Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Almighty, very long, (Sorry) New Zealand Blogathon!

My Euphoric Flight to New Zealand
OR: Thank you feet.

On my way to Sydney airport, I suddenly realise that I’m nervous. I have only ever got on an aeroplane all on my own once before and I’m not entirely convinced I know how to do it! I make Helena take me with the full 2 hours messing-about-time just in case I cock it up – and have to ask H what to do when I get in. It is, actually, surprisingly easy… I find the desk with my airline, Aerolíneas Argentinas, am surprised to see my bag still weighs under 20Kg, get given a boarding pass and walk though security no hassles.

Awaiting me on the other side, as if they knew, is a higher-than-usual range of salesmen with trays sampling their wares. I try Hazelnut Baileys, Raspberry Moet, and a zesty Absolut Vodka. All before 1pm. And yes, I’m aware the acronym for the airline I’m flying with is AA. Although they’re clearly not, as once on board the plane, I get no less than THREE glasses of wine. And not those silly little bottles, but big glasses filled to the top from a normal real-life wine bottle. And even some lunch! On a 3 hour flight. Fantastic. Would love to see what their long-haul is like. Probably get your own personal masseuse!

Amyway… I’m not sure of it’s the heady concoction of free booze and air-travel or perhaps the anticipation of a new country awaiting me…. But I start to feel strangely euphoric.

I can only describe it as it happened: The sun is blazing at 30,000 feet or whatever altitude we were at, I have a glass of wine in my hand, 2 seats to myself which I am greedily spread out on, and my iPod blaring Nina Simone. I flick through the in-flight magazine and read an article translated poorly from Spanish, about Solo Travelers. And it just really hits home, I’m doing it. The thing I have dreamed of doing for so long, the thing I worked and saved for, the thing I spent countless hours planning when I should’ve been doing my dissertation – I’m doing it all. And I’m doing it now.

Not only am I doing it, I’m 4 months in, and I’m having the time of my life. I’m doing it well. I haven’t run out of money, or had a serious accident, or been mugged, or lost, or drowned, or stung, or so homesick I’ve flown home. And not only that, I’ve been lucky enough to just land on my feet, no matter where I go.

I guess I can be thankful to my mother for giving me this quality; it would appear she’s always had the same advantage. To land on one’s feet – a strange idiom for me to adopt seeming as how ill-equipped my actual feet are for landing on anything. But metaphorically, my feet are great for landing.

Allow me to elaborate: In Airlie I couch surf with a family who become like my own and wangle a week sailing the Whitsunday’s for free. In Hervey Bay I just so happen to know, by proxy, the couple who’ve just opened the hippest restaurant in town and score a free meal and new friends (making me look like the ultimate mover-and-shaker about town with unintentional endeavor), In Sydney, I get to stay with an old friend, and by total coincidence it just so happens that she lives in the place to live. (The conversation with sydneysiders usually goes something like this: Stranger: So, where are you staying whilst you are in Sydney? Me: Oh St. Peters, near New Town. Stranger: Oh cool, where abouts? Me: Just opposite the park. Stranger:  It’s not the caravan house is it? Me: erm, yes actually, it is. Stranger: Oh, My, God. I’ve heard about this place so many times, I’ve always been desperate to see it, do you think I could come and have a look? How did you get a place there? Is it really as cool as it sounds?). I’m not even joking, one day I was just checking my emails, and some people turned up who had just heard about the place and came to have a look around.
Similar story I guess with Mardi Gras. Having always been a fan of London and Brighton’s Gay Pride march, I was eager to see what Sydney had to offer – what with it being one of the most [in]famous Mardi Gras on the planet – and whatd’ya know… Helena and co. have their own float and I’m in. I’m in the God-damned parade. Thank you feet.

So I was a little concerned that my luck had run out, when, searching for a couch to surf in Auckland I was coming up short. After 5 or so declines, I posted a message on facebook to see if any friends of friends would host me. So a guy I met briefly in Cape Tribulation sent me a message saying that his friend Gaz lived a little south of Auckland and would probably have me stay and to give him a call. Gaz said no problems, but he couldn’t pick me up from the airport, he’d get his flat mate to get me, Conrad.

So upon leaving Sydney Airport I text Simon to tell him that if I disappear off the face of the planet, to tell the police; I am meeting a guy called Conrad, who I don’t know, who is the flatmate of Gaz, who I also don’t know, who is a friend of Ryan, who I barley know. What could possibly go wrong?

