The beach at Brown’s Bay looks out to Rangitoto Island, and is framed at either end by whitish cliffs fringed with trees and mansions. The sand of the beach is quite dense and coarse; the grains not as fine as golden sands elsewhere and caramel coloured. You can walk out a long way into the water and the cold line of the sea nipping up your calves hardly seems to change. Behind the beach there is a low bank, and then a wide strip of flat webbed grass and widely spaced trees with park benches and rubbish bins dotted in between.
On the first Monday of the New Year the beach, and the grass, and the benches are filled with people. Eleanor and I walk along the beach, just where the waves finally flatten themselves and fan up onto the shore, and watch people.
At the very far end of our walk up to the southern shoulder of the beach, before we turn back, we spend some time watching a kite. There is a steady breeze coming in off the sea and the kite sits tight at the end of its string. At the other end of the string there is a dad who doesn’t look like he wants to give up the rein to his bored sons. His bored sons bounce about like puppies. As we come back up the beach I see two Asian grandparents herding their grandchildren along the water’s edge, a group of four young women and one man from somewhere like Pakistan playing a sort of volleyball in the sea (the women all laugh riotously when the man falls over trying to get the ball and dunks himself), and a few Pacific Island men drop kicking a rugby ball to each other in long, slow arcs.
To me all the white people look very vulnerable: men and women sprawled out on the beach under-dressed and over-exposed. Seeing Pakeha sunbathe in New Zealand now feels like watching a pregnant woman smoke a generation ago.
When Eleanor and I get back to our picnic blanket Rosamund has gone to the playground, and Cathy is deep in a book. The mix of people, and the calm of the day makes the scene around us look like the perfect model of a perfect multicultural society but I don’t think such things exist and wonder if they are even possible. The book I am reading, and the internet I ignore tell me not.
Afterwards we go to an ice cream shop called Penguino. Gold medal winning Hazelnut ice cream is very nice. I notice two things on the counter: a pile of pamphlets telling South Africans how to get their rand transferred to New Zealand, and the latest issue of Time magazine. The latest issue of Time has a picture of a Syrian baby on it.