India

1.

Night

Night descends on Varanasi. 365 days, 400 festivals. Down to the Ganges, the holy Ganga, all roads lead to.

Marigold garlands, oil candles, incense, rice offerings. Walking through red splashes of betel nut spit, red tooth dentistry. Watch the cow. Sitting families on the rough stone steps that lead inexorably to the river, into the river. Everything comes from and returns to the river.

Darkness now, the full moon watches us all. The revolution of the cycle, there is no end, only rebirth. Life is roaring through me, pushing, tugging, holding, jostling, bumping. It’s the streets. To know one you need to know millions. Stories, pictures, images, soaking through the dirt of my temples. Reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie at present, slowly he and this are making sense. But never can it.

Fireworks are let off, great hoary skyrockets from an overcrowded boat, sparklers, showers of phosphorous. Crackers booming. Hand held skyrockets, away they fly, sometimes not too well and crash and explode into the boats crammed 50m out into the river. The closer they explode the more the excitement. A thronging passion. Boats trailing lights behind them.

Fathers lifting their children above the crowd to see the lanterns and dancers. A live band, tablas and sitars and everything wails through a PA to make AC/DC proud. The nut seller, mixes and stirs. Vendors and beggars and the office dwellers and the holy and the merchants and everything colliding. Parents dropping kids pants to relieve themselves on the pavement, steps lined with beautiful glittering candles. Cows eating what they can. Tourists freaking out when locals talk to them.

Mothers, in their finest silks, pushing their kids into my arms to get a better look from where I sit, on the edge, the observer, the outsider. Yet inside enough to have an unknown kid shoved in my arms, to stop them falling. I speak to Nisha and her sisters, curious and bored at the same time. Fleeting connections. I stroke my beard, as Salman says, to stand out in India you have to be grotesque.

On it goes, into the night, like the river, forever.

Day

Day is an hour away. 5am alarm, the river calls me. My throat is constricted, like something crawled in during the night and is now collecting a toll on the fetid air that I breathe. Black snot, black lungs. Down dark alleys, the old town, to the river. Full moon still watching me.

Beggars lining the path to the river, everyone comes this way. Early locals giving rice to them. Street cleaners scuffling in the gutters. The boatmen wait on the stepped river bank. The refuse of the night before pushed aside. A price is negotiated, a deal, the deal is always first, then proceed. Madhal, our boatman, pulling his oars against the current. Keeping close to the shore on our right. Moonlight on early bathers’ faces.

Clothes washers smacking the dirt from cloth onto rocks. A Gangetic dolphin jumps, breathes. Glow of the red sun to our left, rising above the distant sand bank and treeline. Its rays, cutting through the dust and fumes, form a red ladder on the river, beckoning me away. Old maharajah palaces, rough peeling plaster, guest houses now.

We turn upstream, warm winds from the new sun waft on me. Down the middle flow of the river, down down. The pink and red hues of the buildings lit up. Hundreds now on the river. Brushing teeth with sticks. Morning washing. Prayers, thanks, rituals. Submersion into the flow.

We stop at a burning ghat, 24 hours a day operation – 3000 rupees for a wood pyre, 150 rupees for the modern gas. Only sadhus, lepers, pregnant women and children are not burnt, instead straight into the river, pure. A man sits on the bank, looks calm. I take a photo of his funny constricted pose. Later, I find he’s dead. A pilgrimage to your death, a burnt image on my mind. A beautiful morning for it. Flies gathering now. Now a corpse in the river, white like a, er, corpse. Innards falling out.

Back to where we started, resisting the river. The washing, the purification, the relief the river instills, continues on the banks.

All come and go, I go, more come, to the river.

2.

2200 hours. I psyche up for the battle ahead. Piss. Spit. Walk in circles. Climb on board and sit. Always sitting. I’ve done more sitting while I’ve been a so-called traveller than I did as an office worker. Bus is going nowhere, dispute over a seat. Someone in mine. Ticket-taker sorting out a poor lower caste family, 15 minutes of shouting. Get seat, away we go.

Immediately, the sound of a child throwing up into a plastic bag. Every bus I’ve been on has dried chuck stuck to a window or down its side.

Desert night, window doesn’t close, freezing cold draft. The guy next to me shares his blanket. I sit talking for a while. He’s in marketing. Discussion of marriage protocols, average wage, difference between India and Australia, salinity, eucalyptus trees, Rajasthan drought, cricket, and more cricket. The usual stuff in the haunted hours, plunging into the night.

