When they are good they are very very good…

Yesterday morning my bus driver played what must have been his favourite romantic mix tape on repeat, loudly. The highlight for me was Dan Hill’s maudlin meanderings repeated THREE times on the way into town.

Allow me to treat you to the pearls that are the lyrics.

“Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide. I want to hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides. “

I’m tearing up here. But wait there’s more.

“At times I’d like to break you and drive you to your knees…”

That’s romance for you right there folks. But my torture did not end when I fled the bus, as this cheery little ditty is also a mind worm on a truly epic level.  I sang it walking down the street, I hummed it in the loo, I whistled it doing my work, the little horror got stuck in my head with a bulldog like grip and I’ve been alone in a dark place with it ever since.

But it’s not all bad music out there on the buses.

Last week I took the fractious toddler, who was fighting yet another cold, into town. On the way home she fell asleep on me, and as I supported her head and dreamily watched the growing patch of drool on my shirt, I tuned into the conversation the bus driver was having with the front seat passenger.

When I started listening, he was talking about the challenges immigrants to New Zealand who don’t speak English as a first language can have getting jobs that match their qualifications and experience. He was a qualified teacher and a sports coach, as far as I could gather, but had had difficulty getting anything more than short term relief contracts, hence here he was driving a bus. It was a bit of a sad story and I think talking about it made our driver feel pangs of old frustrations because he started instead to talk about Serbia, whence he originally came, telling my fellow passenger about the places worth visiting there, the fine old cities and the beautiful fertile countryside.

He was an interesting man, full of enthusiasm for life and his stories made a pleasant diversion as we trundled through Heathcote. The weather was warm, the sun falling directly onto us through the window and Seraphine was getting overheated being so close to me, grumbling and twitching in her sleep. As we passed through the tunnel, I fumbled our things together one handed, and shifted my protesting sweaty daughter onto my shoulder, where she grizzled as we scrambled, ungainly and over laden, down from the bus.

We plodded up the hill, with the small person protesting the iniquities of life in my left ear. We’d just rounded chicken corner and I was mentally girding my loins for the long steep hill ahead when  I heard the sound of running feet and an out of breath male voice shouted “hey!”. It was the bus driver, brandishing Seraphine’s sun hat in his hand. I had unwittingly dropped it as I got off the bus, but instead of just turning it in at lost property, this very nice man had sacrificed his break between bus trips to run after us, up a total bitch of a hill. That’s above and beyond the call of duty by several miles. So yay for the heroic bus driver from Serbia. May he find his dream job, inspiring young Kiwis to be as nice as he is. And I must track him down through the labyrinthine bureaucratic networks of Metro admin and send him a bottle of wine as a thank you.


Adventures in Busland – The Quest for Grilly

OK, so the blog has been a bit bus-centric over the last few days but here’s one more little story about our latest experience.

You lovely regular readers might recall a post by Elizabeth about our progress so far and the potential stumbling blocks or issues that we were anticipating.  Some of them turned out to be mere paper tigers, one or two haven’t been encountered yet.  However one has been chipping away at our nerves like that dripping tap you’ve been meaning to do something about.  The visitation of ‘Grilly’.

Granny Lily is my mother.  She still lives in the family home and for all her 79 years she’s never learnt to drive.  That didn’t stop her raising four children though.  That should be all the inspiration we need – it was also pre- cell phones, microwaves, EFTPOS, the internet and people could actually smoke in hospitals.  But that’s another whole post in itself.  She was a gung-ho cyclist who taught me how to ride by taking me on long trips near our house around the oxidation ponds of the city seweridge plant.  Nice image.

She got everywhere on her trusty black, sit-up-and-beg bike that looked not a million miles away from this:

Thanks to Blue Earth

And boy, could she fly on that thing when she wanted to.

She had to give up on biking some years ago when she developed Meniere’s Disease which affects your balance and can cause black outs, which she discovered the hard way, while riding home one day.  Now she walks miles every week and is able to make use of the senior citizens’ gold card which gives her free bus rides in off-peak times.

Recently returned from an epic quest of her own into the depths of France, accompanied by my sister (now there’s a story), Grilly (also known as the Dowager Empress) had been suffering jet lag and the post travel blues and we were well overdue for a visit.  We’d put it off due to all of us having thick colds the week before (the last thing a 79 year old needs, jet-lagged, at the start of winter).  Now there was nothing for it, we had to embark on the two bus rides each way into the dark heart of Aranui, my ol’ stomping ground.

