My Hometown: Westport

Carters Beach, Westport
From My Hometown, 8:00 am on 14 January 2024

Everything in great Aunty Shirley's bedroom is a shade of pink. No one is really allowed in there. Not even great Uncle Hughie. Except when he brings her breakfast.

His real first name is Eugene, but no one ever calls him that. He doesn't give off Eugene vibes. He wears Stubbies year-round, an open-necked shirt with a white singlet underneath. Some tufts of his white chest hair poking out.

He started his working life on boats, as a cook. He is always happiest in their tiny kitchen, tea towel over his shoulder, pushing some crayfish into a pot or cooking a steak while listening to the races on Radio Pacific.

By the time me, my twin and our younger brother arrive he is working at the cement works, doing something in the laboratory. He doesn't give off laboratory vibes either.

Sean (left, with beach ball) and Glen Scanlon at Carters Beach, Westport.

Sean (left, with beach ball) and Glen Scanlon at Carters Beach, Westport. Photo: Glen Scanlon

Every year on his birthday, which is the same day as dad's, mum makes him Cornish pasties. He loves Cornish pasties. His single, monastic, bedroom is on the other side of the lounge which has strongly patterned carpet, photos of our family, the dogs and the replica Constables.

Aunty Shirley is mostly retired when we are kids. She was the manager of Truman's, the posh local clothing shop. They didn't sell stubbies. Uncle Hughie wore trousers back then. Some would say Aunty Shirley stole his. He dotes on her; they can argue like nothing. He loves to tell stories about how wild they were. She blushes and tuts. We do too. When it rains, she wears a plastic bag over her blow-wave getting from the car to the house. Her nickname is the Duchess. She enjoys it.

Hughie and Shirley O'Keefe, celebrating their joint 80th birthdays.

The duchess and her Stubbies-wearing hubby: Hughie and Shirley O'Keefe, celebrating their joint 80th birthdays. Photo: Glen Scanlon

Their little boy Michael died a few hours after birth. They didn't have another. Their love and generosity are showered on our mum and her brother, then us. Uncle Hughie puts a big price on generosity. He's got a special range of phrases for people who aren't. You don't want to be referred to as being "tight as a fish's arsehole" or "having gorse in your pockets".

Their small house, 80sqm if you are lucky, is on Marine Parade, Carters Beach, south of Westport. There's a dairy a block away, playing field and kids' fort across the road, some dunes and then the beach. A small slice of heaven. The sea is the soundtrack to their house, with its always unlocked sliding door.

Despite the space across the road, we play cricket on their tiny front lawn. Cricket by yards not the backyard. But that's for after the beach.

Look both ways at the road, then dash across the field. Hopefully there aren't any prickles. Mum and Aunty Shirley somewhere behind. She doesn't do quick, like hurrying is not decorous.  Her swimming costume is bright yellow. Uncle Hughie doesn't come to the beach unless it's time to walk the dog. There's a lot of beach here - as far as the eye can see. Plenty for a hungry spade and bucket. Dig first, swim after. Good chance to get really crispy in the punishing 80s sun. We're always on the lookout for jellyfish but Aunty Shirley is oblivious to their long tentacles as she bobbles up and down.

Glen Scanlon and daughter Eve Scanlon, Carter's Beach, Westport.

Glen Scanlon and daughter Eve Scanlon at Carters Beach, Westport, January 2024. Photo: Lucy Corry

We'd stay at the beach all day if we could but there's some Sparkling Duet or ginger ale waiting in their fridge. And some leftover roast potatoes Uncle Hughie is reheating. The roasted chicken's wishbone will be there too - for us to pull apart and dream big.

At the end of the day, Dad turns up from working in the hardware store. He's not a beach man after nearly drowning twice. He'll have a Steinlager with Aunty Shirley while Uncle Hughie drinks DB Export. As we leave, they wave from the front deck. Uncle Hughie saying, "see you in the soup".

Hughie and Shirley are buried in the cemetery on the aptly-named Utopia Road, near the beach on the other side of Westport, with their son. Today we take our daughter to Carters Beach and I think of them.

Glen Scanlon is RNZ's chief performance officer.

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