causing me to often remark (with a nod to Disney), ah, it’s a small Christchurch…

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Chch Boys’ High

Yes, I remembered you, Miss Bryndwr. You pointedly said that you liked Boys’ High boys, and looked for my reaction. I countered by asking of your home suburb, an area I found hard to place as, like all suburbs in Christchurch, it has no defined boundaries and is a general area (to quote Wikipedia).

Although you were sitting down I could see that you were as tall as an Amazon; ever-smiling, Yarpie-forward, confident and chatty, the dead-spit of another aggressively charming young South African from my past.

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Where I waited with Adele

Adele, who I met on a poetry course 10 years ago, who took a shine like a half a bottle of wine, sent me poems outside the course detailing her perfect man, who asked me to accompany her to long-forgotten foreign movie, who, when the class photo was taken on the final day of the poetry course slipped her arm around my waist, pulled me close, smiling wide with a look of conquest. Adele, who I awkwardly stood beside outside a downtown strip bar waiting for her father, who turned and said, my father, he is very protective of me.

Adele, the last teenager I ever went out with.

Miss Bryndwr, although you could have been Adele’s twin (in looks and manner) you were full of far more interesting conversation. Yesterday, we talked about the school you left for university. You went to a different Girls’ High than the one I knew, whose most noted old girls were heavenly creatures made famous in a film by Peter Jackson (no Hobbits allowed).

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Bad girls contemplate moider

I have so many memories of those old buildings that loomed over Cranmer Square, the solid brick, beautiful and foreboding.

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Old Girls’ High

But we didn’t talk of my visits there in the ‘80s to rehearse plays when I was a Boys’ High boy, or in the ‘90s attending theatre workshops when the school had flitted to flash new grounds at the top of Hagley Park on the banks of the Avon.

I wanted to know about the controversy when the head mistress was sacked by the board and the girls rebelled in support of her. It’s always good to get the story from those involved and not rely on press releases and spin.

I won’t repeat what you told me in confidence but it involved that awful ‘quake, death and hubris. Suffice to say you gave me faith in the power of the young to pick through the rubble and do what is right.

When I was your age, Miss Bryndwr, I had trouble interacting with people old enough to be my parent. They were an enemy to be opposed. Such a silly, puerile dichotomy; your attitude is so refreshing. Even when you looked at me and said with pride, my father, he is very tall, 6 foot 6. A giant!

But this was not the most significant conversation I had yesterday, nor the one that has made me write these words. I had other great interactions (students are so much more interesting than when I was at university) but the one I will sketch was with the last stranger I talked to.

She was also very tall, but thin, and as I gathered my equipment to walk over to her, a colleague said that she was dressed rather like Where’s Wally?

By now I was tired and didn’t really want to talk, but I’m meant to engage as part of customer service so I asked her about the book sitting on her lap. It was about Fukushima and she was reading it because the Japanese have put great resources into studying the psychological/developmental after-effects of the disaster (nuclear, ‘quake and tsunami) on their children.

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Aftermath in Japan

A student of child development with an interest in the effects of the Chch ‘quake, she is stymied by the total neglect of this area in New Zealand, so she looks to Japanese research to get an insight.

Our discussion left my conversations with Miss Bryndwr (and Adele) for dead. As someone who grew up in Chch, I have a lot of despair, anger and grief around the subject and have to check myself whenever it comes up. Yes, there’s a lot of positivity and creativity happening, but you have to fight to bring that forth. So much cliché is trotted out by those with little idea, and so much of the rest of NZ seems to have grown bored with the subject.

I did not unload my stories or frustration onto Ms. Not-Wally (it’s often like that, the hunger to talk, to seek understanding, mixed with a fierce need not to have to engage). Instead, my exhaustion and silence gave her space to say that although she wasn’t from Christchurch, she was in the CBD when the big one hit, one block from the Square, smack bang amongst the worst of it (as if any of it could be graded).

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Seconds after the earthquake

She described none of the event and I asked no questions, instead she told me of the frustration she felt about people’s need to offer up their anecdotes whenever the subject comes up. How she gets tripped to tears by the most unlikely things, loud sounds or unexpected movement which suddenly bring back the panic and fear.

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Japanese rescue worker sent to Chch to help

After I completed my task and our conversation ended I had to leave the floor for a good 10 minutes before I could recompose myself and put away the grief.

Ker-istchurch. I need to be near you, I need to be amongst you. I need to say everything and say nothing. I love the hope. I ache with despair.

As I said to Ms. Not-Wally, as a historian, I know we will have little idea what has happened to Christchurch for a good 20 or 30 years.

There is hope, but not in neglect.

I know children are facing far worse in this world as I write this. Corralled and pounded with explosives throughout the night, or as they play. Unlike an earthquake, it is criminal and deliberate. I can only imagine what will become of them in the future. It is not my home but I feel great anger, despair and compassion.

I have another job, quite different from the one I was doing yesterday. Both were impacted by the ‘quake. When the Tsunami/’quake that devastated Fukushima struck about 3 weeks after the Chch event, I was working in Nelson with a television crew from Christchurch, doing the job of a colleague who never made it out of the collapsed CTV building. I will never forget the looks on their faces as they watched the images off the satellites: the silence and disbelief as they relived their ongoing trauma in the most awful way.

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Collapsed CTV building

The children of Chch were not hit by explosives, but they have lived through thousands upon thousands of aftershocks. It is not over and no one knows when it will end.

Ker-istchurch, my home that still looks like a warzone… full of untold stories and stories untold.

I just don’t know what to say.

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People of Christchurch, filling the gaps

In the Quiet of the After

Today is Good Friday, it is the morning and it is wonderfully quiet: the quiet after the storm.

Yesterday, the remnants of tropical cyclone Ita battered New Zealand, smashing caravans, flooding rivers, causing slips and toppling giant trees across houses. Here in Wellington we got off easy even though half of April’s rain fell in one day.

I can’t believe how still, warm and nice it is; the perfect time to reflect as I don’t have to be at work for another 6 hours. Yes, it seems nuts working on one of the most sacred of holidays (so sacred, even the temples of greatest worship are closed preventing the eternal pilgrimage to malls and Easter sales).

