Friday, May 22, 2009

No Land Like It

There is a formidable work of public art at the end of our street, a monument created to impress and intimidate. It’s an enormous seal, balancing a rotating can of beer on his head. He is the Liquorland seal, a beacon of hope for Invercargill. And we love him.

The Liquorland seal always wears a smile, spinning that beer can night and day, despite the fact that the can has got to be fifteen feet high and weighs at least a ton. When the arctic wind screams and the hailstones rain down like frozen kitty litter, the Liquorland seal spins on. When the coal fires fill our skies with toxic smoke, so that just the tip of his can can be glimpsed above the haze, the Liquorland seal continues to spin. And as one, our hearts swell with pride.

I have loved the Liquorland Seal since our first night in Invercargill, when I took one look at the youth hostel we were about to manage and said to Peter, “I need a drink.” It wasn’t just the paint job, so painfully reminiscent of a child’s first poo. I’ve lived in plenty of rough places before, so when I noticed the holes punched in the walls, and the dead rat wedged in the back of the oven, I took these things largely in my stride.

It was the deliberate misspelling that made me cringe. Our new home was called—and I am changing the name here in the interest of avoiding a future lawsuit—the Kancerous Kiwi. Deliberate misspellings in an effort to sound cute have always bothered me, ever since, as a child, I felt personally insulted that Toys R Us attempted to attract young customers by inverting the letter “R” in their logo. I once worked for a doll designer who was very excited to name her new line of dancing dolls the “Kurtain Kall Kids,” until I pointed out that this produced an unfortunate acronym that might be considered inappropriate for a children’s toy.

Not everyone at this windswept latitude has been lucky enough to know the Liquorland Seal. Take John Kelly, for instance. According to a bronze plaque in town, he and his wife were the first settlers in Invercargill, building their home “in the bush 3 chains to the north,” back in 1856. There was no Liquorland seal in those days. In fact, given the religious devotion of the early settlers, it’s very likely that John had no liquor, but just a Bible and the company of his family to sustain him. As to his wife, she would have been scrubbing everything by hand, boiling water over a smoky wood fire and berating herself for ever marrying the asshole who took her out of Dublin in the first place, so she probably wasn’t very chatty.

John Kelly lasted just over a year. He died a mere fifteen months after making Invercargill his home. The plaque doesn’t say what he died of, but hard work, disease and a chronic lack of sex are a fairly good bet.

By some amazing coincidence, we also lasted in Invercargill just fifteen months. It is a hard life here. The winters are frigid and dark, and sometimes we felt we had little more than our love to sustain us.

But we did have one thing more. We had our seal. He nurtured us with Cabernet, Syrah and Pinot Noir. He never failed to offer up good cheer.

He is the Liquorland seal, and as they say: There’s No Land Like it.


  1. Antonia your blog is getting NASTY. nice to have you back. christie

  2. Hmmm... I'm afraid you're right. That's why it's time to go!

  3. Good to see you are writting again and getting ready to continue on with the adventure. I can't believe how much time has passed since we saw you last, and here we sit, still trying to get ready to leave.