We come to a stop. We have to back up because the road is too narrow through a village to allow another bus to pass. All’s well until we back into a house with a thump. No problem. We speed on, horn blaring, sleeping cattle scattering, dogs yelping.

Driver keeps chewing and spitting out the window. About 10 people crammed in the front compartment of the bus, all hands flapping – a discussion. Driver takes both hands off the wheel to groom his hair. He runs fingers through again and again. It’s an important consideration at 3am in the morning while doing 100km/h down a road built for a skinny Indian on a bike rather than a rattling steel bus with 4 bald tyres and 40 wide-eyed passengers gripping their seats. The driver keeps the accelerator hard pressed. Midnight roadworks become a high speed chicane.

Someone in a seat around me has the ability to fart on cue every 10km. May have been the guy with the TB-cough immediately behind me. He has great fun belching profusely after an early morning chappati and chai stop. He falls asleep with arms lapped over my head-rest. Man next to me falls asleep on my shoulder.

Morning sun up at Jodhpur. Steaming chai from street seller and Hindustan Times to read. Poor lower caste family searches under seats for fallen coins before they get off. Chai seller wants to “buy my beard” from me. Shave me?, I ask. “I want to buy your beard”, he states again, so I’m none the wiser.

Rajputs, warrior caste, here with deep desert-lined faces and twirling moustaches and turbaned heads. Early morning anxiety kicks in over a souvenir I bought days ago which I fear will not fit the intended. Beauty lost in its lack of use value. The tyranny of attachment + tourist shopping holiday stress = an anxious idle bus mind. Back on the bus to ease it, mind off it, back to a mental lesson in mortality.

New person sits down next to me, looks at me, rocks gently forward and breaks wind. An acrid Bhopal-strength cloud wafts down the aisle. It’s the only thing he says to me for the entire trip. Even the Indians open the windows. Countryside is monotonous scrubby desert country broken only with flecks of colourful sari wearing women with golden water jugs balanced atop their heads.

A truck-struck donkey is on the road. The bus slows, bus boy hanging out the door with one arm. We let people off in the middle of nowhere, before they follow some invisible track out there, which must be to somewhere, and disappear. Gentle chiming of goat bells in the distance.

Roads, arteries of the nation, prone to haemorrhage, over-turned bus on the side of the road. Fleeting high speed blurred memory, no point to dwell.

Onward onward onward, deadline to meet, race record to beat. We arrive, touts everywhere, pulling us into their jeeps to go to their hotels for their camel safaris. I make it out and into town, Jaisalmer, the golden fort, destination found.

3.

I was two months without a haircut or shave. Now was the hour for deliverance. Some time on a Jaisalmer afternoon, I approached a red and white striped fronted barber’s door, next to the “Government Authority Bhang Shop”. Little did I know I was about to enter a house of cultured dreams.

I went to this emporium not because of word of mouth nor mere reputation. No tout was commissioned to send me here. I’m of the opinion it found me. The small weedy man standing in the doorway watched me approach. Oh that glint in his eye when he saw my hairy visage approaching! This hair artiste saw in me a lump of marble from which beauty would be carved.

A freshly shorn man was leaving, I immediately liked the look of his work. It had a style, an obvious cut, a life of its own. I climbed into his elevated chair, no words spoken, to this day I know not his name. Our union felt like Montague and Capulet drawn by deepest need. That slicing blade, resting within his soft aloe palm, was nothing without my hair, my manky beard, the mousy brown flopping disrespectfully over my ears. He wielded a blade (”Look, a new blade just for you, sir”) like a 30 year veteran at an abbatoir. His skill was not the result of chance, it was refined genetics. He didn’t work these streets to merely survive, he had obviously evolved and prospered.

Simply, he was my barber. Technically, he may have been a Shiva-loving snipper. But for those moments when his imagination stirred and he twirled the (lack of) styling prospering atop my pate, he was my buddha of the blade.

We couldn’t converse easily yet we talked hair in the universal language of client and stylist. A beard trim and a tidy up around the ears please, was what I needed. He nodded, hucked up some phlegm and spat enthusiastically into the street. “Excuse me, sir”. Always so polite. No excuse needed though. The sound of hucked phlegm has its own sweet melody, its own sweet science, in India. Like pissing on the nearest wall while waiting for a bus.

