IN COMFORTABLE silence we sat for the first few puffs before John mused, "Not long to go now."
"Mmm," I answered, enjoying the hazy blanket descending from the outside in.
A pause. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
"Yeah man, I have too."
"But you know, you are, well, kind of useless right?"
I wasn't offended. John's words were voiced with affection and a fair amount of prior experience.
"I like to think of myself as endearingly useless bro."
SO MY delirium went, on that black sand beach, for the first week or two.
Then I grew bored. So very, very bored. And not long after I did my first festival straight: Splore, an hour outside Auckland. It is not recorded in these pages because, and I have to be honest here, it sucked the fat one - hard.
While all my friends charged around, while John learnt how to dance to Drum and Bass and Sarah got sunburnt and the whole of Splore shuddered and jumped, I was in my tent early,
AFTER GINNY'S house sold I rented a batch at Piha beach to prepare.
I lived there with my German girlfriend, Brigitte, from February to May. There was no TV. While Brigitte went to work at a local cafe, I spent my days on a steady diet of self help and meditation. I wrote glowing mission statements and felt extremely pleased with myself.
At sunset I took long walks along the black sand beach heading for Lion Rock with the damp sand squeezing between my toes and the surf poundin
BUT I was also other things.
I was the after-image I glimpsed in my friends’ affection. I was intelligent, articulate, charming, positive, stately, spiritual. A unique and beautiful snowflake. And beneath the seethe these qualities lurked, waiting for me to stop paying attention.
And I was ambitious. And I was amorous. And I knew I was destined for great things. I’d been promised. We all had. And this was my shot. And it was going to define me, you understand?
It was a fu
AT THE time of first plan I'd hoped my travels would rally my far-flung friends -
if I book the festivals, they will come - that it would be our last charge together. That I could trail along in their wake, as I had done so many times before, and together we'd forge an end worthy of all the dance scene had meant to us.
But they were too far gone. Only three responded and only two of those were definite: one for the first festival, one for the last. In-between, I was on my own. N
BUT YET there I was.
There I was, with no practice, no acclimation, no training at all, about to embark on the veritable master's degree in living beyond, and which, at the very least, at the very low-end of self-sufficiency and resourcefulness, could involve opening tinned fruit at some stage for sustenance.
Before I set out I'd only been to festivals in New Zealand, the largest The Gathering with its fourteen thousand people over three days. But now, looming on the horizon, w
With myself, it was different again. In many ways I was the most unlikely of souls to undertake such a journey and I was plagued by doubt. They would seep out of the globe at night and surround me, encase me and shake me until I flew about like snow.
What was I doing? I asked myself this more times than I care to remember. This was crazy. Who took a year off to go on a festival bender? To write a book? Well, I knew the answer. It was the type of person who liked to hol
WITH MY friends, it was a different conversation:
ME - I've quit my job.
FRIEND - Fek, really?
ME - Yeah. I’m taking the year off. Crazy, ay?
FRIEND - Crazy.
FRIEND - So what are you going to do? Travel?
ME - Sort of. I'm going to hit festivals.
FRIEND - Festivals?
ME - Well, more of a dance festival tour, really.
FRIEND - A dance festival tour . . .
ME - I have six planned in six countries.
ME - I'll spe
BY JANUARY this thinking had coalesced into resolve, resolve into a plan.
My mind and heart set. To honour Ginny I would use my share of her inheritance to follow my own dream, while I still could. I would take the rest of the year. I would target three months.
One Summer then to travel to all those overseas festivals that had long coloured my friends and I's wistful talk, that like wind-caught pennants had long snapped in our imaginations, fierce and proud.
AND I dreamed.
Oh I dreamed of the ephemeral magic of dance festivals gone by, blowing up in my memory like supernovas. How I’d always been fascinated, ever since my earliest days when on film I tried to capture - I don’t know, something - in the rain and the mud of The Gathering.
How I'd never been able to get to their essence when evangelising to the trapped or the prearranged, but knowing there was more, always more. A goodness in festivals, redemption and transformation
LONG WEEKS passed. We put Ginny's affairs in order.
Her house went on the market and I moved in to mourn on my own. I was angry and bitter, full of sadness and pain. Or maybe none of those things. Maybe, a holed, flawed instrument, I felt nothing at all. I didn’t know. It was both, and it was neither. However a great rending had occurred. I knew that. Felt that.
The seams of The Contract had ripped, the groaning innards, and spilling through was not meaning, not promise, not ho
GINNY’S LEGACY was more than just her insurance policy and her love for her family.
For her colleagues and friends it was memories of her wit and giving nature, her pursuit of perfection and her skill at organising fabulous office parties, and as I stood by her coffin and not the pulpit on a sour spring day because somehow it felt better,
as first I looked down to my hands and knew I wouldn't be able to control them, their tremors, no matter how hard I crumpled the paper, a
HE LOOKED like a man who'd just lost his daughter
and now didn't know how the world stitched together. But she was already inflight. Now at the side of single-seat sofa, now perched on his armrest, now clasping Dad's head to her ample bosom.
"There, there," she cooed, "It will be alright."
No, it wouldn’t.
Embarrassment scarred Dad's cheeks, offset by the wan light slanting in from the window of Ginny's lounge behind. We children looked on aghast. This was my father, yo
After Ginny died we had visitors.
It was a day, maybe two. The funeral loomed. A call from her work, the bank. They were very sorry, they didn’t want to intrude, but they had news, would like to send people, would it be okay?
Yes, it would be okay.
They arrived. He, a typical middle manager, middle-aged in a middle-grey suit, and with the decency to look ill at ease amongst our tragedy’s detritus, the embryonic clean up. She, a spherical woman in florals, with
CASSY AND I rambled.
Two cats who’d discovered the alchemy of cream, we walked hand in hand not staying anywhere for long or talking much. Other than for her to explain how she wasn't going to sleep with me, which given my current disarray was a rather endearing but woefully erroneous.
Close to dawn we worked our way back home, wintry and plunging down and very twisted, when we spied the flicker of a campfire in the distance. The camp of the house-bus-owning hippies. Four of
LATE IN the last hour of the final day a flurry of panic and movement and broken voices.
She’s getting agitated!
Should we administer the drugs?
NO-O! Don’t do it! CALL the Hospice!
We love you Ginny.
GIVE HER the drugs!
We love you -
We love you -
Call the -
She’s calming down -
We love you. We love you.
We love you . . .
We crowded around her. Other than Dad who crouched to one side looking as if some deep founda
CLOSE TO midnight, Friday, October the 1st.
Ginny was adrift now, her eyes closed, breathing faint and irregular.
Earlier in the afternoon the nurse had come to give us drugs, warned us that in the final moments patients could become agitated, try to remove their oxygen tube or rip out their IV. If that happened, the drugs would help keep Ginny calm. We didn't ask what they were. We hoped we wouldn't need them.
We took turns sitting beside Ginny and holding he
I HADN'T seen her since midday
but we took up where we‘d left off, except we were both back on-wing ten thousand feet up and flying now, so when she sat with the warmth of her skin like fever, and she turned, illumined and effervescing, and our eyes in sempiternity met, the space, the time between us collapsed, we collapsed, to collide.
It was the highest high note of The Gathering. True and triumphant. I’d never been happier or more alive, while a megalomaniacal voice in the ba
(MISSION: MISH-UH-N. Noun.
An assigned or self-imposed task when chopped that you are convinced is the one right true thing for you to do due to special reasons of joy, peer recognition or human beneficence. The task, usually simple, will involve high amounts of time, huge degrees of frustration, and may or may not ever get completed.)
So a mission then, me carrying my couch crucifix-like through a dark you forget exists in the perpetual bright of cities, through a rain reduced to
"COUCH DANCING," I mumbled happily, slinging my inflatable couch off my back where it landed with a plop in the mud. I grinned at my fellow trancers who all grinned back, evidently appreciating the sheer brilliance of my idea.
It was two in the morning and I hadn’t slept for forty hours, the afternoon a disconnected set of joyous fragments I couldn't put to any chronology. Flashes of Kathy with laughter in her eyes telling me Darius had gone la-la-land: being mandated
NEAR MIDDAY Darius and Kathy found us.
Then Joseph. Then Sam, rested and unrepentant. We caught up, and I heard they had found Tim, Darius telling the story.
"You know how he's been trying to make Sandra? Well he finally sold her on the idea they could create this big "millennial memory” and that's where they went, the nuttas. They couldn't even wait for the countdown to finish."
“Didn't he have a pill?”
“Yeah. I’m glad it wasn’t my tent, the dirty olds. They're bac
BLONDE, SLIM and with bambi blue eyes,
frail shoulders covered by a white cardigan, with a sweet little mouth, now formed in a perfect O, as part of a lost look to match my own, we rushed together, embracing.
We'd only met the day before but were overjoyed - as only two trancers on the other side of an elevated night with no prospect of sleep anytime soon could be.
Now we were two.
"Ha-hah!" I cried with new found (make that cute girl found) enthusiasm. "Cassy! Wicked. W
BACK THEN I was still all bounce and bliss about drugs -
this back in the golden days when drugs were recreational and only ever fun, when synthetics didn’t exist and meth hadn’t made New Zealand and the line was drawn at X and trips and the quality was good and the price was high and we sermonized the five R's:
the right type in the right amount at the right time in the right place with the right people - nothing other than weed smoked, nothing ever injected - back when you pl
WHEN I got back to camp nobody was around.
I made a coffee, wrapped myself in a blanket and plonked myself under the tarpaulin to fire a phatty: cold, encrusted, fried - thoroughly content in the world.
As the weed scattered me further I stared blankly out at the other half-hidden campsites, damply drooping and drooping damply, and in the furtive grey punched through with cratered-eyes blankly staring back my way.
My mind turned inwards. A cannibal, it cracked the bones of fa
AFTER THAT conversation it felt as if something had been decided, ended,
for with every passing hour Ginny slipped further away from us, despite our best and desperate attempts to prevent her.
We saw it in her loss of mobility, how she needed to be aided everywhere with the help of a walker. Soon she barely walked at all. We saw it in the eyes of the Hospice nurse, who came on Wednesday to put a morphine drip in her arm. We saw it in each other. Death was with us. He had not visit