2011. A Great Year for Travel.

We’d arrived to Christchurch, New Zealand, frazzled by the failings of Quantas and having missed our first night at the hotel. I was stupefied by lack of sleep and could manage nothing more then a drop into bed, whatever time it was, although Husband, an expert flight sleeper, was determined to stride out and around the area closest to us, in spite of the long, tedious journey. It was a great thrill for him to spot our surname everywhere in the area!

I should say at this point that since we had booked our trip earlier in the year, New Zealand’s South Island had suffered a catastrophic earthquake, the epicentre of which was Christchurch. It had rendered the centre of the city unsafe and our original hotel was within the fenced off zone. We’d been relocated to a hotel outside the fenced area, which was fine except for the alarming forest of accro supports holding it up.

Arriving a day late meant less time to explore Christchurch, but much of it was off limits, horrendous cracks in the streets and tumbled down buildings visible through the fencing. Once we’d slept off our jet lag we walked across nearby Hagley Park to see as much as we were able. The plucky inhabitants of Christchurch were already planning the renaissance of the city and an exhibition of the ideas could be seen in the park.

After one more night we needed to go and collect the campervan we’d hired and set off on our travels. At the van depot we were treated to a tour, during which I fell completely in love with the beautiful van-a panel van with toilet and shower, fully equipped with bedding, kitchen untensils, wine glasses and everything you could think of [plus more that you couldn’t]. It was all stored in clever, customised ways. We also had electric and gas heating. Heaven!

Husband needed to collect the rugby tickets he’d reserved so we found the place and while he queued to verify things and sort it out I made my way to the Woolworths supermarket to stock us up with everything we’d need for the road. I was charmed that it was Woolworths, as the store will be familiar to anyone of my generation, although not as a supermarket. Inside I managed to find most things we needed, but not tomato puree. When I asked a fellow shopper if she knew where it might be she walked around the shop with me, helping me with everything, making me feel truly welcome.

We had the van. We were stocked up. We were raring to go. We stowed everything away and, using the map book thoughtfully provided in our van hire pack we set off towards the coast on the start of our magnificent odyssey. I couldn’t help smiling- a state that was to continue for three whole months…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Best Trip to Date…

The words ‘holiday of a lifetime’ are strange and dispiriting, I feel, implying that future excursions are off the cards. How are we to know that a trip is a ‘holiday of a lifetime’? It is something you cannot say until the possibility of travel is no longer there for some reason. For the majority of us, this reason is only going to be extinction, or such catastrophic incapacity as to make travel impossible.

There are places and explorations, however that render all other trips insignificant, that if asked where are favourite holiday or travel experience was we would answer without hestitation. For me, that trip is our tour of New Zealand in 2011. And I will endeavour to write and show all the reasons why this experience tops everything else to date.

For a start, the idea was hatched [by Husband] as a grand retirement jaunt, both of us having turned in the towel on teaching that year. Then it happened to be New Zealand’s turn to host the rugby world cup, which was an obvious lure for Husband. Myself, I’m not as averse to rugby as I am to other sports and the watching of international games was to provide an extra frisson and reason to love these very special islands.

In order to take in as much of the rugby as possible whilst also seeing most of New Zealand we opted for campervan hire, and given that we were acccustomed to vans and camping this seemed the most suitable way for us to travel.

The expedition did not have a great start, since on arrival to Heathrow we queued up to be told that our Quantas flight to Brisbane was cancelled and we’d have to go next day, spending the night at an airport hotel. This meant that our onward connecting flight to New Zealand would no longer be possible. With no options, we gnashed teeth and went to the hotel, returning next day for a flight to Australia-but to Singapore, which we duly boarded, having been blithely assured we’d be ‘sorted out’ once we got there.

At Singapore it was about 2.00am and we queued up, bleary-eyed, at a Quantas desk, finding ourselves at the very end of a long, snaking line of disgruntled passengers. Much later, at the desk, the staff member seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with us, finally adding us to the next flight to Sidney, which is at least Australia, so we’d be nearer to our destination!

