Friday, April 30, 2010

Best Laid Plans

In nne days I expect to be catching a bus from Glenavy to Christchurch Airport. No more volcanic erruptions have spoiled the stratosphere, I will be on my way to Darwin to take part in the Northern Territory Literary Festival, Wordstorm.
On May 31st I expect to leave Darwin and fly to Chania, via Athens to spend three months in the village of Kissamos writing. So far so good. I picked up my tickets on Thursday. My fare there and back has been paid, the rent on my cottage has been paid. The Greek economy will be that much better off because I am coming to spend money in Crete.
After three months in Kissamos I planned to spend a fortnight at the Writers' Gathering in Loutro. Again I would be contributing a few hundred in foreign currency to the Greek economy, but no. The Greek Embassy in Wellington says I can stay only three months. I must leave Greece at the end of August. I cannot trot off to Italy of Spain for a while and come back again, I can only stay in Greece for three months in any six. UNLESS I pay to have my non visa entry extended. The daily cost of this would be a sum estimated to let me pay off Greece's national debtin 30 days.
So my plans to spend four months on an idyllic island, to walk through the Imbros Gorge, where the New Zealand Army retreated in WW2, have to be curtailed, why? Does an 84 year old staying an extra month seriously threaten Greek security?

Friday, April 23, 2010


I paid my quite reasonable air fare, and then I went looking for travel insurance. At almost 85 I expected it to be heavy, budgeted to spend a thousand dollars. But the quotes the travel agent found were ridiculous to the point of obscenity. $4,400 with an eleven hundred dollar excess, meaning if I broke my leg I would have to pay most of the cost myself. We bargained it down to half what they quoted, but I discovered quite a lot of unsavoury information about the travel insurance racket. I now regard it as several degrees lower than used car sales.
As I rang around looking for competitive quotes I discovered that many sellers of travel insurance are offshoots of the same underwriter. When I gave my name they would log on, they knew my age, my ‘existing medical conditions’ and their quotes were identical, though not as outrageous as the initial quote. The web page of one firm, who advertise special rates for members of the Society of Authors repeatedly, lost my connection the moment they learned my age. The fact that I have been travelling overseas for twenty years without claiming anything mattered not a jot. It seems to me they were not assessing risk, they only saw a chance to ring a ruinous premium out of an aged client.
Some years ago my eldest sister booked one last round the world trip, I don’t know what she paid for travel insurance, but she was assured that she had ‘unlimited cover’. She broke her kneecap in Singapore, hobbled around England and finally, on the point of collapse reached her daughter in Boston. You’ve heard of Boston General? One of the great hospitals of the world. They had a new technique, laser surgery, and were sure they could fix my sister’s knee. But her Insurance company insisted she return to New Zealand and see her G.P. first. SIX MONTHS LATER my sister spent four weeks in Bowen hospital in Wellington having an artificial kneecap inserted. She was never free from pain again, and the unlimited insurance cover turned out to be less than five thousand dollars.
Well we have Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and all those other enticements to spend money. Why not Insurance Day, where we burn effigies of insurance underwriters and throw Molotov cocktails at those edifices in the cities that they call ‘Headquarters.’

By the way, this does not apply to the nice people at STATE who have fixed my car twice, and organised repairs when rats nibbled my water pipes, drenching my carpet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

PAPER LANTERNS by Christine Coleman

Paper Lanterns
by Christine Coleman
ISBN 9780956444202

Novel Press 2010

I am heartened to read a novel which has caught up with Cinema’s way of telling a story -everything in present tense, as though the reader is watching the story unfold on a screen.

Paper Lanterns is intellectually stimulating and a piece of cracking good story telling, told in present tense with flashbacks to the past through diaries, letters and reminiscences. Chronologically it begins in 1927 in Hong Kong, when silly, bored young wives accompanied their husbands to exotic outposts like Hong Kong. But the narrator is Ann, an unlikely romantic heroine, 50+, in a pedestrian marriage with Graham, her two children grown, and made to feel inadequate. But like everyone else in Paper Lanterns she has depths. When she learns that her mother, Vivienne, has been abandoned in Hong Kong by her long term lover Ann flies to her aid and finds a totally different situation to what she expected. She not only unravels the story of three generations of her own family, she finds new relatives she had no knowledge of, especially George. She literally bumps into him in the airport.
Christine Coleman’s characters are believable, human¸ and complex, even that dastardly philanderer. Rupert, who awakens Ann’s grandmother to her real sexuality. It is true that many wives at that time did not know what an orgasm was and Belle’s description in her diary is a very true piece of reporting, told in lyrical prose. The story is intelligent, masterfully constructed, and challenges middle class conventions about sex after fifty, promiscuity and adultery. .

But the real star of this novel is the Island of Hong Kong itself, its crowds, its streets, its smells, its lifestyles. I shall have to go and see it for myself..

Paper Lanterns is available from , price about NZ$24 pp.
It would make a lovely Mother’s Day gft.