The Good Life

In which our colum­nist dreams of fol­low­ing in an­other coun­try­side chron­i­cler’s steps.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - MICHELE HE­WIT­SON

Michele He­wit­son

One of the nice things about mov­ing to the coun­try is that you get any number of ­­send-offs at which peo­ple say good­bye and tell you how much they will miss you. (And then they come and visit and so miss out on the chance to miss us.) It is a bit like be­ing at your own wake but bet­ter in that, ­ob­vi­ously, you get to go home af­ter all the old sto­ries.

Of course, given that most of my old friends are hacks, those sto­ries in­evitably in­volved too much drink and just the right amount of black hu­mour and lash­ings of rude ob­ser­va­tions about for­mer col­leagues of ­du­bi­ous tal­ent.

A con­ver­sa­tion at ­farewell drinks at the pub with my ­now-re­tired editor, The ­Head­mas­ter, about mov­ing to the coun­try, went like this.

The Head­mas­ter: “What are you go­ing to do in the coun­try?”

Me: “Write a col­umn about what I do in the coun­try.”

The Head­mas­ter, whose ­re­tire­ment hobby ap­pears to be hon­ing his al­ready sar­donic sense of hu­mour – when he re­ally ought to be play­ing bowls and col­lect­ing those beige ­cardi­gans with the faux leather ­but­tons – thought this most amus­ing. I could, he sug­gested, hardly ma­li­ciously at all, be­come Master­ton’s equiv­a­lent of Eve­lyn Waugh’s hap­less na­ture colum­nist, Wil­liam Boot in Scoop, the best and most sav­age novel ever writ­ten about hacks.

The name of Boot’s pa­per is, mem­o­rably, the Daily Beast. Nei­ther of us could at that mo­ment re­mem­ber the name of Boot’s col­umn. This was quite ap­pro­pri­ate given that we were at the pub and given that the name of the col­umn – I looked it up the minute I got home – is Lush Places.

When I men­tioned this to a re­cent vis­i­tor from the big smoke, it was sug­gested that I could change my by­line on this col­umn to Wil­liam Gum­boot. Oh, ha-ha. This is what comes of let­ting hacks into your coun­try house.

Ac­tu­ally, I have long fan­cied be­ing a na­ture colum­nist, al­though I fear I am lack­ing a cru­cial tal­ent (in ad­di­tion to not know­ing any­thing about na­ture be­yond buy­ing hun­dreds of plants on­line). Waugh’s Boot was re­puted to pos­sess “a par­tic­u­larly high-class style”, ex­em­pli­fied by this: “Feather-footed through the plushy fen passes the quest­ing vole …”. You have to ad­mit that is about as high-styled as it could ­pos­si­bly get. I don’t think my ­ob­ser­va­tions on the pongy state

of rams’ bums in win­ter quite cut it.

We have de­cided to aim for some high style in an­other arena. I may have ­men­tioned that many of the posh piles around here have nobby names on even nob­bier signs. We can’t do any­thing about the non-posh­ness of our pile, but we can have a sign. We have ­com­mis­sioned The Artist to make us one. The name of our pile will, of course, be Lush Places.

It’s per­fect. We do live in a place so lush we still can’t be­lieve it be­longs to us. (And it will re­mind us, fondly, of all our Auck­land friends, none of whom are lushes, cur­rently.)

We drive into town, along our drive­way where the golden elms are now in leaf, and call out to the lambs who skit­ter off, their silly tails aloft. We turn right and the Tararuas are be­fore us and, often, a, ahem, quest­ing hawk above us. One of us will say: “I can’t be­lieve we live here!” It may not last.

As I pre­dicted last time, ­Master­ton is now of­fi­cially the Most Beau­ti­ful City in the coun­try. I con­sider my­self to be, if not yet ­of­fi­cially, the Prophet of Master­ton. I am ­await­ing a call from the Mayor ­of­fer­ing me the keys to the most beau­ti­ful city. When I men­tioned this to Greg, he made a snort­ing noise not un­like a cough­ing sheep and re­minded me that I had sug­gested the slo­gan: Master­ton: More ­Beau­ti­ful Than a Ram’s Bum. I was, he said, more likely to be given the Or­der of the Boot.

We can’t do any­thing about the non-posh­ness of our pile, but we can have a sign.

Home sweet home: a lush place.

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