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Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category

Shredding the pow

I’ve recently had to take up snowboarding.

No, no, it’s TERRIBLE. The Irish aren’t genetically optimised for skimming over snow at high speeds. No. We’re built more for kicking soggy peat while extremely drunk. When I was growing up, skiing was an activity exclusively pursued by posh people or wankers. Or posh wankers. And of course, snowboards hadn’t been invented in those days.

Then I fell for a Kiwi and, in addition to making bacon and egg pie, another requirement was learning to negotiate snow.

I chose snowboarding because it was sooo obviously waaay cooler than skiing. (Note: had I been 10 years younger this might well have been quantifiably accurate.)

At the time we were living in Dubai, so I learned to snowboard at the indoor ski slope freshly erected in the middle of the desert. The place was always packed with Arab teenagers who combined a maximum of – let’s call it – enthusiasm, and a minimum of any discernible skill. Every time we visited, there’d be someone staggering off the slope with a gash across the forehead and their brains flopping out; or you’d see the blood splattered across the snow. It was like the aftermath of an Orc battle . . . or, you know, the living room after I’ve got the kids to bed. Anyway, it wasn’t what you might call a nurturing learning environment; and when I broke my right wrist I was just thankful it wasn’t my head.

For more than a decade, I have successfully avoided snapping on a pair of bindings. But then we moved to Wanaka and Finn’s primary school runs a five-week ski program during Term 3. We enrolled Finn for a cost of approximately $200 which included his lift pass and lessons. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and I reluctantly put my name down as Finn’s secondary (in this instance) parent in case Husband was unable to go due to breaking all his limbs in a chairlift incident.

The last time I was at Cardrona, I ended up in the resort’s Medical Centre with a busted knee. In fairness, I was nursing a supermarket injury at the time so it wasn’t fully attributable to snowboarding . . . anyway: more context. The second week, when Husband asked if I wanted to come along, I thought I should so I could conclusively say, “Look, it’s obvs not my jam, but you can’t say I didn’t try.”

I was gratified that my snowboard boots still fit 15 years on, and I dug out my late ‘90s ski jacket and the pair of ski pants from the Oamaru Opshop featuring an absolutely snorting camel-toe effect. When we got to the ski field, I was gutted to find that lift passes and lessons for accompanying adults on the School Ski Programme were half price, since that removed any remaining excuse at my disposal.

“What you need a lesson for?” scoffed Husband with his own unique brand of crazed confidence. “It’ll come back to you. Like riding a bike.”

I reminded him how riding a bike after a 15 year hiatus went for me, and signed up for a lesson. Our instructor Carlo had a deep-rooted antipathy towards skiiers. “Dey strappa ona a paira skiis and da brain it stopsa,” he announced happily to the ski field at large.

The lesson was simple stuff: how to do up your bindings; how to skate; go uphill with one boot strapped; use the heel edge; brake. Y’all know how I hate giving any quarter to Husband’s credibility, but it WAS coming back to me (although not like riding a fucking bike, at all).

Then Carlo moved onto boarding on toe edge, which has always been my particular downfall whether literally or figuratively (take your pick). “To mova onto your toe edge you just poka out your tummy simple,” he declared. When he demonstrated it did indeed look well easy – and in any case, I need no encouragement to stick out my stomach.

However, it had little to no effect on anything apart from intensifying cameltoe.

Undaunted, when the lesson finished I took myself off up the learner slope to practise my falling leaf and PEEPS I totally crushed it, embodying a world-class aerodynamic fucking leaf, floating gracefully yet purposefully through the air before settling on level ground with immutable precision.

When I got home that night, after buying a second-hand pair of wrist-guards, I searched YouTube for ‘beginner snowboarding’, ‘how to toe slide’ and ‘how to turn’. Well, I was a fucking genius before I even hit the slope thanks to my man Kevin from snowboardprocamp. The following week, over and over, I tramped up the learner slope (there was usually a 20 minute wait for the conveyor) and practiced basic exercises.

I started saying things like, “I was totally shredding it yo but stacked it in a yard sale blatting over some gnarly mougs dude,” and “Woah dude see how much air I caught? Sick!”

(Sorry- can I just- take a moment to discuss how the word ‘sick’ appears to have entered parlance as a positive description. I mean, what?! Have you seen the stuff? It’s horrid – and also highly corrosive. I’m waiting for the word ‘deadly’ to make a comeback. It was a great word: implying something was so awesome it could POTENTIALLY BE FATAL. Bring back deadly!)

Husband is particularly unimpressed that I now address him as ‘dude’. Also that I’ve acquired about five ski jackets off Trademe. And I’m all: “But look! It’s a limited edition embossed Roxy jacket with diamante detailing!” and he’s all: “Yeah, shame it’s about three sizes too big.”

I scored a second-hand snowboard, and replaced most of my ski kit the same way. Any time I venture online my browser is besieged with adverts for ski pants on sale – although so far I haven’t found anything superior to the camel-toe pants. Guess I’ll have to keep looking.