His real genius lay with the comb, scissors and cut-throat blade; the ability to cut from my grubby chin and cheek growth, enough, but not too much. When I think all is lost, he reveals a delicate eveness prepared by the eye to be worshipped by the eye. One of the reasons I love to be slashed at by a meticulous clipper is that I wear glasses. Glasses removed, I cannot see to intercede like a petty town council against the architect’s vision, until all is complete, finished, finalised. Glasses replaced, it’s only then that I see his work, the end of his dreams cut from the hairy morass of unkempt fibre that I once sported. No more cheap alley sniggers from the Rajput-led moustache and beard police. Now only reverence, worship of a vision splendid.

He circles my head like a desert bustard looking for more prey, homing in on those irreverent strands too long over my ears. This hair, like a fighter plane heading for the Pakistan border, is there then gone. Supersonic removal. The footwork so nimble, wrists so flexible. As I stare vacantly into the street at a pig about to eat a dead puppy, my maestro trims the last hairs from my moustache’s lip line. His blade is finally applied to my moistened fuzzy neck fur. The cleanest lines, defined, refined. This hair guru to maharajas, merchants and malingerers alike, is of the people and is the people.

He flows into those scalps he dutifully massages after winnowing all the dry split-ended chaff from untold craniums. He happily slaps and cracks – “Now a little reiki” – because he knows it’s the little bit extra which is the difference between mere barber and blade buddha. A quick bit of pressure point technique and calculated pounding to neck and shoulders and I’m floating. “Facial massage?” I decline, too much delirium for one day. I rise, press some rupees into his hand, wobble my head knowingly in time with his, and leave. Happy days indeed.

Home

–Where you from bro?

The answer should have been easy to give. In the circumstances it wasn’t so. I tasted blood. I was laid out, flattened stiff, the river washing against my shoes. My head felt so dazed like I had been hit. I turned my head to the left and could see my wallet and its contents spread around. The lowering sun burnt into my eyes until the shadow of my interlocutor moved and extended over my face. The question was repeated and I found the strength to reply.

–Here. I’m from here.
–Aint never seen you here.
–What did you do to me?
–I said, I aint never seen you here!
–Been gone a while.
–Boy, you in big trouble.

I blinked and my eyes stayed closed. My world turned inward and closed like a box, tight around me, the walls drawing in, squeezing ever tighter. I didn’t see this coming when I called my Grandma days before, soon after I had arrived back home.

>> <<

Dial tone. Like a heart monitor detecting no pulse. Punch a few numbers and a reassuring ringing search for life.

–Grandma, it’s Robinson.
–Hello, dear. How’s Rotorua?
–You know, the same. Different.
–Did you have a good flight?
–Yes, fine.
–How’s Maya?
–She’s good. I’d like to come and visit on Sunday, Ok?
–I’ve got a new fire.
–Yes, I heard. Mum told me. We can go and see Grandpa, if you like?
–That would be lovely dear.
–Alright then, see you Sunday. About 11.
–Yes, at 11, Sunday. Sunday. I shall look forward to it. Take care.
–Bye.

End of call. Dial tone. Temporary loss of life.

I put down the phone and thought about Maya. I looked at the picture of her I carried. I’d see her later, but I liked to look at her smiling face anyway. She thought I was crazy to move back. We had moved away together at my instigation after all. It was a bit of an adventure, nothing much ever happened in Rotorua back then. And now we had moved back. We knew we wanted to stay together. We could re-make our lives here, things were different, I told her. The quality of life and the security of living where you are from has its own tangible power, surely? It always draws you back, you think you understand everything. We had always fought for what we had, more maybe for what we didn’t. There was no point in giving up all that we had gone through. We were in this together.

>> <<

–I think he’s dead.
–Nah, look, he’s breathing.
–What’s he trying to say?

My state had amplified my hearing and my whispers felt like shouting. My vision blurred in and out. I could see two figures, sometimes multiples of each.

–We gotta do something bro. Looks like he’s dying. We can’t leave him.
–Be cool, he aint that bad.

My feet felt like they were burning in the river. I couldn’t lift my head to see, it felt like it and the rest of me was staked to the ground. I retreated back into my mind.

>> <<

I had returned and kind of didn’t know where I was. Maybe that’s not so uncommon. Things change, it’s natural there should be a period of readjustment. Except I had this feeling that my life was a half-completed jigsaw and suddenly, inexplicably, the completed part of the puzzle had been messed up. I still had all the pieces but simply didn’t know how to put them back together. Once I did I’d be able to move forward.

