When is a box not just a box..?

Sometimes you come across the most unlikely examples of human kindness and ingenuity, that it rekindles your hope for the long term prospects of all of us.

I am currently spending some time in the small, South Auckland town of Papakura. I lived here, many years ago, and am experiencing a weird sense of familiarity alongside change. I kind of belong here, but then again, I really don’t. Mind you, thanks to a transitory childhood/ early adulthood, that seems to be the story of my life!

Papakura has put into place a fabulously cool idea of communal gardens, in boxes, where its people are invited to pick from a selection of fresh herbs and vegetables. You can find the boxes dotted all around the town.

They call them ‘Urban Edibles.’

I call the people who have made this amazing idea into a reality ‘Urban Legends’!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 2

After arriving yesterday, and having slept for 11 beautiful hours, today I went with some of my friends from Papakura, where I am staying, to Devonport on the North Shore of Auckland.

We took a detour to Takapuna on the way, and the place where I lived for four years after first arriving in New Zealand. The navy housing in that area is gradually being demolished and the land redeveloped, but I was pleased to find my old house is still standing and although it looks quite sorry for itself, I regarded it with much fondness.

We took the ferry across to the city. The sea was quite choppy, but the journey was surprisingly smooth. It was slightly overcast, and there was some light rain, but we were soon city side.

Due to the earthworks going on in downtown Auckland, which will see a new rail network (including some underground routes) linking parts of Auckland together, the route to Queen Street was a little hampered. But we managed to get through, and spent a couple of happy hours wandering up one side of the street, and then down the other.

We went as far as Aotea Square, where we also stopped for lunch at a burger place called ‘Carl’s Jnr’.

I was really pleased to see the iconic Farmers Santa still smiling down on all Aucklanders, as I understand there is some doubt about how many more years he will be a Christmas feature. I hope it’s for a long time to come!

The journey back to Devonport saw bright, sunny skies and we sat on the outside upper deck, which gave great views of the city as we retreated from it.

Back in Devonport, we had a little look around. It’s such a pretty place, with small independent shops and cafes lining the street. I was particularly struck by a very large and unusual tree next to the library. It is a Moreton Bay fig tree (Australian, I think) and was planted in 1883. I’d like to think it will still be there in another 137 years!

On the way back to Papakura, we stopped at Sylvia Park, a large shopping mall in Mt Wellington, where amongst other things, I had my first experience of frozen coke!

It was such a lovely way to kick off my NZ trip. I can’t wait for the adventures to follow!

New Zealand 2020 – Part 1

I’m very excited to be going back to New Zealand, the country in which I spent ten of my most formative younger years, for the month of January. What’s more, this will be my first trip back without my family and I can’t wait to spend time, and catch up with my friends.There is just the small matter of 27 hours traveling between me and my dream. Bring it on!

My flight to Auckland was with Air New Zealand, via Los Angeles, on board the beauty below!

Having checked in online 24 hours beforehand, the baggage check in process at Heathrow was very straightforward. Security was also very quick. I had left plenty of time to get a bite to eat and have a mooch around the shops at Terminal 2, so I was feeling pretty relaxed when it came time to go to the gate – B36. It was a little bit of a walk to get to the gate, but it wasn’t too bad, especially as most of it was moving walkways and escalators.

Boarding was also very straightforward and well organised. My seat, 58G (an aisle seat, which for me is a MUST), meant that I boarded a little ahead of some others (but behind all the priority and ‘expensive seat’ passengers!). Of course, this also meant I was one of the last to disembark, so there are pros and cons to choosing a seat nearer to the back.

Take off was 20 minutes late, and a grey winter’s London day made for a very dull spectacle out of the window. However, it was amazing how bright the cabin suddenly became when we broke through the cloud cover and were met with a bright blue sky! I always think the clouds look like an Arctic landscape. It’s hard to believe they are not a solid mass, although I have no intention of free-falling out of the aeroplane to discover quite how intangible they are!

There was a very comprehensive entertainment package on board, which was navigable via the touch screen on the seat back in front, or a remote control. It is full of things to watch, do and listen to. You can also order drinks and snacks via this system, straight to your seat. However, I preferred to get up from my seat and walk around as much as possible, so I went to the galley on several occasions. The crew there were friendly and helpful and it was nice to while away some time chatting to them.

The meals were very nice, including Moroccan chicken with couscous, cheese, biscuits and fruit. There was also a selection of NZ wines from which to choose.

