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After Last Night

By Randolph Magri-Overend

I am perched on the edge of my seat at the rear of the 9.30 am bus from Lake Taupo to Wellington, a lens stuck in my left eye-socket like some monocle from a bygone era. Two billowy ladies are on either side, both busily knitting. They’re oblivious to my discomfort, chattering behind my back.

Two rows ahead, Jean is hanging halfway into the aisle. Occasionally she looks back to see how I’m faring, but she has her own problems. Nursing a crushed fingernail that threatens to turn black, she contends with a wizened old Maori trying to balance a basket of putrefied grapes on his knees.

We really shouldn’t be complaining.

After the events of last night, we’re lucky to be alive.

Jean, who has migrated to New Zealand from West Hartlepool (British West Hartlepool we call it laughingly) was feeling homesick and decided to meet my ship when it docked. She’d been a passenger with us two trips back and knew as much about my etchings as I did. I decided to take a couple of days off while Jean was around so I brief my assistant Rory Cronin on what to expect during my absence, then set about hiring a car.

There was one obstacle. My driver’s license had recently been endorsed for ‘driving without due care’ and I feared the car-hire company would refuse my application. But after plying George Meagher, the second mate, with a few G & Ts, he agreed to let me borrow his license. He looks so much like me we could almost be twins. Nice fellow, George. Even when he’s sober.


We reached Rotorua in mid-afternoon, laughed at the boiling mud, were less than impressed at the lack of co-operation from the geysers – they just lay dormant in a lather of sulphurated steam – bought some souvenirs and headed home.

Jean drove. It was dark as we crossed the winding mountain roads above Lake Taupo. The weather started to turn nasty and the rain was soon bucketing down. The windscreen wipers couldn’t cope. The air-conditioning failed. Turning a sharp bend on the edge of the cliff-face, Jean was blinded by the headlights of an oncoming car. She braked, skidded and collided with the side of the mountain. The car rolled over and we found ourselves on our side, in the dark, the radio blaring. The impact dislodged my glasses and I could find only one lens, while poor Jean had the top of her middle finger crushed when the car door slammed on it.

Fortunately, the car that had caused us to crash had stopped and gave us a lift to Taupo. We spent that night in a motel and sheepishly boarded the first bus to Wellington.

When we finally arrive back on the ship I phone the car company with trepidation. What a fool I am for having been persuaded by George Meagher to borrow his licence. I am probably not insured for the damage and might even have to face court. Or, God forbid, even the sack.

But I decide to try and bluff my way out of the predicament. The car-hire clerk advises me to come into the office. How much will the damage cost, I ask? He’ll let me know when I arrive. So I stuff $120, all my Kiwi money – coins and all - into my pocket. The clerk’s calculation comes to $738.45.

“I didn’t bring that much!” I protest. “How much have you got?” he asks. I tell him and he says, without hesitation, “That’ll do.”

I hand over the money and flee. I don’t wait for a receipt.

Randolph Magri-Overend

Sailed with Canadian Pacific and Shaw Savill as a Purser

between 1961 and 1975

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