The morning after I called my Grandmother I had this impulsive calling, a rapture. I woke up, eyes bold, and had to leave the house immediately. I drove down those long straight roads through the pine forests towards Murupara. I crossed over the river and up through the hills twisting along an un-sealed road to this track head. I had been here years before as a boy with my family. It had been one of the happiest times of my youth. My Brother, Father, and Grandfather went into this bush together for a few days. It was at this track head we realized we had forgotten Grandpa’s pack and consequently we had to lash a potato sack onto his back to carry his gear. He wore it without complaint, happy just to be there together, as we all were. Today there was an early model Starlet parked here, next to the Department of Conservation signboards. Clouds hung low waiting to rain again and smear all sign of my presence from the road. There had been no trace on the road of the Starlet on the way in. It looked barely roadworthy, a Walkman and CDs were left on the front seat in clear view. Couldn’t help but think the owner felt no fear of getting broken into or was still around.

I had come for this virgin forest, kahikatea, totara and rimu. O, those trees! Like rugby posts to a five year old. I got out of my car and they called my name. How ridiculous, I thought, looking around for someone, the Starlet driver, a movement. I walked into the forest and stopped and the trees crowded even closer in. The track led on in front of me winding its way into the murk. I couldn’t take another step though the way forward was there in front of me. Then, I felt sure They wanted me to stop, turn, to go back from whence I came. The cold bush air seemed to be sucking away, leaving me to snatch gasps on its retreat. The birdsong ceased, the patter of rain too. The silence droned in my ears so loudly I clamped my hands to my head. Then They started shouting my name again and it all went around in my head.

I returned to my car and as fast as I had arrived I left. Back down those twisting roads and along the straights. The cloud had lifted on the lowlands though the good visibility didn’t help me see the cop coming the other way. I looked at the speedo as he passed: 120 km/h. He flicked his lights on immediately and turned and came after me. I pulled over and slumped on the wheel; a despondent and exhausted penitent.

–Morning sir, going a bit fast there eh? Nice straight road isn’t it?
–Yes.
–I’ve recorded you at 120 km/h.
–I honestly didn’t think I was going that fast.
–Can I see your license please, sir?

I scuffed around unable to find it, the easiest thing made impossible under pressure.

–Where have you come from?
–I’ve been up in the hills behind Murupara.
–There aint many like you up there. You should be careful.
–I was just having a look around, the weather closed in and it wasn’t so pleasant, so I headed home.
–And where’s home?
–Rotorua.
–What’s your address there?

I mumbled the address.

–I can’t believe it, I said shaking my head. I’ve never had a speeding ticket.

I was unable to think up a more imaginative defense. I must have had a long face like I was about to be led to the gallows.

–Hey, cheer up, you aint got a ticket yet. Not as if you set an all time speed record along here. This is what is going to happen. I’m going to go back to the station and have a look at your record. If it’s clean for speeding fines, like you say it is, I’ll let you off with a warning. If the reverse is true, a ticket will be in the mail, Ok?
–Yes, yes, thank you.
–Now have a good day and drive safely.
–Yes, yes, thank you officer.

When I got home Maya wasn’t. I phoned her and told her about what had happened. Well, most of it, the bits I could make sense of myself. She sounded cold and bothered. Just listen to me for a second, she kept saying. I must have been running off at the mouth after all that had happened. Soon after I had put the phone down Sarz called, our old mate. She lived out by the lake and wanted us to come around tomorrow night for dinner. Sure, I said, sounds grand. I made some dinner and slouched on the couch. I must have crashed out asleep since I awoke there screaming shaking sweating, everything was going around in my head. I had wet myself. It was morning. I walked to the kitchen to put the jug on, Maya was there. I was understandably shocked to see her, in my state, all askew. I kissed her on the cheek, clammy track pants stuck to my leg. I don’t think she noticed, she didn’t say anything at least. I told her about Sarz’s dinner and she nodded and frowned with creases forming on her forehead like a river cutting a new path in flood.

>> <<

–Ya Mum’s gunna give youse ears a clip when she finds out about this.
–Don’t panic. Look, there’s his wallet, check it. Don’t you know nuffin? Got to know what and who you’re dealing with before you can make any decisions.
–But you aint helping anyone like this.

A boy picked up my wallet, thumbing through its contents, old receipts, some Aussie money, assorted business cards.

–Any name or something? Any credit cards?
–Nah, eh, only eftpos. Stink. Got his name on it, Robinson.

He passes it around and puts it back in the wallet. The drivers licence is more appealing.

–Hey, we got us an Aussie. Told you he wasn’t from ‘round here. Don’t much look like that photo with all that blood.
–Look at this, said a boy picking up the photo of Maya carried in the wallet. Must be his missus. Shit, she’s gunna be pissed.