We hadn’t really done any family bus rides before.  Elizabeth buses with the Bobbin quite regularly but here we were, all three of us, bags and buggy and Bobbin.  The first stop was the Lyttelton Farmers’ Market for treats to bring Grilly.  Then down to the bus stop on Norwich Quay where freight trucks from the port thunder by in clouds of noise and fumes.  We were right on time for the 10.15 bus but it was nowhere in sight, in fact it never came at all so half an hour later we got on the next bus along with one of Lyttelton’s fearless hill skateboarders and a couple of soon to be disappointed Welsh rugby fans.  There are two spaces onboard the bus for buggies, prams and wheelchairs.  One has seats the other doesn’t.  On this first bus was a young fella with the biggest gear bag I’ve ever seen – he was on his way to play ice hockey and there was nowhere for his bag to fit except in one of the buggy spaces – unfortunately he chose the one with the seats so Elizabeth and I parked the Bobbin in the other space and sort of hovered around her.  Elizabeth doesn’t trust the buggy to stay put by itself, brakes or no brakes ever since she once saw it slide out around a corner, probably to the delight of Seraphine.  The journey passed without incident to the bus exchange in the central city.  We changed platforms and only had a 15 minute wait for the No. 5 to take us to Aranui.  Mid-morning on a Saturday the bus exchange wasn’t that busy.

The journey on the No.5 was only about half as long as the one from Lyttelton but had plenty of interest.  First off was a person reluctant to give up their seat in the buggy park for the second buggy that got on in the bus exchange.  This was soon sorted out.  Further along we encountered any number of surly individuals on what was my old bus route to and from town.  We had teenage girls at Eastgate Mall who were refused passage due to carrying huge milkshakes and armfuls of junk food.  They were vociferous in their displeasure with the driver, teaching Seraphine some choice new words in the process.

A few stops later was a woman who apparently wanted the bus but changed her mind after the driver stopped.  When he suggested to her that she should signal if she didn’t want the bus to stop she transformed into an Angry Person.  One of those that starts muttering abuse loudly but without making eye contact.  The driver appeared to think better of the whole encounter and closed the doors.  Just another day on the No. 5.

Getting off at my old stop we headed down the road to Grilly’s house where Seraphine gets to rowl around outside on some flat land for a change while we drink tea and eat gingerbread and Grilly’s famous bacon and egg pie.  Nom Nom.

After an hour or two we get to repeat the whole process to get home.  Joy.

When we finally reach the top of our not insubstantial hill in L-town it’s nearly 4pm and we’re shattered.

Inconvenient much?  Hmmm, I really did miss the car right then I must say.  What was that about effort?  At least it wasn’t raining.  And we did get to all have a big family lie down together in our bed.  All three of us snoozing happily for half an hour.  Now that’s what I call a successful quest.

In praise of – Buses

(Elizabeth has begun a post topic on bus ride observations and linked to a wonderful post by another blogger about encounters on the bus there too.)

Whether you call it the ‘loser cruiser’ or the ‘winner wagon’ chances are you have all used that most maligned of public transports – the bus.

But why is it so often scorned by those arbiters of transport taste?  Trains seemingly continue to conjure an atmosphere of romance despite long since spurning the far more textural coal and steam for a more insipid electric propulsion.  Trains are the proper setting for intrigues, affairs, murder and enlightenment.  Buses are apparently stigmatised by the presence of teenagers (either the surly and intimidating or obnoxiously rowdy specimens), drunk people, smelly people and… talkers.

But I put it to you that bus rides can be so much more than the unpleasant interlude between work and home.  Buses are your key to the city, a mobile platform with which to view the daily business of the town, even your unwavering guide through the maze of everyday urban transit.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Christchurch boasts a pretty good bus-based public transport system.  If you commute to work using the bus (i.e. spend $21 per week) you get to ride free all weekend.  There are services called the Orbiter and the Metro Star which circumnavigate and cross the city.  If one were so inclined one could simply ride around all weekend getting to observe and experience the garden city in a manner which no other mode could afford.

And then there are the drivers.

Characters one and all.  On a freezing winter evening having waited at the bus stop after work, the bus arrives, the doors open and you step into the warmth, sharing a small, grateful smile with the driver.  They know, on those days, that their service is life enhancing.  I hope they go home to warm homes and families, brimming with work satisfaction – they brought a bus-load of people home safe and sound tonight.

Once, dark and cold at the bus stop, having been slightly caught out by the weather that day I waved what must have appeared to be a desperate arm to the driver and the bus pulled over.  I jumped aboard as the driver grinned and said “I wouldn’t leave you behind”.

I think my morning rides are my favourite, however.  I tend to catch the bus post-commuter rush as I like a little more space on my journey.  You can watch people at your leisure and read.  There’s something about the light and the quiet.  It’s as if everyone is deep in lauds, preparing for the days labours or perhaps asking for some divine intervention to commute, divert, or somehow cancel said labours.  Maybe we’re all just half-asleep.  In one or two memorable dreams I am indeed naked on the bus or in my jim-jams.

