Thursday, January 27, 2011
Like the TV series, MASH, which ran three times as long as the Korean War in which it was set, this Road Trip story is reaching Cecil B. DeMille-esque proportions, greatly out-distancing the actual trip upon which it is based. I'll see what I can do about wrapping it up.
My last waking act before leaving Windy Wellington was to return to one of the hundreds of coffee outlets I'd been churning through over the previous few days, to buzz my brain a little more while I sorted out some onward accommodation using the free Wi-Fi.
After many false starts, bogus postings and rude landlords refusing a two-night stay, I eventually got onto Frank, a beach house property owner from Napier who answered the phone with, "Awwr shut! ... ah, hello? Frank speaking...". Frank's engine had exploded moments before I'd called, and he was swearing blue, kiwi murder as he stood stranded on a country road.
"Yeah, thut should be no worries ... fuck ... just come up and we'll sort everythung out when you get here [boom!] ... shut, nooooooo... [click] beep beep beep...".
So with a gullet full of caffeine, a well-rested Hambones and Mrs D wrestling with a plethora of chords as she tried to get the sexy Kiwi GPS navigator working, we started on our way out of Welly ... just after a final supply run to the ironically-named 'New' World. In no way is New Zealand more like 1980s suburban Melbourne than in its supermarkets; when I was a wee one, Coles supermarket was known as Coles' New World, and walking through the doors of the Wellington New World, the surroundings immediately had me reminiscing about climbing into one of those hard plastic trolley seats, and taking a massive dump in my daks.
The setting was flawless 1980s; tins of food were stacked in precarious, delinquent-child-attracting pyramidal displays, the trolleys were massive, deep and without the modern child-safety straps, and there was a tobacco counter up front at which stood four or five old ladies in plastic shower caps trying to buy cartons of ciggies with loose change.
Mrs D and I went crazy with the nostalgia of it all and filled that stretch-limo trolley with all kinds of stuff you haven't been able to buy in Australia for 25 years. As we approached the checkout, we were more than a little sheepish in anticipation of the expected whack this was going to make in our savings.
The first pleasant surprise we received at the checkout was a surprisingly pleasant young man ringing-up each item with a smile, a laugh and a generally amiable disposition (something we haven't experienced in Australian supermarkets for at least two decades), and the next wonderful gift was that the African-famine-saving haul of 1980s groceries we'd just procured totalled exactly what it would have back in the '80s!
Are you kidding me? All through our trip in NZ, all we ever heard from people we met, or on the radio, TV current affairs programs or in the papers was that Australians' salaries were 40% higher than Kiwis', and that economists were tipping this inequity to rise in the next year by 20 - 437% (depending on the disgruntlement of the person relaying the story – "Err, it's not fair. You Australians get it easy. We're thinking of leaving and going over to live in Aussie 'cause it's just too expensive here"). And yet there we were, with the biggest hoard of groceries since Henry VIII decided he was going to up-size Christmas dinner, costing only about 40% of a regular grocery bill back home! Get some perspective, Kiwis! We might get paid more than you, but it costs you nothing to live, eat, own a vehicle or an ocean-view property.
So with that warm feeling one gets from having a wallet still full of cash, and with our mouths full of pineapple lumps and 'chocolate fush', we nudged out of the New World car park, and thanks to the seductive, dulcet tones of 'Dulcie', the sexy Kiwi GPS, we were on the highway and heading-off on the Road Trip proper with some classic Black Seeds dubbing it up on the stereo to help us on our way.
Within moments, sophisticated, windy old Wellington was behind us, replaced by stretches of farmland dotted with periodic communities of New Worlds, McDonalds-es and Bunnings Warehouses. The suddenness of the city's disappearance reminded us just how small this country was, and while musing over this, as if to hit the point home, we emerged from a deep valley and were looking out over a spectacular, sun-swept bay with dramatic, mountainous islands shooting-up out of the sparkling water. The road along the shoreline was as tight and spectacular as our own, much-lauded Great Ocean Road, with the adrenaline-pumping bonus of no safety barriers, and we were thoroughly pumped as the dramatic views and Salmonella Dub's Dancehall Girl created an expectant air of exciting adventures to come.
