Wednesday, 25 November 2020


How writing changed the course of a young Whitianga man’s life

It’s sometimes said there is a book waiting to be written in us all. It’s that golden opportunity to put into words and share that unique untold story or once in a lifetime adventure. But while the subject lines may be easy to imagine, it’s often a struggle translating them into meaningful words that create an interesting read for others. And for many first-time authors, success is not always measured in in terms of copies sold.


One example is former Mercury Bay Area School student, Tim Foote. Never a top scholar at school and from a young age pretty much making his own way in life, at 16 he decided to leave school and hitchhike to Auckland to take on a composite boat building apprenticeship. But before leaving home he had, among other things, managed to write-off a family car through speeding and rode a motorbike off an 8m cliff in the dark while intoxicated.

Trouble would also follow him to Auckland where two more vehicles were written off and he was arrested for drunk driving, which resulted in losing his license for six months. He justified his decision to continue driving while disqualified, saying he needed the car to ensure he turned up for work and drove only in peak hour traffic to help avoid police checks. He certainly had the work-hard play-hard attitude to life. 

After finishing his apprenticeship, Tim headed overseas to experience new countries and cultures. That free-spirited attitude to life would continue in many different countries around the world over several years, but would eventually catch up with him. After being arrested for overstaying his welcome in the USA, he was held for several months in a San Diego Correctional Immigration Detainee Centre.

It was a place where regular mundane routine eventually became monotonous and depressing while he waited for the authorities to slowly work through his case and finally put him on a plane back to New Zealand. But as it turned out, his enforced say at this facility represented a major positive turning point in Tim’s life took place. Sick of watching confrontational basketball games between inmates and playing endless rounds of dominoes, he turned his attention to writing about his many years of travel since departing New Zealand. The use of English grammar and putting flowing words together on paper were never one of his strong points, but he was not deterred. After all, correcting mistakes and poor punctuation could be sorted out later. The initial priority was downloading his life story from his head onto paper.

Tim’s stationary consisted of coloured paper and a half pencil. Full length pencils were not allowed as they could be used as a weapon. And the more the pencil was sharpened the shorter it became which meant writing soon becoming more difficult resulting in regular purchases of half pencils from the food store. 

In his book, Tim describes the pleasure he took from writing. Apart from taking the occasional break during the day to stretch the legs, he would begin writing after breakfast and continue until lockdown at 9:30pm. He also talks about the improvement in his mental wellbeing and health during this time.  As the memories flowed onto paper, his mind would often drift back to some far away country, remembering who he met, what things smelt and tasted like and the conversations he had had with different people. The more he absorbed himself in the writing the less he felt locked up with nowhere to go.

Tim’s book covers many adventures including visits and stays in Europe, the USA, England, Canada, Scotland and Wales. He cycled many kilometres with a trailer in tow, surfed, hitchhiked, and motor cycled through many of those countries. He went looking for work to make ends meet and to be able to continue to travel and party hard. Along the way, as readers will come to expect, he was often asked to explain himself to authorities. He pulls no punches in the book and tells it the way it is.

Tim is currently living in Australia but retains a strong attachment to New Zealand and Whitianga in particular. His book, “It’s Just a Ride,” will have a select audience, but he deserves credit for doing something many would have thought way beyond him. His story may well inspire others who have lost their way, but for Tim, the most important outcome it seems is that he inspired himself.

Pictured: Tim Foote during an adventure in Greece.


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