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Readers Blog: The Bike Writer

Kicked out of Catholic church on Xmas

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Dec. 24, Foxton, NZ - SALVATION ARMY & XMAS..

Pushed along to Foxton; managed 79 kilometers in a brutal headwind that was reportedly so strong, it blew children away from parents. Spent the night at the Salvation Army.

Lt. Beth set me up with a plush rocking chair that kicked out to full-body length and she gave me complete access to the kitchen. I left everything for several hours to sit on the back porch in the sun. It's direct heat, but feels wonderful considering it's December.

Not many people rest in the sun in New Zealand - that's because this part of the world is under the biggest hole in the ozone. After an hour the rays make my face hurt like someone is administering a skin twisting, grade-school rattlesnake bite on my cheeks. I check-out of my Salvation-Army hotel early Christmas morning.

My head hurts slightly and my stomach is upset but I must soldier on. The weather has tamed a bit; it's a fairytale forecast - not too hot, not too cold.

 About five kilometers out of town there's a fence with hundreds of sandles tied to the rail.

I stop to take a photo and a little boy comes racing out and hands me a small fishnet bag of chocolate coins individually wrapped in gold foil. "Here are some lollies; Merry Christmas," said Zac.

He is 7-years-old, wearing a green shirt, shorts and large, rubbery farm boots; the kind you'd leave in the mud room after a full day in the barn. Santa visited Zac last night. "I got lollies," he said his face smeared with chocolate. "I got books, these socks ...." and he pauses forgetting the rest. At about 11 o'clock and I pull into the small community of Bulls.

I'm still not feeling top of my game but manage to push 14 more kilometers up the road and find St. Andrews Church, with an open door in Marton. I call it a day - primarily because of my desperation to be close to a bathroom.

Marton is a Sleepyhollow town of about 1,500. A Main Street lined with old buildings; their windows decorated for the holiday. By 7 p.m. security arrives to lock the church and a series of phone calls seeking approval to spend the night feels like wasted breath.

Wasn't there some well-known story about this same sort of situation - about looking for a place to stay on Christmas? Funny, it's the church that's saying "no." I pack my bike; temperatures are dropping, everything is closed tight and nobody's on the street. I find Anne standing outside her white fence with a clippers in hand. She owns Hotel Club across the road and offers me a room; holiday rate $20 for the night. The hotel is a throwback to the 1900s. Dark hardwood floors, high ceilings with painted crown molding, a picture rail, and long narrow windows that operate on a rope-pulley system. The hallways are slim; I can easily put my arms out and touch both walls as we walk down the red carpet. The deep hallway ends with a white lace-curtain window. The room is small but efficient. A single bed with two crisp, white pillows and a thick, flowery comforter. There's a mini utility sink across from the bed and a dresser that also serves as a closet. A communal bathroom is at the end of the hall, on the large wood door is stamped 'water closet' in decorative black writing. 'Ladies' is posted street-sign style above the door; 'Gents' is across the hall. The hotel dates to 1917; Anne bought the business two-years ago and with the economy now in the dumps she's struggling. "We have five taverns in this town and there's just not enough business to go around," she said. There are 18 rooms on the second floor of the hotel; three are rented for the night Anne checks me in to room No. 3. She hands me a metal key on a blue, plastic diamond fob. She passes me an orange the size of a softball and a banana. "It's hard to find anything open for dinner on Christmas," she said.

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mikeleon | Dec. 27, 2010 at 3:42 p.m. (report)

Dear Judy,

Sorry about the upset tummy, and on top of that we're having the worst weather this year as you head towards Wellington. But now the good news: the forecast for Wednesday is .. Becoming fine :-)

A point about your unhappy Christmas in Marton: St Andrew's - like almost all churches named after Scotland's patron saint - is the *Presbyterian* church. The Catholic church is St Francis Xavier's: http://tinyurl.com/27cv3p7 In view of the prominent headline, and in fairness to the parishioners of St Francis Xavier's, could you publish a correction?

Cheers and safe riding,
Mike Leon

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