They say you can tell everything about a man by his shoes. If that is indeed the case, then my footwear says, “This guy needs to find a job. And win Lotto.”

While Viking Woman was once caught on film licking a Manolo Blahnik shoe while standing directly under the lights in the store’s display window, I tend not to be moved to orgasm by anything I place on my body.

I’m sure I represent all of Planet Man when I say that I treat shoes like every other clothing item I own  — kept to a bare minimum in number and replaced only when they wear out or disintegrate. Whichever comes first.

That would explain why I own the grand total of three pairs of footwear: hiking boots for wet/cold conditions; black dress shoes for job interviews/work/church/wedding/funerals; and athletic shoes for pretty much every other contingency.

As I’m constantly explaining to Viking Woman, humans possess but two feet. It is pretty much physically impossible to wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. She simply smiles and reminds me again about how she wants her ashes stored in a shoebox on a shelf in the Zappos store in Las Vegas. Next to the high heels. Size 9.

Unlike the female of the species, men do not feel the urge to change our shoes just because we’ve now blinked for the 170th time today. Or a butterfly happened to cross the yard. We do not need to buy new shoes simply because we wore the red ones to work three weeks ago and that means everyone has already seen them. The shame! The humiliation! The horror!

The utter crap!

On Planet Man, we believe in spending our money on the important things in life. And by important things, I mean chips, beer and widescreen TVs. The only reason we’d even bother to look at a woman’s shoes is if they were attached to her chest.

I’ve watched Viking Woman salivate in front of her computer as she stared, wide-eyed, at Admittedly, there are websites that have the same effect on me but I don’t get so excited I’m practically caressing the monitor. Well, hardly ever.

Zappos is a North American company, of course. I’m not sure how important shoes actually are here in New Zealand. When we lived in Gisborne, we’d pass a Maori primary school where most of the kids went barefoot. When the weather grew colder, they put on socks. Not shoes, mind you — just socks.

Actually, now that I think of it, I have owned more than three pairs of footwear at one time.

It was late fall when I was first hired as the sports editor for the Langley Times and, facing a long, chilly winter of reporting on outdoor soccer matches, I felt obliged to purchase a pair of snow boots that really should have come with their own sled dogs and directions to the Arctic Circle. By the time I managed to pull them off the first time, winter was over.

Viking Woman is now threatening to buy me Crocs. Over my dead body, I tell her.

Which means she will probably slip them on my cold, stiff corpse for the funeral.

And then spend my life insurance at the Manolo Blahnik store.

Apparently, there is some female rule that states, ‘You lick ’em, you buy ’em.’

Who knew?


I had a life-altering experience on the weekend. And by that I mean I saw my life flash before my eyes and wished I could go back and alter parts of it.

This occurred during the drive from Napier to Gisborne, an outing designed to show Jenn more of the New Zealand countryside before she leaves for home. Because Viking Woman has been known to regurgitate her stomach lining should she be seated anywhere in a moving vehicle other than behind the wheel, Jenn and I were unanimous in our agreement that she should drive.

Viking Woman has traveled this route several times over the past year. She knows when the hairpin corners are coming; she knows when it’s safe to pass. She knows when to brake before the car goes spiralling off the narrow road and into the abyss.

Jenn and I do not know these things. And so we could only hang on for dear life, grit our teeth, close our eyes and try not to scream like 12-year-old girls. Or, in Jenn’s case, like a twentysomething girl.

It is common knowledge that no one appreciates having their driving criticized. And yet I somehow felt it my duty to casually mention to Viking Woman that she might want to slow down just a bit lest we all die in a flaming crash. I may have also mentioned something about currently undergoing the unique experience of reviewing the highlights of  my life and, even though I appreciated remembering what my parents gave me for my eighth birthday, I did not want the image of gaudily-wrapped socks and underwear to be my final thought as we plunged onto the jagged rocks below.

Viking Woman was kind enough to slow down. And then she was kind enough to tell me she hoped I enjoyed sleeping on the couch for the duration of our marriage. Pillows optional and at her discretion.

Hey, at least she was kind.

