Recently some of my Alice Spider poems were chosen to be part of an excellent online anthology about Pukehau/Mt Cook. The poems were first published in the online journal Turbine in 2002 and reprinted in AUP New Poets 3 in 2008. This got me thinking about the various Mt Cook flats I lived in, back when I was in my twenties.

In 1985, I flatted in a two-storey house in Rugby Street by the Basin Reserve with three other people – different people at different times. There were parties. There were squabbles over who had burnt out the element in the jug. There was meatloaf, an alphabetised record collection and a weekly gathering around the television to watch Dallas. German journeymen would occasionally appear on the couch. A three-legged cat we called Tripod would wander in for a pat. One flatmate made great homemade Irish cream (similar to Bailey’s); another had a terrific recipe for marinated raw fish. A flatmate who cleaned for a law firm occasionally liberated a nice bottle of wine from the partners’ stash and brought it home to share.

Alice Spider swallows a goldfish 001

Swallowing a “live goldfish” (mandarin orange segment out of a tin).

Vigil 001

Vigil

Some years later, I was disappointed to learn our house had been bowled – along with three other perfectly good, sound houses – to make way for a Repco Autoparts store. Every time I walked past, I felt like pasting up a photo of the old place that said ‘LOST: Have you seen this house?’

One pill Mt Cook grafitto

Interestingly, this graffito appeared some years later at the spot where our flat used to be. Another Alice at the site, with lyrics from Grace Slick’s (Jefferson Airplane) ‘White Rabbit’.

My second time in Mt Cook came a few years later – a flat in Hankey Street with two other women. One stormy evening, a friend brought a kitten around, wrapped in her raincoat. She’d found him, apparently abandoned and half-starved, near the dairy. She already had cats of her own and couldn’t take in another. I hadn’t planned to get a cat, thinking I moved around too much, but I couldn’t resist this tiny, shivering, flea-infested bundle. My flatmate had spotted him previously but he was wary of people and she hadn’t been able to catch him. Now he was close to giving up.

I took him to the vet the next morning in a cardboard box that said Whole Baby Beans and Whole Baby Carrots. ‘Snatched from the jaws of death,’ the vet proclaimed, before pumping him full of antibiotics and offering a 50:50 chance of survival. He told me to keep the kitten warm and give him baby food. I took him to work in his little box (the kitten, not the vet), stopping at a pharmacy on the way for tinned baby food, Bone-Gro and a hot water bottle shaped like a cat. He spent the day under my desk at the Department of Conservation, good as gold, climbing out to eat his meals and back in again where his hot bottle water kept him warm. Workmates who might normally have taken a dim view of cats popped around during the day to see how he was getting along.

Over the next few weeks, he struggled back to health. I called him Spike. We lived together for nineteen years and I loved him.

The third time I lived in Mt Cook was in a flat in a block of four in Anderson Terrace. This time it was just me and Spike, my first time living (almost) alone. The only part I didn’t enjoy about being there was that my next-door neighbour worked shifts and I routinely woke up at 2 am when I heard his car.

Later, Spike and I moved to Mt Vic, then Berhampore and finally Vogeltown, where I promised him he’d never have to move again. He’s buried in the garden. I still miss him.

Janis & Spike in box 001

Whole baby beans, whole baby carrots, whole baby kitten.