Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lichfield Lazing

When a perfect scorching Sunday presents itself under the behest of searching out the hair of the dog there was only one area in town we thought of and Lichfield Street is it.

Our first stop was The Twisted Hop where Lou and I had a well needed lunch as we hadn't eaten anything all day apart from toast at 6am. We ordered the Ploughman's platter with some additional chips and washed it down with some on-site micro-brewed beer which really hit the spot.

Keith and Jenny met up with us and we headed down the lane where we did some quality lounging on street sofas. There's only one place you can do this back home and that's in the Holylands but I think I prefer this setting.

We then moved further down Lichfield Street so Jenny could grab some dinner and we found a great spot on the balcony of The Fish & Chip which looks over the bar area.

It's a cool place to be at you can find more pictures of the day here. Unfortunately staying up all night and then drinking on a sunny afternoon makes you extremely tired and after a decent 5 or 6 pints, it was time to make a move home and fall onto the sofa.

Monday, February 25, 2008

6 Nations at 6am

Alas there has been nothing much to report on during the week and I apologise for only getting around to this now. Better late than never right?

Sunday afternoon was an absolute stunner of day and usually we would have hit the beach for some body boarding but we had spent the previous night sleeping only a few hours to get up at 6am to watch the Ireland vs Scotland rugby match and luckily we were not disappointed.

We had to win this match to have any chance of winning the tournament or at least the home nations cup/shield. Our last performance errors seemed like a distant memory and the addition of new players made a huge difference and a signal that we have a good chance of remaining a decent side after the old guard hang up their shoulder pads.

After beating Scotland 34-13 it was with vested interest that we watched the England vs France game and a rare backing of the Poms to give Ireland a better position in the table. Happily, they did not let us down and did what we could not.

In 2 weeks time we face-off against a strong Welsh side which should make for a cracking game.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crusaders Vs Brumbies

We went to our first Super 14 rugby match last night in support of the Crusaders. Luckily for us, the stadium is only a 20 minute walk away which is going to be very handy for future events held there.

Before the match started, riders on horseback galloped around the side of the pitch waving swords at the crowd to get them in the mood for the first (home) game of the season.

With the weather still in torrential rain mode and coming down heavily, we buried ourselves under our macs and plastic bin bags and hollered when the Crusaders took to the field.

It would be an interesting match as the pitch was a sheet of water and close to being waterlogged and it proved a vital role in countless handling errors and turnovers as the ball slipped out of wet hands and was sucked into the ground instead of bouncing which saved the Brumbies from scoring in the first half and sent their man eating puddles instead of scoring a try.

Once the game settled down after the first 10 minutes, the Crusaders took control of the match and it was clear that they were outmatching the opponents which was clearly illustrated by the end scoreline. Despite Dan Carter mis-kicking some arguably easy points, he racked up a considerable score advantage with 4 conversions and 2 penalty goals. With the bonus point being picked up, it now puts them at the top of the table so a great start to the season.

The next few matches will have to be followed on TV as they face-off against the Bulls in Pretoria, the Stormers in Cape Town and the Force in Perth before returning to play the Cheetahs on March 15 so we'll certainly be getting tickets for that match and hopefully the scoreline will mirror last nights game with better weather to boot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's Winter In Northern Ireland

We might not be experiencing the best summer weather in Christchurch at the moment with torrential rain pouring down and turning the roads into horizontal waterfalls but it's much worse at home with 6 inches of snow. My Mum sent a few pictures to us and it's typical that it snows more in my living memory when you leave the country!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gone Fishin'

I was invited on Saturday morning by my cousin to go fishing with him on Lake Coleridge which is something he has talked for a while and it was a perfect warm, windless if slightly overcast day for it. We were taking his boat out and this in itself is a special event as it's been out of the water for the last 14 months and long overdue for an outing.

The lake is situated about an hour or so drive north west of Christchurch and is in a very isolated location surrounded by mountain ranges and desolate scenery giving it a feel of empty grandness which is both awe-inspiring and very plain as there is a distinct lack of colour making the glorious landscape somewhat mundane.

On our way there we encountered a staging point for the Coast to Coast race which takes place every year. Competitors start on the west coast and make their way to Sumner beach in Christchurch through 2 days and 4 gruelling stages. The first day includes a 55km cycle stage and a 33km mountain run and the second day concludes with a 67km kayak trip on the Waimakariri and a 70km cycle. The first competitors are expected to finish by early afternoon with stragglers coming in as late as midnight. It all sounds like too much hard work for two days and something that would be great to do if you had a week to do it!

By the time we arrived at the lake it was early afternoon and our attempts to get out fishing were hampered by the boats engine refusing to start which proved to be down to a dead battery. However, the saviour came in the form of Stephen's father-in-law whose 4x4 runs on two batteries and we used one of them to get us out on the lake.

We made our way around to an inlet and according to the computer, there were plenty of fish at a depth of 15 feet. We attached additional weights to the line and spent half an hour in vain to catch anything. Unfortunately, (I'm not sure how this happened other than bad luck and butter fingers), the anchor and rope found their way to the bottom of the lake and there was nothing to stop our boat from drifting towards the rocky outcrop and we had to return to the middle of the lake where it was too deep to fish.

