Wandering Thoughts

October 9, 2014

Sweden Strikes Back!

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 9:34 pm
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My memory isn’t what it used to be (or maybe it never was, I’m not too sure about these things anymore). This isn’t always bad. Seasons bring surprises, for example.

I’d forgotten the things spring does to campus. Willow trees swaying in the westerly, plump with leaves they could never possibly lose. Late blossoms. Early flowers. And something gone to seed that has set flurries of cotton-snow drifting over the grass and whirling by buildings.

It’s pretty. Though not nearly as pretty as this. Sweden, and country and western: what could go right?

Everything, it turns out.

August 17, 2014


I turned up just after 2am. I found my self sitting on a bed. Sitting on our bed. Someone – Jo – was standing next to me. There was a woman at the end of the hall dressed in blue and white. I’d never seen her before but there wasn’t enough of me there yet for this to be unusual. For it to be anything.

Jo was speaking to me.

Do you know what’s happening?


My neck was aching. One of the joints in my back hurt too.

You’ve had a seizure.

I was with it enough now to think first – driving – and then: shit, we were going surfing this weekend.

There were two women at the end of the corridor now.

They’re from the ambulance. They’re going to take you to hospital. I’ll drive our car.

How long did the seizure last?

You were convulsing for about two minutes. That was 15 minutes ago. I need to get you dressed.

I’d wet myself.

I was walked out to the ambulance, and then lay there as they put a needle into my arm and hooked me up to something. One of the nurses had worked in Solomon Islands; Jo was talking to her about that. Then we were driving.

I don’t recall much of the drive. Being wheeled into hospital was odd and upside down, but from then I found my way to a normal quite quickly.

I lay in a bed in A & E. Jo sat with me. And I felt sore ­­– my joints must have crunched convulsing – and sort of sick. Although once I was allowed to eat I felt less ill.

And that was me discovering I had epilepsy. A month ago now.

Ever since open heart surgery I have had spells of something akin to confusion. Deja vu, and a rush of memories of things which never happened.

Several years ago in Canberra I went and saw a neurologist: a chubby puffed-up man who thought way too much of himself, who told me I was suffering nothing more than anxiety.

I’ve suffered anxiety, and these spells were nothing like it. But while they weren’t pleasant, I couldn’t see the point of doing anything else after the dead end of that medical ‘professional’.

And so I went on, hoping I wouldn’t have an episode while giving a seminar, and not enjoying the spells when they occurred, but usually they were gone within 15 minutes. And I could live with that.

Then finally I had the tonic clonic seizure. And here I am now, struggling with not being able to drive. And wondering whether I can safely surf. And worrying about side effects of sodium valproate, and whether it will interact with warfarin. But at the same time better for having a proper diagnosis.

Some lessons:

As philosopher Havi Carel wrote, when you are ill, how you are treated makes a big difference. I’m very lucky to have the support of my wife and family. It would be very hard to navigate all this on my own. Also, two weeks ago I had my first neurology appointment at one of Canberra’s public hospitals. The appointment lasted over an hour. The registrar was incredibly thorough, and the consultant was considered and decent. And they went out of their way to explain, and to answer our questions. Which helped a lot. According to the consultant, the seizures probably stem from something akin to a small stroke, which I must have had shortly after open heart surgery.

Some advice:

If you end up with a serious chronic illness, address the illness itself as best you can, but also prepare for, and manage, non-biological changes to your life. There’s a lot more to it than your physical symptoms. Your relationships may change. Your career may be harder to maintain. Your goals may have to shift. You can’t cure any of this as such, but being aware and managing it helps. And hopefully you, like me, will find plenty of space to be happy, even if it’s a struggle at times.

And don’t worry (although always get symptoms checked by a medical professional): seizures in the wake of open heart surgery appear to be rare, and heart problems as a consequence of Reactive Arthritis or Ankylosing Spondylitis are not common.

And then:

Sometime around dawn they discharged me from A & E, and Jo and I decided to take the weekend we already had planned. We watched Brazil beat Chile in the soccer, then drove to Braidwood where we had coffee and food, and then made our way down to the coast, where we lay and read on the beach, under the winter sun, watching the sparkling sea.

April 30, 2014

The first evening’s Yoga class…

Filed under: Going Places,Reactive Arthritis,Staying Places — terence @ 11:26 pm

Years ago you fell out. Painfully.

You’ve hardly spoken since. Determined silence. Occasional incivility.

Then one day you had to spend time together. Socially. It was awkward at first. Then uncertain. It never actually became comfortable. And who knows how it will work out. But it was promising — your body and you.

April 18, 2014


Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 4:32 pm


The rain bringing with it one tiny slice of lake.

January 31, 2014


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 5:29 pm

Once, when I was younger, I spent time in the Indonesian Island of Sumbawa right at the beginning of the wet season. Clouds would gather in the hills, then creep closer to the small town we ran our errands in. Eventually, one day they arrived. The sky burst and rain dropped, splattered, teemed, pooled and flooded the streets. And that brought the kids. They raced into the water, laughing, dancing, playing soccer. Euphoric at the hungry end of the dry season.

Here in Canberra today, clouds have snuck up from somewhere, amidst the desert-dry heat of the day, and now it’s raining, the air smelling like a quenched thirst. And I am trying my best to resist the impulse to run out into the courtyard and start dancing my relief at the coolness, and the newly-found fresh air.

Dancing in the rain in a university courtyard definitely ain’t a good idea for a guy who will need very shortly to convince people he is responsible and employable and scholarly and sensible. Not a good idea at all, but very tempting nevertheless.

P1010637Photo: from Guadalcanal’s Weather Coast — where rain is not in short supply.

September 30, 2013


Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 10:14 am

Australia, old and empty, and lost beneath its sky.


August 18, 2013

Late Evening

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 11:53 am
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“It’s late in the afternoon and all the birds are crashing back into the trees and the great summer sky is disrobing in swirls.” Tim Winton, from the novel cloudstreet.

April 29, 2013

This morning

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 1:02 pm

Clouds drift south. Sunlight sprawls. Cockatoos. Tumbling, spiralling, falling. Anarchic. Calling out.

Flight! Flight! Flight!

A lawnmower growls resentfully.

