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Nubbin

I was at the Oamaru Farmers’ Market last Sunday when my friend introduced me to a woman.

 “Sorry- I didn’t catch your name,” I said, and why why why didn’t I stop there?

Well, I’ll tell you. I wanted to let the subject know I’d been listening during the critical introductory phase, instead of directing my attention to calculating laundry logistics. (In such situations, I simply assign a random name like ‘Atraxis’ or ‘Lucius’ until corrected.) But in this instance I had genuinely misheard. And so I said . . .

“Sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Nubbin, isn’t it?”

No, you didn’t misread that.

Nubbin.

As in: “Lovely to meet you, Nubbin.”

It turns out her name was not, in fact, Nubbin, but, more accurately, Robin.

I mean, SUCH an easy mistake to make; I’m sure Robins are addressed as ‘Nubbin’ on a fairly frequent basis.

We certainly won’t be calling our imminent baby Robin.

Or, for that matter, Nubbin.

So I consider that incident not so much social suicide, as a social cry-for-help. But just to defy all your expectations, it gets worse. Not this particular scenario, which I salvaged by saying: “Watch out for the egrets. They bite,” and then running away in a loping crouch.

This morning. I was at my wonderful friend Kelim’s house with another friend from my antenatal class, Sinéad. Six months ago, Kelim had a second child, a son and, when she went to the bathroom, I took advantage to whisper to Sinéad,

“Psst! Sinéad! Does Kelim call Lucius ‘Lucius’, or does she- I’ve heard her use maybe like a shortened version.”

And Sinéad looked at me as if I had just made an inappropriate suggestion to her mother, and said, “His name’s Lochlan.”

“No, no I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s Lucius.”

“No-oo,” said Sinéad. “Lochlan. Or Loche.”

“Kelim!” I said as she came back into the room. “We have a question for you-“

“Niamh has a question for you,” corrected Sinéad darkly.

“What’s your son’s name?”

And then Kelim looked at me as if I had just made a simultaneous inappropriate suggestion to HER mother, and said, “Lochlan.”

“What? Are you sure?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“But I have a text message- the one you sent after he- announcing the birth of Lucius- look- wait- when was he born again? May. Here! Oh.”

So it turns out I’ve called Lochlan ‘Lucius’ his entire life or THE LAST SIX MONTHS.

You’d think someone would have corrected me.

I may have progressed beyond the cry-for-help stage.

There’s a killer whale in the back garden, dear

Brett and Debs are new friends – but not quite.

See, twenty five years ago, I was Brett’s brother’s penpal. If you want to go even further back, Brett’s father went to university with my dad. Although Brett’s family lived in the UK, both families would meet up once or twice a year at orienteering events.

I stopped writing to Brett’s brother shortly after he held my hand and I panicked because I was only fifteen and not ready to settle down and have children. I don’t recall whether I puked on his shoes or not, but it would’ve been close.

A couple of months ago, mum told me Brett and Debs were living in Christchurch. Husband and I called on one of our road-trips back from Oamaru to blag lunch. We were so taken with them and their family that if I were into abducting kids theirs would totally make the top of my list.

Last week, Brett and Debs and family came to stay with us for two nights. Despite three of them being miniature, that was a LOT of people in the house, but I thought we handled it pretty well.

The morning after they arrived, we were in the living room when Debs said, “Hey- what’s that? In the water. It looked like a fin.”

And I’m thinking, ‘Oh SURE; you wouldn’t see dolphins from up here’; until Debs said, ” . . . THERE!”

And just below our promontory were either two dolphins on STEROIDS, or a pair of killer whales. Even from a distance, we could tell they were absolutely he-owge.

Everyone rushed outside; I snapped away with the camera but stopped when I realised I was missing The Experience. After a while we saw the two whales were part of a larger pod; we counted nine in all, tooling around the Bay.

It’s difficult to describe The Experience, but I’ll give it a go. It was, like, AW WOW! mega WOAH TOTALLY AWESOME and way COOL that’s cool with five syllables.

In short: it was real.

There are killer whales in the back garden, dear

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.

Connoisseur

Dinner at Sherrif and The Bunqueens’:

Me: Mmm, this wine is delicious. What is it?

Sherrif: Well, you should know; you brought it.

Me: I . . . we . . . did?

Me: Well, it’s lovely.

Me: I can highly recommend it.

Sheepdog

We were recently down at Sherrif and The Bunqueen’s farm, basking in the bucolic glow of early spring. Jed was in the garden attempting to eat a grapefruit tree, when we realised there were some highly pregnant/borderline explosive sheep on the farm track, just beyond the garden’s stone wall.

Since I was . . . sitting, Andrew . . . volunteered to go and shut Jed in the car. Sherrif and The Bunqueen politely demurred, but our dog is still extremely enthusiastic in how he greets sheep. 

“No, no,” I said, idly watching Andrew call Jed over to the gate. “It would be terrible if Jed savaged one of your sheep. Then we’d be ignoring each other on the road or setting fire to each others’ sheds. Messy. And unnecessary.”

Suddently, a herd of sheep stampeded down the drive.

In hot pursuit – although we could only see the tops of his ears and occasional white of eye over the wall – was Jed at full tilt, a study of canine muscle and grace.

Three seconds later, in tepid pursuit, Andrew galloped into frame. Relatively speaking, he didn’t seem to be moving that fast, even though he was leaning slightly back, legs pumping.

In fairness, he might have been more a study of muscle and grace if he hadn’t been waving his arms around bawling incoherently at the dog, while wearing oil-stained overalls and unlaced boots.

But I suppose if he’d been running after the dog in a pair of socks and boxer shorts, our neighbours would definitely have set fire to our shed by now.

As it is, we’re all still on speaking terms.

The power of woman

Me: NO!

Me: Sorry. It’s just that, Jed’s not allowed to widdle on cars.

Me: The rule is: he’s not allowed to widdle on anything man-made.

Andrew: Am I man-made? Because I don’t want him weeing on my leg.

Meep: Ahem. Woman-made.

The point may have been arguable, but neither man present was about to take on a woman who has incubated fully formed humans.

Technically in Cork

Recent events have prompted me to muse with delicate frown and pursed lips on my history with transportation. The origins of this tempestuous, codependent relationship can be traced back to:-

  • 1984: Twelve years old, and for reasons that will remain forever obscured by the mists of time, I was required to catch a bus from Dublin to be reunited with the bosom of my family in Limerick. After a long journey, the bus shuddered to a stop. I sat there long after the remaining passengers disembarked, kicking my legs and reading a ‘Bunty’ magazine by streetlight.Half an hour later I was getting cold, so alighted and, keeping an eye on the coach in case it took off unexpectedly, I backed up to the only human life-form present and enquired when the bus would be leaving for Limerick. Which is when I found out the bus was not going to Limerick.

