Monday, 28 February 2011

The earthquake

View Larger Map

New Zealand has suffered one of its worst earthquakes in living memory; Mel and I are currently living a few hundred kms from the city of Christchurch, which has been hit hardest. I hope all those who are affected by the quake can take some comfort from the fact that the world stands with them. Something that has been made abundantly clear by the media coverage is that New Zealand has stepped up to the plate and has already begun to help in any way they can. Some of my new colleagues at Sound Stage have been talking of their friends who live there and also of the impact of loosing so many beautiful old buildings, so many of which have collapsed or are completely unstable. It’s not the first time Mel and I have been so close to such a disaster. If nothing else, it gives us greater perspective and resolve to continue on our adventure, as none of us know what the future holds.

The earthquake came at a time when almost everything has been going very well for us here in Nelson. We have enjoyed house-sits, I have started new jobs and we have both been enjoying working on ‘Brassed Off’.

We finished house-sitting at Sue and John’s towards the end of last week and we moved to a hostel called ‘Shortbread Cottage’ which is on Trafalgar Street, opposite the Nelson sports arena which will house a few of the Rugby World Cup matches this year. We have been cleaning there in exchange for free accommodation, in this instance, a campervan parked at the front of the building. It has been ok. Mel has had to brave the hairy shower plug holes and endless washing far more often than I have, as I have been combining my Sound Stage teaching with supply teaching at a secondary school in nearby Richmond, called Waimea College. So between us we have been really busy – lots of cleaning, teaching, rehearsing and still the constant search for jobs and long term accommodation of the WWOOF variety have kept us completely occupied. I’m starting to feel as jaded as I did before we left the UK.

We have found time for one or two pleasures during the last week or so. We went and had dinner with Hugh and Judith Neil, directors of ‘Theatre Alive’, last Friday. Judith had cooked up a magnificent meal which included our favourite – Thai Green Curry. Mel and I made some plum and apple crumble which we all enjoyed for dessert, topped with coconut cream. And to finish it all off, a large tot of single malt whiskey. Needless to say; we slept all the better after that.

Life cleaning at the hostel was to end rather more quickly than we had perhaps had anticipated. During our search for longer term residency, we came across Fairfield House. A superb Victorian property, quite close to Tom and Ngaire’s place which is now used for all sorts of corporate functions and community events. Catherine Brosnehan is in sole charge of the day to day running of the place, which sits on a few acres. She has the help of her daughter Shannon and also other WWOOFers. We touched base with her and she invited us up to meet her on the Saturday following dinner at Hugh and Judith’s. A chance to meet us and rope us in to helping to set up for the Brazilian night being held there that evening. We duly obliged, and although we didn’t get to see all that much of Catherine, we were treated to great music and good company. Mel met a lady named Zoe, who offered to let us stay at her place out at Cable Bay, in exchange for a few hours labour a day. As you know, we love Cable Bay, so within the next few days we had seen the property, a 3 bedroomed, timber structure with extensive views of the surrounding bay and mountains. Zoe explained which trees needed felling, which weeds needed whacking and here we are.

It is now Sunday evening, the 27th February 2011, 7:15pm. Mel is in the kitchen cooking scones and a Moroccan tagine on the wood burning stove whilst I sit, typing away on my first proper blog in around 3 weeks. I have been very busy though! The sun has started to lower behind the house, which is set into the side of a hill, just of the only road in and out of the bay. I can see sheep across the water on the other side of the inlet, scampering to catch the last warmth of the sun before setting down to sleep under the clear skies on what looks to be another picture perfect night to come. The view is somewhat less impeded than it was since we severely chopped back a particularly vociferous Jacaranda tree which had been threatening to engulf the entire house until we took to it with a chain saw.

I can smell the spices of the tagine, sweet and aromatic, and I can feel the squeaky clean wooden floor boards against my bare feet, a reassuring feeling of a job well done – I scrubbed the floor just an hour ago. Opposite me on the table is a glass with rosemary, thyme and pink rose buds, all freshly cut from the garden that steeply slops away from the house, down to my left where it joins the rising waters of a near high tide.

We went kayaking a couple of hours ago. Zoe has a small boat shed which houses a few seaworthy vessels, and a 2 seater kayak among the score. It was windy, but we both still enjoyed it.