Where could I possibly be working on this hallowed day? At the biggest cathedral of our age, the local sports stadium: there’s a rugby game on don’t cha know?

It’s the last thing on my mind. I’m rushing around in the quiet trying to get every domestic job done before the rush of going away for two nights with my 6 year-old and getting back for the working week.

But my head is full of this day; what it means.

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21 years ago I was both much younger, and an actor. It was my life, not just pretence or aspiration, I worked around the country, saw every show I could; studied it at varsity. Which is why a lifetime ago on Good Friday I took part in a Passion Play in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square.

It was a bit of a radical production: my good mate played Jesus as a black-jeaned bogan with a Mohawk. I was one of the ‘baddies’ who got to swig beer and abuse the crowd as I dragged him around the various stations placed around the Square. A lot of my close friends from the (for want of a better word) alternative music and theatre scene were involved. We’ve stayed in touch (a minor miracle), I could write a lot of detail but it deserves more space than I can allow right now.

Suffice to say, it was quite something standing inside the foyer of the Cathedral at 9am on a quiet Good Friday, surrounded by my closest friends, listening to the drums beating outside, summoning the crowd, while I nervously opened the can of beer (an official prop) which foamed all over me, sobering me (slightly) from my way-too-stoned-state (as I said, I was a baddie).

As the heavy oak doors creaked open to reveal a daunting crowd, I inspected the NZ Police issue truncheon borrowed from a drummer’s Dad, noticing that the truncheon had ‘Daddy’s Little Naughty Stick’ written on it in biro. My sobriety became even more complete.

It was an exhilarating performance. The crowd loved it. The jokes, clever insight and sharp wit went down well. It was the best review for any show I had been part of.

And though I have studied religion (and am a thorough atheist) crucifying one of my best mate’s in the town square is something I enjoyed beyond belief.

Of course, the shattering earthquake my hometown suffered in 2011 has shined a different light on that morning.

While the earthquake failed to destroy the Cathedral, there has been an unbelievable rush to knock it down, as well as a heartening resistance to this barbarity. That great symbol of a city, and a culture, now sits in a beautiful and horrific limbo.

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Maybe that is apt.

I recently listened to a great podcast about crucifixion. Like all things, there is a lot more to it than I knew. For those at the time it was the act itself that shocked most. It was practiced across many cultures for 1000 years, and the main aim was to humiliate and degrade. Dead bodies were even dug up to be crucified in order to exact that intended purpose.

Good Friday remembers a day nearly 2000 years ago when a much-loved person from history died. But it seems that to the people of the time, it was the manner of execution that would have caused the greatest trauma.

All these things fill my head in the quiet of this morning. But I also know that this is the second Good Friday since I lifted my father’s dead body from the bed where he made his dramatic exit 2 hours before the sacred holiday began.

I knew he would be cold; stiff from rigor mortis. What I wasn’t prepared for was how heavy his wasted body was.

People in the past have weighed bodies before and after death in order to find the weight of the soul. But having carried a ‘lifeless’ Christ from the cross, and my father’s corpse from his bed (both on Good Friday), I know that dead bodies weigh more than the living.

Today, it is warm and quiet. I love it. I’m drinking it in.

Time for some hot-cross buns before the noise of the Hurricanes begins.

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Dreams of Children

The other morning my daughter came into my room saying she had just dreamed there were crocodiles under her bed. She wasn’t distressed, more surprised and curious. I cuddled her and we talked about other things and I wondered if the dream had been real or an excuse to share time in the darkness with me. Either way I didn’t mind. It reminded me of a recurring nightmare I had as a child where a wolf’s head sat on a wood pile between me and my parents. It had teeth and angry eyes, but no stomach, so why would it eat me? Terrified and intrigued, I was often too scared to get up to the toilet and repeatedly wet the bed.

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A real monster under a bed

As I’ve grown up I tend not to have nightmares, the real life fears of being a parent hold greater sway over me. That said, lately I have been sleeping badly and some pretty bizarre images have popped into my head. The most notable involved being required to keep live pieces of human flesh in my mouth for medical purposes. They didn’t taste bad, and there was no way I wanted to chew or swallow, but the spongy texture and metallic taint of haemoglobin had me on the point of gagging. I woke hoping the foreign flesh was of a blood group compatible to mine.

As I lay with my 6 year-old listening to Bad Jelly the Witch, singing out our favourite lines (“tree, tree, 1-2-3, make it very big for me”… “steekeeble-steekeeble knickers, knickers, knickers!” et. al) my girl asked if there were crocodiles in New Zealand.

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The ‘Famous in Christchurch’ Charlie

I said, “No. Well, only in zoos,” and told her about Charlie, the famous crocodile I used to visit at the New Brighton ‘Mini’ Zoo with my sisters and mother. It was pretty sad, even to a kid in the ‘70s. Stuck on the outskirts of Christchurch with a tiny concrete pool and not enough space to turn around, he (or she, as it would turn out after ‘he’ died) never seemed to move and looked depressed (if a crocodile could have a psychological condition). As ‘he’ was always in the same position we weren’t certain that he was real, but we never bashed on the glass to get a reaction as other ‘naughty’ kids did. We were always too keen to get on to the friendly otters who stuck there tiny paws through the mesh to shake hands.

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Friendly Otters

All this I told my daughter; she’s a great lover of animals, and understands that it is not their nature to be caged for our entertainment.

What I didn’t tell her was that when I was about 7 or 8 something happened that burned into more than my memory.

We were at the zoo seeing if Charlie had budged from his miserable ledge by the puddle of water. While my sisters and mother stared at the static reptile I checked out the tiny turtles in the aquarium opposite. Suddenly, my world went very peculiar. I felt warm and heard a hum inside my body which increased to a ringing bang that threw me backwards with a scream, hitting Charlie’s glass panel hard. My mother, assuming I was being stupid, slapped me across the face as I bounced back and fell onto the wet concrete. I didn’t feel the slap; it was too much like a dream. What I did feel was the two bloody burn marks on the top of my left foot. An exposed live wire had been hanging underneath the turtle’s display and I had just suffered a strong electric shock (something which would happen again, many years later, but that time I would recognize it).