 

Checking out the Snow Farm

 

I’d love to end this post carving down the slope on a high note, but Husband is rethwarting my ambition to Dominate on a snowboard. He has a history of twiddling around on skiis smack bang in the middle of my line; or asking me open questions while I’m negotiating tricky turns. Here’s some videographic evidence, from- wait a moment and I’ll tell you exactly- April 2006:-

 

 

Last Thursday that blasted man – you might know him better as Husband – persuaded me to come down what, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to describe as an expert run, in a whiteout. I couldn’t even see the trail flags. When I nearly flew off a steep bank near the top, I suspected I was on an express route to Destination Fucked – although I guess it wasn’t that express since it took me an hour and a half to descend. I skidded down most of the mountain at an extreme degree of lop-sidedness; several splats later, when I face-planted and slid several metres on my chin, I actually fucking CRIED.

I thought I’d pulled a muscle in my leg but it turned out to be just bruising, as per my arse – and the rest of me.

So it’s back to the learner slope for me – and the doghouse for DUDE

Invincible canine spirit

Mm, pikelets with jam.

Sorry, got distracted there for a moment.

So recently it’s been all about The Rise of the Asset: gestation, eating, food, mealtimes, and how about some cream with that? WHY, DON’T MIND IF I DO.

I’m sure many of you have wondered what’s happened to The Jedster, that invincible canine spirit who once dominated this blog, striding across the posts like a colossus.

I’ve been literarily neglecting my dog, and I feel bad. After all, Jed has been a part of this family for nearly three years – and we have no idea whether we’ll even LIKE The Asset. After all, how do we know The Asset will be able to lick his own arse or retrieve tennis balls from dense undergrowth? And I can’t imagine The Asset lying under my desk contentedly nibbling my toes.

We’ll see.

This post is an attempt to redress the oversight.

One of our preferred walks used to be a forest track circling Jeep and Meep’s property. It’s a short walk, but afforded something of a workout if we negotiated The Hen’s Beak: a savage one-way 2:1 incline descending almost completely to the Hauraki Valley.

We haven’t walked the track for some time mainly because, at five months pregnant, there’s no way I could negotiate The Hen’s Beak. At least, I could probably make my way down it in the same happy manner as a beach ball; but Andrew would need a system of ropes and pulleys – or a rescue helicopter – to get me back up. The track has also suffered some erosion over the winter.

“How agile are you feeling?” asked Husband eyeing a tree fallen across the path.

The correct response would be: demonstrating all the lithe grace and elegance of a constipated rhino charging across wet sand, but,

“Like a gazelle. Watch!” I said, stepping ponderously over a knee-high twig with some dangerous-looking leaves. “Huh? Huh?”

“Impressive.”

I’d forgotten the track features little in the way of water for Jed. Charging after his tennis ball he covers at least ten times more ground than us, at about twenty times the speed, so he falls into any available creek for a big slurp and wallow. During the winter months, there’s a large puddle at the end of Jeep and Meep’s forest track, but we’ve had over a week of sunshine and presumed it would be dry.

It wasn’t:-

Jed after executing a triple-roll pike turn.

If you’re wondering whether that mud smelled much, OH MY POOR SWOLLEN THROBBING NOSTRILS IT STANK.

Where did you think that sentence was going?

Shame on you.

The horse’s mouth: more than just a mantelpiece ornament

The inspiration for the following conversation came from a ball I’d thrown for the dog, which hit a tree about four feet away and rebounded back onto the path. 

Husband: Well, you’ve got more strength in your throwing, but your accuracy hasn’t improved much.

Me: It has too! My accuracy HAS improved.

Husband: Ok.

Me: Don’t say, ‘Ok’, as in: ‘Ok, I’ll magnanimously let her cling onto her pathetic little dreams’.

Me: I will not be patronised!

Husband: Ok: that’s shit! You sling the ball all over the place; most of the time you have NO idea where it’s going to go-

Me: Have I hit you in the head recently?

Husband: Well. No.

Thus Husband grudgingly agreed my throwing might have improved.

However, I’m now wondering how many times I aimed for his head and missed.

Cold blooded

Ever since Helen’s visit, I have aspired to take up alfresco swimming again. Last July, our mutual friend Chantal’s English Channel crossing further inspired me.

This inspiration generally takes the form of occasionally looking wistfully out the window and imagining myself cresting the ocean like a colossus (a little one).

“You get used to the temperature,” Chantal advised. “You build up resistance.”

Now, I would never call one of my best friends a cold-blooded liar*. However, when Chantal said this, she broke out in a light sweat and stuttered slightly, while simultaneously looking up and slightly to the left instead of making healthy eye contact. She also scratched her nose repeatedly and got unnaturally defensive when I said, “Really?” (Admittedly I was pointing in a manner that could have been construed as aggressive at the time.)

So anyway, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

As the weather has grown increasingly clement, I have been inspired to revivify** my threats to get snappy with a swimming cap.

The sea has looked gorgeous recently, decked out in a dazzling array of shades from kingfisher blue to aquamarine to a shade of green closely reminiscent of nuclear snot – which might not sound that inviting but looks AMAZING. Then, a few days ago, the sun emerged to evaporate any lingering excuses against relaunching my bid to master the sea in a bikini.

