Saturday, 27 June 2009

24hrs in the Wairarapa - the next 12

7am Him Outdoors is keen to mitigate some of the effects of last night’s alcohol so he gets up early and goes for a run. The minute he steps off the porch, it starts raining. I snuggle back down under the duvet with my book and wait for him to return and bring me a cup of tea. Spoilt? Me?

9am He’s back, I’m up and we have breakfast. The cottage is thoughtfully stocked with fresh bread, home-made biscuits, butter and jams – this reminds me a story a friend told me of when she and her husband were in France.

In the morning she asked for ‘preservatif’, but the owner of the pension looked at her aghast and refused to supply her with any. She and her husband were frowned at throughout their stay and only after they left did they realise that they had not been requesting preserves at all, but rather condoms to accompany their coffee and croissants.

11am We drive out to the Cape Palliser lighthouse. I have a bit of a thing about lighthouses. I believe in the blend of beauty and practicality, and many engineering feats embody this. I also love the romanticism of living in a circular building in a remote location and saving ships from rough seas and wreckers. I thrilled to Daphne du Maurier novels as a kid and was always happy to wander the steep cobbled streets of Cornish towns imagining the smugglers – the hearty tea of scones with jam and cream was also a significant plus I seem to recall.

At Cape Palliser there are no winding streets or handy cafes, but there is a lighthouse with an imposing view over the surrounding coastal scenery; the southern-most tip of the North Island. We march briskly up the 250 steps to admire the lighthouse. As we descend the wooden staircase, a couple with their small child look up, a little daunted. ‘Is it worth it?’ they ask. ‘Oh, yes’ we both answer simultaneously.

11.30am I get out of the car to take a photo of the lighthouse back on the rocks and nearly step on a fur seal. There is an entire colony of them lying about right next to the gravel road. I can’t believe I didn’t notice them before, but now that one of the rocks has moved, I see there are loads of them. Apparently, this is the largest breeding colony of fur seals in the North Island. We stop for a while and watch them snooze and scratch and shuffle.

We examine and photograph a colourful fence studded with buoys at Ngawhi. As we get back into the car, a bloke comes towards us with a dog straining on a chain. He asks if we are lost, but not in a manner which suggests he would be willing to help. We hastily retreat and he stands and watches us leave without a welcome to return any time soon.

The tractors/diggers/graders (I don’t know the correct terminology – it’s boy stuff) are lined up on the beach ready to drag the boats in and out of the waves. We wander amongst them with their grey backdrop and imagine them working hard. Some people want to anthropomorphise them and several have names such as Tana and Tinky Winky.

2pm Before we head back over the hill into civilisation we stop at Featherston. According to the
Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, it was ‘until recently… the ugly duckling of south Wairarapa’s towns.’ There is no information as to why the ‘until recently’ bit is included. The town died when the railway closed. The line still dissects the main street, but nothing is happening here. The weather has turned cold and overcast, and the place isn’t exactly inviting.

Nevertheless, we stop for lunch at the Cornucopia Food Store & Café. I think it is the only thing open on this grey afternoon. The soup and bread is very tasty and heartening. We are fortified enough to return to Wellington where I head off to rehearsal.

For more pictures of the weekend - check out my week in pictures

Thursday, 25 June 2009

24hrs in the Wairarapa - the first 12

10.30am We pull into Martinborough after driving over the hill and head to the nearest café for breakfast. Reading the Sunday papers, sipping our cappuccinos and tucking into a plate of Mexican style eggs in Café Medici seems a fabulous way to fortify ourselves for a big day.

11.30am We stroll around Martinborough, which sits on the site of New Zealand’s first sheep station. Established by Irish immigrant John Martin in the nineteenth century, the streets are curiously laid out in a grid along the lines of a Union flag. The park in the centre where they meet features a small but poignant cenotaph.

We discover a couple of those home ware shops that sell candles, kitchen utensils and notepaper. At Peonies I buy a handful of cards while Him Outdoors rolls his eyes. The wallpaper is gorgeous and the people are pleasant.

12.30pm We drive to
Haythornthwaite cottage and it is not yet ready for us. This doesn’t bother us at all as we park the car, dump our bags and set off on our own wine trail.

12.35pm The friendly and persuasive chap at
Tirohana Estate pours a glass of pinot noir for Him Outdoors and a chardonnay for me, and books us in for a five course dinner later that night. It is only a short stumble from the cottage where we are staying, so we reckon it will be a good plan.

