Postcard Stories from New Zealand

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6th November 2017

Olive Broderick

Auckland, New Zealand

When he first sat down to catch his breath at the end of the pier George did not know that he would never again stand up. In the early days he was content to watch the seagulls coming and going like white kites coasting against the ocean breeze. It was almost summer. Not too hot. Not too cold. The sunshine was pleasant prickling against George’s skin. When winter arrived he found he could not stand up. It wasn’t his bones or muscles refusing him so much as his interest in being anywhere but here, at the end of the pier, staring out to sea. The locals brought him food. The locals kept him company for hours at a time. When the hard rains started to pelt down upon George’s head, the locals built a roof and four walls around him – a little house to offer some protection from the elements.

George continued to sit and stare at the horizon. He ate three decent meals a day and, like a pond-locked goldfish, swole to meet the limits of his confines. When, in the spring of his third year sitting, he took a notion to stand and walk away from the spot which had served him so well, George found he couldn’t. The roof they’d built above him was too low to accommodate his standing frame, the door so small, it might as well have been a wall. George had no choice but to continue sitting. He  could only presume there was something to be learnt from all this contemplation.

 

7th November 2017

Paul Maddern

Auckland, New Zealand

You hear the same story told several different ways whilst staying in Auckland. You suspect the story may not be true but choose to believe it anyway. It is such a good story. Around twenty five years ago, (or two summers ago, or one time in the early 70s), some University of Auckland students, (or a fun-loving, local entrepreneur, or a bunch of regular, teenage boys), planted burning tires, (or fireworks, or one enormous Catherine Wheel), in the inverted hollow of Mount Eden, a dormant volcano on the outskirts of the city, (it should be noted that the geography never once changes in the telling). When Auckland’s residents awoke to find plumes of angry, grey smoke emerging from the hill they naturally assumed that the volcano was about to erupt and fled the city in frenzied droves, causing gridlock on the freeways and coastal by-roads. As you said, there are umpteen different versions of the fake volcano story floating round this city, but the punchline is always exactly the same.

 

8th November 2017

Orla McAdam

Wellington, New Zealand

Here is a nine year old girl. Her name is Ella. She says she wants to be a writer when she grows up. You say, “you are already a writer, Ella.” You point to the story she has just written and read aloud in front of thirty twelve year old boys. Ella has written a story about a talking dogfish. The dogfish has gone shopping in Wellington city centre. It wants to buy some fancy going out clothes, something really ‘oosh’ which is the word the kids are currently using for cool here in New Zealand. The dogfish goes click clacking from one boutique to the next in high heeled shoes. (Click clacking is the exact phrase Ella uses in her story). Eventually the dogfish purchases an outfit of invisible clothes and disappears. (It is much more dramatic the way Ella tells it).

You are jealous of Ella and her impossible imagination. You wish you were her at nine, or any age really, writing stories about high heeled dogfish, reading these stories aloud in front of boys. You can’t be Ella though. You are too old and self-conscious. So you steal her story instead. (You have told the children it is alright for writers to steal ideas). You still feel a little guilty though, a little like you are letting Ella down.

 

9th November 2017

Reidunn and Odd Henning Johannessen

Wellington, New Zealand

Belfast versus Wellington. Both are cities clawed back from the sea. In Belfast the ocean once ran all the way up to the Crescent Arts Centre which was not an arts centre back then so much a primordial swamp and possibly a collection of scrubby trees. Everything North of this is slowly sinking. Note the Albert Clock, lilting as it is, gently to the right, a prime example of Belfast’s inability to keep her own head above water. Not so much Wellington which was once submerged and then suddenly land rich. Blame an overnight earthquake for the roads and pedestrianized streets which now grid the city into a checkerboard. Note the skyscrapers which the locals have built: twenty storeys into the air, occasionally thirty. Compare to Belfast which won’t build higher than ten storeys up for fear of bombs and bombing factions long since silenced. Ask yourself why the people of Wellington aren’t more wary of a second earthquake, if they are braver than the people of Belfast, or just more optimistic?

