Monday, January 29, 2007

The Asylum Diaries (AKA The Ryan Saga)

I think I'll cover the days spent in the asylum as one entry. I didn't do a great deal of sightseeing while I was there. It was more about simple pleasures, bumping into old acquaintances and one "big news" story that tended to dominate events. So, here goes:

Wednesday 24th January 2007 to Saturday 26th January 2007

We had had a phone call from Ryan on Tuesday, saying that Emelie was getting the bus to Dunedin (from Te Anau) on Wednesday, whilst he was going back to work in Christchurch in order to make some money to cover his car repairs (it was more expensive than he anticipated). He asked us if we would mind picking her up from the station. We didn't and just assumed that things between them had cooled somewhat. Not really all that surprising for Mathias and I - things had begun to seem a bit strained in Milford Sound.

After a game of tennis and a cycle ride in the morning on Wednesday (sunny but cool), we picked her up and went back to the Asylum. Some other people had arrived at the hostel, three of whom I had met previously (Penny [Taunton] and Dave from Christmas in the Cat's Pyjamas and Chris [Bournemouth] from the Lion's Den in Coromandel). It's still a small world and always rather nice to see familiar faces, especially being so far from home.

We all went to see the penguins further up the coast in the evening, and thoroughly enjoyed such a close encounter with these amusing little creatures (it was bloody freezing, mind).

It was the next day that things took a turn for the strange (as you might expect for a lunatic asylum). I had a quiet day of washing, internet-messing and general lounging, while a few of the others drove into Dunedin to go to the Art Gallery. Having already been I decided that a repeat visit wasn't necessary. Meanwhile, yet more people arrived who I had met previously. This time it was Faye and Paul from The Pickled Parrot in Paihia. Given that it was such a small hostel it seemed a bit weird to recognise almost everyone staying there. It made it seem all the more homely and it was great to sit in the large open plan living area (complete with lovely wood-burner, huge palm tree [which touched the ceiling and must have been about 4m wide] and nice comfy sofas) chatting with the other guests.

Upon their return that evening Emelie discovered that her credit card was missing. Initial thoughts of carelessness soon turned towards thoughts of "slimy" Ryan being the prime suspect. The more we thought about it, the more things didn't add up. A bit of amateur detective work the following morning (before we went to the police station to report the matter) revealed that he had two different number plates (one given to one of the hostels we stayed in and another to the garage where the car was being repaired). The wonderful power of hindsight also made me realise just why he had suggested I move from my tent into the spare bed in their dorm. Luckily, I never gave him the satisfaction of doing that - even being cold in my tent was preferable to sharing a room with him. So he wasn't just being friendly after all. And thank goodness I always keep my credit cards attached to my hip.

Anyway, Emelie cancelled her card immediately and discovered that someone had already used it to the tune of $2000. Ryan seemed to be a fast-worker in more ways than one. It's fair to say that I never particularly liked the fellow, but I must admit it didn't cross my mind that he would be a bona fide criminal.

The police (in a quaint local station - talk about Heartbeat - this must be where NZ gets it reputation of being like the UK in the 1950s!) needed documentary evidence so this meant further phone calls back to Sweden and 2 subsequent visits. I think Emelie was glad to have some moral support and someone who could help explain events in plain English (it must be really hard doing something like that in a second language). In the meantime Mathias also discovered that he also had a credit card missing. And this is where it starts to get interesting...

It turns out that when Ryan offered to drive us to the starting point of our afternoon walk in Milford Sound, it was just so that he could have a good rummage through the stuff in their room. Somewhat foolishly, Mathias had left his spare credit card in his bag, which was in the room, and this must have been when Ryan took it. He had clearly told us all a pack of lies and I'm just glad that, being the old cynic I am, I hadn't trusted him from the outset (although I did feel a bit foolish not having suspected the criminal element earlier). What was really shocking, though, is that Ryan had been using Mathias' card to pay for things that him and Emelie did together in Te Anau. He even checked into the hostel in Te Anau using Mathias' surname. Either he was looking for the thrill of living so close to the edge, or was too stupid to cover his tracks. It's a shame that Emelie had been naive enough to trust him, but at least there was now a whole dossier of evidence against him. I myself was just glad that he had never paid for anything on my behalf, as I would have hated to think that I had benefited from his ill-gotten gains (we reckon he probably had a whole wallet full of other people's cards).

