A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay: Part Two

“A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

It used to be a term of snide derision.

The moniker for any unidentified person in the society photo section of Auckland’s Metro magazine in the 80s.

Whether they had their back turned, or were wearing a lampshade, they were “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”

Some in our region may have even aspired to it, but not many.

Certainly not me.

Yet, over recent months I have been an actual “Visitor from Hawke’s Bay” to Auckland several times, on account of surgery I needed to undergo that could only be done in the city.

Rather than the local tourism board paying for my visit and lavishing me with luxury accomodation and gourmet food as Hawke’s Bay’s agencies do to visiting Auckland media, the Ministry of Health paid for my return travel and equal nights’ accomodation in both motel and hospital beds, and I had to hunt and gather my own food, except when my kind social media friends shouted me a coffee or lunch. (Disclosure statement ends.)

Planes, Trains, Ferries and Lime Scooters

A little over a month after my last trip to Auckland I am waiting at Hawke’s Bay Airport for the flight which will take me up for my operation in two days time to arrive. Strong cross-winds have seen the in-bound flight delayed and diverted to Palmerston North, with the plane eventually arriving in Napier two hours late.

It could be worse. Those on the flight from Auckland all had to disembark in Palmerston North and are being bussed up to Hawke’s Bay.

There’s always someone out there worse off than you are.

The flight to Auckland is smooth and far quicker than my previous commute.

I spend most of the trip with my head plastered to the window. While I’m almost 42, the “magic” of flight still fascinates me and I eagerly soak in the airborne views of our magnificent country – Forestry operations in the central North Island, glistening lakes and rivers and even the Firth of Thames and Coromandel Peninsula are all things I get to see far too infrequently.

I am due to be admitted to hospital for two nights, one either side of my operation, but before that I have a night in a motel equidistant between downtown Newmarket and Auckland’s Central Hospital.

As I ride there on an airport shuttle I become very aware of just how many cars there are in Auckland.

They are EVERYWHERE!

You get an idea of just how bad vehicle congestion could get in the city when you see the sheer volume of cars lining residential streets. They almost out-number fallen leaves on the more arbourous thoroughfares.

It’s strikingly evident that when/if the Zombie Apocalypse strikes it would be only the cockroaches and cars that remain in Auckland.

My accomodation is on the lower northern slopes of Mount Eden – a Maunga I had intended to summit on my last trip, before car trouble scuttled the attempt.

A look at the nearby clouds and realisation that I forgot my jacket scupper any thoughts of doing it on this occasion either, so I head in towards Newmarket as raindrops begin to fall.

After a couple laps of Broadway I have run out of things to see or do and with no supermarket nearby I hop on a train and head into the CBD.

I do some browsing and pick up a few bargains and some dinner along High Street and its lanes, including another trip to Krispy Kreme (for dessert), before searching out a supermarket.

My search takes me through the recently developed area around Britomart, which I have to say is quite stunning! Old and new seamlessly meld together for offices, restaurants and shops.

I wander back along the waterfront and catch a train back to Newmarket, walking back to my hotel past a wide range of asian eateries.

While waiting for a crossing light I absently look in the window of one restaurant and watch a young pakeha woman teaching her children how to use chopsticks.

Fusion cuisine AND fusion people!

I also feel a little homesick for a moment.

The next morning I am up and out early to see a man about a Travelator.

Yet another train ride reveals some odd train etiquette – Despite the train being quite full of early morning commuters, no one ever talks to, or looks directly anyone else! This is quite a challenge for someone like me who is usually quite chatty and inquisitive, but apparently its “a thing” all over the train-commuting world.

I get off the train at Britomart, cross the road and hop on a ferry to Devonport, to meet David Slack – another long-time (well, by Twitter standards) friend, who takes me for a tour around his neighbourhood and up his maunga – Mount Victoria – something I have been wanting to do again since I climbed it early one morning while on a course in Auckland a decade and a half ago.

A Man About a Travelator and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

David is marvelous company. We have coffee and chat at a village cafe after exploring Devonport and viewing its surrounds, then I must start heading towards the hospital.

The ferry ride to Devonport and back is great fun too – After my tachycardia episode I have taken greater pleasure in the little things like viewing things from different perspectives – Whether it be from the air or the sea they are fun experiences.

From the ferry building I slowly make my way up Queen Street, aiming to be at the hospital at my check in time of 2pm.

A Hospitable Host and a Visitor From Hawke’s Bay

I stop here and there to get gifts for my wife and daughter, before meeting another Twitter friend, Mark Graham, who has kindly offered to buy me lunch at “The Kimchi Project” – an smart, narrow “Asian Fusion” restaurant on Lorne Street with a great big garden bar out the back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have been very fortunate to meet some great people on social media. When used correctly and kindly, as it should be, it really is a SOCIAL media!

