Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Weekend at the Metropole

I thought you might enjoy this piece - it's a slightly edited version of one I've just done for my writing course.

We’ve been staying with relatives in Christchurch, but this morning we’re going to Akaroa. On our own. We drive guiltily off straight after breakfast under a vast blue Canterbury sky. We can spend all day negotiating the hairpin bends of steep gravel roads leading down to gloriously deserted bays, because, as always, we’ve sensibly booked ahead. And this time, instead of a perfectly functional but entirely predictable motel, I’ve managed to talk Harvey into staying at the Metropole, one of those wonderful old country pubs I’ve been longing to try for years.

It’s nearly five when we pull into the carpark, looking out over the silky waters of Akaroa Harbour. “It’ll be even better from upstairs”, I say confidently. Murmuring about Scarlett O’Hara, I climb the stunning kauri staircase sweeping up to the centre of the first floor, and turn the key to our room.

Two sagging wirewove single beds, spread with limp pink candlewick. One narrow window, too high to see the harbour unless you’re standing right in front of it. A rickety oak wardrobe and a chest of drawers. One dim plastic shaded light-bulb hanging plumb in the middle of the ceiling.
In the corner beside the window, one cold tap drips slowly into the washbasin. A neatly typed notice on the wall informs us the toilet is next to the bathroom at the end of the landing.

Harvey’s face has an odd expression, but all he says is, “It’s only one night – and these places always do a great breakfast.” We go out and spend much more than we meant to on a consoling crayfish dinner and enough wine to send us both straight into snoring oblivion, blotting out the noise from the bar below.

The sun wakes us too early, flashing in through the gaps between the unpullable brocade curtains and the brown holland blind. Neither of us feels up to trekking along the landing and clambering in and out of the bath for a shower. So we make do with a few swipes of cold flannel at the basin, go for a walk to clear our heads, and turn back to ask about breakfast. The landlord’s behind the bar counting up the night’s takings. “Just through there,” he says, pointing to a carved archway.

Starched white tablecloths cover four tables, but only one is set for two, with thick white hotel china, napkins in silver rings, and neat ranks of heavy old silver knives, forks and spoons. Any minute now, he’ll arrive to take our order. Fruit, definitely bacon and eggs, maybe toast with home-made jam? “This is more like it,” I say.

Ten minutes later, I notice the narrow table against the back wall. Lined up on it are three boxes – weetbix, cornflakes, puffed wheat. In front stand a bowl of tinned peaches, a jug of milk and another of what looks like well-diluted Raro. They’re flanked by a toaster, a loaf of white sliced bread, and a saucer with four little foil-topped packets of butter, two of Vegemite and two of honey. “I think this is it,” says Harvey.

The landlord comes in with a kettle and a small wicker basket full of teabags and sachets of instant coffee and sugar. “Sorry, forgot these,” he says. “Got everything you want?”

Monday, March 2, 2009

Back to school

I'm going back to school - well, university. I've enrolled for a course in writing Creative Non-Fiction, and it starts this coming Friday. So I might post the pieces I need to write for it - we'll see.

I've been asked for details of the course - it's CREW 257 at Victoria University of Wellington. It will be run again next year, so look at Victoria's website for details - applications for the 12 places available usually close in early December.

In the meantime, here's a marvellous column by Michele A'Court which appeared in Your Weekend a few weeks ago on 24 January (she gave me permission to reproduce it here). I agree with every word of it, and it's superbly expressed.

When I’m angry, I tend to express myself in similes. Right now, I am as cross as two sticks. The delightful, intelligent, charming men in my close circle of friends just held a stag party for our groom-to-be. Cricket, poker, pizza... and strippers.

You could call the stripper-at-the-stag-do “a tradition”. Or take the new view that you can watch strippers “in an ironic way”. Or maybe you think it’s just “a bit lame.” Whichever chorus my friends joined, I was certainly the lone voice growling, “sexist and offensive”.

I thought the smart people worked out in the 70s that paying women to take their clothes off objectified them, reducing them to less than the sum of their rude parts; that financial desperation led to sexual exploitation. I’m pretty sure I still have the memo.

And we’re still doing this? Here come the similes. I feel like an African-American discovering that all my white friends are off to see a black-and-white-minstrel show. Or a pacifist finding out my buddies spent Friday night knitting jumpers at a hanging.

My view of strip clubs is a bit like my attitude towards haggis – heard it described, thought it sounded awful, tried it and discovered I was right. Years ago, an actor friend was researching her role as a stripper and I trotted along to a lunchtime show to keep her company. I hated it – bad decor, ghastly music, furtive behaviour and the absolute lack of fun or joy in any of it. Isabelle Allende says, “Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken.” That felt like being thumped with a frozen chook.

Maybe I went to the wrong gig. Because I like a bit of Burlesque – spoil me with great skill, saucy costumes and a bit of narrative. I’ll look out for some at the Buskers Festival in Christchurch this week. If my daughter told me she wanted to take up Burlesque, I’d learn how to sew on sequins. If she told me she wanted to be a stripper, I’d lock her in a cupboard till she was 45.

This new wave of lad-ism is equal opportunity – there’s a whisper the hens want a stripper too, for the irony of it. I worry that your ironically-booked stripper isn’t even being objectified properly anymore with good, old-fashioned, honest leering. Surely that’s like a Society of Skeptics hiring a psychic for their Christmas function, just so they can laugh behind their hands and feel smug. And say the psychic should have seen it coming.

Once, after an awful corporate gig, I found out I’d been hired by someone specifically because she knew her audience would hate my comedy. She was leaving the firm and wanted me to be her parting shot. I never knew how to describe how dreadful that night felt. Now I do. I felt like an ironic stripper at a post-modern stag do.