We sit out on the patio which is clear but chilly. Bob the dog accompanies us, but he has lots of fur. A party arrive and look at the menus, but they soon adjourn indoors telling us that they are not used to it – ‘We’re not from England’ they say, having noticed our accents. They are obviously not from Wellington either.

1.30pm The bloke from
Schubert is keen to talk to someone – he is meant to be filling in his tax return. He has lived in England so we talk about football and cats and eating baby octopus – I’m not sure what those last two have to do with England, but I get the impression he will chat about anything rather that contemplate the complexities of the IRD.

Tribianco they sell here is deliciously unpretentious and we buy a bottle to take back to the cottage. It is a wonderfully drinkable blend of chardonnay, pinot gris and muller-thurgau, with all the benefits of the tasty trio. We also pick up a Marion’s vineyard pinot noir and a sweet Dolce both of which we plan to ‘cellar’, or at least get home in the car.

2.30pm We clink off to
Margrain where the lady serving the tastings is more reticent as she has many groups to serve, and probably no forms to fill in. The tasting notes more than make up for the experience, however with their blend of information and ridicule. For example, the chardonnay ‘brings an air of expectation as it works its way over eager taste buds with all the subtlety of a stealth bomber’.

Margrain also do a
Methode Traditionnelle which they have named La Michelle after the lucky, lucky girl ‘who has recently returned from a decade of study and travel to join the family business’. Some people have all the luck – my mum is a teacher and my dad works with computers, and they both drink down the pub. Oh well, we bought a bottle of the bubbles which are, ‘Clean and tingling, it shows good manners while introducing itself then wags its tail in sheer delight like an overzealous Labrador puppy’.

Him Outdoors, as always, favours the
pinot noir – ‘The nose is eager and brimming with warmth and generosity as it rises fragrantly from the glass, presenting juicy prune fruit combined with spicy tamarillo and plum chutney aromas. Grilled prosciutto on warm rye sprinkled with cracked black pepper tantalises while a hint of hedge-pig nest ensures that the wine is at once fruity and complex, like a teenage love affair.’ Should I be worried?

3.30pm There is still a tiny space left in our rucksack and half an hour of wine tasting time left, so we weave our way through sheep-studded vines to
Martinborough Vineyard. Here a very friendly young woman raves about Toast Martinborough with us and we convince her to attend the Beervana event in Wellington at the end of August. Once we explain that there are lots of different tasty beers and hardly any fat men in lederhosen, she is more than amenable.

Meanwhile we try a fine range of wines, along with a load of other people who are picking and choosing (somewhat more selectively than us, it must be said). We decide to take home a beautifully balanced
chardonnay and a gorgeously sexy Te Tera pinot noir. Guess who selects which?

4.30pm Back at the cottage we sit out on the deck to catch the last of the rays of sunshine as they filter over the vines. It is quiet and still out here and we have plenty of bottles to choose from as we sip at the fruits of somebody else’s labours. Mark comes round to light the fire and by the time we move back inside the cottage it is roasty toasty.

There is a selection of videos we can get out for free so we sit curled up on the sofa by the roaring log burner and watch Miss Potter and Kinky Boots. Both are pretty terrible – particularly the former but then I can’t stand Renee Zellweger and should have known better than to watch an American try to play a British icon – but we are comfortable and happy.

7.30pm We almost don’t want to leave, but we have dinner waiting for us across the road so we walk out into the chill night air. We are welcomed back to Tirohana with a glass of Sauvignon Squeeze and seated at a table by the fire. The ambience is fantastic and the service is exemplary throughout the night.

And the food is certainly something to write home about. For starters I have salmon fishcakes with a dill aioli on greens while Him Outdoors goes for the signature Kingsmeade Blue and broccoli soup served with fresh homemade bread. Main course is Moroccan crusted rack of lamb on a jewelled couscous served with a fruit tagine for me and fillet of beef, dauphinoisse potatoes, seasonal vegetables and wine jus for Him, although he mutters profanities about the word 'jus'.

All of it is so delicious that each mouthful is a delight. We are caught between wanting more because it’s so good but knowing we have eaten sufficient. We both have the Warm Apple strudel with a vanilla bean ice cream for dessert and then we finish up with fresh filter coffee and petit fours. I love the language of food – there is an art to making those menus sound as good as they taste.