I thank Mark and make my way to the hospital after eventually realising the “north and south” of my Google map does not necessarily equate to what passes as the M.C. Escher-esque reality of Auckland geography.

I cross Grafton Bridge on foot and make it to my ward for admission right on time.

My visits to Auckland have coincided with the boom of Lime E Scooters in the city. It is as impossible to miss coverage of the new mobility devices as it is to miss the scooters themselves.

You regularly see people riding past on them, but even more often see clusters of them on footpaths, awaiting their next hire.

I would have been more likely to give one a try were it not for the number of reported incidents and injuries involving them.

I’m already going to hospital for an operation. I don’t fancy a side-trip to the Emergency Department!

I stick to walking.

After some preliminary admission tests I am given licence to wander off until tea time, so, seeing the Auckland Domain and the War Memorial Museum beside the hospital I decide to go for a stroll through there.

On my stroll I find myself overcome with emotion.

When I was young I had an unusually large head for a child and we were sent up to Auckland Hospital for an MRI scan (apparently my head knew I would grow to be 6’8″ before the rest of me did and was merely getting the jump on things).

I clearly remember playing with one of those cheap 80s pull-cord plastic helicopters on a hill in The Domain with Mum and Dad (it must have been in between a scan and seeing the doctor about the results).

As I crest one of The Domain’s hills (likely the very one we flew the pull-cord helicopter on) I have a quiet moment & cry thinking of Mum and Dad, who are no longer with me.

While recovering from my operation the next day I have time to reflect on my recent experiences of Auckland as A Visitor from Hawke’s Bay.

Welcome Home

Auckland is a marvelously, multicultural city!

Middle eastern and African teenagers have served me American fast food. I ate at a Korean restaurant, was operated on by a Indian surgeon and a Sri Lankan anaesthesiologist, both of whom had “Oxbridge” accents, and the night after my operation I fell asleep listening to a sweet old lady praying in Tongan.

A week or so after my operation some perennially privileged, pathetic pakeha politician trys to make some sort of inference in mainstream media about who are “real New Zealanders” and who aren’t.

This is our country and these are all our people. We are all kind, caring, compassionate kiwis!

The “JAFFA” is Dead

With more modern, inclusive times upon us, it’s reasonable to say the term “JAF(F)A”, an acronym for “Just Another F***ing Aucklander”, is dead.

To be fair, it was usually used as a parochial term for the “small fish, big pond” sort of person who moved from Auckland to regional New Zealand to try and assert the authority they felt they lacked in the big city upon provincial plebs. So maybe not as applicable to Aucklanders on their home turf.

It is (or was) the antithesis of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”.

Everyone I encountered in Auckland was polite, kind and considerate, no matter their race, sex, or National Provincial Championship rugby affiliation. I would gladly see the back of its use, and that of similar terms.

 

I’ll see You Again, When the Stars Fall From the Sky..

A few weeks later I am back at Greenlane for a post-op check-up.

Flown there and back in a day it is probably the closest I have gotten to being a jet-setting-corporate-business-commuter-type.

With a couple hours to spare either side of my appointment between arrival and departure I get to do some more exploring.

Still unable to get up Mount Eden (next time!) through a lack of logistics (maybe those Lime Scotters aren’t such a bad idea after all..) I take a stroll through Cornwall Park and mount Maungakiekie, One Tree Hill.

The view is spectacular – Literally a 360 degree view of Auckland!

 

 

It also brings into stark relief another issue Auckland has – Space and housing.

 

There is only so much land to occupy on the Auckland isthmus and from my viewing spot it looks pretty much all occupied.

While many suburban Aucklanders seem quite averse to multi-story townhouses and appartments in their leafy streets, it would appear, as 80s band Yazz sang, that “The Only Way is Up!” to ease this problem.

This could have been solved earlier, of course, had previous governments and corporate Auckland just spread some economic love and shifted more business to regions like Hawke’s Bay!

I head back to Napier a content Visitor From Hawke’s Bay.

Auckland is a neat city with lots of diversity, but also a few issues.

As with most problems, though, I’m sure those issues could be resolved with help from, or by listening to others like regional New Zealand.

As I board my flight home I notice something that Paul Brislen picks up on via Twitter a few weeks later.

While the snide side of “A Visitor From Hawke’s Bay”, just like “JAFFA”, is well past its used by date, there is something a large number of those bound for Napier have in common – We have all been “A Visitor to (Auckland Domestic Airport’s) Krispy Kreme“.

Perhaps there’s an opportunity for an alternative nickname (or, at least a new regional franchise) there!

Tūrangawaewae Tamatea

There’s just something special about sunsets over Tamatea, as the big, golden orb dips below the Poraiti hills..

