Archive for February, 2007

The Big Trip – Day 17

Mostly listening to: some random jazz stuff in starbucks
Eating: dodgy chinese food
Coffees: mucho grande lattes
Place names of the day: armagh st/sydenham/belfast – all in christchurch

Si managed a total of 14 and a quarter hours in bed last night. Though that’s more than just a night. He has a capacity for sleep unrivalled. I was too hot in the sleeping bag and too thirsty from the indian we had last night. I had a bad night’s sleep.

We got up at 1105. The latest i’ve been up in NZ since I came here. Again it was grey and a bit cold. Weather has not been kind to us in christchurch. We went to a nearby beach and walked along the front and it felt a little bit like newcastle on a cold day. Not quite what we had planned.

Talked about how we’d improve ducks. This mostly involved redesigning them with bowler hats, canes and possibly a monocle.

The afternoon, I spent between a bookshop and starbucks, while si and ruth got their souvenir shopping done. I could spend a lifetime between bookshops and coffee places. Though no matter where you go, there’s always someone sitting in the comfy sofas, like they live there or something.

I bought the rather ambitiouslt titled ‘a short history of the world’, coming in at a tidy 665 pages. I never really liked history at school and anyhow it was only ever about some irish blokes and the spanish armada. Now I have a bit more interest. If only for getting the answers in pub quizes and being able to say that i’ve read world history.

Si and ruth are playing cards. Or rather ruth is beating simon at cards. They play either rummy or some kind of competitive speed solitaire that I don’t understand. So far simon has thrown one tantrum and thrown all his cards away, and currently he appears to be strangling morsies. Wedded bliss. He now appears to be sulking. Most entertaining. Oh, he’s just lost again…

The Big Trip – Day 16

Mostly listening to: (DJ Morsies on the ipod) the feeling, the fratellis, damien rice, jose gonzales, the magic numbers.
Sleeping on/in: a bunk bed in a ‘lodge’ in a holiday park. Has very much a halls of residence vibe. There’s even some pumping bass coming through the walls now… It’s 9.10pm, can you not see we’re trying to sleep?!?…
KMs: 3460
Coffees: two huge ones. Winner
Eating: indian (from restraunt called two fat indians)
Weather: cloudy, just started raining. Not amused.
Place name: Belfast (suburb of north christchurch)

Our volcanic paradise was a bit different this morning. Covered in cloud it just wasn’t the same. We took a rather scenic, if not undrivable, alternative route into christchurch.

Right at the beginning of the drive I noticed a new wee lamp on my indicators on the dash. Kind of like a genies lamp. Rubbing it brought forth no genie. Next option was to be low on oil.

Now i’m not particularly good on car maintenance. I have a perfectly good father for that kind of thing. And the car is a little (10000 km or so) overdue for a service and even a wash. So the oil light came as little of a surprise.

So like men we popped the bonnet and looked at what was under the hood for a while. There was a small family of possums and some dirt from 1972 and this dirty great thing known commonly as ‘the engine’. We nodded knowingly, as men do.

The problem with the car is it’s japanese. So the manual is in japenese. So when the light comes on telling you to look up pg 37 of the manual then it’s not much use.

We dipsticked the oil (i can do that much) and found that the level wasn’t where it was meant to be – between the two marks. In fact it was not even on the dipstick at all. Not good.

We went to petrol station and talked knowingly about oil to eachother in the shop, neither of us having a clue what to buy. The shopkeeper (a middle aged woman) came over and pointed us away from the screen washer we were erroneously looking at, towards the oil. And after she’d persuaded simon that buying oil for a petrol car would be better than the diesel he had in his hand, we were off.

Next problem was getting the stuff in. I found the oil cap easily enough. It was helpfully marked ‘oil’. The problem was getting it in without spilling it over the hot engine. This was where the manual really came in helpful, as rolled up it made an excellent funnel.

Done with the oil, we proceded to check a few other things. Which wasn’t so much checking as asking eachother ‘what do you think this bit does then?’ give me a human body any day. Not that I understand them any better, just that that they’re more likely to tell me!

We found a tupperware type tub, similar to the one for the windscreen washer fluid. It was marked simply coolant and in someway connected to the radiator. Using the the brain cell between us, we figured it was for cooling the radiator. Though the tub was completely empty and gave the impression it had been for some time. Car seems to work without it anyhow.

Car maintenance 101 over, we hit the road.

Spent the afternoon in christchurch, drinking coffee in the square and walking round the botanic gardens watching ducks.

Ducks have featured rather heavily in this holiday. Partly because they’re the only creatures that don’t want to run away when si tries to befriend them. I have to say that it’s rubbed off on me, and I could now quite happily spend an afternoon watching ducks in the park.

We did see a rather ‘plumpish’ couple feeding the ducks and considered that maybe they were trying to lure the ducks to capture and eat them. Dear knows what they thought we were up to – si was trying to sneak up on sleeping ducks so he could pick one up.

I imagine there’s laws against that kind of thing. Though I supose it would be a point of interest in your CV – criminal record – twice arrested for duck lifiting…

The Big Trip – Day 15

Mostly listening to: barenaked ladies (three albums in a row), muse (black holes and revelations), polyphronic spree (both in sequence as they were meant to be)
Sleeping on/in: lovely wee cabin in a volcanic crater near christchirch
KMs: 3250
Eating: mussels/lamb/crème brulè
Coffees: at least 3
Weather: stunningly sunny and warm till we decided to eat out side and then the clouds rolled in big style
Place name of the day: mount misery

Half of the east coast of the south island done in one day. Pretty good going. I was developing a pressure sore (from the position on the accelerator) on my right heel by the time we made it to akaroa.

I still love driving. Give me a full tank and a full ipod and i’m a happy man. I could drive all day beofre getting even in the slightest bit bored. Maybe I should have been a lorry driver. Though the obesity and the haemoroids would put me off.

I’ve put the poor wee RVR (the car) through a lot. Poor thing. It needs a service and some new tyres. And perhaps a clean. But then, it’s been six months so far and hasn’t been cleaned. I’m not hugely into cars in any way. I like pure functionality. Dependability. My next car will be a 1980s volvo or audi estate. Big old battered thing for all the kids and the dog I don’t have.

Akaroa is a tiny wee village in the crater of a volcano just east of christchurch. It’s not been a volcano for quite a while now. In fact I think it’s losing its touch and seems much happier the way it is. It managed to form itself a natural harbour when it blue so now there,s good fishing and dolphins swim round the crater too. Nature does weird things eh?

We’ve managed to get a lovely wee cabin in a camp site overlooking the harbur. We’ve kind of given up on the camping. Sand flies being a big reason. Plus we’d spent so little money on accomadation so far that we figured we could splash out a little near the end.

And yes i’ve said it. The end. Si and ruth leave in three days and I have to make my way back north and back to work. Normal everyday life (whatever that may be) seems a long time ago, and a long way away.