And the beginnings of the the nor-easter, bending leaves. Starting. Moving. Off. Along the beaches, and around the curves of the coast.


September 22, 2012

At Sea

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 10:50 am

The term the TV presenters use here in Australia is cell. Thunder cell. Like an al-Qaeda cell. Clouds gone bad. Mingling together in hidden valleys. Gathering. Spilling down from the hills. Darkening. Growing. Gathering.

Jo and I have figured a way of going surfing. If I use the soft, floaty, blue, learner’s longboard, I can catch waves and ride them on my knees. It’s exercise (in the sea!) and it doesn’t hurt that much, physically. Although I hide from other surfers. Trying to find quiet lonely corners of beaches where no one will laugh at a broken guy riding a soft foam board, awkwardly, on his knees.

And so that’s what we were doing – surfing – three evenings ago while the thunder cell massed. First there were just clouds, and then ‘it was looking a little dark to the south’, and then there was a big black wall, creeping up the coast from somewhere near Moruya.

We caught our waves a little anxiously, watching its progress. The lick of the lightning; the thump of the thunder. We rode small lefts down a sandbar, peeling into a bay. Not big enough for anyone else to be surfing but folding fast little sections for us to skim across, and bent by the curve of the coast so that the ebbing nor’easter was offshore.

Arms of cloud reached out off the edge of the storm, trailing soft curves of rain, blurring the horizon behind. And through that haze, on the other side of the weather, the sun was starting to set, burning colour around the edge of the clouds.

Jo was counting the seconds between lightning strikes and the sound of thunder.

The cell had crept north, maybe over Broulee.

“Time to take a wave in?”
“Yeah, that lightning’s getting close.”
“And it will be dark soon.”

So we caught one last set. I paddled into my wave, just off the edge of the peak. Paddle. Then the motion changes. Then I pull myself to my knees and turn down the line. And as I turned the sunset flared. The half of the sky yet to be swallowed by the black of the clouds was melted, molten, and reflected in the glassy water that I sped over. The impossibly red sea also reflecting, for a moment, then a moment, then a moment, the dance of lightening across the sky. I skimmed along laughing, shouting. If I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful surfing, I can’t remember it.

After, we hobbled up the beach, got changed into towels, and drove north away from the rain.

January 4, 2011


Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 7:43 pm
Tags: , ,

For all intents and purposes Christmas day begins on the eastern end of Lyall Bay Beach. It’s not yet 7am but the stretched out summer day is already under way. The water is clear. The sky is clear. The wind is light. The surf is flat. The wave models were wrong. Out on the sand a couple of early risers are walking their dogs. In my car I’m chewing glumly over the absence of waves. No surf, I’m short of sleep, and my arthritic aches are more severe than usual.  Each of these things combining to add to my gloom. Slightly teary (the arthritis does that to me) and topped up with self-doubt, I’m trying to calculate my options. I could go for a swim or a paddle. But neither really seem worth the discomfort of contorting myself into my wetsuit for. So the real choice is going home and keeping mum company while she cooks, or chasing the remnants of the northwest wind swell on the west coast.

I’m good at doubting myself. So I make the decision to head west several times only to have it repealed by something akin to guilt. What sort of man chases waves on Christmas morning? The empty ocean in front of you is a sign, you should go home. It’s at least 10 dollars petrol extra if you go to the west coast. Think about how much money you’ve spent already. Think about the CO2 emissions. Anyhow, the tide’s wrong up there. And you’ll be late home.

Fortunately I’m even better at ignoring my doubts, eventually, once they’ve kicked me around a bit. And so, next I know, I’m speeding along an almost empty SH1 and into an empty car park at Titahi Bay.


The tide’s wrong. But the swell’s there. Slow sloping lefts peeling across the bay. Not bad for an arthritic old guy on a longboard. Barely pausing to look I’m shoving protesting limbs into neoprene. Hoping that my joints will actually let me get to my feet when I’m out there.

Did they?

Of course they did. Slow and sore, sure. But able to get there in the end. In time to make it down the line.

Wave after wave, after wave. And then I’m driving home, endorphins or whatever they are, conspiring with replayed rides, ridding me of aches and doubts. And the morning’s impossibly nice. Like Christmas in Wellington never is. Still and sunny.

As I drive choral music plays on the radio. And I wonder about that. Enjoying it. Agnostic. The sound is sweet – devine. First I figure maybe it really is evidence of god. Could something so beautiful really arise by chance? Could it? In the end I decide it could. Which seems forlorn in a way. All that effort and beauty misdirected. All those appeals unheard. Eventually, though, I conclude, cheery again, that, no, any god that could create something as beautiful as this music deserves some credit. It’s quite an achievement — especially if you don’t exist.

June 30, 2010


Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 9:14 pm
Tags: ,

The people on the bus ride home suggest there’s more to Ainslie than the cozy suburban street where we live:

A ramshackle guy speaking into a big old cell phone.

“If I could just get to see a psychiatrist or something.”

Pleading with someone: his wife? a case worker?

Another rough looking bloke is drunk, almost asleep on one of the seats. Somehow, despite being barely conscious, he remembers his stop.

Tired people. Old people. Tidy people. Shabby people. Drunks. Kids.

Teenager’s mill around, foils for the rest of us. Young and healthy. Groomed and good looking. Awkward in their way, with the hunch and poise of those not quite yet grown into themselves.

Sitting next to me are two women. One, in her forties or early fifties, is tidily dressed. With a sensible swoop of hair and glasses that sit neatly on a crooked, determined nose. The other is older, her hair’s still dark but the curls are thinning. She’s rounded and bent down a bit, wearing a cheep pink fleece and wrinkled old pants.

The younger woman’s doing the bulk of the talking. She’s calm but her words have a force.

“…too many drug addicts and alcoholics, not good people. I’m not happy there.”

“Could you find another church?” The older lady’s voice is weaker. I have to strain to eavesdrop.

“That’s what I’m doing. It’s difficult for me – on my own. One guy used to keep calling me up asking me to drive him everywhere. And there’s a big woman, who bosses me around. One of those big women. I can’t put up with that.”

“Maybe another church would be better.”

“That’s right. I’m going to move. But I told the big woman, and now she wants to come with me. It’s difficult for me on my own. You must know what it’s like. When did you say your husband died?”

“30 years ago.”

