January: As Covid restrictions ease – I fly to Wellington to see the Van Gogh interactive with family. A stunning experience.
January again in Wellington for Capital Swim weekend and the annual competition between Team Auckland Masters Swimmers and Different Strokes Wellington. TAMS won both trophies.
A time to catch up with Cousin Marie and Anne
February another mini lockdown
The America Cup was raced on the Waitemata Harbour often overtaking the ferry on training runs.
March: My cusi -sis, Mary Taylor (entrepreneur and foodie) develops a business – Walking food tours around Auckland. Queens road Panmure – a rich variety of tastes from a round the world.
A visit to Ngawha Springs where my mysterious grandfather spent his last years. The hot springs were frequented by Maori warriors after battle. Now a sad collection of batches with the baths closed for re-development.
I drop in to visit an old acting friend Johnny Givins at Ngunguru and catch up on my swimming in the Whangarei pool. Further south then to visit cousin Robyn Mustard and partner Eric, who have newly relocated to Mahurangi West with stunning views
April and Autumn in Central Hawke’s Bay with family. Reconnecting with the land and generally making myself useful.
Managed to get a few swims in at the Waipukurau pool.
Back to Waiheke Island and Rocky Bay
Rocky Bay Store for sale – now sold
May: Back in London to a nation emerging from covid restrictions. My first swim .
July: A visit to my dear friend Ros and partner John. We walked for 6 hours through deserted farmland.
Travel Guide friend, Richard came to stay and we went to Greenwich for the day.
My birthday party was postponed by a week. It also rained heavily, flooding the courtyard.
August: To Hebden Bridge to see Annie and Fyfe. The familiar walks in the woods with the dog and a visit to the wonderful Barbara Hepworth Centre.
September: Swimming the 1500m freestyle for the first and last time. I do look a bit wrecked don’t I?
At Barnet Copthal swim meet, I managed to win a fist full of 1st place vouchers to donate back for a good cause rather than collect medals.
It’s Chelsea flower show, in the Autumn for the first time. The Kings road shops get in on the act.
Delmozine and I go to Is God Is at the Royal Court to see friend and colleague, Ray in the show.
I’ve got a job managing a production of Marlowe’s Fate by an American academic, Peter Hodges. We are auditioning this month.
October: We are rehearsing Marlowe’s Fate all month, but I skive off to go to the National Masters Meet at Ponds Forge in Sheffield for a weekend
I come away with good times and 4 bronze medals, two of them for relays.
November:Marlowe’s Fate has kept me very busy. No that it is up and running at the White Bear theatre I can relax just a little bit.
I now have time to visit the Banksey exhibition, which is fantastic.
Time for a commercial break to push my own art. Now available on Kindle
A long awaited visit to Cathy and Claire in Collingham where we visited the Holocaust Museum and Southwell Minster. Both stunning
December: The Out to Swim Angels (Artistic Swimming) Christmas show.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
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.
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.
Back in the pool we’re getting ready for the next New Zealand
Masters competition, and encouraging new LGBT swimmers to join us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I find the Cowan Gallery and am immediately drawn to three
painting of horrific fires in the state. They seem relevant to the recent
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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