It is the middle of December, we are going to stay with one of my best mates on the planet, unfortunately he lives on the opposite side of it to me, as far away from each other as you can possibly get. It was not always this way, we used to live a few miles away from each other growing up, and we lived together at University for a year whilst I completed my teacher training, we have always remained close, as have both our families, even when they moved to London and we were up in Manchester. The bonds are strong all round and it feels like we are going home, a base, a sanctuary, to the comfort of loved ones.
Don (not his real name) works in an industry where he meets a lot of famous people, even now in New Zealand, I have met a quite a few via him, and he hates the bullshit and trappings of fame, for this reason I change his, and his families identities. He is fun and a risk taker in a semi-sensible manner. I finished my post grad teaching at the same time he finished his degree. At my interview for a teaching post I’d obtained before the start of that final college year summer, I was asked at the very end if I had any questions now I had been successful. “Can you give me a letter to show the bank that I have a job in September so I have enough money to hitch-hike around Europe all summer?” In the car immediately after, as the my soon to be Head of Department is giving me a lift to the motorway service station, so I could hitch home – people did in those days, he turns to me, “That is the coolest question I have ever heard asked at an interview, and I’ve sat in on lots.”I never considered it ‘cool’, I considered it a necessity. It is people like Don and those moments that shape your life, i.e. taking a family gap year, some people thought crazy, but is it, really? I know there are always financial implications (and many more), but you can’t look back and regret (insert your own aphorism here), because let’s face it, most of us will reach an age when we have plenty of money and pint-sized limitations, except for the fact we don’t have the energy, enthusiasm or health to do it. The money totaliser climbing up only for the dosh to go to your kids or a donkey sanctuary – “Don’t dream it, be it””Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”They are not aphorisms, they are song lyrics, okay they’re aphorisms as well, I couldn’t help myself!
Don and I went around Europe and that is where the inspiration for the first book in The Robert Knight trilogy series germinated. One night when we were in Barcelona and the idea of working our passage around the continent was a distant shimmering miasma back in Holland somewhere, we were racking up debt, in the same way anyone going to University in England does now. Barcelona was our last stop before we considered selling our bodies, and some internal duplicated organs. We had the equivalent of three quid in Spanish pesetas, Don walked into a large traditional bar off Las Ramblas, me trailing behind, slapped the coinage down on the counter as it ran pell-mell in all directions and exclaimed in English, “This is all we have, we want to get drunk!” And very drunk we did get with George, the son of an ex-Barcelona goalkeeper (the dad looked far too small to be a goalkeeper, except in the land of the legless!) George was famous in his own right for reading tarot cards on Catalonian tele and radio. He adopted us, keen to improve his English with a couple of destitute gregarious blokes. As the night progressed and we pointed to dusty apothecaries alcoholic bottled tinctures, while George scuttled up the ladder to retrieve potions even he had no idea what they were! That was a night that still shines, even now… Don knows where the bodies are hidden, I consider him a brother, he taught me many beautiful things, he taught me to hug – man-hug, which I have done with my own father for decades. It means a lot to my dad – actions often speak loader than words. You have the picture; we are close.
Don is there to meet us at the airport and take us to his lovely home up in the Waitakere Hills, which overlooks both Auckland and the Tasman Sea. Don and his wife Luaren have two daughters about the same age as ours, and it is great for them all to have girls their own age to play with. They lead the Goodlife, and although not fully sustainable, well on the way, it is a far cry from the hubbub of South London where they moved from. They are in NZ as Lauren is a native New Zealander, her family are here, and now all her friends after travelling for many years abroad are back. We plan to have Christmas with them before travelling around the North Island. With this in mind Don and I go to the auction to buy a people carrier, with the intention of selling it when we leave. I fork out NZ$9,000 and when I return with a Toyota Enima, which amazingly will fit 7 people and their luggage in, or both our families together. It is not long before the Enima is renamed the enema!
It feel like we live here very quickly, and are not travellers any more. I ask incessant questions about NZ, I have not got my head around how small it is in many respects, but I will. The whole of NZ has 4 million people and 1.3 million of those live in Auckland, so we have a very skewed first impression of a minute nation, with Auckland being one of the most spread out cities in the world due to the preponderance of low-level buildings. Don and Lauren laugh at me when I’m so far off the mark with my naive assumptions.
