A Quacker Week

No-one has ever called me Cyclops (at least within my hearing), so I feel confident in saying that Wellington is a cracker place in which to live, knowing how impartial my judgement can be in such matters. Steep house-clad hills snuggled around a stunningly beautiful harbour, a compact city centre, good public transport, a vibrant arts scene, an active social lifestyle of pubs and cafes, a melting pot of people from all over the planet … the list goes on.

We even have nice weather … sometimes.

This past week has been a quacker week in Windy Welly. If our wild and windy reputation was under threat, mother nature certainly pulled out the stops to restore it and entertain friends from tamer climes.

Already well-up on our quota of rain for the year, we greedily hogged more rain on Tuesday 14th, bringing the month’s total to 67 mm (for Tawa), but decided to spice things up for visitors with a gale force northerly which had gusts up to 120 km/h in the city area. Aucklanders on my project team watched goggle-eyed as pedestrians abandoned j-walking and clung on to traffic light standards waiting for the tardy little green man to appear to encourage them to take a short flight across road intersections.

I’m sure a nostalgic tear crept into my eye as I watched harassed pedestrians pitching and yawing their way along footpaths. It’s years since I was blown backwards around the infamous south-east corner of the intersection of Whitmore Street and Featherston Street. Alas, the building which formed the opening of the funnel which directed harbour gusts along Whitmore Street to fan the blazing debates uphill in the Beehive is long gone, and the petrol station which replaced it prevents pedestrians getting airborne nowadays. However, on a, um, good day, this intersection still keeps the brolly makers in business.

Having spent a meteorologically entertaining fortnight in the capital, the Auckland contingent on my project team began thinning late in the week, pleading in-grown toenails or family commitments, urgent meetings, a sick guinea-pig and other pressing matters further north where hail, wind, horizontal rain and earthquakes don’t figure so highly on the entertainment list.

As we packed the last of them into a plane and slammed the door so that it could take off into a gusty northerly, I thought that they’d missed one of our best thrills – one that beats bungy jumping, parachute jumping, a week at Outward Bound and canoeing through raging rapids. It’s a white-knuckle landing at Wellington airport in a screaming southerly gale. One of those on again, off again landings that earns the pilots hoots of appreciation and a round of applause from the passengers before they file off down the gangway, knees playing flamenco music like castanets.

Oh well. The Auckies will be back, perhaps we can arrange something.

With Tawa’s rainfall for the year edging up toward a gurgling 1.2 metres, I note that some of us Wellingtonians are taking on some ornithic characteristics. The webbed feet are, of course, useful for waddling across the front lawn without sinking up to our armpits in the gurgling, bubbling ground.

But, relaxing with a cleansing ale after a hard day in the slave pit yesterday, I found myself dabbling for slices of tastebud-tickling pizza with some fellow mallards of long-standing. As we clacked our bills, talk roved past the morning’s swaying quake which should’ve evoked shouts of “duck!” to memories of the cafeteria at POHQ.

Back in the early 1980s the top floor of Post Office Headquarters, known affectionately as Bullshit Castle because that’s where the brass cogitated and issued edicts to the scrambling masses of Post Office workers, was given over to a vast cafeteria with breathtaking views of Wellington’s fine harbour. The government department had been broken into three divisions – postal, telecoms and savings bank – and in true socialistic style all three groups of workers had access to the POHQ cafeteria.

It was a vast room with long pipe-legged formica tables and the ubiquitous marine ply and pipe-framed stackable chairs that graced government departments, church halls and many offices of the time. The crockery was the iconic, white, indestructible service that had so faithfully served the railways and other government departments for many years. Although smaller tea cups were available, the universal favourite was the large bowl with handle that had been the subject of thousands of indestructability tests by civil servants with a scientific bent. These mugs were believed to bounce after a fall greater than one storey, and army ballistic “experts” had spent many happy hours on the overnight trains proving the aerodynamic qualities of their saucers from between the carriages of the overnight trains between Auckland and Wellington. But then, I digress….

The POHQ caf was a mini United Nations where workers of all classes and skills met and shared a tea break slurping coffee dispensed by tap from vast urns and tea poured from immense aluminium teapots with two handles. One of last night’s paddling of ducks recalled being at smoko in the POHQ caf many years ago when the building rocked alarmingly during an earthquake. POHQ is built on reclaimed land that rose out of the harbour in 1855 (Thorndon Quay was then harbourside), and he was surprised at how far the 14th floor moved during this particular tremor.

I wonder whether this was the same quake that resulted in a couple of toll operators being sent home in hysterics after gypsum ceiling tiles plunged amongst the ASC consoles during a substantial shake in the early 80s. At the time I was impressed at how symphonic the transmission equipment on the 2nd floor sounded as it shivered and jittered in the quake. We all sympathised with the operators who’d experienced the visitation from overhead. If you’ve ever had to heft those gypsum tiles about you’ll know how heavy and dangerous they are.

So, as I was shaken awake by the rumbling magnitude 5.5 quake which rattled the doors at 3:30 this morning I was thankful that such overhead ballista are not used in our houses.

But back to last night – as the raft of ducks broke up and we paddled off through the horizontal rain and babbling gutters, I was struck with disappointment that visitors to our fine city don’t seem to appreciate the lengths that we go to in order to keep them entertained during their stay. We spray them with horizontal rain, catapault them across intersections with our little zephyrs, shake them up with our quakes – all at no extra charge.

Windy Welly. Widdly Welly. Wobbly Welly. More entertainment than an amusement park.

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