Archive for February, 2005

Local knowledge

Monday, February 28th, 2005


Sunday morning arrived promising a hot day and, after spending the previous evening at the Lantern Festival with thousands of Chinese, Europeans, Maori and tourists, I was ready for a quieter day with a few less folks for company. Having called ahead the previous day, I had arranged to spend the day in the company of Steve and Rita, parents of a friend and colleague with whom I work in London.

After Steve collected me from the motel, we took a drive out through the east of the city to the lovely new home they had only just moved into a few days prior. There, whilst taking in the view from their dining room window, we chatted about work and employment prospects before moving onto the more important matters of rugby and beer. Looking out across the trees and rooftops of the neighbourhood and the blue waters of Okahu Bay, we could see the North Shore and the tip of the Sky Tower above the CBD. Having discussed the relative merits of the Northern and Southern hemisphere style of play and painfully agreed that England were far from showing anything like their world championship form, we commenced a tour of Auckland’s suburbs, circling the city in a slow clockwise fashion. When you’re new in town and needing to get up to speed quickly, it is hard to beat local knowledge and Steve, as a local resident and businessman, knew his stuff. From the respective merits and earthquake resistance of the varying building methods to local schools and shopping areas, all were covered in detail, giving me a solid grounding in what each area has to offer. However, the afternoon wasn’t all hard facts and data, with Steve pointing out some of the more swanky multi-million dollar homes around the city, throwing in nuggets of local history and folklore for good measure. During our drive, I notched up a notable ‘first’ when I was introduced to that pinnacle of Kiwi cuisine, the pie. Long held as a surefire hangover cure and staple of the hardworking Kiwi, the steak pie I chose proved to be as tasty and satisfying as any I’ve had – and perhaps, just maybe, a bit more besides. Towards the end of our circular tour, we took a run north, out to the fruit and vegetable farms beyond Greenhithe and North Harbour. Steve, with a fervour bordering on the evangelical, was keen for me to experience the taste of the freshly picked local produce and pulling into a roadside farm shops, he questioned farmers closely about the provenance of the produce on sale. At one stop, hearing what I first thought to be a South African twang in the farmer’s voice, I asked where he was from. “I’m a Kiwi, mate” he said, adding after a well timed pause “but I came here from Croatia 30 years ago.” He went on to explain that, by skipping school to go out to work instead, he never had his original accent schooled out of him and had managed to retain a fair degree of the old country in his voice. After discussing the intricacies of an eggplant recipe passed to him by a Turkish migrant worker and the marlin poaching exploits of a Croatian friend of mine, we departed with fresh eggplant, tomatoes and corn on the cob with which to make a Sunday supper.

Back at the house, I met Steve’s wife, Rita, who had just returned home from work. After a couple of cold beers to take the edge off our thirst and unable to convince Rita to join us, we ambled down the hill passed a packed bowls tournament and an equally well-attended touch rugby competition to Okahu Bay for my first swim in the Pacific. Warning Steve that exposing my pale European flesh had been known to cause children and women to scream in horror, we piled our shirts and towels on our shoes and waded out through the gloriously warm shallows until we were able to dive in and swim amongst the moored yachts and families kayaking back and forth. Most of the bays here cater well for those seeking respite and relaxation in the evenings and weekends, with tree-shaded grass, clean showers and toilets and picnic tables for those choosing to dine al fresco. Watching families having their evening meals and few ‘cold ones’ whilst watching local biathletes compete nearby, it is hard not to be seduced by it all and imagine that life here is always like this. That said, the Kiwis seem far more geared up for such things and although New Zealand has very low unemployment at this time and an increasingly energetic economy, one senses that here, the ‘work to live, don’t live to work’ ethos is well and truly engrained in the national psyche.

