Eva Bradley: Making a meal of extraordinary

By Eva Bradley

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Eva with the HMNZS Wellington's second in charge.
Eva with the HMNZS Wellington's second in charge.

Being ordinary is, surprisingly, rather a lofty goal. It means all sorts of ho-hum things that don't grab headlines but when mashed together into one person's life add up to something quite extraordinary.

To be ordinary you first have to establish a benchmark. In the land of milk and honey where education and healthcare is free or heavily subsidised and we have a social safety net stretched thin but wide, a normal life is pretty darned fancy compared to what's ordinary right now in, say, Sudan or Syria.

But "ordinary" also relies on individual disposition, decisions, family situation and a fair bit of good luck and good health.

So it is with a massive sense of relief, gratitude and back-patting pride that I can sit back and look at my life and proudly claim to be fairly ordinary.

One could argue that "spectacular" might be better. But if you look at those who are; celebrities, athletes, captains of industry (Theo Spierings, you know I'm talking about you here), it's fair to say that their fame and fortune comes at a price and the higher you climb the further you have to fall and the more people willing to push you.

But a recent experience that involved a flapper dress, prawn cocktails and a Navy patrol vessel gave me a rare insight into the most ideal life to pursue: One that is on a daily basis blissfully, unenviably ordinary but on an occasional basis strangely fabulous.

As I was sitting at the studio editing wedding photos, an email arrived with an invitation. Not the garden-variety "BBQ at ours" sort, but the open-separately-as-an-attachment "You are cordially invited" kind.

In fact it was one better. It was "The Commanding Officer and the Officers and Ships Company of HMNZS Wellington invite ..." sort.

It wasn't just lunch. It was luncheon. I have no idea what the difference is except adding an "eon" on the end made it sound infinitely more sophisticated.

For reasons I can only presume have to do with my frequent penchant for talking about myself and my (usually quite normal) adventures, I found myself escorted by security to the gang plank of one of the New Zealand Navy's off-shore patrol vessels, where I was met by an officer and a gentleman (both the same person, you'll be amazed to note, since even one is a rare find these days) and taken directly to the bridge.

For the next two hours, I felt anything but ordinary.

I got to sit in the gunner's chair and hold the joystick (disappointingly normal, not even overly large), and I finally learned what "luncheon" was, as predicted, just like lunch but with extra trimmings like sorbet to clear the palette between courses and a requirement for knowing which fork to use and when.

Most interestingly of all, I sat beside the dashing Commanding Officer and learned about the role our Navy plays in keeping New Zealand safe, and it wasn't all-guns-blazing like I'd imagined.

In fact, among some of the more interesting stories, the Lieutenant Commander told me about life on the high seas involved diplomacy and strengthening relations with politically powerful allies. In short, more luncheons and fewer armed combat scenarios.

I'm sure the most fabulous adventures involving the HMNZS Wellington are the ones that can't be told to nosey columnists but regardless, the experience prompted me to reconsider my previous view of New Zealand's military generally, and the Navy specifically.

In an age when nuclear power could destroy a nation in the blink of an eye, the impressive guns and floating war ships are window dressing to what's really important: The ability to make friends and influence people.

In short, it's about what goes down during luncheon on out-of-the ordinary days.

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