I arrived at Auckland airport on Sunday afternoon to discover that it was a wall to wall mass of seething inhumanity. No planes had been able to get in or out of Wellington for the last two days and everybody's patience was wearing thin.
"I have to get to Wellington today," shrieked a lady overcome with stress. "How dare you cancel my flight? It is absolutely vital that I get to Wellington. You MUST schedule a flight."
Her voice rose in both frequency and volume. Dogs began to howl and rude words etched themselves into the glass doors of the terminal. The man behind the counter patiently explained for the five thousandth time that Air New Zealand was not in charge of the weather and there was nothing he or anybody else could do. His body language made it plain that he was secretly nursing an ambition to punch her lights out. But he restrained himself.
I decided to go over to the Ansett Golden Wing Lounge. Maybe the staff there would be less fraught
"No," the nice Ansett lady behind the desk said to me, "I don't think there is any chance at all of getting you to Wellington today and it will probably be quite late on Monday before we can re-schedule you."
My first day back at work after the Christmas holidays was not turning out to be an overwhelming success. However even as we spoke and while I was glumly contemplating my future, an announcement came over the tannoy:
"If there is anyone who would like a lift to Wellington and can help with the driving, would they please come to the service desk in the Golden Wing Lounge."
Since that was exactly where I was standing, I determined to take advantage of the offer. To think was to act. I wasted no time.
"ME!!!", I volunteered.
And so it was done. It turned out that Natalie had an urgent appointment in Wellington and, like me, couldn't wait until Monday. So she had cut the gordion knot and rented a car, the cost of which she was charging back to her firm on the theory that they would rather pay a little money up front now and make a success of her project than be miserable skinflints and watch the project fail. It sounded good to me.
"How much would you like me to contribute to the cost?" I asked. She waved her hand vaguely in the air. "Nothing," she said. "The company is paying. Don't worry about it."
It sounded even better. Later, after the adventure was over, I told all this to my boss and pointed out that my journey to Wellington hadn't cost the company a cent. Being Glaswegian, he found this enormously satisfying and immediately began contemplating nefarious schemes to close Wellington airport every time I was due to fly...
And so the journey to Wellington began. A short way out of Auckland, the sky was ominously dark and soon the rain came down like stair rods. We drove past a golf course and I was astonished to see the sprinkler system in action. The grass looked quite bemused at this double dose of pleasure.
With wipers going at full speed, we weaved along State Highway 1. A disturbing number of white crosses decorated the roadside, and it wasn't long before I understood why. Far too many times I watched moronic drivers in high powered cars zooming down the right hand lane, overtaking everything in sight and occasionally nipping back into the left lane when the oncoming traffic got too close for comfort. We saw no accidents, and nobody died, but that was a miracle of rare design in itself. A slight misjudgement, a moment of inattention and I could easily have seen at least twenty accidents on that journey and who knows how many deaths. Driving standards in New Zealand have always been appallingly bad, but they seem to have got even worse in recent years.
The weather was most odd. Shortly before Taupo we drove into a band of sunshine. In front of us and behind us the black clouds decorated the sky, and the border between the dark and the light was the straightest line I have ever seen in a natural phenomenon. Usually nature abhors straight lines (rather like New Zealand road engineers who, I am certain, get paid by the corner).
I have always been convinced that if it is raining somewhere then obviously there must be some other place where it is not raining. If you can find the border between these two areas, then there must be a place where you can stand with one side of your body getting rained on and the other staying dry. However I've never been able to find such a place - the border always seems to be too fuzzy. But this time I found it; the border between the dark rain clouds and the sunshine was almost geometrically straight. I was tempted to stop the car and just stand there enjoying the oddity, but if I did that some idiot would probably crash into me, so I carried on driving.
Feeling peckish, we decided to stop in Taupo for a nibble. "Where's a good place to eat in Taupo?" mused Natalie. I had no answer. The last time I was in Taupo was midnight eight years ago, and nothing had been open so I'd had a picnic by the lake with the remnants of my lunch. "Oh look," said Natalie, "there's a parking space. Let's pull over and then we'll decide."
The car was duly parked. And there, right in front of us was a Kebab house. This was obviously a sign from God, and so we dined on Kebabs
The journey to Wellington continued. No visitor to the country would ever have known that New Zealand had mountains. They were all sulking behind very low cloud and the land was flat and barren as far as the eye could see which was almost three feet. Macho drivers kept showing off their big dicks by racing past at 150 kph, but we left them to it.
Just south of Taupo I had the enormous pleasure of watching my phone switch between cells (I'd never seen the phenomenon before since phones must be turned off on an aeroplane). The signal vanished completely for about 3 seconds and then the "roam" light flickered briefly, went out for another couple of seconds as the signal vanished again, and then came on strongly. I assume from this that the cell boundaries are nowhere near as fixed (or as close to each other) as all the diagrams imply. I also wonder how people living in the dead zone between the cells manage? Perhaps there is a law against them having a cell phone.
We contemplated stopping in Taihape to purchase a gumboot, but neither of us had enough room in our suitcases. For the first time ever, I really did see a bull on the outskirts of Bulls and as always I winced when I saw the spelling on the signpost to Feilding (and I winced again just now as I typed it).
Wellington was black and gloomy, dank and cold. We arrived about 10.00pm and I checked into my hotel. A quick visit to the office to do some last minute things and then to bed
On Monday I hopped out of bed and into the shower. Nothing but freezing cold water emerged. I could tell straight away that my week was going to continue in the same manner in which it had begun. A plumber was called and on Tuesday, and for the rest of the week, I got exactly 45 seconds of hot water in my shower before it turned freezing cold again. On Wednesday I was awoken at 4.00am as large and enthusiastic council workmen emptied trash bins with enormous gusto and on Thursday I was awoken by a phone call at 2.00am. It was a wrong number.
Friday dawned clear and clean. After my normal 45 second hot shower followed by a cold one for as long as I could stand it, I checked out of the hotel and went to the office. That evening I took a taxi to Wellington airport, wondering if I would be able to get home.
The flight was utterly uneventful.