Chapter 5 : June is somewhat bursting out all over

Saturday 1st June

Begin the new month with an earthquake, that’s what I say. I might have missed the one last Sunday but I bloody well didn’t miss this one. I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the property paper and once again wondering at the cheapness of houses in New Zealand when my chair began to move. It takes a while to realise that it is not me that’s just wobbling around, no, it’s the chair. This in itself isn’t scary, it is rather like somebody being under the chair and moving it around somewhat. No, what is scary is the realisation, as you look round for some sort of confirmation that there is nothing unusual happening, that the whole house is shaking in unison with the chair. Something unusual is indeed happening. Your feet notice that the ground is kind of undulating and the walls are creaking. Never having experienced the ‘big one’ I expected it to stop and, after about 5 seconds, it did, to be followed with a great deal of “what the fuck was that? Was that an earthquake? My God, it was, our first earthquake.” We rush outside to meet Ellen who is rushing inside from where she had been sitting on our usually static front door step. More “bloody hells, I felt that one alright.” I expect everybody to be out in the street but not a soul appears. Just another earthquake. Later on the news I heard that this one was 5.4 on the Richter Scale and its effects were felt as far south as Christchurch. Mike B’s theory is that it is good to have a lot of little quakes because this means the ‘big one’ won’t happen.

Earthquakes and volcanoes are getting to be something of a feature. Last week there was a TV programme about them. Apparently in the Auckland area alone there are 49 known volcanoes. The most active, Rangitoto, last erupted 600 years ago and is due to go again any time soon. If it does the expert said it will surge across the country like a massive blowtorch. Another one near Lake Taupo could also take off any moment. If this blows, according to the programme, the ash will be 12cms deep in Christchurch, only the roofs of houses will be seen in Central North island, there will be no flora and fauna type life, thriving communities will be entombed, as if in concrete, the hydro electric system will be destroyed and there will be very few lights in Auckland for years to come. The next ‘big one’, magnitude 8 on the Richter Scale, is due in Taranaki (the next ‘county’ North of Manawatu) any time and when it does come it might well bankrupt the country.

Some folk might regard this as scary. Kate sat through the whole of this harrowing hour with her back to the screen and made absolutely no comment. At the end of this programme there was a trailer for another programme about hitchhikers being picked up and their conversations secretly filmed. “How terrible,” says Kate coming to life, “just suppose they confess something embarrassing.” Excuse me, did you just sit through the same expose of death and destruction and did you just say how terrible it would be, not if we all get burnt to a crisp by volcanic ash, but if some tosspot in the back of a car says something embarrassing?

Today is the first day of winter and it is cold. It is colder in the house than outside and it is definitely cold outside. I take Mick to Feilding to watch rugby and we are cold. There are no violent eruptions to keep us warm. This time there isn’t even one little girl falling over, no ball-boys attack each other and there is absolutely no violence on the field, all very disappointing. The most exciting event is listening to a lady behind shouting to Te Kawau who play in green, “come on greens,” when they are not coming on and “go greens,” when they are. That is the sum total of her cheering motivational repertoire. British travel agents should organise tours teaching Kiwis how to chant “You’re going to get your f—ing green (insert colour of choice) head kicked in,” or “you greens have all gone quiet over there,” or “here we go (greens), here we go (etc), here we go (etc).” The deluxe tour could include courses on bottle-throwing, spitting, throwing toilet rolls, surreptitiously pissing on somebody’s leg. They could get a certificate on setting up organised violence at away games and then finally get an advanced diploma in travelling abroad say to Fiji, Tonga and Rarotonga, beating up the opposition’s supporters. Some people couldn’t recognise a business opportunity if it walked up and stuck the nut on them.

Sunday 2nd

The second day of winter and there is snow on the ranges as we say in these parts. It’s too cold and complicated to get up, 5 people and one toilet and one bathroom. Mick has to go to the physio, Kate has to go to work, Joe wants to watch his music programme and he’s got to do his homework, Ellen is having her period and she’s got a headache. The best place for me seems to be in bed, head under the covers until all this complexity has gone away.

Ellen and I go for a walk along the banks of the River Manawatu, but we go in the opposite direction to our normal route. It is crisp and sunny and the expensive houses of Palmy sit up on the ridge with the sun painting their enormous windows orange. The conversation, as we stroll along, is dangerously positive. Our social life is improving, the money situation isn’t quite as dire as it has been and work is OK, when we are out of the house this seems almost tolerable also. So our chatter revolves around how we are enjoying ourselves here and might not want to go home. We idly speculate about buying and selling houses. This is a sexy proposition given the relative price of houses. Whilst we are in positive mode we also talk about how liberating it is not to have an image or a reputation, not to bring any baggage with us about who we were, are and what we could be. The good feeling is that, in a new place, you can be what you want to be, free to write a new life script and be done with the old one. Garden design for Ellen, golf and guitar-playing for me. This all sounds great and yet and yet, there is a down side, there is another life force pulling us in an opposite direction. This is the basic human need for self-esteem, to be known and respected, to have a reputation, preferably a good one. It is what Maori call mana or status. Actually it is more than just ‘status’ it is, I think, about aura or even charisma. There are three types of mana, the first is mana tangata which is given through your status in the community or through your descent or ancestry, then there is mana wairua which is given depending upon your spirituality and there is mana whenua which is given through ownership of land. I think that this is a very attractive ‘concept’ and it is hard when you don’t have any ‘mana’ not to covet the ‘mana’ of others, like Mike B. for example. When you walk around with Mike people speak to him with respect I would say and I think, that’s what I would like. I don’t have much chance with the mana wairua or mana whenua but my job gives me a little mana tangata. Of course I would like more but then I would be remaking and therefore becoming trapped in a reputation and that’s what, on one hand, I am saying I want to leave behind. Complicated isn’t it. The dilemma of those that make a new start, albeit a temporary one, in foreign parts.

Monday 3rd

It is ironic that a country that, in many ways, either intentionally or otherwise, seems deterred to sever its links with Britain, should celebrate the Queen’s birthday as a national holiday when we do not. What matters to me is not, however, the moral complexity of this but that it means I get an extra day off.

Both Ellen and I have been feeling the need for a bit of a break and here it is. I suppose it is testimony to how settled we feel here that we have somewhat gotten into the same kind of slothful routine we had at home at weekends. Can’t be bothered to make the effort to go anywhere. But with the year rapidly sliding by we felt we had better make the effort and do something on this momentous day. What a good thing we did because we had a truly excellent day, certainly one of the best we have had so far. We went to Wellington, if there is a nicer city in the world then I have not been there. Everybody says ‘Oh yes, it’s fine when the weather’s nice but you want to see it on a bad day’. Admittedly we haven’t seen it ‘on a bad day’ and today was no different, the weather was beautiful, cold with snow on the Tararua ranges as we travelled by the back road down the spine of the North Island. Kate was working, Mick was playing his first game of football in New Zealand and Joe did not want to spend his day “with you sad losers.” Oh dear, what a shame, so we went on our own, no squabbles about windows, walkmans, going too fast or too slow, too hot, too cold, nope, just a civilised and pleasant one hour and forty five minute drive chatting and looking at the scenery. We left Palmy at about 11.30 and arrived at Oriental Bay at about 1. 15. Then we sat on a bench by the harbour, looking out at the yachts in the sun on the blue water with the snow-capped hills behind. People looked happy as they promenaded, they dressed nicely, there were no yobs, no dog shit and no bullshit, nothing pretentious just ordinary folk enjoying a beautiful winter’s day in the capital. We ate our sandwiches and biscuits and drank our coffee from a flask and looked out across the harbour watching the Interislander ferry from Picton come in.

When we had had enough of this we walked into the city along the waterfront. We called in at the Art Gallery, the last time we were there they had had the Maplethorpe exhibition on. This time they had a far less controversial photographer called Peter Peryer. The free handout that told visitors about Peter and his work was full of the usual bullshit “His approach is strategic and meticulous and allows for the release of only a handful of new images each year. As a result Peryer’s work communicates a collective coherency and power; a sustained insightfulness rarely achieved by an artist.” In other words he is a boring bastard who doesn’t produce very much and when he does it all looks the same and he can keep on doing this in a way that most artists wouldn’t dare. However I must say I liked his photos and his humorous explanations of how he got the ideas for his pictures but did I say uncontroversial, many of the comments in the visitor’s book were every bit as vitriolic as they had been for the Maplethorpe. The remark that always pisses me off is the person who writes, as they had done on this occasion, ‘I could have done this.’ Given that the comments in the book were often replies to what somebody had previously written I was sorely tempted to reply “If I had a dollar for every time I have heard some sad bastard make that remark…. the fact of the matter is that you didn’t have the idea and you didn’t do it and probably haven’t done much else either in your sad life, so shut up.” Of course I didn’t write anything, but I could have.

From here we went to the library which is a marvellous building, a person can sit at their workspace and look out over the harbour. Prone to daydreaming as I am, this would not be a good place for me to sit and study (although, author’s note, that’s exactly what I did 14 years later). The library has, a leaflet says, books; fiction and non-fiction, foreign language collection; large print and books on tape; magazines and newspapers; parliamentary papers; government publications; adult literacy collection; car manuals; CD Roms and databases; local and family history; business directories; maps; electoral rolls; telephone books; standards; photocopiers; compact discs; records; videos; cassettes; art prints; language tapes; business information services; mobile library service; meeting rooms; reserves and inter-loans; references and information services; library tours; music room; listening posts and a housebound service – phew. And a stupendous view.

Walking on through the almost deserted city. It being a National holiday nearly all the shops were shut. One of the few that was not was Whitcoull’s bookshop, never having been able to pass a bookshop we went in for a browse. Here, amongst the New Zealand Tragedies series- Earthquakes (very topical), was a book that caught my eye ‘Everybody Hurts: A New Zealand story,’ by Rick Stevenson – Coping with our son’s suicide, and then splashed across the top – ‘autographed copy.’ Is it me, am I crazy, or is that a little odd? Moving right along we caught the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens. This excellent and cheap ascent (it takes 4 minutes and costs $1 at weekends and$1.50 during the week) was somewhat ruined for me by a screaming child and a loud father. “You have made your choice (of where to sit), now you must stay with it.” The kid was about 5 and I felt that the weightiness of this edict was somewhat lost on him. Why the hell don’t parents learn the stun form of Mr. Spock’s the Vulcan Death Grip? Just rendering the child, any child, unconscious for a short while would do everybody a great favour. With some relief we alighted, as they say, and walked around this lovely park as the sun set behind the hills and it grew chilly. We walked back along the harbour front to the car and then set off to find a nice little fish restaurant to have tea or an evening meal depending on how posh you want to be. We found this place called The Greta Point Tavern. We kicked off with some delicious Foccacio bread and pizza accompanied by a delicious ’95 Rongopai Chardonnay. The vineyard, somewhat unusually, is between Hamilton and Auckland. The wine, to quote the label, is gingery and buttery, well that’s as may be, it was bloody tasty. To follow Ellen had the seafood hotpot and I had the seafood special of the day which was flounder in mustard sauce. Ellen had a pudding called Oxford Mess, not a promising name but delicious again. I couldn’t be a food writer I haven’t got the culinary vocabulary. We finished off with coffee and I had 2 more glasses of a different Chardonnay, but by this time I couldn’t be bothered to write down the name. My food column would be OK for the first couple of courses until I ran out of adjectives and any desire to write about what I was eating or drinking. The bill came to $86. The perfect end to a perfect day and as Ellen leaned across the table after this perfect meal I knew she would say something romantic and loving “Did you smell my belch?” she asked. What a marvel it is being married for a long time. This is not, I think, the sort of question you could ask a new partner after a romantic day out. We drove back and got home about 9.30 which just gave us enough time to get in a few arguments with the kids, we don’t want too much perfection do we? “Just remember what a lovely day we have,” said Ellen prising my hands from Joe’s throat. “Is that is then? Does today have to last us for the rest of the year?”

Tuesday 4th

The cold air did not creep in like cold milk it rushed in screaming kill the motherf-cker. Even with one duvet (thin), 2 blankets, 1 duvet cover and 1 eiderdown we were cold in bed last night. This is to do with the insulation in New Zealand houses, there isn’t any, hence the large amounts of condensation, which was the c word I was trying to remember the other day. I’ve remembered it now. There was a high squeak and a low conversation coefficient as we drove to work today. We both agreed we need a holiday.

Because many Maori people have decided that the many white New Zealanders couldn’t give a flying fart about the Maori language specifically and Maori culture in general, they are taking steps to protect their heritage. One way they are doing this is by setting up Maori immersion schools called Kura Kau Papa. These are schools where only Maori is spoken and the curriculum gives significant substance to Maori culture rather than the possibly tokenistic experience in other schools. A pakeha such as myself cannot simply turn up and work in these schools, he or she has to be officially welcomed through a ceremony called a powhirri (pronounced poorfiri as opposed to a powheri). If there is one thing that drives my colleague, Peter Terangi, stark staring bonkers it is the mispronunciation of the Maori language. Peter, he says to me, “Lake Taupo is pronounced Torpo as in audio rather than as in Audi.” Peter’s view is, as he puts it, “we have lived alongside these people for over two hundred years and they still can’t (be bothered to) get it right. To Peter this is a sign of disrespect. The problem is that, knowing how important the correct pronunciation is, sends my anxiety levels sky high and I tend to avoid saying the word at all. This is the same way kids who can’t read feel when the teachers encourages them to have a go and then can’t understand why the kid refuses or gets an apparently ‘simple’ word wrong. How many times have I told you? asks the teacher. All those who teach should put themselves in the position of being the anxious learner from time to time. When anxiety levels rise, learning falls, this much we know and when it comes to correctly pronouncing the Maori language I am living proof. Peter had already kindly pointed out to me that Rangitikei Street was pronounced TK at the end rather than tiki. I have remembered this one but Eddie, who has lived in Palmy all his life, apparently hasn’t. He used the wrong pronunciation in today’s centre meeting and I knew (and I was right) that this would be noticed by Peter.

