Tag Archives: solo travel

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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2 Days in Christchurch (part 2)

Hanging in the Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night I got to do it once again.

 

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3 Days in Auckland (part 4)

5 Hours in Paradise

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I smiled. Wished I was staying.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 2)

K’ Road in a Daze. Laxing in Aotea Square

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The afternoon passed by in a pleasantly reassuring haze. I felt like a kid in a candy shop of the familiar and the new. A traveller to the past where everything is just where you left it, but the odd object has been twisted by 23 degrees, or been replaced by something shiny and new.

The most welcoming sight when I got off the plane was a man I had only seen on the telly, a celebrity of sorts, with a notoriety of the highest order.

Standing by himself in a blue suit was one of the most powerful politicians in New Zealand, Steven ‘Dildo’ Joyce, who had warranted the full singing-dancing John Oliver HBO treatment with his resigned ‘oh’ as a pink dildo bounced off his face on our national day. That such an important person could be so unattended by minders or minions surprised me. But this in NZ. We stand on few graces and airs. Maybe they now keep their distance to avoid catching a ricochet.

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Once on the SkyBus into town I logged onto the free Wi-Fi. Yay! Yes, I should have been taking in the sights but I have driven that road countless times, and I wanted to grab images from Google and post the first part of this blog.

The only time I looked up from the screen was on Dominion Road when I spotted this wonderful sculpture.

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Part 1 posted, I got off the bus half way down Queen Street, outside the Classic Comedy bar, and headed off to my lodge. It was humid and hot. Fat drops of rain big enough to hide a goldfish but far enough apart to park a tour bus, splatted around me on the pavement. Classic Auckland weather.

I walked past the Pop-Up Globe, avoiding all the emanating Shakespeare, past the flash hotel I once attended a lunch with Clinton and Putin (and all the rest), past a plethora of nooks and crannies where I had been dragged off by someone or other to do this, or that, or the other, up the wide, wide footpaths under the tunnelling canopy of cicada-filled trees to the City Lodge I had booked on Wotif.

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The City Lodge is an Eco-lodge. Parking is $15 (free if it’s a hybrid!). It’s cheap but nice. Full of foreign travellers and helpful tips. The potted history of NZ by the lift seems quite fair without gushing or glossing over. What sticks out to me is the total lack of any mention of sport, something that many NZers feel defines their national identity. I think that’s why so many want a sporting symbol on our national flag. We’re having a referendum on the flag at the moment. I cast my vote at the airport just after I saw Steven Joyce.

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After unpacking my wee bag into my Spartan room I headed out into Auckland, choosing to head uphill to Karangahape Road as opposed down into the CBD. It’s a walk I have made many times. It’s the way I walked to and from TVNZ when I lived on Symonds Street or in Eden Terrace.

Wow. Just wow. I was suddenly in a time machine. In my 20s and 30s once more. But the street art was better. I was more relaxed. But hungry. Very hungry. I decided to walk both sides of K’ Rd until some place dragged me in. Wow. Just wow. Should I go to Verona, that eternal haunt I so loved? Or St. Kevin’s Arcade, with a view of Myer’s Park? But wait, Flying In, the vinyl shop called with vinyl copies of obscure tapes I had bought in the ‘80s. And Vixen, a retro clothes shop. So much cool to desire. I checked out every menu, and shop, that caught my eye. But I could not stop. What would I miss out on if I sated my hunger too early?

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I was over-stimulated and spoilt for choice.

Outside the redoubtable Verona a TV presenter (and restaurateur) who once told me he had smoked pot every day since 1973 looked up in almost recognition but I kept walking, past the familiar Asian food hall and hipster cafes, past the intriguing new places that were calling me in, noted the pub lunch and a pint with the Jordan Luck Band, stared at the poster for James Reyne and Australian Crawl playing tomorrow night, walked across the overbridge where I was one pursued by a man in a wheelchair selling LSD, stuck my head in the pub where I went with my parents to see Uncle Robert host Karaoke during one of the America’s Cups, gazed down at the giant empty pink cycleway, so hungry, so wow…just wow. I wasn’t in Porirua any more.

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At 3pm, realising I simply couldn’t see it all, I halted my odyssey at Krung Thep for some Thai street food. Great music, cool design, with a glaring view across to Mt. Eden. Not having eaten since 8am I made a safe choice of Pad Thai, but as I sat down and looked up at the Wi-Fi password, I had immediate order-regret wishing I had chosen the featured ‘Choo-Choo Blast Fried Egg’. Great name. Never mind. The kai was great.IMG_0469

Next, coffee. I chose Revel, further back towards Queen Street. The entranceway was blocked by crustys and hipsters chatting in the sun at tables on the footpath. In the narrow dark insides I was the only person, apart from a lone waif plugged into her music, writing in a journal. With my macchiato and peanut butter slice came some middle-aged travellers and a pair of matched WASPish ‘trendies’. Short back and sides, him and her. ‘50s geek glasses. Mirrors of each other they pulled out their Macs and went online. Multiple programs flicked up but they both settled into the silence of Facebook.

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Ready for a lie-down, but not, I headed home via Aotea Square. On the way I watched a Shakespearean death through the open doors of the Globe. Romeo and Juliet, as it would have it. Turns out there’s an Arts’ Festival in Auckland. Who knew? I’ve been enjoying the one in Wellington but never imagined they would be on at the same time.

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Aotea Square is full of tents, bars, deck chairs and bean bags. I sat and looked at the programmes, drooling over shows like Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid (a burlesque retelling of Anderson), and the James Plays (3 x 15th century Scottish history plays in full armour). Or Don ‘Dominion Rd’ McGlashan & Shayne Carter in the Spiegeltent, and The Offensive Nipple Show at the Silo.

But going to theatre by yourself isn’t really a goer. Sad and weird as eating/drinking by yourself. I am here to write and think. Remember and observe.

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So I picked up a bottle of sweet honey bourbon, purchased some Wi-Fi at the desk, and headed to my room to write.

Now, time to post this and head out into the night.

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3 Days in Auckland (part 1)

In the air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions never end. Nor should they.

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

We are landing. Auckland is here.

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 6)

Accidental Monday

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

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

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Bit shagged, Sumner 2012

 

 

 

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

 

 

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Unshagged 1968

 

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

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The ‘Big field’

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Ma Hubbard’s, Redcliffs

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

 

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Ma Hubbard’s kitchen

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

 

 

 

 

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Hereford Street

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

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Arts’ Centre 1980s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cathedral Square

 

 

4 Days in Christchurch (part 5)

A Run, Sunday Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How many millions?

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Selfie with the Wizard of Chch (& apprentice)

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

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

 

Sun Comes Out, Head Inside

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

 

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Heading East

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

 

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Dad’s 50th Shoreline Cabaret 1975

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

 

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Nightshift studio, Beckenham 1985

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The Kaleidoscope, New Regent Street

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