The $100 Question

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At the end of a quiet shift selling tickets from the booth, I returned to the office next to the wharf to cash up.  Despite a dearth of customers over the day I was somehow $100 short.  Exactly $100.  A very convenient figure, so I returned to the booth to check for any missing $100 notes, possibly a couple of $50s down the back of the desk perhaps?  But nothing.  Recounting the money, going through receipts and adding the ticket sales up repeatedly I returned to the same specific figure of $100.  My colleagues were loving this.  The Captain had been in a foul mood all week and this would surely be the sour cherry on the Croats cake.  He was due to return any minute from his last cruise of the day and I was told in no uncertain terms by those who’d worked for him longer than I, that to be missing $100 was quite possibly a sackable offence.  Would I risk his wrath, ride the storm of his anger and hope I’d have a job by the end of it?  I had mere minutes to play with, so I frantically recounted everything again, praying this $100 would appear from the ether and magically solve by insolvency.  But no luck.  The great boat lumbered into view, slowly approaching the dock like a giant P45.  “It’s now or never,” my work-mate urged, “he’ll be here any minute.”  Realising I couldn’t risk unemployment at this late stage of my working visa, I bowed my head, reached into my wallet and begrudgingly took $100 from my own wallet.  I had worked in the booth for six hours.  I was now only going to be paid for one.

Cycling home, still deducing whether my stable job status was worth an essentially free shift, a baby bird flew out from behind a parked car and straight into the spinning vortex of my front wheel.  There was a swish of spokes on feathers, a muted shriek and a lump of semi-conscious animal slumped on the tarmac.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much traffic behind me.  That baby bird was about to find this out the hard way.

I’m not sure but if I’d stayed and explained to the Captain about my loss of funds he would have yelled at me for a while, maybe sacking me in the process.  This would have probably taken long enough to ensure that helpless chick would have flown unobstructed across the road.  As it happened, I lost $100 and I killed a bird with my bike.

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Melbound and Down

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Over Christmas and New Year, I was lucky enough to have the parents over for a visit.  They had a look around Melbourne, went for a sojourn round Sydney and most importantly got to meet the fabled Catriona for the first time.  Luckily, all three went down well.  From what I hear, mum has been boring everyone within earshot of the Australian adventure and the official Jayne Thurlow endorsement certificate is winging its way to Catriona’s post box as we speak.  Phew!

So anyway, with that in mind, I thought I’d do a wee run down of things to do in this corner of the world, through the prism of parental escorts.  It’s easy to write negatively about places so I’ll aim high.  There’s a lot to cover too, so I’ll go with a couple of topics first:

Best Day Out:

Pretty much everyone goes to Philip Island when they visit Melbourne as there’s a squad of Little Penguins that raid the beach every night.  They’re officially called Little Penguins, I’m not being derogatory.

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Like clockwork, they emerge from the surf at dusk and cautiously make their way to their burrows where their starving kids keenly await some regurgitated anchovies.  Stadium seating is arranged on the banks of the beach as hundreds of tourists await the nightly avian re-enactment of Saving Private Ryan.  Chinese tourists disregard the frequent pleas for no flash photography and then leave en masse as soon as the critters appear.  The rest of us wait around and scope around the bush to spot mum or dad being accosted by her famished sprogs (I’m talking about the penguins here, not the Chinese tourists).  It’s pretty violent stuff.  Still in their downy feathers, the children appear bulkier than their beleaguered parents and virtually mug them as they stagger through the dark to their burrows, ramming their beaks into their startled mouths.  In hindsight, we shouldn’t have gone on Boxing Day, as it was unbelievably busy with tourists.  Trying to catch a glimpse of this nocturnal phenomenon was almost as violent as the act itself.  Fortunately, our guide for the day was exemplary.  On the bus he regaled us with a mix of local history and vaguely duff dad jokes.  On the way to the penguin party we stopped off at a koala reserve where we saw the lazy bastards sleeping in various poses on various trees.  koalas rank almost as high as pandas in the useless animal league.  They sleep up to 22 hours a day and only eat specific types of eucalyptus leaves, which offer next to no nutrition.  These leaves are highly toxic though, and the koalas have evolved such strong antibodies in their digestive systems to combat and dissolve these elements that there’s serious research underway to realise their potential for fighting human contagions.  Eventually, one koala woke up, did a scratch and wandered along a pole.  It was very cute indeed.  I remember seeing a panda in China and it couldn’t even climb a tree.  It was pathetic.  So the koala has some way to go before gaining the Most Redundant Animal Award.  We also saw some wallabies and ate some pretty useful fish and chips.

