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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

My Holiday (a long story)

I have cut a short story long (so to speak). So you may want to grab a coffee first. Also as a caution this post does contain swearing.

The Metservice told us to turn back. Toni Marsh warned us not to go. Even Amy’s gammy knee was playing up. However we are not ones to listen to caution and so we set off into the driving rain and thunderstorms towards the west coast of the North Island.

The rain was brutal and the traffic respectfully slowed down for its nasty sting. Visibility was down to ten, maybe five, metres. Fuckers in 4WDs drove past, but not much faster, the rain was quite heavy and even they were scared.

The last time I had driven in weather like that was on New Years day 2000, the weather on that day had been apocalyptic. We were travelling to the beach to relax in the sun for a few days after having witnessed the changing of the millennium (and one of my friends do the best Kenny Rogers impersonation Sky City Casino has ever seen). The rain was driving in the opposite direction to us and travelling roughly 200km per hour. Rounding one corner we suddenly came across a stinging wall of hail I braked hard and the tailgating bastard behind me was forced on to the side of the road. Many cars were parked on the side of the motorway, fearing the End of Days no doubt.

Back to present, we charged on with the radio blasting some of that beautiful New Zealand music on Kiwi (and occasionally The WBC who suck). It was still relatively early in the morning so drivers were not taking too many chances, no crazy passing manoeuvres, no jostling for position. By the time we made Pukerua Bay the weather had slackened some and the driving got better. In a shrewd move the police (or a similar power) had closed all of the passing lanes from Wellington to Levin; this meant one long queue of traffic. It took an hour and a half to reach Waikanae.

Just outside of Sanson we were gearing up to stop for lunch. The weather got angry and the traffic slowed again. We must have been in the intelligent group of drivers; you had to drive by the taillights of the car in front but no one was tailgating. Just before reaching Sanson there were the remnants of an earlier nose-to-tail involving four or so cars. We decided to stop for food.

My friend Dave emailed me before we left and said that “if Jesus had had his way it would be called Good Sunday, but not really the best Friday I’ve ever had”. Recent legislation means that if you work on a holiday (any holiday) you are entitled to time-and-a-half pay and a day in lieu. Many food retailers are now opening on holidays, like they normally would, but charging the customer a surcharge to cover this new policy. There is one word for this surcharge: Balls (there are other words, please email me with any suggestions you have). You are opening on the holiday; this means you expect to make a profit; if you aren’t going to make a profit stay closed and have a nice day off. Motivated by greed the owners are passing on this charge to the customer and blaming the government. Only food places do this too. We went to movies on Easter Sunday, they didn’t have a surcharge. No retail store would do well during the holidays if they added 20% to their prices. So café owners what makes you think you can? If we saw a “there is a surcharge” sign we walked on by, or straight out of the food outlet.

Just before we reached Paraparaumu (yes, this narrative is a little haphazard) I swore loudly. My girlfriend is getting used to these loud outbursts over small matters. “What?” “I forgot the fucking camera!” “Oh well, we’ll just get a disposable one and have them put the photos on CD” “Oh, ok, that’ll do I suppose”. Amy is a calming influence.

Just before we reached Bulls (yes, this paragraph does look like the last one) I swore loudly. My girlfriend is getting used to these loud outbursts over small matters. “What?” “I forgot the fucking cell phone charger!” “Oh well, I’ve got mine we should be fine” “Oh, yeah you’re right; I can live without my phone for one weekend”.

Just as we reached Patea (home of the Patea Māori Club) I swore loudly and drove off the road. My girlfriend is used to these loud outbursts over small matters. “What?” “I forgot the goddamn #$%#$&% fucking tickets!” “…shit”. She is a calming influence.

The reason we were heading to Taranaki (or “the Naki”) was to see REM in concert at New Plymouth’s Bowl of Brooklands. We had left in no hurry, at a respectable time of the morning and forgotten the one thing we actually needed. We had the tickets stuck on the fridge door so we wouldn’t forget them; our friend Dom was house-sitting and when he came round we showed him stuff he could eat OUT OF THE FRIDGE!

