Monday, 14 November 2011

An Unexpected Friendship

There are all sorts of people who touch our lives, some just in passing and some who are more than strangers but not quite what we would call friends in the usual sense.  I had one such friendship with someone I never met but who I felt I knew really well.

This is the article he wrote in the Pacific Business News May 25 2007.  My quoted e-mail was the start of a brief but enjoyable e-mail relationship between us.

LETTER SPARKS MEMORIES OF LOST AND FOUND ERA    by John W.McDermott

The flattering e-mail arrived unexpectedly one morning from New Zealand.  It lit up my den.

"Dear John," it read. "I was going through my bookcase recently and came across your wonderful series of books entitled 'How to Get Lost and Found In....' Seeing them brought back wonderful memories of some thoroughly enjoyable trips."
"I was an ardent fan of these books and read them religiously, waiting always with great excitement for the next in the series to be published.  I have every one of them.  As a mother at home with children in distant New Zealand they were a perfect armchair trip and escape from routine.  You managed to transmit a wonderful joie de vivre in your writing and mirrored my own love of travel and my desire always to see what is around the next corner.
I was lucky enough to use many of your books as travel guides.  When I visited places you wrote of, your book was tucked carefully in my suitcase and referred to constantly.  I would like to say a sincere thank you for the great pleasure your books brought me.  I hope life is treating you well in beautiful Hawaii.  Aroha from beautiful New Zealand." signed :Miriam

Well! What a great start for the morning and it unlocked a steamer trunk of great memories.
The writing of travel books started off as a "make work" exercise.  My wife and I had scheduled a year of Saturdays, taking a full year away from Hawaii and going around the world, anywhere we wanted, doing anything we wanted.  Our first target was New Zealand, which I had visited and written about.  Our research revealed a paucity of travel books about New Zealand - ergo, let's do a book on New Zealand.

We flew to New Zealand, bought a car, found a cottage on the shores of Lake Taupo and spent six months travelling every mile of the fabulous land and loving every minute of it.

The largest publisher in New Zealand bought "How to Get Lost and Found in New Zealand". Then Air New Zealand not only bought thousands of copies of that first book but also wondered if I would consider doing a book on Fiji offering expense money up front and first class transportation.

That successful series grew to include Tahiti, Cook Islands, Australia, Japan, Hawaii, California and a final book on London.

By this time I had taken control of the publishing and selling of the series.  Air New Zealand would contract for a certain number of books and I would enlarge the print order to sell books world-wide, including by direct mail.  I remember my accountant saying "You started doing this for a lark but you are now making money!"  The venture was much more rewarding than just making money.  Writing can be a drudge or it can be a joy.  Writing the "Lost and Found" series was a joy.

Travel is funny, often hilarious.  Getting lost is almost as rewarding as getting found.  The first book's title was based on hundreds of wrong turns - and obeying the masculine mandate to never turn around and never stop and ask for directions.

Another truism is that there is beauty everywhere.  It's in children most of all.  In the cloud formations over Australia's Snowy Mountains, the coral reefs of Fiji, the temples in Japan, the full moon over Diamond Head, the changing of the guard in London, the vineyards of Napa Valley
And, of course, there is the tragic and the ugly.  The aboriginal settlements in Australia, the original prisons in Tasmania, the stark remains of devastating bush fires and earthquakes and lessons-learned tidal waves.

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John McDermott in Japan
After my initial e-mail John and I e-mailed each other  quite regularly for a while and he also mailed me a hard copy of the above article. We discussed all sorts of things but mainly Hawaii, where he lived, and New Zealand, which he loved equally. He always called me Lady Miriam and used an enormous font so I was aware that his eye sight was failing.  When, after a while the e-mails petered out I thought it was due to sight problems.  Last week John came into my mind again and I went onto the Internet to try and track him down only to find that he had died in February last year, shortly after his last e-mail to me and at the grand age of 89.  He was writing a regular column for the  Hawaii based Pacific Business News right up to his death.  I have been feeling inordinately sad all week.  Farewell dear friend.


This is me on Muri Beach in Rarotonga in 1984.  I am clutching a copy of
"How To Get Lost and Found in the Cook Islands"