January 22, 2008

Past Lives :: The Tokoroa Years

Although I wasn't born there and I spent my first year of life in Greymouth and a bit in Christchurch, I consider myself to have 'grown up' in Tokoroa. For those not aquainted with the town, it's one of those towns where you may stop for a burger or a pie or just hurry on through at high speed plonked on a stretch of State Highway one between Taupo and Hamilton. My first memories are of growing up in a school rental house with a huge backyard that went on forever, hanging out with my best pal Stephanie Smith who lived over the back from us, and of riding my bike and skating and generally being allowed to run riot over our neighbourhood. It was awesome. Those were the days when you stayed out till it got dark in the summer, when you walked or rode your bike everywhere, when the summers were so hot tar got stuck to your feet and winter meant frosts that turned the playgrounds and rugby fields to icy goodness that you slid on and ripped holes in your cords that your mum patched up with funky fabrics. Tokoroa these days has a bit of a bad reputation - thanks to cutbacks at Kinleith Mill where most people worked, it's a town on the decline and has been since before I left there when I was 18. A lot of shops are empty, houses are run down and it has a general aura of being abandoned. When I lived there I knew every street, knew where most people lived, knew most of the kids at school, and if someone didn't know you, you just said who your parents were. It was a three degrees of seperation kind of place. Some awesome people still live there - my good pal Tina and her family, various teachers who worked with my parents over the years are still there. And Mr and Mrs August who lived across the road are still there too, bless 'em.

Two little maids from school, Monique and I with our army canvas school bags that everyone had, and in my hand I have a Bangles single. On vinyl.

It's also where I met Monique - my best pal. We met in maths or science or something in fifth form, and been pals ever since. She's Tiny's godmother and has been a huge influence in my life. We've kind of followed each other around a bit during our friendship; she followed me to Christchurch, I followed her to the UK. Though she's a dirty pinko do-gooding vegetarian who can't eat wheat, I hold her advice and opinions in the highest esteem and admire the way she can pull off wearing a way-too-small for her t-shirt she's just bought at the Sallys.

During the Tokoroa years, I had a number of crappy jobs. My first job ever was picking gooseberries and blueberries at Loft's farm not far out of town. I was 13, I was growing my hair long for the first time ever, and made the mistake of parting it in the middle with pig tails. My head was singed one day and huge lumps of peeling scalp came off a few days later. Not pretty. My next bad job was delivering the New Zealand Herald. Six days a week for three years I got up at 5.30am, pedalled downtown hoping the bungy cords holding the yellow PVC paper carrier onto my bike wouldn't come off and smack me in the ass, and delivered papers to the good folks of Papanui Street. Some mornings were glorious - just me, the papers, amazing sunrises and birdsong. Others were torturous - rain, crazed dogs, the bungys coming off, general unpleasantness. One nice thing about it was sometimes finding a chocolate bar from the old lady who wanted her paper delivered right to her door.

Could this be where my thing for red cardigans started?

The last job I had in Tok was the least horrible - I was a check-out chick at the local New World. There were loads of other girls from school there as well as Lisa R - who when I come to think of it was responsible for me getting the jobs fruit picking and paper delivering - and who is still a mate even though I missed her wedding because I got the dates wrong, and despite standing at the end of a check-out for hours with nothing but Christmas music on repeat to listen to, it was a blast.

I left Tokoroa in 1991 for Canterbury University, which I had dreamt about for ages. Christchurch just seemed to me to be new and exciting compared to going to Waikato or Auckland which were closer to home. And it was where my older more glamourous sister Ange lived. Until I got there.


Tane Aikman said...

Dude, you're such a beautiful writer. Good luck for the big day!

Anonymous said...

awesome, i was borne there in 78. went to belmoral and strathmore primary. we lived in a street near the lake, i dont remember the name, and then balmoral drive. used to get up to missceif on the railway tracks and down the industrial area. moved away in 87. i remember it was the biggest "town" in NZ at the time, and my father was in the first group to take a redundancy from kinleith. he used to save up his lunch vouchers to buy us ice blocks, and every now and then he would sneek me in to kinleith so i could hang out at his workshop and watch him weld and talk to all the boys in the lunch room. i have so many fond memories of that town, all the trouble i got into, and the general doings of a boy in tokoroa. nice blog by the way. good to see.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was born in Tokoroa in 1974. I have very fond memories of growing up there. I left for Christchurch when I was 13. When I returned recently to have a look around it felt weird. I often have dreams about it to0...returning back to the simple days. Live in London now.