>> <<

Sarz’s house was at the end of a long dirt road with other drives coming off it to the lake edge houses. The road looked like a leafy tunnel with the trees desperately trying to recover the track, to not let you in nor others out. Several cars were already parked outside the house.
I’ve made pumpkin soup, Sarz greeted us as she opened the door. Her warm smile beamed and her eyes concentrated on us and didn’t let go. They were red and she noticed me looking at them

–We started a bit early, she giggled. Come in.

The house was a 1940s bach with 1990s extension. Its vertical weatherboard interior gave a sturdy but solemn character. Bedrooms with the heights of growing children recorded on their walls were accessed off the main living room where the centerpiece was a stone fireplace.

–One of those fires which look good but give no heat, bemoaned Sarz, as she showed us around.

There were three men sitting at an old heavy slab of a dining table in the main room, illuminated by a melting candle drooping now like the skin on their respective faces. A girl, whose name I never did get told or, like the others, cared to remember, sat listening to their conversations which our arrival interrupted.

Man 1:–Where are you from then?
Me:–Rotorua
Man 2:–Riiight, Rotorua. Sarz mentioned you’ve been away a while, a long while. Didn’t know you were from here.
Me:–Yeah, time to return I guess. Everyone takes their own time and knows when it’s right to return.
Man 3:–And to leave again!

The Men chuckle to themselves, like it’s the funniest thing ever.

–Dinner’s ready, announced Sarz who had slipped away to the kitchen.

We eat without talking much. Maya picks at her food, uneasy in this company. The dishes cleared, we sit around the fire with coffee and tim tams. The flames fan our imaginations, all stories told then pauses. Maya talks of Australia. And around the circle it goes, my turn.–You know, I was watching our fire the other day. It’s all a novelty again after Australia. It’s one of those where you can see through the door and regulate the air going in, making it burn faster or slower. The fire was going really well, a frenzy of flames. Then I turned it right down, starving it of air. The flames were quelled, embers dulled. Soon after, I increased the air again. These little lines of flame crept along this log, gases could be seen building up, swirling, then a whoosh! Manic flames filling all the space again. My life’s gone like that. Maybe yours too? Lately, I reckon I‘ve been at that point where the air’s been turned right down and I can barely breathe. But, y’know, the air’s just about to be turned up and something’s gonna happen. Gonna be an explosion or something. That’s where I’m at.

Silence. Until the Girl pipes up.

–Hey, I like that story. Reminds me of the time me and my friends set fire to the rubbish dump. We caught these rats there and set them alight with an aerosol can and lighter. Bloody thing ran off. The place burned for days.

The Men laughed, Sarz giggled, the Girl sighed in remembrance.

–We better get going, I countered. We’ve got to see my Grandma early tomorrow.

Sarz stood up as I did to show us out. She opened the door like a sentry as we put our shoes on.

–Who’s we Robby? Sarz asked. You and Maya?

I stood stone cold while Maya walked out the door ahead of me.

–Look, I know about Maya. She emailed me. I’m sorry. I really am. But she’s gone, she’s not here. She had to make a decision. You should understand that. Do you?

I closed the door behind me.

>> <<

–Fark this bro, I’m outta here. Someone’s gotta think straight.

A boy jogs off toward my car.

–5, 6, 7, 8, and he’s out! The champ is knocked out! How many fingers am I holding up? What day is it? Say it again Aussie. Where you from bro?

>> <<

–Grandma, I’m here, I say loudly as I open the back door and make my way inside.
–Hello dear, comes my Grandma’s sprightly reply.

She shuffles from the lounge to the kitchen to embrace me.

–It’s so good to see you.
–You too. It’s been too long.
– I’ve brought you some soup. I made it. Onion soup, a real broth.
–O lovely. I’ve never had onion soup.
–Really? You would have used the packet stuff for dip.
–Yes, yes. Your Grandfather loved dip. He had some dip and chips before we left for hospital. He wasn’t meant to, of course, so soon before the operation. A last little treat. Have you seen my new fire?
–Yes, it’s lovely.
–It’s a gas fire. Don’t know why we didn’t put it in years ago.

She looks out the window at a feeding tui. Grandma sits in Grandpa’s old chair. She wear his signet ring, forever twisting it around her arthritic fingers, thinking of him.

–I should never have let him take the ring off for the operation. The nurses insisted. But now I’m told they could have taped it up. He’d never taken it off since we were married 57 years ago. Never.

My Grandfather stares at us from the coffee table. This proud photo of him in the chair my Grandma now sits in with his comforting belly and pale blue shirt and shorts he was later buried in.