 

10th November 2017

Team No Alibis

Wellington, New Zealand

Paddy the Wanderer was an Airedale Terrier who lived in the Waterfront area of Wellington during the 1930s. Having lost his owner early on, the entire city conspired to adopt Paddy, driving him to and fro in taxi cabs, allowing him to sleep in their sheds and boathouses, even permitting him to jump ship and sail as far away as mainland Australia. Once -pre-empting the Russian space dog Laika by a good few years- Paddy actually took to the air in a bi-plane flight around the Wellington hills. He is said to have enjoyed this experience immensely. Never happier than when in transit, Paddy lived to almost thirteen and when he finally succumbed to old age, made his final journey to the city crematorium in a small dog coffin, paraded through Wellington’s streets by a whole fleet of grieving, black taxis. Upon hearing of the little dog’s death, one heartbroken waterfronter is said to have muttered, “I’d give a month’s pay to have Paddy back.” The people of Wellington later erected a statue in memory of Paddy though with hindsight it seems somewhat problematic to have memorialised the Wanderer in such a static fashion.

 

11th November 2017

Andrew Meehan

Wellington, New Zealand

Most of Peru is under your window, playing trumpets. The noise of this is like cutlery being dropped from a great height. The Peruvians say they are here for the soccer. They say they’re using this World Cup Qualifier as an excuse for a vacation. But you know better. You lie in your hotel bed, not sleeping, on account of all the trumpets, and you begin to discern a pattern behind the music, (though really it’s not so much music, as shouting with instruments). Here is a snippet of “Hark the Herald Angels.” Here, the briefest sliver of “Joy to the World,” and “Jingle Bells,” like a constant refrain looping in and out of all their frantic hollering. You crawl out of bed and peek through the curtains. Three floors below the Peruvians are dancing around the alleyway like creatures possessed. Their red hats, red sweaters and red flags bloom in the dark. Their bright faces are painted a jolly, festive red like Santa’s slightly inebriated helpers. “Soccer my arse,” you think. “This lot are here to infect us all with Christmas.” And you don’t mind this at all. You are a big fan of Christmas. Just not at two in the morning, on the first weekend in November.

 

12th November 2017

Damian Smyth

Wellington, New Zealand

Last November, just six hours after the Wellington Lit Crawl finished, a medium-sized earthquake took the city by the scruff of its sky-scrapered neck and shook it hard. It would be nice to imagine that the weight of so many bookish souls rushing earnestly from one poetry reading to the next had caused this upset, shaking Wellington all the way down to its earthy core. But this would be naïve. There are often tremors here: both enormous tectonic shifts and lesser, barely discernible shudders, so light and self-possessed it is like the buildings are merely shivering in the midwinter drizzle. Still, it is interesting to note that this –hot on the tails of a literary festival- earthquake brought the wall down in Katherin Mansfield’s garden. Yes, the very garden which set the scene for her seminal short story, “The Garden Party,” was all of a sudden ruined by split bricks and torn ivy, rubble clumping up the chrysanthemum beds. One year later and this wall has not been resurrected. Katherine Mansfield’s front garden has lost all modicum of privacy and, suddenly liberated, her stories have made a break for it, rushing down the hill, into Wellington city centre, where they are infecting everyone they meet with their dark beauty. Consequently, this year there are even more bookish souls rushing earnestly from one poetry reading to the next. The name for this phenomenon is not an earthquake so much as an avalanche.

 

13th November 2017

Andy Linton

Doha Airport, Qatar

Peter had always wanted a little brother. Sisters were fine but they weren’t interested in kicking football or racing snails or anything involving mess. When Michael was born, Peter was delighted- a brother to play with at last. “Wait ‘til you see, the pair of youse’ll be joined at the hip,” said his father, and Peter smiled, imagining his little brother following him round the playground, copying all his big boy antics.

Little did Peter know his words would turn out to be prophetic. By the time he turned one, Michael was literally stuck to Peter. Joined at the hip. Shoulder to shoulder. Glued together by their conjoined hands. Wherever Michael’s flesh met Peter’s it seemed to catch and stick. Their mother would spend hours each evening prising them apart with a fish slice. The separation always stung, smarting like a ripped off Band Aid. Afterwards both boys would be left with deep red welts where their flesh had been stretched raw.

Naturally Peter came to resent his sticky, younger brother. By the time he’d turned three, he could not stand the sight of Michael and would go out of his way to avoid making contact with him in the house or garden. Later, when his brother grew out of his clingy phase, Peter would come to miss the closeness they’d once known. The places where they’d been joined together –shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, palm to sweaty palm- would throb like phantom limbs and Peter understood this feeling to be a very specific form of loneliness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Postcard Stories from New Zealand

  1. I love the picture at the top – walked up that street just under a year ago for a celebratory birthday lunch in the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower! 🙂

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