Saturday, 18 June 2016

A good dose of the `All Blacks`

New Zealand seems generally a safe place to live. Domestic violence may be a real issue here with the highest rates in the world and there are the usual drug issues, especially in parts of Auckland, but we have never felt uneasy, wherever we have travelled.

Our home in Karori is only a couple of miles from the centre of government, and we are regularly in the city, but never hear of security alerts, which are a day-to-day fact of city life in the UK these days. I was in a large department store recently and spotted an unattended carrier bag sitting by a lift. I reported it to a member of staff who was very indifferent. Customers just ignored it. If that was Britain, I expect the store would have been evacuated PDQ.

I mention all this for the other day I was mugged. Yes friends, and there was a bunch of them. At least six or seven, I reckon. I was having a cup of coffee and cheese scone in the cafe at Wellington’s fabulous Botanical Gardens with Pat and young Ben our grandson, when in a co-ordinated attack a flock of sparrows swooped down and took half the scone I was holding from my hand. Cheeky little buggers. I never realised how organised they must be to carry out such a daring raid, but it’s probably quite common. We returned there last week and I found myself consciously scanning the horizon for  incoming squadrons of feathered felons. 

The sparrow reconnaissance patrol .
It’s been pretty quiet here. We are now officially in Winter, and at times, it does get cold and wet, but not that cold. Not cold like we experience in Britain. I went to my regular Wednesday night ukulele club last Wednesday and they were all moaning how cold it was. It was 10C. Positively balmy, I thought. We are still getting sunny days and coldish nights, but there is little heat from the sun. But when it rains, boy does it fall. And it’s erratic. Last Saturday the grandkids were in the sea paddling – the day after was cold and windy.

Our routine has been altered though, by the arrival of Bella. She is a 14-week old all- black kitten, who we have now had for six weeks. Erica chose her because she seemed very calm around the children, and it was a good choice. Ben wants to poke and chase her all the time and she is very forgiving. I think she has only scratched Livi once and that was during play. I had forgotten what it’s like to have a kitten in the house. Basically she is just a naughty girl. But very loving. We will miss her when we leave here in a few weeks. 

Bella, our Kiwi `All Black` kitten makes herself at home

And helps with a bit of decorating
Last Saturday was so nice that Pat and I took ourselves off to Scorching Bay, a popular beach fairly close to the city, for a walk along the front there. It’s a lovely spot with some pretty expensive housing.  But Scorching Bay, like the rest of the coastline around the city, is very susceptible to  Tsunamis. Wellington Harbour sits on a fault line and we get shakes regularly. But if a big earthquake were to happen out in the harbour, a tsumami could decimate many of the coastline communities in and around the city. It’s something that every Wellingtonian is very aware of, and every house, ours included, has an emergency box in the garage with torches, bottled water, radio etc, just in case the big one hits. Out here in Karori, we are quite high up, but it is quite common to see the sign below  all round the coast. It directs people to the safest place in the area, in the event of a tsunami. This one was at Scorching Bay. 
Scorching Bay
A common sight round the Bays of Wellington
The more time we spend discovering Wellington, the more we fall for its charms. New Zealand likes to give its cities taglines. So Auckland is the `City of Sails`, Christchurch was always known as `The Garden City`, though since their major earthquake it’s being called “The City That Rocks!” and everywhere in Wellington you see `Absolutely, Positively Wellington`, which started by accident in the early nineties and has now been adopted by the City Council. It’s a nod to the `Can Do` mentality that exists in the capital, and reflects the artisan spirit that prevails here. It hasn’t made it onto the hillside where the “Wellington” sign is though. A bit like Hollywood it welcomes the ferries and cruise ships and sits near the airport. Occasionally the letters get changed around. It’s been `Wellywood` when Peter Jackson premieres one of his films here, and the “All Blacks” get promoted during Rugby World Cups. The flyaway letters at the end of the sign is a nod towards Wellington being one of the windiest cities on the planet. 

Our thoughts have now turned to our impending return in early July. My, it’s gone quick. We normally hire a car in the UK when we need one, but we have decided that this time round we will lease one for six months. Our lives are quite hectic this summer and autumn, and I can’t see us getting out very much on `The Cat’s Whiskers`. That disappoints me, and we will go out cruising, but it will have to snatch a week here and a few days there.

I am still playing with `The Ukes Of Wellington` on a Sunday morning and `The Hutt Valley Ukulele Orchestra` on Wednesday nights. The man who runs the Wednesday night sessions is a very good player and pushes us. It’s improved my playing a lot, especially further up the fretboard.

The Ukes of Wellington Sunday morning session in Cuba Street. My mate Ann sits to my right
The Queen’s 90th passed here with little fanfare. Ironically, her birthday is always celebrated in New Zealand with a public holiday, so it was no big thing. There was a gun salute from Government House. We went on a skyline walk above Karori and could see the little puffs of smoke in the distance. The average New Zealander was far more concerned how the new look All Blacks would do against the visiting Wales side who are in NZ for three tests . I picked up a national newspaper the day after the first match, and they had devoted eight pages to the match report, which was the first All Blacks game of 2016. I am not really surprised. This, after all, is their national sport and they are pretty good at it. Rugby infiltrates all parts of life in NZ. It is part fascinating and part infuriating,  but they certainly `walk the walk`.

It was our turn in Wellington to welcome the Welsh this weekend and my niece, who lives in Auckland, asked if James and I would like to go to the match. Her husband Mark had got some tickets. Now I am not a great rugby fan; I prefer a rounder ball, but I was not going to say no to seeing the best team in the world, on home soil.
Three Brits, one Welshman and a Kiwi get ready for the match
The Welsh Team run out at the Westpac Stadium
Essential lubrication
The game and all the razzmatazz around it did not disappoint. We had a great night. Mark brought along a Kiwi mate and his Finance Manager Mark, a Welshman, who flew over from Sydney especially for the match. The All Blacks just seemed to go up a gear when they needed to, but the Welsh were no push-overs and for much of the game it was a very spirited match. And then of course there was the usual pre and post match drinking.

And finally, I am thinking about buying a new boat, having seen this recently. Could be good for popping down the village and tying up at the pub. Just needs a small outboard. What do you think? Won't have to worry about it rusting.

So Toodaloo for now.