New zeal and new direction??

Hi all

After a shaky few weeks trying to reconcile my vanishing bank balance with my original plan to stay away from the UK at least for one winter……

I was on the point of heading to France for an interesting but financially unrewarding caretake / houseit adventure. Nice old manor / chateau that used to be a Fort (1700) in the south Languedoc.

But it started to unravel and I started to realise that I hadn’t yet fulfilled my plans in Oz so – with a little Help from  Better Homes & Gardens and a live version of Masterchef Oz,  I am back  on track and I write this missive from departures at Sydney International – en route for Christchurch, New Zealand. Some of you may know it as earthquake central (Feb 2011, Sept 2010) so if you never hear from me again, start the search there…..

or better, yet don’t start the search at all. But remember me with a smile. Oops….. the flight is called.

Well , several hours later – 01.39 to be precise – I am in the arrivals area at Christchurch airport. With the TV blaring out the latest Rugby Match. Apparently I must be the only one not following it. Indeed, I hadn’t really connected that it is on – mostly in the North Island (I am South – we go south in the winter!!) and in any event, the British team (or probably English) has already been knocked out by – guess who, the Froggies! – and I presume have slunked orf home!!

I am awaiting the first proper bus of the day. At 06.05 – call me Cheapskate O’Rourke if you wish, but I don’t allow (as in budget) for taxis and shuttle-buses. All far to expensive and seems even more so here in darkest Christchurch.

Of course, I have no idea what it looks like until it gets light; we did fly over snowy-topped mountains on the way down but that’s all I know. Then I take the bus (an Intercity this time) down the coast fort 5/6 hours to be place called Dunedin.

Here’s an object lesson in what happens if you (by which I mean “I”) trust the memory banks. When I decided to hop across here, I attached a little dream to my plans : to visit a city also ndestroyed by earthquakes (in the 1930s)  but rebuilt in almost completely preserved Art-deco. Yum for architectural buffs. So….. booking my trip, I “remembered” that it was Dunedin and duly got a flight to Christchurch – easy and swiftly done.

Ah, but. Speaking to a friend later about said art-deco delight, she said, “oh, yes, Napier is lovely – you must go”.

Needless to say Napier is on the North island – accessed via Auckland – all of where I am NOT going! Hey-ho, it turns out that Dunedin (and here is where the wires may have crossed) is famous for it’s Edwardian / Victorian architecture.  Think Edinburgh, or those large offices and banks that litter the City of London. Oh, well, perhaps I can pretend I have come in search of Charles Rennie Mackintosh influences, since Dunedin is also (allegedly) a Scottish city – whatever that means.

This blog ceases here again for a while : the airport very kindly provides free internet (like Sydney) but only for 30 mins, so I shall log away and be back in a twinkling of the southern stars.

Incidentally – I am as far away in time and space as I think is possible from London /England etc.  Exactly 12 hours ahead of you (if you are in UK) and as of now, I am 62 years of age and 2 hours!! Happy Bday to me!!

Well, circumstances dictated a rather different trip that expected and indeed, I am completing this Blog from what passes for home (in Sydney, that is) after an eventful but fun few days.

I am keeping Christchurch for a separate Blog : as much as anything, because it’s a very sad subject. I was more shocked and saddened that I had expected; to see quite a sizeable city reduced to a cordoned off, quiet  and eerie no-mans land was quite hard to fathom. So more of that later.

Meantime, I arrived at the bus interchange outside the city (see para above) since the absence of a central point has created two interchanges – one each side of a huge park. Here I get my bus for Dunedin (6 hours to the south) but not before having a delicious home-made muffin and exceptional coffee from a little roadside shack near the buses. An enterprising couple set it up precisely to fill the many gaps in the normal day-to-day workings of the city. (It is very hard to avoid references to ChCh as they call it).

Anyway, after my sleepless night travelling, I saw little of the journey south as I slept fitfully – first in my own seat and then (when I spotted an empty back row), actually sleeping lying down across the seats. Albeit the seat ridges giving the feeling I was sleeping on a corrugated roof!