My first effort fell short of resounding success – and it’s not as if I was over-extending.

“Just a dip,” I briefed my towel-handler, “to acclimatize myself.”

Although I strode buoyantly into the sea, my confidence faltered when the water reached the crotchline. I spent a good five minutes standing around screaming, while Husband shouted encouragement from the shore (“It can’t be THAT cold!” “What do you need to feel your feet for?” “JED, FETCH NIAMHIE! FETCH IT HERE! GOOD BOY!”).

At least the experience can’t be described as a complete wash-out – if only because that would imply some level of immersion.

The following day, I was determined to make progress. The plan was as follows: get straight in, short and sharp, no splashing about, execute minimum five strokes.

“Face in water?” asked Husband, anxious to establish the project parameters.

“Yep,” I said grimly.

This time there was still screaming, but less of it and more muted; and I swam twenty four strokes (face in water).

The biggest problem – ignoring actually getting into the water in the first place – is a pretty much spontaneous headache when I submerge my face.

Evidently, I don’t have a fat enough head.

I’m not sure how to address that.

However, this morning, I managed sixty strokes AND kicked a crab in the pleopod. At this rate, I’ll be swimming across to Wellington for a light lunch within two months.

* Although the cold-blooded bit potentially explains how Chantal spent six months leading up to her Channel bid training in the North Sea and greater London lidos without succumbing to hypothermia. OR, she may be part-penguin.

** Can you believe ‘revivify’ is a valid word? I KNOW! I can hardly handle such extremes of excitement in one day; it might have to be spread out over the week.

This is what happens when you just press it

I’ve been meaning to post these videos of The Barfster for a while. I’m not sure when they were taken. The first could have been any time beyond six months ago. My father’s unwitting debut as home video director would either have been last December, or January of this year.

When we lived up Opanuku Road, we often walked the Ferndown Track due to its accessibility.

This first video is of Jed in one of his watering holes: a big puddle in the first creek along the track. There was always water in various states ranging from flowing to stinking viscosity, depending on the time of year.

Jed’s ritual has remained the same since he was a puppy:-

1/ Engage all fours for maximum impact with water
2/ Plunge around in order to identify ideal flop spot
3/ Sideways roll
4/ Stretch out back legs
5/ Carefully spit out ball & secure under front paws
6/ Blow bubbles

My father’s video shows Jed in his all-time-favourite mud-hole (rated according to various criteria, including but not limited to: mud quantity, depth, grunge, olfactory persistence, long term stinkeability) further up the track, and demonstrates the denouement:-

7/ Retrieve ball from under front paws
8/ Make like swamp monster
9/ Shake mud all over everything within the vicinity ≤10m

Late breaking pics

Sitting here in Port Underwood on a sullen day, with mist shrouding the peninsula and the sea a chilly slate-grey, it is hard to believe that these photos were taken just over a month ago, in Ireland coming into summer.

All pictures are courtesy of the Wednesday Walking Group’s photographer, El Bruno.

I would like to point out that I did not buy the t-shirt, and only wear it for its sentimental value because a dear friend gave it to me. Also because I don't have any more. MarkJ, can you get me another? Preferably one that doesn't inspire strangers to approach me in the street and whisper, "I'm totally with you, that Angerlina Jolly is a slut." In fact, a t-shirt that would compel strangers to buy me coffee would be ideal. Thanks.

In addition to being a photographer, El Bruno is also a Frustrated Rock God - but then aren't we all?

 

Waterfall off the Old Kenmare Road: This is me contemplating the beauty of nature, whether my t-shirt covers my arse, and whether it matters since I'm sitting down.

  

The Wednesday Walkers (subset) L-R: Ann, Claudia, Niamh, Eileen.

I'm not sure I was on this walk, but I like this picture because you see the dude on the rock? The one with the ski-pole and two false hips? That's my dad; and I love the way he's perched up there, because that is so completely HIM.

 

L-R: Eileen, Claudia and Dad

I carried the bag

We’ve had a couple of spectacular crispy days here, so I gradually reintroduced Andrew to exercise by hauling him up Mt Robertson on his second day home. Mt Robertson is about 1030m high, and a four and a half hour round trip from Port Underwood Road at perspiring pace. That includes a half-hour stop for a packed lunch.

Andrew: <mumble, mumble> the bag?

Me: Well, it’s a bit late since I’ve already carried it all the way up-

Andrew: No, I said, will I DO UP the bag?

Me: Oh. I thought you said, will I TAKE the bag?

Andrew: No.

Me: Right.

Jed takes a bath. Note the ice on the right.

 

Sometimes being brown is a bonus - for instance, it camouflages the mud. If you can't make it out, Jed is absolutely filthy here.

 

At the top I distracted Andrew by asking him what altitude it was. Then I ran around naked.

 

When I say, 'Smile', this is what happens - which is why it doesn't happen a lot.

The dapper dog about town

Marlborough is colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra doing push ups in the snow. It’s so cold, local lawyers have their hands in their own pockets. The other day we met a brass monkey looking for a welder.

Ok, well, maybe not THAT cold.

