Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Here I go again .. eventually?


My mother says that half the fun of a voyage is the planning of it.

I beg to disagree.

I’ve passed many a wakeful midnight during these last weeks over the arrangements for my next seven months. You see, I’m not one of that kind who can start out around the world (with one very small green suitcase and one even smaller red cabin bag) with a blank book. Not even this year when, I’ve decided, I shall not ‘guest’ myself upon friends old and new. Well, not so often as last year.

So, here is the plan. And it starts, already, with an imponderable. Groan.

The good ship the Gazellebank, Captain Peter Stapleton (see earlier blogs and pics ), was due to pick me up in Auckland 26 January 2008. At this moment, it’s re-scheduled for 14 February. And will, probably, unless Peter puts on the steam, not even make that. Which retards my arrival in Europe by at least 3 weeks. So my first adventure on the old Continent has been emasculated.

Now, I shall now arrive in Hamburg – after ten weeks on the high and low seas -- in late April, to be met by my dear friend Kevin (see blog) with whom I shall visit his birthplace, Berlin, before ending up in his present home town (see blog) of Amsterdam. From there, I am booked to fly, on 14 May, to Jersey.

In Jersey I am staying at the Bayview Guest House, St Helier. Yes, I’m in town this year. Sorry, Lucille of lovely Rocqueberg View, but my heart and feet are older now and last year’s shoes wore out. And I still fret about destruction of your umbrella (see blog).

From there, by two-part ferry (via Portsmouth) to the Isle of Wight for a lazy month of June at Hermitage Court Farm on St Catherine’s Downs. I and Red Ted’s (much) younger brother who will help me track down a few of my Victorian Vocalists in the island’s graveyards.

And then, on 1 July, France. That’s where I really want to be. So why have I tarried so long elsewhere? It’s partly the damned car-driving thing… I simply can’t drive again on the wrong side of the road. Hell, some people would say I can’t drive on the right side of the road… Especially roads with all those erratic touristy cars on them. Instead, I have to rely on the kindness of others.
So, what will I do, what do I want in France?
Umm. I wish.. I wish.. for a nice sixtyish gentleman (grin) to drive me around and help me find a new French home … At least, I think that’s what I want.
But, more realistically, I just hope to re-meet old and newer friends and almost-family, stay with (YES! but briefly) some darling people, and have a lovely French time…

Oh heck, mum is totally wrong. I loathe the planning, but I am looking forward to the places and the people.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lyndall says...


That its a perfectly good picture
That I look better at 12 stone than thirteen and a half
That she even believes she spies a muscle
Have I been at the horse feed?
And that I'm to put it on the blog pronto
so here it is

The Cavalcade of Red Ted


I left Nelson and mother at 7.45 this morning.

My wonderful little break was, I thought, at an end.

Good grief, I thought initially it was the other way round! HERE was supposed to be the break. But, no. I have some head getting-together to do.

I drove back south through mostly the same country as on the upward leg. Beautiful. Only a few of those beastly caravans and Maui trucks (may they be damned and banned for all time) to make one slam on the brakes. Four and a half hours instead of nearly six!. Did I speed? Red Ted can’t speed.

I don’t care much for driving. But today … cruising through the glories of NZ … hell, I was happy.
Twice in two days.
Ted seemed happy too. What would I do without him?
He did the ups and downs and fought off all sane challengers (NZ drivers are THE PITS and there would seem to be no speed limit except for me!)

I took petrol at Wakefield, a brief lunch at Hope Bridge – it had to be brief thanks to the scourge of NZ, sandflies! -- and arrived home to find… water pump problems. ARGGGH!
I’m going to bed

Dream trip over!

I have had such a happy time.

Could life perhaps always be like this?

Friday, January 11, 2008

My Father


When I go back to Richmond or Nelson, I’m not Kurt Friedrich Gänzl internationally famed, multi-award-winning author and blablabla…

I’m Dr Gallas’s son. Dr Fred Gallas, longtime headmaster of Waimea College, Richmond, and remembered with enormous respect (and occasionally just a little twinge of fear) by the many, many thousands of local boys and girls who attended the school during his long period at its head.
Even this week, leaning over the bars of the horse-yards at the racecourse … ‘YOU are Dr Gallas’s son…?!’
I sure am. And couldn’t be prouder of it.

This year was of course Waimea College’s fiftieth birthday, and the odd bit of uninformed twaddle found its way into print (as these things do) for the occasion. I could have reacted, but I didn’t bother.

