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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Napier the Beautiful.

On a warm, spring afternoon, late last week, I flew in over the Tukituki River to Napier airport with its smart new terminal. In the 1930s my mother caught her first fish right here. That was before the Napier earthquake pushed up this airport land and banished the sea to its present breakers, over the road and beyond the sturdy wooden houses lined up like cattle staring out over Westshore beach.

Memories of my grandparents' houses up on Bluff Hill, with garden paths winding down, down, down to a little gate, permanently locked, which the key-holder could open on to another street at the bottom of the hill. Gardens filled with kiss-me-quick, nasturtiums, loquat trees; little surprises for grandchildren who didn't understand kitsch like concrete gnomes and toadstools almost buried in the violet beds; and a fish pond where my eldest brother - aged about three - once saved his smaller brother from drowning by holding his head above water by the hair until help arrived in the form of my distressed mother and apoplectic father.

Children back then were seen and not heard. We'd arrive at grandma's with eyes goggling at a tea trolley laden with cakes, scones and - a treat never seen at home - 'bought' chocolate biscuits. But then the stern order would be given: "Take one buttered scone then go outside," and our hopes of a good tuck-in were dashed.

It's always great to return to the Bay, not the least for the unique turns of phrase employed by some of the old codgers. For instance, it's not 'a lovely day' but 'a good day for docking'.

I was launching my book about lifting education standards, "Let Parents Choose" at the prestigious Hawke's Bay Club. When I told one gentleman I'd grown up at Wanstead, and now I had four children, he looked thoughtful then remarked, 'Yes. It's always been good grazing out there.' I love it.

I love also the long drawn-out evenings, when the sun seems to want to hang on in the sky as long as it possibly can, beaming down across the Heretaunga Plains to the Ruahine Ranges and the long sweep of the East Coast, before surrendering to the west of the Napier-Taupo hills.

And on this glorious evening just last week, I glanced out the window as the sun was setting to catch a sight so wonderful my heart missed not one - but surely a million beats. I have travelled to many gorgeous places in the world, but here in Hawke's Bay, my turangawaewae, was a two-minute view which, until my heart stops for good, will be pasted into the photo album of my mind.

Against the dark, Van Gogh blue sky, a row of Napier's palm trees silhouetted on the far horizon formed the backdrop. Off to the left hovered a thick grey line of cloud, a puffy warm duvet waiting to be pulled up and nestled under by Mr Moon.

Directly ahead of me, standing tall and bold up into the descending night, was the cross of the Napier Cathedral, lit up by silver white neon. Beyond, car lights wound their way home up Bluff Hill, above which, just behind and beside the holy cross, twinkled the evening star.

Oh, lucky Liberty Belle. That weekend a blizzard would descend on my life - about which I'll save for a future column - but for one brief moment in time I looked out at the Hawke's Bay sky and found this comforting gift.

Thank you, Napier.

Yours in Liberty,

Deborah Coddington

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