How strange to find myself transported to the bottom of the world, and into high summer, courtesy of an Emirates A380, all in the course of a day. Travel is becoming an increasingly dislocating experience. Aircraft and airports all look much alike. There is no view, and no sense of time. In Sci-Fi movies, travellers through interstellar space are put into a state of suspended animation so that the tedium of the journey is abolished. A Business Class ticket is essentially a general anaesthetic. It lays you flat and knocks you out. You are in a private world. Even though I had a travelling companion, I was separated from her by the bulwark of my pod. (We met periodically in the lounge bar.) And a first class cabin is a kind of quarantine. The richer you are, the more isolated you become. The endpoint of exclusivity is solitary confinement. We paused in Dubai. Another immensely long corridor, an escalator, a train, another lounge. I solved the Times crossword to stay awake. There were only a dozen people at the gate lounge when we reboarded. That was because the economy cabin was beneath us and entirely separated from us. You might never have guessed at its existence. We were living in a gated community. Back into the pod. Seventeen hours to go. Have another breakfast.
I watched a movie. Berlin, I love you. Berlin, ich liebe dich. It was an interwoven montage of love stories, like Love Actually, but much edgier. There is an atmosphere of danger in Berlin, like the atmosphere of the thirties, never far away, captured by the New Zealand writer James McNeish in his two books on the great New Zealand middle distance runner James Lovelock, The Man from Nowhere, and Lovelock. Lovelock ran the perfect race to win the 1500 metres at the Berlin 1936 Olympics. Harold Abrams commentated for the BBC. Lovelock subsequently became a doctor and worked in New York. He was a deeply enigmatic character, whose tragic and violent death in a New York subway was deeply mysterious.
And I read Graham Greene’s The Human Factor. To say it concerns a double agent is like saying Hamlet concerns the Prince of Denmark. Actually it concerns, well, Love actually. It is troubled and compassionate,
But talking of New Zealand, here we are. I checked into the Esplanade on the waterfront of Devonport Auckland and stayed until the jet lag had dissipated. I’d been warned I’d find NZ much changed, but Devonport, where I used to live, remains largely as I remember it. Same old wonderful second-hand book shop. I went in and, continuing the Greene theme, got a lovely first edition The Honorary Consul. Then back out into the dazzling sunlight. I always navigate through Auckland via volcanoes, and these certainly are little changed. Six of them lie on Auckland’s North Shore – Onepoto, Styak’s Swamp, Lake Pupuke, Mount Victoria, Mount Cambria and North Head. When I ran the 48, these, in that order, were my last six, a distance of about 17 kilometres. Now I have revisited them and I know that Auckland remains essentially what it was.
From Auckland I went south west to Raglan, thence to Rotorua, to be reunited with all my cousins. We foregathered on the shores of Lake Tarawera of a hot Sunday afternoon. My cousin happens to be a Baptist minister so I was privileged to be there when he baptised his niece, an 18 year old medical student, in the lake. I was surprised to find myself emotionally completely undermined. I could have been on the shores of the River Jordan.