The Lonely Trumpeter

I walked to New World to get my usual fix of Cookie Time cookies that I’ve slowly become addicted to. As I walked the short distance to the metro supermarket the street was filled with a sorrow sound of trumpet. As I walked past I looked into his case and saw a tiny sum totalling no more than $4. As I entered the store he began ‘Its A Wonderful Life.’

This got me thinking about the singer I saw in Auckland the other week. Like the trumpet player the daily traffic of commuters rushed past to get there buses or trains not giving a single moment of their time to stop and listen. With this opera singer I along with another did pause. He a little closer. I stayed in the shadows so I wouldn’t feel pressured into contributing to the change pot that lay before her feet and made sure that eye contact was avoidable. She was really rather good. I along with the other guy stopped and listened for several minutes. He applauded at the end but failed to contribute to her livelihood and like me went on his merry way feeling just a little better for hearing a rather beautiful poetic voice radiating from such a talent.

Today along with the trumpeter and the memory of the opera singer, I noticed a guitar player. Again people rushed on by without stopping or giving a second look. Maybe it’s just part of the general ambience of Wellington. These sounds are part of the daily mix that go into the cacophony of Wellingtons sound track. Lets be honest the blind guy on Market Street in Manchester gets no attention from me, nor does the countless other musicians that plague Manchester’s city centre. To me it’s the daily background noise and like me, maybe Wellingtonians just drown out the music with their own thoughts or are able to just ignore and think nothing of it. The strange things about cities is you only notice the silence.

Normally I would dismiss these music beggars as well and just let the music form part of the symphony of my daily life along with car horns, sirens, alarms, engines and chatter. After all in the UK I will happily bypass and not even give a knowing glance. But after the report a couple of months ago, maybe even longer I now stop and listen.

The news article was about a violinist in a New York subway. Only one child stopped to listen who was promptly pulled away by his mother, several people discarded small change from their pockets in his general direction but no one stopped to listen. The player happened to be headlining at the theatre that night, as he was a world famous violinist and tickets for the performance were being sold for $400 plus. The point I suppose I’m making is that people pay small fortunes to listen to music being played live, but yet when it’s in the street and with no sign informing us of the musicians ability we happily walk on by. How many famous musicians or singers have we walked by and ignored only to think they were a busker. One of my favourite solo artists at te moment, regularly busks in cities that he has concerts in, and again people walk on by. Some, who knows may be attending the gig that night.

I’m just hoping that one day I’d be able to say I heard her on the corner of Queen street, or say see him, he was performing on Willis Street outside New Word the other week for free and you’ve just paid $400 to see him in a theatre.

Or maybe I will discard a bit if my lose change to say thank you.

A Manchester Away from Home

Many people will know that Manchester has a special place in my heart. I love the city, the people, culture, bars and the location. It is truly the city of the Northwest and of the North. Despite what people in the Midlands and Whitehall feel, Manchester is the UKs second city not Glasgow or Birmingham.

Manchester has that town feel, nestled in a city environment. It’s big enough not to get dull but yet small enough to feel safe. I moved to Manchester as many do to become a student and fell in love with the place. Manchester has held me back over the years. I’ve turned down jobs and work because it would mean leaving the city, I almost called of the NZ trip as I didn’t want to wave goodbye to the city that I’ve called home for thirteen years. A city that is a kaleidoscope of activity.

While I’m not official one of her sons, I feel that I have a bond with the city. So why am I telling you this. Well it’s simple I have found the New Zealand version on Manchester. I’ve travelled around the two islands and fell in love with many places. Not so many in the north, but plenty in the south. I could see myself settling in Nelson, or living in Fox, Christchurch with its post earthquake decor has its appeal and as for Dunedin then I would have stayed if it hadn’t been for the job of returning the camper back to Auckland.