Who knows what time it was when we arrived to Sidney? It was late. Dark. We dragged ourselves to the airport hotel, to wake after what seemed no time at all for another flight-to Christchurch! At check-in I believed I was hallucinating when the woman at the desk asked us to open all our luggage for scrutiny, after which we barely made it on to the plane. By the time we touched down at Christchurch I was beyond calculating how many hours we’d travelled, or how many hours we’d missed or gained.

But arrival to the small, homely airport was like stepping out of a blizzard into a warm bath; the staff friendly, the arrival pain-free. Then we walked out into spring sunshine, to where a taxi driver waited, his door open ready for us to sink into a seat and we were off to see if the hotel that had expected us 24 hours ago still had our room available…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.

 

 

 

Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

In Celebration of Summer Music Shabangs-

So in honour of our very own, homegrown music festival, The Christchurch Music Festival, this week’s post is part one of a festival-inspired story, in which I’ve plumbed the depths of my early festival and concert going experiences. The story concludes with part 2, next weekend…

Continuum

                We are waiting. Mickey elbows Dylan and stumbles to his feet, mumbling something incoherent. I glance at Shona. She is wearing her habitual expression of puppy dog longing. ‘Take me!’ it says.

Dylan shrugs before shambling off after Mickey. He calls over his shoulder, ‘I’ll bring us back some chips’, then he’s gone, plunged into the throng that’s gathered for this year’s headliners ‘Continuum’, whose gear is just being set up.

Shona looks at me pink faced. She leans forward and grips my arm. ‘Maz-has Dylan said anything about Mickey and me?’

I don’t want this. I don’t want another ‘does Mickey care about me?’ discussion.

On stage, the roadies are threading cables around the platform and repositioning parts of drum kit. I take a bottle of sun lotion from my bag and unscrew the top, squirt a little on to my finger, inhaling the coconut smell as I spread it over my forearms. I offer the bottle to her. ‘You should cover up, Shona,’ I warn her, ‘the sun is stronger than you think.’

With her fair skin and white blond hair she could burn in a rainstorm, but she shakes her head. ‘Tell me’, she pleads. ‘What’s Mickey said about me?’

I’m scanning the surrounding crowd now for Dylan’s large, reassuring bulk to reappear with the chips and it’s getting tricky keeping this space with standing, jostling fans closing in around us. How will Dylan and Mickey find us? The ‘Metallica’ T-shirt they tied to Shona’s umbrella as a marker is submerged and in a moment I’m going to surrender to claustrophobia so I get to my feet like everyone else. I lean down to her.

‘Can we talk about this later, Shona? We need to pick our stuff up and get ready for Continuum. If we hold up the umbrella the boys will see it.’

Shona didn’t come for Continuum. On the train she’d played no part in the argument about which of their two albums was better or whether the new bass player was any good. She hadn’t joined in with any of the songs and had admitted to not owning any of the band’s music. Shona is here because of Mickey. Mickey is barely aware of her existence.

She is up at last and I can pull the rug up, roll it and stuff it in my bag. I turn to her. ‘Look!’ I shout, ‘the announcer is on stage. They must be ready to come on! Where have those boys got to?’ I squeeze the T-shirt clad umbrella under my arm and stand on tiptoes, straining to see above the mass of bodies.

‘Maz’ she persists. ‘What do you think I should do?’

I want to swat her like an irritating fly now and I’m mad at Mickey for leaving her with me. ‘What do you mean, ‘do’? Just enjoy the band, Shona, like everyone else. It’s what we came for.’

But she is not to be distracted. ‘You and Dylan,’ she says, her voice raised to a plaintive squeak above the burgeoning excitement of the fans, ‘You’re so good together. I want that for Mickey and me. I want us to be a proper couple like you are.’

I turn to her. ‘Shona, Dylan and I aren’t a ‘couple’. We’re just mates hanging out until we go to uni. We get on ok, that’s all.’

She stumbles a bit, jostled by fans behind her and turns to throw them a furious look. ‘All I want is Mickey. I want him to marry me.’

I stare at her. How can she be so deluded?

‘Continuum’ concludes next week. Check into ‘Anecdotage’ to finish reading the story.