Such were the thoughts flooding my (somewhat) intoxicated brain on our decent into New Zealand. But having spent most of the flight in dizzy euphoria bought on by my own abilities to land on one’s feet, not face, I was fairly confident everything would be fine. In addition the number 23 had been popping up all over the place all day, which is always a positive sign.

Rather frustratingly I realised my aussie mobile was immobile in NZ. Making for a somewhat tricky rendezvous with this Conrad chap. So I’m waiting outside International Arrivals, willing it all to go ok, when this very tall, handsome man, barefoot and in boardies, races over to me, shakes my hand, grabs my 19.9kg bag from me, and ushers me toward his old jeep so that we can get out of the carpark before they start charging.

In the car we chat freely, he has a lovely dog in the back, Brandy, and an empty crate of 12 long-necks which he is taking to the bottleshop to swap-a-crate – which I learn means pretty much exactly what you’d imagine. I’m thrown a bit of a curve ball by discovering that my first kiwi friend is in fact a Safa. Remarkably I actually pick up on this quite quickly, and ask him all about where he’s from, where he’s been and how he got here.

He tells me that he left Africa when he was 18 and spent some time in Holland, and a few years in the UK. I tell him I’m from Dorking, and he says he knows it. He used to work in Sutton. Oh, that’s funny, I say… I used to work in Sutton too. He asks me if I know the two big red brick building behind Sutton train station. Cue lots of screaming, and Oh My God’s, and I Can’t Believe It’s – Yes, that’s right, we both used to work at Reed. DURING THE SAME YEARS. He was a maintenance guy. I thought he looked familiar. Then we had a chuckle about the lovely short spiky plum-haired lady at the front desk. The World Is Smaller Than We Think.


Life at The Farm in Papakura
OR: Dead Sheep

We pull up at the farm that is Conrad’s home. It’s beautiful. Set in rolling hills and beautiful bushland. There are chickens, a goat (which Conrad warns me will jump in the car if I let him), and a lovely fat pig, which they bought for pork but liked too much, so now he is pet, (bet he thinks he landed on his feet too!). I meet His lovely welsh flat mate, Ben, and his bird, Carly, who I get on super well with. Gaz (who does the best Tony Harrison impression I’ve ever heard), and his lady, Phil, are both awesome too. I get shown to my double room, dump all my stuff, and proceed to have a bit of a piss up, whereby I talk Conrad into bunking off work and taking me out Friday.
Farm view from lounge

So, after a call into work, (cough, splutter), Conrad makes bacon and eggs for brekkie, and we head into town. We go up One Tree Hill and get the awesome 360 degree view of Auckland. Then drive into town to see the tower. We do some shopping in preparation for the braai. Then Conrad takes me to the amazing Hunua falls. We have a quick bush walk (where we spot a bloated decomposing sheep corpse, an essential part of the kiwi experience) and then take a dip in the FREEZING water. It’s so cold my feet cramp when I test the temperature and I swear I’m not jumping in. Conrad braves it, and I can see by his face how cold it is. Despite his face giving him away, he tells me it’s amazing and I simply must jump in. So, holding hands, we count down from 3, and take a plunge. I actually scream it’s so cold, and as soon as I surface, I scramble out. But I am very very pleased I did it!

We proceed to sun ourselves on the deserted bank of the falls, where we chat for an hour or so, and Conrad tells me all about his brother, and father, and how they’re coping (or not), in the years after his mothers suicide, following her struggle with a gambling addiction.

We drive home via the mahusive Dam, and I sneak in a 2 hour nap whilst the boys prep the braai.

We are joined by friend Sam, who I get on really well with. He puts on some awesome dubstep, and the boys get the fire going. The food is delicious, the sweetest corn I have ever eaten. Conrad’s specialty is far better than it sounds – cheese toasties, some amazing meat, and to top of the perfect evening, we roast marshmallows over the fire, with Gaz’s expert commentary to guide us!

On Saturday I wake to hear the news of the earthquake in Japan. I had not, at this stage, seen any footage. With talk of the apocalypse and general heartache for the scale of natural disasters we seem to be experiencing, I say my farewells and promise to return for a weekends fishing and eeling before I head back to Oz, providing NZ isn’t under water by then.

Gaz dropped me in town for me to catch my bus to Tauranga, where I will meet Jeremy. A man I met in my local pub in Dorking, once, over a year ago, who said, in passing, ‘if you ever find yourself in New Zealand, you should come and stay’. Well, I do have a habit of taking these things literally, so here I am, on a bus, to go and stay with Jeremy. I may just add here that we have kept in touch via facebook throughout the year, and formed an uncanny online friendship, so my arrival was no surprise for the man in question!

Taurnaga Time
OR: Plastic minds

Jeremy met me from the bus, and we got a cab to Jeremy’s house (Taxi number 23, a good sign!), where he lives with housemate Jane. We are joined by 3 or so of their work colleagues (both Jane and Jeremy work for Tauranga council) for beers and a barbie. The combination of four females over forty, who all work together, plus a bit of booze, and you have the perfect recipe for a terrifying tirade of bitchy gossip. Over the indecipherable hum of things I don’t care about happening to be people I don’t know, Jeremy and I catch up on the one subject that has kept our online friendship fruitful: music. When the other girls leave, I get a chance to talk to Jane one-on-one, and realise she’s actually right up my street.

On Sunday morning Jeremy and I go into town to get some boring chores done (I need a phone, and a camera charger). However, everything is shut, and its like a ghost town.

The weirdest thing about New Zealand, is it’s exactly that. A ghost town. There is NO ONE here. You walk into a shop and you are seen to immediately because more often than not, you are the only person in there. It’s almost eerie. I spoke to Simon and he reminded me of the old NZ joke “I went to New Zealand once, but it was closed”. Scarily accurate for a jibe.

We go to a café, which for NZ, is quite busy, and get some breakfast instead, and then have a look around the art gallery. After a day of chilling back at home, watching a film and generally lolling about, we go back into town to view one of Jeremy’s friend’s art exhibitions. Tauranga is a very conservative, middle-of-the-road type of place, so in this small space, where the exhibition is held, there must be every single queer within a 10 mile radius. Much more my scene! In fact, if this exhibition was the first example of Tauranga I’d experienced, I would have thought it was the gay capital of NZ. Oh how very wrong I would have been.

On Monday I spent the morning watching the news, in total shock at the subsequent tsunami to hit Japan. I’m not one for tears usually, unless, rather selfishly, something is happening to me, but the footage actually makes me cry. After an afternoon in town getting my chores done, I meet Jane after work as she’d invited me to join her at her weekly combat class. It was awesome! I do love a bit of fighting to music. After a quick shower, Jane drops me, still shaking from the class, to a café where one of Jeremy’s friends is celebrating her 50th. We have a lovely evening. Sandra, the birthday girl, is a delight, and so are all her friends. By 9pm however, it is only Jeremy and I left. Classic Tauranga. So we stumble home, listen to Anthony and the Johnsons, Elbow and Joanna Newsom, and go to bed. (Separately I hasten to add!).

Tuesday I spend the day catching up online, and doing a supermarket run. Jeremy has requested Toad in the Hole, which I cook, quite unsuccessfully, but both Jane and Jeremy clear their plates so it can’t have been too bad! Then Jeremy and I watch Shortbus. Jane is joined by her new-ish bit of stuff, Martin. He’s a typical middle-aged brit from Southampton. Friendly enough with a big smiley face, bald head and round tummy. He’s your average, sun reading, brick laying, ‘salt of the earth’ bigot. He happens to walk in during a scene in the film where two men are kissing. His instant repulsion takes me a bit by surprise and as he quickly turns his back to the TV he says to us, with complete disgust, in his Southampton burr “ugh, I can’t watch two lads kissin’”. I never really know what to say when someone says something like that, part of me wants to challenge their prejudice, but a bigger part just wants to keep the peace. But without a second of hesitation, and before I’ve really even had a chance to digest what is said, Jeremy responds with “Would you rather watch a tsunami?”, and kind of to everyone’s surprise, I think even to Martin’s, he replies pathetically “yeah, I guess I would”.  Welcome to Tauranga.

The funny thing is, he seems like a nice enough bloke. I guess he’s just never really questioned his own beliefs. And it’s one of the things I absolutely adore about Jeremy. He has a way of making people question their perceived wisdom, without sounding aggressive, cruel, radical or know-it-all. But if someone says something that comes across as bullying, or is simply very narrow minded, he questions it. In fact, I’m making it my new aim, to be more analytical of people’s behavior that doesn’t fit my moral code. And you never know, when you question someone’s stance on a topic that conflicts with yours, you may just change their opinion…. But even more excitingly…. They may just change yours! I find it comforting, the flexibility of minds. It reminds me of that early meeting, between me and Johnny, at Dingo beach (which you may recall if you are an oldschool blogette). To be willing to be challenged, is to be willing to accept you might be wrong, and that is a willingness to change for the better. To learn. Plasticise your minds my friends! (Mum, I’m not on drugs, I promise).
Jeremy, Me, Jane & Martin

So I get to this point, in Tauranga, where I’m nearing the end of my stay at Jane and Jeremy’s house, and I haven’t really got a plan. I've been to the mount, i've exhausted Tauranga, and I have another 10 days in NZ, and not a clue what to do.

Cue a call to Mum, who in her infinite wisdom, suggests I go to Wellington as it’s the biggest city. Smart move. For my last night, Jeremy treats me to dinner at his favourite Thai restaurant, and we are joined by Jane and Martin, who I get on so famously well with by this stage that I question my snap judgments, and promptly change them. Good old plastic mind.

Windy Welly
OR: It’s the little differences…

The bus to wellington is a good 10 hours, but I don’t care… I genuinely enjoy the time I spend with my thoughts, the scenery, some good tunes in my ears. Plus this journey is a little more exciting than usual cus the poor old batty woman (85, dementia, travelling alone) pipe’s up and gets rewarded with a trip to the police station. The whole bus is like a class of jittery excitable school children trying to figure out what all the excitement is about. When the camp bus driver (who really ought to have had a career on the stage if his announcements are anything to go by), says over the tanoy: “Ok guys, I’m obviously having some problems up here, please just bare with me, you can see this isn’t a usual situation so just cut me some slack and give me a bit of understanding… I can’t really explain over the tanoy what’s going on, its not very appropriate”, to which I say to the lady next to me “Yeah, but he’s dying to do just that!”, to which she gets the giggles and we have a laugh and a chat the rest of the way. PLUS, when we stop for tea, I order a cuppa and guess what order number I get given? Wellington is gunna be good.

My first CS host, Mark, meets me from the bus, and very trustingly gives me the keys to his house (He’s off toa party, which I decline an invite to in favor of a night in with Chinese and trashy telly). This suits Mark fine as he has 2 other CSers coming to stay and they are arriving at 9pm, so I can let them in.

The 2 surfers are lovely young Canadians from BC. Jen, 20, is outgoing, bordering on the mad, just how I like it, loads of weird little tattoo’s and plays the drums (win). Her friend Seynel (pronounced like that designer brand), also 20, is adorable, seems younger than Jen, has an awesome laugh, and they make some kind of hilarious double act.

We fall asleep before Mark gets home, but wake Saturday and have a good old chat together. Mark is a surreysider, mountain biker, IT boy – 31 - lived in East Molesy up until 5 years ago. It’s nice to be around a familiar accent. He talks about traffic on the A3 and at the sound of the road name, I actually coo: Ahhh, the A3, I remember that! He still has his British keyboard too, and I get the giggles when it takes me yonks to find the @ key, because I have become so accustomed. We have a goodl ol’ chat about travelling, and how it’s the little things that get you. Like the dial tone of a phone, the plug sockets, the bleeps the pedestrian crossings make. Its these little differences that when you first arrive make you feel like such a stranger in a strangeland – and it’s those very same little differences that make you realise you are no longer a foreigner, when you fail to notice the differences, and instead are surprised by an unsuspected reminder from ‘home’ – like seeing an English plug – my initial reaction was ‘what the hell’s that?’. Incidentally, I cannot recall in my minds ear the UK dial tone. Travelling. Everyone should do it.
Hitch Hiking

Us 3 girls decide a bit of retail therapy is in order. I feel like an absolute square when I grab my oh-so-grown-up bus time table and get looks from the girls like I’m a total saddo, cus obviously we’ll just hitch in.

Despite being 24, this is my first ever attempt at hitch hiking. It’s surprisingly easy. Rather unsurprisingly, we are picked up by three 18 year old boys, meaning four of us are squeezed in the back. These poor boys don’t seem able to contain their excitement, and after a barrage of questions, we arrive in town and jump out the car.

The day is perfect. The vintage shops are like the ones I see in my dreams. Loads of cool old stuff, but being sold at bargain prices. Unlike in the UK, where you either get a second hand shop with loads of cheap rubbish, or a second hand shop with loads of expensive gems. I guess somewhere on earth there’s gotta be a second hand shop that’s shit and expensive. I buy a pair of white RayBan sunnies and a nautical beach back from $40 (about twenty quid). That night we head back into town for a drag show, which turns out to be beautiful, touching, hilarious, well done, smart and thought provoking. Mark meets us after at a bar…. And this is just one of many examples of why I love Couch Surfing.

He says to go to the Mighty Mighty on Cuba St (The main bar drag). He tells me its v inconspicuous from the outside so just look for two doormen. He wasn’t kidding, you’d never know there was a bar there. There is just a black single door, no lights or anything, with 2 door staff standing outside. You go up some steep stairs and then BAM! You’re in an awesome, large venue, decked out in super retro style, complete with awesome band playing. It’s rammed with scenesters draped in vintage designerware and hairstyles intentionally bad in that kind of ironic, hip, sub-cultural way. Mark and I sit at the bar and drink beer and have remarkably deep chats. An awesome night. We get home in the wee hours and crash.
Me & Mark at Mighty Mighty

On Sunday, Jen and I attempt to climb Mount Victoria but somehow end up just sunbathing in the park. Then cook a stir fy for dinner and watch Bill Bailey with Mark. An early night for all – Seynel flies home to Canada Monday, and Jen and I are off to stay with a new Host, Kacy.

Racy Kacy
OR: How to simultaneously be domestic-goddess-mother and badass-gothic-dominatrix.

Kacy meets us in town. 31, kiwi, mother of 8 year old Ryan, Dominatrix by profession. She’s big in that sexy way that really suits gothic dominant women. We get the buss to her house, where she proceeds to cook us the most delicious pumpkin soup, homemade savory scones followed by scrummy date cake. We watch a few Mighty Boosh episodes and then get an early night. Tuesday its rainy and cold, so me and Jen go to the pictures to see Black Swan – a nice cheery film. We walk home in the rain and finally get to meet Ryan.

He’s the coolest kid I’ve ever met (perhaps apart from Jobe). He is so well mannered, polite, funny, smart, interested, interesting. He shows us his skills on the drums (followed by Jen, who pretty much blows us away). He chases me around with a gun, we play lego, he teaches me how to ‘Bop-it’. Adorable. And Kacy is the kind of mother that I want to be. 100% all about Ryan, his day at school, his homework, yet without compromising a fraction of who she is. She’s so involved, constantly playing and talking with him, and she disciplines him in a way that just, I dunno, it just looked like how parenting should be done to me. In the morning we play connect 4, and he kicks my ass about 8 times in a row. By the 4th game, I was really really trying. The kid is a genius. A sneaky genius.

Journey of Doom
OR: Gut feelings.

I leave Kacy’s at 8.15am to catch a train to Welly Central to catch the horrible bus back up north to Papakura. This is my first taste of how shitty actual travelling can be.

I have my backpack strapped to my back, plus my massively over packed handbag, and the towel and pillow attached to the outside of my bag. It is POURING rain. My mac just about covers half my backpack. And it’s windy. And my centre of balance is distorted. I pretty much stagger the mile to the station (convinced I’m going to miss the train). The train happens to be running late, leaving me 15 minutes before my bus departs Wellington. I make it with literally seconds to spare. STRESS. So I’m sopping wet as I embark on my 12 hour bus to Papakura. And my iPod battery is dead. Brilliant. The child in the row behind screams and whines non-stop for the first 3 hours. Whilst a mother at the front of the bus changes her babies nappy, which, thanks to the wonderful aircon system, we are now all aware of, as the rancid smell permeates the entire vehicle.  

Jen, on the other hand, is flying. A 1 hour flight. She left Kacy’s at 1pm and was drinking a beer by 3pm. That is how it’s done. Jen is staying with a chap she met whilst selling fruit on the side of the road in Auckland a few weeks back. I’m not due back at the farm with Conrad and Gaz et al til Thursday night. So Jen asks this guy if I can stay. (Incidentally, he paid for her flight). I kind of just had a funny feeling about it from the off. And not just because Jen informs me he has a crack and gambling problem.

I seem to recall my bus arrival time as 8pm, and Jen says they can pick me up in Papakura then. But when I board my connecting bus, the driver announces the ETA is 7pm. I text Jen to tell her but it doesn’t deliver. I try calling and it goes straight to voicemail.

I try to quash my niggling doubts about the whole set-up, but things keep creeping into my brain, like, I wonder if Jen is tied up in his basement? Or, what would I do if I get off the bus and he’s there but she isn’t? I kept telling myself not to be mental, but macabre thoughts kept returning. I was desperately searching my ever-changing surroundings to spot a number 23 so I’d know I was safe, but I didn’t see a single one. Then I decided to text Simon… He told me that although the guy probably wasn’t a serial killer, I should go with my instinct… and with Mum’s words about listening to my gut still ringing in my ears, I called Conrad and asked him to pick me up. The guys are all OTL, but Gaz’s girlfriend Phil finishes work in an hour and can pick me up on her way past. Perfect. I find the nearest pub, order a bowl of mussels and pint of beer, and am greeted with the warm sense of making the right decision. That same feeling you get when you’re desperate to go home from work or school but you stick it out for hours before you finally give up the goat and decide to sack it in and go home. Relief. At about 8pm Jen calls me and says she gets no network at this guys house, and that all is fine, and no worries, as long as I have somewhere to stay, it’s all good – we arrange to meet for lunch the following day.

Life at The Farm in Papakura 2
OR: Dead Rabbit

Whatever my weird feeling was about, I don’t really care, I love it here at the farm. I get on so well with each of the housemates. I slept fantastically, and woke Thursday with a view to doing some housework to say thank you. Conrad was too hungover to go to work in the end anyway so we spent the morning cleaning and the afternoon hanging with Jen (the [possible] serial was home sleeping off his latest crack binge presumably). 

Me and Conrad go back to the farm, I make an Apple Crumble and we watch a film. That night Conrad and Carly decide to take me Eeling. Yup, exactly what you are thinking, like fishing, but for eels. It’s 8pm, so I naturally assume they mean the next day…. No, it turns out you catch eels at night. Very befitting for the creepy creatures they are. But I’m informed a smoked eel is delicious, and with my new ban on eating factory farmed animals, I decide a bit of eel would go down a treat.

With the decision made, Conrad grabs his shotgun and announces “I’ll just go and get some bait”. God this is rural living. 5 minutes later he reemerges from the darkness with a dead rabbit. (Since when did eels come higher up the food chain than rabbits!?). We drive down to the waters edge and Conrad helps me bait my hook (not sure that’s what you call it – can you tell I’ve never been fishing before?). First to get a bite is Conrad, but he reels it in and it’s only a tidler, so we throw him back. I’m assured that they’re hardy bastards that can survive a hook in the mouth as long as they don’t swallow it. Right. Next Carly reels one in, also a bit of a baby. Back he goes. I get a few tugs on the line but scream so loud I think I scare the slimy buggers off. Just as we decide to call it a night, and reel in our lines, I realise I have an eel. He’s quite big too. But I guess my lack of skill foils us, and with Conrad’s headlamp illuminating the scene, we watch him jump free from my hook. Kind of relived for the little eel.

We get home around 11pm and promptly crash. Nothing like a bit of eeling to tire you out before bed!

After a quiet couple of days at the farm, Me and Conrad share our last night getting drunk and eating good food at the local pub (a twenty minute drive away!). The next day he takes me to the airport. we leave at 7am. I arrive to be told that my flight is delayed until 3pm. Great. After a small amount of eyelash batting, big smiles, and polite but pissed off complaining, I get put (probably to just to shut me up!), into he lounge, where I  spend the next 6 hours in better comfort than most of the previous months travelling have seen me enjoy! I board my plane to Sydney in a rather relaxed state thanks to the constant flow of free booze, and am totally ecstatic in the knowledge that I am soon to be reunited with my Sydney family. 

You're gunna hate me for saying it my kiwi friends.... New Zealand is pretty cool, but Oz knocks the socks off it! .....just in case I'm wrong here, Simon and I have every intention of travelling around both islands in a van in the not too distant future! I will keep a plastic mind on this one.....

If you got the the end of this mammoth blog - you deserve a prize! well done bloggetes!

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