Chapter 3 : April in Palmy and South Island
April 1st, Monday
As we are well into autumn it now being April, it gets dark at about 6 30. Tonight it is not only dark but rainy as well. Now back home, on an autumn night such as this, Ellen would have gone out to teach her yoga class and I would have retreated to some far corner of the house to avoid having to speak to the children, Joe would be watching one of our five TVs. Things are a bit different here in that Ellen doesn’t have a Monday night class, Kate is working as a waitress at Orleans, we only have one TV and there is no far distant corner of the house.
Rather disappointingly I allow myself to watch TV. This is not why I came to NZ to watch TV, especially not this TV. This is the land of activity and of opportunity and here I am watching crappy TV. I really have brought my worst habits with me. I should be absailing, bungy jumping or yachting and yet the closest I come to the water is watching a programme about some of the 1,112 people who came close to drowning in NZ’s waters last year. I’m not sure about how they define coming close, perhaps I am better off out of the water. Flick the channels, all three of them and watch a programme called 20-20, it is about Asian immigration. Apparently Kiwis are getting their shorts in a twist about Asians flocking into the country in the same way that we are in the UK, except here the immigrant Asians are Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean etc rather than Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi. The interesting thing is that, as the programme points out, the largest immigrant group are from the UK with 14,000 last year and the second largest group are Australians with 13,000 last year. The highest Asian immigrant group, according to the programme, are the Koreans with 3,000 last year. If any of these immigrants were coming here with the hope of finding greater racial harmony they can pretty well forget it. They take our jobs, fill up our schools, push up house prices, don’t speak the language (“I lont to be a Kili,” says one guy) and can’t drive is the popular view. Never mind the estimated 11,000 jobs created by Asian businesses. Given that it takes a bit of imagination to classify Maori as ‘immigrants who shouldn’t be here’, it’s nicely convenient to have some ethnic group/s to complain about. This is not, of course, exclusively a Kiwi problem, it’s the human condition, still in a land with a reputation for racial harmony, it’s a bit surprising, hey. Probably with unintended irony later in the evening there is a programme about early Scottish immigrants. It is a nice, cosy programme all supportive and romantic and a far cry from the view of Asian immigrants. No sympathy for latter day immigrants from the earlier ones it would appear.
I drive to Marton and have another little daydream about buying some cheap land with a fantastic view far away from noisy neighbours. Out here in the country house prices are considerably cheaper than in Palmy and it only takes 20 to 25 minutes to drive in, a mere spit by British standards. The problem, and of course there had to be one, is that planning restrictions only allow land-owners to sell off their land in 10 acre ‘lifestyle’ blocks as they are known. This makes buying land expensive when the cost of say an acre, which is all a lot of people want, would be quite cheap – few thousand dollars maybe. Apparently the farmers don’t like selling large lots because they lose more useful farming land than they would like and the blocks of land are often poorly utilised. I suppose they would say this, maybe they could sell more, smaller blocks and make more money, however I hope the restrictions on lot sizes are changed then I can buy a little bit and of course persuade the farmer that, because I am such a great guy, he shouldn’t sell the other small lots next to mine. Hmm.
Just as I am about to leave Bill comes into the office to talk about some work matter or other and he has a Postit stuck to his cheek. I have seen him do this before so think little of it but I wonder aloud whether it is the number of the school we are talking about. He tells me that in fact they are the numbers of flats he is looking at. Apparently Brenda and he have decided to part company. I am immediately consumed with guilt that my having kept him out on Friday has caused this to happen. We retire to Orleans to talk about this, on the way I remind myself that he is a big boy and did not have to stay out boozing with me. Actually Bill is not big but quite small, he looks like a garden gnome with a bald head, I like him a lot and so does everybody else I’ve met, other than, presumably, Brenda. In fact Bill’s popularity is one of the reasons that Bill and Brenda have fallen on hard times. When Brenda goes out with Bill he spends most of the evening talking to people who know and like him. Brenda can’t understand why, when Bill is supposed to be out with her, he talks to other people all night. You can see her point and you have to remember that Brenda is English. Bill kindly tells me I am not to blame and that this had been coming on for some time and Friday was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I feel a little better after this and feel an absolute bastard for saying – obviously you will want your washer and bed back now and an even bigger bastard for feeling relieved when Bill says he does not want them back. For Christ’s sake Pete, this man’s relationship is on the skids and all you can worry about is your own selfish needs for a bed and a washing machine “Still, if you’re sure,” I say. We talk about things some more and he seems fairly philosophical about what’s happening and, all through our conversation, Cat Stevens drones on.
I’m a grumpy bunny this morning because I feel under the weather. I feel like I’ve got a cold or flu coming on. It is quite uncanny how my body seems to know when there is a holiday coming up and signals that it is now OK to get ill. No time to get ill in term time of course but now would be good. So, consequently, I am a little irritable. There is no banana in my lunch because, as Ellen puts it, she didn’t realise we were getting low on bananas. I ask how many there were yesterday and she says one. I point out that this is usually a clue that we are getting low. Yes, I can hear the feminists say, get your own lunch, do your own shopping, well they can piss right off because I feel ill.
I can’t believe Ellen has done Joe’s art homework or that she has not strapped down the boot tightly after the severe warning I gave her yesterday. Yep, I’m ill alright. Spend the day in the office feeling jolly sorry for myself. I tell Di I am ill but she is more interested in how Kate and Matt (her son) are getting on. I tell her that her son turned up at our house last night without shoes and he had been driving his new car that he bought for $500, it must be bad (Di said it has moss growing on it) because when I asked Matt where it was he said “I’ve hidden it down the street.”
The only bit about today that might prove interesting is that I went to the Manawatu Sports Foundation to find out about their sports psychology courses. I also offered my services as a tutor to run a course and they seemed very interested. It might come to nought but if this was England well, you know the rest….
New Zealand schools have gone to a four week term for the first time this year. It is too early yet to say whether this will be a good move although it has found some favour with teachers. This means therefore that today is the last day of term. I work my way steadily through the day. In Adrian’s office two strapping youths work their way steadily through his office moving out all his stuff and putting it into a smaller office. Glenice has carried out her threat to move him lock, stock and IQ test. We do not know Adrian’s response because he has been off sick for the last two days. The events are not unconnected we suspect.
At tea time which lasts a little longer today because it is the last day of term. The talk is of the programme, a few nights earlier, about the Scottish immigrants. I do not join in much other than to venture the idea that some of the people – children of parents who have settled here in the last 20 or 30 years- seem to have the worst of both worlds because they cannot decide where or who they want to be, a Scot or a Kiwi. This negative, although realistic, view is quickly dismissed as being unusual. It doesn’t fit with the romantic tone of the conversation or the memories of what my grandparents did. Left to my own thoughts I ponder on the fact, once again, that I would be hard pushed to describe an English cultural heritage that we took with us on our travels and more to the point I have no understanding of what it means to be English in the way that the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Maori do – “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Jerusalem,” The Last night at the proms, Beefeaters, the Beatles, Morris dancers, Cockneys, Geordies, Cracker, Spurs and Geoff Boycott just don’t do it for me and don’t seem to travel well either. So what does being English mean? I leave the tea room puzzled again.
Not for too long because it is time to go to The Railway to meet Smashy and his pals for am end of term drink. I have several pints of Steiny and actually get some food for free, which is a part of being a member of the handle club. This is a first time. Goes down well. The Kiwis are in a good mood because they unexpectedly beat the West Indies in a one day game and this on top of the Hong Kong Sevens win has put them all in a fine patriotic frenzy. Bill joins us and talks to everybody in the pub, even those he does not know. Perhaps Brenda has a point. Ellen joins us and all in all we have a jolly end of term drink.
We relapse in front of the TV and there is yet another programme about Asian immigration. The New Zealand First party and Winston Peters getting more criticism for playing the race card. True to the dictum – every problem is an opportunity this programme features an ‘immigration consultant’ who says it is not true that Asian businessmen set up their families here and then go back ‘home’ to continue their businesses, unlike one English family who “dumped his family and left.” Sounds like a good idea to me. To present the other side in a nicely balanced kind of way we have this redneck who says that there is a shortage of cats and dogs in the area where Asians live (because they have eaten them all), he says “If they can’t talk like or act like New Zealanders they should go home. If they insist on looking, acting, speaking and being different, they’ll get treated different.” Another guy makes the point “culturally, socially and religiously we are not a part of Asia.” This being an election year I expect to hear more of this debate but not tonight because the alcohol takes over and I fall asleep in the chair.
This is Good Friday and the beginning of our first proper holiday and what feels like a deserved break even though I could not say that I have worked as hard this term as I would have in England. Quite a lot of my job hasn’t got going yet. In the USA and probably in the UK, Good Friday is seen by shops as the opportunity to increase their turn-over by running the great, Easter, give-away sale. Jesus wouldn’t have wanted his misery to get in the way of your spending, folks. Over here it is illegal to open shops today, although I think Garden Centres, which are as big here as in the UK, are an exception. The other exception seems to be our local shop which is a law unto its self. It has already sold us out of date milk and today goes one farther by selling me yesterday’s paper. There isn’t a paper published today, but I didn’t know this, so it is not until I get home that I realise I am reading yesterday’s paper. You have got to admire their entrepreneurial spirit. They’re Asian you know.
