Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Just Got In From the Windy City

As I step into the windy streets of Wellington, the adrenaline occasioned by an international flight and the memory of New Zealand’s friendly hospitality buffer me from the cold. The locals are a kindly and obedient people who will welcome with open arms their new master (me).

Then a young woman with no footwear comes screeching around the corner pursued by urgent screams. She slips in a puddle and disappears behind a parked car. The shouts grow louder and she re-emerges crawling manically around the vehicle to hide behind a rear wheel. Another woman arrives and spots her.


“GO AWAY!” screams Rachel.



Rachel sprints away shoelessly. Her newly-homeless friend stumbles back the way she came.

I stare at the suddenly-empty street. A pack of twenty drunken warriors parade across the road I was heading towards, indecently assaulting rubbish bins.

Maybe I misremembered New Zealand. Actually I also forgot my toothbrush.

My flight hit the tarmac around midnight. The rain outside the cabin window was horizontal. The streets below were all orange, like something prehistoric preserved in amber. Lots of mountains, too. The wings of the plane seemed to skim the hillsides during our descent.

I shouldn’t say ‘our’ since I arrived alone. The other people on the flight were strangers, but share a cabin with people for a few dull hours and they become acquaintances. The shaven-headed Buddhist teen who counted beads the whole way. The rasta dude who strummed a guitar in the immigration queue. The businessman who described an epic saga of underwear theft as he made his way to the taxi rank. Apparently he had at least 30 pairs of expensive Calvins pinched from his office over an 8 month period. Though the great undie black-market taking Wellington by storm does command a certain amount of interest, I must be off.

I’m in Wellington for two days for work. It is a miserable cold ice-dunk of a city. It is known as Windy Wellington for a definite reason. It is also very pretty, nonetheless. But damn it’s cold.

The check-in lady at Melbourne Airport was from Wellington. She told me with an unreasonably gleeful attitude that the chilly weather we’d been having in Melbourne was heading towards New Zealand, so it would be even worse there. I completely missed the chance to make a NZ joke about always taking the weather with you. Still beating myself up about that one.

The morning after arrival I catch up with my old housemate Jess, whose dad lives in W-town. We meet out the front of Te Papa Tongarewa, the fancy new Wellington museum. Normally I avoid museums on whirlwind trips because they’re full of things that actual locals don’t have any connection with, often from countries other than the one you happen to be visiting. But I’d heard that this one had an earthquake simulator so I had to pop in.

The earthquake simulator was rubbish – a tiny weatherboard room done up like a crappy house that shook disinterestedly for about five seconds. I can accurately conjure up the experience for any Melburnian through the following two words: a tram. And not even one going around a corner, just a tram going at a reasonable pace on a flat stretch.

On the way in, though, we noticed a sign referring to a section called “Golden Days”, which was described as “The Junk Shop that Comes Alive!” Being both a fan of junk shops and life, I was intrigued.

I don’t recall the exact wording of the sign outside the exhibit itself, but it was something along the lines of CONTAINS NEW ZEALAND HUMOUR WHICH MAY NOT TRANSLATE. GRAPHIC SCENES NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE UNDER 15. Well bang my gavel and consider me sold.

The Golden Days ‘experience’ goes for about 17 minutes. But as Jess said about five minutes in, it felt like someone was about to rush in and prop our eyes open with matchsticks and force us to endure this unspeakably horrific act of mind-fucking until our heads exploded (I am paraphrasing).

Here’s a quick rundown of my interior commentary.

1 minute: Oh how quaint we are walking through ye olde shoppe of Kiwi antiques and bric-a-brac from the Golden Days which give this thing its name. Luverly. And now we enter a room with some comfy couches and lots more old crap.

2 minutes: Now that I am seated in one such comfy chair I notice that the video projection behind the crap is probably the focal point of this show. Judging by its image of a street scene, it appears we are supposed to be sitting inside an old antique shop which is being closed up by an old man as an old grandfather clock strikes five. Got it. Although that is an early closing time.

3 minutes: My goodness, after gramps has tottered off the opp shop comes alive! By which I mean the grandfather clock starts speeding up and a few antique items are jiggling about in a really unexciting manner (could be an earthquake, then). Ah, an album of faded photos has flicked open and obviously we are going back in time or somesuch nonsense.

5 minutes: What are these projected video images supposed to mean? This couple are lugging a baby around town and occasionally we see random sequences of historical footage. There’s no connection between the original scenes and the found material.

6 minutes: Sweet Jesus this is becoming a Dadaist nightmare. There are ships going to battle. And then there are Olympians. And then there are earthquakes. CONTEXT PLEASE?

7 minutes: The baby is being walked by a young mother and another man appears with a video camera and the baby is violently pushed into the camera’s lens.

8 minutes: And now there is a cow being gutted and its innards spill out.

9 minutes: Scenes of war and cheese-making.

10 minutes: And now there is a man stepping over a fence and being electrocuted in the gonads.

11 minutes: And the baby is back unharmed but the couple are holding it out over the edge of a ten-storey building. And a couple are getting married in a TV soap.

