Good old fashioned steam powered trains

Happened to come across this item about a place close to the origins.

The railway station featured, the main one for the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is about 10kms from where I grew up. It’s just down the hill from my grandfather’s farm, and across the road from another relative’s farm.

The branch line closed in the mid-1960s: I have a very vague memory of watching a small engine, without any train, chugging under the bridge by the old electricity board building on Waiuku’s Kitchener Road, probably around the time the line shut. I would have been, though, only about three or so.

Bit of a story with how the railway line came to be built in the first place: in the late 19th century, the locals agitated for a branch line to be put in.

Such decisions were made by cabinet ministers in those days, and the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, tended to award such infrastructure projects to electorates which had been farsighted enough to elect an MP which supported his government.

As the area was, at the time, part of the electorate held by the then leader of the opposition, William Massey, the locals were told to go whistle.

The government changed in 1912, Massey was PM, and he got them their railway, though not right away – World War One intervened.

I gather it never made a profit and had to be constantly subsidised by the government. According to that story linked to above, the line now manages without any such government support.

When I was a kid, after the line closed, the station premises were used by Karaka Bulk Spreaders as a fertiliser depot.

The vintage railway went in, gradually, from the early 1980s. The bit that extends into my home town, Waiuku, runs through another relative’s farm, where we used to do hay every year.

It was kind of neat – we’d be part of the show, it seemed, as the train came through.

The vintage railway is recommended, for any of you Aucklanders – or anyone in holidaying in Auckland and wanting a day trip out to the country .

I’m biased, of course, but its a great place to visit.

There was even a song about it, albeit written and recorded, oddly in 1977 – during the period between the railway being closed circa 1968; and the vintage railway opening sometime in the mid-1980s.

Warning: contains yodeling. Catchy, though.

As a bonus, here’s the Kinks, singing about trains. It’s off their masterpiece, the low-key, out-of-its-own-time, Village Green Preservation Society album, which, by a coincidence, was being recorded around the time the Waiuku branch line closed.


New Year’s Eve: ‘Here’s to what the future brings…’

I only started celebrating New Years when I left home: it was a bit of a culture shock to find the rest of the world made such a big deal of it.

Back home, New Years was – weather permitting –in the middle of haymaking. Staying up to midnight to see the year in was the worst possible indulgence, if you had to get up in the morning to milk cows and then spend much of the day in the hay paddock.

So the first few New Years away from home kind of made up for it. They’re a bit of a blur.

Some were memorable: a three day-er in Whakatane, with a 21st on December 30 (happily, a Friday) spilling over into a New Year’s party at the same venue the following afternoon/evening/night/morning/ and then New Years Day on Ohope Beach.

Or a toast to the New Year on Mt St John in Auckland, a few years later: or stopping half way across Mangere Bridge at midnight having just picked up a friend from the airport.

Others were spent in tents in places like the Kaimanawas, and one memorable one in a cave on the edge of the Beansburn River, watching the rain come down, the river raise, and – further up, the snowline come further down the pass.

There was an exhausted, altitude sickness one in Kathmandu in Nepal, in the late ‘90s.

The last one I saw in was the Millennium, from the top of Mt Victoria.

A couple of years later, having done the Heaphy Trail and torn an Achilles tendon, I was with a bunch of fellow trampers at the Last Resort in Karamea, awaiting the midnight hour.

Pretty stuffed. A couple of games of pool had come and gone. The proprietor had excitedly promised us, when we checked in, “something special!” for New Years and when we asked us what it was he proclaimed “JELLY WRESTLERS!”

He looked a bit shocked when we just stared blankly black.

I was on about the third or fourth beer, and it was starting to taste soapy – a personal warning indicator light.

Checked the watch. It was 11:15pm.

O to hell with this – I’ve seen in enough New Years, I thought, and limped off to the bunkhouse.

In that spirit, I don’t think I’ll be seeing 2016 in at midnight. Unless either the daughter or the neighbours get me up, in which case, there might be a certain lack of the seasonal spirit.

I may commit sarcasm.

But, in the spirit of the New Year, here’s the Kinks, with probably their last really decent single.

I love the vocal – as Ray Davies starts with,

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.

he sounds like a drunken uncle rising unsteadily to his feet and beginning New Year’s (or maybe a 21st ) speech.

So here’s to everyone who had a crap year and is planning on a better 2016. There’s plenty I know like that.
And for everyone else, too: here’s to better things.


I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead,
The past is gone, it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things…

Gotta get away from the busy man’s iphones….

