A Bag of Nerves To…

This time last year I was trying to see and spend as much time with family, friends and Manchester. My thoughts were ‘what happens if I hate it, I’ve sold everything to fund this trip and I’ll look a fool if I’m back in two weeks’ as nervous as I felt even with the reassurance from my mate in the back of my mind something was telling me that I’d be home sick and would not enjoy the year.

I had plans, everyone has plans. Those plans however have not turned out. The biggest plan has failed, I know this as in a week I’m returning from NZ to the UK, but unlike a year ago my mind isn’t nervous or scared it’s just, just unenthusiastic about the prospect. Sure I get to
see people but I’m back in the UK.

The truth is while I didn’t work for DOC or live in the hills partly as I allowed Wellington to trap me in its ‘Coolest little capital hub’. The truth is this is home, this is my city, and I think I was also suppose to stay here. Before I left it was on the list of possible place I’d lay down my bag and sleep. I feel that when I return to Manchester I will feel like a stranger, as I walk round my home country I will feel like a traveller.

Someone one said that you change once you travel, and only travellers know this, you have a different look on life, and to be honest the kiwi one rules. I always said, even thou nervous about the adventure that I’d like to live and stay in NZ and as I browse the shops for those gifts and pack my bag I know that I was right.

It’s not that I’m scared of my return, sure I’m worried or refusing to think about my job prospects, living arrangements and money its more the fact I don’t want to go back so I’m not allowing myself to think about it. Don’t get me wrong I’m excited about having that English pint next to a fire in a wood panelled pub in the heart of an English village with my best mate, seeing my nephew and my mum, but I’m not looking forward to reverting back to the British lifestyle, nipping to the corner shop rather than the dairy, ordering a pint rather than a handle, replacing pound for dollar and having to do the conversion the other way, going to a supermarket to buy everything instead of the liquor store for my drink and having to drive to the coast or mountains rather than taking a walk down the road. Wellies not gumboots, flip flops not jandles, mate not bro the list of culture change goes on.

Yes a year ago to day I was nervous as I was going into the unknown, now I’m scared and upset.

If someone at five thirty came on that plane to tell me I could stay then in all honesty I think I’d get off.

It’s funny how a year changes your view.

Home Sick

Well my dream of staying is slowly fading and in a surprising way I’m kind of glad. It was after all a dream to stay and work but now if I’m honest I’m a little homesick. Sure I miss my family and my best mate and there are a few others who I wouldn’t mind having a pint with not that we’ve really kept in touch.

But the true home sickness and this will be a surprise to many and a few may gasp and exclaim and argue that I’m daft especially with the landscape and scenery but my heart belongs in the hills and mountains of Britain.

Yes I’m homesick for walking Snowdon and Tryfan or taking a cold winter hike across the moors or a drive to a remote part of the peak district and rambling down country lanes and through English woods. Off course the views and landscape in the land of the hobbits is amazing and I know as I look down from Snowdon or view the Cheshire plain from Kinder Scout my brain will flash back to those pictures and images of the southern alps and the quite one horse towns and question which one is better. People said NZ is Wales on a larger scale and they weren’t wrong.

I still have some months left and with my time I’m going to see this country again to make sure I have a full memory of sights, sounds and stories stored in the old memory bank. Sometimes you have to be without something to realise how much it actually means and while I could happily make the move I need to go back to see if my true loves once more and put the world to rights with a good old fashioned drinking session with my bestie.

A friend once posted a song to my wall which I think I have shared with you all before called ‘The Manchester Rambler’ which sums up my affair and passion for the outdoors. While I have now found a way to come back and work over here in the future  I find myself missing the peaks and Snowdonia ever more.

I’ve made some good friends and have had partook in many an adventure and while there have been high and lows how will always treasure my time in NZ and hold it close but the time has come to return to the UK and who knows I may realise that NZ was for me after all. But at the moment Im longing to walk down Market Street and go into Greg’s for a steak bake or chin wag and complain over a warm flat beer with Matt, or redeem my nector points and watch the BBC and take a walk in the British rain and wrap up warm not put on sun screen in Janaury. But at the same time I’m loving my time away and the experiences I’m living.

See you soon UK.

