President’s Ramble – September 2015

This year is my 5th as President, and this year I am going to break from my tradition of highlighting a club member and what they do for the club. This year I instead would like to point out to you that we are breaking tradition by being here today. As a committee we have listened to you and what you had to say at the last AGM and hence as far as I know this is the first ever Saturday AGM, not the traditional Sunday, later in the year our show and shine will also be held on a Saturday.

In another break from my tradition instead this year I would like to talk about our “commercial” partners and relationships. During the last week Don and I visited the Peugeot dealerships in Auckland to attempt to foster a closer relationship with them, something that our club has been missing in the last couple of years or so. Talks between us and them are still ongoing, therefore I cannot reveal anything more than what I am about to tell you.

• Both Andrew Craw of Southern Autos in Manukau and Craig Baylis of Continental Car Services in Greenlane were supportive and encouraging of fostering a closer relationship.
• Both have said that they will let all new and used car purchasers from their dealerships know of our club and how to join. Continental are currently doing this for the Citroen Club and I have a copy of the flyer here for people to have a look at and hopefully comment on as well as.
• Both have shown interest in advertising in the magazine.
• Continental Cars will continue to offer a 15% discount in their service department on parts and service.
• Andrew at Southern Autos has indicated that they too will offer a discount to club members; however he needs to discuss the figures with his workshop manager to come up with a percentage.
As far as I am concerned the above relationships that we are starting to develop with the Peugeot Dealerships is the best news that this club has had in some time.

As well as the dealers we have also been in contact with Greg Kent Automotive in Glenfield and Euroline Parts Connection in Drury. Both have already paid their advertising and both are also offering a 15% discount to members. Thankyou to you both as long standing advertisers and supporters of our club.

As yet none of us have talked to Auto France, in Wiri, but again a thankyou is due for they also have been long standing advertisers in the magazine.

As club members I can only ask of you that you show your support for these companies that are good enough to support us by being their customers ahead of others that may also offer you the same goods and services. Please put your hands together for a quick round of appreciation to these people who support our club.

Again I ask anyone who is present today please consider yourself for the committee, more are always welcome. In particular we are looking for a new Vice President, Don has done his time, the role is not gruelling, and essentially all you need to do is turn up to committee meetings and pretend you are President when I am not available. I would also like to thank the committee for working with me over the last 12 months and for again all of them offering to stand again including Don who is looking to stand down to a “common” committee member as well as keep his position as Sime Darby Test Pilot when new Peugeot models are released.

Whilst you are pondering how quickly you are going to put your hand up to be the new Vice-President or a new committee member I would like this opportunity to thank Craig Baylis of Continental Cars one more time, he donated some Peugeot gifts for the club to use on our members, these are included today as five extra prizes in the raffle, so if you haven’t bought your tickets, do so now.

Thank you for listening,

There were many concerns about the new Health & Safety legislation and its effect on clubs etc. Last minute revisions should have removed clubs and voluntary associations from compliance with the more onerous responsibilities imposed by the original draft legislation.
The new subclause differentiates ‘volunteer workers’ from ‘casual volunteers’ who will now be excluded from the category of ‘worker’ when they are undertaking specified voluntary activities;-
• Participating in fund-raising activities.
• Assisting an educational institute, sports club or recreation club with sports or recreation.
• Assisting with activities for an educational institute outside its premises.
• Caring for another person in the volunteer’s home.
Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking – PCBUs – will still have a duty to look out for the welfare of other people affected by the conduct of its business or undertaking.