“Do you…”

“…I still miss him sometimes. It’s been a long time.”

“You see. It’s different for me. I’ve always been on my own. I think I always will.”

The older lady’s looking for words, but her companion starts up again before she finds any.

“I’m used to it. But I still get lonely. It was better when I worked you see, but now I’m just on my own. And the people at church are no good.”

“No, I think you should change churches.”

“Oh that’s my stop.”

“See you later. Good luck. I’m Mary by the way.”

Surprisingly, for someone who talks so much, I’m not a sociable person. With the exception of my wife and a few close friends, I find socialising hard work. Nevertheless, I think to myself as I limp the last little bit of my journey home, I’d crumple in an instant under the weight of that much loneliness.

Lady, I really hope you find a better church.

April 30, 2010

Nostalgia –

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 11:24 am

– an aging related process in which the past begins to take on more promise than the future. After all, memories tend to focus on the significant, so tedium and drudgery are quickly erased. And – up to a point – times of trouble and things gone wrong can be discounted, because we made it through them. Which leaves the good memories free to be cleaned, polished and enhanced. The future on the other hand has more than its fair share of what seems to be dreary certainty along with worry inducing uncertainty. Also, as you get older, there’s more past and less future.

And so, walking into university today I caught a whiff of a chemical smell. I don’t know what chemical, but the smell was the same as the one from the factories south of the high school I went to. The smell you smelt when the southerly was blowing. The smell that meant surf. Now, years later, the smell means memories of excited chatter on the bus home; climbing into damp salty wetsuits behind the shelter of storm-blown pohutukawa trees; riding short, steep waves in an icy sea; and all these variables combining in a slightly implausible equation with an end result of giddy happiness.

For a moment there this morning I was more excited by those waves in the past than by the ones I hope to get this weekend. Even though the water here is 7 degrees warmer, the wind kinder and the rides better. That’s nostalgia for you.

April 19, 2010

Getting Out More Often

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 9:59 pm
Tags: ,

I was going to post something last night but the freakin internet was down. I don’t know why. It was just down.

This wasn’t good. Or at least it didn’t seem good at first, but then a strange thing happened. I turned the computer off and did something I haven’t done in ages. A real blast from the past. Something that reminded me that there’s more to the world than the written word on an LCD screen. Something just a little frightening. But uplifting too.

I watched telly.

Dr Who to be exact. The latest season. It’s been years since I saw the good Dr in action and the world has moved on a bit (cell-phones and flash drives, and computer viruses) but that which made it great first time round was still there: an imperiled planet, frightening bad guys, a humorous hero, and – for the lucky heroine – an escape from suburbia. It was so much fun. A reminder of what the world has to offer.

And so, dear readers, from now on I’m planning to get out more often. Out of the chair that is. And onto the sofa. Watching TV. A least when Dr Who is on…

April 4, 2010

Canberra in a nutshell

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 3:49 pm
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My friend Paul, over for work, summed it up perfectly:

This isn’t a capital city; it’s a capital suburb.

Which isn’t a bad thing. At least for an arch-suburbanite like myself.

March 30, 2010

New Things

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 9:27 pm
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Things I like:

Sunset on Mount Ainslie, waiting as is Canberra is mapped out by its street lights, watching as the last of the red ebbs from the continent and into the sky.

Driving east on the Kings Highway, on dawn, down towards the coast, in and out of half asleep mist. On the way to the beach, anxiously watching for Roos.

March 22, 2010


Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 9:23 am
Tags: ,

Well it’s indisputable, I’m definitely in Australia now: I’m listening to the AM programme on ABC Radio National (think morning report on Radio NZ) where an extended debate is taking place between Bob McTavish and Dick Brewer on who invented the shortboard…like nowhere else on Earth except maybe Hawaii  surfing is part of the Australian national story.

March 20, 2010

The Magpie and the Bush Vet

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 8:43 pm
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It was a lazy thwap. On the quiet suburban street, in the leafy morning light. It seemed too absent minded, too inconsequential to be what it became. But the collision was an uneven one. A big white ute, with its big white driver, ugly, a motherfucker, that just kept on its way. And a magpie, whose way was ended, with a bounce, from flight, onto the road, where it flapped like a torn flag.

We stopped our bikes, and Jo, who’s always better at these things, took my shirt and carried the bird in it from the road to the grass. At first the Magpie’s movements seemed to ebb, blood seeped from its bill.

I think it’ll die soon. I think we can just wait here. It won’t be long.

But instead it revived. And when it did, it made to fly away, to safety. But there was no flight. No safety. It’s back, or some other integral part, was broken, and all it could do was haul itself along the grass with its wings, frightened eyes staring at us.

We can’t leave it suffer.

I called directory. And then the RSPCA where I sat on hold as my credit evaporated.

As we waited there, Jo standing and me pacing, the bird lying on the grass, another magpie flew in, with a cry, over our heads, alighting in the tree that stood above us. Then another magpie followed it. And then the strangest thing happened. Birds of all sorts began to gather in the tree – magpies, smaller myna like birds, and colour-splashed Rosellas. They filled the spindly pine like Christmas decorations. An avian deathwatch, quiet, watching, waiting, looking down, as I alternated between anthropomorphising and trying to figure out what on earth to do.

“He’s a bush vet. He’ll probably wring its neck, but it’s just down the road, and he’s helpful.”

Jo had ridden home, got the car and come and collected me, my bike and the bird, before asking our landlords’ advice on where we could get the bird put down.

I doubted the bush vet bit. The bush is never that far away in Australia. Biding its time until it gets to reclaim the suburbs and upend the asphalt. But we were in the middle of well-heeled Ainslie. A poodle vet maybe, but definitely not a bush one.

I was wrong of course, like I’d been all morning. The  clinic was an old brick building with a sign that was almost swallowed by trees. The vet had an old leathered face that was almost swallowed by his beard.

“What? I thought was finished for the morning?” He was complaining, but not unfriendly.  His shirt and jeans were grubby, and his boots dusted with red dirt. We might as well have been out the back of Bourke after all.  What mattered though, is that he took the bird. And was kind about it. No need for payment. Promising to help if he could. And to end its life quickly if he couldn’t.

And so we offloaded the broken magpie and set off, on our way, after our plans for the day.

