Tuesday, March 23, 2010

55 after 40

Life has recently been inconveniencing my blogging. It's the exact opposite of writer's block with a much better side effect. There's plenty to write, there's a galaxy of poetic moments pushing and prodding for attention like a Chinese food stall queue or a stock market floor. Buy, Sell! Simile, Metaphor!

But there's been no time to sit down and blurt. The main reason for this has been brought to you by the number 40. There's been the full turning 40 years old trip. Weird girlfriend flashbacks, Dave and the Dynamos earwig, as well as Bono yelling How Long Must We Sing This Song from Live at Red Rocks, painful like a Bangkok brothel.

As much as I try to convince myself that time is an illusion, and 40 times around the sun is as meaningful as Xmas, that theory isn't holding up very well. Sure, 2001 gave me Bride of Frankenstein grey hair at the temples (Miss Tigger, a Gen Yer, described it as the Paulie-Walnuts-from-The Sopranos look). 2005 was also pretty interesting too.

But turning 40 has hit like an ordained mindquake, the stocktake from hell. It's not like doing the yardie at the 21st, something I not-entirely-sadly avoided. I had seen my siblings and mates suffer enough, and it interested me as much as Aussie Rules. I had been completely wrecked before and a repeat performance lacked the novelty.

There's no avoiding 40. It started at the Wellington Cup in January, where a fortunate trifecta and a flat cellphone battery led to a large correction in mana levels all over the place. There was the story of the old-timer panelbeater from Pram, who I traded histories with over the coincidence of deafness. Mine naturally, him by trade.

There was the excellent birthday spread put on for me by Madame Guru and Mr Perfect. I'm completely sick of mince and they served pork fillet. Bless! If I gave you the odds of me first meeting up with them, you wouldn't put serious money on it happening. That was so utterly random yet it all worked out for the better. Risk is good.

I've just come back from Auckland, where the heat was moist, the traffic better than I remember it, Prozaic even. It was Best Mate RRB's turn to hit 40. While there, I swapped Tales of Childhood Danger with a bloke who grew up in Ashhurst, just around the corner from me in Palmy. Him with midnight eeling when he was eight or nine, jumping off the Big Rock into the Manawatu River and scaring the train drivers in the Manawatu Gorge as they jumped off the rope swing way up high.

Kids these days. They don't swim. Maybe a Virtua Swim on PS3, but their thumbs won't save them at Piha Beach. I sympathised with RRB's Mum-in-Law that the kids were getting spoiled (I'm not only recovering from Auckland mozzie bites, but there's bite marks on my tongue. Never saw that happening). I haven't felt so deeply, self-consciously ambivalent since I first took LSD at Wellington Zoo back in the Nineties.

But the moment that really had me having the life-flashing-before-the-eyes experience was trying to fly into Wellington yesterday afternoon. I'm never going to laugh at these YouTubes again.

It had been an enjoyable but exhausting weekend, and I was really yearning for home and peace. The Auckland Airport security lady, who went into great swathes of busyness checking the specific blade length on my standard issue Swiss MacGuyver knife, was almost enough to set me off into official complaint mode. "I've got into Parliament with that," I said to ignorant response. She needed to consult a bigger ruler, she said. So much for one size fits all, eh.

Some poor bastard and his missus were having similar but different problems with security. They were about as out-of-type for terrorists, domestic or foreign, as Tama Umaga batting for the Black Caps. Still, some trivial slight had to be enquired upon them. Your tax dollars at work.

I was booked on the 1:30pm Air NZ Flight NZ439 from Auckland to Wellington. The plane arrived late. Battles with Auckland fog and Wellington wind had it running behind time. Rodney Hide strode off the arriving flight, polite enough to stop and have a yak. We boarded half an hour late from balmy Auckland. I knew that a big front was coming up from the South Island, but the full force of just what that meant had yet to hit. It was Monday, and I shared Row 13 with a Mum and sprog on the way back to Wellington. John Boscawen was seated up front in Business. There were omens for Africa.

We departed Auckland sometime after 2pm and approached Wellington from the south an hour later. Cloud sat in a thick smooth blob over the land like sculpted mashed potato. The landing gear was lowered and the Cook Strait waters appeared below, white peaks on the waves speaking volumes about the wind gusts at sea level.

The 737 pitched and yawed violently as it attempted to reach the runway. It was even odds which part of the plane would touch the tarmac first; wheels, nose, tail or wingtip. The latter were thrumming like a bass guitar string. It's a weird thing for a manic depressive to have a "so-this-is-it-we're-going-to-die" moment and be somewhat resentful at that fact.

Just when I thought the wings would snap off with the stress, or the plane would smear into the runway like Marmite, the pilot aborted the landing with a big burst of thrust and a steep rise back into the heavens. A spare pilot in the seats later told of 55 knot wind gusts. That's about 100 km/h in landhugger units.

We were advised that we were heading to Christchurch to refuel. Ninety minutes after we were originally scheduled to land in Wellington, we were landing in Christchurch. I had never been so happy to see the Cathedral City before. Residual adrenaline had me reeling off clichés to all and sundry. I chose the wrong day to quit sniffing glue, etc. It was meant to sound reassuring but the adjacent Mum didn't look convinced and was probably classifying me as a deranged pedo pervert or something.

At least three other diverted jets joined ours parked at the international terminal. The plane was being refuelled with sufficient gas to allow another couple of goes at Wellington airport, a 30 minute holding pattern, with enough back-up for a return to Auckland if that all proved futile.

We weren't allowed to leave the plane while this was happening, so the nearly fully booked flight sat on the tarmac in Christchurch's blazing heat. Cellphones were whipped out as passengers informed their loved ones elsewhere what was happening. The crew did what they could to make things comfortable. Food and water was passed out as surround sound wailing children didn't. I switched off my hearing aids, which also work well as Deaf aids when the time is right.

There was a bit of commotion near the rear of the plane. Supervisors were consulted, Air NZ rulebooks were pulled out, and around 4:30pm a man, woman and child left the grounded flight. Half an hour later, once the family's luggage had been extracted from the cargo bay, the flight was ready to take off for Wellington. The safety video was shown again, preceded by the cabin staff advising "Please pay particular attention" to the instructions. Everyone watched as if their lives depended on it.

The Boeing launched northwards to Wellington. Christchurch might have been fine and dry, but up in the air it was plain that the ominous mashed potato cloud hadn't evaporated. The Southern Alps held it all back from the Canterbury Plains like a dam.

Once more we approached Wellington airport. The plane cut down through the starchy cloud once again, bouncing and smacking around slightly less than the last attempt. The waves below looked less like stiff peaks of egg white too.

Touchdown was somewhere on the far side of 5:30pm. As far as landings go, I've had rougher. I joined many of the passengers in a round of applause for the pilots as we taxied to the terminal. Wild at Heart indeed. Emergency services with lights a flashing dotted the airport like the end of Die Hard II, but at 1/16 the scale and budget. Speaking of which, lucky they haven't installed the Wellywood eyesore up the road. No-one has to worry about an airborne 3 metre tall W travelling at 55 knots into the face just yet.

Big ups to the pilots and crew on Flight NZ 439, the four hour trip for the admission price of a one hour show. An Extra Special Choice Award to Angela, the flight crew madame who kept everything sane for the passengers. You don't pay people for the everyday to and fro. Staff are insurance for when things go wrong. That's when quality and experience come to the fore.