Transiting through LAX was every bit as annoying as I expected it to be. After disembarking, there was a walk to their immigration area, where an electronic self service check was done by scanning your passport into the machine, and looking into the attached camera. You were then granted (or not, I presume!) the first part of access to US soil. From there, you queued again to see an actual person, who once more checked your passport and took biometric fingerprints. This done, there was another walk to a departures security area, where you loaded all your carry on baggage through the x ray machines etc, before being allowed to then walk onto the gate to re-board the plane.

All of this procedure was as straightforward as it could possibly be, but in a busy airport terminal, and with several other flights loads of passengers all trying to do the same thing, it made for a frustration that was not altogether enjoyable!

Back on board the plane, everything had been cleaned and the seats restocked with headphones, blankets and pillows. I had the same people sitting next to me as in the first leg, and we settled into the second part of the journey. Although as comfortable and as well serviced as the first, by now, it was the middle of the night in England and I was beginning to feel quite fatigued. After a meal of chicken with pasta in a delicious sauce, I tried for as much sleep as the economy seat would allow. This worked, on and off, for four of five hours, but I spent much of the remaining hours watching films and getting up and down from my seat to get some exercise and keep the circulation going.

Finally, we were nearing Auckland. Two hours out, breakfast was served. The omelette and fruit were surprisingly tasty, and it was then only a short time before landing. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was such that seeing much out of the window was quite difficult. (Added to which, I was seated in the aisle of the centre row, so the windows were not too close by!) However, I did catch a glimpse of Auckland, with Rangitoto Island dominating the Hauraki Gulf, before the ground came up to greet us and we made a somewhat bumpy entrance onto NZ soil.

The captain made an announcement in Maori, and I felt a massive sense of coming home.

Harae Mai. Welcome.

Thought For the Day

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve not given up overthinking.

Did you think I might? You should know me better by now.

I’m not a complete sucker for the inspirational quotes that have flooded the world since the advent of the internet. My interest in them is passing, and only occasionally am I sufficiently struck by the amateur philosophy that clutters my various news feeds, that I am moved to ‘share’ it.

There are those who seem to spend their whole online existence posting endless quotable quotes, meaningful memes and inspirational inserts, that you might wonder whether they are human, or one of those bots that websites try to catch out with random captchas to make sure they are actually a person. I have to admit, it can be a little tiresome. Not to mention surreal. Can you imagine having a coffee with a friend and instead of conversation, have them recite a series of unrelated passages from random sources? Mad.

Yet even as I say that, I am mentally chastising myself. After all, much, if not all, of what we enjoy in popular culture is trying to deliver a message. We don’t hesitate to recommend a book we have enjoyed. And lyrics to our favourite songs inspire us to tell all who will listen what they mean to us. Indeed, I remember countless conversations we had that literally revolved – and evolved – around songs and how they spoke to our innermost thoughts and feelings. So to dismiss these sound bites so readily smacks a little of snobbery. Bottom line, if it means something to someone, why shouldn’t they spread the love?

Recently, I am looking for meaning in everything. But trying to fill a huge void that refuses to be anything other than empty is no mean feat. And in the words of Mick Jagger, I can’t get no satisfaction. So maybe I can be forgiven for being more than usually drawn to the quotes that tug on my emotions as they scroll past my eyes.

The one above struck a chord with me today. If you find someone who will be there through the worst of times, as well as the good – that is something precious and should not be quickly discarded. And if they must be discarded, remember that those who truly care will still be there, where you left them, whenever they are needed. Of course, everyone has the choice to walk away. But choosing to care, despite the circumstances, is a rare thing indeed.

I choose to care.

Stay gold.

Do You Remember?

Why do we mark anniversaries of events? And why do they often spark an emotional response? Years ago, did we have time or energy to remember, to the day, what happened x number of years previously? Or is it a modern construct, borne out of an educated society with too much time on its hands? Maybe it’s the result of consumerist marketplace that never misses out on an opportunity to exploit every area of our lives? Indeed, our obsession with marking occasions could actually be the result of a sinister, but also incredibly successful, advertising campaign by Hallmark cards.(Other card manufacturers are available…)

When you go into certain shops, their walls and aisles are lined with cards for all occasions – from birthdays to condolences, and everything in between. There is literally a card for every event you could possibly imagine. And for those who find the cards on offer don’t say what they are thinking, there’s always the blank card, that you can make your very own. The calendar year is littered with ‘special days’ that shops of all shapes and sizes are keen to promote, and if only you would buy x, y and z from them, you will have the best day of your life. Go on. Buy it. Because you’re worth it…

Of course, since the dawn of time, one way or another, memorable events have been recorded. History books are full of names, dates and details of all the important events that have shaped our world. From cave paintings, to hieroglyphics, to stories passed down verbally through the generations, people have found ways of remembering and sharing the news of their day. It’s always been important to us that things should not be forgotten.

