Travel : Came on Holiday by Mistake – By the sea but not of the sea

We pull into Oamaru . The roads are being resealed, dust rises as utes and trucks drive over the metal road surface. A haze fills the sky . I disembark, head to the Lagonda Tea Room. From it’s attached bakery next door I buy the last mutton pie. I walk down to where the railway bars access to the sea and eat the delicious pie gazing through the dust. The pie is rich and meaty and deeply savoury , the view is positively frontier town. There is something unusual about Oamaru , it is by the sea but it is not of the sea . The ocean is there and yet it is always somewhat removed from the town.

Michael pulls up in the brewery delivery van. Michael is an enigma, a craftsman, a man of strong opinions and idiosyncratic language. He lives his life in Victorian garb, lives in an 1870’s stone cottage with a brash modern 1907 extension, his mum recently had electricity connected to her cottage, at 90 she decided a fridge might be useful. With his partner Leeanne they are Craftwork Brewery. Leeanne is the brewer . They make traditional Belgian beer and have created a temple to it amongst the Victorian White Stone Precinct. The less mention of Steam Punk the better.   

Michael takes me up to a lookout on the hill. He tells me about the latest things the Steam Punkers have done to stray from the trad path, and he tells me history. It’s a story of boom and bust and the first freezing works and the first lamb exports to blighty and economic depression and the end of the line for small coastal ports. The boom put up all the white stone grandeur , the bust meant they didn’t have money to pull it all down and modernise it.

I’m staying with Michael in his adjoining AirBnb  cottage ‘The Bookbinders Retreat’ . It’s a symphony of copper and polished wood, has it’s own baby range, it’s perfect. Michael leaves me to settle in. I shower , and make tea.   

As I walk into town I have a skip in my step. All is right with the world and all that isn’t I’m forgetting right now. I pass the massive empty RSA carved from the ubiquitous white stone. Every public tree in the town has a cross and a name of a fatality from The Great War. I head to The Criterion first . An ornate Victorian pub that has struggled financially through the years but has recently reopened. I drink a pint of Emerson’s Bookbinder, a beer at least in part originally brewed with Michael in mind. Then on to Craftwork.

Stepping into Craftwork is like stepping into Brussels . Polished wood, Victorian grandeur , the odd modern art deco flourish . I spend the night with Leeanne and Michael drinking great beer , eating great cheese and discussing the big stuff. Mortality , dementia , the plan from here, retirement fantasies .

Later in Michael’s kitchen we eat pasta bake, drink beer, then we eat cheese made from the milk of deer , there is something a little surreal about that, something a little Narnia. We move on to the sitting room and whisky is taken. The world put to rights. Suddenly it’s 2am and I’m full of drink, still I resist invading Prussia. Today has been wonderful, I will pay the price tomorrow.

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