Sunday, July 1, 2007

Back in the Land of the thick white cloud

Not to mention steady rain. But happily – in Auckland anyway -- not too much wind or cold.

Arrival went like clockwork. No bits fell off or out of the ship, and it negotiated its way gently into Auckland harbour bang on time. It’s years since I last did ‘Approaching Auckland by night’, so I rose at 6am, popped up on the bridge, and Lyndall and I watched us coming in – in that half-darkened, eerie atmosphere of ‘hush-up-for-the-pilot’ -- through sufficient mist for me to have a qualm or two about whether planes would be flying to Christchurch.

I didn’t go round saying extended goodbyes. I don’t like them one little bit, and anyway we’ve been feting my imminent departure for the last three days. Plus, I’ll be keeping in touch with the Tikeibankers as they trundle on, without me, towards Papua and Suez and the Mediterranean, and probably even after that, so it’s not any sort of goodbye, its just ‘au revoir’. So it was just a hug for Lyndall, and a big handshake for the Captain … then, with customs and MAF having done their work like lightning … Sveta swept me and my bags silently into the lift to main deck, Alexei called the port shuttle from the cargo office, and I was on my way. It all went so much more smoothly than usual. Valery, ‘il barbiere di Tikeibank’, helped me down the gangplank with my bags, the shuttle shuttled energetically, Babs at the port gate called me a taxi, which turned up – to my amazement -- in next no time, and by 8.26am – just half an hour after berthing -- I was heading out to Auckland airport, having a jolly chat with a delightful Samoan driver upon whose lap I emptied my entire meagre supply of NZ dollars ($55, the price has doubled since I last did this 7 years ago) before steaming on in to the Air NZ booking office…

Up till now, it had been the most unbelievable speedy doddle. I – with memories still fresh of horrendous internal-NZ post-ship manoeuvres in earlier years – couldn’t believe my luck!
Of course, it was too good to last. There was no direct flight to Christchurch until the afternoon. The bloody something Princess cruise ship had docked an hour before us, and the cruisies had snaffled all the seats on the morning flights. I could go on the 11.40am stopping over at Palmerston North (Palmerston North for God’s sake!) and getting in at 3-something. Finally, the sweet lady behind the counter fished me up a ticket for the 10am to Wellington. There I shall have to change to another flight to Christchurch, getting in at 1.45pm. Total price, one way? $477.00. The price of a return ticket to Australia. Oh well. At least I’m on my way. And 1.45pm isn’t too bad. The sweet if expensive lady even rang Wendy for me…

And now they have just announced that the 10am flight is delayed … I can feel an hysterical laugh gurgling up inside me .. ah, its all right, its only a 20 minute delay and I have a 2 hour wait in Wellington, so its of little import… I shall sit here, shut my eyes and dream of ‘Suva’ and forget that I’m probably heading to a flooded farm, a frozen house and 4 months supply of letters that I don’t want. Sigh.

What? There are 300kmph winds powering between Wellington and Christchurch. After four months non-stop travelling through two hemispheres, am I going to hit the rough stuff minutes away from home? I’d better get my magic wand out again…

Sunday morning

You know, there must be something about that magic wand.

Sure, there were a few bumps lurking in the atmosphere to chuck our 138 seater down towards Wellington, then Christchurch .. but it wasn’t too bad.. and then blow me down if, just as we reached the last 10 minutes or so of the trip, the once gale winds dropped to a whisper, the solid white clouds vanished, and we floated into destination in bright sunshine!
By two o’clock I was on the road, direction Gerolstein … by half past two I was here. It took about two seconds for the place, the horses, the kitties to suddenly transform themselves from the half-dream they’d become in my brain back to solid reality … a slightly damp reality, because it really has rained torrents here recently, but this morning again the sun is out, Wendy is out jogging the horses, I am trying to organise the 200 emails, 100 letters and bills etc that were awaiting me, trying to upload the blog (a slow affair) and preparing to set off at 11am to be barman at the local race meeting ..
Life is back to semi-normal..


A nice autumnal Sunday at the Rangiora races, back in my old place behind the bar in the President’s Bar, meeting and greeting and pouring liquid down the throats of the day’s winners. The day’s action mightn’t have been the classiest bunch of races I’ve seen this year, but that didn’t matter: it was a fine, happy, good-fun New Zealand country race meeting. It also gave me the chance to catch up with all my local horsey pals – and it seems that my French articles in the Harness Racing Weekly have been somewhat of a hit! Even the chief Stipendiary Steward gave me a ‘rave review’!

Monday dawned fine again. I am still neck deep in the paperwork that has accumulated in the past four months, and determined to get it all settled at top speed, but ‘Roman’, our newest pensionnaire was about to have the first training swim of his life, so all hands were needed on the ropes. He tugged and he balked, but once he got into the pool he went at it with enormous vigour.
And I decided I couldn’t spend the whole of such a day indoors, so I went round to say ‘hello’ to all the ‘family’: the five foals, the five broodmares .. the Grand Duchess with no coat on, because she won’t let anyone near her .. except me. She obviously remembers her baby days when I fed her from a hand-held bucket. Lovely Elena who, thank goodness, looks as if she may finally have stopped growing and who started jogging ‘work’ today, along with little Barney who has grown so much I didn’t recognise him! He was back ‘in the cart’ for the first time since being broken in, and doing well.
Neddy too has shot up, but little wee Dobby won’t ever. Which isn’t stopping him being a promising racehorse. Then there’s handsome Ty (as in ‘phoon’), the girls, Merry and Justine .. the retired Boofie and dear old Dion .. and the rather nice new fellow.. seems like the population is still in the twenties!

But as always, Duchess, in spite of now being all grown up and a mother herself, manages to be the cutest photo subject. Here she is (right) with another mother, the very fast Tui (aka ‘Hot Blooded Woman’).

And now .. back to the paperwork.

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