Friday, November 24, 2006

Meanwhile, fears of universal disaster sank to an all time low over the world

Well Isaac Asimov may well think that but my insurance company certainly doesn't!!

Six hundred and fifty five quid they want, for buildings only insurance on an empty house! Not only that but the insurance only covers damage by lightning, explosion and aircraft damage? What about the good old stuff like loosened roofing tiles, subsidence and burning down?

I mean, we lived there ten years before we emigrated and I can't honestly remember the house ever being struck by lightning or exploding. These are the kinds of things you'd tend to notice I feel.

And as for aircraft damage, well we are some twenty odd miles from the nearest airport, in a sprawling urbanisation. But apparently aircraft damage is a major concern to the insurance company it seems. So much so that, under the terms of the policy, my parents have to visit the property at least once a week to make quite sure that there isn't a Boeing 747 sticking out of the lounge window.

One assumes that, at such an extortionate price, I at least get salvage rights over any commercial, military or recreational aircraft that should just happen to choose my house to crash into out of the millions of others in the Greater Manchester area!

I'm thinking someone has been watching too much Emmerdale! Bloody insurance? Surely the whole idea of insurance is that they assess the odds and take a gamble? Quite honestly, at nearly seven hundred quid a chuck, I can't see a downside for the insurance company!

Don't suppose anyone out there knows any dodgy pilots do they? Perhaps a retired Kamikaze veteran looking for a quick buck (assuming of course Kamikaze pilots can either be veteran or retired?)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this :

"If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity."

Quite a wag that Benjamin Disraeli, but I suppose he has a point.

Let me share with you then, my misfortunes of last week.

The week didn't start too well when Mrs C advised me casually, in passing, that her mother was coming to haunt us for five weeks over the Christmas period. Five weeks!! I only get two weeks off for Christmas and I was rather looking forward to the peace and tranquility of Christmas on the beach. As it stands, I'm more likely now to be stood in the dinner queue at Mount Eden prison for Christmas dinner. She once lived with us for three days and how I held my tongue that long I'll never know - five weeks is a feat of endurance beyond even a saint. To say I don't like the women is perhaps understating things somewhat and it's probably no exaggeration to say that I'd rather have Peter Sutcliffe use our gaff as a bail hostel.

Naturally, when I picked up an e-mail last Friday morning advising me that our house buyers in the UK were dropping out 24 hrs before the date of completion I was very slightly less than gruntled. On the assumption that these things come in threes I was also starting to look carefully around me for the next drama on the horizon, and I travelled very warily to work that day. But then I told myself that it was all a load of guff, nothing else could go wrong and I'd had my quota if such things even existed. I also couldn't recall breaking any mirrors, and you tend to notice doing that.

But I was wrong! I might as well stood under a ladder and smashed a mirror over the black cat running past!

Come 9am I'd just got my first cup of tea and was settling down to my usual Friday turgidity when the phone rang. Not content with already ruining my Christmas, Mrs C decided to twist the knife a little further. "I'm not quite sure how to tell you this.......". Turns out that a mate of Stevie Wonder's had driven his bullbar-adorned 4x4 Schoolrunmobile into our parked car and stoved in the two offside doors. I can only assume he was a mate of Stevie's because there is no other explanation for him failing to see the large, silver family saloon he crashed his front end into as he reversed slowly at an angle out of his adjacent parking space - one assumes the seeing dog in the passenger seat wasn't having a particularly good day and failed to bark his customary warning in time.

Fortunately, the dog had a conscience and scrawled his telephone number on a note (Thank goodness for the dog, because a Braille note from the driver would have had me well stumped!)

Taking a deep breath, and reassured that my third and final piece of bad luck had now arrived, I assessed the damage over the phone and concluded that the car was unsightly rather than undriveable. Surprising myself with my calmness (is there a difference between calm and abject resignation I wonder?) I left Mrs C with the words "Right, I'll deal with it when I get home, but please, please do not phone me again unless someone dies, I couldn't take anything else".

She's a grand wife is Mrs C, very bright and deeply beloved to me, despite having a mother rumoured to be the daughter of Satan. And she followed my instructions to the letter.....until around 2pm, when the phone rang again.

Now you know when you answer the phone and you can tell just by the way people breath that they are about to relay something catastrophic? Well it was like that - shaky breathing, muted sobs and I could definitely detect trembling through the ether. With the words ".....unless somebody dies" ringing in my ears, bile rising in my throat and her "I'm really sorry to phone you" opening gambit, I immediately began to wonder which one of the children's names I was going to hear!

The word "hospital" was all I heard in the next sentence!

Turns out, she'd turned around quite innocently and innocuously whilst helping out at school, and crumpled in a rather messy heap on the floor (probably with her legs firmly closed and her skirt neatly clamped between her knees, because women somehow have this reflex action for falling that way whenever they faint or collapse - or is it just me that notices these things?). Anyway, I digress. After a trip to the hospital, the conclusion is a torn calf muscle, a bill of $80 for a bit of tubigrip bandage, some aspirins and a pack of anti-inflammatories, plus $30 deposit for the crutches, which will be refunded when she returns on Friday for a check up (which will probably cost the returned $30 deposit plus another $50 no doubt!). Now I put this kind of injury either down to old age or playing football....and I don't ever recall seeing her wearing football boots!

So not only was my Friday a disaster of unfathomable proportions, but I had to spend a whole weekend of Mrs C alternating between hopping around like an amateur Long John Silver or shuffling up and down stairs on her backside like a stricken leper.

Regardless of what Disraeli says, I still haven't decided whether all of that was purely misfortune, or whether the quantum of those misfortunes qualifies it as a calamity collectively.
And all of this whilst going through the itchy and deeply irritable hell of a two week old moustache in aid of 'Movember' - an event in aid of Men's Cancer charities. I mention this a) because the itching was already making me bad tempered and b) in a shameless pursuit of cash in a good cause. If anyone would like to sponsor my flowing Mexican moustache, complete with underlip tickler. Log on to the Movember website here and quote my rego number 34760. Leave your e-mail address in the comments section and I'll send you a mo pic to laugh at/stroke/drool over (I currently hold 5 gold "Best Mo" stars, 4 red "Most Stylish Mo" stars and 4 blue "Best Porno Mo" stars to lead the office competition!)

PS, in response to the anonymous comment...Ron Jeremy? Pah. I don't think he can compete on any front! Even Merv Hughes is cacking himself

Friday, October 27, 2006

It isn't that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better

Pah, Francis Drake, what did he know about it??

Me on the other hand, I'm now a fully fledged member of the nautical community. Mind you, this elevation doesn't come easily. Oh no, you live and learn every time you go out on the Briny.

So what allows me to speak with such authority? Well, I'm now the proud owner (well loaner really ) of a boat, following an incredibly generous offer from a colleague's partner - something along the lines of "Here take mine". Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth (being sensibly scared of getting anywhere near the flickering eyes and yellow teeth of such animals), I gratefully accepted the offer. After all, it would be rude to refuse and how hard can it be to drive a boat?

Hmm, well a little bit harder than you might first imagine!

