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Monday, November 21, 2011

12th Sept - Oh What a Day

What a day!! We went on the Shotover River Jet Boat ride - real adrenaline rush and well worth doing if you are ever down this way. The driver takes you to within a couple of feet of the 'cliff - like river edges, and spins the boat round in less than a foot of water. The driver told us that the England rugby team were due down in the afternoon, and a few of them were rafting at the moment.

As we were taking pictures of the stunning gorge afterwards, the Sky team arrived to film the steps leading to a cafe at the top. Around the corner came Haskell, Foden, Hartley and Ashton - top blokes. They were followed by Shaw and Easter, dressed in rafting gear.

We went in for a coffee, when in walks Tom Palmer. I politely asked him for a photo, and he obliged, but said that he'd not made the rafting. I wonder if it had anything to do with last night's beer on his breath? (two nights on the beer as they'd been out in Dunedin the night before). In walks James Haskell with a massive black eye. 'Aah, he said to Palmer, 'The Vomiter'.

After a poor performance on Saturday, it can be handled in two ways - loads of training, or let the lads have a bit of a tour experience to relieve the pressure. It looks like Johnno has chosen the latter. As an experienced tourist, he knows what the lads are like, so good call I say.

Nick Easter came in and looked at the sausage roll that the Sky cameraman was eating, and went for it.

Oh What a Day - Saw Doctors- Best selling Irish band - in Ireland. And U2 they pay taxes in Ireland as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

10th November - Help!

I've finally put on the Fiji pictures - stunning sunsets and florals. I reflect on the holiday daily - the scenery, the friendliness and service standards of both countries far exceed our own. Niceness here is seen as a sin of weakness. Perhaps Cameron's plan for a National Happiness Level would be improved if we all were just polite and smiled a bit more. We wouldn't suffer from stress, rudeness and anger of modern life. Yesterday I went to a jobs fair in Uttoxeter on the bus. A woman asked me if the bus went to Tutbury. I said I thought not it was the next one. A woman behind me stormed, 'lets get past, these two can't make their mind up if they want this bus or not'. Perhaps someone could tell me what we did that demanded such an aggressive response. Next to me a woman was berating a toddler for not doing very much at all - no tantrum nothing - she was fidgetting. This continued for 10 minutes. That child only knows No, and negativity already.

On arrival at St Pancras, I asked the guy if the Nottingham Train behind him (the train I needed) was for Nottingham. His answer 'I don't know - it will show up on the board.' Yes he was on the Information desk by the train. St Pancras shows the Olympic rings proudly, but its staff don't want to help anyone. Welcome back to Britain Karen - you're back to the grim reality of rudeness, aggression, and isolation.

Help! - The Beatles. because I enjoyed a world where people mattered, to come back to grey misery.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

28th Oct – Should I stay or Should I go?

This morning I had a personal guide and tour of Nadi and surrounding area. I find it really difficult to understand how someone of limited means gets the opportunity to have a tour guide of my own, like millionaires have. I waited in reception for the bus to collect me, and a young Fijian Indian picked me up in a Hilux. I thought that he was just collecting me to add me to a bigger tour, but I was it.

We started at the Hindu temple, the biggest one in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the problems I have with religion generally is that it attracts people with very little, and yet the lavish nature of churches and temples (money lenders in the temple comes to mind) is built on the hope and donations of such people, growing wealthier and wealthier selling the promise of a better life. I think it was Martin Luther King, who said something along the lines of judging people by the contents of their heart – maybe that should apply to churches and temples as well. Whilst the Hindu temple was lavishy, much of its colourful nature is provided by paint, as the stories of the various Gods are painted on the ceilings. It is, however, a beautiful thing, and so I enjoyed it for what it was.

From there we went to a ‘Market’, which turned out to be a tourist gift shop selling tat, but it represented an opportunity to buy something typically Fijian, so I made the best of it. I much preferred the next stop, a food market, where the fruit and veg were on display, including the roots that make the cava drink, along with exotic vegetables that are not normally on display at your local supermarket, unless its on the Handsworth Road.

From there to the Garden of the Mountain of the Sleeping Giant, which was created by the late actor Ramond Burr (older readers may remember Ironside and Perry Mason). He established an orchid garden on the side of the Mountain of the Sleeping Giant, which runs down the centre of the Island. The flowers were colourful and beautiful, but the smell was incredible, What I don’t understand is how he got his wheel chair up the mountainside to plant them. In fact if I was a criminal in San Francisco in the ‘60’s, I’d make sure I’d commit all my crime on the second floor of buildings – that would reduce his detection rates.

Finally I was taken to a hot springs and spa nearby. This was in a field, off a beaten track, with a hand-panted sign welcoming you. It was part of a village farm, started by two families in the 60’s, but now there are over 100 inhabitants. (They obviously didn’t have a telly). In the field was a hut, a standpipe shower, a muddy pool and a stream. No expensive 5 star accommodation attached, with holistic treatments, menus full of calories and noughts on the bill here. The manager of the spa explained the history and geography to me. Fiji is volcanic, hence the mountain range down the centre, and this gelogy had created a hot spring in the field of more than 70 degrees C. This fed a couple of pools, one with volcanic mud in, and the other via a stream, into a spa pool of 35 degrees. The smell of sulphur was again apparent, but nowhere as near as strong as in Rotoroa. I didn’t have my cossie with me, so had to make do with smearing on my legs and arms, but an Aussie couple who had the full monty showed me how they were floatingin the mud pool. From there the standpipe washed off the worst of it, before getting in the 35 degrees warm spa pool. From there to completely relax me, I was offered a 15 minute massage for 10 Fijian dollars – about £3.30, by one of a group of village women.