As we passed through Palmerston North, university town to many of our Kiwi friends, I exhaled a deep sigh of relief that I had stuck to my guns and refused Mrs donkey's demands that we book a night's accommodation here. Apart from Massey University, the only other thing Palmy is famous for is that at least one of its residents features on the evening news each night, usually for having beaten, killed, raped, eaten or been practicing polygamy with a neighbour and/or family member. I quietly locked the doors as we cruised down the main drag, and gunned the Epica through the red lights to ward-off University pranksters and/or armed car jackers.
As with Wellington, we were through Palmy in a jiffy, and before long were hurtling along a windy, barrier-less road through a spectacular gorge at ridiculously dangerous speeds thanks to a massive cattle truck balling down on our arse. This deep canyon seemed to be the sluice via which inland communities emptied their refuse into Palmerston North, and before long we were cruising though the quaint little town of Woodville, where we stopped for a break, a leak and an ice cream.
The latter was sourced from a wonderfully, 1950s-looking dairy in the main street, and we took our 30 cent (!) treats a block down a side street to a magnificent local park. What I have failed to describe to date is the great contrast between the colour of the Australian countryside and that of North Island New Zealand – NZ is so spectacularly green! And this public park was just incredible. Reverently we each took off our shoes before tiptoeing onto the fluffy, emerald carpet, and then grinning guiltily, we stood waiting for some old Kiwi, Mr McGreggor-type to come running over to us waving a shovel and shouting, "Git off the grass, wull yous!". But we soon realised that this lush, well clipped and rolled public lawn was fair game for all, and judging by the indifference being displayed by the bike-riding teenagers wandering across the furry floor over yonder, such facilities appeared reasonably commonplace.
We stuck around in that park for about two hours, lounging back on the soft grass beneath the swaying oaks, and watching Hambones amuse himself on the gravity-defying, 1950s safety standard play equipment. After a while we also came to take a little interest in the other park users, and to notice certain behaviours and circumstances that bound them.
Firstly, over the course of an hour, a gathering of young teens swelled from three to about twelve, comprising tough, fit, young white boys in low-slung daks, and similarly-conditioned girls in cut-off denim shorts and crop tops. They would move from one set of play equipment to the next, flirting and laughing together, almost touching and then breaking away again. They seemed intimately familiar with each other and ... well, bored.
From time to time, one would call out to similarly-aged citizens walking along the park's periphery, or through the middle on the immaculately curated paths as they pushed prams containing wee, crying babies.
The original group continued to wander from the swings, to the slide, laughing and flirting and occasionally splitting off in couples to hold hushed conversations beside the thick oaks, before outing a shrill laugh and re-joining their friends.
As we packed-up and headed-off to join potty-mouth Frank in Napier, I reflected that despite the lush surroundings of Woodville, like so many small towns the world over, there was very little to occupy young people such to prevent the kind of boredom which can rapidly slide into circumstances which may ultimately anchor them in the very place which offers them so little stimulation. I had no doubt those swinging teens (no pun intended) would soon be joining their park-traversing compatriots during infant-sleep-inducing perambulations.
Fine green grass might keep the mid-week golfing ladies busy, but for the youth of Woodville, it's not quite enough to steer 'em clear of the rough. Pic: http://www.hickerphoto.com/putting-green-shot-oliva-nova-golf-course-valencia-12635-pictures.htm
Saturday, January 15, 2011
I much prefer being at the park with Hambones when the prevailing activity around us is other young families with children playing on the equipment ... rather than transactional sex!
Visiting the local parks for a daily play on the equipment is new to me; as a kid, my parents were all, "You must not go to the park by yourself or with your friends ... only with us".
"OK", I would nod uncertainly, understanding the instruction, but not the sentiment behind it. "Can we go to the park?"
