Not Wasting Away

As usual, it took the great Jimmy Buffett to put some perspective on things.

The past four months have been a blur. In rough order I wrote and anguished over a murder mystery dinner at a local resort; mixed with a stack of wonderful artists; toured some wonderful American friends down the fabulous West Coast of New Zealand; did a few photographic assignments; helped deliver a higher education development project in Sydney; became involved in developing a local community arts group; did some archival research for a new book; and then, of course, delivered the cruise lectures between China and India alluded to in the previous (and lamentably long ago) post to this blog.


The two weeks in India that followed were spent in Mumbai, Udaipur, Jaipur and Delhi. Udaipur was the knockout as we stayed in an old style haveli looking out over Lake Pachola and spent time searching for fabrics and other craft works, and finding great food. If you ever doubt climate change, though, the heatwave has hit northern India early this year. Both Jaipur and Delhi were 40C in late March, close to 10C above the normal range.

Being back in India was wonderful and we met some great new friends. It all reminded me why I have spent so much time there and written so much about it over so many years.

The day after we got back to Queenstown my brother Ian and wife Rhonda arrived from Perth to spend terrific time with us. Then we headed to Christchurch where, first, I gave a lecture at the University of Canterbury, my alma mater, did more archival research, then was photographer at a family wedding involving Dylan, the eldest son of my brother Lindsay and his wife Jen, and Haley Beckemeyer from the USA whose parents and siblings made the long journey out. That was another great occasion.


While we were there, however, Sandi noticed that Jimmy Buffett would be playing in Christchurch the following Friday night. So we drove six hours back to Queenstown, I processed all the photographs, then we drove six hours back for Jimmy.

We have been forever fans of his “country & ocean” work, and he is one of the greatest singer songwriters of his generation, the master of the one liner. He wrote Five O’Clock Somewhere, Alan Jackson’s great hit that underscored his genius:

The work day passes like molasses in wintertime

I’m getting paid by the hour and older by the minute

Now if I could write like that.


We are such fans that way back in the last millennium when we went first to the Caribbean, we chartered a yacht for a week to go to St Bart’s (Saint-Barthelemy) from St Martin. Why? Because at that time Jimmy owned a bar there, the Autour de Rocher, commemorated later in a song of the same name. (He likes bars. One of his performance lines is that a particular episode in his life occurred because he “was over-served in a bar”. Marvellous). The yacht was owned by a Frenchwoman, a brilliant chef, and skippered by a Frenchman who had lived in the region for years and completed several Atlantic crossings in small boats. We got to St Bart’s, paid homage at the bar, sailed back, saw the rich and famous in their super yachts, and spent a magic afternoon sailing of Anguilla, up on the bow, sipping Heinekens, listening to Jimmy on Walkmans (yes, it was a way back), and watching the dolphins who came along for the trip.

Consequently, the Live In Anguilla double album is the most played item in my iTunes collection.

On a more sombre note, many years later when my great friend Ken McPherson died I was back in India and unable to be at his funeral. We had planned to write a book together on Seringapatam, the fort town in southern India where in 1799 Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) defeated Tipu Sultan to finalise British power in India. On the day of the funeral I had travelled to Seringapatam, climbed through some fences, found a place on the ruined ramparts, and during the time of the service texted back to Perth:

Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late

The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder

I’m an over-forty victim of fate

Arriving too late, arriving too late

(Buffett, J. A Pirate Looks At Forty)


Later again, I got to a Buffett concert at the fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida and it was one of the great experiences. The gig was great, of course, but so was everything else. The “parrotheads” (his fans) had arrived two days early to jam the parking lot and party. One guy arrived in a pickup truck towing a sailboat around which he dotted plastic palm trees and spread several bags of sand, then set up a bar. My friend pointed out some serious fans wearing hula skirts and not much else. Each year, he told me, they donated money to a local university to fund PhD research into the Caribbean ocean environments.

No wonder we like the guy, then, but what does that have to do with anything that opened this post?

Well, it gets busy sometimes and I start to whinge that it is all a problem, I’m not writing enough, or it’s all out of control, or something of all of those or along the same lines. As Sandi points out, though, quoting Buffet, J. “it’s my own damn fault” (from the immortal Margaritaville) and that, really, it is a hell of a problem to have.

Indeed, and Jimmy’s most recent concert reminded me of that:

Like a novel from the five and time

Take another road in another time

(Take Another Road)

Those roads and times this year already have taken me around the South Island and out to Australia, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Colombo and India. And while I haven’t written I have read and have lined up a lot to read and learn from.

In the former category Jane Harper’s The Dry is simply a revelation of fabulous writing. Ovidia Yu’s Aunty Lee’s Delights is set in Singapore and attracted me because of its Straits Chinese community focus. Ankush Saikia’s Dead Meat tells a grim story of the modern and sprawling Delhi. Chan Ho-kei’s The Borrowed is a very clever episodic story of cops and robbers set in Hong Kong. And Keigo Higashimo’s The Devotion of Suspect X deserves all the praise lavished on it because the plot and storyline are among the cleverest you will find.

The lined up to be read list is headed by someone I should have read a long time ago. Jacqueline Winspeare’s Maisie Dobbs books have thousands of adoring Amazon fans, so thanks to long standing friend Angela Bollard for tipping me off. I also have Susan Oleksiw’s Anita Ray’s mysteries to read and am looking forward to those because they are set in Kerala, and because Susan also has an academic background in India as well.

On top of that we binge-watched the British TV series, The Game, a slightly odd but compelling spy story set in the 1970s. Now watching Blindspot where a tattooed woman is left in a bag in Times Square in New York. In the search for her identity it emerges (a) that she may be an off the radar SEAL as well as (b) the lead investigator’s neighbourhood friend who went missing twenty years earlier. In spite of some OTT moments it is one of those rare American shows that has a great presence. Another is Grace and Frankie in which two husbands and law partners abandon their wives to set up as a gay couple. The wives (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) are forced to move in together as the seriously odd couple of functioning alcoholic control freak and 1960s hippie refugee. They are marvellous, but Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen do not work as well. The latest season of Homeland awaits, along with a few other new series.

In a couple of weeks I get to go to the Dunedin Writer’s Festival and hear Ian Rankin, Stella Duffy and John Lanchester among others.    That will be inspiring, and help further propel me to finish the true crime book and the other things I am trying to complete so I can then focus on the new projects lined up already.

It’s those changes in latitudes

Changes in attitudes nothing remains quite the same

With all of our running and all of our cunning

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.

(Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes)

Thanks Jimmy, we are of an age and attitude.

6 thoughts on “Not Wasting Away

      • I live in Geraldton these days Brian… in semi retirement, but I do have some regular commitments in Perth. Give me plenty of warning and I’ll head down the highway. Insert emoji of smiling face here!


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