The massage was a weird one, the oil obviously contained coconut oil by the smell, but as she rubbed, it heated up beyond the temperature of her hands, a little like Ralgex would. What I really liked was that within this hut, the village women were gossiping, and little children were playing, almost as if I was an intruder to their normal everyday existence. A guide this week told me that Fijians without money have the biggest smiles, and those with money rarely smile. These women seemed incredibly content with their lot.

This village business was purposely non – commercial, in the way that it operated. It didn’t spoil the experience by selling pots of mud, postcards, expensive massage oils, and it was their vision to stay this way – keeping it as close to natural as they could, whilst making a profit, and providing work for the villagers.

Re-invigourated by the experience, I caught the Bula Bus ( a local service around the resort) down to Port Deranau, for more sight seeing. Sadly the harbour did have some boats in, but most of the area had been dedicated to the Retail Gods. My guess was it was designed by Westfield, and could be called, MacArthur Glen, or Banbury Designer Village. I don’t get this sort of holiday. Resort Hotels with shops, and then a shopping centre as a holiday experience, in its own right, which could be anywhere in the World – Cape Town’s V and A, Bluewater, Barcelona’s Maremagnum ad finitum.
Give me experiences like that little spa anyday – I don’t even know if it had a name.

This is my last evening, and so my last full entry into my blog. I may add one or two further thoughts, as they come to me, and I will add the missing photos once I get faster internet speeds.

It’s been a fantastic experience, not sure it’s been a life changing one, although I wish I understood where all the niceness, trust and politeness went out of British life. Its slipped away without us noticing or putting up a fight for it. Yes I’ve seen the tourist side of life here, but in the UK I feel I have to thank the waitress, barman, hotel staff whoever, for lowering themselves to deal with me. In Fiji, the normal facial expression is a smile, and they exist on what they call Fiji time – they will get round it it whenever, maybe they know that there’s time to change the world tomorrow. In New Zealand, their earnestness to do the right thing, be friendly and helpful, I think backfired on the English rugby team, who pushed the sensibilities of the New Zealanders in the wrong way, and maybe the earnestness changed to self-righteousness over standards (mainly sense of humour) that were different between to similar and yet different cultures.

At times the blog has felt a bit diary-ish, and a lot like a list of to-do’s done, but I hope it has given readers a feel for the respective countries, and some of my thoughts and experiences along the way. I don’t know what the UK has to offer me in terms of gainful employment on my return, and how my unique set of skills will be employed. I don’t want to be a wage slave, working and travelling long hours, and yet I want a real reason to get up in the morning. An interesting conundrum that I have yet to solve. I do think I’ve seen another, more relaxed way of living and working, and I wonder if as the spread of McD’s and Subway makes their societies more global, they will become more cynical societies as a result. I hope not, as we can learn a lot from them. I hope that we return to a simpler economic model, one where profit generates jobs, and is from growing or making things, and from good service in our everyday lives rather than the House of Cards model of using money to make money – of course it was always going to go wrong, eventually the money had to run out – why could no one see it coming? Profit for profit’s sake is not quality of life for anyone, even those with the massive bonuses to spend in shopping centres in exotic places, when they could buy completely pointless things at home just as easily.

Should I stay or should I go? – The Clash – the dilemma of returning home, of what to do next, of where the UK is going. On in the Hard Rock café at lunchtime – oh the irony of my rant,when I’ve succumbed to a global brand for lunch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

27th October – I’m your puppet.

This morning I went horse riding on the beach for a couple of hours. My horse riding experience is somewhat limited – a pony trekking weekend with youth club when I was 15, and a day trip in California (‘get off your horse and drink your milk’).
In both cases the horses were docile old nags, and whilst I fell off in the Brecon Beacons, while cantering across the top, you bounce at 15.

The horse I was given was a feisty chestnut, that would settle down once it got going – they give it to 5 year olds apparently. Yeah right. For the next 30 minutes, it was a battle of wills as he tried to go his own way – usually for food, or drink, or shade, or into the Pacific to cool off – the splashing was nice and cooling though). Eventually he almost calmed down to donkey ride pace. The guide told me that he had had to be broken in twice, to get him to be ‘rider friendly’. 5 year olds? I don’t think so unless their name is Zara Philips, but this horse was acting as though her husband had been caught with his head in a blonde’s cleavage and it had been sprayed all over the world’s media.

However, a horse ride on a deserted tropical island beach, through the Pacific surf, was a great way to spend a sunny morning, although the company of Rupert Campbell Black never materialised from Jilly Cooper’s imagination.

The guide told me that he got paid 20 Fijian Dollars a day – just over £7. With all the big hotel chains now here, I’m sure that the corporates are making huge amounts, but I wonder how much of Fiji is seeing the benefit.