10pm After Him Outdoors has waffled on to the guys at the restaurant about Burnley’s promotion (it’s a topic that they obviously find intriguing) we stumble back to our accommodation. With all that wine sitting around it would be rude not to have a nightcap, so we stir up the fire and sink a pinot before bed.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Blow by Blackening

The Blackening
Bats Theatre, 10 – 27 June

We are looking forward to this play. Various reviews have described it as ‘homegrown theatre of unease’ with ‘considerable dramatic tension’ (John Smythe); ‘a New Zealand version of Sam Shepard’ which is ‘all very powerful, intensely theatrical, melodramatic, and occasionally poetic’ (Laurie Atkinson); ‘one of the most polished productions you’ll see this year, [and] one of the most deeply disturbing’; ‘this script is pitch black [and] scary, taking us into unsavoury psychological territory’; ‘This is quality work. You won't leave the theatre with a smile on your face and a skip in your step, in fact you might just want to sleep with the light on for a while...’ (Lynn Freeman). So far; so intriguing.

And it’s got Jed Brophy who, as I know from watching Trainspotting and Skin Deep, is an excellent actor. So, as I say, we are looking forward to this play.

The set (Tony De Goldi) doesn’t disappoint – it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at Bats; the carpet of leaves crunching under foot in the frosty atmosphere; the gnarled tree with a pile of apples beneath; the side of a caravan with blinds drawn; the washing line strung off to the side hung with floral dresses; a swing seat like a crucifix or a portal calmly positioned centre stage right – all hint at myriad possibilities and high expectations.

One character sits sharpening an axe as we file into the theatre. His rhythmic strokes and compulsive commitment auger bad things to come and they synchronise with the obsessive concentration of the other character who rocks gently to the music in his headphones – each isolated in their private world. Then the birdsong flits across the senses (superb sound by Stephen Gallagher) and Jed Brophy enters.

He is Mal (first bludgeoning symbolism – the clue is in the name) and he has returned from somewhere to the family orchard. He has been away for ten years and doesn’t know that the apples have got blight and his younger brother Broody (music man, played by Jack Shadbolt) fell out of a tree when he was ten, landing on his head and resulting in a disability that leaves him with the mental age of six.

He (and the audience) is helpfully told all this by the axe grinder, Dan (Jonny Moffatt), in clipped tones and ill-fitting overalls. This workaday outfit contrasts with Mal’s city suit, as he spins yarns about being a manager and a pilot, none of which turn out to be true. Dan is all repressed something-or-other – rage; sexuality; resentment; tenderness; your guess is as good as mine.

Mal alternates between smiling conviviality and flaring temper, while Broody is awkward but adorable with childish gestures in an adult’s body. They seem to be getting to know each other and Mal builds Broody a go-kart so he can enter a race, even though Dan won’t let him go beyond the gate into the wide world (that’s us – the audience).

Neither will Dan let Mal sleep indoors, and he sets his sleeping bag out among the leaves and under the stars. In the moonlight he thinks he sees May, his former girlfriend and Dan’s wife, but she turns away without speaking to him. So did he see her or was she a dream, or is she a ghost (she’s all dressed in white and we’ve never seen her)? We’re told he hurt her, but he loved her and then he left her, and he is surprised she has settled down with Dan. But has she? It starts to get confusing.

He wakes up to a beautiful dawn and a perfect cross fade – I’m noticing the lighting (Jennifer Lal), which may not be a good sign. Things seem to settle down to normal, or whatever passes for that on an orchard miles from anywhere with suggestions of psychosis. With signalling verging on the semaphore, Dan says they have to chop the trees down to prevent the disease from spreading. Mal finds an apple still clinging to the tree. He plucks it and bites into it but it is rotten and he spits it out at us – right at us; that’ll teach us to sit in the front row.

Pop, who used to thrash the brothers when they were boys, is still on the scene. He emerges from the caravan with a cane in his hand and a hat pulled over his eyes and he roams through the trees looking for Broody. Mal steps up to the swing and takes the whipping on his behalf. Clearly Jonny Moffat is playing Pop, but the question arises, is Dan playing Pop? The caravan appears to be the tiring room and we wonder whether the characters are acting out other characters for themselves more than for us.

May appears once more; again she is wreathed in white and is clearly Jack Shadbolt – there are titters from the audience at the sight of ‘her’ hairy masculine legs protruding from her nightie. But this time she is clearly Broody; Mal is alarmed and Dan disturbingly allows himself to be seduced. The lingerie drops to the floor and is removed to a dress-up box in which the hat and cane are discovered. My friend asks, ‘what is going on?’ Her husband tells her to shush.