–He went too soon, too soon, mutters my Grandma.

I can only ever sit there and listen. I can barely bring myself to ask the most cursory questions even though I have thousands to ask. I know my Grandma wants me to talk about him with me. I can’t though. The best I can do is take her to see Grandpa since she can no longer go herself.

Grandma holds my arm and we walk from the car at the cemetery through the piling Autumn leaves to the returned services wall where his ashes are interred. Poppies are still stuck to the plaques from the recent ANZAC day remembrance. We find Grandpa and Grandma reaches out and rubs the plaque.

–I miss him so much, so much.

We cling onto each other, our running noses and eyes going everywhere.

–That’s where I’ll go too one day, says Grandma pointing to the space beneath my Grandfather’s name. We’ll be together again soon.

We shuffle back through the leaves and Grandpa in his fantail form comes to say goodbye and give thanks for visiting. He flits around, chirpy and energetic in his usual cheeky way. Grandma and I laugh at his antics and return home.
Grandma settles back into her chair with a cup of tea and shrewsberry biscuit.

–Just one sugar for me, thank you dear. Why don’t you go fishing? Down by the river like you used to. You loved fishing there.

She’s tired. Her suggestion is, as always, her polite recommendation of how and what is to happen.

I kiss my Grandma goodbye and drive down to the river, past the Mill with its belching stacks where my Father and Grandfather once worked; through the town my Mother grew up in; past the retirement village, formerly the maternity hospital where I was born. The river remains the same but different too – the same urgent flow and swirling intensity, its dark pools like black holes ready to suck you down and never release.

A breeze sways the giant pine I stand beneath, its spiral staircase of branches making steps skyward. It’s this pine I climbed as a child and perched in, high faraway but close enough to gaze down and observe all the universe I knew at that time.

I cast out into the river, an extension of me into the world. A pause and a retrieve. Another cast. Again and again. Hoping for something to happen, something, for everything to be different, to even be as it was. It’s a meditation. I’m here but away. Until something happens.

–You got a light bro?

I didn’t see them approach, three boys behind me staring as I turn startled by the enquiry.

–Nah, sorry eh, don’t smoke.
–Sweet.

And they walk off up the river after looking me up and down. They stop 30 metres away up river. And it all starts going around in my head again. Maya would know what to do, she always does. One boy pisses on a tree and then they all stare hard back at me when they catch me looking at them. I cast out again, not knowing what else to do. But it’s all going around in my head and can’t be stopped, never. I reel in and pack my gear unsettled. I realize I have to walk past them to get to my car. Impulsively I climb the tree instead, a temporary getaway like always to nowhere. Up I go, around and around, the pine sap sticking to my hands. Up up up, to where I can rest easy.

Wedged in a V of branches, I stare out. The known universe nowadays has shrunken into my head and memories. I look down and see the boys walking past the base of the tree. They pause and look up for a second, talk amongst themselves and move on. It’s like I could sit here forever, safe, and nothing would happen yet be so sure in the knowledge of all the things that once did happen. How one day it all stopped. Her email copied into my mind, a file that’s opened and can’t be closed, with no clever default key to end it.

Robinson,

I’ve been asking myself all kinds of questions lately and I keep answering them with all kinds of different questions and answers. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we once met, that we traveled, that we lived, that we saw and drank and ate and laughed and swam and slept and drove and kissed and loved. We’ve had a pretty incredible time together, hey? There are so many things I love about you, that make me so happy when I run the fingers of my mind through them. There is something stronger than all these thoughts, however. In my life, I’ve never fought so hard for the importance of your love. Why, after five years, does this still happen? What kind of people give up love, like the way we feel for each other, without fighting for it? I though no longer want to fight myself to love you. I’ve tried to tell you this before to your face but all I can do now is write to you like a stranger. Unlike you, I see a new life here in Australia and it’s without you. I’m leaving you. It’s over. Be sure, you are so fixed in my heart, by leaving I feel like we will have each other forever. But, that said, you should also know I have been having relations with a Scottish man by the name of Carson. We have been hanging out, he’s Cam’s housemate. I also had sex with Sonny while he was visiting from London. I hope this makes sense.