Thank God for the Irish. A friend of mine from work was also on her way to the concert but was leaving the next day, and we had already planned to meet her for a drink before the concert anyway (oh she’s Irish by the way, that’s why I said that bit just before). All we would have to do is call her. Except that we were in the arse-end part of the country. No cell phone coverage, goddamn troglodytes. We sent a text message in the split second gap where there was enough radiation to carry a signal. She responded in the next available window through the ether. We eventually got it sorted. I then had to ring Dom to get him to drop the stuff round to Aoife (that’s the name of our saviour).

“Dom we need you take the tickets round to Aoife” “ok where are they?” “On the fridge” “you showed me stuff in the fridge before you left” “yes I know Dom, thank you” [at this point I am reminded that my cell phone battery is running low] “oh, Dom could you also take the cell phone charger (laughter from Dom and Amy) it’s in the wall by the phone” “sure no worries” “oh and while you’re doing that, could you grab the camera, its by the computer” (raucous laughter from Dom and Amy) “Anything else? Some undies maybe?” Even I laughed.

Dom turned out to be a competent courier. We met Aoife just before the concert and got all of our stuff. But this is getting a little too far ahead of myself.

Let’s go back about six months to when we purchased the tickets. I wanted exclusive gold tickets for the front section. I saw REM when they last came in 1995 for their Monster Tour. That concert was awesome. Grant Lee Buffalo opened for Crowed House, who opened for REM. But I didn’t get a T-shirt and we sat (yes, sat) at the back of Western Springs stadium because the two muntards I was with said: “if you go up the front you’ll just get pushed around and you won’t be able to hear anything. Don’t worry we brought binoculars”. Muntards. I was only 15 and it was my first real rock concert but I was sure something was wrong with the situation.

Any how, I thought that I would book our accommodation sooner or later and that would be sorted. A little over a month out I remembered that I hadn’t booked so I rang up a few places. No vacancies, in fact everywhere in Taranaki were booked. This was because there were four major events in the area that weekend: REM; two stockcar meets; and a motorcycle convention. And it was Easter. The New Plymouth info centre was taking frantic calls from people, like me, desperate for some place to stay. Finally two weeks before we were to go Amy found us accommodation at a Christian camp ~20mins south of New Plymouth. About a week out, I rang the camp and discovered that they had packed in more people. We would be sharing our bunk room with six others rather than two. We decided to opt out and try our luck elsewhere and we got very lucky. We were able to get into a lovely farm-stay called: Hurst House Heights. The woman who ran the Christian camp was very nice and congratulated us on finding a place, which made apologising much easier.

I have never done the B&B thing before (although we are doing it again next weekend for a friends wedding up north, look out for that blog), it’s quite nice. This particular farm-stay was like staying with your Aunt and Uncle. The best part is that these people are locals and offered the finest local knowledge of the area: where to go; where to park for the concert; etc. They even offered us Swandries and gumboots when a thunderstorm threatened the concert.

We were meaner than we should have been. In the car we were brought to comment on their rustic lifestyle. "Cousin Earle" etc. I felt ashamed of our snobbery.

New Plymouth is a nice town. It’s all arty and done up. Who are they trying to fool? It’s still the middle of the Naki. They have the “controversial” Wind Wand and a great museum, Puki Ariki, but their small version of Wellington/Auckland was just lacking something. Still it’s nicer than Palmerston North. New Plymouth seemed to bulge at the sides though on Saturday when it filled with out-of-towners in for the various events. The pretty infrastructure and charm cracked a little as people circled for hours looking for a car park. We went into town after dropping our junk at the farm. The waterfront is quite nice in New Plymouth. We walked to the Wind Wand and breathed the “bracing” sea air. We then ordered Indian food from a restaurant that was the artiest looking one on the street. We ate perhaps 1-2% of what we were served because we were so incredibly full.

