On Wednesday I am rudely awakened by Blue outside in his jeep yelling for Bruce. He crashes out to go to work and I roll over and try to sink back into my blissful world of sleep. (I was dreaming I was on a yacht with Oasis and Richard Ashcroft, and a shark ate the drummer.) I’ve just about managed it when I hear an engine and another hollering voice. I stumble out onto the balcony again, rubbing my eyes in the morning light. It’s Davey, on a motorbike.
‘Bruce isn’t here!’ I croak.
‘THAT’S OK!’ he yells, grinning. ‘I WANT TO TALK TO YOU!’
I stumble downstairs in my PJ’s and down to the bottom of the drive. He wants to talk about the meat for the wedding. Apparently he’s slaughtering the bull today or tomorrow, and it’s going in Ned’s freezer, and I have to go up and get it from there and then to the boat on Friday. Or something. It’s too early to actually understand anything, so I nod numbly and eventually he roars off. I heavy myself gratefully upstairs again and lie down on my floor-mattress. Heaven.
....Or not. There are more voices outside. Who is it now? I drag myself furiously back out onto the balcony.
The first thing I see is Leon’s hair shining blindingly in the morning sun, and then JR running joyously up the path towards the house, looking like a happy dormouse in her layers. Kyle’s there too, lurking. He’s good at that. I run down, surprised and baffled; what are they doing here? As I come round the corner I’m met by JR and I bundle her into a hug.
‘Hi’ says Leon.
‘We are somewhat bored’ says Kyle diffidently. They give no explanation for turning up outside my house at eight in the morning; they just seem to expect that I’ll come with them, if I want. I do.
‘Stay here’ I gabble ‘gotta get dressed. Um, actually, you can come up if you – no?...uhm...’ They get it. I bolt back upstairs to hurriedly throw on my stupid tiger/zebra trousers, belts, gloves, shoes and jacket. Kyle goes to follow me, then changes his mind, laughing. I run back down, smiling, clutching sunblock which I start slapping on as we jump in the car. This one’s Leon’s, and it’s got a back window, which is nice. Not all the doors work, though.
‘Where are we going?’ I ask, not really caring.
‘I’m supposed to be at work’ says Kyle, sounding like he doesn’t really care either. We skew off up the road at the end of Mulberry that leads to Tony’s, but go straight past it further up the hill.
‘Drift the corners!’ (Kyle.)
Leon is trying, throwing the arse of the car round the metal corners, but it’s hard to get decent drift uphill in a car full of people. It’s fun trying though. We reach the top of the hill and Leon executes a perfect handbrake turn, at speed, metal flying, and rockets off down the hill again. JR’s squealing delightedly and I’m grinning fit to burst; this so owns Sussex driving. The boys are talking about ‘getting horsed,’ whatever that is.
‘What d’you want to do?’ asks Leon, screwing round to talk to us.
‘No idea! What is there to do? ....Get drunk?’
‘Nah us neither.’ We’re heading out towards Schooner Bay now, past mulberry and pa beach and back onto metal roads. I’m quite happy
just driving actually. I‘m looking at Leon’s hair again, right to the roots.
‘Leon’ I say wonderingly ‘Is your hair natural?’ I’d been assuming that it was bleached, of course, but.....
‘Of course’ he says, looking at me strangely. ‘Always been this colour.’
Stupid me. I forgot they don’t sell hair products in Stonewall. JR, snuggled up against me, is burrowing her fingers into the roots of my hair, making me sleepy. (It’s not hard at this time in the morning.)
‘You have red hair’ she whispers delightedly, like someone making a wonderful discovery.
‘Mmph’ I mumble grumpily. ‘S’orrible.’
‘No’ she says, stroking it ‘it’s beautiful...mermaid hair.....’
Kyle and Leon start asking JR questions. They want to know how old she is, but she won’t tell them, smiling and saying age doesn’t matter.
‘I’m 18’ says Leon frankly.
‘I’m 19’ I say. ‘Does that make me ancient?’
