Wednesday, 13 January 2010


A few days ago I was reading a question on the Dooce Community. It was asked by a girl who was in the “Trying” stage of pregnancy, and had maybe been having a bit of a battle with it. So she asked: what can I appreciate now whilst I’m still childless? What do all of you parents miss the most?
It was a popular question. The number one answer was undoubtedly sex. Do it whenever you can, was the advice given there. Morning, noon, night, all rooms of the house etc. Resolving to ensure Richard never read this post, I kept reading. Number two most popular was spontaneity. Apparently when you have a child, doing things like going to the supermarket requires a five minute break in between nappy changes, feeds, naps, and laundry. Spontaneous decisions to go to the beach/park/local pub are out the window.
With this very much in mind, Richard and I found ourselves with a commitment-free weekend. We’d done all our Christmas shopping, it was a beautiful day, and most importantly, we woke up on Saturday WITHOUT a hangover. Sleepily, I said, “it’s a sunny day. What shall we do?”
Rich thought about it.
And 30 minutes later, we were showered, Berocca’d (gets you through the party season beautifully) dressed in our best summer casual-dressies and in the car.
Puhoi is an historic village situated about 30 minutes drive north of Auckland. It was settled by migrants in the 1880’s from Bohemia, which is now about 30 minutes out of the Czech Republic. Back then, it was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. New Zealand had literally just been colonized, and there were whole areas that hadn’t yet been slashed and burned. With that in mind, the Government passed the Waste Lands Act. This meant that inhospitable areas of the country could be settled and cultivated by migrants who only had to pay their way to New Zealand. On arrival, each adult was given 40 acres, and each child 20 acres of absolutely inhospitable land. The migrants, who had heard glowing reviews of New Zealand, had suffered over 100 days voyage, leaving in early Spring, to arrive in mid-Winter, turned up at a hastily put together whare (like a bivouac but larger) made from nikau palms. They would have looked around at the muddy paths, the claustrophobic bush cover and the total lack of anything suitable for farming, and no doubt burst into tears. I would have.
You can only imagine the conversations that the settlers would have had with Mr. Michael Krippner, who convinced these settlers to leave their families – never to see them again – and travel halfway around the world to farm mud and bush.
“Um – I’m pretty sure you said there were sea views?”
“Oh yeah, definitely – just climb this kauri tree and squint – you’ll see it in the distance. Maybe build a four story house....from the very available building supplies you see growing around you.”
“Can I have another look at our sale and purchase agreement?”
Anyway. The settlers were hardworking, and soon enough had cleared enough land to build more whares. They made money by shipping the tall kauri trees down river to Auckland, mining kauri gum, coal and ore. Local Maori helped with hunter-gathering. They stayed out in the bush all week, coming home in the weekend to their wives – “it’s YOUR TURN WITH THE KIDS!” – and to attend church.
With all of this in mind, Richard and I strolled around the village, which you can walk across in 15 minutes. There are not many buildings, but those that are there are beautifully maintained. Main attraction is definitely the Puhoi Hotel, a large, ramshackle building with chairs and umbrellas on a sloping lawn, dotted with people enjoying beers in the sun. The bar’s interior is literally covered in memorabilia. There are old photos, signs, newspaper articles, photos of famous people at the pub (Billy Connolly!) and the usual backpacker paraphernalia of bank notes, school IDs, scribbled signatures and business cards. It would take two days to go over it all, but the bright sun was beckoning and we took ourselves out to the lawn with a cider. Friendly dogs were wandering around, and kereru and tui were flitting in and out of the pohutukawa and cabbage trees nearby. It was stunning.
We ordered a ploughman’s platter for lunch. This is my favourite lunch – satisfying, filling, yet doesn’t make you feel overstuffed. Plus you eat with your hands, which always makes a meal extra good. This platter didn’t disappoint. The bread was soft and tasty, the ham fresh off the bone. The piccalilli was homemade with visible chunks of cauliflower and gherkin, and the pickled onions were so strong I got lemon lips. It was very British indeed.
