New Zealand 2020 – Part 9

The past couple of days have been a mixture of culture, friendship and memory lane. As Tuesday dawned rather grey and uncertain, we decided to find something to do that was inside rather than out, so we set off for the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The museum is an imposing building within a tranquil park, which has beautiful views of the harbour. Since 1929 it was also served as a place of remembrance for the many New Zealander’s who have sacrificed their lives in war.

New Zealanders take their history in combat very seriously and choose to honour the memories of the sacrifices made by so few, for so many. Therefore, every year on ANZAC Day, there is a very well attended dawn parade service at the cenotaph, which stands on consecrated ground.

We spent most of our time there browsing the Maori collection. For me, the highlights of this were the wharenui, which is the Maori name for a ‘big house’ – more commonly known as a whare. And the waka. The whare is a communal house, generally situated as the focal point of a marae, which is a fenced in complex of buildings that belongs to a particular iwi (tribe), hapu (sub-tribe), or whanau (family). It is very much a place of belonging for the Maori people. Wakas are Maori watercraft, usually canoes, variously used for fishing, travel and for war. They are often beautiful and ornately carved.

I was curious as to why the museum had hung a map of NZ on the wall, on its side, rather than the ‘right way up’. As we looked further around the exhibits, we came across a digital depiction of Captain Cook’s mapping of the country in 1769, and it is clear that he arrived from the east, first stopping on the east coast of the North Island. Therefore, Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud – would have been seen from this angle! It was quite interesting to have my perception of the shape of NZ so challenged!

There were many beautiful things to see in the museum.

One thing I really liked was that there was free entry for Aucklanders, and that New Zealander’s from elsewhere were invited to make donations. The only fixed charge was for tourists, and I did not have a problem with paying for the privilege of going there. I think it is such a good idea to make the treasures of the museum as accessible as possible for the local people.

After leaving the museum, we went onto the Winter Gardens, further down the Domain. Despite their name, they were actually full of wonderful summer flowers! Such a spectacular show of colour!

In the grounds of the Domain, an old tree was particularly eye catching, as it seemed to take on a tangled, animated life of its own, sprawling its way across the grass.

The next day the blue skies returned, and I revisited some old haunts, spending some time in Devonport and Takapuna.

Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano, which last saw active service some 800 years ago. It is still an imposing sight, standing resolute in the Hauraki Gulf. People may come and go, but Rangitoto remains steadfast. If the old island could talk, I’m sure it would have many interesting tales to tell!

I particularly enjoyed seeing the old colonial style houses that can be found all over NZ, but especially in this part of Auckland.

My time in NZ is going way too fast. I am already over half way through my stay. Perhaps by the end of it, I will feel ready to go home. But then again…

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?

In the Clink

In the way that these things usually happen, yesterday I stumbled across the meaning of an expression I have grown up using and never thought to question.

Well, I say ‘stumbled across’. More precisely, I walked past it. My route from Borough Market to the Golden Hinde on the south bank of the Thames in London (both subjects worthy of blogs all of their own!) took me down Clink Street and past the site of the infamous ‘Clink Prison’.  This place gave birth to the idiom, ‘in the clink’ – meaning, in prison.  A blue plaque on the wall of a building which now houses the Clink Prison Museum, celebrated its history as a ‘most notorious medieval prison’ and gave the dates of 1144-1780.  Just above this, a rather gruesome prop hung from the wall – a cage with a fake skeleton inside, leaving no one in doubt as to the kind of treatment anyone held at his/ her majesty’s pleasure were likely to receive.

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The site of The Clink Prison.

A gaggle of people were grouped outside the entrance to the museum, looking excited about going inside and having a tour of all the delights that lay within, and I was struck by a shiver of distate, similar to one I experienced many years ago when visiting the dungeons of Warwick Castle.  What passes as amusement for us modern day folk was a death sentence to those poor unfortunate souls who didn’t have the privilege of walking in and out at will. We take a macabre interest in the tales of torment of those who were inmates of The Clink, dungeons, or any other house of pain. We enjoy being horrified by the instruments of torture and the stories of those who suffered their use. I wonder whether they ever thought their last, dark days would one day be the stuff of a ‘good day out’?!

These days, we all like to think that we are so much better than our ancestors. No longer do we find it acceptable to seek out public executions, watch men fight it out to the death in the arena, or animals pitted against each other in cruel and violent ways.  But is human nature really any different? Have we really moved on in our collective thinking? We all like to revise history to suit our modern sensibilities. Judgements are passed on all those who went before us, and the further their beliefs and actions depart from the perceived wisdom of the day, the more vitriolic we are in our sentencing of them.  I sometimes wonder what future generations will think of our behaviour, and how uncomfortably we will writhe under the microscope of our great grandchildren’s ideaologies.

The popularity of such places as the Clink Prison Museum, would suggest that time passes and fashions change, but we will always love the rather less wholesome stories of our forebears. Whether because it excites our historical interest, or out of a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’, we are fascinated by the gory details. And please don’t think I consider myself to be any different! Given a little more time and disposable cash in my pocket, I might have been tempted inside for a closer look. For my own future reference, and in case anyone here is interested, the link to The Clink is here: https://www.clink.co.uk

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