How to ex­plain Feild­ing to Auck­lan­ders

The Tribune (NZ) - - CONVERSATIONS - MICHELLE DUFF

The last straw had prob­a­bly been com­ing for a while, but it wasn’t un­til re­cently I re­alised I was a woman on the edge.

For­get the straw; I was set to hiff the en­tire milk­shake over the next ge­o­graph­i­cally-chal­lenged fool that crossed my path.

It be­gan in­nocu­ously, as these things do, with three years’ worth of var­i­ous Auck­lan­ders look­ing at me blankly ev­ery time I told them I was from Feild­ing.

Fair enough, I guess - there’s a chance you could miss all four signs point­ing to the town from State High­way 1 (for some rea­son, as you drive through Ran­gi­tikei and Manawatu, all roads lead to Feild­ing) or you could have been asleep dur­ing the Scott Guy mur­der cov­er­age.

Aside from hav­ing an in­ter­na­tional race­track, a cham­pion fe­male sec­ondary school rugby team, no traf­fic, great parks and schools, at least three safe pubs, prox­im­ity to the out­doors and be­ing the 15-time win­ner of New Zealand’s most beau­ti­ful town and the home of Ev­er­more, Feild­ing doesn’t have that much go­ing for it.

I try to make it eas­ier. ‘‘It’s close to Palmer­ston North,’’ I told one woman re­cently. ‘‘Oh, you mean down south?’’ she asks. ‘‘No, it’s in the North Is­land. Like two hours north of Welling­ton,’’ I re­ply.

She won’t budge. ‘‘Yeah, down south.’’

Ul­ti­mately, there’s noth­ing overly of­fen­sive about some­one us­ing a geo­graph­i­cal ref­er­ence to Cen­tral Otago to lo­cate your cen­tral North Is­land town.

There’s noth­ing that bad about the way these same town­ies re­fer to places like Manawatu and Taranaki as ‘‘the re­gions’’ in a voice that sounds like they’ve some­how man­aged the im­pos­si­ble and in­gested their own eye roll.

It’s just that sev­eral years of these in­ter­ac­tions re­ally grind you down. You wind up try­ing to avoid the small talk. ‘‘Welling­ton,’’ you start say­ing, ig­nor­ing the in­ter­nal tug of the traitor.

The last straw came this month. It was in the form of a sen­tence, writ­ten in a decade-old story about satirist John Clarke that was re­pub­lished upon his death. In it, a Syd­ney jour­nal­ist refers to Clarke’s home town of Palmer­ston North as ‘‘a bleak and dreary city.’’

Ra­dio New Zealand lis­ten­ers were in­vited to send mes­sages of sup­port for their home town. ‘‘The river is swimmable,’’ was about the best on of­fer, which may have been a joke - it’s ac­tu­ally an E-coli rid­den sludge-fest rife with de­cay- ing cat­tle, or at least one dead cow whose ex­is­tence I can at­test to be­cause I swam down­stream from it in an ill-ad­vised dip, circa 2005.

But Clarke didn’t grow up drink­ing turmeric lat­tes in Mt Eden. He didn’t hone his sharp wit on the man­i­cured streets of Free­mans Bay.

He grew up swim­ming among the rot­ting cow car­casses of the Manawatu River, and he be­came one of the best co­me­di­ans we’ve ever had, prob­a­bly be­cause once you’ve sur­vived gi­a­r­dia any­thing else life throws at you is a breeze.

Clarke still had a soft spot for Palmy. His old school, Col­lege Street Nor­mal, re­mained in touch and was hop­ing to Skype him into their 125th ju­bilee. When John Cleese trash talked the city in 2006, Clarke sug­gested nam­ing the lo­cal rub­bish dump Mt Cleese - a sign that re­mains in proudly in place to this day.

You can keep your flashy cities. I’ll take a bleak and dreary town any day. Clarke knew it, and we know it - they’re blim­min’ great places to live. Or at the very least, to grow up in, es­cape out of, and then re­turn to when you re­alise you can’t af­ford a house any­where else.

Michelle Duff grew up in Feild­ing and lives in Auck­land. She writes for Stuff.

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