Tag Archives: travel

4 Days in Christchurch (part 4)

Saturday in the City

Christchurch is a flat city. Always has been. You can walk or bike around with a lot less effort than every other NZ city where you’re invariably marching up a hill or significant lump.

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I spent Saturday afternoon walking the CBD. I could have cycled. There are bikes you can use for free or a fee via an app. IMG_9831I love riding bikes and they’re a great new addition since I was last here, but it’s not something that appealed. That’s the thing with solo travel. Some activities work better by yourself (setting the agenda, following your nose), while others simply don’t appeal (the Eiffel Tower, roller coasters etc).

With few tall buildings standing there is a serious lack of shade. You can see forever with whole blocks down but it gets hot fast. In Victoria Square a lot of people were lazing on the grass. IMG_9794I had an Ice-cream Charlie, choosing my fav, a mid-size sundae. I have been having them since I was a child. The unique soft ice goes so well with the un-whipped cream, choc chips and raspberry syrup. IMG_9793The young woman in the van said it was a good day to sell ice cream, quickly adding that every day is a good for ice cream, but, actually, she had only worked there for two days.

 

I ate my sundae by the Avon, staring into the gutted shell of the Town Hall, trying to remember all the shows I had seen there. Glen Campbell (twice), Transvision Vamp, Elvis Costello, Devo, Ultravox, The The, From Scratch, Sam Hunt, Peter Ustinov, Pamela Stephenson, The Wombles, Thunderbirds Are Go!, Icehouse, Blam Blam Blam, Coconut Rough, The Exponents. There must be many others hidden in my memory, alongside the ones I wish I had seen. The Clash, The Sweet, The Fall.

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I found more shade at the Canterbury Museum. First time post-‘quake. I grew up amongst the exhibitions and collections. The animals stuffed and skeletal, the insect drawers, the weapons, the colonial street. So many years of familiar. It was like nothing had changed.

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I made a bee-line for the da Vinci exhibition; his drawings and sketches made 3-dimensional. Interesting but somehow a bit weird. Treasures that never really existed.

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The evening was the reason I made the trip; a memorial night of music for a friend who died a couple of months back. I couldn’t make the funeral. Wrote about it in my By George post. I polished off half a bottle of Pinot Gris in the hotel room resting up from all the walking, sun and dust before heading to the Auricle (a wine bar and sonic arts gallery) at the top of New Regent Street. DSC0013It was a gorgeous evening. Summery. People glammed-up to see Swan Lake at the restored Theatre Royal promenaded to and from the show as I drank wine from a stemless glass, talking to the old friends I knew, and others I didn’t. 20 years since I left Chch. 25 years since I did student radio with George, seemingly bumping into him at every gig and party. There was live music upstairs and some via Skype, but I spent most of the evening on the street drinking in the air of a city finding its feet wondering what had changed. Me, my city, my friends.

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Around midnight I headed off. There were so many people around. On Manchester Street a car load of young guys cruised past and one shouted, “Where’s the pussy at bro’?” I stared for a second, wondering if they were trying to provoke something, then slowly pointed at them and smiled. They cracked up saying, “he knows, he knows!”

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At the bottom of High Street where the trams stop before rolling back the way they came I spotted Mr Burger, a wee van parked outside the first night spot to re-open in the city, the Nucleus. It was the best burger and chips I have had in years. I sat watching the taxis and groups of people heading towards the thump of the night club, happy there is now somewhere to go after midnight, content in the feeling that I had no desire to join them.

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4 Days In Christchurch (part 2)

Day 2 (or, the rest of Day 1)

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At the Pop-Up

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

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Pop-Up Art

 

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

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Town of many Trams

 

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

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Funky t-shirt from Pop-Up

 

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

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

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

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Back of Smash Palace

 

 

Beers el Fresco

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

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Mmm, Brew Moon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Days in Christchurch (part 1)

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DAY ONE

Above Te Wai Pounamu

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

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Harwood International Airport (Chch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chch Railway Station

 

The Purple Line

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

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

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In the CBD

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

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

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

Songs of September

Motivated by my 6 year-olds recent statement that she… hates spring… because I love winter so much… I’ve had September songs on my mind.

While most of the 4 songs in my pocket come from a hemisphere where that month falls in autumn, signalling the approach of winter, I live in New Zealand where it means warmth and light, daffodils and lambs.

