Tag Archive | New Zealand

New Zealand here I come…erm…sometime…maybe

Most people who know me well are fully aware of my fixation with the land of the long white cloud. I’ve joked that my catchphrase should be ‘When I was in New Zealand’, although by now they’ve heard most of my stories, perhaps more than once. I incorporated some of my own experiences into my second novel, The Dream, and now I’m casting about desperately to think of a way that I can get back to NZ this year as it’s been eight years since my visit.Waiau River, Manapouri

It was my dad who first told me about New Zealand, as he had wanted to emigrate there with his friend in 1953 but had been rejected on the ¬£10 scheme due to his asthma. His friend had still emigrated, and I always knew him as ‘Uncle John’ (and have dedicated The Dream to him). For some reason all my dad’s talk about the country really sank in with me, and I always wanted to go there, and even from my teens the part that interested me most was Westland in the South Island. Finally I took a huge leap in 2007 and left my job to take an extended trip, most of which I spent in the South Island.

By that time my dad had lost touch with his old best friend John and couldn’t remember his address. I was determined that when I got there I would track him down for my dad, who by then was in his late seventies and had started to show signs of what we hadn’t yet realized was a form of dementia. I had little to go on except that John lived in a place near the Wairau River in the general vicinity of Blenheim in the South Island. After hours of assiduous searching I’d worked out from a couple of other clues of my dad’s where I thought that might be on Google Earth, and when I finally got to Blenheim shortly after my arrival in the country I went to the library and looked up my uncle’s name on the electoral roll. Having found it easily I discovered that my online detective work had been correct: he did indeed live in the location I had picked out. He wasn’t, however, in the phone book.IMG_0707

I texted my parents in excitement and then set out for the address, which was well off the beaten track. Eventually I came to a literal track that petered out on one side and ended on the other at a gate marked ‘private’. The gate was firmly locked and seemed to have electrified wire across it (readers might notice I have used this in The Dream). I wasn’t even sure that I was in the right place as I clambered up the nearby levee and looked around the deserted landscape. I couldn’t see any house beyond the gate, and the place was silent apart from my frustrated sobs. I had so wanted this, both for my dad and for me, and now I was apparently stymied at the last hurdle. I wiped the tears off my cheeks and sent a text to my parents telling of this disappointment, but I couldn’t bear to just leave so I scoured through my bag for something to write on, and found a piece of scrap paper on which I scrawled who I was, and my phone number, and then I thrust this note into the lock of the gate, imagining that it would never be found anyway, and sloped off into the heat haze in my hire car.

To my surprise and delight, within a couple of hours I had a call on my mobile phone from Uncle John. He was just as keen to see me as I was to see him, and we met that evening for a meal. He drove me around the area that night and the following morning pointing out places of interest, and we never stopped talking! I went back to see him again later in my stay and it was one of those happy but rare experiences where you meet someone and just automatically get on well together, despite the age difference.IMG_1944

I’d love to see him, and of course New Zealand, again this winter. Whether I can find a way or not is still moot!

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Viva la Vida in Karitane

Back in early 2008 I had not long come home from my trip to New Zealand, and I’d really returned reluctantly (which is why I mention NZ so often!). I would have preferred to stay and look for work there, but as my parents were becoming more dependent I had to ditch any idea of living in another country, least of all one so far away. Instead, I consoled myself with the thought that I’d be going back there again soon, and I had anticipated going again that winter. It was fear of running out of money that somehow stayed my hand (and an error on the Emirates website when I actually booked a flight, but it failed).

Karitane beaches

Karitane beaches

Coldplay’s hit, Viva la Vida, came out during 2008 and I played it endlessly. It is still one of my favourite songs of all time. As 2008 moved into 2009 and I was stuck here in a grim British winter, I started to write The Dream, setting it in New Zealand as a way of keeping my own dream alive and allowing me to relive some of my experiences there. I vowed to myself that I would, eventually, drive down the roads near Dunedin, heading for Karitane, and I would be playing Viva la Vida as I did so. I imagined this so strongly, and so often, that it now feels as though I have actually done it! In my mind I have again driven down those hilly roads, usually in rainy weather (I think it must have rained most of the time I was in Dunedin) with Viva la Vida blasting out of the car stereo. In my mind I have again stood on the hill overlooking the Karitane beaches, basking in the sunshine and fresh air and the wonderful view.

Almost five years down the line I am no closer to getting back to New Zealand, but barely a day goes by that I don’t relive that fantasy, especially when I’m driving, and especially if Viva la Vida is playing on the car radio. I know I will make it eventually, but in the meantime there’s a lot to be said for imagination.

