Water Works

Getting together (80 of us) for the reunion was a load of fun, yes, but at the same time unsettling to be reminded of the young person I was back then. Sometimes I think of myself like a babushka doll with the younger versions of me tucked away inside each of the older more mature versions of me.

I’m over the moon to have a poem in this remarkable anthology published by The Cuba Press. Looking forward to reading the poetry from other contributors. We were all given different passages from Dante’s inferno to incorporate seamlessly into a 33-lined poem of of our own. More details found HERE

Looking towards Dunedin city from my hood on the eastern side of the harbour

Continuing with the theme of water … Water, or perhaps more specifically, bodies of water, often drift into my aspect.

Because we live between the harbour and the sea, when I go for walks I am often choosing between heading for the (usually) relatively still harbour / inlet with its wading and diving bird life, or the perpetual motion of the sea.


On the day I took these photos, I chose the still waters of a calm harbour.

I tend to call these birds their given name of shag. Others prefer the more demure term cormorants
Terns – caspian terns

Caspian terns were a treat to see on that particular day. They remind me of the comic strip character The Phantom. Except they aren’t fitted out with purple bodysuits. (But they do have the black mask).

A black-backed gull looking pretty handsome – the young ones taking on the adult plumage after a summer of ugly, muddy grey-brown

Gulls are always a feature of these walks, so much so I hardly notice them. They’re just part of the background. Although, I did spot on a couple of occasions a parent bird, its peeping adolescent offspring intent on remaining close. The teen gull appeared to be insisting the parent keep looking after it – I guess by supplying it with food. However the adult gull was intent upon ignoring the young gull’s plaintive, clinging cries. That young gull (now fully fledged) was clearly being told it was just going to have to grow up. Parent had cut the apron strings and nervous baby gull was not taking it well.


Past Tense

Just a trickle inside its concrete retainer banks, Dunedin’s secretive Water of Leith taking its slow, lazy approach to the harbour

The Leith is the river that winds its way through Dunedin’s university area and where I happened to be this past weekend, attending a fifty-year reunion for the 1971 intake of students to Dunedin Teacher College (as it was known back then).

Fifty years was also when I was first introduced to Joni Mitchell’s music. A student friend played me her album, Blue – released, as it happens, just three days before my eighteenth birthday that year. Lately this has taken on even more significance for me after being invited to speak to students at Victoria University in Wellington about Joni Mitchell’s influence on my writing.

Getting together (80 of us) for the reunion was a load of fun, yes, but at the same time unsettling to be reminded of the young person I was back then. Sometimes I think of myself like a babushka doll with the younger versions of me tucked away inside the older more mature versions of myself.

Unsettling and sobering also to remember past students who had died and to receive news that an ex-flatmate and friend I had lost touch with, has been diagnosed with alzheimer’s.

Flavouring our student days were the smells issuing from Greggs factory (the building in the photo above) situated across the Leith from the college pre-fabs. Most memorable being the smell of roasting coffee. Coming a close second, the more cloying, sweeter smell of instant pudding on other days. But as the factory is no longer in operation, gone are any olfactory (cough) memory aids.

The lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s The Student Song were penned by her when she was a young woman and I find it all too easy to factor in parts of the song to my own memories of being a student.

Lines from Joni Mitchell’s The Student Song:

... gee that evenin’ air smells sweet and warm
who can study silly words
when the creek begins to run
and the crocus pops up from the ground
I challenge anyone

Now it’s off to school tomorrow with
apologies and sorrow
but I’ve gotta watch the season being born
Yes I’ve gotta watch the season being born
I’ve gotta watch the season being born

© 1965

When I was eighteen years old and in my first year of training to be a teacher, I remember learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with self-actualization perched at the top. This weekend’s reunion – as fun as it was – did at times jolt me into questioning whether I was indeed fully self-actualised, even after fifty years.

And to someone like myself – always the overthinker – the same questions that hounded me back then can still (if I let them) hound me today … Who am I? Why am I? What am I? Where am I? How am I? It can become something of a lifelong search. But, hang on, here’s me in 2021 still teetering on the top of Maslow’s pyramid and more than happy to be so; oh and so, so happy to no longer be back in 1971.



Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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