her,

Maya

The breeze now feels like a gale through the tops. I zip up my jacket as tight as it will go. The horizon sways with me and the tree. I carefully take out the photo of Maya from my wallet and offer it a tremulous stare. It’s like everything that I am, was, can be reduced to this image, the key piece to the puzzle. It sticks to my sappy finger tips. It’s only been a week but there’s a bit of the photo I already don’t recognize. Maybe next week the less I see, more will make sense. I look at it again. Strange, for the first time I feel better for it. I return it to my wallet, balancing on the branch, swapping hands. But it’s then a gust gives the tree a real shove and I lurch and the wallet jolts from my hand as I bump into the trunk. I try to balance snapping forward and back with a whip and clutch after the wallet as it flips past my leg. I instinctively flick out my other hand missing a branch. And it’s as simple as that. I’m dropping, falling, in my shambles attempting to cling to the waxy pine needles. I’m falling. I’m falling and watching the wallet and thinking I can get it and soar back up to the tops and everything will be all right. I’m falling and the ground comes up and smacks into me with the dull thwack that only a body makes.

I open my eyes.

–Where you from bro?

And though I can see little with my jaded vision, for better or worse, even if nothing else makes any sense, I can answer this question. For the time being, this piece of the puzzle fits, and that’s all that matters.

Sirens.

Your Mother Ate My Dog!

“Your Mother ate my dog!”

The love lorn Paquita emotes this telling line to the hapless hero Lionel as his now zombiefied mother regurgitates the skin and bone of luckless Paquita’s alsatian.

That’s easily the best line in director Peter Jackson’s 1992 movie gore-fest, ‘Braindead’. The movie is deeper than this line, but not by much.

I was recently re-watching this movie on DVD after many years. Considering the minimal budget it’s a tour de force. When you have no money you are left with no choice but integrate model trams into the action.

The most memorable action is the use of a lawn mower to dis-member zombie after zombie. Maybe that or Lionel’s futile efforts to kill the zombie baby.

The zombies are the result of the carnivorous and deadly bite of the Sumatran rat monkey brought back from Indonesia to Wellington (NZ) zoo. The movie brings this fictional creature to life with some of special effects guru Richard Taylor’s inspired animatronics.

Forget the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilology, Braindead is my favourite Peter Jackson movie.

Urban Farming

I’ve always gardened. With the exception of an orchid and succulent foistered on me by my Mother, I’m all about eating what I grow.

Having a garden in an urban environment when you only have a balcony is actually easier than I thought. It’s actually more convenient than walking too far into the garden to inspect your water tank, water the plants, or harvest some herbs for dinner.

Presently, I’ve got potatoes, basil, vietnamese mint, tomatoes (x2 varieties), chillis, sweet pepper, carrots, italian parsley, lebanese cucumbers, lettuce, taragon, mint and coriander in production.

When I first run the shower in the morning I place a bucket in the bath until the hot water comes through. This means I’m almost self-sufficient in water. This water I place in the water tank which my Brother afixed a tap to.

I collect our waste vegetable scraps which are collected for a week and then placed in the worm farm. The worm pee and poo are then returned to the garden. The worms can eat all that we can produce. Recently we’ve kept the farm in the bathroom (no odour) while we’ve had continuous days over 30+ degrees Centigrade.

It’s all very easy and relatively low maintenance. If anything the biggest issue I sometimes face is having too much of one thing to eat while it’s at its prime. I don’t have enough to on-sell, but I have enough to be wasted if I’m not diligent in eating it.

Thurlow Country

North Otago. The Maniototo. A return to a place I’ve never been. But I’m from here. I kind of look like the others – those who never left. Names and places I’ve only heard of I see: St Bathans, Vulcan Hotel, Patearoa. I discover some who I’ve never heard of. Distant cousins from another branch of an extensive family tree. Impossible to explain how good it feels to be here. I pay my respects and leave.

On Seeing Grandma

I suppose with any dreaming story you can start anywhere. This one starts with me following a tangi procession from Rotorua to Rotoiti before I can accelerate around the lakes and over the Rotomas where there was a slip (as usual) and workers stabilising new roadworks.

I arrive at Mountain View rest home around 10.30am. This is the place I was born when it was a maternity hospital. Time stands still for no-one.

There is a relief worker on reception who doesn’t know where the Armstrong Wing is and therefore Grandma. Another lady leads the way toward her room until we find her sitting with others outside a lounge. She recognises me immediately. She’s clearly been waiting for my arrival. She gives me a big hug, raising her arms. Great. I can’t believe you’re here, she repeats over and over.

All I can do is let the warm tears roll down my cheeks.

I push Grandma through to the Awhina Wing lounge and we chat away from the others. She is very lucid and clear of hearing – seems to be a voice pitch and direction that troubles her most – though at times she zones out. But she seemed pretty much on the ball, and the more we talked the more alert she becomes.

