If I had to describe New Zealand to any overseas visitor, in 400 words or less, this would be it.
The other day, on my drive home, I noticed that a neighbour had misplaced their house. After a few seconds of cognitive processing, I quickly detoured and headed around the block to check. My eyes sometimes play tricks on me and I suspected this was one of those times. I approached where my neighbour’s house used to be. I slowed down to ensure that there wasn’t some mirage in the evening sky. Nope, it was gone, the entire house. ‘How peculiar’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m sure it was there when I left for work this morning.’
After parking my car, I went for a walk. 30 seconds later I reached the empty lot. Not a soul was around. The entire house, foundations included had disappeared, evaporated in less than 24 hours. Left on the section, apart from a concrete pad and some rubble were two items. A BBQ and a picnic table. Thinking that David Blaine might be in town, and while checking that it wasn’t April the first, an elderly man walked past.
“Lovely evening” he said, looking through the vacant lot towards the setting sun. Clearly, he wasn’t as bothered by an entire house disappearing from his neighbourhood as I was. “Are they rebuilding” I asked? Digging for information. “Not sure, terrific view though” he added before continuing his walk.
Just then, two youths of about 16 years of age, carrying rugby boots around their neck ambled past me bouncing a rugby ball between them. At the same time, a Mitsubishi land cruiser filled with surfboards and slightly older youths whizzed past in the same direction. It became obvious that I was the only one concerned that an entire house had suddenly vanished, leaving only a BBQ and a picnic table.
I headed home. The old man was right, it was a splendid evening. Just then, my taste buds informed me that it was beer o’clock. I wondered if they’d mind if I used their picnic table. After all, it has a stunning view!
One thing that I’ve noticed recently, is that I don’t have as firm an understanding of life around me as I thought.I had this realisation one day as I flicked through the numerous TV channels on offer while I lay in bed.Having recently had my appendix removed after a late night divorce between myself and the offending organ, I had plenty of time to make my way through the television programming choices on offer. Most mornings, I would flick through the channels before giving up and loading a Netflix series to binge. However, one particular morning, instead of quickly glancing over the infomercials as I always did, I found myself pausing with intrigue. Someone had finally invented an item that would allow me to slice, dice, chop, peel and even grate with total protection and precision. It was made of flexible polyethylene and copper fibre yarn and had standard level 5 resistance. This was a glove! But, no ordinary glove, this was a Sharp Shield Glove.
‘I do cut myself an awful lot while cooking’ I remarked, as another equally inventive item was suddenly displayed in front of me. The next short while was spent deciding whether or not to purchase all sorts of gadgets and devices that would improve my life most wonderfully. They had carefully been designed to make me feel happier and healthier, improve my looks, get me into shape and give me ‘rock hard abs’ while at the same time being a great money saving deal! The one thing that bothered me, was if I’d have time to be one of the first 18,000 callers to qualify for the ‘buy 1 get 1 free promotion’. Further to this problem, was where to store all these life changing items and what my wife would say if she arrived home to find the house filled with iwalks, Bambillo Mattresses, Pain Erazors, Renovator 4 Piece Better Grips, pieces of Total Gym Equipment, A Finishing Touch Flawless Leg thing and a pair of Sharp Shield Gloves that would allow me to grab the sharpest knife around the blade without restricting my movement or comfort. After some cognitive reasoning, I decided that it was best to pass on these once in a lifetime offers and continued my flick through the channels.
I skimmed past some other mindless shows when suddenly I found something completely unrecognisable blaring out at me. After several seconds of desperately trying to get the volume under control, I concluded that this was in actuality, the music channel. On screen was a naked and pregnant Katy Perry standing in a rock pool by a small waterfall claiming people ‘tell her that she’s crazy, but she’ll never let them change her, till they cover her in daisies!’ Next up was Harry-someone singing about Watermelon on a beach. I must confess that in all honesty I genuinely didn’t know who 90% of the people were. As the video’s flipped through, I did begin to see a pattern emerging. Generally the video’s started with a skimpily clad young lady with a tattoo of a brightly colored and petite heart, a crescent moon or something spelt wrong in fancy italic writing appearing on screen who would sing about how ‘it’s a girl thing’ and how she doesn’t ‘need no man’, that her life had now improved ‘without him’ and she was going to prove it to ‘her girlfriends’. She would do this by dressing in next to nothing, showing off her big boobs, botox lips and erotically dancing with a dozen equally naked men. All the directors had clearly been given the outline of ‘semi-pornographic’ which accompanied a set of unintelligible lyrics. Wondering if I had missed the musical genius of these tunes, I decided all in all this was far too confusing for me and that I much preferred music I could listen to without watching. With that, I vowed to find my ipod and headed out for a short walk in the fresh air as quickly possible.
The next short while was spent hunting for the elusive item which was located in a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends in a basket that sits on our kitchen bench. This led me to another realisation. I have an innate ability to misplace objects, no matter how carefully I place them down.