The next morning we drove back in (full of farm-fresh, organic, free-range eggs and bacon). The sea was at high tide and crashing violently into the rocks of the foreshore. I ran straight to the edge to watch the spray. Amy came walking up later. We stood and watched the immense power of the sea crash into the massive boulders that protect the city from the Tasman. I’m a Pacific coast boy. We never got raging surf unless there was a huge storm. Amy’s from the “Sunset Coast” near Waiuku. She saw waves like this all the time. Still, impressive.

The seas stayed an ugly grey colour the whole day, although the surf dropped somewhat as the tide went out. There would be photos but I didn’t yet have my camera. In the afternoon some surfers ventured out into the fray. There is no beach so they have to bail out before getting too close. The sun was out and bright by that point so we relaxed on the grass and listened to the surf.

Earlier we had caught up with Siobhan and Jason, other friends of ours who had come to the Naki on the Wednesday. We received a text from Siobhan saying she was in a “dark café, writing letters”. We looked up. We were outside a slightly dark café. Siobhan was hunkered over a load of stationary writing (actual paper) letters. We joined her in waiting 10-15mins for a coffee; again New Plymouth had not prepared for a doubling of the population. Despite the long wait for coffees only one person (and sometimes no persons) were manning the coffee machine.

Siobhan and Jason were planning an assault on Mt Taranaki. We doubted the existence of Mt Taranaki as it was never able to shake the veil of rain clouds that covered it the whole time we were there. Jason said to watch the news for lost climbers just in case. He said the headline would read something like: Two Idiots from Wellington Lost on Mt Taranaki. He said, in order to aid searchers, they could leave a trail of Kathmandu merchandise, as they had just hit the annual Easter sale. Kathmandu binoculars, Kathmandu cup, Kathmandu tops and pants, Kathmandu wind-breaker…We haven’t heard from Siobhan and Jason but I’m sure they’re fine.

In the late afternoon we wandered around Pukekura Park. This is wonderful park and contains the Bowl where the concert was to be held. We had decided to have a little nosey around. There is also a free zoo with two monkey houses; one which you can walk into. These are non-faeces throwing monkeys so walking around in their cage is ok.

In the other monkey cage, which you could not walk into, there were capuchin monkeys. In this cage things were a little darker, a little more morbid. The head capuchin had something in his (or maybe her) hand that he was chewing every now and again. It turned out to be a small bird. Monkeys are known to do this in the wild and in captivity. A friend of mine once saw a pack of gibbons demolish a poor sparrow in front of a bunch of schoolgirls. Animals lose some of their cute charm when you are reminded of what they have to do to survive. Another one of the capuchins was trying to lure a duck close to the fence with a piece of apple. Ducks are smarter than they look.

The concert:
Tooled up with thermal gear and as many layers as we could comfortably wear we headed out. Other guests had arrived at the farm-stay and they were off to the concert as well. They were British students on an O.E. to our Southern Isles.

We met Aoife and her partner Steve at a bar called Crowded House in town and thankfully received our forgotten tickets. We drove to the venue as the rain started to really pour down. I decided in the car park to leave my camera in the car. I hate myself so much for that decision. I thought that it might be confiscated or get destroyed in the rain. I really hate myself. So instead of hundreds of really cool photos from the concert, you get text instead.

To those of you who have never been to the Bowl of Brooklands, there is a 10metre wide semicircular lake in front of the stage. We were right on the lake front just to the right of the stage. I was worried that some drunken idiot would give me shove and I would tumble into the liquid that was maybe 5% water and 95% duck shit. There was no telling how deep the water was because it was a dirty brown colour. Three songs into the REM set two guys jump in followed by two girls; all very drunk. Over the next two hours around 20 people got into the lake. After the first lot got in Michael Stipe said “At least make it interesting for me and take your clothes off”. The group duly stripped down to their underwear. A guy behind us, who had earlier been talking about the size of the eels that lived in the mucky water, stripped down to his boxer shorts and dived headfirst into the grime. When he returned five, or so, songs later he stank. I imagine that they all would have caught some disease or other the next day especially the bald-headed moron who started it all. He was snogging (or shiftin’ as the Irish say) one of the girls in the lake, he lifted her out of the water a little and started kissing her duck-shit covered stomach. Ick.