This turns out to be the high spot of the day, the rest of the day is quite dull, it rains, I speak to Sheila the dog, Ellen and I talk about Kate’s love life, Joe has been on the phone for about an hour and I try and catch up on typing up this ‘book’. I am not a paranoid as usual about wasting the day as we have the luxury of another 14 in front of us.
The Turners phoned from England to tell us that they have given birth to a boy whom they have named Joe, Henry (the same as our lovely boy). I tell them that this is asking for trouble but our Joe is delighted and insists that they have asked him to be the baby’s Godfather. Godfather forbid. I write them a long letter, this is the first proper letter I have written home. I have felt very guilty about this but, for some reason, could not muster the massive effort required to produce one. Now I do and though I say so myself, without much effort, it is bloody funny. Just writing about what we have been through since we arrived can be made to sound hilarious providing you don’t have to actually experience it first. We have, no friends, no money, no room, no life, yep pretty funny.
Ellen and I go shopping I buy a book about the Pakeha myths of what New Zealand is as a country. It promises to be interesting and I shall no doubt refer to it again. I also buy two films for our South Island trip, there will be many marvellous sights to record for posterity. In the evening we watch ‘Back to the Future,3. At the beginning of the film the adverts are quite sparse, probably about every 25 minutes, towards the end they appear every 10 minutes and last for nearly five minutes. New Zealand TV is pretty crap.
This is a very boring day, just like a Sunday back home, all this way and we still have boring Sundays. Not too bad in this instance because we do a bit of planning for our big trip. We look at maps and guide books and the ambition of almost a lifetime seems to be about to happen. All those brochures and photos of peaks and beaches soon to be reality. That’s a bit different, back home we wouldn’t be having a boring Sunday followed by a trip to the South Island of New Zealand.
Up early and packing, packing. All the usual stresses of trying to get the Galvins on the road. Getting Kate up and out, Joe organized, checking lists, making sandwiches and coffee. Make sure you have a wee before we go because I’m not stopping. Ellen stays calm. I do my impression of Captain Queeg. Pack the bags. Pack the car, Pack the children and off we go only 15 minutes late. The pleasure of actually being on the road is short-lived. Now we have the loudness of the walkmans and the positions of the windows. Arguments about these and how much leg room they have or haven’t got in the back go on for the whole trip. As does “don’t put your sleeping bag on my side, that’s my cassette, not yours, you should ask before you borrow my things dickhead, don’t call me a dickhead, don’t hit me you idiot, don’t call me an idiot ” When they aren’t killing each other I get the “don’t drive too fast you’re making me feel sick, do you have to go round bends like that?” scenario. And then there is the stop because Kate thinks she has lost her rings and have we got the tickets? All the usual stuff that makes travelling as a family such a joy. And to think we’ve got 10 more days of this. Against all the odds we arrive at the ferry terminal in Wellington in time and the sights and sounds of the sea soothes the troubled breast.
I start to film the journey out of Wellington harbour. This is as fine a view as any of the great harbours, San Francisco, Sidney, New York, but the camcorder batteries do not seem to appreciate this and go flat after about 30 seconds so that’s that. The crossing itself is calm and sunny. This gives me time to study my fellow passengers. They seem a rather more mixed bunch than you would find on the average ferry crossing to France. There are hippies, black-leather clad bikers, gay men (they’re hugging and kissing), middle class families, backpackers, there is a whole group, mostly children, dressed in exactly the same shell suits, bad enough in itself but given that the suits are black and white with stripes of orange and lime green they resemble a pack of exotic iced lollies. One of the children is eating a sherbet dab the like of which I haven’t seen in England for many a long year. There is also a psychotic looking youth who paces around the whole of the ship like a caged animal, he has a very acned face and is permanently plugged into his walkman, he is never for a moment still and occasionally jumps in the air and smiles a little. For the whole of the journey he makes absolutely no contact with any of the other passengers but, right at the end of the voyage, he appears with two girls who look and behave exactly like he has. They pace and leap and look intense like some demented synchronised swimming team.
We enter Picton Sound at about 5 o’clock, the entrance to the Sound is not much more than 10 or 12 times wider than the boat itself and we slow right down to navigate the entrance safely. The journey down the Sound is beautiful even though the prancing psychotic occasionally comes between me and the view. By the time we disembark it is almost dark. Picton looks small and resembles a port on the North West coast of America. We find a motel that says “We only look expensive,” Ellen and I go out for a meal at a restaurant called The Fifth Bank because the original building had been the 5th branch office of the New Zealand Bank opened in 1863, Although the original bank burned down at the turn of the century the place had still been a working bank until quite recently. The smell of garlic was fantastic, the meal decidedly average but a bottle of CloudyBay, Pinot Noir, 1994 was superb. We return to our motel. A long, full and interesting first day of our trip to the South island.
Joe has spent last night sleeping out on the balcony (for some reason best known to him) and in the morning an unidentified person throws tomatoes at him. Picton is a little damp. At first it was just a drizzle but by the time we had loaded up the car it was coming down at a steady lick. As we drove along the sounds towards Nelson it got into full stride, a winding road, a steamy car and the Galvins is not a great combination and soon insults were being freely exchanged, threats of physical violence were swapped and tempers were, as they say, getting frayed, As we approached Nelson and the rain bucketed down, matters were at a low ebb. There seemed little chance of Nelson living up to its name as the sunshine capital of NZ, and then about 20 minutes out of Nelson, the clouds cleared, the sun broke through, the sea was Mediterranean Blue, white yachts skimmed across the bay and family strife was forgotten. When we got out of the car it was positively hot.
I had arranged to meet David, a fellow psychologist, who I had met at the conference in Auckland a couple of weeks ago. David had been silly enough to invite us to come and stay, little suspecting that we would actually take him up on the offer. When I called him before we set off from Picton it was clear that he hadn’t the faintest idea who I was, but when he remembered that he had invited us to come and see him, he seemed genuinely pleased to hear from me and actually did sound like he wanted us to stop by. We arranged to meet him outside the post office. As we were half an hour early Ellen and I had a walk around the town. Nelson has the strangest cathedral I’ve ever seen, built in two halves about 50 years apart. One half is the traditional cathedral, stained glass and fancy stone work and the other half looks like a block of flats with a fire station tower attached. Weird stuff. While Ellen and I do a little sightseeing the kids, true to form, couldn’t be bothered to move other than to turn up the car radio. Kate said in her usual charming fashion that she had no intention of meeting anybody new and she would stay in the car, but we dragged her kicking and screaming along with us to meet our new best friends.
To cut things short, it turned out that they have a super house overlooking the bay and as if that wasn’t enough it further turns out they have a $130,000, 34 foot yacht. David asks if we would like to take to the water. We try to appear cool, sure why not? We have a great time sailing out into the bay, it is quite rough but we try not to appear scared we drink a few beers, chat freely and as the sun goes down over the bay we anchor and drink some more. What I cannot understand is how they manage to support such a life style on the same salary as mine. Admittedly Merryl-Ann has a job and they have a publishing business and own ‘some forests’, whatever that means. Whatever they are doing they are doing it bloody well. I have my usual little day dream about living in Nelson and having a yacht. What a stupid bastard. As night falls we stop off to pick up fish and chips. We head to bed before 10 o’clock both knackered after a day (half a day) on the water.
Today could be summed up in one word – driving or perhaps two – driving and arguing. We leave Nelson about 11.15 and with the kids complaining about how we are missing all the sun by being stuck in the car, we drive unhappily through the central, northern part of South island towards Westport. We stop for a proper argument near LakeRotorua. I slam the door of the car which causes the apple I am holding in my hand to fly about fifty yards down the road which rather deflates my moment of petulance about how nobody was the least bit interested in planning this holiday now all they can do is moan that it is not what they wanted. Let them come up with some bloody ideas and plan the day – da, da etc. etc. By this time the family have pretty much taken to ignoring my stamping off down the road, so after about 20 minutes we all pile back in the car and continue. The lake is beautiful but I get my first relationships with little biting things and we beat a hasty retreat with a car full of the little bastards (no, not the children) and me again complaining bitterly but this time about insects rather than children. By the time we reach Westport after 4 and a half hours of arguing and Joe reading every time we get to a bridge ONE LANE BRIDGE and then after we have crossed the bridge – BRIDGE LANE ONE, we have had more than enough of each others company.
Which gives some idea of how bad Westport (its speciality/tourist attraction is a coal-mining museum) was because we decided to continue to drive on to Greymouth which was another hour and a half away. The only ‘town’ in the guide book between Westport and Greymouth was a place called Charleston which, at its peak, had 90 hotels, the guidebook says. Now it has one and it is closed, so we drive on. Beautiful drive along the west coast, another one of the great ocean drives. We play the Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’ as the sun sets over the ocean. For a while life doesn’t seem so bad. Even I felt quite relaxed. We arrived in Greymouth at about 6 and booked into the Quality Hotel. We had a pleasant evening with Joe spending the whole meal regaling us with the riddles he had learned on camp. There was this man buried under 52 motorcycles, what happened? There’s this fish in a telephone box, what happened? That sort of thing. This was bad but it was better than what he did after the meal which was to lock the car keys in the boot. He had to get a locksmith to come and break intro the car. That cost me $40. So when you take a long hard look at today – 6 hours driving, various arguments 1 major stonk, 28 ONE LANE BRIDGES, BRIDGES LANE ONE , a dozen riddles, the coal-mining museum and $40 for a locksmith – it was not one of the great days but the coast was beautiful and we will take another look tomorrow.
