A year of lockdowns prompts a change of scene for longtime Aucklander CARRIE STEELE, who is now waking up to a new world in Christchurch.
Well, I’ve done it. Decamped; flown the coop; skedaddled; gone South – quite literally.
From the City of Sails to the Garden City. Why, people have asked? It was time, that’s all. Forty-six years in one city is a long time, and that’s how long I’d been in Auckland, since 1975 when I arrived at age 11. That time, a journey from one side of the world to the other. This time, much shorter, a journey by road down one island, the Cook Strait crossing, and back on the road until we reached Otautahi, Christchurch – new home, new plans. Well… we have to make some.
Would you like to support our mission to bring intelligence, insight and great writing to entertainment journalism? Help to pay for the coffee that keeps our brains working and fingers typing just for you. Witchdoctor, entertainment for grownups. Your one-off (or monthly) $5 or $10 donation will support Witchdoctor.co.nz. and help us keep producing quality content. It’s really easy to donate, just click the ‘Become a supporter’ button below.
The ‘Covid year’, 2020 (if only it were now a distant memory) got us all thinking. Quietude always has that effect on people, and Covid certainly pulled on the brakes. Suddenly, there was time to ponder, to question the status quo. Whether the longstanding state of affairs or just what was in the wardrobe that you didn’t need anymore.
Small things became big things, like the canned chickpeas crisis. That was tricky. It’s a staple in the diet that hubby and I live on, and suddenly, the shelves were depleted, everyone was grabbing them – even those who’d never eaten them before. I’m sure that as time moved on, there were lots of pantries full of cans of chickpeas that will never be touched. And there was I, only able to buy two cans at a time, meaning that I had to make more regular trips to the nightmarish place that supermarkets became for a while.
But I digress, this isn’t about Covid, nor chickpeas. It’s about making a new start.
One thing I’m finding about being new is that you feel small. Almost invisible in fact, a lone stranger that attracts the odd glance, but few hellos. This city isn’t completely foreign to me. Hubby and I have spent enough time visiting here over the years to feel like we belong, even if no one else realises that yet. And, we have our little bolthole, once again tucked up in a city centre, but a different outlook this time. It’s greener, quieter, even though we’re more central. The drone of buses we had gotten used to has gone. Now instead, with the kitchen window open we can hear the clock at the Arts Centre chime, and sometimes even the bell from the tram as it rattles along one street over.
So, what’s been happening so far, in my new world, not quite three months on? Well, there are new signs to read – and that’s just in our rubbish room – lest we should pop the wrong rubbish bin lid to dump in. And we’ve finally got fibre, after nine weeks and about eight visits to our apartment building. I’ve now met more people from that company than I’ve met anywhere else since we’ve been here. Sometimes I open the hallway cupboard just to look at the little lights flashing in there to remind me that one thing at least has been accomplished.
Oh, and we’ve also got new night store heaters. That wasn’t quick either, and we’re still not on the right electricity plan, but we’re getting there, I hope. I never thought that fibre installation and electricity plans would be so complex to arrange, but it seems they are. Especially when you live in an apartment building. And when you’re in Christchurch, but ‘they’ (I will mention no company names) keep calling your Auckland number to make the arrangements, even though you’ve told them your new number a trillion times. And they swear they’ve noted their records. And it doesn’t help either that your Auckland number hasn’t been disconnected yet, because it seems, that too takes quite a long time.
That’s the boring stuff that’s been happening. The more interesting stuff is supposed to include some renovations, including a new kitchen. You can probably guess that’s not been exactly straightforward either. In fact, proceeding at glacial speed. But I’m hoping it might be like cheese making, or Pantene for that matter, the “good things take time” scenario? Just for the record, I don’t eat cheese, nor use Pantene.
You might be getting the impression that the only people I’ve actually met down here in Otautahi are tradesmen and technicians. Let me think… Yes, that is pretty much correct. They’ve all been nice people so far, just overrun with other jobs and no doubt wishing that they could clone themselves in which case by next year they would all be multi-millionaires and have no reason to visit me and answer my pesky questions about my rather basic and not terribly exciting renovations.
I won’t bore you with the details of the renovations, other than to tell you about my heated towel rail. It’s for the chop. I hope to relocate it to another wall – if all goes according to plan. It’s currently sandwiched between the wall and the bathroom vanity, so close that were it not for the fact that towels are always on it, I think it would have cooked the vanity long ago. Hanging towels on it is a trial because you have to tuck them in behind the bottom rail or they get caught every time you pull out the vanity draw!! It has become the single most irritating thing in our apartment, far outstripping the inconvenience of the old hob top that seems to have a mind of its own (unrelated to the turning of the knobs…), the absence of waste disposal, the sliding wardrobe doors that are too heavy to slide, and the fact that it’s taken time to get used to our dollhouse-sized bathrooms and work out how far we can swing our arms without whacking them on something (hardly enough to put on a sweater).
But hey, we can hear the clock chime at the Arts Centre – how good is that? And Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens are about three minutes’ walk from the front door.
Any cool new memories so far? There’s a few. First night sleeping in our bed when the furniture arrived – after three nights on a camp stretcher. Discovering we can wander around the Art Gallery on a Wednesday night with hardly another soul to get in the way. Architectural weekend just recently, a chance to get up close and personal with some of the City’s newest and oldest buildings. Coffee, and more coffee – whether it’s warm and sunny or cold and drizzly, there are some great places to sit and enjoy a cup. Food-wise and visitors-wise? Lunch at the Schroom Room in Lyttleton (an old favourite place) with my visiting niece and brother-in-law who were amused that our ‘table number’ was a pic of Bob Marley, and more so that Bob kept falling over. Which brother-in-law took as the opportunity to tell his daughter it was proof of why people should “stay away from the wacky-backy”, which amused me greatly! Especially as my niece is a lovely obliging girl who I’m sure would never go near the stuff.
Then there are all the wonderful places we can visit. Last weekend we drove to Hanmer Springs. To be able to hop in the car and just drive there seemed magical. It’s one of our favourite spots – but of course, we have quite a few. It was buzzing on a long weekend, yet we still found a table for lunch at our favourite café there. Soon I think we need to make an overnight trip; we’ve been so wrapped up with the settling in chores that we’ve not yet done that. I’m thinking Punakaiki perhaps. I long to revisit and see and hear the waves crashing against the pancake rocks.
Back to why are we here, aside from good coffee haunts and soaking up mountain scenery. Well actually, I hope with this new start to teach myself how to be happy and contented, two things that seem to have alluded me so far in life. I have moments of being happy for sure, but I’m yet to achieve it as a permanent state of being. So here I am, wanting to seize the day, but not yet knowing quite how to do it. Is there more to it than just getting out of bed each morning? I think so. Can being here help me to do it? I hope so. Because despite the enormous progress that has been made here since the earthquakes, you only need to walk around the block to be reminded in no uncertain terms that one day, 10 years ago, in an instant, everything here changed forever. There was no going back, no way of undoing what happened, the only way was forward. Maybe that is the secret of seizing the day – living in the present and looking forwards, rather than yearning for or mourning things in the past.
Before I left Auckland, my sister gave me a small book, about happiness, very apt. It was a gift she had given to our dear Dad, in 1995, and which he had kept until the day he died. Now I will treasure it, and always keep it. It is full of small and lovely thoughts like this one: “Happiness is a quiet, perpetual rejoicing in small events”. Maybe that is where I’ve been going wrong, expecting big thunderclaps of happiness, and not registering all of the little happy moments; like seeing the Labrador in the park this morning rolling in the piles of leaves and looking joyous.