After a lazy afternoon, another Lovu - fish this time. And I got to try some of their deserts - Coconut features quite heavily - but hey I'm only here for another 2 days so I can hardly get bored. I walked along the beach - to see another stunning sunset. I will put photos on when I can

When I was 15, I went pony trekking - the song that reminds me most of that weekend was I'm your puppet - James and Bobby Purify. I hasten to add, it was the re-release.

26th Oct – Message in a Bottle

Boy did I strike lucky today. I chose a day and night trip to Treasure Island (Levito Island). 45 minutes drive and a 40 minute cruise away. A couple at the hotel told me that it had rained at the hotel, and I had had a day of glorious sunshine followed by a colourful sunset. (Bucket List ticked).

We had a brilliant guide for the day called Bolu (Bula Bola was quite difficult to say)., who jollied a group of strangers (boy do Aussies lack style – budgie smugglers and beer bellies are not a good combination). The first activity was scuba diving, angel fish, clown fish (Nemo’s) and 2m long sharks were spotted, along with colourful coral, and calms. With me being a landlubber, I took the opportunity to walk around the island while the tide was out. I had the beach to myself all the way around – tick bucket list. Along the way I saw tiny crabs that could hardly be seen, as they merged in completely with the sand. There were also some other crabs, blue and rede ones with one large claw, which I nick named Beckham Crabs as they relied on oneimportant limb.

We had cooling coconut juice from a green coconut and tasted the young flesh. The drink was very refreshing, with hardly a taste of coconut, and the flesh was translucent oyster like in texture, again a blindfold test would not make it out as coconut. After lunch we saw how flexible a coconut could be. How to use remove the husk (used for fire starters and brillo), with a sharp stick, flowed by the easiest way to open it, (hit it behind the ‘eyes’ with the same stick), tasting the coconut juice, flesh, and milk from squeezing the flesh through a sieve made from the leaf protector part of the trunk. So far I’ve had it with marinated raw fish, as a salad with mango, and spinach cooked with the milk and flesh. The leaves are woven into baskets, used to cover the meat and veg in a lovu (see later) used as bras (yes really) and weaving material, string, building materials etc.

We had a crab race, where hermit crabs were put into the middle of the circle, and shouted at until they reached the circumference. (Number 14, my crab, unfortunately was deaf, or dead as it didn’t move much.) This great disappointment to my competitive streak may never be recovered.

Before dinner we joined in the great Fijian tradition of the Cava ceremony. This was a bit like a round of Cardinal Puff – 1 clap at the beginning and 3 at the end with key movements and words at set points. The drink itself, I believe is not alcoholic, but the herbs/drugs within it numb the lips and then slowly the senses. I didn’t risk it as something the colour of dish water, mixed with a sack in a bowl by hand just has food poisoning written all over it. Whilst it is an insult to refuse to take cava, they have included a ‘Chief’ who will take one for the team, if it is not taken. (Thanks Chief)

Dinner was a traditional Fijian one, cooked underground over hot stones in a lovu, for hours, rather like a Maori hangi. After it had been dug out, three men from Bengu Island walked over the hot stones. This was not a clever magic trick, as Bolu threw water onto the stones, which came off as hot steam.

While we were eating the food, which was cooked to perfection – no blood in the beef here, the sun began to set, one tht would feature in travel journals or on the lid of a chocolate box. Yellows, oranges and red reflected in the clouds – return here when internet speeds improve or are not charged at extortionate rates.

After dinner there was high energy south seas island dancing from Fiji, Samoa and elsewhere – including fire dancing performed by the hotel staff. I wonder how it came up in an interview. So Mr Taginjakibou, I see you are a handy man, how handy are you at tripping the light fantastic, with flaming torches?

On the coach trip there, we learnt that 48% of the population is of Indian heritage, put there by the British in the days when the sun didn’t set on the Empire, to run the sugar cane farms. Today was Fijian Diwahli. I don’t know how the date is decided upon, as the Indian population of Auckland celebrated it 3 weeks earlier. There were fireworks when the boat left the island, which continued at other venues all the way home. Coupled with the fact that it was the festival of light, and many houses and gardens had lights in them, it was a colourful end to a great day.

Message in a Bottle – The Police – Robinson Crusoe Island and ‘a hundred million castaways’. I still can’t hear the song without thinking a a guy at university who sang, ‘Massage in a Brothel’ – I only hear it as this now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

25th Oct – Island Girl

I checked in at the airport this morning at 4am, having woke on the hour every hour from midnight onwards. Even with 2 alarms, and a room call, my body clock didn’t let me sleep. By 4.30am a large South African had collapsed by me, with a suspected heart attack (bet his luggage was removed as a failed last call). This is the second time this has happened to me, and what strikes me is how grey they go, as though the blood has drained away from them.  We were welcomed at Nadi Airport (smaller than East Midlands), by a Fif=jian handing us a shell necklace. At the hotel we were welcomed by a refreshing glass of Fijian Punch, (more of that laster). And I have my own bathroom again, no bath, but a shower head the size of a dinner plate.

