01 September 2010

Water Interlude

The showers at the hostel I have been staying in are both clever and annoying. Each shower area is a small rectangle and there is no curtain between the shower area and the drying/dressing area. The lights come on automatically and you press a button to activate the water. It flows for about 30 seconds before it cuts out but it is possible to have a continuous shower by anticipating the cutout and pushing the button again. The water flow and pressure are good but in most of the rooms the shower faces the door and changing area so any towels and clothing below waist height get saturated and the floor is very wet.

I have learnt to always wear my nightie to the shower so I don't have pants legs to get wet, and to fold my towel and clothes into small packages that don't hang much below the hook level.

Last week I encountered a shower with a faulty light sensor and faulty shut off valve. The lights kept going out after about 20 seconds and the water was flowing for about 15 seconds at a time. The hot and cold were also cutting out at slightly different times so I had a brief very hot then freezing cold burst. To turn the light back on I had to either wave my arm out near the door, or sometimes put my foot on the ground. I felt like a kinetic sculpture – start the water, wash, darkness, wave the arm or leg, hot, cold, push the water button, wash a new bit, darkness, wave the arm or leg, hot, cold, push, wash, dark, wave. Curious!

27 July 2010


I could see that I was always going to be a month behind if I kept writing chronologically and I'm sure you're much more interested in what I'm doing right now! On Tuesday 27 July at 5.15pm I am in Bristol library using their free but highly-contested internet service. There seem to be about 40 terminals which can be booked for up to two hours in a day. I have discovered that arriving 10 minutes after the hour often achieves immediate access as bookings automatically cancel then and if someone hasn't shown up voila!

It makes me realise just how much and how little can be fitted into an hour on-line. A few emails can kill it, and a blog just chews it up. I need to take a deep breath and try and work out how to make my own computer work on wireless. Yes, I'm sure it is a doddle, but it just isn't happening for me. The computer itself doesn't help. When I first tried it told me that I needed to consult the manual for the set-up instructions. As if I brought it with me. So I talked to the nice man in a small repair shop and he said it should just be a matter of moving a switch to the right position - how right he was! Why do I need a manual for that?! But although I can log into the server I can't open anything, so that's my next question.

And the reason I haven't asked it is that for the last 10 days I have been ill! It started with a mild virus the day before I left London, progressed to the need for a day in bed the day after I arrived in Bristol, seemed to go away so I walked between Clifton and the Centre (of Bristol - that's what they call the bus station down by the floating harbour) a couple of times, talked to an agency, joined the library and thought I was set, but no. I developed a debilitating cough which finally sent me to the doctor on Saturday. Actually I was directed to a walk-in medical service as apparently it takes days to register and then see a doctor (I didn't get an answer to what happened if it was urgent!) which is staffed by nurses who can prescribe a reasonably wide range of drugs. The one I saw was lovely and told me very reassuringly that I really was quite sick - which, surprisingly enough, was a huge relief because I had lost my ability to monitor my own condition. I'm now on my fourth day of antibiotics and feeling a lot better. Sleeping through the night has made a huge difference and I don't have to worry about my room mates at the hostel wishing I would just die rather than keeping them awake with my hacking!

It's been the low point of my time away so far, not least because the need to make money is increasingly urgent and until I can hold a conversation (audible voice, no coughing) I can't front for interviews. But it has also been isolating in that I haven't felt able to chat to people I meet as I don't want to inflict my disease on them.

29 June 2010

Family and departure

The strongest theme of my first two weeks away was family. I have spent time with three nephews and my one niece (my favourite niece, to continue a joke from her grandmother) and spoken to my other, Vancouver, nephew. I also saw two of my step-children but missed the third who was working and studying too hard. I spent time with my own step-mother, my father's widow. Having left from my brother's place in Paekakariki I went to my sister's place in Sydney. After a few days in KL to catch my breath I went to Singapore to stay with a nephew and then to my niece's in London. Confused? Me too! In Wellington I used to think how little family I had left but now I'm travelling I realise there are plenty of them, and very high quality too!

I realise I've been rambling a bit in this diary and put it down to so much freedom all at once. As this is supposed to be the story of my travels for my friends and family I'd better get down to it!

It all began on Tuesday 15 June, a chilly winter Wellington day. Ironically I spent some of it with my ex, having yum cha which used to be one of our favourite things. (Yum cha is something that doesn't really work solo, along with barbecues; most other things I can enjoy alone or guarantee meeting someone to share it with) It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye given that for six months I'd wanted never to see him again! But I had a final stint of cleaning and packing up at my flat to do before going back to my brother's to do my final pack.