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Waikiki

Waikiki

The September song foremost in my head is Here Comes September by Waikiki. I know it from the Triple J Hottest 100 collection my Australian sister sent me in 2003. Triple_J_Hottest_100_Volume_10They’re a great way to hear vaguely alt popular music that doesn’t necessarily get noticed in New Zealand. It was a great mix that year and I remember only ever needing to skip the odd track. While this wasn’t my initial fav I was soon skipping back to repeatedly sing along. Its hooky jangly pop seemed to exude the hope of September. Never having heard of them I assumed they were Australian (the singer tries to sing ‘American’ at times, as is the fashion/compunction for many vocalists, but broad Aussie vowels give her away).

The song is about an ended relationship, being positive and remembering the good stuff.

Though there were others, you never left me at all

Here comes September, and we both know what that means

Sometimes it’s out of our grasp, not everything is made to last

If that’s the way you wanna remember, then that’s the way you gotta remember

But I won’t cry now, here comes September

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A Fender Jazz Bass, much like the beauty I once played

And although I was seduced by the lack of bitterness in her delivery, I didn’t focus on that when I sang along in 2003, being more captivated by the harmonic vocal hooks, the ringing of the Rickenbacker and the rich low rumble of the Fender bass; instruments I grew up knowing intimately.

Of course, 2003 was a weird time. Across the world we were repeatedly told that the world had changed forever (as if it doesn’t every day). I was actively angry and resistant to the warmongering narrative of fear. Refusing to march to that duplicitous beat, I was living a life infused with hope.

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Paris 2000. The Japanese tourist said she couldn’t fit in the tip of the tower. Just relax tourist, san, and tilt up

In 2000 I had left my job in television to tour around Europe, embracing the roots of my immigrant parents before eventually realising that it was time to embrace my desire to write. So in 2001 I bit the bullet and attended a 6 month fiction writing course in Timaru. It was amazing, I literally felt like I was Harry Potter: that my life had gone from dark containment to light-filled expansion.

Of course, despite my first short story being accepted for publication within a week of sending it off, the world wasn’t waiting to be entertained by me and the pile of rejections I studiously kept (to remind me of my early struggle) got ever bigger. And bigger. And bigger.

So I headed back to Auckland to freelance in a TV industry pumped up with the phoney money of pre-Credit Crunch NZ. I didn’t need to find work, it found me. While I continued to compulsively write and submit fiction, certain in my abilities, I socialised in a heady media scene awash with the social lubricants of the day (booze, pot, P and E).

It was a fun time, but I wanted more out of life. Yes, I craved success as a writer but most of all I had begun to seriously yearn for a committed relationship. And to be a father.

My desire was so strong that on 3 of the 5 following Christmases (’03, ’05, ’07) I found myself ‘expecting’ with a different woman (which may indicate a very casual attitude, but I would say it illustrates a certain commitment).

Yes, I admit, my taste in women has been questioned by friends and family, but that’s only ever after things go pear-shaped (and isn’t everyone wise after the fact?)

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Blending into a tight spot, Paris 2005

In heart and head I’m never-endingly fascinated by women, considering myself more of a woman’s man than a man’s man. I will choose their company (platonic or not) over men any day. It’s been that way since I was a child growing up surrounded by sisters and female cousins, the only boy in girl town.

And who really fully understands the drivers of their own desires? I can’t say I’m attracted to the same thing: it’s usually a certain strength of character, and something indefinable in the eye and mind.

However, given what’s gone on in my life in the 11 years since 2003, I have lost a lot of confidence in my desires, leading to the celibate phase of the last couple of years. At the start of this phase, in a reflective moment, I said to a good friend that I always like strong women, to which he replied… you like bossy women…When I mentioned this to a sister she said… you like bitches!

I thought that was rather harsh. But very funny.

Which leads to another song from my September playlist: Miss September by Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band. Bulldoggin'

They were a family favourite on the NZBC TV talent show ‘New Faces’ in 1973. Their bouncy feel and eccentric look featured tea-chest bass, washboard and kazoo and their song about a pinup picture (naughty!) got them into the finals. Yes, they were hugely derivative (Sgt. Pepper’s, anyone?…Pictures of Lily by The Who?), but as a 6 year old I found them far more entertaining than the syrupy/sombre crooners and balladeers, and frowning girls with acoustic guitars the show was lumbered with.

Now the article that came with your picture, says you hail from Illinois

Now I know Illinois-a-noise an oyster, but an oyster will only bring me joy bulldog2

The lyrics were wonderfully silly (how is Illinois an oyster?) while still appealing to popular music’s reliable workhorse of unrequited romantic yearning.

Miss September, Miss September, I know I’m gonna meet you some day

Miss September, Miss September, though you’re 12,000 miles away-hay-hay-hay

The allusions to masturbation (of course) were lost on me.