Do many of my readers share a sense of Tūrangawaewae for an urban/suburban place?

I grew up in a Napier suburb called Tamatea.

I lived in the same house for 20+ years & went through school there.

While Mum & Dad’s house is now ours, it no longer feels like “home” (you know, once you leave..)

But going to the Tamatea shops DOES.

We’ve lived in Marewa for about 10 years now, buying our first home there about five years ago. But we stopped off to get takeaways from Tamatea on the way home from Taradale the other day and I just felt this..

Energy?

Nostalgia?

The shops are completely different now, from the days of Woolworths and Safeway, or when Tamatea had its own post office/ Postbank, video rental store, bookshop and dairy where you could get two sweets for 1c.

But the sky and the stunning sunsets are still the same.

I stood there, looking at the sky, heard children playing nearby, felt the warm breeze – all things that haven’t changed in 30 years and thought:

“Geez, I love this place!”

It reminded me of a piece I wrote that appeared in Hawke’s Bay Today around ten years ago.

Over the summer period (to save on paying their reporters to write more, I guess) they opened up to people’s memories of growing up in and around Hawke’s Bay.

My Dad wrote a piece about growing up around Lake Waikaremoana during his youth.

Inspired, I wrote about my more suburban, but just as memorable youth in Tamatea in the 80s.

Given my nostalgic bend then, here it is:

“Growing up in Tamatea”

While we lived, technically, in Pirimai West (the town side of Taradale Road), I consider myself a Tamatea boy. As that is where I went right the way through school, where we shopped and where all my friends lived.

Tamatea Primary was a wonderful place to learn. Mr. Cass, the Principal, had a great love of music and was very proud of his students.

Mrs. Greig, Stewart, Unwin, Whibley and local teaching legends Mr. Smith and Webby taught us everything we needed to know in a wonderful, caring environment.

The school had four ‘blocks’. Each set up in an open plan layout with four classes – one in each corner. Each block usually had two classes of the same standard (year) on either side, meaning that you would usually spend two years in each block:

‘A’ block was for the primers and contained the staff room. The mural on the Durham Ave side of ‘A’ block is the background for thousands of ‘80s school photos.

Always the tallest kid in class, I was also always at the back, in the middle for school photos.

‘B’ block was a pair of pre-fab classrooms for the slightly older kids, which Mrs. Stewart and Unwin occupied for as long as I can remember.

‘C’ block had a cool arts corner where you could spend ages peeling dried PVA glue ‘skin’ off you fingers to gross your friends out.

It also housed the school library where Mrs. Mansfield fed the imaginations of generations.
Even if that meant Asterix, Tintin and “Pick your own Adventure” books for some of us, it certainly started me on the road to bibliophilia.

‘D’ block was for the “big” kids and was the territory of Mr. Webby, whose glorious baritone voice could often be heard through the walls in C block as the great lion of a man taught his pride.

The playground was far different to the one there today.

Bumps and skinned knees were a regular occurrence, but didn’t matter. The old wooden fort that still remains, was a dirty brown and the high fireman’s pole and three chain bridge provided young thrill seekers with some “death defying” adventures.

The concrete mound opposite the fort posed as the enemy’s base for playing war and Mount Everest, with limestone rocks protruding, in adventure mode. The pipe tunnel that ran through it was graffitid and smelt kind of funny on Monday mornings for some strange reason, but that made no difference to our imagination-driven fun.

There were two great honours as a “big kid” at school.

One was being lunch a monitor, who got to help distribute bought lunches (a rare treat back then); the other was being a school patrol monitor.

While you started earlier and worked through rain, hail or traditional Hawkes Bay drought, you could have a Milo in the staff room after finishing your duty in the winter mornings. This made you feel REALLY big and important, for a ten-year-old, but also meant you were allowed to be a bit late for class. I was lucky(?) enough to be on crossing patrol during Cyclone Bola and vividly remember looking down Durham to Westminster Ave, watching the ominous clouds to the north.

Play and lunch times were fantastic. I discovered my love for soccer and cricket at Tamatea Primary (sadly, that’s where most of my sporting ability stayed).

As well as reading and music (first ever cassette album bought – Def Leppard “Hysteria”, first single – Pseudo Echo, “Funky Town”, so not the best of starts), girls and hopeless romanticism would also plague me for almost twenty years to come.

During a quiet lunchtime in C Block, a group of us staged a lip-synced Dire Straits concert. Complete with pianica keyboards, meter rule guitars, rubbish bin drum kits and screaming groupies.
It also featured crimes against fashion of which I will only say “sweatbands” and leave it at that. They were really good times.

Looking back at primary school, the funny thing is I never actually remember feeling ‘young’.

We always felt old and important.