The Big Trip – Day 14

Mostly listening to: dave matthews band, the frames
Sleeping on/in: same place as yesterday. Though have moved inbetween.
KMs: not much more than what is was
Coffees: two. Hadn’t had one by lunch and was getting a sore head
Weather: sunny

Dunedin is famous for speight’s beer. One of the top points in the lonely planet was the tour of the brewery. Always up for trying anything.

Facts learned. One: hops comes as pellets resembling dog food. Two: breweries have a tendency to explode.

Spent the afternoon at tunnel beach. Aptly named. Some guy in the old days (insert historical date as appropriate) liked the beach so much he got his servants to cut a tunnel from the cliff down to the beach so that he wouldn’t have to take a boat there. I need to get me a title and some servants. Seems like the way forward.

Spent the evening reading. Well me and ruth did. Si spent the day unsettled that there was no one to play with him.

We’ll put that down as a quiet day.

The Big Trip – Day 13

Mostly listening to: van morrison (live in san francisco), spin doctors (pocket full of kryptonite)
Sleeping on/in: cabin in a holiday park
KMs: 2680
Coffees: 1, plus a cup of tea i’m currently enjoying
Weather: windy, very windy. sunny
Beard up date: made a lunge for my throat this morning, so it had to go. Was definitely going ginger.

The place we stayed in last night was decent enough. A tad cold. plus the fact it only had one shower for about 25 people. We decided we’d try somewhere else. So we’re back in a cabin in a holiday park. Lovely stuff. Has a tiny fridge in it that goes ‘doyng’ every time the compressor comes on. Makes us giggle every time. Reminds me of cartoon knicker elastic snapping. Not sure what that says about me though.

Doyng…

Took a trip round the otago peninsula, which juts out from the south of dunedin. Beautiful place. Managed to visit an albatross colony (which was very windy) and 2 sea lions. The sea lions we just came across while walking across a deserted beach. Kind of a pleasant surprise. Got to within 5m or so of them and then felt bad about scaring them. Simon, i’m sure, isn’t a pretty sight to a sea lion trying to have a kip.

Went looking for penguins but with no joy. Apparently wrong time of year.

Doyng…

In the end we rolled up to one of the main surf beaches and took the kayak out on the waves. Surfers hate kayakers so we tried to stay as far as we could away from them. Plus me and si were in charming matching wetsuits and looked completely amateurish, so the further away from anyone the better.

Surf-kayaking is a recognised international sport. Si and ruth are actually friends with the world champion of surf-kayaking. He’s a biolgy teacher from norn iron. Gets to go and compete all round the world. I think it’s the way forward, become really good at a sport no one else knows about.

When I decided to (or rather ended up in by chance and default) medicine, my GP said to become a specialist. To specialise in a small area and to continue to know more and more about a certain small field. And as you specialised and you knew more and more about less and less, then eventually you’d reach the point where you knew everything about nothing.

Doyng…

The kayaking was fun. We got trashed by every wave in sight. Si kept getting whacked on the head by the kayak when he came out. Not the safest of sports. But we were kids again playing in the sea. It was cool.

Back at the cabin, we got a chinese (weird, no prawn crackers, no fried rice and lots of cabbage in the satay. What is the world coming to?), and played scrabble.

Morsies pulled out ‘stormed’ as the first play of the game, using all her letters and getting a 50 point bonus. Game over, move one.

So me and si just grumbled and moaned and tried to make out that she cheated. She ran home with a 245 point victory. Makes you sick… Made si even sicker, he’d just been beaten in table tennis by her.

Doyng… (tee hee hee…)

I used to huff something shocking when it came to scrabble as a kid. I was the youngest in the family and therefore the thickest. And I always struggled in the earlier bits of the game. And then the huffing would start. I’d sulk, cause I wasn’t getting my way, i’d play crap on purpose, and put down nothing but three letter words in a show of contempt. I remember once quitting in a huff and going and sitting in the loo and crying after one. This was not nearly as long ago as you might think.

Pride. Always pride. My ego, and my need to be right, to be better, to have attention and approval. I don’t get so upset about scrabble as I used to. I’ve moved on to bigger and better things to be a complete self-centred prick about.

If it was only scrabble then I could probably laugh at myself (the one thing the devil cannot take is to be mocked…). But now my head (and heart) sees myself as much too important to laugh at. That my petty little wants and desires are far too important to stand back and laugh at.

When I make it to where i’m going – and i’m sure I will, cause someone else is driving… Then i’m gonna spend an awful lot of the time laighing at myself. Laughing at the things I took so seriously.  At all the petty grievances that I let weigh me down. If you could only see yourself…

Doyng…

The Big Trip – Day 12

Mostly listening to: snow patrol, ledd zepplin, jonny cash
Sleeping on/in: a very cold wee room in a house on a hill in dunedin
KMs: 2470
Coffees: 3 so far. Inculding the largest latte (a bowl) i’ve ever seen
Weather: cloudy, bit chilly. Belfast in summer really
Place name of the day: butts rd
Beard up date: prickly with ginger tinges, bit concerned about those really…

Slept and slept and slept some more. When all the sleeping was done, I just lay there for a bit.

Had breakfast in gore. All the cafes said to take off your boots before entering. I could see all the muddy farmers obliging. Good eggs.

Uneventful drive to dunedin. I guess that’s why most kiwis live by the sea or by the big lakes. The bits in the middle of the country are just endless fields of sheep and cows.

Dunedin was founded as a southern hemisphere version of edinburgh. Dunedin being the celtic name for edinburgh. And not unfortunately, named for the band of fighters in the lord of the rings.

It reminds me of belfast. Well the fact that i’m wearing three layers (something i’ve not done since leaving home) reminds me of belfast. Plus it’s a student town and the main shopping street reminded me of the lisburn rd.

Me and si went to the museum. Ruth went to the cadbury factory. I draw no conclusions from that.

The museum was cool. I like museums. Have made a resolution to go to more. They’re mostly directed at children so I like them.

Ruth got free chocolate and cocoa beans. We ate the cocoa beans. They weren’t very nice.

Ended up in the cinema again. If only cause it was cold and grey and we couldn’t think of much else to do. We watched ‘the good shepherd’ which was long and complicated and really quite hard work but ultimately rewarding. Makes me want to read cold war history, though I imagine that will pass.

The cold is all a bit of a shock. We’re in the hostel with nice sheets and blankets but also sleeping bags just in case. Frost bite in summer would be kind of embarassing.

The Big Trip – Day 11

Mostly listening to: sam’s town (the killers), neil diamond (not sure where it came from…)
Sleeping in/on: the firestation backpackers – gore (what a name for a town), on a lovely double bed in my own wee room. All very civilised
KMs: 2400
Coffees: two
Weather: sunny then cloudy
Company name of the day: beyond the fringe – hairdressers
Beard up date: itchy, could swear I saw it twitch this morning…

Woke up on a boat. I thought it was kind of cool. Morsies didn’t get to wake on the boat cause she never slept.