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Spot the Rickenbacker

Such things were more apparent in my (short) encounter with The Bangles’ cover of Big Star’s September Gurls in 1986. I never liked them as much as the Go-Gos (much more flaccid, musically). Maybe it’s unfair to compare them but both bands were sold directly to pubescent boys (for obvious reasons), and rock/pop is never shy of such subjects. I liked that Susanna Hoffs played a Rickenbacker (John Lennon played one!), and that the bass player sang this song (I was playing bass in a jangly-pop band by this stage).

By the 1990s I was much more familiar with the original version by Alex Chilton/Big Star. While his version has a lot more life to it (his delivery is heavily nuanced, maybe to counterpoint the bland lyrics: the Bangle delivers with dead-eyed ‘80’s coldness), the song is the least favourite of the September songs I know. I just don’t find much meaning in the lyrics. RVM-Big-Star_16x9_620x350(What’s a September Gurl? A Virgo? I dunno). But maybe you don’t have to. Lyrical clarity is an overrated part of music, especially when compared to the open and inclusive reading of poetic imagery.

September gurls do so much…

December boy’s got it bad…

That said, it’s clearly got something going for it in that a female vocalist can sing it without feeling the need to change the respective genders of the lyrics (something that always irritates me, especially when the P.O.V of any song is all over the place).

Which leaves the September song that had the biggest impact on me. Wake Me Up, When September Ends by Green Day. A song that became intimately associated with both my very personal experience of September 2005, and an awful ‘Act of God’ that affected countless lives. green_day_04_original

Catching up with a beloved ex-lover for coffee in 2003 had resulted in the first of the 3 Christmas pregnancies. That one ended on New Year’s Eve. I got the text while dancing with strangers, high on a mix of P and E. Although at the time I saw it as lucky escape, it was an incredibly lonely moment and I eventually came to grieve deeply for the unborn child and the unfulfilled relationship with his/her mother. But back then my heart was set on a come here/go away long term flame, and by 2004 I had moved in with her, happy in a relationship I imagined lasting forever.

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Waiting for my partner to finish work, the first thing I visited in Paris was Diana’s tunnel. People still left tributes 8 years later

Which is why, at the end of August 2005, I flew to Paris to accompany her on a work trip she had left for the week before.

When you fly to Europe from NZ you tend to fly through the night so I arrived in Paris on a hot, sunny autumn morning. As I checked into our hotel, the first English I heard being spoken was two clearly shocked Americans, reading a newspaper at the check-in desk… They’re shooting each other… looting the place… Animals… Once I got up to my partner’s room and turned on the telly (this was before the internet became something you carried in your pocket) I realised who they were and that a hurricane had devastated New Orleans.

Sept tumbler

When September Ends by Green Day wasn’t my favourite track on American Idiot, an album I loved thinking it both entertaining and brave (especially in a time when there was little push back in popular culture against the proponents for war), and I played it many times before I headed to Europe in 2005. Sept green Day

The song didn’t fit my particular concept of September, speaking of rain/winter/loss. I was embracing the future, heading for a hot month in Europe with the woman I wanted to spend my life with. And we had decided to make a baby.

I now know the song is about the vocalist losing his father at the age of 7, which explains much of the lyrical imagery.

Ring out the bells again, like we did when spring began

Wake me up, when September ends

It’s testament to the strength of the very personal lyrics that the single, released August 2005, became the unofficial anthem for Hurricane Katrina, which hit as I arrived in Paris.

It has the poetic/fluid nature of good lyrics in that the video for the song ignores Billy Joe Armstrong’s intimate meaning to take on the blustering pomposity of sacrifice and war that many American videos were plastered with at the time. Sept lyric

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A rainy night in Brussels and a very fine, boozy meal

But that song was not in my head as I flitted from Paris to Florence to Lucca to Pisa to Brussels to Maastricht to Amsterdam to London and back to Paris: exploring, being, loving.

And it wasn’t all fun and games. I was also doing some research for a historical novel I was writing about the founding of my hometown of Christchurch, which was set up after the formation of the Canterbury Association in London in 1848.

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Place of the first meeting to found Canterbury. Spot the three lambs in the shield

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Communards at the barricades

Due to the utopian ideals of a group of graduates of Christ Church College, Oxford (yip, Harry Potter’s school) who sent the ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’ to found Christchurch, I was making a study of the Paris Commune of 1871, established when the decadent, corrupt government of Napoleon III let the invading Prussian’s get within a humiliating cooee of Paris (WW1, 40 years later, was a replay of this schmozzle).