My current favourite driver is on a slightly later timetable than I normally catch but on occasion (OK, quite frequently) I’m running late enough to get the singular experience that is he.  The first thing you notice is his friendly, cheery smile and thick Eastern European accent as he actually welcomes you aboard like a kind of Russian Captain Stubing.  You manoeuvre down the aisle towards your seat of choice in the raised bit at the back of the bus and sit down, get settled, gloves and scarf off, book out, check out the other passengers and are suddenly assaulted by some hardcore Christian worship songs blaring smugly through the bus sound system.  Now, I don’t know if it’s within regulation for drivers to play their own CDs on the bus.  I seem to remember some years back a kerfuffle over what radio stations they should be allowed to play and as is always the case in those situations, compromise led to everyone losing.  So if things are now laissez-fare regarding drivers’ musical predilections then we certainly have a more interesting commute on our hands.  Like some ancient Chinese curse, my ride into the city (and sometimes home) is an ‘interesting time’.  The full-on Christian music (it sounds like the same band every time, usually live) is ecstatic in its praise and passion and after several rides like this I find myself strangely uplifted by its effusive giddiness even as I’m simultaneously nauseated.  I cannot help but smile as I swap bemused glances with fellow passengers.  I see people actively turning up their ipods.  And every time someone gets off the bus the driver merrily calls out “you have a nice day!”  It gets really friendly at the exchange where there is a mass disembarkation and it feels like everyone’s leaving a party there’s so much fond farewelling going on.

Other journeys, different drivers, have been accompanied by ‘best of’ NZ hits from the eighties, the whole gamut of crap commercial radio and joy of joys, one evening with Radio NZ National.

I feel for all you solitary drivers, idling in your metal cocoons, insulated from the mortifying world of human interaction (and the output of your exhaust pipes), gnashing your teeth as you’re passed by another winner wagon in the bus lane next to you, the joyful sounds of music and the smiling faces of all us losers beaming out on your stagnant parade.

Cool cheap shit to do without a car in Christchurch

Banks Peninsula has been riven from mainland New Zealand by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The rest of the country has been devastated by a vast tsunami, drought, floods and the ensuing mass sickness.  The population has been decimated, starvation and violence are rife*.

It’s amazing the cheery fantasies one can have on the loo in the morning, no?

So I thought I’d start a series of occasional fluff pieces on cool stuff one can do around the hood without an automobile. Just for fun I’m going to throw in the additional handicaps of a toddler and limited moolah.

Just in case you think this blog is descending into lifestyle supplement drivel, I’d like you to know that I’m also working on an incisive piece of investigative journalism about the true cost of the trucking industry, but it’s a bit hard, alright.

I joined a new Facebook group called Secret Christchurch recently but it turns out most people’s idea of a secret isn’t that secret, and mainly revolves around shopping. Now me, I like to spend money, just like the next person, but, as I might have mentioned before, we had a baby almost two years ago, and babies, while cute and all, have a tendency to play havoc with your finances. I had plans to dump the wee snot bag in daycare asap and rush back to work once my maternity leave was up, but when it came down to it, I didn’t. So here we are, at home and broke. My mother told NZ Customs that I was a housewife. Me, I tell people I work part time from home and then segue into a rapturous rant about how fabulous and accommodating my employers have been (they are, thanks guys!) to cover the fact that I have no idea what I am doing with my life. Still that’s for another story. In the meantime, while I’m trying to work out what to do when I grow up, I’ll take the wean on some amusing budget outings and tell you all about it. Deal?

In installment part the first of this exciting new series, Mumminy Umminy** and the Bobbin go to Ferrymead to buy a bathmat.

Going from Lyttelton to Ferrymead is awesome. If you are feeling absurdly energetic you can yomp up over the Bridle Path, down to Heathcote and onwards to the sea. I did that once with the little person on my back, when she was about eight months old. I was bloody knackered afterwards, and she weighed half of what she does now. Now we get the bus through the tunnel and get off on the other side and walk from there.

There’s a lovely wee park in Heathcote, nestled in the valley and with some fine big old trees, it looks like a great place to have summer family picnics. Haven’t done that yet, but it’s on the list of stuff to do when the sun returns. If you hang a left down past the park you’ll come to a cluster of funky local businesses, coffee roaster Upshot and Rhombus cafe, the organic tofu man and the delightful gift shop Blackbird. Head down there on a sunny morning and sit out on the grass with your coffee and you might hear kereru in the trees opposite and see groups of riders from the Heathcote Valley riding school ambling past.