After a slow uphill tramp during which we both puffed and panted in an effort to convince ourselves that we had exercised extensively and deserved more beer, we rejoined Rita to settle on the deck in the warm afternoon sun. The talk ranged from work to families to why we’re considering emigration and back again, taking in a small modicum of politics and religion for good measure along the way. Showing off pictures of the family I have left back home made me feel a little sad that I wasn’t able to share this with them but also served as a reminder that this trip wasn’t about sightseeing and I should cherish the weekends because weekdays were all about finding employment opportunities to pursue. We ate a lovely roast chicken supper in the dining room with the view I had admired earlier. As we talked and laughed, the sun slowly set, gradually turning the scudding white clouds numberless shades of red and pink before disappearing to leave the lights across the bay twinkling and the tip of the Sky Tower peeking between the trees on the crest of the next ridge. After supper, we settled down in the living room to watch Billy Connolly’s World Tour Of New Zealand on television. I have to admit there is something slightly off-balance about watching a humourous travelogue about a country you are currently travelling in, having seen it previously whilst planning the very same trip. It was good to find that Connolly’s risque observations of the Kiwis and their islands seemed equally funny to the ‘natives’ as to us Poms and was a fine way to round off a great day and relaxing evening.

On the way back to my modest motel, we drove along Paritai Drive which seems to be the Auckland equivalent of Bel Air with some truly opulent houses, complete with security gates, illuminated steps and walkways though, it has to be said, mostly dark uninhabited windows gazing unblinkingly over the bay. Having taken in every conceivable type of house and home on our round-city tour, I settled down for the night wondering whether there was a nice, affordable, well-located home somewhere that had our name on it. If there was, it would mean relocating a family of six and all their worldly goods halfway round the world and, in order for that to happen, the hunt for a job and a visa needed to resume first thing in the morning.

Gone bush, mate

Saturday, February 26th, 2005

Waitakere Ranges and Helensville

Considering I didn’t arrive until Tuesday, I have had a pretty busy week and managed to stave off the worst of the jet lag to accomplish a fair amount in three days before folks closed for the weekend. This being the case and with little I could practicably do on the job front, I decided to indulge in some rest and recuperation.

After sorting out my laundry, which consisted of collecting it from the Chinese laundry across the road, I packed my bags, checked out of my room and drove out of the city, heading west. Actually, I drove out of the city heading north because I missed the turning for SH16 and had to follow SH1 over the harbour bridge before I could find an exit that would allow me to backtrack. However, this little navigational error afforded me the great view one gets heading south into Auckland over the bridge. Taking in the harbour with seemingly thousands of yacht masts pointing skyward, set against a background of towers and buildings beyond, there’s no doubt as to why Auckland calls itself the City Of Sails. Heading in the right direction, I headed towards the Waitakere Regional Park which stretches from the western fringe of Auckland all the way to the West Coast. Free of the strip developments and suburbs, I took snaking roads up into these low hills, snatching great views through the foliage here until I pulled into the Arataki Visitor Centre. Here was a very well thought out centre, whose entrance walkway on stilts curled through the bush plants to suddenly reveal a superb vista overlooking the bush falling away down to the blue waters of Manukau Harbour. Inside, informative displays explained not only the facts concerning the local flora and fauna but the settlement and land use by Maori and Europeans over the years. I moved on over the Waitakere Ranges to Piha, a small settlement of houses and baches (summer homes, often on or near beaches) that plays host to families and surfers escaping the city. The dark-coloured beaches sparkle here and, judging from the look of things, are made up of something like iron ore sand.

From Piha, which is the end of the road, I backtracked to the scenic drive route and drove down into the rolling farmlands to the north of the park. These reminded me somewhat of Virginia in the US, which small farms nestling under wooded bluffs and long straight stretches of road drawing one onto the next crest. I stopped in Kumeu for lunch at a cafe in a garden centre. In the UK, this would usually mean pretty meager fare but at The Carriages (part of the dining area is comprised of two railway carriages) served up what was the best meal I have had so far on this trip. Eating seared scallops with parma ham on grilled ciabatta with cucumber salad and chopped tomatoes with a small glass of wine on a warm sunny terrace, I tried imagine the whole family here with me and found that the image came easily – it may be wishful thinking but who knows? After lunch, I headed to Helensville for no other reason that it would make a good turning point to head back east and then south later in the afternoon. Upon arriving, I found that I had turned up on the day of the town’s Agricultural and Pastoral show, an affair similar to English county shows. I wandered around this, taking in the usual sights like lovingly restored farm machinery, country dancing displays, sheep dog trials and show jumping, as well as the less familiar like a pen full of alpaca, junior bungee jumping and a truly wonderful open air unisex hairdressing salon.