The owner came in to check out the noise, apologized and laughed it off with an “oops, must fix that”. I was in too much shock (pun intended) to cry or make a fuss. The wounds scabbed-up to the size of two 5-cent pieces. I never saw a doctor (as I said, it was the ‘70s) but instead was sent to see the electrician that lived next door who assured me I was within inches of dying. The condescension impressed my 7 (or 8) year-old mind and I wore the incident with pride.

I think slightly differently of the whole thing now and at some point will tell my daughter about the shock. But she doesn’t need to know about the slap and not seeing a doctor.

It’s only 3 years since she lost her Gran E and I lost my mother.

I thought about all this as I held my girl, closing my eyes in the long darkness, resting from her constant questions as Bad Jelly attempted to eat brave little Tim and Rose. I remembered I used to have a crocodile. It had bright white teeth and a delicious soft texture. I treasured it for years, sticking my finger in its mouth, or attaching it to my nose, pretending it was gobbling me up to amuse my sisters.

It was the only present I got when I turned 6, which sounds a bit sad, but there was a reason for it.

Some weeks before my birthday, while my mother was on the phone, I climbed onto the kitchen bench beside Mum’s shiny new electric fry pan. Somewhat obsessed with Tarzan (old movies played on the telly every Saturday) I slipped the electric cord through my belt and with a “hey, Mum, watch this!” jumped to the floor, thinking the weight of the attached pan would halt my leap, leaving me swinging like Tarzan on a vine. Not a very realistic expectation but I was, like my daughter, a rather imaginative child. Of course, the big golden fry pan came with me to the floor and my mother let out a horrified scream.

I was not hurt by the floor, or falling heavy pan, but the impact snapped it’s plastic (or Bakelite) handle. It wasn’t replaced for over a decade.

Kids often do naughty things without realising it. It only became clear to me what I had done when Mum didn’t smack me, crying instead for her new appliance (things were very expensive and hard to replace back before we joined the disposable society). She played the ‘wait till your father gets home’ card.

I was terrified. Dad never did the smacking. Like most of the parenting in my family, it was always left to Mum.

After my younger sisters went to bed there was a meeting at the kitchen table where they coolly decided that my punishment would be the cancellation of my upcoming 6th birthday party. To my fearful young mind that seemed a good deal. I hated (and continue to despise) physical violence.

Maybe they thought better of that decision later on but felt unable to back down, because closer to the day Mum told me that Dad was taking me to dinner for my birthday.

I have no recollection of where we went (there were no child-friendly restaurants in the land of ‘70s Christchurch, and I was a fussy eater) but I vividly recall him taking me up the escalators to the toys on the top floor of the wonderfully art-deco Millers department store. As was his way, he said nothing about what was happening. We walked up to a wall filled with playthings and I was invited to pick something. I did not know what to choose. There were so many toys, most of them clearly worth more than Dad could afford. How do you act in a situation where reward is mixed with punishment? I was taking too long and reached for the nearest thing, a very realistic 5-inch rubber crocodile with bright-white painted teeth.

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Not actual size

My parents weren’t ogres; they were loving, fun and caring. And like people who put animals in cages, to ‘save’ them or ‘educate’ children, they strove to do their best.

I have little doubt that in years to come my daughter will have unsettling stories to tell about my efforts at parenting. You do what you think is right, don’t do other things in case they are wrong; worry yourself to death on both counts.

There are many reasons why people sleep badly. For me, it happens when I am stressed or over-worked. And while I can tick both of those boxes at the moment I put my present fractured sleep down to it being the anniversary of those days and nights when I sat with my sisters keeping our dying father company, easing his discomfort as we could, trying to will his release from torment.

There’s so much I could write about watching a loved-one succumb to self-imposed starvation but I shall not ‘hammer the mahogany’ as JK Baxter put it.

That week in a secure dementia facility wasn’t a nightmare. It felt unreal; full of fun, beauty and humour. There were no crocodiles under the bed (well, there may have been), no strange flesh in my mouth.

Things happened I’m desperate to get out of my head but they can wait.

Was the crocodile really the only thing I got when I was 6? Having just hosted my daughter’s 6th party, I find that hard to accept.

Just as I can’t believe that in the morning it will be two years since Dad died.

I’m hoping that when tomorrow passes, and my daughter is back from her mother’s, I can sleep; free of the words that fill my head. And that in years to come my daughter will think well of my choices, good and bad, and that any nightmares that snap from below will be faced with tenderness and warmth.

 

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Like my toy croc but not as pretty

A Close Shave

I’ve just shaved for the first time in a long, long time. In fact, if I work it out, it’s more than 20 months since I’ve scraped a razor across my face. I didn’t have a thick 20 month-long beard to remove as I trimmed it every week to keep a short stubble: whenever it went beyond a week I would start to pull at (and out) the lengthening hairs whenever lost in thought.

But today, the last day of the year, I feel an overwhelming need to cut off the long hair I have been growing for over a year, and attacking the constant beard seems a less drastic (or mad) option.

I have never liked shaving. It’s an unrelenting chore that by its nature causes rashes and bleeds at the very time you need to be most presentable (just before a date or work).

I know it’s over 20 months since I was last clean-shaven (I despise that phrase which implies that the natural expression of an adult male is somehow ‘dirty’) as I last shaved on the day of my father’s funeral. It wasn’t an easy shave, either, as I had not shaved since my mother’s funeral 4 months before that so there was no razor in my travel kit.

My ‘clean’ face was achieved with the help of a very blunt and pink Lady Shave that my sister had brought with her from Australia. It was a horrible task but, given what was going on at the time, somehow necessary as I was MC-ing the funeral and didn’t want to offend anyone with my choice of personal grooming. That said, more than one relative asked me why I had shaved as apparently I “suited a beard,” looking “like George Clooney” to some elder relatives and/or “like Keith Urban” to the teenage daughter of my sister’s friend.