A tit bit nipply is all.

Undaunted by the chill, Jed and I still enjoy our daily walks. I wear about ten layers with gloves, a scarf and beanie. The temperature doesn’t deter Jed from leaping into every mud hole in his path.

When we get home, I throw Jed into his paddling pool and give him a cursory wash – or at least loosen the larger chunks of mud. Then I towel him down, remove my boots, collect his foodbowl, fill it; then shower while Jed dines.

We had a late walk yesterday and when we got home it was dark and cold. Jed was shivering by the time he’d finished eating. He was completely uninspired when I turned the hairdryer on him, so I turned up the heater and within half an hour Jed had reverted to balmy bliss. 

Today we found the perfect solution:-

This is what the dapper dog about town will be wearing this season.

When Jed was a puppy, Her Goatiness made this woolly waistcoat for him for duck-shooting season. It was so temperate in Auckland he never had occasion to wear it, but I think we will be seeing a lot more of this:-

Not many dogs can pull off this look.

Jed works it.

Pathetic

Two days after getting home, I decided to bike into Hakana Bay.

I disregarded the fact that I had done no exercise for the previous month, apart from climbing into bed. It’s a 10km round-trip to Hakana Bay with 800ft straight up or straight down, depending on whether you’re pedalling furiously or frantically braking respectively; I also considered this largely irrelevant.

Apart from a brutal uphill sprint at the start, the rest of the leg to Hakana Bay is more a trade-off between setting your brake pads on fire, or doing a starfish off the top of a cliff. Despite these tense negotiations, arriving at Hakana Bay I felt PUMPED.

Shame I couldn’t say the same about the back tyre.

After a brief stop to inflate and let Jed roll around in mud, we struck out for home. About 200ft up the road, I thought my lungs were going to explode. 400ft on, I understood what dying must feel like.

I dismounted the bike, pumped up the back tyre again, and started pushing. I was averaging a rate of about 2km per day when, at the hairpin bend overlooking the valley, we came across three loggers.

I stopped whimpering and paused for a chat because, you know, I’m friendly. Also because I wasn’t sure whether walking another step was biologically feasible. Also the back tyre was flat again.

Jed tried to intimidate the loggers by barking; the strategy had limited success because they thought he was a giant poodle. He should stick to farting. In a bid to win him over, one of the loggers threw Jed a biscuit.

Watching my dog pounce on the biscuit, I realized I was starving. Ravenous enough to claw that biscuit out of my dog’s jaws and wolf it down myself, except that Jed swallowed too fast.

“Can I have one too?” I asked with barely contained drool.

The Irish amongst you will appreciate how hungry I must have been. In Ireland, asking for a biscuit is a cultural taboo on the same level as pointing at strangers, or necrophilia.

Obviously taken aback, the logger said, “Aw yeh.” He proffered the pack. “Take a handful.”

I momentarily considered snatching the entire packet and making a run for it except that I could barely walk, never mind RUN. Also, there were three of them, and just me and a giant poodle.

In the end, I thought taking any more than two would be rude.

Tie me kangaroo down

On Thursday, my father and I launched an expedition on Carauntoohil. We didn’t quite make the top. Can I blame it on my father? No wait – it was the weather. Yes, that’s more loyal. Also, potentially more true.

Thick cloud rested on the top of all the Reeks, although it lifted marginally as the morning wore on. A fairly serious track has been cleared from the farmhouse at the head of the Black Valley and we followed it to Curraghmore Lake. We turned back halfway up the slope to the saddle ridge linking Carrauntoohil with Cnoc na Péiste. You might say we were vanquished by dangerously violent sheep.

Also I fell off a stile.

Dad gets ready

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Hello? Is that the horoscope hotline? I'd like to check my horoscope for today, specifically as related to heights. Oh, you don't- hey, is this a recording?

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Big boulder

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Deadlyjelly negotiates the rockery

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Resting up at Curraghmore Lake

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Dad leaning against Rock Art

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Looking down into the Bridia Valley

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Rolf Harris

The Fish Whisperer

I caught dinner yesterday!

Half an hour before low tide, Helen and I tramped down the path past the neighbours’ house. We were armed with two hand casters, weights and hooks, a baggie of rancid squid, two bottles of extra chilled beer, and (optimistically) a knife and pair of pliers.

The hand casters cost $6 from Warehouse, which is currently offering discounts on fishing gear. We decided on squid bait after trying the Berkley Gulp! Soft Bait Lime Tiger Glow 5 Inch the other day. These are rubber fish in an artificial solution that smells like cod vomit. When we attached the artificial bait to the hook and tossed the line off the back of a kayak, we didn’t get a SNIFF, never mind a nibble. Not even one, folks.

Fish are canny.

On the positive side, the rancid squid was cheaper and evidently more effective than fake bait. On the negative, there is more risk of infection when you accidentally spear your finger with the hook and affix the squid to the unfortunate digit.

I’m not sure about Helen – who looked entirely competent – but it was my first time hand-casting. As demonstrated by Helen, the line is supposed to unspool in a graceful arc. Mine kept wrapping around my wrist or catching on the reel and yanking the weight back towards my face at high speed, usually right between the eyes. Once I wrapped the line around my neck, collecting the weight with my ear (not recommended; do not try this at home etc).