This then is how it feels to be a proper travel writer. I am writing this actually on my laptop in something very close to a cabin on the west coast of the South island. The place is called Punakaiki it is about halfway between Westport and Greymouth. This is close to the spot where 13 students and their guide from the Department of Conservation were killed in, what has been since called, the Cave Creek tragedy. This made the papers in the UK. A scenic observation platform collapsed into the valley killing some of the . students, some escaped with broken bones, one has been rendered tetraplegic and one student who, in his own words, surfed a part of the platform down to the valley floor, suffered such severe psychological effects that he left his course and is now wandering around New Zealand. All sorts of people have been charged with negligence and have resigned their jobs, this because the platform had not been properly built – apparently it was nailed rather than screwed to the cliff side. The students were visiting from a local college which apparently has a high number of Maori students, the fact that no Maoi were killed was, according to local Maoi, a sign that this was sacred Maoi land that had been unlawfully taken from them by Pakeha. The opinion was that, because of its unlawful seizure, it had a bad ‘mana’ and that the deaths of the pakeha students was retribution from the Gods. Since the tragedy local Maoi have refused to let relatives of the dead visit the site because they say a place where people die is sacred and cannot be violated. The original explanation and subsequent exclusion of those relatives wanting to ‘pay their respects’ has produced some ill feeling. The first anniversary of the tragedy is on Sunday 28th of May.
We left Greymouth this morning after a proper breakfast at the children’s insistence. As we drove north it rained, quite hard in fact. We stopped at the famous blowholes (the sea shoots up through holes), nice view although we could not see any holes and the water did not blow. Wrong time of day we read when we get there. That’s the sort of thing you might expect the guide book to tell you. It doesn’t. There are signs warning people to stay behind the rail. The signs are written in two languages English and German Why German why not French? Perhaps because they are hoping that any French people will fall off the cliffs (relationships between France and New Zealand haven’t been warm for quite a while), why not Chinese, which would be common, perhaps there are so many of them that you can afford to lose a few. I would have thought that the Germans being the rule bound tight asses that they are wouldn’t have needed telling not to climb over the fence but then maybe being in the Southern hemisphere does funny things to them; kind of reverses all their usual characteristics. I can only guess that the reason the signs are in German is because the last person to fall off the cliffs and die was, in fact, German. Even so just because one went over doesn’t mean the bloody signs have to be written in German does it? More confirmation of the fact that NZ is a deceptively dangerous place for tourists.
After this and the usual, daily, family argument, we went for a walk on a west coast beach. It was wild and empty and had the effect of restoring family harmony, a pretty remarkable location that could do that. As we were walking back to the car it started to rain. Ellen and I were talking about how nice it would be to find a little cottage somewhere by the sea and snuggle up cosy and warm out of the rain. Then I saw the sign for Punakaiki Cottages motel. Funny we thought, just the sort of place we were looking for and they were too, good hey? The guest book for this place is ridiculous, perfection, paradise, it said, every superlative in the book was in the book. For example, “Dear Stephanie and Brent (the owners) you have filled this place with love, beauty, harmony and comfort, many, many thanks.” Bloody hell. Or “Tonight spent pondering, sorting out and walking my life into simplicity once again.” What a wanker (or owner-operated as we now call it in political correct terminology). My favourites were either more basic “Me and mummy found a blue bottle jellyfish,” or outright bizarre, from the Austrian Ploughing Team (really), “Our tour will end in the next days but we keep this wonderful country down to the opposite of Austria permanent in our mind.” Excuse me? And of course there is always the Japanese “New Zealand is very good place. I love here! Great!! Everything is amazing for me, of course, we enjoyed staying here very much.” Well, of course
I mean OK, the place is nice but it’s not paradise. I go along with The Eagles view “You call some place paradise, kiss it good bye. ” Yes it’s close to the beach but two small children still manage to cycle between the sea and our cottage (and my view). It seems like no matter how close you get to the sea some bastard always manages to get closer. Add to this my 38 sand fly bites and some dickhead riding a motorcycle on the beach and paradise doesn’t seem quite the right concept. And the local shop has no food and our evening meal of sausage and beans is crap. Also an open fire and a few lamps would improve it further. However, and yet it is nice, beautiful even and we can hear the rain bashing against the roof and the sea pounding, that’s what travel books describe the sea as doing I believe. We fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves.
We decide to stay another day in this beautiful spot, although I’m buggered if I’m going to write anything nice in the visitor’s book. Nevertheless a high spot of the holiday is the point when we decide to stay and instead of having to rush round and pack our bags and be out by 10 o’clock, we can all roll over in bed and listen to the sound of the surf crashing on the shore. If I sit up a little with a pillow behind me I can see the sea out of the window. I read while Ellen does her yoga on the beach. This is a wonderful, restful place. Bloody hell I’m starting to sound like the rest of the wallies in the guide book. Reality does intrude even in this pretty remote spot on the West Coast. The TV has the story of the 7 year old American girl killed with her father and instructor trying to fly from coast to coast and people die in a fire at Dusseldorf airport. Serves us right for allowing Joe to have the TV on. How far does a person have to go to escape from reality?
Ellen who had begun the day with yoga on the beach, ends the daylight by doing a drawing of the beach. Tonight we have mood lighting (we borrowed a lamp from Stephanie) and a proper meal and wine to drink. As it gets dark we all go for a walk along the beach. We return to see our borrowed mood lamp shining like a beacon through the window. We play Albert Tatlock and behave like a happy, relaxed family, all snug and warm in our cottage beside the crashing ocean waves.
All good things must end. We leave our beach-side hideaway reluctantly and drive south towards Greymouth and then on over Arthur’s Pass which crosses the main divide of the Southern Alps at an altitude of 920 metres. The pass is named after Arthur Dobson (marvellous name) who discovered the route to the West Coast goldfields in 1864. Apparently the views are spectacular, unfortunately it is sheeting it down with rain and all we can see is the bus in front of us and the lorry behind us. The road is so steep and narrow that it feels like driving up the side of a very tall, small house. Coming down the other side offers little comfort until the hills flatten out and we begin the long slow drive into Canterbury. At periodic intervals we pass the inevitable white crosses where Kiwis have killed themselves in spectacular fashion by driving off the side of a cliff.
The guide books say, without exception, that Christchurch is the most English of all New Zealand cities. Well let me tell you it is not, the only English thing about it is that this is the very first city or town that has an Indian restaurant. Otherwise it is more of a continental city like Amsterdam (because it has a river that looks like a canal) or Brussels (because it has a grand square with an unEnglish cathedral in the middle of it). The other very notable thing about Christchurch is that it is full, and I mean full, of Japanese or Koreans. At first I thought a cruise liner must have docked and disgorged these people, all piling out of their buses into their posh city-centre hotels (we were staying in an out of city motel). They were everywhere buying extremely expensive souvenirs in shops owned by extremely expensively dressed Japanese. Apparently there is no cruise liner, this is just a normal tourist thing. How come they can afford jumpers costing $300? They should piss off home in my opinion.
Despite all this Christchurch is a very pretty and pleasant city and we enjoy strolling around and seeing parts that the Japs/Koreans cannot reach. It has some very nice buildings and others that look like tall buildings anywhere. We dine at ‘Thank God its Friday’ which, we note, is conspicuously free of Asian tourists. We have a pleasant meal but this one is not as good as the one we ate at in San Francisco and it costs us about $120, so not cheap. A little leaflet tells us that there are 156 TGIFs around the globe. I hope the others are better and that there the waitress can bring me my beer before the wine, which is what I had expressly asked for. She looks petulant and says that she is sure the beer will be here soon. This, in my opinion, is not the fucking point. But I decide not to embarrass the family by making a scene. We leave earlyish in the hope of catching a really good horror movie on Sky at the motel. The film is called “The Crow”, it turns out that it is not the movie I thought and is in fact absolutely crap, nasty and flash and violent. Bruce Lee’s son is killed on set whilst making the film. At least he won’t have to watch it. I watch it all the way through and feel disgusted with myself for doing so. I retire to bed feeling emotionally grubby.
Christchurch certainly is a funny old place. The local paper (The Press) and TV report the claims of a scientist who reckons Maori were not the first people to inhabit NZ. That will put the cat amongst the pigeons if it takes off. Two Christchurch councillors state that saying welcome in Maori is pandering to the cultural thought police. It presents as a sophisticated city, we have breakfast in one of many continental type pavement cafes. The day is bright and sunny, we walk alongside the Avon river which has a chap in a boater punting down stream. OK maybe a little English.