It will be our first Christmas since the kids were born that they will not spend with their grandparents. The girl gets a bit sad thinking about this and is cheered by the presents for her under the tree – I can’t help thinking it’s a clever ploy to gain more commercial gain.
It feels more like home as one of our mutual friends, Tom, is over from Manchester with his girlfriend visiting her sister that also lives in Auckland; all three of us have been friends for decades. I play football with Tom every week back home, and when we meet up it’s like we all live in the same house and have met in the kitchen, and not on the opposite side of the world. We all originally met at a pea factory in Hull, where we all worked summer jobs at Uni, and it’s a running joke now with some of our other close friends even decades later, that the Birds Eye Pea Factory in Hull was some sort of Illuminati bonding college, like the Bullingdon Club, but with peas and no pig’s heads!
It is a relaxed time, we socialise a lot. Don and the boy surf down at O’Neil’s Beach, we all bike ride, swim, cinema, meals out and take long walks. Tom and his partner hire a house overlooking Piha beach, and it’s amazing, when you sit on the veranda you don’t have to close your eyes to imagine you are in an exclusive beach resort in California.
The wife, Don and I visit to the alcohol hypermarket grotto. The wife and I run around excited like we are in a supermarket trolley dash, holding up Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Napier Pinot Noir like they hold the key to ancient lost civilisations, we have just spent three and a half months drinking shite wine in India, we want to bath in it. We fill a trolley with booze and push it towards the check out.
“Fuck me, how much wine have you bought?” exclaims Don.
Both the wife and I reassess our booze-cruise quantity of liquor, then at each other and then Don.
“ It’s Christmas, we can’t drink all your wine.”I offer up, and he is quite pleased he will not be labelled with any excess.
Lauren, who does not drink much at home normally, asks if we are having a party. I give her a squeeze until a laugh pops out and inform her life is too short to drink cheap wine… and, we are on holiday! It is easy to slip back to old habits!
There is only one Christmas Day I remember clearly, all the rest merge into one, but this Christmas day was spent in the sun BBQing and swimming in a river in the semi-wilds of North NZ. It felt very strange to be in the sun on Christmas Day, usually it is grey and threatening to rain back in England. Christmas was nearly cancelled completely, as the ‘lie’ and ‘commercialism’ of the event was not something the wife wanted any part of, but one early December back in the mists of time, I said to the wife, when we go out for a drink tonight with Don and another friend, another Peafactotum friend, if they could not convince her, then reluctantly I would agree with her; the Grinch that wanted to steal Christmas, needless to say, they did. When two people independently say to you with fervent passion: “Christmas Day is the best day of your life when you are a kid,” Then you have to concede they may be right; these are atheist we are talking about here!
The girl forgot she was away from her grandparents once there were presents and no rules for the day. Two days after Christmas was ‘Operation Tipi’, until this point the wife and I had been sleeping in a library sectioned off area of the living room/dinner. Lauren had bought a tipi for guest to stay in, and four of us (Don, the boy, the wife and me) set about erecting the fifteen foot poled cream canvass dwelling. In theory it looked and sounded easy, it took us the whole day, and I do hope that nomadic native Americans did not have the same challenges as we did. Lauren returned and cast dispersions on our constructing abilities and quite gallingly, like someone putting the last piece of a 5,000-piece jigsaw in place, exalted, “There we go. It wasn’t that hard, was it!”We were all uncertain if she is being serious, as she recites the ‘Black Elk Circle Poem’. As a sort of ‘topping out’ ceremony.
‘The life of a man is in a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.
Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the great spirit meant for us to hatch our children.’
- Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, 1863-1950
I was uncertain if we should do a dance while she read it, we were too knackered anyway, and the meaning then was mainly lost on us. It was big enough for Chief Me: Chief *Two-Dogs-Fucking, and my Indian Squaw: One-Dog-Scowling. I know it should be Native American, but the wife is the other Christopher Columbus type of Indian! There was also room for several children and a Buffalo. This would be our home on and off for three months, it became a little waterlogged in one area and a few years later it blew away, retrieved, and was then sold on. I had a small reservation about its stability. How, you may ask?
Next time: Next time: Amazing men are not always famous.
*One day a Native American boy asked his father how they were given their names. The dad answers, “Well son, whenever a Native American baby is born the father would go outside and name the baby after the first thing he sees… Why do you ask, Two Dogs Fucking?” Abridged version.
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