Here I am on a tropical island, sunny day, private beach, with beachside bar, activities such as sarong tying, coconut splitting and touch rugby to come, and I’m bored. I don’t do beach/lazing by the pool holidays, or sitting by the pool looking like a lobster, as I go pink from the sun. How can this be in paradise? I’ve booked things to do for the rest of the week – going to Robinson Crusoe’s island tomorrow, for a Fijian and Polynesian cultural day, horse riding around the Nadi countryside on Thursday, and a trip to the Hindu Temple and Secret garden on Friday. I can’t help it, I just can’t switch my brain off that easy. There is a gym, but it’s too hot to move, and shuts at 7pm, so it will be mornings or not at all. Meanwhile I’ll have another Fijian Cocktail by the pool – banana, orange, passion fruit, pineapple and grenadine. (oh and for those who are reading this on a grey October day and this sounds like the perfect holiday scenario for them, it was 32 degrees today.)

Luckily I sunscreen and G’s floppy cricket hat with the ECB’s 3 lions on – why are all these Aussies looking at me strangely? He he. Number one now at twenty20 as well. I’ve got 2 books to read of the ones I took with me, and at the airport, the postage was so cheap, I sent those and some programmes home to reduce weight. Unfortunately I’ve sent one I haven’t read home, and I’ve nearly finished the book on Winston Churchill’s Finest Years (guess when they were then?) Hopefully the hotel shop will have some bodice ripper for me to read – I’ve read three quite challenging books this holiday.

I’ve done the sarong tying, coconut splitting (and drank the freshest coconut milk I’ll ever drink), as well as coconut popcorn, which tastes like fried food to me, from the flesh, and walked all along the front to the end – all with similar hotel resorts as this one. At the very end one, a couple was getting married – all on their own – romantic fools.

I've just heard that France have been fined for responding to the Haka - why - it was a brilliant response to the challenge. Why can't they respond? Are they supposed to stand there and let New Zealnd be more hyped up as a result of the dance? perhaps Mr Lapasset could explain why he needed to spend 4000 NZD of our ticket money on hotels rooms - PER NIGHT!!!!

Island Girl - Elton John - pretty obvious really. 
Due to being in a thrid world country - there are no photos as they won't download.

24th Oct – So Far Away

I said goodbye to Dora the camper van this morning, that has been my home for the last 6 and a bit weeks. I got to the airport, with the plan to sleep on the chairs overnight. However, there were no chairs this side of passport control, so I had to resort to Plan B, which was very expensive, but a stone throw’s away from the airport. I had a room, so caught up with the blog and e-mail, had a lovely long shower – don’t hotels have showers anymore? In fact the day possibly ended up one of the most expensive of the holiday, as the hotel had World Cup prices, my baggage in store at the airport. It was though, my first bathroom and proper bed since 8th Sept. I watched the IRB Awards dinner on TV, with Melody in a silver sparkly number tonight, and within an hour I was fast asleep.

So Far Away – Dire Straits. If New Zealand were where Scotland was, I’d holiday here every year. 

23rd Oct - Paint it Black

Final Day. I couldn’t sleep last night, but couldn’t work out why. It can’t have been because it was cup final eve, I’m too old for that and England were 12,000 miles away. I had a look at the bottle of orange Mountain Dew. Not only did it have the annual sugar cane crop of Fiji, it had caffeine in – when did sugary drinks start getting a caffeine hit as well?

Meantime, I had a tip last night to go over to Mission Bay. I decided that it would be a relaxing day of spending the morning. Its probably one of the most commercial seasides I've been to, with a row of cafes and shops along the front. Sunday morning there was very relaxed for the locals - a wander along the seafront, on a cycle, with the family and or dog, or a run, and then a leisurely breakfast certainly seems an ideal of spending the morning - perhaps with a good sports paper though - I've found that side of journalism somewhat lacking here. The World Cup may be the main event in town, but its not the only event, and you wonder how many pages sport gets normally. I caught the bus back into the city - the usually timely buses were running late and when it turned up, I think everyone on the bus was wearing black. Many were travelling into the city to get into Queen's Wharf fan zone for the final 9 hours later. Everyone but me and an old couple had to stand - maybe another 15 people on top of every seat on the bus.

Once back in town, during the couple of hours I'd been away, the world had turned black. Everyone it seemed wanted to show their allegience to to the cause. There seemed to be a nervous tension about the place, as people, queued for the Fanzones, walked up and down to see the build up, or start the pre-match drinking. ( The fanzone was shut at 3pm  - 6 hours before the start. )