So there was pretty much no park at all for young Donkey, but we lived in the outer 'burbs anyway, and compared with the postage stamp that Hambones has to run around in today, our backyard when we were growing up was as big as any park going. Still, one always wants what one can't have, so I continued to nag.
But to be honest, compared with today's facilities, the park in those days wasn't really that fantastic; just a couple of metal-coloured, metal bars and a metal slide baking in the harsh midday sun (and guaranteed to cook my young, supple Donkey butt into a couple of toasty-burnt muffins).
So while I could appreciate that the park was pretty boring, and a little bit painful, I didn't really understand what my parents had against it. When I was a bit older, I suppose in an effort to put an end to years of incessant nagging, I was told that the park was to be avoided because, "it was a dangerous place where strange people went and did dirty things". Unfortunately for my folks, this off-hand explanation ended up causing a bit of a social scandal within the local primary school community and had to be publically retracted after our driving past the park one day and me seeing Sam D'Mond (one of our neighbours' kids) playing there on his own. I went to school the very next day and told everyone that my Mum had said that Sam D'Mond (already a bit of a social outcast due to a penchant for the taste of his own snot) was "a weird little twerp who did dirty things at the park!".
Still, despite the red-faced retraction, I remained unaware of the dangers of the park. As nearly as I could ascertain, apart from a burnt ring, boredom and Johnny Butler and his gang alternating between dishing-out common, schoolyard, Chinese-burn-style bullying and experimenting with cigarettes and soft porn magazines in the bushes in the back corner, there was not really all that much to fear from the park. Besides, Mrs D'Mond didn't seem to mind old 'Snot Muncher' playing there on his own!
But as I mentioned, the facilities and surroundings in today's parks are another thing altogether, and especially here in the high-density, inner city, it's no surprise that families turn out in droves to play on the colourful, non-heat-conducting plastic slides, rubber swings, flying foxes, non-splintering wooden beams and airborne-child-cushioning, bouncy-floors, all situated beneath wonderful, shady oaks and gum trees, and surrounded by well-manicured, grassy lawns.
In most of our parks, there are also free gas barbeques and picnic chairs and tables for the public to use, as well as necessary, disability-accessible public lavatories. Our friend Mr Belfast still can't believe the barbeques, "If this was in England or Ireland, people would piss and shit all over them - there's no way I would use one of those things!". "Ha Ha", we laugh, humouring his European naivety. He clearly doesn't understand that such things don't happen here in Australia – no, Australians would never shit on a public barbeque in a park when there is well-moulded, designer play equipment easily on hand!
Recently, while playing at the park, we were approached by a gentleman whose firm had been contracted by the local council to survey park users about the facilities. T'was an interesting experience to be approached by this supposedly impartial surveyor, and to watch him get increasingly animated and agitated as the survey unfolded;
Surveyor: How would you rank [1-5] the cleanliness and tidiness of the park?
Donkey: Yeah good. It's pretty clean. I'd say 4.
Surveyor: A 4? Are you kidding me? What do you call that over there?
Donkey: Oh yeah ... there's some rubbish. OK, a 3.
Surveyor: You don't think a 2?...
Surveyor: How would you rank [1-5] the state of the play equipment?
Donkey: Oh. Really great. 4-5, I reckon.
Surveyor: Were you aware that a child broke her arm here last week?
Donkey: Um ... no. Maybe a 3?
Surveyor: [smiles and nods].
And on it went for about half an hour. He said that this was his first day of surveying, and that he was going to be there all week (obviously I stayed away for the rest of the week), but no doubt he was, through his Woody Allen-esque neuroses and generally judgemental disposition, single-handedly responsible for the play equipment upgrade just a few weeks later, which included a quaint little cubby house with chairs and a little table ... just perfect for little kids to sit in and share a picnic and, as it happens, also a pretty tidy place for young people to start experimenting with each other's bodies.