Such flattery went down well and only encouraged my desire not to bow to the pressure in Western society for men to have faces like pre-pubescent boys.

While it may seem that facial hair is ‘all-the-rage’ with a story on the internet yesterday stating that beards were ‘cool’ again the actual stats indicate that only about 9% of men in Western society are game enough to sport facial hair. Razor companies rely on this consistent statistic (and pressure). No politician can succeed in the West with a beard while the opposite is true in many non-Western cultures, and the moustache has been relegated to the realms of irony or a tidy one-month ghetto of fund-raising.

Am I being reactionary, shaving mine off as soon as they are deemed acceptable? Nope. It’s about me and personal choice. Yes, it’s a substitute for shaving my head, but it’s much more than that.

I shaved because I wanted to blog about my weekend in Christchurch, how my body is still sore and my mind full of experience and reflection, and shaving is always a good way to wipe away the sludge and get motivated. But the physical process of doing something so mundane and unremarkable took me back to that sunny day in April 2012 when I last shaved.

You see, my father never went past a day or two without shaving. As children growing up in Christchurch my sisters and I often begged him to grow a beard or moustache, just once, just for fun. Why couldn’t he? It was only temporary and could easily be removed. He never did.

I don’t say this with sadness but I was never close to my father.

It was hardly a unique situation, most people say the same. But we had a greater distance as Dad was an Englishman born in another age – the Roaring 20s – when George V was on the throne, Hitler was a no-body and every mature man in the West had either a beard (Windsor or less regal) or a moustache (Charlie Chaplin, handlebar or fine).

His father, who died in 1946, had fought in WW1, and I imagine he kept his thoughts and emotions even closer still. Dad said that on a full moon my grandfather would be silent for a week. I can only imagine why.

Dad died 66 years after his father following a long, awful illness that took him 1hour before Good Friday last year. It wasn’t a peaceful end so it was a great relief to see his body at rest. As I helped lift his withered (but still unexpectedly heavy) body into his coffin his stubble grazed across my soft inner arm: he had not been shaved in over a week.

Being Easter weekend, we had to keep him in his coffin for over a day before he could be cremated. In that time we dressed him with clothes, photos and significant objects to keep him warm and amused, talking to him just as we did when he was lost in the Alzheimer’s he hid for so long by always making a joke. I gave him a Best Bets and $10 for a flutter (while his father was a great gambler, Dad stuck to the gee-gees). Twice, I polished the coffin with the soft wax provided to bring up the beautiful grain but I did not once think to shave him.

Yes, his stubble appeared to get longer but it is a myth that our hair and nails continue to grow after death. It is an illusion caused by our skin shrinking.

Today is the last day of the year, the final day I can say that my father died last year.

I did not intend to write this today any more than I intended to shave.

I am just thankful that, unlike my distant English grandfather, I was never forced into the trenches to cower from, and kill, strangers: that, unlike my remote father, I did not have to face the results of such trauma while a silly dictator with a ridiculous moustache sent his minions to drop bombs in my father’s garden.

And that this morning, I chose to shave my face and not my head.

Cast Away

My 5 year-old daughter tells me its 6 days till Christmas. She’s very excited. But Christmas arrives early for me because on at 08:45 on Christmas Eve I get my cast cut off. I can’t wait.

I have come to hate the cast (and being on crutches).

At first I was so caught up in the novelty of hospital and the procedure that was performed 5 weeks ago to fix my Haglund’s Deformity and dodgy Achilles’ that I couldn’t wait to blog about the process.

But a day or two later, clear of the hump of a general anaesthetic and overnight-stay, I started to understand the nature of what I was going to have to live with until I saw any improvement beyond what I had endured before the operation.

I was on my arse with leg elevated for the first 2 weeks, getting up only to visit the toilet, something I managed with a mix of confidence and terror nursed, as I was, in a split-level house.

I fell on both initial attempts of the 4 stairs (going down, coming up). I didn’t hurt anything apart from my confidence, always falling to protect the ankle.

Actually using the toilet was a trial, too. Having to sit to pee just didn’t work well as the heavy plaster cast I had on my leg for the first week wasn’t to be rested on any hard surfaces which meant I was always lifting it with my quads, causing a tension near the bladder which meant simple relief was often elusive.

Because of the falls, and the jiggery-pokery of hopping around and down into position, (and the lack of true relief), I tended to make sure the need was pressing.

There were more falls, some landing on the heel of the plaster, but being on a mix of 4 different painkillers (9mm of bone had been cut from the heel and my Achilles scraped) I felt no discomfort even though the plaster on the heel began to crumble from the impacts.

One week after the operation the cast was cut off.

I was so excited, I took many photos (the cast coming off, my naked leg, the scar and stitches, the new, lighter fibre-glass cast), but despite my intention to blog about the process, I didn’t.

What was happening became something to be endured with good spirit rather than preserved in words. Yes, the new fibre-glass cast was much lighter and it made walking on crutches very much easier. The plaster cast had acted like a heavy pendulum weight, no-doubt altering my centre-of-balance, adding to the challenge. With my lighter cast I felt much more confident on crutches and stairs. The ache in my quads eased as a result and, best of all, I was able to stand when I peed without wobbling-over like an incontinent Weeble.

But that change was 4 weeks ago and I soon felt shackled and crippled: in no way better off. I was still observing things and writing in my journal but, much like a wounded animal, I felt a strong need not to advertise any weakness, to crawl away somewhere dark until the feeling passed.

I took a lot of photos from the couch over the weeks, on phone and camera, but I took none of me (and I’m not shy of a selfie). There is one or two taken by the friend who was caring for me. He had recuperated on the same couch last year and knew the process.

You just don’t want to know. You want it to be over.

Which is the peculiar nature of such a procedure: the benefit is not evident till after many months of disruption and discomfort.

In the days after the op I was very happy to have gone through the procedure as the pain that I lived with on a daily basis for the last few years was no longer there. I could sit or lie down without having to move my leg every 30 seconds to ease the pressure and pain caused by my Achilles’ rubbing against the bony growth on the back of my heel.

