I could, ruefully, lament endlessly about change, loss, love and Zoom. But, I am, unashamedly, going to draw on something thing that never fails to crack open a snorty and uncontrollable amount of laughter, and that is, the stories of my experiences in New Zealand. Most women that I relate to, can align with me, and share similar stories, ones where we can belly laugh so hard, that we stop breathing (and you know who you are!).
These women are smart, funny, assertive, and have ownership of their careers and talents; they do the work on themselves and they know their boundary lines. That’s why they make those ‘ex - boyfriend’ decisions when they are young, child free, and are able to dive back into singledom without losing their mind. Unfortunately, some don’t and I am one of them.
It was circa September 1996, almost two years after I had lost my mother, and that was a big hole, right there. I found myself, perpetually, trying to run away and block any shred of love and fun into my days, and each day was like ‘Groundhog Day.’ Groundhog Day was derived from a superstition, that if a Groundhog, which is a Canadian, squirrel-like rodent, sees its shadow, as it emerges from the hibernation den, it will, invariably, retreat back inside and remain there for six more weeks, if it doesn’t see its shadow, Spring will arrive early, and I really did relate to living in a late, Groundhog Spring. That, was before I met Damian. At the time, even my brother asked me to check the back of his head. Those who have never watched The Omen, need to add that to their ‘Covid 19 movie list’, so you can relate. I could have related his devil-like charm to those numbers, 666, but, it was more of a code, probably from my mother’s spirit, advising me, that it would be the sum total of how many days it would last.
So, I took a leap, well, actually it was the longest leap I had ever undertaken, no Yoga, not even Lord Hanuman, (the ancient Hindu God, and one of the characters in the epic story in the ancient Sanskrit texts of Ramayana, who leapt across the jaws of a sea monster, on his way to Lanka, as a means of helping his dear friend, Rama, reunite with his wife, Sita), would have been suitably impressed. I, however, landed, in New Zealand, without a single clue about what my leap would involve. Now, I’m not going to use this opportunity to pepper you with stories of a dark nature, nope, I am going to share with you with the hilarious and, somewhat, incredulous tales, of my life over the first half the 21 years in Aotearoa.
The descent into Christchurch, NZ, sweeps wide and the flight soars past the City, to give you a discerning view of the Coastline towards Woodend Beach and the more favourable Waikuku and Kairaki Beaches. It is rugged. The water looks deep and the surf looks ‘messy’. My first thought, would not have been dissimilar to Hanuman’s, before he jumped across that sea monster, and that thought was, ‘well, I’ve just flown over 27,000 miles, and over 24 hours, I’m not ready to bail yet. I can do this.
We landed, and it was a freezing Spring September morning. I quickly learned that ‘layers’ helped to contain body heat, and that a ‘beanie hat’ and thick socks were also necessary if I was going to make it to Summer. These clothing items were essential, and that’s also for bedtime. I didn’t really have time to acclimatise or feel my feet, let alone find them, as we were off, again, ascending, but this time up a hill. It was just a ‘wee run.’ Now, as you know, I ran Triathlons, and I did hold space for weekly runs, just not after the longest leap of my life, so, the feeling was akin to sitting and waiting for your favourite film to start and then getting a power cut. My power was cut somewhere over Singapore. Nonetheless, I donned my ‘runners’ (training shoes), my ‘trackies’ (running pants) and, of course, my trusted and essential beanie.
Dyers Pass Road was almost vertical, and, even though I could relate, yet again, to my Triathlon race days, racing Pendle Hill, at 557 metres, near Burnley, (which is, affectionately, known as ‘The Beast’) wouldn’t have quite felt the same as running a 330 metre elevation, post-long haul flight and endless black coffees to stay awake. The jet-lag is very real. The cream to my black coffee, was, that I did get to view all of Christchurch, pre- earthquake, and, on that particular day, it was a crisp, sharp and clear day with all the old and iconic buildings in fine view and the spectacular curtain of The Southern Alps, stood beyond.
My first impression, at ground level though, was mixed, as I can remember seeing endless car yards, which was slightly ironic, because most Kiwis seemed more than happy driving their utes (utility vehicles), their 1960 Ford Fiestas and old 1970 Holden Commodores. No one really drove polished, modern cars. I was later to learn that crossing rivers and driving ‘back roads’ would be less costly to an old car.
When someone mentioned camping, tramping and surfing in New Zealand, it was, usually, decided that day. And, as getting lost is pretty standard for me, I was more than happy to partake. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? These people knew the roads, they knew the beaches and, more importantly, they knew the ocean, well most of the time.
It was New Year’s Eve 1996, and we filled our old 1960 Ford Escort with all the important camping necessities such as a ‘chilli bin’ (cool box), a Billycan (cooking pot) and, of course, the essential beanie and thick socks. It was still below 15 degrees, and, according to everyone, it was ‘unusual and unlucky’ for myself, experiencing my first Summer in NZ. We set up camp close to Kaikoura, a coastal fishing town that was only 2 hours North of Christchurch, famous for Crayfish (which resembles a small lobster), Whales, Dusky Dolphins and Fur Seals. My plan, was to see them all, and in any spare time, attempt to surf. I may have been a little over zealous, with the dolphins and the surf.
On New Years Day, what better way to spend it, than a dolphin dive. I had my Triathlon wetsuit, my snorkel, and my swim fitness, and, just like those essential camping requirements, that was more than sufficient, according to the Kiwis. I had to remember, that, most of my swimming was done in a pool, usually 25 metres long and surrounded by half a dozen life guards, no wet suit and definitely no snorkel. We set off, 6 people in a motor boat, aptly named, ‘Lucifer’. Right there, again, was my mother’s spirit, blowing her whistle and waving her white flag at me, alerting me to the fact that dolphin dives, three sixes, and a New Year swim, in a big, mechanical swell, are three reasons to go and enjoy a walk and a cup of tea instead.
The South Pacific Ocean is deep, and often deadly, with upwelling currents. Kaikoura Canyon reaches depths of up to 1200 metres deep, where the waters are extremely cold currents, so, as I sat on the edge of the boat, listening to the guide, explaining this, my thoughts were still pondering the safety of Pontefract Leisure Pool and how it would be so lovely to swim there right at that time.
Once in the ocean, I soon realised that treading those currents was both a great warm up and survival, as there were no lifeguards, no safe zone, just her: The Great Vast Ocean: deep, swollen and merciless. Swim instincts are secondary to that, and, no matter how my front crawl looked in my swim sessions, it was breast stroke, all the way back to ‘Lucifer’, who, at that stage had moved to point B. It turned out, that by the time I had swum to point C, I was not only ingesting my yearly quota of water, but I was, unashamedly, a little scared of the playful Dusky’s, that were probably enjoying the thrill of, tapping my legs and encircling my space, like curious wild animals do. My fear was only dampened by the fact, that they were well fed, as apparently, there is an abundance of deepwater fish to support their food chain. Kai is the Maori translation for food, and Koura for Crayfish. By this time, in Kaikoura, that cup of tea, that my mother had ‘suggested’, would have been so lovely, and even better, washed down with a digestive biscuit.
It was time to head back to Christchurch, having opted to view the Southern Right whales from the air, and the Fur Seals from the land, my weekend was certainly a planes, trains and automobiles experience, with a fish and chip Kai en route back.
The journey continues……