Having eaten our fill, we wandered onwards to the Bohemian Museum, situated in the old school house. Entrance was an honesty box donation of $3.00, and there was not a soul to be seen. I loved this. In Auckland, or overseas, there would be a security guard and alarms ensuring that no one could touch anything or get too close. And while the entry fee may be voluntary, rest assured you will have to fight through three different desks each asking if you would like to pay this fee. But this felt like you were going into someone’s home. Brushing away cobwebs as we went in, (the visitor’s book hadn’t been signed since October) we discovered a charming room beautifully presented in a timeline of settlement. There were prayer books and musical instruments, kitchen utensils (found at the bottom of the river) and wedding dresses. A lot of work had gone into this room, no doubt by some hardworking volunteers. I poked a pipe and the child’s exercise books and waited for the alarms to ring – nothing.
Feeling parched, we walked up a quiet lane towards Puhoi Cottage. Passing a house blaring Christmas carols, a self-righteous boxer dog with a greying muzzle took it upon himself to bark furiously at us from behind a large gate. His owner called him off and he quietened down to a few indignant ruffs. Peace restored, we arrived at the cottage, which is apparently the oldest tearooms still serving Devonshire teas, don’t you know. I knew it would be good when I saw it advertised itself as a “diet-free zone”. A sprightly chap read the entire menu to us and explained who the house was built for, when and what with – I wasn’t listening though because I was still salivating over the menu. 2 “devo” teas – I love Kiwis, lucky I am one - were ordered, and we took ourselves around the overgrown cottage garden. Bunnies and guinea pigs, birds and bees abounded and the sun shone. The teas arrived with scones that were the size of rugby balls. The cream was freshly whipped, the jam gooey and bright and the tea strong and hot. It was perfect. So it should be for $10.00 each.
We started to get dozy in the heat, so we paid up and headed back to the pub, which was of course what we had in mind all afternoon.
It was much busier. Puhoi, like most small settlements in New Zealand, is a haven for bikies (not scary gang bikies, just people that like motorbikes) and classic-car owners. There were ranks of gleaming chrome lined up on the road, and lots of people sweating in their leathers. Richard drooled over a brand new Harley, while I eyed up a fantastic black e-Type Jaguar. My red Golf looked far too jaunty and new.
Sitting down with another cider, we do what all sight-seers love to do. Eavesdrop. Next to us was a large table filling up with people around our age. They werere all wearing T-shirts advertising “Pamplona ’97 Reunion” and “Redback Tavern – London”. One has a picture of a kiwi giving it to a kangaroo in the canine position. This one says “Show them some Kiwi style!” Cheap watches bought in London markets, fake handbags from Thailand on the way home, and all with leather wristbands.
They’re all obviously back in NZ after some years overseas. Drinking stories abound – who’s been the furthest distance away, who’s been away the longest, who can put on the fakest English accent. There are discussions on how they’re going to open a bar “near the beach, do some funny shit, just clean it up with the backpackers mate, clean it up.” I’ve seen these groups before, and as soon as one gets engaged, or has a baby, they all start dropping like flies and moving home. Saddest thing on earth? A guy who just doesn’t know when it’s time to hang up the passport and money belt. They’re all drinking crate bottles of Lion Red – including the girls – and the largest of them all takes his shirt off in the sun. I thought at one stage they were going to do a haka.
Richard and I stop staring and instead take note of a large stag do bus that’s pulled up, no doubt on a tour of country pubs, a very popular stag at the moment. Here is another sector of Kiwi society beautifully presented. About 40 guys pile out of the bus – all absolutely blotto. They’re at the stage where their legs seem to be attached to their bodies only by the merest suggestion – maybe some Blu-Tak. I take a look around. A table of beautiful blond girls quickly get up to leave, no doubt anticipating the amount of verbal banter that will get thrown in their direction. Remembering the last stag do we ran into and the amount of male genitalia that was on show, I decide I don’t want to ruin such a perfect day with that as a memory, and instead we finish up, and head off home.
If this is the kind of day I will fondly remember as I’m up at 3am with a squalling child, so be it. It was wonderful.


Jen on the Edge said...

Ah, yes, I seem to remember days like that back in the 90s. :-)

Actually, now that my girls are getting older, all four of us zoom off for the occasional day like that.

CaliValleyGirl said...

*Sigh*...I love your writing...I have another thing to add to list of things to enjoy before kids: sleeping in...and oh heck...plain old sleep. My biggest problem is I wait until the kids are in bed to do something, and then end up staying up waaaay too late and then they are up sooo early...and I consider even 7:30 to be early.

CaliValleyGirl said...
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