A Masked Flight II

Singapore to London

Changi Airport Singapore

Landing in Singapore, we’re asked to remain seated. We are to disembark in groups, so there’s not going to be the usual rush to retrieve hand luggage and stand in the isles packed like sardines waiting for the doors to open. I’d read in the Singapore Airlines email that groups to connecting flights would be given coloured wrist bands and escorted to the appropriate gate. First off are all those catching a flight to Manilla (that’s one of the red zone countries). I don’t see anyone getting off down in economy. Then, to my surprise, the rest of us can disembark. A woman at the end of the walkway just indicates London Heathrow to the right. There are no wrist bands or escorts, just an eighteen-minute walk to gate A15. Changi Airport is not quite as deserted as Auckland. There are staff in PPE doing various tasks or standing around and everyone is wearing a mask. Gate A15 is not open yet so I get chatting with a fellow Kiwi who is travelling to see his seventy-one-year-old partner – the love of his life. She has Parkinson’s and cancer and he wants to take her back to Aotearoa but he’s not sure if New Zealand Immigration will allow that.

Over Indonesia

It’s time for a new mask – I’ve worn this one for over ten hours and a fresh one feels better. Wearing a mask for the first time, on this journey would be hard and once again I reflect on the practice gained on the Waiheke Ferry – only forty minutes though. However, I’ve not felt the least discomfort nor difficulty breathing

We are boarding in groups again, but first, a large contingent who have been sitting in a separate area are being escorted onto the plane by staff wearing PPE. The passengers are all wearing green wrist band. I wonder where they have come from and if they are sitting in a separate part of the plane. This AB 350 is fuller that the last flight but there is still only one person to every three seats. We have fourteen hours ahead of us.

Eat (the food is tasteless), sleep, read (a bit of James Baldwin), play games, attempt to watch a movie. The Avengers is three hours long – I lose interest after fifty-nine minutes as the plot has not even got going. Sleep.

We arrive early due to a tail wind, at 3.16pm. There is no managed disembarkation and no sign of the red country passengers with green bands. Perhaps the have already gone or are waiting somewhere to follow us. There is hardly anyone about so I follow the signs to the electronic passport recognition gates. These include other passports like Aotearoa NZ, Australia and Canada etc, but not Europe. There’s a small queue and three officials checking our documentation (The locator form and the evidence of a negative Covid19 test) before moving on to the electronic biometric gates. I’m recognised, in spite of my relatively recent beard and move onto the baggage claim hall, passing long lines of red zone people. As this list is mostly from Africa, Indian subcontinent and South America the people queuing are various shades of brown. They are returning because they are British or have residency. In the Baggage Hall I approach a monitor to find out which carousel will deliver my bag. A worker shoes me away as I’m coming too close to the red zone people being escorted by staff in PPE.

Do not sit on seat

It’s carousel number three and my bag is waiting. This has got to be that fastest exit at Heathrow ever. Geraldine is on her way, so I decide to relax with a coffee and something to eat at Café Nero. It’s take-away only – the seating area is blocked off and nearby seats are occupied by people or signs saying Do Not Sit Here. It’s a familiar sight from New Zealand’s lockdown, it’s just a shock to realise that Britain is still in the equivalent of our level three. The coffee and snack turn out to be a mistake as I have to manoeuvre my two bags whilst clutching hot coffee and other comestibles.  I’ve texted Geraldine to say I’ll make my way up to the drop off place at the top, having looked for a pick-up place on the ground floor, where red zone people are being loaded into coaches destined for quarantine hotels. Geraldine turns out to be at Nero’s so I retrace my steps and we greet with an elbow touch – no hugging and kissing yet. By this time, Heathrow has got busier and traffic into town is fairly busy. The Sat Nav wants to send us around the M25 which will take longer, so we confuse it by going through town. Geraldine is worried that we’ll get delayed by the ‘Kill the Bill’ protest, which our daughter is attending – good for her – but it’s all over by the time we drive along the embankment, through the City and Whitechapel to Stepney Green. The Family have brought me groceries and it’s just a matter of finding which box the kettle in packed in to make a cup of tea.

Home

A Masked Flight I

Auckland to Singapore

Economy cabin

A calming, jazzy, behind-the-beat piano version of ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ is playing over the P.A. welcoming me as I settle into my economy seat on an Air Bus 350 flight SQ 282 to Singapore. After all the anxiety of that last few weeks I’m finally on my way. There is only one passenger every three seats and many of the rows are empty. There can’t be more than fifty passengers on this gigantic plane.

Auckland International terminal was deserted when I arrived at eight pm – no sign of any check-in desks opened. Anticipating long hours of sitting, I walked along the check-in zones, trundling my bags, sometimes behind, sometimes in front. I stopped to chat to a couple of cheerful Polynesian women at the help desk. They helped me to log on to the Airport Wifi. Check in wouldn’t be until around 9pm, so why didn’t I go upstairs to the Pre-departure zone and have a McDonalds? I smiled politely and said that I wasn’t too keen on McDonalds. I’d already checked my luggage weight and was pleased that my checked in case was only 17Kg but my carry on 2Kg over the 7Kg Limit. Moving my ‘Maori Made Easy’ book and dictionary plus some charger cables sort of did it. I’d got my laptop in a mini rucksack on my back. It will go into the carry-on after check-in.