There was learning to be done and it was our job to experience and squeeze every bit of knowledge we could out of life. The teachers encouraged us to learn and succeed, but more so to enjoy doing so and that certainly made our lives so much richer.

Outside of school, things got even better. Walking home we would cut across an open area that is now the delivery entrance for the expanded Pak n Save. This got really cool and muddy after heavy rain, and had lots of choice dips and jumps for bikes in summer.

The Tamatea shops were a mere shadow of their current size back then.

Woolies became Safeway and eventually Pak n Save in later years. Postbank sat out by itself in the car park. The bookshop, which was part of a string of small buninesses that stretched along where the checkout’s glass frontage is now sold Commando comics, Shoot and Match English soccer magazines as well as GI Joe’s.

I once got in trouble with Mum for being late home from school after spending half an hour pondering the merits of “Dialtone” the communications specialist vs. “Wetsuit” the navy diver.

The dairy, a ten year olds El Dorado, was the limitless source of one and two cent lollies, Kbars, Chuppa Chups and bubble gum trading cards.

Friday night meant late night shopping in town.

This was before Emerson Street’s paving redevelopment and Art Deco resurgence, so cars still drove up and down the street, which looked decidedly drabber than it does today.

There was a giant hole in the ground where demolition of the old ANZ bank had taken place and new construction was under way.

It was particularly spooky on dark winter evenings. A few years later, as mall construction got under way, the only way to cross the street was on plywood bridges.

Town’s highlight at the time was the multi coloured, lighted arches which criss-crossed Emerson St at the Hastings and Dalton Street intersections.

File photo from HB Museum collection

DIC/ Arthur Barnett / Farmers, Woolies / Deka and Brents Tots and Toyland in Emerson Street as well as Toyworld in what is now Ocean Boulevard were always popular stops.

Transformers, Star Wars Figures and Action Man for the boys, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Jem and the Misfits for the girls were all the coolest toys du jour.

Many of these toys are still stashed away somewhere safe today.

For a treat Mum and Dad took you to Mr Wimpy in Lower Emerson Street (a pre-cursor to McDonalds. One still operated in Rotorua I discovered many years ago), Kentucky Fried Chicken (we didn’t care about the “fried” part back then) in Carlyle Street, or Pizza Hut on Marine Parade.

Then it was off home to watch MacGyver, ALF, The Greatest American Hero and Magnum PI.

These great television days and are sadly missed.

The weekend started early on Saturday morning with Fraggle Rock and What Now (which screened on TV1 back then).

Danny Watson, Michelle and Frank Flash, then Simon Barnett and Catherine McPherson hosted the show through its golden age and kept us wrapt.

Super Ted, Inspector Gadget and Thundercats were as much a part of Saturday mornings as cornflakes and Weetbix.

After Saturday morning sports, perhaps a quick trip into town to get some groceries or an ice cream to celebrate a win (everything closed at midday Saturday and wouldn’t open again until Monday morning), then either home or over to mates’ places.

Lucky kids had either a Supertramp trampoline, or a Para pool.

Really lucky kids had both.

This would eventually lead to some death-defying (and knee scraping, tooth losing) jump-bounce-dive aerobatics.

While Mello Yellow, Fanta, Cheeseballs and Rashuns, flowed continuously, and provided some enlightening visions, especially when combined with too much, jumping, bouncing and diving…

Sleepovers were fantastic. There was usually a barbeque, terrorised pets and siblings and, inevitably, someone would get a blood nose from too much excitement.

Sundays meant a sleep-deprived trudge home, helping around the house and homework as a last resort.

The highlight of the day was always a Sunday drive.

Getting an ice cream and sitting in the car under the trees at West Shore beach, an unobstructed view allowing us to watch the sea lap the beach, with Napier Post and the hill behind, regardless of the weather.

It would have been great to remain a ten year old for longer, but time moves on and so do we.

In retrospect, most experiences growing up were vastly over rated when compared to their primary school expectations. Life took directions vastly different from what we could have ever imagined back then. Everything was possible and nothing stood in the way of a ten year old imagination.

If only such things could have remained longer.

Problematic Pacific Plastic

I entered the following in a Sea Week poetry competition last month.
I never heard anything back, so obviously didn’t get anywhere (which is a bit odd..) but thought it was worth sharing nonetheless:

Problematic Pacific Plastic

Our oceans are dying!
That’s not iconoclastic.
You would be too,
If you were that clogged up with plastic!

We’ve got lagoons of balloons,
Whale swimming speed’s off the throttles,
‘Cause it had to get ocean motion,
When you’re chock-full of fizz bottles!

Sea turtles are choking,
When they spy their favourite dish.
Because turtles can’t define
Between plastic bags and jelly fish!

There’s so much plastic pollution
Floating around the Pacific,
They’ve named it “The Great Garbage Patch”!
Y’know, just to be specific!