Spent the morning marvelling at milford sound (again) this time it was a bit damper with more waterfalls. Couldn’t turn round for waterfalls in fact. Stunning place.

Made a dash from the boat to the car to avoid the sand flies. Few casualties along the way.

Spent the morning driving back the 2 hr road to the nearest town. Managed to take 5 hours with stops every ten minutes to take photos and short walks while ruth slept in the back of the car – luxury all the way eh?

In the end we drove half way across the south island towards dunedin. In the end, we stopped in gore.

The lonely planet doesn’t have much to say about gore. Which is a bad start. It’s motto is ‘the country music capital of NZ’. Also renowned for it’s line dancing. Also famous for the 10m statue of a trout as the centrepiece – apparently the capital of NZ brown trout fishing too.

In places like this, your expectations are pretty low to begin with, so anything you find is a bonus. ‘oh look a pubic toilet, fancy that, get a photo of me beside it.’

The backpackers we’re staying in is perfectly pleasant. Though it’s for sale and we’re almost the only ones here. There’s one other foreign (by which I mean non-english speaking. I still know i’m a foreigner, I just forget) girl who arrived and seemed to cry when she couldn’t understand the questions the owner was asking her. Felt kind of bad about that, so we hid in the room and then snuck out before she saw us.

Gore is just a single street of about a few hundred metres of shops. We walked the strip, seeing all the sights (yes including the trout) in about 10 minutes. We turned and walked it back again debating the all important ‘where will we eat tonight?’ question. Found a cinema (a flippin cinema and a trout, such bounty…) still showing casino royale so we planned for it at 8.30. We only had two hours to kill. I’m not a violent man, but given a gun i’d gladly have killed them.

We settled on the clean and tidy looking thai restraunt. It was playing, naturally – country music. And it was a cd (including ‘don’t break my heart, my achy-brakey heart’) on a 15 minute loop. There was the usual disturbing photo of a Thai royal family above the counter. Though i’m not sure the thai royal family are still in place since september…

I ordered the starter of ‘battered seafood platter’ and the ‘salt and pepper squid’ for the main. The kind young waitress came back and said there was no squid, but she would substitute prawns.

The starter (remember battered seafood platter) was made up of battered prawns and battered mushrooms and brocolli – those well known sea foods. Anyway it was perfectly pleasant.

My main arrived. It appeared to be a very slightly larger version of precisely what i’d just had. Except with a sprig of salad on top. My heart sank. I confess I couldn’t finish it. I can still (and will for some time) see  the little tails of those battered prawns staring at me.

Having dragged out the prawn fest as long as we could, and even throwing in a walk round ‘the warehouse’, it was still ony 7.30. Entertianment options in gore on a thursday exhausted, we retired to the hostel.

Si and ruth entertained me with some pre-prepared line dancing moves, to the tune of weezer’s buddy holly. It makes me laugh that they dance in the house at home  by themselves. Never in public of course. Spending so much time with them has given me lots of positive and negative views on marriage (the silly dances being of course a positive). Though that was pretty much where I started on marriage so I don’t know if it’s changed much. Just reinforced a lot of what I thought already – Amazed how two human beings can ever put up with each others crazy bits.

Dancing over we hit the cinema. I won the ‘guess how many people would be in the cinema with us?’ question with a bang on 3.

Left at near 11pm and the place was so empty that I felt obliged to turn off all the lights and lock up, and I don’t just mean the cinema…

The Big Trip – Day 10

Mostly listening to: the streets – a grand don’t come for free (simply stunning album, the world needs more story book albums)
Sleeping on/in: bunk bed aboard the milford wanderer. anchored somewhere in milford sound.
Coffees: two good ones. One vile black instant coffee. And I only drank half of that.
KMs: 2100
Weather: pretty cloudy
Place name of the day: knobs flat
Company name of the day: dial a hubby – odd jobs and home maintenance.
Beard up date: like a weasel with radiation poisoning

Covered a lot of ground this morning. Drove from queenstown to milford sound. As the crow flies (though I suspect it has more sense) it’s less than 100km. By road, it’s over 4 hours, half in the opposite direction.

Good drive all the same.

The road to milford sound (a massive fiord/fjorf, seen on all postcards of NZ) is pretty flippin spectacular. I now have neck strain from looking up all the time. And I was driving.

It’s also full of sand flies. Everywhere. Even at sea, there’s clouds of the things. How the flip do they get there? I confess I don’t really understand the life cycle and hopes and ambitions of a sand fly. Though hovering above the sea and being swatted by me was surely not in their plan.

We’re on a cruise. Well it’s a mickey mouse cruise. All our own teeth and original hips so not a proper cruise. It takes us out onto milford sound and all the way out to the tasman sea, spectacular fjords all the way along. It’s a 60 birth boat, full of drunken, noisy, young travellers who are travelling as a group. I suppose that’s who we’re meant to be but i’m not sure we fit in. More on that later.

The boat carries kayaks, and a wee speed boat. Me and si abandoned ruth and kayaked for an hour or so round the place. Tick box checked for something we both wanted to do while in NZ.

We spent most of the time paddling really fast from one side of the sound to the other. Mostly to lose the sand flies. Though they knew they were onto a good thing with us.

The biggest cruise ship in the world sailed past us. The ‘sapphire princess’. It’s the biggest cruise ship in the world cause the captain of our boat told us and he’s a proper captain with a hat and knows these things. He’s even got a proper captain’s chair and all.

It stands 63m out of the water. It carries over 2000 people. The whole scale of the thing amazes me.

I worked with a doc who was a cruise ship doctor for a few years. Worked for over two years and not a single death and then got two on his last cruise. Amazing there’s not more. Cruise ships are full of octogenarians who take so many pills that if you shake them they rattle. And people who have terminal illnesses (though being an ocotgenarian – brief note, morsies thinks an octogenarian is someone who likes octogons – is almost a terminal illness, especially if i’m involved in your medical care) who have sold the house and are seeing the world before they leave this mortal coil.

I like the idea of being a cruise ship doctor. It’s one of my ambitions. Though I perhaps base it too much on TV’s ‘loveboat’. I think it’s the buffets that sell me on it. And bunk beds. I love bunk beds.

The cruise ship doctor fantasy is probably a bit out of character as it’s enforced, corporate happiness on a scale I would normally abhor. I think it’s the possibilty of getting to wear a hat of some kind and a shiny white uniform.

Currently we’re sitting in the lounge/galley of the boat trying to ignore all the (drunken mostly) revelry. There was a group renditon of weezer’s buddy holly a few minutes ago. We’re not revellers. Never have been, never will be. I’m the boring guy at the bar, reading an old novel while the others are dancing on the bar. Theoretcially. I have no intention of going to a pub where dancing is even a possibilty.

