We had one final stop before we would be leaving the Land of the Long White Cloud, possibly forever (so hard to get your head round that one – best not to dwell on it). We were returning to Auckland where we had been briefly on 23rd December for a night. On that occasion we had met up with a very important person in our lives – the vicar who had married N and I, christened our three girls and buried both N’s father and my grandmother. He now resides in Auckland, being from there originally prior to many years in England pretending to be English (his words, not mine) and in denial of his New Zealand roots. He lives there with his German partner in a house opposite the one where he grew up. Life coming full circle. The most interesting thing (and slightly unsettling one when you consider his role in our lives) is that he has, with the advent of old age, when most are turning to the church, completely turned away from it. The vicar has become an atheist!
As we chewed on the roast chicken he had thoughtfully and carefully prepared for us (L loved his mash with chives), I ventured to pose some challenging questions. He did not want to be much drawn beyond the fact that he went into the Church mainly because he was a frustrated actor and liked being centre stage and hearing the sound of his own voice! Honest, at least. He now appears to spend his days reading and playing bridge and will never set his foot inside a church again.
Personally, I lean towards agnosticism rather than atheism only because this suits my artistic-scientific mindset and logic requires it. However, I have always enjoyed and taken comfort in the rituals of religious services around the fundamentals of Life and Death and, in particular, I always appreciated the words which flowed from our vicar’s mouth. True they were not always conventional, but they were thought-provoking and, as all good actors, he had a marvellous, though mercifully understated, delivery which was easy on the ears if not on the intellect. I have to admit to feeling more than a little sad that the one religious presence and ‘theme’ in our lives, has turned his back on it all. A crumb of comfort has been removed.
And so we found ourselves on the 3rd January, after a detour to see some glow-worm caves (rather beautiful), pulling up at the Copthorne hotel by the harbour in Auckland. Unfortunately it was also right next to one of N’s company’s offices! You couldn’t do it if you tried…
We had chosen it for its views across the water to Auckland’s famous islands and all the busy boat life around the harbour. Sadly it was raining so hard that we saw nothing beyond the first bit of slate grey sea. Once settled, we popped out for a late supper at one of the quayside restaurants and we gawped at some of the extraordinary lavish and enormous and beautiful yachts moored up there. A man sat in a white robe, reading with a glass of red wine in his hand, the shiny wooden decks of his vessel arrayed with fairy lights and a Christmas tree in fairy lights adorning the impossibly tall mast. Russian tycoon, apparently. He looked lonely, it has to be said, and I felt no envy. In complete contrast, a racing yacht was also moored up, pared down to the bare essentials of sailing fast in the high seas. Functional, fearless.
And now I am reminded of something: the yacht we had hired in the Bay of Islands was called ‘Tough Life’. Obviously this was an ironic naming, based on the fact that it is wonderful to be able to sail and own a yacht. Sadly though, and with further irony, the name of this yacht is actually no longer ironic but literal: the owner’s wife died of cancer shortly after they retired and had planned to spend a lot of time sailing together and enjoying the fruits of their labours. Life can certainly be tough – and so we need to grab every opportunity which comes our way and enjoy it to the full. You never know when it might be cut short and it is too precious to waste. Carpe diem.
And Carpe Diem is indeed what we tried to do with this family adventure in New Zealand. N had tried to postpone it once again. I had said ‘No’. Very emphatically. We had to do it now, while we could, while the girls were young enough yet old enough to enjoy it and appreciate it. The Sands of Time slip past so quickly and you must grab the grains you can before they are lost forever.