Grandma laughs at my beard, and I tell her Mum doesn’t like it. Grandma just wanted to know if it itched.

While we chatted Grandpa in his white-eye bird form visits and tries to get in the window. He sits and stares for a while and then has to make do with eating spiders from round the window frames before leaving.

Grandma is certainly into a routine and prompts me to wheel her back for lunch. ‘Walter’ is away so I take his seat next to Grandma at a table in the lunch room. Top feed of lamb curry, cauliflower and cheese and ginger silverbeet. Clean plates from both of us. Ambrosia for desert (sweet yoghurt), yum. Cup of tea to finish which was a bit hot for Grandma til it cooled.

After a lunch I take Grandma for a spin outside and we do a bit of a loop of the complex. The sun is warm and a tui calls from a nearby tree. We were near Mrs Davies flat (old neighbour from Robinson Ave and River Road) and she came outside and was chuffed to see Grandma. A 40 year+ plus friendship, she regularly visits though she mentioned Grandma had been asleep on recent visits.

The wind was picking up and the stench of the Mill was now coming in our direction. All the while the Mountain loomed large over us all.

Back inside Grandma showed me her room and we went through the photos. I had a read of the paper and we chatted some more. More large photos for the wall needed. Grandma could name everyone. She remembered Sharna Lisa (old home help) and that she was pregnant when I asked her who it was in a photo. Earlier I had asked her about Sharna Lisa and she didn’t know who I was talking about.

Grandma was starting to tire so I told Janessa (nurse) I’d be saying goodbye soon and she said she’d check up Gladys shortly. All the staff are so attentive and caring and respectful which is comforting.

I say my goodbyes. Grandma holds my hand tight, as she always has, and we have a big hug and kiss.I don’t want to let go. I’m not sure she understands I’m not returning on this visit. It’s 1.45pm.

And down my cheeks the tears roll again.

I follow my songline back past 250 River Road, over the Rotomas and around the lakes past Aunty Lorna’s place.

NZ Cultural Stereotype

I’m not sure how some Australian media organisations work but this sub-editor must have really been struggling to make an otherwise routine story into something dramatic.

The article was titled: Maori property spat with Aussie investor

It details how a Maori group had been served trespass orders on a property in Kaikohe, NZ. All very routine.

Except for the accompanying photo.

Anyone with a vague understanding of NZ knows that this photo is not of any representative of any of the parties in the article. It’s a photo from a Maori cultural performance. The photo when I saved it from the article is even titled “803060-maori-haka”. Clearly a stock photo from the Daily Telegraph’s photo library.

More than 1 million Australians apparently visited NZ in 08/09. I guess this newspaper is trying to appeal to the other 20 million who have not been there and have some prejudice. The newspaper must also think that most Australians have a 18th century understanding and perception of Maori to serve this up as fact. Wierd.

Tourism NZ  spends large sums of advertising dollars with News Corporation. I wonder if they monitor such media? Seems their efforts have gone to waste in this case.

The 3Ds

Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of the band The 3Ds. This post is in celebration of the fact that they have recently played their first live show in 12 years in North Carolina where their old record label, Merge Records, is based. This little known NZ band is one of those ‘next big things’ who never quite made it. The band split before they could spoil their legacy or realise their full potential.

Word has been about they were reforming now that all members are back living in NZ. In this day of middle-aged rock nostalgia I’m thinking some select shows are in the offing. For some one like me who has all their records but has never seen them live the possibility of a tour would be some sort of sweet realisation.

There’s a cool little review and photos of the 3 songs the band played and guitarist David Mitchell’s antics over at Triangle Music.

For all times sake here’s ‘Hey Seuss’ by The 3Ds (1994)

Swanndri Fail

How is it possible that the iconic NZ brand Swanndri can be out of stock for its iconic Original 100% Wool Bush Shirt?

Surely a Medium Olive version would be available somewhere in New Zealand for sale. Some web manager isn’t doing their job.

One word: Fail

I’ll try again another day.

For now I feel like I’ve had the shop door slammed in my face. For an item that you would buy once every 10 years minimum that’s a really poor experience to have with a brand, to say the least.

3 Things You Should Know

I received an email today from my mate Junior. It read:

The new dinosaur Jr album is sooo damn good.. sounds even better wearing flannel

The new sonic youth album is also very very good.

I saw nunchukka superfly at club 77 last week by myself and about 20 other over 40 and they fucking blew me away.

I tells ya there’s something about personal recommendation – passionate, informed, and real – that will always win out.

Having seen Nunchukka Superfly live with Junior makes his observation even more credible.