After the drive back to the motel, I spent time uploading pictures to Flikr before heading out to a heaving downtown where AO5, the Auckland City Festival and the Lantern Festival celebrating the new Chinese Lunar Year were both in full swing. Having finally found a parking space, I wandered around Albert Park eating satay and rice whilst watching acrobats and dancers and browsing the stalls. I walked back to the car via the square by the City Hall where open air performances where in full swing but by then I was running on empty. Watching opera singers dangling from cranes and balconies seemed a little too surreal for my knackered mind to cope with so I headed back for a cold beer, a chat with the family and sleep.


Friday, February 25th, 2005

Auckland CBD

If the truth be told, my real first impression of Auckland was how loud the noise of the local cicadas was outside my room … and in the domain where I run … and Albert Park where the local Chinese population are preparing a latern festival to celebrate their New Year tonight. High pitched and annoying at first, this sound has gradually become the background music of my time here and I have grown to like the constancy it provides me whilst away from familiar surroundings.

For those used to London’s extensive public transport system, Auckland’s mass transit system is fairly rudimentary considering that a quarter of the country’s population is based in and around the city. However, as is often the way with these things, what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for by the quality. Take the bus service I have been using. Called ‘The Link’, it is the Auckland street equivalent to London’s Circle tube line, encircling all the major parts of the Central Business District and it’s surrounding neighbourhoods with buses that run both clockwise and anti-clockwise at 10 minute intervals. The drivers are friendly and seem to be real characters, flirting with the staff who get on at the City Hospital and keeping a stern yet fatherly eye on the grammar school kids who use the bus. I’m sure that the fact that the drivers are not encased in the armoured glass that is sadly necessary in London is partly the reason folks seem to go out of their way to smile and thank the driver when the leave the bus. Yesterday, when I jumped aboard his bus for the third time that day to head back into the CBD after a dash back to the motel for papers, the walrus-moustached Maori driver looked over his mirror shades at me, raised an eyebrow and said ‘Forget something, mate?’ before cracking a wide smile.

Apart from taking the odd bus and running each day, I have walked pretty much everywhere and it has been an excellent way to really get a feel for the layout and make up of the city. At first glance, the individual lapboard houses and the wide smooth asphalt streets lined with trees are reminiscent of small town America but the tall palms and pohutukawa trees, the voices of the locals and the cars driving on the left are all indicators that make it clear that New Zealand is very different and very not-anywhere-else. The hot and humid weather with brief tropical showers is very pleasant when not wearing a suit and tie and the sun is deceptively strong, as my pink forehead proves. It would seem that, other than a few backpacking Brits I saw yesterday, I am the only person in this city who doesn’t have a tan and perspires as soon as I step outside the door; that said, it’s better than being in the snow back home right now. The weather seems to engender the easygoing relaxed demeanour that I have found in almost every person I have met. This attitude and behaviour is all the more beguiling because it seems more mellow/less brash than the ‘no worries, mate’ directness of the neighbouring Aussies. Observing folks on the streets, in stores and in bars and restaurants, I notice that society here seems to be a little more balanced than elsewhere, with young and old, European settler and Maori mixing without the class-ridden self-consciousness of the Brits or the status symbol awareness of the Americans. Office workers happily sit alongside street cleaners on a shady bench to eat their lunch snacks and exchange a few words before returning to their respective labours.

Meanwhile, back on the emigration front, I have spent much of the last two days meeting with recruiters, filling out forms and talking over my employment prospects here in NZ. Apart from the friendliness of the folks, the process is much the same as back home and has meant a couple of hours on the computer and phone each day following up meetings and planning next moves. Luckily, I seem to have weathered the worst of the jet lag and have managed to present a bright and relatively sparky ‘me’ to the folks I have seen. In between these meetings, I visited a lovely person called Brenda at the WestPac Bank in Queen Street. Brenda had called SWMBO some months back after getting our contact details when we visited an NZ expo in the UK last year and has proved to be a very helpful contact to have. Unlike the UK, where one needs their grandmother’s birth certificate, a gas bill and the cat’s inside leg measurement, opening a bank account in NZ is simplicity itself – so much so that I somehow managed to acquire one whilst chatting to Brenda about immigration and money matters.

