Monday, May 23, 2005

Stand the hell back, I'm gonna post it!

Apologies for the mild profanity above. I've been sitting on this post for soooo long now, and being so unable to resist tinkering with it that I was about to add in the tale, from when I was 13, of when I nearly saw my first pair of female breasts.

It may not be apparent yet, but this is part of a Wellington Blogosphere initiative to tell the world why we love Wellington, and for those of us not born here, what brought us to this fair city.

Kind of like that one guy who does a mexican wave all by himself. Or not. Alan over at Half-pie has his ready too. The Wellingtonist may very well link to everyone who has a go. So have at it Wellingtonians.

I was brought to Wellington by my parents, in January 1968. I spent the first 8 years of my life in a smallish village in South Wales.

As far as I'm aware, we emigrated from the "Old Country" because my dad got bored. I have hazy recollections of destinations being discussed: South Africa, Canada, Australia, and some place that sounded like "Hawkeland", in New Zealand, which sounded intriguing. But before we knew it, dad had a job lined up in cosmopolitan Wainuiomata.

Legend has it that my great grandfather "Pop", warned my mother to reconsider the move to this "Lower Hutt": "You're used to electricity." he advised. Other, equally well-travelled relatives assumed that the Hutt Valley consisted literally of two huts, Upper & Lower, and the latter was to be our home... grass skirts not included. And don't mention the natives... luckily, my dad was raised on a diet of John Wayne, Randolph Scott & James Stewart pioneering westerns, he was confident he knew what he was doing.

We travelled to NZ on the Shaw Savill liner, Southern Cross. If memory serves, the voyage took 6 weeks, with stops at Panama, Curacao, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji, Tahiti, and possibly some places I've forgotten too. Long voyages on ocean liners are colossally boring.

Jan 1968, a cargo of Xmas Airmail from the Old Country arrives late My first recollection of Wellington was as the ship sailed into the harbour & berthed at the Overseas Terminal. I remember how bright all the houses in Oriental bay looked. It must have been a marvelous Summer's day. We were met by the principal of Wainui College, who whisked us out to the Hutt, over the Wainui hill road, and dropped us at the fabulous Empire Hotel. Where we stayed for several days until someone rescued us & took us in until a house was found & readied for us.. Swinging 60s, Lambton Quay, Mr & Mrs Llew Snr explore their new home

Meanwhile, our furniture was still in Southampton & remained there for several months due to a wharfie strike.

In the first few months in our new country, Wellington experienced quite a large earthquake - I remember the clock fell of the wall at school & hit some kid on the head - while the rest of us quailed under our desks, and the Wahine Day storm. My mum asked her friends if it was always like this...

Four years later, we returned to the UK for a year. Once again by ocean liner (I did not fly until I was 25, and that was in a 4 seater piloted by a mate), this time Chandris Line's Ellinis (4 weeks), travelling back much the same way we had come 4 years earlier. I think my parents were testing the waters. Deciding once & for all where they would like to live. One year later, the choice having been made, we were sailing back once again, to NZ, stopping at Rotterdam, the Canary Islands, Capetown...

Another boat load of whinging Poms heads for the Antipodes Once again, I was struck by the bright colours of the houses in Oriental Bay. And once again, we were ensconced in the Hutt Valley.

When of a sufficient age that I could travel with my friends from the Hutt into Wellington for movies & the like, it was to a Wellington much different to what it is now. For a start, there were no cafes, there were a handful of "milk bars", like the Lido, and the Paramount, so named because they were adjacent to cinemas of the same name. Indeed, those two cinemas were different places too, both specialising in it seemed, alternate programmes of European "Art House" (Ingmar Bergman), and soft core pornography (The X-Rated Adventures of Pinnochio - It's Not His Nose that Grows), although to our novice viewing tastes, there wasn't much difference between the two genres. The eponymous milk bars also did very hearty breakfasts, which came in handy in later years when suffering from hangovers... many a Saturday morning was spent consuming balck coffee & "grease" at the Lido, "brunch" being a poncy JAFA term not yet introduced to these parts.

Dining out in the evenings was usually a case of queueing for fish & chips, burgers or Chinese takeaway on the way home from the pub. Until the legendary Mexican Cantina came along, with its innovative booking system which allowed you to leave your name & number of diners on a blackboard, head to the nearest pub for 2-3 hours & by the time you got back, you were at the top of the list & seated nearly straight away. That place was the best.

Friday nights were spent at the historic Barrett's Hotel (pretty much where Michael Hill Jewellers is beside Plimmer Steps - a dodgy looking street preacher was usually outside handing tracts to passers by & calling out "Jesus Saves" even then. Goodness knows how long he'd been there). I swear to you that it was possible to get tanked, enjoy an open beef sandwich & still have the trainfare home from $5.

I eventually moved to a flat in Aro valley when I got sick of commuting to Victoria University. And I've been in Wellington city ever since. It is doubtful now that I would live anywhere else, although I flirted briefly with the idea of moving to the South of France, but had I made that move, I'm quite sure Wellington would have remained my home & that I would have returned in time.

There is much I love about Wellington. The fact that you can pretty much walk anywhere (excluding the barbarian suburbs) within half an hour. The cafes & restaurants. The Embassy Theatre, and indeed the bustling cultural life that I really don't dip into as much as I should - but I love the fact that it's there. I love where I live - about 1 minute's walk from the top of the cable car. I love where I work - about 30 seconds walk from the bottom of the cable car... not to say that I love what I do at work...

I love that the Lord of the Rings was made here, and I love that a man like Peter Jackson calls Wellington home.

I love the harbour, which really cannot be beaten on a good day. I love that it is only a very short drive to the Kapiti Coast and the Wairarapa, traditional playgrounds for city folk like me.

Tu-lips from Well-ing-ton... SING IT! I love the Botanic Gardens, which I visit as often as twice a day...

I love the politics... and the possibility that you might see some errant politician punch out a journalist, or member of the public, in a pub or cafe.

I love my family, and my faithful dog... these are Wellington for me. And the 10 year collection of projects that comprise our (will be one day) lovely house.

I love the (periodically) magnificent Summers. Summer here gets bad press on the whole, I think, but by late January, you can pretty much be assured of a couple of months of long, barmy days. Sometimes it starts earlier, sometimes it lasts longer. And I don't think it can be argued that we have very mild Winters.

I could do without the wind at times. Particularly that evil nor'wester that whips in & around the city & tests my patience. That nor'wester is a sod in my opinion. At least Southerlies know what they're doing - blowing from the South! I can dress up warm, or stay indoors for those.

I'm sometimes dubious about the quality of our mayors & councillors. But you get that I suppose, in cities, with mayors & councillors. Someone should do something about her hair. And I can't really see the point of The Bypass. 90 seconds off a trip to the airport? Woo-effing-hoo.

Best & worst times? To be honest, I'm a glass half full guy & I can only remember good times. I daresay there were bad days... when my dog or cat died, the first few times I got dumped from a relationship (then I got pretty practised at getting dumped, pretty darned good at it in fact, I hesitate to claim that I could have been dumped for my country - World & Olympic Champion Dumpee!!, but I may have been the Beckham of breakups - except he scored (a lot) more. I'm so over it now though. YOU BITCHES!!. The point being that it didn't seem to matter so much as it did the first few times). So...the bad days didn't last long. Ahem, anyway...

What does Wellington mean to me? It's home, where I've spent most of my happy life. It holds a good portion of the people that I love. It is a pleasure, with or without V8 car racing (get over it already!).