We feel that Christchurch would be a very pleasant place to live, certainly house prices here are second only to Nelson in South island. Yet this clean, bright city has more gangs than anywhere else in South Island and perhaps even the whole of NZ. There are 7 in all: Road Knights, Epitaph Riders, Devil’s Henchmen, Highway 61s, Black Power, M men Kaha and Mongrel Mob. At the time we know nothing of this and so it is with some regret that we leave town but we need to head North now, Christchurch is as far south as we are going. The drive north up Highway 1 is tedious. It is Sunday afternoon and the whole world seems to be trying to drive his or her car up my arse even though I am going quite swiftly at about l10 kph. Apparently the police have arrested 21 people over the Easter period for driving too slowly. Personally I find l this hard to believe. They are not on this road this afternoon.
However all our troubles fade away when we arrive in Kaikoura, it is a beautiful place. To celebrate Joe, Ellen and I go out to dinner and spend the evening giving Joe a damn good telling off, I’m sure he deserved it.
Ever since I first read about Kaikoura I wanted to watch the whales. What a magical thing to do. Unfortunately I had reckoned without the cost, I knew it would be expensive but I hadn’t counted on it costing $380 for the four of us by boat, or $320 by plane or $480 by helicopter, too much, too much. I was pretty pissed off by this and for a while it threatened to ruin this beautiful day in this beautiful spot. On a whiteboard, in the visitors centre, there is a list of all the activities that Kaikoura and the immediate area has to offer. Bearing in mind the population of the town is only 2209, they are: Farm tours, 4-wheel safaris, Thunder down Under-a ride on a Harley Davison, horse trek, possum posse, cave tour, historical house tour, museum, art and craft, guided walks, bike hire, golf, squash, whale watch from boat, plane and helicopter, seal swim, dolphin swim, hang gliding, bird watching, wave ski trip, scuba diving, canoe hire, scenic flights and a train trip. Phew! I feel exhausted just copying down the list. I also feel admiration for Kiwi ingenuity when it comes to leisure pursuits and annoyed that most of the activities are so expensive. Probably small potatoes to the average Japanese tourist but surely too dear for the average Kiwi. Or is it just us that are poor? Anyway a Japanese tourist recently died whilst out whale-watching perhaps the boat should have had signs in Japanese saying – stay this side of the boat. Perhaps it does we will never know.
In the end we resorted to what we knew best, food and drink and the free spa experience. We bought two crayfish patties, two bottles of chilled beer and a bottle of Chardonnay and ate and drank on the beach. In the evening we go for a walk along the cliff tops and I have a Golden GateBridge experience. This is where I am in a high place from which I could fall and kill myself. I have this somewhat irrational fear that I will throw myself off this high place and die. It can get quite scary and I have, in the past, been reduced to crawling along the ground. I’m not so bad this time but it is a great relief to get down to the beach. As we round a headland on our walk on the path is a large brown seal, just lying around. I have never been this close to a seal out of captivity, it is a moving moment and whilst it doesn’t completely make up for the whales, it goes along way towards it. Apparently you should never get between a seal and the sea or their cuteness can rapidly disappear. We do not know this at this time and that’s what we do. This seal obviously doesn’t know this either and we pass by quite amicably. We ease aching limbs with a spa and end the day with Spag Boll and a bottle of cheap wine. Marvellous. All those fancy activities nearly made me feel very dissatisfied with beautiful Kaikoura, but in the end the beauty of the place and our capacity to enjoy the simple things of life won out. Another nice day.
Today we left Kaikoura and drove north to Blenheim. In keeping with our policy of an argument a day, we had one on the way. This one was caused because I wanted to watch the train which runs next to the road and the ocean and the rest of the family wanted to watch the seals. Seals won. I was pissed off because having sacrificed the train I didn’t get any gratitude, I was just called Mr Impatient. Silly hey? The east coat scenery is beautiful, blue, blue sea, blue sky, green hills and an empty road.
The purpose in coming to Blenheim was to visit the CloudyBay vineyard. Something of a pilgrimage for me ever since drinking their Sauvignon Blanc 7 or 8 years ago. The vineyard itself was quite ordinary as I had expected it to be, functional white concrete buildings. What did surprise me was to find out what any true CB fan would have known which was that CB had originally been wholly Australian owned and was now 80% owned by Veuve Cliquot and 20% OZ. I wasn’t surprised by the CB T-shirts, aprons, postcards, maps, nor by the magazine covers on the walls extolling CB wines, it was all in the best possible taste as Kenny Everett would have said. I was amazed when people came in and refused the option to taste all four wines on offer. No I’ll just try the Chardonnay. I wanted to rush across and say I’ll have theirs if they don’t want it. Imagine turning down a tasting of CB. I was slightly surprised to be having a conversation with the nice lady who organises the wine tasting to be telling her I was a psychologist and listening to the problems she was having with her children. I shall always think of her and her two children at boarding school in Christchurch when I look at the CB label. We bought a bottle of the ’94 Pinot Noir (better than the 92 even though I didn’t want it to be). I stole two leaves off of the rows of vines. I shall press them. We also took the tour of Montana wines, NZ’s largest wine producers. It was OK but had no soul and the wines were pretty indifferent in my humble opinion. Stayed in an inglorious motel, dined at Pizza Hut and had an argument. Say goodnight Gracie.
This is the last day of the holiday. Looking back there was so much we didn’t do it would be easy to feel dissatisfied, no whale watching, bungy jumping, white water rafting, caving, swimming with dolphins. We have, as usual with the Galvins on tour, argued, bitched, and tantrumed our way around the South island, however we have also had a great time. Whales, wind and wine, have been the tone of our souvenirs, OK the whales might only have been on a poster we bought, and the mightiness of the weather has been represented by the wind chimes we bought at the art and craft market in Christchurch but the wine in the shape of Cloudy Bay was impressive, a bottle, two postcards, a wine map and a Cloudy Bay apron, all very pleasing.
Today we travelled the last leg of the journey from Blenheim to Picton. We decided to spend the last day on the Marlborough Sounds in a little place called Waikana. Just sitting on the hillside overlooking the Picton Sound was… can’t think of a word to describe it. The sky was bright blue, the sun hot, the water azure, the sails of the yachts white, the hillsides that come right down to the sea, were green, that sort of thing. A truly lovely place. In fact the sort of place that gets you thinking about life. Should an ordinary person like me aspire to live in such a place as this? The problem is that it has that paradise label again and that worries me because supposing you managed to move here and then find that it wasn’t paradise at all. Imagine the disappointment, it could be crippling when the expectations had been so high. Anyway it’s just an idle wasters dream wanting to live here, places like this are to visit not to live. Looking out across the water was the context for some deep thinking about whether we wanted to stay in NZ and if so when and for how long and where would we choose if we had the whole of NZ to choose from??
This was all so puzzling that we hired a little motor boat and set out across the sounds. Is this perfection or what? Well not actually, it was hard to keep the boat straight, the water when actually on it rather than above it, was a little choppy (and got choppier as the wind got up). Joe and I managed to fall out about how he was steering the boat, Ellen got wet as she was sitting at the pointy end and confessed to feeling scared and anxious on the water. So, even in paradise, we managed to make life difficult. However, despite this little dose of reality therapy we had a great time and it felt like the right thing to do on our last day.
At the end of this, almost idyllic, day it was on to the big boat for the journey across Cook Strait. I feel safer on boats than planes but I still feel nervous, the Spirit of Free Enterprise always in my mind when taking a ferry. I always sit by the door just in case the boat goes over and when the kids ask if they can go to the cinema on the boat I want to say no because you have to stay by an exit. I always stay on deck as long as possible, as I did tonight until it became cold and completely dark. If I had known when we set off what I later read in the April, 1968 Evening Standard, I probably would have been more nervous than usual. On April 10th 1968 New Zealand had its own maritime disaster when the ferry Wahine left Wellington to sail to Picton and was blown onto the rocks called Barret Reef just by WorserBay. The boat capsized and 51 people drowned. This was the same route, same time of day and the same time of year, almost to the day. I didn’t know this as I watched the cars and rolling stock roll on board. As the train loaded its wagons the boat listed to the side. I remembered the Spirit and how the vehicles had broken loose and with the weight of the water, capsized the boat, drowning nearly two hundred people. I tried to sleep but with every little roll of the boat my pulse rate increased. The lights of Wellington harbour looked great anyway, tonight they looked really special. The drive back ‘home’, as Joe called it, was fine. We dropped Kate off at Matt’s flat. This relationship is going up a notch or two. Where will it end?
Having not gotten to bed until 1 o’clock, it was something of an effort to get up at 7.30 and go into the office. After 10 days in the South island, days which got progressively more rosier by the minute as today wore on, I couldn’t get into work at all and my mind, with nothing pressing to fully occupy it, wandered into do I really want to be in good old Palmy and from this to do I really want to be working at all? Fortunately my lethargy was in keeping with the general mood in the office because nobody seemed to want to be there. The Kiwi work ethic? Furthermore they all seemed to understand perfectly when I hinted that coming back to work in Palmy was a little bit of an anti-climax after sounds and mountains down South. Yeah, it’s a beautiful place, hey? I have no idea what I achieved other than participate in a lot of conversations that were non-work related. I have always found that the best thing about going away on holiday and then returning home is being able to meet up with your mates down the pub or somebody might just pop round to the house to see how you were. There is none of this here, I miss it because I have no, or little, sense of returning home, despite the fact that both children appear to regard it thus.