Anyway back to the powhirri, it begins on the pavement outside the school when we hongi – press (not rub) noses and kiss on the cheek, mostly men seem to press noses and women kiss on the cheek but this is not a hard and fast rule. The absence of any rule can make it difficult for a well-intentioned, but ignorant, pakeha such as myself. As the visiting group approaches the school the hosts sing a waiata, a song of welcome, the visitors then respond with a waiata of their own. In Maori culture this is the weaving of a welcome mat with the strands of welcome going backwards and forwards. Significantly it is the women who sing the waiata and who walk ahead of the men. This shows that the visitors come and are received in peace. If the men were to go first then this could be taken as a potentially hostile act. We sit down and, being a man, I am on the front row, my colleague Shanee, a female psychologist, doesn’t get to sit on the front row. I can think of one or two female chums back home who would be thrilled with this. When we are seated there are the speeches, now usually given by the men, there are greetings, explanations of who we are and why we are here. The hosts respond with speeches of welcome. This can be an occasion for great oratory with every word carefully chosen, every gesture significant every movement of the ceremonial stick, each body postures, tongue and eye movement meaningful and powerful. Gifts are given and the more generous the gift the greater the respect afforded to the host. In the past this has been the occasion of the transfer of some very large tracts of land, today it is more modest, food and a plant. We eat the food then there are more speeches of thanks and waiatas and then we leave. It is a moving ceremony full of mystique and emotion. Bill (whose first wife was Maori) puts it best, he says “I really like Maori, they’re (a moment’s pause while he searches for the right word), just great.” Enough said?

Wednesday 5th

I have been putting off filling in my tax form even though one part of me is convinced I am going to get a massive tax rebate. My thinking is as follows – I cannot possibly be required to pay tax right from the first dollar I earn, as I have been doing, there must be a tax allowance, as there is in England, where you do not pay any tax below a certain amount of money earned. Well I am wrong, but I don’t know it yet. As I am about to find out, in New Zealand you pay tax from the first dollar earned at the rate of, currently, 24% for the first $30,875 and 33% over this amount. This will change in July but right now that’s what I’m supposed to pay. Perhaps there is a part of me that knows I am not going to get a substantial rebate and that is why I have not filled in my tax form, better to live with hope than in the certain knowledge that we are indeed skint. The other aspect to my reluctance to fill in the form is that, this being the first time I have completed a New Zealand tax form, I need to visit the tax office to get help to complete it and as we all know a visit to the tax office in the UK is not always as much fun as having your testicles tied in a knot (and I say this with all due apologies to Steve who works for the Inland Revenue in Leeds) I did try once, a few weeks ago, to visit this office but the wait was over an hour so I took this as justification for legging it. Anyway I had been putting off the moment. Now certain factors conspired against me delaying any longer 1) I have an appointment cancelled and this leaves me with an empty morning. 2) I have to go out to my car which is on the way to the tax office. 3) In the continuing saga of the restaurant, they are digging up the pavement outside my window and it is driving me crazy. I need to get out. 4) We need the money however small the amount and 5)I am told I will get fined if I do not complete my tax form by the 7th of this month.

So I enter the IRD office, approach the counter and I explain why I am here to, and this is the first thing I notice, the pleasant lady behind the counter. Although I don’t mean to, I say I would like to make an appointment to see somebody about my tax form. Now in Britain this careless error would have occasioned a venomous, sneering response, listen you execrable scumbag trash with ideas above your station, who the hell do you think you are coming in here asking for an appointment, dickheads like you don’t get appointments you wait in line with everybody else, thank you for using the Inland Revenue. The lady behind this counter politely informs me that I have to take a number (to be precise, a plastic disc with a number on it) and wait. My number is 72 and 46 has just been called, the sign on the counter says the wait will be an hour, but the lady thinks it will be quicker than this. I take my seat and mentally prepare myself for a long wait. The whole world is here, parents with very young babies, one of whom is bawling, students, old people, Asians, businessmen, labourers, dogs, people who talk very loudly (47 is called). I read the notice on the table in front of me, ‘listen for the chime before a number is called’, it says. Such a pleasant sentence more like an oriental garden than a tax office. Sadly the chime is not working just an employee who sticks her head around the pillar and calls 48. The sign also says that the light board above the counter will tell you which number is being called and which box to go to. When I locate the board it shows 42 and we are now on 49. As I sit and wait all my usual paranoias surface, what about that woman who came in after me, why is she holding her plastic disc face downwards against her leg. What’s the bitch got to hide? Steady lad, we’re only on 50, long way to go, don’t lose your nerve now. The guy who is talking loud is still talking loud, the boring bastard seems to be taking about motorbikes, 51. I wonder how high these number actually go? 52. We’re really moving now but that guy is really getting on my tits “We bought a 1986 HAV (whatever that is), he says, “nice little number, from England, real good little car.” Never bloody heard of a HAV myself. 53.

I’m getting bored. 54. I reread the notice on the table and now see in it hidden depths, it is entitled ‘the numbered disc’ and it has a diagram showing everybody exactly what the numbered disc looks like, this one in the diagram, optimistically has the number 7 on it. The numbered disc, the numbered disc, it reminds me of the title of a Sherlock Holmes story. If this were a TV programme or the Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the screen would go all wobbly and Danny Kaye would repeat dreamily ‘the numbered disc, the numbered disc’ and then he would be in the Baker Street rooms of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t go this far because I’ve seen what happens when Danny Kaye comes to, he is rolling around on the floor trying to strangle the Hound of the Baskervilles which actually turns out to be the daschund I noticed earlier. Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Speckled band’, ‘The Dancing Man, The Scarlet Woman’ and now ‘The Numbered Disc’ a story about a man who murders somebody who tried to push in front of him. Sherlock Holmes is called to solve the crime because nobody can believe that the motive for the murder was because he pushed in. Well they haven’t sat with me in a queue then. 58. I’m going gaga I’ve missed the last 4 numbers. I probably only notice 58 because it is called three times. 58, not here? 59 that’s 13 numbers in 20 minutes, we will be in the sixties in no time at all especially if more people don’t show up for their number like 58. Well bugger me with a fish fork if 58 hasn’t now shown up and would you believe it, the oldest trick in the book, he is wearing a hearing aid. The nice lady says we’ve called 58 and he, I don’t believe it (says Victor) he points to his hearing aid and says “I’m a bit dif ” if the bloody board had been working this would never have happened unless he just happened to be a bit bloody blind as well. “We’ll call you again,” she says. He seems to hear OK now. I do not believe it.

I wish this boring fucker would get his number called even though he did come in after me. He has a small baby of about 9 months in a push chair and the kid, after having listened to his dad drone on, has completely lost it. Originally he seemed to be saying to his dad, shut up you boring bastard but now he is lying looking up at the ceiling burbling complete gibberish. This is sad. 58 gets called again and doesn’t show again. I wonder what the excuse will be next time? A woman comes in with two small children and talks to them in a very loud voice. Obviously the idea is to show people what a fine job you are doing as a parent even though you are doing a crap job. “Pick up your teddy bear, Alice. Pick up your teddy bear, Alice” (obviously the child is a congenital idiot). And then why don’t you stick it down the throat of that boring bastard over there. Somebody has just got a refund of $220 and there is till no sign of 58 and we are now up to 67. Oh my God, now a cripple in a wheelchair has come in. I bet she gets right to the front of the queue. 69, what happened to 68? I’m having such fun I don’t want this to end. I begin to rehearse what I am going to say ”You see this is the first time I’ve filled in a tax form so I thought ..” This is what I used to do when I was a kid on the bus. I was so nervous about speaking out loud that I used to practise saying “a fourpenny one, please.” “No the cat didn’t survive,” says a classy-looking lady on my left just next to the leaflets – I read the titles of the leaflets – problem-resolution service, tax, child support, student loans, family support, dealing with inland revenue, objection procedures: tax facts for income-tested beneficiaries; superannuitants and surcharges; interest earning. 69. Yep, the woman in the wheelchair is at the front. I bet it isn’t even her wheelchair. 70. The tension mounts, retiring allowances and redundancy payments; reordered tax acts; special codes; inland revenue audits; resident withholding tax on interest. 71. “Do you want a banana? Well (loudly) we’ve only bananas.” “It wasn’t until I took out the sprocket that I realised,” “No that’s next year’s return.” “You’re the only one out of the whole family I’ve met, although I only met Frank a week and a half ago.” For God’s sake call 72 before I go totally insane. Will you fucking well call 72. And they do and I go in this pleasant little office and this very nice lady helps me fill in my tax form and Ellen’s and I get a rebate of $340 and Ellen gets $60, well she’s not getting any of mine, she hasn’t been to the edge of darkness and survived. I’ve looked into the abyss and lived.

The motto of the IRD is ‘we are here to be fair’. And apart from the time spent with the lunatics in the asylum, they have been. I played golf with Bill, it was disastrous, right back to square one. Don’t I deserve better than this God? I went to the bloody tax office didn’t 1?

Thursday 6th

Perhaps you thought as you sit at home in the UK that either teenagers are less difficult in other parts of the world or that, by taking them to countries that are supposedly less advanced in worldly ways, they will become less difficult. Wrong, wrong, very wrong. Just take getting Joe into his bedroom by 10.30 and lights out by l1. “Dad, nobody my age goes to bed at that time.” “Well you do.” Because it is always such a battle on this Tuesday night Ellen decided she would take over (you get everybody upset, I’ll get him to bed). Fine by me except this new regime seems only to have lasted for one night. Last night, despite having told him he was going to bed early to make up for the night before when he had been late, Ellen had not got him to bed at the agreed and appointed hour. Are you following this? She also complained that she had not felt supported by me in her efforts on Tuesday. I thought this was pretty rich given that I have been complaining about a lack of support for the last 16 years. Anyway, where was I? Wednesday night Ellen had abdicated her responsibilities and so I insisted on him getting to bed for 10.15, as he had been instructed, I thought, by his mother. Into his bedroom he went at 10.15 and out he came at 10.20 to start washing his face with the highly expensive spot treatments that I go out to work to earn money so he can buy these fripperies. They never had anything like this when I was a kid. Now I admit I might have gone a bit over the top by calling him a person who cheated on agreements but then I was pretty pissed off. We don’t quite get into a fight, but it is close. I go to bed in a high dudgeon, feeling let down and put upon, unappreciated and generally very sorry for myself

Next morning the atmosphere in the house is so chilly (and it is not the weather) that our symbolic butterfly throws itself to the ground in an attempt to commit suicide. We bought the glass butterfly in a Christchurch arts and craft market and it seemed like an appropriate memento of our trip. The strain of being an icon in the Galvin household has proved too great a burden to bear, as I open the curtains our butterfly hurls itself to the floor. All it succeeds in doing is badly bending one of its copper antenna and severing one of its glass dangly bits. Poor thing. On the way to work there is a high squeak count. In an attempt to clear the air I explain to Ellen why I am pissed off. I say “Did you or did you not tell him he had to be in his room by 10.15?” “No,” she replies “I told him he had to start washing his face by 10.15 and be in his room by 10.30.” “But that is his usual bedtime and therefore he is not going to bed any early than usual, therefore he is not being punished for being late the night before.” “Yes, I see your point,” Ellen graciously agrees. “And furthermore (warming to my theme) when I came out of his bedroom after giving him a bollocking about being a cheat for not keeping to agreements did you have to say ‘Night Joe’ as if you were in the friggin’ Waltons? What I needed from you was support in the form of a stern goodnight, not a bleedin’ cheery g’night John-Boy type goodnight. Does that give him the message that we are both annoyed with him or does he just think that his lunatic father is rambling on again?” That was a long sentence. “Yes, I see your point.” Dammit, this kind of agreement always takes the wind out of my sails and I graciously reply “Well fair enough, anybody can make a mistake, just so long as you acknowledge I am right and I have won the argument.” “We are not having an argument,” she says. “OK the discussion then.” We get to school and as Ellen gets out of the car, she is crying. “Why are you crying?’ I ask reasonably. “Oh nothing,” she replies unreasonably and off she goes. Now am I bonkers or what? Did I or did I not win this discussion? How come when I lose the bloody ‘discussion’ I feel bad and when I win the bloody ‘discussion’ I feel bad? Buggered if I understand.

We have our first blobby evening this week watching ‘Tool Time’, ‘Ellen’ and ‘X Files’ Good, good, crap, trying to be like ‘Twin Peaks’ in this episode. Joe is out with some chick, Kate works on but Mick, who has only been here a week and a half, is out at his second football training session of the week, having a drink with the lads afterwards and maybe being offered a couple of jobs. The lad is settling in well, a bloody sight better than I have. He’s playing for the second team in Wellington this Saturday.

Friday 7th

A day of very few highs. The Bangkok restaurant saga goes on, there is drilling, hammering, banging. There is little woodpecker type drilling and there is full-scale pneumatic type drilling all set off with the sounds of whatever radio station it was. I decided to move office for the day. The only office available is an inside office without any windows. I get a headache.

I needed have worried about getting too well known in this town and thereby casting myself in some irrevocable mould. Bill and I went to The Celtic for a couple of beers and I didn’t know a single soul. Bill got up to leave because if he was late tonight then tomorrow night, when we are going round for a meal, might be a little frosty unlike the freezer. Bill introduces me to this group that had muscled in on us and asks them to talk to me after he leaves. Unfortunately they do. Not a single Kiwi amongst them, a Gambian, two Americans, various Asians all working at Massey and all bloody boring.

The day goes from poor to poorer when we decide not to do any shopping but to have a takeaway. So, on the way home, we pick up the worst takeaway I have ever eaten. Fundamentally it is steak and chips but this description doesn’t really begin to do ‘it’ justice. There is a chewy steak, thank God I didn’t ask for medium, and soggy chips. There are peas, of sorts, tired salad with salad cream and beetroots, there is gravy and an egg on top, all for $10. So the quantity was large but the quality was small and because the quality was small the quantity was a disadvantage. We should have known, we got it from ‘Mad Del’s Barbecue’, which did indeed have a very, very large barbecue but, somewhat surprisingly, the steak was not barbecued and it turned out to be us that was mad. This ‘meal’ takes the edge of off Maggie’s Gardening programme which no longer seems strange at all – cottage garden on the Marlborough Sounds, sure, invasive plants in Whangerei, OK. We have to eat a lot of chocolate after the ‘meal’ to take our minds off of ‘it’. Joe, who is, apparently, steadily working his way through the whole of the female half of his school aged between 14 and 17, has been allowed to go into town to hang out, something he would not have been allowed to do in Leeds. He assures me it is perfectly safe and I believe him. I may be stupid to do so, Palmy has burglaries and sexual assaults but apparently no muggings and few fights.

Kate is working, as usual, so Ellen, myself and our adopted son, Mick, settle down to watch the rugby. This is the first test match in New Zealand under lights. The game is being played in Napier at McClean Park. If we thought that the English cricket team was in someway unusual for including players born elsewhere then rest assured it is not a purely English phenomenon. The current test match with Hick being joined by Hussein, Irani and Patel not to mention Mullally, a bleedin’ Austrlian, as I understand it, does seem to be going it a bit even by our standards but take comfort, tonight’s All-Black team has Tongans, Western Samoans and even one (they seem to be everywhere) player born in Australia. There are Western Samoans playing against Western Samoa and there are Western Samoans who have played for the All-Blacks now playing for, yes you’ve guessed it, Western Samoa. There is one Western Samoan playing who has played for, no you probably wouldn’t guess it, Japan. The game seems to be built around the adverts, this is the first time I have known this to happen. After a try is scored and converted or not, there is at least a four minute break before they kick off again to allow the really important bits, the adverts, to be fitted in. It’s getting like bloody American Football. The All-Blacks win 51-10, local hero and new cap Christian Cullen scores three tries, but the  best bit of the evening is when one of the Western Samoans stamps on Jonah Lomu’s head. “Oh dear,” the commentator says, “you don’t want to do that to Jonah, or you’ll just get him mad and then it’s going to be even more difficult.” Thank goodness Tony Underwood didn’t get him upset or he might have been really difficult, hey?

