IT'S FUNNY HOW THINGS WORK OUT...
by Helen Gilchrist
Photo: H Gilchrist
leaving home in October, I sat looking out on grey, wet and windy
Cornish landscapes trying to imagine how this trip would be and how
things would work out for me after Sarah left. I always seemed to
end up living in some sunny, laid-back beach town, or surrounded by
mountains, lakes and forests... Obviously these were but hopeful fantasies
as I contemplated the unknown, and I knew there was no telling what
might happen, who I might meet, and where I would end up. But it's
certainly fair to say that I never thought I would settle in a 'transit
centre'... a 'glorified interchange'... Yes, I'm back in the delightful
city of Hamilton.
After all the picture-postcard panoramas, mighty snow-capped mountains
reflected in mirror-like lakes, glaciers sliding down to sub-tropical
rainforests, deserted white sandy beaches and translucent turquoise
seas... I've laid down my bags and parked up a weary little sea-green
Toyota outside a nice little white wooden house in the leafy suburbs
of Hamilton - the motor-repair, shopping mall, furniture warehouse,
building suppliers and billboard capital of New Zealand. And it looks
like I'm here to stay - well, for a while at least.
after a manic agenda charging around all the usual tourist highlights
of the South Island in three and a half weeks, a whole night sitting
in the car park in Picton waiting for the 5am ferry with our new Canadian
friend Jim and a couple of bottles of red wine (we couldn't afford the
luxury of a hostel!), and an 8-hour drive up from Wellington (with only
a brief stop in Te Kuiti - 'the Sheep Shearing Capital of the World'),
we arrived back here at our friend Craig's house absolutely shattered.
We planned to kick back and relax for a few days while he and Ben showed
us around some prime secret spots we would never have found in The Lonely
Planet. And that was a month and a half ago. After Sarah left in early
December, I decided to stay with them for a bit while I worked out what
I was going to do next... and then 'a bit' became a week, then a fortnight,
then a month... So, Hamilton is my temporary home, and I'm living with
some people we met walking home at four-thirty in the morning.
Photo H. Gilchrist
The Kiwi festive season: different from anything I have ever experienced,
yet familiar at the same time. It's hot, about 26 degrees, and the evenings
are long, light and warm. Christmas Eve: slapping on the sunscreen,
lazing about in the hot sun on a boat in the middle of a lake, leaping
around on a wakeboard on the cool clear water... but there's still the
last-minute chaos in town, no parking spaces, huge sticky hot-and-bothered
queues at the check-outs, panic searching ('what the hell can I get
Uncle Jock?') - fortunately for me I can avoid all this as the vast
distances between me and my family, combined with the prohibitive cost
of international postage, have excused me of the stresses of Christmas
shopping this year.
And then there are the parties: they're going off all over town, celebrating
the beginning of the holiday, old friends back home for Christmas catching
up with each other - no different from England really, except that everyone's
out in their gardens, on the beaches, suntans and summer styles, bar-b-ques
fired up, and wheelbarrows stacked full with ice and cold beers...
Christmas Day: my friend Ben and his family
have kindly taken me in, and it amazes me how strangely familiar it
all is - it seems to me that family Christmas is the same the world
over. OK, so the weather's different and we're sitting outside rather
than inside, eating salads and strawberry pavlova rather than turkey
and Christmas pudding... but there's still the age-old ritual of oohing
and ahhing at presents (socks, sweets and soap alike), eating and drinking
too much, afternoon naps and generation gaps (nana and grandad wincing
over grandaughter's new belly-button piercing; the 'young-uns' disappearing
to the park for a game of frisbee just as mum and auntie are beginning
to talk about washing-up, and their restless itching to escape and hook
up with mates and crack open a few beers as early evening approaches...)
But its all good to me; never before on Christmas Day have I paddled
along the beach at Raglan, watched the surfers in the spray-hazy golden
evening light, o! r sat on a bar terrace in a T-shirt.
