For some months I had been looking forward with somewhat mixed emotions to flying to New Zealand to spend a week with my daughter and grandchildren. I first became aware I had a daughter some fifteen years ago when I answered the telephone to be greeted by “Hello Dad”. I had been dimly aware that my ex had a daughter, but given the nature of our last few weeks together, the chances of her offspring being mine seemed remote. Nevertheless, I sprang for a return airfare to Melbourne so my new-found daughter Seanna could meet me, my “official” offspring, my mother, sisters, brother, cousins and any number of cats. While the event went well – my family certainly knows how to enjoy life – Seanna and I did not become close and a fairly desultory correspondence was the only outcome. One thing was obvious though, Seanna had inherited the “deviant” septum that characterises my mother’s side of the family; the infamous Ashley nose. She was mine and not some mysterious stranger’s daughter.
The flight to Sydney was uneventful and saw me reading books on my Kindle (as usual) until my oldest son Kieron phoned shortly before the flight to New Zealand. I said how much I was looking forward to seeing him in Sydney when I returned from my trip away. Kieron expressed some surprise at this; he had entirely forgotten about it. He told me he had moved out of Sydney following the breakup with his wife and was living in the North of the state, but would make it down for an overnight stay the following week. I cut the conversation there as my flight was due to leave. Clearing customs and obtaining the boarding pass was relatively quick and painless; thank the computer Gods for ePassports and such. Customs seized my bottle of water, but ignored the small bottles of propylene glycol laced with nicotine for my eCigarettes. I suspect making lots of “smoke” with them would be far more terrorising than brandishing a bottle of water, but what the fsk would I know about these things?
The three hour flight over the Tasman Sea was only slightly more eventful than the trip to Sydney. A passenger in the seat ahead of me coughed, spluttered, and hawked all the way there while kneeling on her seat to face me. Upon arrival at exactly the predicted time (5 past midnight), Seanna was nowhere to be seen. I telephoned, but only reached her message bank. I waited and phoned again, but still no response. I was very tired and so after what seemed like a suitable interval, caught a cab into the city. The driver held out slim hope for finding anything reasonable in the way of accommodation. Cheap places don’t have night clerks and most accommodation was fully booked it being the height of tourist season. Nevertheless, we found a room, rather more luxurious than I needed, but I needed sleep more than anything. Logs don’t sleep sounder than I did that night. I wasn’t particularly worried about Seanna having concluded that the most likely explanation was that she had assumed 5 past midnight was still the same day as 5 minutes to midnight!
The following day, I breakfasted and coffeed and phoned and sent several emails. Time to venture on to Palmerston North, a small city some two hours north of Wellington where Seanna had recently returned after a period on the coast. Once in Palmerston North, I found cheap digs above a gambling parlour with a tiny bar. The barman lent me his phone book, but there were no entries under Seanna’s surname. Nor had there been any response to my voicemail messages and emails. Worse, I did not have her new address. “Waiting is…” as Heinlein presciently remarked in Stranger in a Strange Land all these many years ago.
The following morning, I asked the barman where the nearest decent coffee shop was – the bar and gambling parlour opened at 7:30 am – and hied off there for a feed of dry-cured bacon and coffee. Fortunately, logging onto the Library wi-fi across the road was free (my 100 MB for $NZ30 of bandwidth from NZ Telstra was dwindling rapidly) and after my repast logged in to my email. And lo! Seanna had left an email message! I quickly dashed off a reply and how to find me. It took her all of fifteen minutes to reach the coffee shop. It’s a very small city. It turned out that I was correct about the date misunderstanding and she had changed her telephone number after losing her old phone without thinking to inform me. We had a great evening and fortunately for me, Seanna, and her housemate (Auntie Keren) aren’t night-owls.
Four hours after falling asleep, my luck gave out. Remember the Chinese lady coughing, hawking and so forth on the flight over? Around 4 am I was coughing, hawking and spitting! I recalled my lung-clearing exercises from a bout of bronchitis several years ago and let Seanna sleep as long as possible. She had had little sleep the night before following the drive to and from Wellington. Around 8 am I woke her and asked to be taken to the hospital where I was diagnosed with pneumonia and acute hay-fever. Palmerston North it appears is the pollen-capital of New Zealand and outsiders usually succumb. The nurses obsessed over my heart (I suffer from tachycardia) even though I told them it was under control with my regular beta-blocker, but what would I know? Fortunately, they eventually removed the heart monitor, gave me a prescription for meds, and sent me home. It’s gratifying that hospital care in New Zealand is free, even if you are a tourist! And the meds are subsidised heavily: $NZ8 per pharmaceutical. I went to my new home with antibiotics, a strong corticosteroid and asthma-puffer with spacer for $NZ24. I was as weak as a kitten and remain so a several weeks later. Pneumonia is not kind to those of us of a certain age.
One of the great things about travel is the way word usage changes. I overheard a nurse’s aide explain to a gentleman that the nurse was going to “give him a dose”. I looked over and thought: “That’s not a bad idea!” Then I realised she couldn’t give me a dose; I was on antibiotics already.
Seanna and Auntie Keren were most solicitous, catering to my needs, and I became almost sick of eating chicken soup. It was supplemented by fresh green-lipped mussels on the last night and they are to die for even when you are as ill as I have been. I will draw a veil over our conversations, they are a bit close-up and personal, except to say that Seanna’s mother was as nice as pie after dire warnings from her offspring of the consequences of allowing her to visit. I now have a new family to love and care about and it doesn’t come much better than that. Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Kieron phoned the day before the return trip home to say he couldn’t make it this time. Too late to cancel the hotel at Sydney and change flights. It was a long trip home.
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
Retirement may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown on to the scrap-heap. — Simone de Beauvoir