Now being honest, the driving of them (or should one say skippering?) isn't really that difficult. You turn the key and off you go. In fact, it's the bit before you set off and the bit after you get back that are the REALLY hard bits. First of all, there's the reversing it down the boat ramp without dropping it off the side or submerging the car. For those that have never reversed a trailer before, it's a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head. You can learn to do it in time, but generally some people are just born with the ability. In fact I think it's a gene passed from Kiwi male to Kiwi male. For the rest of us, it's an activity designed solely for the amusement of others.

Not deterred, I was hell-bent on trying it. I mean, how hard can it be? You just turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction to the one you want the boat trailer to go.....don't you?

So I stationed my mate (we'll call him Jimmy) within sight at the back, so that he could guide me and I set off slowly. Now Jimmy is a decent fella - after all, it was his 4x4 we were using to tow the borrowed boat (I know, I might look stupid but...) - and in the true way of all loyal mates, he turned to the nearest disinterested bystanders and attracted their unwavering and undivided attention to the forthcoming entertainment with the words "It's his first time!"

Having ensured that we now had the full attention of all present, I inched backwards down the ramp, turning the wheel slightly to the right, to account for the slight curve to the left of the boat ramp. Having quickly got the boat at right angles to the car, I then drove forward to straighten up. Start again.....and the same thing happened!! Lesson 1 - even the slightest touch of the steering wheel slews the trailer in the opposite direction!

After only four attempts I managed to get the boat down the ramp and into the water.....and nobody applauded!!!

So off we set for an enjoyable day's fishing.

Now it was a little rough, so we didn't go far and anchored out in the bay. The boat was pitching a little but nothing too serious. And then I learnt my next lesson. NEVER, EVER kneel down in a pitching boat, because when you do, the pitching suddenly becomes a WHOLE lot worse (even writing this I can feel the bile rising again!). After about 30 minutes rocking and wallowing, we decided enough was enough and it was time to 'weigh anchor'. It was only at this point we realised the anchor was fouled and, stuck fast, it 'weighed" a bloody tonne!. With Jimmy facing out of the hatchway at the front of the boat trying to pull up the rope, we began hitting every wave head on as we fought to get the damn thing up - me by driving the boat over the anchor line and him by hauling on the rope (at one point I think I saw the palm of his hands smoking!). Now I was a little scared at the thought of being stuck forever out there and have to admit I was very chuffed to be skipper, responsible for the boat, rather than the other bloke sat out on the front of the boat facing the rising sea and getting drenched with every wave. We finally got the anchor up and, as with most instances where the danger suddenly disappears, had a good laugh and a celebratory beer.

Somewhat relieved, we decided to have a little bimble about round the headland. As soon as we turned the corner, the sea was flat calm!!!

The sequel to this story came last weekend, when we took the boat out again, this time with our kids on board. Being a bit wiser this time, and noticing the number of people about, I let Jimmy drive down the ramp - he's a Kiwi you see, so was born with the trailer reversing gene and can make any boat ramp look 30ft wide. And as you might expect, our departure was a relatively unamusing and uninspiring affair. We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon buggering about on the water, fishing, drinking beer, peeing in buckets and all the other things you'd associate with a blokes' fishing trip. Well, when I say fishing trip, Captain Birdseye we weren't. We caught a few but none were big enough to keep....except one snapper, which was a couple of millimetres over the legal 27cm. Obviously, we couldn't go home completely empty handed, so he went in the bucket and we set off back.

By this time, confidence was high and we cruised gently towards the beach, in a dead line with the boatramp, a bit like Nelson and Hardy (but without the kissing of course!). Now for some reason, the beach was particularly busy (could word of the previous week's antics have spread so far already??). Having judged we had about 1/2 metre of depth before we grounded, my fellow gallant matelot and I made preparations for the ceremonial disembarkation - he's supposed to jump off first and hold the boat, I kill the engine and then follow him overboard, so that he can leg it up the beach for the car and trailer, whilst I stop the borrowed boat washing down the beach and against the rocks.

Unfortunately, it didn't go quite according to plan - a wave caught us just as Jimmy's about to go over the side....and he went slightly faster and a little less gracefully than he intended. Soaked to the neck, he quickly scarpers pretending nonchalantly to the gathered crowd on the beach that nothing untoward had happened - judging by the faces, his performance wasn't too convincing and his sopping wet clothes clearly indicated a lack of intention! Barely able to hold my bladder for laughing, I followed him over (more gracefully) and hung onto the boat, waist deep in water, whilst the kids were under instructions to sit still as I fought the waves (which I was hoping "were fiddlin' and small", but weren't).

After what seemed like ages, I could see my buddy scrabbling about up near the car. Cursing, I turned to my son and growled "I can't believe that daft bugger's getting his dry clothes on whilst I'm struggling here."

Then my youngest starts crying - she wants to go home and doesn't like the boat rocking in the waves......then my mates daughter delivers the words that strike fear into anyone in such a situation........"I need the toilet!"

Just then Jimmy sets off back down the beach towards us. It was at this point, I learnt another lesson - car keys aren't waterproof!!!

"Mate, we've got a real problem" he says. "The keys got wet and the immobiliser's buggered!"

So there we were, a 15ft boat, no trailer, no car, one child reliving the Titanic experience, another performing the bladder dance complete with facial contortions, and half of the local population loving every minute!

Fortunately, we had mobile phones with us (carefully stored in waterproof bags I might add!!) so we phoned Mrs C, and told her to bring my car down to tow us off bloody quickly.

Now at some point during this, I noticed the two blokes in official overalls up in the car park - FISHERIES OFFICERS!!! These guys take your boat, your car and all your kit if they catch you with undersized fish, or so I'd been told by every Death or Glory Kiwi fisherman I'd ever met. And by this point, I'm convinced they thought I was spending hours in the water just to avoid them inspecting us for our one and only fish that was 27.5cm long!

Just then, Mrs C arrives with the car, so we get the trailer hitched up and The One With The Genes reverses it down the ramp - boat hooked up, winched out and we are ready to go. Being somewhat sodden, I suggested Jimmy (the drier of the two of us!!) drive up and I'd meet him at the top of the ramp. So, completely oblivious to the fact that my car is a 2.0l front wheel drive saloon, and not a 3.0 4x4, Jimmy guns the engine.....and buries the front end of my lovely car into the beach! Fortunately, a quick reverse, a lower gear selection and we get away with it.

So, at the top of the ramp, the Fisheries guy stops us, has a look over our catch (1 fish you'll recall - it didn't take long!) and gives us the thumbs up. Feeling brave, I questioned him as to whether the fish we had was borderline or not

"Nah, you're okay there. We're mostly after the fellas who take sackfuls of shellfish, or bags of undersized fish....besides, you fellas gave us such a laugh we had to let you off!!"

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Swing your razor wide! Sweeney, hold it to the skies

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, not much chance of him getting on in New Zealand, far too much of a craftsman he was. In the Land of the Long White Cloud anyone can be anything they want to be over here and qualifications seem to have little to do with it. Take barbers for instance. Six months and I haven't once had a decent haircut. In fact, I'm pretty convinced that the qualifications for becoming a New Zealand barber are simply the ability to daub red white and blue stripes somewhere on the outside of a shop. They certainly don't seem to relate to being able to cut hair, that's for sure!