    Also, I was technically in Cork.

    I must be able to blame this on some family friend or relative – I mean WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR A TWELVE YEAR OLD CATCHING A BUS?

    I was gasping for a wee, so I decided my first priority was locating the bathroom. Then disaster struck: I had no money, and access to the toilet cubicles required a 2p piece. (If you think I sound pathetic, really it was WAY worse.)

    Luckily, there was a 20cm gap between the foot of the door and the floor. I stuffed my bag in, thereby committing myself, then wriggled under the door after the bag. It was a tense widdle; I was terrified someone with 2p might creep in and burst into my cubicle and accuse me of weeing for free.

    Afterwards I went outside, sat on my bag in the deserted carpark, and considered my predicament. Luckily, my parents had equipped me to deal with adversity. Back then, what that meant was that I knew how to make reverse charge phone calls, rather than identify perverts. Indeed I wouldn’t have recognized a pervert had he asked me to sit on his knee and waved a flesh-coloured stick at me, but man could I place a reverse charges phone call.

    I rang my mum, who was good enough to accept the call.

    “I’m in CORK!” I sobbed, suddenly struck by the tragedy of being abandoned in a strange land.

    The next bus to Limerick was the following morning, so my parents arranged for me to stay with some people they chose at random from the telephone directory.

  • Circa 1993: On my first business trip, I missed not one but two flights AND lost my passport and ticket along the way. I finally arrived in Switzerland 24 hours late. Thought I’d blogged about the incident, but it seems not, so can’t provide a link. If anyone wants the grisly details I’ll see what I can do.
  • 2000: Job interview in Bahrain. The Interviewer arranged a ticket for collection at Dubai Airport. Even though I arrived a full half hour before the flight, the Emirates representative claimed the check-in was closed and refused to hand over my ticket.“All right,” said Husband during an emergency debrief. “Call The Interviewer, and tell him there was a problem with your passport. No- your residency visa. An issue with your residency visa, and you’re sorting it out, and will get the next flight in two hours.”

    “Ok. Problem with residency visa. Next flight. Check.”

    I dialed The Interviewer: “I MISSED THE FLIGHT!”

    He hired me.

    Can’t explain it.

  • 2000: Fast-forward three weeks to a business trip to Bahrain to meet The Company’s biggest client. My phone rang at 06:00. It was The Floridian, formerly The Interviewer.“I’m at the check-in counter. Where are you?”

    “I’M IN BED.”

    However, not only did I catch the 07:00 flight – triumphantly arriving at the airport 10 minutes later – I even had time to demolish the buffet breakfast in the Emirates lounge.

  • Probably 2005: Róisín underestimated timing from Paddington to Heathrow (so entirely her fault; I have a signed confession). Emirates Airlines – at this stage totally accustomed to me – rescheduled me on a later flight. At the baggage check, I realized I had left my mobile phone in Róisín’s handbag (don’t ask. Just . . . don’t). Located a pay phone and called Róis, who returned to Heathrow to give up the phone.
  • Possibly 2008: Husband and I arrive at Dubai Airport, totally overexcited about our first ever skiing holiday: two weeks in Austria. We had booked a hire car, arranged accommodation; we were sharing the chalet with friends who were en-route.Passports: CHECK! Tickets: CHECK! Luggage: TRIPLE CHECK!

    Bags sorted, we proceeded to passport control. I went to the e-gate, already planning where I should wait for Andrew, who was at the manual passport control. When I scanned my fingerprint, a buzzer sounded and a big, red X blinked on the gate.

    The man on the passport desk beckoned me over.

    “My finger’s not working,” I giggled, wiggling the digit at him.

    I forgot how ineffective charm is on airport security.

    “Your rrresidency visa,” said the administrator. “It is expire.”

    “Oh. Well. No problem. I’ll renew it when I get back. I’m going skiing!”

    Never have I been more mistaken.

    Never has Husband come closer to divorcing me.

    In a vain attempt to conquer the moral high ground I told Andrew to go without me, but he opted to stay. For a while it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport, since he was fully checked onto the flight. He sulked for roughly a year. He still wins arguments on the strength of that ONE LITTLE INCIDENT.

  • Near miss: Once, I got to the boarding gate for an Emirates flight before realizing I had left my passport and ticket in a tray at the baggage check.

Why I love Johno

Johno: I might work in the financial sector.

Me: Won’t you die of boredom?

Johno: Maybe, but I’ll go out in an alcohol fuelled stupor. I’m thinking champagne-

Me: As opposed to methylated spirits?

Johno: Exactly.

Me: Ideally you want to choke on your own vomit.

Johno: Well, better than choking on someone else’s.

Me: (thinks) Wish I’d said that.

Dinosaur poop

The Quack Team rent The Landords’ other house, which is about a kilometre away. Quackman and The Swede are unbelievably, totally awesomely, extra-mustard-hold-the-pickle cool. I can’t speak for Husband, but my liver never fails to be invigorated merely by being in their vicinity.

The other night Husband, Jed and I were invited over for dinner, where – in an arresting conversational gambit – Quackman confided he numbers in his possession dinosaur poo.

Naturally, I was intrigued. Well, wouldn’t you be? Oh come on, admit it: you are of course. I mean, DINOSAUR DUNG!

I demanded to see it at once.

Now, I don’t know about you; but I expected Quackman to return staggering under the unwieldy bulk of a prehistoric turd, leaving a late cretaceous skid mark on the lintel as he stuffed it through the living room door. I imagined a mystical butt nugget, even now – hundreds of million of years later – still radiating a slight heat from an Argentinosaurus’ lower intestine.

Turns out there was a seismosauric chasm between my anticipation and the reality, which looked suspiciously like a handful of gravel scooped up from the front yard.

Quackman apparently won his turd on Trademe, and it came with a certificate verifying that it is genuine faeces fresh from a dinosaur’s arse. When pressed however, Quackman was unwilling – or unable – to produce the certificate.

Yet, even though I thought it was all shit (in the colloquial sense), I still washed my hands afterwards

Mad kipper

Helen’s definition of ‘a dip’ involves a couple of laps of whatever body of water happens to be close by. While she was here, she regularly struck off across Ocean Bay in nothing more than a swimming cap and goggles. Oh, hang on, that’s not the end of the list – also, togs and a rash vest.

We usually managed to stop her before she hit the Pacific.

Inspired by my friend’s doughty example (you know, I’m pretty certain this is the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘doughty’ in print. I like it, I like it a LOT. It just popped out of my subconscious with a bunch of balloons and a hint of glitter, all, “Hey! Pick me! How about me?” when I wasn’t even aware I KNEW the word. I certainly didn’t know how to spell it, and then had to check the definition. I’m always impressed when my brain does kung-fu. Shame it generally prefers watching telly), yesterday I relaunched my long-distance swimming career.

