We’re in Martinborough at my cousin’s house, a beautiful old 1920s villa sitting on 15 acres of sunburnt Wairarapa whenua. It’s dry and dusty and the horizon shimmers with a fiery glow that makes a person think of mirages in the desert. And thirst. Parched throat, dry lips. In the distance the Ruakokoputuna ranges stand like protective shoulders around the empty basin, a promise that everything will be ok.
Last night the boys slept outside in a hut they made. They dragged a few bits of discarded furniture and some crates down to the end of the garden and strung up the trees with some old sheets of tarpaulin. From a distance it looks like a slum hut on the fringes of a sprawling city, a piece of flapping skin on the landscape. I half expect to see the little window chugging with smoke, signs of a pot of broth bubbling away on an open fire inside. But the hut sits still and quiet on the edge of the property, sheltering its slumbering inhabitants within.
On my way for a run at first light, I sneak a look inside. It’s strewn with sleeping bags. A tangle of boys. One is snoring softly in the corner. Towards the back, overturned crates serve both chair and table, raised a little, to catch the view. A couple of tatty cushions slung across a hammock cry chabby-chic; effortless style. Outside, a wheelbarrow leans to one side. Nailed over the entrance, a sign: “Splinters Hideout”.
This is the quintessential kiwi childhood – the one that gets us all nostalgic. Who can’t remember building a hut and sleeping out under the stars? Is there anything more magical than watching the moon trek across the sky while we drift aimlessly and insignificantly beneath it? When did the urge to own a house and seal ourselves within it grab us?
It must have happened at some point, because we’re all doing it. Working so we can buy more stuff to have. Oh, sure, we work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. But mostly, we’re working to buy stuff. Fashion and gadgets and cars and kayaks and holidays and cushions and cushion covers, and couches to put the cushions on, and bikes, one each please, and don’t forget the computers – although we’ll call them devices because they’re too numerous to name, and we buy bedside lamps to go on the bedside tables to go beside the bed, and taupaulins for when you need them and an electric beater, every house needs one of those, and we buy shoes; high heels and sneakers and a pair of blue wedges to go with the blue dress we’ll never wear and don’t forget the books, lots of them, because whether they’re read or not, they’re nice to look at, and while we’re talking about ornaments, shouldn’t we buy a vase?
Later, when I get back from my run, I will tell the kids to clean up the hut and put all the stuff away, and then when the new term begins I will send them to school so they can get a good education so they can get a good job so they can earn a decent wage so they can save up for a deposit on a house to put all their stuff in so they can settle down and have kids so they can build a hut at the bottom of the garden using the discarded taupaulin and old crates they found in the garage, so we can watch our kids watch their kids nostalgically, remembering what it was like to sleep out in a hut drifting under the stars, aimlessly, blissfully insignificant.