New Zealand: Hawkes Bay

I could wake up in a holiday park, on the beach, in a reserve, in a car park. If I woke up in enough different places, could I wake up with a fully functional right knee? The pain hit me worst in a supermarket car park. Why had I left the van so far away? I forced myself to walk further than was really necessary. The next day was committed entirely to rest. Go nowhere, do nothing. This would be a lot easier if I wasn’t on my own. Things still need to be done. I booked the van in for another service, now 1000km overdue. I had to go back to Napier, which was always the plan. Plenty of freedom camping spots, several libraries and no hills. I thought the service might not be bookable for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. The garage was quiet, they could do it on Thursday. I managed to slowly walk down the high street to the library. Right leg feeling heavier than the left. I stared at almost 5 year old C.V. How could I add hop cutting to my list of experiences? How a data specialist might find transferable skills for tree planting? I was saved by a text message. “Your vehicle is ready for collection.” Instead of updating my C.V. I fired off a cover letter to a couple of companies advertising ahead of the coming planting season. It worked for the hop harvest, it might work for trees too. Someone might give me a call. I might even have time for my knee to commit to either recovery or total failure. I gave myself one week. Enough time, I hoped, to figure out if I would be able to start walking again. The van came through the service without a problem. No extra work needed doing. No further money to be outlaid. I drove off in the hope the van would be ok for at least the next few months.

The following days passed without incident, without interest. Then something thing happened. I had a text message advising I’d missed a call. I did a quick online search of the number and found it attached to one of the job advertisements I’d responded too. Brilliant. I called back, leaving a missed call on the other end. The return call ended up being the shortest interview I’ve ever had, and probably the loosest job offer I’m ever likely to receive. “If you want the job, you’ve got the job.” Anial told me. “I want the job,” I said. “Ok, call me back before the last week of May so I don’t forget,” he said. Now I could put off updating that C.V. for at least another year, by which time I’ll have one more job to squeeze on. Assuming this turns out to be a serious offer and I do indeed have a job planting trees. With another task ticked off my list, I had little else to do.

I had returned comfortably, relatively speaking, to my freedom camping ways. Waking up at sunrise, disappearing again when darkness fell. I got lucky, I went 10 days without rain. I settled back in to having a hot shower every 5th day when my own aroma and sticky skin began to get too much. I sat in the cab of the van, waiting for a caravan to finish unloading their waste water. When they moved on I went to start the van and stalled. The engine cut out. The dashboard lights stayed dead. No, no, no. The owner of the next van in line came around out to assess my situation. He came back with a portable jumpstarter and got me out of the way. I drove around for an hour, hoping that maybe the battery was low and needed a charge. It didn’t make any sense. When I left the holiday park in the morning, everything was fine. I parked the van on the edge of the Ahuriri Estuary. My plan for the day had been to go for a short walk, to see how the knee felt. To find out whether I needed more rest, or something more serious. No reason not to continue with this plan. I walked ok, aches rather than pains. A consequence of doing nothing as much as doing damage. More rest seemed like the best option. Then I had to try the van again. I pushed my luck, turned the key. Nothing. No flash of lights. Another jump start would do me no good. I have to be able to drive off in the mornings, or any other time, like right now for example. I called the AA. Steve was with me within 20 minutes. He checked over the battery and got me to start the van, and it started. Why does it always do this? Whenever the professionals are here the van behaves. The battery, it seems, is fine. “Try it again,” Steve asked. This time nothing. “Might be the starter, then again maybe not.” He goes back to his truck and pulls out something else. He prods around the battery for a while. “You’ve got resistance in the terminal, I’ll give it a clean. Should fix her up.” He checks again. “Alright, lets try a few more times,” I start-stop the van three, four times. “OK, once more before I go,” and it starts again. “Problem solved,” Steve says and drives off to his next job. I get away once more, hoping as I have every time that this will be the last time. The next morning, the van starts and I drive off. My confidence rising again.

After almost two weeks the rain returned. Pinning me down, trapping me inside. Condensation forms fast. The damp spreads through the van. In this regard I am lucky to be alone. Only one body breathing inside the small metal box. The intermittent showers allow me to slide open the side door. Let the breeze blow through. Replace the air. Darkness falls sooner beneath the blanket of dark clouds. The temperature drops. Nothing to do but wrap up and hide. Wait until morning when things might be different. I have had a long time off, a lot of rest. It begins to feel like too much. I get a text from Anial. “Call me before the end of this week.” So I call him. He needs my shoe size. He thinks it might be a challenge to find boots for my small feet but he tells me he has small feet too, so it won’t be a problem. He expects we’ll start work at the end of the month. He’ll be in touch again to sort out a meet to get the paperwork done. Employment starts to feel a little more real. Time to start moving the legs again. Testing the knee, making sure I can move. I leave the van where I slept, following the straight, flat path in to the centre of Napier. Another stint in the library, downloading T.V. shows and movies to keep me entertained in the long, dark evenings. I charge my phone so I can watch them.

The trouble I have with staying in town is all the people. The people who listen to Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl at 2am in a public carpark where people are obviously trying to sleep. I can’t decide why I can’t fall back to sleep but it happens eventually. The benign bay has been stirred up by a storm. Once quiet waves rise high and green. Laced with white, they break in booms stretching away in to the mist filled horizon. The sun begins to warm the cool air. On the distant hills a dusting of snow glistens. Another warning of Winter’s inevitable arrival. There is still a way to go before the temperatures reach their coldest. Still a way to go before the shift that starts to stretch out the days again. I escape the car park, moving to another holiday park. Exploring my options for a more permanent home. Westshore is cheaper, and quieter than Hawkes Bay. I’ll have to see how the night turns out. Still close to the residential fringes of the city. I put my laundry on late, knowing I’ll be making my bed in the dark. Preferable at least to making it in the rain. In the kitchen the next morning a man from Derbyshire gives me a handful of Yorkshire Tea Bags. “Those’ll make you miss home,” he says.

I start getting more phone calls. Emails from forestry companies asking if I’m still interested in the job. Maybe I was too hasty in accepting the first offer I got. Anial still hasn’t got back to me about meeting up to do paperwork. I haven’t signed a contract. I suppose the work will be the same whoever it’s for. The pay will be the same. The conditions, the same. The only real difference is likely to be who is telling me what to do. I just need to see some paperwork, some confirmation the job is real. I get a text message. We’ll start on Monday. I try not to worry about it, and continue to worry about it. I focus on something else. I start to hit small milestones for walking. One hour on the flat. Two hours on the flat. Once a day, twice a day. Soon I’m going to have to add a hill. Bluff Hill Lookout scrapes 100 meters. Not a lot, but probably enough. The flat seems to be ok. The sitting down doing nothing begins to feel like the problem.There’s still a few days left before I’m supposed to start work. Enough time to know whether or not I’m going to hold it together. Those days disappear quickly. I decide to move in to the Westshore Holiday Park full time. There’s some concern about whether or not this is possible, but then the owners decide I’ll be ok which is fortunate. No longer concerned about where to sleep at night. Unrestricted access to hot water, power and WiFi.At 5pm on Sunday night Anial texts me. I’m getting picked up at 5:15am in the morning to start my new job planting pine trees.

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