Today was a funny old day, hey, it seemed that God, after my feeling of uninvolvement, yesterday both sociably and work wise, had decided that He would give me the opportunity of feeling a part of the Palmy scene. The day consisted of one long meeting about developing the strategic business plan for the centre and the area. I had vaguely put my name down for this group towards the end of last term secure in the knowledge that it would never come around. Well it did but I thought I would probably miss it because it was supposed to be in Wanganui and I would somehow ‘forget’ to go. But, bugger me with a fish fork, as a pal in Yorkshire would say, they moved the meeting to Palmy. OK no sweat, I’ll just forget to go to the meeting and nobody will miss little old me, I’m not important, or haven’t been so far. Wrong again, Rose actually came looking for me and said they were waiting for me to start the meeting. Blimey. So I went to the meeting feeling, well at least I’ll find out what’s going on and get some inside information about how the organisation actually functions. I won’t say anything, I’ll just sit and listen. Well wrong for a third time, three strikes and out. As the morning wore on I found myself saying more and more about organisational values and long term goals and individual and team objectives. Furthermore not only did I have things to say but the rest of the group seemed genuinely impressed and motivated by what I was saying. It got me quite worried at one point, especially when Eddie went euphoric about how much fun he was having, Rose said thank you she had enjoyed my humour and Glenice was pretty pleased (to say the least) with the way things had gone. I appear to have gone from a nonentity to a star in my own lunchtime. Bloody hell, I thought it was good but not that good. But bask in the glory while it is here because no doubt it will be ephemeral. For today I am a king in the workplace.
To celebrate Bill and I went to the Celtic for a beer, but I had a hard time dragging any compliments out of him about my performance, obviously my moment had already ephemed. His and Brenda’s relationship is back in good shape and I did not want to be the accidental architect of any more strife. At 2 minutes to 6 Bill looked at his watch, stood up and said “time for another one, what are you having?” He went to the bar came back about two minutes later with our drinks looked at his watch again and said “Is that the time, I’ll get shot, I’m supposed to be home for 6.” “For God’s sake don’t tell Brenda you’ve been drinking with me,” I said. He downed his drink and left. Go figure.
Continuing with the theme of how much I belong in Palmy work and social-wise, we met Mike and Anne for ‘a feed’ at some Turkish restaurant I can’t spell. This is getting to be a Friday night thing which is nice even though back home we always made a point of staying in on a Friday night and watching the gardening programmes. Mike in that fun-loving way of his told us he had invited Adrian and Pam. The cheeky monkey, Ellen of course- believed him, gullible little fool. Naturally I knew better. However it turned out he had. My face as they arrived was, as they say, a picture. One of the reasons I felt that today had gone so well was that Adrian’s fairly poisonous contributions were absent, he hasn’t really been quite the same since he was moved out of his office and he took today off. But here he was sitting down to join us like we were all the best of friends. The evening went OK under the circumstances, Adrian laughing at all Mike’s witticisms and none of mine, asking Mike whether he is going to the jazz tomorrow but not me, well bollocks, I’m not going to ask what jazz. He even beats me at blasted shove hapenny in the arcade on the way bark to the car. 6 drunken adults (well 3 of us were,) making more noise than the young clientele. We all go back to Ado’s and Pam’s for liqueurs and the rugby league game between the Auckland Warriors and Manly. Auckland get well stuffed and I continue drinking. I don’t think I said anything outrageous, I don’t think I did??
I awake somewhat gingerly wondering if I have got away with the excesses of last night. I conclude that I have. This was precipitous because about midday I start to feel very sick indeed. This does not feel like a hangover but this is no great comfort. I retreat back to my bed, which is where Ellen and Joe find me when she gets back from shopping. I get up for the second time. I feel slightly better but decide on a gentle day. Just the day (it’s a bit grey and rainy) for sorting out the videos of the trip so far of the South Island jaunt. Half way through this I feel sick again and retire once more. I get up again and gently set about reading the Evening Standard. I am gratified to read that only 14% of Kiwis in a recent survey thought there were too many British immigrants in New Zealand, but when I realised that this was 4% more than thought there were too many Australians (i.e. 10%) this did not seem like such encouraging news. At least we beat the bloody South Africans (imagine being less popular than them), 18% thought there were too many South ifricans. But can you believe they are improving their popularity rating, There were 24% of the population thought this last October. We’ve improved our rating by 7% from last October. Out in front of the ‘there’s too many of them’ camp are Pacific islanders, 52% of the Kiwis surveyed thought there are too many of them and of course the Asians are still up there with 46% although this was down from 51% last October. Apparently the Asians are so pissed off about the increasingly hostile reception they are getting in NZ that they are going to form their own political party. The ‘interesting’ thing about this stuff is that the feeling that there are too many immigrants is strongest amongst those aged 18 to 24. Enough of politics, we round off a dopey day by watching Midnight Cowboy yet again, it is no less depressing watching it for the 8th time in a different country. I still don’t think Dustin Hoffman had to die to make it a good film. But he does.
The day begins unpromisingly with a visit from a Jehovah’s Witness. He asks me (I drew the short straw and answered the door) if I had ever wondered where disease comes from. I resisted the temptations to say that I thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses probably transmitted it door to door and contented myself by saying that I really wasn’t interested and would he kindly go away.
Another gentle day for me but it is gratifying to know that the rest of New Zealand is still running, cycling, sailing, chasing balls of various sorts and generally just being active. We take a gentle stroll through the park by the river. Men’s hockey seems to be the game of choice this morning. As it has been raining cats and dogs and cows yesterday and last night, not surprisingly the river is brown and extremely swollen with trees the size of houses floating past at the speed of the average Grand Prix driver. It was something of a surprise then to see the first competitors of a Triathalon round the bend up river. They had run, cycled and now canoed their way round the Manawatu for the last 4 hours and 25 minutes (and 38 seconds) and now here they were steering the canoes straight into the bank falling out into the water, nearly being swept away in the torrent, not that anybody seemed worried about this, and then racing up the bank to the finishing line. I felt exhausted just watching them. A pang of guilt swept over me, or whatever pangs of guilt do. I made a mental note to set aside the embarrassment of my last games of squash and get going again. After all I have paid $180 for the privilege of not playing.
In keeping with my very sedentary weekend we read the Sunday papers and have some excellent pasta and a bottle of chilled Chardonnay. The TV news tells of a policeman killed in a drive-by shooting in Hastings. 19 policemen have been killed in the line of duty since 1850 when the national force was formed. Has Britain ever had a policeman killed in a drive-by shooting? I don’t think so. Hastings is just an average NZ town, population 37,500. Until now its greatest claim to fame is probably that the town has been destroyed by fire twice (in 1893, 1907) and an earthquake in 1931.
However none of this is as bizarre as the phone call from Dick in England. He tells me that Nudger is running in the London marathon. I could not begin to describe how unlikely this is. Nudge is not as fat as the late John Candy but even in his deceased state, John Candy would be fitter and more likely to finish the race. In all the years I have played cricket with Nudge I have never seen him move on the field. How he was allowed to take part in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons is beyond me. Apparently he is being sponsored by the Nat West, why? The world has gone crazy, crazy.
The school term begins today so everybody is back at work. The woman in charge of the special needs unit where Ellen works has heard that her son has committed suicide at OtagoUniversity. Apparently he was great lad with ‘everything going for him.’ I cannot understand why New Zealand has such a high suicide rate, the second highest in the world amongst young males. It doesn’t seem to be to do with students feeling pressured to achieve as in Japan, or to do with long winters, alcohol and temperamental predisposition as in the Scandinavian countries or to do with the lack of purpose, sense and reason in life as in the USA. None of these factors seem to apply in New Zealand, although there is some suggestion that the lad here never got over being turned down for medical school. Maybe it’s something to do with not being able to say if you’re male that you are depressed and confused. Instead you say great, good, excellent, couldn’t be better, good as gold, even though it’s not.
Another statistic according to one Maori spokeswoman, Donna, is that New Zealand has the highest burglary rate in the world. I don’t know whether this is true or not but today Kate gets robbed or rather the bar in which she is working is robbed. Her boss gives her a bollocking for leaving the till unattended. This and a difficult telephone call from her boyfriend back in England, leads her to describe this as the worst day of her life. Now she doesn’t even have Sheila (the dog) to comfort her.