March 13, 2010


Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 6:08 pm

As a kid I learnt to surf on a succession of dinged-up old boards. Like everything else in my teenage years, it was a source of embarrassment. Big and bulky, and browned by the sun – these ‘dungers’ didn’t look anything like the sleek white boards that all the good guys owned. I felt like a frumpy gumby carrying them down to the water’s edge. It wasn’t fair.

Despite the start,  I learnt to love old boards. Some still surf great once you figure them out. And it’s nice to rescue a forgotten board from the back of a shed and return it to wave riding life. I also learnt that the least cool thing in most surfers’ eyes isn’t owning an old board but rather being learner with a bright new one. If you’re going to learn you’ll do just fine on something old and floaty. A new board under a beginner’s arm will be a waste of money. A sign of vanity. Or that’s how most surfers feel.

Better still, is if you can paddle out on an ancient old clunker or obvious learner’s board and rip. That’s got style.  And everyone else will be so surprised you ought to get a few extra waves while the crowd re-adjust their expectations.

Or, at least, that’s the story I told myself as I lugged a big bright blue learners’ soft board down to my favourite surf spot. It’s the same wave where I’ve failed at least a couple of times in recent months. Fast walls and chunky sections, down into a bay. Out the back thick swells which are hard to catch. None of this easy for a broken old body. Nor quite what learners’ boards are made for. But I’d shipped everything else to Australia and I really wanted one last surf before departing. And so there I was, quite a sight to the guys out the back as I stumbled into my wetsuit. And lugged the board down the beach. Paddling out from the wrong part of the bay because I was too tired to walk any further.

The one good surfer in the pack paddled around me like I didn’t exist. Fair enough. I wasn’t sure if I existed either. Or more accurately. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t sure I’d actually make it to my feet. Or that the board would let me down the line. I floated about in sparkly blue sea wondering about this for a bit. Looking up at the eroding grey hills. And out into the patterned ocean. Waiting for a swell, a manageable wave to come my way. When it did I paddled just as fast as my lungs and heart would let me and half lept, half staggered to my feet. It wasn’t graceful. But my feet ended up where they needed to be and the board, big blue and floaty, turned just fine. Off I sped down the bay. On subsequent waves I started taking off deeper and turning harder. And the board, this blue pop-out thing, cut from soft foam so as to be safe for learners, went just fine. It flew even. Down drops. Past sections. Into turns.

Who knows what the other guys out there thought off all this. The weird old guy on a learner’s board and in a sun hat. But I’m figuring they were surprised. They sure let me get my waves. Let me have my chance to say a surf-happy goodbye to my favourite slice of coast. Left me with plenty to day-dream about over here in Canberra. Not to mention inspiration to take the blue board with me on the two hour drive to the nearest bit of Australian coast. First chance I get.

February 20, 2010

Valley of the Lawn Mowers

My mother-in-law lives in the most beautiful place. We’ve been staying with her the last few days. In a valley of lifestyle blocks, not too far from town. It’s crisscrossed with stands of trees, eucalypts and pines, green against the blue, swaying and leaning, surfing the restless wind. Tall and old they sigh under the breeze, like water over the cobbles of a creek, like swells washing on a shingle beech. Or at least they would sound like that if you could hear them. Instead, from sunrise to set, all weekend, every weekend the sound you do get to hear is petrol powered lawn-mowers, and mulchers, and power-tools. Each as soothing as a dentist’s drill. The neighbours battling nature. Great. Talk about trying to get away from it all but bringing it all with you too.

January 17, 2010

Burdens Gate

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 4:17 pm
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If I remember my history right, Burdens Gate used to be the hop off point for travelers on the old coast road from Wellington to the Wairarapa. Beyond the genteel Days Bay, past the fishing village of Eastbourne and at the beginning of the inhospitable coastal track. It wasn’t easy travel – there were highway men and murderers, fords and slips, and the weather.

These days Burden’s Gate is still a hop off point – for picnickers and day-trippers on summer’s days, for walking or riding round the long-tamed Pencarrow Coast. There’s a cycle rental, an ice-cream stall, and info-boards from the regional council. There’s also a lazy little left point break when the swell is big enough.

It’s been twenty years since I surfed it last. There’s better waves nearby and on the occasional day that the mood, or disease, took me to the end of Eastbourne looking for a gentle wave to longboard I’d aim for Lions Rock, two bays back. But Lions Rock doesn’t break any more. It’s been swallowed by shingle, debris from the 1855 earthquake, washed from the Orongorongo river, and carried by swell after swell into the Harbour. And so, yesterday, eager to surf despite the storm, I drove over there, hopped into my wetsuit in the teeming rain, and paddled a long board out off the point.

Rain squalls fell off the hills, hitting the water and driving stinging spray. Walking back up the beach after a long ride was almost impossible, board kicking and bucking in the wind like a rodeo horse. And the waves were as small as ever. But despite all that it was fun, plucking little lefts out of the stormy sea, and trimming and fading along the sectiony little walls.

And there’s a beauty in ugly weather, the frantic battered water and the harried clouds.

I’m not alone in thinking this. There were 15 other surfers out there yesterday. All of them as eager as me. Grimacing n the stinging spray, unable to talk for the wind, but friendly and smiling. Whether it’s just a need to get a wave, something you do because you grew up doing it, or because you actually find it fun, storm surfing is pretty cool. At the hop off point. At the end of the road. And on the edge of the angry, windy sea.

November 17, 2009

Wondering where that go to

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 6:05 pm

About six months late and looking the worse for wear my Boston Review arrived over the weekend.


I think I know why it was late….

I’ve never been to France. In a stange way I’m actually kind of chuffed I own a mag that has.

August 30, 2009

Save the Footpath

Save Manners Mall! You can join the Facebook group. You can hardly avoid the eye-catching posters.  But can you, can anyone, actually explain to me what’s there to save? What good is served by the current pedestrianised Manners Mall that outweighs the need to improve our public transport system?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. Maybe I’m missing something amongst the mopey teenagers, the grimy bricks and the sparse, ugly seats. If so, I’d love to know what it is.

