Monday, 22 February 2016

Putting On The Ritz

There is a view held; though I am pleased to say is has somewhat diminished in recent years, that New Zealand is a mirror-image of Britain a generation or two ago. I guess this is based on where New Zealand sits, being quite isolated, and it’s relatively small population, but I suspect some visiting Brits do expect to see Ford Capris cruising the streets, folks paying for their shopping with cheques and shop windows displaying black and white TVs hooked up to video players.
It is, of course, nonsense. There may not be the huge variety that we take for granted in the UK, but New Zealand is a modern country, with a sound economy, and very different in many ways to its big brother Australia across the way. As a developed country with a small population it is an ideal place from multi-nationals to test-bed new products and services. We experienced `chip and pin` here in 2003, several years before I saw it in London, and companies such as McDonalds and Coca Cola are trying out new concepts here today before rolling them out around the world tomorrow.
But there is one place here that, for a few days of the year anyway, deliberately takes a look over its shoulder and celebrates its past in a riotous weekend, that is a cacophony of music, dance, wine and vintage cars, and that’s up the coast in the city of Napier.
Pat beside a sculpture in Napier City Centre
Back in February 1931 a huge earthquake levelled much of Napier city centre and it was quickly re-built almost totally in the Art Deco style. It is now the Art Deco capital of the world with dozens of preserved beautiful buildings which form the backdrop every February when it remembers its past and the whole city centre is transformed back to the 1930s.
This is were we stayed. Very much in the centre of things, but very noisy
And this is view from its balcony of the vintage car parade Saturday lunchtime

Rog, dappered out, beside a classic Austin

We experienced `Art Deco` last year, after meeting two boating Kiwis in Liverpool who invited us up for the weekend. Unfortunately, we seemed to be the only couple not in the appropriate dress, which was remedied this time. Again, this year, we were entertained by natives John and Diana, and our UK/NZ pals, Vic and Liz, also joined us. I thought I might not have enjoyed it so much this year, but what’s not to dislike. Impromptu music and dancing in the streets; Vintage planes flying overhead; over 200 vintage cars lining the streets and a grand soapbox derby through the city centre on the Sunday morning. At the `Gatsby Picnic` that follows on the Esplanade, the local ukulele group entertain passers-by with a repertoire of songs such as `By The Light of the Silvery Moon` and `Charleston`. I got myself an invite to play along with them. Nice spot on the beach, but it was steaming hot and I was dripping after 20 minutes. But a wonderful weekend and how unlike a similar event would be at home – no litter to speak of – no graffiti – no discernible police presence – and nobody throwing up in the gutter – just a few thousand people out and about, having a grand old time. See you next year Napier.
I haven't worn that jumper in over 30 years. As you can see it's a bit small. Thanks for picture Diana
Saturday night dinner with Vic and Liz and John and Diana. Nice hat John!

Two interlopers. The other fella is from New South Wales, and just popped along
Photo by Diana

Phew. It was pretty hot on Sunday morning. Photo by Diana
Back in Wellington it is still pretty hot. Everybody you meet mentions it as it is not typical for around here, and it will have to break soon, but we are still enjoying it. We have also entertained our first guests, Sue & Geoff, who came through Wellington the weekend before we went to Napier. I worked with Sue at John Lewis Welwyn and always got on with her husband Geoff, so it was great to see them, and show them a bit of the city. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I think they were more than a little impressed with the city and the waterfront.
With Sue & Geoff at the top of the cable car in Wellington Botanical Gardens
Five minutes from Wellington City Centre you can be on the beach. Pat at Oriental Bay
Later that week there was another John Lewis connection. I worked at Oxford Street for five years in the 1990s, and one of my pals there, moved to Wellington after finishing his degree and taught history at one of the university’s here. We saw Andy and his partner Heather when we toured in 2003, but I had been unable to track him down since. I managed to find him, via Linkdin before we left the UK this time, and I had a really good catch up with him in a city-centre pub last Thursday. He now works for the Waitangi Commission. It’s a complicated job and I won’t bore you with the details, and I am sure we will meet up a few times before we return home.
With my old pal Andy who I hadn't seen in 13 years
Working on some new steps up to the tree house
The tree house is coming on a treat. I couldn’t save the old steps – they were rotten, so have had to make new ones. There seems a bit of a debate about what colour it’s going to be and the jury is still out on this one. I hope to paint it through next week, if the weather stays settled.
And that’s about it. We have a builder popping in next week to talk about partitioning our room. Pat knows what she wants so I will not interfere.

