I'd never heard of the Mareth Line until today. But somehow I knew the name must have been associated with a battle of the Second World War.
Today's house-hunting began with 24 Mareth Street, Panmure. Panmure's streets read like the New Zealand Corps battle honours for the war -- Tripoli, Caen, Dunkirk, Alamein, Benghazi, Tobruk. Not entirely by coincidence, it was built mostly in the late 1940s, and it has both the pluses and the minuses of the period.
The Second World War, in British cultural history, was a great "levelling" event. It was a total war, war as waged by every man, woman and child in the country. When it was over, everyone had shared in the sacrifice, and it followed axiomatically that everyone should share in the rewards of peace. And so there followed a huge expansion in public housing. In Britain it gave rise to the New Towns; in New Zealand, it gave us Panmure.
The houses are well built, in the spirit of post-war egalitarianism. They have quite respectable patches of land. But they're built by people who never intended to live in them, for people who were expected -- for the most part, correctly -- to be grateful for whatever they got. There is no heart in them, no love. No-one ever sat down, before they started building, and thought properly about how they'd live in each house. The result is -- well, it's four good walls and a roof, but it's not a home. Nowadays, people seldom stay here more than a few years -- and you can see why.
(Image courtesy Google Streetview. I'm not sure if that's legal. But if I were them, I certainly wouldn't want to make a deal of it.)
The first thing you notice, as you drive into Panmure, is a Church of Scientology. That's not a good sign anywhere. Scientologists prey on the depressed, the desperate, the ill-educated and the terminally confused; the presence of a full-time, dedicated "church" of that denomination suggests a high prevalence of these attributes, which (to my way of thinking) does not make for desirable neighbours.
Enough with the half-assed social history. The house is -- simply, pointless. The present owners have done their best to make it a home, they've renovated everything and begun creating a new bedroom, but even so they can't make it worth living in. Call it -- bad feng shui.
Next stop was 18 Ruawai Road, Mount Wellington. Here I noticed that the agent had taken trouble to close the blinds on the right-hand side of the house; opening one of them revealed the neighbour's unenticing rubbish dump. Essentially, it's four breezeblock walls, no roof, containing -- rubbish. Not something I want to live next to.
Then back for another attempt at Panmure. 7 Te Koa Road looks pleasant enough from the outside -- but its neighbours don't. "If these kids go trick-or-treating, I'm barricading the door", said Susan, watching two of the local thugs barrelling past, unhelmeted, on a quad-bike. We didn't bother to go inside.
Finally, 17A Inkerman Street, Royal Oak. Royal Oak is a quiet, genteel area, less lively than nearby One Tree Hill. 17 Inkerman Street was once, no doubt, a lovely home; now, it's the site of eight brand-new units in a terraced arrangement. We knew it was in our price range, because it was advertised as "price slashed", although it didn't say from or to what. So we looked up the official government valuation of the site. $490k. We can afford that.
"How much?", I asked the agent.
"$595,000", he said.
I wish, now, I'd laughed in his face. He deserved it. Smug, lying bastard estate agent. But I repeat myself.
The idea of building my own house appeals more every day. All I need is a patch of land...