July 18, 2009

The Comeback

It was the best day I’d seen at the best surf spot around these parts. Surf law says I can’t give the game away and tell you where it is, or even reveal too many telling details. So maybe it was a beach-break with the best sand bar ever, or maybe a rocky point, swells crunching down its length. Or maybe a river bar after the flood of the decade. Or maybe a long shallow reef. The main thing is, it was the best day I’d ever seen. Just the, best, day. Double head high sets, blue-green walls, held up by an offshore wind until they spun off down the line, in hissing curving tubes.

The car park was full. Someone videoing the action. Someone nursing a snapped board. Hangers on, restless dogs, people exchanging excited diagnoses. Out the back was a serious pack of serious surfers. Old grumpy guys, locals, rippers, wanna be rippers, and one weird guy who limped down the beach and paddled into the line-up wearing a single white shoe.

The weird guy, that was me, of course. My heart hammering as I paddled. Watching the waves, breaking faster and angrier as they sped down the line. I tested the shoe with my good foot. I had to wear it; I couldn’t stand on a surfboard without it. The pain in my heal was too much. The padding of the shoe helped, got me into the gentle waves round home. But now as I paddled out along the edge of the exploding whitewater towards the serious pack of serious surfers I wondered what would become of the shoe and I should we actually catch something.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t surfed waves like that before. I had – plenty of times, from the outer edge of Atlantic Islands, to the murky beaches of Mexico, to the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. But I’d done all that when I was whole. When mind and body worked as one. Now I wondered: could I even get to my feet quick enough; would I trip over the shoe; would I snap if I did.

In the end it all came down to one wave – my first. It broke wide, away from the pack and I spun into it a little way down the line as the barrel started to race. Lots of things could have happened: I could have been caught in the lip and pitched into the shingle; I could have nose dived on the drop and slapped into the shallows, I could have slid sideways under the lip as I tried to angle into the tube. Could of, could of, could of, but – in that instant, in that moment the story hangs upon – didn’t. Instead my feet fell into place under me, I made the lurching drop and pivoted into the tube, racing the raucous breaking swell. In the end I lost the race – flipped over the falls. But by then I knew all I needed to know. I knew I could still surf. I paddled out the back, where the serious surfers bobbed like black swans, and started catching waves, big draining barrels, beaten by some but making most, swooping through tube after tube, board chattering, hurtling towards the channel. Even the grumpy old guys hooted me on a couple. I can not tell you how happy I felt.

That was 2005. Back in the present, the methotrexate is helping. I’m getting round a lot better. But I’m still a long, long way from surfing again. Hoping though, as you can imagine, for another chance at a come back. They’re almost worth going away for.

July 9, 2009


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 7:00 pm
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I know, I know, I’m always saying this but, this evening…

… clouds retreating east, pulled back like a curtain, letting in the winter sky; sunset to the west, smouldering behind the mountains. The wash of breaking waves in bits and pieces along the coast. The hopeful blink of a lighthouse as it waited for the stars…

…had to have been the most beautiful evening that Wellington ever stitched together.

June 11, 2009


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 9:15 pm
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Starlings roost in the middle of Wellington, near my wife’s work. Depending on the hour, when I’m waiting to pick her up, I sit in the car park and listen as they settle in the billowing trees. Hundreds of them, dowsing the car sounds in bird song. Chattering, chattering, chattering like crazy to each other. I don’t know, maybe they’re gossiping, or telling the stories of their day, or spinning delighted tales about the glory of flight. Or maybe they just chirp because that’s what birds do. But that conversation, taking place on a thousand branches, over the tops of the lonely commuters, as the street lights replace the sun, is the most reassuring thing. A secret, happy urban joy.

June 4, 2009


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 8:15 pm

I know, I know, I’m always saying this, but wasn’t this morning – with it’s ice covered windscreens, mist clogged valleys, and faint-hopeful sun – quite possibly the prettiest morning in the history of Wellington?

May 9, 2009

Storm Surge!

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 8:14 am
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When I drove to work on Wednesday morning the hail was piled up like snow in the streets of Berhampore. An hour earlier, maybe  a little more, the Thunder woke me, and I lay in bed listening to it boom, counting the seconds between the lightening flash and following sound.

I can barely remember the last time I heard a storm like that in Wellington. In Sydney they used to roll across the city regularly – I can remember watching from the KPMG building where I worked above Darling Harbour as white-purple bolts crashed into the Western Suburbs. I can remember racing to cover the windscreen of our flatmate’s car so it didn’t shatter under the marble size hailstones belting out of the sky. I can remember sitting on the beach on dusk, in a warm calm world again, watching the passing squall, fading out to sea, electric light on the horizon.

From summers in Long Island I remember storms on humid nights. One time one passed directly overhead, its lightening striking a power pole at the end of the street where my then girlfriend lived. We rode over from my place to find the fire brigade dowsing the surrounding trees and the power pole splintered and smoldering on the ground.  We rode on to her place to find the television ruined. Despite the fact it was off, and turned off at the wall. It had been plugged into a multi-point surge protector too – all that was left of that was a melted lump of plastic.

Anyhow, while I was lying in bed on Wednesday morning, listening to hail and thinking of storms in other countries, someone was up videoing. You can watch the Wellington storm on YouTube. And read about it on the MetService blog.

April 28, 2009

Life in the Slow Lane

I was living in London when I had my first attack of reactive arthritis. Every couple of days I’d take the underground from Bethnal Green where I was couch sitting to Charing Cross Hospital. Sometimes, when I felt up to it, I’d stop and sight-see on the way. I was more mobile then than now, but still painfully slow.

And so I spent a lot of time hobbling in and out of Tube Stations. I would alight from the train, shuffle out of the way, and start towards the exit. First amongst a throng, then a crowd, then a trickle. Then by myself, in the empty echoing tunnels. If the station was large enough, or the walk long enough, other trains would arrive, and the walkway around me would fill with sound and people again, before it emptied out. Occasionally, I’d have company; the brave or determined elderly. Sometimes there’d be a line of us, spread out along the handrails like mountain climbers on a rope.

The other day, I was having coffee with a friend who also has a chronic illness. We talked, as we often do, about the frustrations of being unwell. One frustration that I wouldn’t have predicted in the days before the arthritis is the frustrated grind of expectations, the things I want to do with my life, still set by the norms of the people around me and life before I was sick, against the realities of being unwell. Things could be much worse, and I’m lucky and have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself sometimes when it seems like life’s bustling out of the station in front of you, and you’re left limping along behind.