It actually took me a week to realise that that improvement was thanks to the regimen of pills, rather than the surgery. Hooray for painkillers, eh?

In fact, I won’t know much at all about any improvement until my first attempt to stand on the leg.

That said, I am looking at 12 months until 100% of the tendon flexibility is reached and full muscle mass returns in the incapacitated leg. I will be walking, running and standing before then…but it will be baby steps.

I am no spring chicken and my incapacitated leg is literally wasting away in front of my eyes. The purple cast that was tight on my calf when applied 4 weeks ago is now so loose I can slip my hand in beside my calf.

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Last night as I sat watching Masters of Sex (very entertaining and a tad frustrating as a single man on crutches at the start of summer with the silly season approaching), I noticed that the skin at the top of my calf was hanging from my leg with the same wizened droop and pudge of an old man’s scrotum.

It takes great effort to find the humour in such observations.

Yes, it’s pretty amusing the first time you tape your leg into a giant plastic bag in order to shower while sitting on a plastic stool. But it takes quite a lot of effort and you feel very precarious hopping around on a wet floor with a bag on. The process quickly went from novel/little-bit-scary/touch-of-kink to being something you avoid as the effort leaves you sweaty and worn out (which isn’t the point of a shower).

I began to understand how those dogs with humiliating buckets around their heads feel.

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I have tried to think of a moment when I felt glad that I have had the procedure. Apart from my deluded drugged-up moment, I can’t.

The cast feels like a sweaty cuff, a cloying shackle, and there isn’t an evening when I don’t fantasize about freeing my leg, just for a minute. I want to get some secateurs and cut the fucking cast off and let my suffocating leg breathe.

So why am I unloading all this frustration when I clearly want no one to know?

Because today, I fell at the top of stairs.

For a moment, I felt I was tipping backwards down the 5 steps that join my split-level house where I returned 2 weeks ago (my wonderful care-givers next door have shifted away). It was an awful and unexpected feeling. It’s nearly a week since my last fall (2 in 24 hours due to tiredness in leg and arms and mind) and I have become pretty confident, even being able to hop down the steps backwards …wearing a jandal (there are many hours to kill living by yourself).

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I was so angry and freaked out by the feeling. I went down on that knee hard, but it didn’t hurt. The helplessness and sudden loss of confidence did.

I hated my situation. It wasn’t that bad but it felt it. I sat for a bit with my leg up letting it drain, then pegged along to the office to remove the cork and bitch about my lot.

I know my trials are minor and will eventually be for the better.

But I can’t wait to cast off my cast on Christmas Eve.

I will progress to a non weight-baring moon boot, remaining on crutches, unable to work or drive for another 6 weeks (really? truly? …how?).

Marooned in a moon boot at the busiest time of year, at least I will be able to free my leg at night and not have a dirty old cast dragged through the street in my bed. My right leg will be clean between the sheets as I will be able to shower my whole body without wrapping it in a plastic bag.

At least, that’s my Christmas wish.

I’m as excited as a 5 year-old.

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.

Clearing the Decks

I’m quite surprised how quickly blogging has taken over my thoughts. Although I’ve been writing roughly one blog a week since I started a couple of months ago the constant narrative of my mind is repeatedly weaving ideas for blogs in the same way that when I focused on fiction, everything was an opening for a story.

This isn’t surprising. When I worked as an actor I immersed myself in plays and scripts, so the whole world took on this hue. Everyone was either an actor or a liar, darling (to quote the famous quote) and everything played out like a drama.

I used to resist the idea that occupation was identity but it’s pretty clear that what you do shapes how you present yourself, how you engage with people, how you react to and regard the world.

I started this blog as something to do while I was avoiding writing a novel. Life had become a tad overwhelming and while fiction is a great way to escape, process and understand the challenges life throws up the last few years have been of such a nature that real life was all I could think about.

In short, I am trying to beat a passage through memoir back to fiction: clearing the decks of the mind so that I can weather the rocky voyage.

To beach that metaphorical ship, my big challenge of the moment is building a deck. Not a massive challenge in itself. It’s not a huge deck (3m x 5m) but it will make a big difference to the cramped, steep section I live on. It will take the place of a rose garden that had been laid out with pavers, concrete and retaining walls which I’m sure was lovely for the old couple who once lived here but is a waste of valuable space for a solo dad who shares the care of an energetic 5 year-old.

I enjoy the digging and shovelling, and to make the time fly I’m listening to a massive audio book, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. It’s a door-stop of a tome at over 800 pages so I have 30+ hours of listening to enjoy. I chose it not out of patriotic duty (the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize since Keri Hume) but because I always read the Booker winner as they’re invariably enjoyable. I don’t have the time to sit down for 800 pages so listening to it while doing physical labour is the perfect way to consume the narrative.

It’s a great read. I say that as any audio book rests on the performance of the reader of the text, and with 22 major characters this is a BIG challenge.

Mark Meadows, the reader, does a wonderful job with all the accents required (especially as an Englishman navigating pakeha, Maori, Chinese and all the rest), and I often laugh out loud as the melodrama of the dead body and hidden gold twists and turns in a romp that has usefully been described as Deadwood on the West Coast (FYI while New Zealand has two major long islands, only the west coast of the South Island is referred to as the West Coast. The North Island has the East Coast, for some reason).

I have a strong connection to the Coast as my mother was born there to a family of migrating Scots miners. I go there each year with good friends to a rugged bach that hugs the deserted coast that once teemed with the shanties and make-shift hotels that populated the region in the gold rush. The miners and camp-followers have left little trace of their presence but you can certainly feel it.

And, of course, there’s nothing like swinging a pick while hearing a story about miners swinging a pick.

As I began to break up the splintering, rock-like clay underneath the erstwhile rose garden I realised another connection as the last time I was swinging a pick-axe I listened to another novel about West Coast miners, The Colour, by Rose Tremain.

It was about 8 years ago and I was digging a 40 metre trench to connect power to a just-built studio. It was a much bigger job and a much lighter book. The reader made some awful pronunciations of NZ words; real howlers that somehow underlined that the novel had been written by someone who had never visited NZ.

