Saturday, 2 March 2013

New Zealand: Helmets, Hitchcock and Binges

Having not looked at a mirror that morning I peered into his aviator shades sheltered under a peaked hat and in the sepia reflection self consciously readjusted the bandana covering my head. The policeman interrupted my preening with a slight cough and my eyes were drawn to his lips, the upper remained taut in a permanent smile yet the lower did the moving above the cleft chin.  His skin perfectly tanned. 
Good god you look like one of the Thunderbird puppets I thought as he continued
"Do you know why I have stopped you?"
Now which one do you look like? Scott or the one beginning with V? it was Scott wasn't it? Scott Tracy? yep must be..
"No, I'm sorry no idea at all" I lied having watched him pass me going the opposite direction in his patrol car on the deserted road as I'd left the Marlborough Sounds on a sunny but frosty day and winced as I watched again as he returned, pulled into the side of the road and flagged me down.
"You're not wearing a helmet. It is the law in New Zealand to wear a helmet, you know that don't you"

I am shockingly one of those people who feel they have a right to choose whether they wear a helmet or not. It's not a big, clever or insightful statement, it is just me being me and you can throw all the statistics you want at me and I know wearing one has saved people's lives, friend's lives even. Maybe having cycled from an early age an eon before people wore helmets or squeezed lumpy flesh into unflattering lycra, where mending a puncture in the back garden was a thrice weekly pastime at the age of 10 is my reason, but this is not a discussion for this blog post. It is just me. 

I thought back to the helmet I'd bought for this journey while I prepared my reply. It had ridden with me for 12,000 km on the back of my bicycle. I'd worn it twice, once with James a cycling buddy for a week in Turkey for a steep downhill after we'd consumed 4 beers then found out we couldnt camp at the top of the hill we were on and once in Hungary when camped in the countryside I watched with alarm as 2 wild boar stampeded past within a whisker of my tent. My slumber reassuringly more comfortable in the knowledge I was tucked into my sleeping bag wearing my helmet should these beasts return and have no night vision. In the end my helmet and I parted ways in a small town in the Taklamakan Desert in China, confusing an old man in a ramshackle bike shop by thrusting my helmet upon him as there was no room for it with all my winter supplies loaded onto my bike nor on my head with all my layers on for cycling in -25'C . Arriving at Auckland airport I saw the sign "$200 fine" for not wearing a helmet. I bought one immediately.

Ok, deep breath and Oscar performance. "Oh gosh" I said patting my head, "where is it?" His perfect chiseled chin lifted slightly in a 'don't try and pull this one on me' confrontation. I blundered I flustered I pleaded as I undid the helmet from the back of my bike and plonked it on my head leaning towards him for another glance at my aviator shade image to ensure it wasn't askew. 

"Do you often cycle without a helmet?" 
"well for the last 26 countries yes! (hmm.. too aggressive). Until I arrived here and I bought one and I've worn it every time but today I visited Pelorus Bridge and I went for a walk and forgot to put it back on. "

That was the truth apart from the 'forgetting to put it back on' bit. I just wanted a day without it. What I didn't mention to him was the relief I'd found in wearing a helmet in New Zealand

The first assault on my head had scared the life out of me. Cycling along a quiet road in wind and rain and then something hit my helmet. I continued, a little unsettled, but dismissed it thinking it must have been a twig or something in this high wind. 2 minutes later my head jolted again and so the assault continued at regular 2 minute intervals for 5km. A few cars passed me but did nothing. Surely surely they can see what is happening I thought as once again I was hit and I stopped to confront my aggressor.

Nesting territorial magpies: the bane of my cycling life in New Zealand during spring time. The worst attack was a 30km stretch before reaching the town of Bulls (incidentally a remarka-bull town where they have insisted on coining everything in the town with a bull attached. The police station "const-a-bull" ,the public toilets "reliev-a-bull", the estate agents "Move-a-bull"..) where these evil Hitchcock film re-enactment birds attacked relentlessly. There was evidently some Magpie Neighbourhood Watch in place as once I'd finally escaped the territory of one nesting pair the residents of the next 3km had been alerted and would begin their attack. I turned to rather aptly named Twitter for assistance. "Turn and face the bird", "wear sunglasses on the back of your helmet", "stop cycling", "Just come home" were some of the helpful tips. Probably the best solution to the problem I saw was a girl on her roadbike, tanned, slim and streamlined in red and black lycra and sporting a helmet with what looked like her grandmother's stash of knitting needles poking out from the top. 

Realising the policeman was not going to wallop me with a $200 fine I succumbed to the fact his face was actually rather agreeable and he asked about my trip and wished me good luck for the rest of my journey. As he seated himself into his car he leaned out of the window and said "Enjoy the rest of your chocolate!" and drove off.

Chocolate? I hadn't mentioned chocolate. I'd babbled a lot but I hadn't mentioned chocolate and certainly not the secret compulsive consumption of the 750g of Nutella I had finished that morning after only 2.5 days. Oh no surely not..

I searched frantically in my handlebar bag for my mirror and found it wedged between my journal entries of 8th and 9th September. I held it up before my face and - with no sepia tinge to hide behind - there it was, the tell-tale chocolate smile from a frenzied spooning of 250g into my mouth that morning. Yet worse was to come as I saw the results of a succession of failed footballer's nose blows leaving a snail-like trail from my nose, across my cheek, before coming to a glistening finale on my right shoulder. 

I had to face the truth I would never have the same etiquette and class as Lady Penelope..

A birthday cake I made from my 2nd 750g jar of Nutella

Like a painting. exploring the marlborough sounds

camouflaged camping
Exploring Queen Charlotte Sound

Pelorus Bridge: scene in the Hobbit where the dwarves escaped in barrels down the river

Friendly locals helping me with dinner..
and the washing up
Marlborough Sounds. Sailing across to New Zealand's south island

The Police Station in the quirky town of Bulls

Note: I am still wearing my helmet on busy roads here in South America


  1. I´ll keep that in mind when visiting NZ... I wouldn´t be that lucky with this face!

  2. la deuxième photo est ma préférée!!! celle du Nutella aussi, bien sûr !!!! je te souhaite une bonne route sans policier pour te barrer ta route !!!! et your tale is incroyable !!!!

  3. Between the snot and the chocolate I cant stop laughing, enjoy your travels safely

  4. Oh that's a perfect Laugh-a-bull blog post! (groan, sorry Jill). but I did - laugh I mean. My knitting needles would have come in handy and I'll store that tip away for the future. Nutella! You're a woman after mine own heart - even down to the smeared evidence...