If only those people knew the truth. And (chuckle) if only those thousands of boys and girls could have looked into the box of photos my mother gave me yesterday, and seen their benignly stern ‘Victorian’ headmaster when he was in his teens and early twenties.

Mountaineer, international skier, gymnast, health and fitness teacher, Ph D (and half a dozen other sets of letters) … and heck, how come I never inherited those good looks, not to mention that elevation….!

My wonderful father. God bless him.

An Anniversary Day at the Races

I first discovered harness racing at the age of 11. My father had been appointed as the inaugural principal of brand new Waimea College, Richmond, Nelson, and in January 1957 the family removed from Wellington to Richmond. An 11 year-old is a bit of a pain when carpets and furniture are being unpacked, so I was allowed to wander down to see what was going so colourfully on down at the Agricultural and Pastoral Society’s grounds. What father didn’t realise, until some time later, was that the A&P grounds contain Richmond racetrack, and ‘what was going on’ was not a country fair but the Nelson Harness Racing Club’s summer meeting. That was the day I first got hooked on the sport. And, I suppose, if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t now have the farm of 'Gerolstein' and all its horses, I wouldn’t have been the proud achiever of 28 racing wins. There would have been no Davey Crockett, no Master Ado, no Lite Gasp, and, Zeus forbid, no Elena de Gerolstein. I’d be a lot richer. But much less happier.

It wasn’t till I started telling someone how long ago I’d first come racing in Richmond that it hit me. Today was my half century. Fifty years exactly from my first glimpse of Rosyth, Somerset Lad and the world of harness racing. Well, it turned out to be a truly wonderful ‘birthday’. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed myself at the races so much.

All the old Nelson/Richmond pals from the 1990s were there, and we had joyous reunions. All the horsey pals from down the years were there … who would miss Nelson? … and in holiday mode. None of the ‘rush to Addington on a windy Friday night, run your horse and get home as quickly as possible’. Here, everyone is happy to linger.
Wayne Higgs, who trained all my early horses for me, was there with a team. He’d grinned to me not long ago that he would win a dozen races on the holiday circuits this year. So I passed the news on to my punting friends. I’m afraid they scoffed. Well, I’m here to say that Wayne took out three races on 11 January alone, and at tidy odds too!
And Murray Edmonds, who drove our dear Davey Crockett at Nelson one year (he came 4th, I have the video) and now trains my Wanda, Fritzl and Seppl: as every year, he was there with a tidy team, including my Gwen’s half-brother, Boomdiddiboom, and her ‘nephew’, Ronnie Coute.
None of mine, alas. I’m having what’s politely called a fallow period, but I get just as much fun watching the rest of the red-white-and-yellow horses running. With Murray, Wayne and the other pals there in force, I always had at least two or three horses to cheer on per race.
And, of course, there was ‘Chrissie’. Chrissie is Konni Kase, and she’s trained and driven by Wendy’s sister, Jan. She’s five now, and hasn’t really shown anything on the track since a promising first start, way back. But she had trialled well last week, so hope was in the air.
Well, Wayne hit hard and first with his triple whammy. And Murray almost pipped the redhot expensively-bought favourite with a once wild beast named Barmy Army. I took my photo an instant too soon .. he got even closer than in this picture.

Ronnie ran very well for fourth (he will be hot fave on day two after that!), and Boom just behind him in his usual honest 6th, so Gwen and Duchess’s ‘family’ were far from disgraced.
Then it was Chrissie’s turn. Here she is parading in the birdcage before the race: she’s grown into a fine specimen.

I needed six eyes for this race, the Hoani Jack Cup, because, apart from Chrissie, my friends Erin and Arkie had a new horse running, and old pal Les St Clair had one in too. But of course, I watched Chrissie. She’d drawn 17, so she was lastish when they settled. But Jan took her courage in her hands, looped the field three wide, put the horse handy and Chrissie ran on stoutly to finish sixth just 3 lengths from the winner and just a length off getting in the money! That’s her on the outside, in the yellow jacket. She’s making ground all the time, and was closer by the end. Oh, and by the way, she was the rank outsider of the field, paying 100-1! Not next time!

This picture however, tells a further tale. That one sneaking through on the inside to win the race – that’s Fire Dancer aka ‘Erin’, and the one pushing through the middle to second? That’s Les’s horse! So Erin and Arkie got to take home the Hoani Jack Cup, and the remaining races of the day passed in a flood of joy, great company and cold chardonnay, under the glorious Nelson sunshine.