They reassure me it doesn’t. Kyle clams up, grumpy, and won’t reveal his age either. He’s the kind of person, I think, who wants to know everything about other people and reveal nothing about himself. We drive around for a bit longer, up and down the steep and winding metal roads, and then Kyle sighs and says he absolutely has to go to work. We try to discourage him but he’s pretty adamant, so we have a smoke and then drop him off. Turns out he works at Les Harrington’s old place, the woodyard dad used to work at sometimes when I was a kid, by the creek and the fruit trees. I tell them I used to be friends with his daughter Vicky and they crow with laughter; apparently she’s a ‘proper goff’ now. I think that’s awesome. I wonder where they are.
‘Hang on’ I say suddenly, realising now Kyle’s gone that there’s something missing ‘Where’s Little Henry?’
‘Dunno’ says Leon. ‘I’ll text him.’
‘Does he live near you?’
‘Uh, well, he’s my brother, so. Yeah.’
Ahhh, that makes so much sense. They do actually look very similar, if you look past the height difference and Leon’s insanely bright hair.
‘So why won’t Kyle tell us how old he is? Is he 12 or something?’
‘He’s just being all funny because JR won’t. He’s 16, he usually doesn’t give a shit.’
JR and I make Leon take us for a tour up the back roads, right up into the bush almost up as far as Robbie’s. It just goes on and on, valleys and valleys of tiny metal road, surrounded by bush and scrub, the earth red beneath us. Some bits are so steep they’ve just concreted them, because nothing could get up there on metal; on the way down, Leon just locks up the car and slides it. Doesn’t make any difference. The last time I was up this way was with dad and the Andersons; this is way more fun, without dad showing off and being all nauseating. It’s beautiful. The bush is all green and welcoming, and I love it. It’s kind of grey, and a little windy, the sun scorching when it does break through the clouds. We tell Leon to take us up to his place; I want to see where he and Henry live. (Kyle’s their next door neighbour, although up here that means nothing; it could be an hours walk for all we know.) He laughs. ‘Oh, you won’t want to go to our place’ he says ‘but we’ll go up the top.’ On the way up, there are broken cars shoved into every convenient gully. Leon points out the ones that are his, and the ones that are Kyle’s, and the ones that are Henry’s. Most of them still go, apparently, although they don’t look like it. I wonder if they have any they don’t need. (Hitchhiking SUCKS.) We come up and incline to a hilltop, with a big green house and a glimpse-able view of the sea through the trees. Leon stops the car.
‘So, this is where we park up our cars’ he grins ‘and these guys (he gestures at the big, empty house) hate it. Then from here it’s half an hour’s walk through the bush to our place. You wanna go?’
‘Ha! Good joke. NO.’
I run off into the bush to piss. It’s beautiful, real bush instead of thick scrub, an open floor you can run through under a bright, green, frondy canopy above. I love it so, so much. Every twisted, creeper-twined tree is perfect for climbing, and down here it’s cool and moist. I want to just lie down in it and never get up. Wow. Can’t describe. I climb back out onto the road again and Leon and JR have disappeared; I tie my laces nonchalantly in case they’re watching me, about to jump out, and they soon reappear; Leon had just been showing JR some trees. I run down to join them in the cool forest, and we stare at the trees, trying to decide what they look like. Some of them, claims Leon, the huge ones lying sleepily across the forest floor like leviathans in the depths, were felled by the first pioneers to come here. I never want to leave this exact spot. I can tell there’s water, a stream away down the slope, and I know it’ll be beautiful. Leon recounts tales of acid trips he, Kyle and Henry have had here; apparently once they built a complex system of dams on the creek, for hours, in the dark, for no apparent reason, and then slept on them, and things like that. Eventually JR says she’s really supposed to be packing, because she’s leaving tomorrow. I remember with a shock that I was supposed to be going to the bank today. I tell Leon this, and he says it doesn’t close until four, so we’ve got loads of time. (It’s only about half ten at the moment.)
