Missing Montpellier

Tomorrow I leave Montpellier for the big city, a job and the real world. I’ve enjoyed my 9 months here, and that’s really down to the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. I’ll miss the city and it’s easygoing style, but I’ll miss the people more.

I reckon that I made more friends in 9 months in Montpellier than I did in 2.5 years in Oxford. Don’t get me wrong, my Oxford friends are wonderful, (and they know who they are) but the quantity and ease of contacts made in Montpellier has been extraordinary.

In Montpellier, I seemed to spend a lot of time going out, despite my student budget. Having drinks and late-evening meals as the sun sets over the old town. Watching films at the Cinéma Diagonal and Odysseum. River-swimming at the Pont du Diable. Wine tasting on the Esplanade during les Estivales.

It has been, as you might imagine, a pretty wonderful lifestyle, and I even managed to complete a masters thesis in between the fun I was having.  Whatever happens next in the big adventure, at least part of it has been spent living in the south of France.

So I’d just like to say thanks to my friends here, and especially to anyone I’ve left off this list! : Ariel, Ed, Severine, Isabelle, Claudia, Daniel, Laura, @paztek, Dédé le Camionneur, Eva, Nadiha, Wendy, Georges, Serge, Mick’n’Hazel, Mariannick, Janice, Alain, Nancy, Pierre-Yves, Raphael, Marion, Amandine, Régis, Lazare, Marie-Anne, Camille, Shamille, Dany le Setois, Cathy and Nathalie.

It’s not an adieu, it’s an au revoir. I’ll be back.

England – a week of it

Seven days spent back in England was a reminder of everything left behind across the Channel – good friends, bad weather, great pubs and fantastic Indian restaurants. Here are a few highlights:

On our way from the Royal Academy to the Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery, my aunt and I bumped into the band of the Welsh Guards toddling up the Mall. For a few minutes, I was a real tourist.

A couple of nights in Birmingham were enough to visit the legendary Punjab Paradise on Ladypool Road and attend my Business School’s “Summer” Ball at the Botanic Gardens, where the evening was cold enough for the peacocks’ breath to steam.

Oxford remains one of my favourite places in the world. A weekend was happily spent catching up with friends, eating fish, browsing old books at Blackwell‘s and being amazed once again by New College’s choir. The sun emerged long enough on Sunday for a sandwich picnic in the University Parks. It was like being home again.

A final whirlwind day in London, (tapas lunch in Angel, meetings in Old Street and a sneaky visit to the Parthenon Marbles which I had never seen before), was capped off by an unexpected view of sunset over the Upper Pool of the Thames from a pub in Bermondsey. The city looked like it was on fire, and the pints were less than 2 quid.

Thanks to everyone who let me sleep on their couch, and to all the friends who found time to say hello. Sorry I couldn’t see more people – but I’ll be back sometime…

I Imagine a Conversation

I imagine a conversation. We pick at blades of grass between brown sandals. The illogic of our story spins skywards over the city, soaring in the blue miracle of it all.

I imagine a conversation. You describe how an afternoon rainshower pulls the dust from the air, leaving distant hills vacant and sparkling.

I imagine a conversation. Somewhere during the music, you tell me I am made of dust, and I am surprised that this makes me happy.

I imagine a conversation. It is on a beach with footprints. We laugh as islands rise from the ocean like fish.

I imagine a conversation, which stretches for hours across a damp basement in summer. A storm tugs at the corner of a window. We snigger at our fragile bravado.

I imagine a conversation, among northern snowbanks that lie immobile by the roadside. Our talk is careful like chess, with voices muffled by whiteness.

Postcard from Everywhere

England to me is my mother tongue / And what I did when I was young.
W.H. Auden

…J’ai souvent eu l’occasion de répondre, à ceux qui me posaient des questions sur mon origine, que mon pays c’est d’abord et avant tout l’enfance, puis, en second lieu, ma langue.
Daniel Ducharme

Birmingham, 3rd January 2009

Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Met,

On New Year’s Eve, I was back in Oxford.  Stepping off the train into the cold grey afternoon was like breathing a sigh of relief.  Everything was once again familiar.  The Business School’s copper ziggurat , the low forest of bicycles arrayed outside the station (none of which seem to have moved since I left), the signs on the front of the buses lead towards familiar places… Abingdon, Wheatley, Temple Cowley.