An interesting day workwise I have to chair a meeting about a boy with severe behaviour problems who is coming into one of my schools. The school don’t really want him, they don’t see why they should have to alter anything to cope with him. His grandmother, with whom he lives, reckons he has broken her thumb and, to prove the point, holds her thumb aloft throughout the whole of the meeting. The woman appointed to look after him thus far spends all her time pointing out how diabolical he always is, the chairwoman of the Board of Trustees doesn’t want him because she is frightened that he is going to beat up all the other kids and then parents are going to withdraw their children, the play centre staff want everybody to know just how difficult their life has been for the last few months. Into this maelstrom sail Di, the early intervention teacher, and I trying to be bright and positive and get things set up so he has some chance for success rather than being kicked out on his ear. It proves just about impossible and after an hour and 45 minutes the meeting comes to a fairly ill-tempered close about 5 o’clock. Di and I decide that we have earned a wee drink and call in at the only pub on the way home, the Awaruni. This is a fairly basic sort of pub used by passing truck drivers and local farmers but the landlord was very friendly. Here over a couple of jugs of Lion Red we find out that we had both nearly lost it when the teacher said that quote, “if the kids were good she let them dip into her pleasure box.” In the midst of a difficult meeting this nearly sent me hysterical. Fortunately neither of us realised until afterwards that we were both have the same problem with not laughing.
This ‘incident’ reminded of a similar ‘incident’ on last year’s cricket tour when myself and my two cricketing chums Nudge and Franko were talking to this old groundsman chap before the game and this woman rode past on a horse. The groundsman said “there’s the captain’s wife going down on the horse.” Knowing each other pretty well we knew that eye contact would be fatal, so there was a lot of very intent staring at the grass and each hoping that the other would not give in to the giggles because this old chap would not have understood why, in the middle of a perfectly normal conversation, all three of us should suddenly go insane. The tension of the school meeting and a couple of beers got the better of Di and I and the tears rolled down our faces to the point that all the rough truck drivers and farmers stared and probably wondered why two apparently normal looking people should suddenly go mad. Was it something in the beer?
I carry on drinking with Smashy at the Railway where, for the first time, our names ‘Psycho’ and ‘Boss’ are on our glasses. They really did seem like a good idea at the time. We talk of many things: youth suicide, exporting wedgies to England, the fitness of the barmaid, squash coaching, gourmet cooking courses, you know just the average kind of conversation. When I get home in high spirits I find Ellen in low spirits because she has just received a letter from one of her sisters saying she is leaving her husband. Out of four sisters she is the only one whose marriage has survived. I tell her this is because I am such a great guy, but she is worried that something might go wrong with us as well. If she thinks I turn down lots of offers of extra-marital sex she is well wide of the mark, although, after 6 or 7 beers, I am clearly, if not a living God, at least an extraordinary guy. I fall asleep pondering on how lucky Ellen is to have me.
Kate’s career, on the rocks after being judged incompetent over the robbery incident, is apparently back on the rails as today she is sent for management training by her boss. A meteoric rise. She learns about how a Boss rules by fear the Leader inspires, the boss says go and the leader says let’s go. Kate’s ‘social’ life remains a tad complicated not only is her boyfriend from England due next month but one of her ex’s is proving a little difficult to get rid of. He is a jockey, they must be known for their persistence because he will not go away, he goes into the bar and stares at her, he drives by the house and while Kate was in the South Island he told her current true love, Matt, that she was still going out with him. Much upsetment. His name is Damien and every time he came round to the house I used to hum the bit from Carmen Burana that they play in “Only Fools and Horses’ when Rodney was around Del’s son Damien (as in the film The Omen). With his mildly psychotic-type behaviour this does not seem quite so funny now. Furthermore he is headline news in the paper, not for having committed any hideous crime but for having won his first race over jumps. He is even quoted, but there is no mention, thankfully, of Kate, you know the sort of thing, “I dedicate this success to my only true love, Kate and I hope to honour her with many more to celebrate our togetherness.” What he actually says is “I won’t be going out there to set the world alight and I just want to pick and choose my mounts for now, and see how it goes.” Maybe it is in code.
I get my ego massaged by the Guidance and Learning teachers who all say they want me to be their supervisor not Ado and Ed. I cannot hide my pleasure (although it would mean more work) but I try to be professional, obviously you would need to talk to Glenice about this, blah, blah. I tell Glenice about this and her business brain, the dollar signs in her eyes, asks how much can we charge them? This girl will go far.
In the evening the staff and partners (not the whole of the office because Brenda and Bill don’t come, is he banned again? and Adrian and Pam obviously have more important things to do) go for a meal at a new restaurant. You can tell it is new because there is only us there, the paint is still hidden behind a curtain near the toilet and the waiter is so unctuous it is a wonder he doesn’t slip on a pool of his own oil. The meal is to mark the fact that Sarah, the English admin person, is leaving SES to go back to England. Sarah will be missed because she is fun, she giggles at my jokes even really sad ones like ‘why have I got a small one?’ (space on the board where we write where we’re going). She does not want to go but her boyfriend, Allan, who was brought out here by Glaxo on a three year contract is being sent home because Glaxo have decided to close their New Zealand plant. They have been here less than year and are pretty pissed off about the job finishing – corporate planning at its finest- as they have really enjoyed New Zealand. We talk about how they might get NZ citizenship, how many points you need (25 at the moment, although it changes depending on whether they want immigrants or not) and what kind of thing gets you points -age, qualifications, job offer, money, that sort of thing. I ask Alan what he has missed about England and he replies, quite quickly, the pubs, footy (even though he is a BirminghamCity fan) and then, after a little more thought, family and friends. The evening is pleasant enough Mike (the lawyer) and I pass silly schoolboy notes to each other (he is on another table), I take the opportunity of getting a few more laughs out of Eddie’s driving, he gets a laugh out of mine by pointing out that in all his years of driving he has never had a speeding ticket and in one month I have three. Eddie occasionally bursts out unto song for no apparent reason. Sandra’s husband Roger makes a nice observation about one person (who shall be nameless) who he says must be in extravert mood this evening because he is looking at his (Roger’s) shoes rather than his own.
We get home to find a letter from Ellen’s sister’s husband putting his side of the marital split. I’m surprised, and in some ways touched, because I always thought that he didn’t give a shit what we thought and in fact didn’t particularly like us. It is a sad letter and Ellen gets a little tearful, I tell her to snap out of it or I will leave her. Not really. Another event-full day.
This is Anzac Day, a national holiday in NZ. It is a day of remembrance of those Kiwi soldiers who fell at Galipolli in the First World War when the British generals thought it might be neat to sacrifice a lot of Kiwi troops rather than our own. We don t have any national holidays of remembrance but here the day is taken seriously, all the shops shut and it is not a good day to be British in NZ. I decide to acknowledge the day by staying in bed. This simple plan is not successful.
John (a chap from one of my schools) rings at 8.30 to tell me that he will be round in 20 minutes to cut the grass. I can hardly refuse given the kindness he is showing in coming to cut my grass. So at about 9 o’clock John’s petrol driven grass cutter is going full blast and John, who has a loud voice at the best of times, is now shouting above the noise and also because he has headphones and a walkman on his ears and he is telling me how to trim the edges. I timidly suggest that this might be a bit early for the neighbours, his reply is predictable given what I know of him. “Fuck em, mate.” Given my interaction with the neighbours over the loud music a few weeks ago I have some sympathy with this philosophy but on the other hand they have been quiet since and I don’t wish to set them off again. All this is academic because John is well into it by now and he is not a man to be easily deterred. John is very large and determined and dressed in the standard Kiwi outfit, shorts, a very large checked shirt and wellies (or gumboots as he calls them). We cut the lawn or rather John does and then he turns his attention to the ‘garden’. The ‘garden’ consists of a small patch of cultivated ground about 5 yards by 6 yards in the middle of the lawn. After several months of neglect it resembles a shrubbery, John, sensitive soul that he is, suggests mowing it flat, then putting the weed killer on it. He mows it flat and then explains to me that he has two sorts of weed killer. There is the eco-friendly sort which lasts about 8 weeks and then there is “The total, fucking death one, mate. I dropped some of this on my lawn once and it wouldn’t grow again for 5 years, mate.” I suggest that this might be a little unfair on whoever lives in the house in six months after we have left. “Not your fucking problem mate,” John replies. I manage to persuade him to desist with the Agent Orange approach and we go in for a cup of tea. He wouldn’t let either of us have a drink before the job was finished. I worry for my plastic garden chair as John sits down, but it survives OK, we chat about this and that, tax returns, making kites, buying prints, photography, what he did in the holidays and then off he goes. In his ‘car’ a 28 year old Hillman Hunter that looks like it has been nuked inside and sandblasted outside..
I get changed and set off for my first ever golf lesson. The driving range/course is right next to the airport. I am convinced that golf is a very difficult game because there are so many things to remember. Also the ball and the club face are small so the margin for error is extremely large. The only theoretical positive golf has over a game like cricket, for instance, is that the ball stays still, but in your mind it doesn’t, it’s mentally wobbling about all over the place. The other supposed plus for golf is that you haven’t got an opponent trying to stop you hitting it but what you do have is yourself and in my case this is a far more potent than any opponent. My problem is that I get very tense when trying to relax and hit a golf ball. The mental checklist is probably meant to counteract this by breaking a complex task down unto simple steps. It goes something like this: check the grip, left hand index finger on the grip, two v’s pointing to the right shoulder, overlap the little finger, thumbs straight down the shaft not too tight, sit back, incline the torso forward, flex the knees, address the ball, club face square to the ball, feet apart, ball equally spaced between the two feet, hands ahead of the ball weight on the balls of your feet, don t lean sideways, slow backswing, hit behind and through the ball, transfer the weight, keep the head still watch the ball on the back swing, relax the elbows, follow through, hold the position. And where has the fucking little thing gone for all this mental and physical effort (because I am so tense it tires me out), well I’ll tell you I’ve sliced it over the fence and into the airport outfield, that’s where.