Pools are for pussies!

Real swimmers wear Vaseline!

Conditions were optimal. The sun sparkled on the sea. A light breeze ruffled the surface. The water lapped playfully against the shore.

I still brought my wetsuit vest. Husband mocked me as I snapped my swimming cap on over a woolly beanie – as if his standing there fully clothed, dry and toasty warm wasn’t enough.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t want to push it on my first outing,” I said sensibly. “I was thinking that point over there.”

“That one? You’ll never make it,” he scoffed.

Thereby ensuring I either made it or drowned in the attempt. I’m still occasionally depressed by how little Husband knows me after 12 years together. Or maybe he knows me too well, in which case ATTEMPTED MURDER is marginally more depressing than my original assumption.

Anyway, I was wounded. The point was only 200m away. In fact my Secret Plan was to continue across the port, point my toes and do some synchronised swimming, then spear a few barracuda for dinner en route back to shore.

Few obstacles in the shipping route. The main problem I encountered was putting my face in the water; the cold seemed to suck all the air out of my lungs. I was gulping for oxygen, but couldn’t seem to get a breathful.

Eventually I acclimatised such that I could gasp in a mouthful of air every stroke. Halfway to the point I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. My head throbbed with a chill-ache. My face was numb. MY FACE WAS NUMB! I COULDN’T FEEL MY FACE!

On a positive note, I was more in danger of being cryogenically petrified than drowning.

I’ve heard drowning is a horrible way to go.

After I reached the point, I attempted to float back to shore in a manner similar to a giant iceberg. Apart from being right in character, that was unsuccessful, so I mixed up the freestyle with some breast-stroke.

By the time I reached the beach, the only part of my body not numb was my brain, still issuing commands to throw one arm over the other. In fact, the woolly beanie was generally highly effective.

“By wace iz wumb!” I wailed at Husband through purple lips. “Wa can’ eel by wace!”

I’m not sure my blood has recommenced circulation; it certainly still feels sluggish.

“Not surprised,” barked my father-in-law when I related my experience. “That water comes straight off the Antarctic.”

Yeah, HELEN! YOU MAD KIPPER!

The art of entertaining guests

My friend Helen is here for a visit at the moment, so Husband and I took her to Farmers in Blenheim to shop for towels. You can’t say I don’t know how to treat guests. The element of surprise is invaluable in compiling a creative itinerary of activities.

Husband: How about this colour?

Me: That’s not a colour. It’s BEIGE-

Husband: It’s neutral.

Me: It’s so neutral I just want to invade it. How about this?

Husband: Blue?

Me: That’s right. A cool, refreshing aqua-

Husband: Don’t like it.

Me: Who doesn’t like blue?

Husband: I don’t like that blue. Anyway, it doesn’t go with the bathroom-

Me: The bathroom is yellow-

Helen: Blue goes with yellow-

Husband: Yeah, right! *snort!* Blue doesn’t go with yellow.

Helen and me, together: IT DOES!

Husband: Ok look, how about white towels? Guests like white. Makes ‘em think they’re clean.

Me: What if our guests leave skid marks on them?

Helen: Well, you can always wash them . . . and there’s . . . bleach . . . OH MY GOD, WHAT SORT OF GUESTS DO YOU HAVE?!

Budweiser merchandise: extortionate

Me: I had a terrible dream last night-

Husband <eagerly>: Oh yes?

Me: Well, you remember Stuart?

Husband: Who – the guy you used to work with?

Me: Yes, him. So, I dreamed I was out with Stu and some of his buddies, and someone suggested putting money in a kitty. To buy booze, you know? So I handed over ₤126-

Husband: POUNDS? Wow, that’s a lot of money-

Me: I know! I wasn’t happy about it but, you know, I was on the spot and I was the only female and I didn’t want the guys thinking women are stingy. 

Husband: Fair enough.

Me: Yes, but a month later, I meet up with Stu, and he’s wearing a pair of Budweiser shoes-

Husband: Budweiser SHOES?

Me: Yes. Brand new, burnished leather. Lovely shoes-

Husband: How did you know they were Budweiser shoes?

Me: They had ‘Budweiser’ written up the side of them. Anyway, I realise that he’d used my ₤126 to buy himself a pair of fucking shoes. And all I got was a pair of Budweiser nail clippers.

Husband: That doesn’t sound like much return for ₤126.

Husband: Jesus, that’s a TERRIBLE dream.

Me: I know! I told you.

Introduction to frozen water

090723 Logs

Although we emailed sporadically, and I met up with Helen when I passed through Dubai on the way to and from Ireland last year, the reality is we don’t know each other that well. Up to recently, all we had in common was a mutual appreciation for floating in briny water in a manner similar to giant gherkins.

Still, three months ago when Helen asked me to join her on a road trip during her week’s holiday from Dubai, I thought it was a marvellous idea. The open road, floaty skirts, the drowsy scent of pollen, floppy hats, sunglasses, takeaway coffee.

As the date approached, I got increasingly anxious. What if Helen and I ran out of conversation? What if we fell out over fuel? What if Helen bit Jed? What if my snoring kept her awake all night?

Happily, my fears had no basis in reality. On the Sunday morning, Helen’s friend Cathy saw us off with cheesy muffins and roasted pears with cinnamon.

In Tokoroa, we stopped briefly at the lookout point above the town, where Jed tested the limits of his digestive system with a MacDonald’s cheeseburger plus wrapping and an empty crisp packet.

We stayed with another two of Helen’s friends, Kim and Seamus, on their farm just south of Tokoroa. They have three boys, Kieran, Mossie and Padraic; a poster of the nine times tables on the bathroom door; and the ‘ladder of certain doom’ on the fridge. We spent the evening chatting over a bottle or several of wine.

Next morning, Helen and I drove on south, giving Jed a run at Huka Falls.

090723 Huka Falls

The Falls

090723 Helen and Jed

Helen and Jed

090723 Me and Jed

Me and Floppychops

We stopped in Taupo for lunch and a pair of walking boots for Helen (to wear). I also bought a Tongariro 260-T19 topo map, and a Kiwimaps New Zealand Compact Travellers Atlas with six large scale regional touring maps and nine city and town center maps. It was tremendously exciting to know my location.

We arrived in Turangi in the early afternoon and checked out our accommodation: a spacious two-bedroom chalet for $120 at Creel Lodge next to the Tongariro River. The bathroom door featured a map of recommended trout pools along the Tongariro River. It really inspired my bowels – although not as much as the nine times tables.

I had brought two mountain bikes on the rack on the back of the Hilux Surf. After check-in, we returned to Reception to ask about the biking trail to the Pillars of Hercules.

“Where does the trail start?” I asked.

“No idea,” said Richard.

“But it’s on the Creel Lodge website.”

“Really? What does it say?”

