Rainy Day Trains #3 & 4

Upper Hutt – part 3 of an occasional series on greater Wellington suburban areas

Saturday was a miserable rainy, gale-force-windy day, so my visiting bro and I decided to go to Upper Hutt. After all, when one goes to Upper Hutt, one ought to take a posse.

For all your polarfleece needs

I’d never been there before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the 45-minute train ride, I found a rather ordinary, slightly rundown town centre.

Most of the businesses were either mainstreet chain stores or curious local niche businesses, complete with a superbly ironically named hairdresser – Urban Hair Studio (if I had a hair salon in Upper Hutt, I’d call it Upper Kuttz).

Home fires burning

A block back from the main street was a new mall called Trentham City Shopping Centre, which seems to have invented that moniker to avoid the negative associations of “Upper Hutt”. The mall was strangely empty for a weekend, though this could be explained by the large number of empty shops. It felt like one of those empty subprime mortgage crisis homes on the outlaying suburbs of some American city.

We had lunch at a lunch bar called Mr Trans, which was a real old-style New Zealand lunch bar. It didn’t look like it had been decorated for about 20 years, and had a selection of awful landscapes on the walls, for sale. But you don’t go to a place that like for the decor. You go there for the lammingtons and the ham and tomato sandwiches and the savouries at decent prices. Though I did feel a little out of place at one stage when I realised I was the only woman not wearing polarfleece.

No women's health diagrams

Upper Hutt City’s motto is “A great place to live”. This reminds me of when Hamilton named itself “Fountain City” in the 1970s, with the idea that while the city didn’t have a lot of fountains, maybe if they called themselves that, people would start building them. As it stands, Upper Hutt isn’t currently a great place to live. Not when the weird new all is strangely empty. Not when a guy was stabbed in the town centre last night.

But I’m sure Upper Hutt will figure out what to do with itself sooner or later.

Paraparaumu – part 4 of an occasional series on why it’s better to go out than stay in

So we had this all-day train pass and decided to make the most of it by heading up the coast to Paraparaumu. It’s about an hour on the train, and all the way it was rainy and miserable. But with a little imagination, it’s possible to see how it would be quite nice on a glorious summer’s day.

Virgin Mary upon the hill

We sought shelter as soon as the train arrived, and the Coastlands mall was there for us. (Curious – Queensgate mall in Lower Hutt is the only mall in the Wellington area that doesn’t have a train station outside its door. It’s also the biggest one. Coincidence?)

Coastlands was full of old people, which makes sense given that the Kapiti Coast is full of retirees. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing out your golden years in a sunny coastal area, but it just feels a bit strange when the town seems overrun with seniors. Can’t we all live together?

We ended up seeing “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” at the local cinema. Briefly, while the film had funny moments, I found it was hard to get involved in the story when there were no characters I sympathised with. Everyone was either an arsehole or a doormat.

Heading back to the city, the Overlander pulled in and the conductor insisted that we get on that instead of the Metlink train. The Overlander was warm, the seats were comfortable, and the carriage smelt really nice. Not only that, but I wiled away the time by reading a brochure about the history of the Overlander, including the Raurimu Spiral – a wonder of modern engineering, etc.

We were also treated to a bit of scenic commentary from the conductor, whose charmingly clunky spiel ran into trouble with the weather: “On your right, you’ll see the Tasman Sea. Also, it separates Australia, which is over there further. Also on your right, you will see Kapiti Island, but you won’t be able to see anything.”

You don’t get that on the Metlink trains.

Friday afternoon late train blues

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was waiting at the train platform for the train home. Half-past five came and went; no train. But I had my iPod, I had some internets on my phone. I could wait for a while. And finally the train came about 20 minutes late.

All was good until the train arrived at the public transport jewel of Lower Hutt, Waterloo Station. An Englishman got on the train, lugging a suitcase, wearing a Lonestar steakhouse t-shirt and looking rather bothered.

He started complaining aloud to anyone who would listen. “The bloody train was half an hour late”, he moaned. (There must have been a tear in the delicate fabric of the space-time continuum that suddenly added on 10 minutes to the time around Lower Hutt). “I don’t know why I came to this bloody country. Trains run every 5 minutes in London,” he proclaimed, somehow mistaking the suburbs of the Hutt Valley (population 100,000) with being akin to London (population 7,350,000).

No one responded or sympathised. He then proclaimed, “The country’s going to the pack, why wouldn’t the trains be any different?” This drew a response from a middle-aged lady sitting nearby, who’d migrated to New Zealand from England 15 years ago. She asked him why, if he disliked it so much, didn’t he leave. “I am bloody leaving. I’m going to Australia on Monday. Biggest mistake of my life coming here.” Oh, really?

“This country’s 30 years behind the rest of the world,” he angrily exclaimed. But, kind sir, that’s why we like living here. The trains might not run as frequently as in other places, and sometimes there are stoppages, but trains don’t get blown up by wannabe terrorists, and innocent people don’t get killed by paranoid police.

The accidental tourist eventually shut up, and the train made its way on to Wellington. Just past the Kaiwharawhara platform, the Englishman got up and stood by the door, obviously wanting to get off the train as soon as it reached Wellington station.

Stopped

But – ha – the train stopped and stayed stopped. The conductor came along an explained that the signals system wasn’t working and had to be operated manually, so only one train at a time could enter or leave Wellington station. There was going to be a long wait.

Another passenger really really had to wee, so he walked out onto a connecting platform between carriages and went off that. I figured this would just reinforce the Briton’s opinion that he was riding on the “bloody Flintstones railway”.

The conductor came out again with an update. We’d get there, eventually, but, “That’s what happens when you don’t invest in your railway and now we’re paying for it.” We get to blame both the last National and current Labour government for this. Oh, but Wellington will soon have the shiny new trains, hilariously named Matangi.

Secret message

The stopped train gave me a chance to check out the surroundings of the railyard, which usually flash by. I saw some graffiti in memory of Darren. What fate had taken him? Maybe he was an English tourist. I wonder if he’d be happy knowing his memorial place was doubling as a public urinal?

Eventually the train got to the head of the queue and finally rolled into Wellington station, one hour after its usual time. I was surprised by how civil everyone (except the angry tourist) remained on the journey. There were a few phone calls made explaining lateness, visitors to the Upper Hutt scrapbooking expo amused themselves with their goodie bags, but no one was furious.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, spending an extra 40 minutes on a lightly filled Welington train isn’t really all that bad.