The first flight of the day

I’ve come equipped with two documents, essential to get on the plane and into the UK; Proof of a negative Covid 19 test and something called a ‘Locator Form’. The Test had to be done within 72 hours of leaving Aotearoa New Zealand on Saturday morning at 0.15hrs. The test was booked for Wednesday with results expected on Friday, 48 hours later. I sold my car on Tuesday and decided to ride my Brompton bike to the GP surgery. I paid $200 and was told to wait around the back in the car park. The test was done through the car window. One of my worries was that the results would not be back in time but eventually a nurse emerged in full PPE. She was somewhat surprised to see me sitting next to my fold-up bike. I was done second, after a woman who was clearly not well. She was told to go home and self- isolate until she received a text. The nurse handed me a tissue and told me to blow my nose. I imagined this might be an additional way to collect the sample, but no I got the swab up the nose and I got to keep the tissue. It was quite unpleasant, going right up my sinuses and seemed to go on forever. I now sympathise with a friend working in Managed Isolation who has this done once a week.

I was very surprised to get a text and an email from the Auckland district Health Board the next morning to say I’m negative. Neither communication seems to have much detail as required by HM Government, UK, so I rang the surgery. They hadn’t been notified but advise me to come in on Friday and get a print-out.

Friday dawns and I have to fill out the Locator Form – online. Heavens knows what people in their Eighties and Nineties who don’t do computers would manage. Probably not travel. I’ve hopefully assembled all the information for the form in advance. I’ve purchased two Covid 19 tests for day two and day eight of my ten-day self-isolation. The list of companies who have seized an opportunity to benefit from the pandemic is endless and prices vary. I paid around £170. In return I got a code to enter into my locator form. An added worry was would the self-administered tests fit through the letterbox of my London house which was empty at the time. there was no way to find out. I tracked the delivery and suggested to the couriers that a family address in North London might be better as someone would be there. It wasn’t delivered to N11 and the couriers wouldn’t tell me where they’d delivered it as only the suppliers could divulge this information. I decided to wait until my son went to my house to un-pack my stuff from the store room. I need not have worried; the tests were there waiting. For someone who likes to be in-control, managing others from a distance can be stressful.

I needed flight details, the time of arrival and my seat number. Suddenly in the midst of filling out the form, there’s the possibility of purchasing a Test and Release pack, which I had planned to do when I got home. This test is done on day 5 and if negative I can get out of jail for £110. Whoopee. One anticipated problem is the lack of wifi in London as I can’t get anything installed until the 10 days are up. Buying the ‘Get out of jail’ test involves a code sent to my UK mobile number. The Vodaphone reception is so bad on Waiheke Island that I have to go upstairs and find a spot where one or two bars show and wait for the text. Eventually it’s all done and printed out and saved in my drop-box. I can relax until the Argentinian lads come to pack up everything, except the bike, in the store-room which they do in a record time of one hour fifty minutes.

After some lunch and some final cleaning, I cycle into the surgery to collect my printed covid test results, which, as I suspected, contain more information. I get back home hot, sweaty and soaking wet from cycling back up hill.

Showered and dressed, I wait for my friend Michael to collect me. The last few things have gone into the store-room. This included a large pile of washing which will wait for two years do be done. The Bike, which had been drying out in the late afternoon sunshine, a bag of toiletries and the cleaning gear take up the last few cubic metres. I am pleased with the shining stainless steel bench surfaces, the place looks like a show home, all ready for the tenants who will move in on Monday.

Auckland Airport Departure lounge

At check in all my documentation is declared to be in order, a huge relief, as I’m now allowed to get on the plane and I didn’t have a plan B for that. I’m one of the first to check-in and upstairs, the pre-departure lounge is deserted. Not a soul and McDonalds looks very closed. At security, one of my biggest hassles when travelling, I‘m the only one there. I can’t believe my eyes. No Queue. Immigration is relaxed but the automated gate doesn’t recognise my Kiwi passport – because I’m travelling on my UK passport. The nice man at the desk processes both for me. I travel though the deserted duty-free area into the departure lounge in the hope of an open bar where I can get a beer. Sadly, I can only get juice, nuts and crisps from one of those shops that sells everything and nothing.

Industrial Henry

A dismal automated floor polisher is going around and around, with a permanent smile on it’s face as it whirrs and clanks, seeming react when approached by stopping. Never have I seen an airport so deserted. There are half a dozen people sitting in the semi-dark. At the boarding gate, more people arrive. It takes less than three minutes to get everyone through the gates. No waiting around to be the first in your group so that important overhead locker space above my seat can be grabbed for carry-ons. I’d forgotten how much leg room there is in AB 350s. We are all wearing masks and will remain masked for the flight. I’m grateful for the practice of mask wearing on the Waiheke Island Ferry, Auckland busses and trains. The Chinese man over the isle is also wearing large clear plastic goggles – taking the whole thing seriously. With three seats to myself, I sleep most of the way, plugged into Mozart’s violin concertos.

2020 in Aotearoa

2020 in Aotearoa

Swimming at Palm Beach

Twenty -Twenty started well in Aotearoa, a fine Summer with sea swimming in very acceptable temperatures. A couple of Out to Swim team mates from the UK visited and I did the usual drive around showing off Waiheke Island with a swim on the fabulous Onetangi Beach followed by lunch. Or was it the other way around?

On Onetangi Beach

Lunch followed by a swim? It all seems so long ago now as I write on the penultimate day of a year that has seen such upheavals yet been strangely uneventful at the same time. Today, the UK has reported a record number of Covid 19 cases, even as several vaccines are being administered.