I read the paper. Si reads the jonny cash autoboigraphy, occasionally asking for help with the big words. Ruth’s answer to entertainment problems is ‘anyone for a puzzle?’ she’s been carrying one of these puzzler magazines with her. With a disturbed looking child with pig tails on the cover. The girl likes her sodoku.

Perhaps I missed out on the drunken, loud moments of my youth (like i’m not still young, 25 is still young? please say yes…), and I have no regrets about that. Being loud and obnoxious and overly cheery was never a trait I got round to. Being arrogant and snobbish and pseudo-intellectual was more my thing.

Though I lie. Maybe I do have regrets. Maybe i’m just bitter that i’m not much of a party animal. I’m barely a party protozoa, never mind an animal. Maybe I want to be loud and brash and young and drink too much and talk to lots of girls. Apparently that’s meant to be the point. ‘apparently’ has always had a big influence on me.

So maybe I just entered puberty at a social age of 45 with three kids. Feels like that anyhow. I worry far too much about who I think I am, or who I think I should be. I worry about who I might become, and who i’m in the process of becoming.

Somewhere a long the way I manage to get my head out of the sand and catch on that there’s life going on all round me and in the words of red from shawshank ‘get busy living or get busy dying’.

The Big Trip – Day 9

Mostly listening to: steve miller band (the joker), spin doctors
Sleeping on/in: poplar lodge hostle – arrowtown, near queenstown
Coffees: 2
KMs: 1870
Weather: oh so very hot
Company name of the day: a woman’s touch – cleaning services.

Wanaka is a nice wee place. Nice lake, nice lake front, nice scenery. Not too many people. Never a big fan of people.

Anyhow, time to move on.

Today was queenstown. Founded on the basis of a glod rush some 150 years ago. Some guy Hay turned up in search of farm land and converted an abandoned maori raft into a sail boat ans scouted the lake in mid-winter. Then proceded to walk the 230 KM back to dunedin to claim the property rights and found somebody else had beat him to it. Got to be gutted about that. Yes I do read the tourist info signs.

Gold rushes are a weird thing. I can understand the panning thing, or if you happen to find a seam of gold. But people just turned up here and started digging holes and crossed their fingers.

Queenstown is now the archetypal kiwi tourist, adrenaline capital. If you wanted to throw youself off of it, you can throw yourself off of it here. The first commercial bungy jump was here. There’s paragliding, handgliding, waterskiing, wakeboarding, river surfing, canyoning, jet boating and other pointless, silly, moneygrabbing activities that I don’t even understand. And there’s a lot of money in them.

I’m cynical, mostly cause i’m too scared to do any of them. I’ve been to the same bungy site in NZ twice now and have chickened out both times. Bungy jumping is probably one of the safest things you can do here (compared to say mountain biking or driving to work or stealing food or criticising the all blacks), but it’s just the concept of the voluntary jump off the thing. Seems all wrong. Plus, I object to the whole commercialised, advertisement driven push of the whole adrenaline culture. And that sounds like a much better excuse than being a scaerdy cat.

Simon is worse than me (in many ways of course…), watching the other people bungy jump was an adrenaline rush in itself. We then took a gondola up the hill overlooking queenstown and there was a further brown trouser moment. It’s mum’s fault really, she’s kind of scared of everything – heights, flying, enclosed spaces (she wants to be cremated cause she doesn’t like the idea of being in a box). Me and simon are convinced we can blame all the neuroses and insecurities on our parentage, but still claim all the good bits for ourselves. Though I doubt nature/nurture works that way.

And the beard off has come to an end. Simon’s beard (the beard police are tracking us down to prevent the devaluing of the word ‘beard’) has officially come off. To be honest it looked as if a hot meal and some TLC might induce it to crawl off of its own accord. Mine continues in hairy abundance, itchy and looking like a school boys attempt to get into a night club but i’m on holiday ain’t I?

The Big Trip – Day 8

Mostly listening to: jonny cash (in the restaraunt this time)
Sleeping on/in: same place as last night, fancy that
Coffees: 1
KMs: same as yesterday – unmoved
Eating: surf and turf
Weather: up to near 30 degrees or so. Toasty

Si got up an hour or so before the rest of us this morning. Proceded to go on about it all day. Tried to collapse my tent around me just to wake me up cause he was bored.

Had brekkie in a cafe by the lake. Good eggs. Wanaka has this cool wee path along the lake front that has a series of tiles along the whole strip. Each dedicated to a certain year in history, starting at AD 0. Pretty cool idea. Recent years have tiles packed full of NZ history. And then comes the 19th century and it’s all a bit sparse before then. Gaps filled with world history lossely attached to a certian year. 249 BC – christians persecuted. Good to see it only happened for a year then.

Me and si rented a tandem kayak and popped across the lake for a few hours and left ruth with some (emphasis on the some) money and a few shops for the morning.

We made it out to a wee island near the far side with its own jetty. Spent half an hour jumping off the pier like we were 12. Simon trying to teach me how to dive. I never learnt how to dive. Always a belly flopper from an early age. The difficulty comes just as my head goes below my feet and my brain kicks in – ‘hang on there, what’s happening’ and sends a leg or two out in front of me and it becomes an uncontrolled flop into the water. Limited progress today i must say.

Managed not to get too burnt.

Ruth one hand bag the wiser. Spent the afternoon dandering and reading. Simon struggles with this. Not with the actual reading (though he is a bit dim, if it’s not HTML), just the sitting still bit. I struggle too, but can throw the reading thing and silence the manic ‘must do something’ thing. Saving grace was just that it was too hot to do anything except expend all energy in staying perfectly still in the shade.

Took a walk about tea time just for the solitude. Not used to having people around me 24/7. Went and sat on the shore of the lake and tried to bend my head round the sheer beauty of the place. Struggled. Sang though ‘before the throne’ in my head and tried to bend my head round the impossible scale of that. Struggled even further. Gave up and lay down and watched the clouds form in the sky. Managed that.

Travelling like this fills me with all kinds of possibilites. Like i could move here and live and climb every hill in sight and marry a pretty scandanavian traveller (sorry, all these fantasies seem to have pretty scandanavians in them somewhere. Though i’m sure i’d settle for anyone who could find norway on a map. And even that might go in the ‘desired qualifications’ pile. End of digression.)

And so i sit on the shore and try to figure out what myriad of directions that my heart is currently trying to lead me. Trying to slow the thought processes down. Like frame advance on a video. Then holding all of that nonsense before reason, like a polarising filter to see if any of it gets through. Panoramas seem to make that easier. Or at least large bodies of water.

I was definitely better off with the clouds mind you…

The Big Trip – Day 7

Mostly listening to: ricky gervais podcast (finally finshed series 3 and morsies breathes a sigh of relief), van morrisson, iain archer

Sleeping on/in: campsite at lake wanaka.
Coffess: 3
KMs (kilometres): 1650
Eating: lamb sagwahla
Sand fly count: nil – yippee
Newspaper headline of the day: ‘idiot’ catches 1.3m shark with bare hands. (pg 4 of a sunday broadsheet)
Placename of the day: gout creek
Weather: 27 degrees. Sun.

