It's a leap year. Six writers describe how they might spend that extra day.
One day I'm going to rearrange the pot cupboard. One day I'm going to weed that corner by
the clothesline and plant crocuses. One day I'm going to die.
I imagine myself then, with all the time in the world but the saucepan for peas is already snugly inside the saucepan for potatoes and what's a woman to do with so much eternity? When my hands are no longer tangible, I bet I wish I'd spent that one day undressing a lover. On a wild beach by myself with a book. Under an umbrella, looking at the creases around my friends' eyes, flooded with certain gratefulness that they really knew me.
February 29 is a free pass. It is, literally, that one day. Not long enough to finally go to Egypt and stand tiny against solid history, or to spot a tiger striping through the jungle scrub in Rajasthan but it is not a Monday and so I don't have to work or even wake. It is extra time. A commodity, like broccoli stalks, that we are urged not to waste. I imagine a clock and I wonder, where are they putting those extra ticks? How do I keep an eye on them? My waste of time is another woman's crocus garden.
The reason I still think about landmark film The Neverending Story 35 years after I first saw it is the pure moment - let's call it art, because it is - when our protagonist Bastian throws open the big, ornate bookshop door, runs inside, closes the door behind him, hears the passing footsteps of the bullies who have been chasing him, breathes a sigh of relief, looks up to see stacks of invitingly dusty old books, then spends the rest of the movie reading, with a blanket over his head.
For me, that scene, a compression of all that's good in the world, is where I'd like to spend my extra day. To be clear, I don't want anything to do with the rest of the movie, with its furry dragons and heavy-handed metaphors.
Should relevant PR people be reading and interested in 1800 words of insightful coverage, that scene also has accessible real-world equivalents: a first-class cabin on a long-haul flight, a bespoke bean bag in a shaft of sunlight under a skylight in the loft of a luxuriously appointed country cottage, a hammock on a shady beach on a private island (not Richard Branson's).
At the heart of each of these fantasies is one thing: the removal of the need to interact with other people, with their incessant need to say what they see.
I would have a book, access to hot chips with aioli, flowing mint-centred dark chocolate and the possibility of a fruity cocktail late in the day. The book would speak truth, be formally daring and include at least some untranslated French I don't understand.
There would be no sense of excitement, at least not in the traditional sense, no potential for drama, no tension and no bullies - by which I mean my children.
"Time, time, time in a sort of Runic rhyme," mused Edgar Allan Poe in his poem The Bells. But then he ruined it with the line: "Bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells," so it's probably a waste of time, time, time wondering what he meant by it. Understanding time isn't really a thing. We can put it in order and give it fun names like noon and Friday as though it were cats, but like Fleetwood Mac, it goes its own way, as fast or slow as it likes. There's never enough of it and yet it piles up behind us, dragging down skin and good intentions, building up the laundry pile.
An extra day though, that I can grasp. An extra day in February, the best summer month, already reddening into autumn. An extra day before March and that other march, that of relentless time. A tiny holiday, a reprieve from eternity. Another day for my little daughter to jump off jetties into my arms. One more shopping day before Christmas. I could have used an extra day that time I turned up in Picton on a Wednesday for a Tuesday ferry sailing: time and tide wait for no one - and neither does ticketing. Holidays are all about time. The days flit past, shiny and capricious. The flight home a shadow looming over them, growing every minute until it finally blocks out the sun. What you wouldn't give for just one more day … at least that's what you say but what you wouldn't give is the fees to change the booking. Time, unfortunately, is money. But as if to mock you, 24 hours on a plane really renews your concept of how incredibly long a single day can be. Eternity without reprieve - and the boarding bell tolls for thee.
I'm going to direct an opera. Nothing too showy, it doesn't have to be Aida with elephants. A common old love story with tragic death by consumption will do fine. I know, it'll be quite hard to do in just one day but I've always wanted to do this and now seems like a good time.
Although, to be fair, I've done absolutely nothing in my whole life to prepare myself for this task. I don't think just listening to the music really counts.
Fly to the Moon? Tintin did it when I was a child and then real people did as well and I'm still confused about why, in my lifetime, it hasn't become a regular thing.
So what I'm most keen to do is organise a flash mob to dance How You Doing, by the Front Lawn. Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair, riffing on New Zild male conversation only 31 years ago, so fine and so funny. And so danceable. You can google it.
Harry: Oh, How you doing. I haven't seen you for
Don: It's quite a while isn't it?
Harry: What are you up to these days?
Don: Oh, keeping busy, how about you?
I think I'll need about 200 people, more would also work and it would be one of those dances where everyone sweeps forward, step step sweep with an extended foot, step away step away, sweep again. You may have realised I know nothing about dance.
Possibly I've left it too late to organise a whole flash mob for right now, today, so I'm putting it out there: if no one has organised for this to happen before the next leap day, I'm definitely doing it. Shona McCullagh, dance maestra and incoming director of the Auckland Arts Festival, I'm looking at you.
I'd spend the day driving. In a car, which would be amazing, because I don't own a car on account of the fact I don't know how to drive. But there I am, driving a car for the whole 24 hours. It's a Jaguar. No, it's a Toyota Corolla. Certainly it's got four wheels and I've got the radio on – I've got the power of the AM sound. I'm driving past every house I ever lived in. I'm stopping to offer old people a lift. I'm leaning against the car and talking knowledgeably about engines and what's in them with a mechanic – I stopped in to buy some hubcaps or something. I'm parking outside the dairy to get a packet of cigarettes. I'm on a hairpin bend, climbing the Kaimai Ranges. I'm overtaking a Kenworth truck at 3am near Greymouth. I'm being careful of black ice on the Desert Road and not seeing a soul for hours on the Maniopoto. I'm driving into the past. It's 1981, in the Manawatu and a girl with a beauty mark on her hip is sitting in the passenger seat of her green Hillman Hunter, which actually is my green Hillman Hunter. No, it's 2005 and I'm taking a girl with pellucid blue eyes in a rental car to the Far North. I'm driving into the future. It's a future where I look back on a lifetime of driving. It was a better life than the one I led on my own two feet. I'm stopping to offer myself a lift. But I get out of the car, and we say to each other, "Nah. It's a nice day. Let's just walk."
"I just want your extra time and your ..." sang Prince. A covetable commodity, followed by a kiss. "Time takes a cigarette, puts in your mouth," sang Bowie, on time slipping away. Pink Floyd on the futility of concerning yourself about time slipping away, in Time. "Time is on my side. Yes it is." Irma Thomas made that a timeless masterpiece. Today I will sit with my imaginary turntable and, with all the records in that box I asked an ex-boyfriend to look after for me 25 years ago and that I never re-claimed, I will sit and play. There is Joni Mitchell in there, singing Court and Spark, and there is Goat's Head Soup by the Stones, Depeche Mode, Aural Sculpture by The Stranglers, followed by the Jam. "I've got a pocket full of pretty green." I'll pull it all Together with Louis and Ella. And I will tell my children about the grandparents they never met, who'd dance around the kitchen, knowing all the words, crooning and crushing on each other, oblivious of the little time left. I would play for the living in the living room and I would play loud enough for the dead. Ashes to Ashes, dust to Lady Stardust. I would play While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Jeff Buckley for my sister 12,000 miles away and she would hear it. I would play every one of those ancient albums. I would play until I was out of time.