At the most famous bookstore in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, Shake I bought a history of that incredible event which, when the city was retaken by government forces, saw the slaughter of more Parisians than the Great Terror of the Revolution and The German Occupation of WWII combined.

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Dead Communards on the cover of the book I bought

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Tomb of Oscar Wilde

I read that book throughout our travels around Europe, finishing it at the end of the trip when we returned to Paris, making a special pilgrimage to the famous Père Lachaise cemetery, pushing past the tourists at Jim Morrison’s grave, stopping to take a photo of my partner kissing the toes of the lip-stick covered Jacob Epstein statue on Oscar Wilde’s grave, making a beeline for the wall at the back of the graveyard where a great many Communards were lined up and shot.

Returning to NZ at the end of the month, and still in travel mode, I flew down to a good friend’s 40th.

Towards the end of that early spring party, standing on the threshold of his back door, my friend, who I had known since my early 20s, tapped the neck of his beer bottle to mine and said… to the barren knights… It took me a second to realise that he wasn’t talking about humorous British pop group, the Barron Knights, Barron-Knights-Best-of-the-Barron-Knightsbut about us having avoided parenthood. He was clearly wistful, having married 5 years before, just before I headed to Europe for the first time.

But that poignancy became ironic when 6 weeks later I was back, escaping an awful argument that erupted after my partner found out she had got pregnant on that last weekend in Paris. She was not happy with the situation (but we planned it?), and in her bitter reasoning she was carrying the spirit of a Communard murdered at that wall. I felt betrayed and used.

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The photo we took at the wall in Pere Lachaise. 134 years later, people still leave flowers for the victims

A lot went on in the next few months; too much for here. Suffice to say that my partner eventually found her peace with the child growing inside her, and we announced it to her gathered family on Christmas Day 2005. Which underlined a greater and more painful irony when, late on Boxing Day, after a hurried and tortured helicopter flight off our island home she delivered a tiny, perfectly formed boy with eyelids closed. Fingernails, clearly forming on the hand resting across his chest.

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Paris, beneath the rewarewa we planted

In a strange way, the experience brought us closer, and we were happy for most of the next year. I listened to Green Day a lot as I worked in the wild, extensive garden, clearing and landscaping the area where we buried the boy we called Paris on New Year’s Eve. I loved the album; it was a journey, more than its constituent parts.

But When September Ends took on a new meaning for me, as did the month. It became a personal anthem of loss and each year I was anxious for the month to pass.

Which gets at the reason I have written this blog.

Because when my daughter said that she hated spring, my first thought wasn’t of Green Day, it was Waikiki.

Two months after I shifted out in Dec 2006, following my erstwhile partner announcing… actually, I do want a baby. But not with you… I met my daughter’s mother. Four months later she was (unexpectedly) pregnant.

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Exiting the apartment in Paris

My friend and his wife, who had provided refuge in that awful time in 2005, did so again (along with his baby boy, born earlier that year) in 2007 when we shifted down to his town just before Christmas.

I ended up buying the house next door and our children grew up as brother and sister. My friends moved far away just before last Christmas but I continue to live next door to that threshold where we toasted the barren knights. I have my daughter every other week as her mother and I are no longer together (having a child with someone is not the best way to establish a relationship).

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The dining hall at Christ Church, Oxford, where the founders of Christchurch (and Harry Potter) went to school.

There’s been a shit-load of loss in my life over the last few years (I have referred to aspects of it in past blogs). Paris, and the woman I was convinced I loved. My vibrant life in the media. My home town, smashed (and the novel I was writing with it). Both parents, straight afterwards. My sister, briefly here, now back to Australia. My other sister and family now following.

It seems like I’m on a beach watching an ever-receding tide, wondering if it will ever flow back.

But it is September, and I am full of hope. My girl is the greatest joy. I try not to cling but she is growing so fast. There is increasing warmth in the air, greater light in the days, the garden is growing and in 2 months it will be a year since the surgery on my ankle so I will be able to start running (gently) once more.

Like songs and seasons, we are filled with memories and meanings both personal and shared: as immutable as the ever-changing seasons, nothing is certain except for change.

I do not seek an encounter with any woman pinned above my bed. I do not hanker for the lost, or yearn for the future (well, not too much).

But I have a confession. There are boxes of baby toys and paraphernalia under the house I am struggling to let go of. It may seem a trifle sad but I would counter they are a guard against the unexpected.

I am no longer a young man, but if I pass these things on to charity do I not invite Murphy’s Law to inject a mischievous twinkle into my eye? To put a song in my heart, a spring in my step, to turn my mind to… ?

Well, it is September.

And we both know what that means…

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