Saturday 8th

Dear diary, not a great deal to say about today. Because I lie in a little on Saturday I remember my dreams. This morning I had this strange dream about a friend back home with whom I play cricket. He was being very silly at some dinner-do and I had to restrain him and everybody said that was what he needed, so I felt good about this. Then I escorted him to another room but it turned into a castle with turrets on and we were on the top of it and then he pushed me off and there was nobody there to help me. Now what the hell does that mean?

I got up and watched Joe play football, they lost but he scored with a header. John (Mr Green), sounding a little bit like Graham Taylor, actually said “Do I not like losing.” Then sounding like Joe Kinnear (not), when in charge of Vinnie Jones, said ” I just wish they would just once do a really dirty tackle, a real clatterer, really get stuck in.” “John,” I said “that’s an awful thing to say.” I asked John what they were like coming from behind and he said that they hadn’t been behind very often but that this team had always had spirit, a willingness to do it for St Peters which is what he said to them at half time. “You’ve got to battle for St Peters,” he said. I haven’t come across this in real life before even though you see it on the TV mostly in American programmes. They did seem to go out with spirit although they still lost. Spent most of the rest of the day trying to catch up on this bloody diary. Mick has gone to Wellington to play for Manawatu second team. Kate declined to go with him, make of that what you will.

In the evening we went round to Bill-and Brenda’s for a dinner party or ‘tea’ as they put it even though it was after 8 when we ate. They had invited two other friends Dave and Pauline. Dave was a teacher and Pauline now works as a nurse caring for elderly people. It was a pleasant evening and I suppose the conversation was much like that at any dinner party any where in the world. That may have been something to do with the fact that Poms outnumbered Kiwis 4 to 2 (Ellen, myself, Brenda and Pauline). Brenda was pleasant and making an effort even though she admits that she finds social events a bit difficult, Dave was polite and funny, Pauline talkative, and Bill unable to sit still for more than 5 minutes at a stretch. We talked of golf, retirement, teaching, housing and the theatre. Talk of the theatre was the only moment in the evening that I looked back on with some regret. I usually manage to say something I wish I hadn’t when I have had a bit to drink and this was it. We were talking about the play ‘Social Climbers’ that we had seen a couple of weeks ago and whether we had enjoyed it. Dave said he felt threatened by it, Dave was a nice guy so there was no need for me to reply, as I did, that I didn’t think it was good enough to threaten me. This was true but quite unnecessarily snotty. I suppose, given that this was my only gaffe, I think, I did quite well, I have been a lot worse. The only moment in the whole evening that reminded me that we were in New Zealand was when Pauline started talking about having earthquake drill in the rest home. Given the high incidence of Alzeheimer’s amongst the elderly I would have thought they would be the least affected by any earthly tremors. One of the few advantages of being old.

Sunday 9rh

Once again we didn’t really do anything or go anywhere, the whole of New Zealand at our feet and we aren’t taking advantage. We’ll be going home in six months regretting our ineptitude. I do at least make some tentative plans to be more adventurous, I call a couple of people about bachs for the next school holidays and take out a map and look at where we might visit on the east coast. I also make a resolution to drive up the Ruahine ranges next weekend. This small gesture in the direction of a weekend of rabid excitement allows me to relax and do nothing today. I read the papers in bed just like we did back home. I put my finger on the pulse of New Zealand and it says serial killers, aircrash in Palmerston a year ago; Winston Peters giving evidence in a corruption trial, interviews with the author of ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’; radical Maori activist Donna Awatere Huata talking about her book; Kiwis more daring sexually, threat to teacher pay deal. The local and the global lying here on the bed.

We have to go out to drop off Joe’s at his latest amour, Chelsea who lives in Highbury, I insist on calling her Tottenham which Joe thinks is very funny, not. We also take Mick to watch Manawatu first team playing Petone at Fitzherbert Park and there we meet Mike B. I had not realised that, until last season when he got the elbow, he had been the assistant coach. Even having mana couldn’t save him it appears, Ron Atkinson take note, no amount of gold chains can save you if you are crap. Manawatu lost 3- I, their first home defeat but this is hardly our fault. Ellen and I go for another walk along the banks of the River Manawatu but just to prove we are not really in a rut, we walk in the opposite direction.

On the way back ‘home’ we call in on Kate at Orleans to exchange a few cheery words of encouragement. At least this was the plan but very shortly I have made her cry as well, that’s both female members of my family in a week so that must mean I am complete bastard right? So if winning the argument, sorry discussion, seemed to have been my crime on Thursday what have I done wrong today? I must confess I was somewhat surprised to see what I had achieved on this occasion. What I did was I showed the match programme which Mike had given me to Kate and showed her in the programme, the places that Mick would be playing. I thought this information was pretty interesting given that there are games in New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson (can this really be right?) Wanganui, Napier. “Well he won’t be here to play in all of those,” she snapped. Then I said, “He might be, he seems to be getting on well with his new mates.” Well you might have thought I said I’ve never liked you as a daughter and frankly if you left, went back to England and Mick stayed with us then this would be the best thing that had happened to this family in a long time. Which was apparently what she thought I had said because she was of the firm believe that we preferred Mick to her and were siding with him in a campaign to get him to stay even if Kate wanted him to go. Hence the tears. So there we were sat at the bar, in a public place, Ellen and I, and Kate is crying as the customers come in. Oh dear, I thought, I hope they don’t realise that I am the bastard who made her cry. Off she went, tears in her eyes, to serve the new customers. Well, I’m off, so glad I could stop by and lighten your working load. Actually, we don’t leave, I stay and charm my daughter back to her usual cheery self and then I get out while I am ahead. Strange creatures women, definitely from another planet. Kate’s under a bit of stress I reckon.

Monday 10th

Another Monday morning, quite relaxed journey to work, low squeak and high conversation count between Ellen and myself. Di greets me with the news that we can hire her brother’s bach after July 7th and the cost is a $100 a night, which she assures me is cheap. And I am sure she is right, it’s just a pity we don’t have any money. At morning break to further our scheme of doing something at weekends, I ask Katie, who is a speech therapist originally from England, and Trish, who isn’t, where we can go for day trips. The stipulation is that the journey should not be any longer than an hour. There are quite a lot of places that are about two hours, vineyards near Masterton, Wellington, Mount Taranaki, Mount Ruapeha, Hawera, Napier etc. but it seems to us that four hours on New Zealand roads in one day is too much. Katie and Trish approach the task with some relish but after some head scratching the list is not an extensive one. It is as follows – a vineyard, which Trish cannot remember the name of, but it’s nice at this time of year, but don’t drink the wine it’s terrible”; a visit to the hat factory near Dannevirke (they export all round the world apparently) and last and, by all means least, a visit to a farm where we can observe docking (cutting off the tails of lambs) and jagging (cutting off the balls of poo poo that have attached themselves to the rear end of the sheep). This latter phenomenon is the origin of the Kiwi phrase ‘rattle your dags’ which means hurry up or move faster, this is on account of when the sheep hurries its dags (the balls of poo poo) ‘rattle’ as it moves along. Inspiring stuff I think you will agree.

This was pretty much the most exciting thing to happen today, at least to us. Maree, a colleague of Ellen’s, went with her husband on a weekend package deal to the new Sky Tower casino (and hotel) in Auckland. She won $500 on the one-arm bandits (her husband lost $300). She got off the plane in Palmy at 4.30 on Sunday afternoon, played hockey at 5, hurt her back and had to go to the doctor’s today. Given the cost of New Zealand health care under this right-wing government, that will probably take care of the profit. The notion that competition will improve the quality of service certainly seems to have taken root in this practice. Apparently the doctor who saw Maree was slagging off the other doctors in the practice and saying one of his partners should have sent her for an x-ray straight away. Now listen, I’ll throw in two free x-rays, 30% off any tablets required, two for the price of one diagnostic interviews, the osteopath of your choice and five discount coupons against your next visit. All you have to do is sign here but hurry because this offer cannot last. The local paper carried further proof, if any be needed, that medicine and commerce really can go hand in rubber glove. Quote – “The region’s foremost vocalists will present a programme of arias, duets, ensembles and choruses in the auditorium to raise money for the Palmerston North Hospital’s all night relaxation channel, the Dreamtime Channel.” I’m not altogether clear why the hospital is setting up a Dreamtime Channel, but no doubt there is money in it somewhere. So there we are, today has been living proof that a Monday here can be as boring as anywhere else in the world, but of course that was the image that most Brits have of New Zealand anyway.

Tuesday 11th

Today I have seen a sight far more terrifying than the ‘Woman in Black’, it is the woman in pink. This ‘lady’ dressed in a pink smock spends her time hanging around the car park outside our office window. In one hand she has a paper pad and pen and in the other she has a mobile phone. This sweet, rather Irish-looking ‘lady’ earns her daily crust by having peoples’ cars towed away. People using the car park to shop at the supermarket are allowed 2 hours but we, as SES people, are allowed no time at all. She gets $25 for every car she can get towed away. Once your car has been towed it costs $80 to get it back, if you come back to fund your car being hoisted up it costs $30 just to drop it to the floor. SES people use the car park regularly because we have only 2 spaces with our names on them and so we are engaged in a constant war of nerves with the lady. Today she was about to have Sandra’s car towed away but Sandra got there first, you would have thought she had had her teddy taken away. I suppose she felt somebody had just stolen $25 from her.

A fairly undistinguished day with only a fairly unpleasant meeting at a school to remember it by. In this meeting I was accused of being deceitful and at one point I had to scrape the principal off the roof when I told him he hadn’t done enough for a particular child before excluding her. On mature reflection my choice of words were not the best because he had done a lot just not done it very successfully. So, despite some considerable thought and preparation, this was not a good meeting and I probably succeeded in alienating most of the staff there. One person kindly came to my defence, that made the score 7 – 1. Ho hum. I suppose the only comfort was that the difficulties I encountered during the day made the several pints with Smashy all the sweeter. I’m starting to look like a wedgie, which we now have gotten into the routine of eating every Tuesday. Watched the highlights of England beating India on Sky TV in the bar, I didn’t recognise half the side. However, we won for a change that will shut the Kiwis up for a while. I’ve always felt really at ease in The Railway even though its location is verging on the rougher end of town. There isn’t the same feeling of aggression that you get in many English city-centre pubs. However, it appears that last night there was brawl, between friends/students which ended up with Mike, the bar manager, and the chef getting knocked around and put in a head lock whilst trying to get the protagonists to ‘take it outside’. Nobody was really hurt and I am inclined to the view that, had this been an English pub, the fight would have developed with chairs, tables, bottles and glasses and would have been altogether much nastier. Mike’s view is that he wouldn’t walk through the square at night but I’m still of the opinion, even after last night’s hoo ha, that Palmy is a fairly peaceful place. Ellen spent an altogether more peaceful evening at a lecture on Transcendental Meditation. When we start speaking again I will ask her about it.

Wednesday 12th

I’m bored and confused. The day started out quite well but after an hour in the office I actually ran out of things to do. This is so unlike how I worked in England I’m not sure what to make of it. Perhaps this is how most people work, not flat out all the time like I used to. The question is have I come here to be more relaxed or should I be out searching for business? Should I be setting up courses or contacting the university or colleges about research possibilities? It’s that old Catholic guilt at work. I thought I had eased off somewhat in being a driven man. This is the time when you need a good sense of your values of long term goals. If you have a sense of where you’re heading then it makes these difficult day to day decisions somewhat easier. The two key values here, as written in my diary at the beginning of the year, seem to be relaxation and learning. I guess I need a balance between the two, so I’m going to interpret that as meaning that I shouldn’t be too worried just because I have a rare moment of unproductivity. Anyway by 10.45 I am out of the office and heading towards Marton, I do a couple of school visits and a bit of in-service. I have revised my opinion about living in Marton the two teachers I interview about a kid are living together so when I ask if they can talk about what has been said before my next visit, they seem to feel this will be possible. In another school I am asked about the behaviour of a child who is conducting religious ceremonies in the playground, is this unusual? Only if the sacrificial rate gets too high and numbers on roll start to fall is my answer. What about a child of 5 who kicks open the staffroom door wherein is a policeman who has been talking to the children about road safety and says to the policeman quote “I’m going to kick your fucking head in.” One very surprised and confused policeman. Property prices are cheap but I’m beginning to see why.

Then I hot-foot it back to Palmy for my fourth squash lesson. Much to my surprise Jenny called me on Monday to ask if I wanted another lesson. It turned out that her squash partner had cancelled and she wanted some sad loser to bash around a bit. She made me work jolly hard and wouldn’t be deflected from her humiliation of me by any of my quips, jokes or playing for full-time, type stories. “Remember,” says Jenny, “firm grip on the racket.” (unlike the golf club which has a loose grip), how can I be expected to remember all this stuff? Mike B picked me up after this thrashing and, following a couple of beers in, where else, The Railway, we went to watch a game of rugby league – players from North Zone against those from clubs in South Zone. It’s New Zealand’s version of the State of Origin games between Queensland and New South Wales in Australia (state of origin meaning that the players regardless of which clubs they play for now play for the state in which they played their first club game). Rugby league is not the game of choice in New Zealand except perhaps amongst the Maori population. Tomorrow’s Dominion says there are a thousand people at the game. I would have thought this was on the low side but then, having sat next to the guy who wrote the match report, I’m not surprised it might be inaccurate. He had to ask his colleague from a rival newspaper, who has a pair of binoculars, who scored or who did that. And how do I know this you ask? Well I know because I was sat in the press box. Before the game we had met Kent who is, I guess, in his mid-twenties, and is one of the sports reporters for the Evening Standard. We sat with him in what was a very empty press box. Being a small place the chances of rubbing shoulders with the elite in New Zealand is high. Not much chance of sitting in the press-box at a professional game in England. Anyway it was welcome because it was a bloody sight warmer than being outside although it was further from the action. It was so cold outside that men with skin-head haircuts had blankets wrapped around them. After the game they walked away carrying their comfort blankies but I didn’t tell them how silly they looked. Funnily enough I could see the players more clearly from this distance, through slightly tinted glass, than I could from where we sat at the beginning of the game in the stand. Kent looked a little out of place with his small recylced paper note pad alongside the chaps from the big papers with their laptops and modems. He said he couldn’t be bothered to bring the laptop. It isn’t so surprising then when Kent told us he was quitting the paper and moving to England to get a job unrelated to sports reporting. I pointed out that he was quitting what many chaps would regard as the perfect job. Kent agreed but said that he had being doing the job for six years and felt he’d ‘done it’. Bloody hell, the youth of today, six whole years, a lifetime wasted. This is the first rugby league game I have seen live and I must say it is a bloody boring, one-paced, limited tactic game. Sorry chaps back home but I am becoming a union man. Mike B and I stopped off at McDonald’s on the way home for a double cheeseburger and a coffee. We had a chat, Mike told me that he was investing in a wine shop as an active, work-in-the-shop, partner, he had come into some money and this seemed like a more fun way to spend it than on a new car or than investing it. I think that this relaxed attitude to setting up a business on the side is a Kiwi thing and a good thing in my view. I’m no longer bored but I’m still confused.

