It was cold the winter I was sent to Bluff. Bluff! Even the word sounded cold to me. I must have been around seven years old when my mother became ill, some sort of kidney problem that would be cured with an operation, so I was told.
I remember my mother’s pale face at the airport window in Christchurch as I waved good-bye. I was being sent to Bluff to stay with my aunty and uncle. I didn’t mind too much because it was an adventure flying on a DC3 with the airhostesses making a great fuss of me.
I was met at Invercargill airport by my aunty and uncle. I must have met them before but on this day they were strangers to me. My aunty was timid, but my uncle Bob was stern, as only those brought up in the north of England could be. They had a daughter, my cousin Lorraine, and, unlike me, she was extremely well behaved. My parents had always had a rather liberal approach to rearing children and we were often left to our own devices so compared with Lorraine I must have been like a wild animal. Still, we got on well enough as kids often do.
But their home was intimidating, a forbidding old villa with a very long corridor up to my room at the front of the house. The room was enormous and spartan with only a bed, a cabinet and a potty for company.
I was only there for three months but at seven it seemed like an eternity. The climate was stern, Uncle Bob was stern, the nuns at school were stern… When I was finally sent back to Christchurch I never wanted to go anywhere again.