Monday, 22 July 2013

The Art of Spying




I’m at Cardrona with my free style skier son, Jasper. He’s training. I was going to get a day pass, but overnight rain dampening the snowpack has stalled me. Pearl grey clouds skudder over the lift line, the sun is masked yet still a glaring orb behind them.

I decide to wait till 12.30pm and get an afternoon pass for $70, a saving of $27. 
So I take up residence in the mezzanine café with my laptop. I order a coffee. A trim flat white, large cup. I’m doing an ‘observation’: making a record of everything around me. I haven’t done one in a while.  Much awarded journalist and regular cool guy, Steve Braunias sent us out to do these when I attended a writing course with him. Class of 2011. The class he loved so much he put us in his book.

Morning sun streams in the large picture windows, framing the courtyard, rectangular clock tower in duck egg blue and the slope behind. A middle aged couple sit by the window to my right, at a small square formica table. He’s nodding in agreement with his wife. His grey hair has receded into that protruded tongue shape that often afflicts the males of our species. The grey hair of the tongue pokes up like an ancient tuatara. They’re table number 50. His nod becomes more pendulum like; back and forth pivoting from his waist. Is he praying? Or omming? No words come from his mouth. They are not dressed for skiing. Perhaps they just drove up the muddy, windy, barrier-less mountain road for a thirty minute thrill and some caffeine. Yes, they are thrill seekers. Grey devils.

The café is noisy and overheated. My merino wrapped legs prickle in my ski pants. I’ve undone my vents and taken off every woolly garment I can afford, without sitting here in my bra. My coffee arrives it’s strong and smooth. But, I didn’t really want it. It’s my rent. My spy money.

A family of six is eating breakfast; three kids, one husband, two wives. They have up market gear, Ryder, Spider and those just released $300 goggles with the magnetically attached lenses. Gear heads. But late starters, it’s 9.33. Keen beans wait to load the lift at 8.50.

Two young men directly in front of me are tucking into scrambled eggs. Holding their cutlery like weapons. Knife and fork etiquette, where has it gone?  They chew their breakfast with closed mouths. Phew.

A baby screams on the carpet in the corner to my right. Protesting at having its nappy changed or the surrounding din.

A tall man in white shadze is now perched on a stool behind me, if he looks over his shoulder he could see what I’m typing. I angle my laptop screen towards me. I can barely see the letters appearing as I type.  But privacy is of paramount importance when spying. Just ask John Key.


The veins on my hands are popping out from the heat and caffeine injection. Aside from doing a down-trou there is not much I can do. The water I’m drinking has ice in it. According to Jasper’s internet fun facts, restaurant water is as dirty as toilet bowel water. A few years ago, visitors and staff at Cardrona had prolonged doses of vomiting and diarrhoea. After weeks of head scratching and testing for Rotovirus etc they discovered the sewage system was at fault. They’d been supplying poo water. Oops. Nasty stuff that e-coli when ingested. I take a tentative sip.

The praying mantis day tripper is standing up, donning a Drizabone which falls past his knees. His lips are still pursed. He may have uttered a word; yes. 9.50. I’ve been here for 25 minutes. Spying is fun, but the atmosphere is oppressive. I’m losing my religion…Whoa Black Betty bam a lam.

Two women take table 50. They have gluhwein in glass mugs, slices of orange and cinnamon sticks bob on the surface. Hey, anything can happen on a ski field.  ‘Cheers.’ They looked Brazillian, with their long black curly hair. Turns out they’re kiwis. Just as I’m conjuring up their lives: toddlers in the nearby crèche etc, two boys in the gangly spotty stage of adolescence join them. They chat briefly, get a $20 note each and depart. They don’t smile. But they talked without sneering.

I think of asking the staff if they have any music written post 1975. Then decide a spy should keep a low profile. They all wear a uniform of black talking t-shirts with creative slogans like: Cardrona, Aren’t you glad you called in sick. And Cardrona, Fun.Guaranteed.

The well kitted out family, probably from Auckland, still haven’t left. Thankfully shadze man is intently reading his I phone not my screen.  My eyebrows start sweating.

The gluhwein women are two thirds done. 10.04. One of the adolescents returns. ‘Mum I’ve lost a glove?’ ‘Go and look for it,’ says the mum. Sterling adult advice. The son departs. I’m starting to feel hung-over. The barista flicks the coffee measurer, click clack click. The steamer hisses. Coffee up. Three teenage girls join the gluhwein women. Last sips. 10.11.  

I have 65% battery I could keep going, but I decide it’s time to read my book in the cool of my car. ‘The Ocean At The End Of The Lane’, by Neil Gaiman, is the best grownup story told in the voice of a seven year old boy I’ve ever read. I told Neil Gaiman so via twitter and he said, ‘thank you!’. It’s also a gripping tale filled with freaky childhood experiences, only escaped via magical safety mechanisms.

I start packing up. A really really tall youth joins the gluhwein mums. Glasses empty. 10.13. Rockin Robbin.

As I take up residence in my car, I spot another black t-shirted staff member. Cardrona: Ride, Relax, Party, Repeat.

Not till next Wednesday.

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