Cruise Control

Catriona and I are enjoying life in Melbourne now, after the main articles of living were located, Article 1 being a house (a lovely wee spot 5 minutes from Fitzroy) and Article 2 being jobs. Catriona got herself a temporary number processing orders for a Christmas hamper company and has already been scoped out by the boss to do the overtime hours, so she’s raking it in. I now find myself as a tour guide on a riverboat cruising down the Yarra in a city I’ve been in for 3 weeks. It’s an interesting job.

First up, the captain of the boat is a bloated 72 year-old Croatian guy who turns up 20 minutes late every morning. I spend this 20 minute period apologising to passengers and promising them of his imminent arrival, like a Second Coming Evangelist preacher. “Do not fret folks! The Captain is coming, I just know it! And he’ll take us to the promised land!” The promised land being Herring Island, which sits next to a council cleaning depot and a freeway.

Second up, I spend the period before all this scraping seagull shite off the roof of the boat. The boat has become an unofficial seagull sanctuary. There are several dozen of them waiting for me every morning. I look around and there are literally none on any other boat, just mine, where they’ve apparently been having some kind of dumping festival. It’s unbelievable how much 60 seagulls can shite in a night. The roof of the boat looks like a Jackson Pollock painting. There is more shite than visible roof. I hoist myself up there with the hose and squirt aimlessly at this vast panorama of poo, it’s enormity stretched before me like the opening credits of Eastenders, black and white spires towering over brown smears and yellow smudges, my trickle of water the lowly Thames snaking impotently amongst them. But after about 45 minutes the roof is passable and I go prepare the complimentary tea and coffee.

Third up, people go really wild for complimentary tea and coffee, especially Chinese tourists, who spy the free beverages as some sort of challenge. My commentary on the cruise might as well stop after the introduction, where I say, “and please feel free to help yourself to the complimentary tea and coffee.” From hereon in, the Chinese tourists have formed a kind of human chain where paper cups filled with hot liquid are passed back frantically like they’re bailing water from our stricken vessel. The kids end up tearing at the sachets of sugar and knocking them back like shots. No notice whatsoever is made of the passing scenery. They do a selfie at the end and then presumably spend the remainder of the day on the toilet or getting checked for diabetes. Honestly, if we were offering complimentary anthrax I don’t think there’d be any less enthusiasm.

Needless to say, it’s a people watching paradise on the wee boat. I’ll try to write everything down.

Roddy’s Road Trip Part 1

So we were in Christchurch and looking to explore the country…

We booked our Nissan Bluebird for 13 days. The car looked liked something a Japanese middle-manager might drive in the mid-90s, a sultry grey colour with pointless gadgets like electronic wing-mirrors that whirred in and out whenever you turned the engine on or off. It would do this so slowly and loudly, everyone in the car park would turn expectantly, anxious to see who was putting the roof down on their Porsche, only to be confronted with the automotive equivalent of John Major re-arranging his specs. We called it Roddy.

Roddy was in for one hell of a journey. Five days into our road-trip round the South Island, we met up with my chum Ray in Wanaka, who suggested we visit Rob Roy glacier, “just a short dirt-track and a couple of fords away.” I forgot that Kiwis are pretty good at understatements. The couple of fords turned out to mean seven. Poor Roddy nearly drowned, the pristine glacial waters lapping at the windows as we ploughed nervously towards the other side. Mindful that we’d opted out of paying the insurance (an additional $15 a day you say? Never!) I did my best to avoid the pot-holes and the sheep, only to be greeted by a number of Renault Clios and other wee hatch-backs at the Rob-Roy glacier car-park. Suddenly Roddy’s exploits didn’t seem so special. I asked one of the eldery hikers coming off the track if they had any bug-spray as the sand-flies were out in force. “Bug spray!” She spat, “we’re Kiwis, we don’t need no bug spray!” They’re a hardy bunch too, Kiwis, but pretty rude when they want to be. I think Ray wanted to throttle her.

After the slight disappointments of Fox and Franz-Joseph Glaciers, that have receded to such a degree they’re almost out of sight, Rob Roy was a joy to behold. Looming over us threateningly, a great spout of waterfall shooting out its side while ice and snow shed from its face at irregular intervals, it was an epic reminder of New Zealand’s non-stop beauty.

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Faith in glaciers restored we painted Wanaka red, watching through our fingers as women at a 40th birthday party attempted gymnastics on a coffee table and then saw Scotland scrape a win against mighty Samoa, still viewed through our fingers. It was after this momentous day, at 4am that we decided to forego the bank balances and extend our kiwi road trip by a princely 9 days.

We now had time to walk around Mount Cook! (It rained so hard we never completed the hike, both our ‘waterproofs’ resolutely proven wrong). We could spend a day hiking Abel Tasman! (Insanely pretty, despite it’s obvious lure for tourists it still felt untouched).