Mal puts on the dress and is intimidated by Dan into tears and recriminations. What happened to May? According to Dan, she slit her wrists after Mal left her pregnant. Her name itself expresses uncertainty and implies there are other factors. Is the relationship between Dan and the personification of May physical? Is this another outlet for the repressed emotion in Dan which explodes (Pops) into violence?

The emblematic apples are the death of Mal – quite literally as he chokes on one, after stuffing his face, knowing they are poisoned. The fairytale and biblical elements are overwhelming. He brought a knife with him which he gave to Broody. As Broody toys with it at the end and looks dreamily into the distance, we are left to ponder what he will do with it. Will there be a sacrifice, and if so, of whom?

The bows are a highlight as the actors shake off their multiple personalities and finally connect with the audience. As we leave the theatre we are all bemused. Friend’s husband says he couldn’t engage with the play – judging from the audience response, he is not the only one. No one seems to know what was going on, although they don’t want to admit it lest they seem ignorant.

So they fall back on pretension – exhibit A; ‘Since the opening of this production, I’ve heard some audience members express discontent at the staging conventions (role doubling etc) confusing with the symbolism in the narrative, making the plot hard to follow. However, I found this served to intensify my understanding of the text, in which much of the pleasure lies in attempting to decipher this world.’ (Fiona McNamara). Well doesn’t she think she’s the clever one?

The only thing I can’t decipher is whether it’s the fault of the writer (Paul Rothwell) or the director (Paul McLaughlin) that this play makes no sense whatsoever. Due to the tight production values and the complex characterisation, I think the director can largely be excused. I blame the playwright. When I got home in answer to Him Outdoors (who had wisely refused to come – ‘I won’t like it’) I praise the set, the sound, the lighting and the acting. He nods sagely; ‘Say no more’.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Quite a quote

Thanks to my dear friend who reminded me in a comment on my last post of one of my favourite quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche. ‘What does not kill me, makes me stronger’ is something I often chant to myself while struggling through a triathlon or a particularly daunting day at work.

I was thinking of quotes this weekend when at my writer’s group, someone mentioned one of Jack Kerouac’s essentials for his spontaneous prose method of writing: ‘Be in love with your life’. This is a wonderful sentiment, although sometimes hard to follow when you are stuck in an office with the wind and rain howling and lashing outside.

But at least I am not stuck out in it. I have food, shelter, and love – so really, what more could I want? I have a job that I don’t hate and I live in a beautiful (albeit windy) part of the world. I have a loving husband, a great family, fabulous friends, and an adorable cat. I have had a good education and enjoy fine health and the ability to pursue my theatrical and sporting interests.

And I am lucky – I know it. When I see people living in rubbish tips in the Philippines or dying of disease and starvation in Africa, or bound by restrictive fundamentalism in many parts of the world, I think ‘There, but for the grace of god, go I’ (attributed to John Bradford). Another of my favourite quotes is from Cecil Rhodes (although I have also seen it attributed to Rudyard Kipling): ‘To be born English is to win first place in the lottery of life'. At first glance this smacks of arrogance, but I believe it is actually humility – we do know how lucky we are.

But luck plays its part only to a certain extent. After that it is up to us to determine our fate, or, as the great William Shakespeare said; ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings'. We have to make the difference, as Jean Jacques Rousseau pointed out; ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’.

Man by his very nature will always try and achieve greatness, and he may often do this at the expense of others – ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ (George Orwell) – whereas the converse nature of man is that someone will always try to preach tolerance and right the wrongs of inequality. ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too'. (Voltaire).

Of course, the Bible echoes this attitude – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Honesty and tolerance are the golden rule to live by, and once again good old Bill steps into the breach; ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’. These two tenets of humanity provide some of my favourite quotes: ‘A man who loves whisky and hates kids can’t be all that bad’ (WC Fields) and ‘Someone said football is a matter of life and death, and I said, Listen, it's more important than that’ (Bill Shankly).

This is just off the top of my head and I realise, looking over this list, I have missed out many funny, witty, pithy sayings, but these are more than comedy quips – they are mantras for modern living, without the popular psycho-babble. What are yours?

The other thing I notice is that all of my favourite quotations are from men, and I haven’t even mentioned Oscar Wilde. There could be some form of heated debate as to why this should be so, but for now let’s leave the final bons mots to Emmeline Pankhurst: ‘Deeds not words!’