This was our first weekend in Gisborne in nearly five years. That meant we were able to take Jenn to the market by the iSite, where the first visual of Gisborne enjoyed by visitors alighting from the bus is that of a totem pole donated by the British Columbia government. A little piece of Canada residing in the first city in the world to see the new day. A little reminder of how the B.C. government spends my tax money. At least it wasn’t wasted on feeding the homeless or something equally frivolous.

Jenn was astounded to hear that the market vendors often set up well before dawn because Gisbonites like to buy their fruit and vegetables in the early hours so they have the rest of the day to enjoy the finer aspects of life. Which is to say, rugby and, um, well, more rugby.

She was also surprised to see so many Maoris. “Don’t leave me here,” she whispered to me, having had little previous experience to that point with New Zealand’s indigenous people. But she did screw up her courage enough to ask one lady adorned with a chin moko (tattoo) to pose for a photo.

It was an hour or so later before we discovered Gisborne now has two markets of a Saturday morning. In fact, the original one is now referred to, somewhat disdainfully, as a “flea market,” while the one that starts at the more civilized hour of 9 a.m. is the “farmers’ market.”

The latter has more upscale (read expensive) offerings. It also has more white (pakeha) folk in attendance.

Sometime during our absence from Gisborne, it was decided to leave all that shopping in the dark activity to the locals and those who need cheaper produce prices just to survive. Personally, I like that one better. I bought a huge bag of feijoas there for 50 cents, and then failed to spot a single one of my all-time favorite fruit at the second market. No room, I guess, what with all the vending spaces being taken up by those selling wine and flowers and cheeses and designer breads and organic eggplants.

That afternoon, we also took Jenn to Wainui Beach, letting her walk the same vast expanse of sand where I once hiked while contemplating the various plot devices of my first novel, Brown Girls.

In the end, Jenn came away very impressed with Gisborne. She told us she had a gut feeling we would one day return there to live. I hope she’s right.

And then, after two nights in a motel, we came home to our own beds.

Or, for those inclined to freely — and without thinking — offer their unsolicited opinions, to their own couches.

It was worth it. The feijoas were wonderful.

It’s no fun being an American living in a foreign land.

Especially when you’re actually a Canadian.

There are a lot of things we enjoy about living in New Zealand:

— best ice cream in the world

— best wine in the world

— the price you see is the price you pay, taxes in, so no having to do GST/PST percentage math in your head

— a driver’s licence that’s good for 10 years, or about 15 different hairstyles

— the world’s last lode of O’Ryans potato chips

— no need for a military budget except to help with UN duties

— no nuclear anything

— no poisonous anything

— feijoas in the backyard.

But there is one thing we still struggle with: Kiwis hear our accent and automatically think we’re from the U.S.

OK, I will admit we got that a lot more during the three years we lived in Gisborne. People in Napier, being somewhat less isolated and therefore a bit more worldly, have actually pinned down our Canuckness on the majority of occasions.

We understand it’s simply a case of not being familiar with the North American accents and not a plot to insult us. Still, Viking Woman has developed her own cheeky response. Now, when someone asks which part of America we’re from, she asks them which part of Australia they’re from. Ouch! You can see the Kiwis flinch and then nod. Touche.

They understand Canadians don’t appreciate being mistaken for arrogant, ignorant pricks who will bomb women and children for a barrel of oil. As opposed to, say, toothless gorms using hockey sticks to protect their igloos from ravenous polar bears.

As further proof that the South Pacific is a million miles away, I once saw a wall map in the Cook Islands that had Canada and the U.S. displayed in the same shade of red with no discernible 49th parallel. The words “North America” were printed across the entire continent. A mistake or a warning or a prophecy? Time will tell.

If Kiwis do pick up on our Canadian citizenship, it’s usually after they hear us say “about.” Because, much to our dismay and annoyance, to the ears of everyone else on the entire planet it apparently sounds like “aboot.”

Which makes me cluck in disgust. “Listen to me,” I say, and then carefully pronounce “about” as we do: “abowt.”

“Abowt. Aboot.”

“Ow. Oo.” 

“Hear the difference?”

They waggle their heads: no.

Of course, these are the same Kiwis who can’t discern their own regional accents. Never mind that our Canadian ears hear “six” for “sex” or “shit” for “shed,” on the west coast of the North Island, the residents tend to add an “o” sound before an “i.” So “life” comes out as “loife.”