We get back in the car and drive back down towards where JR’s staying, with Maude further down towards Schooner bay. Still up in the bush, though, compared to Hapuka. We drop her off, with hugs and things, and agree to come back and get her in an hour or two. Then Leon and I drive down to see when Kyle gets off work, happily discussing the merits of artistic graffiti on the way. Kyle’s lugging things about with a sullen expression, and says he’ll be off at half twelve. We giggle at him out of the window and then Leon and I go round to the jetty to ‘have a sesh’, as they call smoking a joint. We’re parked up looking out towards where Pete’s boat is moored, and I tell him about the sunken beer, which he finds amusing. Leon’s actually really easy to talk to, we get on well. We talk about hip hop (not cool, especially ridiculous whiteboys who don’t understand the culture they’re mimicking) punk (cool, especially the hardcore street punks Leon met in Auckland) and school (partly cool, partly not.) He went to boarding school in Auckland for a while, and has lots of stories about dorm raids and hockey-stick fights, and I tell him a bit about the Bedge; he instantly decides I went to Hogwarts, (lake, woods) and runs gleefully through the stafflist.
‘Was there anyone like McGonnagal? How about Hagrid, did you have a Hagrid?’
‘No, just an evil gay stable-guy.’
‘How about Dumbledore? Was your headmaster like Dumbledore?’
‘No, she was short and female.’
‘Trelawney? Hooch? Anyone?’
‘You know a lot about Harry Potter.’
‘I don’t like it or anything, I just....urrrr....’
We also discuss terminology; I discover that ‘getting horsed’ means getting drunk, and therefore ‘I was totally horsed’ means ‘I was totally wasted,’ ‘Horsing’ is drinking, and if someone is ‘a bit of a horse’ it means they’re a bit of an alchy. I ask him where this strange phrase originated, but he doesn’t seem to have any idea. ‘Gapping’ means leaving, as well. Someone accidentally calls Kyle Ryan, I can’t remember how that happened, which we seem to find hilarious, so we decide we’ll call him that from now on.
‘You all need nicknames’ I decide. ‘I’m going to call you all – all you who live up in the bush – the hermit crabs. Because you’re hermits.’
‘Awh!’ moans Leon. ‘Can’t we be something cooler?’
‘Ah I dunno, how about the WILD BOARS or something?’
‘Hahaha. Er no. Bushpigs maybe?’
‘No! Rabbits aren’t indigenous! I’m indigenous!’
Leon, I am to discover, says this a lot, usually backed up by him waving his feet in your face. (‘I’M AS INDEGENOUS AS FUCK BRO!’ *wavewavewave* ‘LOOK AT MY FEET!’) He seems to think that because he has big broad tough flat feet, this makes him in some way native to New Zealand. This is amusing, considering that he’s probably the closest thing to an albino I’ve ever met, apart from myself. Also, boars aren’t indigenous either, but I don’t have the heart to tell him that.
‘.....Yeah, that sounds about right.’
‘Bushrats it is.’
From this point onwards, I refer to their little gang as the Bushrats. It fits perfectly. We chat for a while longer and then head back towards Kyle’s work. He still isn’t finished, so we spin off back into the bush to get JR. Leon doesn’t want to go into Maude’s house, because he used to go out with her daughter and it’s a bit iffy.
‘We tried to move to the mainland together’ he says sadly ‘but it didn’t work out.....she still sends me food and clothes sometimes. I used to pretty much live here...’
That’s so adorable. She sends him clothes. Aww.
‘Come on’ I say firmly ‘we’ll both go.’ Maude isn’t there, however, and JR’s looking somewhat despondently at her clothes, which are all wet. We tell her to give up on packing for now and come with us, so she does.
‘Are my groceries covered?’ says Leon as we jump back in the car. I look in the box in the back. It’s the randomest collection of things, stuff like lard, biscuit mix, bananas, spam, a turnip and chocolate fish. A typical stoned-teenager shop.
‘Yup’ I reassure him, covering it. ‘What shall we do?’