What a nightmare! I had a shipping container-load of 'maybes' and a smallish Macpac to fill. It was also the night of the first All Whites game in the World Cup so my plan was to stay up and watch it while I packed. Of course I did more watching than packing, putting off the decision-making as long as possible. (But I love this top!' 'It weighs a ton and makes you look like an aging hippy.' 'Maybe I am an aging hippy!' 'But is this how you want the world to see you?' - my inner voices love a good argument. I left the top.) As the game started at 11.30 and I had to be up at 4am for my flight I was never going to get a good night's sleep and in the end I was in bed just on three. Amazingly my internal alarm woke me at 3.57, before the alarm went off! Unlike some of my friends (you know who I mean) I've never missed a flight (yes, I'm touching wood!)

It was lovely to be taken to the airport and farewelled. Hats off to my brother and sister-in-law who convinced me they saw it as an adventure, not an imposition. A final deep breathe and I was through the departure doors. Onward and upward...

Rain on the roof

For the last four years I have lived in a ground-floor apartment and one of the things I have missed is the sound of rain on the roof, or even on the ground as the apartment was well-insulated. In the last two weeks I have had rain wherever I have been so I have listened to it in Sydney at my sister's apartment; in KL, first at the airport hotel where a lengthy, heavy downpour woke me up and at first I thought I'd gone to sleep with the air conditioning on, then in my Chinatown hotel when the skies opened late one night sending the stall holders racing for the umbrellas and their cars to pack their goods in. This last night I was supposed to be going over the road to watch the All Whites last game but I had gone to sleep waiting for the 11.30 start time and the intensity of the rain and the flimsyness (flimsiness?) of the cafe's roof sent me back to bed.

Last night I slept in London for the first time and woke again some time in the early morning to the sound of rain. Lying listening to rain, knowing I don't have to get up and go out in it is one of my greatest pleasures, more refreshing than sleep. What is the opposite of a camel? I am a creature who needs moisture - rain, morning dew, the ocean lapping around me - these are my times of renewal, of optimism. I spent four and a half years in Sydney in the '90s, four of them years of drought, and had no idea that much of my sense of displacement, of anticipation and disappointment was my craving for real seasons, for morning chill and the freshness of dew on grass. Of course sometimes in Wellington when the rain came every day for three weeks and the washing never dried and I had to towel-off the cat several times a day I thought of those endless sunny days in Sydney...

27 June 2010


'Brave', like 'courageous' for a politician, is a double-edged description. At first when people told me I was brave doing what I've done all I could hear were warning bells from my personal thesaurus - foolish, thoughtless, risky. I'm far from brave in my own eyes having lived a safe, ordinary, quite privileged life. There's always been someone at my side to turn to, a roof over my head, my experience of unemployment has been brief, and the places I've travelled to have been relatively safe, despite some poor judgement and an unexpected threat of insurrection giving me more thrills than anticipated. I don't like fairground rides and can't cope with scary movies so what am I doing out in the world all alone, without a safety net?

I've come to realise that brave is comparative, it's how we perceive people who do things we wouldn't/couldn't do ourselves. Now when people call me brave I listen to them, not my internal voice, to find out what they are saying about themselves and what I can learn from that. Do I feel afraid of what I'm doing? A little, but I'm driven by a sense of necessity, that if I don't do this now maybe I never will, and if I don't do it at all I will feel my life has been less than I wanted it to be. I may fail spectacularly but that will not hurt as much as not trying.

Sydney is as close to my second home as an alien city can be. To use a well-worn but valid cliche (or is that a definition of a cliche - tautology alert!) I have a love/hate relationship with it. The siren beauty of the harbour and beaches, the overwhelming evidence of a soul sold to Mammon. When I lived there I felt I had to work hard to retain my social conscience and constantly justify my rejection of the material - well, the excessively material as I wasn't exactly living in a cave wrapped in a scrap of cloth! This time I don't get to see much of the city as I spend my time going from one rellie to the next, feeling like pass-the-parcel at times. It was fabulous spending time with everyone, and really precious to reconnect with two of my step-children.

Now that I no longer live with their father I have been uncertain about my relationship with his children. They have remained special and important to me but I wasn't sure how they would feel about me now that they are all grown up and living in Australia (well, two of them have always lived in Oz but Lindsay lived with Ian and me in New Zealand for a while). Amanda, the eldest, and I have kept in touch but it had been a couple of years since I'd seen Lindsay or Stephanie so I texted them with some trepidation about the response. Magically they were both keen to see me so I had a drink with Lindsay after he finished work at the posh harbourside cafe he is working at, and lunch with a very pregnant Stephanie and her partner.

I guess all you real parents will smile to yourselves when I say how amazing it is to discover that your children have grown up! I was so impressed with the way they are managing their lives and learning to understand themselves and others, such a change from the self-absorbed (but (mostly) charming) teenagers they were not so long ago. And not long afterwards I received photos of the most beautiful baby, courtesy of Stehanie and Steve. If only I could see her...

