Sunday, 31 May 2009
Friday, 29 May 2009
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
NZ may be proud of its Scottish heritage, but we don't seem to be flocking here nowadays. I met a Scottish traveller at Rotorua the other day, she was the first I've spoken to since I left home. Whereas I've met any number of Dutch, Israelis, and Irish, none of whom I'd have expected to be travelling in greater numbers than us. Plus as many Germans as all the rest put together. Where are we all?
Maybe I'm just in the wrong places. There is a special breed of traveller who arrives in a City Centre hostel, and settles in to drink coffee, watch DVDs, moan about their lack of money and the impossibility of getting a job, and never moves on. Having spent only 2 nights in City hostels here I haven't met many of them, and I wouldn't want to think this was what the missing Scots are doing, but maybe...
Anyway, doesn't stop the locals paying tribute to us in all sorts of ways. A couple of examples (see photos) are a special Scottish section (which doesn't accentuate the bagpipes and silly dancing image quite as much as the photo implies) at Te Papa museum in Wellington. And a sculpture (ok, it may be coincidence) of the 'Worst Toilet in Scotland' scene in Trainspotting, from the delightfully wacky Waiau Water Park on the Coramandel Peninsula.
Regardless of how may of us come, some of us stay. I spent 2 nights with Caroline Bagshaw and family near Hamilton. Caroline's the sister of Roger whose tragic early death I mentioned in April. She was the year below me at school though our paths seldom crossed then and never subsequently. She moved here 16 years ago and the rest of her family followed. I couldn't have asked for better hospitality, especially in the circumstances, and glad I had the chance to belatedly pay my respects; I couldn't make the funeral as I only heard about it the day before.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
The House of Dust - Paul Johnston: Actually, this only just qualifies as literature. It's a detective story set in a fascistic future Edinburgh (about 2025), which sounds a juicy mix of SF and crime fiction, but it's so badly written it gives both genres a bad name. Abysmal prose (the dialogue would embarrass Jeffrey Archer), 1-dimensional characters, and laughable set pieces (the heroes actually turn the tables on the main villain in the climactic confrontation by shouting the equivalent of "Look behind you!"). This chap's managed to get a whole series of these published, which is depressing.Thud - Terry Pratchett: Late-period Pratchett, which means a more thoughtful (despite the title) plot (about dwarves and trolls - it's a race/religion allegory) and fewer laughs than he sometimes provides, though one crack about Gods still has me chuckling 3 weeks on. For Pratchett fans amongst my readership (i.e. my brother Alan, and er... not sure who else) it's one of the 'Guards' books, probably the best ongoing series on the Discworld.
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood: A much more 'literary' novel, about a Canadian artist reflecting on her life, as she returns to an exhibition of her work in Toronto, where she grew up. It's gripping, especially in the sections about the narrator's early schooldays, which have been described as an important insight into the way young girls interact with and often bully each other. But it's a little chilly, some of the characters just don't come to life, and the narrator is someone things happen to, she seems to make few conscious choices of her own. It made me think, but I didn't find it very convincing, the later stages especially.In Another Light - Andrew Greig: A Scottish novel intercutting the adventures of a doctor in Penang, Malaya, in the 1930s, with those of his son in contemporary Orkney. The son is trying to discover his father's hidden past, and to make sense of his own life and love after a near-death experience and a series of bereavements. It's excellent; mature, addictive, moving, and full of believable characters with recognisable dilemnas. I can see it having the same effect on many men as the film Sideways. The ending is a little contrived and makes some characters seem unrealistically devious, but it's a minor gripe. I'm looking forward to reading more of Greig's work; have given this one to Caroline Bagshaw in exchange for an earlier one set in the Borders. Hope we both get as much pleasure as I did from In Another Light.
Beneath the Skin - Nicci French: A superior thriller, well written by good observers (Nicci French is a pseudonym for a couple who write together) and tackles a really interesting dilemna - how do police, and victims, really feel and act when they realise that a victim has been chosen for death by a serial killer who has already proven his competence. But I didn't like the structure much, having narrators who tell the story up to the moment of their own murders is unpleasant rather than properly chilling.
Felt for one other chap who planned to do it the same day. He didn't know until he got there that they have a 100KG limit, he was 104KG, so had to sit in the aerodrome and watch his friends come back sporting the same sort of insane grins I was probably wearing myself an hour later.