Musical trivia time!  The bass player on this – Herbie Flowers – has two other claims to fame. One is he played bass on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and came up with one of the great bass hooks of all time.

Second claim is he wrote ‘Granddad’ for Clive Dunn. This was one of those novelty Christmas hits the Brits love so well   much  excessively.  It was a hit here too.

Loved both these songs when I was a kid. Now? I’m embarrassed about the Clive Dunn thing, but ‘Good Morning Freedom’ has aged better than it might have.

Off to the hills for a week. Good morning, freedom.

The sandwiches are packed, the tea’s in the flask

Reading Nick Hornby over the Christmas break, he wrote of trying to watch a soccer game (or, as the Brits quaintly call it, ‘football’) while his autistic 17-year-old son sat next to him, playing on the iPad.
The son was watching, over and over and over, a particular song from a Postman Pat video.
I glanced over at my 10 year old daughter, who was happily playing the same burst of an ABBA song over and over and over again on her iPad, and felt a bit better about the whole situation.
Not, you understand, that I’m a particular fan of ABBA. Far from it. In fact my siblings, in recalling the intense musical debates of the late 1970s which benighted our household, regard my daughter’s love of the music of the perky, pert Swedes as proof there is a God, and He’s a 1970s disco freak.
This does, you have to admit, throw a new light upon the Almighty and might explain a few hitherto baffling aspects of the Universe.
But it was a nicely laid back Christmas, by and large, and a welcome change for a bit.
Drove to and from the folks’ farm over the break, the daughter in the back. Not ABBA all the way, praise be to the Bell Bottom-wearing Deity in the Sky. She’s quite fond of classical music and we’ve reached a compromise on this. Vivaldi’s Dresden Concerto is four CDs long and it usually gets us to Taupo.
There’s plenty of stops, we pack a thermos of tea, some sandwiches made from Christmas leftovers, and its pleasant trip, mostly.
I should say at this point I love road trips – there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel and just taking off. It’s also a good way to see what is going on outside the Wellington political/media bubble.
And there’s no freaking deadline. So long as we’re back in time for dinner  – and dinnertime can be very flexible at this time of the year – its a casual scoot.
So long as the traffic isn’t too insane.
Now, I haven’t been looking at the news – I’m on holiday and I’m not looking at a newspaper, listening to a radio bulletin, or viewing any Internet news sites for a few weeks.
So I don’t know what the road toll is doing.
But there’s some weird behaviour out there.
The last time I saw New Zealand drivers hit a passing lane on a main road and not speed up was…nope, I’ve never seen it.
Usually that extra lane opens up and it’s like when you break at the start of a billiards game: all the cars speed up and seem to ping off in a great rush.
Not this time.
Not once, not twice, but three times, on the trip back, we reached a passing lane and no one overtook. All vehicles stayed in the left hand lane and hovered at around that 100 km/hr mark.
I saw about three bursts of really daft, homicidally insane behaviour by drivers (two of them in the vicinity of Tokoroa, which is par for the course in my experience)
But mostly people seem to be keeping pretty close to that 100 km/hr limit.
So far, anyway.

In the meantime, here’s the Kinks singing about road trips. 






Ghosts of Christmases past….

Ghosts of Christmases past:

As a kid: my siblings and I had what today would be seen as a fairly churchy upbringing, I suppose, but it didn’t seem that way at the time.
And it was the sort of churchy upbringing they don’t seem to do now …these days it seems either bible-worshiping (as opposed to God worshiping) threat-laced sermons, which do seem to fill the pews; or cringing apologetic ‘Jesus was a Jewish prophet rather like Karl Marx’ sort of thing.

There was little of that. We had the Sunday School thing, which was mostly about Jesus, and some songs which even I could tell, at that age, were pretty dire.

Church was as much a social thing as anything else: most of the churchgoers were farmers and the catch up chat on the forecourt after each session was often longer than the formal part of the proceedings. This gave me my first exposure to what I call the ‘Farmer Farewell’ – this begins when one of the parties says ‘Well, better be going’ and then thinks of something else to talk about. Departure takes place a minimum of 40 minutes after the first utterance of ‘well, better be going’ and in severe cases can be over an hour.

Back to Christmas…There was a sense of wonder, and it wasn’t just to do with the presents. It did provide, I suppose, an experience of something transcendent. It was there in the carols, especially. There is, in all the Christmas story’s sheer unlikelihood, something wondrous. Also there was a very tall Norfolk Pine on the edge of town which used to be decorated with lights. It was an awesome sight for a kid – and I use the word ‘awesome’ in its true sense.

