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?”

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