I met with an ex-colleague from work, who been on his own Odyssey. He combined his with a family visit, and we found a not too busy bar to discuss the game, the likely outcome, our adventures in NZ and our next moves, career wise. On I caught the TV coverage in the bar, one of the presenters is a woman, Melody Anderson. She has credibility as she is an ex-flanker, and captain of the New Zealand Ladies team. She normally wears feminine ‘business attire’. For the Final she had a black sparkly cocktail dress, off the shoulder number – for a rugby game. It was like a BBC news presenter from the 50s.
We walked up the Fan Trail to the ground. This time it was really busy, with people who just wanted to be part of the day. There were people on the tops of roofs, holding parties outside their houses, busking, selling food and drink, and stilt walkers - I still can't understand why - outside Eden Park, people had come just to be near, to listen to the bands, to be part of it. (It reminded me a bit of the Welsh Grand Slam in 2005, were Cardiff was red as thousands of people poured into town from the valleys just to be there.
The game had loads of drama and controversy, and wasn't the procession to the winners ceremony that the All Blacks expected, or their fans demanded. You could feel the panic set in in the second half when the French pressurised the line - you could almost here oh no not again and there was some panicky substitutions, but they scraped home. Games on TV may need tries, but in the ground, this one didn't need them, the drama and suspense came from the closeness. Back in Auckland, by the Harbour the black shirts made it all seem really dark, but they were either very happy or very drunk and happy. It was the right result, over the course of the tournament, brilliant hosts and just about the best team in the tournament. Hopefully the next hosts will match their friendliness and hospitality.

The Final finished with Hayley Westerana singing ‘Now is the Hour’ a First World War Maori song. It reminded me of the last time I was at Eden Park, for the last test of the 2005 Lions Tour, when it was played as we left. I promised myself I would come back one day, and I did.

Paint it Black - Rolling Stones - downtown, everyone was partying, but it was dark and everyone wearing black gave it a really strange feel to it, and made the night seem really dark. Oh and the winners wore balck.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

23rd Oct – Californian Dreaming

I kicked into life slowly today, sleeping until 8am. (people will know how late that is for me.) By the time I’d done my housework, revisited the Maori Waka to see if I could find out more about the 1888 Maori test – soory very little, and checked train times, it was lunchtime.

Following the tips of locals seems to have worked elsewhere, so when I was told about Euro and Steve Gault, a TV celebrity chef on NZ’s Masterchef programme, going to one of the world’s top 50 restaurants on the waterfront in Auckland, with reasonable prices seemed like a plan, and so I booked for this lunchtime. Yet again the tip was a good one, (especially for fish), so I went the whole 9 yards, which is an appropriate phrase, as if I was on death row, my last meal would be something like this one. For starters I had salmon gravaldax (I thought that gravaldax was salmon), with white asparagus and pea puree. Mains was oven roasted snapper with Crab risotto, yuzu butter and ginger, with seared pak choi, followed by chocolate pudding, which had a warm chocolate sauce inside. This was served with rum and raisin caramel and rum and raisin ice cream, and a chocolate fig. With sparkling water and a tip for the waiter £52. I should imagine El Bulli would be a tad more expensive. Everything on the menu was quite simple, with stunningly fresh ingredients, and no clever cooking techniques involving liquid carbon dioxide, Bunsen burners. It must have been good as Josh Kronfeld was on the next table.

I made it via the train over to Glan Innes to watch the Australian Combined Services get trounced 62 -17 by the British Army. While I was there I wrote a letter to Johnno, cc’d the RFU.

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Rugby is a simple game and you might like to speak to the Army coach. He could help you decide on a game plan that wins games and entertains people. So you know what to expect, as you are such a cautious man, I’ll give you a bit of an insight. Attack off first phase ball, mostly through the 13 channel, (but not always) a fast runner who looks for gaps in the defence, with the skill to offload raher than spill the ball in the tackle. If the move grounds to a halt, the back row, who are close rather than waiting for the ball on the wing, ruck quick ball, and if not quick, recycle to the prop, who runs forward to reset the attack. Funnily enough, this seemed to take the team forward into points scoring territory (50 by half time). In defence, when a tackle is made – the forwards – not the backs, challenge for the ball at the ruck, not string across the field waiting for the next tackle, rugby league style. Funnily enough this quite often gave the mobile back row a turnover, which allowed a quick counter. I don’t know if this plan will work at such a high level, but I’ve heard there’s a team in black playing tomorrow with a 13 called Conrad Smith who employ similar tactics. By the way, the referee didn’t have to keep speaking to the captain or going into his pocket.

Yours in rugby etc.

At full time as Defence champions of the world, the Army celebrated with their ‘tour’ song, California Dreamin’., and off I went on the the train to see Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. This was another bucket list item, see a classical concert with full orchestra, and singers. OK the classical bit was full of short popular items such as William Tell Overture and Carmen, and musical numbers such as Climb Ev’ry Mountain, but the Orchestra lead and the Conductor came on separately, and he also accompanied the singer onto stage just like at a proper concert. There were tow excellent baritones there as well, which came as a surprise as they weren’t fat Italians. Obviously encores followed, ending with Kiri singing the last song Po Karekare Ana. ( The song is a bit like the story of Running Bear –of Johnny Preston and rugby tour fame – only the girl makes it to the other side. It’s a sad tune with a happy ending rather than a happy tune with a sad ending.)

I think I’d better find some cheaper Bucket list items to replace some of the ones I’ve done this holiday.

California Dreaming – Mamas and Papas. In tribute to possibly the most complete performance by a team I’ve seen here. I’ve always wondered what the filling was in the sandwich that choked Mama Cass.

21st Oct I can see clearly now

Match Day. In the camper park, one of New Zealand’s radio stations, Classic Hits (think Heart FM), were giving away free sausage sandwiches. For the first time on tour, I had had my breakfast (muesli) before showering, so missed my opportunity of fat, white carbs. Oh well. They were interviewing fans about Sunday. The DJ looked like Zaphod Beetlebrox from Hitchhikers Guide, his haircut was so 80s. I would have liked to ask him why he played U2 and Queen on a continuous loop, but his haircut gave him away.

