Better the devil I know, so I'll stay put and plant tomatoes

20:10, Oct 28 2012

Labour Weekend has come and gone without a single tomato plant being interred into the ground.

What does this mean? I ask myself as I give a wide berth to the plant section at the vegetable market, refusing to be enticed by sweet little cherry or brutish beefsteak tomato plants.

Friends are suspicious, imagining that not putting down red roots, as it were, suggests I'm thinking about pulling out of Dodge. Yes, good riddance, you might say, but if I were thinking of decamping, where to next?

One of the few things I envy Americans for is the number of states and cities they have at their disposal to reinvent themselves in. When Sky's macabre Criminal Investigation channel first cranked up, I became unhealthily transfixed by its grisly menu and found it difficult to believe how so many career rapists and murderers managed to get away with their nasty offending for so long.

Then the penny dropped that they only have to cross a state line, dye their hair, sprout facial fungus and, Bob's your uncle, it's relatively easy to assume yet another identity before starting all over again.

In Godzone the godless would have only a smattering of regions and five cities to lay low in. Crims, like the rest of us, would have to come to the inevitable dead-end, cul-de-sac conclusion that there's only Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin to disappear in. How many times have you lived in each or ring-bolted around the houses before trying your luck across the ditch?


I remember hearing a British doctor say to my father when inquiring how many children he had and their location: "Ah yes, you have one in Australia. There's always one in Australia".

I'm guilty of ditch defection myself, having lived in Sydney for a couple of years, going there in the early nineties just when the crash of '87 was really kicking in and couldn't get decent work. Employment was eventually found doing telephone sales - with considerable failure, I might add, trying to flog something aesthetically repugnant called solid vinyl siding.

Lousy at it, I was kept on purely on the proviso that on the way to work I would swing by the digs of the best telephone salesman they had, pound on his door and try to rouse him from his narcotic stupor and get him on the train to Stanmore.

Once there, Roland, who was the epitome of shambling dishevelment, with nicotine stains up to his elbows and unmentionable ones around the fly area, would pick up the receiver and proceed to charm lonely and libidinous women out in far-flung locales with his golden-tongued sales pitches, leaving us in both awe and stitches.

He's probably dead now. Maybe not, perhaps he straightened up and flew right and went back to his roots to the bush from whence he came before the tough city ate him up.

Back then the whole place seemed to be awash in heroin. Bank tellers would be counting out notes, hairdressers would be mid-cut, then suddenly nod off, coming to as if nothing had happened.

No-one I knew then lives there now, having fled to another state or a small town. Apart from some core cobbers I'd known since childhood, Sydney, to me, was a mean city full of hard Aussies you thought were easy going and friendly till they ripped you off and had the audacity to wonder why you wouldn't speak to them afterwards.

Two years of rotten jobs, the worst being a filing clerk for Reader's Digest, and I was happy to call it quits and return home, tail between my legs, to the coldest of Canterbury winters and to the warn bosom of a family.

You wonder how many moves there are in a person, if a change really is as good as a rest, and if a town can bring good or bad luck or whether it is just the person.

Some people have many moves in them, can leave a place without looking back. Not me, it really is a wrench as I feel the roots literally dragging behind me like an unplugged television cord that keeps getting stuck in doors.

Labour Weekend came early this year, the calendar says it's the 28th, which is the real date you're supposed to plant tomatoes, so, on the way to yet another farewell party to yet another friend leaving Christchurch, I'll probably stop and buy some seedlings.

The Press