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.

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.

The North South divide and Auckland

Now as the title suggests this not the growing divide we have in the UK, but it’s pretty close. As I return back to the north island and get ever closer to the ferry the atmosphere is changing. There is a real love hate relationship between the two islands and not just with the residents. I’ve met some fellow travellers who for reasons unknown to me preferred the north.

It’s hard for me to say as I am a northerner thick and thin back in the green green lands of England but being upside down with the southern cross illuminating the night sky’s I have to say I’m a southerner and deep south as well, and a little to the west. I thought I would never say those words.

Talking to kiwis who were born in the south but now live on the north, can’t stop singing the souths praises, and those born on the north have just not bothered to travel to the south and see it as a cold hostile mountainous land. thats not true as I’m sure many have visited the better island. The thing is, like the north south divide in the UK, the way of life and people are different, the social demographic, average wage, job opportunities, employment, trade, is all the reverse of our divide. It’s like England flipped even with the hatred of on city.

The south is he better island as it has everything the north as plus a lot more. It also has some of the best weather as well as the worse but at least they have a winter and summer you can separate not like the north where the temperatures don’t really get below 10. Now I realise for some, that may be a dream, but how dull would it be. I like seeing the strong contrast between seasons and not just have them all merge into on messy northern pulp.

Yes if the divide between the two islands and the disagreements with who gets more money spent on them, then there is an even uglier divide. Auckland seems to be hated by everyone. But unlike London, those people who have left the city can see how repulsive it is. Like the hatred with London and the belief that it sucks up every bit of spare money the UK has, Auckland s the same. Both islands hate the way Auckland has money thrown at it.

There was even a show called “is Auckland sucking the life out of NZ” off course Aucklanders don’t see it, like Londoners they just think the rest of the country are jealous and think that there dirty over crowded, expensive, over populated, filthy streets is god gift and the best place in the world where every thing works like it should.

So it seems no matter where you are there were always be hatred for the big city, and a divide between the north and south.

Marathon (Take 3)

I have now ran three marathons. The second until last week was the best. Running within the shadow of Snowdon through the heartland of the National Park, I was just out to complete the course and with it managed to get a new PB.

But lets face it. That was not hard. Any of my mates with a little training could have beaten my time from my first Marathon. Lets set the scene.

I had worked and trained hard to compete in the Manchester Marathon and as most first timers I wanted to get that all magical four hours. Lets face it, runners and numbers are worse than mathematicians, whats the point of doing a 10K if its not below an hour, a half if it’s more than 1:50 and a marathon if its four hours plus. As we all know from this time last year the Manchester Marathon went horribly wrong for me. Coming in at 4:20 something, (that bad I can’t even remember, and I normally know my PB’s and times to the second)

The Biblical conditions we had on that day were not good for a run, the course and the organisation was not fantastic. The crowd support was the only element that kept you strong as you battled your demons to make it across the line.

Roll on a year, with two marathons, several more 10Ks and halfs under my belt and a lot more experience on how to take on this beast that sits so high on every runners tick sheet. To be honest I thought it was going to be  rubbish. My whole no booze and sensible eating had gone out of the window mid February and I had lost the fun of running and really couldn’t be bothered to run more than 40 minutes at a time. I did however manage to squeeze three long runs in and like Snowdon I kept telling myself ‘You have a marathon in the legs you know how to do this”

With this I had three times in my head. I had read some where that it is always good to have three times, as you  will always have something to cling to or chase if the first one slips away. The times were a rather ambitious 3:30, 3:45 and off course the time I have been running after ever since I laced up my running shoes when I first embarked on the 26 miles 385 yard jaunt. The golden four hours.

The week leading up to race day had been good, I was carb loading and stuffing my face with seeds and nuts, drinking plenty of water. I had a sport massage, did a gentle 3K and some walking, but the rest of the week I was seen to be sleeping and sitting on my arse. Race day itself arrived and as I rose to find the conditions perfect for marathon running the odd black cloud did send a shiver down the spine, but apart from a few spots of rain just before the starters gun, this was going to be a dry race.

I arrived at the athlete village and even after attending several of these races I still find it comical watching people prepare. Some do running laps, others stretch, some just listen to music. I too had my own routine which I set about to while waiting for the latest possible time to remove my hoody and deposit my bag.