'TIS THE SEASON TO STRUT YOUR STUFF
Christmas and New Year have always been renowned as the party season
- but try mixing the party season, the beginning of the summer holidays,
a beautiful beach town, hundreds of hormonal teenagers staying in 'baches'
(the Kiwi word for a small beach house / shack) without their parents,
weather hot enough for even the most modest to be forced to expose a
fair measure of bare flesh... and you have a wicked and very amusing
cocktail! We, along with this 'cray-zee' party crew, headed to the town
of Whangamata (at the base of the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula) for
a week over New Year. About twenty of us ended up staying at Craig's
family's beach house, hanging out, eating and drinking (more!), messing
about on the beach, surfing, fishing, kite-flying, petanque... but one
of the most entertaining activities was watching the teeny-boppers (gosh
I sound old don't I ?!) out in force, hormones raging, tanned flesh
flashing, checking each other out in view of a quick 'pash' later on
('pash' = snog). Basically, if you're a young Kiwi male between the
ages of 16 and 22, you ain't nothing without a pimped-out set of wheels
loaded up with your cool mates giving out the vibe from behind their
mirrored designer-label sunglasses. Shiny chrome, roaring exhausts,
blacked-out windows and throbbing base are a valuable currency in the
teenage mating game - these make the crucial difference between getting
not! iced or not by the groups of girls in short shorts and low-cut
tops as you cruise up and down the main strip clocking up your 'lazy
Sitting out on the deck one lunchtime we counted the same souped-up
campervan roar past fourteen times in one hour! We also laughed at the
even more blatant approach of six lads sitting out in their front yard
on a sofa, watching the chicks walk past and giving them marks out of
ten using large painted number cards they had made.
But us 'oldies' (over the age of 22) managed to enjoy ourselves too
- even if we weren't 'pashing' on the beach outside the Surf Club, we
were still mixing it up in Craig's basement and garden, getting creative
with the cocktails (traditionally everyone brings a different bottle
of something), dancing to some good tunes, and even a spot of limbo...
And then, midday on New Year's Day: sitting on the beach feeling a little
fuzzy and delicate, super-sensitive to the relentless sun beating down,
diving into the sea in an attempt to wash away the hangover... and thinking
of my friends, twelve hours behind on the other side of the world, who
would be just about at the peak of their revelries, drunken hugs, kisses,
and the clinking of glasses as midnight strikes and everyone starts
wishing each other a happy 2001.
NEW ZEALAND NEW YEAR NEW JOB...
Early January and I found myself still suffering from a hangover...
only this one was metaphorical. After another fantastic week's holiday,
camping, wakeboarding and bar-b-queing up at the lakes (in one of the
most scenic, rugged and unspoilt spots my tent has ever been lucky enough
to be pitched in), I'm back 'home' in glorious Hamilton with no money,
no job, my friends have all gone back to work, and only because of their
kindness and generosity do I have a roof over my head. It's hot and
sticky outside and in, but I can't even afford to put petrol in my car
and drive to the beach. It's not really my fault - everything grinds
to a halt and shuts up over Christmas and New Year, making job-hunting
near impossible - but, as I rattle around in an empty house, distract
myself by swatting flies, there's no question that now is definitely
the time to do something about it.
Desperate times seek desperate measures: the next day I'm out labouring
for my friend's landscaping business - cap on head, spade in hand, shovelling
soil in the hot sun. Once again, any feminist beliefs I might once have
had are called into question: I don't think I want equality - there's
no way I would choose to do such harsh, physically demanding work for
a living if I wasn't struggling to earn my daily 2-Minute Noodles. However,
I'm proud to say that I stuck with it for a good few days (well, three,
to be precise) - until I saw in the local paper that the university
was looking for teachers to give English lessons to its foreign students.
Somehow, the idea of an air-conditioned classroom appealed more than
a hot dusty construction site...
So now, for the moment, I'm a fully-fledged Hamilton resident and worker;
paying rent, teaching our fair tongue to students from Asia and South
America each day, saving up for my next adventure, shopping in Hamilton's
many malls, drinking in Hamilton's many bars... and at least once a
day someone asks me, 'so why did you end up in Hamilton of all places?'
© Helen Gilchrist 2001
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