Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Cold Kiwi Christmas

Being an orphan in a foreign country often makes the question of what to do at Christmas time rather interesting. For the five I have had over here I have spent one in Edinburgh with some Aoteoroa-n friends, one in the Lake District with the same friends plus Wendy, Dave, Muzz, Jo and Gareth and that was rather memorably concluded with an emergency call to Dyna-Rod as excrement was spraying all over the back porch, the third was spent in Luton with my brother and his fiance's family, and last year was spent in Farringdon with Mike and Sarah's family. On that occasion I had goose rather than turkey for Christmas lunch. Make no mistake about it, goose is an infinitely superior option for your fowl eating. But at £70/bird, it is really a posh person's bird.

This year I started thinking about Christmas around July (about three months ahead of the shops - how scary is that) and around October Jane came up with a solution, which would see us go to a cottage in Wales with some of her school friends. This was attractive on a few levels. Firstly it required little effort from me, other than to say yes, secondly it would be in a part of the world I hadn't been but wanted to go to, and thirdly, Jane is a good mate and I like to spend time with my mates.

So on the 23rd I found myself driving down the M40/M25/M4 to London to collect her and her flatmate Emily and all their assorted foodstuffs. After a small detour to find a petrol cap as somehow I had left mine in Benson earlier on in the week we were on our way. How I managed to contort all of our stuff as well as the three of us into my Micra is a small miracle. We set off with very low expectations about holiday traffic and the initial experiences on the A4/M4 seemed to reinforce this. However, with a sudden expansion of motorway we shook free the burdens of neighbouring cars and somehow five hours later we left the A4244 and pulled into Bryndrefail in Snowdonia National Park. Thanks to the wonderful i-pod (we worship at your temple, O Great Apple), Jane's DJing skills (if not her mixing skills - Karma Police must ALWAYS be played to the very last chord), and some liberal interpretations of the 70mph speed limit, the trip was a blast.

Waiting for us was Mike and Rebekah. Rebekah is one of Jane and Emily's school friends and Mike is her partner. Mike was to turn out to be the only non-kiwi amongst us. Introductions were done and the first bottle of wine cracked open. Shortly afterwards Sarah and Marty turned up. This was an extraordinary achievement as when we were about 20 miles north of Birmingham they were still in Ealing. Yet somehow they arrived only an hour and a half behind me...

Wine drunk, we disappeared to our rooms and, in the case of Jane and I some really uncomfortable beds. The beds we slept on were rubbish. They were short, the springs were, well, they were absent and the room was damp. It has been so good to get back to my own bed! Christmas Eve was spent buying papers from the local post office (a thirty second walk but one that required a fifteen minute discussion with the postman about, oh, I don't know, um, the state of the Welsh Assembly, the EC and the colonial bastards that are Britain, France and Germany, the career path of his brother in law (Nottingham-Canada-New Zealand to the Emirates before retirement in Taupo), pronounciation of Welsh placenames and a whole series of other things that escape me now) replenishing beer and coal stocks (Marty had brought along a box of Paulaner, an oustanding beer, and despite the girls pledge that they would drink wine, they soon renegged and clearly we needed some supplementary stocks) and visiting Llanberis, the nearest big town. Llanberis is about an hours walk along the shores of Lyn Padarn. On the way back we had to negotiate a field of cows and cow excrement, which saw a very comical walking style from an anonymous member of the party... Later in the evening a sixth kiwi, Rachel, joined the posse.

Christmas Day rose cold and frosty but absent in snow. While Rach and Emily slumbered Marty, Sarah, Mike, Rebekah, Jane and I wandered up a small path to a view over Llanberis and Snowdon and away to the west we could see Anglesey. From there we wandered back to the cottage for secret santa, where £5 gifts were diced for. I ended up with a garlic bread dish and a metre long tube of jaffa cakes...

Numpty in desperate need of a shave but with an excess of Jaffa Cakes. Note the malformed forearms.

Finally we tucked into a huge lunch of ham and chicken and roast veges and the finest mashed potato I have ever had, or made for that matter. Oh, and someone had made and cooked brussel sprouts. The amazing thing was that we had somehow cooked a wonderful meal with everyone pitching in and without there being too many cooks to spoil the broth. The kiwi camaraderie mixed with Mikes overwhelming generosity made for a fine meal and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Richard/Rebekah/Mike/Sarah/Marty/Jane/Emily. Rach is behind the camera.

After the indulgence. Stuffed Kiwis from left: Richard/Marty/Rach (this time behind the glass)/Rebekah/(stuffed Englishman) Mike/(back to the stuffed kiwis) Sarah and Jane. This time Emily is hiding behind the camera.

Seeing as we had indulged, Boxing Day required Penance. So on Boxing Day, we climbed Snowdon. All of us knocked the bastard off. Amongst the ice as we ascended the zig zag towards the summit and despite the freezing wind on the summit cairn, we did it. More pictures of the walk can be seen here. The view was underwhelming. The freezing fog saw to that. Is it just me, but how ridiculous is it that the highest mountain in England and Wales has a railway line to the summit? That is mountaineering for the bone idle. Although at 1085m, Snowdon struggles to be called a mountain. Once below the fog, the view was astonishing. The view across to Y Lliwedd and Llyn Llydaw is outstanding. It was worth every penny and every calorie consumed. On the shores of Llyn Llydaw Marty and I stumbled across the fabled Toffee Pop Tree and there we worshipped.

Because it was there. Kiwis on top of England and Wales. Much like it is in Rugby.

Worshippers at the Toffee Pop Tree

The view back to Snowdonia. We all climbed that brute.

The evening was spent loosening limbs and soothing pallets in the Snowdon Inn. Emily, Marty and I acquanited ourselves with a dartboard and played round the world. I was rubbish, but when I discovered a cat that would happily perch itself in my arms while I threw my darts I discovered that I could enjoy it a lot more, if not be more accurate. Later that evening Ma and Pa spent my inheritance by calling my work sponsored mobile phone and I got to talk to the whanau.

Tuesday morning Jane and I said goodbye to the horrible beds in the attic and very fond farewells to the wonderful people we'd spent Christmas with. Quite frankly, these people were some of the highest quality. I know Jane very well and have a lot of respect and time for her, so I guess this should not have come as such a great surprise to me. It was a few days spent in very relaxed company and amongst people who willingly contributed to the enjoyment of all. And when I discovered that Mike had quietly washed all of our boots after the trudge through the cow muck, I could have hugged him. Mike, if you ever read this, it might seem a little thing to have done, but it was an act of great kindness, so thank you so very much. And to Jane, Marty, Sarah, Rach, Becks and Emily, thank you too.

So an orphaned Christmas with the Kiwis turned out to be a great Christmas amongst the an extended whanau.

Kia Ora!

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