If Kiwis can’t distinguish that difference in their own backyard, then we can hardly expect them to understand us. The strange part is no one here ever comments on how we must also pronounce “shout” as “shoot.” (These are the same people, by the way, who add a “w” and several “o’s” to “no,” resulting in something akin to “nowooooo.”)

Which leads me to believe the world is having us on. That the whole “aboot” thing is just a way to wind up Canadians whenever we get a bit too uppity. Sort of the Great White North’s version of “the dingo ate my baby.”

But, just as there was a real Lindsay Chamberlain and there are dingoes in Australia, so there must be at least a faint grain of truth in the whole “aboot” issue. 

Somewhere in Canada, someone actually has an accent that has resulted in the rest of us being subjected to international ridicule.

Tell you what I’m going to do. If you’re out on one of those fishing boats off the foggy coast of Newfoundland and really don’t know how to pronounce “ow,” please pass along your mailing details and I will post you a ticket to New Zealand.

I will even meet you at the Napier airport.

After which I will kick your ever-loving, aboot-speaking arse all the way back across the Pacific.

Then, again, maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe I should just stop pooting and get on with loife. More ice cream, anyone?

Bury my meal at wounded gonad

December 27, 2008

While the Great White North was living up to its name in late December, and the country-wide blanket of snow was forcing our Canadian family and friends to cancel planned gatherings (including my parents’ annual Christmas Eve celebration, which has, in anyone’s memory, never been interrupted by the weather in five decades), Viking Woman and I were experiencing another summer Christmas here in New Zealand.

I’m not going to gloat (OK, just a quick one: neener-neener-neener), because I actually prefer winter Yules. I like a bit of a nip in the air, enough so I can see my breath but not cold enough to freeze my brass balls. I like a bit of snow about, enough to dust the fields and trees while leaving the roads clear and passable.

Viking Woman, on the other hand, dislikes the cold enough to make one question the legitimacy of her birth certificate. But it’s written on birch bark using a porcupine quill dipped in maple syrup, so I guess she is a Canuck of the True North Strong and Free variety.

That said, she likes her Dec. 25 to be more about sunscreen than frostbite, thank you very much.

A good friend from Gisborne lured us north from our Napier lair with the promise of a traditional Maori meal. Yes, there would be several children underfoot, but the alternative — sitting in our house, staring at each other over empty stockings we could not afford to fill this year — soon had us on the road for the three-hour drive.

The food was as advertised: unique, savory and plentiful.

Unique: All Polynesian cultures have their version of the underground oven. In Hawaii, it’s an imu. In the Cook Islands, an umu. In New Zealand, the Maori called them a hangi. Without going into too much detail (that is, after all, why God invented Wikipedia), the process involves a pit, a fire, hot stones, a large wire basket, several varieties of raw meat, and assorted vegetables enclosed in cotton bags.

Savory: Our particular meal featured chicken, lamb, pork and wild pork. The bags contained stuffing, kumara, potatoes and pumpkin. The act of heating stones with a wood fire imparted a wondrous smoky flavour to everything.

Plentiful: There was food for Africa (as we like to say here), as about 30 people ate themselves full and there were still plenty of leftovers. And that’s not counting dessert, highlighted by two large bowls of trifle and a pavlova, a traditional Kiwi dessert built around meringue and one of Viking Woman’s all-time favourites. 

Probably because something as light and insubstantial as meringue can’t possibly be fattening, right?. But don’t they say the same thing about beer? Just asking.

Our friend’s family was large and welcoming, which is a good thing because Viking Woman and I were two of only five Pakeha (white folk) in the yard. I shook plenty of hands and kissed plenty of cheeks and patted children of assorted sizes and ages on the head as they made beelines for the bowls of lollies.

A lot of faces, a lot of names, and a lot of exchanges of “Merry Christmas” which, I’m sorry, just sounded somehow unreal when we were eating outside in 22-degree C sunshine.

The kids were cute, as all kids tend to be until about, oh, 12. Most of them ate me under the table, which is not an easy thing to do. Well after the meal was finished, I happened upon one girl happily using a large wooden spoon to finish off a bowl of chip dip. Ah, to be young again and unconcerned with one’s calorie intake.

