Auckland, New Zealand
My ambitions, aged ten and a half (click on the image to enlarge): New Zealand features on this historic document for a very special reason: in Auckland there is a contingent of Baxters, some of whom we haven’t seen for twenty years, others we have never met. Finally, almost two years since this blog’s first entry, an 18-hour flight (yes, it took me that long even from Singapore) ends with an airport reunion with dad’s brother Gary and his son, my cousin Michael. What follows are ten incredibly precious days. My wonderful hosts are Michael and his wife Toni, whom we last saw in 1997, and their children Alicia and Cameron, who have grown up well beyond their dated picture sitting on dad’s wall. In the weeks following his death in 2013, I went to Birkenhead Priory to see a plaque bearing the name of my uncle Paul, installed there following his time on HMS Conway in the 1960s. I now meet his son Alex and his wife for the first time. It is incredibly special to travel so far yet feel so at home. Over the week I am treated to a uniquely personal tour of Auckland; buildings that existed for so long merely in anecdotes or written addresses on Dad’s Christmas cards appear before me, and I hear how the Baxters arrived in NZ and what happened next. I learn of the Kiwi ‘quarter-acre dream’, a long-held desire of Kiwis to own at least a quarter of an acre now seriously under threat from soaring house prices in NZ’s urban centres, suburban Auckland in particular. “Alicia wants to know if you’ve got any fingerprints,” says Toni on night one. WHAT. My adventures with this issue had begun even before I left the UK in 2015 (see https://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-e ntries/edbaxter/1/1427673600/tpod.html) . I had assumed I was a genetic oddity, but Michael and Alicia’s don’t exist, Gary’s look suspect and (a message home or two later) now dad looks at them his fingertips are pretty smooth too. Alex is ‘normal’, so too his sister Suzanne in Perth. Nevertheless the Baxters, it transpires, are part of just four extended families in the world with adermatoglyphia, a genetic disorder nicknamed (for reasons my travels have frequently borne out) ‘Immigration delay disease’. Learning this on the other side of the world makes my head spin. Baxters not here for various reasons are on my mind throughout the week. We do get the chance to connect to my dad and sister via Skype and afterwards I have a brief chat on the phone with Alex and Suzanne’s mother Kate, now in Brisbane. During the week we visit a local A&P (agricultural and pastoral) show and witness special guest ex-Prime Minister John Key warmly receive a pair of gumboots and a commemorative tea towel. No hacks in the crowd waiting for him to slip up, no fuss and no arrogant elitism. He even drives himself away in his own VW Golf. Powered by Cameron’s car, Alicia’s satnav (now regretfully with added smurf poo) and travel advice from everybody else, I take a couple of nights to explore the surreal mud pools of stinky, geothermal Rotorua and caves dotted with glow worms in Waitomo. I also meet an old Science Warehouse client for a very pleasant lunch. “I hope,” Alex remarks shortly after we meet, “that this gets the ball rolling in terms of communications between us”. Me too cuzzie bro! This trip has always been on the bucket list, and will always remain on it wherever else this trip takes us.