Despite my best efforts to terrify the fish away, I must be something of a Fish Whisperer, because I had a bite on my third cast. Although he was only a tiddler and broke free before I could haul him to the surface.

After about an hour, I felt something munch the bait with more vigour than seaweed. I jigged the line and – most likely by pure chance – the hook pierced his upper lip cleanly.

Neither Helen nor I could identify our catch: he was only 33cm long but a bit of a fattie; dull grey with brownish vertical stripes; rounded, stubby little tail; two long, thin fangs; and bits of brain matter strewn about his head after Helen bludgeoned him to death with a beer bottle.

After we got him home, we attempted to trace the fish’s provenance via the vast resource of the Internet. It took almost as long as it did to catch him, mainly because Fishingmag’s species identification table is ordered alphabetically. Just my luck Walter turned out to be a wrasse. Bastards.

Apparently, many Real Anglers consider wrasse annoying and won’t eat them because they’re too easy to catch. Or something. Since I’m not a Real Angler, I was undaunted. In any case, there was nothing else for dinner.

Husband claimed he was too busy to gut Walter which completely contravenes the conditions of our relationship. Husband claimed he was ‘working’, although he should be able to give all that up now that I have shown I can Provide for us.

After I gutted Walter, I roasted him with garlic, lemon, white wine, and fresh basil. Tonight his remains will be honoured with a fish stew.

Greeting spring with a good wallow

There are hints of spring in the air (for the purposes of argument, I am choosing to ignore the rain dashing itself against the windows). But recently, the weather has been so much more clement, to the extent that we opened the bedroom window the last couple of nights and complained about the heat.

On Friday, after lunch with Husband’s grandparents, we went up to the summit of Mount Eden. The sky was a flawless blue, the breeze gently playful. Husband cracked out the sunglasses. Jed was moved to crap four times in a row. I lay on the grass, which was slightly damp but warm from the sun, and napped until attacked by a worm the size of a fucking snake.

Yesterday we went biking in Woodhill. It is great exercise for The Jedster, especially on the weekend when – in addition to tearing after bikes and snuffling around acres of woodland – there are plenty of fellow canines. This means wrestlefests galore, butt sniffing bonanzas, leaping and pouncing, and hint of humping.

About halfway round our favourite trail is an exercise area with jumps and tricks. In the center is not a puddle so much as a pit filled with viscous, slimy, foul smelling greenish-brown mud. Jed gambolled straight up to the mud hole, plunged in head-first, and – there is no other word for it – wallowed in it, like a baby hippo or apprentice pig.

090829 Wallowing

Mud + stick = heaven

090829 Mud stick heaven

Come on in!

090829 Let me at it

Hey! Whatcha doing? Let go! I’m only half covered in mud! Let me at it!

090829 Mud monster

See? NOW I’m covered.

090829 Fetch

Viewers are advised to use discretion

Warning: some viewers may find the following footage disturbing.

Below are some videos we took after our daily walk this afternoon, of Jed with his favourite toy: ‘Ball’.

There are some things you should know, before these clips make you doubt our devotion to our dog.

Firstly, if you think I am tormenting my dog, well, I treat Husband a LOT worse. Which might only make you want to alert Amnesty International immediately after placing the call to Animal Welfare. However, it’s not as if either of them aren’t equipped with weapons. Husband has a modicum of wit at his disposal, and Jed’s teeth are extremely sharp.

Secondly, as you will hear in the videos, Jed is quite a chatty little fellow. He likes to ‘speak’ to us when he is excited about something or just wants to vent about the state of the world today. It does not denote agitation; that would be a distinctive whine and hiding.

Thirdly, this is the third iteration of Ball. We purchase them at vast expense from Animates on Lincoln Road, whenever Jed a) fails to retrieve them from the sea, b) throws them out the car window, and potentially c) drops them down a storm drain.

Fourthly, Jed dropped Ball down a storm drain yesterday. Ferndown Track ends beside a property at the head of Grassmere Road. Jed likes to taunt the two resident dogs from beyond the safety of their driveway gate, so just before the end of the track, I put him in a sit/stay. While I wrestled my bike over the barrier, Jed spat out Ball and it rolled into the gutter beside the track, and thence into the storm drain/pipe beneath the track.

While Jed sat and complained loudly about the absence of Ball, Husband and I traced the end of the pipe down the hill. It was a good twenty feet long. On hands and knees, you could just about make out Ball bobbing in a puddle of slimy mud about eight feet beyond reach. Since the pipe was only about eighteen inches diameter, sending Jed in after it would likely have resulted in both Ball and Puppy wedged up the pipe.

So we cycled back home where Husband collected the car, drove all the way back down Mountain Road, up Grassmere Road, and fished Ball out of the storm drain with a broom.

The things we do for that dog.

And don’t get me going on green tripe.

Things to store in your knickers

If you are new to squash, you may wonder why, when you first go on court, your squash ball dies like a dog in the street.