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Lazy.

Best Free View:

Climb the top of the Shrine of Remembrance on the corner of the Royal Domain and you’ll get a straight shot right down the throbbing artery of Swanston Street.  You’ll also notice there’s a 31 storey building with the giant face of indigenous leader William Barak etched on to it.  I did have to look this up though as the face is so massive and spread over a series of balconies it’s pretty nondescript.  Underneath the Shrine there’s a museum sitting amongst the pillars that make up the old crypt.  There’s the usual telling of World War Two, told through the eyes of the country that’s telling it.  I think the only way to get the whole picture would be to visit every country in the world that fought in the War and find somewhere in the middle.  You could open the museum in Switzerland.  Failing that you could read ‘All Hell Let Loose’ by Max Hastings.

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Best Cycle Route:

The Capital City Trail!  30km loop through the inner suburbs, the parks, alongside the river, through the CBD and out the other side!  I say 30km but if you have the directional sense of a bluebottle like me, add a good 5km to the total for wrong turns.  I counted mine and made specifically seven.  I may write to the Melbourne City Council and request more signs, a few hundred should do the trick.

Most Tenuous Claim:

Come to Fitzroy Gardens and see the OLDEST BUILDING IN AUSTRALIA! Hmmmm.  The building in question is ‘Cook’s Cottage’ – not belonging to bedraggled ex-Labour prawn-face Robin Cook, but Captain James Cook, discoverer of the New World, well the one other than America.  The building is very old by Australian standards for sure, except that it wasn’t built in Australia.  It was built in Yorkshire.  In the 1930s it was dismantled and shipped over to Melbourne where it was reconstructed brick by brick.  This is a bit like saying you’re drinking a 30-year-old malt when actually you’re drinking Bell’s from an old bottle. I’m not sure where you’d draw the line.  I assume there’s a street in Yorkshire with a cottage-sized gap in the middle of it, just a sign reading, ‘Here Lay the Oldest Building in Australia.’  Tourists can dress up in period clothes and pose in front of the cottage, like they’re maids in 18th century England, in a park in central Melbourne.

Best Bar:

I think Melbourne might have the greatest collection of bars that fill specific niche markets in the world.  If you like beer and retro computer gaming, you have two options (Bartronica and Pixel Alley).  If you like beer and ten pin bowling, you have Strike next to the State Library.  If you like unlimited beer and electronic darts you have iDarts next to Strike.  Luwow on Johnston Street is an incredibly themed Hawaiian bar with a weekly karaoke night featuring a velour-suited host that fills time between songs with his own Tom Jones renditions.  If you like beer, tacos and skateboarding, Beach Burrito can serve you the best liquid and food from Mexico around a giant skate-bowl.  If you like Seinfeld, there’s even a bar entirely devoted to George Costanza!

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The Evelyn Bar wins the award though because A) they have happy hour every day that means $6 pints of Fat Yak, and B) they’re attached to an off license (or bottle-o) where you can buy a bottle of wine for $14.  They’ll even stick it in an ice bucket for you and you can enjoy it on the bar terrace watching the oddballs of Fitzroy waddle by in their skinny jeans.  City Slickers.

The Booth

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I’ve been demoted or promoted depending on your perspective, to The Booth, which is the ticket stand beside the train station.  Only once or twice a week, but to begin with I felt snubbed.  This was until I realised it featured in its own cartoon series: ‘The Booth.’  Quite humdrum at first appearances, much of my time in The Booth is spent directing lost pensioners to the Information Centre over the road.  There was an upsurge in activity recently when a disabled busker stationed himself 10 feet from my face and fired up his mobile karaoke machine.  He then put ‘Hey Baby’ by DJ Otzi on repeat and screamed over it.  Occasionally he would sing the correct lyrics, like ‘Heeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyy Baby!’ but predominantly he would just scream.  He was having a great time.  I wasn’t and neither was anyone else.  People shielded their ears and their children’s as the incoherent wails ricocheted down St Kilda Road.  But of course I wasn’t going to say anything as the guy in question was disabled.  Fortunately, a bald bloke from the casino next door wasn’t so principled.  A few well-placed words later and the shrieking busker was moving on.  I immediately felt sorry for him but suddenly a customer approached The Booth looking for a cruise.  I realised in the two hours the Otzi tribute act had been in the vicinity I hadn’t sold a single ticket.