The trouble is I find myself in Wellington, and from the moment I drove into the city I knew I loved it. It has the look of a city but the feel of a community. There is a vibe. So as I look for work which is turning into a wild goose chase my mind tells me that I’m not pinned to a particular place. Unlike Manchester which saw me with a flat, friends, a life, thus making it more of a challenge to leave, in Wellington I am a Nomad, I have no ties and could seek employment anywhere in the country.

However as I trawl through the job adverts for any vacancies which I slowly begrudgingly widen my search past the Hutt valley and across the Cook Straight I find myself thinking, sure I could work here, but I couldn’t live here. Wellington has grabbed my heart and I think that if I had ignored the city then I would now be in Nelson or Blenheim happily picking fruit and bottling wine to pay my way.

It’s funny how cities or towns grab you. The way they make you form an opinion. I would never live in London, I can’t stand it and the only other cities in the UK I could live in at a push would be Newcastle or Glasgow. With NZ I no longer think I could live in Nelson, or Fox. Why would you, when you could have the atmosphere and community of those places with a backdrop and playground of a city. I have often said I would love to live in north Wales, but I know deep down I’m a city dweller. After three weeks in the West Country the site of Dunedin was very welcomed. I felt like I was home. There is something about a city that makes you feel whole. You can be united without having anything todo with the other residents. Sure I love the isolation of rural settlements, but I’d get bored all to easily. Walking the mountains would become mundane and the norm, popping into the post office or the local bar to catch up on the latest gossip becomes your highlight of the day. No. A city you have a life which you control and can step away from. The backdrops of mountains never tire as you only visit occasionally to take a break and step back from the bust activity of city life.

You can draw so many parallels its almost scary. Wellington is small, thriving, arty, it has a student population, great night life, wonderful buildings, fantastic transport links, lots of suburbs with there own culture and identity and flying rats (pigeons) You would be forgiven if you thought I was talking about Manchester when describing Wellington with the exception of the beach, harbour and sea.

Manchester is a cool place which I miss fondly, but now I have found Wellington and like Manchester I feel this is the place I want to be.

Still got it… But we won’t discuss the next day.

Well after two months of being in a camper I needed to stretch my legs. Regular visitors will know that I love to run and after the marathon and Manchester 10k I gave my legs a little rest and its been that way since I touched NZ soil. As those who are new to the blog and following it from the NZ entries, then the soul purpose of the blog started to document my training for the Manchester 10k some years back. But like my running, the blog as grown to express other areas of my life. However today I returned to running in both the blog and life.

Sure I did one or two 5ks on a beach or a quick run around Auckland when I first arrived but nothing to tell my legs or body to keep their form. Well roll on to Wellington and the sight of lycra clad cyclists makes me want to get back on the bike, but the streams of runners that traffic up and down the shoreline inspired me to delve deep into my rucksack and pull out the trainers and get back on a different saddle all together.

Garmin on, heart rate monitor set and I’m off. Running head on into the wind (which is strong) and following the crowd of other like minded folk who enjoy a good workout. The path was flat and being that I had been out of the game I was in good condition, well better than I thought I’d be. I thought I’d only being able to run 5k, but 7 miles later I was saving my activity on the gamin and going in for a well deserved shower.

Now it’s no lie that I did find the 10k distance a little straining, but nothing I couldn’t cope with. What was a real surprise was that I’d kept my speed. The pace was what I’d built up to in my training runs, and the only considerable factor that had changed from having a break was my heart rate. I had managed to get it down to around 152 b.p.m at the 7:30 pace but this run saw it sky rocket to 187.

So while my body has not lost pace or speed (yes they are different) my form is still good, but the three months out if the game as seen my fitness drop if you judge it by HR and the fact that I was ready to stop. Normally I also want to do another 3 or 4 miles. The other substantial factor I noticed that I was not use to running occurred the following day. My quads were acting like I’d just ran for my life, my calves were harder than the earth core and my hamstrings were, well they were behaving like they’ve always done… Stubborn and short.