Yes, this is why I got into harness racing. Why have I stopped doing this thought of thing? Well, I know why I stopped. But now, I must start again ... next summer Red Ted the Suzuki Alto is going to have to work a bit more for his living!

And so my anniversary day, Johnny’s birthday, was a splendid one, finishing with a quiet little supper and a nice bottle of local wine with mother, and -- oh, bliss! -- a good night’s sleep. So, who thought he’d never be happy again…?

A Trip Northwards ... and back in time

January 11 2008 was brother John’s 58th birthday. January 11 2008 was also the Nelson Harness Racing Club’s summer meeting. And I wanted to spend a day or two with mother, before, in a few weeks, I head off back to Europe. Mother just happens to live directly opposite Richmond racecourse.
So what more logic than for us to spend Johnny’s birthday together, and of course take in a bit of summery harness racing.
Just to make this trip all the more logical, Nicho from Germany (and Barraba Station) has been staying with us, and has as yet seen of New Zealand only Sefton, horse racing and Mount Cook. So what more suitable than for him to ride with me the 400 kilometres from Gerolstein to Richmond and, from there, bus, hitch and walk his way back to Christchurch in time to catch his plane for Stuttgart at the end of the month.
And so, on January 10, the little red car (which, these days, isn’t used to doing much more than a short sprint to the shops or the racetrack) was rolled out of its bed at 7am, and off we set in a mild grey Canterbury drizzle.
What I didn’t realise was that it would turn out, for me, to be much more than a simple car trip.
Only once in the past five years have I driven over what used to be the familiar road between Canterbury and Nelson. The road that, in the 1990s, Ian and I scooted regularly up and down, from our cottage in St Arnaud, happily following our horses round the Canterbury racetracks or fulfilling various lecturing and book-related dates. What memories there were, round every corner of the road.
Happily, as we approached the Lewis Pass, the point in the mountainous’ backbone’ of New Zealand’s South Island where you cross out of the Canterbury plains, the clouds vanished and the sun came out, so for the second half of our trip we saw the Buller and Nelson provinces at their best. I’d somehow forgotten (how could I?) just how beautiful New Zealand’s countryside is.
We stopped at the impressive Maruia Falls for soda water and a choc-bar. More memories. A visit there with Ian ten years ago. And much further back, as children, Johnny and I with our parents. It hasn’t changed. Except at last they’ve put signs up so you don’t miss it. And a toilet and picnic table and a proper track to the riverside! But in true New Zealand Dept of Conservation manner: no rubbish bin. (Well, someone would have to empty it. Official answer!).

I’ve never wanted to go back to Lake Rotoiti and the village of St Arnaud, where I spent so many weekends of my childhood climbing and skiing, and where Ian and I had a small holiday farm for something like a decade. But Nicho needed to see it, so I bit the bullet and detoured. The lake first. It must be over half a century since I first paddled in its waters.
It too is, of course, the same. Its deep blue waters, its pebbled ‘beach’, and the friendly mountains, naked of snow at this time of year. I must be getting old and kindly. I ever felt warmth towards toward the happy families picnicking messily (no DOC wastebin) on the strand, until one little girl decided it would be fun to frighten the ducks (the same ones, I’m sure, from 50 years ago). She now knows that frightening ducks is not funny. Especially in a National Park.
I got Nicho to take a picture of me in the same place where I had one taken in my childhood, and I intended to put the Then and the Now up here together. But I can’t find the Then, and I take a lousy photo Now, so here’s Nicho instead.

From the lake we drove out through St Arnaud village. Much of it is the same, but the new village hall has at last been built (it looks more like an aircraft factory) and some grotty ‘developer’ has shoved a dozen or so tatty chalets onto what used to be one paddock on the edge of the (tiny) burg. A ghastly eyesore. And then, a couple of kilometres down the road, Fernenland. Our sometime wee house and 62 acres. I didn’t mean not to look, and anyway the buildings and gardens are hidden behind the National Trust mini-forest (my donation) that lines the road. I just clocked the fact that the trees had grown hugely since our time, and plunged onwards. Too many memories can be too many.

Through the vast Golden Down forests, on the road we used to take each week to buy supplies in Wakefield (a wonderful butcher) and Richmond. Alas, the butcher has sold up and his little shop is now a garish block of commerces. My friendly garagiste, too, has gone into retirement, but his successor has spruced the place up nicely. We press on.

At the bottom of the main street of Richmond, Nicho piled out with his backpack and headed for the busstop. And I turned in the other direction, to Villa 40, Oakwoods Village, and a whole lot more memories.