Another connection is that half-way through digging that trench I badly sprained my ankle at work, ending up on crutches for 3 weeks with months of rehab before I could walk freely (and finish the trench).

And this is the crux of why I’m building a deck… ‘to clear the deck’, because in 11 days time I am undergoing a procedure that will put me on my arse (and crutches) for many months.

I have a bony growth on my right heel caused by an old injury which is pushing against my Achilles tendon causing constant pain and discomfort. I have suffered from it for nearly 6 years. It’s been a real battle getting it recognized, treated and seen to. I have had 2 rather uncomfortable ultrasound-guided injections through the Achilles into the inflamed bursar that causes much of the pain but neither sorted the problem.

The surgery was planned to occur in February and I had been working towards that, but suddenly it was changed to the start of November…hence my panic at needing to move heaven and earth on a crowded deck.

Everything that needs to be done in the garden and round the house needs to be done now or yesterday. I know what being on crutches means, and it makes even the little things a challenge. Sure, you can make yourself a cuppa and a sandwich, but how do you carry it to your chair?

So, maybe you can understand why I seek diversion in romping fiction and the physical labour I will shortly be incapable of? There are other reasons but this blog cannot be a rambling catalogue.

I wanted to write about how much it upsets me that I will not be able to walk my daughter to school holding her hand. I love our physical relationship and know that as she grows in age and size she will be less and less inclined to clamber up onto my shoulders so I can carry her to the shower or to her bed. I so adore the way she hooks her big toe into my belt or pocket on the way up, swings her leg over my shoulder with great effort, letting out a relaxed sigh when she achieves her perch.

And, looming large, in 9 days it will be 2 years since my mother died.

It is so much on my mind.

She died on 11.11.11, which is Remembrance Day. Once, as she was waiting to die, I suggested she chose that date. It’s funny what gets said in the face of the unimaginable.

So, 2 years and 2 days after 11.11.11, the surgeon will severe my Achilles, slice a chunk of bone off my heel, staple my tendon together and close me up. It will only take an hour. The recovery will be ‘extensive’.

The irony is not lost on me that my Achilles heel is my Achilles heel.

Should the procedure not work or make things worse (both are possibilities, I have been reading chat-rooms about this operation), then the irony will be even greater. Given how things have played out over the last few years I can see the story going both ways.

But that is the nature of good stories. You never know exactly what will happen.

The Luminaries has that mystery. It both reflects and deflects life. The Colour did not. It was obvious, adding nothing to the world but a way to pass the time.

Writing this blog has taken me over an hour of my time. I could be digging the piles for the deck, mowing the lawns, taking a machete to the jungle in the top garden, clearing the path to the house so my crutches don’t get caught, rearranging the house for my recovery, washing the windows covered in sea-salt, tidying up the planting I did the day Mum died in preparation for her anniversary… but these thoughts need to get out of my mind on to the page (so to speak).

You can’t achieve everything. The inevitable and the unexpected must be faced.

It’s time to go outside and swing the pick, lost in a world created by a gifted writer, free of my pressing concerns.

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Doing Time

I can’t say I’ve ever liked porridge. I probably should. I have a good Scots name, I grew up surrounded by my mother’s Scottish family, have pasty white skin and freckles, ginger flecks in my hair and beard, I like the pipes, have a fondness for a wee dram every now and then, but even though I always think it should taste nice, it’s just not the case.

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Many times over the years I’ve tried to eat it with the enthusiasm friends and family do, but I never could get it into my mouth, that is until last year.

I can date my distaste for the smell and thought of porridge back to a few days I spent in hospital 40 years ago. I’m not sure exactly how many mornings porridge was served up to me during my stay in Burwood Hospital in 1972 but I would guess at least three, maybe four. I was in for a minor operation but back in those days you stayed in a lot longer than you do now.

It felt special being there. I remember going to the little classroom and playing with other kids on two occasions but then not going on other days and feeling ripped off.

As a just-turned 5 year-old I was quite excited by the whole thing and in no way scared. I had two big colouring-in books and a pack of crayons bought especially for the occasion so that I wouldn’t get bored in my two-bed room (I was alone except for one day when there was a girl in with me).

One of my favourite memories is the young nurses who sat on my bed and coloured in the pictures with me. This was a level of care probably not possible now given that nurses spend all their time administering drugs and cleaning up human mess rather than doing any actual nursing.

I also distinctly remember the injections in the bum. That wasn’t fun.

The ride down to surgery was very exciting and I clearly recall the anaesthetist telling me to count backwards from ten, how I thought that was silly, and that I only made it to six before I went la-la.

I woke that night and wandered the dark, empty wards looking for Mum. I remember the distress and loneliness; it was like a nightmare but real. Now I know she had been there but I had slept longer than expected and they had decided to let me rest.

I don’t blame any of this for my distaste for porridge. I can’t really blame the hospital food either as I gobbled the rest of it up without any concern. There was just something in that smell that has stayed with me: it turned my stomach. And if that’s all I took from my time in hospital, then that’s fine (I also got a nifty 3-inch scar as well as an annoying habit of never being able to say what the operation was for whenever I need to fill out a medical form).

But now I have a 5 year-old daughter who quite likes porridge and I blame my mother.

When she came to visit two years ago she had just had a stent put in her bowel and had to eat a fine porridge in the morning to ‘keep things going’ without blocking it. Fine. There was nothing lovelier than seeing my then 3 year-old help her Gran E. make porridge and then sit at the table together cleaning their bowls.

It was the week Wellington was hit by a once-in-lifetime snowfall which hung around day after day so porridge was just the trick.

As sentimentally inclined as I was to join them, my stomach lurched at the thought. I knew my mother only had two or three months to live and that each moment was precious but it wasn’t so precious that I had to eat something that literally smelled like vomit to me.

Then, last winter, with both my parents now dead and gone, on the anniversary of the very week that my mother had visited, my daughter pulled the remains of the oats Gran E. had left out of the back of the pantry and asked if we could make porridge.