Now at this point, some of you are probably assuming I'm one of those sartorially elegant chaps who sports the kind of trendy haircut that makes you look like you've just jumped out of bed and dived backwards through a hedge? Well not me! Admittedly, I do like the back shaved up and a quick razor scrape to rid me of the bum fluff on the neck but I've never considered myself trendily tonsured - I'm quite happy with the regulation short back and sides with a good short trim on the roof. Back in England a quick trip to "Mad Jack's" and you'd spend more time waiting than you did in the chair - a good old fashioned barber who'd whizz round with the clippers, have the cut-throat up and down your neck and offer you "something for the weekend sir?" before you'd even had chance to comment on the weather. (By the way, why is it, whenever I hear the oft parodied phrase "Something for the weekend sir?" I immediately think of a hot black pudding and a free ticket to watch the mighty Shakers get trounced by some second-rate pub team from the wilds of Yorkshire.)

Anyway, my mind wanders, as it often does, but, to get back to the point, you wouldn't think it would be too hard to get a decent, sharp haircut of the old fashioned variety, now would you?

Well how wrong could you be?

The first mistake I made was going to a female barber. Now call me old fashioned, but women are hairdressers and blokes are barbers. Women just simply don't have the aggression needed to wield hair clippers with the required amount of venom to shave with military precision. So I spent 30 minutes (20 minutes longer than I would usually) sat in the chair, listening to inane twittering about the weather, TV and the price of shopping, whilst this lovely lady faffed and fussed around the back of my head. Granted, she did do the thing with the mirror to show me the back of my head when she'd finished. But that immediately raised my suspicions - no self respecting barber shows you the back. He leaves that surprise for when you get home! And true enough, there it was....a beautifully clipped neckline with not a trace of blood or tissue paper anywhere. And even worse, no evidence of contact with clippers whatsoever....which left me wondering just what the hell that buzzing noise had been at the back of my head for the last 20 minutes!! (Surely not!)

Now everyone knows that the standard issue short back and sides lasts you at least a month but after a week I was beginning to look like Jason Eaton!

So, with the bit between my teeth and my unwanted ponytail wafting gaily in the breeze, I set out again to find a real barber. Spotting a dingy place lurking menacingly next to a disused cafe, I thought I'd struck lucky. Surely no-one but an old fashioned barber would have Old Holborn and Park Drive tins in the window?. So in I dived and to my delight not only did I find there were only two people before me, but there was a table full of 10 year old copies of "Top Gear" magazine and "New Zealand Fisherman & Hunter". Now I really was in luck!

So, I quickly grabbed an interesting magazine and began to read the review of the "hot new 2.8l Ford Capri", knowing I would only have the briefest of moments to savour the vinyl interior as modelled by Lewis Collins, before my turn would come, I read hungrily......and after nearly an hour, it dawned on me that, not only was I no nearer getting my haircut but there was actually STILL no-one in the chair and the same two blokes were waiting before me....looking, on closer inspection, as if they'd been there for years. This guy had stropped his razor, cleaned his clippers, rolled a couple of fags (for the non-Brits out there, rolling a fag is the art of crafting a hand-made cigarette, not a George Michael courtship technique!), and sipped a couple of cups of coffee. It suddenly became very clear to me that this fella was cacking himself and doing everything possible to avoid cutting anyone's hair, presumably lest he should be found out to be a plumber or a plasterer down on his luck, and not really a barber at all !!

It was at that point, I noticed his prosthetic ear (I kid you not!!)....and I began to wonder. Maybe he wasn't a barber at all. Maybe he'd been cruelly mutilated by another amateur New Zealand barber and was now hell-bent on some mission of misplaced vengeance!

Bugger that, time for a sharp exit.....before I end up with a sharp exit!!

So I legged it....and only stopped running when I spotted "Bert's Barbers" (name changed to protect the under-qualified!) tucked away down another alleyway. Undeterred, and becoming somewhat stubborn by this point, I thought I'd give it a go, if only to save money on Alberta Balsam conditioner for long and fly-away hair.

Once again, stepping into the breach, I found myself in an empty shop, bedecked with faded Manchester United memorabilia. The chap seemed cheerful enough, as he greeted me in that cheeky cockney accent favoured by most traditional Man Utd fans. "What'll it be sir?". Now, my hopes soared at this display of traditional Uriah Heep-like ingratiating humility that can surely only truly be learned at a good barbering school. However, not being prepared to take any more chances, I opted for "a number 3 all over", on the basis of a good nagging from Mrs C for having "a bloody crew cut" was better than being mistaken for a slightly dishevelled Liza Minnelli from behind.

It was only when I got home I realised I'd had "a number 3 all over" except for various long tufts at the back!! It was at that point, completely defeated, and after a bout of expletives, I opted for the unthinkable......."Mrs C, do me a favour, get the scissors and trim some of these long bits off."

Snip, snip, snip......"Oh, oh, sorry, I think I've gone a bit close there....."

"Jesus, what have you done? Give me that mirror?"

Now I ask you, which is worse, long tufts of hair here and there or the random placing of bald patches, making me look like a feral dog with the mange??

You know I used to worry a little about going bald but I'm sure Yul Brynner never had the problems I seem to have!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine

Okay, let me firstly say that I am in no way proud of what I am about to recount. However, I do feel the tale worthy of sharing, if only out of relief and surprise.

Someone very kindly offered us use of their holiday home last weekend on the Coromandel (unspoilt playground of the wealthy - a rural/farming peninsula running from south Auckland, parallel to the city, heading back north) and, with an opportunity like that, it seemed only right that we should make the most of it and set off on Friday.

Despite the unspoilt beauty of forests, untouched beaches and winding mountain roads that would give the Alps a run for their money we still had a few issues with Chipshaker Jr and his determination to be sullen and ruin the day for everyone, despite everything we did to make it better (I suspect this is probably lingering homesickness, even after 6 months, and he seems hell-bent on punishing us for dragging him to this wonderful place). Consequently, Friday was a challenging day to say the least and the conclusions we reached at the end of a really difficult day trying to do nice things for Junior's benefit were:

a) if we ever got divorced the custody battle would be more about who got lumbered with the kids rather than who wanted them
b) nothing we could do would make him happy
c) we'd run out of ideas

and most importantly

d) we both needed a beer

Now the day hadn't been all bad - we'd driven a fair distance to a particular beach, known for its thermal springs. And the gloom lifted briefly as the kids, turning slightly blue, bathed in steaming hot water as the freezing Pacific rollers crashed up onto the beach, chilling everything until the hot water bubbled up again. Nevertheless, once the fun was over Junior once again returned to his perpetual state of sullenness.

We were some way from our base, so we decided to stop off for a beer on the way back. After a nice "cold one" things were looking up so we decided cut our losses, relax in front of the log fire and order a meal, with which I had two glasses of a very fair local red wine, as you do.

By now darkness had fallen so I had a "fun" time driving through winding forest roads in the pitch dark, trying hard not to run over kiwis and possums - the former a protected species and the latter a pest. Whilst it is considered good form to run over any possum you spot, they do rather make a mess of the front of the car. We didn't see either but we did nearly run over some farmer's dog.....twice!! Not content with wandering into the road the first time and near choking on the blue tyre smoke, the daft bugger did the same thing again just as I was about to set off!