February saw me in Melbourne for the annual IGLA swim meet, connecting with many gay and lesbian friends from around the world. I collected a few medals on the way and was particularly proud of my Team Auckland relay team winning two golds in our age group.

TAMS in Melbourne

March began with a return to Otago researching my Grandparent’s story. In Tapanui, where they began married life, I visited the local museum and looked through the back copies of the local paper (1913-22). I also visited the farm they leased and talked to the present owner. Finally, I revisited the cemetery where their first born (my Uncle) is buried and has lain un-visited for over one hundred years. I drove back to Dunedin through farm land that was once the thriving community of Pukepito, where my Grandmother had her first teaching post. Farming does not require so much labour now and these rural communities have disappeared.

COVID beard

Back in Auckland the festival was beginning. Already, COVID-19 was about in the world and had disrupted delivery of equipment needed for the out-door spectacular. I managed to catch a few shows before everything was cancelled and we went into lockdown in the last week of March. I stopped shaving with a tentative view to growing a beard and started a diary. The hand-written in pencil diary lasted 15 days and really is too boring to take any further and the beard, by contrast, seems to be a success and is still with me – for the moment.

Kereru native pigeon

I did write a short essay entitled ‘A Duty of Care’ a part of which is worth quoting here. “There was little debate when our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced the first and dramatic measures against the COVID-19 virus. She was firm, precise and empathetic – something the rest of the world has noticed and envies. My impression was that she and her government acknowledge a duty of care for us. It’s an important concept and there are many stories of individuals and groups applying this principle to their friends and neighbours.” “…so many governments/rulers around the world … (believe) their duty is to the profits of the wealthy and to consolidate their own power.” “In Aotearoa – New Zealand we are teetering on the brink, holding our collective breath against a community spread.”

Rocky Bay Swimming spot

Everything seemed to stop. The rest of the Festival events were cancelled with refunds or the option to donate the ticket to the performers. Swimming pools were closed and in desperation I took to swimming in the sea for extended periods. I managed about fifteen minutes a day, dodging around the yachts in Rocky Bay, amounting to around six to eight hundred meters. Sometimes there were one or two people about. An old man in an aluminium dingy rowed back and forth across the bay for exercise. A neighbour was in isolation because some Australians, who had been visiting his work place, subsequently tested positive on their return. He needed emergency supplies of Chardonnay, which I deposited outside his door. Another neighbour asked me to be her walking buddy – we were encouraged to take exercise by the Prime Minister. We still walk and talk once a week. I collected another friend who wanted another gay man to talk with and go to the movies when lockdown finished. We’re still friends and have extended to theatre and lunches out.

Picnic at Man O War Bay

After a week or so, our leader put the lid on my solo swimming in the sea due to anticipated problems created in the event of my needing to be rescued. Undeterred, I took to my fold up Brompton and cycled around the hilly roads of Rocky Bay. I took pains to ride the shortest route down and find the longest way up-hill. My London swimming club, Out to Swim started zoom exercises. The time difference meant that most sessions were in the middle of the night, but thankfully they were recorded. It was weird exercising on my own and looking at all the familiar faces in London.

Kereru native pigeon

I’d planned to go to the European Swimming Championships in Hungary in May/June. Fortunately, I’d delayed entering and booking flights. The Auckland Masters around the same time was also cancelled along with the NZ short-course Masters in August. By September I should have been exploring Peru and returning to London in November. At the end of the day, none of this matters, and I’ve felt looked after and lucky to be here in Aotearoa.

My main activity during the first Lock-down was going through my grandfather’s bankruptcy file. After making an application to view it four years ago it eventually arrived in a zip file containing around four hundred PDF’s. The process and the workings of the Official Assignee were fascinating and I gained a valuable insight to my Grandfather’s character and activities. I’d already learned about his marriage, five children and divorce but we never met. I found his bankruptcy story very moving and tragic, perfect material to go into my next novel ‘Donald and Hilda’ the story of their relationship. It’ll be a few years away, but keep your eyes out for it. In the mean time you can always read my last book, ‘The Donors’.

The Donors

COVID-19 produced reasonable consensus between political parties here. The then leader of the opposition found his compulsive adversarial approach  didn’t work, so he was replaced with an unknown and untested chap. He found it all too much and lasted only a matter of weeks leaving the post open for Judith Collins – formerly known as ‘Crusher Collins’. She’s made a few attempts at empathy, but it doesn’t suit her. She’s better doing irony.

Ruahine Ranges, Wakarara

July saw me back down in Hawke’s Bay on my brother’s farm underneath the snowy Ruahine ranges. We’d been released from lock-down and moved gradually down the levels until swimming pools could open and I was back swimming.

First post Lockdown swim

It was a relief to go out and spend some money in a place that was not the supermarket. With a complete absence of tourists, Kiwis took to the roads and planes to explore their own country, bringing temporary relief to some of the top holiday destinations. The ski fields were full and hiring a campervan suddenly became affordable. Although there are still no gigantic Cruise liners clogging up our ports, trade has continued and my Airline pilot cousin has been busy flying freight to Shanghai and Los Angeles. It seems that the world still needs to be fed. In return we got the film crew for the next Avatar movie and various sporting teams, all of whom spent their time in isolation. We’ve also had a stream of ex-pat Kiwis returning home. Some have developed COVID in isolation and indeed we’ve learned to manage our borders over time, as mistakes have been made and there have been a few near misses with some escapees unable to stand being locked up in a hotel. We had a mini lockdown in Auckland in August/September, the cause of which remains uncertain, but could have been from a hotel lift button.