Look, I'm all for a bit of experimental teenage safe sex, but it might be nice if they could deposit these 'Agents of Protection' in one of the nearby bins when vacating the premises – after all, what we don't know won't hurt us ... or our tea-partying toddlers.
So maybe these were the kinds of goings-on at the park that our parents were trying to protect us from all those years ago ... or maybe it was something else again ... maybe it was what Hambones and I were exposed to yesterday afternoon.
As we approached the empty park, I noticed a couple of people about fifty metres ahead of us wandering towards the recently established disability-accessible public lavatories. I wasn't really taking much notice, but only became aware that something was not right when, on arrival at the play equipment, neither person was in sight, and the only sign of life was the urgent blinking of the red "occupied" light on the lavatory door, silently screaming out like an emergency distress beacon pleading for assistance, "Danger! Warning! There are too many people in the loo! Please assist. Danger!".
But you know how you get all irrational when you're scared? I thought to myself, "Oh look, Donkey. I am sure it's all legit. He's probably a man with end-stage colonic cancer and she's his carer, and they've gone into the disability-accessible lav so that she can help him to change his colostomy bag".
Time dragged on and on, and still no one emerged from the toilet. While others may have viewed this as suspicious, I took it as further confirmation of my very plausible scenario. "You're onto it, Donkey," my delusions continued, "Those bags can be pretty tricky to get off ... and sometimes they leak and have to be cleaned-up. It's all good."
After about half an hour, by which time another couple had arrived at the play ground with their infant son, the carer emerged from the toilet looking every bit the qualified health worker that she obviously was; a big-haired, gum-chewing "lady" in a professional ensemble of dirty white crop-top above (which showed-off her massive falsies) and low-slung black tracksuit pants with matching runners below.
Seeing the park occupied by playing children and wholesome young families, she immediately turned to go back inside, only to find the door locked. "Can ya hear me?" she shrieked to her patient within, "We better get going".
About five minutes later, out stepped the tumour-ridden gentleman; a dirty, lanky and very skanky dude in jeans (no belt), runners and a long pony-tail, and would you believe, he was actually scratching his [no doubt, greasy] nuts! "What the fuck are ya yellin at me for?", he politely enquired of his carer, and off they took themselves (walking along the fence-line, rather than on the designated path), conversing (read: arguing) loudly to each other.
"I guess those anti-cancer drugs can make you pretty narky", I thought to myself.
Within moments of their departure, the park was full of oblivious families, laughing and playing with their children on the wonderful equipment, in the shade of the swaying oaks. That's Park Life, inner-Melbourne style!
Breaking Bad's Wendy the Crackwhore demonstrating her new career caring for terminal cancer-sufferer's in Donkey's local park yesterday. Pic: http://remotelyinterested.blogspot.com
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Walk into any travel agent in the land, or log onto a myriad of travel webs and one is invariably faced with multiple images, mostly falling into one of the following three categories;
i) Beach scenes with hot young guys and girls in fashionably skimpy swimming costumes; aqua-blue water, sparkling white sand, azure skies and horizons punctuated with coconut palms and/or sailing vessel.
ii) Ancient ruins with groups of grinning young girls and guys decked-out in funky threads; all looking like they're having the time of their lives, partying their way through all the attractions of Europe and the middle east.
iii) Mountain-top vistas in front of which pose fit looking young women and men, all decked-out in the latest, brightly-coloured outdoor trekking gear, beanies and cool sunnies reflecting the bright sun and deep blue sky of the upper Himalayan atmosphere.
Obviously the pony-tailed marketing executives have done their homework and decided that of all the things that people want from their travels, these three scenes strike a strong chord with the geographically bored, and offer hope and excitement enough for people, regardless of their physical appearance, fitness, fashion sense or ability to party, to sign their hard earns away and take to the skies.
Interestingly, the common element of the three scenes is age; everyone in these pics is young, regardless of the location or the activity, suggesting perhaps that they are designed to make people feel young, or to think that going on a trip might make them young again. Of course this is ludicrous, and anyone with half a brain would be able to see right through this cheap marketing stunt in an instant.