Avoiding the streaming traffic and noise of Frideswide Square, I slipped through the churchyard of St Thomas the Martyr, with its gravestones and 12th century priest’s door, and turned into my old street.  Nothing’s changed much in three months, of course.

That night we played old-time jazz in the village pub in Cassington, and saw in 2009 with a New Orleans-style rendition of Auld Lang Syne.   The pub had good ales on tap, the village was built of Cotswold stone.  The local accents burred westwards as the night went on. Strangely, it felt like I was home.

Although, at the same time, I am not “home” at all.  I’m a New Zealander.  The place where I put my feet is an obscure south-east corner of the Hauraki Gulf, with its particular configuration of water, tides, rocks and islands.  NZ writer Emma Hart, blogging this weekend at Public Address, talked about her own turanga waewae – the highway south of Christchurch that is the “back-bone of my childhood” :

…it’s how a landscape should be. That’s where I feel I stand strong, with the sun on my face, the sea on my right hand, and the mountains on my left.

Our emotions and memories are so often bound up in landscape: places where significant things happened, places linked to people we love, or places where we return to gain strength. But our memories of those places are twisted.

As we remould our memories, adding new layers of meaning, it seems we quickly reach a point at which our image of a place no longer resembles its reality. What we are left with is language: words that attempt to evoke the importance of certain times and places.

Last year in May, I returned to wander around my old school, a place where so much growing up took place.  Suddenly, it seemed the school was strangely small, that it couldn’t live up to the significance I’d given it through repeated exercise of memory.

There’s a sense now of being burdened by the clutter of places that make up a personal history. Like a refrigerator covered with so many postcards that you can’t tell its a fridge any more.  There’s pictures of dining tables in Basel, a view of Lake Taupo from my grandfather’s house, a snapshot of desert in Arizona, a place near Queenstown called Paradise, snow-covered ridges in the Vosges, cloisters in Oxford.

Is there a point at which our spiritual scrapbook gets too full? Is it possible to cherish all these places and yet still keep adding more pivot points to your life?  Can we stretch our roots too far?

In just over two weeks, I leave the UK to live in France.  Once again uprooted, pushing onwards into a new place.  It’s exciting. But at the same time, there is a little voice asking if it is time to settle down.  I’ve still got a whole bunch of old postcards to sort out.  At the same time, I’m still writing new ones.

Hope everything is going well in your parts of the world!

Lots of love from,
Richard xoxo

(Sorry, if this post comes across as self-regarding waffle, that’s because it probably is.)



Auckland, as I’ll always imagine it

This week I’ve been a sort-of tourist in my home town. Taking photos. Buying ironically tacky souvenirs for people in England. Visiting the museum. Nothing seems to have changed very much here. Lots of old friends, extensive amounts of food and too much coffee.

I drove out to Remuera and took a walk around one of my old schools. There’s a lot of new buildings since my last visit, but every corner of the place still is full of stories. Some places play crucially in forming our concept of the world, and for better or worse, “KP” (King’s Prep) is for me one of those places.

A fantastic wedding on Saturday night featured the Lex Pistols, lavalavas and lamingtons – they sure don’t get married like that in Oxford! Then the evening finished at Rakinos, one of those old Auckland venues that never changes, to hear Tangent play their final gig. And that’s before catching up with Bruce, Karl and Tash. All in all, I didn’t expect that coming back home would be quite so exhausting…

Nick Atkinson

Nick Atkinson sits in with Tangent, Rakinos – May 24th 2008

Little Things

Great blog posts combined with internet access in the office can make for a dangerous mix. After reading Rushan’s post today, I had to rapidly dry my eyes (really) and pull myself together again before heading into a meeting! Perhaps luckily (or not?) nobody spotted the brief lowering of my at-the-office mask and I was soon back talking about the importance of consistent branding and recommending a programme of ongoing background media outreach.