Private view Central Hawke’s Bay

October allowed me to return to Central Hawke’s Bay after the boredom of the second lock-down. I filled my lungs with fresh spring mountain air and helped with docking lambs on the farm swimming at the local pool in between. We had another scare with an outbreak among the visiting Pakistani Cricket team but for the moment we are almost operating normally except for mask wearing on public transport. A trip to Great Barrier Island with my brother and sister-in-law was a diversion in November, which compensated for losing my flight back to London.

Windy Canyon Great Barrier
Fantasy Island accommodation Great Barrier Island
East Coast beach Great Barrier

I’m looking forward to 2021. I’ve found the progress of COVID19 fascinating from a scientific point of view and been astonished at the rapid development of the vaccine. It won’t be rolled out in Aotearoa until April next year, by which time I will be back in London and queuing up at my local health centre for my jab.

Wakarara from the Ruahines

Books read and recommended this year: The History Speech by Mark Sweet (NZ); Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (US); Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (US/Germany/Poland); Pale Rider by Laura Spinney (UK); The Great Successor by Anna Fifield (UK); Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo (UK).

Christmas hike up to Sunrise Hut

 

 

Review: The Breath of Life Waiheke Theatre Company

It’s been a while what with Covid and not much theatre to see. Out of the blue, I was contacted to write a review for the local community theatre.

David Hare is one of the leading contemporary British playwrights spanning five decades. With The Breath of Life he departs from his usual examination of political systems, the church, the law and the press, to focus down on two women in their sixties, their motivations and morality. I saw the 2002 premiere in the cavernous Theatre Royal, Haymarket with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Waiheke Theatre Companies production has the advantage of intimacy, allowing us to get up close to the internal action of the characters.

Madeline (Lucinda Peterken), an academic researching provenance of Islamic art, lives on The Isle of Wight, a cheap haven for the elderly. Frances (Linda Savage) a successful novelist and mother has travelled by ferry to meet her husband’s mistress of many years. Martin has deserted them both and moved with his predictably much younger model to Seattle and Frances is on a mission to find out Madeline’s part in their story with a notion of writing a memoir. Linda Savage presents a timorous birdlike character, initially rooted to the spot with terror in the face of the seemingly relaxed and almost casual Madeline, who has the advantage, or at least thinks she does, in knowing all about her rival. Swords are drawn and the battle commences. In the process, we learn enough about Martin to label him as a shit, but it’s the women’s secrets and fears which when revealed, hold our interest. Madeline insists that she never wanted to be defined by the man in her life, but you can tell from the performance that there are unacknowledged regrets. Some of the most interesting questions require and get no answer. I also get the feeling that Hare doesn’t always know the answers but along with Director, Teresa Sokolich, the actors have filled in the gaps with a thorough grasp of the characters and the clues within the text.  Lucinda Peterken might not at first fit the stereotype of ‘mistress’ but as the play progresses it’s clear that she is perfect for the role – independent, sassy and intelligent – you can see what attracted Martin. Linda Savage by contrast gains courage for her character by dressing smartly and over doing the jewellery to demonstrate her success as a writer. She grows quietly throughout the play until she has discovered all. Act two ramps up the tension and Madeline’s passions are unleashed in a powerful scene set in the middle of a sleepless night. By morning, all seems to be resolved, but there’s one more thing to complete the jigsaw. It’s a treat to see two of Waiheke’s senior theatre practitioners playing on stage together.

First Nation performances – The Auckland Festival

Hatea Kapa Haka

I booked mostly theatre events and at the time of writing, the only cancellation due to COVID 19 has been the out-door spectacular, ‘Place des Ange’ in the Auckland Domain. The transport of their equipment had been disrupted. (by now, several shows have been cancelled because the artists were not in the country before the quarantine regulations went into force.)

Hollie Smith

I attended the free out-door opening event in Aotea Square. The highlight was Bohemian Rhapsody performed acapella by Hatea Kapa Haka in Te Reo Maori. After a bad start, they began again and were stunning. They also led the audience in the National anthem in Te Reo. Hollie Smith, iconic kiwi singer, was the headliner culminating in a Te Reo version of ‘Bathe in the River by Don McGlashan. There was a lot of ‘community singing by the audience encouraged by the energetic and engaging singer/compare. It started to rain so I took shelter under one of the sun shades near the back.

Kane and Hera
Maori & Aboriginal flags

My next event was nearby in the Waitakere Rooms at the Aotea Centre. Intriguing. We, the audience, gathered for Black Ties in a large bar area before being ushered downstairs to a huge function room set out with circular tables and chairs. The action took place on a raised stage at one side of the room. Aboriginal Kane and Maori Hera are young and in love and to set things in motion (after an interruption by his adopted brother) he proposes. She’s keen, but won’t give an answer until they have met both sides of their respective families. The action quickly flicks between Melbourne and Rural New Zealand, exposing dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviour on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Everything goes hilariously wrong as prejudices are revealed and actioned. Mothers embarrass. Sylvia’s known bottom line is that only a Maori can marry her daughters, while Ruth Baker, wants her son to stay in Melbourne. At the end of Act one and against all the odds, the answer to the proposal was a yes, though we didn’t see much of the couple’s process in making this decision.