Thursday 13th

The New Zealand Yearbook is released today, interesting facts ( I was bought the book as an early birthday present but never did write up any interesting facts about NZ, not sure why).

One of my least favourite things to do in this world just ahead of being thrown in a case of very poisonous snakes and just behind being injected with the Bubonic Plague is going to a parent-teacher evening to hear how Joe has been doing at school. I wasn’t going to go at all given that Joe had cleverly arranged the meetings at a time he knew I could not make. However, I decided that I would meet Ellen there and catch the last couple of interviews or hopefully miss them altogether and just bring her home. Good plan but it was not to be, because Ellen was ill and rang to cancel the meetings but I didn’t know this as I had gone straight to the school. So I ended up going to all the interviews. With one exception they’re a nice bunch who genuinely seem to like Joe, the problem is that all the positive comments are of the sort he’s great lad, what a laugh, yes, he can be disruptive sometimes, he does like the girls or, at best, I think he’s settling down better and he’s almost wearing school uniform now. “Yeah,” says Mr Green, “great sense of humour, he keeps leaving notes on my desk saying ‘Yeboah is great’, I’ve no idea how he gets in. Is there a career in this I wonder? His actual exam results are not quite as endearing, he failed them all if you wanted to put the worst complexion on it. He only just failed them if you want to put the best face on it. I tell him that with more work and application he could pass all but one of them, the exception being art where apparently he has completed one out of 18 assignments. The art teachers said that the work he had turned in had a Chagall feel to it. “Excuse me?” A dream-like quality, nightmare seems closer to it in the case of art. Anyway I have heard worst reports from the poor sods that have had to try and teach him over the years. Oh he’ll be fine, there will be a job for him out there, mind you says his English teacher I wouldn’t buy a second hand car from him. So that’s his destiny.

Ellen (who is still ill) and I (who is completely knackered) have a really blobby evening, we retire to bed at about 9.30 and fall into a deep sleep, today is over for us, right? Wrong, at 11 we are awakened by the sound of Kate and Joe screaming at each other. The tragedy is that Joe, who should have been in bed half an hour ago, will not let Kate in the bathroom. I send him to bed and he goes with his usual good grace accusing everybody of being a dickhead. Kate enters the bathroom and starts to cry, this is getting to be habit. When we eventually prise her out it transpires that she had been given a hard time by three macho duck-shooting, dick dribblers. She had told them to leave and they had refused but then disappeared when she called security. I’d say these three must be real men for three of them to pick on one young person, I hope the ducks stick their shotguns up their arses and blow out whatever they have had substituted for their brains. Her boss was supportive of her actions but the problem she is being given too much responsibility for no more money. As a parent the feeling of impotence as you watch your kids make their way in this sometimes unpleasant world is overwhelming and depressing. At 11.45 I try to get back to sleep, but it is hard.

Friday 14th

Don’t ever let me say that I’m bored again. Plunge a sharp stick into my testicles and say “don’t complain about being bored.” If I do complain of being bored I might get another day like today. This day began with a letter with just the word ‘GALVIN’ scrawled across the envelope. The ‘letter’ was from my ex-mate, mad Jonners from Monners. The letter was three pages of vitriol from the man who had said I was the best thing to come out of SES in many a long year. The letter referred to the meeting I attended on Tuesday, at least that is my assumption because such was the rambling venom on the page it was sometimes hard to tell exactly what it was he was going apoplectic about. He kicked off with a description of me as – underprepared, poorly presented, ill-conceived (spelt wrong), unhelpful, uneeded and unrequested. Mmm, I get the sense that Jonners is somewhat upset. The letter ends with “I seriously question your professionalism, honesty, integrity, ability to be trusted, your ability to hear me.” In between were kindly paragraphs such as “this whole catastrophe is Peter Galvin inspired, driven. Your idea your suggestion, your plan, it was not even client-driven you fuckwit. ” Yep I’d say either his underpants were a bit tight when he wrote this or he was upset. I suppose, if I were a proper grown-up, I would have put this down as just another part of my job, just another challenge to my helping skills, to my, as Jonners put it, to my professionalism. Well fuck the professionalism I thought nobody talks to me like that without reply. So I sat right down and ‘composed’ my reply. In response to being accused of being under-prepared I wrote “for you to accuse me of being under-prepared is displacement of the highest order,” and then, just an case this was too subtle, I added “your use of my time, your organisation has been pathetic (which to be fair it has), no plan, no direction, wasteful, don’t speak to me about being client-driven.” Good, hey. In response to the sentence “I think I’ve signalled very clearly what I am about, where I am coming from, it should have been a piece of cake,” I wittily replied ” I’d no idea what you were about until now, now I see that what you are about is being a tantrum-throwing, egocentric fuckwit who has absolutely no idea of what his roles and responsibilities are or a cry baby who gets upset when things don’t go his way.” Boy I needed that, I felt better now.

Unfortunately or probably fortunately Miss (i.e. Glenice) got to hear of my reply and made me show her the letter and then confiscated it. I did call Jonners up however, he said “hello mate.” I said “was that letter serious?” He said “yes I was pretty pissed off with you.” Well thank God you weren’t really cross or you might have written something unkind and then I let him have what was in the confiscated letter verbally. We shouted a lot and blustered in child-like fashion but stopped short of slamming the phone down on each other. Who knows where this will end, we need to work together so let’s hope we are both big enough to put this behind us. He certainly is, you could put a lot behind Jonners and not notice it was there. This little episode obviously didn’t affect my standing in Glenice’s eyes because she reminded me of her offer to pay my out-coming and return air fares which would amount, as I reminded her, to close on $15,000 if I stayed for a second year. The fact that she has been given a hard time by Jonners in the past, probably helped. She also asked me to go and pick out a new car, well the colour of it. I know this wasn’t quite like being given a new car (it remains SES’s car, not mine) but it was probably as close as I will ever get to being bribed by the offer of a new car. A nice and uncomfortable feeling all at the same time.

And so this eventful day rolled on towards evening. An evening I had been looking forward to for a while. This was a charity cricket evening organised to raise money for a Boys High cricket tour of Australia and Singapore. I prepared for the evening proper by calling in at ‘The Railway’ for two or three aperitifs. Smashy went off to some weird sounding film festival and I went off to a brewery. Boys High operate in an elite sphere unavailable to the other schools in Palmy so it pained me to contribute to their already over-full coffers. No other school would have been able to get Dipak Patel, Mark Greatbach, Tony Blain and John Wright as well as Brian Waddle, a well-known cricket commentator, all giving their services and donating souvenirs (their own and others shirts, hats, gloves, bats, etc. ) all for free. I suppose if the school has cachet you exploit it to the full. The audience consisted of the owner of Eazibuy, race horse breeders, the owner’s of car dealerships and a lot of other rich chaps, I know I spoke to a lot of them. I helped out by putting my morals on one side because I did fancy listening to a few stories and drinking a lot of free beer. The evening raised over $5,000 through the auction, one of Alan Border’s one day shirts went for over $400. Add to this the fact that 100 people paid $30 per ticket and the evening was pretty successful from a financial point of view.

My sole contribution was a $2 bet on Scotland playing against the All-Blacks, a silly bet but given that everybody else had bet on the All-Blacks I stood to win a fortune if Scotland won. As it turned out I backed the right team but in the wrong game. In this way began a weekend with a strong Scottish flavour.

I wasn’t successful in buying the one item I was interested in which was an unsigned biography by Donald Bradman. It went for over $120 which was too much, I spoke to the guy who bought it afterwards and he turned out to be the owner of the Ford dealership in town. Safe to say I would have had some difficulty outbidding him. I told him I thought he had paid too much which was churlish of me. He put me right in my place by telling me that when he got it signed by Bradman it would be priceless. I expressed some doubt about whether Bradman would sign it. Turns out this guy is a pal of Dean Jones (indeed he was wearing Deano’s signed hat) and he reckoned Deano could get him to sign it. Who am I to disagree? He also said that he had bought it for his son and if he didn’t want it he would give it to me. I got an immediate erection but, unless his son is a complete idiot, he might just want something which, when signed, would be worth several hundred dollars. He also asked me where my kids went and when I told him Joe went to St Peter’s he said “not another Catholic.” I presume that this was good-humoured (he did offer me a lift home afterwards) but there is a Catholic-Protestant divide here that is a little surprising. Quite ironic for me to be put in the Catholic camp, to describe me as a lapsed Catholic would be vastly over-representing my Catholic commitment. More collapsed than relapsed. This apart I thought it was pretty successful from a personal point of view. I didn’t get silly and insult anybody much, at least no more than everybody else was insulting everybody else. A lot of very positive comments from people but then this was hardly a left-wing, politically-correct set of chaps, as they mostly were. I introduced myself to John Wright, who played for my home team Derbyshire, it turned out he rented a house in Marlpool about a mile from where I lived when I was a young lad. He would be good at making people like me, boring bastards who want to talk about the old days, feel like he was interested in what I have to say. However he seemed genuinely pleased to chat about the old days. He told a nice story about how, when one of the coachs died, he asked for his ashes to be spread on the wicket. The groundsman took the ashes out on a windy day and apparently most of old George ended up in the turn-ups of his corduroy trousers. I asked Dipak about whether he regretted leaving England and choosing to play for New Zealand. He said he regretted nothing in his life (especially the fact that he was being chatted up by an attractive female representative of the brewery that was hosting the evening. I must say in Patty’s, (I’ll use his nickname now we are close friends), defence, given that his three kids had already been mentioned earlier in the evening that he was not chatting her up) and no he hadn’t played alongside Ian Botham at Worcestershire a question he had obviously been asked before. I asked Mark Greatbach whether he really had, as had been reported in Ken Rutherford’s book, refused to travel with the team on their tour of England and had hired a car to get from game to game. He flatly denied it and then suggested I buy his book which was coming out on November. On this occasion he certainly did not come across as the monster described by Rutherford. I spoke to Tony Blain who, to his credit, did not invite me for a curry this time, but did say he wanted to speak to me but predictably he didn’t. When all four were asked by Brian Waddle what they thought of Glenn Turner, three of them tried to state the positives along with the negatives. Tony’s answer was “He’s a prick.” When asked by Waddle if he wanted to elaborate on this he said “Yes, he’s a big prick.” Well thanks for that insight Tony. I even asked a question I said that I had been so impressed with the team’s insights on New Zealand cricket that I wondered if they might want to comment on the problems of the English cricket team. A wag in the crowd shouted out that I must mean the women’s cricket team. The panel reckoned it was all to do with the fact that the English comprehensive school does not play cricket. It’s a fair point except that we have a hell of a lot of club cricket in which youngsters can develop so where do they all go to? Anywhere who cares right now, I’ve been fed, watered, spoken to some interesting folk and one hero, not made a fool of myself and generally had a good time, a much better end to the day than seemed likely when it began.

Saturday 15th

The Gary Lineker of Manawatu, the goal-machine rolls on. The boy scored another couple today and apparently (yes I arrived late and missed it) the first one was a bit special, drew the defender, let it run through his legs and hit it with his left. Further proof, if any were needed, that he is not my son. Just standing on my left peg was a problem when I played. He also said during the game, and I have witnesses to this, “that was deja vu, that was.” Blimey, what a sophisticated chap, there can’t be too many times when those words have been uttered on a football field.

Turned out this was the high spot of the day. Perhaps as some sort of reaction to yesterday, the letter, bonus payment and perhaps the large amount of alcohol I consumed, maybe I was not in good shape. It wouldn’t be fair to describe the atmosphere in the home as strained, snapped would be better. This diary will seem like a constant and unending stream of arguments and dispute most of them, it seems, caused by me. All I hope is that if anybody ever reads this in the future they will take some comfort from the fact that perhaps this is what happens when five people, four of whom are raging ego-maniacs try and live in a small house in a foreign country when they have been used to having their own space in a large one in their own country. I hope so because it certainly isn’t helping me.

As the day wore on I realised that I was developing the flu, high temperature, headaches, sore throat, aching bones. Never ever feel smug about BSE or other people getting ill and having time off work. Most of the people in our office have succumbed to some form of illness since I’ve been there, but not me, not tough old me, I don’t let any namby pamby illness get me down. Well consider me not smug because I definitely feel down now. The rest of the house go out and leave me to it, what it is to have kind, caring family to support you in your hour of need. I watch the All Blacks stuff Scotland, 62-31, my dreams of winning a fortune lasted for 22 minutes by which time the All-Blacks had scored four tries, that chap Christian Cullen scored four tries in the game. What can you say of a country that has Cullen, fast, small and white and Lomu, fast, large and black in the same side? As the day wears on I feel worse and worse and sorrier and sorrier for myself. I watch some stupid movie called ‘Batteries Not included’ a film I would never have watched had I been in my right mind. Ellen has again abandoned me, the bitch, and gone off to a surprise party, the surprise is she goes on her own. By 10.15 I have had enough of today I make a unilateral decision to go to bed. I go alone and they’re still having a good time. OK perhaps my thinking isn’t entirely rational at this stage. At 10.30 after 15 minutes of trying to sleep I get up, get dressed and flaunt out of the house saying I am going for a drive. That should get some attention. OK, says Ellen lightly. I’ve a good mind to crash the car just to show them, then they would feel bad about not having given me the attention I so surely deserve. I drive around for an hour perhaps with some slightly rational thought that by doing so I will make myself feel tired. It is pitch black out in the New Zealand countryside. I know this because at one point I turn off the car lights just to see what it is like and damn near drive into the ditch it is so utterly and completely dark. Maybe killing myself isn’t such a good idea. There aren’t many folk about but those that are all seem to be driving old classic cars. I know this because as I was driving towards them the headlights of the cars were really close set on the bonnet. Quite scary, have I entered a Twilight Zone where everything is kind of squeezed together? No, it’s just a classic Ford. I probably passed 7 or 8 of them, they must have been making a late return from some nocturnal black magic classic car rally. The only other life I encounter on this dark night is one cat, one goat and one horse that scares the shit out of me when I have pulled over to the side of the road in order to really give full value to how sorry I feel for myself After an hour of driving the back roads of the Manawatu with the only world I have illuminated by the car headlights, I return to the bright lights of’ ‘home’. What sort of reception will I get? I walk, with great nobility, through the door. “Are you coming to watch this movie?” asks Ellen. Is that bloody it? An hour out there risking death amongst cats, goats and horses and all you cam say when I come back is “Are you going to watch the fucking movie?” Bollocks to today.