Some years back I once lost a large and expensive tripod at a local beach. I had spent a lovely Sunday afternoon having a lengthy walk along the stretch of coast that runs from Blackhead mining quarry to the settlement of Waldronville and back again. The beach itself is 13 kilometres Southeast of Dunedin city centre and is a popular spot for walking, running and surfing, depending on the weather conditions. If you happen to be there when an Antarctic polar blast hits, it can be a miserable place but in the warm afternoon sun, with the tide out, such as it was on this day, it’s a beautiful spot to be. Having finished my stroll and placing my tripod down (which I was carrying) while unloading my gear, I went around to the back of my car, placed my camera gear and gumboots in the boot, changed back into shoes, got into the car and headed home listening to the latest rugby analysis on radiosport. How it’s possible to forget owning a tripod within five to seven steps I am not sure. This is a feat I managed to successfully accomplish as it wasn’t until I was halfway home that it dawned on me that I was returning with less equipment than when I departed. Arriving back in the car park, I discovered that not only was my tripod gone, so too were the three other cars that had gathered there. In their place they had kindly left a semi empty tub of KFC scattered on the ground which the local seagull colony were gladly enjoying, accompanied with a few bottles that once contained Woodstock Bourbon and Cola. Tripodless and with a hankering for KFC, I departed once again for home. To this day, my tripod is always the first thing I put in my car!
Having already spent enough of the morning listening to things I didn’t understand, I clutched my ipod and I began the task of untangling my headphones while attempting to locate my shoes. Once unraveled and with my shoes located and tied, I happily headed out the front door for the first time that morning, listening to something I both understood and enjoyed. I walked with a renewed spirit of hope and optimism that I would never misplace anything ever again.
There really are only two ways I listen to music these days. On my ipod and via Spotify on my phone or computer. I don’t count listening to music on the radio as this is something I’m forced into now that Radiosport is no longer on the air.
Radiosport was my go to channel on the morning drive, now I’m forced to choose between bird calls on the National Programme, Mike Hosking complaining about the Prime Minister and the Labour Party on Newstalk ZB or music that I don’t enjoy or understand. While I’m sure I could easily find a radio station that I like, what it boils down to is that on my travels, I miss my radio station, Radiosport.
Radiosport was the most glorious of stations. Sports coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It was my default station no matter where I was. Be it at home or in the car, radiosport would play until I decided which podcast or playlist I’d entertain myself with. Unfortunately, it seems that men aged between 30 to 60 talking about rugby all day didn’t pay the bills and after 25 years of broadcasting it was taken off the air. I must admit, I am still working through the seven stages of grief with this loss of my longtime companion and the drives to and from work and the travels around Aotearoa just aren’t the same. I didn’t think I’d miss the continual analysis of ‘the problem with the Blues’, how ‘the Warriors are still a mathematical chance to make the playoffs’ or how the All Blacks are the best team in the world despite losses to Australia, South Africa, Ireland and god forbid – England, as much as I do.
A great source of comfort in working through the stages of grief (currently I’m sitting between stages five and six, anger and depression) has been my iPod and Spotify. As simple as my iPod is, Spotify seems wonderfully technical. I can load it on my computer and phone through a simple app and then stream it via bluetooth to all sorts of places. In one touch I can leap between music genres that have no business following each other and happily create playlists that make sense to me and me alone. My current rotation ranges from Blind Willie McTell, Buddy Holly, Lead Belly and BB King to The Doors, Bob Dylan, Nirvana and The Offspring.
A short time back I once invested time exploring all the playlist selections that were available to me. Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to find out what was included in a ‘Mood’ playlist. A decision that I instantly regretted. Not learning from my mistake, I then ventured into playlists with titles like Even Flow, We Be Vibin, Confidence Boost and Front Left. After a few minutes of scrolling and scanning through titles and artists I didn’t know, including a playlist called ‘You Do You’ I decided that this wouldn’t enhance my mood when navigating icy New Zealand roads at 7am on a chilly winter morning. In fact, they’d probably have the opposite effect. Returning to the search bar and having plenty of time due to being in a Covid 19 alert level 4 lockdown, I decided to alter my search to a more local flavour. I wanted to know what was popular in New Zealand on Spotify in 2019 and what local, Kiwi artists I could find for a New Zealand music month playlist.
With the goal of creating a playlist for future roadtrips, I went in search of New Zealand music and trends. Looking at the statistics from 2019, I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that these were local artists that I had actually heard of. Out of the top four, I recognised two of them. That’s 50%, a pass mark in the old fifth form New Zealand school certificate test. A whole 19% more than I achieved in Science back in 1992. My hopes of being a New Zealand music guru were raised even further when I discovered that at first glance, out of New Zealand’s most streamed local tracks in 2019, I recognised five out of the six bands. That’s an incredible 83%. As quickly as my hopes were raised, they were just as soon dashed when I concluded that having heard the name of the band, doesn’t mean you know anything about them. Or, being able to name the address of a student flat in Castle Street, Dunedin doesn’t automatically mean you know the band’ songs. I read the list which contained titles called Vibes, The Greatest, Don’t Forget Your Roots and Don’t Give It Up. I quickly realised that I knew none of these. My fall from grace of being a New Zealand music guru was only added too when I discovered that New Zealand’s most streamed international artists consisted of Khalid, Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande. I desperately searched my mind for some type of knowledge of these rock megastars but all I could recall was that Ed Sheeran played three concerts in Dunedin last year, and there’s a painting of him on a wall in the central city.
