Reflections and Moving On.

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Today we crossed from New Zealand’s Southern Island, to the North. Exiting the Airport at Wellington a different pace, population and purpose was evident. But first, some reflections on our experience of the South Island.

Our travels took us from Christchurch on the East Coast, to Greymouth on the West Coast and then southwards to Queenstown. There are whole swathes of the South Island we didn’t even sniff.

What are my abiding impressions? Scenic splendour at every turn. I became punch-drunk on mountain vistas and river plains; sucker-punched by forests, lakes and glaciers. And remoteness. I’m used to the model train-set that is Great Britain, where you are rarely more than an hour from an urban conurbation and less from a motorway. Where the population of the small town where I live is two-thirds that of the entire West Coast. Here, there are vast tracts of uninhabited land, interspersed with “townships” – four or five roadside properties. Where the nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive undertaken once a month. Weather-permitting.

My other abiding memory will be of the people we met:

Jill, in Christchurch, who gave us a unique insight into the impact of the earthquakes in 2010/11, and how the community has been forever changed, and is responding.

Jan, whose amazing beachfront property we stayed at in Rapahoe, and who shared her extensive knowledge of the West Coast, sending us on our way with notes and directions to “must see” places.

Neroli, at Haast, a fourth-generation West-Coaster, who regaled us with tales of her ancestors. Hardy folk from Ireland who arrived amongst the first pioneers, landing cattle from their ships, and eventually developing a particularly heavy-framed herd, which could withstand the gruelling 250 kilometre drive from field to market, without losing condition and value. The descendants of those heavy beasts can be seen in nearby pastures today.

The ranger from the Conservation Department who took time out from grass-cutting, to give us a local history lesson at the far outpost of Jackson’s Bay.

Marc, who suggested we head out of the quaint but very tourist-centric Queenstown, and drive to Glenorchy along the banks of Lake Wakatipu.

All these people generously gave of their time and local knowledge and we greatly benefited from both. They gave our brief visit a unique context through their personal experiences, reflections, and opinions. Thank you.

 

 

Lady Madonna, children at your feet, Wonder how you manage to make ends meet. (Lennon-McCartney 1968) .

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Memories are funny things. Not really like photographs, or files on our hard-drive, memories are much more malleable. Each time we retrieve them and metaphorically turn them over in our hands, they are somehow changed, altered, edited. We regard our memories through the veil of our own experience.

This is my memory, now, from when I was (about) 12 years old, in 1973.

During my childhood and teenage years, my brother, sister, and parents often stayed with my grandparents, in their large, sprawling house in the Sussex countryside. I remember the house as comfortable (in a not-at-all-smart way), with large gardens where we could build dens, help mow lawns and dig vegetables, and big, creaky bedrooms with chimneys that whistled eerily when the wind blew. Our visits there were governed by an unchanging routine that began with early morning egg-collecting and the letting-out of chickens and geese, and ended with the recouping of the same to keep them safe from prowling foxes and other night hazards. In between, mealtimes were regular and frequent, to service the needs of the “paying guests”- a fluctuating population of working people and visitors to the area whose lodgings, along with sales of surplus garden produce, provided my grandmother with her income.

On this particular occasion, we were not to be the only family visiting. My uncle, who my grandparents had adopted as a baby, would also be staying. I was intrigued. I had heard about my uncle, but never met him. He had a reputation for being unconventional; (although my grandparents might have used a less neutral term). He was some 13 years’ younger than my father, so that made him a relatively youthful 29. He was relatively well-travelled (for 1973), and now, he was going to live in New Zealand with his wife and baby daughter. In my typical 12-year old way, I soaked up the atmosphere and nuance.  I learned that he had adopted what would later become known as an “alternative lifestyle” and I sensed a certain apprehension and disapproval amongst the adults in my family. One thing was obvious to me: the fatted calf had nothing to fear!

Adults tend to think that children don’t notice things and so children tend to become skilled in covert observation. I was adept at sitting quietly in a corner buried in a book, seemingly oblivious to everything. In fact, the longer the atmosphere of discomfort prevailed, the more excited I became and the more my anticipation grew.

At last a battered van (of the Camper variety) pulled into the drive and up to the house and my uncle, his wife and baby daughter emerged into our grey, drizzly afternoon like extraordinary exotic butterflies landing on a cabbage. These were real, live hippies! Such as I had only seen under perjorative headlines in the Daily Express.

I have a memory of my uncle, a slight man with long hair, wearing a band around his head and a purple t-shirt that laced-up at the front. His wife struck me as beautiful and willowy, with long chestnut hair and a long tie-dyed dress that brushed her sandaled feet. She carried what seemed to me to be a very small baby wrapped in a cotton shawl. If it’s possible to feel hopelessly frumpy at twelve year’s old, I did on that afternoon.

My grandmother’s proffered hospitality was politely declined, on the basis that “everything we need is in the van” and “the van” (which in my memory is a mustardy yellow colour) took on Tardis-like qualities in my imagination. And so, that night, when we went upstairs to bed, the little family disappeared back into the van.

I seem to think they left the next day. But not before I had seen the beautiful woman in her long kaftan, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, feeding her tiny baby. I suppose it was the first time I had been exposed to breastfeeding that wasn’t entirely private and functional.  I remember being captivated by how graceful and relaxed she seemed, and feeling embarrassed when she saw me watching her, and smiled at me.

Tomorrow we leave Sydney and fly to New Zealand (via Brisbane). Sadly, the beautiful Lady Madonna with the quiet smile, died some years ago. But my uncle, three of his children, and many grandchildren live in and around Christchurch. A twelve-year-old, well-behaved girl, with tidy clothes and sensible shoes is very excited to meet them.

Setting the Bar High

If I’m to believe my Lonely Planet guides and my internet research (not to mention the many recommendations from friends and people I don’t even really know), our travels will deliver all sorts of spectacular sights and sounds. There will be vistas of magnificence and experiences which will be lent a special magic, because of their ‘difference’ to our ‘normal’. So my regular walk in the Park today was a timely reminder (if one were needed) of how wonderful the ‘normal’ is.

The late afternoon sun had that early Autumn mellowness and the majestic chestnut trees bore their bright green prickly trophies aloft, as if they know that they will soon be snatched by the Winter frosts. Underneath them, this year’s young deer herd – little, doe-eyed Bambi’s that make a chirruping sound as they graze the still-lush grass. I love the late afternoon at this time of the year in England. The air begins to chill and turn a little damp and, as the sun fades, like a spritz from a giant atomizer, it releases all those earthy, woody, Autumnal aromas.

By the time we return the leaves will have mostly gone, and those few that cling defiantly to the trees will be dry and brown. The chestnuts will have fallen, to be squirreled away for the Winter and the deer will be bigger and less obviously “Disney”. And I will have seen such things!

As I put the dogs back into the car I stop and take another look. How lucky am I that this is my ‘everyday’? It sets the bar pretty high.