Despite the setbacks and lack of fish(ing) it was an enjoyable afternoon and I hope to do it again sometime soon. In respect of the day and to quell our hunger, we stopped at the pub/restaurant in Cust and picked up some battered fish and chips - hopefully next time we'll have caught our own supper.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Waitangi Day

Waitangi Day celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, on that date in 1840. Or in other words, a public holiday in summer to go and enjoy yourself. After a few days of low 20's shrouded in cloud, today is a beautiful blue sky day albeit slightly windy.

Lou and I decide to pack a picnic and take a drive north up the coast. Unlike other parts of the country, there is no coastal road and instead we follow Route 1 as it mirrors the coastline a few kilometres inland.

We pass Woodend where Keith and Jen took us a while ago which they initially found taking (or in their case, not taking) a turn off towards Oxford and my cousins House in West Rangiora. By the way, I have placed a map link on the left hand side of the blog as a reference to some things I will mention and other things I will remark upon so you might be more clued in as to who, where, how and what I am talking about since it will prove useful to those reading this outside New Zelaand and to those thinking of coming over to visit and places they might like to visit on day trips from Christchurch.

There are two beaches notated on our map north of Christchurch, Leithfield and Amberley beach, located around 35km and 45km from Christchurch repsectively. We decide to stop at Leithfield on the way to Amberley mainly because we are hungry and the beach has an adjoining motor campsite. Taking a brief walk onto the beach, it is empty, windswept and ultamitely not very interesting. It is certainly no good for picnicing on and if I had to camp here it would be because our tyre had a flat late in the evening and the spare was missing.

We reverse and drive back down the unsealed road gravel road back towards the highway. Incidentally, the roads in New Zealand or at least the roads off the main roads are not up to the same standard as in the UK and Ireland. Most are covered in stones and require driving along them at 20-30kph (unless you drive a 4WD and don't care about blasting past other drivers scattering stones to the four winds under your wheels).

We take another right turn further down the road and make our way to Amberley. Unforunately this beach makes Leithfield look like a gem and there is no beach to speak off except rolling waves pounding the shoreline. Nevertheless we take out our lunch and watch the surf as it breaks and seagulls fly against the wind fighting to land on the rocky beach. Ironically this place has more visitors as car fulls of teenagers compete with loner drivers only there to soak up whatever atmosphere they can and read the paper and contemplate (possibly why they came there in the first place).

Undeterred by our somewhat futile journey we head back to Christchurch. Put positively, this informs us where not to go for a day drip and will save us a 100km roundtrip as now we know that Woodend is not only closer but infinetly better. It is a beautifully sandy beach and has several amenities such as a cafe and (comically awful) crazy golf course.

The remainder of the afternoon is spent relaxing under a hot summers day reading the paper and sipping on gin and tonics - a decidely better end to this part of the day. I begin a new book less than 2 weeks after finishing Whit by Ian Banks. I have never read more than since arriving here and I can only wonder how this voracity will be maintained once the internet finds its way into the house.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Getting Behind The Wheel

Ever since we arrived in New Zealand I was aware of a skill I would have to learn sooner than later, something I had no inclination for at home, driving. Having always lived in Belfast city centre or extremely close to it, I had never needed a car to get to and from work and had never taken to getting into a car behind the wheel.

I remember my first 'lesson' many years ago where I'd asked my Mum to show me the basic manouvres in the cul-de-sac where we lived. No sooner had I turned the ignition and made the car jolt forward and stall, my lesson was over. She retreated back to the house in a panic and it would be many years later before I sat in the right front seat again.

I relied on friends to take me places where we were going, aware that this freeloading would someday have to come to an end. I would have to learn how to drive.

Our car in New Zealand, like a lot of the cars here, is an automatic. It does not suffer jolts forward when the ignition is turned and there are no gear shifts to master. Naturally I will not be able to drive a manual but Lou is very content with an automatic and I suspect future cars, regardless of my ability to learn manual, will nevertheless be automatic.

I'm not entirely sure of the process of theory tests in the UK and Ireland but in New Zealand it is a very straight forward process. Firstly, it is recommended that a road code booklet be purchased ($25) and studied. As I have been a passenger for many years and observed the rules of the road, most of the booklet is straight forward in terms of how to drive and behave on the road. The only things new to me was with regards to tire thickness legality, stopping distances and what to do if your car breaks down on a motorway (Flip up the bonnet and pop the boot).

The test itself is called a 'scratch test' as it is 35 multiple choice questions, 32 of which must be correct for you to pass. Each question has 4 possible answers with a foil square hiding 3 X's and a tick. 25 questions make up the first section of general road usage while the last sheet with 10 questions tests your extended knowledge of the road and vehicle with more technical questions such as the aforementioned minimal tyre thickness (which is incidentally 1.5mm).