Nevertheless, we eventually got to the village before the one we were staying in. Clearly a farming community, it became immediately apparent from the sight of two or three bars bursting at the seams that all the farmers knock off at 5pm on a Friday to sink a few cold ones. As we were passing out of town, it also became apparent that the local copper parks his car in the middle of the road at 7.30 and stops every driver in the hope of catching miscreants driving home full to the gunnels.

At 7.45pm, he caught one such miscreant!

"Evening" said I
"Evening sir, could you state your name and address please" said he, as he pressed a breath testing machine to my mouth
"Thank you's a fail, have you been drinking?"
"Yes, I had a couple of glasses of wine with a meal"
"Where was this?"

At which point, anyone who isn't a native who tries to pronounce some of the local names is heading for disaster, drink or not!

" up the road in"
"Ah, right, I think you mean Whitianga" (pronounced fittyanga) "When was that then?" says he, looking at Mrs C and the kids
"Well it was about an hour ago, eh love?" said I looking to Mrs C for corroboration, and setting the kids with a steely death stare, daring them to speak
"Yes, about an hour ago"

Having watched a few episodes of "Motorway Patrol" I was well aware of the dim view the NZ police take of drinking and driving and, at the point I saw the police car in the road I knew I was heading for a night in the cells at least, and probably a hefty fine and a ban - and all before I've even got my NZ driving licence!

As I said at the outset, I don't condone drinking and driving, and I'm sure abstinence is the only sensible policy when driving, but I'm sure most of us have had the odd beer, or a glass of wine or two with a meal before heading off home. Knowing I had to drive, I'd deliberately moderated the intake, had a coffee and killed a bit of time before we set off home.

Nevertheless, I suppose I knew from the outset that I was on thin ice. So, as you might imagine, the next event took my breath away somewhat

"Okay sir, no problem, thank you and have a nice evening"

I drove the rest of the way more stunned than I would have been had I downed a bottle of scotch!. No cells, no fine, no ban, no marigolds. Not even a patronising British bobby-style spiel about how irresponsible it was to drink and drive, particularly with kids in the car, and how I'd better watch out next time!


Now this was the first time I'd ever been stopped in all my years of driving but I've since learned that it is fairly commonplace over here. I've also learned from several people I have spoken to since that I was very...very...lucky!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

We commend to Almighty God our brother.....

So, I wake up every weekend and I look out the window to see that winter still hasn't come to this part of New Zealand. Oh aye, it rains occasionally and it's been pretty cold of late - in fact the coldest winter in Auckland for a couple of dickheads (about 20 years), and there was even frost on the golf course last weekend - but we still haven't seen that traditional sopping wet, bucketing down New Zealand winter that everyone keeps threatening me with. So every weekend, we do our best to make the most of it, and we get out 'tramping' or get in the car for a 'tikitour'.

And this weekend was no exception, although it did have some slightly unusual qualities to it!

Having finally found a bookshop that sells road maps for less than a king's ransom I gladly parted with my $7 for a shiny new tourist map - the fold-out type designed to add excitement to any trip as the passenger wrestles with it across the driver's field of vision, trying unsuccessfully to re-fold it along the original lines, and occasionally uttering from behind it the words "who's doing all that honking?", not realising the car is careering across the central reservation as the driver steers by gut feel and intuition. (I can't help but feel there is a market for opaque maps by the way!).

Anyway, I digress....I had planned out an adventure to take us out to the wild, west (that's 'wild, west' as in rugged coast, not 'Wild West' as in lawless gunslingers).

Unfortunately, what I didn't do was fully appraise Mrs C of the route. Rashly adopting a male outlook to any kind of trip, I vaguely traced a finger along what I thought was a fairly simple route indicating the general direction, and left Mrs C to shout directions out rally co-driver style at relevant points. Unfortunately, these points were usually just after the relevant turnoffs, which invariably meant much hard breaking, blue tyre smoke, reversing and the occasional straying over the white line as I tried to point to our current location on the map and drive at the same time.

Having spent a few hours driving up a relatively uninhabited peninsula we got to a point where what was initially a tarmac road suddenly becomes a dirt track. Now even though I'd only paid $7 for the map, it had so far navigated us perfectly through recognisable landmarks (which is more than can be said for Mrs C), so I kept my faith, with only a nagging concern that the track would suddenly lead to the front door of a farmhouse and we'd be greeted by a grinning farmer and the words "Hehehe, another one eh?".

But got there we did, and we found the (near vertical) path down to the beach....just as it started bucketing down with rain! We did a quick traipse down to the beach, passing a couple of stray walkers along the way, and I was only mildly puzzled by the way they were puffing and blowing. But their apparent breathing difficulties were explained when we set off back. Slightly heavier now due to the downpour, I realised that what seemed invigoratingly steep on the way down was calf-burningly, lung-busrtingly vertical on the way back, made all the more challenging by having to drag a rain-sodden, dead-weight five year old behind me, wailing the "Are we nearly there yet?" song all the way.

Feeling somewhat virtuous at the feel of all that lactic acid cramping up our calves, we all piled back into the car, and headed down to Muriwai, and the famous gannet colony. Now that place is impressive. Not the gannets, there's only about two dozen of them, but mind you it was early in the season and most where still on their way back from their holidays in Australia. No, what was impressive was the rugged scenery....and the howling wind!

You can't help but feel that the wind starts out as a mere breeze across the Tasman on the east coast of Australia, a light zephyr caressing the golden sand, but by the time it gets uninterrupted all the way to the west coast of New Zealand it's strong enough to press your eyeballs forcefully through your brain and into the back of your cranium! We had an enjoyable half hour watching gannets make numerous attempts to land on a nesting rock, cruising gracefully on the hurricane-force winds, lowering their feet, and then backpedalling like fury, only to be blown back out to sea just as their feet were about to touch dry land. One gallant fella tried about five times before finally scrabbling his way onto the rock, inches before falling off the other side. Probably a little perverse but I found the whole thing hugely amusing. And my how we laughed....except you couldn't hear any guffawing. Oh no, instead, it was like some strange silent movie with exaggerated facial movements as we tried to talk to each other with every word being snatched away on the wind.

And then the third leg of our tikitour took us down to Bethells Beach. Now Bethells is a fairly remote beach, with nothing there except a scattering of ramshackle beach homes, a surf shack that's closed in winter and four port-a-loos that, on brief inspection, appear to be emptied once a year whether they need it or not! But that said, it has to be my favourite place of all the places I've visited in the world. The word "barren" was invented for this place. It is a huge expanse of black, blue and purple sand (coloured by iron-ore) with huge waves crashing onto the beach. And when the wind blows, as it does with aplomb, it blows all the lighter brown sand underneath across the surface,leaving the most amazing patterns and effects. And at one edge of the beach, an ice cold, fresh water river courses along the beach to the sea, where the huge waves crash against the flow causing a turmoil of water.

And it was at this meeting of waters we made our most bizarre discovery of the day....