Whilst nothing concrete has emerged yet, a couple of leads have cropped up and, for this reason, I have decided to stay in Auckland over the weekend and for a few days next week in order to follow these up. As I am only booked into my current room until tomorrow, I have taken the opportunity to book a room in a motel just up the road for the next few days. The room I have is fine if a little basic but the 14k Internet connection is absolutely awful and I have been unable reliably connect to my mail, my FTP or blog servers let alone upload my pictures to Flickr. If SWMBO is reading, the fact that the motel has a bar and seafood restaurant had nothing to do with my booking a room there so if these turn up on my bill, it’ll be an admin error. Honest.

Note: The Wallabies fans out there might like to know that the spellchecker of Blogjet (the app I use to post these articles) offers the word ‘Pussies’ as an alternative for ‘Aussies’. I pass this on without comment for information only.

I'm here but my bodyclock's not

Thursday, February 24th, 2005


Having settled into my room at the lodge (motel), the first thing I did was go for a run. This is probably the last thing on most folks mind when they hit town having flown halfway round the world but it seemed as good to banish the stiff legs and check out the local neighbourhood at the same time. The local neighbourhood turned out to be like a lot of Auckland – hilly. No matter which way I turned, I seemed to be running uphill so after half an hour, I called it quits and headed back to shower. After doing so and grabbing a cool drink, I picked up my contacts book to make a few calls. One of the things I did in preparation for this trip was harvest as many Kiwi contacts as possible from friends and colleagues so I can meet local folks and get a feel for normal family life in NZ. Linda and Gideon are just such folks. When I rang to introduce myself, Linda immediately asked if I was up for company and promptly invited me to dinner when I said ‘yes’, saying that she’d be by to pick me up in an hour. At the duly appointed time, I was standing on the corner outside my lodge when I heard my name called across the street and turned to see someone waving, smiling and beckoning me to join them. Proferring hastily-purchased flowers and chocolates, I crossed over the road and was whisked away on a brief tour of the delights of Tamaki Drive and Mission Bay whilst Linda remotely organised the family preparing the evening meal back home via her cell phone. Given that I am a previously never mentioned husband-of-a-friend-of-a-sister, Linda and Gideon, along with their children Sarah, David and Amy, were gracious in their hospitality and I very much enjoyed their company over a pleasant dinner. As they had sagely prophesied earlier, the minute the meal hit my system and I sat back in the living room with a cup of tea – having wisely eschewed alcohol since London – my eyes grew heavy and I started to lose the thread of the conversation. As the minutes passed, my mind seemed to be undergoing a gradual shutdown and the harder I tried to concentrate, the more elusive clear thought became. Spotting my declining mental and physical state, my kind and understanding hosts simply guided me to the car and drove me back to my lodge. Once there, it took all my will power to stay awake long enough to make a slurred ‘good morning’ call to SWMBO and the sprogs before hitting the bed like a redwood toppled by a lumberjack’s axe. So, on my first day in a country that I have long planned to visit, my first impression was the dent I left in the mattress.

In Transit

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2005

London Heathrow

After heart-wrenchingly tearful goodbyes with the family at home, I was not in the brightest of moods or thinking clearly when I arrived at the Emirates check-in desk. The agent looked weary after a long day but was pleasant and helpful, advising me that that I needed to transfer some of the weightier items in my gargantuan carry-on bag into my suitcase for, despite my concerns regarding paying for excess baggage, it was the carry-on that was the concern. After more than a little soul searching, I wrapped my laptop and my two folders of paperwork in clothes, zipped up the case and consigned the case to the care of the handlers and loaders. It was as it had irretrievably disappeared down the conveyer that I put my hand in my pocket – to find that the padlock for the case was still attached to the key on my key chain. With grim thoughts of luggage larceny and sobbing sprogs, I wandered off to kill the time before I boarded. After another lump-in-the-throat call to SWMBO, I was surprised by how low I felt and wondered why. After all, I was heading off to the other side of the world with great intentions to help provide those I was leaving behind with a better life. A beep from my belt signalled a text from SWMBO which almost reduced me to tears but said exactly what I needed to hear and set me up for the weeks ahead.