Woke up with the sun. So did the sandflys. Spent the dawn hours killing them one by one with my finger from the secuity of my sleeping bag. Occasonal tactical losses in this battle. Gave up and got out of bed using the ‘burkah’ technique of mosquiot repellant – all layers plus hat.

Left camp and vowed to find motel tonight.

First stop at the glaciers. Franz-josef (or franz-ferdinand as morsies calls it), and fox glacier, (or fox’s glacier mint glacier). Spectacular stuff. Stood at the bottom of fox and marvelled at the sheer scale of the thing. Debated how to pronounce crevasse.

The glaciers just reminded me of a trip i did to the pyrenees mountains. Filled me with the hillwalking/mountaineering bug that has lain dormant in my system for a while now. It was the cold wind off the glacier that did it. I haven’t felt a chill wind since i left ireland. Made me kind of nostalgic for it.

Drove some more, crossing the crazy blue rivers on the one lane bridges – shared by two lanes of cars and occasionally trains.

Left the west coast and headed in land. Spectacular gorges and river valleys on the road toward lake wanaka. The rivers (and i do bang on about this) are spectactularly blue. Crystal clear and other-worldly blue. I think there must be a guy up river adding dye. Me and si sat on the shore and thre rocks at other rocks. I could do that morning to night, no worries.

The road runs by the side of lake wanaka, and it is simply breathtaking. I’m not so good with the superlatives but it was just one of those scenes that will just stick with me forever. Something that’ll get incorporated into all my dream sequences from now on. Moments like that are pretty cool.

Wanaka itself is an alpine ski resort in winter and adventure playground in summer. Pretty cool place really. So cool we may even stay here more than one night and try out that new fnagled concept called ‘the holiday’ that we’ve been hearing so much about.

The Big Trip – Day 6

Mostly listening to: the beatles, bloc party
Sleeping on/in: karry mat, okarita campsite. West coast.
Coffees: 3 and a bit (one was really big)
KMs: 1333
Eating: noodles, grapes
Place name of the day: cesspool gorge
Sand fly count: several million, the annoying wee…

Woke by a splash of water in the face. I’m in a closed tent so that comes as a bit of a surprise. It’s also not raining. But the inside of my tent is covered in water.

I remember watching ray mears survival programmes about if you were in the desert and needed to get water then you’d need to stick a sheet of plastic up overnight and collect the condensation. Turns out my tent is doing precisely that. It did only cost 12 quid. I didn’t expect much.

After towelling myself out, and a quick breakfast we headed to the pancake rocks. This is a wee collection of funny shaped rocks on the coast of NZ. Kind of like the giant’s causeway but not as good.

From there to greymouth. An unpleasant town with a twenty-four hour laundromat in a portacabin. The laundromat was the more pleasant of the two experiences.

Ended up near the glaciers half-way down the west coast. Nicely in the middle of nowhere. It’s a campsite with an honesty box as a pay system. There’s a tiny grassy run way for a tiny unstable plane, meters from our tent. There’s millions and millions of sandflys. What did they eat before we arrived? In order to stop the bites i’ve resorted to socks and sandals. I’ve plastered on oodles of this mossie repellant stuff, that makes your skin burn and would make an elephant’s eyes water at 50 paces.

I’m flapping my arms about like i’ve got a nervous tick, trying to kill the darn things. I think it’s (the tick and socks and sandals and the human being repellant cream) scared off the pretty blonde scandanavian girl in the caravan across the way. Ruining the movie-script romance between us that i was inventing in my head. I was even playing sad songs on the guitar earlier to paint the lonely, troubled soul image. Maybe i need a girlfriend. Or better insect repellant.

The Big Trip – Day 5

Mostly listening to: ray la montagne (not fussed i must say), feeder (buck rogers), morsie’s christian stuff (and me trying not to be arrogant and toff nosed snob – unsuccesful)

Sleeping on/in: carry mat and car mats. Lovely beach camp on the west coast
Coffees: two (one made myself, one proper fancy coffee)
Eating: sweet thai chilli noodles
KMs: 1210
Place name of the day: cape foulwind (way to draw the tourists in)
Weather: sunshine

No ducks this morning. Only germans. Didn’t try the morsies yawn test on them.
Tried to rent a few kayaks for the day but told that they were all booked out and seeing as we’d missed the morning run, we’d still have to pay full price even for a half day. Plus we’d have to go though some safety briefing nonsense about how to paddle a kayak. Not amused. All we wanted were a couple of kayaks.

Have the feeling that ruth may have bribed them into saying there were no kayaks as she’s scared of water (and they call me the dirty soapo?). That’s probably not true i confess. I also confess that i wasn’t nearly as gutted as si was that we couldn’t go. Partly becuase i know i’ll probably be back and will do three or four days of kayaking. Again reinforcing my usual self-centredness and inability to consider the view points of those around me.

Tonight si asked me would i rather be doing this trip by myself – as a joke. But it’s a fair point. I have the tendency, almost compulsion to push people away and seek my own ends above all else. I certainly give the impression that i’d rather be on my own. Whether it’s true or nor.

But then i suppose we just suffer the usual group dynamics and arguments that all travellers do. Like where to stay or where to have lunch. The seemingly insignificant phrases and tones that provoke only contempt.

So. We drove instead. Heading inland and south west, towards the west coast and through the buller gorge. Spectacular scenery, windy roads. All the way down the buller gorge looking for a way to get a walk down to the river. Managed it in the end after hacking through some scrub and bouldering down a tributary. Still worth it.

The west coast is a spectacular place. Sparsely populated with some pretty rugged types. The whole north west section of the south island has something like 6000 people in it (and 5000 camper vans it seems).

I was here on my last trip 3 yrs ago. A 5 day trip in a camper van round the whole south island. A lot of driving. Just as you come down to the coast on the road from westport to greymouth, there’s this spectacular vista, of knife-edge mountains, bush and glorious beaches with rocks sticking out of the sea. A continuous stream of breakers heading in to shore.

I have a photo as the wallpaper on my computer from that beach. Just sand and sea and sun and horizon. And that’s what brought me back to NZ. Well that and lots of other things, including the air malaysia flight that brought me here. It’s a photo i just stare at and glory at the horizon. A western horizon with the sun setting always reminds me of that photo and of the voyage of the dawn treader (CS Lewis of course) and reepicheep making his speech before he paddles off in his corracle.
Dream material. Heaven material. When i think of eternity i think of that. It makes the hairs stand up on my head and my heart leap for joy. Hallelujah, what a saviour.

Joy. Funny old word, silly name for a girl. The only joy i knew growing up was a miserable wee something or other… Probably a bit of an old fashioned word. But it’s the whole flippin point of life. We muck around with all kinds of crap and miss out on real joy. We think we’ve found it in self-satisfaction and self-worship but we’re like kids playing in a muddy puddle with the glorious ocean in full sight.
And that beach, that photo, those memories, the joy reflected in that collection of neuronal impulses is something special. A reflection no doubt. But from a well cleaned mirror.

