In a dark cool little back street bar in Auckland, New Zealand, Wifey and I were sharing a drink with Karyn. The bar was the Lucha Lounge and Karyn was the owner/manager.
It was late, the punters had gone, the last of the staff were tidying up but Karyn had plonked a bottle of wine on the table and asked us how our travelling around the world was going. We’d travelled through North, Central and South America, Australia and we had driven all the way up from Christchurch to get to this bar. I’d rambled into an idle train of thought about always having to interact with strangers when travelling and how you keep thinking you’ve seen a familiar face when you couldn’t possibly have done. “Then we turned up here and saw you and I thought, ‘I actually do know her’”.
Karyn’s bright thoughtful eyes sparkled and she smiled as she said, “But do you?”
“Do I what?”
There was a twinkle of mischief and sadness so I said, “Obviously not.”
This was 2011 we hadn’t seen Karyn since 1997.
Karyn Cullington worked at the legendary Riverside music venue in Newcastle where remarkable people came and went. Some people made more of an impact than others but there was a genuine sense of sadness when she announced that she was returning home to her native New Zealand. 14 years later she not only welcomed us into her bar but offered to lend us her spare room while we looked for somewhere to live. So we moved in with her for a couple of days where we met her then husband Christian and their cool cat Otis.
Wifey I and I fell in love with Auckland because it is an utterly excellent city and thanks to Karyn we had a local guide, interpreter and facilitator of good times. She introduced us to interesting, creative (often drunk) people, the New Zealand music scene and got us work writing and taking pictures for the local listings magazine. An instant happy life, so suitable and idyllic that we seriously considered staying, provided out of pure kindness. We offered our eternal gratitude by walking up to the Lucha Lounge through the park on a Friday evening to demand she make us one of her wicked, strong margaritas.
On first meeting Karyn you could be fooled into thinking she was quiet to the point of shy but you soon realised she was funny and perceptive, with a fierce independent feminist fire. She was knowledgeable across numerous reference points of films, books and especially music, we chatted for hours, stayed up way too late way too often …
When Wifey and I finally decided we were going to head home to the UK we went out for a last drink. Karyn and Christian dropped us off at our apartment near Auckland’s Sky Tower and she looked so sad our hearts break a little whenever we think of her or Auckland – we named our summer house in Norfolk “Lucha Lounge UK” in her honour.
That twinkling sad warm smile keeps flashing into our heads just now because Christian got in touch to say that Karyn died of a heart attack in Mexico last week.
It never crossed our minds that we wouldn’t see this sweet, wonderful, generous woman again and the realisation is too, too, horrible.
There is a memorial service on Sunday and I hope it is a joyous affair because while her life was too short it was well lived and she will doubtless be remembered by all who knew her with deep, warm affection. If she provides a sharp reminder that we need regularly to tell our friends how brilliant they are then that is another positive effect she has had on the world.
We are unlikely to find the means to get to New Zealand before Sunday so we will raise a glass or six and simply be glad that she was in our lives.