Christchurch earthquake

All this winter I’ve been joking that it was maybe a good job I wasn’t in New Zealand after all. It was just a way to cheer myself up. Now though, reading about and watching the latest quake I can’t escape the sense that I could have been caught up in it. It was this past week three years ago that I spent in Christchurch. Today was the day I flew back home. I visited all the streets that are wrecked, the cathedral, and the port of Lyttelton that was the epicentre.

I can’t quite take in that somewhere I’m so familiar with has suffered such a terrible blow. Haiti was so much worse, so many more killed and rendered homeless, a far greater tragedy, but I suppose the difference is that didn’t know the country. Whenever I’ve seen earthquakes before they’ve seemed tragic and terrible but far away. New Zealand may be far away physically but it has a special place in my heart.

I hope the aftershocks die down and the fault settles and allows the people of Canterbury to recover.

I should be in New Zealand

Yes, today’s the day! Three years ago I had just arrived in Christchurch. I thought that by now I’d have managed to get back, but various circumstances have thus far got in the way. I have my whole itinerary worked out as well. I believe I’m supposed to be spending tonight in Auckland and travelling on the Overlander train to Wellington tomorrow, after which I should be hastening across the Cook Strait to Picton in the South Island. Of course, if I sold some writing, the same itinerary could be employed in February…

New Zealand dreaming

It is now mid-September and with no sign of any book advances on the horizon my dream of returning to NZ this year appears to be scuppered. The plan was to go in mid-November and return just before Christmas. My ideal was to go for three months, but the situation with my mum simply doesn’t allow that; five or six weeks is pushing it. Of course should some miraculous money come my way early next year I could perhaps go in February/March. Somehow I still feel that it will happen, but it’s probably just wishful thinking to keep my spirits up.

My sister says she’s surprised I still want to go with the Christchurch earthquake and all its aftershocks, but although I’m glad I’m not there right now, it won’t put me off. I’ve been reading The Press (Christchurch newspaper) avidly online since the earthquake struck and of course the situation is still ongoing, just as the floods are still devastating Pakistan, but both stories have long gone out of our headlines here. I’m not so keen on Christchurch as I am on Dunedin but I still find it hard to read about all the damage there.

Apart from my own personal love of the country I need to go for book research. I’ve worked out the itinerary to ensure I visit all the places in the book again and check out things I’ve mentioned but am not sure about. ¬†Sadly I shall, it seems, have to land in Auckland instead of Christchurch because of the difficulties with the current airline timetable but still, that would give me the chance to travel on the Overlander train from Auckland to Wellington again (albeit that it’s not in the book!).

Watch this space for any updates on the Jollity Quince tour of New Zealand, should it ever actually take place.

Dreams of New Zealand

All my life I’d wanted to go to New Zealand, so in 2007 I took the plunge, threw in my job and went. I knew it would put me further into debt, but I also saw the credit crunch coming and thought it might be my last chance. I went for three months, travelled around, did whatever I wanted and made up for many years – most years – of having no holidays. By the time I had no choice but to return home I’d decided NZ was a sort of second home. I even thought that it might be worth thinking of moving there altogether.

Back here in the UK, I had problems with my parents to deal with. My dad seemed to be declining mentally and my mum, whilst in no way infirm and mentally extremely sharp, was becoming quite dependent. She hadn’t wanted me to go to New Zealand, and with my dad’s decline she was very much against my leaving the country again the next winter, which was what I had proposed, and indeed when the time came I didn’t feel able to do it for a variety of reasons.

I had in mind that winter 2009-10 would have to do instead, but then in June 2009 my mum had a stroke as a result of atrial fibrillation and it was like a bomb went off in all our lives. My mum was in hospital for three months, my dad’s Alzheimer’s worsened and I couldn’t go back to employment (having almost finished my novel) because there was no time. I was earning no money but incurring more debts – and still am. My mum came home in September 2009 but she wasn’t the same, and my dad’s decline steepened upon her return. He couldn’t accept that the severely disabled person who came home was his wife.

My dad died in December 2009, and my mum’s condition has improved since to the extent that she is now able to walk. Sadly we (my sister and I) were only able to help her with the walking after my dad died. As he didn’t understand properly what had happened, he didn’t like it when I tried to get her to do anything to improve her condition.

So that is how things stand now. My mum living alone, slowly regaining some mobility but still very dependent and severely depressed and having to be pushed at every turn to try to improve. I have a huge minus with the bank and an unsold novel that I know ought to do well and the dream of returning to New Zealand to keep me warm.

My new novel is set in New Zealand, so at least I can travel there in spirit as I’m writing it, and now I am keeping the dream alive that I will get back there this winter, but with no money and my mum still so dependent I wonder if it will be yet another year before I get to return.

Never give up, never surrender!