Toodaloo chums

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Sunshine, Garage Projects and Chocolate Bars

I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth. I guess it’s probably something to do with my formative years coinciding with the end of sweet rationing. Most food was pretty bland in the fifties (though we didn’t know it) and when Pat Boone sang about “Tortillas and chilli peppers” in the hit song “Speedy Gonzalez”, a few years later, I thought he was singing in a foreign language, which I suppose he was really.
Roger finds the Whittacker's Peasnut Slabs irresistable
I mention this because although much of the chocolate one buys in New Zealand is different to that in the UK (evidently Cadbury’s, who have a factory on the South Island, use buttermilk rather than cream as it doesn’t melt so quickly), but there is one confectionery that both of us cannot get enough of. We are both fans of Whittacker’s Peanut Crunch and our daily sojourns to the Countdown Supermarket always end with the purchase of one to eat on the walk back home, plus a bag of mini bites in the store cupboard in the kitchen.

The ground floor is at last beginning to look like a studio flat. We have a settee and a nice reclining armchair to match – our TV was delivered a couple of days ago, and James, our son-in-law, redesigned the room after the furniture arrived, moving stuff around, and I must say it has given us a lot more space. Naturally, the grand kids want to come and play with the recliners, and although Livi understands they could easily break, I am not expecting miracles, so we will have to see.

Livi tries on Erica shoes as she watches "The Jungle Book". Pat, meanwhile recovers from pulling a muscle in her back. The room is slowly taking shape. Another very hot afternoon.

The weather has been amazingly sunny and hot over the last week or so which is not that typical of Wellington. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but we have taken advantage of it, and the long evenings. I have been out in garden, cutting and slashing at the undergrowth. Pat has been concentrating of the area around the large patio outside our French windows. We can now see, and easily reach the play-tree-house, and my next project is to lick it into shape, over the next few weeks.
After a week of slashing back the undergrowth, we reveal the play house, my next project, currently taped off as steps are rotten. Livi wants it painted blue.
Last weekend was a public holiday in New Zealand. Waitangi Day remembers the date of the treaty between the Maori and the British in establishing the modern-day New Zealand. The weather was great and we spent Monday morning on the beach at Scorching Bay, a 20-minute drive away, around the bay. The previous night James and myself had made the short walk to “One Fat Bird”, just around the corner from us, which describes itself as a `British-style pub with a Kiwi twist`. It’s really nothing like a British pub, but they sell some very interesting beers, many brewed in the local area.

Our "Garage Project" tasting tray at "One Fat Bird"
Last Sunday a local brewery called “Garage Project” took over nine of the taps for a day, and we did our best to try them all, though the one with a chilli kick, was difficult to finish on our sampling tray. I have moaned long and hard, in previous blogs, about the cost of beer over here, and it was no different on Sunday night, with most of the beers weighing in at over 5% and, my favourite, `Garagista` came in at £5.50 for what is a little less than a pint. You certainly need deep pockets to drink around here.
James kicks off the tasting

The 15 taps at "One Fat Bird" (For my beer drinking mates)
Our days and weeks are beginning to get some structure to them, which is good for Erica and James, who have busy working lives, and for Livi and Ben, who are not used to us being around. Livi has been quite cool with me, but I knew she would take some time to come around. Over the last week or so, she has mellowed, but I have to tread carefully with her. Mum has taken over the shopping and the washing, and I have mainly cooked. It seems to be working pretty well, and the idea of turning on a tap and hot water coming out instantly, and not having to think when I need to empty our loos, hasn’t worn off yet. It’s quite a big house, and we are not used to having this much space.
We entertain our first guests this weekend, when Sue and Geoff are coming through the city. I worked with Sue at John Lewis, and her and husband Geoff, often came on our overseas trips. We are really looking forward to seeing them again.