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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 4 - From a Villa in Grey Lynn - The Hokitika Way

Daughter Frankie, her daughter Olive, and I are going to Blenheim, then Hokitika as her 2-week stay in Auckland and Leigh draws to a close. Over the course of our two weeks together, I have noticed how Frankie keenly observes my grandmotherly and nest management skills with what I sense is a degree of trepidation. Finally, the day comes when, as if in acceptance of a terminal illness, she says sadly, "Gosh mum, watching you makes me sympathize with how frustrated Tom (her boyfriend) gets with me."

With the resilience of age buffeting the candour of youth, I smile grimly remembering the “Acceptance Paradox,” which goes like this: Don’t try to defend yourself against your own self-criticisms or those of others. Don’t try to build yourself up or fight back. Do just the opposite: Simply accept the fact that you are broken, imperfect, and defective.

Aware now that Frankie is watching my every move, I can’t help but notice her unease when it is time to make dinner. We are, I think, happily cooking our separate dinners (because of my strict new diet) and drinking wine (which is permitted) when she shakes her head in disbelief and stares at my culinary chaos. She expostulates, "I can’t believe that it has taken you as long to reheat vegetables as it has taken me to make a fish curry, and you have impossibly used even more dishes."

The next morning when I suggest I might bake a cake (for the first time in my life) as I am struggling to find sweet things with acceptable ingredients, she looks literally terrified at the thought of my being let loose in her kitchen with a large bowl, an electric mixer and cocoa and flour. I do, however, make the cake and Frankie and Olive help so we can pretend the mess was Olive’s.

We are excited about our trip to Hokitika to see other daughter Gigi, Matt, little Hector, and Rita, and we make the house spick and span so that Tom will be pleased with us when he returns from his gathering knowledge of the vines in the Wairarapa. On our 8 and a half hour trip from Blenheim to Hokitika, we stop to feed eels at St. Arnaud and legless ducks at the Alpine Spa. These poor feathery creatures flop about on the grass outside the restaurant on their little stumps begging for crumbs. The staff tells us that their feet were chomped off when they were little ducklings by the eels we have obviously failed to feed enough.

Olive is on a strict feeding routine, which means at 5 PM on the dot she must be fed. We stop in a town called Reefton where we find the local café, bar, restaurant, pokie den and Frankie orders fish and chips and drifts over the road to visit the Tourist centre while she waits. She sees a replica of a mine and asks the woman in the shop if the mines were really like that, and the woman says no, they were narrower and darker. "So, this isn’t really a replica?" Frankie says, as Frankie enjoys playing games like this with people.

While her mother is visiting pretend mines, Olive is ascending and descending a slide with the steely determination of an adult rock climber. She is pulled off the slide when her fish and Frankie’s chardonnay arrive, and Frankie now tries to force feed her a piece of fish impossible to believe was ever a sentient being. Olive, seeing the poor wilted creature, refuses to eat it until she an iPhone presents some light relief. Then I hear a little gasp and Frank is pointing to a distinct blue fluorescent line on the fish fillet. She is worried she has poisoned Olive. She shows the offending fillet to the waitress who is clearly terrified at this real person-to-person contact. The ancient skills of hospitality requiring using your voice and charm in a friendly and welcoming way are quite lost on her. Clearly wishing she could report a customer complaint by text, she sulks off to the kitchen and comes back minutes later saying, "Chef says it’s a vein." "Nonsense," says Frankie, to this petulant teenager who clearly couldn’t care less if it’s a vein or arsenic. "Tell the chef it’s too straight and fluorescent to be a vein," says Frankie, putting Olive back on the slide and drinking her chardonnay. The hapless girl returns to the kitchen never to return. It is the chef who now emerges to stand at the bottom of the slide where Olive is again seeking refuge.

He is holding a tray of miserable terakihi fillets which are defreezing themselves. He has dismissed the vein theory now it has been discredited and tells us (exaggerating his French accent) that the blue fluorescent line is the result of fish poisoning by human contaminates in the oceans. He is obviously trying to elicit solidarity against human behaviour to disguise the distinct likelihood the dye in the packaging has leaked into the frozen fish. Noting a possible acceptance of this theory, he embellishes his story by predicting that waters sparkling with fluorescent fish will soon be commonplace. He then unabashedly claims he has no part in this environmental banditry but is, in fact, a vegan when he is not forced to eat meat and fish as part of his job. One simply can’t help but admire his ingenuous ability to believe his own lies.

We leave the multipurpose eatery and gaming parlour and drive determinedly to Hokitika as Gigi and Matt are waiting for us at a restaurant with a tired baby and a hungry two-year-old. We walk into a wooden shack called the Fat Pippi where we have all been once before. Its familiarity and the sight of the little family is one of those moments when the brain, the heart and the soul are replete and life delivers the impossible dream. Matt seems somewhat bewildered that we have taken nearly 9 hours to navigate a very straight highway (over a distance that usually takes 4 hours) when he will be taking not much longer to cross vast stretches of wilderness armed just with a map, compass, and sound boots.

I ask the white-haired old hippy who owns the place, "Can you make me a pizza without oil?" She obligingly says, "If you supply the base I’ll throw some veges on for you."

C’est la vie the Hokitika way.....

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Dec 26, 2023

A photo of the Vegan French Chef being obliged to sample the Blue Fish (As Part Of His Job) would have tipped this brilliant Blog into the realms of the mystical. I may be forced to visit the Fat Pippi for photojournalist reasons.

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