The hardest part of getting to my People's paradise is getting to Manchester. Six thirty departure to find the M62, the North's Hadrian's Wall, traffic jammed to hell (Lancashire) People must have to go to work in Manchester by 5am to arrive on time. It's awful, slow crawl, long stops, angry feeling of impotence as departure time approaches. Which we miss (the time two hours before) not the departure. In the terminal I shoulder my super new carry on rucksack to have it fly open and everything-including my precious lecture manuscript which now weights two tons fly all over the coffee bar. It's really too heavy to carry but I soldier and shoulder on.
Air travel is a combination of two purgatories. On the plane where it's difficult to sleep even in our business class beds, and the long march through the shopping malls to get to yet another departure gate. The Americans, who once shoved transit passengers into a grim brown lounges now march them through brand paradise of shops, airline lounges (we go to the wrong one) and duty free booze dealers to extort our money. It's a combination of exercise gym (because the gates are kept miles apart) and super shopping of over priced impulse buys.
"I remember you" says the air NZ hostess "Keep quiet it shows your age" but NZers dress for travel as if they were going on a camping holiday in Wanaka. It's not a concours d'elegance though first class (which we're not allowed to see and may have been abolished) may be more up--market. No NZ papers, no Metro, no North and South not even a NZ Woman's Weekly of happy memory (does it still exist?) Just glossies like Vogue and even a new Kiwi-glossy which I've never heard of. No inflight mag either. Has the muse gone silent? No bottles and lotions of NZ smells and sheep grease chained down in the toilet In fact the only traces of NZ are the flying-helmeted figure who peers at you peeing on the wall of the toilet and the information video presented by hip-hop All Blacks which is incomprehensible. What's the country we're coming to coming to?
At long last bleary wet dawn over miserable Mangere "Isn't it wonderful to be back?" asks the chief steward. I mumble some reply about it's been a long time Then realise he's not talking to me but to the woman in front.
And its untrue. The automatic passport readers don't work.They chew up the entry cards forcing us into another long queue at the "Can we help you?" desk. Which can't. "Aw ... technology!" is the answer to our queries. Auckland International (they all are, even Queenstown) isn't an airport so much as a collection of tin sheds on a swamp so having collected our four big suitcases we trundle them down the walkway wondering why NZ hasn't exploited the opportunity to sell things with shops, Pie stalls, and rest tents offering shelter tea and biscuits on the 12 minute open air walk-only to find we've got someone else's suitcase. Could be a drug smuggler or contain the dismembered body of a security agent or guns and weapons for the South Island Interfada, but not my suit newly purchased from M&S or my shirts and clean underpants. Go back or press on and hope? Air NZ can handle it. Press on. They can't. Being staffed entirely by gentle geriatrics who ask "Can I help you?" then take a long time explaining why they can't. And don't. Linda has to go back fight her way through the Do Not Enter under pain of Death signs and then swop the bags. Which takes an hour while the departure time for our Christchurch plane slips away. Only just make it in time for another viewing of the safety video by Rip Torn (who he?) and the Belligerent All Blacks. Awful but better than last time's which was presented by Hobbits. Perhaps they're less popular now the huge bird hanging from the roof of Wellington airport has crashed down. No more Tolkien bird droppings now
Then tired, smelly (Linda sniffs)and psychologically broken we arrive in Christchurch with hundreds of Japanese tourists led in flocks by persons with flags.When I first arrived NZ was all white (even the All Blacks) Now it's very mixed race. But the journey south by crowded crammed plane is much less enjoyable than travel by train and inter-island ferry. That was like the wild west with open platforms between carriages and pie stops at Taumaranui, to be met at Dunedin railway station buy the entire staff of the History department.
Rejoice ! We've reached Christchurch a vast collection of suburbs without a city. Most NZ Cities are because the suburbs have grown too big for the pawky centre built earlier but Christchurch is worse because the City Centre was destroyed in the earthquake. Indeed it looks as though business has migrated into the houses. So many signs advertising modest suburban houses for language teaching, hairdressing beauty treatment, mortuaries or taxidermy that they must have managed to do without a centre. None of the houses seem to contain a restaurant so we cruise round for two hours to eventually find one. Japanese eating with chop sticks-always difficult with rice. But boy did I need it.Very New NZ. 2 months old and delicious. We could have been in Notting Hill not central Christchurch.