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Dairy Diary #3

January 21, 2013

Each week I was allowed one glorious day’s relief from the duties of the farm in order to get some much needed R and R. Given the available opportunities for entertainment this would usually consist of either sitting in a chair listening to New Zealand Radio (not advisable for anyone with a wall close enough to beat their heat off), sitting in a chair partaking in thirty to forty rigorous games of Solitaire, or just sitting in a chair.

This week, however, was to be different. This week I was finally going to explore the sites and sounds of the great township of Tokoroa. However, I was to discover these would be exhausted inside seven minutes. There’s two of them. Neither worth mentioning.

Standing on the pavement outside the courthouse (easily the busiest building in town that morning) I was at a loss for ways to spend the rest of my day. I remembered what Brian’s son, Barry, had suggested in the event of getting bored (a safe bet). It was to take in a movie at the independent cinema located behind the police station, which is where I went now.

In finding the cinema I wasn’t entirely surprised to be presented by a dilapidated building with several of its windows either cracked or boarded up, and a closed sign hanging from the entrance. Upon closer inspection, I wondered if in recent times this sorry looking structure hadn’t so much been used as a movie theatre as much as it had been used as a latrine.

The high street at its busiest

Rush hour in Tokora

Thankfully, because the centre of Tokoroa is 15 kilometres from the farm and it had taken me two hours to walk there, a local pub was opening just as I had decided now would be a good time to start drinking. This was an idea I seemingly shared with six or seven of the local residents who were already inside and waiting to greet my arrival with a deathly silence and a threatening look of disdain. I immediately felt like the lone stranger from a Spaghetti Western movie and I’d just walked in to a tavern that don’t take kindly to my sort. Stifling the urge to loosen my collar and slowly retreat back out the entrance, I fixed my gaze at the floor and shuffled towards the bar.

I ordered a draught beer and hoped that the rapacious looking barmaid wouldn’t fill up the glass just to throw it in my face. Fortunately she didn’t and I was able to a pass a couple of happy hours drinking cheap beer while watching three highly inebriated gentlemen battle with the laws of gravity.

I stood to depart just as the men were languorously accepting defeat and went to the only internet café I could find in order to check-in with the civilised world. The sign for the café –  written in pencil on the back of an A4 piece of scrap paper and taped to the inside of a murky plate glass window – directed me through a single closed doorway that opened onto a dark staircase and up to another closed door.

Unsure whether I had the right place, I tentatively pushed on the handle and peered through to what was a lone woman sat at a bare desk in the middle of a hugely empty office space. Even more unsure of this being the internet café, I stepped inside and approached the lady who still hadn’t looked up from the single sheet of paper placed in front of her. “Excuse me”, I whispered in my most polite and non-threatening voice, to which she responded by lifting her eyes off the very important document to shoot me a stare from over the top of her glasses that said “And what the fuck do you want?”

I could see she was a busy woman so quickly explained I was looking for the internet café. Her mood was instantly conciliated. She couldn’t wait to get me onto a computer. With smiles and nods she ushered me across the empty floor to the corner of the room where three of the first computers ever made were waiting. They looked as tired and worn out as the three drunks I’d just left wallowing in the bar downstairs.

I say it was three computers – it was actually two computers and three monitors. A fact that eluded the lady for whole minutes while she stared at her reflection, mystified as to why it wasn’t responding. So we put our heads together and eventually tried using one of the computers plugged in, and I was finally on the net.

I was on the net but going nowhere; the pages loaded so excruciatingly slowly I wished I’d brought a book; or a noose. I think I was able to check one email before I started to regret leaving the pub, so got up and left. The now chirpy “internet café” owner seemed completely unabashed in charging me $4 for this and I belatedly understood why she was so happy: $4 would have done wonders for the profit margins on a place like that.

The Courthouse

The Courthouse

Walking through the streets of Tokoroa, particularly on a Tuesday afternoon, is depressingly grim. Everyone has that same dispirited look of desperation draped across their faces. One that gives the impression of intense boredom while being in the knowledge that there’s nothing they can do about it, aside from drink. So that’s exactly what I did. I drank. I drank a lot.

Subsequently, I don’t remember the name of the next bar I went into, but I do remember that it was completely empty. When I stepped inside and stood in the doorway, I was comforted by the fact of there being no chance of a kicking, so decided I’d stay. Besides, the fact there was no-one in there actually added to the atmosphere. Hearing the barmaid step out from the back room, I turned towards the bar.

Walking over I became oddly confused by something that appeared to be forming on the front of her head. I was sure it couldn’t have been what I thought it was, but it looked a lot like the intimations of a smile. I ordered a pint and studied her face for a few more seconds. Yes, she was definitely smiling. “Fantastic!” I thought, “This deserves a drink”. So I bought another pint; and then another; and then enough to supply an evening with Mel Gibson and Orson Welles.

I started extending a few pleasantries her way which seemed to be fairly well received so chanced to venture the idea of conversation. It was speedily declined but I was, at this point, impervious to rejection, so nobly retired to a table beneath a wall-mounted television. All in all, I wasn’t having a terrible time in Tokoroa; which, in hindsight, might have had something to do with the alternative of being shat on by several cows as the basis for comparison, but, nevertheless.

The Tokoroa effigy: a lumberjack in an All Blacks top

A lumberjack in an All Blacks shirt

Propping myself onto folded arms, there I spent an indeterminate amount of time either watching television or studiously inspecting the inside of my pint glass. Sometime during the second half of what I think might have been a rugby match, but could just as easily have been a program on Antelope, a raucous rabble of miscreants came in and joined me at my table.

One, the tallest, stood wearing Aviators and a toothless grin. Another, the stockiest, sang and drooled over the acoustic guitar he brought with him. And the fattest sat judiciously coaxing an unruly hamburger onto most parts of his face. I knew I was drunk, but these gents were off the scale. We began with some incomprehensible introductions and moved directly onto the topic of rugby – a topic I know as much about as I do The String Theory.

However, as a Welshman, I do know enough that when someone disparages the Welsh team, I am to react with a resounding and guttural reprisal, and then probably a song. Miraculously, on this occasion, I still had the clarity of mind to quickly tot up the ratio of Kiwi’s to Welshmen as 3 to 1, and to note the striking size of their forearms as a significant component in their argument. I decided they were making some astute observations and took to agreeing with them all. As the conversation stagnated I fell quieter and took up quite an interest in the many text messages I was now pretending to receive.

When the time came, I hoisted a farewell hand and waved it in the general direction of everyone at the table, which, embarrassingly enough, wasn’t acknowledged by anyone, and turned to take my leave.

After several faltering attempts at the door I noisily clattered back into the street only to be almost immediately thrown back in again by the searing sunlight now ripping through my retinas. Once my composure and eye-sight returned I checked the time to see that it was barely after four o’clock. Now that I was suitably dishevelled and thoroughly convinced I had exhausted all possible avenues for excitement I thought it sensible to take myself home.

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From → New Zealand

One Comment
  1. Oh I can remember the joys of Tokoroa and I think you’ve got it about right.

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