Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Back In Blighty

The indigenous Maori population of New Zealand often refer to their country as “Aotearoa”, or “the land of the long white cloud”. On checking our e mail, when we touched down at Heathrow last Tuesday morning, one of my pals had texted me “Welcome back to the land of the long, grey cloud.” And he had it about right. It was belting down, dark and overcast.
So endeth our 2014 excursion to warmer climes, and we are now very much back in Blighty, after twenty-something hours in the air, which with all the hanging around airports for connections took the journey to almost two days.
The last two weeks of our stay were rather spoilt by the weather. The aftermath of a large cyclone that caused havoc on the Solomon Islands and Australia’s Gold Coast, gave NZ a good dousing over several days and curtailed our planed outdoor adventures with our granddaughter.
Getting to the bus stop had been easy up to that point. Three stepping stones behind the house took us into the park and the bus stop was a couple of minutes away. But with all the rain, the stones all but disappeared, and we had to take the long way round, adding 20 minutes to our journey. Livi didn’t seem too bothered about the rain, and would have gone on the swings, whatever the weather, and we did get a few good days, especially Good Friday, which was warm and sunny.
Crossing the stream in good conditions

The Easter weekend coincided with Pat’s birthday, and we celebrated at “The Crab Shack” on Wellington’s Waterfront. It went very well, and we all had a good scoff, though none of us wrestled with their famous crab claws. Livi came face to face with a shark though. See picture.
Livi tries out the shark at "The Crab Shack"

Pat's birthday candle

I also got my final taste of ukulele, NZ-style, at the “Ukes Of Wellington’s” Sunday Strum. Being Easter Sunday I thought there would only be a few folks there, but it was standing-room only. My playing has improved quite a lot since we have been away, as I have had more time on my hands to practice and there was normally the opportunity to lock myself away somewhere quiet, especially late at night, where I would not disturb anyone (something almost impossible aboard “The Cat’s Whiskers”).
Pat is returning to Wellington in August, when Erica has her second child and for me it will be next January. We have already planned and booked our flights out for next year, and arrive mid-January after having spent Christmas on Vancouver Island, with Pat’s sister Monica and her family. We are really looking forward to it. Prior to our arrival in Canada, we are flying to LA, and then hiring a car and driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and then on, up to Seattle, where we will board a float plane for the island. The weather is a bit of a gamble in December, but it should be fun.

Spotted in Welwyn Garden Library. A rare first edition which I haven't even got
 So we had mixed feelings leaving NZ, and the kids, for we have come to embrace that crazy country that hangs on the edge of the map of world and quietly minds its own business. They may have to live in the shadow of Australia, but New Zealanders have a strong national identity, and they are rightly very proud of their country, their economy is not bad either. They are forecasting a surplus this year. When was the last time the UK was in the black?. And most important of all, their beer is improving in quality and choice every time we visit.
So we are now back at Mercia Marina, in the East Midlands, where the sun is shining, and the Canada geese are noisily going about their business, as courtships develop. Christ, they are noisy. The back doors and side hatch are open, and I am waiting for some paint to dry, before I apply some more, touching up the paintwork, before we leave here on Thursday. We had drinks last night with Ian and Irene on “Free Spirit”, who are moored in the village, up the road. We seem to bump into them (not literally) all over the network. They are sort of heading in the same direction as us, so no doubt, there will be more opportunities to visit the pub/restaurant, and swap boating and holiday stories.
We have a small diversion on Saturday though, for we are off to Stoke to see them play our team, Fulham FC. An old drinking pal of mine is a big, BIG, Stoke City fan, and he is picking us up in Burton and taking us to the ground for lunch, before the match. Poor old Fulham look like they may well be playing their football in the Championship next season. Bad news for them, but at least we will be able to see them down the road at Derby and Nottingham.

So our next post will probably be from somewhere in Staffordshire. Toodaloo chums.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Nelson and Back (Again)

Great Britain is a small country, but it’s pretty easy to get from the top to the bottom fairly quickly, thanks to the UK motorway network. Many people visiting New Zealand think it’s a smaller country than Britain, but NZ is actually substantially bigger, and its terrain, especially the mountain ranges that cut across both islands, mean it’s a slow old process getting around by road. The speed limit, outside towns, is 100kph, which is around 55mph, and apart from a section around Auckland, and a bit round Wellington,there is not much motorway to speak of. And the speed limit is strictly enforced with on-the-spot fines from the boys in blue.
I mention this as an old school friend and her husband stayed with Erica and James last weekend, while we were away again in Nelson on the south island, and they thought they would be table to see most of the North Island in a week. So if any of you bloggers are thinking of visiting this fabulous place, allow yourself plenty of time to do it, and don’t be in any hurry.
So endith this week’s “Roger’s Kiwi Top Tip”.