Wedding party Bride & Groom flanked by their mothers

We were banished upstairs at the interval and returned to find ourselves at a wedding reception. Families/Whanau/Mobs have met and the Mothers are already at loggerheads ranging from icily polite to downright vicious. Siblings and best friends are also at war, leaving Kane’s adopted brother ducking arrows and Hera’s young sister making the wedding video, which transports crucial off-stage scenes to on-stage screens. Did I mention the band? – of course it’s a musical with wedding and love story standards. They gallantly fill in the awkward pauses in the passions and cover when too many of the characters are off-stage. Consequently, act two sags in places.

Jack Charles father of Aboriginal theatre

The cultural clash is palpable and the experience, chaotic, funny and dangerous – all vital ingredients for a good night at the theatre. This important piece is a result of collaboration between ILBIJEIR and Te Rehia theatres. First Nation people have a lot to give to each other and we, the colonisers have much to learn from such cultural collaborations with the brakes off.

UPU
Matariki

Where Black Ties boldly takes swipes at Maori culture, The Treaty, the lack of a treaty (Australia), absent fathers, drink and loss of culture, UPU (Silo Theatre) is a cry from the Pacific. It’s an anthology of poetry and prose from the islands, starting with Matariki (Samoa) – the lining up of the stars for the Pleiades group in a powerful ensemble opening. It brings together voices from this vast area of ocean, often forgotten, to talk about sea level rises, missionaries and their legacy and colonisation. There’s a section where the speakers de-colonise with different actions, another where a Pacifica man describes the joys of sex for her, a white missionary wife. Another, eulogises the delights of Spam, brought to the Pacific by American colonisers. My favourite was the Fat Brown Woman. She has attitude, sexuality and she is not to be messed with. The women in the ensemble, all thin to average, somehow managed to swing their hips and swell their bodies to suggest fat. With such powerful words it was a pity that at times there were rushed or lost, particularly by the male actors. These are words to savour, messages from the First Nation people of the Pacific.

Biladurang (Platypus) is a one-person dance/theatre performance in a hotel suite twenty odd floors up overlooking water – in this case the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. Joel Bray is the writer and performer, he’s blond, white, Aboriginal and gay and this is his story. There’s a warning of ‘course language, adult themes, drug references, nudity and sexual references. I hesitated to book, but the Aboriginal aspect drew me in and well, I do look to push out of my comfort zone wherever possible. That’s what theatre should do.

pouring of wine

We gathered on the ground floor, a full house of sixteen people – mostly middle aged and, like me, older – four of us were men. Two lifts took us up and we assembled outside the room – one of us knocked on the door. Joel, dressed in a bath robe answered, embarrassed – quickly retreated to retrieve underwear from the floor and handed us all bathrobes to wear. It was intimate, but we settled in with a glass of bubbles each. Joel made a good stab at remembering our names as we entered and he played on the initial awkwardness of our situation by chatting away to make us feel comfortable. He lapsed into dance – using a wall and the floor as a springboard for his strong hands and broad feet – moving in contemporary style – narrowly missing furniture: the television, the low round table clustered with glasses and wine bottles. A sound track came from a laptop controlled with a finger in between arabesques. He recounted his teenage discovery of gay porn followed by Christian self-disgust and guilt. The self-inspection of his forty-nine-year-old body lead to memories of drug use, being fucked but never finding love in a relationship – a familiar gay theme. The performance is a careful construction of set pieces and intervening chat with audience management. Those who were placed on the bed were moved so it could become the next performance space.

Joel needed to shower and we heard the sound of water as he turned on the taps in the bathroom – returning briefly to dim the lights and point a remote at the television – we watched the next performance space. Emerging cleansed and naked but covered in foam, he opened the curtains, dressed. We look out at Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour and the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Four of us from Waiheke Island were there – we proudly point it out.

The water is part of the story of the Platypus the journey to being created half duck, half rat – defying classification. This is the crux of Joel’s story – white but black – not fitting in anywhere. His ancestors were ‘stolen’, became detached from their culture – half remembered by his father and reassembled by another generation. Does he know who he is?

He recalled attending an event for Aboriginal people and being asked, ‘How do you know you are Aboriginal?’ There was a pause but no answer to the question. There was a moment when he spoke for all First nation people – imagining a parallel universe where no Red Coats arrived no ships carrying settlers landed – a powerful image of a pristine forest (no global warming) where the Biladurang hunts for food in the river with her duck’s bill and lays eggs which will hatch into the next generation. There are still some in the ancestral lands of the Wiradjuri people.

Team Auckland at IGLA Melbourne 2020

MSAC Mixed Medley Relays TAMS in Lane 6

Team Auckland Swimmers took a team of two women and seven men ranging from late twenties to mid-seventies to The International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics, Melbourne 2020. Between us, we covered all four strokes, long distance and sprint events. Head Coach, Cynthia Borne set us a great programme which crucially, included relay practice.

Wolfgang from Berlin Robert from Noosa Aust. and Paris

The first Gay Games – Los Angeles1982 was so much fun the Americans decided to do it annually. IGLA was born and West Hollywood Aquatics famously lead the charge. At the height of the AIDS crisis, they battled homophobia and hysteria, swimming through water overdosed with chlorine and losing team mates from HIV, to compete with straight clubs and win and they are still winning. I love these yearly meetings with senior swimmers from clubs all around the world.

