Getting Ready to Leave

The beach at Sumner
This is the sad part. After six weeks in New Zealand I have to get on a plane (actually three planes) and travel back to England. I have very conflicting feelings. Guilt that after all the trauma of the earthquake, I can just walk away leaving everyone here to deal with the aftermath. Sadness that I’m leaving my daughter and two very dear little boys aged 3 and 18 months and don’t know when I will see them again. And a longing to be in my own home again with my own things around me and my own man to talk to (Neil and I are meeting up in Singapore). So this is a hard leave-taking. Especially as I’ve come to love this country so much.

Yesterday I went to see Margaret Scott to say goodbye. For those who don’t know, she is someone who has spent her life deciphering and transcribing the manuscripts of Katherine Mansfield. Shortly after the death of KM’s husband, John Middleton Murry, she spent time with all KM’s surviving friends and relatives and probably knows more about Mansfield than anyone else alive. In particular she spent a lot of time with KM’s companion Ida Baker, who talked freely to her and who gave her a number of gifts that had been left to Ida by Katherine Mansfield.

On my first visit to New Zealand I arranged to meet Margaret and was warned that she was quite formidable - I was extremely nervous. But the woman I met was shy, warm, utterly dedicated to Mansfield studies, with a rigorous mind and an excellent built-in bullshit detector. Neil and I stayed for a week in Margaret’s garage (converted to guest room!) And at the end of it she had decided, very firmly, that I was the person who was going to write the definitive Katherine Mansfield biography. On my last evening, she produced a beautiful mother of pearl brooch, shaped like a feather and told me that it had belonged to Katherine and that she wanted me to have it. I refused point blank, to accept such a valuable gift, particularly as I didn’t have a publishing contract at the time and didn’t know whether the biography would ever be written. But the following morning, as we left, I discovered that she had surreptitiously given it to Neil to give to me.

The little brooch put me under an obligation - every time I wavered and was on the point of giving up, it looked at me like a little mother of pearl eye and insisted that I carry on. So it is really due to Margaret and her gift that the book ever got written at all. Her own book Recollecting Mansfield, an account of her sometimes hilarious experiences on the trail of KM’s manuscripts, is an excellent read.  The brooch has been on load to the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Trust for an exhibition, the Material Mansfield.

So today is my final stroll along the beach. And a last look at the earthquake damage. Nearer the epicentre, one road has been moved across by 12 feet. On either side of it, trees have been felled along the line of the fault and the ground torn apart. The forces of nature are unimaginably powerful.
Fault line through the hedge.

Telegraph road used to be dead straight. 


  1. poor Kathleen, it is so sad leaving loved ones for an unknown period. At least you'll have the consolation of Neil.
    I think the photo of Telegraph Rd is the most telling of the power of that quake, terrifying.


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