Sunday 16th

Today kinda continued where it left off yesterday. I lay in bed in a paracetomal-induced haze and my mind wandered badly. For some reason I started to think about the lady in pink in the car park. She visited me like some succubus in my half-sleeping, half waking dreams. From her I thought of the play ‘The Woman in Black’, has this play been renamed from the ‘Lady in Black’ to be politically correct or am I thinking of the ‘lady in white’? If plays were renamed in PC terms then I am sure technically ‘The Caretaker’ should be called ‘The Caregiver’. Harry Lime would have been in ‘The Third Person’ and ‘The Girl from Iponema’ would have been ‘The person of the female gender from Iponema’ if you sing it right – ‘Tall and tanned and something and handsome etc. etc. you can fit it in. Try it. I did but that is because I was a sad bastard this morning, unloved and unwanted and full of aches and pains and drugs. Outside the New Zealand winter rain lashes against the bedroom window. After a few hours of sweating in this foreign bed, far from home, I decide to get up and write down what happened yesterday and do you know it makes me feel better. Ellen and I are still barely on speaking terms but England have just beaten Scotland 2-0 in the European Championships so God is still smiling, at least partially, on me. Again this was not the game to bet on Scotland. The fact that we watch the game on a ‘long play’ tape that our $75 machine cannot accommodate and the whole game is in black and white with constantly fluctuating bars of static matters not one jot when that second Gazza goal goes in. I didn’t drink one single drop of alcohol yesterday which might be the first day since we got here that this has happened. I decide not to let this happen again and to make sure Ellen opens a bottle of something white, a small peace-offering and a toast to Gazza.

Perhaps, thanks to Gazza, Ellen and I start to communicate again, slowly at first but with some momentum later on. We tried to salvage something of the weekend by hiring our first ever video in New Zealand. Mick signed up for a card and took it out, the password, if you are ever in these parts, is Leeds United, two pass words in fact. As Mick and Joe drove home with the video we experienced our first power cut since the miner’s strike and the three day week, was it 1970 something? Joe was able, for the first time in his life, to use a power cut as an excuse for not doing his homework. There is a lot written about being in control of your own destiny about taking life by the horns and wrestling it into the shape you want it to be. When your first video hire in six months coincides with your first power cut in 20 odd years this can seem like bullshit. Now here is the real twist, as it turned out, not watching the video, Braveheart, would have been a more uplifting end to the weekend than watching it. The power came on again at 9 o’clock, oh good, we thought, now for the movie. The movie was, in my opinion, 178 minutes of unmitigated crap. A shallow, nasty, violent polemic of the history of England and Scotland in the 13th century. These good qualities were simply not enough to compensate for Mel Gibson’s directing, acting, hairstyle, singlet, chest, kilt, accent. His single moving remark after each battle seemed to be something like ‘whoooaarghhh’. Yep, you can certainly see why men followed him to their deaths with that kind of oratory at his disposal. Women figured very little in the ‘plot’ and the stereotypical characterizations as weepy, dress-wearing, inarticulate, cardboard figureheads was unforgivable and to be honest the women were no better. Incidentally the Scotland game to get your money on was Stirling, not, repeat not Falkirk where they lost again 10,252 to 5. My mother called to round off the perfectly crap weekend and she was fine, the bitch. Just when I needed her to be there for me, to be critical and whining she calls up all bloody pleasant and positive. Philip Larkin had it dead right, they fuck you up your parents.

Monday 17th

Well I woke up and I felt like shit- still. Sore throat, cough, aching bones and a touch of the loose bowels. I looked at my diary to see if I dare risk a day off. I had a meeting with the psychologists, a centre meeting and a meeting with my old mate mad Jonners from Monners, fuck you all I thought and went back to bed. I was truly ill because I slept all morning tortured by the dreams of home, New Zealand and the twilight world in between. The air is cold and my head is sweaty. I have no doubt that great writers are capable of taking these stagnant moments of illness and producing great works, you know the altered perspective, the shifting state, the new level of consciousness, attention to fine detail, drug induced creative fantasies, wild crazy ramblings akin to Aldous Huxley in ‘The Doors of Perception.’ But me I couldn’t be arsed. I read a couple of books about art, would you believe, one about Andy Warhol and one about Edward Hopper. For some reason this return to the earlier days of my art studented youth gave me some gentle, nostalgic satisfaction. God those paracetamol are strong. I also reread a book called ‘Blue Highways: a Journey into America.’ I read this book first time around in the early ’80s when I was an avid fan of America and all things American. The book, which still reads well, makes me think of our three acres of land in the Rockies in Colorado. Incidentally you Kiwis The Rockies is their real name it is not a shortened version like gummies, postie, rellies etc. I fall asleep again dreaming of building log cabins and have nightmares about falling off high cliffs. If I were in my little bed in Headers I would have a choice of reading, radio, TV or video, I would be warm and I would have chicken soup and Ellen would read me Sherlock Holmes stories (this last part is bullshit). Here I am cold and I can either read or sleep. At least I am not confused by all the options. At one point I get up but Mick is in the house, so hanging around looking old and tragic doesn’t do the job with him lying there all young and fit. I collapse back to bed feeling sad and neglected, well I am sad and neglected and I’ll cry over the person that says different. You’re not wrong there, as the Kiwis like to say. At about 4.30 Ellen comes home and awakes me from my nightmare, apparently I am shouting “NO, no, you can’t make me drive with Eddy.”

I sit with great nobility wrapped in my dressing gown and a towel and watch the news while the family pass around me with words of support and comfort such as “you look crap, go back to bed.”. Bugger me with a very ornate soup spoon if Ruapehu hasn’t gone and erupted again. A nice symbol of oneness with the land given the state of my bowels. Nobody is very pleased about this, not the Scottish rugby squad who cannot train and definitely not those who live in the vicinity of the mountain and who make their living out of ski tourism. Last year when the mountain erupted at the end of the ski season they calculated they lost $15 Million. The ski season is actually due to open this very weekend, so that’s quite some timing you’ve got there Rui baby. Volcanoes operate on a 5 point scale whereas earthquakes have 10 points to go at. Does this suggest that volcanoes are less dangerous than earthquakes? Tell that to the residents of Pompeii, I understand that a volcano joke can still be regarded as poor taste in what’s left of that city. Ruapehu has just been upgraded from a 3 to a 4, sounds numerically close to a 5 and that, unless my maths is letting me down, is the top of the scale. Like Armageddon, man, more dangerous than Mel Gibson’s accent and Eddy’s driving put together. I’ve never had a volcano explode 70 miles away before, that’s about the distance from Leeds to where my mother lives. Now that would give her something to complain about. Me – “How’s Alvin? Mother – “Buried under 10 metres of volcanic ash, that’s how he is, but we’d better not talk about that, because they never come and see him you know.” The TV news gives out advice about how to cope with the volcanic ash Rui is spewing out (I think that’s the verb that experienced vulcanologist typewriters use). This ranges from the sensible ‘stay indoors’ and ‘cover your water supply’ to the slightly more ambitious, ‘keep pets indoors’ (no, Rover, you may not go outside to do do-do because volcanic ash is dropping from the sky) to the positively bizarre ‘walk below the ridge lines’. I go to bed again and fall asleep dreaming of my mother driving Eddy’s car up the side of a volcano saying “they never come and see him you know.”

Tuesday 18th

Well I don’t feel a great deal better but I can t possibly have another day off. Anyway if I’m going to be sick it would be far better to be sick at work where it is warmer and drier. Being sick in this house is a health hazard. We have one gas fire and one night storage radiator. It is like being a student again. It is generally damp and there is enough unwanted water to solve Yorkshire Water’s drought crisis at a stroke. Condensation runs down the windows like a garden hose and we have towels permanently placed below the windows in an effort to soak up this copious flow. The curtains have got black spots and the mould is advancing across the ceiling at a disturbingly rapid rate. There is/are mildew (is mildew singular or plural?) on our clothes and on our furniture. I’ll go to work and see if I can drum up any sympathy there. “So how are you?” says Rose. I’m damned if I’m going to say ‘good’. “I feel like shit” I say. ”Good,” says Rose. “Are you irritable with me,” asks Rose after she had asked me for some diary dates. “No, not just you, the whole world actually.” “Oh, good.” I do get some sympathy but most people say why didn’t you stay at home and then you explain how difficult it is to make the decision how you don’t want to infect people but of course you don’t want to swing the lead either. People’s eyes glaze over as I drone on about my symptoms, unless I give theirs equal time, but this does not deflect me from the path of self-indulgent monotony. Oh no.

Smashy calls to ask if I want to go to ‘The Railway’ for our usual. No I couldn’t possibly because I’ve been ill for the last three days and I’m telling everybody here how shitty I feel. It just wouldn’t be fair or ethical or indeed sensible to go out drinking. I shall go home and retire to bed with a hot book and a good toddy. That is, of course, what I should have said, What I actually said was “Sure, 6.30?” And do you know by the time the fifth or sixth punt of Steinie went down I was feeling quite chirpy, the throat no longer sore and the bones no longer achey. The head bangers from last week are in the bar, I even go for a piss with one of them. He is so pissed that even if you hit him I doubt whether he would notice. Smashy and I debate which one we think we could take, I vote for the thin spindly one, and quite right, seniority should have some recompense. We have a bit of a leer at the female students on the other side of the bar. Tell a few more terrible jokes and do some silly tricks with matches, have a game on the racing car machines, eat a plate of wedgies, talk to Cat who is going on holiday with her mum to Hawaii. She has had her first sunbed to put some colour on her legs which Smashy had already noticed. I told Smashy that her legs did nothing for me. I would have thought she could do better than go on holiday with her mum, but then maybe she likes her mum or her mum is paying.

As Cat departs, Marianne’s parents arrive from Singapore bringing with them an unwanted souvenir, the flu. At one point they had to go to the hospital for tests because the doctor thought they might have Legionnaire’s Disease. Now that’s not funny. What does sound funny was the first night of the Palmerston North film theatre. The ‘cinema’ itself is a condemned building given rent-free by the city council, the seating is old sofas that one of the partners (the owner of ‘Wasteland’, where we bought our table from) has not been able to sell in his second hand shop. The other partner is the owner of the George Street Deli, I talked about before. They have two old sixteen millimetre projectors with indecipherable sound but no films because the Arts Council, or whoever it is, in Wellington will not give them any ‘proper films’ until they are convinced that they are a bonafide outfit. Not likely in the short term judging by Smashy’s description of the evening. Given that the sound lacked something in terms of its ability to keep the audience occupied it probably wasn’t surprising that they kept nipping outside to smoke a joint. ‘Arc Welding in the Manawatu’ was, apparently, sadly unavailable but the evening was not ruined because ‘Solar Power in New Zealand in 1953’ very nicely filled the window of opportunity. I sleep easy in my bed knowing that I am living in a town where culture is indeed a holy thing

Wednesday 19th

The price of having flu in New Zealand. I still feel like poo poo but I cannot possibly afford to visit the doctors. At $32 a consultation plus $20 or so for any medication I simply cannot afford to be ill. However I am ill. Consequently I am looking for a way of being ill on the cheap. The obvious answer is to go to the chemist and get our own drugs, preferably legally but failing that by breaking in after hours. We decide to pay and so Ellen buys me a packet of Strepsils and a small jar of Vic. If there is a favourite memory of childhood illness then Vic is it. Whenever I was ill my grandma used to rub Vic on my chest and nose. You’re not supposed to rub it on your nose now, it is not politically correct, but I still do. If it moved and it was ill rub Vic on it was my Grandma’s motto. Her other, less pleasant habit was to give me, when ill, whisky which I hated with a passion. One night when we returned from our local working men’s club I found my new little rabbit very ill, my grandma force fed it whisky and killed it stone dead. its name was Frisky, if ever a rabbit was misnamed at this point, this surely was it. I really went off whisky for medicinal purposes after that. When Ellen comes back and tells me how much she has spent on the Vic and the Strepsils for one horrible moment I think she has gone back in time and bought the whisky, either that or she has heard there is going to be a run on Vic and Strepsils because of this epidemic of Bejing Flu that is sweeping Palmy. Turns out that neither is true. The two items cost $14, which means the Vic must have cost about £4. My grandma will be turning in her grave. I wonder how much greater the cost is to the economy when those people who can’t afford to go to the doctor take time off work? They’re probably unemployed anyway, so they don’t matter.

And so I started the day by rubbing Vic on my chest, back and nose. I also inadvertently rubbed it under my arms while I was trying to spread my under-arm deodorant. That stung a little. Swathed in Vic I set out to confront a potentially quite difficult day. I was talking to the Guidance and Learning Unit teachers and my pals Ado and Ed were coming along too. I wasn’t sure how helpful or otherwise they were going to be. Eddie said he was going to sit there and learn and say very little, that resolution lasted about three minutes and then, without any apparent irony, he started talking. I must say that both were jolly good chaps and supported me admirably. The theme, at least in part, was communication, you know listening skills and all that jazz. Sorry what was that? At lunchtime we adjourned to a local cafe the board said toasted sandwiches. “What toasted sandwiches have you got?” I asked the lady behind the counter. “We’ve got tomato soup,” she said indicating the red glutinous mass that lay between us. “No, what toasted sandwiches have you got?” She’d got it now. “I’ll go and ask.” Two minutes later she appeared. “We haven’t got any, because we haven’t got any bread.” This struck me as a bit odd that a cafe hadn’t got any bread a bit like the Monty Python cheese shop sketch. Anyway I let it pass. But it illustrated my point, some point, nicely, I thought. The rest of the day went fine I think although I still have my evaluation sheet to complete, so only then will the truth be known.