‘Beach’ says JR suddenly, as if it’s come to her in a vision. ‘Let’s go to the beach.’
‘Down Schooner Bay?’
We drive down the craggy slopes to schooner bay, a small shingled beach with small green fields sloping down to it and a creek running under the road and spilling out into the sea. It’s wavey and windy, but not cold. We sit on the beach and smoke, while I make up plans to rob people’s shoes to raise beer money. (I quite literally have NO money.)
‘We could go kayaking, I suppose’ says Leon lazily.
‘Really? How, where?’
‘Here. I’ve got kayaks over there.’
It’s rough, it’s windy, we’re all fully clothed, I haven’t been in a kayak for years, I’m stoned. There’s no way this is a good idea...
‘Yeah, brilliant, let’s do that!’
We dump our stuff on the beach and pick our way over the stones to the field on the other side of the beach, where a couple of bright ocean kayaks are nestled in the grass. We go to pull them through the fence onto the beach, but Leon says we’d better take them via the gate, and it’s lucky he does because just as we’re lifting them over the gate (they’re heavy) a grumpy man comes along and says that someone’s been taking them out the wrong way, and Leon’s able to smile innocently and say that he always takes them out this way, and it must have been someone else. They’re the big bulky flattish ones, and we heave them awkwardly over the rocks to the sea, then float them out a ways, and then, with difficulty, heave ourselves on. Leon takes one and JR and I try and figure out how we’re both going to sit on the other. It’s difficult but we manage it, and JR takes our one paddle and paddles us out to sea. I kneel on the back, looking silly in my trousers as we scoop heavily over the waves. Leon, meanwhile, is kneeling on his kayak paddling it skilfully around like a glowing albino native, shooting past us and surfing the waves.
‘We play this game’ he grins, swinging up alongside us again ‘where we see who can get closest to the rocks without freaking out. Oh and, don’t get sideways to the waves, or they’ll roll it.’
Predictably, JR and I spend most of our time sideways to waves, yelling in delight as they pick us up and drop us again, dangling feet in the water, laughing about nothing. We’ve both given up on not getting wet. JR’s talking more now. She’s actually got a wicked sense of humour that surprises me.
‘You should talk more, JR’ I smile. ‘You’re really funny.’
She laughs and says it’s something about me that makes her want to talk, and then we decide to attack Leon and steal his paddle, which we do, and then threaten to head back to shore with it and leave him stranded. We’re quite far out now, past the protection of the little bay, and the waves are like rolling blue hills.
‘Not bothered’ he says, affecting disdain. ‘I’ll just, ur, row with my feet. Or stay out here! Don’t care.’
We laugh and give him back his paddle, and then slowly, taking our time, ease back in towards the shore. I love this. Just sitting on this stupid plastic floatation device in the coldish water holding onto JR and laughing at Leon.....it rules. JR and I get back to shore before Leon and begin to lug our heavy kayak back over the sharp rocks to where it lives. It’s really slippery with the water, there’s nothing to hold on to, and it is kind of heavy; it takes JR and I ages to get it even halfway across the beach. I wonder if I should go and help Leon with his after this. I needn’t have worried, though; he comes jogging cheerfully past us, his massive yellow kayak somehow tucked under one arm.
‘Oh hey, d’you need help with that?’ he asks, and before we can protest he’s somehow picked up our kayak, shoved it under the other arm, and jogged onwards carrying both of them. How does he do that? I watch in amazement as he throws them both lightly over the fence and into place. JR and I were having trouble carrying one of them. Leon is both shorter and skinnier than I am. I’m ashamed.
I’m also very wet. We all are. Leon’s pouring water out of his boots (for some reason he didn’t take them off) and a load of dye has leaked out of my gloves and stained my hands purple. We run back to the car, pile wetly in, and motor off back towards Kyle’s work, I with my legs sticking out of the window in an attempt to dry them. When we get to the woodyard, Kyle’s soaked as well; he’s been waterblasting and it’s gone all over him. We jump out to give him a hand clearing up and explore a tree that JR likes. Just as we’re finished, Little Henry appears, walking, looking extremely unimpressed.