However, I am not speaking here about a collective, public history, but rather about more personal events. Ones that won’t crop up in the history books and for the most part, will only be interesting to a wider audience if we happen to be famous and have our lives memorialised in newspapers, magazines and books. Birthdays. Weddings. Baptisms. Passing exams. Getting your first job. Moving into your first house. The first time hearing the music of your favourite band. Meeting that person who will become your best friend. The list of those personal, life changing experiences, goes on and on.

There are some dates that are more worth remembering than others. Someone I know, after years of battling with alcohol, gave up drinking on a certain date quite a number of years ago. I find this a huge milestone to celebrate. Not only in terms of the achievement, which should never be underestimated, of beating an addiction, but also that it really is like a second birthday. Because if he had carried on drinking, he very probably wouldn’t be alive today.

Some of us are better at remembering past dates than others. My husband is hard pressed to remember how old he is, much less the birthdays of our children. I, on the other hand, seem to have the sort of brain that doesn’t forget anything. It’s so crammed full of significant dates, it’s a wonder my face doesn’t come with a pull off sheet to indicate the different months of the year. I am a walking calendar. I blame Julius and Gregory.

But I have come to realise that keeping tabs on the past is not always a good thing. Yes, I remember the happy times, and I have the chance to dedicate time to making upcoming occasions special. But I also remember difficult times. There are days in the year that have a way of approaching me and kicking me in the gut. They aren’t always days when something bad happened, either. Some of them are days when something amazing happened, but for various reasons, those memories are bitter sweet and are the catalyst for a myriad of emotions to take hold. Today is one of those days.

But why? Why do we remember and keep an annual vigil over our life events? After all, not remembering them doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, wipe the record or re-write history. And life will go on regardless.

Perhaps it’s something to do with that old adage that remembering history will help us to not repeat the mistakes of the past? Although I’m really not sure that works. Humans are fickle. And we will do what we will do, often with little regard for knowing what the outcome will be. Perhaps it’s all just a matter of the heart? After all, simply remembering a date is down to the mind. What we make of it is definitely heartfelt. I for one am more than prepared to step up and confess that my heart does rule my head. And that inevitably colours my attachment to what is essentially, just another day of the year.

Are you remembering something, or someone, today? And if so – why?

The Calling Card

Who I am and what I’m worth
Came calling by today
Reminding me to dim my lights
And keep my dreams at bay
The mirror that they held in place
Showed just how much you care
And how my foolish secret hopes
Are so empty and unfair

I only have myself to blame
For letting my thoughts stray
The truth was always plain to see
And never far away
But this still twists my heart in knots
And pains my very core
Yet I would do it all again
If you wanted me once more

This is the sad pathetic fact
Of what I feel for you
You only have to ask of me
And anything I’d do
But knowing you won’t need to call
Or seek my company
Leaves me lost and inside-out
And to never more be free

Would You Turn Back Time?

Since you’ve been gone, my baby turned 18.

18! How is that possible?

I have come to terms with my three older children becoming adults. But I have a problem with my youngest no longer being a ‘child’. Oh yes, I know it’s inevitable. And of course, on one level I can celebrate the milestone, and am definitely grateful to have had the pleasure of being her mother for another year. But I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready.

My father used to say that it didn’t matter how old I got to be, I would always be his baby. He’s not here anymore – so I am no one’s baby. Adulthood gobbled me up years ago. It has also spat me out on more than one inelegant occasion, and I’m sure it will again. But I don’t have a problem with getting older, per se. More that I lament the lost opportunity of youth.

TJ turning 18 has made me wonder whether I would want to go back and be young again. To turn back time and relive my youth. And if I did, what would I do differently?

Of course, there are things I would not change. I would not be without my four wonderful children, for example. And I have had many amazing experiences that I would feel much the less for not having embraced.

But I think my overwhelming answer is yes. Yes, I would go back. Yes I would change some things. Well. Lots of things. I would make sure to appreciate having it all ahead of me. To make a positive mark on the blank page. To not be afraid to go for what I want. To be in the right place at the right time. To not lose courage and definitely not to settle. And to win. I’d be a winner. I’ve spent too long, and had too much heartbreak because of being a loser.

What about you? Would you turn back time? Tell me – what would you do differently?

Stay gold.