I got back from New Zealand this morning.
I've a mass of thoughts swirling in my head on different topics and it really is tremendously difficult to make sense of them or to put them in order. I suppose I shall try. I guess most insistent in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I probably just saw Grandpa alive for the last time. I am trying not to let this come to the front of my mind though, with varying degrees of success. Strangely enough, what bothers me the most is that I didn't say my standard "have a good one" to him when I left ... then I realise that was probably better, as I quite consciously chose to say "see you later". Because damnit, I am going to see him later. He's stubborn; he'll hold on as long as he bloody well can. Apparently he looks good at the moment; to me, he looked much worse than when I saw him in July 2007, but those who've seen him recently think he's improved as a result of his recent radiation treatment. That treatment is for comfort, however.
I got the chance to talk to him about Tangiwai, much more extensively than I expected. I was quite taken aback by the details I did not know, and remarkably enough, almost all of the family stories are true - and omit the most astounding parts! The only part that was significantly wrong was that he ended up in a tree; he in fact ended up on the edge of the river and somehow climbed the bank. He does not know how he did it. Those of you who've looked closely at the photos I have posted will surely agree with me when I say that it looks impossible. I will write up some more at a later stage in some kind of tribute.
I also find that on every trip, I miss New Zealand more - I guess because on every trip, it's even longer since I left, but it has never stopped being thoroughly familiar and entirely my home. I have a similar familiarity with Melbourne today, the Gold Coast unfortunately, and I'm sure if I went back, the University of Queensland's St Lucia campus and immediately surrounding suburbia too. However, it does not feel like home. It doesn't matter how many times I write "Australian" in response to customs forms asking "nationality as shown on passport", and it doesn't matter how much I love Melbourne and think it beats Wellington (or any other city I've visited) hands-down for livability. At the end of the day, it is not my home. I would give up anything, even my sense of independence that Melbourne gives me, to move back to my childhood home in Raumati Beach, have a job at Victoria University in Wellington, and do the looong commute every day. As much as I hate long commutes, I'd love it simply because of the part of the world I would be in. At the very least, I hope one day to have enough wealth to rock up at my childhood home and make the owners an offer they cannot refuse and establish it as a holiday house, somewhere to spend the summers away from Melbourne's heat.
Life moves too fast. It's weird that I'm 21. My father bought three wines in 1987 - well, obviously he bought more, but he specifically bought three, a red (for the life of me, I forget what, a pinot noir?), a late harvest riesling, and a port. We opened them after my birthday dinner and had a good evening drinking them. I seem to have acquired a taste for port. I grew up on wine, but only tried port sparingly and never really liked it, but the last time I had it was many years ago. However, the port actually proved to be my favourite, despite how much I love a good Kiwi late harvest riesling. It also turns out that I really do hold my drink extraordinarily well. I drank enough on both Saturday and Sunday nights to get most people I know fairly sloshed, while I did not even approach tipsy. That was pretty fortunate really, given the travelling on the days that followed both evenings. I incidentally had the longest birthday of my life. With family in New Zealand and Australia, I've had long Christmases and birthdays before, but my 21st managed to stretch from the day itself, the 17th, right through to the 20th when we had a lovely birthday lunch at Grandma and Grandpa's and a good barbecue back at Dad's place. Wow, that was only yesterday. It feels a world away.
I think most bizarrely for me, in the last week, I had a handful of moments - brief moments, but moments all the same - where I actually felt comfortable. I am not comfortable in social situations. My mind is always flying, always analysing. I cannot mentally relax, even if I look at ease to other people. I think I am actually quite good at putting up a kind of appearance of confidence, quite by accident as nothing could be further from the truth. However, being around certain people - both grandfathers and a couple of people in Queensland - actually put me at ease. I thought I would always be too nervous to talk to Grandpa about Tangiwai, but it was actually amazingly good ... I only returned to my standard discomfort when it was over and we went to eat lunch. I remember a time when I didn't find it this hard to relax and when I didn't subject everything to methodical and extensive thought and second-guessing. It was nice, albeit unexpected, to have brief returns to that.
So there's a smattering of thoughts, all very tired as I have been up for 20 hours after only a modicum of sleep. I hope all of you had a good few days. I took shitloads of photos, so I'll make some entries in the coming days that present them and more closely detail where I went and what I did. My photography sucks but it hopefully does the job.