I actually found the swimmers a little distracting and I felt the band did a little as well. I found myself watching them and disapproving of their antics. A woman behind us had said beforehand that there were big signs up saying that the concert would be stopped when the first person went into the lake. It didn’t and there seemed to be a feeling that it would a little un-rock and roll to stop a concert because a hand-full of people were having too much fun.

Now back to the beginning of the concert. The first thing I did was head to the merchandise tent that I had scoped on our walk around the park earlier in the day. I got myself a t-shirt with tour dates on the back: Stockholm, New York, Paris, London, Madrid, Tokyo, New Plymouth. REM were heading to Australia next (according to the t-shirt) for about six gigs including two in Sydney. London only got one but Sydney gets two! Japan only got three concerts in total! Actually New Zealand got more concerts than many European nations.

Right, so we got our position on the lake. I donned my shirt over my hoody, making it four layers I was wearing (five when I put on my plastic poncho). The opening acts were introduced by Michael Stipe (the nice man even greeted the ducks).

The Checks. These guys are from all over the world apparently including someone from Auckland, New Zealand. They were really good. Bluesy rock that made you wanna stamp your feet. The lead singer was doing his best Mick Jagger, the guitarist had a boofy hairdo that waved as he pushed the licks out of his piece and the drummer wore an immaculate shirt and tie. The Checks were an opening band and they knew it. They went hard and fast and whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Go and buy their album. The next band sucked.

Brighteyes. They are American and have maybe 12 members, there were a whole bunch of them on stage at least. Half way through Amy turned to me and said “so many people on stage, you’d think one of them would have talent”. Their first song was ok but they ended up sounding like a boring old pub band with nothing really interesting in their set. Between each song they just fucked around and drank water, they didn’t talk to the audience or nothing. Their last song was just an all out distortion piece that did not make them look rock and roll like they may have thought. When REM thanked both supporting bands the Checks got a huge cheer and Brighteyes got a polite round of applause. Of the two supporting acts, Brighteyes were the ones who had t-shirts for sale at the merchandise tent.

REM. They burst out the gate with…um…something off Monster; I think it was King of Comedy, no it was I Took Your Name (best line “I wanna be Iggy Pop”). I find it hard to recall all the songs bands play at concerts. I remember all the songs from Neil Finn’s ragtag band concert in Auckland (featuring Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, Ed O’Brien and the other guy from Radiohead) but only because we got the song sheets. Orange Crush was huge. The stage was lit with hanging tubes that glowed in various colours and during this song they were burnt orange. Michael Stipe, who had painted a thick green stripe across his eyes picked up a megaphone and belted into the microphone “I’ve got my spine I’ve got my orange crush!” I must admit I was annoyed at the amount of material they played from their new album but that’s what tours are for I suppose.

During Losing My Religion a couple of people came sort of bustling through the crowd parallel to the stage. They looked like they were going along to the middle somewhere and so when they got to me I kindly stepped aside to let them pass. Big mistake. They stopped and stood right in front of me. It’s not like I was in the middle of the crowd and so losing one place wouldn’t make much difference. We were at the front; beyond us was only water and duck shit. When they pushed in front I said “oi!” or words to that effect. The drunken old Hag turned to me reeking of cigarettes and beer and said “Are you my husband, oh here he is” dragging some grinning idiot close to her, “oh, look honey, we’re right by the lake.” Trembling with rage I turned to Amy, who still had her lakeside vantage point, she turned to the Hag and said “Hey, move” or something, any way they shuffled over and I got to stand on the edge again. Two songs later the band played Everybody Hurts. Lighters were produced from pockets and waved over heads. The Hag had her arm around the drunk guy she looked at me and said “this is a beautiful song” and wrapped one disgusting limb around my waist. I looked her right in the eye and said “yes it is but you are ruining it” and then attempted to remove her arm. Drunk old Hags are surprisingly strong, maybe she just wanted to cop a feel, still I managed to wrest myself free from her clutches. They left before the end of the song.