Team Auckland IGLA squad

We competed in the fabulous outdoor covered pool at The Melbourne Sports & Aquatics Centre. Water Polo, Syncro and diving were also accommodated in various pools in the complex. Team Auckland’s first spectacular win was the 4 x 50 metre mixed freestyle relay in the 240+ years age group,  beating two other teams to take the IGLA record previously held by West Hollywood Aquatics. We were all thrilled, particularly Diana, swimming in her first ever pool competition and taking her first start off the raised diving blocks. We repeated the gold medal later in the day for the 4 x 100 metre mixed relay. Team Auckland came away from the competition with 16 Gold, 5 Silver and 4 Bronze medals. Great swimming scored points to bring us to 12th in the club league table of fifty-two.

I joke with my older American friends every year about getting older and staying alive through swimming, how it gets harder every year. We don’t always remember names but faces and speedo clad bodies are instantly recognisable. We agree that ‘turning up, starting and finishing’ is important. It’s incredibly inclusive and the slowest person in a heat is always applauded for their effort. Our Terry, has gone from a complete non swimmer to an international competitor in a matter of months through sheer determination. He loved the challenge and ‘had a sense of belonging to a team – great to be in an environment where the rainbow community is the norm.’  Duncan entered all three butterfly races, a brave choice. He was there to watch and learn. After going out a bit too fast on the 100 m Fly, he easily picked up the pace for the 50m and swam a relaxed 200m perfectly on the last day. Wonderful. Ed has declared that this is his swansong but came away with a Bronze medal in the 100 Breaststroke so we may yet entice him back into the competition pool.

Me and ex Olympian Daniel Kowalski

We were in the presence of champions. A ninety-year-old woman, broke a clutch of world records. Other world and regional records were smashed, just to prove that LGBT swimmers are as good as anyone. It was also great to meet up with ex-Olympian, Daniel Kowalski (1996) who now swims with Wet Ones, Sydney. I’d met him at IGLA New York last year where he spoke on a panel of gay ex-Olympians.

Diana at the Open Water

Team Auckland continued to haul in the medals thanks to Ron, Jenny, Diana and myself. Diana, our only open water swimmer came away with a Bronze in her age group.

4 x 200 Mens relay team

For the first time ever, we entered a 4 x 200m relay team. It’s a gruelling race and we were just pipped to third place by a few seconds. The Mixed 400 Medley team, however, brought us home on the last day with gold for Jenny, Chenyang, Duncan and Diana. Jenny notes: – ‘a rare opportunity for relay races. They spur me on, to try my hardest for the team and I love seeing my team-mates doing the same.’

4 x 100 mixed medley team

Perhaps even more important than the medals and competition are the social and entertainment aspects of IGLA. A rooftop bar provided the opening party with a great view of the Melbourne skyline.  Our women enjoyed the women’s dinner. There was a party every night, including a French themed picnic.

Wet Ones, Sydney – political Pink Flamingo

The last day of IGLA always includes ‘The Pink Flamingo’, performed by those clubs with larger numbers. Jenny again: – ‘short, improvised & not-so-synchronised performances in and out of the pool. This year the Aussie teams satirised their sexist politicians, their newsreaders and ex-tennis-champ-turned-homophobe, Margaret Court. The standout were the Parisian Shiny Shrimps, who must have packed their costumes in excess baggage for their elaborate skit about global warming.’ 

Me and Ron at the sunset Beach party

Team Auckland retired to a local gastro pub for a meal with Different Strokes Wellington. We usually meet and compete once a year – this time only across the dinner table. Some of us went on to the sunset beach party at St Kilda’s, a chance to mix and mingle until next year in Salt Lake City.

Sunset at St Kilda’s Beach party

Finally, the day after saw us on a bus tour visiting a wild life sanctuary topped off with wine tasting at the Chandon winery. Great Australian hospitality and organisation.

Koala – Wildlife sanctuary
Chandon Winery

Back in the pool we’re getting ready for the next New Zealand Masters competition, and encouraging new LGBT swimmers to join us.

TAMS swim at the Tepid Pool http://www.tams.org.nz/

https://www.facebook.com/Team-Auckland-Masters-Swimmers-282047040092/

Sunday in Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I need this day off to recover from yesterday, something is hurting deep in my gluteus maximus. Walking helps and a day exploring art in the city starts with the National Gallery of Victoria. One of my American swimming friends has recommended the Keith Haring/Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition there and without knowing anything about them, I get a ticket.

Basquiat graffiti – he wrote/painted on anything he could find
Haring graffiti -chalk on the subway

At first it looks as if it’s the story of two graffiti artists in 80’s New York. Haring developed his style on blacked out advertising space awaiting the next poster. Using white chalk, he worked quickly but didn’t always avoid arrest. Basquiat was black/latino and drew, painted or spray painted on anything. The exhibition unfolds to display dramatic and moving images.

They were both gay and their deaths in the late 80’s suggests they succumbed to AIDS. They were of course part of the group around Andy Warhol. Their work becomes stronger and more political ending in really moving work around HIV and AIDS towards the end of their lives. There’s an eleven-page hand-written eulogy from Haring for his friend Basquiat, who died first. I’ll just let the images speak for themselves.

