Off to New Zealand on Monday February 1st, Storm Henry permitting. Glasgow – Dubai – Sydney – Auckland. No stopovers. I once swore I’d never do that again, but this time I bit the bullet. 28 hours in a hermetically sealed cigar tube. I am anxious to board, and emerge into Eliot’s “unimaginable, Zero summer”. It is better to arrive than to travel hopefully.
Auckland International Airport is certainly the friendliest airport I know. Even the customs officers smile at you. In no time at all you emerge into Arrivals and then walk out into the sweet New Zealand air. There is a moment of déjà vu; it is as if everything has been in freeze frame. And then, as if cued by your coming, the huge New Zealand flag above the carpark begins to flap lazily, and the traffic starts to move, and the people start to bustle.
It’s a fallacy. It doesn’t take you long to realise that these people have not been in suspended animation at all. They have moved on. Things are not quite as they were during your last visit. In fact, you realise, it is you who have been in a deep hibernation and who now need to wake up and rediscover what it is you are doing down here. I once toyed with the idea of spending six months in each hemisphere. A life without winters might be attractive if you aren’t into winter sports. Yet I’ve gone off the idea. It’s not that I would feel guilty about dodging the rigours of the cold. After all, the birds do it. They fly vast distances and come back six months later and land in the same pond. No, it’s the sense of continuous displacement that puts me off. Where do you live? Where have you put down roots? Answer – in an airport departures lounge. I lived and worked in Auckland for 13 years and I do go back from time to time but I’m conscious of a sense of dislocation. Despite the fact that you can text and telephone and skype and email and so on, there is a sense that there is no real point of connection between life here and life down under. They are entirely separate entities, like parallel universes. You have slipped through a worm hole and the other place has disappeared.
Yet that other world stays in the memory with extraordinary high definition. Sometimes in the heart of Glasgow of a cold wet and blustery day I’ve closed my eyes and imagined myself on Narrow Neck Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, looking across to Auckland’s 48th volcano, Rangitoto. And for one crazy moment I’ve believed that when I would open my eyes again, the characteristic twin peaked silhouette of Rangitoto’s caldera, in the Hauraki Gulf beyond the Waitemata Harbour, would be there before me. Didn’t Yeats feel this way? While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey… It’s my Innisfree moment.
Perhaps next Wednesday, if I’m standing on Narrow Neck Beach, I will think fondly, perversely, of Buchanan Street. I’ll let you know! It is the blessed dilemma of dual citizenship. Am I a Scot in New Zealand or a New Zealander in Scotland?
He iwi kotahi tatau.