Tried to recapture the magic the following day by trying to recapture the magic of childhood. The most exciting thing I did in NZ when I was 12 was the Shotover Jet Boat in Queenstown. In fact, it was better than any roller-coaster, a thumping twisting cascade through rapids, near death collisions with rocks, overhanging trees etc. Taupo has a similar run through several sets of rapids, and - well - ok, so I'm 41 now, it's not quite the same. but still fantastic fun.
But I still draw the line at bungy jumping.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
I caught up on some of what I'd missed while out with a friend from my Wairarapa College (i.e high school) year. We'd exchanged xmas cards up to about 7 years ago, but lost touch after that and I only decided to search for him in the phone book the day before I went to Palmerston North, where he lives now. He's a reminder of how straightforward my life has been. His wife of 20 years has had constant health problems, his kids are 'high-maintenance' for various reasons, and he's at least partly estranged from his parents and his 5 brothers. Though successful professionally his life sounds a real struggle, and he seemed glad of the chance to unload it all. And the stories he told of the few classmates and even teachers we both recall all involved underachievement and missteps. In particular, one guy I recall as being bright, the best sportsman in the year, and an extremely nice guy (he was very good to me as the uncertain foreign kid - I didn't have the confidence to make a real effort to win him as a close friend, though I would have liked to), apparently got into drugs in a big way at University and was last heard of in a psychiatric institution. There's an awful lot of ways to mess up a life, glad I've avoided most of them.
This sounds a bit downbeat! Glad I went back, wish I'd time to see more of the local sites and do the walks I resisted like mad when our parents tried to drag us up them the first time round. Many thanks to Peter Donaldson and family for their hospitality, including the kids party we went to, featuring very complex tug of war - about 20 kids and they all kept changing sides. Though even by my standards, watching 4 rugby games (3 Super 14 plus a local match), plus going to see Pete coach his son and other kids on the Saturday morning, in the space of 26 hours, is a bit excessive!
Then a waiter brought her a huge bowl of fries, which she proceeded to slather in enough ketchup to drown a whale. Christchurch ain't turning into the Paris of the south anytime soon...
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Friday, 15 May 2009
Monday, 11 May 2009
Not with the weather, that is. But the wildlife has been extremely cooperative on this trip, I feel like Dr Dolittle. Birds queueing up to be photographed, a higher than average number of whales, dolphins returning to Kaikoura after a few days away just in time for me to swim with them. And now the albatrosses. I took an Otago peninsula wildlife tour yesterday, including a half hour in the royal albatross viewing hide. Many visitors see only a few chicks waiting patiently for their parents to return from marathon fishing trips, which only happens every 2-3 days. We saw 4 adults soaring past the hide (several times each), 2 chicks being fed (see below), one take-off, and as a bonus, a hawk also hovered 10 yards from the hide, then pounced on a mouse and took off with the unlucky wee thing still in its claws. Our guide was practically in ecstasy, proclaiming us the luckiest visitors of the whole season.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Thursday, 7 May 2009
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Saturday, 2 May 2009
I made an almost (but not quite) conscious decision on this trip not to plan too far ahead. In NZ, this has taken the form of staying in places I knew almost nothing about (eg Tekapo, Hamner Springs, currently Nelson), not buying a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide, and making my decisions about what to see and do on the day I do them. This has been mostly positive. Most recent trip has been 2 days up at Golden Bay with Dani from Austria, walking the Abel Tasman Park (soaked again, but at least got some nice rainbows), the beaches near Farewell Spit, and to one of the World's biggest deepest holes near where more of Lord of the Rings was filmed (she's another LOTR obsessive). We met and arranged all this in Nelson the night before we set off, I doubt we'd have done so if I'd been enslaved by the Rough Guide the way some travellers are. Now she's about to go to the North Island, or start working somewhere, or just sitting drinking coffee for a few days (you think I'm indecisive...) and I'm going back south, to Christchurch and then maybe on to Dunedin, where I'd like to cycle the Otago railtrail. Probably fly to North Island after that.
One decision I can't put off much longer is how long to stay in NZ. Right now I'm booked to fly out on 20th May, but this leaves very little time for the North Island, so now planning to put this back at least a week. Less time for Oz, but hey, been there done (some of) that.
I wondered if I'd lose touch/interest with what was happening at home. No sign of it yet, checking rugby news is still 1st thing I do when I get computer access, and Hull City's battle to avoid relegation is still on my mind. But not seen anything about Scottish politics since I left, another plus about being away!
Incidentally, no shortage of emails from home, including comments about this blog, for which many thanks, but no comments on the blog itself for some time. Feel free to add them, the more irreverent the better, I hate talking to myself.