Diggle, James Interview

I’m Erica Tenquist. I’m interviewing James Diggle, and the date today is the 12th March 2021. Over to you, Jim.

Hi, my name’s Jim Diggle. I’m a seventy-eight year old. I live in Summerset in the Orchard in Hastings. Okay, my background; a little bit about that. Firstly, I was born in the UK [United Kingdom] and lived up in the northeast, and that’s a very feudal sort of area; most of it’s owned by dukes or lords or whatever.

I started my life off as a mechanic … a diesel engineer. Didn’t like it particularly; realised I was never going to get out [of] the area, so I was very happy to think about joining the merchant navy at the age of eighteen, and seeing the world – it took me a little bit of time and work to get a CV [curriculum vitae] sorted – and anyway, I took off. I must admit I had a wonderful time just touring the world. I was lucky to have been able to get on some of the major shipping companies at the time … P&O, Cunard, Shaw Savill … just travelled the world for five years. It was five years … probably a little bit too much.

But anyway, during my time in 1961 I came to New Zealand for the first time. It was a revelation. I mean, it was so sort of different from the Londons and the Edinburghs that I knew, because it almost seemed backwards; it almost seemed like I had turned my clock back thirty or forty years, it was so … like that. But, I found everybody very friendly; I found the cities easy to manage, they were easy to walk from point A to point B, so anyway, the bottom line is I sort of fell in love with New Zealand. Over the years I came back a few times; in fact I made it my aim in life to come back to New Zealand as much as I could, seeing obviously, a bit of the world on the way here.

Anyway, I settled eventually for Wellington. Wellington suited me in that I could live on the edge of the city but I could walk everywhere. I easily got a job here, that was a piece of cake – started off working almost straight away within the first week. Enjoyed that; learnt a lot about the geography of Wellington. I also found it was very easy in Wellington to go to polytechnic in Taranaki Street, Mount Cook; so I started going to polytechnic two or three nights a week. Did all sorts of commerce things – I realised that really where I wanted to be was in a commercial situation. Luckily enough, as time went on I managed to get a couple of jobs in sales – this was just in retail sales – ended up managing a national company, and staying for thirteen years.

Anyway, round about the year 1970-ish, I’d lived here for two or three years; went back to the UK, got back to New Zealand, and my boss said we have a great job for you … Invercargill. So I went down there at the time of the Manapouri scheme, and then unfortunately the company I worked for in Hawke’s Bay had a … shall we say, a kleptomaniac running it … so I ended up being transferred here to try and sort the situation out, which I think I did. I was then offered a position up in the Auckland head office, which I took.

After a while I got married in Hawke’s Bay; had one child. But we took off to Auckland, enjoyed it for a while, but eventually wore out and decided to come back to Hawke’s Bay. My wife was born in Hawke’s Bay, her family was very much Hawke’s Bay, and I was quite happy to be back in Hastings.

What was her name, please?

Her maiden was Jennifer Herbert. Her father was an agricultural contractor, her mother had a retail business in town; anyway, they were lovely people. I got on extremely well with them. So we were up in Auckland as I said, and we decided to come back and live here. Came back to Hawke’s Bay, my wife started working in the retail business; I didn’t have a problem getting a job – I worked for an orcharding outfit in Havelock North; that was fine. Did a sales manager’s job after that, and then ended up in one of my first loves, which is the electrical industry.

After a few years – I had been promoted to branch manager, regional manager and so on and so forth – and eventually was offered again, another trip to Auckland; so for the third time I headed off to Auckland. It was fine until my wife just wasn’t well enough to stay there, so we bought another place in Hawke’s Bay, waited until we got the right price in Auckland and we shifted here. My wife unfortunately passed away ten years ago, and so I just never had a desire to leave the area, go back to Auckland, or anything else. I retired somewhat early just so that I could look after my wife at that stage, and I had a good little part time job which I enjoyed. But eventually I decided Hawke’s Bay is a great place; I can live here, I can get part time work here if I wanted, and so I’ve never wanted to leave.

Can you tell me some of the part time jobs? Were they to do with electrical or ..?

