I’m something of a reluctant blogger. Blog, they said. About what, I said. About what you do, what you like, who you are…
In 2010 my hometown, Christchurch, New Zealand, was struck by the first of a series of major earthquakes that culminated (we can only hope) in the deadly and devastating quake of February 22, 2011. This event radically altered our city and our lives. It also put paid to the free magazine Presto and my ongoing column, Shopwatch, because there were no longer any shops and businesses to buy advertising or distribute the magazine.
In the immediate aftermath of the quake, I considered running Shopwatch as a blog, but the city wasn’t exactly shop happy, better alternatives had sprung up online in the meantime and life just got in the way. Over the years, though, so many people have told me they miss that column. Of course the best thing about Shopwatch was that it was only nominally about shopping anyway; it wasn’t advertising driven, so I could say exactly what I wanted about products and outlets I wanted people to know about. Everything was on an equal footing for me. When I started it I was out of work and, with little cash but plenty of time, I liked nothing more than to wander around the city, looking at things and imagining what I might buy if I was insanely wealthy and capable of bestowing spontaneous, extravagant gifts upon my friends – like a kindly Madonna, or a less corporate Oprah. At other times, I became enthralled by pretty cheapies at the $2 shop.
The definition of a flaneur (“flâneur” if we’re being circumflexual) is a man who saunters around observing society. I don’t recall when I first found out what one was, but I have been powerfully convinced that to be one is my true calling ever since. Except, obviously, a female version. I don’t drive, and for the vast majority of my life I’ve worked within walking distance of wherever I choose to live. That gives you a sense of where things are that’s almost instinctual. Since the quakes, friends who drive in from the suburbs constantly talk of their confusion in the city, because all of their landmarks are gone. Mostly, I don’t have that problem. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I can’t tell you what street I’m on half the time, but sometimes, time seems to shift and I can see what used to be there out of the corners of my eyes. I think it’s the footpaths. I’m tall, and I tend to look at the ground. Instead of working out where I am from the building on the corner, I find I know which way to turn because I recognise the terrain beneath my feet. Around me new things rise. Old things reshape. And there is much to observe.
I like to walk. I like to shop. I like to sit in bars and cafes. I like to ponder things. And I miss writing.
And so here I am, again.