Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Road Trip

We're off on a road trip.  So we load-up the massive boot of the brown Kingswood with chips, biscuits, bread and sauce, an Esky full of beer, Coke and sausages, fishing rods and cricket bat, ball and stumps, strap the boards to the roof racks, load the tape-deck with the best mixed tapes of the year, throw the guitar and some cushions in the backseat, pick-up the girls (tight denim shorts, tans and bikini tops) and hit the highway in search of sun, sand, surf and who knows, maybe the odd bit of sex?!

Whoo hoo!  It's summer, I'm 19 and I'm off on a road trip with my best mates, some smokin' hot babes and a boot full of piss...

Hang-on, I'm not 19!  I don't drive a Kingswood anymore ... is this some kind of memory throw-back to the mid 80s? 

Hang-on, there were never any smokin' hot babes in my car when I was 19 ... is this some kind of morphing of my memories with youth-targeted TV and U-Toob advertising for clothes/mobile phones/flavoured-milk/pre-mixed vodka drinks?  Exactly what the hell is going on here?

Road trip?  What? ... now? ... at this age? 

Oh right.  Yeah, New Zealand ... North Island ... just me (no mates), smokin' hot Mrs Donkey (tan and denim, but a bit light-on in the bikini-top department – mind you, Wellington was only 2 degrees in the sun), Hambones strapped into the child safety seat in the back (no guitar, no cushions ... barely enough room as it is for the bairn and a folded-up porta-cot) and the boot of the respectably suburban Epica (a far cry from the Kingswood aesthetic) full to bursting with suitcases, stroller and jars of baby food (not a chilled beer or aorta-blocking sausage in sight). 

Road trips have indeed changed since I was a young buck hitting the road full of adventurous anticipation ... or at least since I was a young, luckless, awkward, acne-ridden virgin, sitting down in front of the TV and watching advertisements featuring beautiful young things looking cool and sexy at the beach and on country roads up and down the east coast, and realising the closest I was gonna get to that lifestyle was buying a carton of chocolate milk and drinking it on the bonnet of Dad's station wagon.  But I digress ... New Zealand.

New Zealand?  What would I wanna go there for?  It's exactly the same as here, only thirty years behind.  Let's get this straight - I grew-up in the outer suburbs in the 1980s, and I've spent the last thirty years decisively getting as far away from it as I could, both in time and space.  So why the hell would I want to return to orange Laminex tables, mission-brown carpet tiles, culinary home delights such as "beef and noodles", vegetables boiled to denture-friendly mush and tinned "two-fruits" for desert, or for that formal family occasion, the local "Chinese" specialising in sweet and sour pork, prawn toast and steamed dim sims (considerably more exotic than their less-authentic, fried compatriots available from the fish 'n' chip shop next door).

And while we're at it, I have to say that nostalgics are definitely the stereotype which I find the most irritating (next to New Zealanders, of course).  They bang on and on about milk bottles, 6-o'clock closing, hot chips served in newspaper and about how everything was simple, and tasted better and was cheaper "back in the old days".  How bloody ridiculous?!  Who wants to wake up at 5am every day to the sound of some arthritic old bastard with a smoker's cough tinkling bottles of curdled, unpasteurised milk outside your front door, or to rush like an idiot after work on a Friday to buy bread from the shops before they close for the weekend, or to have permanently tattooed hands and tongue from the combination of scalding chip-grease and lead-based newspaper ink?  Nostalgics are dishonest scumbags who can be annoyingly self righteous as much as they like, smug in the knowledge that no one will ever be able to call them on their wistful reminiscences because no one ever wants to go back there ... 'cause it was shit!  So again I ask the question ... why would anyone want to go to New Zealand?

But as is so often the case, despite my concerns at the idea, my machismo behaved true-to-form and I quickly caved to Mrs Donkey's "suggestion" that a trip to New Zealand to catch-up with some long lost friends would be just what we needed.  So one lovely, warm, spring afternoon, we set off in blinding sunlight for bleak, bleak Wellington, where the sky sits two inches above your head, where the shrieking rain falls sideways and where the trees don't sway in the breeze; they shatter in the sleet.  "Urgh", my stomach sank, "who'd live here?".

The answer to that is our good friends, E, J and G, who were waiting excitedly for us in the arrivals hall, their thick woollen coats, scarves and beanies a comical contrast to our shorts, t-shirts and chattering blue knees.  But their embraces went some way to warding off the forbidding chill as we headed off to see what this country was all about.