Another interesting aspect emerged from a further spot of amateur detective work. When we had been in Queenstown the hostel we were staying at had offered Ryan a job, so on the off chance that he had gone back there to take it, Emelie phoned the hostel to try and ascertain his whereabouts. And who should answer the phone? Yup, you guessed it. It would appear that our Ryan isn't the sharpest tool in the box, even if he is a pretty convincing con-man and actor. Naturally, Emelie hung up straight away so as not to give the game away. At this point it felt like I was in some sort of dodgy detective drama!

The police were pleased with the level of information we were able to give them (prime suspect, lists of fraudulent transactions, number-plates, photographs of car and owner, likely whereabouts of the criminal). Indeed, it is probably the most interesting case the local bobby has had to deal with in quite a while! So, now we could leave it with them and it would be up to them to make a conviction. They took our contact details and said we would probably be informed about any outcome (after several weeks/months of the relevant bureaucracy, naturally).

Aside from the visits to the police station (an interesting sociological exercise, and good coffee and cakes courtesy of the very friendly policeman), I really enjoyed staying at the asylum lodge. I played tennis several times, went to the local beach, collected mussels. I also spent quite a bit of time lounging in front of the fantastic wood-burner, which despite it being in the middle of summer was very much needed! It was also nice to catch up with the various old (well, recently old) acquaintances, finding out where they've been, what they've been up to and what they would recommend (the latter taken with a pinch of salt, as ever!). Still, despite the fact that it was a really nice place, what with all the raking-over of the previous few days (and looking into the mind of a criminal!), it was emotionally quite draining, and I was glad to be moving on up the coast and leaving this particular little episode behind. I think I have learnt to be even more wary of people (a bit of a shame as I am probably already cynical enough) and I suppose I have had a good bit of insight into the mind of a criminal (which you don't get everyday). Interesting, certainly, but not something I shall be wanting to experience again in a hurry.

Sunday 28th January 2007

So, it's back on the road again... After our final visit to the police station (the policeman thought it would be useful if I also provided a statement, given that I wasn't a victim and therefore not so emotionally involved in the case - I was happy to do so if would help to convict the scumbag).

We drove up the coast to Oamaru, stopping at the Moeraki Boulders en route. I was expecting massive lumps of rock, but in actual fact they are quite small and you can step up onto them quite easily. Still, it was moderately interesting and nice to walk along the beach in the fresh air (even if the leaden sky and cold wind made it seem like winter back at home).

Oamaru seemed quite promising. Nice hostel, nice sandstone architecture (well, for New Zealand) and more free internet!

Monday 29th January 2007

It was a lovely sunny day in Oamaru. We walked around the port, the historic part of town, the lovely gardens (just like England) and went to the cheese factory (although didn't feel comfortable enough to taste without buying).

It was so nice to see the sun again and actually feel its warmth out of the wind. I think this is why I like Oamaru so much. It's a bit of a funny little town, but the combination of blue skies, the warm glow of the sun on the lovely sandstone (most buildings in NZ tend to be wooden/corrugated iron affairs) and the friendly atmosphere of the hostel have given me a very good impression of the place.

And we didn't even see the penguins which is the town is famous for (apparently they don't come in until it gets dark and then you have to pay $15 dollars of the privilege of peering out into the blackness). And we had already seen some before, so none of us were desperate for further sightings.

Tuesday 30th January 2007

Well, we are finally there. I am actually writing this on the day of the entry. And today brings interesting news. We had a phone call from our friendly local policeman, with news of Ryan Slimy-Scumbag-Thief. Or rather Michael Something-Or-Other. In fact, he had a Maori surname and was wanted by the police for a missed court-appearance. He was born in the UK and grew up there for part of his life (hence the English accent), but everything else was a web of lies.

There had been an altercation yesterday at the hostel in Queenstown, where he had been working, after he was accused of stealing some money from someone there (surprise!). The police had been called, and after a bit of detective work to link various threads of the story, his true identity was revealed and he was arrested for both the previous misdemeanor he was wanted for and also for the fact that he was driving a stolen car (I'm not particularly happy about have been driven around in it, but there you go). They are still compiling the evidence for the credit card thefts, but will be hitting him with that too, once they have enough on him. And meanwhile he should be held in custody while he awaits sentencing. So that's a wrap. And time for us all to move on.

Further good news (for Mathias and Emelie at least) was they have managed to sell their car, which means we will be getting the bus up to Christchurch later today. So that's where I'll leave it for now. About to eat pasta with pumpkin and bacon, to try and reduce the load we have to car to and from the bus stop later.

James xx

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