The AGM has been and gone and I am still typing this up, so nothing has changed, even the attempt to get rid of the old vice-president didn’t work, he is still by my side and I am glad of it. Though he did announce to all who listened that he will be resigning from both the vice-presidents role and the committee next year. In many ways nothing has changed, the committee is the same, we all re-stood, the various officers’ positions are occupied by all the same people and the sun still shines .
To carry on from last month, I didn’t make the Bastille Day dinner; decided I was too contagious, my throat still playing up, and on that I must admit to being grateful to Jeanette for delivering my President’s Report at the AGM. I was feeling all the speaking. For those that weren’t there you can read that report elsewhere in the magazine.
The event I want you to think about now is next month, a weekend away in Whangarei – unless of course like many of you – it is actually home. The AGM, like many of our events was supported by members from the North, some to pick up trophies, others to make numbers and reacquaint the social ties and interests that bind us together. Frankly other than the committee the Whangarei members are the most active, and those of us that organise, write articles and produce the magazine appreciate you. Therefore it is only appropriate we can go to you as well as. Details – of which other than the date I know almost nothing for a trip to see you Sept 12 are elsewhere in the magazine. For those of us not from those parts, do try and join us, should be a good weekend away.
Also a special note to Buster, who is seen almost yearly at the AGM. I appreciated the fact you told me you have been enjoying my rambles. Now I meant what I said at the AGM. How about you write an article about your motorcycles and what goes on in that club to give us others an insight into something a little different but related to cars?
Now to continue with my rambling, we first landed in Italy in Catania, the largest city under the shadow of Mt Etna. This is a large, dirty and lively city, many people are poor and have been hit hard by the recession. Into this mix arrived the seven of us travelling complete with luggage to make do for 6 and a half weeks. The only way to go was by minivan, not people mover as they don’t have the luggage space. In hindsight I am glad that I was given some advice by a friend before I went and that I took it up. He said when you travel to a country where they drive on the opposite side always hire an Automatic, so at least whilst you are trying to get your head around that you aren’t trying to change gears as well. We therefore duly hired a Mercedes Vito van from Avis.
We hadn’t gotten far from the airport before I was wondering what had happened. I said to Mandy, “What’s the speed limit?” I was convinced our GPS had it wrong for the road we were on, because of the rate we were being passed by all and sundry. This was a very rapid introduction to the concept that speed limits are flexible in Sicily. Not long after that the route plotted by the GPS had us going through the outskirts of the older part of the city and smooth tarmac was replaced by raucous cobblestoned streets. The roads were narrower, cars were parked on the footpath to allow enough room for other vehicles to get by, and naturally the roads were full of pedestrians because the footpaths were blocked, scooters buzzing in and out and around you through gaps that seemed too small and cars slipping in and out and around. Usually indicators were used, but sometimes after the change in direction had taken place, and everything is done at speed. One way roads are one way – except it would appear for scooters and bicycles which can approach you from any direction and on odd occasions you wonder how both you and the oncoming vehicle are going to fit, only at the last moment the motor scooter will pop in between parked cars or even mount the footpath -where some isn’t parked on- to avoid you. On the odd occasion they seem to take the prerogative and force you to stop or hit them head on; first to the gap wins.
Through the town and back onto modern streets, we came to a merge situation where I had to give way, complete with a Give Way sign. Boy oh Boy did I make a mistake there. I stopped because of fast moving oncoming traffic; you should have heard the horns coming from behind! I think a couple of scooters got close to being attached to the back of the van or alternatively the front of the car behind them.
The next day I didn’t drive, not because I didn’t want to, but because we were being picked up for a guided tour on Mt Etna. This involved me sitting sideways in the back of a Landrover Defender with not quite enough headroom, with two of the children – Jessica and Joshua. As well as looking at the fabulous scenery, the different ways that people live – their houses are not like ours, and the vast areas where past lava flows had etched their way, I also made a point of observing how Sicilians drive. Mandy pointed out to our guide that the verges and traffic islands had long unkempt grass and during Spring when we visited some also had a multitude of wildflowers on them. She asked why they weren’t cut? The reply was that they don’t have the money to do it since the global financial crisis. We drove through another neighbourhood where they were cut; the reply was that people have money here.
Anyway, after observing for a while, I decided the best and politest way of describing the way to drive is – pro-actively and decisively. Decide where you are going and go for it! From what I could make out, you were then respected by the other motorists whom then made room for you. I observed that this was also the best way to cross the road. Make a decision when a gap arrives, often far smaller than a pedestrian would ever contemplate in NZ, and go for it. The cars then slow down for you and let you across. This takes a lot of courage and hope the first couple of times you try it, and you do have to continue to look at the drivers’ faces to check they have actually seen you. Before long I was crossing like a local. Some of the other family members weren’t as convinced and I occasionally had to cross a road three times to go back and get the rest of the family when they hadn’t joined me the first time. Having said this I saw what I suspect were illegal immigrants from Africa crossing in Palermo totally unrealistically. It was like a death wish, they just walked out, less than 5m from a red lighted pedestrian crossing in front of traffic that had just started to get speed up with a newly turned green light. I didn’t need to understand Italian to realise what a lot of the shouted language coming from more than one party, including those making the crossing, was about. Horns were tooting, arms and hands waving, including with an upraised middle finger and voices raised. All this whilst we sat down and enjoyed our Gelato – added to the show.
