1.30pm Wetherspoons pub, Yeovil, England
Well, I’m back home and coming to terms with the completion of my physical journey to the other side of the world. As I sit here in this oh so English pub (having a latte because no one here has heard of a flat white) it seems like a world away.
I’ve been a tad neglectful with the blog and will combine the remaining days of my trip in one “triple bill” bonus posting!
The Inter city bus from Christchurch did not include a running commentary from the driver which was a bit if a shame. Still, it was a lovely sunny trip and there is a lot to see on the way. None more so than the spectacular section along the Kaikoura coastline where the road hugs the coast and offers some amazing views out over the Pacific. I don’t think I could ever tire of seeing this coast and the snow capped Kaikoura mountains. We had a stop in Kaikoura itself which offered not only a much needed leg stretch (and in my case an overdue flat white) but a chance to breathe in the views of the ocean, beach and mountains. I texted Marie to tell her that I wish she was here with me rather than me having to come home. Reassuring myself that we will be back in NZ in the not too distant future I felt as happy and relaxed as I have ever been.
James, a kiwi lad from Wellington, sat next to me on the trip up to Blenheim. He was an assured and likeable young man still at school in Wellington College. He’d been hunting on a relatives farm near Kaikoura during the past week, the target being deer. They hadn’t had any luck and the weather had been so wet that they had ended up having to curtail the hunt (wading through waist high torrents where stream beds were normally dry). He was going to hopefully go to Uni in Wellington but as yet had not decided on the course.
The bus from Blenheim to Nelson offered a very diverse mix of conversations and characters. I became a link between three lovely older ladies from Albany, New York state and two spaced out kiwi lads from Christchurch (not sure what they were spaced out on but their eyes were well glazed over). The American ladies were visiting one of their daughters who was studying at Wellington uni for a semester (the course was cultural studies which essentially is a bit of a doss from what I could tell). They had enjoyed their stay immensely and done a few exciting things like 4 wheel drive on the back roads of the Wairarapa and were heading for Nelson to visit a beach, although weren’t sure which one! The kiwi lads were “Hammer Heads” which appears to be the term for unskilled labour in the rebuild of Christchurch. One was visiting family and the other was going on “holiday” which entailed drinking and smoking a lot (and I don’t think he just meant tobacco).
Rex and I arrived intact and I cycled back to Lionels place even coping with the 45 degree final climb. We walked back into town to pick up Mike’s valeted car (to be sold now Mike has left for Aussie) and had a good catch up on everything en route. Michelle cooked up a delicious veggie curry for tea with a bottle of red and delicious blackberry and apple flan for pud. Chewed the fat over (not sure what the veggie equivalent saying is) before tiring each other out and so to bed.
Lovely lie in this morning in a comfy bed. Anzac Day here in NZ and we watched a bit of TV coverage of the many Dawn Parades across the country. NZ was very much affected by the wars and over 10% of the population actively served in the first world war (100,000 servicemen when the total population of the country was only a million),58% of the servicemen were either killed or injured, quite an amazing figure. the Anzac Day rememberence is a big thing over here and it is quite humbling to see the strong turnouts not only in the big cities but across the whole country for the fallen heroes of all those years ago.
I busied myself with washing and packing for the trip home and then went on a cycle ride into Nelson on Rex. You will be interested to know that I may have a continuing relationship with my trusty steed. I asked if Rex would be useful to Michelle or Lionel and if so whether they wanted to keep him “on loan”. the answer was affirmative and I have yet another friend I am looking forward to seeing again when I return (If Marie is willing she can have the pleasure of Rex and vice versa). If however L&M find Rex no longer of use then he will be offered to the next intrepid NZ explorer.
Not a lot open in town when I got there (Anzac day means lots of shops close until the afternoon) so I updated the blog at a central backpacker place. I met Tuhoe Bruno Isaac, an ex leader of the Mongrel mob gang. I have been hearing a bit about the gang culture here in NZ and was intrigued enough to buy his book, he was also pretty scary looking which was an added incentive!
Invited L&M out for lunch and we went to Café Affaire near the Cathedral steps. Very nice to be dining al fresco in the sunshine and to treat them after all the help and advice they have given me.
Time was ticking on and after an aborted last minute gift search for taking back home Rex and I hurried back to get my stuff. Hopefully L&M will be in England next spring so it was a pleasant case of saying see you soon rather than a tearful farewell (Lionel just managed to hold himself together! he was probably missing his second helping of flan).
As soon as the plane reached it cruising altitude it then started its descent into Wellington, I think it was only about 25 minutes in total!
For once I didn’t chat with my fellow passengers other than civilities of hello and goodbye. I think I was in a more contemplative mood and thinking about the fairly impersonal IBIS hotel and long drag home. At least I got a good walk with the rucksack as it was a couple of km from the domestic terminal to the hotel (or it was the long way I went). I had a beer in the adjoining bar and succumbed to a not very nice Carls Junior burger before retiring for the night. Pretty soulless place.
April 26th… D-Day
The day of departure from these beautiful islands and friendly people finally dawned. I invested in some under arm deodorant and minty mouth fresheners for the plane journey and stocked up with Whittakers and Cadbury chocolate bars (hopefully not for the plane journey!). I was due to meet Mike and Sonia at 9.30ish so headed for the terminal and checked my rucksack in. Mike rang to say they were at the hotel! We met up in the terminal and you’ll never guess what we had to drink…..aww, you guessed it, flat whites all round.
It was a fitting finale to meet with Mike and Sonia. They have been the epitome of Kiwi openness and unassuming friendship ever since we met them back in 1997. Without them and their family’s support my family and I would not have been able to make our 3 yearly pilgrimage to NZ and we owe them so much. I wish the circumstances were different for why they will now be able to come and stay with us in England but am so pleased that this is finally looking like a definite for them in the next year or so. Trent has also now booked his ticket to travel and work in UK/Europe so we are looking forward to seeing him here and his staying with us as long as he likes. It’s a challenging time for the family but they will undoubtedly take it all in their stride.