To keep some of the children occupied, several soccer balls were produced. In the course of taking photos, I was somehow drafted onto one of the teams. I mostly hung back to mind the “net” but did make the odd offensive foray. There is, I believe, photographic evidence of my goal-scoring prowess. Or at least someone wearing my clothes — with their shirt pulled over their head — is shown in the process of “airplaning” around the yard after blasting the ball past a cluster of 10-year-olds.

I know what you’re saying: “No one likes a poor winner, John.” To which my reply is: “Hey, a goal is a goal.” And, “Bite me.”

I was finally forced out of the game by what is euphemistically described as a “lower body” injury. This occurred during one particularly heated battle for the ball. The young man I was marking decided he’d had enough of my stifling checking style and retaliated with a short, yet powerful, rabbit punch to my gonads.

He may have actually scored after that — I have no idea. I was too busy rolling on the grass, grimacing and moaning and attempting to be brave through the waves of pain and the tears. And, yes, that did leave a bruise.

And so, in several ways actually, it was a Christmas to remember. A Christmas filled with typical Kiwi images — a man wearing flip-flops and socks; children blowing bubbles made from dish detergent; people smoking roll-your-owns and drinking cans of Woodstock Bourbon and Cola — and one more reason why we’ve so willingly embraced living in New Zealand.

Yet another reason was made evident the next morning when the farmer who lived across the road from the place we were house-sitting dropped by with his adult son and their combined herd of 15 dogs. That is a lot of hounds, let me tell you, but Viking Woman was in her glory, kneeling amidst all those slobbering beasts, each looking for a personal bum scratch.

Viking Woman told me later all she wanted for Christmas now was a puppy. Crap! I sure hope I kept the receipt for that Billy Ray Cyrus cassette.

Howe too lurn reel gud.

December 23, 2008

Call to extend the school day

–Headline on Page 1 of New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post, dated December 23, 2008

I second that call but would like to add a new one: extend the number of school days as well.

It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand and, with Christmas looming, it’s no surprise the streets are filled with lost boys and girls. Wandering listlessly in the way teens have since God invented the filthy beasts, bemoaning their lives like they had a bloody mortgages to pay. Hate to break it to you, my fine young cannibals, but it only gets worse.

But I’ve seen these same kids wandering these same streets during what I assumed were school days. Although it’s difficult to tell in New Zealand, where term breaks seem to occur every other week.

When we managed a B&B in Gisborne six years ago, the deal included a car and the owners’ son. I swear Young Sam spent more time surfing than sitting in a classroom. And it wasn’t because he was flagging school or anything. But it seemed he would just be finished with holidays and along would come some kind of Professional Day for the teachers to shorten the week.

These days, Young Sam is apprenticing to be a tradesman, when he isn’t working as a snowboard instructor, so all that readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (known as maths in NZ) was probably a waste of his surfing time anyway.

(Sam was a good kid but he did try us on one day by walking around the house wearing a beanie — what we Canadians call a toque — and trying to look all gangsta. Viking Woman didn’t blink — after all, we’re both Children of the Sixties, an era during which they invented both rock’n’roll and sex, and so have seen it all, sometimes twice — and simply asked Sam if he was cold. We never saw the beanie again.)

In my day — and you can stop rolling your eyes right now — we had to walk to school uphill both ways. In the snow. No, wait, that’s my Dad’s story.

We went to school every single day, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. No term breaks, no extended holidays, no field trips. OK, maybe it just felt like that way at the time, but my point is the education system didn’t dick around. Between the ages of six and 18 you had one mission in your miserable life and that was to learn. We had to wait until after graduation to have fun. (The fact that I’m still waiting is probably my own damn fault.)

No teachers’ Professional Days. Or Development Days, or whatever the hell they call something that is basically Teachers Sitting Around Drinking Coffee Days  (known to parents as Now What the Hell Do I Do With These Little Shits? Days).

Normally, I could care less about teenagers. They’ve got spotty faces and their music blows. Plus, I know what awaits them in adulthood and it’s going to wipe away those smug little smirks awful darn fast.

But I hate their ignorance. And by that I mean their lack of spelling skills. Now, I admit I’ve made some doozy mistakes all on my own — forgetting the “l” in public being only the most embarrassing gaffe I can recall at this moment — but those were due to sloppy editing and fat typing fingers and not because I was clueless to begin with.

I know the difference between too, to and two. Between it’s and its. Between your and you’re. Between grisly and grizzly. (That last one causes me to scream every single time).

From what I’m seeing out there (and even in here with my fellow WordPress bloggers), a lot of people have no idea.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the entire world needs an editor, and that thought is only reinforced when I see “lightning” spelled “lightening.” As if those jagged streaks were somehow caused by Mother Nature lessening her load.

Typos? Lack of a spell check program? I believe it’s more a lack of basic English skills. And I do mean basic.

And that scares the hell out of me, especially when I see newspaper editors hiring kids off the street simply because it means they can avoid paying the top union-mandated wage for a veteran journalist like myself. “You get what you pay for” has never been more true.

So, yeah, have the little shits stay in school longer. Maybe an extra hour surrounded by books will elevate their education, if only by osmosis.

It’s either that or we make them walk uphill both ways. That’ll learn ’em.

Dear Shortland Street Producers:

My name is John and I absolutely love your show. Yes, I know I’m Canadian and I was raised on the best TV programs U.S. network money can buy (and then cancel in midseason, the heartless bastards). But, truth be told, neither the likes of Friends nor Jerry Seinfeld ever turned my crank the way Shortland Street does.

I first became addicted to the show when Viking Woman and I lived in the Cook Islands. You didn’t need a clock to know it was 8 p.m. on a weekday. You could tell by the lack of traffic on the road or, in Viking Woman’s case, the fact that patients and fellow nurses were all huddled together in the TV room. You just knew Shorty Street was on.

I fed that hunger during the three years we lived in Gisborne, following each character, each plot arc, each nuance, immersing myself in the Prime Directive: No one is allowed to be happy.

Which was fine with me. If your viewing public is leading a crap life on this double-decker speck in the South Pacific, then why wouldn’t a nighttime soap reflect that same misery?

When my tenure at the Calgary Herald ended and Viking Woman and I were casting about for a new home that was maybe not -30 C and required that your car be plugged in overnight lest it freeze into an ice cube with wheels, one thing proved pivotable to our decision to return to New Zealand.

Shortland Street? Good guess. Nicely done, you.

(Well, Shortland Street and feijoas, plus the fact O’Ryans potato chips, having been eaten into extinction in North America, still thrive in the Land of the Long White Cloud. And, yes, I do thank Jesus every single night.)

Funny thing is, despite the high ratings I read about in the newspapers, I haven’t encountered a single Kiwi who will admit to watching Shorty Street. Coronation Street? Oh by God yes! Just like my mother and her mother before that. Rugby? It’s a freakin’ religion, mate!

But SS? Stink to that!

But I know they’re out there, my fellow Shorty Street lovers. Well, maybe not exactly out, but certainly in a closet somewhere, faces lit by glowing plasma, secretly revelling in the adventures of all those naughty, naughty nurses and doctors.

It’s become a way of life at our house. A routine. A sacrament. A holy calling. A pilgrimmage, if you will.

You do not want to be pimping Jehovah at our door between 7-7:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. You do not want to be ringing to say we won the lottery. You do not want to be running down the street, hair on fire, screaming that the world is ending.

We will ignore you. Until 7:31 that is, and then we’ll see what all that Apocalypse bother is about.

But this is all a bit of a round-about, long-winded route to get to the heart of the matter, to arrive at the point this letter is supposed to be making.

You see, I realize it’s summer and all, and vast numbers of Kiwis are in the back yard or at the bach or the beach, singeing their eyebrows whilst barbecuing mutton sausages and kumara.

They’re sitting on the grass, swatting mossies and drinking Tui and Lion Red and shit like that, laughing and swapping lies and making plans for the weekend.

They are not inside, not in the lounge, not in front of the TV. So that affords you, Most Glorious and Wonderful Producers, a chance to take the show off the air for a month. To give the cast and crew a well-deserved break. To use the time to work on new and wonderful story lines. To get away and enjoy the fine weather with the rest of your countrymen.

But I have one, teensy, little question for you: WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?