“Ixcillent, ixcillent, much better that time,” says Susan. Susan is my golf tutor and she is very nice and is going to play in the British Open this August. I hope she does well because she deserves all the good times she can get if this is how she has to spend the rest of her life. Susan, after every fluffed shot, tries to find something encouraging to say, “Good, you stayed down better that time, remember keep the hid still.” On the occasions when she finds nothing to say I know that it was a truly miserable effort. Susan tells me there are three simple words to remember that sum up golf, unfortunately, even though I have made an effort to remember them, at the end I can only remember ‘pop’ and I’m not even sure about that. Susan says I’m far too tense, “Jeez, I can hardly move the club back she says, “Relax will you.” Trying to relax makes me even tenser. “It’s probably your personality (just a mo I’m supposed to be the psychologist), you’ve got to be ‘oily’, Susan tells me. This I do remember.
She often demonstrates what I should be doing and I find myself in the unusual position of being encouraged to look very carefully at a woman’s body, cardigan, shorts, and little white socks and all. Perhaps a trifle on the heavy side but with nice, shapely legs. It is a little confusing and it is an unwelcome, additional thought running through my head along with all the others above. She shows me a drill to keep my hid still which involves taking the club putting it behind my head and kind of rotating my hips, transferring my weight from foot to foot, whilst looking at a ball on the ground and not moving my head. I can’t even do this and I feel a right prat. I am convinced that, if I looked around, the rest of the ‘club’ would be holding their sides with mirth. Despite all this I enjoy my first lesson, we talk a bit about cricket and drinking and Bill Chote. When I look at my watch I realise that Susan has given me an hour rather than the half hour I had paid for. This made me feel good, obviously she sees potential in my golf or in me. Dream on. Good though.
This was a day that has been looming in my diary for a while, my first proper training day in a New Zealand school, a high school. Last night I had my usual pre-training insecure dreams for the first time here in NZ. The usual stuff, I’ve left my overheads at home, the audience walk about and come on stage, they are aggressive, I forget what I am going to say, but mostly it is about looking for lost overhead transparencies. Whilst the presentations I do go down well in England I had no idea about how they would go down here. Well with one exception, a woman who knits throughout my presentation, I go down well. If students showed this kind of disinterest in her lessons I have no doubt that she would throw a fit, but it is OK for her to be rude to me. Then she looks up from her knitting and says something like – it’s alright for you saying these things but what do you do when….. Smart arse. Fuck you lady. Despite this bitch mother from hell, I am, as they say, well pleased to have this first one out of the way. A second first this week.
At lunchtime we all adjourn to Valentine’s. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch and so it proves. I have to make conversation with the staff who present as an intimidating group when I am presenting but are bloody boring as individuals. This is a restaurant where you eat as much as you can, no limit on how many times you go back and refill your plate. This type of restaurant does not bring the best out in me. Probably some deep-seated childhood insecurity leads me to try and eat everything in sight. I kick off with soup and enough crotons to reconstitute a whole loaf. For my second course on the same plate I have and eat spare ribs, spicy beef, fish shapes, fish and chips, potato salad, egg salad, samosas, garlic bread and fish mornay in a large shell. I follow this with brandy snaps, trifle, pears, ice cream, cream and a chocolate eclair. And to think that I recently wrote to a friend in England saying that stress had made me skinny, now I am back to being Mr Blobby.
True to this identity I have a few beers after work and then blob out and watch terrible New Zealand TV. As it is Friday night it is gardening night. Now interestingly this is the first time I have watched this programme for several weeks. The last time I wrote about it as one of those parallel universe experiences but tonight I watch with pleasure and the gardens and plants featured no longer seem strange. Crikey, I must be settling down to life in NZ.
I get my haircut by John again. I have given up and called for an appointment first. This time he charges me $5, the first time it was $10, the second time $7 and now it is $5. What is going on, am I losing my hair as the weeks go by? As I get to town early I call in at the music shop for a little wander round the guitars and the pianos and keyboards. I note that somebody called Steve is offering guitar lessons. In line with my new attitude to coaching I take his number.
Continuing this theme, further news from the home front, today was my first squash lesson ever, anywhere. My coach is called Jenny, who, as you might guess, is a woman. What is it about me and female coaches? First golf and now squash. As Oscar Wilde would have said one is a coincidence but two is just bloody odd. And, furthermore she gives me over an hour’s tuition rather than 40 minutes because her next pupil had to cancel. I must be the ideal pupil. In this case I find myself more inclined to argue what I do and explain in a rather defensive fashion why I do it. With the golf I went for the ‘You’re right, I’m utterly crap, teach me all you know’ line. Here I go for the ‘yes I know I do that, it’s because….’ line. Jenny takes this all pretty well and once again I find myself being encouraged to carefully study a woman’s body. Jenny stands very close when demonstrating what I need to do. I think she would probably like to do the traditional tennis coaching thing beloved of many movies where the dirty old coach gets behind the nubile young thing to guide her through the swing. You know, where the girl says to the coach “Oh Mr Garfinkel, I never knew tennis could be this much fun.” Or he says “Hmm, Jeannie you’re developing nicely.” There is none of this other than the standing too close and even then I move away because it feels so unusual. In spite of these small complications the lessons goes really well and I learn more about squash in an hour than I have playing the game in the previous 20 years. Jenny says there are only three things to remember about squash, this sounds familiar. One, keep watching the ball. Two, move your feet. Three, stay sideways. Four, keep the racket head high. Strange I couldn’t remember the three simple things about golf now I can remember four things about squash even though there are only three. It reminds me of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch. The sketch starts with Graham Chapman rushing into a room and saying in a broad Yorkshire accent “Trouble at mill, cross-beam’s gone out of skew on treddle.” Carol whatshername, the lady who occasionally got her tits out, says something like “I don’t what you’re talking about.” Graham Chapman repeats what he has just said and Carol says again she doesn’t understand. Then Graham says “Look I was just told to come in here and say cross-beam’s gone out of skew on treddle, I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.” Whereupon Michael Palin as Cardinal Richlieu (sic) bursts into the room with the immortal words “Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition, our main weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, our two main weapons’ and so on and so on until he gets to ‘four main weapons’ and then he says “I’ll go out and come in again.” Classic stuff in my opinion and I always think of the sketch any time in life when there turns out to be one more item than I thought. Enough of this. I arrange another lesson for the same time next week.
News from the national front, no, not that national front. One of the few home-made programmes on New Zealand TV is called ‘Assignment’, it is rather like Panorama, that looks strange, have I been away so long? The programme this week was about guess what? Yep, immigration again. This is an election year of course so maybe it is understandable. This programme is about foreign ownership (when does investment become ownership?) of Kiwi companies but more emotively in the buying up of supposedly large tracts of land. I cannot think of a similar issue in Britain, the closest I can recall was when the Arabs started buying Mayfair. My memory of this was that those of us up North couldn’t give a flying fox about that happening. It’s another country and they’re welcome to it was my attitude. Similarly, an over-representation of foreign investment in British companies never struck me as an issue. Perhaps that’s because I am an ignorant sort of chap in these matters. It never formed the focus of conversation at my local and accountants and bankers were well represented at these soirees. In fact the only time I can remember being aware of foreign investment as an issue was when Hansen was heavily investing in the USA. ‘The company from over here that’s doing rather nicely over there’, or something like this was there slogan. Of course there is not much land to buy in Britain but, instead of feeling vaguely smug about foreigners not buying up Britain, I suppose we should be worried that nobody seems to think that Britain is worth buying up. The thrust of the supporters of foreign investment was that Kiwis should be jolly glad that the Japanese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Hong Kongese, Chinese, Australians, Americans and even the British, see New Zealand as such a going concern as to want to invest here.