"What's that Dad?" says young Chipshaker Jr

"No idea mate, probably just some rubbish washed down the river"

So we wandered down to where the little blue box was tumbling backwards and forwards from river to sea and back again. At first glance it looked like a discarded shoe box but for some reason, I couldn't work out why it seemed to be fully enclosed and didn't seem to have a lid as such. So, captivated by the progress of this detritus we followed it back on its journey upriver, where it was cast upside down onto the edge of the sand by a rogue wave. Having spent a lifetime in an office environment, I'm pretty proficient at upside down reading so I hunkered down to read


Hmm, funny name for a shoe brand, I thought, until I read on

"The cremated remains of Li Ting Su" (name changed to protect the innocent)

Now I'm thinking if I'd bequeathed my ashes to my near family with the wish that they be cast to the tumbling waters of one of the most beautiful places on earth, I'd rather hope the buggers would be bothered to take them out of the waterproof box first!!

Instead someone had hoyed poor Li Ting into the water in his original plastic overcoaat (aye, not even an urn!), for him to spend the rest of eternity washing up and down a five yard stretch of beach. I only hope that was the intention, because if it was the intention to give him a burial at sea all I can say is they didn't consider the tides and the currents!

Mind you, that's assuming Li Ting escapes the attention of passing kids...because I spent the trip all the way back up the beach trying to explain why we couldn't keep him!

"Aw go on Dad, let's take him why not Dad? But it's a real, live dead person Dad, I've always wanted one of why not?"

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Get thee behind me foul demon

G'day folks. I'm back - apologies for the lengthy absence but I've been rushed off my feet doing bugger all, and enjoying it immensely!

Now, having been in New Zealand nearly six months, I guess I've lost the rose tinted spectacles and I'm starting to see beyond the white beaches, swaying palm trees and wide open spaces. Oh don't get me wrong, I still love the place and I'm still generally at peace with myself and the world...well most of it anyway.

But it's at times like this that you do enjoy the refreshing taste of reality from time to time. So yes, I'm already starting to drive like a psychopath, I get cold from time to time and I'm hooked on fishing. But I still don't miss England and I have as yet not felt any urges to visit "The British Shop" - a local retail outlet where you can buy icons of traditional British culture - llike Paxo and Wotsits - at exorbitant prices.

But England seems to be following me!

This week a brand new, much awaited, shopping centre opened on the Southwestern suburbs of Auckland. Phase 1 currently comprises of a 'Warehouse' (kind of like an upmarket Wilkinsons) and a Foodtown. It's not even finished and already the car park is too small to cater for the expected number of punters, the police had to shut roads to ease congestion on the motorway, and motoring chaos reigned...because yes, you've guessed it, the centre is situated right next to one of the busiest motorways in Auckland. And if that's not bad enough, in true British out-of-town-shopping style, there is only one motorway exit on and one off, and the motorway heads somewhere important, like the airport. It also heads to Hamilton, but don't be fooled by that, no-one goes to Hamilton intentionally - people only go there by mistake (but therein lies another story)

Now you've got to admit, that has British Town Planner written all over it!!

At the risk of losing you all here, let me share a theory I have held for as long as I can remember. Now I'm not a particularly religious man, in fact I'm not at all a religious man. However, I do have this firm conviction that Hell exists, and the folks that populate the place have a LOT of fun with their eternal competition. It's a very simple competition - we humans have a reserve of things like care, consideration and goodwill, all wrapped up in the Milk of Human Kindness that courses through our veins from birth. And what determines where we end up is how much of this leaks out during life. And that's were Hell comes into it!

In the true ways of all despotic places, there is a very strong and thriving competitive hierarchy down in Hades - Naturally Lucifer is the boss, with a plethora of Earls, Dukes, Archdukes, Barons, demons and imps all jostling for position below him. But it's a flexible hierachy, with advancement dependent solely on achievement. Picture your average demon, harbouring dreams of greatness. So he sits plotting away for his crowning glory, when suddenly he's hit by an inspirational thunderbolt......"Hellfire and damnation, I've got it....Milton Keynes! Let's create a place with two-way roundabouts, streets with only numbers - no names, and we'll make them all look exactly the same. If that's not going to drive the humans mad, what will?" You've got irate businessmen getting lost and stressed out - heart-attack material or what? And then mums/dads screaming at innocent kids when they ask "are we there yet? what do you mean we can't get home?". Plus the obligatory few American tourists wandering around, looking confused as they stare at maps and mutter words like "dawgonne, I'm sure we've been here before." (Mind you, that's probably a coincidence. Most American tourists wander round looking confused. I think they are struggling to work out why they aren't in Boisie, Idaho).

Anyway, I digress - Within days, the Milk of Human Kindness is leaking out everywhere (adding to the traffic chaos no doubt) and souls are cascading down to Hell faster than ...... whatever it is that goes really fast. Anyway it's not long before they know they are on to a real winner. Add a few concrete cows and hey presto, our humble demon is now the dark Baron Degvond of Hades.

By the way, it's a well known fact that the demon who came up with the Milton Keynes idea was a little lacking in confidence. Not wanting to go out on a limb, and being a sensible chap (in as much as demons are) he made a scale model first....and called it Warrington!

So what has this got to do with a new shopping cente in Mt Wellington? Well, you can see how it works down in the Underworld now - advancement by achievement. So you can imagine just how pissed all the other ambitious Underworld high flyers get with this. There's only one thing for it...they need to come up with an idea better than Milton Keynes.

So a bit more of eternity trundles by and months, years, decades go by until suddenly.....young Krazvon (until now something of an under-achiever) comes up with the idea to top it all.....Out of Town Shopping!! And here's how it works, you build a huge complex, preferably indoors where you can control the flow of oxygen. You site it somewhere just off a key arterial route (so not only to you get to the people who go by choice but also those just trying to be somewhere else) and ensure there is only one way in and one way out. Chuck in a food hall selling various forms of artery-hardening muck purporting to be from all four corners of the globe, but in reality is just a multi-coloured range of monosodium glutamate and guar gum. You do your homework and try to predict the number of visitors, then you divide my say four to determine the number of cars and you design the car park to hold approximately two-thirds of your predicted number. Even better, you design the car park in the shape of some mysterious satanic sigil which constantly flexes and changes....then place arrows strategically so that they say "EXIT" but really they point back to the entrance. And there you have it - CHAOS! People honking at each other, kids crying, parents screaming, dads fighting in that daft, posturing middle-aged way that dads fight ineffectually, lost kids, traffic chaos, overheating cars, innocent passing traffic missing their holiday flights......

Something like that makes Krazvon a dead cert for a Dukedom as a minimum.

The thing is, and this is what I really love about New Zealanders, they are just too nice to get it quite righ. They take a perfectly good (in the satanically bad sense of course) idea and they don't quite do it properly. You see, as soon as they realise they've been a victim of some satanic horseplay and folks are suffering, they try to fix it to save your soul. So within a day of the place in Mt Wellington opening, there are announcements on the radio and notices in the press.
"Please stay away from our new retail park, don't come here".
Now it could be me, but I'm not sure that's how PR is supposed to work in retail!!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die.