Before I knew it, I was on my way to the start line which was a short walk from the race village and as I followed the crowd I began to hunt for my race pen. As we were all gathering the chatting started with your nearest competitor. Subjects ranging from where they had come from, to how many marathons they had in the legs and then as if by magic the nervous banter faded to complete silence. 26 seconds of complete silence followed by an outburst of clapping in respect of the Boston Marathon.

Shortly after we were away and once again the river of colour on the Manchester streets filled my heart with joy. I was doing this, I was taking part in a special run. I always love seeing the stream of people and here at the start and later on, you often doubled back on the course so you could see those ahead or behind you.

The race itself was being ran fast. Not too fast that I felt it was uncontrollable. I kept going from 8.15 to 8.30 pace. Think I was averaging around 8.20 a mile and soon I would be hitting the 10K mark in 52 minutes. Well inside what I needed and also on course for the 3:45. I had the pace maker in my sights at all time, and was slowly gaining ground on him, and then at around mile 7 he dashed off into the tree’s. I now had to use my watch and pay special attention to the pace.

Before I knew it I was in Sale, then Brooklands, and on our way to Altrincham where I would see my Ma and Pa. this was also half way and I was still feeling strong. I went though at 1:51:22, still on target. Everything had gone right so far. My gel popping was working, my fluid in take was good. The crowds were just adding to the buzz and enjoyment. But then it was about to go wrong. Mile 18 through to 22/23 was coming up and once again this was to take us from the urban sprawl to the outskirts of the open countryside where support was none and many a runner will be running full throttle into the wall.

I knew what the wall was, I had felt it several times before and I could feel it now. I began to map out the course, working out how long it was till I got back into civilisation and as I counted to 100 over and over, my pace went as low as 10:00 a mile, I fought to keep it at 9, or 9:30 knowing that I had banked some extra time earlier on in the race and before I knew it I could hear the crowds. The shouts of not long…. less than 5k to go. I watched checked and saw I was back on 8:15 miles, and remembered back to the 20 mile mark that saw me go through in 2:51. Some quick maths about my 10K time and I knew I was on course for a sub 3:45. I was going to break the golden 4 hours, I was going after my second time. I speeded up, the wall had now been climbed, the warm up was over now it was time to race.

I took on water at every aid station, I popped my last gel, I took jelly babies, I laughed with the crowd, they shouted and cheered and I was running I was in my element. The night before I had tweeted that I was not confident in Marathons, it was my least favourite distance, but now I was loving it.

But then something hit the back of my leg. I looked to see that it was a water bottle and that the guy behind me at mile 24 screamed ‘Cramp. Fucking bloody cramp’ I thought, should I help…. Others would… But wait, I’m on to a new PB, if I stop I might not get going… this is why we have marshals, the crowd could help him…. I chose to go on when an other runner ran alongside and said ‘You okay’ “No I have bloody cramp, bloody shitty fucking cramp” I left him to moan about it. I felt his pain, as with two miles to go to get cramp is a disaster, but he never stopped to stretch.

I turned into Chester Road, and it was home time, the crowds were getting bigger. Then suddenly the 3:45 pacer over took me. What? No! I was going to lose the sub 3:45 in the last mile. I sped up, and clung to him. Thinking I was always 100 meters behind him at the start, so I just need to keep that distance and I’ll be fine.

I saw Tesco’s, I saw Old Trafford, I saw the finishing Tunnel and I ran, I ran like Mo on the home straight of the 10,000. passing the pacer ‘Excuse me… Coming through…. Excuse me…. On your Left….’ I ran like I was late for work, fixing on the clock. 3:43:22. It was going to be a sub 3:45. I crossed the line, I stopped my watch, I looked at electronic numbers beaming back at me, I stumbled and turned to look at the clock… I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I had done it. I had got my Sub 4, I had got my sub 3:45.

A year on from my first marathon which couldn’t have been more of a disaster, to now… I walked to the medal station, thinking if I hadn’t slowed I could have got a 3:40, If I had picked the pace up I could have got a 3:30.

But hey, that’s why there are other marathon.