Friday, 15 January 2016

Invercargill – a childhood dream.

Blog written by Andrew (member of the Anglo Irish Expeditionary Force) . 

Dear reader, have you ever had a dream that at some stage in your life became a reality?  Let me share one particular dream with you: the Invercargill Dream.

Many years ago I did a geography project on New Zealand.  Having been bored senseless with the bovine and ovine statistics, my imagination was captured by Invercargill.  

The Purbeck Hills in Dorset (a bird's view, not mine).
Why? Because it seemed, on the map, to be the last place on earth before that wasteland of others’ dreams, Antarctica.  I felt a shared sense of isolation with the Invercargillites as I gazed out of a school room window across the rolling Purbeck hills.  I had to go.

But how was the dream to be realised?  Fifty years later (annoyingly these sort of dreams do have a habit of lingering) the suggestion came from Ireland that a trip to New Zealand in 2015/2016 might be a lot of fun.  While others, well one other, were thinking of the endless round of merry japes that a family group could get up to, my immediate thought was ‘Invercargill’!  The Realisation was in my grasp.  I can’t begin to describe my sense of excitement at the prospect of a school project becoming reality.  I mentioned this to various members of the touring party who scoffed at my notion.  Research was done and from this I ascertained that Invercargill has very wide streets in addition to a newly built entrance to the hospital.  Oh the sirens were calling alright, I can tell you.

In the later 50s or perhaps early 60s, Peter Sellers recorded a travelogue, in a cod American accent, about travelling in the UK.  One bit has always stuck in my mind not least because I lived there for a few months:  “Bal-ham, gateway to the south”.  Invercargill – gateway to the south via its wide streets.

The main body of the touring party travelled from Dunedin to Queenstown via the Ida Pass but from a previous blog you will recall Driver ‘A’ and the newly re-designated  following her felony, ‘Passenger B’, both travelled to Invercargill and then to Queenstown.  A short 450km drive or “uneccessary detour” according to one member of the IFEG. (Irish French Expeditionary Group).

Main street, Invercargill.
A fantastic drive made much more interesting by the curiously named ‘Presidential Drive’ linking the small towns of Clinton and Gore.  On a longish road trip it certainly caused much speculation as to ‘why?’. But, dear reader, I am only keeping you from what I’m sure is the mounting excitement you will be feeling as we inch closer to Invercargill.

We arrived after two hours and one minute short of three hours.  Being a keen student of history and in particular the First World War it still shocks to discover that remote towns and hamlets such as those we passed through have their own war memorials and that the loss of life was far greater in WW1 as opposed to WW2.  A small gesture is to look for familiar surnames and I noted that ‘Rankin, A.L.’ didn’t return from the Second World War.   The Cenotaph in my city of dreams is no less moving .  I digress but before I return to the present a further monument to the effect of war captured my imagination.  In the centre of the town is a fabulously ornate war memorial which we both assumed was to those killed in the First War.  It turned out, on closer inspection, to be a commemoration of those New Zealanders killed in the South African Wars at the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps the difference in style reflected the change in attitude.  Back to the story….

Memorial to those killed in South Africa
Invercargill is fantastic – if you like wide streets and art deco buildings.  Unfortunately it was a bank holiday Monday when we went so nothing was open; as one local wag in Wanaka put it, a few days later when I was buying a pair of padded cycling shorts,  ‘having lived there as a child I’m not sure as you’d notice the difference’.  Being lunchtime we tried with increasing frustration to find somewhere to eat or, lowering our gastronomic sights, have a coffee but we were thwarted until we found a burger joint (even McDonalds was closed (thank god)).  Looking at the menu and the various sizes and types of burgers it gave the 8 year old in me a great thrill to order “Two Bastards”.  And so they were.

At last, a dream come true.
I guess we spent a good 60 minutes in Invercargill – not that time was hanging heavy at all – and we left happy, contented and thankful at what we found.  One tick that I have been glad to make.

And so we left for Queenstown and the next stage of the odyssey.  Would it be bungee jumping?  Or paragliding?  Or perhaps a spot of skydiving?  The next installment is being written.

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