Fortunately, between Mrs Donkey, Hambones and myself, we manage to come-up with just over half a brain, and this type of manipulative marketing has no effect on us, whatsoever. Quite the contrary, in fact; past experience has demonstrated time and again that Mrs D and I are much more likely to visit an attraction if it is the recreational choice of octogenarians with hearing aids and colostomy bags, rather than young people with iPods and stubby-holders.
For example, many years ago we slipped-off early one Sunday morning to try out a different Samoan beach from our usual, idyllic locale, and spent a delightful half-hour alone together beneath the swaying palms. Shortly afterwards, however, a tour bus pulled up and within moments the water around us had taken-on the appearance of the set of Cocoon; the beach became crowded with tanned, leathery, old German men and women in skimpy Speedos and rubber bathing caps – a greasy slick from sunscreen and tanning oil oozing in their wake. They were joined by more buses, and we subsequently made our way home.
On another occasion, we left Glasgow with raging hangovers from a week with friends, and decided to see some of the English countryside on the way back to London. First stop was Lake Windermere, where the white and purple hair brigade had booked-up every poky English accommodation option in the whole district. Despite the grumbles from Mrs D, I kept my chin-up and pushed on to The Cotswolds, where the sights may well have been pleasantly quaint, but where there was nary a place to sit on any of the public lawns due to their having morphed into jammed parking lots for wheelchairs and walking frames.
We can't miss a trick, really. But this was going to be different. This was NZ! Home of extreme sports and by all accounts, fine food and wine.
And by mid afternoon on day 2, I'd had about 13 cups of ball-tearing New Zealand coffee, and was having a little trouble getting to sleep during a scheduled afternoon nap. The same seemed to go for Hambones, who must have been breathing-in the caffeine which was seeping out of my pores in great, brown droplets.
So after much tossing and turning, up we all got, and tooled-up for a jaunt around Wellington. It's a little known fact that, contrary to popular misconception, the English name for gumboots does not derive from Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, but rather from the only appropriate footwear to be worn in the city which bears his name. As we walked out of the hotel, there was so much horizontal rain beating down upon us that we made a dash across the road to the only dry tourist attraction within sight – the Wellington cable car. Within moments we were safe from the elements, and making our way up above the city to the botanical gardens, encased in glass with thirty or so others, all of whom were over the age of 94! Here we were again – the Real Wellington.
And they were all white, too (not just their hair, but their skin) ... mostly Australians taking advantage of cheap airfares and seniors' discounts to cross the pond and immerse themselves in the world of their collective childhoods; where dark-coloured skin was only read about in His Majesty's Colonial School Readers. And what better way to relive the Glory Days of the Empire, than by a jolly outing up the hill to the beautiful, English-inspired botanical gardens.
Grumpy, cold, wet and defeated, we waited out the storm and travelled back down the mountain as the sun started through the clouds. We bailed out of the train, crossed the road and piled into the first pub we could find with an open fire. To our pleasant surprise, we found that a left turn in the rain, rather than a right, would have brought us to the other half of the population; here were the people from tourism propaganda photo number ii (see above), all singing and dancing and having a great old time.
So despite the cold and our depression at having been yet again exposed to the 'waiting for God' travelling circus, we kicked-back our heels and got stuck into some fine Sauv Blanc and about two dozen Mac's Sassy Reds – now this is what I call a town! Sure, it may be small, and it may be the destination of choice for aging white supremacists, but the food and drink is superb ... and cheap. It's not for nothing that Lonely Planet named Wellington an extremely "liveable small city" ... however the caveats around that award were starting to show through the cracks – it is small, and it was time to get out before we became completely water-logged.
Load-up the boot, Mrs D ... it's time to hit the road, Kiwi-style...
This scene is reminiscent of Donkey and Mrs D's romantic, early-morning visit to a secluded tropical island beach in 2000. Pic: http://www.homevideos.com/freeze-movies/Cocoon/Cocoon24.jpg