Mel loves Kayaking, almost as much as sitting in the sun, so to be able to do the both together must equate to Norwich City winning the FA Cup to me. She is tired now, having been working so hard in the kitchen since we stowed away our boat and made our way up the winding path to the house. I better go. I think dinner will be ready soon. I’ll write again very soon.


We’re really enjoying life in Nelson, the weather continues to be hot and sunny, the people are still friendly and our life/work aspirations are looking pretty good just now.
I have started teaching at the very impressive Sound Stage professional performing arts academy and rehearsals for ‘Brassed Off’ have taken a very interesting turn in that Mel is now a member of the cast!

The week began with Tom, Ngaire and their children arriving home from the holiday down south and despite their son, Oliver, contracting pneumonia, they were in high spirits and pleased to come home to a clean house and home cooked soup followed by carrot cake, courtesy of Mel’s culinary skills. We stayed with them for a further 3 nights before reluctantly heading off to our next house-sit; such had been the pleasure of our time at their property.

Sue and John live in another stunning house, with views of the entire Bay. You can see Takaka Hill from their balcony, way off in the distance, a sharp reminder of the distance and gradient of our travels on the bikes.

The house itself is not an easy place to get to in that it is up a steep climb on the bikes, it is worth the effort though. Sue and John stocked the cupboards with all sorts of food and wine for our enjoyment during their trip up north. They have a very productive veggie patch with all sorts of stuff in season and they left us with strict instructions to water twice daily and enjoy the benefits should anything be ready to devour. We have been given the privilege of looking after ‘Puss’ as well, an aging tortoise shell cat who has travelled half way round the world from Ireland to spend her twilight years here. She is very much the apple of Sue and John’s eye. It is so nice to come home to a cat again in the evenings, always so nice to have the purring on your lap whilst you consume a well deserved beer or two.

Another interesting quirk at Sue and John’s has been the daily visit of ‘Gully’, a massive black backed gull who arrives on queue, each morning to be fed the last of the unfinished cat food from the previous day plus a slice of bread.

Viola has been in town this week, armed with lots of photo’s of her Kayaking trip with Gary, our ‘warm showers’ host from Wellington. Viola and Gary spent a week on the water cruising round the empty beaches and inlets of the many islands dotted around the northern tip of south island. It looks like she has had a great time.

Mel and I are unsure as to what to do next with regards to our onward travels. It seems like a good idea to try and stay in Nelson for the long term, especially as things seem to be going very well with my work. All we need now is for Mel to find a job and all will be well. I have been asked to cover some classes at Waimea College over the next week or so. One of the drama teachers has been offered the chance to go to Australia and perform at the prestigious Adelaide festival. I have accepted the offer, it is a chance to go and see what teaching at a secondary school in New Zealand is really like.

We have learned that another of our cycling mates, James, has been lost and found whilst out hiking in one of the national parks near us in Nelson. He was missing for several days and is lucky to be alive. It has been front page news. It must have been terrifying for him. The report I have seen, suggests that after a couple of days he had to remove his contact lenses as they hurt so much, so for 3 days he was basically blind. It is such an easy thing to do, get lost in the wilderness. But it hasn’t stopped all those idiots who have no idea what they are talking about from posting up critical statements on Facbook and the like. “Stupid Pome, wouldn’t have happened to a Kiwi!” etc. I can hear the wise amongst you yawning in unison with me.

On our last day at Sue and John’s we managed to find hostel to work in, in exchange for our accommodation, so it’s off to ‘Shortbread Cottage’ for us and we’ll catch up again soon.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

We're OK in Nelson

Just a quick mini-blog to assure everyone that we are still in Nelson and are safe from the earthquake. We've been watching live tv, seen dead bodies pulled from the YHA and buildings collapsing - we send our love and support to everyone in Christchurch.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Takaka Hill, Nelson, 'Brassed Off' and SoundStage 22 January - 3 February 2011

Theirs is an old adage which states that “A week is long time in football.” – or was it politics? There is a reason why this is an old adage. This week, since leaving the tranquillity of Takaka and our new friends there, our cycle tour has been halted temporarily, but for good reason.

Our last days with Judith were full of laughter and hard graft in one garden or another. We spent 2 days at Theo’s place; an 80 something dairy farmer with a great devotion to her 200 acre garden where we spent a great deal of time pulling ivy from a section of her Camellia hedgerow. We also managed a day’s gardening at Gaye and Adele’s place, working with Pat to tidy up the sloping gardens which lead down to a tidal creek a bottom of their patch. We even had time to meet Judith’s brother, now living in Lincolnshire near to my mum’s place, but over visiting the family for a month.