Had I been awake, I might have seen scenery like this (which of course I captured on the return journey!):

and this

Now I know I said “oh it’s just going to be like Wales or Scotland – and I’ve been there”. And to an extent, that is true, but the actual foliage (the flora!) is quite different – apart from the yellow Gorse which is unmistakable anywhere! I can’t believe that the immigrants brought it with them – there’s so much of it! But yet, it can’t be a native plant and I believe that most of the land was native bush, until Europeans got there, when they cleared it and made farming land – so maybe they did bring it. To remind them of home.

Other reminders…. this could be a Scottish loch or Norwegian fjord:

So – I arrived In Dunedin and checked into a converted Tannery – now a rather stylish industry-style hotel. Here’s the view from the window – quite industrial – though an intriguing building looms on the horizon (more of that later!). The building centre left is the Fire Station, incidentally.

Yes, quite an industrial view! But the room boasted (as they say) a very groovy curved glass bathroom :

how  Star Trek is that!! Slide the glass door back and inside is a loo, a sink, and another glass wall within which lies the shower.

So, Dunedin did not disappoint. It is – as I have said elsewhere – the Gaelic name for Edinburgh – and it’s layout is almost the same: long flat plain with railway alongside the main streets – yes there are Princes and George Streets here. There’s a volcanic plug at the far end (matching Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh). The only thing missing is a castle. But there are plenty of other splendid buildings:

The Railway Station :  I kid you not! Though no passenger rail exists at the moment – only freight! What a terrible waste.

 

The Cathedral – complete with statue of Robert Burns in front!


Wonderfully neo-classical ex theatre and offices.

The University clock tower – worthy of St Pancras himself!! The building you saw from my hotel window.

 

So you see, a small town – population no more than 12,000 but with many students and a bustling arty feel that made me think more of Oxford than anywhere else.

This is Paul – he is (I suspect) a perennial student as he’s near 30! He very kindly borrowed his flatmate’s car and took me around the University and the nearby Otago Peninsula – as far south as I have ever been.

He’s from Malaysian originally, but has been in NZ for 10 years – and still studying! Currently a Doctorate in Chemistry – clearly we had much to talk about especially given my fascination with the Periodic Table of Elements. (see, I bet you think I am joking!). In a year or two he plans to go to Europe and maybe take another Degree – there seems no end to the potential in Chemistry!

By the way, he was very lovely and really generous – I just don’t think he liked having a photo taken!!

I would not have seen so much of the area without his kind offer of tour guiding.

At the end of the peninsula, a Seal sanctuary and an Albatross colony! Though we didn’t see any of either. Here’s a shot of some cormorants (or shags) nesting nearby : spot the shags anyone?

We are close to the sea here, and the river is quite a tricky place to navigate – with sandbars and shifting tides. But it looks and is beautiful.

As far away as the Victorian settlers of Dunedin were, they clearly did not forget their homeland – these images speak for themselves, wherever in the world we may be (and they are ubiquitous):

this is a bar and restaurant now

this, an employment office

and this…….

 

Pom pom pom pom pom-pom (do sing along!!!). She would not be amused.

And so – after a turn around the very well-equipped town library – which included an exhibition about Eleanor Farjeon. She wrote the poem everyone thinks Cat Stevens wrote : Morning Has Broken In fact, he simply put music to her words.

It’s 11,000 miles from home here – and not far from the international dateline that would take me back into yesterday as the time flies. So I am not surprised at all to see how those pioneers 150 years or more ago wanted reminders of their home country. What is surprising is that (as the money from sheep farming and dairy came rolling in) they had such grand architectural ideas for their town – equal to any in the cotton mills back in Lancashire, or to those of the rich aldermen of Edinburgh. Though not so surprising when you know that one Thomas Burns, a nephew of the Bard of Alloway himself, was a founding father of the town.

Now I’m awa to ma bed………………….and as my dear old departed father was wont to say, by way of convivial farewell:

“lang may yer lum reek”.    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

 

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