After 23 hours in the air, I got off the plane at Christchurch, New Zealand to be informed by the walls in the airport that I was in Middle Earth. I was groggy enough not to care where I was, so long as I was somewhere (actually I still wasn’t; only in transit to Wellington on the other island). I was sick with lack of sleep, lagging a day ahead of myself, and Middle Earth seemed as likely a place to be as anywhere. Time travel had to be involved, though, because Middle Earth was, as I knew it for a few moments in 1969, somewhere in Notting Hill, I think, and was a place for the ingesting of quantities of hallucinogens, watching the recombinatory adventures of hot coloured oils projected onto screens all around and listening to the pixilated lutes and whines of the Incredible String Band. I’d have preferred to be on the moon, the Sea of Tranquillity, say, which seemed just as probable, but I have learned that passive acceptance of life or death is the only way to survive long-haul jet travel. It took a few moments for me to remember I was in New Zealand and that the dreary sourcebook of my drug-crazed hippie nights had been filmed there and won a regiment of Oscars. There being only about three and a half million people in the country, everyone had either been in it (there were calls for extras, apparently, that invited only those over 6'7"; or under four feet to apply) or been inconvenienced by it, so it was a cause of great national pride. It’s not for me to judge.
Hardly surprising that the people of New Zealand should have embraced their reassignment to Middle Earth: there can’t be a population in the world who feel themselves to be so peripheral. Everyone explains how far away they are. ‘We’re so far away,’ people keep telling you apologetically.
‘Far away from what?’ you ask, alarmed, because they and you are both here, so far as it is possible to tell.
In fact, of course, everything is far away from New Zealand if that is where you are. But that’s easy to say if you are merely in transit and you have a return ticket to the far away you came from. All New Zealanders tell you about their European trip, a year or five spent where far away isn’t. Or they say that they are planning such a trip – soon or one day. The feeling of separation grabs you, and you rapidly begin to think like a New Zealander. I’ve never felt the distance of distance so strongly. Not in the Antarctic, not at the tip of Tierra del Fuego, not even in the nowhere of Raton, New Mexico. Only in the grip of a depression have I felt the ‘world’, whatever I and my New Zealand hosts meant by that, to be so remote.
‘Have you noticed that everyone wants to be loved?’
I had noticed.
‘Well, there you are. You see?’