I still work on the boats of course.  On the big boat the worst aspect of the job is scraping off the seagull shite with the hose.  In The Booth it’s human waste you have to worry about.  Tramps use the stairwell and the wee nook belonging to The Booth as their own gigantic toilet.  It’s a true olfactory experience when you go to open up your place of work for the day and the tramps have been going heavy on the grog all night, pools of fresh urine steaming in the morning sun.  We don’t have a hose in The Booth unfortunately. 

There was added drama on the big boat last week when an old lady collapsed.  I was working on the small boat so was a bystander on this occasion, thank God, so I only got the whole story from the deck-hand on duty and a few understandably upset passengers.  The Captain, never in contention for the Nobel Peace Prize, was visibly annoyed by the lady’s collapse.  He called the office and told them to call an ambulance as a lady was “unwell”.  He hung up after this detailed diagnosis, leaving the bloke in the office with a fairly vague description to pass on to the emergency services.  Relatives of the stricken woman asked The Captain how long it would be before they could disembark and get her to a hospital.  “As long as it takes!”  Retorted the unsympathetic Croat, to general dismay and disbelief.  Upon mooring at the wharf he then continued to let passengers on to the boat, who had to shuffle awkwardly past the prone lady who was splayed in the recovery position.  Disembarking passengers exclaimed their shock at his lack of empathy to us on shore.  But what could we do?  Paramedics arrived on motorbike and boarded the vessel, tending to their patient with due care and attention.  The Captain complained loudly that they were taking too long, delaying his next precious cruise to the hallowed grounds of Herring Island.  Thankfully the poorly pensioner was taken to hospital fully conscious and on the mend.  The Captain greeted this news like he’d got two numbers in the lottery.  Astonishingly he then held up the next cruise by over 20 minutes so he could eat lots of sushi.  The man is not a Roald Dahl character.  He is real. 

He’s a cycle-path

 

I cycle to work every day.  It’s free and it’s fun.  On my commute I have to weave through varying angles of lane-changing traffic and try to beat amber lights before they turn red.  My main source of amusement is other cyclists though.  Blokes who pedal through the CBD every morning in lycra and clip-on shoes.  Clip on shoes they have to unclip at every junction as they await the green light.  And then clip on again as they attempt to regain momentum before unclipping 15 seconds later as they reach the next junction.  They spend so much time clipping and unclipping they forget to actually cycle.  They are among the slowest cyclists on the roads.  Tourists with the chunky hire bikes merrily cruise past these huffing clip merchants, while their lycra sags with sweat produced predominantly from frustration.  And why the lycra?  It is not saving you time.  It is making you look like a toothpaste commercial.

I have worn both lycra and clip-on shoes but that was for long distance rides in the countryside.  This is a ten minute chug in rush hour.  And then there’s the guys (it’s only ever guys) who decide to cycle down the pedestrian walkways near our boat along the wharf.  It’s teaming with tourists, lost old people and confused foreigners squinting at maps.  Suddenly a neon helmeted blur flashes into view as some chubby bloke on a road-bike with tyres as thin as pencils careers along the riverside in bottom gear like he’s trying to catch the peloton.  Ringing the bell repeatedly he screams things like, “Watch out!  Heads up!” as the masses are forced into evasive action, diving out the way, children split from their terrified parents, a bolt of pink and green dividing them.  Why don’t they slow down?  If they are truly in a rush, why don’t they use the roads?  I assume they don’t as there’s less clipping and unclipping on pedestrian walkways, just excessive panic and fear instead.  And as for the ones who have earphones in while they demand walkers to take heed of their frantic yelling, please do us all a favour and cycle straight into the Yarra.  I finally snapped and yelled at one the other day who had the temerity to berate some Asian tourists for getting in his way, “In Australia we overtake on the left!”  He screeched, the confused muddle of selfie sticks and smart phones failing to part appropriately for him.  It was just asking for a witty retort, so bloody-minded and casually racist it had to be dealt a swift biting blow.  “Just slow down you idiot,” I shouted instead, swiftly averting my eyes as the clipped crusader turned to me.  He zoomed off, hopefully into a ditch somewhere.  The Asians didn’t understand what I’d said and carried on taking on selfies.  “Excuse me,” I said as I pushed my way meekly through to my bike.