Well, firstly I managed a company. You have to understand, rather than being strongly electrical – I’m not an electrician, but I do have an interest for the sake of argument in technology in genera. A guy I knew was setting up a business and for quite some while I set the business up for him – his computer systems, his staff records, his budgeting and everything else. So basically, part time jobs, twenty hours a week … twenty-five hours a week. To be honest, I wasn’t interested in doing much else because another big interest of mine at the time was Lions [Club]; and of course I’m a book lover, so therefore getting involved in the sorting and the selling of the books in the Lions annual book sale here, which is one of the largest around, was actually time consuming in itself. So basically I’ve always had enough to do.

I also found that the beaches in Hawke’s Bay are just fabulous for people like me who enjoy fossicking – there’s all sorts on the beach to find. There’s wonderful shells, polished glass; so I found an artistic side of myself which I didn’t know existed, and [the] last fifteen years or so I’ve been making all sorts of wall hangings, mats, carpets … whatever, out of whatever I find on the beach. So as I said, it’s been a wonderful place to be retired.

And you’ve never stopped travelling, so that’s why you’d have part time jobs most of the time?

That’s absolutely … that is it. And I was travelling maybe twice a year; I’d take off for a month. I love travelling around Asia specifically. I had travelled the northern hemisphere to Europe but I found that for me Asia suited everything I wanted. It was on the doorstep; I could leave in the afternoon and be almost anywhere in Asia by evening, bearing in mind you put your clocks back six hours. Ended up going to Hong Kong, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand; I tended to make Thailand my central point because you can get anywhere very quickly. Needless to say, over the years I transited through China and Singapore … wherever. I loved the travel and the joy; one of the great things about my previous life was it had made me reasonably computer literate which therefore allowed me to do so much work on my computer. I was able to do the homework and find out where I was going to; what was worth seeing; where I was going to stay. I could do a lot of my bookings. So to be honest travel became an end in itself, not only the time you spent travelling but the time you spent doing the homework. So I ended up spending a month away, then two months at home, month away, two months at home, and that suited me until of course the dreaded Covid-19 came, and was not a happy introduction ‘cause I was overseas, and I had just, purely by chance, went and checked my flights on my way home and found that they’d all been cancelled. I had to start re-booking, I had to do this, that, I just had a complete nightmare getting back. This was March …

Last year?

… to be honest, March 10th I got home, but it was a different day to when I had booked to come home, and the net result was Air New Zealand was not very friendly to me and I had to pay a few hundred dollars to get from Auckland back to Hawke’s Bay. But nevertheless, that’s one of those things that you have to put up with. So I got back home on March 11th 2020, and that is a year ago and I have not been able to travel from that day forth other than a little bit around New Zealand. Unfortunately my past life had me travelling so much around New Zealand that I’m a little bit blasé about it. Most of the companies that I worked for had branch networks that went from literally Invercargill to Whangārei, with agencies in the far north and as far south as Bluff. The net result of all of that is I was basically happy more or less to stay at home rather than travel around the country. I have done some travel around the country in the last year, but it’s been minimal.

So when you came home, did you go into isolation?

Yeah – well, that’s a very good point, Erica, because there was a little bit of pressure put on me by some of the residents that because I’d been outside of the country I was not to be trusted with the covid thing. I was a little … should we say, a little annoyed about it all, but nevertheless I bowed to the pressure and I stayed home for two weeks, which was promptly to added to by another six weeks by the government. So whereas most people had a six week lockdown, I had an eight week lockdown, so I stayed two weeks on my own and then the six weeks came in. So that was my introduction back into New Zealand again.

Did they come and check on you at all? The Health Department?

I was never required to. I obviously checked it at Auckland Airport what my obligations were, and I had no obligations. On the 11th when I got home there was no requirement for me to isolate or to do any checking at all; the country was completely open. And you have to also remember that in Asia there was almost zero covid – in fact I think it hadn’t been really located at that stage at all.

You were lucky you were coming back then, not the week or ten days later.

Absolutely. No, my timing … as I said, the only thing that upset me was the fact that I had to pay so much to Air New Zealand because I had to come back a day early. Anyway, other than that – that’s part of the deal I guess, my travel insurance wouldn’t cover me., but nevertheless …

Did the travel insurance cover you for that extra you had to pay?

No, because … well, not really. Most travel insurances of course, have a base where you have to pay the first $100 or $200 or whatever; mine was the first $200, so basically by the time I took the first $200 off and so on and so forth, I think I got a few dollars back, but it was irrelevant.

