Getting into a Waiheke routine
When people asked me ‘What are you going to do there?’ My answer would be, ‘Write, garden and see friends and relatives.’ So far I’ve settled down to writing in the mornings, producing two and now three substantial posts on my blog site and almost completed chapter 19 of Gay Dads. I realise that I can write every morning, not just the previously allocated Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The garden, however is pressing as spring is rapidly turning into summer and things need to be planted. I’ve always been worried about screening between me and the neighbours and in the past I’ve brought up native pittosporums from my brother’s farm in Hawke’s Bay, but only two of those have survived and aren’t doing that well. So I leap into the car, drive off to the hardware store and buy four established specimens. I now have to clear a whole tangle of creeper, some of it a left over bignonia from a different age. It has escaped and along with something else I can’t identify has rampaged though a few straggly coprosmas and a small palm tree. The creepers have to be extricated from their hosts and dug out. The following day the remains require disposal by carting bundles down-hill to a pile of decomposing branches and foliage near the bottom of the section. While I’m doing this the neighbours are clearing out all the junk left under their house by the previous tenants and carrying it in the opposite direction, up the hill for the ‘inorganic’ rubbish collection in a few weeks time. Their ex tenants, an extended family of Tongans have moved two houses up the road and have set themselves up in the scrap metal business. They have a small truck with high sides and can be seen cruising up and down the island picking up metal, old cookers and appliances left out on the road side for the collection. Everyone is at it because one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure. There’s still plenty left for the Council to collect. The laugh is that the Tongans collect metal from my neighbour’s pile, stuff they must have left behind eighteen months ago.
I get everything planted plus lettuce seedlings (the seeds I’d stored 3 years ago refused to germinate) and an Aubergine (Egg plant here) purchased from Dave at the Thursday sale in the Community Hall. At the end of the day I’m still looking at the two Kauri trees patiently waiting for attention.
Over the weekend, I clear a huge swathe of spring flowering jasmine which has escaped from a garden and woven a great mat of runners and roots over the bush floor, clambering up the trees and smothering them. This part of the bush garden is mosquito country and I’m kitted up in jeans a long sleeved top and a sun hat. My tools are gloves for pulling long runners up; a sharp hoe to grub up the roots and a pair of old hedge clippers to hack through the stems.
Nestled amongst this entanglement is another hated weed here, the asparagus fern, which has a tenacious root system enabling the top to clamber over everything inhibiting native seedlings. I’ve also got my eye on a plant by the name of Tradescantia otherwise known variously by its racist name, Wandering Jew Plant or Wandering Willy- possibly a reference to its promiscuity. In the UK it is deemed a house plant, being not frost hardy, and there are websites advising on the care of this plant, which in New Zealand has become a garden thug. It’s OK in semi shade and manages to rampage over everything else commandeering the sunlight. For a change, on Sunday, I switch my attention to this pest.
It’s survival mechanisms are cunning; being fragile and easily broken, pieces of the succulent stems can break off and quickly re-root. Gentle handling is required to lift as much of it as possible into a bucket and pieces can fall out as if having an escape instinct.
The other problem is that it’ doesn’t wilt easily so can’t be put straight into a compost heap where it would re-group and thrive. I reflect that Tradescantia is named after gardeners to Charles I called Tradescant. They collected plants from all over the world and were influential in the development of taxonomy. Perhaps not the legacy they dreamed of. Each afternoon or early evening, I work away eradicating these foreign weeds from my bush garden. Sometimes I feel like an early settler clearing the land by hand. In reality, I’m restoring the forest floor so that native seedlings can germinate.
Swimming this week at the school baths is a more respectable 22 degrees and I manage forty-five minutes. It gets a bit frustrating at times with some in the lane swimming breastroke with their heads above the water. I’ve been concentrating on backstroke, but my attention wanders with the result that I keep banging my head on the end of the pool. There are no flags warning of the approaching wall. I swap to breaststroke with resignation. It needs some work and I can at least see where I’m going and there’s no danger of going too fast. A Saturday routine has quickly become established, with a call into the market. There’s a different person on the vegetable stall this week and he’s got celery seedlings and an acid free tomato plant. Next up is the Latte in the Hall café then off to the supermarket just down the hill.
Part of the plan is the purchase and transportation of a Brompton fold-up bicycle. It arrived before me and waited patiently for customs clearance. Although mainly transported by UPS, in the end the Post Office on the Island attempts to deliver it. Slightly intrigued by the post office card in the letterbox saying they had a parcel waiting for me, I go in, only to find that indeed it is the bicycle. Unfortunately the carrier has been squashed against the back wheel and it takes me some time to work that out. In the end I use brute force and straightened a strut. I go out on the road for a test drive and there’s an elderly woman walking past. We say hello and she stops to look at the bike. I demonstrate the folding up procedure and offer to let her feel the weight, but she has recently had abdominal surgery and declines. Down the hill I go and back up without incident and the gears are all working. It sits in the store room for a week until I decide how I’m really going to make this bike work here. It’s a Friday and I’m running short of milk. Shopping is designated for Saturday so it would be a profligate use of petrol to drive to the supermarket. This is a perfect test mission for the blue Brompton. Off I set with my pink cycle helmet (mandatory in this country – the helmet not the pink) and my old high visibility yellow jacket. Going down the hills is pretty scary and fast and then there’s always an up-hill to follow but I get to Ostend without getting off to push. At the supermarket I fold up the bike and put it in a shopping trolley and to make it worthwhile using a credit card I buy some decent chocolate (Lindt) and a battery for my smoke alarm. All manner of eccentric behaviour is tolerated on this island, so no one raises an eyebrow except one man at the check-out who casually remarks looking into my trolley, ‘Oh look a Brompton bike.’ The return journey is more difficult as my house is half way up a hill and the supermarket is near sea-level. There’s a long incline past the racing track which goes on forever. Still no getting off to walk and the whole operation takes forty-five minutes.
The next outing for the Brompton is to Palm Beach late on Sunday afternoon. This might be a tough one as there is a steep hill to cross. The journey takes forty minutes and I still don’t have to get off and push. There’s a group of Pacific Island women sitting on the grass playing guitars and ukuleles. They are singing an old New Zealand cheesy favourite ‘Ten Guitars’
‘Beneath the stars my ten guitars will play a song for you
And if you’re with the one you love this is what you’ll do.’
(Replacing ‘dance’, they sing)
‘Hula, Hula, Hula to my ten guitars …’
This and the ukuleles are clues that they are Islanders.
The Brompton is quite heavy to carry along the beach and around the rocks to the naturist section and I nestle it by a bush disguising it by and hanging my clothes and towel over the frame. The sea is still too cold to stay in for any length of time but it’s good to sit and dry out in the warm late afternoon sunshine without getting sunburnt. I go for another swim but a crowd of little pink jellyfish have come into the shallows and it’s still cold so after drying off again, it’s time to cycle home. It’s another forty minutes, but quite a tough one – good aerobic exercise.