The Big Trip – Day 4

Mostly listening to: REM, lambchop

Sleeping on: carry mat

Coffees: 2

Eating: grilled snapper

KMs: 790

Shop name of the day: the undie drawer (launduret – i have no idea how to spell that, i figure that’s a good thing)

I slept well last night. The neill family struggled. Apparently there was jack johnston on continual repeat in the bar downstairs and some americans playing chess next door. I slept through it all.

Brekkie in one of the nicest cafes i’ve ever been in. One of those places with posters of old flims that i’ve never seen on the walls. Had eggs benedict. Whoever he was he’s a good lad in my book.

Glorious sunny day, the way NZ looks in the guidebooks. The skies bluer, the suns brighter.

Drove to abel tasman national park on thr north of south island. Tasman was a dutch explorer who was the first (european) to find the place on a trip to find australia (i mean it’s pretty big, surely couldn’t be difficult). He landed on an island off the coast and got attacked (though not eaten) bh some of the locals. He decided that no, it wasn’t the great southern continent that he was looking to discover and left. Cook turned up and got all the glory nearly a century later.

His national park rules. All tropical bush and coastline. Positvely carribean – at least it was today.

We took a water taxi (at high speed, way cool) up the coast and had a lovely 4 hr walk back with a stop for a swim on a golden beach along the way. Stop me if this sounds like an ad, i don’t mean it to.

Sat on the kayak (in the campsite) and read the paper in the setting sun. Quality moment. Tea in the restaraunt attached to the campsite. Further quality moment.
The stars are out tonight. Though if you gave me the north and southern hemispeheres i’d have trouble telling the difference. All very pretty.

Me and si have started a beard-off (morsies not wanting to play) today. The concept of the neill brothers having a beard off will make those who know us laugh. We have three weeks to grow as much facial hair as we can. We expect small furry mammals to move in and make their homes in the beard. Though i imagine most will move out complaining that it was too drafty…

The Big Trip – Day 3

Sleeping on: sweet bed

Mostly listening to: jonny cash, van morrission

Weather: cloud and flippin rain

KMs: 720

Coffees: 2

Eating: lamb on kumara mash

Place name of the day: ianthe forest (i kid not- must be in the pronunciation)

Got up early and made a wee cup of the black stuff on the gas stove i brought with me. There was a kettle in the kitchen about 20 yards away but we all know that wasn’t the point. This is play acting at the full camping experience.

Have killed about a million sand flys (big midges) already. But they keep coming back for more. Have spent the morning (while si and ruth sleep) observing the local widlife. A really cool stick insect has made my wing mirror its home. Though it may have just went there to die – haven’t seen it move yet. In fact it may just be a stick in retrospect.

A slug is very slowly making its slimy way across my windscreen and there’s lots of cool wee birds of indeterminate types plucking insects out of the bushes.
There’s also a family of ducks. At least i presume they were a family, they acted more like two rival gangs but i like to pretend ducks have normal family lives.

Come to think of it, normal family lives can mean gang warfare.

Waddling along came two ducks, proper ducks coloured bits and all. Making a move on my tent to see if it was edible. Following them were two smaller, fluffier ducks. Parents and kids you would think. After a while a squabble breaks out (i’m wandering around the ducks, who seem oblivious to my presence, taking photos of the whole thing like some kind of photojournalist in the middle east.), the kids are making a lunge for the parents, as if to say (and i paraphrase here) ‘that’s my possibly edible tent and kayak, get lost’. Lots of quacking and flapping of wings goes on, ‘your mama’s so fat jokes’ abound. The parents retreat to fight another day.

Next thing the kids turn on me. My initial thought was ‘oh no, not another swan incident’ and i didn’t come out well of that one. I took a step back and they waddled closer, turns out they just followed me wherever i walked. Whether they’d adopted me as their godfather or were just hoping for a free meal i dunno. In the end i sat in the car and started writing this and the two of them (fatty and thinny) have just sat my feet and cleaned themselves and occasionally quacked. Fatty’s a little bit thick and at one point did try to have a nibble on the car. Bless ‘im.

I know i may not be a ‘god amongst men’ but it’s nice to think that i may be a ‘god amongst ducks’. Maybe then i could raise an army of ducks and go and sort out the flippin swans…

Si and ruth woke up and the ducks sat the door of their tent. Ruth yawned and a duck yawned. Proof that yawning is contagious even between species. Simon also fascinated by stick insect so he poked it to make sure it wasn’t a stick. It wasn’t.
Grey day so we drove quite a bit. Made it to ‘farewell spit’, a sandy spit of a peninsula poking westward from the north west corner of the south island. I’d seen it once from a plane flying back from christchurch, and it was spectacular.

Today it wasn’t. It was grey and the tide was out creating not a a narrow strip of san but a huge brown estuary. We persisted and just walked. You can of course organise special 4X4 trips along it but why pay when you can walk it for free. We are norn irish prods remember.

The estuary side of the walk was, to confess a little dull. Found a dead bird, probably a gannet. Simon convinced it was a penguin. I’ve stopped arguing.
We crossed the spit to the ocean side across some of the msot sepctacular and barren sand dunes i’ve ever seen. Old gnarled bits of driftwood scattered everywherem the grey cloud just added to it.

By this stage it was 5pm and we were walking back with no one in site abd to confess – slightly lost. We had no idea how to get back across the hills and bush to the other side of the bush. So we just headed into the bush in the general direction and hoped for the best.

Amazing how much you take paths for granted. At home we cut all the tress down a long time ago, where as here, thev’ve only started that relatively recently. And in lots of places some hairy liberals have got in the way and managed to stop people deforesting the whole place. As a result, large portions of NZ are thick bush. Reeds, ferns, bushes, thorns and trees.

Into this we started. In sandals.

At one point there were almost tears. We’ll not say who. Up one hill down the other, spiky grass sticking everywhere. Thankfully no snakes in NZ (st patrick fairly got around), here would have been a fine place.

Just as we were deciding who to eat first, we stumble onto a track. Prayers answered, tears avoided. No danger of humans for tea.

Morsies has by now entered GI stage and has a big stick and a cap on back to front. Like she’s just got out of nam.

Drive back down state highway 60 (which is one lane in parts and not sealed) wondering when we’re gonna run out of fuel. At least morsies has the stick.

The Big Trip – Day 2

Sleeping on: the car mats as a mattress in a tent

Mostly listening to: jose gonzales, lisa loeb, buena vista social club

Weather: initially cloudy, clearing to glorious sunshine

KMs on clock: 480

Eating: bacon & eggs on toast

Coffees: 2

Humerous shop name of the day: three times a lady (size 16 plus)

Woke in the shed after a great nights sleep and headed into picton for the paper and brekkie.