Or, at least, that’s the glum view of it all. What I need to remember is that, despite the faltering steps, I still made it out of the Underground in the end, and got to see most, if not all, of the things the city had to offer…

April 26, 2009

Close Enough to Home

I took a creative writing course once. In it, the lecturer explained that the tension you feel in Shakespeare’s sonnets is that of the English language being stretched to breaking point. Well, it looks like it just snapped.

Picture taken on our way out to Jo’s mum’s.

The Hutt Valley tries hard to throw off it's stereotypes. Unfortunately, some residents just keep letting the team down.

The Hutt Valley tries hard to throw off its stereotypes. Unfortunately, some residents just keep letting the team down.

April 25, 2009

Agnostic Wonderings

Yesterday evening I caught the wrong bus and ended up by Te Papa. Lured by the salt-smell I limped to the wharf’s edge and watched the street lights prick the dusk. Hills wrapped round the windless harbour like the frame around a mirror. And above it all quiet grey sheets of cloud began to fade back into the sky.

Standing there, listening the burble as a wake washed against the bollards, I started thinking of the sublime. Surely, a universe which is so beautiful, so often, and in so many different ways, has to have a purpose. A meaning, an order, a reason. Surely. Standing there I could feel it. I could almost be convinced.

And yet. In 1994, in the space of 100 days, Hutu genocidaires killed 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda. During the 1970s Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the population of Cambodia.  Millions died in the Holocaust, and in Stalin’s Gulag. How can all this have a purpose or a reason? What order did it serve? What kind of higher power would let all that happen?

Both meaningful and meaningless universes seam impossible to me. But one of them must exist.

April 19, 2009

Gravel Roads and Aching Bones


Holidays in aching bones are different, but different isn’t always bad. I’d rather be walking or surfing but I’m not. And so –

When you can’t move much you think carefully about the place you’re going to stay. And when you’re there, you notice things that might have passed you by had your own momentum been greater.

We’re at Riversdale, staying in a cabin in the grounds of Orui station. A quiet bend in the coast; the weather tempered by topography. Other than summer holidays it’s rarely busy; on weekdays in winter it’s on the edge of empty. There are irritations – joyriding teenagers in quad bikes first amongst them – but they’re usually escapable.

On calm mornings, the sun wakes up over the glassy sea, warm from the first, washing everything in melted red, then green. On days like today when the Nor’Wester is blowing the sky becomes stretched; rain clouds trapped far to the west along the Tararuas, high clouds spread out, hurrying – bent by the jet stream into streaks and sweeps.

The first afternoon we were here I went for a bodysurf. Limber enough, just. Catching the waste high waves that pitched over the sandbars. I even got a couple of barrels, a couple of moments watching the pitch and swirl of watery light before being tumbled through the shallows. As I did all this – some weird middle aged guy in a wetsuit and a hood, bounding about in the already too cold sea – the day gave way to evening and strokes of sunlight turned everything to a weary rural gold.

Yesterday we drove up to the empty coast at Otahome, looking north to Castlepoint. Today I’m sitting by the cabin, on the edge of the homestead’s gardens, kept company by the farm cat. There’s a grey warbler singing somewhere and the wind is in the trees, coaxing quiet applause from the poplars and sighs from the ancient pines.

The sky is sailing by – a storm in the Tasman maybe but here, two mountain ranges East we’re far enough away for all of that to be missing us, resting by the sea.



And yesterday we drove home, via Flatpoint, along the gravel forestry road, break pads smelling of burning dust. I scanned the coast for surf spots and we made it to Gladstone by late afternoon. The grass was still summer brown but the willows and poplars were filled with autumn colours. Chocolate in Greytown and sun set as we got home.

April 13, 2009

The Evening

Filed under: Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 8:44 am
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The wind was howling when I got there, clattering out of the valley, blowing chops up the faces of the waves, blowing plumes of spray off their backs. It filled the air with salt water rain, making it almost impossible to see. Still wondering if I should have stayed at home and finished that essay, I paddled out and caught a couple, free-fall drops, bouncy walls, racing barrels.  A few other surfers joined me. It was fun enough in a difficult sort of way.

Eventually, the evening worked its spell and – sun beyond the horizon, water changing colour – the wind dropped back. The waves got better as the day ran out until, right on the edge of dark, the set came through: shadowy swells filling the bay, the biggest waves of the afternoon. One of the Maori guys who lived up the valley caught the first one, dropping out of the lip to the hoots of his mates. I was next in line, the second one was mine, thick low swell bent into the bay. Humming with nervous excitement – don’t blow it, don’t blow it – I paddled out, spun and starting paddling in, matching the wave’s speed as it steepened, jumping to my feet as it became vertical. With a yell I called an interloper off and dropped, board falling under me. Turning at the bottom, I could see the wall beginning to bend in on itself. After that everything was instinct. I held my turn back for a moment, then angled up the wave, stalling, loosing speed, and then back down again, now pointed for the shoulder, in the pocket, accelerating. The wave turned concave, it’s dark-dark green lip throwing over me, and I was standing in the tube, chattering mind silenced for a moment, weaving my way through, section after section throwing over me.

Just before the closeout the wave backed off, letting me out and leaving me time to straighten out in front of the whitewater. Laughing, singing to myself; happy, happy at the end of the day.

March 29, 2009

Getting out more often

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 7:50 am
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On Saturday, angling for late summer sun, Jo and I drove to Titahi Bay. Almost freed by steroids, we walked along the beach and waded into the warm green sea.

Rolling in like sighs from the Tasman, the waves were almost too soft to bodysurf. But after all these years I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. So I caught some – tilting down the little drops, skipping across the flats and sinking into the ebbing white water.

Afterwards we drove up a little hillock and sat in the car.  Beyond the tidepools waves broke like glass in the sun. Further out still, the rising norwester pulled tufts of white from the sea off Plimmerton. We ate our iceblocks and immersed ourselves in papers on the art of aid growth regressions and the economics of family planning. These were very happy hours.

March 18, 2009

Ode to the Hutt

Filed under: Reactive Arthritis,Staying Places — terence @ 6:04 pm
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I grew up in Eastbourne and even for an awkward fit like me that brought with it certain snobberies. Chief amongst these being the one we cast over our shoulders back in the direction of Lower Hutt.