My Sydney nephews are both as much fun as ever and I was flattered by the amount of time they were willing to spend with me, especially as I am not the best of aunties when it comes to remembering and marking their birthdays. But I guess they know I love them anyway! And I guess by the time you're forty you get over it!

I was also able to spend time with my own stepmother, Jane, who, thanks to the efforts of my sister and her husband, now has a new life in Sydney. After my father died she was alone in Melbourne except for my niece, who then very selfishly moved to London! (Fortunate for me tho, as she has been my saviour recently!) Jane is living a semi-independent life not far from where Ian and I lived in the inner west. It's the perfect arrangement for her as she has a private apartment where she can read and live the life she enjoys, but has her meals provided and some support when she needs it, unlike the previous establishment in Melbourne where anything and everything was a problem, except for taking the fees. Please let me not be dependent on such people!

Marianne and I had a very typical outing with Jane that involved coffee, book shops and lunch in a bookshop. (I met up with Dad and Jane in Oxford once when Terry and I were staying in London. The entire day consisted of coffee, bookshops and libraries - bliss!) On my last night in Sydney we had a different outing and in the late afternoon went down to Circular Quay where we meandered until dusk at which time the public buildings from the Opera House all the way up Macquarie St (sp?) were illuminated with light shows, projected text and illustrations to mark 200 years of, well I'm not quite sure now - should have made a note! It was called Vivid Sydney and you can see more about it at http://vividsydney.com/

It was Marianne who provided the warp and weft of my stay in Sydney, who hosted me, picked me up from the airport and dropped me off, chauffeured me around and kept the visit log so I knew who I was seeing when. Someone to share family history with, although our stories don't always match up and infuriatingly we often both forget the same important detail. But the 3am memory usually kicks in and one of us will triumphantly produce the missing name or place over breakfast.

We had planned to go to a movie but in the end nothing caught our imagination sufficiently to make it top priority, so we shopped, ate, drank coffee and went to the beach, although it was too windy and chilly to swim.

It was Marianne's bookshelf that made me put aside the Mark Haddon book I had been trying to read for a couple of years. After The Strange Case of the Dog in the Night (sorry if that's not quite right!) which I adored, I had bought A Spot of Bother but hadn't enjoyed my first taste of it and put it aside. Surely now its time had come, but no, for my eye was caught by something I'd been meaning to read - A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka. I stole it from my sister's grasp and enjoyed the ride! And while having coffee in a bookshop in Glebe I found a $1 copy of Peter Duck, a Swallows and Amazons book by Arthur Ransome that I hadn't read for decades. I have revisited many of them but somehow this tale of ocean sailing and treasure-seeking in the Caribbean had not crossed my path. I was enchanted with the description of the journey along the east and south coasts of England in particular; it had much more resonance now that I know the geography and gripped me through the rest of my journey to London, making a very strange companion to my adventures in KL, about which more soon...

Beginnings and endings

A couple of nights before I left New Zealand on my big adventure I was having dinner with my brother and his wife. For dessert we had tiny pastry cases made of filo filled with raspberry sorbet which were so delicious they became addictive. We began to consider what else would go well in them and the suggestions ranged from chocolate to Christmas fruit mince, smoked salmon to salsa. The idea of a blog was on my mind and the thought came that a variety of tasty morsels was what I hoped to share with my readers so I have adopted the name of the cases. I hope the manufacturer will take this as free publicity and not an attempt to usurp their name!

For weeks before I left friends and colleagues were asking me if I was excited about my trip (which I'll talk about more a little later). I couldn't give them the answer they were looking for
and excused it by saying how stressed I was by all the things (and there was a long, long list!) I had to do before I left. They were understanding but I wasn't satisfied that that was the real reason and not long before I left I realised it was because I was spending my energies on leaving and wasn't yet ready to look forward.

To most people it seemed I was taking six months leave without pay to have a working holiday in the UK and the prospect of going away and having a break from routine was appealing to them. My close friends knew that my trip was the fulfilment of a commitment my now ex-partner and I had made when we returned from Europe two years ago, so was somewhat bitter-sweet. What I found was happening to me is that I was reconciling and often closing many highly significant episodes in my life.

The most obvious was the end of my sixteen-year partnership with the man I had thought I would spend the rest of my life with - I'm still walking that path and it's not for publication yet. But I found myself reconsidering my previous 19-year marriage and its demise; the death of my mother and then of my father; the last eighteen months of living (mostly) on my own - the longest I have ever done so; my career, or lack of one... you get the picture. So for the last few months I have been looking over my shoulder, not forward to my adventure, not until now, eight hours before I leave Singapore for London.