I took the ferry over to Waiheke Island, (the same one Manu Tuiagli had a swim from). Its one of the many islands in Auckland’s Bay, and inhabited with seaside villages and vineyards, which is probably the reason for Manu’s swim. It was an incredibly relaxed place, and there was a Jazz Festival on. I got quite carried away with the idea, of lunch in the sun, accompanied by some jazz. In reality, there was a bad Bob Dylan impersonator, and a sausage roll. Bob Dylan, to me is a folk singer at best – although his tone deaf musings never appealed to me. As for the sausage roll, I’d better explain what it is – its not what you think. The New Zealanders haven’t quite got the concept of ‘cobs’, ‘baps’, ‘rolls’ of whatever regional variation you know a small bread loaf as. Their ‘roll’ is a piece of white bread, with butter or melted cheese on, with a sausage in the middle – you roll it yourself and eat it. Positives – not much bread to hide the taste of the sausage with, negatives not enough bread and you get into a greasy mess. So I ended up with that sausage after all.

So back to the mainland for lunch at the top of Sky Tower. While walking there I saw George North, Bradley Davies and Lawrence Dallaglio – none of them in the right situation to ask for a photo sadly to prove it. Watching the world go by below on a lovely sunny day was a nice way of spending the afternoon.

The game in the afternoon was a little disappointing. With 2 good sets of backs, I thought both teams would throw it about, as the result didn’t matter, but sadly with injuries it never really turned out like that. Poor kicking from Wales again cost them the result, for the third game, and the loss of Quade (who came up with that – in a Scrabble game?) Cooper early the game never really got going. One game to go – the big one, or perhaps two, if I can fit in the Armed Forces World Cup Final – Britain v Australia tomorrow afternoon…….

I can see clearly now – Johnny Nash – apart from a cool wind, a warm sunny day with brilliant views from the top of the Sky Tower.

20th October – Sitting in the Dock of the Bay

The van got stick in the mud this morning. After 3 months of torrential rain (it certainly sounded like that from the noise on the top of the van roof), the ground was soft, and reversing, I couldn’t get over the bump to the road, and I couldn’t move it forward either. Despite finding 4 Kiwi men, an Ausiie and a Frenchman, to push, it still wouldn’t move. In the end, a tow rope pulled me out. I kept the revs low, but the owner told me it was the first time anyone had got stuck there. HMMMM…..

Because I didn’t take much liquid yesterday, I over compensated today, and so every hour on the hour, driving back to Auckland I had to stop. With an afternoon, sorting out my administration (e-mails, blogs, Facebook), meant that I’d thought I’d have nothing to write about. I’d spotted a game of rugby on at Ponsonby Rugby Club, a club I’d visited before, and as it was to raise money for Christchurch’s earthquake appeal, and cheaper than the cinema and theatre, I went along.

It was a challenge match between Kelston Boys (Auckland) and Christchurch Boys to be ‘champions’ of NZ. (Christchurch won 15-12). It was good to be among ‘grass roots’ rugby folk. Ponsonby have benefitted greatly from the World Cup, with Auckland Council refitting their changing rooms, highering their ceiling in their clubhouse, (although it was very sanitised from what it was in 2005 – from a cosy, slightly seedy feel, to a hospital waiting room,) new floodlights and a relaid pitch for the training sessions. Job well done, thank you very much. I don’t suppose the RFU and local Councils will put anything into the community clubs around the country at the next World Cup. The blazers will not stand up to the RFU or Premiership to get the money into the clubs. Mind you Ponsonby is like many community clubs around New Zealand and the UK. The coaches aren’t paid, they have 10 adult teams, 44 junior teams and around 1000 players in all. (Burton is about half that size). As is the case at these clubs, you could see the over-worked volunteers buzzing around doing the jobs like players meals, running the bars etc. This includes Bryan Williams, an ex-All Black plyer and the father to the Samoan full back Paul Williams, who was sent off for flooring a South African lock (legend).

That day, the game and the club featured heavily on the 6pm news magazine show. Bryan Williams was obviously featured, along with an English couple who had cycled from HQ down to Eden Park. Their story was featured in a display in the clubhouse.

The PA system didn’t quite work and there were 5 middle aged women in their ‘Royal Box’ chatting. I can think of 5 women who regularly sit in the Royal Box at Burton, and listening to their conversations, there were very similar topics. They were watching the game but talking about anything other than rugby. 12,000 but the clubs were similar.

The game, as I would expect from 18 year olds, was played with a joy, and a lack of fear to try things that disappears in adult rugby. They try out ideas that adults won’t and their coaches are probably watching it from behind the settees. It made for an enjoyable game that was won by a touchline penalty 3 minutes from time.

I also got to speak to a journalist from a rugby paper in the UK. Interesting stuff. From what he was saying, it was not only on the pitch that England were a shambles, the RFU is as well, and it puts organising the next World Cup into doubt – certain individuals have lost the plot as he put it. He is of a similar mind though – that Nick Mallet could sort the playing side out.