So within Hawke’s Bay itself, have you been right out on the all the country roads and everything, would you say?

Absolutely. As I said before, I love the beaches, and of course over the years I’ve gone to the Pourerere, Blackheads and all of that area. I’ve often driven … I’m just as happy if I’m heading south to head down Highway 50; go through Maraekakaho and through that area. When my wife was alive we bought a book which absolutely … I recommend to everybody in Hawke’s Bay. It’s called ‘The Happy Wanderer in Hawke’s Bay’, and basically what it is is round about thirty, forty wonderful walks in Hawke’s Bay; basically tells you how to get there, where to park your motor, what you should see, and it is an absolutely glorious book. And as it happens, some three months ago I found another copy in a second hand shop and gave it to my daughter who had been asking for it. Now it’s getting a little bit old, but there’s some wonderful things. So my wife and I would take off on a Saturday or a Sunday, whatever time we had, and we’d go on another walk, and we tried to work through them. So there were some off the Taihape Road; some off the Napier-Taupō Road; there were some in the back end of Gwavas Forest – you name it. And we went on them and they were absolutely wonderful, so the answer is, I’ve probably seen more of Hawke’s Bay than most people who live in Hawke’s Bay.

To go back to the shell work, do you sell it or is it just for your own interest?

I’ve given most of it away to family and friends, and the reason for that is that I have to put too much work in it and I couldn’t value it; in other words, I can’t put a price on something that I may’ve spent a month or whatever manufacturing, so I decided not to sell any of it. It suited me to make special stuff for gifts and to personalise everything. I’ve made stuff with the family’s names on – everything from jewel boxes to doormats – so it’s all been personalised if I can do so, and that way it just means it is more special. And for me, as I said, because I just couldn’t value it; I mean, the amount of hours that you spend doing it. But it has to be said, there’s this whole thing started in a different fashion … I went to a gymnasium in Hastings; I decided to keep fit … and decided after one session that it was so boring [chuckle] that instead of that I would head off to the beaches and pick up a hundred stones. So it was a hundred bends, and then dump the stones when I’d finished my walk, and that way I was keeping flexible, I was heading off to the beach, getting fresh air … absolutely wonderful thing. And then I found all this wonderful stuff on the beach. I mean Hawke’s Bay – people forget a little bit – you can walk down the beach here and one day you’ll see penguins, the next day you’ll see seals; and believe it or not I was lucky enough to be in Westshore on Tuesday and saw the orcas passing by. I mean, you’re fossicking on the beach, you suddenly look up and here is a beautiful pod of whales taking off parallel with the beach. Absolutely delightful; so that’s just my day out. I’ve found dead sharks on the beach, and not only that, but the beaches are almost isolated – you’ve got it almost all to yourself. You know, you can look; and sometimes if you say, “I want to walk on a piece of beach that nobody else has walked on” – so simple, because you can see there’s no foot marks, anything. So the beaches here are just fabulous; and for me, it’s not that I’m anti-social, it’s just that a beach which is empty and quiet and peaceful is a joy.

It’s the best.

Following all of that, I have taken off to places down Whirinaki and past that area – I can’t even remember the names of the beaches. For instance, I’ve got a heap of stones sitting there which I’ve got a project on at the moment, which when I was in the South Island I actually stopped at a lovely little quiet deserted beach and found it covered with white stones; beautiful stones. So I picked a couple of bags so I’m making a project out of those. So as I said, there’s always something to do.

And you’re doing your own bottling; you haven’t mentioned that.

Okay.

Did you do a lot during that lockdown period?

Well, to be very honest, I mean I was on my own; and I mean some people were taking off for a walk – I was going off for a walk, and I found people were leaving fruit outside the gates. In fact in a couple of instances I stopped and said, “You’ve got fruit for Africa – could I have some?” You know, whatever they were. And most people said, “Yeah, help yourself.” So I came back and I made chutney, jams, everything else; eventually I found a heap of lemons floating around; all sorts of fruit, so I learnt how to make my own jams, marmalades. There was grapefruit, lemons, limes … oh, other fruits which I couldn’t even put a name on them … and then of course the chutneys. So yeah, I got stuck in and made them. And if I come across any fruit for free I’ll make it; other than that I don’t bother because I’ve got more than I can …

More than you can use?

