Thoughts from a loo with a view

2008-11-18 00:00

The three of us — my husband, Paddy-Wag and I — are sort of residing in our virtual reality home. But recently the harbour lady called to say that “our ship” (with our container aboard) arrives soon. That was an off-the-Richter-Scale thriller. So then we shall have a home with real furniture in it.

Meanwhile, the best (and only) throne in the house is the loo. It has a spectacular view across Manukau Harbour. It’s also a terrific vantage point from which to watch every international jet’s bulbous belly impossibly hanging in suspended animation before landing across the bay.

The tree that scrapes against the window ledge is the spring home to a pair of New Zealand pigeons. These are the most robust bellied of the pigeon species. A bit like the jets, one feels awed at how these rotund chaps actually acquire the art of ever becoming airborne and how they manage to suspend themselves upside down in the delicate filigree-leafed branches to devour wads of sprigs. If one obliquely squints in the general direction of the tree, one would wonder why some lunatic had planted two rugby balls up there. Below the tree is a pastoral scene, where four horses graze contentedly, their blankets, which have protected them from the wet, cold winter, newly removed.

The land of the long white cloud is indeed just that. Bulwarks of clouds scurry, build up to a crescendo and vanish with the click of a celluloid frame, to reveal a fabulous rainbow arched from one end of Auckland to the other. There are generally four moments in a day — sun, clouds, rain — then the rainbow. One dresses accordingly. It’s the land of layered garments.

In the three months of living here, I’ve grown to love the place. I love the quirkiness juxtaposed against the phenomenal orderliness. In so many ways it’s similar to home, yet it’s diametrically opposed — the lurking paradox.

Talking of rugby balls, there’s the same rugby mania here, with cars adorned with little black flags, the way the blokes at home have their Springbok and Sharks banners out. And talking of rainbows, believe me, it’s a far bolder multi-hued rainbow nation than South Africa can boast. In my work organisation alone, there are over 10 different cultural groups and/or nationalities.

On the converse side from home, it’s a land that’s receptive to its constant metamorphosis. There’s a constant flux as people come and go. Some go to big brother, Aussie, and some arrive from South Africa, China and India, among others. Helen Clarke, the previous prime minister, talks about a brain gain as skilled immigrants arrive, whereas South Africa bemoans its brain drain.

It ticks over to near perfection. It’s thrilling when one is phoned to say the garden furniture will be delivered at 10.07 am and, oh boy at seven minutes past, there’s a knock at the door. It’s a zero-tolerance country on law and order, and having hailed from a laissez faire system (a polite way to put it), one truly has to learn to dot the i’s and cross the t’s to ensure not getting a fine. It’s a real skill being an accomplished Kiwi and I’m still getting there.

Clocks are here for a reason, not as decorative wall features. And the work ethic is intensive, as it’s the only way a country of 4,5 million people can operate profitably. Labour is limited, so mechanistic contraptions can attend to anything in a jiffy, 24/7.

From the loo window I can see that things are hotting up in our neck of the woods. Elections were held recently in New Zealand, which was fun to survey from the sidelines as a persona non grata. And yes, if I was the new prime minister, there are things I’d aim to change. There’s no Nirvana, but globally speaking it functions impressively away from the hot spots on the planet (other than the potential volcanoes). It’s egalitarian, proudly democratic and non-fundamentalist.

It’s a place that works, regardless of the world’s larger forces. Being part of the global village, though, sadly means that negative social influences and the global recession have infiltrated this gloriously pristine place. But it has a rich heritage and a titillatingly metamorphic vibe.

• Eve Hemming was a local headmistress before emigrating to New Zealand.

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