It’s Sunday morning, 5.00 am. I’m aware of movement outside the door and Martin softly calling me that it’s time to rise and put the gazebo up – fortunately, I’ve had a grand total of about three hours sleep. This is Napier Art Deco time, and on Art Deco time, that’s a lie-in.
I set out to stake out a spot while Martin collected the trailer. We are the early die-hards that claim our places on the upper terrace at this hour, but we’re friendly – in all the years I’ve done it, I’ve only ever known the other early risers to be helpful and friendly. They’ll hold your place, offer a torch or a hand to hold up a bracket, and pass a few cheerful remarks on how mad we all are to be up at this hour. David had already kindly marked out our spot next to their Gazebo, and I gave him a hand while we were waiting. Martin had a gazebo of a rather different order to what we usually have – our old one, which had done good service for six Gatsby picnics, was demolished in the gale last year. But Martin had a plan, and had put some effort into the backdrop and our Arabian Nights theme – this Gazebo, once erected, was going nowhere. On the way back to the County (just a hop skip jump away), I was awake enough to enjoy the sunrise and the crisp, clean views of the ocean and town, and the gaggle of seagulls enjoying the Tom Parker fountain.
We, however, were slightly lackadaisical getting ready – I’d had a few more hours sleep, and Leigh and Jill had gone for supplies. When we were finally ready we took a few chairs down and some odds and ends, but not all the pieces we’d intended to use. Martin, meanwhile, had been putting in a fantastic effort to get everything just so, along with pieces loaned from Colin and Judy. As out of towners, there’s only so much we can cart with us – but the rugs and other props they loaned helped make it.
Soon we were relaxing in our Gazebo, watching the passing crowd and having friends join us. Suddenly an Air NZ air attendant was there, asking us if we wanted some of their iconic boiled sweets. Why yes, of course! And then, to our surprise and confusion, Dilhan Fernando of Dilmah Tea and a senior executive of Air New Zealand were suddenly in our gazebo, smiling and shaking hands, with a hoard of photographers snapping shots. In my first initial surprise, I thought how lovely it was for the sponsors to be going around to each gazebo to meet and greet the picnic goers. Then they were handing me a bag and rolling out a scroll declaring we were Merit Placegetters! We all turned to Martin, chief architect and designer of the gazebo, to come and take the prize (he was chatting away to the airline attendant and hadn’t realised what was going on). Dilhan assured me he was having an absolutely lovely time in Napier. Charmed Deco had struck again.
Finally we were able to get away for a promenade – I almost wish there hadn’t been quite so much going on, as there were so many fabulous gazebos and activities everywhere. The WW1 dressing stations, brainchild of Bex, the Egyptian Revival themed and other clever ideas. The Glory Days girls had a wonderful tent where one could buy a raffle ticket and have a fabulous Hendricks G&T, mixed by the very skilled and adept bar tenders who were part of the show. Charmed Deco wasn’t done with us yet – Hannah, who happens to collect teapots, won the raffle prize of a Hendricks tea set. I’d seen Eli the Deco Dog at a distance, and we ran into him along the sea front – a darling little Chihuahua, and so much more placid that the little beloved Chihuahua I owned once upon a time.
The Lower Terrace saw a lot of larger, more elaborate gazebos and a mix of cars and props, and it would be worth considering a move there next year – the atmosphere is good wherever you’re situated, but there’s a lot of energy now in the less formal grounds.
It all seemed to go by in a blur, over far too soon. Soon we were packing up and heading back to put our feet up briefly before the evening at the club.
I always enjoy this event, with one caveat – the music lets it down. Venue is perfect, the food has improved greatly over the years and works well as a relaxed end –of-even buffet, and the performer is talented…but unfortunately, the repertoire of songs played kills the Deco mood. There is plenty of entertaining and danceable 1920s and 30s music to get everyone tapping their toes – as one friend put it, we’re not ready to have our Deco buzz killed yet by 1970s popular hits.
So when a light rain fell, it was a blessing in disguise, as we gathered in the dining room and Sara treated us to a quick, light medley of 1920s and 30s popular hits and classics. It was like an electric charge through the atmosphere, and showed just what was possible with the right repertoire of songs. We sat and talked long until we were in danger of overstaying our welcome, and then a group of us retired to our suite in the County, reluctant to let the weekend end.
We sat long into the night, already planning next year, and talking wardrobe details and subjects both ridiculous and sublime. Fortunately Jill and I weren’t flying out until Tuesday, so we had a good Monday wind down – the traditional brunch with friends, a walk up to the Spirit of Napier with Iain before we bid him farewell on the next stage of his NZ travels, followed by a good couple of hours outside Churchill’s enjoying champagne, the company of the County’s owners, and friends who dropped in before we said goodbye to Sara. That night we had one final small gathering of Deco Decompression, and on Tuesday morning one last circle of the seafront. The last round of farewells were, fittingly, with Leigh and Martin. We flew out with our bookings at the County already arranged for next year, and plans beginning to germinate for where to go, what to do, and what to wear.