“Er. Two hour bike ride, easy grade, fifteen to twenty minutes drive from Turangi Village.”

“Sounds lovely. Be sure to let us know how you get on.”

I whipped out my topo map and located the Pillars of Hercules. We drove about 10km south on the SH1, then turned left onto Kaimanawa Road. We parked 2km up the road, and biked up a logging trail that ran to the south west. Considering Helen had never set arse on a mountain bike, she did exceptionally well.

090723 Helen gets to grip with biking

Helen gets to grips with biking

090723 Coffee break

I don’t know if you can tell from the photo (above) that the cold was bitter in the late afternoon. It was a gradual uphill route, and a section of the trail was overgrown, so we soon warmed up. The puddles were all iced over – Jed’s first introduction to frozen water. He was understandably cautious about this this dangerous, unknown and potentially threatening new experience: galloping towards the puddles and leaping into the middle of them feet-first.

The path eventually gave onto a crazy Kiwi swingbridge, suspended hundreds of metres above the Tongariro River below. Jed was entirely dubious: he ventured out a few paces before scuttling back to firm ground, gaining a little more headway each time; then shot past me in the middle of the bridge to gain the far side where the whole process started again.

090723 Swing bridge

090723 Jed

090723 Pillars of Hercules

We carried on to the Urchin Camping Ground, then freewheeled down the main road back to the car.

The following day, we got up early and biked up Tree Trunk Gorge and north (this time) to the Pillars of Hercules again. In a bizarre phenomenon, although we returned to the car the same way, it seemed to be uphill in both directions.

We were on the road by midday. I am delighted to report that by the time we reached Auckland six hours later, far from running out of things to say, Helen and I had barely even started

090723 The way back

The Invisible Grotto of the Travel Crate Door

Husband left for Oamaru this day last week to catch the last weekend of duck shooting and partake in some serious alcohol abuse with the Outlaws.

I did not join him because my friend, Helen, was over from Dubai. She had asked me to accompany her on a three-day road trip to visit her friend in Tokoroa, and then to Turangi. Kind of like Thelma and Louise, only without the attempted rape, murder and mutual suicide pact; and if I spotted Brad Pitt I was resolved to tell him to wipe that self-satisfied smirk off his gob, although the gay cowboy theme rather suited him.

On Tuesday night, I returned home tired and grumpy after the 350km drive from Turangi. I unloaded the mountain bikes, fed the dog, unpacked my bag. I was scheduled to fly to Dunedin on the 09:55hrs Pacific Blue flight the following day.

Then disaster struck; although it didn’t STRIKE so much as creep up gradually like tentacles of doom as it gradually dawned on me that the door of Jed’s travel crate was missing. I mean, at first I thought it was just hiding playfully. When it did not respond to my summons, I searched the house and determined it was temporarily misplaced. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that the door had vanished from the face of the earth without a trace.

Although Husband provided telephone support, he was – and it pains me to admit this – he was of limited use. He had no idea where the door might be. He had no recollection of putting it anywhere in particular. He refused to consider leaving Jed with the Other Outlaws. He was unnecessarily negative about the possibility of hiring a crate at 22:30hrs. He looked up Trademe to see whether there were any large crates for sale with a ‘buy now’ option. He suggested I send him the crate dimensions and he would ‘make a door’ and courier it up to me the following day

So instead of leaning on Husband when the pitch of panic reached critical levels, I called Pacific Blue.

Since I had purchased a budget ticket, they would neither reschedule my flight nor refund the fare.

Bastards.

And so my average success rate with catching public transport has dropped to 42%. I take comfort from the fact that this is the first time I have missed a flight due to a disappeared door. Give me some credit: my usual style is to turn up at the airport and THEN realize there was no door.

At least I didn’t have to worry about packing. I went to bed instead, where I had nightmares about turning up at Auckland Airport with a makeshift door constructed of welded paperclips and chicken wire affixed to the crate with baling twine and hardened Wrigley’s Juicyfruit.

The following morning, I awoke dark and early and formulated a cunning plan.

Well, I did not want to hire a crate because upon his return, chances are Husband a.k.a. ‘Sniffer’ will walk into the Twilight Zone that is his garage and find the missing door lying in the middle of the floor, or surrounded by hundreds of lit candles in a grotto in the center of the bench – in much the same way as he solved the Mystery of the Missing Marriage Certificate, which was not really that mysterious in the end – or, for that matter, missing – although it was indeed a genuine marriage certificate (although issued in Ireland so you never really know).

For much the same reason, I did not want to purchase another crate.

And so I did what any sane, rational person would have decided to do under the circumstances

Destructing character (chainsaw optional)

Me: JohnO, I’m sorry if this comes as a shock to your self-image, but you are not humble.

JohnO: Oh come on! I’m certainly not- what’s the opposite of humble?

Me: Arrogant?

JohnO: I’m not arrogant-

Haze: Well, plenty of people have called you an arrogant prick.

JohnO: I suppose.

Me: And let’s face it, how many people have called you a HUMBLE prick?

JohnO: . . .

Me: Exactly.

I give JohnO a hard time, but only because I care.

And he deserves it.

Why can’t antidotes come in pill format?

Jason: Scenario. Husband and Jed. Critically ill. Fatally diseased. You hold the antidote, but you only have one syringe. You can only save one.

Me: Does it have to be a syringe? Why can’t the antidote be in handy medicine form, like a pill or a suppositary? Actually on second thoughts, forget the suppository-

Jason: Quit stalling. Which one?

Me: Oh come on, it’s an impossible question-

Jason <relentless>: Which one? Which one?

Me <still struggling with the ethical dilemma>: Ok, Husband. But only because Jed isn’t fully versed in car maintenance yet

Getting freakier

Me: I had the weirdest dream last night-

Husband: Oh yes? What was it?

Me: Well, we had a baby daughter.

Husband: Aw, that’s nice-

Me: Yeah, except we asked Salmiya to babysit one night, and she pierced our baby’s tongue.

Husband: <speechless>

Me: Bitch.

Me: I mean, who pierces a six month old baby’s TONGUE?

It’s just as well I don’t dream much. I always wake up outraged about the imaginary grievances perpetrated on my subconscious self and/or offspring

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

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Jetlag

For those concerned about my global whereabouts, I caught my flight on Friday due to a cosmic miracle involving planning, timekeeping and pure luck. I arrived in Dubai Airport at the antisocial-bordering-on-criminal hour of 06:30 hrs, where Husband collected me.

Over years of business travel, I have developed a method I call ‘break on through to the other side’. This involves staying awake and preferably alert – especially if there are wild animals, explosive devices or mustachioed people present – until bedtime at the country-in-residence.

This worked a treat right up to 22:00hrs. Ambitiously, Husband and I went out for dinner with Wayne, Keren and Keren’s friend Elena, where I fell asleep with my head in a teacup.

