Red is the colour of a New Zealand Christmas

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It’s funny what a little distance can do.

Last year was our first white Christmas, spent high in the Austrian Alps. It snowed on Christmas Eve and we spent a week in the bosom of warm Austrian hospitality – candlelight feasting, skiing and tobogganing . It was such an enchanting and different experience that I feared that returning to normal – no matter how good to be with all the family again – would be a disappointment.

Then, while hanging out the washing the other day (bear with me) I looked up to see the blood-red blooms of the pohutukawa tree at the neighour-two-doors-over.

Boom. It was like a wee Christmas elf had waved a magical pine wand and transported me to the beach. Continue reading

Back in the shire: the truth about coming home

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What a blur it’s been.

Smiling faces and hugs and kisses at the airport then whammo: into the car and back onto the left hand side of the road, heading north past Mangere Mountain, onto the bridge across the harbour, taking the Hillsborough Rd exit, passing through Epsom, past the rubbish bin I threw up in in 2008, past the café that does the baguettes, past Dog Mountain, up the hill to Mt Eden village, past the family doctor on the left, the family dentist on the right, the chemist, the favourite deli, turning right at the fruit shop, right again and there you are.

Home.
Continue reading

The ugly business of saying good-bye


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A week to go. A week!

What a strange limbo this is.

I went out to buy fruit the other day, paused at the end of the driveway, sighed, and turned left instead of right.

What a coward. Instead of heading to my favourite little fruit shack up the road, I went to the big, bland, unfriendly place down the road, spoke to no one and slunk back home with my inferior produce.

It’s so stupid to be avoiding the Raspberry Man who I have enjoyed talking with so much over the last 18 months.

Today I realised why I’ve been doing it. The business of leaving is messing up the business of living. Continue reading

Cassis, the Route de Crêtes and a camera cock-up

Sometimes a landscape is so painterly that it can make up for a technical screw-up on the camera front.

I was initially horrified to see that I had accidentally enabled a cheap camera effect on the day we  finally brought our boys to one of our favourite landscapes in Provence – the dizzying Route de Crêtes between Cassis and La Ciotat. Continue reading

The best place never to take children in Provence


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There were good reasons not to take five children on one of the best hikes in Provence.

Risk of death was the principle one.

The highest point takes you high along the face of a cliff so thin that it looks like a gormless rock giant has patted it together out of wet sand and tapped bits out of it with a finger.

The French call it Les Lames – The Blades. Continue reading

The alarming disappearance of Auckland’s volcanoes

I must be turning French because I am outraged.

I want to act like a French protester and spontaneously flip my people-mover on its side (kids, husband, bag, phone charger out first) and set fire to it, then go on strike from telling people how great New Zealand is.

Back in my home town, a panel of pointy-headed morons has given the Auckland Council carte blanche to throw out the rules that were meant to protect public views of the city’s fantabulous volcanoes forever – or at least until the city gets blown off the face of the earth. Continue reading

French Special Forces stole my suitcase and framed British Airways  

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French operatives establish positions for the suitcase-heist

As a travelling day, it didn’t start off well.

It was only two days since France’s worst-ever air disaster and passengers boarding my Marseille flight bound for Paris were all peering into the cockpit to check for signs of the pilots’ will to live.

I was determined to keep my thoughts selflessly and appropriately where they belonged – with the dead and the bereaved.

Then I stepped onto the plane and let myself down. My split-second mental health assessment of the pilots: low grade anxiety triggered by being stared at all morning by terrified passengers.

In my defence, I was sick as a dog and not thinking straight. Snot was pouring out my nose so fast that it was making it to my chin before I could unfold the next tissue.

A four day solo trip to New York to see old friends and two fantastic theatre productions had seemed like a magical opportunity for the several weeks that I had been planning it. Now it didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Ninety minutes later, safely on the tarmac in Paris but with the whole Atlantic yet to cross, I dabbed my stinging nostrils and peered out the window to see armed men in black taking up positions all around the plane.

Continue reading

A year of raspberries and sunshine in Provence

The fruit and vegetable man showed me a little box of raspberries and slipped it in with my shopping.

Un petit cadeau [a little gift],” he said with a quick smile – turning back to the till to finish tallying up.

It’s nothing special for Monsieur C to give away his raspberries.

But the first time he gave me raspberries I felt like he had picked me up and plonked me down into sunlight.

Bam. You, madam, are a customer. Welcome to the neighbourhood. Continue reading