From both sides now

North Rd snakes down the valley. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
North Rd snakes down the valley. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
I read once in a student handbook that North East Valley is just dog poo and old people. And it’s still true but I mention this dim memory as an endorsement of the suburb. As a wayward teenager I spent a lot of time here in the valley getting wasted with my nice middle-class friends and when I moved back recently I pointed out random houses to my son from the car with this commentary: I punched a girl in the face there while my boyfriend hid in the bathroom from me! That’s the house where someone’s mum found me throwing up in my shoes! That’s the park where I told everyone Mum was a lesbian and stormed off! That’s the house where my friend Masoumeh’s mum used to come into her room and Masoumeh would tell her to get out in Persian.

I can see her old house from my new one.

Thirty years ago Masoumeh lived on the darker side of the valley. The valley is a bit like our harbour in this sense, one damp gloomy side gets to envy the other’s glorious sun. I live on the sunny side on the world’s steepest street, which is relentless with tourists and people taking photos of my house while I sit in the front room in my dressing gown glowering at them. A friend bought me a cheerful yellow welcome mat that shouts Kia Ora! for a housewarming gift and a joke because they know how much I dread a knock at the door unless it’s DeliverEasy or the courier.

In the school holidays parents bring their children to Baldwin St to tire them out for free. My favourites are the little Indian girls with flowers in their hair who take their climb so seriously but all the toddlers treat it like a mission, it’s too cute. It’s also rich material for a writer, watching parents bully their children into smiling photos for social media, so I have to close the curtains a lot. It’s distracting and I feel put to shame by people doing something pointless.

A derelict house in North East Valley. PHOTO: TALIA MARSHALL
A derelict house in North East Valley. PHOTO: TALIA MARSHALL
It took me a month to give in and walk to the top of Baldwin St with the dog. There isn’t much of a view as a reward for the climb and the other day someone was rolling a Jaffa down the street, which was a waste of chocolate and maybe even treasonous since Cadbury has shut up shop here. I have climbed to the top of Baldwin St three times now, and each time I have felt good about myself but I wouldn’t put it on a bucket list. It is definitely more of a climb than a walk but I still wore my pyjamas. It is funny watching the dog scoot back down the street.

My friend Kay’s poem about a kereru lightens the stairs on one side just like their comically perilous swoops from house to tree. As the days get longer, they have started doing those stunning mating dives like they are the falling head of an arrow. I’ve turned from a teenage terror into a bird watcher.

Lucky the valley is green with trees even in winter and hectic with birds, there are kept doves and the odd hawk circling in the air after them. In the back streets behind my house there is an abandoned peeling villa being consumed by a honeysuckle, which is full of mystery and a better sight than the view from the top of the world’s steepest street. The blue street signs for Lucan and Cardigan joined together read like the name of a private detective in a novel.

From my window I can see the old quarry and the hospice beside it with its rising souls and up to the sleeping chief of Mt Cargill, whose real name is Kapukataumahaka. I can see the imposed colonial foreverness of Chingford Park, with its grand imported trees that aren’t really that ancient. I don’t take my dog to its gothic loveliness much because even on a lead he picks fights with or tries to molest all the other dogs. Especially if it’s another Jack Russell.

This winter has been heavy with glittery frosts and North Rd is not really as long as it looks. It is good to walk the kuri down the valley to the shops on a crisp day after the mist lifts, smiling at old people walking their dogs while I apologise for mine. Walking past the electric blue fish and chip shop that’s always been there, the free box outside the valley hub and its promise of a community garden beside the school busy with children. Past the boutique grocers, the happy dumpling shop and the pink jumbo dairy’s elephant and that’s the end of the valley really, the gardens are just here.

 - Talia Marshall

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