Yesterday, I hit The Wall. I got up with Husband and accompanied him to Garhoud, where I sat in mOre for six hours. The plan had been to write, but I simply could not stay awake unless I propped pencils up either nostril, which is not pleasant for anyone concerned.

I had offered to cook dinner for our hosts, way back on Saturday when it was far enough into the sunlight-dappled future to seem like a terrific idea. Yesterday, the mere thought of it was enough to induce a coma, but when I came around I hauled myself off to the supermarket to procure ingredients.

Standing at the checkout till:-

Me: How much?

Operator: Dhs 113.50, madam

Me: Ok. Right. Um. Here <hands him Dhs 100 note>. And wait! <rummages around back pocket of jeans and drops Dhs 3.50 into his hand>

Operator: Madam. It is Dhs 113.50

Me: Yes. I just gave you . . . oh! Gosh, sorry. Wait a sec <opens wallet, extracts a note, hands it to operator>

Operator: This is Dhs 5

Me: That’s right. Just give me back Dhs 2

Operator: . . . What?

Me: You owe me Dhs 2

Operator: <speaking slowly in manner designed not to alarm to crazy lady> Madam, it is Dhs 113.50

Me: Ye-es, that’s what it says on the register. Oh! I’ve just given you . . . ok, I can’t add at the moment. So . . . that’s not Dhs 113.50?

Operator: No <returns my money>

Me: Ok, sorry. <back to the wallet> Here’s er. Ah-

Operator: Dhs 50

Me: Is it? Yes, that should do it. Oh, and the Dhs 3.50 – here you go

Operator: This is still not enough

Me: You’re kidding. Oh wait a moment – you gave the Dhs 100 back to me, didn’t you?

Operator: <hands twitching with effort not to leap across the conveyor and batter me to a bloody pulp with a can of tuna> Yes, madam

Me: Shit. Here you go. Sorry about that

Snot vapour

Four days ago, I contracted a headcold. Prickly throat, grumpy cough. It was mild to inclement, as colds go. I self medicated with 5000mg of calcium in powder format, and congratulated myself on my stoicism in the face of disease.

Turned out the cold was just warming up. Yesterday morning, it struck me down in my prime. I am currently a scene of carnage: small, rubbery red eyes; backfiring lungs; my throat an acrid furnace; snot exploding from every orifice and several pores. It might be the calcium.

All I felt like doing was lying in bed, moaning in between sips of brandy. Unfortunately, I was flying to London. I was going to decant a few million milligrams of calcium powder into an empty jar, but feared Security might think it was cocaine. So I didn’t. Doesn’t seem to have done me much good, *cough!*

My ears popped with unprecedented violence on the plane and have not fully unpopped. Chantal met me at Liverpool Street Tube Station. Conversation was tricky, because everything sounded like it was under water. Or it might just have been the effect of a dense, humid cloud of snot vapour

How to lid your wody of toxins

Three weeks ago, completely by chance, I bumped into an old friend. That is, somebody I have known for many years, as opposed to an ancient liver-spotted fossil who tells you repeatedly about her colostomy bag. In contrast, Jill* is young and lovely, and does not have a colostomy bag.

Today I met Jill again and she gave me a pile of cards, letters and emails I sent her, dating from around – ooh – 1986. The early correspondence illustrates how far up your own arse it is possible to venture (the answer: really surprisingly far).

However, the collection is also an extraordinary account of a friendship. About seven years ago, Jill and I lost touch for reasons that are not worth getting into. There are so many things I had forgotten. Jill, if you read this, I am so pleased we are back in contact again.

Before I completely surrender to sentimentality, I thought I’d share a piece for old times’ sake. I recall writing this, but my computer ate it and I haven’t seen it since 1999. Warning: this excerpt features excessive nudity. Here you go:-

My friend Sharon decided we needed some intense relaxation, so booked us both into Cleopatra’s Spa, an OTT-to-the-point-of-indescribable-naffness health club. I mean, there are 20m high plaster statues of pharoahs flanking the entrance to this place.

We were shown to the ladies’ changing rooms where heated bathrobes and fluffy slippers awaited. A wholesome looking Chinese lady met us outside. She looked fresh and crispy in her natty outfit. Officious navy uniform. Sparkly white pinafore. Comforting picture of fresh innocence.

She said, “Herro marram, my mame Mimi.”

I volunteered for the full body seaweed wrap first and was conveyed to the ‘sunrise room’ where Mimi shut the door and dimmed the lights.

“Marram, you take off srimsuit and rie down om taywell,” she announced, gesturing to an uninviting looking table adorned with rubber mat and what looked like a giant paper napkin.

“I’m not sure I can handle this level of nudity,” I thought, srimsuit in a pool around my ankles. Thinking I would feel less exposed face down on the taywell, I attempted to mount it a little too enthusiastically and, entangled in my togs, landed face down on the floor instead.

“Are you okaye, rady?” asked my solicitous attendant, helping me to my feet by way of hauling at my armpits. She deposited me on the table.

“I wir now appry the seareed,” said Mimi with a flourish.

After several minutes persuading myself that being plastered with warm seaweed was actually quite fun, I was just beginning to relax when Mimi said, “Prease marram, you roll ower.”

Given that Mimi was struggling with her l’s, I was trying to translate: ‘Please madam you loll over’, when I realised she wanted me on my back, but I was . . . well, you know . . . a bit naked. I wasn’t at all sure about this progression of events. Perhaps this sort of carry on is acceptable in select brothels in other regions of the globe, but I wasn’t expecting it of Cleopatra’s Spa, Dubai, UAE.

“Don’t panic,” I told myself in a panic.

I tried to consider the advantages of the situation: at least she wouldn’t be able to see my arse.

That was the only advantage I could think of on the spur of the moment.

Prostrate on my back, Mimi briskly slathered on seaweed from the feet up. After progressing up the legs, she cleared any doubts there may have been about it being a ‘full body’ seaweed wrap, by busying herself building a little seaweed castle on my groin.

When she started on my chest, I was presented with a bit of a dilemma. I’m generally reasonably particular about whom massages my bosoms, and given the option I’m not sure Mimi would have been amongst my first choice of masseuse.

All sorts of thoughts ran through my feverish mind as Mimi fiddled around with a big glob of seaweed and my left tit, including: whether her technique could possibly be described as lascivious; whether in some cultures the amount ot time she was devoting to my chest would be considered socially acceptable; and whether the element of seaweed in the equation reduced the import of the fact that Mimi was fumbling around my norks. HOWEVER, my main concern was: where should I look?

I figured I had a number of open options:-

1) Close my eyes
ADVANTAGE: Minimal eye contact
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi might interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

2) Keep my eyes open, but firmly fixed on the ceiling
ADVANTAGE: Reduced eye contact but with the option of instantly reviewing any shenanigans
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi might interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

3) Eyeball her throughout
ADVANTAGE: Intimidate the woman
DISADVANTAGE: Mimi would definitely interpret this as intense pleasure in the experience and think I was a lesbian and who knows where that might lead?