I've lost count of the number of times people have asked me "So what made you choose New Zealand?" and invariably the answer is a variation of the theme "It's a nice place to bring up kids and it's one of the few countries that would have me"

Aside from that fundamental issue of getting through Immigration, one of the other reasons is that New Zealand is generally a pretty safe place when it comes to wildlife. This is particularly true when compared to, say, Australia, where just about everything is evolutionarily designed to kill you by either sting, bite or swallowing you whole in one bloody mouthful. However, what they don't tell you is that New Zealand is FULL of things that want to share your bed, eat your meal, or just generally take over your house.

For the first couple of weeks we were in an apartment in downtown Auckland, in the middle of summer. It's hot, it's near the sea, it's humid at times, so generally, you are pretty geared up to dealing with tenacious mosquitos and the occasional housefly. Being used to Mediterranean holidays, this isn't a problem - you shut the blinds, you plug in the mossie repellents and you cover yourself in mossie spray.

However, nothing prepared me for moving to a house 40kms out of town in sleepy suburbia. For a start, the house had been empty for a few months before we moved in, so quite obviously various bits of wildlife were a bit upset at the intrusion. You kind of expect that and, whilst I'm not a big fan of spiders, I can usually get along with them. I do, however, take exception to opening the kitchen cupboard to be confronted by a behemoth in serious need of a shave, with more knees than an Oxford Boat Race crew. Being a rufty tufty bloke, I did the only thing possible. I took a deep breath, composed myself, then screamed and swore like buggery! Having got that out of my system, I calmed down somewhat and, after a moments logical thought, realised all was well because we had some fly the kitchen cupboard!! Opening the door again, I soon realised it was going to be a battle of wills because our friend Harry the Spider wasn't going anywhere. Grabbing the fly spray, I whipped off the top and gave him a shot in the eyes. Not feeling very gruntled at my lack of hospitality, he buggered off down the back of the cupboard to tell his mates and form a posse!

Just about every time I went in any of the cupboards, one of Harry's mates would be thee, grinning and staring at you with more eyes than an old potato. Even worse, you settle down for a night in front of the telly and all of a sudden you get the arachnid equivalent of the incontinent old lady at the cinema wandering past your telly!! Somewhat disturbed by procession of arachnid antagonists, I thought it would be useful to check a few wildlife facts on the internet. Basically, the advice seems to be that none of the spiders are truly poisonous but some may bite. Now I'm sorry, but that's splitting hairs in my book and there is no place in my house for anything that can get up the stairs quicker than I can! I was also in no way reassured by the little snippet of interesting information proudly advising me that all of the spiders used in the film Arachnophobia where rounded up in New Zealand!

And as if the spiders aren't bad enough, there's the crickets. These buggers are the catburglers of the insect world. No matter how securely the house is locked, they can find their way in, and once they have, they tell all their mates. They are sneaky buggers too! You can search the house and there are none in sight anywhere, but you nip off for a quick pee and by the time you get back, there will be one of the buggers sat in your chair, drinking your tea and flicking through the channels with the remote.

Being somewhat naive, It's only now I have realised why the spiders are as big as they are - it's because there is an endless supply of crickets to munch your way through when there is bugger all worth watching on my TV. Not only that, but having now eradicated most of the spiders - certainly the very big ones anyway - the crickets are having a field day! I spent one of our first evenings in the new house with all the windows open, letting the tropical breeze caress my heat-weary bones, listening to the hypnotic and haunting chirruping of all the nocturnal critters. Little did I realise that all the noise was a thousand little crickets passing on the message "Hey lads, the daft bugger has left all the windows open, let's go!" Jesus, turn on the light in any one room and there were dozens of them! The house was a seething mass of brown shiny bodies, and the crunching sound as I went into the kitchen to make a brew was like a troop of Morris dancers tap-dancing on rice crispies!

As you might imagine, I'm not an insect person and our house is now well stocked with insect spray. Mrs C thinks its highly amusing that I shake my clothes out and turn my shoes upside down and give them a few hard taps before putting my toes anywhere near. But she'll be laughing on the other side of her face when some cricket-gorged spider has her foot off!

Mind you, one or two people I've met can't quite understand my sensitivities. Most people can't see what the fuss is all about. "Oh don't get worked up over the crickets" they tell me, "It's the wetas you need to worry about."

Wetas, people take great delight in telling you, are like crickets on steroids. Having seen a specimen at the museum last weekend, I can't see me and wetas hitting it off somehow. Even the dead ones look menacing - about the size of your hand with the crazed and spiky look of a thrash metal junkie.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

And now, a word from our sponsors......

Okay, so I have to admit, not everything in New Zealand is perfect - the television over here is pretty poor, but I think even the Kiwis will tell you that! Programmes that were scheduled for 30 minute slots in the UK are on for an hour here, with commercial breaks peppered everywhere. Sit down to watch a film at 8pm and you are still there at midnight!! And the more you get towards the climax, the more adverts they throw in. As if that's not bad enough though, they don't even put the adverts in the right places. The last 15 minutes of a film will be so full of commercial breaks that it last 40 minutes, by which time, they must have run out of adverts, so the film ends and they go straight into the next programme. This leaves you sitting there for 5 minutes trying to figure out the ending, until you realise it's actually a different programme you are now watching!

And the best scheduling cock up ever? We sat watching the Winter Olympics the other night. We spent 30 minutes watching blokes in spangly suits ponce about around an ice rink, on the promise that the downhill snow boarding would follow afterwards. Cut to commercial break, make a brew get comfortable, back to the Olympics, only to find that some idiot had put the wrong tape in and the programme was showing the same gut-wrenching rubbish over again.

Now clearly the director or someone must have noticed this, but you just get the feeling they hope no-one out in TV Land will notice - perhaps they think we are so numbed by the figure skating that we'll just think our minds are playing tricks?

"Really sorry boss, I've put the wrong tape in - we are now replaying the last 30 minutes all over again! What shall we do?"

"Aw jeez, you've really buggered up this time... we can't change it now, just keep it rolling and hope no-one notices!"

But, as with everything in New Zealand, the good far outweighs the bad, and most of the adverts are far superior to the programmes they interrupt.

There's the drink-driving add that graphically shows what happens when a half-cut teenager trashes the car. Personally, I'm all for this kind of shock ad and the slogan says it all really

"If your mate's pissed, you're screwed!"

But I think best of all are the radio ads, particularly those on Radio Hauraki - probably the most anarchic radio station I've ever heard.

There's the insect killer that is rather aptly names "Bugger Off!". You get some bloke promoting the virtues of the product, in a machine-gun style rapid tirade for around 20 seconds, then the cheerful jingle follows......"bugger off, bugger off bugger off!"

Then there's the door handle company that advertises its product in song........"get your hands on our handles, get your fingers on our knobs"

And the windscreen company that promise to repair cracks without a trace......"show us yer crck, show us yer crack, show us yer crack!"

Probable the best though, only because it is so bad, is the guy who advertises his own audio and speaker company. He's clearly so pleased that he had reached the intermediate reading level that he feels the need to proclaim it to Radioland - you can practically hear his finger sliding along the page as he - reads- each - scripted - word - in - an - expressionless - stilted - monotone!

In fact, he's only just outdone by the countless downtown Auckland massage parlours and knocking shops that advertise the variety of their products at various times through the day.

You just don't get that kind of quality from the BBC!!

