Friday, 17 April 2009

A matter of life and death...

It’s no surprise to know that I love sport, particularly football – it is indeed the beautiful game. And it’s equally expected that I’m fond of the arts, especially theatre. I think these two things – sport and culture – are what separate us from beasts and make our species a society.

I saw two things in today’s newspaper that gave me pause for thought. On the front page, Tony Veitch (a sports presenter here in New Zealand) was convicted of breaking his girlfriend’s back by kicking her as she lay on the ground during a fight.
He was sentenced to nine months’ supervision, 300 hours of community work and fined $10,000.

His sports chums pitched in with testimonials to his character. Graham Henry, All Black coach, said he was fair and objective and he never ‘bagged’ individuals after the All Blacks didn’t win the Rugby World Cup in 2007. Well that’s okay then. So long as he’s nice about the rugby, it doesn’t matter that he was (and therefore probably still is) capable of ‘lashing out’ (his words) at a woman who ‘drove him to it’ (his words again).

How exactly, Tony, did she do that? Did she stand in front of the television while you were trying to watch the game? I should think that’s probably excusable grounds for assault in your mind.

Meanwhile, on the back page there was a report that Arsenal will meet Man Utd. in the semi-final of the Champions League.
Of course, I am devastated by this news because Liverpool were knocked out by Chelsea – my nails suffered a vicious chewing during those 93 minutes (that would have been at least 95 if we were playing Fergie-time, but that’s beside the point).

The article beneath it was about the 20th anniversary memorial service for those who died at Hillsborough.

And there it is – what really makes us human; empathy and compassion for others. Bill Shankly knew the importance of football; he knew it can make us shout and cry and sing. But he knew we did it together.

It is this feeling which is more important than life and death, a feeling that seems to be lacking from some people in this macho-driven testosterone-fuelled culture.

Cruising at Castlepoint

Having been lulled by moreporks in the night, we awake to the sound of birdsong in the morning. I potter around the beautiful trees in the garden encircling the bach. They were planted by the owner’s wife. The leaves of the beeches, birches, oaks and sycamores rustle in the breeze and blaze with colour.

Him Outdoors goes to fetch some coffee from the Riversdale café. He says people are pouring in for their morning fix of caffeine before heading to the beach on their quad bikes. There is a fishing competition on this weekend with categories from boat or shore, and a prize of $2,000.

We drive over the hill to Castlepoint. It’s quite different; more touristy and gentrified, and dominated by the picture perfect lighthouse on a promontory of rock.

We walk across the broad sweep of sand and up the steps, wandering around the magnificent cast iron structure. The wind whips in from the ocean, spraying the crests of the waves as they tumble into shore.

People stand atop the sea cliffs, casting rods into the foam below. A sign warns to beware; these rocks are dangerous. We pick our way over the jagged rocks, comprised of shells and limestone formations.

At the local shop we buy sausage rolls and ice creams, and scribble postcards to our parents, expressing the same sentiments in slightly different semantics.

Another walk takes us around the headland. In the pine forest a bloke supervises his children as they hurtle down a pine-needle carpeted slope between the trunks. Him Outdoors asks whether he’s managed to send them careening into the trees. The bloke grins back, ‘Not yet!’

We carry on across a col covered in toi toi and up to a vantage point where in either direction we can see endless beaches thrashed by the Pacific Ocean. We snuggle into a peaceful alcove out of the wind and just sit and admire the view, then walk back bathing our ankles in the water – it’s soothing on strained Achilles tendons and insect bites.

Windswept and sunburned, we return to the bach, stopping to admire the countryside. It’s reminiscent of Central Otago with a confusion of colour, pristine churches and curious cows. Back ‘home’ after a pasta meal, a couple of glasses of red wine and a failed attempt at the Dominion Post crossword, it’s time for an early night.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Relaxing in Riversdale

For our Easter break we decide to head over the hills and far away – well, not that far away actually, just to Riversdale on the Wairarapa Coast. We had hoped to stay in a bach but we found out the day before that the owners are using it, so we thought we’d just turn up and see if there are any vacancy signs or if anything is available.