We need to do something!
All this ocean pollution must end!
For the sake of our existence,
And for our planet to mend!

It’s too much a problem
For us just to park it –
Start by taking canvas bags
To your supermarket!

Reduce, reuse,
Recycle the lot!
Sea levels are rising,
But our future ain’t looking too hot!

So as my poem ends,
I’m begging you, Please!
“Tiakina o Tātou Mōana”
“Care for our Seas”!

Shine a Light

As you may know I’m BIG supporter of my home & region, Hawke’s Bay.

And, as you may also know, I’ve been pretty vocal about how little media exposure (other than disasters & crime) regional New Zealand has gotten over the past two decades in favour of an Auckland-centric focus.

In the last 5 years we saw the rise of smaller news websites like Spinoff & Newsroom, intended to take on the likes of TVNZ, Mediaworks & Herald/NZME.

I had high hopes for these new sites, given how little the main players cared about places like Hawke’s Bay.

I was disappointed.

Early on it seemed Spinoff had more articles about NZME’s Jane Hastings than the actual city of Hastings.

To them apparently one media person > City of 80600+

And if not for the wonderful, award-winning autobiographical writing of the late Peter Wells, Napier would have hardly featured at all.

Hardly inspiring for this regional reader and writer.

Not to be out done, Newsroom’s Mark Jennings essentially declared NZ’s regions don’t matter:

“Viewers in Invercargill don’t give a toss about Whanganui’s sewage problems.

There are simply not enough stories of national significance in Nelson or Queenstown or Tauranga to justify a full-time TV reporter in those areas.”

That understandably pissed me off.

The new wunderkind websites had the same mentality as the old media dinosaurs they were meant to be superior to.

It felt like they were blowing the biggest opportunity New Zealand media had had in years – Wherever there was internet access they could have had reporters!

Within the last month the New Zealand government recognized the country has a serious lack of local-body news coverage – particularly in regional NZ and announced a scheme to put several specially focused, government-funded reporters in established newsrooms around the country.

Then last week a story with major public reaction & national implications broke about state carers taking newborn babies from their parents.

The story wasn’t broken by a mainstream media outlet.

It was broken by Newsroom.

And the story wasn’t based in Auckland. It came from Hawke’s Bay.

My region.

So I’ve been right all along?!

NZ regional news DOES matter!?

This should feel like vindication for me, but it doesn’t.

How many issues have been missed because they were “regional/provincial” and “didn’t matter”?

How many wrongdoings could have been stopped?

Jennings’ hypothetical Whanganui sewerage problems?

Homelessness?

Inequality?

This is just the tip of an iceberg New Zealand media SHOULD have started melting years ago!

Heck, in the 80s we had regional news in print and on national TV every weeknight that stopped these bergs from forming in the first place, let alone making it out into the shipping lanes and causing casualties.

We have regional stories that deserve coverage, as many have national implications; A specialized regional local government reporter program in the works, and a Provincial Growth Fund to assist NZ’s growing regions.

Isn’t it time NZ’s commerical media refocused back on the regions, too?

There’s a saying goes:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

Regional New Zealand has a whole lot of growth going on. Not all of that growth is going to be good.

It’s going to need a lot more solar energy from traditional & digital NZ national media to keep regional growth rot-free!

Regional Rugby’s Lament

Listening to the talk of NZRU CEO, Steve Tew’s, resignation annocement on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report the other morning I was irked by how much his / NZRU’s focus was on the international game & stage under his tenure, while it’s felt, like with so many other big New Zealand corporate organisations, regional / grassroots rugby has been ignored under his tenure.

How many Super Rugby, or even All Blacks games (Napier has hosted only two in 20yrs!) could have been played in sold-out, 15,000-20,000 capacity regional stadiums like McLean Park, rather than the regularly 1/2 – 3/4 empty Eden Parks, or (Wellington’s Westpac Trust Stadium) “Caketins”?

Main centre Super Rugby fixture crowds have been pitiful and/or declining for some time, and the whining about low attendances from rugby bosses has only gotten louder, yet do they change tack and spread the games around?

Hell no!

HOW MUCH??!!

Hawke’s Bay and their NPC team, The Magpies have been fortunate to have the local support, income and success over recent seasons to weather the storms Tew bemoaned.

Hawke’s Bay, its team and its fans have been regularly providing the talent, the turnout and the income for Tew’s organisation for years, so why haven’t NZRU returned the favor?

Or, under Mr Tew’s reign, has rugby in New Zealand become more about the money than the mana?

Rocket, Man!

“Three, two, one, blast-off!” A screen-grab of Rocketlab’s most excellent live stream service just a few moments before I courl see it with my own eyes!