‘Hi’ I say cheerfully as he looks suspiciously at my feet poking out of the car.
‘Move over’ he mumbles, and squishes in.
This is met with sullen mumbling. Apparently he’s been walking around for hours looking for us. Poor LH. We discuss our plan of action. Tony’s, is the unanimous accord; everyone wants a sesh. Except JR, of course, who doesn’t smoke or drink or take drugs or any of that jazz. We set off back towards Stonewall and Mulberry. Kyle wants to stop at Stonewall; apparently he needs groceries. He comes loping back with something really random, but I can’t remember what it was; something like stir-fry-mix or something, which he eats raw. This seems to be a normal Kyle-thing to do.
‘We need nicknames for everyone’ explains Leon. ‘Kyle, you’re Ryan.’
‘No way! I don’t wanna be Ryan! I’m so not a Ryan!’
‘You so are.’
‘Jessica Rose is kinda JR.....’
She shakes her head, smiling. ‘Only Henry is allowed to call me JR.’
‘And what was it you were calling Henry, Henry? Young Sid or something?’
I double over in laughter. ‘No! Little Henry! Not, er, Young Sid.....Who the fuck is Young Sid?’
‘A rapper or someone, I dunno. Henry, you’re Young Sid from now on.’
‘DUDE’ exclaims LH suddenly ‘Why the fuck am I all WET?’
I explain. There are now no dry people. Swish. We head up to Tony’s, discussing films as we go. Team America is a unanimous favourite. The fence and the dogs are still there. I tell LH (who’s cheered up at the prospect of a smoke) that one of them looks like a retarded skinny big-eared alsation, which sends him into fits of laughter. Tony seems to accept our arrival with as little surprise as last time, and rolls us a sesh. There’s no Petie this time.
‘She was coming down’ says Tony without emotion, shuffling over to where we’re sitting on the deck. ‘She often comes up here to recover. You know, after she’s been tripping a few days.’ He shows me some of his carvings, and the necklaces he makes out of crystal and semi precious stones. They’re really good, shop quality. He can’t do intricate paintings or carvings any more because of his shakes, but he can just about string necklaces together. They’re really beautiful. We sit on the deck in the tentative sun, feeling the warmish breeze blowing up from the bush, and JR dances and makes me a bracelet out of grass and lavender.(Have I mentioned that she is amazing?) I watch the Bushrats, sitting in a row on the table. Leon is such a boy in man’s clothing, swamped by his big check shirt and boots, struggling to be what he isn’t, quite, yet. His eyes are an arching sky blue under almost invisible eyebrows, prematurely creased from years of squinting. LH is just....LH, and I hope he always will be; Kyle, I think, might have hidden depths. Possibly. He talks less, and sees more; we’re talking about lighter smileys and his quick black eyes have noticed all my scars, not just the ones I’ve shown them. He doesn’t say anything, but I’m watching him from behind my glasses.
‘Take off your sunglasses’ he says to me suddenly. ‘I want to see your eyes.’
‘Dude, I just told you what colour they were.’
‘I know. I want to see them.’
I sigh and take them off. My eyes have never been remarkable, they’re a cold, boring, greyish blue colour; occasionally they have flecks of yellow to liven them up a bit but, until recently, no-one’s ever found them particularly interesting. These days, however, everyone who comes up to me seems to stare at them in fascination, saying they’re ‘trippy’ or something. They don’t look any different to me. I’m hoping the bushrats will be more sensible, but it’s not to be; the moment I look up at them they all throw themselves back as if they’ve been stung, howling ‘FUCK THAT IS BUZZY AS’ and other similar things. I am genuinely baffled.