You see, I don’t own a barbecue. I don’t drink beer. I don’t have friends. And I have no plans for the holidays because as an unemployed, er, freelance journalist, every freakin’ day is a holiday. The hard part about doing nothing is you don’t know when to take a break.

I understand you shut down production every year at this time but that doesn’t make going cold turkey any easier. I start to twitch; I don’t sleep very well; I weep at inopportune moments. I tend to assume the fetal position, which is not a good look when you’re driving.

So, yeah, with tomorrow being the final episode of 2008, I’m pretty much begging you to stop torturing me like this. Please make this the final time you take such an extended break. Otherwise, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. Otherwise I may have to resort to drastic measures.

Like watching Coronation Street, for instance. And we all know they play that show’s theme music in Hell. Every day. For all time. 

Begging you to save me from eternal damnation, I remain 

Sincerely yours


P.S.: I know it’s been seven years since the character of Minnie Crozier left the show, but she was the reason I became hooked on SS in the first place. What with her short skirts and bunny tops and all. So if you could somehow see the way to bring Minnie back, I’d be the happiest viewer in the known universe. Well, at least the Napier part of it anyway.

Sunday morning. The fish market at the Ahuriri marina, just around Hospital Hill from our house.

OK, maybe “market” is stretching it a bit. It’s more like three guys selling fresh fish — stored on ice — out the back of a cube van. The haul was caught last night in a gill-net operation off the coast of Gisborne, about a three-hour drive north. We’re told the fishing will continue there until Christmas before the boat returns to Napier waters in January.

Today’s offering includes John Dories, flounders, moki, live crayfish, red cod, snapper and gurnard. Viking Woman was here last week and knows she wants flounder. She’s also heard gurnard is a good white fish and is eager to try it.

There are no orderly lineups. There is no till. It’s strictly cash in the hand. The bed of a nearby pickup is used to hold some of the containers but most of the selling is done straight out of the cube van.

One of the fishermen, a dreadlocked, grizzled Kiwi bloke named Mark, displays an interesting attitude towards customers, especially those who attempt to reduce his profit margin to somewhere south of zero. Most of those clamoring for ridiculous deals are what I’ll politely refer to as immigrants. It soon becomes painfully obvious these belligerent non-locals — all sharp elbows and pushy demeanor — will not be receiving a Christmas card from Mark this year. Or any year, for that matter.

A typical bargaining session goes something like this:

Customer: How much for that fish?

Mark: Fifteen dollars.

Customer: I’ll give you 10.

Mark: F**k off.

No matter what language you speak, there are certain words that are universal, and the F-bomb pretty much tops that list.

It isn’t the most subtle marketing strategy I’ve ever observed, but it’s effective nonetheless. Aggressive bargain hunters slink off to badger a garage sale somewhere.

Another customer plucks a moki from the ice and waggles it in front of Mark.

Customer: How much is this one?

Mark: Five dollars, but it gets dearer the longer you hold it. Six dollars . . . seven . . . eight . .

The fish is quickly returned to the ice.

I’m fascinated by how Viking Woman reacts to the action. “Demure” and “shy” are adjectives no one has applied to her since she was maybe four, but she seems quite content to hang back, to let the other punters push their way into the fray and be subjected to Mark’s withering barrage of abuse. She knows from experience that the crowd will thin out before the supply of fish does.

Mark appears to appreciate her calm attitude and, once she’s applied the full range of her Canadian charm and politeness, we end up with four gurnards for the price of two.

I am taking notes and photos for this blog and there is a moment of consternation when someone suggests I might be working for the government and somehow keeping a running tab of how much GST will be owing at the end of the day. But then I speak and the accent serves to soothe the anxiety somewhat.

Home then, where Viking Woman sharpens the knife and sets to work carving fillets from the corpses. I eye the bulging gut sacks and prepare to dry heave, but there are no errant nicks and so everyone’s stomach contents remain intact.

Later, it falls to me to clean fish scales out of the sink and I note how the larger ones resemble guitar picks. Really, really smelly guitar picks. It’s an interesting image, and one I’m hoping will not return tonight during dinner.

Gizzie, I miss ya.

September 11, 2008

I spent two days in Gisborne, New Zealand, this week. While Viking Woman worked, I wandered the streets, drinking in familiar sights.