That, my friend, is because the ball is cold. That is why the ball only starts to perk up after some violent encounters with the tin.

Warming up the ball before play saves time hacking away at a sluggish piece of chilly rubber, or spending half an hour rolling the ball under your foot. So when I played in the leagues in Dubai, I used to stash my squash balls down my knickers.

I gave up this practice out of consideration for opponents of delicate sensibilities – although there weren’t many of these in the men’s squash league. THEIR trick – which I considered significantly more offensive – was to surreptitiously smear the ball with sweat before serving (so that it skittered along the floor and was therefore more difficult to return. Tactical squash. Now you know).

In contrast, plucking a squash ball out of my knickers did not appear to put any of my opponents off their game. However, I would not fancy it if, upon asking, “My, how do you get your balls so warm?” my opponent were to respond, “I store them up my arse. Yep. Ideal temperature for them.”

Not that I’m comparing that in any way . . . ok, I have already ventured far further into this topic of conversation than I am technically comfortable with, but ANYWAY, I now tuck my squash ball into the waistband of whatever pair of shorts or pants I wear. Or I would do, except that I haven’t played since El Knobbo maimed me eighteen months ago.

The rematch was today, and I left the house with enough time to spare for a quick detour to Glen Eden Library.

Now, it appears the success of the Knicker-Warming Method has to do with the efficient holding capacity allied with the elastic properties of the knickers. Because as I entered the Glen Eden Library, I sensed the squash ball’s impetuous response to gravity’s seductive call.

Instinctively I grabbed for the ball, before remembering that Michael Jackson was the only person in living memory who was ever able to pull that one off.

Unfortunately, I was somewhat al-dente, being equipped with only a couple of library books and my wallet. Frantically, I looked for somewhere to hide, but – and I’d never noticed this before – the Glen Eden Library offers no real opportunities for cover or even camouflage.

The only thing to do was to wait until the ball rolled down my pants leg, kick it smartly under a bookshelf, and retrieve it later at leisure.

Regrettably, the elastic properties of my tracksuit pants kicked in around the crotch, and there the ball stuck.

The tracksuit pants were manufactured by Fila: need I say more? Ok, then: form-hugging. But I am no shameless middle-aged slapper; I had a long, shapeless sweatshirt over the ensemble that came down over my arse.

But not far enough.

Because anyone checking me out – unlikely perhaps, but still – would think someone had botched the sex change operation.

I clapped one of the library books over the errant ball. Unfortunately, it was a rather insubstantial paperback: Sara Gruen’s ‘Riding Lessons’. (TERRIBLE book; I don’t recommend it.) When I added the second book to the first, a librarian gave me the evils, so I tried to pull my sweatshirt down over the whole lot.

I feared the librarian would think I was attempting to abduct the library books; so I substituted my wallet, all the while performing a desperate cross-legged shuffle towards the bathroom.

If there is one thing I have learned from the experience, it is: there are worse things than cold balls.

A fish eye view

When we lived in Dubai, I used to swim 2000m along the shore of the Gulf in the early morning. It is one of the few things about the Middle East that I recall with warm nostalgia (as opposed to rising gorge).

The first time I ever went for a power swim, thick mist shrouded the beach. I accompanied a group of gnarly triathletes, undeterred by being unable to see anything beyond the length of their arms. It was an extraordinary experience. In contrast to the world above, the rippling sand below the surface was clearly visible. The water was colorless, clear as gin. On the return leg, I paused for a break, treading water. I lifted my head and saw the tip of the Burj Al Arab emerge from the dissipating mist.

I started going to the beach two or three times a week, often before work. It was the only real time I spent outdoors during summer. Next to three liters of coffee, it was the best way to kick-start the day.

One morning, I was tucking my hair into a cap at Jumeirah Beach, when two girls asked if I would look after their bags. Vivienne was covered in Vaseline, so I guessed they were swimmers. (I sincerely hoped they were, anyway.)

They were planning to swim around the Burj Al Arab, so I joined them. That’s how I met Helen and Viv and – later – Chantal, who had never swum before and whose style initially focused on vertical rather than lateral propulsion

The Shorts of Shame

Yesterday, Husband took Jed for a run up Mountain Road.

Those of you who enjoy/abhor long acquaintance with Husband will know the run was merely an excuse dressed up as ‘exercise’, an excuse to don the Shorts of Shame a.k.a the Shorts of Terror (depending on whether I wake up in a Docudrama or a Thriller. One way or another, the result is pretty negative.)

You might ask what these shorts have done to earn their own honorary title(s)? Well, from a proactive perspective, not much. BUT by the very act of being worn by Husband, the shorts are guilty of inhumane, indecent, horrifying, sartorially psychopathic crimes against innocent bystanders. Women and children, and me.

When I pointed out that the Shorts of Terror were not even fashionable IN THE EIGHTIES, Husband said: “But they have a built-in jock strap.”

Ladis and Gentlemen: welcome to the House of Horror.

There is little point to this post, mainly because – firstly – I like to be consistent.

Secondly, I just wanted to share

Surprisingly cranky

Mountain biking in Woodhill today:-

Husband: Why didn’t you cycle down that hill?

