Monday, 28 December 2009

Another Post About Stuff

if the universe wants me here who am i to argue?

Sage is away for Christmas and New Year. So is her next-door neighbour Alice.

I have been tasked with feeding their cats. The cats love me for it. It is good to have quality kitty-company after Invercargill’s cat drought.

I have been at Sage’s house for, I don’t know, two weeks now? Three? The long slow summer holidays are unravelling time; days smudge into each other unmarked.

She drove out in her little Suzuki truck to fetch me, did Sage – a school chum I barely knew, one of the industrious degree students who shared the newsroom with us diploma rowdies. A bare-footed rescuer in a bright orange dress and lime green blazer and, crucially, a van, she came straight away from Christchurch, a round trip of a good few hours, after getting my apologetic SOS text message.

Once she’d collected me and my Stuff from the garage where I was stranded, and brought me to her house in Brighton – astonishingly, a stone’s throw from where I had started out that morning – she said I could stay as long as I wanted.

The arrangement is that I do housework in exchange for keep. She won’t take rent until I get a job. So I am the Dish Fairy, the cleaner, the cat-feeder, the house-sitter, the decorator’s mate, the spare pair of hands in the garden.

I felt awkward at first. It is a household of many people. There is Sage, her husband, a 19-year-old son; and two lodgers – a couple in their twenties - in the downstairs bedroom. Then there are the dogs, Charcoal and Lace, and Marvin the cat. Barbara the chicken lives in the garden. The house gets full, very quickly, and they are all used to living communally. I am not.

I felt like an interloper in their midst, a nuisance, an encumbrance, a gawky spare part, eating their food and not doing nearly enough to repay their generosity. I shrank in the face of their open-heartedness. I wanted to flee. Fortunately, I had nowhere to go.

Gradually, I stopped fighting the twist of fate that brought me to Sage’s. Now I recognise it for the blessing it is. Before my car died, my vague plan for the summer was to bum about by the beach, live cheaply, pay off my credit card, and sort out my Stuff ready for my triumphal return to the UK in February (I expect no less than a ticker tape parade, guys).

Now the beautiful beach that drew me at the start of the year, and again the other week, is a two-minute-walk-with-no-shoes-on away. The roof over my head has been mine, some days, for no more than clearing a stack of dirty dishes and making Sage a cup of tea. I can hear the roar of the ocean as I garden. I have signed on for unemployment benefit - because of the Christmas holidays no one is hiring, which I am grateful for as this is giving me the time I need to whittle down my Stuff to bare essentials.

When my chores are done, and after I’ve taken my bestie Charcoal for a twilight stick-throwing marathon at the beach, I hole up in my room with Marvin and together we go through every item of Stuff in my possession, all those everyday ‘at home’ things so used and familiar they become invisible; all those things that lurk in drawers and cupboards and attics to be pulled out and utilised from time to time.

With each thing I ask, do I want this, is it serving me? Would it be useful to me in the future, or is it tying me to my past? I carefully consider whether it has sufficient merit to make it into my new life, or if it represents nothing more than nostalgia.

Everything is getting the treatment. Everything. Even letters from Flatmate. Even my socks.

Most Stuff hasn’t made it. Local charity shops are groaning under the weight of recent Weasel donations, and Sage and I laid out a rug on the ground at the local Saturday market the other week and sold some things.

But the majority of Stuff has been devoured by my laptop. I have always collected snippets from books and magazines, things that have caught my eye - poems, quotes, wisdom, useful or interesting information, examples of exquisite writing. I had folders and folders of clippings, all for the just-in-case, or for the sheer pleasure of the words. I had a big folder too full of torn-out or scribbled-down recipes. These things weigh a ton, take up room, and are pointless to ship when you can slip an external hard drive into your hand luggage. Marvin and I stay awake til the small hours, typing up those words I can’t bear to part with, so that the paper versions can be discarded.

Diaries too. They are fascinating reading. So far I have typed up the one from the first half of 2007, as I was preparing to leave New Zealand to go and live with BK in Cardiff for a year. Stupidly, the Stuff I was battling to get rid of then is the same Stuff I am battling to get rid of now. That time, I failed to bite the bullet and left the bulk of it with a friend in Wellington. My guilty nightmares about the encroachment of his tiny loft and spare room were the only reason I came back. I am being ruthless this time. I don’t want Stuff having a hold over me when I go in February.

I will take with me only those things I’ll need, and if there’s room, some things I want. I will leave behind only what there's no room to take, which can't be replaced. The kitchen equipment, the bedding, the oil heaters, the spanners and screwdrivers and allen keys, the paints and pencils and sketchbooks for that time when I can potter around being An Artist, the summer clothes, those boots I never wear but might one day when I learn to walk in high heels again - all that will be gone.