After saying goodbye I went through to the departure lounge and noticed some rather large chaps in blue polo shirts who turned out to be the Warratahs rugby team travelling back to Sydney after their match with the Auckland blues. None other than Curtly Beale, the implausibly brilliant back for the Wallabies just happened to line up behind me at the security check.
Me: Hello, Are you Curtly?
ME: I just want to say that I think you are a really great player.
Curtly: Thanks very much
ME: How did you get on?
Curtly: Not good, we lost to the blues which is never easy
ME: sorry about that, but it is really nice to meet you
Curtly: Nice to meet you too
I kept seeing the Warratah boys all round the departure lounge and was pleased to note that I was at least as tall as 3 of them although I felt dwarfed by some of the forwards and imagined even my calf muscles would not stack up against any of theirs!
The flight to Sydney was almost pleasant. I Had a window seat and relished looking over Auckland and the coastline as we headed over the Tasman. I got a few glimpses of Sydney through the low cloud as we landed. I cant even remember who I sat next to other than they had the entertainment on from the start with their headphones on so we didn’t really talk. It was a quick turnaround in Sydney and then the long 14 hour slog to Dubai. Here are the notes I made.
9.45am in NZ, 10.45pm London, 1.45am here in Dubai
Everyone around me here in the “holding bay” looks tired. I’m with Don who I’ve been sat next to for the last 14 hours from Sydney. Don is in his early 70’s and originally from Newcastle, he still has a strong Geordie accent. He has lived in Aussie for over 30 years. Unfortunately his reason for travelling is to get back to see his brother before he passes away because he has incurable bladder cancer.
,..,…,…Now on plane
I’m now less than 3 hours from London and somewhere over Romania (seems a great place to be over for anyone who is addicted to travel!).
Not long before I reach home soil and i am embraced into the embracing bosom of my family after nearly four months of non-embracement. I’m a little bit nervous as I want our reunion to be a special moment and for my readjustment to home life to be positive for all of us over the coming hours,days, weeks, months and years.
I’m trying to envisage the scene as I emerge from the arrivals door at Heathrow. I’m thinking Marie will be standing smiling but not wanting to do the “running towards each other with our arms outstretched ready for a passionate hug” type thing for fear of drawing attention. Alice will definitely not be doing a Jenny Agutter “my daddy, my daddy”..with joyful tears as she accelerates towards me through the crowds. I will get an acceptably short hug and comment about my beard being patchy and/or disgusting. Amie will be acting cool and I will get a “bonjour” with a cheeky brief smile. Then I’m wondering will Amie and Alice actually be there, or are they waiting back in Reading because it was too early to get up. Maybe Marion will come instead with Marie and we may have a friendly word!
To counter having ” air flight breath” I will apply some fresh breath minty strips which melt on your tongue, and I have had a change of top in Dubai plus a deodorant “Italian shower” so hopefully won’t be too niffy.
The flight has been long and I’ve not have more than an hours total sleep.
My other fellow passenger was 25 year old Simon, from Bournemouth. He too had a sad tale behind his flight back to the UK. After a 5 year relationship with his Aussie girlfriend they had decided to make a full go of it and for Simon to move over to Sydney permanently. With the expense of a de facto partner visa, resigning from his uk job, selling up most of his possessions, and reconciling his family around his likely permanent migration. His girlfriend had just told him it was not going to work after just 3 weeks after his arrival! 4 days after this bombshell he has resigned from a job he was due to start on Monday and is on the plane back to his parents in Bournemouth! He was surprisingly undeterred by the earth shattering events and I had to admire him trying to look at it positively. He felt now that it was better to have happened sooner and realises that they had become different people to when they had first met. He had a strong circle of friends and his family to support him back home so he was going to be in the best place to move on. We stuck together at Heathrow up to the passport control and I just hope I did not send Don in the wrong direction for his connecting flight to Newcastle.
I emerged in the arrivals area fairly quickly and found the girls spread out at intervals. First Amie, hanging over the rails, and we had a lovely hug, then Alice who was moving slowly towards me and I had another lovely hug, and finally the smiling Marie for a wonderful hug and a kiss. The warmth of my welcome home was in direct contrast to the wet coolness of the London rain and lack of consideration by the drivers in the car park.
Back in Reading even John, Marie’s Dad, looked pleased to see me and we stayed for a couple of rounds of tea before heading home via the bros house. Chris was on his laptop renewing his car tax and looked a million miles away from his Gandalf like status on the volcanic Tongariro plateaus, Wanganui river Wilderness and the trepidatious Tararua mountains of New Zealand. We didn’t have much time together other than a quick look around the garden and he’d kindly grown me some veggie seeds for planting back home.
We got home about 2.30pm and I attempted to stay awake at least until 6pm by keeping busy unpacking, admiring Marie’s handiwork on the wall papering, ringing mum, having a shower etc but once I sat down to read Bill Bryson’s latest book which Alice had bought me for my birthday the lids of my eyes became like heavy weights attracted together by an irresistible magnetic force which I could not keep apart. I’d managed to get to 6.30pm so was pleased with that.
I’m reserving judgement on what it really feels like to be home and no longer on my adventures, lots of different feelings on this to try and capture, so maybe I’ll come back on this in a future blog. I do know that Dad would have been proud of me.
Thanks for reading my blog dear reader. It’s been an amazing journey for me and I hope it has changed me for the better and for the long term. What stands out most for me is the number of lovely people I met and how we shared a part of our lives together, a quote provided by one such friend sums this up nicely;
“A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles”