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.

They drive on the left

Right, I’m here and let’s be honest I wish I had started to blog about my adventures earlier in this wonderful place we call New Zealand. I know that you probably think otherwise but at the end of the day you have chosen to read or follow this attempt at literature so I can only conclude it must be entertaining in the smallest degree.

Anyway I’ve been in kiwi zone now for 6 weeks and while there seem to be many parallels with us Brits the kiwis seem to do other things different and in most cases they make sense. Lets start with the banks.

I set up my account in England, so when I arrived all I needed to do was activate it. I popped into the local ASB bank showed them the letter they opened a drawer and took out a card, placed it in the machine and asked me to type a pin in. After I’d typed the four digits, the card was removed and handed to me. Simple as that, no waiting for a card in the post. I asked what would happen if I lost or had it stolen how I’d get it replaced. Same procedure I was told, so no waiting for a new card in the post either. We then set up Internet banking in a similar fashion. There was no waiting for a username, then a pass code in another letter, it was just like registering for amazon or any other kind of online account. No sign of that stupid law of data protection, as was seen when the man in the vodafone shop phoned up on my behalf and quoted a shop reference number to the call centre staff before he began talking about my account.

It gets better.

Let’s turn our attention to driving. It’s on the left, and has two speed limits. 50 k.p.h for towns and built up areas or 100 k.p.h for open roads. Travelling at 100 makes it a lot easier to wrk out travel times as well. Also the roads, are simple. Everyone lives by the coast, and the state highways just run from town to town, so as long as you know north and south, and where your destination is then you can’t get lost. The downside to this is lack of road signs. Travelling from Picton to Nelson, I would have one road sign just outside Picton showing me I was heading to Nelson and it was 200 odd kilometres, and that would be it until I got to Nelson. Sure there would be a sign further on informing me I was heading to Nelson, but it wouldn’t give me a distance. They also seem to be very late in appearing. If for example I did need to turn off, the sign instructing me would do so on the junction, no warning to say Queenstown next left, or anything like that.

Another thing about their road signs is that there funny and shocking. Some of the highlights have been a sign filled with crosses, with the slogan, ‘you’ll be dead for a long time, so what’s the rush’ and another one that was DRINK DrIvE, with the DIE in drive in red. Others with coffins driving a car with a slogan ‘Tired drivers die’ and a picture of a zip to show how to merge onto a road.

The speeding limit is enforced heavily with only a tolerance of 5 over, and other road signs indicate this with the fines you could get. I saw one with a speedo that had 0 to 105 k.p.h then it went $150, 200, 250, and so on for each 5 k.p.h over. You also have no warning where the cameras are.

As many of the towns are far apart, you could be driving for 300km at a time, which takes around 4 to 5 hours. The roads may look straight on the map, but they are in Fact hilly, rising sometimes as high as 900 meters above sea level, with every twist and turn turn possible. You will see signs to tell lorries to test there brakes before a 6K down hill twisty section and every corner will have a suggested speed limit, which is in fact extremely accurate. But the roads help you as many of the bend will widen. Another neat idea is when turning right onto a main road you have a little slip road, to park yourself in, until there s space to join the flow of traffic.

The final thing to say about NZ roads are as there are not many motorways and the roads are like our country ones in the UK then you will find plenty of passing places that are signed as far back as 5km, which is just as well as tailgating and not rugby seem to be the national sport. The one major rule on the road and car parks is give way to the left, this applies on the passing places, if the car passing on the right has not managed to overtake those on the left he has to give way to them. The only thing I found really odd but it makes sense now is that the writing on the road is backwards. NZ has a lot of one road bridges, and I’ve often thought why they didn’t build them as two lanes. Whilst in the UK you would see ONE LANE BRIDGE written top to bottom, in NZ is from bottom up.

One
Lane
Bridge UK WAY

Bridge
Lane
One. NZ WAY as you read the words as you cross over them

Finally supermarkets and gas stations. People are employed to fill your car up, leaving you to go inside and wait and pay. These folk will also clean your windscreen. There does not seem to be a difference in price between the brands, even BP is the same price as the budget supermarket stations. What’s also great is at every pump they have a keypad where you can select the amount of petrol you want in dollars or litres so never again do you have to slowly squeeze the pump to get that last drop to round it up to 10.

Supermarkets are pretty much the same, except that some fruit goes by different names, it took me a good couple of minutes to find peppers on The self service. They have there versions of Tescos, Sainsburys and Spar. The big thing would be the prices for items are on the shelf above and you always have to look out for specials as food is expensive unless it broccoli as that’s like 30p, but bread is like 2.50 and cheese works out to be a rip off. Brands that were use to exist but seem to be shadowed by there NZ own. The only brand tat has prime shelf space is Cadburys and that’s expensive, in fact all chocolate is. Dairy milk is $2.50 which is £1.75 and its not that they import it, as they make it in Dunedin

Anyway hope you have enjoyed reading the differences. Ill be back soon to talk about some of my adventures.

I Have Never…

There is a radio show called ‘I Have Never Seen Star Wars’ where celebs talk about activities that they have never tried. Maybe they have never done horse riding, or been to a swimming pool. But lucky for them the show arranges them to go on a rollacoster or ride a motorbike.

So in this style and with my departure from the best city in the world to happen in a couple of months I thought to myself that there are a lot of sites and places that I have never gone to or taken part in. So while I was out walking the city yesterday I stopped and popped in to ‘John Rylands Library’ on Deansgate. 13 years I’ve lived in Manchester and never once have I been in.

Today while running I saw a sign for Wythenshawe Park. Again 13 years and I have never once ventured in to it. The sad thing was is I went to college right opposite the park gates.

So from now till I leave I am going to do all those things I tell touring theatre companies or the tourist information centre tells you about.

Now I have done most of the museums but not of the art galleries. I have never eaten in China Town, gone to Eccles. I have however gone to Heaton Park and eaten a curry on the mile. I’ve seen a film at the corner house and been in the Town Hall. I however have yet to have afternoon tea at the Midland. I’ve ridden a tram and shopped at the Arndale but not had cocktails in the Hilton.

So while I have been living in Manchester, like most people who live in cities I have failed to embrace the culture that is on my doorstep. I’ve neglected the parklands and hidden wonders of my own city. Well, over the next four months that is all to change.

Please if you are from Manchester, or have visited the city please comment on things I need to experience before I leave. It will be interesting to see how many there is that I have failed to do.

You could even tweet me with your suggestions @lddex #NeverDoneInMcr