The volcano rumbles on, we went to have a look at it – from a distance of course. It looks like a large steam engine caught immobile and yet with the steam and smoke still coming out of its inverted plant pot shaped funnel heading upwards and then being swept behind the engine as the air currents take it hundreds of kilometres out over the Pacific Ocean. Auckland airport has been closed stopping all international flights in and out of New Zealand. Taupo and Rotorua airports are still closed and Palmy airport, which is south of the path of the ash cloud, is taking more flights to compensate for these closures. Apparently the layer of ash is thin at about one millimetre but if it were concentrated over one square kilometre it would be 100 metres deep. The office desktop publishing package has an image of am exploding volcano, you wouldn’t get this in Britain. What I also found out at lunchtime today in the cafe apart from the fact that they didn’t have any bread, was that the volcano monitoring service, because of financial cuts, only operates during office hours. That is from 9 until 5.30. Volcanoes are not allowed, or at least encouraged, to erupt outside of these hours. I understand that the vulcanologists have applied for more money to pay for overtime so that should give the volcanoes a little more flexibility. Actually I think limited monitoring is a very clever ploy. There is a clear feeling in the helping professions that you can never have enough support provision. If you open a hundred special schools, or hospitals or hostels you will get the people to fill them and then some more. And will folk be grateful? No they will not. By clearly stating to the volcanoes of New Zealand that their attention-seeking behaviour will not be tolerated we are sending them a clear message. Erupt during office hours or take the consequences. Speaking of erupting during office hours there is a nicely-sensitive advert in the Dominion – ‘Eruption Problems?: For professional, private and confidential advice on premature ejaculation and erection problems, call the men’s clinic.’ As they say every problem is an opportunity. Once again I sleep soundly knowing that I am living in such a sensible and yet opportunist country.

Thursday 20th

In Christchurch the gangs rumble on, specifically the competition between the Road Knights and the Black Power. The mayor, David Harrington, appears on TV and says “For 15 years now we’ve had the gangs, we’ve had enough. I tell you it will stop with me.” Brave words but I find the latest source of angst rather surprising. It is that the Black Power have chosen, as one of their ‘safe’ houses, a building right opposite Lithgow Intermediate School. This seems to me like quite an apposite juxtaposition. All the gangs are doing is taking the same free market ethic that the government want applying to schools and using it themselves. Competition between schools is healthy and will improve the educational performance of children, teachers and schools and, oh yes, the devil take the hindmost. If competition is good and improves performance then who can blame the gangs for applying the same principles. Competition is good and the devil take the hindmost. Anxious mothers appear on the screen and complain that their children are in danger. Well of course they are but then you shouldn’t have voted for this government and its educational policies should you madam?

On the shortest day of the New Zealand winter, on this blackest of days, a shaft of light. I had a letter, no it was not from any of those bastards back home who haven’t written, it was far more important than that. This is a letter promising me financial freedom. Whoopee! I now know that I have finally arrived in New Zealand, I’ve got a chain letter. You know the type -“You could make at least $50,000 in the comfort of your own home just by squeezing your spots into a jar. In this case I have to sell 4 reports, God knows what the reports are about, it doesn’t say, they could be Joe’s school reports, or weather reports for all I know. Only 4 reports, that’s not many, I read on, to 5,000 people. Hmm. Please note though this is not, I repeat not, a chain letter. The letter says ‘It is necessary to see the greatest possibilities that this marketing programme contains. Read it several times, then later re-read again! Calculate the numbers for your self you will see that amazing results cam be obtained’. The letter does not strike, with me at any rate, the inspirational note that it aspires to unless it is trying to show that an illiterate moron who can’t speak English can (allegedly) make money. If this is the case then it is quite clever (sic). A few examples of the high-powered language of the letter: you must have ‘resources’ (whatever they are), or ‘the potential gain that can come to you this investment is quite significant (that’s a clever way of making the investment seem bigger),’ you need something called ‘aplication’ (cleverly shortened) and to have ‘accomplisshed’ something ‘personol’ (I give up on these two). Elsewhere the letter says that ‘the participation fee is rediculously low (is that better than ridiculously low?), consider yourself fortunate to be invited to participate and its easy money invested in you’ (sorry?). The guy who put this together obviously invested some of his profits in drugs and not in a spell check. Despite all the pleas not to throw the letter in the trash, I do, but I do feel a bit cheated that this chain letter hasn’t included the usual subtle threats of hell-fire and damnation that typically accompany a letter of this sort. You know the type of thing – a man who broke this chain recently died in mysterious circumstances, he tripped on a crisp and fell into the path of an on-coming elephant. Or less subtly people who break this chain die a horrible death with puss and boils and gangrenous wounds.

The other, less pleasant? alternative to puss and boils (wasn’t that a fairy story?) is to have to complete an evaluation form about the in-service course you have delivered. Leo hands this to me and suggests it might be a way of discussing with Adrian and Eddie my performance yesterday. Example question: How did you establish your credibility? Answer: By reducing the amount of dribbling to an absolute minimum. Did you define the key points and highlight them in an interesting way? Answer: Yes I took out my penis and pointed to each item (I wish). Question: Did your presentation have the magic ingredient, what was the magic? Answer: apart from the fact that obviously we sat within a pentagram and sacrificed the chicken at lunchtime I would have to say the penis again.

Have I committed a serious cultural faux pas? Not only do people think I am Eddie (see Friday for further explanation of this remarkable statement) but they also get me confused with Peter Terangi. Easily done, he is slim, dark-haired and Maori, I am fat, bald and English. On this day I get a phone call intended for Peter. It is Bob who is the local Kaumatua, although I do not know this until some way through the conversation. Kaumatua means respected elder and in the hierarchial society that Maoridom is, they are a very important person with great mana. I would say that the strongly-ordered nature of Maori society is one of the key reasons that Maori culture has survived in an often unsympathetic environment. It is also probably true to say that the stresses and strains on this sense of order are immense and many young Maori do not feel able to give their elders the unquestioning respect they expect. I have no reason to suppose that Kaumatua don’t have a sense of humour, on Peter’s wall there is a nice poster with the title ‘what is a Kaumatua?’ which goes on to say: ‘A Kaumatua is a person who was around before the pill and the population explosion. They were here before television, penicillin, antibiotics and microwave ovens, frozen food, radar and credit cards.’ The poster finishes with ‘They are indeed a hardy bunch when you consider how the world has changed and the adjustments they have had to make.’ Nicely ironic I thought. There does not seem to be much irony or humour in Bob’s voice on this occasion. Peter later describes Bob’s sense of humour as dry, on this occasion arid or possibly not seen a drop of water in several years might be a better description. I explain that Peter is not in the office. Bob (I still do not know who I am speaking to) asks what time he will be in tomorrow, I say about 9. Bob says this is late, I explain that he has to come quite a long way, from Foxton. Bob tells me this is not far and he has to come further than this. I think he is joking. Bob explains that he needs to know whether Peter and he are going somewhere on Friday and Peter has not let him know. “Perhaps it is a surprise,” I say, in what I am slowly coming to realise, is an inappropriately light-hearted manner. “I don’t like surprises,” says Bob. “That’s a shame,” I say. “You don’t know who I am do you?” says Bob. All through my life I have never responded well to this kind of question, the one that implies I am more important than you. This is clearly my problem. Then Bob tells me who he is “Oh hi Bob, this is Peter Galvin” I say lightly again “Kiaora, Peter,” says Bob We talk a bit more and we finish our conversation. I am left with the impression that I might have handled this conversation badly. I hope not, I did not wish to appear disrespectful to Bob but I do find unconditional respect a difficult concept.

 

Indeed a thought-provoking day. And just to round it off we get Dicky Bird – ‘an umpiring ligend’ – on the TV. Dicky is about to umpire his last Test match at Lords and he is being interviewed for New Zealand TV, a measure of the esteem he is held in round the world. There is that marvellous moment at Old Trafford when bright light stops play. The more than usually harassed Dicky walks over to one of the hospitality boxes and points and shouts “there’s summat shining inside your box.” Cricket lovers will know what I mean. Dicky speaks in glowing terms about New Zealand, perhaps he does this about all the other countries that interview him but I doubt it. “Beautiful country, I could live there, lots of friends, reminds me of England.” Dicky goes on to talk about Richard ‘Adlee and how his one regret is not having a family. “I’ve been married to cricket,” he says, close to tears, “but it would have given me so much pleasure to have had a son who played in local cricket.” A lovely, human, twitchy man, it gives me great pleasure and a burst of patriotic pride to see him interviewed on Kiwi TV.

Friday 21st

This morning I told Glenice I was a God. I believe she must have thought I have sucked one Strepsil too many. I was merely trying to explain why I had come to work when I probably should have stayed at home. I was simply making the point that, whilst others less God-like merely thought that the world came to a stop when they were not at work, I knew for an absolute fact that it did. And so, sucking yet one more Strepsil in a devil-may-care fashion and vaguely reeking of Vic I set off to two schools. Do you know I was quite right in my view that I am in fact a living God and the schools told me so. Certainly after a number of my more profound statements, for example “Do so little that you do not even know you’ve done anything, but notice the difference” they said “Oh my God.” When I returned to the office however a nasty shock awaited me, the third in a series of events that seems designed to cause me to question my God-like status. Last week Peggie, our new admin person called after me as I left the office only she did not say ‘Peter’, she said ‘Eddie’. OK mistakes do happen I laughed this off although severely shaken. Shit, do I look like Eddie? But wait, mad Jonners from Monners in his poisonous missive also referred to me as Eddie the second. It gets worse, much worse, on Wednesday morning self same Peggie handed me the phone, it was Glenice. Glenice told me a few things which were a bit puzzling before she twigged that I was not in fact Eddie for whom she had asked. And then to cap it all, that Peggy again saved one of my letters (for which I had been searching) to disc but not on my disc but on, yes you’re ahead of me, on Eddie’s disc. The obvious explanation is of course that Peggy is confused or bonkers or both but then a far more terrifying thought occurred to me, a thought so terrible that it nearly caused me to lose what was left of my sanity at the end of this trying week. Perhaps I was in fact Eddie’s Doppelganger, maybe only I saw the ‘other’ Eddie, this would certainly explain why communication between him and I has been so difficult, he thinks or, worse still, I think that we are talking to ourselves. No wonder his driving has been so disregarding of my feelings. He thinks he is driving alone.

I meet Ellen after work and she tells me about her very special day. The special needs unit she works in has been officially opened today by Wyatt Creech, the Education Minister. What an honour, getting to meet the Education Minister, like meeting John Patten or Kenneth Clarke or even Maggie Thatcher, well maybe not such an honour, anyway she didn’t get to meet him or even hear him come to that because the cripples and their teachers aides, not as the Evening Standard described them teacher aids which usually means blackboards or text books or worse, were at the back. Yes I know that the reason he was there was to open the special needs unit but you don’t want these special needs people at the front of the hall, OK they can’t see or hear but don’t put them near the front. When the celebrities passed among the students, who were now back in their special unit, they leaned over and said things like “and what’s your name?” Ellen had to restrain herself from saying “she’s deaf, you silly old bag.” And or “it’s no use smiling at her because she’s blind.” “No, madam, the reason she is not speaking to you is that she cannot speak. Or alternatively “yes I agree, you’d think she could make a bit of an effort wouldn’t you, wave her arms about or something.” The best bit about the day was that the plaque that the minister unveiled said that this special needs unit was opened on June 28th by Wyatt Creech, the more astute (obviously not the cripples) noticed that today was the 21st. Is it that doppleganger effect again, will the real unit, with real people, this time with the cripples at the front, be opened next Friday? The Evening Standard did better than the local, local paper The Tribune which actually relocated the whole special needs unit to Monrad School. Unless of course there is a parallel universe which does have the best special needs unit in the country in Monners, run by my good friend Jonners. It is as well the minister was only a week early rather than a week and a day early otherwise he might have seen the reality of the unit. Ellen has to use a hoist to lower the students into the spa pool where she performs massage and exercises in an effort to stimulate their sad, tired limbs. Because she is talking to her mate, Pip, she fails to notice that she has hoisted, and is about to lower into the spa pool, not only the student but also the wheelchair to which the student is still strapped. Chair and student hover dangerously above the bubbling waters until lowered and separated.

More drug-induced dreams I recall as I lay half awake and half asleep in the middle of a sweaty night even though it is freezing outside. This time Leo, Bill and I are in a New Zealand version of Wacky Races. Leo is in a tank, Bill, whose vehicle I cannot determine, is laughing hysterically. I am driving a large red van that is almost my car but not quite, like happens in dreams. We are driving over very rough ground very quickly and then in and out of rooms and round doors. I seem to be shouting I joined the SES not the SAS. Bill laughs and I shrug and we set off after Leo in the tank

Saturday 22nd

It is 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime here in New Zealand and Delia Smith is on the telly making bleedin’ lemon curd. Smashy calls to ask how I am and to invite me to watch the rugby. This is a nice gesture but I better not give him my bugs. Gary Lineker scores again and gets reprimanded by the ref for winding up the opposition with his verbal charm. Given that one player he was giving the verbals to was their 6 foot 4 ins goalkeeper I question his common sense but that British sporting spirit just shines through. He should have stopped there but in fact played two more games with steadily deteriorating results. His team won the first game 5 -0, lost the second 2-0 and the third 14-1. I get a haircut at the, by now established, rate of $5 and this time John greets me by name, admittedly not my name but by name. No, I’m kidding. In the 7 minutes the haircut takes we chat freely about the rugby. Hoping that I might be mistaken for Christian Cullen I go for the complete bald look this time. John says the haircut should improve my side step. I tell him I already have a mean side step although it more resembles a Sumo wrestler’s move than a full-back. How we laughed, I thought his barber’s apron would never dry. Any way Ellen seems to like it which is nice as I might have given her my bug so she is not in a great humour.

I go and visit Whitcoull’s bookshop. I have a great weakness for books and bookshops so, given our financial plight, I have kept away from them thus far. This morning I just wanted to check some facts in a book on New Zealand wine but it wasn’t that simple and of course the demon would not be denied. Even having restricted myself severely or rather Ellen did and made me put half the books in my purchase pile back on the shelves saying irrationally I thought, “they will be there next week.” Even so the half pile amounted to $53. No wonder Kiwis are the world’s greatest users of the library system and no wonder that Palmy’s grandest civic building is the new library, books are bloody expensive here. The sound system in the bookshop plays ‘The Doors’ with good old Jim boy bashing out “come on through to the other side, come on through to the other side.” No thank you James. More used to Vivaldi and Mozart I fail to see the relevance of this album to the average book-buyer. Students and young people cannot possibly afford to buy books (and nor should they be able to in my opinion) and a quick visual survey confirms this hypothesis, they are all old folk. If this is the average book shop in New Zealand and, I as I have already said, I have tried to keep away from them, then this is perhaps some explanation of why books are so expensive. As every economics student knows, the more you sell the less the price, if Jim Morrison frightens away the average customer this may not be the best marketing strategy. God, I am so insightful. Unless of course the deal is, yes, you may leave but only when you have bought something, in that case it might just work. Anyway the guy behind the counter is happy as he wraps our books he whistles merrily as Jim extols the virtues of turning on and dropping out.