Oh Captain, My Captain!

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That’s me in the shirt trying to control the baying masses.  We’re clearly the hottest ticket in town.

 

Been a while!  I should set the scene: I’m sitting in our compact wee room on the first floor of a dishevelled pile of bricks called 5 David Street.  The roof is made of tin so we’re slow roasting at 6pm, under the latent heat of the 3pm sun.  The swivel fan, last used on the set of JFK, gingerly puffs warm air around the room like a series of disappointing farts.

Despite these humble surroundings, Melbourne is a gift that keeps on giving.  My job as a river tour guide continues apace and it’s still like living in a water-based sitcom.  The Captain’s hatred for our bitter rival boat cruise company flared up again recently.  They were advertising ‘2 for 1’ vouchers on our patch near our ticket booth at Flinders Street Station, which they don’t have a permit to do.  Usually in these instances, the Captain phones some local authority and they’re told to move on.  This time he dragged his incredible frame up the stairs and across the road where he set upon the voucher seller, in this instance an unsuspecting Scottish backpacker.  He enveloped the poor Scot’s neck with his sausage fingers, throttling him in front of dozens of alighting train passengers.  The illegitimate voucher seller promptly phoned the police who were waiting for the unperturbed Captain as we docked after a late afternoon cruise.  There were three cops, stern looks all around, and I had visions of the Captain being hauled into some sort of reinforced police van.  But a 15 minute chat at the riverside later, it was the cops who were thanking the Captain for his time, queueing up to shake his hand as they bid him farewell.  “Thanks very much for your time Captain!” They piped one by one.  The Captain lumbered back on to the boat, glanced round at me and the throngs of impatient passengers checking their watches for the next cruise, and gave a very rare smile.  I’m not sure but I think I detected a wink as well.  There is not another human on earth who gives less of a shit than this man.  Needless to say there’s been no follow up and our rivals continue to push vouchers on our Flinders Street Station patch, so there’ll no doubt be another throttling shortly.

Earlier this week, a couple of rowers were obviously so ‘in the zone’ they didn’t notice our boat honking it’s horn repeatedly as we reversed away from the wharf and into their path.  I was yelling off the back deck alongside a few concerned passengers for them to stop but on they came, seemingly intent on reversing their slender boat and bodies into our churning propeller.  At the very last second one of them realised their predicament and  jammed their oars into the water, nudging themselves into us harmlessly rather than crashing violently and being stirred into rower puree.  While we all checked everyone was alright, the Captain decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Are you deaf as well as stupid?!  Next time I run you over no problem!”

He’s not a big fan of rowers in general.  After another close shave with a solo Redgrave wannabe, the Captain unloaded such a tirade of abuse all we could hear from the perspiring paddler was, “You give ferries a bad name!”  I’m almost certain he does.  And he couldn’t care any less.  All hail the Captain!

Roddy’s Road Trip Part II

We got on the ferry from Picton, up through the Marlborough Sounds to Wellington. The cruise is just a commute really, the only way to traverse the Cook Straight apart from flying, but being New Zealand, it’s more beautiful than any boat ride you’ve ever been on. Well, nearly.

My old mate Rosie has a café in Wellington – Rinski’s. She’s selling it now if anyone’s interested?! So seeing her and her café were the priorities of the Wellington visit. However, we managed to squeeze in a lot more.