Haring signature figures with a X = death
Basquiat -untitled figure
Haring
Three Haring in a row makes an impression
‘The Black person is the protagonist in most of my paintings. I realised that I didn’t see many paintings with black people in them.’ In this 1982 painting the figure wears a three pointed crown – a prominent symbol in Basquiat’s visual lexicon.
Haring – huge mural. Can you see the map of the US?
Basquiat – the anger here is powerful
Basquiat the Fat Man
Basquiat the irony of a Negro Policeman
Haring – the end of apartheid in South Africa
Haring, Warhole & Basquiat

After a coffee break, I venture upstairs to the rest of the gallery to look at beautifully curated oriental and Indian art. Ceramics, carving and textiles of great quality. There’s an excellent selection of 17th, 18th and 19th Century British and European are, with most of the important painters on display. I spend a little more time on the impressionists. On the top floor there are dramatic black and white films by an Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and New Zealand’s Colin McCahon’s painting using letters and numbers have a room to themselves. Finally, there is a huge display of fashion by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons dating from 1981. Time for Lunch.

State Library Victoria

The State Library of Victoria is reputed to have an art collection, so jumping on the ever-efficient Melbourne tram system, I am there in no time. The dome of the reading room – reminiscent of the reading room at the British Museum – has been recently restored and is worth a look. On the way down there are interesting displays on the changes in the state of Victoria over the years.

The reading room
Ned Kelly death mask

Here I happen to observe a father pointing out Ned Kelly’s death mask and explaining to his young daughter that after a hanging, a plaster mould of the head was made. The next floor down is devoted to the world of the book, beginning with books donated to the library which were not deemed suitable for the public to read.

William Strutt Black Thursday Feb 6th 1851 – a devastating fire threatened to consume Victoria

I find the Cowan Gallery and am immediately drawn to three painting of horrific fires in the state. They seem relevant to the recent fires.

Julia Davia – Churchill National Park 2009. Victoria experiences the worst bush fires in recorded history.
Molly Tjami – Waru 2009 ‘I have painted a bush fire that is consuming our land’

Outside, it is still hot and the rally in support of Julian Assange is coming to close. The small group listening is exhorted to join in the march.

A Big Race Day

Catching the famous Melbourne trams

It’s an early start, as usual, to catch the 8am warm up in the competition pool. It’s cold in Melbourne at the moment and the water is actually warmer than the air. I do the main body of my warm up, leaving the sprints to later. There’s around two hours of 800m heats before the 200m relays. We’ve got a mixed team adding up to 240 + years and there are two other team in the age group, so there’s a bit of competition. Jenny, Ron and I are about the same speed. Diana, the youngest, has never done a pool competition before and is nervous. She’s swimming second after Jenny and does a perfect dive to maintain the lead that Jenny has made. Ron also increases our lead and I’m aware that the guy I’m swimming against looks quite a bit younger than me. I need to hold him at bay and breath only every four strokes for most of the length, but maintain the pace. I look around at the finish and he’s hit the pad, but he’s not caught me, by a whisker. Diana confesses she was jumping up and down shouting. So, it’s a Gold on our first swim.

The winning TAMS relay team
Show time
Show time

Next, we have the opening ceremony with speeches from the head of Australian Swimming and local politicians. All of them acknowledge that we are on not ceded aboriginal land and there is talk of a treaty soon and other initiatives. That’s good to hear, building on my experience at the museum yesterday.  I’ve heard that one of the Melbourne Glamourhead Sharks (who have organised this event) runs a dance school, and it is they who provide top class entertainment, including syncro in the pool. But first there is a fantastic rendition by the youngsters, of Advance Australian Fair. I recognise it as the National Anthem and join others who are standing. Word spreads until most are on their feet. Then all show business hell breaks loose and talented dancers prance around the pool showing of Australia’s future musical performers. Probably the best opening ceremony (for swimming) I’ve seen.

TAMS

Glad of the break, I’m now ready for my 200m Backstroke. There’s a slight moment, I’m aware of, when I let go of the rung before the gun, but immediately concentrate on the race. I’m the fastest as all my competition is in the next heat. It’s a hard race and I’m please with an improved time. But sadly, my false start was spotted and I’m disqualified. There’s time to recover and eat a protein bar and get a coffee before the 200 Individual Medley – another gruelling race for me. I feel tired and would like a sleep, but dare not. My time is better than recent meets but not good enough to beat the Americans, who have turned up in force. It’s always good to see them though and have a laugh about getting old, staying alive and so forth.

On the Starting block

My last race of the day is the 400 Freestyle relay with the same 240+ team as earlier. There are only two teams this time and we can’t tell if the other one is fast or not. They are not and Team Auckland,once again, do a fantastic race for another gold medal.

I’m totally wrecked and retreat back into the City for a nap. Rousing myself to meet Ron for diner and a drink (no swimming tomorrow) at a trendy riverside bar and eatery by Finders Station on the North side of the river.

Melbourne a New City

Melbourne modern skyline

My first impression of Melbourne from the airport bus is a vast sprawl of towers on a distant rise, much larger than I expected. The skyline almost rivals Manhattan. My accommodation is in one such tower – forty floors serviced by only three lifts so it’’s a wait. One woman complained that it took her fifteen minutes to descend on her way to work, stopping at every floor in the morning.