Me: You mean, apart from the fact that it’s semi-sheer? Let me count the reasons. First of all, I don’t really fancy breaking a fall with my sprained wrist. Secondly, it’s been a while since I mixed it up at Woodhill, so I’m taking it easy. Thirdly, I have a puppy trying to jump through my spokes, which is distracting. Fourthly, I have a husband who stops dead without warning randomly and lethally. Fifthly and sixthly respectively, I am tired and surprisingly cranky. Finally, I urge you to bear in mind that I do not share your cavalier attitude towards life and limb whether mine or anyone elses’, OR your wilful disregard for the laws of gravity.
<note: I did not actually say all that, but I successfully communicated the gist>

Husband: But you rode down there before-

Me: Well I was younger then, and more carefree-

Husband: You mean last year?

Me: YES, LAST YEAR!

Cyclist vs bulldozer

When it comes to cyclists, drivers fall into two categories:

a) The ones who mount the kerb on the far side of the road to give you room
b) Those who see how close they can get to you without scratching their paintwork

There are fewer in category (b). They are the type who fancy their chances playing chicken with buses, trucks and bulldozers. If you think this makes them more of an endangered species than they make me, well. Buses, trucks and bulldozers tend to comprise most of this category, so I’m not sure where that leaves everyone

Damn that memory card to hell, damn it

On the way to Karekare yesterday, Husband’s own driving made him nauseous. Thankfully, he revived sufficiently to walk Coman’s Track along the cliff edge, then north to Log Race Road via Mercer Bay Loop.

In a bodaciously muppetacious move, I forgot to replace the memory card in my Canon. The photos below were taken with my Sony Cybershot.

Now, I love my 450D; I do. The shutter makes a gratifying noise that is halfway between a click and a whirr, and I can do lots of stuff that I can’t describe (and half the time can’t do either). And the image quality nearly always defies my best efforts to under- or over-expose it, or focus my finger instead of the subject etc.

However, using the Sony again reminded me how handy it is. It takes three seconds to whip it out of the case and slide the lens cap, just in time to capture the dragonfly alighting on the one daisy within three kilometres.

In contrast, preparing the Canon for photography is a full-scale production: taking off the camera bag, laying it flat, unzipping it, taking out the camera, choosing and affixing the lens, removing the lens cap and storing it (turns out throwing it on the ground is only a time-saving strategy in the short term), turning the camera on, tweaking the settings. Then one must spend a reasonable amount of time maintaining artistic integrity and fermenting the inspiration. By which stage the dragonfly has gone through three life-cycles and night has fallen.

But I kinda missed it.

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Karekare Beach from Farley Point

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Mercer Bay Loop path

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Mercer Bay

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Husband dodges charging tree

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Self portrait

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Husband keeps up to date with current events

The Pinnacles

Now, I can’t report JohnO’s contribution to the conversation verbatim, because I don’t listen to him much. The gist of it is that he said, “The Pinnacles? Are you sure you’re able for it?” And I said, “*scoff!* YOU walked it, didn’t you? How difficult can it be?”

On occasion, JohnO says something that is relevant and/or important. In retrospect, this was potentially one of those rare occasions; and instead of saying, “The DOC says it’s only 5 hours and we’re pretty fit. So, you’re building a shed? That sounds pretty uninteresting,” I should perhaps have said, “Able for it? Why do you say that, JohnO? Is the walk particularly challenging from a distance, climb, terrain or predatory animals perspective? Please impart the specifics while I pay attention and perhaps take notes.”

Thereupon he might have told me that most of the 759m climb to The Pinnacles takes place along a ½ km section that redefines the word ‘savage’.

Whereupon I would most likely have said, “Eh, we’re hardy.”

Evidently, I was going to have to learn from experience.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We woke at about 05:00 hrs on Friday morning to a sullen day with low cloud cover. Having packed the tent, we struck out for The Pinnacles. Minor detour back to the car to retrieve the suntan lotion, just in case the sun made a guest appearance.

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For a while, we were stuck behind a couple who persisted at walking at the same pace as us. Thankfully, they had an absolutely rip-snorting argument about who had forgotten to pack the map, and we passed them when they stopped to point at each other.

After a gentle 3km meander up the valley criss-crossing Webb Creek, we hit a series of steps hewn into the natural rock. In the early 1900s, packhorses used this trail to carry supplies up to the logging camps of the back country. They must have been fairly gnarly back in the days, since some of the steps required pitons to scale.

We stopped at Hydro Camp to catch a few gasps, then pushed on to the Pinnacles Hut and Dancing Kauri Dam, where we had ‘smoko’ (coffee break to the rest of the world).

Kauri dams allowed kauri logs to be flushed out of the inaccessible back country using a tripping mechanism that released the front gate of the dam and blasted logs down the floods. A plaque advised us that Dancing Kauri Dam was built in 1924 by Jim Angel, who happens to be Husband’s maternal great great great uncle. For the sake of posterity, it is worth mentioning that the bauld Jim was a champion two-man saw master in his day.