We left Takaka on Saturday the 22nd of January and began our cycle back towards Motoeka. We were both utterly exhausted when we arrived in Motoeka that evening after cycling the highest climb in NZ – 10km and 800 metres (there are higher hills and mountains but you don’t start from sea level for those!). The sun had been beating down on us all throughout the cycle, oddly, as we both looked up to the sky, we saw a perfect rainbow surrounding the sun and we both felt it was in some way symbolic.

Early on Sunday morning we packed up and set off on the 50 km journey into Nelson again. It was a much easier and quicker journey than the previous day, no 15 km uphill cycling to do for a start! We were in a bit of a rush due to the fact that we had read about an open audition for the play ‘Brassed Off’, being held in the town at 2pm in the afternoon. I figured now was as good a time as any to introduce myself to the theatrical community of New Zealand, so we set up camp at the not so nice ‘Paradiso’ backpackers and headed for SoundStage – a professional performing arts academy – to read for the director.

At the audition we met other potential cast members and got chatting, as you do. All were friendly and went out of their way to welcome us. Ngaire, a local GP and all round good egg, came into the audition with me and read the part of Sandra. I was reading for Phil, Sandra’s husband. It was great to have a script in my hand again. Mel also came in to introduce herself and to offer her services backstage, as they had advertised for such help. Hugh and Judith Neill, the directors of Theatre Alive, the company responsible for the show, appeared to be impressed enough with us and we left feeling happy. As we were leaving, Ngaire offered to let us stay in her spare room, should we need somewhere to go. She explained that her husband Tom and her three children would be fine with us staying for as long as we needed to. We have taken her up on that offer – I am currently sitting in their Beverley Hills type house on a hill overlooking Nelson, more on this later.

That evening I was offered the part of Phil in the show, I couldn’t have been more pleased as it is set to go on at The Theatre Royal here in Nelson in April. It’s the oldest wooden theatre in the southern hemisphere and it looks stunning from the outside. We met Hugh to have a look round, it was wonderful!
The beautiful chairs in the upper circle

Looking at the stage from the Upper Circle

Looking our from the stage

Charlie and Hugh on stage

The rehearsal space upstairs above the stage

Hugh and Mel in the upper wings

 As it turn out, Ngaire and her eldest child, Oliver, will be playing the roles of Sandra and ‘our’ son, so we’re all practically family now!

On the Monday afternoon I was back at SoundStage interviewing for the vacant Drama Coach position. I was interviewed by Jane Winter, the principle, and her husband, Simon for more than an hour, after which time I was offered 4 hours per week to start with, with a view to maybe increasing my hours as time passes. Another great bit of news. SoundStage is the only professional performing arts academy in Nelson, so to be part of that team is both flattering and exciting and I can’t wait to get stuck in. Obviously, 4 hours a week is not going to be enough for us to live off, but we are attempting to increase our spectrum of work as quickly as possible and who knows, we may end up staying in Nelson for a while yet. I will post details of the show on the blog as and when I receive them, but for now a link to both Theatre Alive and the SoundStage websites are available for you to view in the usual place on this page.

After the good news about the jobs, Mel and I decided to go away on the bikes for one more trip, before settling down here for a couple of months or more. We packed up and left ‘Paradiso’ backpackers and headed off to Cable Bay for a couple of nights. We were both very pleased we did. (Check out the video on We had an almost private beach, an empty campsite, a super cafĂ© for lunch and great hiking opportunities. We were able to spend time reflecting on all of our achievements to date on our travels.
Arriving at Cable Bay

Above Cable Bay

Looking towards Nelson

So, we find ourselves in a very unique position in every sense of the word. We have been offered the chance to house-sit for a week, so we have somewhere to stay, all be it temporarily, some work and a show on the horizon. The property we are house-sitting; Tom and Ngaire’s place, is a 1930’s New Zealand timber frame house, strategically embedded into the side of the Grampians overlooking the town, tastefully decorated with a swimming pool, beautiful garden and a kitchen to die for. They are a truly wonderful couple, with 3 delightful kids, so welcoming and generous to a fault. My, my, we have been fortunate. Mel and I intend to bake and cook amazing food for them when they return from a week’s holiday on Sunday, as we have had the place to ourselves since Friday.
Polenta Frittata