Ploughing through Stuff is a slow, thoughtful, process. And yet a car-load has become two suitcases, a rucksack, six boxes, an art portfolio and various bags, and then two suitcases, a rucksack, three boxes, and a giant heap of paperwork. Now, it’s two boxes, a rucksack, a small pile of paperwork and a bunch of paper waiting to be ceremonially burnt at the beach.

I am winning, but still there is so much to do. I’m liking the pointlessness and the pleasure of the whole exercise. Ditching Stuff is cathartic; a renewal. I harbour secret yearnings to just dump the lot without the weird hoarding but I’m not brave enough for that. Some Stuff is so imbued with significance it is tapeworm of the soul. I am transforming that Stuff into Truly Cherished Things.

The aim is to leave New Zealand in February 2010 with just one rucksack – the same rucksack I stepped off the plane with that first time in 1998. I landed in Christchurch then, I am flying out of Christchurch now. It will be twelve years, almost exactly to the day. Full circle. Love that symmetry.

As the airline's luggage allowance is a paltry 20 kilos, I hope to leave one or two modestly-sized boxes of Truly Cherished Things with kind-hearted, large-cupboarded friends, and when I have done whatever it is the UK is calling me back to do, I will ship everything back here – even my record collection, still lurking in 80s splendour in my dad’s attic – and return to New Zealand to make a home, a permanent base for myself and my TCTs, with the words of William Morris in mind -

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

And I will never roam the world again. The world, in future, can come to me. I’ll make sure I have a spare room for it: I’ve got some karma to pay back.

Happy New Year.


PS: If you’re wondering what happened to My Little Car, when Sage got to the garage she chatted up the queue of people waiting to pay and found a man with more eyes than teeth willing to give me $50 for it. I gave Sage the money for petrol.




Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Universe Throws Weasel A Curve Ball

the end of the road
[picture credit: postart.co.nz - click pic for link]

There was something else My Little Car forgot to tell me.

I left Invercargill with a one-way ticket to the UK tucked safely in my handbag (my treat to myself for surviving the year - I fly 5th February) and, loaded up with a carful of Stuff, and hugs and well-wishes from friends, and a large super supreme pizza (my treat to myself for surviving the day) I drove out of town without a backwards glance and headed for the Catlins. Having reduced the amount of Stuff I possessed to allow me to actually recline the car seats and stretch out on a foam mattress this time, I enjoyed an almost comfortable night’s sleep.

Spent the second night at Aramoana near Dunedin. I parked on a long narrow spit extending into the sea, and it was rather splendid to wake up surrounded by crashing waves and wheeling gulls.

As I left Aramoana my intuition – a pesky little bugger at the best of times – started to whine. You’ve never trusted this car, it said. You didn’t even give it a name! What if it lets you down?

Don’t be silly, I said, everything’s fine and anyway I only need it for a few more weeks. It’s running well, it’s ok to sleep in, and it’s even getting up and down hills with comparative ease. Shush now.

I made for Akaroa. Akaroa is the first place I visited in New Zealand after I arrived in Christchurch in 1998. I thought it would be nice to see it again. It is beautiful, and there are dolphins and stuff as it is tucked away in a splendid harbour created by an ancient volcanic eruption. To reach it, you have to drive for miles through verdant flatlands, then up and over the rim of a fucking big (extinct) volcano.

At the crest of the road, there is a place to stop and take in the stunning view that is now spread before you. The first time I saw this view, it took my breath away. This time, I barely noticed it. All I felt was uneasy doubt. Don’t go to Akaroa, my intuition whispered. I have learned the hard way not to ignore this voice. I got in my car and drove back the way I came.

Now I didn’t know what to do or where to go. It was getting dark so I thought I’d park up and worry about it in the morning. I drove to a place called Birdling Flats to sleep by the sea, but couldn’t settle there either. I wasn’t sleepy – I was worried. I wondered whether to push on to Nelson, my ultimate destination. But it was close to 11pm, and I needed petrol, and I should probably stop for the night. What was this awful anxious feeling?

I drove into Christchurch. Where should I stop? I didn’t really feel like stopping anywhere. Out of ideas, I drove out to Brighton where I had slept on the way down in February. Parked on Marine Parade, like before. Had an uneasy night’s sleep. Woke, filled the car with petrol, drove north without even wanting breakfast. An hour or so out of Christchurch, I became aware of a knocking noise coming from the engine. The car seemed to be losing power, ever so slightly. At a small town called Culverden, I pulled into a car park, a sick feeling in my stomach. Should I cross my fingers and push on?

Unusually for me, I took the sensible option. Providence had provided a garage across the road. I nipped over and asked if there was someone around who could have a quick look at my car. Yes, there was – bring it over, they said. As I restarted it, it made a noise so bad several people turned round to stare. This wasn’t looking good.

“Oil,” said the garage man as I pulled up outside the workshop. “It needs oil.”

“But it’s got oil,” I said. “I always check it.”