Rushan is exploring the unpredictable and sometimes massive implications of even our tiniest actions on the lives of others. If you think too long about this, you can freak out. I’m sure for most people looking back at their lives so far, the “what if” scenarios are endless and sometimes frightening. I guess we need to learn to be more conscious of the way we treat others and ourselves, for even the most insignificant act can have far-reaching effects on others. The butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil…

In no particular order, here are some thoughts that kind of all link back to this theme.

Go to Finland
It was early in 2001. An endless European winter and the pressure of finishing my Honours dissertation 12,000km from my university conspired to get me a bit depressed. I was thinking about heading home immediately at the end of my employment contract in France. Mum phones me. She convinces me to stay a while longer, tells me that I should go and visit some friends of hers in Finland. The trip to Vaasa later that spring turns into 3 wonderful weeks on trains and ferries around Nordic Europe. I cross the Arctic Circle, see the Midnight Sun. I come home to New Zealand a month later than planned, just in time to fall into a temporary job opening that convinces me that I shouldn’t go to Journalism School. The temporary job becomes very, very permanent. I learn about the importance of consistent branding, and a random guy gets hold of me at work one day and asks if I’d like to join a funk band.

When Mum called me long distance in 2001 to kick me out of my rut, she would have no idea that her conversation would mean that I wouldn’t become a journalist, that it would lead me to local funk scene stardom (haha), or that it would cause me to sit in a meeting today making a business case for an ongoing programme of media outreach. In fact, she still doesn’t know how that conversation shifted my life sideways. Maybe I should tell her sometime.

Little Things
Yes, there is some music today. The boys from Trinity Roots keep coming through for me, and I thought that this song was particularly appropriate.

Trinity Roots – Little Things
From True: Independent/TR_02 [Buy]

Please please please check in mine eyes
For I and I have nothing to hide
As I wipe the slate clean, share this with you
Take on my own, the pain of your soul

It’s the little things
That really matter

These fine fine lines, make for trying times
And trying times, make you strong
You take your strength, pass it around
Pass it around and then move on

It’s the little things
That really matter

© 2002 Trinity Roots

Making a Difference
Tomorrow is polling day in New Zealand’s General Election. I’ll be doing my bit by voting against what I see as fear, ignorance and greed. I know people who have chosen not to vote tomorrow, thinking that it won’t make a difference. I hope they’ll change their mind tomorrow morning and turn out cause their own tiny ripple in the grand scheme…

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead, anthropologist

Sunset over Tysfjord, Norway

Interdependence Day

Some of the conversations I’ve been reading in the non-musical blogosphere over the past few days have given me pause for thought. So I’m going to digress momentarily from my normal line of writing. (There is an mp3 at the end, so you can skip to that if you want…)

Rushan and friends have been exploring ways that we come closer to being who we truly are, not only by dropping the masks we use so often in our daily interactions, but by acknowledging that we, as individuals, are not complete without a community around us. A quote from M. Scott Peck:

“…we can never be completely whole in and of ourselves. We cannot be all things to ourselves and to others. We cannot be perfect. … So we are called to wholeness and simultaneously to recognition of our incompleteness; called to power and to acknowledge our weakness; called to both individuation and interdependence.”

As something of an rugged individual myself, it’s often hard to recognize that I am very dependent on others to become more like who I am – whether within my family, at work, at church or in music. For example, I’m very fortunate to have discovered such strong musical colleagues in one million dollars, the Brassouls and Vitamin S to help focus my musical ramblings. My family supports me and forgives my faults unconditionally. (Dunno why). And if I value them enough, friends far and near will always be there along the journey.

The same gratitude applies in the little blue and green blogosphere in which etnobofin floats. This blog would be of limited value without the readers and fellow bloggers who visit every so often, and who hopefully discover some new things. It is very reassuring that there are so many people out there who share some of my enthusiasms.

So this post is for all of you, wherever you are. In this world where our relationships with others seem often defined by which XML feeds we subscribe to, let’s celebrate the communities that really bind us together and make us whole. Peace, and kia kaha.

Sly and the Family Stone – Family Affair
From There’s a Riot Going On: Sony 467063 [Buy]

Lake Tekapo, July 2002