From picton across the north of the island takes you along queen charlotte drive and through marlborough sounds. A glorious sub-tropical type place, with coves and inlets.

Driving in NZ is a series of 10 minute bursts before the next stop and get out and take a photo. It’s stunning. People have holiday homes dotted around the sounds only accessible by boat

We parked at the start of the big walking track and split the group. I took the kayak round the coast to a wee beach and si and ruth walked it there. Wonderful wee paddle i must say. Had lunch on the beach and then si took the kayak back and me and ruth walked it back. Back at the car park, me and si confirmed that the kayak will indeed hold two people but only at the price of the whole thing becoming more of a submersible.

We could spend weeks here. It’s depressing looking at the map as we’d only made it 20KM out of picton and we were already content to stay there the rest of the time.
But intrepid explorers that we are we pushed on. Making it to nelson. A mm or so further west on the map that you’re not looking at.

Nice place. Ruth diasaggreed. Found a campsite just outside. A slightly spaced out recptionist told us to pitch the tent anywhere. Tempted to try it out on the roof just for reaction.

Went into town for food and found it practically deserted except for some stoned suspicious looking teenagers outside some dodgy bars. Found a wonderful malay place instead and settled there for the night. If only cause the service was slow.
So now all settled in our respective tents. Ruth and si realsising that the double air mattress they brought isn’t big enough for two – what were they thinking…
The batteries in my torch have ran out and the site seems to be being invaded by ferral cats keen for free food. We’ll be lucky if we make it through to day light. Especially seeing as it’s only 2130.

The Big Trip – Day 1

Still sleeping on the floor.
Mostly listening to: josh ritter, the ricky gervais podcast
Weather: cloudy with rain
It’s not meant to rain round here this time of year. I kind of feel bad that they’ve come all this way and it’s raining. That somehow it’s my fault. I need to stop feeling guilty for silly things.
Da rang me in the middle of the night. Initially just a phone call in the middle of the night that had nothing but static. Rang me back five mins later to tell me it was him ringing but it was nothing important. Cheers for that one. I’m now wide awake and paranoid i’m gonna be attacked or robbed or something horrible.
Spent the morning packing. Though it was hardly taxing cause we were bringing everything. Kayak, three bikes, the dishes, the cutlery, the bedding, the guitar. It’s a big car and we manahed to fill it, leaving nothing but a morsies shape hole in the back of the car.
As i locked the flat i had the brief moment of fear and anguish that i always do when leaving home for any period of time. And that was it, i’ve just called it home. And i know it’s not. And it doesn’t really feel like that, but for that moment it washome – akin to the bare empty room i left 5 months ago.
3 and a half hours of the ricky gervais podcasts and half the east coast later we made it to wellington. It was grey, not a particularly inspiring drive.
Read the paper in the car waiting for the ferry, and wishing there was a loo nearby.
There used to be a sea-cat style ship between the islands but it only ran for a few years. The cook strait is notorious for bad weather, and the cat was cancelled so often it had to close down.
So we’re stuck with old fahioned ferrys. When you can see the rust from 200m you begin to worry. Morsies commented on how few life boats there were. I exaggurate.
Standard procedure on boarding a ferry.
– walk round the whole ferry, identify comfy seats.
– identify loos and cafe
– obtain coffee
– enjoy bracing, diesel scented walk outside.
– realise the comfy seats you identified earlier are now occupied by snoring truckers.
– Sit on the plastic seats. Count yourself lucky
There was a guy sitting outside by himself with a lap top and headhones who was recording lyrics for a song of some kind. Oblivious to the laughing children he was singing in his best metallica ‘I’m entering into existence’, or some typically pseudo-metaphysical angst ridden lyric.
Coming into marlborough sounds was pretty spectacular. It was raining but still spectacular. I thought it was like arriving in inverness. The neill family were kinder. (initially had that as ‘neill family was kinder’ but changed as i was unsure of the plurality of it. If they’re married then maybe they’re one flesh so i could get away with it… Answers on a postcard to the usual address)
In a rare moment of forethought we’d booked somewhere to stay in picton (where the ferry docks). Five minutes from the boat and we were behind a dutch couple who were trying to find out if the groffen (how many effs in that again…) family were staying there that night. The recptionist was very patient.
So now i’m curled up in the top bunk of a cabin eating crisps.
Now when i say cabin, i don’t mean the log cabins of road trip 2006 fame. These ones have no pretensions. To describe it as a shed may be harsh on the sheds of the sheds. It’s large enough to swing a cat in but only if it had a short tail or you were a dog lover.
Two double bunks with pillows, a kettle and toaster, a tiny table, a guide to picton, a bizzare timer device that seems to serve no purpose and thankfully – a blow heater.
So now we’re toasty and comfy and engrossed in our fine literature. Simon in the jonny cash autobiography and ruth in ‘a short history of tractors in ukranian’
Have also been adopted into the team neill handshake, involving at no point a handshake. I’ve been banned from going into the idiosyncrasies of my brothers marriage. Which is probably a good thing cause i’d be so busy with that i’d have no time to tell you about the sights…or the rain.
Apparently tomorrow will be sunny. It’s (the great forecasting service on the interweb doofer) been saying that for three days now…

Expected to wash

They’re still here. I turn round and expect them to have left by now. Some people don’t take the hint.

I’m currently sleeping on the floor of my own flat and tea production has gone up 900%. I’m having to use all 4 of my cups and having to wash them after each use.

I’m expected to wash regularly and wear clothes when walking about the house. It’ll all be over soon i tell myself.

Nonsense of course. It’s great to have people here. Somehow i feel the flat is justified now that it’s got people in it.

They’ve had the tour of all my favorite places and walks, all the places where i go and stare at the sea. There was a plan to do a walk out to cape kidnappers today (the southern hemisphere’s largest gannet colony if you like that kind of thing) but el nino (or global warming or the price of cheese or whatever) brought us grey clouds and a constant drizzle. Most inconvenient.

So me and simon converted this piece of misfortune into an opportunity to re live our childhoods – which is the whole point of this trip really. There’ll be fishing for crabs with mussels and a clothes peg by the end let me tell you…

We spent a lot of summers in a touring caravan. We were part of a family of travelling romany gypsys, famous for their six fingered offspring and roofing abilities… Er no…

We spent a lot of summers in a touring caravan, mostly round castlewellan and every summer to bantry bay at the south-western tip of the ‘free state’, as granny would call it. Last time it was the free state was in 1921 when the civil war ended but i knew what she meant.

Eagle point caravan site was simply wonderful. Set on a bleak miserable peninsula, mostly covered with rain clouds. But oh so glorious when the sun shined. There was a lot of crab fishing.

We spent most days trying to windsurf. Well i spent the time trying. Simon and da were actually quite good. I blame puberty, always thought that as soon as i hit puberty then i’d be able to handle the bigger sail. I’m still waiting. For puberty or windsurfing ability i’m not sure which.