In the end, I opted for a combination of all three, with say 20% of option 1, 70% option 2 and 10 option 3, but I found it all intensely wearing.

After Mimi exhausted two tubs of seaweed, she announced: “I am now going to rap you”. Jesus, I thought; what now. All this involved however, was being firmly trussed up in the giant paper napkin and rubber mat. It occurred to me that Mimi would prepare a mean roast chicken.

Once engulfed in paper and rubber, spiky head sticking out the top, my attendant flicked a switch at the bottom of the table and the rubber mat, with a noise like King Kong expelling a touch of excessive flatulence, began to engorge with warm water.

“Marram, this rawter tleatment. You will fear rike you froating in waaarm rake.”

It pains me to have to admit that the salient highlights of this experience were so freakily unpleasant, given that I was paying Dhs 250 for it, but at this juncture I feel obliged to report that the water treatment did not make me feel like I was floating in a warm lake. It made me feel hot, sticky and itchy. In fact, I was swiftly getting very itchy indeed. I was wondering if maybe the previous seaweed victim had suffered a bad case of nits, when my nose was painfully afflicted.

Well, my arms were pinioned to my sides and, even had I not had several layers of rubber, water, seaweed and paper holding them firmly in place, I was so dazed that I’m not sure I would have been psychologically capable of scratching my nose anyway. I was afraid to ask Mimi to itch my nose for me, in case she thought I was a lesbian.

A lesbian with a nose fetish, even.

Fifteen minutes later, I had decided that this was an exquisite form of torture and that I would happily give my whole complement of limbs for one free and mobile digit, when Mimi relented and unwrapped me, and pointed out the shower. She insisted on helping me up off the table and my nerves were so frayed that had she strayed anywhere within three yards of my wiggly bits, I would have slapped her one.

“Thank you marram. Prease you leturn again marram,” cried Mimi, waving me off down the corridor.

I was surprised that Sharon had not given me some measure of warning as to what was in store. After all, not everyone is as liberal as I, and I thought she might have prepared some sort of brief summary. However, one look at Sharon’s startingly puce-hued face informed me that she had been similarly unprepared.

“How was it?” I asked, affecting nonchalance.

“Fine! Yes, fine. Quite, quite fine, fine really.”

*Name changed to protect the innocent

Got to be less than two degrees of separation

Sorry about the paucity of blog posts. Husband and I left Kenmare last Wednesday on our Great Road Trip, and it’s been all go, top gear, maximum throttle. First up was Róisín and Tim’s wedding on 16th.

I will write more about the great event later, but for now, this short post is dedicated to my buddy JohnO and here’s why:

Kylie Minogue’s stylist did the bridal party’s hair and makeup. That’s right: KYLIE’S STYLIST. I have been touched by the hand that spritzed hairspray over Kylie’s elfin crop. I have rubbed elbows with the elbow that has possibly accidentally grazed Kylie’s arse when she bent to retrieve a dropped hairbrush or tube of lipgloss who knows how many times?

The reason I’m dedicating this post to JohnO is because he has a mild to severe fetish about Kylie’s bottom. That would be mild when it’s under a skirt, and severe when skimpily presented in sequinned hotpants.

JohnO: Kylie’s Stylist reported that Kylie’s arse is EVEN BETTER IN REAL LIFE than it is in photoshop. Oh, yes. She said that sometimes she feels an overwhelming urge to nuzzle it.

Actually, she didn’t at all. But I asked her whether sometimes she wanted to nuzzle it, because I knew you would have been bitterly disappointed if I hadn’t.

Kylie’s Stylist just looked at me as if I were a one-woman freakshow. But I could tell by her face that she totally wanted to, all the time

The image colour was rubbish, hence the photo in black and white, which makes it look marginally better. Also, I’ve realised I look better in black and white – well, black anyway. As you can see, Kylie’s Stylist’s Magic worked better on Róis than me

Even the wedding cake was in tiers

Shortly before Husband and I left New Zealand, Róisín called me.

“You know your mother?” she said.

“My, er, mother,” I repeated. Róisín’s conversational gambits are often challenging, but this was exceptionally quirky even for her.

“Woman who gave birth to you.”

“Oh, her. Well, can you ever really KNOW someone?” I said, playing for time.

“Ok look, how good is she at cakes?”

“CAKES?”

Here, in case you were wondering, is where this is going: my parents were going to London because Dad was fertilizing Lord’s with some dead bloke’s ashes – turns out there’s no legislation governing the public disposal of burned human remains in the UK, can you believe – so Mum rang Róisín to see whether she would like to meet up for lunch since Róisín’s the only person they know in London.

According to Róis, the phonecall went something like this (Note: any paraphrasing is a regrettable but necessary side effect of reporting this third hand):-

Mum: How are the wedding plans coming along?

Róisín: Feckin shite! I haven’t even got a wedding cake organized-

Mum: A cake, you say? I can bake. <in the background, to her friend> Dolly! DOLLY! Can you ice cakes? <mutter mutter> Royal or fondant?

Róisín: Sorry- what?

Mum: Royal or fondant? The icing.

Róisín: Oh. Er, white? I don’t really know- I’ve seen a picture-

Mum: How many tiers?

Róisín: Ah, two? Or three?

Mum: Grand.

I thought it best not to get involved. In fact, up to the time I reached London, I considered it quite an achievement that I had successfully avoided any kind of bridesmaid duty.

Róisín soon addressed that by asking me to be her foot model.

You might consider this an odd request that mines virgin Bridezilla territory, but I felt I was getting off lightly. After all, I was only required to donate my foot temporarily, not a kidney or a husband. Anyway, I relish any genuine opportunity to show off my feet, because they are quite lovely: small for my size with perky arches and novelty toes that can perform a variety of tricks.

We were in a bridal shop at the time, and I have no idea why Róisín wanted me to model shoes for her, but I happily clomped around the place debating the aesthetic qualities versus comfort of a range of slingbacks, mules and court shoes. We got chatting to the shop assistant, who bore a striking resemblance to Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard. She sported a diamond on her ring finger.

I was in reflective mood upon leaving the store.

“I find it heartwarming that someone so ugly can find love in this cold, cruel world,” I said to Róisín. Indeed, I was genuinely touched that Vicki’s stunt double could attract a mate – although I didn’t want to go so far as to imagine what class of person it might be.

“What are you on about? That girl is no more engaged than you or me,” said Róisín scornfully.

“Well, before I say: REALLY?!, can I remind you that you’re getting married in three weeks? But apart from that, REALLY?! Also, what about the ring-”

“Fake!” said Róisín. “If you put a match to it, the thing would melt right off.”

