"Let's go for an adventure," said Ross.
"What a good idea," I said. It was Thursday and neither of us was working that day. The thought of all our friends slaving away over a hot desk at their 9-5 labour made the idea of an adventure irresistible. They'd all be so jealous. So we got into Ross's car and drove off to the Wairarapa, an area that is largely terra incognita to me, though not to Ross.
It soon became abundantly clear to me that New Zealand road engineers have learned nothing whatsoever from the Romans. Roman roads start at point A and go straight to point B. The operative word here is straight. The Romans simply moved any lumps of inconvenient geography out of the way. New Zealand road engineers have a different approach. It would seem that they are paid by the corner, and the road to the Wairarapa must have made very rich men of all of them. It has almost no straight parts on it at all as it winds its way up the mountains and encircles every rocky outcrop.
"Bendy bits for the next 3 kilometres" announced a road sign, and it wasn't lying. Three kilometres later, another road sign said: "More bendy bits for another 3 kilometres. Ha, ha, fooled you!"
The road is only a two lane highway. Woe betide you if you get stuck behind an overburdened and very slow logging truck. Overtaking is hard. There are occasional passing lanes, but they are very, very short; cunningly designed to disappear from beneath your tyres when you are less than half way past the lumbering leviathan. You stare helplessly at the oncoming traffic (which has no intention whatsoever of slowing down so as to allow you time to get safely back into your own lane). Massive acceleration and tight sphincters are an advantage here. Fortunately Ross has a very powerful car, and both he and I were wearing brown trousers.
Once we reached the top, we stopped at the café for a look at the view. It is truly spectacular. You feel as though you are perched on the roof of the world, and the lands spread themselves out all around you, green and welcoming.
We got back into the car and began to wend and wind our merry way down towards the vineyards of Martinborough.
"There's a brewery somewhere in Martinborough," said Ross. "It might be worth stopping there and picking up a few bottles. It's a very hard beer to find outside Martinborough itself."
"That sounds like a good idea," I said.
"It's on New York Street," said Ross. "Oh look by a strange coincidence, here is New York Street!"
We stopped at the cross roads. New York Street stretched both left and right of us. There was no immediately obvious brewery to be seen.
"Hmmm," said Ross. "Let's try right."
We went right. There being no intervening geography now that we were out of the mountains, the road stretched infinitely straight and Roman-like in front of us. We drove and drove and drove some more. Lots of vineyards, no breweries.
"Odd," said Ross. "Perhaps we should have gone left. Never mind. If we turn here, here and here we'll go round in a circle and we can try again."
About half an hour later, after passing several hundred vineyards, we arrived back at the crossroads again. This time we turned left.
"There's the brewery," said Ross triumphantly, and he turned into the suspiciously empty parking area. "I think it's closed."
"There's a sign in the doorway," I said. "I'll hop out and have a look."
The brewery was open to the public on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons only. Today being Thursday, it would seem that beer was out of the question.
I carried this sad news back to Ross. Fortunately he is not the kind of person who shoots the messenger. "Looks like it's wine, then," he said phlegmatically and drove off down New York Street once again. "Here's a nice sounding road," he said and turned left into Princess Street. Left had been a good direction all day, so I was cautiously optimistic.
We chose a vineyard by the pragmatic method. That is to say Martinborough Vineyards was literally opening its gates to visitors just as we drove past them. So we screeched to a halt, and then drove in.
The wine tasting room had large lists of wines for sale with the depressing words Sold Out against most of them. We were right at the end of the season (or, for those who see the glass as half full rather than half empty, right at the beginning of the current season, and the wine hadn't been made yet).
There were two Pinot Noir wines on offer. One was cheap and one wasn't.
"They're both from the same grapes," said the lady, "and both the same vintage. But they come from different barrels and they have quite a different taste as a result."
She was right the wines were obviously closely related, but easily distinguishable by taste. She pointed at the one that wasn't cheap.
"That will be wonderful in about ten years time, and absolutely brilliant in fifteen, though it is quite acceptable now."
She pointed at the cheap one.
"That's a good quaffing wine and it's probably at its best now. It isn't really suitable for keeping and is unlikely to improve."
Being a man who requires instant gratification, I bought two bottles of the cheap one. If it turns your teeth pink and makes you fall over, its a good wine in my book. I'm a philistine.
Ross bought two bottles of a dessert sticky. He didn't taste it because he'd had it before and so he knew just what he was buying. I had a taste, and it was like drinking liquid gold; sweet, fulfilling and head-blasting. I was sorely tempted to follow his example and buy some of my own, but I had no money left.
The hour being still somewhat pre-prandial, Ross and I decided to walk around the town of Martinborough. This takes approximately five minutes, but it is not without interest. There is a small, beautifully maintained park in the town centre which has a war memorial in it. Nothing strange about that but what is strange is that it memorialises the Boer War and the men of Martinborough who died in it. I don't recall seeing a memorial to that sad little skirmish in any other New Zealand town. Indeed I would have assumed that the Boer War really had no part to play in the history of this country and I would not have expected that any New Zealand town would have sent its men off to fight and die there. But nevertheless, Martinborough had. It was a strangely sad and sobering thought.
The town has an art house cinema which shows films I've never heard of that (presumably) have writing on the bottom of them. This is the very last place that I would have expected to find such an establishment and I have no idea how it manages to survive, but it is housed in a smart building so it must be paying its way. Perhaps TV reception is bad in Martinborough. And maybe all the vintners are French and Czechoslovakian.
Lunch! My companion and I decided upon a smart looking restaurant. I ordered squid and my companion ordered sausages. Wise choices, both of them. We also found that the restaurant had a selection of locally produced beers, so the day was not as wasted as we had at first thought it might be. I drank something light and frothy and my companion drank something dark and frothy. Both were toothsome and refreshing.
My squid was lightly fried in several spices (I think I identified cinnamon, not a spice I would have expected, but it worked very well). It was served with a green salad and a caterpillar though I was unaware of this extra gustatory treat to begin with, for it was not mentioned on the menu. Obviously an oversight.
It came to my attention towards the end of the meal. I poked at something which I thought might be a small piece of rolled up lettuce. I attempted to unroll it, but it refused to unroll. I pushed it to the side of the plate, and noticed that it appeared to have lots of feet. And a head. With eyes in it. Unblinking.
"I think that might be a caterpillar," I said.
My companion inspected it cursorily. "Added protein," was his expert judgement. He speared a sausage. It wasn't green. I found that strangely soothing.
"Protein," I agreed, "but not in a form that I care for."
I vaguely recalled other small pieces of rolled up lettuce that I had examined with a much less jaundiced eye earlier on in my meal. Could that emphatic hint of bitter sweetness in one mouthful have been caused by something other than a chef with rather too heavy a hand on the spice spoon? Hmmmm.
I took my plate back to the counter and showed the lady the caterpillar. She turned pale and dashed into the kitchen with my plate. Almost instantly a grovelling chef appeared.
"Sorry. So sorry. It should never have happened. So sorry. We'll refund your money, of course. So sorry."
Pink and peeved, he returned to the kitchen. Faint roars emerged in which the words: " and examine every single salad green with a microscope before you put it on a plate " could be distinguished.
Meanwhile the lady behind the counter had a problem. The till was computer controlled and while it was more than willing to open up in order to receive money, it stubbornly refused to open up in order to dispense it. That was against the natural order of things. The lady desperately pushed buttons and pleaded with the computer, but the till remained firmly closed. Eventually she had to call the manager who poked at special managerial keys. The computer was unimpressed and paid no attention. The till drawer remained closed. The manager gave up.
"We'll enter it as another meal," she said. "At least that way the drawer will open for me! I'll make a manual adjustment in the accounts when we cash up tonight."
She rang up another squid and caterpillar. "Ping!" said the computer, and opened the drawer. The manager took my money out and returned it to me.
"Time to go home," said Ross.
So we did.