My teens took me through high school there so, to be fair, I at least had evidence for the grudge I bore: the bogans, the black jeans, the way the parties always ended in fights. The smoggy conformity, the prefab pride. That fucking shopping mall; tumorous, relentless, eating through the heart of the city. The architecture in general.

But that was then. Today I’m sitting on the 6th floor of Hutt Hospital receiving steroids intravenously. The view out the window is hemmed by hills. Worn geometric skeletons behind Belmont. Green regenerating ridgelines converging north. The lurching Tararuas. In between, lazing in the forgiving sun, is a valley I’ve never seen before: sports grounds and hopeful homes. Trees everywhere, hiding roads and nestled round red-tiled rooves. Nikau palms like landed stars, white ivory eucalypts. Willows along the river and Norfolk pines stretching taller than the building I’m in.

Every once in a while black-back gulls glide by, sailing on confident wings, letting out their gloating cry. They’re right you know; Lower Hutt is really beautiful. Truly.


On an unrelated note, one of the most common side-effects of methyl-prednisolone is a ‘high’: a state of mild but giddy, euphoria. Did I mention that?

January 19, 2009

The One Legged Man

Filed under: Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 9:16 am
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Damian and I were bored out of our brains. Becalmed mid-summer.

All our hope lay with the southerly that had blown in earlier that day bringing with it a low, murky sky and the faint possibility of surf.

Acting on that, we checked the waves on an hourly basis – flat, flat, flat – each fruitless survey accompanied by much positive visualisation.

“Looks a little bigger now.”

“Yeah, that last one almost broke.”

“Yeah, maybe the incoming tide will bring in a bit more swell too.”

“The tide’s going out.”

“Oh. Well maybe it will break more on the low.”


Then we’d drive back to Damian’s parents’ place and watch another surf video.

“Green Iguana?”

“How ’bout Wave Warriors 4?”

And so the afternoon went. Until some time around 5pm when our surf check revealed something completely unexpected: waves.

Bad waves: onshore and closing out. But waves all the same.

I didn’t even stop the car. We raced back to Damian’s to get the boards.


“Before it goes flat.”

Remarkably we returned to find that, far from going flat, the swell was actually getting bigger.

“Out there!”

“Yeah, quick.”

“Before it goes flat.”

We’d been in around half an hour, the only surfers in the water, when the southerly died away.

Without the wind to cut it up its surface, the sea became oily, smooth as a mirror, reflecting the grey back at the sky.

The swell kept rolling in though; the waves were a little over head high now and instantly better without the chop bringing down sections. Bent in by the outside sandbars, the swells stood up just to the north of the small steel and wood groin below the car park.  Taking turns, we’d catch them right at their peak and speed south, past the groin,  zipping over the shallow sand. The waves would barrel, back off for a moment and then close out in the shallows allowing us the chance to imitate the manoeuvres we’d been watching in the videos all afternoon.

The waves were unreal. We hadn’t anticipated surf like this.

We didn’t anticipate what happened next either.

A guy appeared, standing in the evening murk at the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach. He was wearing a one-legged wetsuit. He was propped up on crutches. He only had one leg.

Very, very carefully he climbed down the stairs and made his way out onto the beach. He stopped about 10 feet from the water’s edge. Following in his footstep was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old. The kid was in a wetsuit too, carrying two surfboards: one for him and one for the guy on the crutches.

When they stopped the older man set down his crutches and the kid gave him one of the boards. With it, he hopped the rest of the way to the sea, falling with a splash into the shallows. The kid followed and they both paddled out.

We watched in wonder. Not so much wonder though, that we missed the set that was coming our way.

“Go Damo, go! I’ll take the second one”.

By the time we’d each caught a wave and were paddling out, the old guy and the kid were in position for the next waves that came through. The kid got the first one and rode it pretty well for an 11 year old.

The old guy was up next. We watched, waiting for him to fall. But he didn’t. Somehow – and I still can’t figure out exactly how – he ‘stood’ in a crouch propped up by a bent leg, the stump of his missing leg, and his arm.

He dropped down the fast steepening wave, turned, and shot along it. He wasn’t graceful or entirely in control but he made it.

Faces opened up with surprise Damian and I stared at each either, neither of us saying anything, neither of us really sure what words to use. The old guy paddled back out.

“Does it often get this good here?”



“Not often”

“Well maybe sometimes.” We were still struggling with words.

Technically, Damian and I being locals and the guy and the kid coming from out of town, we should have been grumpy, surly even, at their intrusion at ‘our’ spot. But really? We’d just been joined in the best waves we’d had for months by a kid and a guy who rode the impossible. Pretty soon the four of us were chatting happily.

The newcomers were from up north somewhere, visiting friends who lived over the road from the beach. They’d brought their boards and just happened to stop by on the only day in months that had surf.

The old guy had lost his leg to cancer, but was determined to keep surfing, so had. The kid was his son.

After about an hour they got out and headed to their friends’ for dinner. Damian and I surfed to dark making the most of the waves.

That surf was almost half a lifetime ago now. Damian lives in Australia. I’ve – mercifully – still got both legs but, for now, they’re no good for surfing. The beach we surfed at that evening is almost gone – swallowed by shingle.

I like to think though, that the old guy might still be surfing, up north somewhere. Weaving along wave faces on a stump and an arm. And I hope his son is too, travelling and enjoying all the other good things that come with being a surfer.

January 4, 2009

Summer Holidays

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , ,

I love my tent. We’ve travelled together north of the Arctic Circle and as far south as the Straits of Magellan. I’ve camped in it on the beach in Chile and in the middle of the Outback in Australia.tent-in-snow-for-blog

I love my tent; unfortunately, I’m not the only one. As best I can tell, the Wind Gods also find it very pleasing. Why else would they follow it so? Patting it, playing with it, buckling it under their breath.

There was the night in Iceland where the gusts fell furious off the Vatnajokull ice sheet, shrieking through the empty campground. Even the old guy who ran the place reckoned it was a storm to remember.

Then there was the time in Patagonia when it blew like the clappers and I managed to set the tent side on to the wind. With every squall caving the walls in on us, my French Canadian travelling companion and I didn’t get much rest. Our only satisfaction being the next morning comparing our still standing tent with the other walkers’ bubble tents now strewn about the campground like bluebottles washed up by the tide.