He is immortalized in the famous song, Jim Angel (really needs to be accompanied by a fiddle):

When Jim Angel was a baby
He was the size of three grown men
Could pound rocks to rubble
With the flat of his bare hand

Chorus:
Oh! Jim Angel he’s a mighty man <fiddle fiddle fiddle>
Washes his face in a rusty can <increase fiddle tempo>

When Jim Angel was a boy
He was the size of two pack mules
And could do the work of three or four
Made other boys look like fools

<Chorus>

When Jim Angel was a man
He built the Dancing Kauri Dam
Kept the leftover trees for picking his teeth
Just because he can

<Chorus>

In the book, Tramping in New Zealand (40 great New Zealand tramping trips by Shaun Barnett), kauri dam technology is described as ‘ingenious but destructive’. Evidently his mother’s bloodline is prevalent in Husband.

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It is another kilometer and a half to the top of The Pinnacles, a pretty steep climb involving steps, rungs hammered into the rock, and – in two instances – ladders. Because I’m weird, I counted the steps from The Pinnacles Hut to the peak. It was 555 on the way up (I was gutted when I counted only 552 on the return).

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The track up to The Pinnacles, photo taken from the hut

I followed Husband, concentrating more on hauling air into my flaming lungs than where I was going, which is probably how I ended up scaling a fairly sheer rock stabbing out of the side of the mountain. Balanced precariously on top, I looked around for any sign of the track.

“Husband!” I quavered, and his head popped up over a rock about 200m beyond me. “Hey! How the hell did you get up there?”

“More to the point, how the hell did YOU get up THERE?” enquired Husband. Then he laughed at me as I tried to get off it without tumbling to certain death.

After lunch at the top, we returned to the carpark via the Billygoat Track. I didn’t notice very much about it, because I was distracted by my thighs screaming in agony.

Since they’re still at it three days later, my ears are now ringing too

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Pinnacles Hut from the summit

Interpreting the wave

People wave to you when you are on a bicycle. There are different types of wave. There’s the Thank god that’s not me wave. There’s the Hey there, I have a bike in my garage, bond with me wave. The Heeey baby I drive a flash car and my wife doesn’t understand me wave. The I’m so insecure I don’t even indicate without waving wave.

And then there’s the Sorry I nearly killed you wave.

Like in the case of the woman today, who was so excited about turning right she completely failed to notice the break in traffic was not really a break if my wobbling up the hill on a bike qualifies as ‘traffic’ (singular). Which it does – or at least did the last time I checked the Highway Code. Specifically, I am what is known as ‘other traffic’ (singular) despite my inability to produce fumes or hold up anything larger than a hedgehog.

Halfway across my right of way, she slammed on her brakes, leaving most of her tyres on the road; then scorched past half a millimetre in front of me.

Then she waved.

And I just don’t know whether Sorry I nearly killed you through my own inattentiveness/ignorance by knocking you down and driving over you and crushing your head with my tyre rendering a scene of such gruesomeness that television crews turn away from the bloody carnage to focus on your heartbreakingly flimsy helmet still spinning poignantly in the centre of the road is adequately covered by a wave.

More appropriately, she should have stopped and offered to call an ambulance to treat me for shock and inhalation of rubber fumes. Or at least offered to reimburse me the cost of a new pair of knickers

Punks plural

Andrew still talks about getting fit. It’s always a prolonged, energetic discussion so it must burn some calories. The only exercise he’s had in the last couple of weeks is another trip to Ski Dubai. This time we went with friends of ours, Pete and Em, who are roughly the same standard as Andrew and me respectively.
 
The boys swished off to race each other downhill, although every now and then they waited for us so they could throw snowballs.
 
Although I am doing much better and can achieve relatively high velocity (I am now bordering on swishing almost), I still attract the kamikazes. I seem to possess an irresistible sex appeal for nutters, weirdos, losers, combinations of all the above, and anyone yearning for co dependency.
 
This time, two blokes charged me from behind. I might have felt picked upon except that they then crashed into each other and fraggled out on the slope.
 
Now here’s what gets me – these psychotic Anti-Dudes never say sorry! Never! What is it about me? Do I look particularly unforgiving? (Admittedly, on this occasion I probably did.)
 
They always act like I should be apologizing to THEM for inconsiderately throwing myself under their skiis.
 
From the lift I heard Pete, who witnessed the whole thing, roaring: “Niamh! Get them!” I’m not sure whether he expected me to spank them with my snowboard or what.
 
I decided on shaming them.
 
Emma got there first.
 
“You know, you could at least say sorry,” she said in her cut glass accent.
 
I went for a more direct approach.
 
“Hey assholes! Yeah! I’m talkin’ to you, Punks Plural! What the fuck d’you think you’re playing at?” <10 second skunk-eye intermission>
 
“Sorry,” muttered Asshole #1.
 
“Sorry,” muttered Asshole #2.
 
“I should think so,” I snapped. “Be more careful the next time. Oh and by the way, when my husband catches up with you, he’s going to HURT you. Really badly.”
 
When Andrew did catch up, all he did was look cooler than them, which I’m sure cut them to the quick but was not as devastating to their cell structure as I had hoped

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