They say you never truly grow up until your parents are gone. I had to push away a lot of grief on that day. There was no way I was going to make it for her and let her eat alone. But I made sure my serving was maxed-out on the trimmings.

Cream, brown sugar, toasted almonds, sultanas and sliced bananas.

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That’s how I ate it again a couple of weeks ago after the cold snap that followed the mildest of winters when, in the same week as the year before, my daughter asked if we could make porridge.

She’s a helpful kid so I let her add the ingredients and do the stirring until it starts to bubble when she hops down from her step and passes the wooden spoon to me. We then add our respective fixings and sit down to eat it together.

I suspect she got more of the Scots genes than I did as hers’ is a lot less tarted-up: just a bit of cream and a slurp of maple syrup (she is half-Canadian).

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While I’ve now eaten porridge at least half-a-dozen times in the last year, it’s not something I would make for myself.

Despite all the yum I try to cover it with it still has that whiff of the hospital, and whatever it was that turned my stomach.

Maybe it will change, given enough time.

14 Nov 2013

Well, I see it’s exactly 2 months since I posted this. Since then, despite the arrival of warm and summery weather, my daughter still asks for porridge, and I always eat it with her.

I can’t say I like it, but I do enjoy the fixings of almonds, banana, sultanas & cream I use to tart it up.

Yesterday, I had my first general anaesthetic since that time 41 years ago when I wandered the darkened wards looking for my mother.

This time I slept little but felt great. I read Hazlitt, listened to Game of Thrones, and awaited my breakfast, which, unsurprisingly, was porridge.

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Without my fixings it was a bit dubious (and totally amused) I am pretty hungry after yesterday’s fasting. I added the milk & peaches but skipped the sugar.

It was fine.

But the peaches were the best bit.

Palmiers For Something That Shouldn’t Be

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Non-jam palmiers.

This morning I made palmiers for the fourth time. I seem to be getting the knack. They’re the easiest of pastries, a child could make them. I guess that’s why our French teacher taught us when we were in Form One at South Intermediate. It was a gentle path into the language. Songs, verbs, some words, no text books. A taster, if you will, as opposed to an academic meal. It was fun cooking in the classroom, even if it was just rolling out pastry, spreading it with jam, folding them up so that they look like pastry hearts. That’s what I remember them as, ‘French pastry hearts’.

When I googled that term looking for simple things to make with my young daughter I came up with ‘palmiers or elephant ears’. Maybe we knew them as palmiers at the time but I had forgotten the word. I would never forget a name like elephant ears.

When I made them for the first time since my childhood, I had hoped my daughter would share the magic and wonder of that chaotic day in French class. But she was very uncertain, as were the kids at the late-afternoon soiree where I took those palmiers. They picked them up, looked at them, asked their parents what they were, put them back. I said they were elephant ears hoping to undercut their neo-phobia but the kids (six-year olds and under) were rather distrusting. It wasn’t until everything else was gone that the foreign pastries were attempted and devoured.

My daughter, despite a highly evolved sweet-tooth, failed to join the brave ones. I couldn’t understand it, but persevered making two more batches which I ate alone while my daughter refused them, even when I cut down the options in her lunch-box. It wasn’t until there were only two left of the third batch that I managed to get her to try one. After she ate it, she hunted me down, gave me a big hug on the toilet and said they were ‘delicious’.

I made palmiers this morning not to taunt children with my nostalgia (although that may happen), but because there is a funeral at my daughter’s school and we’ve been asked to bring a plate.

My daughter is very excited about going. She thinks funerals are great fun. Her mother had to quell her excited cheering when I said that I could take her. Over the phone I heard her tell her mother that she had been to three, so this would be her fourth. At five, she remembers more funerals than Christmases.

Catering for a funeral is hard. You never really know how many hungry people will show up. It is disheartening throwing out food when you over-cater, like you have over-estimated how much people care.

We learned that lesson with the first funeral. For, the next one, four months later, we got the numbers right but people who talked too long in the sun missed out to those who had loaded up their plates, maybe noticing there was less to be had.

Both those funerals were for my parents. Four months apart. I remember so much but ate no food. I drank wine, delicious wine, slowly, continuously, happy to see people gathered, to feel relief descending, glad of beautiful weather. There was so much to do it was great that my daughter (who was 3 and then 4) was happy to run around with the other kids, fill her plate with whatever she wanted, leaving me to talk to people, to be both amongst it and absent.

Then, a few months after that, an old friend suddenly died. It was a shock and I had to go, taking my daughter with me up to Auckland as her mother was overseas. My daughter was excited. She wore the bright floral dress she wore at her grandparents’ funerals. But this was a different flavour. Dad was not going to be standing up the front of everyone talking into the microphone, welcoming them, pointing to the toilets, making calming jokes.

At the end of the service she insisted on viewing the body. This hadn’t happened with her grandparents although she had seen plenty of photos (it wasn’t deliberate, but a consequence of geography: they were cremated by the time of each service). Quite randomly, I had been given a guitar pick while working in a school hall the day before. I carried it up there in my pocket just as I used to when I played guitar. When we saw Stephen lying there in his suit, I lifted her up and she dropped the grey Jim Dunlop .73mm into his coffin.

It was 25 years since we had played in halls and pubs around the country. He looked so much older.

It was harder than looking at the bodies of my parents.

At the after-match, my girl resorted to form filling her plate in a room full of strangers, checking in with me now and then. There were no other small children but she knew the drill, was happy just to be, squeezing through the press of mourners. What she ate, I do not know. Probably any sweet treats she could recognize.

I made palmiers this morning because of the number four: a random thing to grasp onto. I did not really know the girl who died the other night, but she was in the class next to my daughter, another new entrant. She always gave me a friendly smile.

It tears at me to think of her parents and family. A funeral for a child just seems to be something that should not be.

But in two hours I will go with my daughter and sit in the hall with those from the school and community. To her, a funeral is like Christmas without presents. A party without a cake. That thought used to concern me. Shouldn’t I be providing weddings and christenings, celebrations of life?