However role on a day of rest and another run, this time up Mt Victoria, a cruel 3km of steep constant climbing. And only stopping at the top for the views, it seemed that I had not lost my live of hill running. My pace was also sitting at around 8:30 which was darn good.

It’s good to be out running again, and hopefully I’ll be able to burn some of this campervan fat off as snacking on crisps and chocolate in a confined place does nothing to an already shabby figure. The trouble is after today’s hill session I can already hear my tired sore legs complaining, that could see more than just a day of rest. But hopefully I’ll be back out there finding new running routes to fill my garmins memory up and hopefully when I get a job I’ll complete the dream of joining the lycra clad gang and fulling my desire to be back on another type of saddle.

Oh well, time for another stretch and then a shower.

A Shaky Start to My Time in Wellington

Lets be honest earthquakes are two a penny as we say in England. They happen almost everyday and on more than one occasion as well. Earthquakes to New Zealand are what rain is to Manchester and self importance and an ideal that your superior to the rest of the country is to London. In fact by the the time you have read this post, than New Zealand would have been struck by 7 quakes.

I arrived in Wellington, the city I’m hoping will be home for the next however long, and as I sat on my bed I experienced a full on 5.1 earthquake. Once again it was on the small fault near Seddon. Now if I’ve learnt one thing while being upside down its that people don’t bother with small quakes. Why would you when you get them by the bucket load. However anything that is bigger than a 5 is mentioned, even estimated. People say ‘think that’s a 5.5’ or ‘that has to be at least a 6’.

Yes earthquakes are part of life here, and unless large go unnoticed. Felt, but ignored. Quakes are part of the daily routine like the metro to Bury being late or virgin trains not running on time. Very much like when virgin actually do run on time, the big quakes make the news.

This one I felt was 5.1 and it shock, it shock for 45 seconds and was said to be felt in Auckland but lets face it, that’s just them wanting a bit of the action. While it wasn’t scary, or loud, or even stressful it did bring home the fact that NZ is quake paradise. I’m not going to go into why, but the power of the earth to rattle buildings is quite extraordinary.

My dream was to live on the west coast of the South Island but today they have found new fault lines off the coast. That with the large alpine fault line, where the two plates meet could spell tsunami if the earth moved a bit, and I’m not a strong swimmer so I think i’ll stay in Wellington.

I’m oddly looking forward to more quakes, but hope that the ‘big one’ never strikes. While it shock and vibrated the room, all the occupants gave the knowing look of what was happening and for a short time people stopped going about their chosen activity.

While I’ve been here my love of the power of the earth has risen again. I’m keen to relearn about volcanos and quakes, thermal pools and the like. And while being in a really bad quake would be bad, NZ is use to it and have built their towns to stand up to the force. I’d much rather be in a quake zone than the volcanic region.

A View of NZ Two Months On.

When you think of New Zealand your mind jumps to the scenic backdrops that Peter Jackson has used for many of his films and not just the ones that star little people with large hairy feet. You think off clean, panoramic views with houses stood in isolation. A country that is 100% focused to the environment and keeping the green hilly land in tact by trying to restore the short damage that history of not just the Europeans but also the first settlers caused.

Yes, while the white man might have shaped NZ by mining, chopping, reclaiming the currently landscape that kiwis are struggling to adapt to, the tribes of the Maori hunted several birds to extinction and wiped large areas of natural forest even before Cook was born. All be it that they accomplished this over hundreds of years where the settlers after James Cook were on some kind of speed trip to write forests and animals into the history books of this young country.

I’ve been here now for over two months and have seen a good amount of New Zealand and enough time for my opinion to change. Sure I still love it. Why wouldn’t you? You’ve all seen the photographs I’ve taken…. Just look at it… It’s gorgeous. The thing is, it isn’t all middle earth. I’m coming closer to the idea that this is England with a bigger backdrop.