Note: This piece appeared as a “Talking Point” in Hawke’s Bay Today on May 7 2019.
It is a combination of two posts I wrote on this site over the previous months, but I felt they worked even better when moulded together.
It proved very popular – I even received an email from Rocket Lab thanking me for writing it and they sent me a goody bag to show their appreciation.
I was just stoked that my own region has joined the likes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Bozeman, Montana (for you Trekkies out there) in pioneering aeronautics!

When I was younger my Mum and Dad would often sit outside at night, looking at the stars and watching for satellites.

I always thought it was a bit odd.

I remember seeing Halley’s Comet in 1986 and wondering if I’d still be alive the next time it came by in 2061.

Heavy stuff for a 9-year-old.

In the early 2000s I watched a documentary series, Space, hosted by Sam Neill.

The first episode showed just how small and insignificant we were in the universe and the second showed how easily we could be wiped off the face of aforementioned astronomical plane.

The 23-year-old me felt insignificant enough as it was without the whole universe chiming in. I didn’t bother watching beyond those first two instalments.

So the night sky filled with stars became a bit of a stranger to me – a passive aggressive bully, if you will.

I tried to ignore it.

Then I became a dad, my own dad passed away, I had my own medical drama three years ago and then mum died last February.

I started looking at the night sky again – going outside when the International Space Station was due to silently streak high over New Zealand.

Admiring just how bright and red Mars is as it rises in the eastern sky.

I even started taking my daughter out each night to “wish upon a star” (she usually chooses what is actually the planet Venus, but whatever).

And maybe I was even thinking, hoping, a couple of those twinkles in the night sky might just be my parents looking down on us.

And so it was I found myself staring skyward twice on Sunday, May 5.

It started with a cold, dark, 5am start and me standing out in my back yard catching a dozen glimpses of “shooting stars” – as the annual Eta-Aquarids Meteor Shower was at its most visible in the eastern sky.

We spent our daylight hours out and about around Hawke’s Bay going to Anderson Park playground and Ahuriri beach in Napier, and Keirunga Park Railway in Havelock North under stunningly clear blue, autumnal Hawke’s Bay skies.

As we drove back to Napier from Havelock North along Marine Parade there was a clear view north and east across Hawke Bay towards Wairoa and Mahia and we remembered there was to be a Rocket Lab launch that evening.

Sure enough, as 6pm rolled around we watched the live-stream of the launch countdown and lift-off on YouTube, then headed outside to where I had seen the meteor shower 13 hours before and with the benefit of a darkened evening sky we, along with hundreds, maybe even thousands of people around Hawke’s Bay saw a very bright red-yellow light slowly rising in the eastern sky – Hawke’s Bay reaching for the stars!

As little as 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would be standing in my back yard watching rockets being launched from a Hawke’s Bay site, but here we were.

This was very cool and I must admit to even shedding a proud tear or two, because this has long been the sort of thing I have written about, expected and hoped for from my Hawke’s Bay home.

For my 5-year-old daughter this is hopefully her new, very spectacular, normal.

It may not have been the first Rocket Lab launch, but it was certainly the most visible and symbolic for our region.

Just as The Spirit of Napier reaches for the rising morning sun on Marine Parade, here was Hawke’s Bay launching satellites into space.

In 2014 National government finance minister Bill English had the audacity to say, while on a visit to Napier:

“Hawke’s Bay’s seasonal low-wage economy isn’t going to change in a hurry, so let’s get good at it”.

How wrong he was.

While New Zealand’s Auckland-centric commercial media networks still obsess over surreal estate prices, traffic issues and radio announcer reckons, Hawke’s Bay has been quietly thriving, growing and reaching for the stars!

No longer the butt of that snide Auckland slight “A visitor from Hawke’s Bay” at Metro Magazine-covered parties – With tech hubs, call centres, as well as a rocket launch facility, “A Visitor TO Hawke’s Bay” is becoming something people aspire to as our region becomes an even more attractive place to live, raise a family or open a high-tech, or web-based business.

I’m looking forward to watching more Rocket Lab launches on clear winter evenings and New Zealand being reminded of just how astronomical Hawke’s Bay’s future will be!

Long Train Runnin’

Daughter in Frame and her “Bestest Friend” wave at friend’s Dad, who drives for Kiwirail

As I have written before, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Miss B has a best friend, Master B (no relation), who she met in Kindy.

As their friendship blossomed, we got to know his parents.

As it turns out Mister B is into model trains, like I am, but the cherry on top was with his job as a driver for Kiwirail, he offered to take me on a ride in the cab of a freight train one day.

This was a dream come true!

I’ve been a train nerd for some time and how can you not be?

I mean, come on, they are SO COOL!

A thousand or so tonnes of steel and cargo, pulled by a thousand-plus horsepower engine, rolling along long, snaking tracks through New Zealand’s gorgeous countryside is appealing to admirers of engineering, physics, environmentally-friendly logistics AND aesthetics!

