Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Looking For Jeeves

Rumours have abounded for some time that Jeeves has been seen in Canterbury, New Zealand. Being an amateur sleuth I concluded that after Cup Week and the recovery from that very short rugby season in Canterbury, the true men of Canterbury would come out to play cricket. Since cricket is a great interest of Jeeves, in fact he's not only played but watched many games with old Bertie Wooster that he may be in Christchurch. I looked for a hotel which would suit his needs and appeal to his taste and styles. I found The Weston House which was strategically placed on Park Terrace (at No 62) overlooking the Avon River.

The Weston House

One of the most English of scenes anywhere in the world and one that would have instant appeal to Jeeves. Their website indicated that one of their rooms was booked for a while and the other was available so I polished my shoes bought a new suit of a suitable style, pressed my shirt and on with my old school tie which is oh so Christchurch. I was met at the door by Stephanie, the host, and a man called Len whom she introduced as the gardener. I new there was a certain life and discretion about this couple which would appeal to Bertie and provide the sanctuary he would require. I enjoyed same Sauvignon Blanc with Stephanie and wandered down the road checking out eating establishments and wandered back and sat on a scotch for some time. I retired late and not concerned that i was yet to find Jeeves. I indicated that I would be in for breakfast about 8am but rose early around 6am and crossed the bridge and walked in Hagley Park. I chose not to wander too far so as to be able to keep an eye on the entrances and exits - ensuring Jeeves could not slip by unnoticed! There was no sign of an early departure so i wandered back in for brekkie at 8 o’clock to find that Stephanie was the chef and that the gardener was the butler. My god this would never do in Jeeves' day. Then again everything in Weston House was in shipshape and Bristol fashion and the front lawn in the soft morning sun was only waiting for a bowling couple. I decided that if Jeeves wasn’t there he may be in one of the provincial towns. Canterbury is very flat and a cyclists dream. It also has lots of vintage cars and I had spotted a classic old Bentley on Park Terrace as I read the morning Press after breakfast.

I had heard on the grapevine that a well known chef, Jo Seagar, had recently established a cooking school and restaurant in Oxford. This part of rural Canterbury many consider the heartland and others in New Zealand refer to as loosehead Len country.

Jo Seagar's at Oxford

The cafe has taken over really a whole block in Oxford and there is some talk of in future years it being renamed Seagarville. This would never do for Jeeves and Bertie Wooster would be appalled. How could you change such an upstanding British name for such a crass American one? It was a grey day but the welcome from the staff was made in the very sincere way that country folk have was one which would also have been appreciated by Jeeves.
This day the cafe is full of independent older retired folk. Jeeves would approve, this means grey linen trousers and a blazer. Although there were more common folk dressed in women's sweaters and dungarees. The menu is full of very hearty options for lunch and also wondrously decadent cakes. I settled on a game pie with a salad. It was definitely a fine pastry crust, and again, is just so Jeeves. I washed it down with a pint Moulson dark which was served at room temperature, another clue as to why Jeeves may turn up.
The room is decorated with photographs of Southern men, tin sheds, and sheep. Mind you if the dairy industry has their way, the photos of sheep will be replaced with those of jersey cows. Jeeves would not approve and Wooster would be horrified.
My wait person was a strong boned local lass with ruby cheeks and bright red hair. She was strong and obviously capable of much work but she was firm in a very feminine way. I described the possibility of Jeeves or even Bertie Wooster being here, she was not fazed and said that they often had many gentlemen and their companions at Seagars usually for lunch and in the early afternoon.
On this information I ordered another pint of Moulson's Dark, slipped into one of the largest tub seats I have ever seen and knew instantly that Jeeves would be at home here and the food and the good ale too would appeal. There was even a copy of the writer Stevan Eldred-Grigg 'Oracles and Miracles'. Oh Bertie would be suspect of this book.
After an hour I concluded that Jeeves would not be in, the sun was slipping its shadow and I decided I would head to the port town of Lyttelton, the major entry port for Christchurch and certainly exit for much of the exports of this province, and also when the Queen Mary came to the south island this is where it would berth. I wandered along London terrace on one of the beautifully preserved historic streets and saw the empire hotel which Bertie and Jeeves would have been very happy to have been at.

I drove back over to Christchurch and headed for Sol square, an area of Christchurch reminiscent of Soho - without the theatres but with certainly enough interesting bars and cheap burlesque hot spots - Jeeves would now have approved!

SOL Square - South of Lichfield, Christchurch

I returned to the Weston house and again the hospitality and warmth was enough to suggest that this would be the home for Jeeves.

Day two

I headed out for the historic railway town of Rangioria.

Cafe de la Gare Rangiora

This is an area of fine English homes that would remind one of Suffolk or of Kent. At the railway station I came across a fine French restaurant named CafĂ© De La Gare – NZ food with a French influence where I enjoyed a fine meal of pork belly with a side of cider glazed red cabbage.

I also enjoyed some impressive cheese but sadly no Pate de foie Gras. My meal was washed down with a fine Rhone from nearby to Lyon. This town is revered by Catholics for producing two leading personalities who established their faith in New Zealand. Bishop Pompallier whose remains were returned from France to the Hokianga in 2000 and Suzanne Aubert who founded the Sisters of Compassion here, she is well on the way to becoming our first saint

Sadly as I drove through the green fields of Canterbury so long Devon, I concluded that I could not find Jeeves. Never mind, it was a fantastic trip!