Tucked away in Synagogue Lane (formerly Church Lane) is "The Palms" hidden by rambling vines and foliage it is home to my friend Christopher Vine.
I have known Christopher since I was a little girl, our families both immigrated from England during the 1960s and met in Nelson to become life-long friends. We both share a strong interest in art and historic buildings, with Christopher being my go-to for Nelson history.
After a lovely visit I had with Christopher one day, I thought about the many people who know him (along with those who don't) and find him as fascinating as I do. I thought about how much people would love to see inside his wonderful home and hear some of his stories, so I asked him if I could do a photographic interview with him to share on my blog.
A quote from one of Christopher's friends on her latest visit,
One sunny morning in December I visited Christopher with my camera and note pad for brunch, lunch and conversation. During my four hour stay I asked him a variety of questions, of which he answered honestly with his unique Christopher charm.
Christopher was born in Devonshire and fondly refers to himself as a "Devonshire Dumpling" he studied architecture in London and has a post graduate diploma in the conservation of historic buildings. He tells me he is a master of all trades and a jack of none, to which I say he is a great artist - he immediately corrects me saying "never call me an artist, it is too heavy a title. Call me an illustrator".
Christopher was the site architect on No.10 Downing Street restoration he has also given restoration advice for Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
In 1964 Christopher, his wife and four children emigrated to Nelson New Zealand where they "did the good life" living in Teal Valley with cows, sheep, goats and chickens. He tells me he "took up pottery to put a thin smear of magarine on a dry crust"
Christopher talks openly about his sexuality. He tells me he has huge admiration for his wife whom he describes as a remarkable woman, but says that around 40 years ago he had to release the burden of carrying around a deeply buried secret: that he was gay. He revealed this to his wife and they divorced. She was able to remarry a wonderful man with Christopher remaining a good friend. Coming out as gay in the late 1960s - early 1970s was a big deal as homosexuality was still illegal. Christopher put himself to action, joined the gay rights coalition and helped decriminalise homosexuality.
Something that kept Christopher out of trouble along with illustration was writing - he wrote columns for newspapers such as The Sunday Star, Dominion and the Nelson Evening Mail. I remember his columns well as they were witty, insightful, informative and extremely popular.
In 1992 Christopher published "Nelson Observed" one of my favourite books which contains hundreds of observational illustrations of the Nelson region with historic information.
Nelson Observed - Portraits of a New Zealand Province. Christopher B. Vine.
Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to this fine book:
On the 15th December 1992 Christopher and his family suffered a great loss. While in the late stages of pregnancy with a baby girl, Christopher's daughter Alison and her unborn child passed away in hospital after battling an infection. I remember Ali well, she often babysat my sister and me in Brook Street where she lived with her daughter Rhea. Ali was the first person in my life, other than my great grandmother to die and I remember being rather disturbed by this along with the fact that my Mum didn't pick me up from school holiday camp to attend Alison's funeral.
I think house-work is about one of the last things on Christopher's mind, but he does have a simple strategy to give visitors the impression he does think about it. What he explained to me was simple - Keep your vacuum cleaner out at all times, strategically placed for maximum exposure to visitors. This way you can say to them "Oh I was just about to vacuum"
Another cause that Christopher strongly supports is Voluntary Euthenasia - particularly of older people. He is also a member of the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) which is a group of retired people who want to do something different with their time and mind. The U3A is all over New Zealand and the Nelson group of over 300 members enjoy get-togethers for interesting activities and adventures.
I love visiting "The Palms" - (named by the previous women who lived there) is such a treasure trove of odds and ends, bits and pieces, junk and treasures. Fourteen years ago when he brought it, Christopher said the place was "bulldozer food, nobody wanted it" but with the help of student job search workers he renovated it - Christopher style of course, this was not your everyday renovation. Whenever he saw an abandoned or demolished building he flew in like a magpie and enquired about the left over "rubbish" which he relieved people of. Thus he acquired an eclectic mix (mostly for free) of intriguing materials and embellishments and has incorporated these doors, windows, alcotraves, timber in delightful ways. One's eye is never short of something to gaze upon.
The property at "The Palms" contains many a little resting spot or cubby hole/hide out, so it is now an adventurous location for children and adults alike. One of his resting places/projects is "Crystal Palace" made from bricks which were brought out on the boat Fifeshire, a ship that was wrecked in the Nelson Harbour in 1842. The bricks were salvaged and used to build a cottage in Domett Street and are now a part of a little space where Christopher likes to drink gin and tonic in the evenings.
This is a man with an infinite abundance of rich and glorious stories to tell, and he tells them so well. Thank you.
I finish Christopher's interview with one last question: "What would your Epitath read?" I ask "Enough."
Special thanks to,
Christopher Vine and Evelyn Davis