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We could go for a bike tour of the vineyards in and around Blenheim! Actually that deserves more than brackets. Blenheim is a weird wee dump of a place, with a patio for a town square. The surrounding vineyards though were plentiful, beautiful and very generous indeed. At one tasting, we were treated to thirteen bottles! Only a nip from each of course, but they add up. By the seventh winery it was time for home, which required a 10 km cycle back along an almost completely straight, flat road. Catriona found it one of the most arduous cycles of her life. We made it back to exotic Blenheim and went for a curry. Not ones to cut a night short we dropped by the local hotspot for a beer (no more wine for a while) when the booze and Balti caught up with Catriona’s bowels and she had to make a mad dash for the ladies. I said I’d hold our table and wait for her to return. Suddenly, the doors to the pub were closed shut and I realised we had accidentally encroached on a private engagement party. Except now it was just me. The father of the bride got up and began an excruciating speech, where he began thanking everyone for coming. As the audience peered round to applaud the relevant parties, eyes began to fall on me, the rosy-cheeked Scot with korma-breath.   The speech didn’t look like ending any time soon so I had to wait for one of the grandma’s to nip to the loo so I could seamlessly follow in her wake out the door. I met Catriona on the other side, looking very relieved, and we made haste for home.

Lyttelton Revisited

Returning to Lyttelton, my home from 2008 to 2010, after 5 years was a bit surreal. We’d both changed a fair bit see. I had grown older, slightly hairier on my body and less hairy on my head, and had a girlfriend. Lyttelton had survived three major earthquakes, thousands of aftershocks and was deep into the rebuilding process, with old bars and businesses demolished and new ones rearing their heads. Like I said, we’d both changed.

We got picked up from the airport at midnight by dear old Rachel Morton, endearingly late and more endearingly, totally unchanged. She had arrived in Lyttelton with me and G back in ’08 and was the one that stayed around. Things have worked out quite well as she’s now a radio producer and a TV presenter. When I’d left her she was a barmaid. So on second thoughts, she has changed, well her job has, but 5 years on it was the same mental Rachel who disagrees with all my movie opinions and spends too much on novelty beers and ham. However, she did let me record an advert for her station, RDU, which veered nicely into Partridge territory.

Upon returning somewhere you used to call home you instinctively look for familiarity. Luckily for me, the grand old Coffee Company had recently reopened, it’s owner Steve very generously offering us breakfast on the house and then immediately regretting this when I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. The same faces were all there, peppered with new ones of course, and although the places I used to work were all resigned to dust, there were some genuinely great replacements. The Saturday market was absolutely mobbed (or “on wheels” as the cool kids or people from Yorkshire say) and I was most impressed with Cassels and Sons brewery, which was struggling to make ends meet when I left and now a bona fide hop empire. It felt like Lyttelton and Christchurch in general, were round the curve, beyond taking stock and getting by and moving on to better things. The sun was shining, the harbour looked splendid and I was a happy man indeed. We hired a car for the insanely cheap price of $21 a day and set off to see the South Island.

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Catriona tries to get Scout to enjoy the view.

Skin Deep in Sydney


So Sydney. Where do the poor people stay? One week spent there and bar two tramps, not a single down-and-out, scraping-by, breadline skirter in sight. Everyone’s a millionaire and everyone’s beautiful. It gets a bit tedious after a while. The metropolis sits on a series of bays and beaches so achingly stunning it’s enough to make you jump off their bridge. Which is achingly stunning as well.

Sydney looks like the perfect city. She’s perfectly imbued with her natural setting, all leafy enclaves and rooftop bars with perfect views of the harbour. The parks are seemingly maintained by Japanese bonsai experts, such are their perfection. The boat ride to Manly Bay was a perfect cruise past island-like tributes to the OC (and this is people’s daily commute!). The walk to Coogee Bay from Bondi allowed perfect panoramas of perfect surf and ex-Home and Away stars popping up from their pristine boards like Hawaiian gymnasts. All swimmingly perfect. But then what?

I wanted to scrape the surface and locate some seedy underbelly, but all I could locate was an abundance of people from Essex on Bondi. The buses were a bit confusing I guess, but I’d get confused by the Edinburgh tram system and that’s just one line. It, seemingly, is a city without issues. At least on the surface. Because Australia has issues, I’ve seen these first hand back in Alice, issues of race and poverty that were pretty shocking and very obvious. But not in Sydney. Somehow, this city on the coast sits pretty while the core of the country festers with it’s own demons, aeons away from the bright lights. The big smoke screen if you will. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time in Sydney, the people were great, the food and drink went down just lovely and the views were endlessly splendid, but it all felt a bit like a guilty pleasure. Like ordering in Domino’s when you’ve cocked up the cooking and wasted a ton of food.

Oh, and we saw a snake!


A long, twisting, hissing green one that crossed our path belligerently on a walk near Manly Bay. It reared its head and did that swaying number Steve Irwin revelled in. I hastily looked up the species on google. Was it a King Brown? A python of some sort? No. It was the Common Tree Snake, the only non-venomous snake in the Sydney area. Like someone clutching straws at Top Trumps I did manage to discover our serpent was the longest of the Sydney snake family, coming in at a whopping 90cm. Even snakes can be deceiving then. Think there’s a metaphor there somewhere.

A final lesson I took from our New South Wales adventure was to not fall asleep on someone’s expensive white sofa while holding a glass of red wine. I stirred at 5am and shifted slightly, only to hear the distant yet distinct chime of glass on carpet, a warm wetness under my hand in the dark. “Please be water,” I prayed internally. Lights on, the horrid truth was revealed, ruby smeared across the cushions like a child’s butterfly painting. A mixture of good carpet cleaner and elbow grease meant that by the time our host was awake my apology was not met with the expected raw anger but a muted acknowledgement. My efforts were not in vain! Bang and the stain was gone. We were off to New Zealand.