Formulated on a whim, my July plans were wildly optimistic. Maybe it was the London summer, shaping up to be remarkably similar to a New Zealand winter, that sparked my sudden nostalgia for all things Kiwi. Maybe it was the fact I was steadily accumulating a series of mild ailments that motivated me to return to the place where I was completely understood – at least in terms of my medical history. It’s a daunting prospect to find a whole new set of trusted health providers in a newly adopted city; far easier to fly south and have everything done at once by the old crew. After one week in the Kiwi dry dock this old hulk would return to London barnacle-free, tooth pain gone, skin complaints and ingrown toenails sorted, callouses filed, vision restored, and the routine medical tests completed for another year. Forget chasing around London with referrals, all I needed was to get myself to Heathrow. Two flights, 24 hours and I’d have myself in hand. Or so I thought.
When I finally made it to Auckland, I was greeted by a sign questioning excess deaths
Missed connections are to be expected. Just don’t expect an airline to recognise you as remotely human. Once delayed, you’re just cargo to be tagged and forwarded to ANYWHERE BUT HERE. In this case the waybill read: JFK, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne. Yes, I would eventually arrive in Auckland, New Zealand. But it would take me four days of travel, rendering my masterfully scheduled back-to-back appointments redundant. Instead, my husband suggested I abandon all hope and join him. His roving commission had most recently taken him to Charlotte, North Carolina, for work – who wouldn’t prefer one short flight to six long ones? Charlotte turned out to be a beautiful town where people really cared. Evidently somebody had got up early and vacuumed the entire town in preparation for my arrival. Clean streets, clipped lawns, manicured garden beds, water-blasted sidewalks, huge houses with shutters, fountains and probably piped music in the evenings. Yet, overcome by zeal, that somebody had inadvertently hoovered up all the inhabitants too. The streets were empty of foot traffic. Everyone sensible was in a car on the expressway, staring open-mouthed at me, the mad woman walking around in the 95-degree heat looking for the Charlotte Museum of History, where air-conditioned comfort was as much of a drawcard as the town’s oldest stone homestead. For a time I wandered around the physic garden marvelling at the array of medicinal herbs and wondering if they might alleviate the symptoms of my mild yet annoying ailments.
When I finally made it to Auckland, one of the first sights to greet me was a car bearing a handwritten sign: “EXCESS DEATHS, WHY? HAVE YOU BEEN TOLD 100% EVERYTHING?” Clearly I hadn’t. But at least there were people in the street to ask. Nobody knew about the excess deaths. Judging by the car’s multiple bumper stickers, the ones to ask were the NZ Democracy Party; not that their website claimed any privileged information, simply that they would “fight for the rights of everyday Kiwis”. In this election year conspiracies seem a bit vieux jeu now that covid is no longer an issue to swing voters. When all the main parties seem to be promising variations on a theme – getting tough on crime, ending child poverty, increasing government spending on health and education, it is the plague of ministerial scandals that speak loudest to the electorate. Most recently the nation was shocked by reports of the justice minister resisting arrest. It happened after she collided with a parked car while driving under the influence. Needless to say the latest polls are predicting a change in government. With Jacinda Ardern out of the picture, Labour is on shaky ground. It’s a case of ANYONE BUT THEM. Her successor to the prime ministership, Chris Hipkins, cannot hope to win an election on his own as Jacinda did. But maybe it is still too early to predict the mid-October result. Besides, the entire attention of the nation has been focused on women’s football, except on Saturday night when the blokes took back the limelight. Ultimately, the only game that really matters is one involving the All Blacks.
Having relinquished all hopes of rescheduling my dentist, podiatrist, dermatologist and ophthalmologist visits, I decided to head down to the South Island where I felt sure the majesty of the Southern Alps would restore my physical and mental wellbeing. Checking in to the Hermitage hotel at the Mt Cook National Park, I found myself staring up at a tall bronze statue of Sir Edmund Hillary, whose mountaineering career had kicked off in this very spot. Now there’s a man to win an election on his own. Devoid of self-righteousness, neither brash nor haughty, Sir Ed presented a secularised version of Christian manliness. The uncomplicated optimism he displayed throughout his life continues to inspire us all. He didn’t need a hairdresser or a podiatrist in order to achieve greatness. He wouldn’t waste time on bumper stickers, and nor would he steal the limelight from a lady footballer. And he certainly would have found a dentist in London by now.
Joanna Grochowicz is a polar historian and author.Her latest book “Shackleton’s Endurance: an Antarctic Survival Story” is out now (Murdoch, £7.99)