And before I go, I just thought you'd be pleased to know that I'm really picking up the language now for sure. I learnt a new word today but it's still taking me a minute to register the fact that Kiwis swap all the vowels around. "Dickhead" is apparently a period of 10 years. I nearly spilt my coffee when a very nice lady told me "Oh, I've been doing it dickhead now". It was only a second or so afterwards I realised she was talking about the length of time rather than the quality of performance!

Gone Fishing

Unfortunately, my finances don't yet stretch to the purchase of a boat so, I've opted for the other mandatory acquisition of every serious minded New Zealander - a sea fishing rod.

I now while away my free time sitting down by the marina, surf casting to absolutely no avail whatsoever. Having fished a bit as a kid back in the UK, I'm used to having those days where you spend all day catching bugger all, and I know that, even on those days there's still entertainment to be had when fishing.

Never more was that proved right than yesterday! Having soldiered through my five year old's birthday party, with eight screaming juvenile banshees running around, I decided to treat myself to an hour's relaxation with the fishing rod. And what a treat!!

I was sat there minding my own business when two oriental lads turned up with the longest fishing rods, and the heaviest fishing weights I have ever seen. Now these guys were serious fishermen clearly, as denoted by the jovial tinkle of little bells at the end of each rod. They baited their hooks and the first guy cast out - yep, he'd definitely done it before, a masterly cast, with the huge weight taking the line sailing waaaay out into the bay.

And he's just sitting down for his watching vigil when his mate also starts casting out. Now something tells me this guy perhaps hadn't fished to often. It was the little things that gave it away, not the way he stretched his arms, arched his back, whipped his rod behind his head in preparation for a monster cast.....but more the way he smacked his mate right in the forehead with the huge fist-sized weight on the end of the rod! As you might expect, this sent his mate down like a sack of spuds. The best bit then was when he picked himself up and they started wrestling and arguing volubly in some unintelligible language. I haven't a clue what they were saying to each other, but I think the gist was that the guy wasn't too chuffed at his mate braining him with a huge piece of scrap metal.

Things settled down a bit and they both lit a cigarette, had a quick chat about technique, and our hero tried another cast. This one wasn't quite as spectacular, but he'd definitely improved his backswing. Whipping the rod back like a true professional, he sent the line through the open passenger window of his car and deposited the squid off his hook onto the inside of the driver's side window. How he failed tom smash the windo with the weight I'll never know! He was clearly puzzled when his hook came back empty, and I didn't have the heart to point out that his bait was currently rolling down the inside of the car window. Fortunately, his mate found it when, clearly still stunned, he decided to finish his cigarette in the comfort of the car.....cue further unintelligible and noisy rantings when he realised he'd sat on the squid.

Whoever said fishing was boring!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

G'day, how's it going....

....which is Kiwi for "ey up"

Only five weeks and already I'm picking up the lingo!

Got to apologise but this is going to be a long one - first chance I've had to do any kind of real update.

So, where to start when it comes to writing about this fantastic country? Well, I could start with the car salesman who sold me a car AND allowed me to drive it away for only a $50 deposit, and not batting an eyelid when I told him it would be five days before I was able to pay him. I'm still trying to find the catch but, quite honestly, the car is well, just sweet, as they say in these parts. Fair enough, the sat nav will only guide me around Japan but hey, let's not be picky now!

Then there's the estate agents - they seem to come in all shapes, sizes and styles, but basically fit into three general categories. First there's the bog-standard, common-or-garden bloke in a suit. Then there's the Rita Fairclough type that come in all shapes, but generally only in the general colour scheme of rich auburn, permatan and gold - this breed is the most prevalent it seems. But then, and this really blew me away, then there's the piece de resistance that is Brett....pronounced Britt. Brett is far and away the most fantastic and fascinating estate agent I have ever met. So where to begin describing Brett? Well, start off with your average Hell's Angel...imagine a multitude of artwork that is a testament to the skills of the various tattoo artists of Auckland - initially striking to me were the tribal tattoos crafted into his scalp, until of course you noticed the flowing dragons writhing down his neck under his mullet cut and into the expanse of chest (pronounced 'chist' that was on show. But surely the most captivating of all was the colony of penguins on an Antarctic glacier situated on the vast, and barren icy tracts of Brett's under forearm. Now I have to admit, I don't normally stare, but I have been pretty fascinated by the array of tattoos on display around Auckland, including in the office. However, all of this paled into insignificance when I caught the flash of gold in Brett's mouth. Initially, I dismissed this as nothing more than the kind of flashy dentistry frequently sported by 'gangstas', but I was shamed by my initial superficial dismissal when I realised that the two gold fillings on either side of his two front teeth, appeared to actually be some kind of design. After a couple of minutes holding a conversation with Brett's teeth, I realised that they were in fact two small golden scorpions! Now why can't all estate agents be like Brett? The world, I am sure, would be a much happier place!

And then there's the car number plates - It took me a couple of days to realise that there is no rationale to New Zealand car registration plates and, for a small fee, you can have absolutely anything you want, so long as it doesn't go beyond 6 digits. So, 2L8 FU is perfectly acceptable. as is DEVIL, SATAN, HOTGAL, SXESU, SUKYOU - all real number plates seen whilst driving around Auckland. It's a wonder I haven't crashed so far, I spend most of my time trying to fathom out what the number plates are trying to tell me! (Perhaps more puzzling though is finding from a search of the main registration plate website that"BuryFC" is not available!! And here's me thinking i'm the only bloke in New Zealand with a Bury FC window-sticker in the back of the car!)

And if that's not enough, there's the bungy jumping. Now from what I can make out from looking around me and a couple of conversations with coleagues, most Kiwis seem to have a death wish and will jump off anything that is more than 10ft above sea level. Not only that, but they seem happy enough to do this with nothing other than an industrial strength elastic band attached to their legs! (Which leaves me wondering - who first discovered the elasticity required to avoid a) collision with the fast approaching earth and b) ripping your feet off at the ankles? But I digress)

We had a trip up the Skytower -the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere, and something like the 13th tallest building in the world. You can whizz to the top in glass elevators. And at the top of the tower you can walk on glass floors, or look out on a 360 degree panoramic view of Auckland.....and watch complete idiots jump off the top before your very eyes, reaching the bottom in only 16 seconds, attached to nothing more than a larger than life office supply!

Marvelling at this spectacle, one thought came to my mind.....WHY????

And some general stuff? Well, this is a place where people kayak to work, where people wear flip flops (jandals) everywhere...that's when they wear shoes at all. Nobody looks at you oddly if you walk round the supermarket barefoot. and fashion is something that is set by everyone - you can wear anything, any time, to any event. For instance, after spending the first two weeks in shorts and sandals, we had an appointment to see the school principal to register the kids - not being too sure what to expect, I made an effort and wore a polo shirt with cargo pants. The principal arrived in shorts, sandals and a t-shirt. At least he had the decency to cast me a sympathetic glance when he realised the sweat was running down my body and collecting in my shoes! He briefly explained the school uniform policy but confessed his greatest difficulty was getting the kids to keep their shoes and socks on for longer than first registration! Even better was to come when we found out a bit more about the curriculum. My four year old daughter has four lessons a week at the beach learning surfcraft. Seems here they put a lot of emphasise on being safe around the water. Where I come from, if you fell in the water there was a good chance you'd die of concussion from hitting a Tesco trolley before you had chance to drown!