Exactly.

Yes. So now the ongoing effects of Covid-19 … how do you think the government is dealing with it?

It’s a very complex situation. I mean, I’m actually a little bit in awe of how well New Zealand has dealt with it. I think there’s certain things of course … we are a small country, it’s difficult to get the infrastructure going, but generally speaking I’m quite content with the way things have been handled. In terms of the lockdowns and so on and so forth, it’s been manageable; I mean, because the supermarkets were all open. As I said, we are so lucky; the beaches are isolated – it didn’t stop anybody going for a walk down the beach, it didn’t stop anybody going for a walk through the parks; so you had all the space in the world. So I think there’s two things – one is, I think politically it was well handled, and I think that we are just geographically able to handle it well because we have space, we have parks, we have beaches. And so yeah, I’m quite happy with the way that was worked.

And the after effects of the fruit pickers not being able to come from the Islands, and yet everybody here is on pensions …

Yeah, but that gets political, doesn’t it? Well, I mean I … for the sake of argument, I went for an interview for a job some weeks ago, only because I wanted something part time to keep me busy. I was offered a full time position fruit picking. Now, before I got out of bed at six in the morning and got home about seven at night or eight at night, whatever … I mean they wanted me to be there twelve hours a day, which I couldn’t have done as it happens, but nevertheless; and I said, “Well here’s the problem.” I mean, I didn’t mention that, but when I started thinking about it and then realised I can only earn about $100 … well, I wasn’t being paid that much on the job; I mean when we talk about apple pickers and what-have-you, we’re talking about people on the basic wage. You earn a few dollars if you’re on a pension, and you start losing your pension. So all in all I’m assuming that if I’d put forty hours in in a week I’d’ve make about ten bucks [$10] an hour, and I just didn’t feel it was worth it for that; I mean after paying the tax and so on. So all in all I just said, “No, I’m just not interested.” But at least I was given an offer, and it’s very nice to be given an offer of a job at my age. [Chuckle]

Your wife’s name was Herbert, so have you been to Herbertville?

It’s not the same family. But if anybody is driving through … oh, dear, dear, dear, dear … what’s that wonderful little town? Eketahuna … if anybody ever drives through Eketāhuna, I think it’s probably still there – probably without doubt in fact, the biggest shop in Eketāhuna is Herberts; that is the family. And yet they’re near Herbertville but it had no relationship to it. But the whole family on my wife’s father’s side, they were early settlers, sort of middle 1800s, in the Eketāhuna area. My mother-in-law … my wife’s mother … she was a Londoner, and came out as a kid; I think her father had died early; mother had a bunch of kids living in the east end of London. And they just put them on a ship, came out here and never looked back. So yeah, there’s still some of that basic family still alive, strangely enough. My wife’s cousins are still floating around in the South Island somewhere.

And what about your daughter, you’ve got a daughter and son-in-law? I do.

Do they live locally here?

They do.

And they’re still here?

Yes, still here, exactly … just the way it’s worked out. I came to Hawke’s Bay; my daughter was born actually in Christchurch, but she went to school here … can’t even remember which schools. And it wasn’t a big wrench when her husband got a job offer down here, so they left Auckland, came down as well and she’s never moved. So she owns her own home here and …

Children?

She has two children. They’re in local schools etcetera, so all in all we’re definitely Hawke’s Bay-ites now. I don’t think we have any interest in moving. But of course, you know, we’re so lucky, because I’ve still got my driver’s licence; I can jump in the car and travel anywhere I want, whenever I want if that’s the case. I can head off to Napier when it suits me. Sometimes I take the daughter and my granddaughter and we’ll head off to Waipukurau, Waipawa; or stop in at the wetlands and have a walk around there. So there’s some lovely little towns which have retained some of their basic character. You know, I mean, you walk down the main street of Waipukurau, there’s no Farmers any more, there’s no Hallensteins … there’s none of these chain stores left really … no Warehouse; and every shop is so individual compared to modern cities. So yeah, I still enjoy my time in Hawke’s Bay.

Thank you. Thank you, Jim, for a very good interview.

My pleasure.

And hopefully we won’t have Covid for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately, as time goes on it’s getting more difficult. [Chuckle]

It is too, and on that note we’ll shut down.

Thank you.

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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