In the Footsteps of Alastair Cameron-Strange

St Valentine’s Day. To Auckland Town Hall with dear friends to hear Bach Musica NZ play a Valentine’s Concert of Mozart, Faure, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Elgar, Puccini, Mascagni, Lehar, et al. Beautiful music in a beautiful venue of a beautiful evening. Mezzo-soprano Kayla Collingwood and tenor Derek Hill were splendid, and I thought the Bach Musica Chorus were outstanding. There were also some remarkable players in the orchestra and I was greatly struck by the low pitched flute solo in Faure’s Pavane, and the harp cadenza in the Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker.

I confess I had an ulterior motive in attending this concert. I wrote the draft sequel to “Click, Double-Click”, at speed, towards the end of last year, and shortly afterwards disappeared into the southern hemisphere. In this sequel, the troubled Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange flies to New Zealand and, although it wasn’t my principal reason for making the trip, I wanted to visit the venues he visited, to recreate a sense of them. He sat upstairs in Auckland Town Hall to listen to his twin sister play her viola. I might have sat in the same seat as him. I half expected MacKenzie, with her long dark hair and flashing cobalt eyes, to emerge on to the platform in a black and gold gown with her – can it be? – Archinto Stradivari, and render her own transcription of the Stravinsky 3 pieces for clarinet. I told my friends this, and they told me I was living in an alternative universe.

To Lake Gnatu, Cape Reinga, and Te Paki stream in the remote north, half expecting to see ACS’ mirage shimmering in the heat haze on the edge of the huge sand dunes at Ninety Mile Beach. He is everywhere. The only place I can escape him is in the Emergency Department of Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland. He went home to get a job there, but somehow something keeps coming up and frankly I doubt if he is ever going to take up the offer.

Middlemore ED sees between 350 and 400 patients every day, something like 135,000 patients per annum. That’s very busy, and very hard work. Yet, today, everybody was smiling. In England, no one is smiling. I gather that since I departed the UK, the English “junior doctors” (sic) have been on strike again, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has imposed a contract on them that they don’t want. (Incidentally, why are the doctors “junior”? Have you ever heard of a junior policeman? A junior teacher? A junior lawyer? They are, after all, qualified doctors. I think we should dump the “junior” terminology.)

Why are New Zealand doctors happy and British doctors sad? Is it the climate? Is it the fact that Middlemore Emergency Department has 22 consultants, 18 emergency medicine specialist registrars, and 15 more full time equivalent doctors available? (Altogether different ballpark, you see.) Well, all of that helps. But mostly it’s because people here have a sense of personal worth. They feel of value because they know they are valued. Disadvantaged South Auckland has always posed Middlemore huge challenges in health care delivery, yet people rise to the challenge because of a sense of purpose and therefore of commitment.

And yet I have a horrible feeling that ACS, sitting there in a reverie in the Auckland Town Hall listening to the elegiac third movement of the Bax Viola Sonata, is going to go back to the UK.

For pity’s sake, why?

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