Rosamund likes to talk to me when I put her to bed. While we are staying at the house in Brown’s Bay she tells me knock knock jokes but she doesn’t really understand the genre and they misfire. I’ve learned to laugh anyway.
Banana cake who?
I didn’t know you liked banana cake.
It’s her favourite joke, and it is hard to laugh. Like Sir Peter Leitch’s jokes on Waiheke Island.
Sir Peter Leitch has tried to defuse a recent racial spat by saying that his comments about Waiheke Island being a “white man’s Island,” which upset a young Māori woman, was only light-hearted banter.
Sometimes Rosamund asks me questions instead of telling jokes. She has been working something over in her mind and she needs some guidance. Sometimes the questions are not as profound as they appear at first.
Where do we go when we die?
I don’t think we go anywhere. We just stop.
No, when people wear black and go somewhere.
Oh, right. A funeral. We go to a funeral when someone dies.
One of the highlights of Christmas for me are her Christmas related questions. One of the things I hadn’t realised about Santa and all his related mythology is that he also serves the function of giving everyone under the age of ten a stimulating set of intellectual challenges. Eleanor wanted to know this year if Santa was a role or a person. So, is Santa immortal or more like a pope – a person who fills the job until he dies? Rosamund also had a question:
Why doesn’t Santa get presents for adults?
Adults often have jobs so they can buy their own presents.
So adults can be bad?
Yes. And some are very, very bad.
I’m not going to be bad when I’m an adult.
I remember being fascinated by Christmas trees in Japan. Why? I asked my students. Why are there Christmas trees everywhere? Isn’t this a Shinto-Buddho-Capitalisto-country? My students were not conflicted by the Christmas trees. Because it’s fun! was the usual answer. A news story floated to the top of the cycle for an hour one day in December this year: they’re banning Christmas trees in Israel! They weren’t as it turned out. Just a demand from some rabbis that withered under the cries of hotel chains in Jerusalem.
The Christmas tree might be a perfect symbol of the west: meaningless, widespread and smothering. Walking in a pine plantation you see only rows and rows of trees, the ground blanketed in a thick mat of dead pine needles: no birds, no undergrowth, sometimes a confused looking rabbit. A monolithic mono-culture. Then comes the mechanized harvest.
Standing on Brown’s Bay beach with Eleanor with the water lapping up our calves we took in Rangitoto, and the cliffs at either end, the pohutakawa in bloom.
What was this place like before?
Before the white people came.
Eleanor is used to me trying to see what isn’t there anymore. She humours me. I humour myself. I’ve learned that the past was not a pastoral idyll “and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Sometimes. Sometimes communal, rich and compassionate too. Surely. At home I look for the history of Brown’s Bay.
Peter Brown initially purchased 136 acres of flat land which was then covered in tutu, fern and ti-tree. He transformed the land into a working farm with an orchard, apiary, crops and pastures.
No pohutakawa then.
“Transformed the land” is a nice open expression. Inarguable.