Of course, I realized she was right, and Vicki’s stunt double is destined to roam the earth seeking her soul mate indefinitely.

Apart from shoe hunting/modeling, dress fitting and moral support, Róisín really didn’t challenge me; in fact, we hadn’t fallen out even to the extent of a minor disagreement.

Then the wedding cake blew up.

Not literally, but as good as.

Within about three minutes of her conversation with Róisín, Mum had baked three fruitcakes in increasing sizes. They smelled divine: rich, fruity and spicy; loaded with almonds and soaked in poitín. She sent the cakes to Dolly in Limerick for icing – which is around about where the thruster boosters get entangled in the space capsule when Dolly was felled by a vicious virus.

Mum is not an uncompassionate woman, but is occasionally undermined by an unerring instinct for a dramatic twist – especially if it comes with splatter related visual and/or sound effects. She’s not great at plots, but my god, she can sniff out a plot twist from five kilometers if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Therefore, a week before the wedding, Mum was providing five-minutely updates on Dolly’s condition and the state of the cake.

Dolly was too sick to shop for ingredients, apply almond paste, or drop the cakes up the road to Theresa The Fondant Queen. Furthermore, Theresa’s husband had emphysema and took a turn for the worse and wasn’t expected to last the week.

“Look,” said my mum, the soothing manner in which she said it swiftly dispelled by what followed. “If the worst comes to the worst, we can just slap on some icing. How difficult can it be? It’s just sugar and water.”

“Mum,” I said on a rising scream. “I’m not sure you want to be SLAPPING anything on a WEDDING CAKE. Slap something on a banana cake, maybe. Birthday cake, most likely. But wedding cake needs delicate application of fondant with the expertise gleaned over years of icing cakes-”

“I HAVE iced cakes before!” said Mum defensively. “I can cook!”

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “But let’s face it, you tend to sacrifice presentation and garnish for flavour and quantity.”

Don’t think I was unsympathetic; generally I approach cuisine in much the same way. Regardless of the presentation, it all looks much the same on the way out, so you’ve got to wonder what is the point?

However, I make an exception for wedding cakes.

In the end, Lucy collected the icing ingredients; Dolly rallied sufficiently to apply the almond paste; Lucy dropped the cakes to Theresa who, welcoming the distraction, applied the fondant; and Róisín collected her wedding cake last night. She pronounced herself ‘delighted’ with it, which is just as well

My country

Of all the countries I’ve lived or visited, I love Ireland best. Perhaps I always will.

Of course, I am shamelessly biased. Partly I find comfort in the familiar; or it may have something to do with the smell. That is what first hit me fresh off the plane at Kerry Airport; specifically, the bucolic bouquet of sheep shit.

I have always likened New Zealand to Ireland (or the other way round, according to your allegiance), but the Kiwi landscape, although similar to Ireland, has more style and glamour. It has a better frame: the mountains are higher; the valleys are lower; the lakes are deeper; the sea a keener blue.

Yet Ireland has a shabby charm that will always endear me. There are still roads the Ordnance Survey classifies as B-grade, which are barely tarmacadamed tracks fortified with grass. You expect to round a corner and find a pipe-smoking countrywoman churning butter. Farms are commonly delineated by hedgerows.

But it is the interplay of weather and light that casts a unique spell. The good days are beautiful, but the changeable days are magic. If you don’t believe in leprechauns, banshees and fairies, you can understand the origins of the mythology. When the elements can’t decide what to do, they just throw the whole lot at you.

Apparently, the Irish summer has been terrible. The weather brings out a touch of the obsessive compulsive in the Irish, so every time they’ve spoken to me over the last few months, my parents have bemoaned it at length.

“The weather is pure bitter,” my mother would say in grief-stricken tones. “Feckin rain. We had a day there – Tuesday – or, it could have been Sunday – and the sun came out for three hours in the morning. No, now that I think about it – wait – it was the afternoon. And I think it was Monday. That was it; that was our summer. Three feckin hours long.”

When I arrived in Ireland last week, I refused to believe them.

“You brought the sunshine with you,” said my mother, darkly. “It won’t last, mark my words.”

Well, given the country’s reputation, her prediction was safe enough. After three days of stuttering sunshine, it has been inclement.

Shortly after I arrived, Danny and I walked up to Curraghmore Lake from the Black Valley. The Black Valley lakes were still underneath a moody sky. It remained grim until we reached the lake, when the sun illuminated great tracts of surrounding landscape. We watched the scudding clouds buffet the sun, but it never quite managed to reach us.

Two days ago, I stood on top of a hill in a sun shower, looking out on billowing veils of rain to the north and bright sunshine to the west, bound by a full rainbow.

If these photos don’t speak a thousand words, I apologise for the photographer’s incompetence.

Blackberries

24 September – blackberry pickers stalk their prey

Star blackberry eater

25 September – gatepost near Bunane Bridge

Church at Bunane. Composition inspired by The Incredible Di Mackey

B-grade road: the pass between Lackabane and Castle Rock

26 September – as we drove into the Black Valley, Danny said: “Look! What’s that?” And there on top of a ridge, a horse was silhouetted against the sky. We expected it to rear up on its hind legs and let forth a terrible neigh that would spread terror into the hearts of horse and human alike. But it just nibbled on some rock and then wandered off to stand on another

The Black Valley, Lough Cumeenduff from the south road

Danny foraging for doughnuts at Curraghmore

Curraghmore Mountain hogs the sun

1 October – Old Kenmare Road after rainfall; coming out of Torc Forest

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, from the Old Kenmare Road

On the Kerry Way looking north, to the east of Windy Gap

Hereby awarded the bridesmaid’s official Seal of Approval

For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed London City this time around. I lived there before relocating to the Middle East in 1998, and had fun because I was 24 and it wasn’t Ireland and I was earning my first salary that wasn’t fake money. But after two years I was glad to move on.

After nine months in the Middle East, I passed through London. I felt completely displaced. The city doesn’t ever really change, but I had. Whilst on the surface the sights and smells were familiar, fundamentally they were not.

Since then I’ve visited London once or twice a year. I catch up with friends, sit in a park, do some shopping (mainly window-based), and look forward to leaving.

This time, it felt different. London is the same: the ever present soundtrack of sirens and car horns and wheezing bus brakes; the smell of horse dung and the acrid aroma of lightly sautéed rubber; the menacing stalk of accountants armed with The Financial Times. It is still possible to feel absolutely alone in the swarming hordes of commuters.

The Tube may be a miracle of underground engineering, but it remains a grimy pit. You are tackled to the ground by charging bankers trying to make the closing doors, and you’re thinking: “DUDE! There’s another train in ONE MINUTE! It’s not like your entire day – or the REST OF YOUR LIFE which, let’s face it, is going to be empty and meaningless ANYWAY – will be ruined if you don’t make this one.” And you still don’t say it out loud because that would be quite unspeakably, dreadfully, quintessentially rude; although the sequence of events leading to your broken collarbone and a crisp packet in your hair is not.