I had previously travelled on the commuter trains in Wellington and Auckland, but the last time I had been on a train in Hawke’s Bay, was taking the Bay Express down to Wellington in the mid to late 90s, shortly before the passenger service was terminated.

 

A few weeks ago he asked if I was free to go for a ride in the cab of a freight train to Woodville on Waitangi Day.

Was I?

Hells, Yeah!!

He said there was a catch – He would have to pick me up at 4am.

This was no catch – For more than a decade my (non-writing, but paying) job has seen my alarm go off at 3:30am six working days out of ten.

With the excitement of the trip ahead of me I had been waiting outside, staring at the stars, for 15 minutes by the time he arrived to pick me up.

In the cab of DL class locomotive number 9135 we leave the Napier yard not long after 5am and after rumbling through a slumbering central Napier, the throttles are opened and we started out along the Hawke Bay coast and over the Tutikuri and Ngaruroro river bridges at the (appropriately named, given the day) Waitangi Wetlands.

Turning inland at Clive we go through the revitalised industrial and logistical hub of Whakatu before running right through the centre of Hastings.

As we exit Hawke’s Bay’s major urban areas the train doesn’t immediately speed up a whole lot, as rail repairs and recent hot temperatures mean the pace is kept relatively slow in case rails have buckled, or moved in the heat.

But that’s fine, because it’s safer and means I get to take in more of a view few get to see these days.

One thing that stands out is all the cool old stations in places like Opapa and Ormomdville.

Where small settlements were set up around these refueling and watering posts and local produce, goods and livestock would have been loaded and unloaded as little as 40-50 years ago, there are often just the station buildings remaining now.

Crossing the braided Waipawa and Tukituku rivers is also very cool.

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Occassionally I look out the back window of the engine and watch the train’s wagons snake around curves behind us.

 

After several more hills and bridges, rivers and sidings we reach the Ormondville Rail Viaduct – A rather impressive (and slightly more than impressively high) structure.

For safety’s sake we cross it at 10km/h, but given its height, narrowness, and the fact it is taking the weight of our several-hundred-tonne train (and us) I am quite happy to be safely across it as quickly as practicable.

Not long after that we are heading towards my destination of Woodville.

The train will carry on to Palmerston North, but as I am not qualified/certified to go through the tunnels of the Manawatu Gorge in an engine, I must wait here for the driver to return.

I end up having a decent wander round and seeing lots of little bits of this town many just pass through and, since the closure of the Manawatu Gorge road, many have bypassed altogether.

Today, despite several more empty shops than last time I passed through, the town still seems quite busy – Likely with people on their way to see Phil Collins at Napier’s Mission Concert that night.

As we drive back to Napier I get to reflect on what a great experience this trip had been.

It’s always important to be open to new or different perspectives. Recent events in my life have certainly made this awareness somewhat stronger, and riding in a freight train has certainly been that.

It would be great to see more trains operating in New Zealand again, especially when every wagon represents at least one less truck on already busy and often fast-deteriorating roads.

And, as I stated at the beginning of this piece, I am fortunate to be presented with different opportunities every one in a while.

Without Shoe

There are a few things in pop music that really annoy me.

First is the lyric “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” – Which is just lazy gap-filling.

Secondly is the all-to-often-used line “You know what I mean(?)”

NO!

We Don’t!

This is why we are listening to you sing the song – To get your artistic representation of events!

Thirdly is pronunciation, or is that “pronounciation”?

Slurred, or mispronounced lyrics have ruined plenty of good songs.

Take UB40’s cover of the Elvis classic: “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”.

Whether it’s the reggae stylings, the Red, Red Wine, or my New Zealand upbringing, but whenever I hear this song, the lyrics have always sounded a bit slurred and, as a result, the lines:

“Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can’t help falling in love with you.”

Sound TO ME like:

“Wise man say only fools love sheep.
But I can’t help falling in love with ewes.”

Speaking of “You”, this one word has to be one of the most fuddled pronouns around.

“Dew” and “Jew” are only a two of the most common “Eww” sounding “you” replacements.

It’s like the ever-excellent Muppets of Sesame Street’s “Sons of Poetry” parody:

This weekend just gone, however, I heard a new flubulation: “Shoe”!

It got me thinking, and singing to myself.

So much so that I managed to write a few verses of a pretty decent song!

Let me know what you think, as I present to you:

Without Shoe:

Without shoe life is hard to handle,
Like the toe piece torn out of a jandal.

It’s Bob Marley singing without his Wailers.
A Hipster not adorned in worn Chuck Taylors.

Without shoe.