The day begins with a phone call from my mother at 8. 10. “Are you alright?” is her very first sentence, no ‘good morning’, ‘hello it’s me’ or any greeting of that sort. At first I think she asking because I sound a bit blurry her having woken me up and me feeling like I’ve got a little congestion. I quickly realise this is not the thrust of her question. The thrust is – you haven’t called me for a long time, I know perfectly well that the reason you haven’t called is because you are a selfish shit but if I ask you if there is some reason – domestic cricks, earthquake, terminal illness – that you haven’t called and there is no reason then not only will she know I am a selfish little shit but I will know it also. As she knows full well that none of the above apply she will open the conversation with a high score to her in the guilt category. I explain that we were going to call later today, we have the usual conversation about what time and day it is here there, but I know that saying we were going to call scores nil points. I explain that we usually call on a Sunday evening here. Quick as a flash she tells me we have only called once on Sunday (and so the word ‘usually’ cannot be used in this context). 76 and sharp as a tack when she needs to be. I suggest calmly that I think we have called more than once. If this was a phone call back home my mother would have pursued the point until it was absolutely clear that we hadn’t called more than once and therefore further confirmation of what a complete and utter shit I am. Fortunately the fact that she is paying for this call seems to cramp her natural style. I ask, as I have to, how Alvin, her next door neighbour is. Alvin is about 90 and ill in the way that 90 year old people get. My mother ‘looks after’ him and it is a source of great joy to her that none of his proper relatives do, so she gets a lot of points from this martyrdom. We play this little game. If I don’t ask about Alvin she will find some way of introducing him into the conversation. A favourite one is for example she will say “What time are you going to call me next time? because I go round to Alvin’s every morning to do things for him so I’ll be round there if you call after 10 .” This is completely unnecessary because calling after 10 in the morning would be calling after 11 at night here. Nevertheless it serves the purpose of getting Alvin into the conversation. I know this so I usually feel that I might as well get it over with and ask first.
Whether she introduces him or I do the next response is always the same, a little bitter but understated laugh the sort that speaks volumes about the unfairness of this world, and then she says “I don’t think we’d better talk about Alvin.” Oh. OK I say, knowing full well that this means nothing to either of us. She continues “I go round every morning and make his bed, put in his eye drops, get his lunch and some other things we won’t talk about, and Brad (his cousin) never comes round, I think it’s disgusting, that’s what I think ” I resist the urge to say sarcastically, thank God you don’t want to talk about him and try to switch the conversation round to the other gentleman she socialises with. Les is his name and he is ill and this is fine because then she can use his illness as further evidence of the burdens upon her. If he (Les) is well, as in this case he is, then my mother will move on quickly, preferably back to Alvin whom she does not wish to discuss or to some other topic or person that is equally making her life akin to that of Mother Teresa’s. All this designed to very clearly make the point that she does not blame me for going to New Zealand whilst in fact she does blame me completely and I am therefore a selfish shit. She says, as if speaking to an imbecile “It’s your turn to call me in three weeks time.” Even though I am 47 1 reply “Yes mother, bye now, take care of yourself, bye.” Then I put the phone down, turn to Ellen and say “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Joe has now received a letter from his 2 cousins, the children of Ellen’s sister who has left her husband. I have not read the letter but apparently it says that nothing much is happening around here, oh apart from the fact that mum doesn’t live here now and that Ann-Marie isn’t here at the moment because she is at her mother’s house.
I chalk up a hat trick of’ ‘firsts’ this week by driving round to the airport to watch the first ever commercial international flight take off from Palmy airport. The company Freedom Air has just started flights to Sydney and Brisbane. $299 is the return fare to Sydney which is remarkably cheap at about 130 pounds. A three hour flight to Oz for the same price as the flight from Leeds to London which lasts 45 minutes. Don’t scoff, New Zealand’s newest international airport made the national news. I thought we would be the only sad bastards there to see the plane take off but there were 50 or 60 cars full of other sad bastards also there to ‘witness’ history (not that you can witness history of course). . This was just around the perimeter of the airport apparently, I find out later, at the airport itself there was the cast from “Hair’, a singer, balloons, dozens more people and much general merrymaking. Today could be a big day in the history of Palmy.
Also today I acquire a keyboard from one of Ellen’s workmates and I call Steve to fix up a guitar lesson. As well as the keyboard the kind lady who is Ellen’s workmate lends us a sofa bed. This is the only disappointment of the day. We were looking forward to a sofa that you could sit on without sticking to it in summer and sliding off it in winter. Unfortunately our new sofa is not the answer to our prayers. To be fair it only has one fault but it is a fairly major one, it is impossible to sit on. Regardless of the position you assume it behaves like a sponge cake and you slide off it unless you billet (what you do on rock faces) or rope yourself to the back. It reminds me of our air mattress. We seem doomed to build our domestic bliss on shifting sands.
A rather ordinary day at work. I suppose that even thirteen thousand miles from home on the other side of the world in the Southern Hemisphere people have boring days. I meet Joe’s headmaster he castigates himself in true Catholic fashion for not having been a better host and invites me for a beer. I point out that it is not his responsibility to look after the Galvins, only my son. He appears sceptical about this as I leave. I shall be surprised if I hear from him again. Glenice has gone to Australia to recruit psychologists and, in her absence, Bill is in charge. Bill’s first, and possibly only, decision of the day, as far as I am aware, is to inform me that we are playing golf at four o’clock on Thursday. I like this style of management. As for the rest of the office staff Sarah giggles when she tells me that Man U have beaten Notts Forest 5 -0, I threaten to let down the tyres of her bike but Rose says I cannot as she now legally owns the bike, Maree and Sandra are complaining about the fact that they are working 4 hours longer each week and that their salary has gone down by $40, Lyn says that assuming that your salary will stay the same is like assuming that just because there hasn’t been an earthquake for years does not mean that another won’t happen, Leo says that autism amongst Chinese people has a different slant and Shanee tells me to piss off because she has been to the dentist and is in a bad mood. So nothing interesting there.
The television news leads with the story of 35 people killed in a Tasmanian restaurant by yet another homicidal maniac. Unusually this one does not kill himself and is currently in the same hospital as his wounded victims. This is also an item on Holmes (the Wogan equivalent) particularly because one of New Zealand’s best known young winemakers was one of the victims. I guess you don’t expect to die young in the wine-making business. Holmes asks the usual crap questions – did the police describe to you what the scene was like when they arrived? Why don’t you just ask what did the bodies look like, was there lots of blood? Did anybody’s brains splash on the floor? He follows this with “What’s the reaction there, Diana?” Look stern, quizzical and a bit sad. “Well Paul of course they’re a bit pissed off because it’s going to put some tourists off, although plans for a theme park are already well-advanced.” “Have the people,” he asks, “in Port Arthur rallied round the families of the victims?” “No Paul apparently the view here is that if you eat out you take the risk of being multiply slaughtered by a crazed gunman and everybody knew the risk they were taking.” Holmes assumes the look of a man who has practised looking sad and shocked in a nicely understated way in front of the mirror. “That was Diana Goodman of ABC from Port Arthur.” Then Paul changes faces for the next item. One of the great difficulties of a programme like this is switching from a sad item to an upbeat one. The next item sees Susan Jeffers, an American psychologist who has made a fortune out of telling people to look on the bright side, plugging her latest book. “When I look out of the window,” she says, “I don’t see cloud I see the sun beyond the cloud. Everyday is a sunny day if you see it that way.” “Yes that’s right,” chirps Holmes, apparently forgetting the last item. I would guess that the friends and relatives of those killed in Tasmania might be having a little trouble seeing the sunny side right now. The show finishes with an item about a 70 year old bloke who still plays football for his local team, they show several clips of him on the field and he doesn’t touch the ball once, it just keeps going past him. He performs much better after the game and when he has to blow out the candles he says “Has anybody got a hat in case my teeth fall out?” “They were our people tonight,” concludes Holmes.
Another gang incident. This one modelled on the drive-by shootings in Los Angeles. They’re not very good at it yet because, despite having two members of an opposing gang to aim at, they managed to shoot and innocent woman bystander. The principal of my first school would probably like to shoot me in a drive-by. When I arrive at the school he is pretty mad that nobody had told him that there was a meeting this morning. I explain that this is not my cock-up but he seems unconvinced. “Communication, communication, Peter,” he says shaking his hid. I obviously have not communicated to him that it is not my fault because in the absence of a drive-by shooting, he puts us in a small room full of half-full and open paint cans. It immediately makes me feel sick and I am reminded of an early conversation with Leo about allergies. Fortunately, the meeting does not last too long and I head back towards Palmy. This is one of my favourite drives back from a school because with the sun shining on the ranges, as it is today, the view is inspiring. Unfortunately, today’s drive is completely ruined by the fact that I have to give a lift to a colleague who talks about computers, Internet, modems, touch sensitive screens. Perhaps I am a touch sensitive but for me this ruins the day. An inauspicious start to the day.
In the afternoon I talk to some special education teachers, including one who works with Ellen although I do not know this at the time, and then head off to meet Smashy for our semi-regular Tuesday club drink at The Railway. We talk of mission statements and then Smashy suggests we head off to this 30th wedding anniversary celebration he’s been invited to. The assembled company is well pissed by the time we get there. I do my best to catch up as I am not driving, they insist I have something to eat so I do, about 80% of it in fact. I am starving because I did not have my wedgies at the pub. Wedgies will come to England I predict. I talk to all sorts of folk including a builder to whom I try and explain why Manchester United are scum and must not win the title. He can’t seem to grasp the subtlety of my argument so we agree to differ. I eat, drink some more and get chatted up by this teacher from Joe’s school. At least I think she was chatting me up. She describes Smashy as a larrikin, he always was and he still is although he’s a principal, she says. Ellen arrives to take me home and spoils my fun. By the time I get home I feel well-oiled and the bedroom begins to spin on its axis. I would not normally be this pissed on a Tuesday night in England.
The end of our fourth month in New Zealand is marked by me sitting on the edge of the bed trying to get the room under control. Appropriate Hey?