Roo and I have been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still haven’t managed to write anything about our month in Wanaka. I guess because the memory is still so sharp; our time there was, to misquote a popular novel, the best of times and the worst of times.

Well, mostly the worst.

As many of you may know, the reason that Roo and I changed our plans at the last minute and flew to New Zealand was because Chris, my sister Gill’s husband, was starting to lose the battle against pancreatic cancer.

Chris Ice CreamIt’s hard to believe that less than six months ago I was writing a book about his wedding; he wore blue, insisted that I wore blue too, and looked like the happiest man alive as he stood next to Gill in the gardens of Polquhorn Fort in Cornwall, and said “I do.”

Gills Wedding

Gill and Chris – as happy as I’ve ever seen either of them.

And now… well, six weeks ago we laid him to rest in a wickerwork casket, in a narrow plot in Wanaka cemetery. Chris passed away on the 29th of May, aged just 38 – leaving behind not just my sister, but their two beautiful daughters, Hazel and Holly, aged 18 months and two months.

Even now, as I sit here writing this, tears are falling freely onto my keyboard. That’s been happening a lot lately; I might have to invest in some kind of rain cover for my laptop…

Anyway, it’s not like me to be so doom-and-gloom, and I’ve always prided myself on finding the positive in every situation. And here in Wanaka, the positive is impossible to ignore – it’s all around me, everywhere I look.

Because Wanaka is, beyond shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Wanaka Beauty

It’s beautiful alright – this is the view from our hostel. Which is in the centre of town.

Even Chris has a spectacular view. If I had to spend eternity contemplating one particular vista, well, I could do a lot worse.

Graveyard View

We laid Chris to rest overlooking the town where his girls live, and the mountains he spent his life on.

We’ve visited Wanaka before, of course. Back then Hazel was just a baby, and Wanaka was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – of drive-by knitting?!?!!? It’s still the town’s biggest mystery – no-one knows who is responsible, or when they will strike.

Knitted Tree

Random bits of the town are regularly discovered wrapped in colourful knitting. Truth!

That kind of says it all about Wanaka. It’s a placid place, like something out of a fairy-tale; stupendous mountains, incredible scenery, friendly folk, healthy and wholesome almost to a fault. People here don’t lock their doors. Even when they go on holiday. It would be a thieves’ paradise… except, there aren’t any thieves. Which is ironic, really, as it’s one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!

And the only downside? Well, other than a loaf of bread costing $5? The town is the central hub for three of New Zealand’s most popular ski resorts. So every winter, scores of penniless ski bums just like Gill and Chris show up, taking jobs on the mountains and living anywhere they can – three to a room, sleeping on floors, in vans, in garden sheds… and the town becomes party central for the next six months solid.

So, you know, major bummer  🙂 

Wanaka Dawn

They get plenty of snow here – this is the view we woke up to on our second morning in Wanaka.

Yes, it’s fair to say, I like it here. As for Roo, well… if you’ve read anything about our time in Canada, you’ll know that anything even remotely involving snow turns Roo into an eight-year-old.

Roo Kissing Snowman

Obviously I wanted to make a giant sculpture of a penis, and leave it in the middle of the park – but Roo demanded we make something she could kiss.

Gill and Chris had just bought a new house when we arrived, so we moved into it on their behalf. Predictably, I broke at least one thing per day, so that by the time Gill set foot in the place there was already a lengthy maintenance list…

Broken Shower

Welcome to your new house Gill! Here’s your shower door handle…

Broken Knife

I have no idea how I broke this knife. Just don’t know my own strength, I guess…

Broken Table

And I’m sure this table isn’t supposed to look like that… I also broke a shelf in the fridge 🙁

I try to take something, some message or life-lesson, from everyone I know who passes on. From Chris, I have taken a timely reminder of something which is all too easy to forget, especially for a struggling, self-published author.

Chris wasn’t about money, not in the least. He was happiest fixing skis, barely scraping by, and many times stated that life was not about abstract concepts like success, or the accumulation of wealth.

It was about fun. That was why he left a promising career in genetics to spend his life ski-bumming around the world, earning sub-minimum wage, and loving his life in the snow, and his growing family.

So the next time I find myself obsessively checking my sales, or carefully weighing out the financial cost of an adventure, I’ll remember this: life is too damn short to be stingy.

You never know, ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you’ll live to spend it, so take a piece of advice from me, and – posthumously – from one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known: enjoy what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Money is only as good as the enjoyment you can get out of it, so squeeze every last drop of fun from those pennies! Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Mum Sky Dive

Grab life by the balls! This is my Mum, doing her first sky-dive – at 62 years old. Apparently, it’s never too late!

Anyway, to conclude the tale, we all retreated to England to spend some time together as a family, helping Gill with the girls and hopefully giving her a safe space to grieve. It was a fairly daunting prospect – taking one baby and one toddler on a series of long-haul flights totalling over 24 hours in the air – but amazingly, we came through it all unscathed. It wasn’t until after we’d landed in Heathrow Airport that Hazel decided to projectile-vomit, Exorcist style, emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten since we left Singapore. Made a fair mess of the landing gate, I can tell you.

Happy Holly

Baby Holly, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the flight!

But we did it! And now here we are, in England! Facing the same journey back again in just over six weeks’ time… Like I said – life’s all about the fun  🙂

And while we’re on the subject of fun, I’d like to take this chance to invite everyone else who is in England to a ski-event we’re holding in Chris’s memory. It will be at Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre on the 29th August, from 8-10pm, and we’ll be raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The plan is to try and make 1977 runs down the ski slope (Chris’s birth year), so we’ll need all the help we can get. Entrance costs £40, including 2 hours on the slopes, ski/snowboard gear hire and a meal at the restaurant. Non-skiers are welcome, and there’ll be a sledging slope set up for a bit of fun. Let me know if you fancy coming along! And for anyone who’d like to contribute without getting their asses cold and wet*, Gill has set up a Just Giving page – all proceeds go directly to Pancreatic Cancer UK:

https://www.justgiving.com/robinsonskichallenge

Hope to see you there!

*Snowboarders have to sit down at the top to fasten their boards on. This is why my ass gets wet, NOT because I’m so afraid that I pee myself – no matter what you may have heard.