What did that comic say?
When he bought sneakers from his drug dealer, Ray,

“I don’t know what he laced them with,
But I’ve been tripping every day!”

Without shoe.

My tongue feels like leather,
I’m no longer “good as new”.

No stitches can heel or hold me together,
My sole is worn right through.

Without shoe.

Baby I’m Amazed By You

This picture represents everything I love and admire and fear simultaneously in one image.

Our little Miss Napier in Frame isn’t so little any more.

From the emotional trials and tribulations of IVF, to (SPOILER ALERT!) conception and a surprise home birth, to nappies and smiles and giggles. Crawling, talking and walking.

It may only be five years, but it feels like a lifetime!

And not just her’s.

Our little baby, who would only ever fall asleep snuggling in my arms is now a smart & sociable girl riding her bike freely (she demanded we take her training wheels off one Saturday afternoon, immediately started riding perfectly without them and never looked back).

She has truly begun making her own way in the world.

Having learned so much by the age of five in Kindy (she can write her name and numbers, count beyond 100 and speak bits of Spanish and Te Reo – I can’t remember being able to do that at 6!) part of me is convinced that she just becomes an adult now, right?

Nope.

It’s off to school in the next few weeks & into the big, wide, world.

Peer pressure, bullying, body image and boys – All things I can’t always defend her from await, though hopefully in the far-off future for now, at least.

For me Tamatea Primary was the scene and catalyst of some of my most cherished memories.

That’s 10-11 year old me, middle row, second from the left.

An 80s childhood at its best.

I hope her primary school years bring her as much fun, knowledge and friendship as mine brought me.

There are, of course, things I CAN help defend her from.

I go to work each week, not for myself, but to provide a safe, warm, loving home and to ensure there is always food on the table.

(That sounds terribly clichéd, but it’s an honourable, old-school trait I got from my Dad – That said, an enjoyable job where I get to be creative wouldn’t go amiss. I continue to write in the hope that lightning might strike twice…)

Growimg up sometimes a safe, happy, loving home is all you need. I was very fortunate that mine was.

In primary school I remember the teacher telling us there was a hole in something called “The Ozone Layer” and expecting that within the decade we would all have to be walking around in space suits for protection.

That didn’t quite come to fruition, but there are plenty of equally sized, and bigger, environmental threats out there, so I will do my best to keep the world she will inherit as clean and safe as possible.

I will always be there for her.

Even when she doesn’t want me.

When she hurts herself, she currently runs crying to mum for cuddles.

Even when she is having a screaming match with mum, she STILL runs to her for cuddles afterwards (there is a level of logic there FAR beyond my comprehension).

But, possibly hardest of all, I must let her fall and fail  occasionally. To watch her have hopes and dreams dashed. It’s hard, but it will make her stronger.

It “builds character” (another terrible, but true, cliche).

And she already has loads of that – Kindness, caring, love and compassion. All those things too many adults seem to lose as they grow older.

The other day she got her bike out of the garage to ride it around the yard, so I took mine out for the first time in ages, too, and together we went for a ride along the neighborhood cyclepath.

We kept a safe, respectful distance apart, riding along and chatting. Sometimes she was in the lead and sometimes I was. We both occasionally got the wobbles, but it was fun.

I hope as she gets older she will want me to come along on more rides and adventures. To bring picnics and puncture repair kits.

She might even need to bring them for me!

These first five years have been one hell of a ride!

But it’s worth it – She is amazing!

We Are All Stars

When I was younger my Mum and Dad would often sit outside at night, looking at the stars and watching for satellites.

I always thought it was a bit odd.

I remember seeing Halley’s Comet in 1986 and wondering if I’d still be alive the next time it came by in 2061. Heavy stuff for a nine year old.

In the early 2000s I watched a documentary series “Space” hosted by Sam Neill.

The first episode showed just how small and insignificant we were in the universe and the second showed how easily we could be wiped off the face of aforementioned astronomical plane.

23 year old me felt insignificant enough as it was without the whole universe chiming in.

I didn’t bother watching beyond those first two instalments.

So space and the night sky filled with stars became a bit of a stranger to me.

A passive aggressive bully, if you will.

I tried to ignore it.

Then I became a Dad, my own Dad passed away, I had my own medical drama two years ago and then Mum died last February.

I started looking at night sky again.

Going outside when the International Space Station was due to silently streak high over New Zealand.

Admiring just how bright and red Mars is as it rises in the eastern sky.

I even started taking my daughter out each night to “wish upon a star” (it’s usually, actually, the planet Venus, but whatever..)

I began admiring the passion and beauty Paul Le Comte and Ian Griffin put into and portrayed in their star photography.

And maybe I was even thinking, hoping, a couple of those twinkles in the night sky might just be my parents looking down on us.

Now at night I often stop for a minute, look up and quietly smile at the stars.