We lived in Gisborne for about three years earlier this century. It was our first home in New Zealand.

It’s where we learned the country’s history and tradition, how to pronounce Maori place names (Whakatane = Fa-ka-tanny not Wha-ka-tanny. Or Fuk-a-tanny if you want to shock your granny), and translate Kiwisms (away with the fairies? Box of birds? Sparrow’s fart? Hoons? Larrikans? Squiz?). It’s where we first tasted pavlova and feijoas. It’s where I fell in love with Minny on Shortland Street, only to have her character written out the second I was truly hooked on this classic soap opera.

Gisborne is isolated. Park the train across the section of track that crosses the airport runway (one of only two airports in the world where this occurs), close the port, put barricades across two roads, and you can party in the Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand and surf Wainui Beach while the rest of the world merrily skips to Hell, basket in hand.

Gisborne feels like a city. Or at least a big town. Napier, where we now live, feels like a destination. It lives for tourists. It thrives on their greenbacks, Canuck bucks, euros, Oz dollars. It yearns for yens.

Napier does not feel cosy, not the way Gisborne did. Part of the problem is the proliferation of cafes. There are some streets where, literally, every second store front is offering a caffeine fix and a muffin. I love coffee, but there really can be too much of a good thing and we have the proof.

I mean, there’s only so many varieties of hot milk an espresso machine can produce. After awhile, all lattes start to look alike. As they should, I suppose. And, prepared with even a minimum of expertise, they all taste the same as well. Where’s the adventure in that? Boredom does not equal comfort.

When a city treats its locals as if it’s constantly looking over their shoulders for the first sign of the cruise ship season, then it stops feeling like home.

I have included a few images of Gisborne for your viewing pleasure. Yer welcome.

That’s a good head, Nick.

September 9, 2008

I’m writing this from the top floor of the Waikanae Motel in Gisborne, New Zealand. North Island. East Cape. Chardonnay  Capital of NZ. Nearby Wainui is the best surfing beach on this side of the North Island.

If I raise my eyes from my computer, I can see the ocean through the sliding glass door that leads to a small balcony. The water is visible not because the motel is situated right on the beach but because the rich prick across the street was kind enough to buy two lots and build a tennis court on one side, thus allowing for my view. I really must shake his hand one day.

I can also see Young Nick’s Head which, despite the rude connotation, is actually an outcrop of land. Not any old outcrop, mind you, but a HISTORICAL one. It is, in fact, the very first chunk of New Zealand dirt ever seen by a European. The abovementioned Nick Young was a member of Capt. James Cook’s crew and was either the only one in the crow’s nest that particular day, or had the sharpest eyes. All credit to Nicky Boy because no one remembers the second white person to see New Zealand.

(There is a statue of both Nick and Capt. Cook within walking distance of my motel. Alas, the second person to yell “Land Ho!” is once again notable by his absence.)

Gisborne also claims to be the first city to see the light of day, a fact played up to the max as the downtown clock tower’s mechanism struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2000. Note that I said first CITY, because there is a collection of nondescript islands lying to the east that, technically, are treated to the initial rays of morn, but they do not possess the PR department necessary to steal any of Gisborne’s thunder.

Viking Woman and I lived in Gisborne for a number of years earlier in the century. Actually, we waited in Gisborne. Waited for 21 months for the owners of Big Tree Hideaway B&B to return so we could hand back the keys. Waited for Viking Woman’s US contract to take effect.

At one point, I even waited while Viking Woman remained in Gisborne, where she also waited, only a day ahead of me. That was during the time I returned to Canada to drum impatient fingers while Brown Girls was being published.

I wrote that book in Gisborne, mulling plot points during my daily walk along Wainui Beach, one of the most stunningly beautiful non-tropical beaches it’s ever been pleasure to trod.

I’m back in Gisborne because Viking Woman has two days of work here and I’ve tagged along to keep her company and to get out of the house before I become a total hermit. Waikanae Beach is just across the street but, because people tend to frown on those who scale their fences and tromp across their tennis courts, I will actually have to walk to the corner, turn right and go another 50 feet before I can leave footprints in the sand.

Maybe I’ll mull my next book while I do that. Or, better yet, my next blog entry.