(I nearly talked myself out of how much I dug London there, but don’t worry: I’m back on track now.)

As usual I stayed with Róisín, who lives in Clapham with her fiancée, Tim. The day after I arrived, I arranged to meet Róis at St Bart’s Hospital. She provided Irish directions, which don’t work that well outside our homeland, so I was armed with my trusty A-Z.

When I emerged from Bank Tube Station, London looked fabulous and the bells of St Mary-le-Bow were tolling. I wandered down Cheapside breathing in the fresh carbon monoxide and marvelling at the architecture. After nine months living in a wilderness, I was completely unused to such volumes of people, and stumbled around like a human skittle, grinning like a blithering idiot high on the joys of life. It took five minutes on average to cross from one side of the pavement to the other.

When I reached St Bart’s, I reached the centre of the hospital by way of an antiseptic labyrinth.  There is a small fountain in The Square, looking a bit shabby against a backdrop of scaffolding and skips. Yet as I sat on a cast iron bench mentally diagnosing passers by, with sparkles of sunshine playing on my face, I felt ridiculously and inexplicably pleased with myself.

Two days later I met my agent for lunch, then wandered through Regent’s Park: the Queen Mary’s Gardens, the Inner Circle and the boating lake. Then I sat under a tree wriggling my toes in the moist grass and deterring dogs from weeing on me (it’s easy as long as you don’t impersonate a lamppost).

My fabulous friend Róisín looks terrific and happier than I’ve seen her in years. Tim is terribly posh and rather English. Everything is ‘jolly good’, ‘quite so’ and ‘frightfully <insert choice of adjective of no less than four syllables, unless it is the word ‘shabby’>’. He always eats at the table, sits up straight, never talks with his mouth open and doesn’t throw food.

Róisín’s new yardstick for assessing people is Tim’s reaction to them. It quickly became apparent – to me, at least – that this unit of measurement is virtually useless because Tim likes EVERYBODY. His life closely resembles a musical. (I regret to say it often sounds like one too.)

Tim would almost be too good to be true, but for a sly sense of humour which is unexpected, bloodthirsty and occasionally vicious. Therefore, he is hereby awarded the bridesmaid’s official Seal of Approval

Chances are this is a building on Baker Street

Cheapside/Poultry

Door and mysterious package

Trip down sandy lane

Being back in Dubai felt entirely surreal. It was unsettling arriving at the airport and not having a place of our own to go to. Raff and Carole donated their apartment on The Palm, which was tremendously comforting since we stayed there before leaving Dubai last year. The only thing missing was Raff and Carole.

Our flight landed at 05:30hrs. Carole had left the keys with Liz, but I felt it would be antisocial to collect them before 07:00. Liz seemed entirely dubious about our credentials. She gave me a personality test and I had to fill in a questionnaire, and even then she wasn’t convinced. Eventually, Husband distracted her while I robbed the house-keys.

Helen came around on Friday morning for a swim along the beach, and Em on Saturday. We also caught up with David, Wayne and Keren, and Mark and Sarah. There’s not much I miss about this place, but our friends top the list. Even though there are only two other things on that list (swimming in the Gulf and shower hoses on the toilets, in case you were wondering), friends represent about 99% on a weighted basis. It was fabulous seeing everyone again.

As bodily by-products go, I am a big fan of vomit and particularly like to bring it up over dinner. Not often literally, because that doesn’t go down well. However, my friends reminded me of a rare wee related experience.

Some years ago, Husband and I were on a desert drive with a group of friends. When the convoy paused for refreshment, I experienced a compelling urge to externally process some earlier refreshment. So I set off to find a private spot.

I tramped over dunes until I was out of earshot; then I hiked until I was beyond visual range; and then, because I am prudish, I trudged another few kilometers. I stumbled across the desert, under sand banks, over Wadis and through sandstorms. Eventually I found the perfect place in a dip between two sand dunes, shielded from gusty squalls and/or rogue camels.

Seconds later, I was busy composing a comprehensive response to the call of nature, when I heard a noise. I’m thinking:-

“What the-? That sounds like – no, it can’t be – but if I were pressed, I would have to say that sounded suspiciously like a car booting along at 180kph.”

I would have continued to assume it was the aural equivalent of a mirage, except that it seemed to be getting louder.

Then three 4x4s thundered past at 180kph, at which point I realised I was crouched next to a stonking great six lane highway waving my arse in the air

Great taste in family

Sorry about the blogpost famine. Husband and I left Auckland for Dubai on Wednesday afternoon. It has been three and a quarter days of intense socialising and administration. I got in some swimming along the beach on Friday and Saturday morning; only 1000m, which was quite enough considering I haven’t swum since leaving Dubai last December, apart from the occasional skinny-dip in the Fairy Falls pools which hardly counts. Seems I’ve forgotten how to float.

I discarded Husband and flew to London solo yesterday. Dinner with Róisín’s fiancé Tim last night, coffee with her dad this morning; I haven’t seen much of Róis, but she has such great taste in fiancés and family it hardly matters.

It’s all go, but I hope to get back in the blog groove tomorrow

Cracking myself up

Nige: I’ve got this friend called [Narrator’s Note: can’t remember name], who got a job as a [Narrator’s Note: can’t remember what] in [Narrator’s Note: can’t remember where]. Dangerous stuff. The guy he took over from – his predecessor – was blown up.

Me: You could say: he got fired.

John, Haze and Nige: <silence>

Me: D’you get it? Fired? Hur, hur, hur.

John, Haze and Nige: <more silence>

Me: Ah now come on, that was HILARIOUS

Espresso

Haze: You brought an espresso machine – on a ski weekend?

Me: Indeed. By the way, there are terms and conditions surrounding its use.

Haze: Oh?

Me: Yes. You can have coffee as long as you don’t mock me. However, if you mock me for bringing an espresso machine along with a measuring spoon and tamper and milk frothing jug, you don’t get coffee.

Haze: No problem. Nige, is that ok with you?

Nige: Absolutely.

Me: John will be torn.

John: I’m torn

General frivolity

This morning I set off for Ohakune. Haze promised ‘general frivolities’, so I’m quite looking forward to that. If there’s no frivolity of any nature, there’s going to be trouble. I am fully equipped: walking boots, hot water bottle, two duvets, bottle of port, lashings of thermal underwear, hats and scarves.

My internet connection has been acting up the last few days, so I’ve been cut off from the outside world. People can still call me, but the conversation swiftly disintegrates into colourful swearwords and the sound of the phone being battered off the table. Husband has been dealing with those crap artists at Slingshot, who were supposed to send an engineer this week. Well, that didn’t happen

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