Once again I watch the rugby and once again the All Blacks beat Scotland comprehensively 36-12. According to the commentators Scotland showed the ‘Braveheart’ spirit, they certainly did, they lost. The game is played at Eden Park in Auckland. One of the positive attributes of Auckland, as everybody knows, is its weather. Strange then that this game is played under some of the worst weather conditions ever seen in the history of the game. Veteran commentator, T.P.McLean, writes the next day that this is only the fourth time in post-war rugby that the game should not have been played. I say all this to make the point that the rugby was poor which explains why my mind starts to wander. The All-Blacks usual pre-match Haka (war dance) is under attack in some quarters a) for being used too often, b) because it is insulting in some way I am not clear about to South Island Maori and c) because, as a war dance, it is inappropriate to a modem sporting context. It seems to me that the haka is in danger of causing more anxiety to the All Blacks themselves than to the opposition. In this politically-correct world of ours the players have come under some criticism for not knowing the words or performing the wrong movements. Whatever, a recent TV straw poll indicated that those who responded were over-whelming in favour of keeping the haka and the current haka to boot.

The Behrens come round for a meal in the evening, fittingly they are our second house guests in a long list of possible invitees that must, at a pinch, run to three couples. The conversation is wide-ranging from the rights of a young man with Down’s Syndrome who has been arrested for having sex with a young woman with Cerebral Palsy. Mike is excited about the case and thinks it will raise some interesting issues. The evening is not all as serious as this, we talk about the wine shop and the Famous Five. Mike thinks I am a little like Julian, but that’s better than being Eddie who was, apparently, voted as being like Timmy the dog. We drink the 1995 Rongopai Sauvignon Blanc to see if it was as delicious as the Chardonnay we had in Wellington. It is tasty but doesn’t resemble a Sav Blanc at all, it is very yellow and big more like a Chardonnay. Perhaps that’s why we haven’t been able to buy the Chardonnay since that evening, the grapes are all in the Sav Blanc. A pleasant evening nevertheless, Mike teaches Joe some Maori, my favourite phrase is whakarongo mai (pronounced Fokker-rongo-my) and means ‘listen to me’. If ever a boy needed that phrase it is our Joe.

Sunday 23rd

I am seriously worried about Ellen, I have not wanted to say anything about this before but her ‘condition’ has grown so bad that the truth can no longer be concealed. She has a little known psychiatric condition called stainophrenia. This condition is described in the medical textbook as an irrational fear of and obsession with stains. The disease can take many forms, in some patients the stain profile might be clothes in others bedclothes and in others table linen. Ellen’s condition has been diagnosed as Wilton’s carpetus stainophrenia and is, unfortunately, a particularly virulent form of the disease. The symptoms are the patient goes round the house head down constantly looking at the carpet and saying things like “that’s another fucking stain, are you lot incapable of keeping your food / drink / makeup off the floor? This is a new carpet and the landlady is going to have a fit when she sees that her plain carpet has been miraculously transformed into a patterned one.”  Sometimes there actually is a stain but, at others times, it is sad to see her scratching away at totally imaginary stains. I now realise why we are poor, all our money is being spent on stain remover – Cavalier, Rug Doctor, Shout, Mr Muscle are now her friends, she speaks to them and will, if not stopped, smuggle them into our bed or into her bag when she sets off to work. We have discovered that she has been sneaking out during her lunch hour and buying these let’s call them ‘items’. When she cannot afford the commercial brands she will buy salt, the damage to her system must be immense. When she has no money at all she has taken to hanging around the stain removers in the supermarket. She has been twice arrested by security and it is sad to see this woman, the mother of my children who has proudly shown not the slightest, remotest interest in any form of housekeeping up until this point, being escorted away shouting “the stains, the stains, I’ve got to clean the stains.” New Zealand has a lot to answer for.

When I was a child I liked nothing better then to read stories of exploration and derring do whatever that means. A journey up the Orinoco or the Amazon with some intrepid adventurer was just the ticket but I always liked to be tucked up in bed at night, I never did fancy the snakes and spiders that might crawl under my nocturnal blanket out in the jungle. So that made this afternoon’s adventure – a journey up the Pohangina valley – just right. We left at one and returned before nightfall at five. In between we saw many strange beasts – ferets, possums, deer, kuni kuni(pronounced kutti as in funny rather than looney), this is an ugly pig, ugly even by ugly pig standards and the only pig I’ve ever seen that was into body piercing – they have wire through their nose to prevent them from burrowing), donkeys, wallabies, exotic carp, beautiful birds, my favourites the rat and the frog and we saw a hunter. Admittedly they were all, with the exception of the hunter and the birds, in The Luttrells Wildlife Park. For $3 we thought the animals, the classic cars, the farm machinery was a pretty good deal. Encouraged by this early success we penetrated further and further up the valley. The scenery was superb, the sun broke through the rain clouds and illuminated the still autumnal leaved trees and intensified the lush greens of the hillsides, the rainbow added the finishing touch to this beautiful scene and, better still, we hardly saw a soul. We ended our journey near the headwaters of the mighty Pohangina River, well nearly. There we sat, as intrepid explorers do and drank our coffee and ate our ginger biscuits and a muffin. We read the Sunday papers and Ellen fell asleep. I have rarely witnessed so much intrepidness in one afternoon. By the time we got home we were both mentally and physically drained, walking round the animal compounds and reading the paper is never easy, but we felt good. We had done what we said we would do, break free of our weekend lethargy and see something of New Zealand.

Monday 24th

I am somewhat ashamed to say that I stayed in bed this morning instead of going to work. The only excuse I can offer is that, in the aftermath of my flu, I feel incredibly tired (and irritable). Apparently this is a common experience for those several thousands who have had the flu. The overload on the hospital system made the front page headlines in the Evening Standard today. ‘Hospital near exploding’ were the exact words followed by ‘full to overflowing’ and ‘in big strife’ i.e. finding it hard to cope. This rush to the hospital does not, in my view, show good judgement. Statistics clearly show that hospitals are dangerous places. More people die in hospitals than any other institution or workplace -schools, factories, cinemas, houses are all safer. So a hospital is the last place to go if you actually feel poorly. Anyway people do it. Nobody at work seems to know if you have to pay if you show up at casualty with an illness so I cannot comment on this aspect of the New Zealand health system. After a morning in bed I decide to get up and go to work. I have been reading Richard Prebble’s book “I’ve been thinking,” it describes why New Zealand went from being a country with the highest degree of governmental involvement in the country’s economy, a socialist state only rivalled for its bureaucracy by the former Soviet Union, to a free-market, deregulated country which sold off even more state monopolies than the Tories have in Britain. Richard, according to the blurb on the cover ‘has the courage to offer original solutions to age-old problems. I’m not immediately impressed with the book, on page 4 Richard asserts that high achievers have 10 key values, he lists three, I turn over the page in a state of high excitement to get the next 7 only they are not there and neither is page 5, nor come to that are pages 9,10, 13, 14 or 17. Now this is original solution, a book with pages missing. I’ve been thinking that this might also be bullshit. I’ll say more about Richard’s original solutions as the year unfolds.

We get a letter from England from our friend Gill. She is 46, separated and wondering what the meaning of life is. She is trying to adopt a Chinese baby but is finding the adoption process difficult. As she puts it she thinks that the adoption committee might wonder the point of having a Chinese child adopted by a white, middle-aged woman who lives in a white, middle class, village in the middle of England the inhabitants of which whose only cultural contact with China is through the local takeaway.

What we do on a wet Monday night in New Zealand is watch a video. You can’t tell much about Kiwis by looking at the video shop they look pretty much the same as back home with the exception of the porn section of course. I picked up ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ it said the uncut version, a bit of a contradiction I would have thought. We hire ‘Forget Paris’ with Billy Crystal and Deborah Winger some nice lines in it “I’m impressed with this place (Paris) they have kids of two and three speaking French” says Billy Crystal. The running joke throughout the film is the waiter who, when asked about the wine etc. says “The house red is like me, fruity but oddly appealing,” then later, “the white is like me, bold but with a hint of whimsy,” and later still, “the martini is like me, dry and explosive,” and finally, “the champagne is like me, sparkling and dying to go home.” Ellen tells me an even better joke about our corner shop. The owners applied for an extension to their liquor licence until 11.30, the local residents protested and permission was refused. As a punishment to the locals the owners have refused to open until 11.30 during the week and are not now opening at all on Sunday. I always thought the purpose of a shop was to make money and I had thought that it needed to be open to do that so this does seem like am extreme case of cutting off nose to spite face. Perhaps that’s how they do things in Asia, no wonder their economies are booming, clever psychology I’d say. Later this week we get a letter explaining the thinking behind the decision. Amongst other things it says “The mini Market went downhill since the supermarket opened 7 days so we shifted it to the smaller shop 76C as a dairy to cut down on running costs…. The City Council Liquor Agents agreed for us to move some of the dairy items to the liquor store provided it is a minority.’ Well that makes it all a lot clearer. What is less ambiguous is our monthly phone bill, which totals $278, the really good bit is that one phone call made by Kate to England accounts for nearly half of this total. The call lasted 1 hour 6 minutes and 27 seconds and cost her $132.22. Hilarious.

Tuesday 25th

A fairly ordinary day I reckon. On the way to work I listened to the radio. There was an item about a biker gang from Australia called &e Fat Mexicans that were setting about taking over the New Zealand gangs called Highway 61 and the Tribesmen. There was a spokesperson, yep, they have a spokesperson, for Highway 61 who said quote “the report was speculation based on little or no evidence.” What is wrong with these people, whatever happened to “this is a gang matter, so kiss my butt you motherf– – -.” You knew where you were in the old days. The road theme continues throughout the day. New York taxi drivers are known for their caustic wit or at least they used to be until English became a second language, London taxi drivers are known for their insightful opinions on just about anything. And Palmy taxi drivers, how do they compare with the world’s finest? Today, having no car, I had the opportunity to compare Palmy’s finest whilst on my visit to Boys High. On the way there the driver gave me his view that Kiwis were indeed the worst drivers in the world. “Why is that?” I asked. “Well I don’t know, except I don’t think a lot of people drive very much,” was the only answer, not very insightful. “I reckon Kiwi women drivers are even worse than the men,” I prompted, “Yeah, you’re right there,” he said as he pulled in front of the on-coming traffic without the merest hint of irony. Coming back I was closer to the New York experience in that the taxi driver was from what used to be Yugoslavia. His son is the top scorer for Manawatu who, incidentally, got knocked out of, what I am told is the equivalent of, the FA Cup on Saturday. This is the same team that both Mick and Joe play for, we chatted about football as well as his English would allow. He has been in New Zealand for 38 years I dare not say anything about the war or tell him that we had holidayed in Dubrovnik many years ago in case I gave the impression of being on the ‘other side’. He told me he is going back there for a holiday this year, so it can’t be that bad. To round off the day on the road, tragedy struck at The Railway this evening. The chef who had been involved in the brawl two weeks ago, perhaps feeling he had been hired to batter fish and wedgies not to be battered himself, has quit. This means we are completely wedgie-less. We have no choice but to visit the fish and chip shop across the road. It is, of course, run by Asians but the food is OK, the fish is hard to identify and the chips are plentiful. Because the pub will not let us eat our food in the pub I am introduced to that great old Kiwi institution the bonnet feast. We spread our fish and chips on the bonnet and with the radio playing out loud we eat in fine style out in the street. We return to the pub and I watch, without sound, on SKY, England play Spain, they were lucky because the Spanish goal was not offside. My heart went out to Psycho Pearce, he whom my handle is named after, as he stroked in his penalty, that takes some guts I reckon. Pity he can’t play cricket as well because what I saw of it was a bit of a struggle.

 

Wednesday 26th

You could not take today on one side and say “You’ve been a very boring day, today.” Heck no. In the space of this day I nearly throttled another human being and have been given $5,000. I also acquired a full size portrait of Bruce Willis in ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’. Let’s take the most important event first. I have this very sad theory that Bruce and I look vaguely similar, well on a dark night with a bag over our heads encased up to our necks in an oil drum we do. So imagine the thrill that ran through my body when, on leaving the office and walking past Movie World, I noticed, next to the trash can, none other than my living God, although in cardboard form, Brucie baby. I couldn’t bring myself to just take it even though it was clearly being kicked out. Imagine the embarrassment if, when walking off with Bruce the guy from the shop shouts after me in full public hearing “Oi you, yes you, the dickhead with our full-size Bruce Willis cardboard cut out.” So I walked into the shop and enquired whether they were truly dispensing with this collector’s item, this icon and could my son really be the owner. “Yeah, not a problem, mate,” said the man behind the counter, not fully appreciating the significance of this moment to me, I mean to Joe. How his little face will shine when daddy brings home his favourite movie hero. What he will in fact say is “Dad, you are a complete dickhead, what are you?” “A complete dickhead, son.” “Did anybody ring?” And who could argue with this assessment. Given that the said item is about six foot by four foot it will not simply go in the car so l have to fumble around on the pavement praying that nobody comes out of the office to greet me with the cheery words “What the fuck are you doing?” Simply taking Bruce home for Joe I shall reply. Fortunately, I manage to disassemble Bruce and stuff him into the back seat of Pee Wee without, as far as I can tell at this point, anybody I know in Palmy noticing. And there he sits as I drive off to the Guidance and Learning Teacher’s conference where I am due to speak on Friday. Going to this conference before I need to turns out to be a mistake.

The first presentation is by some woman who is talking about communication. Her idea of communication is to tell us how bloody marvellous she is, that she has spoken in 20 countries, that she is an international speaker, that she runs her own company, that she does company audits, that this is the seventh conference she has spoken at in two days, that she is an educationalist (not a lecturer, I get so angry when people call me that) at some bloody tin-pot polytechnic, that she makes 20% of her salary from the business she generates and she is doing this splendidly, that her course has gone from 8 students to 400 in just under a week, that she has Americans coming to her to learn about communication (coming to take her out (as in kill) would be more likely), that she has just returned from America where they thought she was just bloody marvellous, that she survived a car accident and defied the doctors who told her she wouldn’t walk again and now jogs 50 miles a day, that she is taking Bruce Willis out for dinner. I actually made the last bit up but there is a day or even a page missing here The 27th of June will remain forever a mystery in this ‘book’, shame I really want to know what happened. I can give you the last one and a half paragraphs and that’s your lot.

Am I being punished for taking home Bruce? First off I feel like the flu is coming back and I do not want it. Second, England have just lost to Germany yet again in another penalty shoot-out, at least Psycho didn’t miss his this time. Third, Pee Wee has finally realised that he is being replaced. I haven’t breathed a word but obviously others have not been so careful. In a very bad bout of self-injurious behaviour he has poked himself in the eye and broken his sidelight and he has swallowed a cassette tape and it is stuck in his throat. I had to take him to the doctor’s to get the cassette removed but his eye is still badly damaged. I have had Pee Wee for six months and not the slightest hint of a problem then I start taking him round the new car showrooms and wham. It is just one thing after another.