London to Dubai

The nose wheel camera view on my seat back screen was great but it was hard to focus on the image as the guy in the seat in front was constantly bouncing up and down. This performance was accompanied by the incessant kicking of my seat back by a willful child behind who was deaf to both my requests to cease and her mother’s. The unholy trinity of annoying neighbours was completed by the guy next to me. It appeared that he had grabbed a copy of each of the many free newspapers as he boarded and was trying to speed-read each page before moving onto the next paper.

These distractions aside, the first leg of the flight was a breeze. I passed the time either reading Annie Proulx’s ‘That Old Ace In The Hole’, which I’m enjoying, or watching on-demand movies on Emirates’ ICE system (Information; Communication; Entertainment – in-flight info; phone, email & SMS; movies, music and TV). I found the humorous mid-life meanderings of ‘Sideways’ to be just what I needed to raise my mood but found the Robin Williams vehicle ‘The Final Cut’ to be over-wrought second rate sci-fi nonsense. The choice of food was surprisingly good for economy and the Middle Eastern lamb dish I plumped for was notable for it’s taste as much as the large and succulent chunks of meat – top marks.

After eating and acting on my colleague’s advice, I stayed awake through the night and the rest of the leg deliberately, in order to hopefully induce sleep on the longest leg.

Dubai UAE

I am not sure whether I can actually claim to have visited the United Arab Emirates, for my sojourn in Dubai was brief – just under 45 minutes plane to plane – and hectic due to frantic passengers being repeatedly required to walk through incredibly sensitive arch detectors. I took every piece of metal from my person and the blasted thing still beeped. Having narrowed the possibilities to my trouser zip, fillings in my teeth or surgical steel pins in my leg, I was allowed to dash for my next plane.

Dubai to Auckland

Notebook entry written at gate: Feel tired but OK though I imagine that I will grow to hate my [next] seat after 12hr+ to Sydney and the last leg to Auckland.

Whilst Dubai security was preoccupied with my dangerous trousers and teeth and I was jotting notes, Saint Christopher was busy having a change of heart for, boarding for the long slog across the Indian Ocean, I was ushered to a lovely aisle seat, just behind the business class bulkhead. My neighbour, a thrusting young entrepreneur from Pakistan who is building a sports goods empire in Sydney, and I grinned like lottery winners as we stretched out our legs and settled in for the (very literally) long haul.

I passed the long hours with a series of cat naps punctuated by half-watched movies, the odd meal, regular offers of chilled water and a few attempts at getting my eyes to focus on my book. Somewhere over the Indian Ocean, beyond the Equator and south east of Jakarta, I glanced at the screen to see BBC Worldwide News announce the death by apparent suicide of Hunter S Thompson. This seemed strangely apt as the long hours with little rest had induced in me a weird drug-like stupor worthy of one of Thompson’s gonzo characters. Equally fitting of a place in an HST novel was the incredibly rude Englishwoman who, along with her bloated husband, took great pleasure in moaning about everything and making sniping remarks to the crew. She seemed totally unaware of quite how infantile and self-centred she sounded when, after being asked to pull her seat upright to allow meals to be served behind, she snapped back with “I’ve been sitting down for 12 hours, you know” oblivious to the fact that so had the rest of us whilst the crew had been on their feet looking after us. Elsewhere, I fell into sporadic conversation with the woman who, despite a full-blown Kiwi accent, emigrated from the West Midlands of the UK just five years before. Those who have heard the West Midlands accent will know that replacing it with another is no mean feat! This woman must be a saint because she made the whole trip with her charming one year old son (who was remarkably well behaved for the circumstances) on her lap without once raising her voice or losing her cool. During the early morning descent into Sydney, I suddenly became aware of the sound of a dawn chorus of twittering bird. After establishing that it wasn’t my iPod playing up, I realised that it was being broadcast softly over the PA system, presumably to signal the break of day to bodyclocks addled by lack of sleep. Sadly, this calming interlude was shattered by twin Arab boys, who screamed blue murder all the way down to the terra firma in Sydney.

