There’s a ‘wear sun protection’ weather warning in Wellington. The tarmac is bubbling in the sun. A half hour later, the forecasters say ‘three layers of clothing recommended.’ In the evening there’s a storm. The rain buckets down but the city buildings all have awnings so pedestrians cower underneath them. The storm passes. A breeze comes. There’s always a breeze in Windy Wellington but the night remains mild. Tomorrow’s weather will be more of the same – a bit of everything.
I settle into work in The Establishment, become really fond of my workmates. They are British, German, Canadian. There’s lots of Kiwis and a wonderful Irish woman from Wexford called Helen. The security lads are awesome too, they’re all Maori or Pacific Islanders and are huge, strapping men.
One Wednesday at work, when the students are out, a brawl erupts. It’s strange to be behind a bar and actually predict events before they happen, watching the drunk people in action. A guy hassles a girl. She ignores his advances until he gets too aggressive and sparks her to tell him where to go. He doesn’t go. Her male friend steps in. The guy punches him. Cut to a free-for-all amongst loads of people with slaps and kicks flying. It lasts about ten seconds. They all stop suddenly and resume as they were because security are in. No-one wants to fight security.
I see crazy things from behind the bar. Creepy men and creepy women prowl. Dance moves are hilarious, tragic or really amazing. I love when the DJ plays ‘Teach Me How to Dougie,’ it sets them all off. I meet All-Blacks and Wallabies, Hurricanes and Reds. The rugby players are generally nice and buy massive rounds. They tip too which is unusual here. I serve popstars and paupers. Backpackers and businessmen. There’s a bunch of regulars who come in daily for cheap Guinness. The Guinness is brewed in Auckland and takes a shorter time to settle than back home. One of these regulars is Liamo, nicknamed ‘The Godfather of the Irish in New Zealand.’ Everyone knows him. He gets a free tab in all the Irish bars. He’s a character. On my last night out in Wellington, I join him for a pint. He and his wife flew to Auckland from Dublin when he was 22. He’s 78 now and of the age where he’ll say anything. He doesn’t hold back if he’s mad or hold back if he’s complimenting. His honesty is great.
I run two open mic events. The first one is a big success, we feature great singer/songwriters, rappers and writers. There’s a good crowd but the second event is a flop, unfortunately. Ah well. I meet some cool artists from Wellington in running it and I know the bar is going to continue it on after I go.
I work long hours in the bar, sometimes doing 14 hour shifts. I don’t mind them, I especially love when we’re busy, three deep and rushed around, the shift flies by but when I hand my notice in, I’m ready to concentrate on writing again. I’ve been putting the final edits into my first novel and it’s sent off to London now. I’m excited to start the next book.
Life in the hostel has been mostly good. I find a nice room and stay in it for the duration of my time in Wellington. I’ve got a bottom bunk – a valued bed in a backpackers. A 22 stone Argentine stays in the bunk above me for a couple of nights and I anxiously Google ‘What weight can a top bunk take?’ before I go to sleep.
I also share the room with a 63 year old Kiwi man, Dave, who’s a top bloke. He’s looking for an apartment in Wellington and is a very nice, offering tips on New Zealand and life in general.
A Uruguayan lad, Miguel, stays in the hostel and has broken English. He seems a bit lost. I ask him if he’s okay.
‘Could you come to the bank machine with me?’ he asks.
I agree. He doesn’t know how to work it to withdraw his money. I show him and he is very thankful.
‘Do you have ATMs in Uruguay?’ I ask.
‘Yes but I have no money there.’
In the beginning, there are lots of Germans staying but now it seems the majority of people are British. I can’t help getting prickly when anyone mistakes me for an English person or is dumb on Irish history but in general, I enjoy hanging out with the Brits. They’re witty, friendly and up for a laugh.
On my last night, I chat with Ethan, a former pro-basketballer who’s about to embark on a path of breaking into WWE and being the greatest Pacific wrestler since The Rock. His energy and zest for life is inspiring and by the end of our talk, I have no doubt he’s going to achieve what he’s set out to do.
I learn new things and try new things, go to strange places and hear loads of stories in Wellington. I vow to always tip bar and restaurant staff, however small my offering is and I will never click my fingers or wave money at them to get their attention. I hear good Kiwi music – Kora, Fat Freddy’s Drop and The Black Seeds. I also now know how frustrating it must be for foreigners in Ireland to be understood. In the bar, I’ve to adapt my accent to make it sound closer to a New Zealand one because the punters haven’t a fecking clue what I’m saying.
I make good friends here, Kiwis and travellers, but I know it’s time to move on to the South Island and see what all the talk is about. My next stop is Christchurch, a city described by other backpackers as ‘grim,’ ‘ghost-like,’ ‘with the feel of an industrial estate,’ ‘in absolute ruins.’ It’s got a sad reputation because of the 2011 earthquake which destroyed it but I’m interested in what’s going on now with the rebuilding and how the people of Christchurch have continued on after such a traumatic event.