But yesterday we didn’t go that way. Instead we carried on down Bridle Path Road, stroking the venerable gum trees as we went past and I successfully fought the urge to turn up the drive to Aromaunga Flowers and blow the grocery money on great armfuls of lilies and jewel coloured posies of anemones. They grow the flowers on site in acres of glasshouses behind the old homestead, and as I walk up the drive, shaded by the big mature trees, past the graceful house and the older glasshouses, I like to imagine that I live there and grow flowers. I always go there in December for Christmas lilies and big boxes of cherries.

On we went, past the horses in the paddocks in their winter coats, which tickled the Bobbin mightily and past the entrance to Heathcote Quarry, which I am ashamed to confess I have never visited, but I bet it’s brilliant and will be correcting that omission very soon.

Not far from the entrance to the Quarry is a villa with a plaster death mask hanging from its veranda. The eyes are closed and a half smile plays on the full lips. It is hung with wire, so it sways slightly in the breeze. If you’re not expecting it and catch it out of the corner of your eye, as I did the first time, it can give you quite a start. Actually it probably isn’t really a death mask, but a touch of the macabre makes for a far finer anecdote, I always find.

Yesterday morning there was no wind at all. When we came to the estuary it was glassy calm, and the reflections were sharp and perfect. Even the shags drying their wings had their upside down twins. We leaned over the rail of the bridge and could see our own watery faces staring back.

One of my favourite places in Ferrymead is the $2.00 clothing warehouse. This frigid cavern filled with miles of garment rails, crammed with colour coded clothes, is a paradise for the poverty striken clothing fetishist. It took me a while to see the true beauty in the place. The first few times I visited I thought, “Ew! Miles of stinky grubby polyester, run, run away,” which isn’t actually far from the reality, so lower your expectations now. It’s the slops bucket for the city’s better quality second hand clothing emporiums, where they send all the stuff that is too cheap and nasty to be sold in their more expensive city centre shops. So there is a lot of nasty crap. But in the last two years I have grown so much as a person that I am able to see beyond the unpromising first impression to the beautiful pearl hidden within. Yes that’s right folks, I’m poor and I’ve got nothing better to do.

You’ve got to be in the right mood to trawl through hundreds of horrible garments to find the hidden master piece, but the Bobbin loves it there, because there are lots of other kids for her to make eyes at, so I got at least half an hour of uninterrupted browsing, before the poor wee mite got hypothermic and bored and had to be moved to the exciting flesh pots of Mitre 10. In that time I found the most exciting item of clothing ever; a peacock blue velour trackie top, which might not sound initially promising, but this utilitarian item, dear friends, is embroidered with a heraldic crest, bearing the motto “one’s way of life”. I fell on the floor weeping with delighted mirth and had to be given CPR by a passing fellow bargain hunter.

After such dizzy heights of retail bliss, there wasn’t much else to recount. We then went to Mitre 10 and bought a bath mat, as previously advertised and a new wooden toilet seat as a wild impulse purchase (because the manky old plastic one hitherto gracing our not very salubrious loo, had pinched my arse in its gelid maw  one time too many). And on that topic, I have to say, a decent loo seat is a wonderful thing. Which brings me full circle to my apocalyptic morning musings, and so I leave you. Adieu, adieu.

* But on the plus side, property prices in Lyttelton have fallen dramatically.

**That’s me. The Bobbin came up with that all by herself. Gifted child I tell you.

Things I saw on the bus today

Two paradise ducks swimming in a rain pond formed in an abandoned building site. The site is a victim of the recession  but that pair of ducks, reflected in the pool of water glistening in the middle of that vacant lot, was far more beautiful than any retail development.

The fleeting glitter of the little golden onion dome of the Russian Orthodox church on Brougham Street. Half hidden by trees, and hemmed in by warehouses and car mechanics it looks like a whimsical toy dropped in a tool box.

Almost directly opposite the wee church are the grubby blue lego blocks of Brougham Village. I’ve been fascinated by this collection of tiny matching houses, watching them from the bus window and wondering what it is like to live there. Pieces of people’s possessions come and go in the windows, a pot plant, some china dolls, a half drunk bottle of tequila and a big sleepy ginger cat.

The bus driver was playing Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man at a volume that we could all sing along to. As we came through the traffic lights at the end of Brougham Street all the rocket ships were climbing through the sky. Everyone was quiet, listening. The sun was shining.

Out over the sea, a contrail carved a perfect white arc below the cirrus clouds as the plane completed its ascent from Christchurch airport and turned west towards Australia and the world beyond.

In Opawa two small boys climbed on the bus. They had grey school shorts on and their legs were thin and white. They climbed on the bus, two beetles bowed down under their giant backpacks. They sat together and as the bus pulled away from the stop they joyfully gave the finger to one of their class mates as he ran down the road, too late to catch the driver’s eye.

P.S. As I was writing this post a friend called by and told me about a blog by a writer who lives nearby and there I found this story about riding on the Christchurch buses, which made me smile.