However, as would become a reliable feature of our New Zealand road trip, there were delays.  Donkey had been defeated in yet another round of persuasion from Mrs D and had forked-out a hundred kiwi dollars for a so-called "NeverLost" navigation device.  Unfortunately, the helpful instructions don't start until you can get the thing switched on, so we sat in the airport car-park for an hour with the howling wind threatening to blow the car into the adjacent concrete wall (like so many in NZ, decorated with a local artist's lame attempt at a life-sized scene from Lord of the Rings) plugging chords into various sockets and pressing buttons here and there to try to get the thing started. 

Upon achieving success, we started out on the highway towards the city.  In days to come, this device would signal a new era of ease and argument-free road travel, but during that first twenty minutes on Wellington's hectic motorways, our enthusiasm for GPS technology was dampened by Pythagorean feats of concentration in order to decipher the irritatingly grating whine of the Kiwi computer geek's wet-dream - a digitally-generated, sexy female voice with an accent straight out of West Christchurch; "Orr yup, Baybee, tiern luft ut mai luft nupple.  Orr yup, thut's ut.  Thut's toatully Choice, Bug Boy!".

By the time we rounded the point into Oriental Bay, however, things were starting to look a little more promising.  The sun was shooting down through the clouds in gorgeous, golden shafts onto the silver water, and a hip, cafe-lined promenade wound along the shore, along which, despite the wind, people lounged at tables mounted with tantalising, steaming mugs and glasses of chilled white wine.

By the time we'd made it to the hotel, I had passed a large proportion of the 17,000 cafes which contribute to Wellington's reputation as having more coffee outlets per capita than New York.  Add to that a tonne of cool-looking bars and restaurants, and our trip was starting to look up – perhaps New Zealand wasn't quite the 80s suburban throwback I'd been expecting. 

But tasting some of this coffee – the real proof of a nation's developing status – would have to wait just that little longer 'cause breakfast was near E, J and G's digs in Lyall Bay, and to get there, we were forced to get all Lord of the Rings and "...journey beside the silver bay before passing through the dark tunnel beneath the Mountain of the Old Queen, and there you will find the Bay of Gold".  Honestly, New Zealand, the sooner you get over this Peter Jackson crap, the better for all of us – call it what you like, but Mt Victoria is merely a hill, and a road over the top would have been a piece of piss – alright, Im just sayin'. 

While not quite golden, Lyall Bay was very pretty, and we wandered through its lazy streets, past white-painted, weather-board dairies which could well have passed for the suburbs in 1985, down to a rickety-old boat house with beaten-up, peeling wooden walls reflecting a century of sand-blasting, au naturel.  Definitely not the most promising locale for a decent feed, but my casual, and (let's face it) hilarious enquiries of our friends about where a bloke could get some smoked kippers for breakky, "Just like back in the Ol' Country" were being met with daggers from Mrs D, so I decided to put a sock in it and see what New Zealand was going to serve-up.

The building's forbidding exterior was merely a mask for what we found upstairs, however; a bright, warm, furious cacophony of rushing waiting staff weaving through laughing crowds of ├╝ber cool Wellingtonians packed into tables, benches and onto bar stools as the hissing shoots of steam from the espresso machine and the shriek of frying bacon punctuated the gut-trembling bass of the Kiwi dub booming out over the sound system.  Everyone was happy and chatting to each other, and even the cheerful staff seemed in on the joke.

But the real winner for Donkey was not so much the convivial air, but rather what was being lumbered across the floor in shiny white crockery, and landing in front of the salivating sophisticates; possibly the finest, punchiest organic coffee this increasingly sheepish chump had ever tasted, followed immediately by Martian-transport-sized plates of tasty, organic, eggy goodness atop thick, sourdough toast, plump, juicy baked tomatoes and garlic-bloated mushrooms, with mouth-bashing basil pesto on the side.

By now ol' Donkey was supplementing this fine fare with a considerable serving of humble pie, and while this would have convinced a better man to re-assess his perceptions about what to expect from New Zealand, it should be understood that there are few lumbering hulks more difficult to rein-in than the irrationality of an egomaniac trying to avoid embarrassment.  Sure, others might have suggested that the throng of hip and the platefuls of yum in the room were undeniable proof of a progressive, culinary culture, and yet my ill-placed dogma continued, "But this might have been just a bit of luck; and perhaps E, J and G have deliberately guided us to the best place in the city for our first feed". 

More coffee was going to be required before any definitive conclusions could be drawn ... and beer ... wine'd be good, too.  Ice cream anyone?  Yeah.  I'm no soft target to be won over with a single, outstanding breakfast.  I grew up in the suburbs in the 80s.  I know what I'm in for ... let's get out of this funky cafe ... it's time to check out the real New Zealand.

Next stop ... the 'Real' Wellington.


Donkey's expectations of modern-day New Zealand ... stay logged-in to find out just how canny he is.  Pic:  http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jdumas/berendo/berenfot.html