A quiet day, but an eventful evening.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding – I’m back at Westhaven Harbour, Auckland. Back in the UK, many years ago, I was told of a friend’s cousin who was a musician. He named his son Otis. ‘What after Otis Redding? I asked, ‘No, came the reply, ‘He was conceived in a lift.’   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

19th Oct – Pulling Mussels from a shell

I got up early today as I was on an all day coach trip up 90 Mile Beach, which is only about 60 miles long and we did about 50 miles. It is quite an experience driving in a combination of a lorry and a coach. Apparently the tip up nature of the lorry cab allows easier maintenance – necessary when there is all that salt water and sand about. It was quite windy, and the tide was coming in, so we drive at speed, which also meant that it was quite a bumpy ride, except when we drove more slowly through water – necessary so that we don’t get pushed by the waves into softer sand and get stuck.

Near the top end of the beach we turned off up a stream in between the sand dunes. When we reached some huge sand dunes, uncovered by any sort of vegetation (about 70m huge – the driver told me), we stopped. This was where we were going ‘sand duning. This is sledging on a ‘boogie board – small surf boardsbeack down the dune. We carried the board up the dune, the first time up sand that had no footprints in at all, and then you get on, face first and down you go. The first time I took it steady breaking with my feet,when it started to get out of control, and before I would hit the stream. The second time, the sand was a little more compacted, and I didn’t break as much, due to the fact that I took the skin off my toes the first time (delicate skin, rather than fear). And guess what – I ended up in the stream at the bottom as did most people the second time. 2 inches of water is enough to get you wet. There wasn’t a third time for most of us – the climb up the dune, with board and managing the wind was too much – a ski lift needs to be fitted!

In terms of ticking boxes, about a month ago we visited Bluff, (NZ’s Lands End). Today I visited Cape Reina (John OfGroats). This is also where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The swell on the sea was a beautiful turquoise, with plenty of white foam on top. The little lighthouse at the bottom of the Cape provides the only sign of human habitation there.

From there we drove to Gumdigers Park. There is no way I’d have ever found this place on the internet – also the findings have only been discovered in the last 4 months. Much of Northland was peat bog, and about 45,000 years ago a Tsunami hit the island, bringing down a huge forest of very old kauri Trees. Kauri trees are giants trees, reaching 30m girth,  most being between 10-15m, as well as being very tall. It is a very hard wood, and they are a remnant of when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Because the wood is hard, and peat has preservative qualities, the wood there is the oldest preserved, but not fossilised, wood in the world, at about 100-150m years old. The resin from the trees (gum) was exported to Birmingham of all places where it was made into varnish, and the profits from the business built Auckland. All that found out in a 20 minute visit – amazing.

The final stop was Manganui Fish shop for fish and chips. Doesn’t sound that exciting, but the fish were swimming this morning. Whatever the owner catches, gets fried that night. For us, it was Blue Nose (a white fish). In one day I got 4 ticks in the box, and one I didn’t expect.

As I’m, writing this, I’m looking out of the window at a sunset over the Haruru Falls, another great end to a great day.

Pulling Mussels from a Shell – Squeeze – a song about a day at the seaside.

18th Oct – Losing my Religion

I drew back the curtains on the van this morning, and there it was. The Waterfall. I really can’t get my head around the fact that I slept so close to something that beautiful.

After breakfast, I caught the ferry across the bay to Russell, a tiny town of about 800 people, but known in the 19th century for its brothels, grog houses and lawless behaviour. I went on a mini tour of the town, highlighting the historic buildings and sites. There was nothing over 180 years old, and the buildings included the first licenced premises in New Zealand, the oldest church, the longest functioning petrol station in NZ (from 1930). The driver pointed out much more than that, where trees had been planted to commemorate the birth of a child, where local characters lived, but the real gem was to come. An oldish man stopped me in the street and asked me if I was OK. I asked him the way to the church. It turned out he was the caretaker of the church and took me there, and walked me round, showing me the key features – the bullet holes, the embroidered footstools, and where key historical characters were buried. How lovely is that? It sums up many New Zealanders, polite, friendly and willing to help. (I’ll leave out Auckland, as that is a global city with many influences from the outside world. Manners are there, but help is not so forthcoming. In the church all the prayer stools had been embroidered by the ladies of the Parish. Because they cared. They had the birds, fish, sights, activities, and history of the town, the graveyard was lovingly cared for, even those occupants who’d been there for 150 years. The whole town was spotless – can we say the same about our towns and villages? I just can’t help thinking these are some of the traits Britain lost more than a generation ago. Probably gone forever. Ask yourself when did someone last say good morning to you that you didn’t know, or pass the time of day?

From there to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where New Zealand saw the light and became British. I think that it’s the only place where I’ve felt ripped off. 25 NZD to go in, and effectively I was only there for 1 and a half hours, and the buildings that I’d gone to see had mostly been re-built. Still they had the Bledisloe Cup of display (played for by New Zealand and Australia – and obviously now back in AB hands, so again I’ve seen a bit more of New Zealand’s rugby history. (Lord Bledisloe donated the cup, but also bought the grounds for the New Zealand public in the 30’s.)