And then there's the commute - five weeks ago, I was crawling down the East Lancs Road at an average speed of 15mph, dragging my sorry soul the 12 miles into Manchester. Now, I hop on the ferry for 45 minutes and watch the world go by. Even better, on the way home, I sit on the outside deck, nursing an ice cold beer. NOW THAT'S COMMUTING!! they say in these parts.

Ah well, enough for now - got to conserve my energy for the yachting trip on Saturday!

Catchya (which I think means ta-ra)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Day 1, Part 2...a new beginning

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away......

Well we finally got here, after visiting more countries in 26 hours than I have in the last 26 years! The flight isn't for the faint-hearted although we struck lucky quite by accident. It turned out that our trip would be a series of short hops via Dubai, Singapore, Brisbane and finally Auckland. I seriously think I would have gone mad if we'd have had the 2 thirteen hour trips that most people seem to take.

Anyway, it really is a fantastic place, although the experience hasn't been without its ups and downs. Things were going really well from the airport - we were fast-tracked through Immigration after being directed to the "families with young children channel"!! and two chic, sleek white taxis were there outside to meet us as arranged, to whisk us off to the apartment. The drivers was very nice, and very welcoming, although that could just have been because he knew in advance that the fare for a twenty minute trip would be nearly NZ$200!! Not to be deterred, we got into the apartment, jeglagged and somewhat unwashed, ready to relax and clean up.

"Arrrrrrrrgghhhhhhh, oh my God we can't stay here!"

Somewhat taken aback by Mrs C's initially reaction at what is a beautiful and spacious apartment, I calmly enquired as to her concern. She just the floor-to-ceiling, single glazed windows that looked out four stories above the park. Being slightly less tired than me, she'd already assessed the potential and likelihood of our two offspring tear-arsing around the apartment and crashing through the windows at full tilt.

Thinking quickly, I suggested that things might look better after a cup of tea. However, after a thorough search of every cupboard, it soon became clear that we had no provisions whatsoever. After gazing out of the window at a vista of high rise office blocks, it was also apparent that this was not an area likely to be populated by many supermarkets or corner shops!

The next reaction, only fifteen minutes after arrival, was shared by both Mrs C and me at exactly the same time..........what the hell have we done?? We are on the other side of the world, in a new city, where we know nobody. Panic started to set in! However, a very quick call to the office of my new employer sorted things out.

"Hi, we are here but a bit stuck, do you know where the nearest supermarket is?"

"Oh, I am so sorry, I never thought - I'll be right over!"

An hour later and things were starting to look so much better. Despite one bag of essentials - tea, coffee, milk, cereal, bread and biscuits - costing more than a weekly shop in the UK, things had calmed down a little.

It also quickly became obvious that people here are polite, friendly, helpful and generally very very nice.

It's also a bit of a strange place - more later about bungy jumping, car number plates and estate agents.....

(Finally, for those of you that know me and read this, I haven't got access to your e-mail addresses (Andrew, Lesley, Jean etc). Send me an e-mail and I'll reply

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Life's like a box of chocolates...

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything, which is largely due to the fact that I've been pretty busy getting stressed out (to the point where Mrs C has commented on the alarming amount of my hair left on the pillow each morning!).

First of all, our second visa application was rejected just before Christmas on a couple of technicalities. Having gone through the rigorous medicals, it seems the the hugely likeable doctor had been so engrossed in the length of my legs and the quality of my wife's "jugs" that he completely forgot to tick the box that said I was a fine specimen of human health. In addition, the nice people at the High Commission took a dislike to my passport because it was starting to look a little battered - a bit like me really!

So, since we last met, I've spent a day in Liverpool freezing my bahoogies off whilst waiting for a new passport, and a day in London freezing the rest of me off waiting for the High Commission to reopen after Christmas.

Which brings me back to Christmas itself - a largely unwelcome affair this year when most of our time was spent worrying what we were going to do with all the toys that were now filling the spaces we had cleared of old toys in preparation for the big move! Other than the entertainment of listening to the mother-in-law's deeply fulfilling tales of persecution by imaginery nocturnal noises and her resultant midnight spying missions, Christmas was something we agreed we could all have done without really. Nevertheless, for the first time ever, I did manage to watch 'Zulu' right through from beginning to end - largely thanks to Mrs C taking pity on my New Year's Day hangover and volunteering to cook

On the plus side, Christmas now over, whilst most other people are flocking back to work, I am now officially unemployed. In the run up to this lifetime first, I had dreamed lovingly of basking in a brief, but carefree, period living as an unshaven, workshy fop, cultivating the odour of a geriatric badger. However, instead I now find myself having to come to terms with a distressingly accurate body clock that seems to rouse me from peaceful slumber at 8am EVERY morning in preparation for the sacred vigil of watching for the postman, expecting him to skip gaily up the drive waving our passports and visas invitingly.

Now I don't know about you but our postie arrives punctually every day any time between 8.45am and 11am, and by the time of his arrival I'm a caffeine-crazed Nick Jr junkie. Generally, I can't get near the TV even if I wanted to but my four year old is wallowing in the novelty of having Dad at home - She hijacks me on the landing every moring as I attempt to sneak downstairs for 15 minutes of tranquity in the company of Sky Sports News - but how can anyone resist the request "sit with me Dadda and watch 'Mick Jr' "?

I've come to the conclusion that there have only every been three episodes of Fifi and the Flowertots ever made, and I've seen all three of them fifteen times! As if that isn't bad enough, you then get Kevin the Scouser dancing about in a green pullover every morning asking you "Or ey, der yew want ter play Blews Clews wit mee?". Now I know I'm getting older but I don't ever remember kids' TV being that bad when I watched it. Brain soup the lot of it!

Anyway, after over a week of this, I succumbed yesterday and sent a sickeningly polite e-mail to those nice people in Immigration to try to get a status report, only to be told that our applications were shortly to be allocated a caseworker. ARRRGGGGHHHH!!!! Despite taking my money over two weeks ago, and promising me that a trip to London would get me the visas there and then, I now find the applications hadn't even been looked at!

This morning, consciously knowing full well that the postie wouldn't be bringing anything interesting, I manfully fought my body clock and rebelliously slept in until 8.35am! After ritually meeting my four year old on the landing and traipsing zombie-like down stairs to make coffee and take my daily dose of Fifi, I decided there was nothing else for it - I put my foot down with a firm hand and insisted we switched to CBeebies staight after the Early Worms and immediately before Kevin the Scouser made his appearance. You know, there is something strangely soothing about Tikkabilla.

I also decided it was time for a beer with a few old work colleagues this lunchtime.

On reflection, it was clearly the right thing to do - turns out, Mrs C had a phonecall whilst I was out - those nice people in Immigration are sending the passports AND VISAS special delivery first thing on Monday. I should go for a beer more often I think!

OHshitohshitohshit. Now it's really happening and I've got to start all the cleaning, tidying and throwing away I've been putting off for weeks, to avoid getting my hopes up. Oh, and I suppose it would be a good idea to start looking for some flights, because the house will be devoid of all furniture come Friday!!!!

Looks like we are on our way

Whakawhiti te ra