They all drive on the left for starters and road rage is high, traffic accidents and drink driving along with speeding is all high. The prospects for the young are low as employment is lacking and the notion of buying a house is even more far fetched than having that idea in the UK. People are fat and the government spins. The post is sacking staff, and banks offer loans. They love the pie. I would even go as far as saying that Wigan doesn’t know the meaning of pie eating. NZ has taken the art of pie and made it a national past time. Every petrol station, corner shop, cafe, pub all have pie. Everyone eats pie. The fashion is the same, the drinking culture is high, people sit in classy bars. Rural communities are being cut off and the prospect of libraries hang in the balance. Public transport is a mix bag and there is a nationwide buzz over X factor.

A recent survey saw over 50% thought that the picture postcard of a nation that bent double to look after its culture and environment was rubbish. Recycling is big, but like the UK there is large packaging issues and plastic bags given when none are needed. Sure the national parks protect the land, but farming is still big business and swallows up the land. The mere fact that the farmland is going to produce milk which is exported to the growing dairy loving countries in the east causes for milk and cheese in NZ to be purchased with a mortgage which at the moment means a 20% deposit. Kiwis feel that the idea they promote to the world is not entirely accurate. While steps are in place to help the conservation and to stop the spread of pests many locals feel it is no where near what it should or could be.

The idea of buying your own bit of land and building your house has gone, as like the UK, NZ has given birth to the property developer. Towns are still in abundance, but in the north and those cities in the south that have an ever growing population that takes over small quiet neighbouring settlements are slowly moving to the large American town model. Shopping malls are springing up with out of town entertainment complexes. Supermarkets are fighting for your money with weekly deals and money off the price of petrol, which since I arrived as risen by ten cents.

New Zealand is young and is still growing and as such faces a contradiction. It needs to grow and compete in the world. It needs to prove itself and not be shadowed by it larger neighbour. Since the 1950s when they finally let go of the reins that Britain had been holding, NZ has become its own country and is making a name for itself in its own right. But at what cost, can you carry on protecting the already changed habitat and remain to grow without changing the landscape for the worse.

It’s obvious that their efforts are being rewarded as several birds on the critical list are now back in abundance, native trees are replacing the Birch and the bush is being restored, but at what cost to progress and growth of communities. The road network will need a vast upgrade, some areas like Auckland are facing some of the worse traffic jams seen. One accident or rock slide can cause communities and day to day operations to come to a halt. Plans for more motorways are faced with large opposition for those protecting the land, but the need to move goods and commerce is growing with importance.

There is sense that they don’t want to conserve what they have but to try and turn the clock back before any mammal had set foot on the islands. Traps to kill stoats, hedgehogs, hunting of wild deer and pigs which thanks to evolution flourish while the indigenous species failed to adapt and as such were sitting ducks to their new predators.

I’m not sure which camp I’m in, but if their beloved kiwi can’t be bothered to adapt and survive then maybe god has its cards marked. The UK has had a number of foreign animals change the landscape and has Britain been any worse for this. But at the same time to see native birds that only reside in NZ disappear when we can be reasonable for their survival should not be ignored. But surly it’s too late to turn the clock back. Even for the young history of NZ. Even without mans help species have left this world and maybe we have only sped up what Mother Nature had planned. There is a cruel irony that while the induction of Europeans dealt the death penalty to many of the native wide life, they also helped others grow and survive.

You could be forgiven that you were in England sometimes, as some of the views and endless backdrops of hills, trees, mountains don’t look to dissimilar than our green pleasant land. However it’s bigger and grander. You feel more isolated and amazed. The lifestyle is more chilled and laid back. Even in busy cities the clock signals home time at 6pm, which people respect. In the rush of business people will wait for the green man and allow the humble pedestrian to cross even when they have a green light.

There are several parallels you can draw between the UK and NZ, the people who dream of flying to the other side of the word, the cost of food, the future, the love of one sport like its a religion, all be it different ones, the spilt thinking about the queen, a love of their country, walking, the weather and political system.

There is more to this country than the picture postcards we have installed in our minds. So after two months it’s not that they just drive on the left.