My initial excitement of having a great, in depth knowledge of the New Zealand music scene had quickly plummeted and showed no sign of abating with the more I found out. I now had to face the sobering reality I knew more about Science in the fifth form, than I did about New Zealand music in my 40’s. A fact I’m ashamed to admit it is probably true. My brief flirtation with modern Kiwi music had resulted in abject failure. I began to wonder what else I didn’t understand or know about this great country called Aotearoa.
I made a mental note that I needed to improve my knowledge of my own country’s identity. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but it would soon come to seem a very prophetic thought.
A few days later I found myself discussing all things Covid 19. The conversation traversed the topics of hand sanitisation, hygiene standards, social distancing, contact tracing and how wonderful life in Aotearoa was under Alert 2. The hysteria of being able to line up for hours in our vehicle to get McDonalds and KFC had died down and it was generally accepted that while we were all sick of our own cooking, Alert Level 2 was far better than Level’s 3 and 4. After all, we now had takeaway shops back, we could stock-up on alcohol, extend our bubbles, use QR codes and send kids back to school. With the number of new Covid 19 cases dropping by the day and local travel opening up, it seemed New Zealand was the place to be. I must admit, I was more than ready to spend a few hours wandering along a beach, swimming in the ocean or roaming through the wilderness. There were towns, forests, mountains, lakes and beaches to see and I was just a little bit excited.
Later that same day, sometime after 6pm in the evening, I found myself listing potential ideas for upcoming blog posts while the evening news droned on in the background. I try if at all possible to avoid the 6pm news on TV. I find it repetitive, onerous and completely exhausting to sit through. Despite my misgivings about the nightly bulletin, I watched as they cut to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In an effort to stimulate the local economy she was telling everyone to take a local holiday. She had received a letter from a lady called Judith who was looking forward to getting a haircut and seeing Aotearoa once out of lockdown.
“my message to everyone is to go and get that haircut and see your own backyard” she said.
I assumed she meant this figuratively and not literally. Following the Covid 19 lockdown I’d seen quite enough of my own backyard over the last few months and I didn’t have any desire to stay put if I could help it. The possibilities started to spark in my mind. I could improve my knowledge of my own country’s identity by taking a look at it through fresh eyes. My mind whirled, I could write and photoblog about my own backyard. After all, the Prime Minister was telling me to do so and it didn’t seem right to argue with her. I would call it, Jacinda’s Law.
For the briefest of periods I carefully considered what this would mean. Clearly I couldn’t just take off on an endless grand adventure, that would be ludicrous and totally impracticable. For one thing my job prevented this. But, I could use Jacinda’s Law as a sort of guide when time allowed. Where possible I would headout into my own backyard and take stock of this great country called Aotearoa, reconnecting with its identity. Are we still a nation obsessed with Fresh Up, Fush & Chups, Buzzy Bees, The Pavlova, Paua Shells, The Edmonds Cookbook, L & P, The All Blacks, Gumboots, Jandels, Hokey Pokey Ice Cream with a No 8 Wire mentality? Are these items redolent of New Zealand life or just of an urban myth sold off to tourists who drive on the wrong side of the road and decorate bushes with loo paper.
There were of course some obvious obstacles that would make this more challenging than it first appeared. In the South Island for example, The Southern Alps would clearly limit my travel options. It isn’t possible to continuously zigzag across the country at will as it is in Britain. There are only four points where you can cross the Alps via road and often they are closed in winter. To drive from Dunedin on the East Coast to Hokitkia on the West Coast is a distance of 548 kilometers with a driving time of nearly 7 hours. An alternative option is to travel through Haast. This is somewhat closer at a distance of only 400 kilometres and 5 hours driving time. Another potential obstacle is the small matter of Aotearoa being split into three main islands. The North and South Islands and Stewart Island. These geographical challenges meant I would have to keep my travels local, stopping at all the small incidental places around Dunedin that I usually drive past without giving a second thought too. Then, I would venture further afield out into the vast beyond of Aeoteroa during school holidays, long weekends and when time permitted regularly blogging about my travels.
The Prime Minister had clearly given me a sign and who am I to argue with someone who has successfully led a country through a mass shooting, a volcanic eruption and a global pandemic all in 12 months.
I particularly liked the idea of rediscovering all the nooks and crannies of Dunedin and Otago that I had forgotten about. I also liked the thought of being able to answer people when they asked me why I was doing this. I would look them in the eye and then adjust my gaze over their shoulder to the horizon, tilt my head back slightly and say with a look of thoughtful confusion and a touch of daring, ‘because Jacinda told me too’.
There was also a long weekend coming up, Queens Birthday, and a chance to rebook a scheduled autumn trip to Arrowtown. The timing seemed almost perfect.
But before that late autumn adventure, I had an ipod to re-find, a Spotify playlist to adjust, hundreds of kilometres ahead of me in my weekly commute and a chance visit to the small nook of Evansdale Glen.
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