Read on to the end to find out about the phone box, but here at the top, let me put my cards straight on the table today.
Long-distance cycling has to be the happiest-making activity on the planet.
I remember a Guardian chap (Mike Carter, written about before on this blog) describing an anti-clockwise trip round the British Isles a few years ago and noting how after a few days, he realised as he bowled along that he was happy. Not just some of the time, but all of the time.
After the most delightful and gentle ride some 18 miles from Queenstown to Arrowtown (I think there are settlements in NZ that don’t end in …town) I’m reminded just how much I agree.
The jet lag (I ask you, a 13-hour time difference!) is abating nicely, and now that I and my knees and neck are actually and safely moving, with the South Island summer weather and the scenery as perfect as they could be, things really couldn’t get much better. Though I suspect they will.
It was on my 2008 trip to Budapest and back, 4000 miles of it (loads of ancient blog posts on this site), that I discovered conclusively that there is nothing quite so wonderful, heart-warming, body-freeing and soul-liberating as pedalling, with determination and no hurry, on a good bike with everything you need on board, through a beautiful landscape, tracking the birds at their own speed (saw my first hawk today, just breathtaking), smelling the scents and aromas, and as we say in EMDR therapy, just noticing.
It’s the ideal travelling speed – fast enough to embrace a whole country in a month, but slow enough to capture, for example, one of the most absurd house-signs I think I’ve ever seen.
Songbird Hill illustrated with a seagull. The owners can’t ever have heard one.
There’s been so much to photograph today that as I sit in the New Orleans pub in Arrowtown, awaiting a showing of Skyfall at the local cinema in an hour with two beers (enough!) and the second-best burger I’ve ever eaten (the best was probably the Fergburger in Queenstown yesterday) behind me, I’ll just sprinkle some shots around this blog with their own captions, but without trying to create too much of a coherent narrative.
Adding some sprinkled thoughts as well to go with the pix – and the sprinkled snowflakes which you may have noticed are currently decorating this WordPress blog (I switched them on for an English December, but can’t for the life of me work out how to switch ’em off – especially as this is SUMMER in NZ, for Chrissake) – I might add that this blog very nearly didn’t happen.
Having established a safe base in time for lunch at the Arrowtown campsite, and home-brewed my first cup of coffee, I cleverly left this laptop at the Catholic Church, where I’d been leafing through a photo album of the town in settler days, and walked out without the computer. A brief but profound heart-in-the-boots panic as, 30 minutes later, I retraced my steps, and found a kindly and elderly neighbour to open the place up again.
“Ah,” she said as, sure enough, forgetful owner and laptop were euphorically reunited, “thus us New Zealand. People don’t nuck thungs here.” The accent just makes me curl up.
Arrowtown is full at this time of year of Youthful Foreigners, but pretty full too for the rest of the year of Ancient Locals like my saving angel.
Across the road from the church, I enjoyed what must be one of the more original and blunt adverts on a board alongside the local bowling club, with its patrons like me very much the wrong side of 60.
And the Phone Box? (James Bond is calling. Quick!!!)
As I’ve said, the tour I’m undertaking, at least in its first few hundred kilometres (they don’t use miles here, though my bike computers do), should be called the Katie Brayne Memorial Ride, as Queenstown and then Arrowtown were my dear, dear daughter’s first stops on her planned post-graduation bicycle trip home to the UK from New Zealand nearly four years ago now.
Yes, she didn’t get very far, meeting her life’s partner Mela just a few months later at the winter ski resort of Wanaka just up the road from here (I’ll get there tomorrow).
Hers was a hugely bold undertaking for a then 21-year-old, and once here at the other end of the world, she needed to touch base with Mum and Dad back in the UK. As she didn’t have much money, she decided to call both myself and her Mum, from this very phone box in Arrowtown, reversing the charges.
Jutta and I both accepted the operator’s request, but weren’t warned how much it would cost. Well, when the bills came in, Kat’s 20-minute call or so set me back nearly £300. Yes, you read that right.
And dear Jutta, being a mother of course, talked for longer, and found herself well over £400 the poorer.
Worth every penny. Once. However, for some reason Kat didn’t use that ploy again…