We sit up there getting stoned for a couple of hours, looking at Tony’s collection of cheap plastic dragons and such, and then I realise I’m going to miss the bank at this rate, so we screech back to Hapuka and I run upstairs to get my ID’s and forms and such. This time the rats follow me and stand on the balcony chatting to uncle Bruce while I change and grab my shit. (SO much too stoned to be going to the bank, but never mind.) I yell to uncle Bru where we’re going, and then we run down and jump back in the car and chug over Millers to stonewall, and the tiny shed that doubles as Westforce bank.
‘Well’ I say regretfully ‘this is going to take ages, so I’ll see you guys around, yeah?’
They nod (already retreating into bushrat mode) and clatter off, and I stroll over to the bank. It’s closed. It closed at two. Serves me right, really, for going off and getting stoned when I had important things to do. Somehow, I don’t feel too bad about it. Just as I’m turning around, defeated, the bank lady comes up, smiling, and asks what it was I wanted to do. I say open an account and she gives me the forms and tells me to fill them in and bring them back tomorrow. Turns out they’re opening two days a week now because it’s almost the summer season, which is very convenient for me, so I smile and take the forms and set off back over millers. Again. I swear, the word I write most in these blogs is ‘Millers.’ Fucking Millers! But it is getting easier, actually.
When I get back to Hapuka uncle Bruce is laughing at me. ‘You left on four wheels and came back on two!’ he’s howling, obviously finding this very funny. I don’t quite see it myself, but there you go. I think I cook some food or something at this point, I can’t remember. Later, we go down to the loser’s lounge to do the usual getting-drunk thing. Not me, because I’m still heeding Bru’s advice about not sponging off other people, but I’m sick of staying in. Rats do suck, and I think it’s been long enough. The usual crowd are down there. I spend most of the time talking to Spartacus (nickname, obviously) an old ex-punk who rapidly gets drunk and declares that I’m his soulmate. I wish people wouldn’t do that; for all he knows I could be a murderer, or a paedophile, or a Duran Duran fan, or anything. We decide to start a band called Spartacus Erecticus and get famous. Mike’s there, over chatting to uncle Bru and a few others, some women I don’t know; Igor turns up briefly, Davey’s about, and TT’s absorbed with his asian chick on the table next to Bru. He doesn’t speak to me except to yell ‘Can’t improve on those eyes, girl’ when I’m putting eyeliner on, but I’m quite happy chatting to Sparty in the half-darkness. (We’re planning what to wear when we play Wembley, and how to theme the Rolling Stone photoshoot.) I drink people’s leftovers (that doesn’t count as actual bludging, does it?) and try not to watch TT zooming back and forth in his shorts and singlet. (He’s one of the only people I know who can actually make shorts look ok.) They leave after a while, so that makes it easier. It’s quite windy, I’m kind of cold. Sparty tells me about his youth. It’s interesting. I’m growing scarily comfortable with the loser’s lounge....must...not....become....useles
It’s about eleven by now, and completely dark. I go over to the toilet and on the way back, find a tyre swing lying on the ground. It looks as if the rope’s been cut. I wonder where it’s from, and then decide that the law of the universe dictates that it’s mine now. I heave it happily back across the forecourt and show it to uncle Bru.
‘Hey, swinging chick’ says TT from behind me, tugging on one of my bunches. He’s reappeared, it would seem, and snuck up behind me, wearing a massive flasher-type oilskin. I turn round and laugh.
‘What’s with the flasher coat?’
‘I am wearing clothes’ he grins, opening it up ‘you’re not missing anything.’ (He is so full of himself.) He launches into a long explanation, something to do with him lending Grace (that’s the asian girl) his jumper, but as usual I’m not listening because I’m too busy staring. This must be what it’s like to be a man. I sit down with Sparty again and the drinking continues, but before long Jill, Abi’s wife, bursts angrily out of the shop and tells us all to shut up and go away. TT flips into polite mode and manages to charm her into calming down a bit while we all sneak away, giggling. I drag the tyre all the way back to Hapuka – it’s not heavy – dump it on the floor by the sofa upstairs and collapse into bed, realising suddenly that I’m tired. It’s all good.
(this was done quite quickly, so there probably will be additions when I remember all the stuff I’ve forgotten.)