The application costs $40 and the test is the same again with 30 minutes to complete. I didn't time myself but I estimate it took around 15 minutes at most. (In case you're wondering, I passed).

I was given a sheet of paper indicating my learner status until the licence arrives in the post in a weeks time. The best thing about applying for your theory test is, much the same for New Zealand's form of MOT, the Warrant of Fitness, you can just walk in and do it - no booking or hanging around.

My brother Keith took his theory test around a month or so ago in order that he could share the driving with his wife Jenny as they made their way around the country. She also had to take the test so she could legally supervise his driving as a front seat passenger and I'm sure she's loving it.

So, in a short time, I will be, to steal a literary title, On The Road.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Accident & Emergency

On Friday afternoon, Lou and I bought a laptop so that we can get internet in the house and not take out of the way and costly trips to the internet cafe. Hopefully this will mean that I can now start and make daily updates to this blog and keep you all up to date with the goings on in Christchurch.

The main note of interest that has occured recently included our 5 year anniversary on 26 January. We celebrated with dinner at a place called Le Bon Bolli, a French bistro restaurant in town. We had an enjoyable meal more so from the conversation than the food. Lou's main course was delicious and mine was average, then my dessert was delicious and Lou's was abysmal. It was only on the following Monday in work I discovered that although I had phoned to reserve a table a week in advance, we were seated in the downstairs cafe bistro as opposed to the more elegant and expensive upstairs which I would have preferred had I been asked on the phone which I had not. So not only did the restaurant lose out on what would have been money in seating us upstairs, but from repeat dinings in future.

The rest of the evening was spent at Warner's Hotel bar where I tested their Guinness before having a pint of my new favourite beer - Mac's Great White. It looks and tastes exactly like Hoegarden minus the expense. On a related and cheerful note, our Munich style beer that we are brewing is of very much the same look and taste so I'm very excited about getting stuck into that and letting our reserved section mature for 3, 6 and 9 months respectively for an even better taste!

We have also been enjoying the mid-summer weather and on the days when Lou can meet me for lunch, we have taken a picnic on a bench by the river Avon overlooking punts, kayaks and ducks passing by and the latter clacking at our feet looking for scraps. It's great to have this on our doorstep and we investigated Hagley Park on Saturday to explore it and the Botanical Gardens.

Our journey took us through town winding our way through the city square and over a bridge to where a little carnival was taking place. It was mostly for children with rides and candy floss highlighted by a very strange and, admittedly, offensive inflated slide designed to look like one half of the Titanic sinking into the ocean. One wonders if other designs by the company include the Hindenburg and Twin Towers and a Ghost House with an Auscwitch gas chamber theme.

We cycled on past the golf course which strangely has no safety fence - only a sign warning you to keep your eyes peeled for flying golf balls although by the time someone has a chance to shout 4 it would already have hit you, especially dangerous for any children in the park. We took a rest on a park bench overlooking a huge man made pond before making our way to the other side and our route back home again.

Unfortunately our return journey was edged with danger and disaster and a trip to Accident & Emergency.

Part of Christchurch's charm lies in a tram system that loops in a circle to take visitors and interested parties through the streets taking in the scenery and awe of buildings a mere 200 years and less old. As such the road is covered in tram tracks making it a bear trap for bicycle wheels. Part Lou and her natural aura of accident-prone-ness and the rest unfortunate circumstances, her wheel lodged between a tram line and sent her catapulting over the handlebars and into a heap on the road.

I raced back to help her where she was already being assisted by several people who were just behind us. One woman led her to a low wall to sit down where I crouched beside her and examined her injuries while another person cleared the bike from the road. She had a huge nasty graze on her arm, a few superficial grazes on her knee and face and a particularly nasty gouge in her hand. One of the by-standers, whom we mistook to have some sort of medical background assessed that the cut was right through to the bone and suggested a trip to a chemist. Another had a first aid kit on her bike and she stuck a plaster on it. I noticed she also had antiseptic cream and other more usual wraps but did not want to harass her for them if she was not forthcoming as I was more concerned with the face that Lou was very pale and obviously concussed and naturally scared.

I had no intention of going to the chemist for such serious injuries as they would certainly have not provided the care required and helped Lou get to the Accident & Emergency which by that stage I was glad to note that her concussion had subsided although she was still in need of having her cuts and grazes cleaned out with the necessary lotions, salves and bandages. Although we had a first aid kit at home, I wanted the best treatment possible and was also wary of the concussion.

After registering with a nurse and obtaining some painkillers, we waited for around an hour where we were taking through and a nurse examined her. She told us that a doctor would not be needed, which we had surmised ourselves by this point, and provided us with an abundant bag of wraps and bandages to apply once the cuts were washed out.

We managed to cycle home again and my hours of watching ER paid off as I adeptly applied gauzes and suchlike on Lou's injuries which made her look more seriously injured than she was but I was glad to have bothered with the hospital rather than the chemist and be rewarded with free appendages.

I am feeling slightly nervous now as I seem to be the only person in the house not affected by jetboat or bike crash and that I might be next. With any luck, these things come in 3 and I wont be targeted next!

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