Tag Archives: Christchurch

My Neck of the Woods: Chapter 7

All over the place, New Zealand

February 2006 – June 2006

The flight from Montreal to LA to Auckland was long, uneventful, and boring.  We had arranged to stay with friends, Wencheng and Tim, in Auckland for a few days. There we set up a new bank account and Eric got his New Zealand driver’s licence. One of my brothers and his wife came to Auckland with a car for us! That was wonderful!

Incidentally, my mother’s funeral had been held. The four days of flight would end in a weekend followed by a series of national holidays which meant the delay of the funeral would go on and on. I said to go ahead without me. So that’s what was done.

Before we left Quebec we had organized a “farm stay”. In return for meals and accommodation one works on a farm. Margaret in Otane, Hawkes Bay, had a horse farm complete with pigs, cows, sheep, and chickens. We were to stay about three months (we had rooms in the stable) while we did some essential things on the side such as try to find work!

Getting Eric residency was a breeze. It took about an hour. Mainly what we needed to do was to show old bills that proved we had lived at the same address for several years. We had come prepared. Margaret let us leave the farm on the odd day to job hunt. At times she went away herself and left us to run the farm on our own. It was enjoyable enough, but after a time we realized that we were more and more being used. We feigned job hunt success, loaded the car, and with considerable pretended glee drove off to goodness knows where.

Eric worked in the textile field. The head of Sarah Lee in America (in fact back then the largest textile manufacturer in the world) had described Eric as one of the world’s leading industrial chemists. (He added: “If you want to employ Einstein you have to put up with the hair.” Eric had long hair!) We should find no problem in getting work for him. New Zealand being a farming economy meant there were textile plants from one end of the country to the other. Of course, unbeknown to us at the time, those textile manufacturers who hadn’t already moved to China were planning to do so.

We decided to stay in a single-roomed beach house at Paekakariki. Paekakariki was halfway between the two textile mills most likely to want employers. The one in Lower Hutt didn’t have a vacancy and went bankrupt and collapsed out of existence about a month after Eric visited. The one at Levin didn’t have a vacancy and has since packed up and gone to China.

We moved on, catching the interisland ferry which took us to Christchurch in the South Island.

We first stayed in a small motel in Armagh Street. The motel room flooded when the inhabitants above took a shower.

We found an apartment at 4/50 Champion Street, Christchurch. Yes! Christchurch would be our home, job or no job. We unloaded the car, bought some old furniture and resumed job hunting.

We had hardly put the table together before the phone went. It was a textile company in Auckland that made exclusive fabric for window blinds for the overseas market. You have the job you applied for weeks ago. You will be in charge of the night shift. We dismantled what furniture we could and packed the car to the gunnels. On the way we crossed the Southern Alps to visit a sister there.

Once again we caught the interisland ferry to Wellington.

We drove from Wellington and arrived safely in the City of Auckland; a town where we had started our job hunt four months earlier!

2228. I Spied: Margaret Mahy

(Stories posted on Mondays on this blog – at least for a while – will present famous people I once spotted, albeit usually from a distance.)

For those who don’t know Margaret Mahy here is a little blurb copied from somewhere on the Net:

Margaret Mahy is internationally recognised as one of the all-time best writers for young readers, her books having been translated into all the major languages of the world. Twice winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal, she also won the Esther Glen Award five times and the Observer Teenage Fiction Award once.

At the time I “spied” Margaret Mahy I was living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Margaret Mahy (I think) lived in a little township just out of Christchurch called Diamond Harbour. It was easier to get to Diamond Harbour by boat than it was to drive for an hour or so along the winding road around the harbour. I knew that because I would take a boat to see friends of mine, Jeremy and Kate, who also lived at Diamond Harbour.

I was quite well known in Christchurch as a playwright. The Actors’ Company, the Christchurch Shakespeare Festival Trust, the Mill Theatre, and others produced quite a number of my plays. Several thousand schools around the country used to do one of my musicals each year – one school doing a Goodman production nine years in a row! At a one-act play festival, so many theatre companies were performing a Goodman play that they started fondly calling it the Goodman Festival! Believe me, I didn’t mind. Sadly, I have since fallen off the stage and am not even a dim memory. Nothing was ever published except by the photocopier.

I say all this simply because my friend at Diamond Harbour, Jeremy Roake, was also a playwright and was commissioned to write a play for Good Friday by the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral. I was asked to direct it. Each scene would be acted at a different spot in the Town Square and end up inside the cathedral itself. The aim was to make it seem like the “procession” of Jesus to his death on Calvary was actually happening in the Town Square. There were crowds of people at the performance pushing and shoving to get near the front to watch the action. The part of Jesus was played by an Indian actor who was a Hindu. My favourite bit was when the lady who was always in the Square preaching Christianity came up to Jesus, handed him a pamphlet, and asked, “Are you saved?” The Christchurch Wizard – a very popular tourist attraction in the Square at the time – howled with laughter. Anyway, the production was quite moving and the Cathedral Dean was happy enough. The cathedral has since fallen down in an earthquake.

It was during this time of rehearsal that I was asked if I would chair a meeting of the Christchurch Branch of the New Zealand Writers’ Association. (It used to be called PEN but they changed the name because it caused a mild smirk when an announcement was made such as “PEN is having a meeting”). I wasn’t a member of the group because I’d never had anything published! The reason I was asked was because writers sometimes enjoy talking about themselves and they knew I was more than capable of telling them to sit down and shut up. (Nicely of course). One by one at the meeting I called upon various writers to read an extract of their work. But there was a problem: Margaret Mahy was at the meeting as large as life, and I didn’t know how to pronounce the Mahy bit of her name. There was more than one Margaret. In the end, as the very last, I introduced her: “And now we shall hear from the great Margaret!” She stood and off by heart entertained us all with a poem she had written for children. It was a wonderful end to the evening.

In the queue at the cup of tea afterwards, I was standing next to her. In response to one of the things that had been read, and I can’t remember what the reading was about, the great Margaret told me a story. When she was a little girl she went to school one day, and it wasn’t until she sat down at her desk that she realized she hadn’t put on any panties.

And that is how I met the wonderful…

Margaret Mahy