I’m here to attend the annual meet of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics – last year it was in New York. After settling in, I catch up with my team mate Ron from Team Auckland Master Swimmers for something to eat.  So, the second thing I notice is the diversity in this city which makes me feel right at home. There are also buildings going up everywhere. Half completed skyscrapers dot the skyline with cranes attached. There is architectural innovation with varied results from dull to interesting. Some of the old colonial constructions like town hall, church and library cling on against the march of the modern. A new row of restaurants stretch along the South Bank of the Yarra River – over priced for what they offer. Still it’s nice to look out over the water.

Outdoor competition pool at MSAC

On Friday it’s registration at the pool, a time to check the place out and the transport from town. Melbourne’s tram system is very efficient and gets me to the Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Centre in twenty minutes. The complex is vast. We’re racing in a fabulous fifty metre outdoor pool, shaded from the sun with a massive awning. Inside is another competition pool and a diving pool. Elsewhere there is a leisure pool and various learning and training pools. No excuse for non-swimmers in Melbourne. The 1500m freestyle event is running so I have a little warm up indoors and then meet up with lots of old friends from around the world all of whom have travelled this far to compete. It’s a time to renew old acquaintances and make new international friends.

Wolfgang from Berlin, Robert from Noosa, Aust. and Paris
Museum of Immigration

Heading back to town I decide on the Museum of Immigration. This seem to be a global hot topic at the moment and I’m interested in what the Australians have to say about it. Starting at the top, I discover a floor exploring identity and just about every culture is represented here, confirming my impression that Melbourne and the State of Victoria is indeed diverse. It’s a moving if familiar story of immigration, how people travel huge distances for economic and political freedom. Down a floor and the history of Australian immigration and policy is laid out in all its imperfections. The notorious White Australian Policy is there, along with its demise due to human rights acts.  The contribution that immigrants have made is acknowledged and I exit through a courtyard of tribute to the rear of the building. It’s good to have an alternative view from current impressions of Australian politics.

Museum of Immigration back door.

There’s a rooftop drinks party out in the suburbs from 7pm. It involves two tram rides. We’ve decided to get their early so we can go and eat later. There’s the remnants of a wedding party and several other groups. I spot my old friend Robert (Noosa and Paris) and we gravitate to a quiet space indoors with a great view of the City.  Gradually we are joined by older swimmers and then my young friends from Out to Swim London turn up and I have to do hugs all round.

Museum of Immigration Tribute Garden

The security guard on the door recommends a Chinese restaurant across the road who are known for their dumplings. We want something with a few vegetables though and go for the noodles. Unfortunately, it’s not until we try to pay that the cash only policy is discovered. Neither of us do cash so I go off in search of an ATM clutching my New Zealand debit card and hoping that will work. It does though we’ve missed a few of the trams home. 

Greta Thunberg

I have become increasingly irritated, upset and angry at the stream of media attacks on environmental champion Greta Thunberg. I’m disgusted at the way some journalists have taken delight in mocking her youth, her autism and her family, recycling information into derogatory and twisted propaganda to meet their personal needs.

I first became aware of the green-house gas issue during my degree studies in ecology back in the early seventies. My scientific training has been invaluable in observing weather patterns, which have slowly but inexorably changed over the last forty years. I’m also a keen gardener and have noticed the changing flowering times and what can and cannot now be grown in London. These changes have accelerated in the past decade.

Back in the early seventies, The Club of Rome predicted that fossil fuels would run out early in the next century and that we should, as a species, prepare for limits to economic growth. At that stage, there did not seem to be too much danger from green-house gasses. However, the estimation of fossil fuel reserves was spectacularly wrong and we sent carbon into the atmosphere at an increasing rate well into the 21st century and continue to do so. At the same time, plastics were developing and suddenly took off, creating the problems of which we are now very well aware.

Fossil fuels are much more complicated and expensive to replace and their energy production is cheap, creating vast profits. The well-being of children and their future seems to have been subsumed by economic greed. Climate change and its challenges is inconvenient to the oil barons and besides, they aren’t going to be around when the sea levels rise and temperate regions are overwhelmed by refugees from uninhabitable equatorial lands.

Two examples of sensible global action by politicians happened. The removal of lead in petrol (recognised as harmful to public health) and the banning of CFCs, which were proven to directly cause the hole in the ozone layer which protected people from dangerous radiation. Both of these actions happened without too much democratic consultation; they were, after all in the best interests of human beings, especially our children, and of course, the environment. The latter didn’t feature much in their thinking – these actions were relatively cheap and easy to implement.

Human beings remind me of a species of Marine Iguana found in the Galapagos Islands. Iguanas survival depends of their tenacity to maintain as good place in the sun. Once their bodies are warmed up, they can dive into the cold Humbolt Current from Antarctica to feed on green algae. So tenaciously do they cling to their territory that not even and encroaching flow of molten lava will move them. Unable to adapt and flee for their lives, they perish. The lava flow may seem far away but any volcanologist knows that a new channel can suddenly open up bringing it closer.

All around the world people have failed to democratically elect representatives who believe in climate change or are prepared to do something about it. Our kind of democracy has failed in this respect. This is the message to adults from Greta and many other young people. We are supposed to have wisdom and experience and when we are shown up by youth, we don’t like it. It makes us feel foolish.

For those who say they are not climate change deniers and then post rude or hateful comments about Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, Marie Copeny, Xiye Bastida and many others environmental activists, just think about that for a moment. There’s a conflict here between beliefs and actions.

You might also pause to notice that these young leaders are all females and with diverse racial origins. It looks as if the age of the rich old white men is nearing an end.