So that’s what we did. With matching blue wetsuits  (out of pink again, darn it…) we rented a couple of boards and sails (not too small so as not to look a beginner and not too big so that we’d struggle). The place is called pandora’s pond, so perhaps we didn’t have high seas to worry about.

And it was great. I was 13 again, except with more chest hair – three hairs to be exact – bill, bob, and dermot. The streaming rain and gusts of wind just made it seem more like home.

After a mammoth lunch of barsnacks, and a long drive round the hills and beaches and a ‘bracing’ north coast style walk, we’re back home at the flat. Jonny cash on iTunes, simon reading the autobigraphy of jonny cash, morsies (ruth) asleep on the sofa (such sleeping!) and sue making it through her umpteenth cup of tay.

And me struggling to keep the ronnie-gene (sorry da) at bay, and trying to enjoy doing nothing. The urge is always to pester people into enjoying themselves, not accepting that maybe they really just quite enjoy what they’re at right now. And a cup of tea or two along the way.

fanatical, multi-syllabic, dramatic re-unions

I’ve always wanted to be greeted at an airport by someone with a sign with my name on it. That someone was expecting me and considered me imortant enough to make a sign and all that and make sure i’m properly greeted.

It’s never happened to me. My bro and better half arrived today in NZ. And i did consider making a sign. It could have said ‘welcome to NZ mr and mrs neel’ or something appropriately mis spelt.

But I’m a lazy lazy man.

I did manage to get out of bed at 0530 though, to wait first in the queue at the arrivals lounge, waiting patiently to see them rounding the corner from customs.

I waited anxiously at the barrier, my stomach uneasy from too much coffee and too little food. Nervous at the thought of their customs and visas and all that carry on.

I watched all kinds of people come out. There were two flights from LA and one from bunos aries. And no matter what you say, the americans have produced the funniest looking bunch of people i’ve ever seen – facially, style wise and personalities.

I watched a pair of elederly folk walk out. Greeted by a youngish couple with a toddler. Clearly it was the first time the grandparents had seen the grandchild and the poor kid was thrust about between grandparents. The child cried continuously wondering why mum and dad were letting him be abused by complete strangers.

There were the flight attendants. Two leaving together who i convinced myself were having some kind of ilicit affair. I always think air line attendants have the glamorous life style. All nonsense but i have an active imagination. Watching the pilots leave i tried to detect a stagger in their step to see if they were still a bit tipsy – pilots have a terrible reputautation for drinking on the job. Completely unfounded i’m sure.

There were emotional reunions between young couples and a fanatical, multi-syballic, dramatic re union of a bunch of south americans who blocked the exit for five minutes.

But now i’m getting bored. I’ve been there three quarters of an hour and no show. Possibilities range through my mind. Are they on a different flight? Have they had their visas turned down – NZ has a standard to keep up. Maybe they’d lost their baggage. More likely they’d been locked up and tortured for trying to bring a banana into the country. The biosecurity guys here are pretty militant about keeping foreign organic material out. Though they were happy to let  in the chinese goosberry and market it intensely as the Kiwi fruit.

So i’m still there, stood at the barrier thinking ‘yeah, it may take them ages, i could at least make it to the espresso stand and back’, when they appear.

And it’s surreal. My mind goes ‘what are they doing here?’ with sheer surprise that they actually made it. And it’s so good to see them and hug them and slag them off for being so flippin white.

So we leave auckland behind and drive south east, stopping to pick up sue cuthbert along the way. And it’s weird having other people in the car. People who know me inside out. People i’ve grown up with. And it’s different, so different to what i’ve experienced over the past 5 months.

I ask them about LA where they’ve been and how the trip was and then i just run out of converstaion. I’m not used to this presence. Having people i love around me again.

It picks up dramatically. We stop for a picnic at taupo and back in napier we get onto skype and phone mum and dad and break into fits of unstoppable giggling. I’m glad they’re here. Though i keep wondering when they’re gonna go home so i’ll have the flat to myself again.

And i get scared with that. That i’m becoming what i hate. Someone who doesn’t need people. Correction – someone with the arrogance to believe he doesn’t need people. Maybe i’m forgetting how to need people.

I think a lot about being alone. To most people that is almlost a universal negative. In Heat, de niro’s character describes himself as being on his own but not alone. That he has nothing in his life that he can’t walk away from in 60 seconds if he sees the heat around the corner. I’m a big beleiver in holding the things of this world loosely (though very bad at it) but that is going to extremes.

I enjoy being on my own. There,s lots of positive good stuff about it. Sometimes i think i’d like to be otherwise, i have no objections to being married and ‘tied’ to someone (bad term, sorry) but it ain’t happened and i am where i am. But sometimes i realise that i’m just too scared to be anything but alone. The change it would entail being too great – holding things tightly again Andrew…

Maybe it’s just the vulnerabilty of needing people that i missed. Or maybe it’s just the freshness of the experience. More likely it’s 5 coffees in one day and a Josh Ritter album. Repeat after me – melancholy is not a recreational activity…

Not a tame lion

I’ve been here a while now. 5 months or something like that. But who’d counting? Apart from the immigration department…

And so I’ve become a bit of a fixture in the hospital. People say hello to me in the corridor, the nurses all know I go through a cream bun a day at lunch time. I have a reputation as providing a needle service for most of the hospital. Venous access, central lines, chest drains, lumbar punctures – I’m your man.

So it’s easy to sit down, relax and put down roots so to speak. Though that mostly involves sitting on my bum at the computer at the nurses station, lord of all I survey in the ICU. And all the staff have got used to me there and I spend lots of time just chatting and finding out people’s stories. Probably half the staff are non Kiwis, from Africans to Brits to Yanks. Makes for an interesting environment.

I’ve got into quite a few chats about belief and Christianity, mostly through talking about work in Africa. Quickly you end up talking about things like evolution (no one is yet to explain to me that every observed mutation in humans is invariably negative and in a scheme of natural selection how does negative mutation produce advancement. I’m certainly not a creationist fundamentalist in any way but people just don’t think!), and then apologise for the hypocrisies of religiosity and al the badge carrying idiots of the world. And then we talk about GOD himself and that’s where it gets interesting.

People invent the god they want to have. A character akin to something between Santa Claus and old father time. JESUS as the kind and wise teacher, drastically misunderstood by his followers (CS Lewis Says that CHRIST leaves you three options, a liar, a lunatic on a par with a man who says he is a poached egg, or what he says he is – Lord of the universe). A man who says ‘I am the way the truth and the life’ is not in the business of being misunderstood.

And after these conversations I realise that I don’t believe in the god that they don’t believe in either. If that makes sense. They’re busy not believing in a pigmy god, a shadow of a caricature of GOD. I realise that I’m with them, I don’t believe in that god either. These people have no idea what it is that they’re not believing in.

And that’s mostly our fault. The candy floss, sugar coated Christianity that we present is lame and feeble. ‘He’s not a tame lion you know?’


About

February 2007
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