Home' Waiheke Weekender : 20 September 2012 Contents 20 September 2012
2 Waiheke Weekender
and travel writer
Bill Bryson and
I are standing in
the wings of North
Mason Theatre. On
stage are two chairs
and a discreet low
coffee table with a
copy of his latest
book and a jug
of water with a couple of glasses. In a few
minutes, after the obligatory introduction, we'll
stroll out, take our seats and for ninety minutes
have a 'chat'. Basically I'll ask questions and
the engaging, self-deprecating and humorous
Bill Bryson will enthral a packed house with his
wry tales of mystery and imagination.
We're engaging in that kind of banter that's
relaxed and easy before it becomes a perfor-
mance, when the art is to keep it relaxed and
easy before a thousand or more people.
I ask him what makes a great travel writer as
opposed to an okay one. His response is swift
"Anyone can describe a sunset or a beach,
and they do...but I'm always looking for the
playful, the unusual, the sort of thing that can
easily escape the eye yet be of signifcance or
This all took place over a decade ago but I've
remembered our conversation.
These days, amongst other things, I've fallen
into some travel writing myself and so I try to
keep in mind Bryson's words. However, to date
no major publishers are beating a path to my
door waving contracts.
Regular observers of this column will realise
that as part of the ongoing 'disinherit the chil-
dren' campaign, the Hawkesbys have been far
and yon -- most recently Iceland via a host of
small, bleak but fascinating islands strung along
in that cold cruel sea called the North Atlantic.
So, leaning heavily on the Bill Bryson school
of observation, and without a description of a
sandy beach or sartorial sunset, here are a hand-
ful of my 'beneath the radar' -- 'that's mildly
My eye is always drawn to posters for
concerts, especially in out of the way places.
It's here that artists and groups you long thought
dead are still plying their trade and entertaining
In Oxfordshire, prior to our departure from
Tower Bridge, I would have loved to have
gone to a concert on the green in the grounds
of the Churchill family home, Blenheim Castle.
Included in the line-up was Richard Thompson
who gave a superb
concert years ago, ironi-
cally at the Bruce Mason
Centre. For a one-time
folkie he has morphed
into a fne rock act and
knows his way around a
guitar. Joan Armatrading
who played at the
decades ago and is still
the loudest live act I've
ever witnessed, although
Steve Earle at the late
lamented St. James came
a close second. What was
really intriguing was the
headline act -- Fairport
Convention. It must be their thirtieth incarna-
tion, original members would surely be in their
eighties by now.
At Torshavn in the Faroe Islands I spied a
small street sign with a photo of a sheepish Bill
Clinton clutching a mug in one hand and his arm
around a jolly looking local in a red and white
apron. "Do as Bill Clinton did and have a coffee
here," it read.
The café was quite ordinary and the coffee
atrocious and we instantly wished we hadn't
done as the ex-President had. Inside on the wall
was another photo of a decidedly uncomfortable
Clinton holding up a ghastly multi-coloured
woollen jumper, "He also bought a Faroese
sweater for his mother-in-law." I can only
assume he doesn't like her very much.
At the port of Cobh in Ireland, a small brass
plaque on an old tavern said, "U2 Fan Club meet
here the frst Tuesday of every month.” Fair
enough but the hotel was The Rob Roy and I
couldn't help wondering why they didn't meet
at the Irish pub over the road.
Isafjordur, Iceland and there were numerous
black and white posters for a series of concerts
by local band, 'Sons of Steve McQueen.' Great
name I thought but it's obviously an all-girl line-
up judging by the photo.
At dinner one night idly chatting to an
American couple I discover they'd been to New
Zealand a couple of times and were especially
interested in our sheep farming. He has a small
sheep farm in
New Jersey, so I
jokingly say he's
probably a neigh-
bour of my favou-
rite person from
New Jersey, Bruce
mention that," he
says, "our farms
are adjoining and
when Bruce is
away touring my
after his dogs."
which I haven't
been to for at least ffteen years, we hop on one
of those red double-decker tourist buses that
gives you an excellent once-over-lightly tour of
the city, usually accompanied by an informed
commentary. Our driver points out an impres-
sive statue of Dublin’s most famous fshmonger,
Molly Malone; you remember, she wheeled her
wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow.
What I didn't know, and this according to local
legend, at night Molly was plying another trade,
frowned on but much better paid, to the delight of
many Dublin fshermen. There is mild disagree-
ment over this, the city fathers say she was an
upright young woman of impeccable character
and defnitely celibate… “Yeah right,” said our
guide, "Sell a bit here, sell a bit there."
By the way, lovely sunset in Dublin -- didn't
see any sparkling sandy beaches though.
Notes from a small island
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Hawke's eye view
Regular observers of this
column will realise that as
part of the ongoing 'disinherit
the children' campaign, the
Hawkesbys have been far and yon
-- most recently Iceland via a host
of small, bleak but fascinating
islands strung along in that
cold cruel sea called the
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