Parents always fret, no matter what.

If there’s something that I’ve learned to adore in this run of funerals, it’s the joy of life. That it is to be cherished, every which way: that its noise belongs everywhere, in all corners of the room.

The kids have been encouraged to wear bright colours, and I shall, too. We will remember Lucy, even those who did not know her.

I may cry and my daughter will hug me. She will have a lot of fun.

Death of a King

Today comes to New Zealand while much of the world is still stuck in yesterday. Last Friday, a friend mentioned it was 36 years since Elvis died. He qualified this statement by pointing out that while it was Friday 16th August when The King of Rock and Roll had his heart attack on the dunny it would actually have been the 17th in NZ when we got the news.

Not that we are slow here. Yes, it was the ‘70s, well before the internet and cell-phones, but even back then such news travelled fast.

In a similar fashion, another friend insists on referring to 9/11 as September 12th as, through our eyes, that’s when the murderous attacks happened. The same events mean different things to different people. Everyone has their own reaction.

I was ten years old when the world lost the great, tortured talent that was Elvis Aaron Presley. I was in Standard 4 at Somerfield School, a few months away from moving up to Intermediate: we were the ‘seniors’ of the school.

We had just come in from lunch on a sunny late-winter day. It must have been a mild winter as we had been playing on the field, something that wasn’t allowed if it was sodden by rain (the caretaker would put a red flag in the corner if the grass was too wet). I’m not sure what we had been playing, but my favourites were bull-rush (or barbadour, as we often called it) and forcing back, which we played with an ice-cream tub lid as no one had a Frisbee at school (I got one “from overseas” a year or two later. It glowed in the dark and was called a moon disc. I tested out the glow-in-the-dark feature only once. It was a good way to get a Frisbee in the face).

If my memory is false (and that can be the way of memory as each time we access them they are tweaked in favour of present concerns) and the red flag was out, then we would have been playing on the asphalt courts in front of the big brick building that dominated my small school.

In winter it was 4-square or pat-a-tennis or various games of our own devising. We had a seasonal love of marbles which was much more free-form than the traditional version where the action is confined to a circle. We played for keeps, like-for-like: bonkers, jumbos, cat’s eyes, ball bearings. It was like a form of chasing where you had a crack at hitting and winning your friend’s marbles. Some kids ended up with bags bulging with booty.

One day a friend lost his wee rubber bouncy ball after seeing how high it would go. To find it, I suggested bouncing mine on the same spot, at the same angle. The second ball landed beside the lost one. I felt as clever as Sherlock Hemlock.

Whatever it was we had been playing I was hot and sweaty when I made it back to my desk in Room 4 (or 14… whichever it was). I was right by the corner, surrounded by girls. My position was the result of a ‘70s attempt at streaming where they put the cleverest kids in the back two rows on the left. I’m not sure if they told us this, but if we were clever then we would have worked it out. Either that or my mother told me after I complained about not getting to sit with my friends.

So I sat there, separated from those I had been playing with (and no, I did not just play with boys. I was a child who always had good friends of both flavours. In retrospect, this clearly un-nerved some fathers who suddenly had me uninvited on more than one occasion. Mothers never seemed to mind).

Each classroom had a small, yellow wooden radio box in the corner where messages could be played. I don’t remember it ever being used for anything except for the news after lunch, but it may have been. There certainly were no ‘ding-dung-dong!’ xylophone tones announcing any announcements.

When the news came on at 1pm on 17 Aug 1977, the first words were ‘The King is Dead”.

I was shocked. Although my parents, being of the pre-rock generation, were older than most they admired his great voice and we had watched his last live performance on TV a few months before. He looked awful: bloated, sweaty, the magic dull in his eyes. My uncle said they actually had to pay people to clap. I thought this would have been very, very expensive but Elvis was a rich man, so who knows? My scepticism for such teasing statements clearly yet to form I heard what I wanted to hear, kept questioning unsaid.

In another classroom at the same school my younger sisters would have heard the same news. The youngest, just turned seven, reacted by saying “but we don’t have a king.”

I thought that was both clever and funny.

I would react in a similarly disassociated way three years later. It was a spring evening in early November and I was sitting in the lounge on our grey Conroy heater waiting for tea. Mum rushed in from the kitchen where she had been listening to the radio.

“They’ve shot Lennon!”

That I recognized her distress may be why I failed to understand what she had said. In my head I thought, but Lenin died years ago… (I have always been a history nerd).

So much steps forward when you remember the past. In my first blog I wrote about the fear of cannibalizing my fiction (which, after all, is full of real life). But a story will always take the form it demands. And if you write nothing, nothing ends up on the page.

I started writing this piece about the day Elvis died with the intention of posting it on that anniversary last Friday (or Saturday). Blogs are of the moment, I wanted it to fit tightly to that moment with the counterpoint of my sister’s reaction and my subsequent echo three years later.

But as I started writing about Somerfield School so much came back: how I ate jam sandwiches every day for a year, proudly wore shoes that had more holes than canvas, got called fly-shit face and sonny-bubbles, heard my first dirty joke from my childhood crush while sitting on a jungle gym behind the big brick building.

However, what stepped forward was my first friend who had I unwittingly insulted by the urinal on my first day. He lived in a house that had giant corgis painted on the garage door. Why did he start to dominate my memories? He wasn’t my closest or most enduring friend. He lived on Milton Street. Was I writing about a paradise lost?

It could only be because of his tragic death. He died in his first race as he joined the sport of Kings. The writer in me was wrestling a memoir into a short story. It promised to be a good one (at least, one with literary possibilities), if I did it right. So I googled his name, and even though he died long before that search giant took its first steps towards dominating the world (and became a verb) there he was, for reasons more poignant than I knew. I could not touch this piece for four days.

Maybe I have spilled all the water from this jug of memories. Maybe this blog is enough. Maybe the story of the death of a king is yet to come.

Another young NZ rider died yesterday. The connections are uncanny. Such is the nature of life and fiction.

However you name the day, Elvis died 36 years and four days ago. It was very sad. Hunter was 16. What more needs to be said?