And there was the gale at Tora. Stampeding out of the valleys and running down the coast at the same time, the wind blew so hard that Jo and I slept only in two minute bursts.

So it was that when we went camping this summer we went prepared. Arriving to a blowy westerly we put the tent up, parked the car up-wind and almost on top of it, and set out the storm guys, anchoring them to rocks and vehicle. We waited for the worst.

Then, the strangest thing happened. The wind got less rather than more. And we spent three days becalmed, alone on a small corner of farmland next to a quietly chattering sea. At night we slept under uncountable stars. During the day we bathed in the sun, read, did nothing, and enjoying being somewhere where nothing was the norm.

I spent hours trying to find words for the way the Cabbage Trees cut trails between the tanning land, sleepy-still sea, and swallowing sky.

After a day of this even the tent relaxed, yawning lazily in the occasional puffs of breeze.


November 26, 2008

On the Harbour

gtcrop1There are days when the Nor’Wester blows so strong on Wellington harbour that it brings surf to Eastbourne. These aren’t open ocean waves like the ones that sometimes weave their way through the heads in a strong southerly swell. These are harbour waves, starting their lives as ripples barely 8 kilometres upwind off Petone Beach. Such is the strength of the gusts that carry them, that by the time they’ve crossed the harbour they’re big enough to surf. It’s the same way that surfable waves are sometimes formed on lakes.

Needless to say they aren’t great waves. Small, short and torn ragged by the wind. But you can surf them and as surf-starved kids we did.

I can remember one day when I was thirteen catching the bus from Point Howard to Eastbourne. Board stashed in the back, the bus ride was easy; my difficulties began trying to get from the bus stop to the beach. To do that I had to walk upwind, towards Windy Point, and around Dellabarca corner onto Marine Parade.

At the time I was using a surfboard I’d borrowed from a cousin. Even back then it was old, a board from the late ’70s. It wasn’t huge, but I was tiny. And as I battled against the wind, the board clasped under my arm turned into a sail. It kicked and tugged, and right on the corner became too much. All of a sudden I was out of control and back peddling, feet slapping on the footpath. Luckily, there was someone behind me. A stranger from the same bus. With an arm on the board he stopped my flight.

“Need a hand mate”.

“Yes please!”

And so the two of us, him holding the front of the board and me the tail, battled our way around the windswept corner. Safe on the other side I was able to scamper into the shelter of the sand dunes and change into my wetsuit. And then stumble through the swept, stinging sand into the surf.

I can’t remember now what my surf was like that day but I can guess. Lots of duck-diving the incoming wash. Lots of paddling against the current that swept down the beach. And just enough short crashing rides to keep me enthused. After my arms gave out I would have retreated back to the dunes, watching the setting sun give colour to a sky full of salt spray and waiting for mum to come and pick me up when she’d finished work.

I’m thinking about this surf right now not because the Northerly a couple of days ago was windy enough to have made surf in Eastbourne (although it probably was) but because I’ve been reunited with my gtcrop2cousin’s surfboard. Thinking nostalgically (and also because old boards can be fund to ride) I asked him about it a few weeks ago. It turns out he still had it, collecting dust and occupying space under his house. I offered to buy it off him, but he was happy to give it away.

I’m stoked. It’s the first board I ever really thought of as mine. It was borrowed of course, but I had it long enough to develop that strange attachment I have for inanimate objects – cars, plants, clothes – which join me in my wanderings.

The first thing that stuck me when I saw it again was how much smaller it looked. And older. The change in size makes sense of course – I’m a little bigger now. But the aging surprised me. This, I guess, was because I’d always thought of it as old – even back then when I first rode it, it was a relic of the 70s. And so I wasn’t expecting the already aged to be older still. But then I did the numbers: it’s over 21 years since the day I surfed in that Nor’Wester. Which explains it.

So the plan now: fix up the dings. Hope my body repairs itself. And take the old board surfing.

October 11, 2008

Summer’s Calling Card

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 3:36 pm
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Three things I love about Nor’Westerly Gales:

1. The way they sweep across the harbour and over the Eastbourne hills, tearing at the native bush until whole hillsides roar with the motion of trees.

2. The way they peel white squalls from the sea at Sinclair Head and set them running, like ghost ships, south into the horizon.

3. The way they end, eventually, and leave days like today in their wake.

August 18, 2008

Surgery on Wednesday

Filed under: Staying Places — terence @ 6:00 pm

On a day when Wellington was ringed by snow covered hills, Jo and I went for a drive. We sat on Petone Wharf and listened as fishermen spun nets of words in Khmer and Samoan. We drove out to Makara and watched the early afternoon sun set the Tasman shimmering like unspent promise.

I’m scheduled to go into hospital tomorrow and, barring the unexpected, surgery will be on Wednesday. All going to plan I will be discharged about a week later. So no blogging for a while (although I might see whether Jo can post an update here).

I’ve been anxious today in an odd sort of way. I feel nervous like you do the morning you’re due to fly out on an overseas trip. It feels like you’ve forgotten something but you can’t quite figure what.

Which is ok, my travelling days left me more or less equipped to cope with that sensation. As you may have noticed I’ve been distracting myself trying to find metaphors.

August 17, 2008

Newtown Wins!

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings,Staying Places — terence @ 6:17 pm
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This afternoon my wife and I went to People’s Coffee in Newtown. While she waited inside for the drinks I wandered out into the street. Propped up against the storefront a musician played country music. Songs about Hank Williams and Austin Texas competed with the traffic and won hands down. On the first of the cafe’s tables a couple watched the guy play – rapt. Next to them two girls, one with dreadlocks, ignored everything but their own conversation. On the table over four men from somewhere in Africa talked in their native tounge. The conversation rose and ebbed, its crests lifting their voices to near shouts.

Set out towards the footpath an older bearded guy sat on a stool, swaying in time to the songs, pausing only to light a Gudang Guram. The smell of the clove cigarette drifted over to where I rested against a sun-warmed fence and, as it always does, brought memories of Indonesia.

Above us all, large swollen clouds drifted aimlessly in the sky, utterly unable to make up their minds.

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