We are now effectively winding down and have around two weeks left here. As much as I have come to really like Wellington and its environs, my favourite spot in NZ is the Nelson region, so last weekend we crossed the Cook Strait for the third, and final time, and re-visited our old school pals, Vic and Val, who live in Stoke, a suburb of Nelson. We’d had two very calm crossings previously, and going out this time was another peaceful, sunny, three-hour voyage. It’s then a two-hour coach journey over two mountain ranges, which came to a dramatic halt as we descended the last pass to find our route blocked by a large articulated fish truck that had flipped over. The accident had happened about three hours prior to our arrival so the recovery services were present and we enjoyed the sunshine as we all decanted from the bus and sat along the edge of the road. Luckily we were only delayed an hour or so.
The Inter-Islander ferry that joins the two halves of New Zealand

On Saturday Vic and Val took us to “Founders Park”. Many of the old Victorian buildings that were due to be swept away in the name of progress in the Sixties and Seventies, have ended up in this Park, on the endge of Nelson,dedicated to the town’s founding fathers. Vic and me have a lot in common, one being that we are both printers by trade, and we enjoyed the old print shop and the linotype machine they had there. These were used by all the newspapers into the 1980’s. It was very nostalgic and the smell of the print shop brought back lots of memories.
The park also has its own resident brewery, naturally called “Founders”, and Vic and I both had a tasting tray there, but I wasn’t as impressed as I have been with some of the other breweries over here.
Part of Founders Park, Nelson

Vic and I tackle the "Founders" tasting tray. Val consults the tasting notes

Two old printers recall the days of "letterpress"
On Sunday afternoon we all went to the Nelson Ukulele Club. Called “The Plinkers”, it was a very rowdy, enjoyable, two-hours, and I got to play a lot of new tunes. They made us very welcome. It was a huge turn-out, though most of them were my age and older. The Ukes of Wellington has a wider age-range, but the Plinkers really seemed to embrace the fun of the instrument.
Rog joins the Nelson "Plinkers". Vic's in there somewhere too
We got back to Wellington on Monday evening as the weather turned, and the crossing back was a little bouncier than the one going out. Today (Tuesday) it’s pouring down, with strong winds, a combination forecast to last until Friday.
We now find ourselves talking more and more about the upcoming cruising season, and all-things “boaty”. We have just renewed our boat licence and given the Canal & River Trust, eight hundred pounds for the privilege of cruising the waterways, emptying our loos and taking on water, and also our boat insurance was due. To be fair the CR&T have a constant battle with maintenance on a system, much of which is over 200 years old, so although its a large chunk of dosh, I know the money has to come from somewhere.
We follow the weather in the UK on the BBC website, and apart from a few hiccups, it does seem like spring has finally arrived in England with temperatures well above average for this time of year. The other boating blogs we follow finds them all out cruising the network, and we aim, not to be too far behind them. Come May 1st, we will be on our way north.
One of our favourite outings with Livi is to catch a bus into the city centre and visit “Te Papa”, the National Museum of New Zealand. This enormous tribute to all things “kiwi”, is a tourist “must-see” when visiting Wellington and has a commanding site on the waterfront. Best of all it’s free, and stretches over several floors, with a large outdoor section as well. We then walk through the city centre to the cable car which ascends above the city to the Botanical Gardens, where we visit the fish, feed the ducks, have a coffee and catch a bus back home.
Te Papa Museum
One of Livi's favourites. Moving the floating ball in the museum entrance hall

Playing with giant baby, from Peter Jackson's Wetta Studios in Wellington, is also a favourite

The view of Wellington from the top of the cable car
Wills, Kate and young Georgy arrived here yesterday, and true to form it rained. There were crowds to welcome them, but I don’t think that many Kiwis care too much about the Royals. The entrance to Government House, where the official welcoming reception took place, and where we think they are staying, (though its all a bit hush-hush) is only yards from the entrance to Erica’s school, and the St Mark’s children could be clearly seen on the news last night, waving the Union flags they had made. I dropped Erica off at school this morning and drove past the entrance to Government House and there was no police presence there at all, which surprised me a bit.
We read that young Georgie would be given a special Black and Fern ukulele on his arrival. The on-line article maintained that New Zealand has just adopted the uke as its national instrument and all visiting dignitaries will be given one on arrival. I was considering buying a new uke this summer, but I think I will wait until we come again next year and try and blag one then!
Mother's Day (UK) afternoon tea
Oh, and lest I forget, the Sunday before last was Mothering Sunday in the UK. Not in New Zealand though. It’s in June over here. Erica was able to treat Pat (and me) to a scrummy afternoon tea at a very attractive waterside restaurant. It was a fund-raiser for her school and the owner of the restaurant has a child there. It was a very enjoyable couple of hours.
Probably be one more blog from me while here so keep checking.