I know it has been a while since I posted anything and I have been exploring so many new places and learning so many new things since I was last here so I’ll update you as briefly as I can.At the moment I’m sitting inside on a day where the temperature must easily have reached 30 degrees and watching the rain pour down. People here sometimes seem surprised I find this weather hot too. I think many assume the weather in New Zealand is like that in Australia, with its desert-like hot summers. The truth is that it’s not. The part of New Zealand I’m from gets only a week or two of temperatures this high. But, unlike England, we get a much longer period of temperatures around the mid-20s, so summer seems to last longer.
One of the places I’ve explored recently is the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It is such a beautiful place, so peaceful, despite the busy road being so close to it. I had a few memorials to look for but I stumbled across the Shot at Dawn memorial. This remembers the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for cowardice or desertion. There is a central figure, a young man blind-folded and awaiting his fate, surrounded by stakes with the names of every soldier executed in that way.
I walked among them and, because I was there so early in the morning, there was nobody else around. It was silent: just me and the names of these men. History now tells us that many of them did not get fair trials and many were not cowards at all – they were suffering from what we now call PTSD or combat stress. It was so difficult to believe that, at that time, those in command thought execution to be the correct way to deal with such things.
When I reached the back row of stakes I stopped. For some reason, amongst all the other names, I’d not expected to see one from my home country. Not because they wouldn’t have gone through the same things as a soldier from any country, but simply because it’s so easy to unconsciously translate our geographical isolation into an isolation from these massive conflicts. But, of course, we weren’t isolated from it at all.This soldier was from Otago and was in his 30s, so not as young as many of the other names I’d read. But he was still a world away from all he knew and loved. And in those last few moments, his green and beautiful home must have seemed like another planet. A dream from another lifetime.
But on a happier note, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Wolverhampton recently for work. When I first arrived, my reply to my new colleagues’ “what do you think of Wolverhampton?” was a diplomatic: “it looks like a great news patch”.
But there is more to it than the massive old, sometimes abandoned, industrial buildings. There is the beautiful cathedral which looks out over the city, the people who cheerfully call each other (and me) ‘chick’ and there is even a tram that goes from the city centre to Birmingham and where, unlike in Melbourne (where I last used trams), there is a conductor onboard who sells you a ticket. In Melbourne there were only inspectors who fined you if you hadn’t got a ticket from the machine.
Through my work I’ve met so many interesting people there: a group of Polish church leaders who, because of the shortage of priests in England, are responsible for keeping an inner city church alive; a comedian with a penchant for making curry; a man who has sung in the same choir for about 40 years, even having his wife bring him to rehearsals on a wheelchair when he was recovering from an illness and a woman who, having her kitchen gutted by fire, was relieved just to see her dog safely carried out of the blazing wreck by a firefighter.
It is a city with so many faces, so many backgrounds and cultures and this is what I like most about this country and the job I do. As you walk around parts of the city you can see skeletons of buildings once busy and powerful now quiet. But you can also see once abandoned shells being moved into and getting new life, what council press releases like to call ‘regeneration’.
So I’m still exploring, even though I’ve not written much in the past few months. I’m still here and I’d still love to hear your thoughts on anything I’ve written. What do you think? Where do you think I should go to see the best of the Midlands?