“This may be offensive to your reader” warns Microsoft Word when it finds bitch in the text of my forthcoming novel. Considering that I was using the term to describe a female dog I find this quite amusing, but it makes me think about other less trivial ways that the use of language is becoming curtailed. One of my characters expresses racist views before being admonished by his wife, and I understand that a similar incident in one of Sally Rooney’s books led a journalist to accuse the author herself of racism. JK Rowling was “cancelled” for a comment that some interpreted as transphobic – fortunately my novel contains nothing about gender identity issues. It seems more acceptable to portray violence towards people and animals in fiction than to risk upsetting “woke” sensibilities.
Free speech is also limited in real life. Here in New Zealand, doctors who express valid concerns about the safety of Covid vaccination are being disciplined by the medical authorities. The rare but well authenticated cases of serious illness or death attributable to this vaccine are seldom reported in the media, and campaign materials designed to get everyone vaccinated make no mention of potential risks. I regard the vaccine as the lesser of two evils so have had my own two shots, but I respect the rights of those who have researched the pros and cons of this intervention and decided not to accept it.
Ireland the Labrador loves walking up Mount Victoria/Takarunga, known by Devonport locals as Mt Vic. Of unknown age, it is the tallest volcanic cone on Auckland’s North Shore, though being only 87 metres high it is really a hill rather than a mountain. The wooded lower slopes are surrounded by old houses, churches and a primary school and there are several access points.
We usually approach the site through the historic cemetery, dating from the late 1800s, where the Maori warrior and peacemaker Patuone is buried alongside early white settlers.
Mt Vic was once a Maori pa (fortified settlement) and the remains of old terraces and kumara pits can be seen alongside the walking tracks that now encircle the site. Ireland seems fascinated by the place and sometimes, perhaps drawn by sights or smells or spirits of the past, he dashes up the steep grassy hillside and on one occasion took half an hour to return. At other times he freezes on the path as if hypnotised.
On the summit, with its panoramic views of Rangitoto, the Hauraki Gulf, Waitemata Harbour and Auckland’s CBD, are various modern structures: mushroom-shaped vents for an underground reservoir, a signal station for shipping, a disappearing gun. There are a few older military remains on Mt Vic and a delapidated army hut, known as the Bunker, is the venue for the local folk music club.
After completing the steepest part of the walk, Ireland and I stop for a rest and a snack.
Last week I wrote about taking Ireland, my dogshare Labrador, to North Head. Another of our favourite places to walk around Devonport is Ngataringa Park. Developed in the 1990s from an old landfill site, this is not a formal park but mostly consists of large fields which provide an ideal space for dogs to run and play and roll in the long grass.
Various local landmarks can be seen from the curved path that runs through the park. Auckland’s harbour bridge, viewed from across the tidal estuary with its mangrove swamps. Mount Victoria, or Takarunga – the highest volcanic cone on the North Shore – and another good place for a dog walk. The massive new retirement complex being built on a nearby hill overlooking the site. There is a skate park in one of the fields, and a piece of artwork, a pair of wooden statues called The Guardians.
At the far end of the path is a maze, intended to represent the interweaving between Maori and Celtic cultures. Beside it, a network of small circular paths bordered by stones is hidden in a group of trees. This is the halfway point of our walk, and while I have a rest on one of the rustic seats made of driftwood, Ireland eats a few biscuits and then waits patiently at my feet.
We can either go back the same way that we came, across the fields, or take the lower path which is shaded by an arch of trees.