Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Village news

New Chums beach on the Coromandel peninsula (and below)

Where I learned to sail - Kawau Bay

"This reminds me of home," I said to my mother. I knew what I meant, and perhaps I was being more provocative than necessary. We were walking through Westhaven, the big marina under the harbour bridge in Auckland, so-called City of Sails. "So where's home?" she said. It wasn't the first time she's asked me that question, and maybe she's tired of doing so, but then again, one day perhaps I'll give her an answer she likes.

My mother (right) and her sister Bevie (left) at Joy and Barrie's party

It was another perfect summer day and we were on our way to a lunch party at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. My close and extended family would be there, plus old friends of my parents and their middle-aged children, people for whom I will always be Diana Mary, Michael and Audrey's daughter. I've been meeting this crowd pretty regularly over the past few years in churchyards and at wakes. This time, for a change, we were gathering to toast the living, those inveterate party animals Joy (mum's sister) and Barrie who were married 60 years ago. "She told me she married me for better or for worse, but not for lunch," quipped my uncle who, at 86, still goes to his law office every morning. Joy was wearing big new diamonds.

 Joy's new diamonds
My mother is very close to Joy. They speak on the phone every day and on Saturday nights my mother drives to Joy and Barrie's for home-made fish and chips. Barrie went to school with my father. Many of my parents' friends went to the same schools that  their children and grandchildren have since attended. I find the same pattern repeating with my generation too. How strange it must seem to them that I can think of our boat, locked into a marina berth in a resort town in  south-western Turkey, as home. Home is where you are known, isn't it?

How many dinners have I enjoyed at this table? 

New Zealanders are great wanderers of the world, but many of us who leave as young adults eventually come back, especially when children are born. "The best country in the world to raise kids" we were always told, and who am I to argue? My children were born in Australia, and I ended up staying there. Not by choice originally, but in time I adapted to living as an outsider.  Now it seems to suit me, and it's only when I come back to Auckland that I am struck again by how tightly and intricately people's lives become knotted together when they take root and grow in undisturbed soil.

Bridget, Robyn and me at Whangapoua

Digging for potatoes in mum's garden

My goddaughter Frances and Bridget

Chilled out barrister

I love to make connections when I'm here, to join the dots, catch up on the village news. My oldest and dearest friends live in Auckland or nearby, so do my siblings and most of their children. I am known here in a way that's impossible anywhere else. But what's home? That's a difficult one, Mum. It always will be, I suspect.

Alex in the hayshed

Nancy and Martin's thirsty hills

February has been dry, very dry. We had a short spell of rain on arrival, but since then each week has been an uninterrupted chain of golden days. In New Zealand you're never far from the country, even if you live in town. Everyone knows the farmers are desperate for a good downpour. Because my mother lives on a farm (in their retirement, my parents shifted from the city to grow trees, a move as radical as going to sea for a few years, I reckon) for now we're more into precipitation than wind forecasts. That'll change once we are back on Enki (and I'm missing the people who know me).

 Speaking of the sea, we've just learned that our friends Mike and Alisa, and their small boys Eric and Elias have crossed safely from Hobart to Bluff, at the very bottom of the South Island, in their steel yacht Galactic. Hooray! The Tasman is a notoriously horrible piece of water and the best place to see it, I've always thought, is from shore. Mike's blog Twice in a Lifetime might change my mind. He's such a fine writer, and even if you have no interest in ocean swells, I'm recommending you check it out.

Anchor Bay

Monday, 4 February 2013

Break in transmission

However many times I do it, flying directly from one side of the world to the other numbs my brain. I'm not talking about the hours in the trip, or the jet lag it produces, though that too. It's that the very possibility of being able to transplant your body overnight from, say, Istanbul to Sydney and hit the ground running (to abuse a cliche) is kind of unbelievable, isn't it? A lot of us do it, often even. Big bird travel provides the quick turnaround time which life as we know it demands. But I find myself resisting the speed too. I need a longer period in which to make the mental shift between cultures. Plus I want the thrill of doing 100-miles between sunrise and sunset in fair winds to stay sharp, and for that it helps to be moving slowly across the planet as a matter of course.

Gardeners planting tulip bulbs at Topkapi palace in Istanbul

The skyline at Broadway in Sydney

But we're modern types, and we've flown home to see our nearest and dearest.






Freddy and Clem


The necessary business of letting go of our grown children hasn't been that straightforward for us, for all the words we've spilled on the subject. I think we needed to reassure ourselves that both they and we are in the right place.

Last week we were briefly in Sydney, but this week the right place is the beach house in New Zealand which, however long it is between visits, has outlasted every other home I've ever known. It's where my dad taught me how much fun it can be mucking about in small sailing boats, it's where my children have spent many many summers with their grandparents and cousins, it's where no matter how claustrophobic or wet your holiday - "soft rain"my sister Barb learned from the Irish this past British  summer to call the kind of dismal weather we're having now - you always make more good memories.


There are eight of us here - sons and daughters minus Sam who toils in Sydney and his girlfriend Madi who toils in Papua New Guinea.  Last night, on account of the persistent drizzle, we canned the barbecue and roasted a leg of lamb. Of course, you say. New Zealand lamb. It was good as you're imagining. And my mother called to say she'd bought a house. Never a dull moment with my mum. I am a little out of practice at reading and responding to the currents which swirl about and under the surface here, but give me a week and I'll have forgotten I'm on a remote island at the southern extremity of the globe. New Zealand and its norms will have reasserted their position at the centre of the universe. But isn't that why we've flown so far? To reset the compass? Find our true north? GPS tells you one story, but your heart tells you another.