After the last surveys I sent out asking you guys what you wanted in your newsletters, one of the things you guys asked for was “random tales from my life”. I kinda sidled over that request for a while, partly cos chosing randomness is a bit of a contradiction, but mainly, cos I wasn’t sure what to write about. Having had a few letters urging me to please do it anyway, I decided the best thing to do would be to relate the non music related stuff that comes up in conversation for me at odd points in the week.
“The Drums of Satan”
It happens on New Zealand’s west coast, a ruggedly beautiful place where the mountains plunge straight into an ocean that hurls itself onto talons of rock, ripping itself into foam. It happens where I grew up, though some time after me and my family had all moved on, in a place called Tauranga Bay, where the sea roars out its rage at the coast.
Tauranga bay is half an hours drive out of Westport, which is three hours drive throgh a mountain range and one-lane roads, from anyplace civilized. I wanted to show my then-partner what this place I had come from was like – probably because I thought it explained something, thought what that something might be, I have yet to figure out.
In a rusty old holden station wagon, whose column shift screetched in fear when you so much as touched it, I drove the poor man, whose name wasn’t Ben but will be for this story, into the depths of nowhere – to the only place left in the country where one-lane bridges still share with trains, and where the locals point and laugh if you drive over at the wrong time of day cos everyone knows that’s when the good train comes through from the south.
We arrived late at night, only to find the nearest campsite wasn’t near at all, and was, in any case full.
When we got to the shore, “no camping” signs poked up from the ground ike middle fingers, jeering. We took a side road; drove the car over shuddering, unsealed chip, hunting for a likely looking place. With so little space between earth and sea, we hit the end of the road before finding anything suitable. We stopped and killed the lights. Sea booming in our ears. There seemed to be a broad sort of area to one side of where the road ended, where the ground flattened out between two hills. A picnic table was balanced there with rocks underneath the foot that was falling away into soggy ground.
“What the fuck is that?” (we use the f word for anything and everything down under). That was the first thing I heard before yanking out my earplugs to hear what the problem was.
All around us there was drumming. It would rise up on one side, deep and irregular and loud, before sinking back into the sound of the far off sea, and then rising up again someplace else nearby. It was eerie and other worldly, and definitely not human.
I went with my eyes shut. I didnt want to see ANYTHING, cos if I did, I would be forced to believe mumbo jumbo. The slick cool of the grass on my feet didnt sooth me, normal as it was – my brain sent me images of bloodied skins lying piled up upon one another; of the slick dead tongues of murder victems taken out here by mad pagan locals on a dark night, whose ghosts lingered here forever. Eventally I realised my own imagination was far more horrendous than anything real life could offer, and I opened my eyes.
In the lighter black of the road, the car sagged on its haunches, unscathed and not crawling with deamons. The moon was half. The booming hadnt stopped though, and seemed to come from several directions at once. I took a few steps toward the bushes near the tent – leaping back and letting out a yip as something skittered off into the undergrowth. The booming continued. There was nothing to see but shadow on shadow, and when something dark moved off across the corner of my eye I got back into the tent as fast as I could, lest I see anything “ghostly”.
The sun comes up early on a clear day in summer. By 7am we had crawled from the tent, now heating up and baking us inside it. Ligaments cracked as I tried to realign my body with gravity, stretching as Ben headed over to the car to get the cooker. He stopped by a large plackard
At this point I would like to thank the New Zealand department of Conservation for its informative sign that let us know that we were not insane, and that the word was still completely devoid of ghosts, miracles or wonders, and that besides that, wekas (flightless, curious, chicken-sized birds, that look a lot like Kiwis if you dont happen to ever have seen a kiwi) bred at the exact time of year we had decided to camp. These birds, said the sign, made a deep booming noise with their throat, to announce their readiness to screw to potential sexual partners. The sound, the placard went on could be “surprisingly loud”, but was not often heard by people as the birds were “easily put off” their mating rituals.
As if on cue, several of them appeared, as they actually do all the time on the west coast. They lunged about, gawky and decidedly unfrightening, near the boot of the car. One of them jumped into the open boot and made off with a slice of bread.