One thing that seems to be an almost constant background noise in both Catania and Palermo is the sound of sirens, mostly Ambulances from those that I saw, but also Police and Fire. Perhaps, despite my new found confidence and ability to drive and cross roads like a Sicilian, not everybody, including the locals, is as lucky.
On our way out of Catania on our Tiki-tour through parts of Sicily I had to drive on one of the main roads. It was busy, and 3 lanes wide, so I drove in the slow lane whilst hopefully the GPS gives instructions with enough warning. Everything going fine, then an intersection with traffic lights. Should be easy you might think, but no, the Sicilians have a way of complicating matters. Three lanes, all painted and with appropriate arrows for straight ahead or turning, fortunately we weren’t at the front of the queue and I had a brief chance to observe and make my decisive decision as is required in Catania. The dilemma you ask? It may have been a three lane road, it may have had three lanes marked, but somehow the locals managed to fit six lanes of traffic within those three. My dilemma that I had to make the quick decision about was, which of the three lanes do I go in, and once having decided that how much of the lane do I take up? Not an easy decision to make when the van you are driving is wider than the multitude of Lancia, Fiat, and I am glad to say, Peugeot cars as well as assorted others. Was my van wide enough to try and take on truck status and take up a lane by myself, or not?
Not long after we reached the motorway. Everything was orderly here; smooth beautiful roads on our way to Enna to see a large Norman and earlier period castle – Castello di Lombardia –I use the wording earlier because most fortifications in Sicily seem to have many periods of occupation, often wiped out by later periods or added on to. This particular castle had its first fortifications onsite prior to the Romans, but what is visible now apparently dates to the Norman period of occupation (Yes the French were here too!). However once again “Mandy what is the speed limit?” No our GPS isn’t wrong. Now more than ever, once on motorways and provincial highways, did I learn that the speed limit is pretty much what you want to make of it. I sat at about the speed limit because the guides (Lonely Planet, Fodors etc.) say that some Sicilian police apparently target tourists for instant fines, and it is strongly suggested that the fines never make it into the Police Department coffers. However the number of vehicles that passed us at speeds that made us seem pedestrian was remarkable. Others still much to my surprise were occasionally caught by us too. I presume they weren’t stunned tourists trying to make out how to drive. Another thing we noticed was the variation in rails at the side of the motorway; in places they were high, others low, sometimes with mesh, sometimes without, no real standard, but the roads themselves were good.
What really brought home the disregard for rules in Sicily was a minor event in Marsala, a town I would like to go back to and explore more. One day we arrived in Marsala to have a look at the shops and whatever else we could find. From memory it was about 2pm, when most of the population have abandoned their occupations and education to head home for the afternoon rest. Apparently necessary in Summer, it was very warm in early Spring when we where there. Anyway we were trying to find parking, preferably free parking as we were money conscious Kiwis who understand the meaning of free.
We were in an area near the railway and while I could tell that there were signs with parking rules, unfortunately they were beyond my grasp of Italian, which was the best of the seven of us. Also, my understanding had a very strong slanting towards understanding Menus, what is on offer at bakeries and Gelato flavours rather than parking regulations. I said to the family to ask a young lady (I am guessing about 25) who was there at the side of the road. They refused, said it was a waste of time as no-one knew how to speak English, which was very much our experience of Sicily so far (the Mt Etna guide an exception and our host in Catania had a limited grasp and we had found ways to communicate).
So I parked the van and got out and asked her myself. She spoke close to perfect English, the family still want
to know how I knew, my response is that “I knew, I just knew”.
She explained it was indeed pay parking, its hours of operation and how to purchase a parking ticket. She then went on to explain that it was a waste of money paying for it now as the parking wardens will be at home having their rest as well as, at this time of day nobody pays and it is rare you ever get a ticket. My response to her was “That was just like the speed limit then?” Yes she said, she explained to me she was home for Easter to visit family and that she had to keep reminding herself when in Belgium where she now lives not to do 80km/h in the 50km/h city streets. The limits on the motorways and country roads of Sicily are typically 130 or 110 km/h, she told me as long as you aren’t doing something ridiculous like 200km/h you will never get a ticket in Sicily.
We took her advice on the parking but decided, as she also advised that all of the shops will also be closed, to not park there. Instead we scoped out some free parking nearby and returned at 4pm, when the town changed from being dead and quiet, to being vibrant and humming with all of the shops open and many pedestrians strolling the shopping precinct, as well as the ubiquitous bicycles approaching the traffic head on in the one way streets!
I’m going to stop here, more stories in the next Ramble, please come for a jaunt to Whangarei.

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