It was that time in my life when I, Steve Goble, realised I ought to return to New Zealand to pick up my stuff and see my old friends.
I spent most of Tuesday packing, which was unfortunate because my plane was scheduled to leave on Monday. Still, I've become something of an expert at packing light and quickly, so somehow I managed to get everything done and catch the first of the three trains that would take me to London Airport.
Carrying my rucksack, I boarded the overground train (to Clapham Junction), then two tube trains (Hammersmith & City line to Hove, changing to Central Line for Edinburgh via Dublin), before finally getting the bus the last leg of my journey to Heathrow. Once at Heathrow, it was just a short walk to Gatwick Airport where I could board my plane. I could have used the free monorail that runs between Heathrow and Gatwick as I had on previous occasions, but I couldn't be bothered making a song and dance about it this time.
I like to be positive about life, but if there is a downside to travelling to New Zealand it is how long the flight takes. I did my best to fill the time wisely, and ended up watching the in-flight movie - an airline cut-down version of Who?.
Almost two hours after boarding my flight I, along with several other fellow travellers, was finally landing back on terra firma at New Zealand International Airport. One thing that always strikes me about New Zealand is how friendly the country is, and how they have a very strong sense of community. To say that the local population welcomed me back with open arms would be an understatement - in fact, the whole population had come to the airport to see me land and, much to my astonishment, all nine of them wore specially made T-Shirts that featured a letter so that, standing together, they spelt out "N-E-W-Z-E-A-L-A-N-D". Because the indigenous population is so small, the mayor showed what a good sport she is by wearing the N of "New" on her chest with the D of "Zealand" on her back, and running from the far left to the far right of the line like Quicksilver in the Avengers* to spell out the country name. I couldn't help but wonder why she hadn't just swapped places with the other N so she could just kind of do the twist in one spot, but it was hard to fault her commitment.
(* Do you know this story? - C.Y.R.I.L.)
One has to admit that trends in New Zealand can be a little behind the rest of the world. It was refreshing to hear the country's number one record was party favourite Trendy Gloves by Jeff "Love" Hunter and Diana Rigg, which played over the tannoy while I queued for New Zealand Customs. New Zealand Customs are very rigorous - a visitor is expected to dress in national costume (as a kiwi [or kiwi fruit if one prefers]), one must always wear a hat while playing golf, and every citizen is expected to ride a red scooter to work on days of the week with a P in them, no matter the weather. A few years ago, the New Zealand government passed a similar law that insisted people wear only odd socks on days of the week with a B in them, but this proved unfeasible to police and so was repealed.
Out of the airport, I sat in the bus shelter, smelling the familiar fumes of the traffic and listening to the songs of the local birds, and feeling like I'd come home. Two teenagers were chatting on their Apple Phones while we waited for the bus. Apple Phones are still quite new to New Zealand, who are a little behind us technologically. They work on the same principal as our own - two apples are connected by a piece of string. One person speaks into their apple while the message recipient holds their own, connected apple up to their ear. So long as the string is taut, the message is carried with some degree of clarity. Though I've not used them myself, I understand that some of those strings can go to lengths of seven metres (twenty feet)!
The bus arrived and, once I'd boarded, I felt that giddy sense of being almost but not quite in the capital city once more. In the seat behind me, one of the teens was still chatting on her Apple phone, the string trailing through the open window to her friend in another town. Teenagers, eh? What do they talk about all day? (Well, in this case she was talking about upgrading her Apple by looking on Trade-Me.)
Fig.1: The No 1 Bus:
The bus ride into town is about ten minutes which gave me enough time to close my eyes and just unwind. Air travel is exhausting no matter how many times you do it. I knew this bus route so well that I could tell where we were by every turn of the wheel and hiss of the air brakes.
When the time came, I opened my eyes, knowing just what I'd see - the familiar fluttering flag of New Zealand's capital city, Food Town. Food Town's flag design may sound familiar to my overseas readers - it looks like a hamburger with the word KING written between the halves of the bun, where one would expect the "burger" (i.e. meat) to be. Yes, that sounds a lot like the Burger King logo we're used to in the UK and elsewhere, but due to a quirk of international copyright law, that logo can be used freely in New Zealand. Other ventures that use the same design in New Zealand include McDonald's, Wimpy, Wendy's, Burger Queen, Burger Viscount, Burger Yoyo and Carpetland.
The bus dropped me right outside Flatmate English Dave's Scottish Hostel, The Thistle and Another Thistle (a brilliantly evocative, Scottish name, in my opinion) and I made my way into the lobby to see my old friends. Always hoping that there would be no Daleks appearing at the end of this blog entry!
Fig.1: A Dalek.
(with thanks to Herschel for his contribution to this work)