It isn’t, but we have a pleasant walk on the beach watching people motoring up and down the sand on quad-bikes and ATVs (I’m such a petrol head, I don’t even know if there’s a difference or not) and families fishing in the surf.

As we are leaving town we see a corrugated iron shack with Bayleys and rental written on it. We peer in the windows but it is all real estate to sell as rentals. A bloke pruning trees with a chainsaw and dressed in scruffy jeans introduces himself as the real estate agent and says we can use his bach for $80 a night.

We follow him down a dirt track 2.5km from the township to a little place surrounded by oak trees. We say we’ll take it for a night and decide later if we want it for all three, but apparently we can’t call him as there’s no Vodafone reception. It’s a bit damp, there’s no TV and you can’t stroll down to the beach, but it’s sufficient and Him Outdoors seems happy enough.

We have lunch back at the township at the dairy/café (a burger and wedges) then Him Outdoors goes running while I take a photographic walk along the beach. Apparently the waves are 2m plus and ‘messy’. We are told this is very unusual by a couple who describe the horizon as ‘bumpy’.

Our bach seems a little cosier once we put the lights and the heater on, and I stop worrying about our new temporary landlord being a chainsaw murderer – there’s a headstone for his brother in the garden although he assures us he’s not buried there. It’s the sort of thing that you imagine in horror films – well, I do anyway. Him Outdoors says I’m being daft – I know I am, but I’m still a bit jumpy.

We walk into town along the moonlit road. Once we emerge from the trees we can see incredibly clearly by the full moon. The local police officer cruises past, reversing to get a good look at us before turning off into a driveway where a party is in full swing.

We have been advised that the golf club is the best (i.e. only) place in town for meals so we head there. A stressed couple (she is called Pam; I don’t catch his name) bang about in the kitchen providing meals that consist of ‘fish’ or ‘steak’ and come with chips. There is no creativity in the descriptions – ‘nestling on a bed of’s and ‘drizzled with’s are noticeably absent. They aren’t taking orders at the moment as they are way too busy, but we can wait.

The beer on offer is Speights, Tui or Export – I go for a glass of wine. It’s $5.50 for an enormous vase full of cheap chardonnay. You’d not be able to drive after two of those glasses. Him Outdoors talks to strangers at the bar – within minutes he has met a bloke who usually drinks at the Malthouse, reconnected with a chap he’d talked to after his run, and received two offers of a lift home – one of them from the barmaid.

There are cluster of school-assembly-hard chairs around Formica tables, most of which are supporting quart bottles or jugs of beer. There’s rugby on the television (it’s the Hurricanes all the way in these parts) and drunken surfer dudes falling over themselves. One guy is celebrating his birthday – he’s been out at Castlepoint today because you can’t get out ‘through the corridor’. See what you can pick up?

Eventually we order and receive our meals. As well as chips, they come with an array of homemade salads. These are spread out on a table and I see one woman, who claims to be ‘starving’ help herself without ordering a meal. ‘Not with your fingers, please’ admonishes our friend Pam.

When we set off on our homeward walk, our way is once again lit by the night-time constellations and we get to sing about our moon shadows. There is no traffic on the road, although one car passes us and then backs up and offers to take us home. It’s the bloke from the pub. We hop in and he shoots straight past our bach until Him Outdoors points it out. The bloke thought we were somewhere else but he stops and lets us out.

Him Outdoors says, ‘I bet that scared you?’ Actually, not until you mentioned it, no, although now I think about it, it could be considered sinister enough to fuel my horror story phobia – Him Oudoors: ‘We’re just up here’; Axe-murderer: ‘Oh no, you’re a long way away yet, mwah-hah-hah.’