After disembarking into a hot and humid Sydney terminal to allow fuelling and cleaning, I called the family and enjoyed the sound of happy sprogs who excitedly announced that it had snowed since I left. After catching up on news, I re-boarded for the comparatively short hop over the Tasman Sea to Auckland. The clouds over the North Island shone brilliantly in the sun and, seeing them stretch out southwards in great narrow wisps, it was not hard to understand how the Maori had come to name the island (see title of January 22nd’s post). The long flight had taken its toll and I felt a little subdued as I navigated Customs, Biosecurity (to prevent importation of biologically threatening organic materials) and Immigration. However, as I exited the terminal and headed into a cloudy but warm Auckland afternoon, I couldn’t help smiling: I was about to begin a trip that I had been planning for a good long while, one that could change our family life dramatically. Wondering if I could pull it off and whether the outcome could be as good as we have hoped, I pulled into the traffic on highway 20A and headed north to Auckland.

Locked and loaded

Sunday, February 20th, 2005

I had to adopt a ruthless approach to packing in order to bring some order and reduce the weight of this morning’s first attempt (left) to this afternoon’s more acceptable result (right). As well as jettisoning a pair of shoes, a travel guide and a few other bits, I bit the bullet and transferred the lovingly pressed suits and shirts to the main case so I could shed the suiter. I’m now praying for a forgiving check-in agent as I’m still a shade over my limit.

Luggage Luggageafter

Well, with the bags packed and a friend offering a lift to the station later, I’m off for to loaf on the couch watching a DVD and enjoy a roast dinner with the loved ones I’m leaving behind for the duration. The Man Upstairs and weather gods permitting, the next post will be from Auckland.

Doors to manual.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Adia/Sarah McLachlan

In Kupe's wake

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

“New Zealand was the last place in the world to be settled by humans and its isolation and freedom from human interference came it a unique natural environment. The first settlers in New Zealand were the Maori who came from Polynesia. Their arrival from their homeland of Hawaiki is celebrated in myths and legends carried down by word of mouth through successive generations. The Polynesians were master navigators, using the stars, the direction of sea birds in flight, cloud patterns and the colour of the water as guides to make journeys throughout the Pacific Ocean.

Kupe © Flat Earth

The great navigator, Kupe was the probably the first man to sight New Zealand around 950 AD and then returned home to tell of his findings. He named the country he discover the Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. A few centuries later, around 1350 AD, a great migration of people from Kupe’s homeland of Hawaiki, following his navigational instructions, set sail for New Zealand. They came in seven great migratory canoes, Waka, built to withstand heavy seas and able to carry many people and their possessions over great distances. Present-day tribes still trace their origins to the various canoes and their descendants will still take you to the very spot described by tradition as the first landfall.”

Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis –

With a day to go before leaving, I woke up with a strange sense of anti-climax. Sitting down at the PC this morning to do my usual weekly round up of NZ-related mails and paperwork, it suddenly occurred to me that, with the weekend half over down-under, there is really nothing more to be done online before I arrive in Auckland on Tuesday. With this realisation, years of talking, months of research and weeks of preparations have finally brought me to a point we wasn’t even sure we’d get to. Somewhere along the way, between the first inkling that we might find a better life elsewhere and this, the eve of the trip, we have crossed an indefinable line; the line between dreaming and doing. Given that it is all unknown territory from here on in, I am feeling fairly relaxed and have few worries about the weeks to come, although the thought of being away from the family for three weeks is nagging at me, despite the fact that they are the reason for this whole venture. I’ll admit to a small concern for SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) having to cope with the four sprogs on her own, as previous trips have been peppered with pleas for long-distance telephone discipline for them and soothing words for her. I once ducked out of a seminar in Atlanta to receive a ten-minute lecture on how leaving a Fun Lovin’ Criminals CD with ‘Parental Advisory’ lyrics lying about whilst packing had led to a sprog asking SWMBO what ‘fucked up’ meant in front of company.

