To say that my dad is slightly pessimistic, is like saying that the American government is slightly corrupt, or male Korean pop stars are slightly effeminate. To say that my dad is a little resolute in his thinking, is like saying the Israeli's are a little trigger happy or the South African's are a little racist.
That is to say, my dad is a pessimistic, resolute prick at times. But he's funny and I love him, as do most people - and that's why he gets away with it (usually).
The Mittons are on a tour of New Zealand in a campervan. Now if that is not a recipe for disaster I don't know what is! In fact there are far too many incidents to document in one story, so here is a quick summary of some of the events that occurred in the run up to us arriving at Te Ana-au Caves (where this story plays out).
Day 1 - My parents emerge late at the airport arrivals gate, where I am waiting for them. Mum is flummoxed because she has lost her sleeping bag on the carousel (never to be retrieved). By 8 o'clock that evening, the sleeping bag incident is irrelevant, as she realises that she has left her travel bag containing passports, air tickets and $5000 NZ in cash - on the bus. Amazingly we get it back. The holiday continues in similar vain. During the 4 week period, we almost kill an endangered species bird (by feeding it a jelly bean), we break the campervan windscreen, leave the porta toilet at a beauty spot by mistake, crash the campervan 4 times (all of which are worthy of their own stories), and for the grand finale, our camper van gets broken into, whilst we bathe at Hotwater Bay. This time we lose the aforementioned travel bag forever, including the passports, air tickets and around $3000 NZ in cash. My dad also gets his rucksack stolen and spends much of the remaining part of the holiday wearing my mum's clothing - including her tights. He seems a little too comfortable with this situation if I am to be honest.
We arrive on the banks of Te-Ana-au Lake late in the afternoon. Like most of New Zealand, the scenery is magnificent. However, the scenery is not our primary reason for being here. We are here to see glow worms. Or should I say, my mum and I are here to see glow worms. My dad, meanwhile seems resolute in proving that they do not really exist and are just a ploy by the New Zealand tourist board to get people to part with their hard earned cash (We're pretty good at that without an excuse). As we wait for the boat to take us through the glow worm caves, we sit in the cafe/museum, and educate ourselves on these most peculiar of insects. After much evaluation of the photo's and information available to him, dad comes up with his theory, which he feels obliged to share with the rest of the eagerly awaiting customers.
"They're not real you know", he informs everybody. "They spray paint the cavern roof with some kind of phospherant spray", he interjects. He says this with such conviction that the people around start to take note, and half believe the pessimistic dribble that he spouts. The kids faces drop, as if they have just found out that Santa Claus is really their dad. They turn to their parents, for confirmation of any truth in my dad's theory. The parents scowl at my dad and try to convince their kids that is indeed not the case. They have just forked out a small fortune to take their kids through one of natures magical kingdoms and some lunatic is adamant on disproving that the phenomenon even exists. When my dad returns to our table, he attempts to sit on an invisible chair (which a disgruntled parent is currently sitting on)and he consequently crashes to the floor. This is met by more than a few chortles around the room (he is to have a sore arse for the rest of the holiday).
Eventually, the boat, which is going to propel us through the cavern, arrives. We are assigned a guide, who helps us with our life jackets and gives us a run down on the do's and don’ts of our trip.
There is an air of authority to the guide's voice as he delivers his speech. Most people listen intently and nod their heads in agreement, at what he has to say. My dad however, was never the type to abide by the rules, especially when he has got it into his head that the glow worms don't even exist. He turns to me and my mum, and tells us that this is nonsense, "They're only saying it to cover their tracks", he rather loudly informs us. Once again, The Mitton's become the focus of everybody else's agitation
Here are the rules.
Rule 1. Please do not touch formations. Stalactites and stalagmites take a long time to form. They are easily discoloured by people touching them and the more fragile formations can break. Please help us protect the beauty of the cave.
Rule 2.. To protect the cave atmosphere and for the enjoyment and consideration of others, we ask that you do not smoke in the cave.
All photography is strictly forbidden. This includes non-flash photography and video.
Rule 3.. Keep quiet at all times, especially in the boat and on the jetties.
The 4th and final rule is relayed to us in such a serious manner, that only a fool would not obey it.
Rule 4. Under no circumstances must anybody attempt to touch the glow worms.
With our life jackets on and these rules firmly established, we head off into to the darkness, our guide pulling us, by aid of an overhead rope. Inside the cavern, it is pitch black and I mean pitch black. I place my hand in front of what I believe to be my face - I see nothing. In combination with the silence and cold, this leads to quite an eerie trip through the cavern, until we reach the magical kingdom of the glow worm caves.
If you didn't know better, you may think that you are in an observatory or a planetarium, looking out at a galaxy of twinkling stars. A feast of celestial activity, metres above our heads. Indeed, this is what the Maori's first thought when they discovered the caves. I can feel the gasps of pleasure and wonderment as the others on the boat take in this fantastic spectacle. For the next few minutes, our boat silently cuts its way through the water, as we all admire one of nature's treats. Everybody, that is except my dad, who it transpires has been hatching a plan.
Suddenly, I become aware of one particular glow worm which has broken away from the cluster. In my head, it's a breakaway planet, floating in space. It's incandescent glow, drawing me in, entrancing me, like I have never been entranced before. However, with 5 seconds, I am to be rudely snapped out of my hypnosis, as the vessel that protects us from the icy cavern waters, shudders violently, first to the left and then to the right. In a split second, the tranquility of the cave is shattered by the extended vocal chords of the tour guide as he booms the following sentence,
"You stupid man, I told you not to touch the glow worms"
Of course, my mum and I, and all the boat, as it turns out - know straight away who is responsible for this sudden interlude in proceedings. With a mixture of fear and embarrassment I slowly turn my head to the left, where my father is sitting.
The sheer darkness of the cave is penetrated by an enormous beam of light, at the end of which my father's ridiculous grinning face is illuminated. The torch beam, swiftly moves to the left, to reveal my dad's hand with a clearly defined glow worm balanced on the end of his finger. The whole scene is not too dissimilar from E.T, when he tries to phone home. Once again, the silence of the cavern is broken by the tutting of a boatful of disgruntled customers.
My dad responds with the only defence that he has left in his arsenal of stubbornness.
"I told you that they are not real", he whispers, with the conviction of a battered housewife.
Our pleasure trip terminated early, our party head back for the jetty. The serenity of the cave, is now punctuated by customer's complaints, my dad's whispering denials and me and my mum's frenetic giggles.