And then onto Kerikeri to see the two oldest buildings in New Zealand – Kemp Mission House (1820) and the Stone Store (1830). Its only when you realise how new their history is, that you realise the depth of British history. 

Losing my Religion – REM – on the radio when I got back into the van after visiting TeWaitane Mission House and Church.

17th Oct – Fire and rain

Still feeling rubbish, I took an aspirin, left Auckland and headed north to the Bay of Islands. I had had a site recommended to me by a bloke on a bus on the way home from the game against France. ‘Stay at Hururu Falls campsite’, he said, ‘the place is magical.’ He was right. It is magical. My camper van is parked facing a horse shoe shaped waterfall, with a river that rolls into the sea. Stunningly beautiful. Last night 2000 yachts, tonight the relaxing sound of water. No rows and rows of white caravans on sites here, 30 vans max., and sights that would win awards, if taken as photos.

It’s been a busy day again. I stopped at Kawakawa to go to the toilet. Not just any toilet though, the Hundertwasser toilets. I wouldn’t normally mention bodily functions in a blog, but this hippy Austrian ecologist used ceramics, cloured glass bottles, a grass roof, to construct a public toilet block, almost Gaudi style. People travel from all over the world to use them.

I arrived at Paihia and booked at the local i-site for that afternoon’s Hole in the Rock and Dolphin cruise. We saw a pod of bottle nosed dolphins, before going out to see the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’ at Cape Brett. It was touch and go whether we’d go to the Rock, as a forecast of 30 knots wind (gale force). Luckily the wind held off long enough for us to do it, so we did see it although it wasn’t safe for us to sail through it.  The sea was choppy to say the least, and on the way back, probably due to the fact that the aspirin was wearing off, I fell asleep, due to the rocking of the boat, while others were beginning to look a little green. Annoying though as I missed some of the scenery.

Fire and Rain – James Taylor – because of a forecast of a further 3 days rain.

16th Oct – Bridge over Troubled Water

Match day 2. The game between NZ and Oz is being viewed as the Final because of how poor the French are. Fans here believe if they win this one its all over bar the shouting. The press believe that this France side are worse than the 2007 England side in being the worst ever to reach a final. The pre-mach build up is very different to a 6 Nations game. Even though the Australians have a huge reputation for drink, and the Kiwi’s who don’t, on match day they meet up with family and friends and have a long leisurely lunch with wine. Down by Viaduct Harbour, surrounded by millionaires playthings in the sun, the restaurants and bars are packed. It seems a million miles away from drink beer, watching a match, more beer and then floating a kebab on top. Probably in the cold February rain. I decided to do what the locals do, and went for a meal in a top fish restaurant Kermadec. Well actually the cheaper bistro version, but I turned right instead of left and ended up in the restaurant, and didn’t realise until the menu was put in front of me. Mind you,it was a good meal of John Dory, with lentils and caramelised fennel, served with new potatoes (hurray – no chips), with a ginger beer - £26 – instead of the more normal £16 meal. Bargain really, I think in the UK a similar meal would be £10 more expensive.

Talking of food, I blagged my way onto a trade show at the Harbour on Food Innovation (very geared around machinery and Functional foods, rather than new tastes). I ended up taking to someone who was an ex-colleague of someone I worked with at harper – small world the food industry – like a family at times. It would be great to stay in it when I finish.

I did the Auckland Bridge Climb (not as brave as G who bungied off it, after someone who’d got stuck and was dangling upside down for 20 minutes.) It’s a bit like the Sydney bridge climb, only smaller and stood on top – which is pretty brave for me, as I have a weird fear of bridges – something to do with the way the water moves underneath, while the bridge is still – I don’t get it on boats. There’s nothing as strange as me, as I’ve often been told.

When I got back Viaduct Harbour was rammed, mostly with people wearing black, as the neutrals tended to go with the home team. Can be easy wearing black on a warm sunny day – all that heat absorption. It’s a damned sight easy enjoying the warm up as a neutral, than worrying which France is going to turn up like the week before.

For those interested, The NZ press opinion of the Sam Warburton tackle was mixed – some thought yellow, most red, due to the strict IRB ruling which stopped Rolland acting with common sense, when it was apparent the French player wasn’t too badly hurt. Malice isn’t part of the decision making process, a spear or tip tackle is a straight red. Reagardless all agreed that it spolit the game and the wrong team won. (But 11 points went begging, even without the failed drop goals).

Mind you, that evening’s game was the best game of rugby so far. Backs that could run fast, pass and catch a ball – speed not power Johnno. The All Blacks were brilliant, and the Aussie backs also had chances – if only they could defend and scrum, then the result might have been closer. Marred only by me feeling crap from the first day of a cold – sore throat head ache and achy generally. I bet it was from the night before, when I was cold and wet, and someone sneezed on the train. Thanks stranger.

A sign seen at the game: Woodcock vsPocock – ours is harder.

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel. How Wales must be feeling today. Because the Chair of Premiership Rugby Ltd apologised to the IRB for England players behaviour even though the RFU can’t/won’t. After a year of disasters for New Zealand – the earthquake and the Reno ship, the first stage of their healing process of feeling good again as a country. And because I walked over a bridge.