The label on the bottle of orange juice said the expiry date was February. If only. February would mean it was summer, and summer would mean that I’d be lying on a beach in Nirvana. We’re almost there, and to remind ourselves that life was never supposed to be lived out under the balmy fluorescent tubes of the Vic library, we left Wellington to bach it for a weekend in Wairarapa’s sunny Castlepoint.
Baches speak more of New Zealand than almost anything else in godzone. I reckon this is simply because they don’t intend to. Saatchi and Saatchi haven’t polluted this corner of paradise with marketing strategies and corporate branding. I would fight them on the beaches and in the dairies if they dared.
Their charm, you see, is tied into their attraction for bad taste. Orange curtains, floral couches, formica kitchen counters, faded copies of Readers Digest, Enid Blyton and the Good News Bible, pages yellowed and curling. Twisting the key through the stiff lock, the first whiff conjures kids in togs running around the lounge, smearing sunscreen on the walls; of sand walked on carpet; a busted nylon-string and late-night choruses of ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Street Spirit (fade out)’. Maybe a few drinks would be consumed.
We heard of a legendary restaurant in Castlepoint, ‘The Berley Pot’. Rather than drink beer and eat chippies in the bach, we decided to empty our bank accounts and live it large. It was here that we were presented with a bottle of expired juice.
The contents of the bottle must have been rancid. I once left a carton of juice out of the fridge overnight – it was summer then, so we didn’t want to drink it in the morning, but (I admit, bizarrely) I didn’t want to throw it out. We left it there until the turn of autumn, a biological quarantine zone. It sat there on the kitchen counter where it expanded like a balloon, before wheezing back into a more fitting shape. I was told by a biology dropout that it was bacteria in the carton eating the juice. Tucking into the feast, these feisty critters copulated to megalomanic numbers. It must have been debauchery inside that little juice-box on the kitchen top; twenty-four seven hedonism. After two months, having consumed its resources, the hoards degenerated to cannibalism, turning on each other until they were all but extinct. A saga of microcosmic proportion.
The orange juice at the restaurant had been six months expired, meaning, most significantly, it had been six months since summer. Mike took the bottle to the counter, only to be scolded by the chef, “You can’t trust them labels!” Diplomatically, he advised the chef that he sort of, well, does. An annoyed bark: “Well sorry mate that’s all we got.”
Bar one pensioner, we were the only patrons that Saturday night. She limped in, all droops and flaps, sat down without a word, and walked out a quarter hour later hugging a steaming paper bag. We were ordering drinks. Surprisingly, they had Monteiths Summer Ale. Summer only gets released in October. It was August. The waitress solved our logistical mystery: “We’re cleaning out last year’s stock.” I ordered a Stella.
Classic Hits volume sixty-something blared from discretely hidden speakers. Thom Yorke called it fridge buzz, music to clog the space behind us. Tunes of yesteryear, Kenny Loggins, Fleetwood Mac, and Wham!, nailed haphazardly to one other like caskets in a musical graveyard. Labels once sold their souls to promote these groups, and were now doing purgatory in easy-listening comps. ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ was a killer. Sadistically, our greatest pleasure was watching the poor waitress run out from the kitchen to change the track on the stereo when the CD started skipping, a quarter hour event by rough calculation.
Our dinner arrived. We wondered as we tucked in whether the restaurant’s policy on ignoring expiry dates stretched beyond beverages. The food was cooked (a relief) and more or less tasted like its description on the menu (more relief). The fisherman’s platter was disappointing. Everything was crumbed or battered: yellow-on-yellow with fries on the side, washed down with a stale beer.
I had chosen the safe (steak) option. Vegetarianism be damned tonight, and wondered what manner of beast could polish off the bucket of chips that passes for sides nowadays. At least spud farmers must be doing well from this arrangement.
Our meals over, we decided to cut our losses, skip dessert, and crack open a bottle of wine at the bach. We got up to pay our dues to find the EFTPOS machine was on the blink. Eyes downcast, our waitress fumbled with the wires round the back. After a few minutes the chef appeared and told us to follow him. We obliged. Through a side door into a lounge, past a motherly type on a bean bag illuminated in phosphorus, her puffy eyes turning our direction at our intrusion. On we moved, down a musty flight of stairs stacked with beer, and into the convenience store below the restaurant.
The Burley Pot doubled as a General Store. The General Store doubled as a family home. The home doubled as a Gas Station. Damn I love small towns. The store was closed and was lit by the moon, giving it an otherworldly feel. We had a chat to the chef, a likeable guy who also owned the place. Bought it only a few years ago to get out of the city. He spoke proudly of his little empire, and too right. Got a tight little enterprise going for him, although he admitted a labour shortage. We shook his hand, and as we left he yelled, “can you cook?”
Fifty-seven dollars bought me a sirloin with mushrooms, chips and plum sauce on the side, garlic bread, a Stella, and four litres of ultra performance hi-grade oil.