I’m interested to see how I cope with spending 24 hours on a plane without going nuts through boredom. However, the real concern I have is being seated next to the passenger from hell with no spare seats to escape. A few years back, on a fully booked flight back from Washington DC, I was seated next to a very pleasant but absolutely enormous lady who ‘overflowed’ into my seat, having neglected to book the requisite extra seat stipulated by the airline. This oversight necessitated me spending the whole eight hours perched on my right buttock, occasionally waking her to ask if she could lift her midriff so that I could get to the seat arm controls. Elsewhere, a Kiwi friend has advised on me on a sleep strategy that will minimise the jet lag. So, after setting my watch to local time as I always do, my aim is to stay awake until we transit Dubai, then try and sleep through the transpacific leg between Dubai and Sydney, hopefully leaving me ready for the last hop to Auckland. As for occupying my time, I’m still pondering the book choices because there’s nothing worse than getting 40 pages into a book only to find it’s no good and you’ve nothing else to read. The iPod is loaded with 1600 songs and I’m sincerely hoping there’ll be something other than a Jennifer Aniston rom-com to watch on my head rest screen.

With such ephemera sorted, it is a pity that the same cannot be said about the more tangible stuff like packing. I am pretty laid back when it comes to packing and rarely get worked up about it – which seems to drive SWMBO mad. That said, I am lucky in that SWMBO usually has a marathon laundry session the week before I leave, ensuring that if I get run over by a taxi in a foreign land, I’ll at least have clean underwear. After more than a few business trips, I have a good idea of what needs to be packed. To avoid leaving essentials behind, I use a number of packing lists as aides memoire; one for my suitcase, one for my garment bag and another for my laptop/briefcase. Even so, the bedroom looks like an explosion in a garment factory and yet, here I am, I’m sitting at the PC recovering from the inevitable ironing that needed to be done before stuff gets packed. On occasion, I have tried unsuccessfully to convince myself that there is no point in ironing clothes that are going to be crammed into suitcases on the flimsy premise that they will undoubtedly need ironing again at the destination. This is just as well because had I not ironed my dress shirts I wouldn’t have discovered that one of our cats had decorated two of them with muddy footprints. When all is said and done, if something needs sorting out or packing then I’m confident I’ll get round to it at some point before I head for the airport – after I have finished blogging and downloading tracks to my iPod, of course.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Low Down/Boz Scaggs

Please switch channels

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

The distinct lack of posts here recently is dealt with in my latest post over on my No.8 Wire blog.  To make life simpler for me and you, I am pretty sure that most of my blogging activity over the next three to four weeks, whilst I am driving across New Zealand, will be there rather than here.  I hope folks who are regulars here will understand that, whilst I love writing and blogging, family comes first right now and this trip could mean a better future for my family.  I hope to be able to post to No.8 Wire periodically and that what I post there is as enjoyable as the usual bignoseduglyguy stuff.

I’m off to pack my bags and look for my passport.

Putting in the hours

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Since the last post, I have been leading what, to all intents and purposes, constitutes a double life. By day, I have been holding down my usual job and, for the last two weeks, standing in for my boss as well. This has kept me pretty busy, meaning that my eyes are often closing by the end of each evening’s tube journey. Consequently, I arrive home ready to crash out on the sofa and do very little. Sadly, this is rarely what happens. Instead, after a brief hello to the family and the odd chore, I retire to the spare room to pick up the threads of my other life – that of a potential émigré and job seeker. Whilst I will admit to a ‘belt and braces’ tendency to over-plan, it has been a long month; one typified by long evenings at the PC reading web sites, sending emails and, of late, making calls and confirming bookings. As from Sunday, my existence will one of a peripatetic serial interviewee and even I had underestimated the level of activity I have had to maintain in order to maximise my time in-country and ensure that I give myself the best chance of success.