I eventually get to Marton which, I was advised, was the place to be today and all that happened was that I heard on the radio that we’d lost the footy. Where were you when you heard the England Germany result? Well in Marton of course. So it’s back to ‘who won the big one?’ At least I am not back home, which eases the pain a little. I can imagine the national morning. There was an article in the Evening Standard last weekend reporting that marital abuse in Edinburgh had increased from 14 to 27 incidents after England beat Scotland, now it is our turn. Whilst this may be bad news for English women, Scottish women must be delighted, now that England are out of the tournament, Scottish males will return to being the lovable rogues they have always been. But England, my England, I can still see Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton et al singing ‘Back Home’ as the lads set off for and prematurely came back from Mexico 1970. I guess that there won’t be much singing back home this evening. Sure enough the English football fans figure on tonight’s TV news setting fire to cars, assaulting the police and smashing shop windows. Marvellous, how I do miss it all. Ellen says do we want to go back to all this. As if to help us in our decision-making there is a TV programme about the New Zealand police, it is not a pretty picture, domestic violence, a woman who sets fire to her own house, a reported shooting, a two year old child home alone, drunks who spit at the police, a neighbour’s dispute where the police end up being abused and threatened, the sudden death of a 55 year-old man (we’re lucky, the policewoman says, that they’ve had other sudden deaths in the family so they know what needs to happen). This programme is set in Auckland which is a long way away but the corner shop by definition isn’t and that was robbed last night. I imagine it is just one of the locals trying to get a little service. I will sleep uneasy in my bed tonight.

Friday 28th

Last night crime and now this morning, Satanism, is there no end to the surprises in this supposedly tranquil country? Well not Satanism per se but close to it. As we drive to work Ellen tells me that one of the women that she works with in the Special Needs Unit has banned her children from singing a song called ‘Fly Witchy Witchy Fly’ which goes to the tune of’ ‘She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes.’ Her belief is that these children have enough problems without being exposed to the influence of the Devil. Back to the crime scene, I find out from a neighbour, who attends my talk, that last night’s robbery was an armed robbery by a male wearing a balaclava helmet. This type of crime wouldn’t happen in summer, too hot. Turns out the gun was an air pistol and the two women who run the shop bundled the would-be-robber outside, pistol, balaclava and all and further more the person, whoever he was, gave himself up today. Now that makes a refreshing change. As I’ve said, my presentation to the GLU conference was today. I amused myself, if not the audience, by taking the piss out of the two speakers I had heard on Wednesday. I tell my bemused audience that I have never got an A in anything, that the last team I ‘managed’ went from 8 people to 1 in a three year period and that I am earning less money now than I was 10 years ago. I get the odd, slightly embarrassed titter. If they don’t like my sense of humour, tough shit. Apart from this my presentation goes pretty well given that I am doing some parts of it for the first time. I tell them stories about Joe and how badly I manage his behaviour. They like this and it is comforting to know that the boy is funny across borders. At the end of my talk I am hugged very tightly by one woman who says thank you for making me feel better about myself, another one walks past and says ‘you were great, thanks a lot’. I also get a couple of invitations to speak in other parts of the country. Kelvin, one of the organisers says I am getting a good reputation, but doesn’t say for what. I choose to believe that he means professionally. As you might guess I am pleased about all this. Not smug though God, not smug. As I am leaving Wyatt Creech, yes him again, is arriving. As we pass our eyes meet briefly I can see him thinking aren’t you the famous Peter Galvin I’ve been hearing so much about? Thank you for making a difference to my life. My eyes narrow like Bruce’s, a playful almost sardonic smile flits across my lips. No problem Wyatt baby, but hey man wise up on the education policies, OK?

The other great event of today was the opening of the wine shop that Mike has invested in. It is called The Wine Rack so no chance of it expanding into England. He is in partnership with Don, an Irish guy who has been working for Liquorsave. Don and his wife Chris have recently returned from living in England, well London anyway. They had been there for 8 years and are missing the old country. We were curious about what they missed, they said their friends, the shops and Marks and Sparks particularly. The opening was marked by an invitation-only wine tasting. This was a success as far as I was concerned, I can’t quite remember what I drunk except in the vaguest terms I had a delicious Californian Zinfandel, a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, an Australian Shiraz a Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, an Australian Chardonnay, a Kiwi Riesling, something slightly sparkling and then it starts to blur after that, but they were good though and I genuinely hope they do well. Given my scaredy-cat nature I am full of admiration for people who start their own business. I hope they know what they are doing. I know about wine buying and wine shops so I did my bit to help by signing up as a member of their exclusive first 20 customers, 10% off club. Their wine is a bit more expensive than the supermarkets but then they carry a wider selection of non New Zealand wines than the supermarkets do. I added my advice which was to buy some Bulgarian wine that you can sell for around $10 and have Vivaldi, Mozart of Charlie Parker playing in the shop. The only music this evening was unfortunately Eddie leaning on the bar and singing. He has got a ‘lovely’ voice as somebody remarked but his choice of song is a bit bizarre – Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Can people really get the two of us confused? Mike threatened, jokingly, I think, to throw him out, Eddie said the law required that a warning be given and Mike, ever the lawyer, pointed out that this applied in a pub or bar but not in a wine shop. Clearly it was time to leave. After this successful opening, at least from my point of view, Mike, Ann, Adrian and Pam, Ellen and I all went round to Pompeii Pizza. We all got along quite well, I am beginning to feel like I have known these people all my life instead of six months. The only hiccup was when Pam whom I had been happily chatting to about having ideas, we discovered that we are both good at it and we agreed it is a very under-rated skill. Anyway for some reason Pam had to get up and go outside for some fresh air, I think she was feeling a little crook. After about 10 minutes Adrian gallantly said “I’d better go and see how Pam is.” His concern did not cloud his thinking and he picked up his cigarettes and went outside, no sense it wasting an opportunity for a quick fag even if the missus is feeling crook. We were home for 9.30 and I reflected, not for the first time, what a full day it had been.

Saturday 29th

For the first time in a while Joe doesn’t have a game of footy this morning although neither he nor I are clear whether this is because of the teacher’s taking industrial action (in the same way they did in England a few years ago) or simply because it is the beginning of a holiday. This is the second blank football-wise. Last week we sold $60 worth of Lotto tickets to raise money for the St Peter’s football tour to New Plymouth and Hamilton. Unfortunately the tour has had to be cancelled. Continuing the ‘communication’ theme that has been running through this week and to prove that it is not only Asian people who have trouble with English we get a letter from school informing us of this cancellation. The opening paragraph says “We have just received word from Francis Douglas College in New Plymouth that the flu has just hit up their way and they have to postpone the sports exchange, also Sacred Heart were struggling to find enough well students to take billets.” A most puzzling letter but we get the gist. Whatever are the ups and downs of Joe’s football, I decide to make the most of the opportunity this morning to have a lie in. Unfortunately it does not work out that way and we have a stream or at least a fast trickle of visitors. The first is Richard Campbell from cricket who drops off our Bledisloe Cup tickets for next Saturday, so he is very welcome. The next is the father of our landlady who has come to fix the outside security lights, he said to Ellen when we arrived that we were taking jobs from New Zealanders, so the completed task is welcome but not him. The third visitor is Jamie who we met at Di’s party and who is dropping off the keys to the bach we are renting next week, so he is very welcome.

Because we now have more money than we had at this stage last week (well in theory anyway) I feel an overwhelming urge to spend some of it. I buy the book on rugby ‘The Game of Our Lives’ which is the book to go with the programme on TV on Tuesday night that I keep missing. At the same time I return ‘I’ve been Thinking’ with the missing pages. I also visit the second-hand bookshop called The Book Cellar and buy a copy of the Bradman autobiography that sold for $120 at the cricket evening, I pay $10 for it. This gives me a certain amount of pleasure although I realise that I am being mean-spirited and I will resist the temptation of saying to the guy that owns the Ford dealership “Oh by the way I got that book for $ 110 less than you.” I did take Kate and Ellen to look at the new Ford Lazer which might be an option. Glenice hasn’t decided yet, if the option is the old, extremely boring Lazer/Orion, then I will go for the Toyota Corolla. Ellen showed not the slightest interest in any of the cars and Kate chose the GLXi2.0 SEx4 or some such completely unrealistic option. Cars are expensive here, the basic Lazer costs over $30,000. So instead I buy a pair of pyjamas. The only other purchase is several bottles of wine from Food Town not from The Wine Rack, consequently we feel guilty about this and as if to compound our guilt who do we meet in Food Town other than Mike B. The wine is down the bottom of the trolley and we hope he does not notice it. This is another of those small town type experiences that make living in Palmy such an interesting experience.

The local paper carries an article about what the council will and won’t fund. The article provides an interesting insight into financial priorities in Palmy. Good and bad news for the theatre, the City Council will fund The Regent Theatre upgrade ($5,498,789) but not the salary of the Centrepoint Theatre’s artistic director. The good news for Freyburg is that the Freyberg Aquatic facility will be funded ($1,150,000) don’t know what it is but it must be pretty special at that price, the bad news is that the Freyberg street cul-de-sac improvements won’t be funded. There will be no more money for services in the library e.g. Internet Community Access, Business information Service, Computer Resource Centre but the good news is that the Pooper Scooper Disposal bins will be funded at $7,000. Ashurst street lighting, Central Area Pedestrian Shelters and The Friendship Centre are negatives but the new bridge investigation ($182,000), Esplanade Centenary Carnival day ($8,000) and the Knowledge City Campaign ($80,000) are all affirmative. So in summary, carnivals, city publicity campaigns, bridges, getting rid of dog shit and wet things are all good, cul-de-sacs, shelters that encourage people to stand around, friendship, street lighting and computers are all bad, the theatre is both good and bad depending.

Sunday 30th

According to Joe, Palmerston is one of the most often flooded places in New Zealand. He is probably exaggerating but then again he has been doing natural disasters in geography and this morning his opinion may well be confirmed. It is pissing down, the lawn is under water and the patio has been transformed into a swimming pool. It is a day for staying inside and reading. I begin with the Sunday Star Times sports section. This is the best of the Sunday papers but it has no separate book section or travel section, no colour supplement but it does have a separate sports section. It is here that I begin, just like I would have done back home. David Kirk, the paper’s rugby correspondent, kicks off by rubbishing the standard of Northern Hemisphere rugby. He writes ‘Wales and Scotland came down for a closer look (at our rugby) and impressed with their effort, particularly in the forwards, but for skills, flair, athleticism, those sort of exciting things people like to watch, they have fallen short of a decent provincial team.’ Not for the first time down here the English take the blame. The poor Welsh, Irish, Scots are being apparently treated in a beastly fashion by the English, all our fault it seems because top players are offered money to play for English clubs, weakening national competitions, the other countries are no more than feeders for the big boys i.e. England. Furthermore, the fact that we’re ‘economically dominant has acted as a plughole with the plug taken out for Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, to a lesser extent, France. I’m in danger of developing that ‘we’re Millwall and nobody likes us’ mentality.

Bob South on page 4 has a deserved go at the British tabloid press, as I have said elsewhere if we export crap like The international Express we deserve all the bad publicity we undoubtedly get. I’m with this guy’s thesis for quite a while which was, in essence, a long-winded essence I might say, that it was irresponsible of the tabloids to present the England – Germany game in the context of a war e.g. The Sun’s headline ‘Blitz Fritz’. Bob reckons that this is particularly irresponsible in a sport that ‘also provides the largest number of riots’ Oh yeah? ‘In 1964 for instance nearly 300 spectators were killed in Peru.’ I suppose that was our bleedin’ fault as well. 32 years ago in South America, come on. And in Scotland in 1971 (at a Celtic and Rangers game) 66 were crushed to death in a mad rush for the exits. Excuse me, I always thought that happened when a stairway railing collapsed but apparently no it was all to do with a riot. His final example was of the Leeds fans in Paris in 1975, better Bob, but shame nobody was killed at this one, doesn’t read so well. He doesn’t even mention Hysel which would have been a better example of the deadly British, soccer riot I would have thought. Bob also went down in my estimation when he was, I thought, unnecessarily snotty about the editorial in an ‘un-named’ (he doesn’t know the name is what he means) English newspaper just before the ’66 final. The editorial said “if perchance on the morrow, Germany should beat us at our national game, let us take consolation from the fact that twice we have beaten them at theirs.” Bob describes this as the all-time sporting low of sporting comment. Well, Bob must be on his period. All I can say to that Bob is bollocks, I think that’s pretty funny and the war was a lot closer then. But all this pales by comparison with his last paragraph which says (because of such all-time low quotes) “Is it any wonder that so many round the world question not only the integrity of the British (and I presume he’s including the Irish, Welsh and Scots now) but their very mentality.” Now just hold on a minute, that’s my bloody country you’re talking about, I agree with you about the dickheads that edit the tabloids and the dickheads that buy them but let’s keep some proportion here. Nice argument ruined by this shallow, pretentious, po-faced crap. I turn by way of light relief to Joe’s ‘Loaded’ magazine well I did say it was raining too hard to go out. £2.40 in England and $9.75 (about 4 pounds plus) here. God knows what Bob would make of this magazine’s ‘journalism’. I can’t help but feel a certain affection for this partially shabby, partially funny mag full of shoe adverts and bad language. The UK seems a lively place in our absence. At least there’s some humour there and I think we do piss taking better than any other nation in the world and I’m proud of that. What would Bob make of this quote from Kevin Keegan. His favourite, Asprillo, faces FA misconduct charges and a possible six month ban. He elbowed a Man City player in the mouth during the game and then after the final whistle approached the same player, apparently to apologise, and head-butted him. “That’s just the way they are in South America,” said Keegan. Now your South Americans they know about riots and their integrity and mentality is questioned around the world. Now what South American youth needs is the same approach described in the main section of the paper ‘Youth sports violence will be tackled in a nationwide campaign by the Hillary Commission.’ (sounds like a girl’s name to me). ‘The commission is aiming the campaign at adolescent sportsmen (not women apparently which is pretty funny given what I’ve seen of the Kiwi female on the road) and their coaches with the message that there are no excuses for over-aggression on the sports field. We’re going to say to young men, play sport the right way or you shouldn’t play sport at all.’ Young men who demonstrated sportsmanship would be rewarded with prizes including ‘beanies, shirts, caps, drink bottles and posters.’ Ah shit, give me ‘who won the big one?’ Asprillo, and the average Millwall supporter. But then again perhaps I’ve just spent too much time inside. It is now 6.15 and it is still raining, I’ve got cabin fever. And so month 6 in New Zealand ends with me just feeling a touch testy.

 

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