He removed the dipstick, saw there was plenty of oil, and grimaced.

“Ok, start it up again. Make sure it’s not in gear please.”

That noise again. Worse, now. Was crying all over the mechanic allowed?

“That’s terminal I’m afraid. Cam shaft’s gone, or top end; something’s come away inside the engine. Listen – you can hear it banging on the casing here. It’s spraying oil all over the place. You’ll need a new engine. Cost you at least a grand.”

Oh. My. God. OHMYGOD. Oh my – FUCK. Fucking fucketty fuck. Fucking Adrian. Fucking BRIAN. Fucking hell Weasel you are such a TOOL. FuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK.

Now what?

“Right,” I said. “Ok. Um… would you mind if I just sit in my car for a minute while I try and work out what to do? You see I don’t have any money or indeed anywhere to live, I am flying back to the UK soon and was going to spend January bumming around in my car, and everything I own is in it and I have nowhere to put it and I don’t really know what to do…” I was gabbling. I took a breath. “So can I just sit here and think about things for a bit please?”

“No worries,” he said.

I sat in my Judas machine, ate a banana and tried to think. But my brain wouldn’t formulate a plan. Instead, it was filled with white noise.

Come on, Weasel, you are meant to be clever now. Get that diploma-brain working. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere with a carful of Stuff and no money. It is too far for your friends in Nelson to come out to get you, three or four hours over a tricky and winding mountain pass, and it is too much to ask that they rescue me as they have young kids and jobs and routines and things, and anyway there wouldn’t be room for all your Stuff in their car. You’re on your own chick. What are you going to do? You've got to sort it out.

Nothing. Thoughts raced round and round but none stuck. I switched on my phone. The battery was low. I went into the garage shop.

“Would you mind if I charged my mobile phone in here please? You see, my car has just died right outside there on your forecourt and I don’t know what to do.”

The boy behind the counter eyed the mad dishevelled Englishwoman warily. “Uh, yup,” he said, and found a plug for me in a corner under a desk between a rack of sunglasses and a map display. I bought a coffee and made myself comfortable and had the vague idea I could live there forever, like that Tom Hanks movie about the man who lived at the airport.

When my phone was charged I rang my breakdown recovery service who said they could tow me free of charge to the garage I was stuck at, but any further towing costs I would have to meet myself and it would probably cost about $250 to get back to Christchurch.

I said I'd think about it, thanked them, hung up, and scratched my head.

Then I remembered Sage.


Sunday, 6 December 2009

North

weasel of thinkology

I'm off now - gotta give the internet back to Kad in a minute, and will be leaving town in the morning.

Bye Invercargill, you were... interesting.

See the rest of you somewhere sunny.



Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Trophy

mine's bigger than that

Tonight was the awards ceremony.

It was in the Civic Theatre, which is quite posh, and there was free wine, and a buffet.

When it was my turn to go up and get my award I didn't trip up the steps, or fall off the stage, which was good.

I was very surprised to see my prizes consisted of not just two envelopes stuffed with cold hard cash, but also a FUCKING BIG TROPHY.

A fucking big trophy.

Yes.

Let me say that one more time: a fucking big trophy.

Not even winning a yellow and blue felt rosette for coming third in the 50 yard sprint at Sports Day circa 1977 felt as good as seeing that fucking big trophy sitting there on that stage waiting for me.

Here is a photo of two of my more shy and retiring Fabulous Classmates, Che and Craig, enjoying the fucking big trophy after the awards ceremony:



There were three awards up for grabs for the journalism diploma students. Craig won the third award, for having the most stories published, even though he did not pass shorthand which was part of the criteria! Therefore he won this award simply due to being totally awesome. When he is rich and famous (and he will be), I hope he remembers I let him play with my fucking big trophy tonight, and rewards me with champagne and truffles and a ride on his diamond-bedecked unicorn at his Sydney harbourside luxury apartment and stuff.

Che said she wanted to look after the fucking big trophy for me, because as of next week I will be homeless and won't have a mantlepiece to put it on and anyway they'll need it back next year and I won't be here but she will. I'm not sure of the rules regarding fucking big trophies, but I said that would be ok. I hope it is, because she really liked it.

We journos tried to drink as much of the free wine as we possibly could in the allocated time. Then Che and Craig left and I utilised my fucking big trophy in true pikey-student fashion by filling it with food from the buffet before sidling off home myself.

On the way home I stopped in my favourite park to take a photo. It was still light, even though it was 10pm! That's school in the background, by the way, and sorry for the fuzziness of the pic, but my arms were suffering from muscle tremors due to having to carry a fucking big trophy:



See how big the trophy is? It's big enough for monkeys.

That's big, all right.

I've never had a trophy before, especially not a fucking big one. It weighs about the same as an average sized toddler. That's fucking big, for a trophy. It is all very funny, and very exciting.