Working with recruiters after such a long spell with one employer is an education. It seems that if they are not generating supreme positivity and enthusing and one’s CV, they are out of the office, or on a call or somehow otherwise indisposed. As a hiring manager myself, I understand the mechanisms of the recruitment process and am fully aware that a good recruitment consultant can make all the difference. Like estate agents, each wants you to commit to them and them alone, issuing dire warnings of conflict of interest and ‘client overlap’ if you even hint that you may be talking to another. However, if one is travelling 11682 miles to seek a new life, it would be foolish to leave things to just one or two people. That said, I think of myself as an honest person with some integrity and so have tried to ensure that any overlap, in terms of geography or market, has been kept to a minimum. As the trip draws closer, I have started whittling the list down, favouring those who keep in touch and who are showing an active interest. So far, all the strongest leads are, not surprisingly, centred around Auckland and Wellington, with a number of solid prospects that bear further investigation. We shall see what transpires soon enough.

It hasn’t all been hard sell and powerbroking though. Much fun and games have been had trying to find the best car hire deal. Having called pretty much anyone who rent cars in New Zealand, it soon became clear that the big name firms were looking most likely to offer a decent deal on my three week north-runs-south one-way rental.


click to enlarge

As shown in the map above, my intended route – which alters daily – means that I need to need to cross the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands. To avoid the hassle of shipping one-way rentals back across the Strait, hire firms require renters like me to leave the car at their Wellington port office, cross as a foot passenger and pick up another at the Picton office on the South island. One spin-off benefit that springs to mind is that the long-suffering D&C staff (those who clean, valet, delivery and collect hire cars) are not faced with endless vehicles decorated with the hirer’s lunch after rough crossings. Having chosen a firm to hire from, I thought that the haggling for a decent price would have been over but it just became all the more interesting because their local branch, national booking office and international call centre each quoted wildly differing prices. All this is academic because the price I ended up with is still pretty good value when compared to hire charges in the UK and US.

Choosing accommodation has been just as entertaining. No road trip in NZ would be complete without a stay in a motel. When I say motel, the variety of accommodation available under that title is pretty wide, ranging from basic backpackers’ hostels to swanky hotels. Putting thoughts of the UK’s Travel Lodges and the Crossroads soap from my mind, I have used my obligatory Lonely Planet guide and a motel directory to search out some choice places to overnight during my road trip. Some kind friends have offered up their poor unsuspecting relatives as possible hosts, pressing scraps of paper into my hands whilst promising to call them before I arrive on their doorstep. I just know that they’ll forget and that I’ll up doing a Hugh Grant-style embarrassed Englishman thing, trying to explain why I’m standing on some poor sod’s doorstep at dusk, surrounded by luggage and clutching petrol station flowers. No matter, I have the first week sorted with a lodge near the Auckland Domain – the city’s oldest park, which will be handy for my early morning runs – before moving onto the evocatively named Bureta Park Motor Inn (“Welcome to your place”) near Tauranga to start my second week. I chose the latter motel for two reasons. Firstly, the very pleasant reservations clerk offered me a nice room at a rate that was half that quoted by a grumpy and greedy competitor a mile away (“Well, it does have a sea view”!?). Secondly, who could resist the lure of a motor inn that boasts the ‘Rose ‘n Fern Bar’ which, according to the web site, is not only ‘comfortably casual’ but also promises a tired, lonesome English gentleman far away from home, ‘an air of olde England’. So, secure in the knowledge that I shall quaff fine ale and rest well that night, I’ll leave you for now.

Are you sure it’s me you want?

Saturday, February 5th, 2005

It’s been four months since my last trawl through search terms that brought folks to my site.  My Top 10 favourites from recent results are no less perplexing than the last lot – and just as amusing:

  • eat my hat
  • little piggie went to market
  • karma sutra fragrance recipe
  • trebucet
  • backpacking sex tent
  • wank in france
  • are big noses ugly
  • where can i find facts on hickies?
  • yoghurt knitters
  • business of eggrolls

What always tickles me is the relatively mundane nature of the posts that these searches hit.