12 minutes: A bunch of 1700s English colonialists are demanding entry to New Zealand and a Maori leader is denying them their visa and then holding up an anti-nuclear sticker and there is canned laughter.





17 minutes: Oh, it’s over. Well, that was unusual.

Jess has a theory: if we want to find the hup places in Wellington, we should head for the gay district. There’s always something happening in the gay district. The theory sounds sound. Neither Jess nor I are gay but she has short hair and I’m politely skinny so we shouldn’t be turfed out as tourists. A few hours and a little research later we find ourselves smack-bang at the centre of Wellington’s throbbing party heart, literally surrounded by the entire mass of the city’s gay community, each of whom are lining up for a moment of our attention.

I should mention that Wellington’s gay district consists of one wine bar and when we arrive it’s just a handful of guys in attendance.

Scotty and Mal’s is worth a visit, though. There’s a weird tradition in Wellington: there’s only ever been one gay bar in existence. When a new one opens the old one closes as punters move on. And the old owners are forced to retire. Scotty and Mal were bartenders at many of the previous bars that filled this position, so their recent decision to open their own venue might alter the trend. That’s the goss as I remember it from Adam, who discovered Jess in Scotty and Mal’s while I was out the front on the phone. Adam became our new best friend in New Zealand and turned out to be one of the best city guides you could imagine. He has had a fascinating life and is moving to Melbourne so you should seek him out.

As I’d hoped after my last trip to New Zealand, my night out involved meeting many colourful locals. Kiwis on their home turf are quite simply some of the friendliest people in the world, and I don’t mean that in a patronising way. Even Adam was surprised when we wanted a photo taken with an exotically-dressed passerby. “Of course they’ll have a photo with you. They’re from Wellington! They’ll love it!”

So here’s a catalogue of the night’s encounters:

A guy inexplicably wearing a Mexican wrestler mask and just hanging around.

A six-foot four Maori tranny in a sequined white dress who spoke EXACTLY like Ja’Mie from Summer Heights High. She arrived announcing that she was incredibly pissed to everyone in hearing distance. Then strode off towards a jazz bar. “Just one more.”

A pretty man who kept hitting on me in a really obvious fashion and who, when he admitted he was from Auckland, instantly earned the enmity of the Wellington folk around. We all happily snuck away from him.

A sturdily built guy who approached us at Scotty and Mal’s and kept denying he was gay despite pointing at the Auckland fella and instantly introducing him as his ‘bottom’. This dude made Quote of the Night when he stood up decisively and declared his intentions for a late-night snack. “Whatever, bitches. I’m off for cock and crayfish”. And disappeared down the street.

A drunk girl with the world’s worst gaydar, who kept attacking Adam in the (straight) Establishment despite his a) wearing a tight coloured tank-top to dance b) dancing at all and c) dancing to disco hits. Then again, as Adam pointed out, even though Wellington lacks much of a gay nightlife, it’s incredibly gay friendly. Also, I noticed that even the straightest joints seemed to play the most iconic gay music around.

The Noodles, Wellington’s finest cover band. They did Bon Jovi and the like. I think they need to consider a name change.

A guy seething at the Noodles. He was from Wellington’s other finest cover band, Supermodel, and was dissing their set. He was into Kaiser Chiefs and the like. The Noodles were too 80s for him. If he was to do the 80s, it’d at least be The Smuths or something.

A beatbox world champion. I’m not sure of this guy’s credentials since he never did any beatboxing, but when we met him he and some mates had just decided to start dancing on the street, which won me instantly.

The next day Jess and her dad picked me up for a drive to somewhere interesting. I was feeling a bit peakish after the night before, so what followed was a four and a half hour drive during which my stomach occasionally felt like it was going to exit via any means available. It was mainly the Tararua mountain range, which was a winding 30 minute journey along tight roads with sheer drops of 500 metres or more. There were sometimes a few fence posts tied together with wire, but they didn’t make me feel much safer. I preferred the few odd metal barriers that separated drivers from CERTAIN FLAMING DEATH but when Jess’ dad jovially pointed out that such barriers were erected only when someone had gone over the precipice to said CERTAIN FLAMING DEATH, I felt the old woozies coming on again.

Anyway, we made it eventually to a beach and found ourselves separated from the shore by a few metres of rushing creek. Sucks to be me, sometimes. We were freezing, but I was determined to ford the river and so found some logs.

Logs floated off down river. Back in the car. As we drove back up the embankment, we played an exciting game of “spot our log”. See if you can spot one here.

Another half an hour of driving and we found another Beach That God Forgot but which thankfully had been overlooked by any creek builders as well.

Pretty freakin scary, still.

So: back to Wellington after four-plus hours of driving for two five-minute beach stops in Mordor and I’m a bit shaky. I’d only had a hasty bagel that day (and may I heartily recommend the fare at Wellington’s Wholly Bagels) so I wasn’t up for much of a big night. In fact, about all I could handle was – at Jess’ suggestion – a nice movie.

The only movie on was the one lowest on my list – Get Smart. Universally panned and pandering only to that all-important niche market of “people who should know better but have nothing else to do”. My demographic, then. It was brilliant.

And now I'm back. More to follow.

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