Two songs after Everybody Hurts another drunk guy, who had also gone for a swim earlier, yelled out “play Everybody Hurts!” We all laughed. Somebody explained they had already sung that and so he countered with “play Nightswimming!”

They did play Nightswimming in the end. It is a beautiful song that didn’t suit the half-naked, drunk, ugly crowd in a pond full of duck shit. Michael Stipe looked like he was reluctant to sing it, but the night really did deserve it, the full moon had broken free from the earlier clouds and was shining down brightly on a blissful audience. When it had rained about a third of the way through, the band sang CCR’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? Well Mike Mills played it and the rest of the band kept up. Dom says a similar thing happened at the Springsteen concert last year.

No one dances like Michael Stipe. It’s a weird sort of style where it looks like he’s trying to wrap himself up, he twists are curves his body in various directions. It’s visually stunning.
The other bummer for me was that the band didn’t end with their signature It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine). I only knew a few of the words in ’95 and now I was looking belt out “Leonard Bernstein!”

Well done New Plymouth, you put on a great concert. And we have heard all about the WOMAD festival and the Mark Knoffler concert from the locals. Sadly though it was time to leave. We had driven home and crashed after the concert. The next morning, Easter Sunday, we had compared notes with the Britons. I was surprised at what they had not been able to see from their viewpoint amongst the hoi polloi at the back. From where we were–right up at the front but not in the water–we were able to see all the movement of the bouncers and roadies as they tried to stop the swimmers from splashing.

The pool group started chanting for Michael Stipe to jump in with them. To which he said “No fucking way”. Dom said that the review of the concert in the Dominion Post claimed that the swimmers were naked. That reporter is a junkie with a weird fantasy. They may have been drunk and swimming in duck shit but they were not naked.

On the drive back to Wellington we were to meet up with our friends Dave and Sharmin. Long-time readers will remember that I had promised an interview, of sorts, with Dave about basketball. Dave and Sharmin live in Wanganui. Wanganui is no New Plymouth but it wasn’t anything to sniff at either. They were on their way to New Plymouth for a couple of days so the plan was to meet them halfway. But we left early and they slept in so we met them in Wanganui.

We had lunch at a place called…actually it doesn’t matter because Sharmin will be working at another bar/restaurant soon anyway and you’ll want to go there and leave a huge tip.

I had forgotten not only the camera, cellphone charger and tickets when we left. I had also forgotten a spare pair of shoes. My Converse knock-offs were soaked and I had been driving barefoot. Actually they’re not really knock-offs, they are exactly the same except the Malaysian factory they are made in pays its workers a proper wage and all the workers are union members. They’re called No Sweat if you want some and are available through Trade Aid stores.

Now that the advertising is over, I was barefoot in Wanganui. Even bars in the river city don’t let you in without shoes. So I donned my waterlogged sneakers and squelched my way into the place. We sat and chatted while waitresses walked past us. Finally we caught someone’s attention to order (hey how about you behind the bar “cleaning glasses”!). I had warn Amy that if I suddenly slumped over the wheel while we drove that it may be a heart attack brought on by all the fat and oil in the food I ate.

When I finally brought up basketball Dave was guarded, very guarded. He refused to be drawn on the subject claiming that he needed time to go on the net and see which players had been traded to which teams etc. He said that all he knew was that Shaq had gone to Miami and so watch out for them. So that s Dave’s pick for this year, Miami. Ha-ha-ha-ha, you thought you were being no committal didn’t you Dave! Please lay no bets on this information even though it may be right.

We are going to catch up more with Dave and Sharmin later in April when they will come down for a holiday. My friend (and fellow blogger) Jose (you pronounce the J, it’s Portuguese not Spanish) will be down as well. So we will have a whole house full of people.

The drive back from Wanganui was nothing to mention. The further you get into a trip the more idiots there are on the road. Wellington’s highway improvements are currently just that, improvements. I spent the next day in my pyjamas playing Xbox and napping. I had to go to work the next day. And that’s where I wrote this. Shit this is long I had better stop.

I’ll get back to the usual tomorrow.

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