Mind you, by the time I reached Bible Class I was starting to wonder about a few things. This is not the time or the place to go into my own religious crises which blighted my mid-20s… but I will say one thing: a pre-Christmas reading in front of the whole church perhaps did not help.

It was not standing up and speaking in front of a whole lot of people. Yeah, I was a bit nervous about that, but not excessively. I’d overcome my stammer by this point, and besides, I was related to most of the congregation. Some of them more than once. And of course there was a script. From Matthew, from what I recall. No, the bad bit was…well, I agreed to do the reading when the minister phoned and asked – the minister was a great guy, btw, a very open and practical man, so I’m not blaming him. But when I went and looked the bit he wanted me to read, it was about how Mary, despite being unmarried, got told she was going to have a kid. Now, I was 15 or 16, a fairly self-conscious age. And it seemed every second word in this passage was virgin. I got through the reading OK, I think, but rather rushed it.

Later Christmases:
Down with flu, Christmas Eve – proper flu, the aches, the temperature, the hot and cold sweats…in my small shoebox flat in Whakatane and wondering whether to can the four-hour drive for a family get together in Waiuku. It was a marginal call – until the landlady’s bloke turned up to mow the lawn. My head was already throbbing and I decided, I’m out of here. Hopped in the car, stopped off for a fruit juice at the dairy in Kopeopeo and then on out of town.

Just past Whakatane Board Mills the can, which I’d sat next to the gearshift, rolled under the car pedals. I swear I’d never do anything this stupid if I’d been well, but anyway, instead of pulling over I reached down to hook the can out, and as I did so the car drifted into the oncoming traffic.

By pure chance the vehicle I hit was another car – in front of it was a logging truck and behind it was a mini-bus, and if I’d hit either of those I wouldn’t be here now. As it was a loose seatbelt meant my head smacked into the side of the car as the car spun about 270 degrees on impact. Christmas dinner saw me with concussion to go with the flu.

Nepal, Christmas 1998. Walked into a village after dark on Christmas Eve. It was already pretty cold. We got to the park checkpoint -at the far end of the village – and were told none of the guesthouses in town were open, (we were trekking out of season) although there were people at one of them.

We back tracked down and knocked. The door opened on and empty dark dining hall and, behind that, huddled over a fire, the family. We plonked down in the dining area and I got out some Christmas cake Mum had made and given me before I left. Handed it around. Fruit cake never tasted better. We were pretty bushed, and cold.
The family gestured to us to come into the kitchen area and scrunched up for us so we could share the warmth of the fire. A nice feeling; we shared dhal baht for dinner and crashed out. Early morning looked out the window and saw the Annapurnas covered in snow.

Trekking later that day saw us cresting a ridge and looking up across a landing strip and up towards Manang and to the mountains behind, (see photo) and the pass we planned to go over. The landing strip was to see an emergency flight out a few days later, but that’s another story….

Christmases 1986 and 1987 – my postie years, working out of the old Auckland Central Post Office and studying part time at Uni. Used to tear around the walk to make lectures in time. This meant half walking, half running about 12kms with a load on my back, six days a week. I’d just love to be that fit again.

Christmas was more leisurely (no lectures to worry about)…we had to finish the walk and go back into the Post Office between 2.30-4.30pm to do extra sorting. The overtime was absolutely brilliant. Some of the afternoon sorting was pretty random, because we’d all meet in a pub in Commerce St after we finished our walks, have a pub lunch and a few jugs.

Some people were great. A woman on Richmond Road always used to leave a beer, some Christmas cake and a chocolate bar in her mailbox for the postie at Christmas.
One Saturday I had, in my parcels, some kids book or toy which played ‘Jingle Bells’. Batteries had definitely been included, unfortunately. The destination was at the bottom of Hamilton Rd in Herne Bay, and every time I moved, it seemed, this parcel would start playing.

Which meant the dogs heard me coming a long way off. Saturdays were always worst for dogs because people would be home to let them run around. Bastard Dog Owners.

Also that first year one of the posties got her holiday pay ripped off. She’d left her bankbook – remember bankbooks? – under the seat in her car. Car got nicked and not only did they get the car they went straight to her bank and got all her holiday pay out. Overtime and all.

She was devastated; we had a whip round for her and people chucked in heaps of cash.

Week after Christmas she’s doing her deliveries in Pompalier Tce and sees her car parked alongside one of the houses….nips into the nearest phone booth and calls the cops. Got the car back, I think she even got her money back. Or maybe the bank coughed because they should never have handed over the cash from a woman’s bankbook to a couple of blokes. Anyway, just remember the fluke that the thieves were on her walk. Good one, Santa.