Manuka ties in New Zealand: the final days

It is 2009. I am on a long, long flight. Needing to fill out an application for a visitor’s visa, I dig into my hand-luggage for a pen. I smile at what else I have brought with me. Carefully folded are three high-quality silk ties given to me by a friend who, on his retirement, swore he would never wear one again. I told him what I planned to do with them. He beamed.

Tie 1

I am lured back to New Zealand every year by the prospect of casting a dry fly over trout of memorable size in rivers of unforgettable beauty. This year takes me to the banks of a little-known creek off the Waikikamukau river. The creek is home to tiny trout that dart for cover as I approach. Only in the winter spawning season will the massive pink mama trout make their way up from the lake to await that brief and critical tail-flickering encounter with a hook-jawed male. However, I am not here for the trout. I am here for the manuka forest through which the creek tumbles. I want to install the ties and seek three trees of neck-size girth standing together.

In 2012, I pull on my hiking boots and return to my chosen manukas. I am amused by the way my carefully knotted ties with the naily tie-pins have maintained their business-like form but look like they have done way too many business trips. I wonder where this idea will go in the coming years.

Tie 3

2016 finds me back at the creek. I am always fascinated by decay of man-made things but my little project in entropy seems to be a bit of a flop. Let’s be honest, the whole thing looks like what it is: three ties rotting on tree trunks. I have a sneaking feeling that Andy Goldsworthy is watching over my shoulder with a wry smile.

Tie 4

It is 2019. The ties are now gorgeously decayed. Their strut has long gone. They are almost at one with the flakey manuka bark and so are becoming part of nature. Time is the “artist.” I like what I see.

I try to recall why I did this in the first place. It was something to do with my anger about the bank-induced financial crisis of 2008. Why the tie thing? A tie…. That symbol of the powerful smart man. That totally unlikely, brightly coloured, pants-pointing neck-wear. I realise that my anger is now redirected towards the Trumps, Putins, Xis and Johnsons of the world. Maybe my exposed tie experiment conjures up more than macho-corporate decay; perhaps it speaks to our daily-growing awareness of that biggest of human trade-offs: on one hand, we have our booming population living life-styles that are driven by manufacturing economies that in turn are driven by the business and political worlds (both lorded over by tie-bearing men.) On the other hand, we have our inevitable, massive and global impact on the environment. Whatever path humans take, nature will win in the end. Big mama trout will swim upstream to spawn long after humans have been consigned to the archives of the planet’s natural history. 

And then the pandemic hits.

Tie 5

A friend (thanks, Anna) sent me a photo of the ties from the lock-down days of 2020.They’re just about hangin’ in there; they seem about to merge completely with the natural world. 

Tie 6

Now it’s 2023. I take up the story again. I am back in New Zealand after nearly three years. I hike the familiar path. The creek still runs clear. The early morning bell bird chorus thrills me anew. The forest is still fresh. However, those three manuka trees are in their last lean-over days and their ties are in the final stages of gratifying decay. Isn’t it time for those power hungry men to lean over and decay with equal calm and composure?

Manuka tie decay… hanging by a thread!

Remember the story of the decaying ties in New Zealand? I left three specimens of executive neckwear exposed in a Manuka stand by a little known creek in 2009. This is how they started.

Tie 1

It was fun visiting them over the years. A friend (thanks, Anna) sent me a photo of them now. They’re just about hanging’ in there; they seem about to merge completely with the natural world. Take a look at them now.

Tie 5

The Lockdown Diary – Day 9

Geneva, Tuesday 24 March 2020

Thinking today of – and dedicating this post to – all New Zealanders. Two reasons: first, they have all just gone into lockdown that includes a ban on going into their great outdoors; second, a much loved niece from UK on holiday out there with a friend have been caught in the lockdown. Unable to return home, they needed a place to self-isolate for however long it takes. Faithful buddies came up donalds. Thank you! 

I’ve taken a month out there each year for thirty years. I’ve always found the kiwis a very happy, friendly and resourceful bunch. Hardy too; they wear shorts come rain or snow. I once met a couple of hunters on a mountain track who, because of some atrocious weather, had been stuck in a small hut for three days. They told me they had been “givin’ the tea bags heaps!” What a great phrase to denote the staving off of boredom. (Difficult to translate: something like “On a sérieusement harcelé les sachets de thé!”) And now here at home these days, we too are giving the tea bags heaps.

New Zealand culture is deeply spiritual. Or so I was once told. I naïvely asked what the dominant faith was. “Rugby, mate!” Silly me. Of course… How could I forget the haka?

So it’s 2007. I am pursuing two of my favourite pastimes. Giving some large trout heaps and painting… big and freestyle. So here is the making of “All Black.” It was later stolen from a gallery in Geneva. Very flattering! If you’re not interested in the technical process, just lap up the views of the wonderful South Island. 

So…. Find nice river. Park battered old camper van. Take out canvas and acrylic painting kit. Apply pink / umber base layer. Leave to dry whilst giving the trout heaps.

The Lockdown Diary 10

Return to van. Find suitable fern. Cover with paint. 

The Lockdown Diary 11

Use thrash technique. Leave to dry. Wonder where this might go. Reflect on fern pattern resembling Maori tattoos and, whilst giving the trout heaps again, realise that this is probably not coincidence. On returning to van, notice possible emergence of rippling tattooed thighs. Roll up canvas. Move on to another hidden riverside camp spot. 

The Lockdown Diary 12

Unroll canvas. Think “All Black.” Find suitable fern. Cover with paint.

The Lockdown Diary 13

Apply black paint with very large human in mind. Leave to dry. Give the trout heaps yet again. Roll up canvas. Move to most secret lakeside spot.

The Lockdown Diary 14

Unroll canvas. Realise need for big angry sticky-out haka tongue. Find suitable fern. Cover with paint. Apply in mouth area.

The Lockdown Diary 15

Add eyes, ball and big muddy hand fending off the English… or the French… or the Aussies. Leave to dry over convenient shrub. Give trout still more heaps yet again.

The Lockdown Diary 16

Roll up canvas for long flight back to Geneva. Get canvas stretched up. Ask Peter Hobden to take photo. 

The Lockdown Diary 17

Move “All Black” to swish gallery. Forget to insure it. Give gallery owner heaps.

Todays putting competition…. The match is square! 4-4. I won 4 and 2. Stats: me 16/16 (100%); the GG – unusually -12/16 (75%).