At the National Gallery was an exhibition called Demented Architecture, which was basically a huge table with thousands of white Lego bricks on it. Visitors were encouraged to play with the Lego and add to the already impressive collection of skyscrapers stretching towards the ceiling. Catriona built a perfectly symmetrical structure, with arches and a combed roof that would have made the Mayans proud. I went for a spiral staircase that soon became a fire escape for one of the tallest buildings – about 6 feet high – alas, I lack an engineering background or even a modicum of common sense. As a child I used to get Andrew Spinks to come round and build my Lego for me as I couldn’t understand the instructions. Therefore my stairway to heaven toppled back to earth, crashing amongst the sturdier fortifications, raining white 2-by-4s on my fellow builders below. I remained standing, holding the one white brick that was to form the top step, the angel on the Christmas tree. Some eight year-olds rolled their eyes disdainfully and returned to their own projects. I briefly considered doing a Godzilla and going into a full metropolis-destroying rage, but realised security would have me encircled like King Kong on the Empire State Building. “Drop the Lego ya egg!”

I soon cheered up as we got a tour of the Weta special effects studio, Weta being the people responsible for all the orcs, armour and make-believe in Lord of the Rings. Basically, I had the best kids day out imaginable. I held a gun from District 9 and later we watched a man trying to take his massive dog home after a long walk. The dog was having none of it. The poor man kept coaxing it up his drive only to be dragged back down again. Myself and the rest of the café across the road from him had a great laugh. There’s lots to do in Wellington.

Rosie looked after us magnificently, considering she was running a café that doesn’t appear to close. During one fleeting window of opportunity she did take us to a series of gigs that were taking place in someone’s house. The entire house was given up to this impromptu festival, the living room cleared of furniture and bedecked with disco lights while sound technicians fought for space with punters who were even clinging to the roof. Rosie’s boyfriend’s in a band called Glass Vaults (listen to this) and a member of said band by the name of Benny stole the show. He was somewhere between Prince and Mika (Mince? Paprika?) and couldn’t have been more charismatic if he was made of feather boas. I was beginning to feel quite trendy until I needed the toilet. Being a house, there was only one toilet and being a gig, there were a lot of people needing it. I found myself asking teenagers if they knew of any alternative facilities and being dismissed like a lost pensioner. I ended up peeing into an Avis forecourt.

Elsewhere in Wellington they had the Scale of our War Exhibition at the national museum. Weta had installed a series of giant models of soldiers that were so gobsmackingly lifelike you’d find yourself staring at them for ages, waiting for one of them to flinch. On a different note I also spotted Jermaine from Flight of the Concords, eating a burger! His clear advancement of years since appearing in that show made me feel consequentially, pretty old.

Overall, Wellington is somewhere between Melbourne and 1987. It’s all the better for it.   Sad as it was to leave, we had a merry jaunt back to Lyttelton (and a plane to Melbourne to catch!) to get on with, via a stop over in a hostel in Picton that was called the Tombstone Backpackers. It was next to a graveyard and the door was shaped like a coffin. On the window it said, ‘Rest in Peace.’ It’s hard to argue with a place that really embraces a theme, regardless of bad taste.

So, Roddy made it home, without a scratch. In fact the only things damaged were our bank accounts, but I don’t think either of us regret a single penny. New Zealand is magic.

Upside Down River

There’s two boats I’m a tour guide on, a big one and a small one.

A wooden section of the small boat blew off in the wind the other day. Not an important part, just a two foot square piece that fits into the roof over the captain’s head, only ever required if it’s really sunny (for shade) or rainy (for dryness). Mid-way down the Yarra a freak gust dislodged the wooden square and it hurtled into the brown river behind us. My job was now to retrieve it.

Two German tourists had to hold my feet while I dangled over the side, their respective partners whooping with delight. My fingers could just about touch the water so to fetch the wood from the ferment required precision steering from the captain. On the first pass it bobbed just out of reach, the passengers sighing with frustration like they’d just seen a double fault at Wimbledon. On the second go, I was aligned perfectly and retrieved the square to great jubilation. I was hauled back on to deck, my face purple from being inverted by Germans for so long and held the wood above the baying crowd, a soggy trophy snatched from the void, their applause bathing me just like the Yarra almost did. The Germans shook hands and slapped each others backs, while some Malaysian tourists took some celebratory photos. Remembering my duties, I placed the wood down and picked up my fact sheet – “Did you know the Westgate Bridge was meant to be built in four years but actually took eleven…” It was back to business. Silence descended on the boat once more.

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.