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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

Is it five years yet?

Ok, where to start? Another coffee: yes, great plan. Right, let me just push aside the dark mists of Time – there we go – wait; oh that’s Weather not dark mist – and revisit 2011, when we decided to move to Oamaru.

When I say ‘we’, alright alright FINE it was mainly me. Although when Husband points this out (admittedly not as frequently as I would were our positions reversed), in all fairness: I have no idea what he was thinking, letting me get away with it. I was foetus-afflicted and hormone-riddled and in a penultimate stage of epic broodiness; clearly in no fit state to be dictating such momentous life-choices.

The only condition Husband imposed on relocating was a term limit of five years. At the time, I huffed:

“OMG why do we have to put a timeframe on it? Why can’t we live there as long as it works out, vis a vis indefinitely? This just sooo doesn’t align with my free fucking spirit. Pass me that croissant – yeah just brush the coffee grounds off it – that’s grand mmm.”

Fast forward to 2015, and I’m all: “Say Husband, is it five years yet?”

And so we started thinking about where we wanted to bring up our children. For a while we considered Picton, but rejected it as too far away from Her Goatiness and Agent of Death; we also spent some time skulking around Queenstown but decided it was too . . . you know . . . too . . . Queenstown.

I’m not sure why Wanaka wasn’t an obvious choice; maybe because Agent of Death frequently and apropos of nothing growls, “Who the fack would want to live in Wanaka?” I’m not sure what I’ve ever responded, but given my cultural imperative to please, probably something along the lines of, “Yeah, Wanaka with its stupid lake and stuff, hurhurhur”. Until instead the answer was, “Um, maybe us?”

Towards the end of 2015, we started scouting real estate in Wanaka. We spent several weekends looking at pricey and vaguely preposterous properties before realising there was little to nothing that accommodated two people working from home. My job is part-time and flexible and, although I can work leaning against the kitchen bench with a spatula in the other hand, I’d prefer to gainfully employ myself at a workstation in between the scary parts of Turbo The Snail.

However, since Husband runs his business from home, he needs an office which can accommodate Excessive Technology™ (a recent upgrade from Enough Technology™), and nothing we viewed offered anything appropriate for Husband’s office that wasn’t acoustically compromised; or tucked under a stairs; or didn’t feature a stunning vista of the neighbour’s bathroom.

The situation was further complicated by Husband not liking any of the houses I did.

Eventually we decided if we’re going to ransom our children’s education for a house, it needs to tick all the boxes, and the only way to achieve that is to build our own. Coincidentally this plan aligns with Husband’s life-goal to build a house, which he presented in detail supported by a feasibility study, strategic case and realistic contingency plans on our second date. You can see how I knew he was A Keeper.

So last year we bought a section in Wanaka.

Christmas 2010

Thermonuclear guilt

Still relatively unscarred

Still relatively unscarred

Aw do I have to? Whyeeee? Alright alright ALRIGHT! Context, whatever.

So a few months ago I was at the local Toy Library, because now I’m the President I have important stuff to do there. You know, like naming our elk, and quality-testing plasma cars, and supergluing Strawberry Shortcake’s head back on because her neck is impractically flimsy. I also point at things, a lot.

Anyway, Fiona said, “I’ve gotta go soon. I collect Macey from school at three.”

At which point, my thought process went something like this: “Bo collecta! Makin moves yeah on the dance floor – what IS that song? I wish life were a musical. Then I could bust out the tunes and funky moves and people wouldn’t think I was crayzay. Re rewind. When the crowd say bo colleeecta. Crunch. Grindgrindgrindgrindgrind CLICK! FUUUCK!”

Because it was then I realised I’d forgotten to pick up Finn from kindy at 14:30.

I squealed out of the carpark on a dense cloud of burnt rubber. When I flung myself into kindy half an hour late, all the chairs were upside down on the tables and Finn was sitting dolefully on the floor with his backpack on.

“Sorry!” I gasped.

“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” said the ECEs kindly – but I refused to be appeased. I mean, I bet they say that to all the parents.

He probably had a better time there than at home, where there’s no playdough and he’s not allowed to stand on the sofa- ok look, there’s no way to make it better and I’m going to feel guilty about abandoning my child until my dying day.

So there’s the context: past, present and future.

Last week I was at the Toy Library, when I looked at my watch and it was-

“FUCKING TWO THIRTY!”

“Have you forgotten your child again?” asked Maria. I would have challenged her about the unnecessary emphasis she placed on the last word – I mean, I’d only forgotten Finn once – except I was thrashing it out the door.

I was only five minutes late and trying to gallop elegantly up the path when I met my mate, Maxine.

And her son, Q, said, “Hello, Niamh! What are you doing here?”

“Hello, Q! I’m here to pick up Finn!” I said, as if I were speaking to a four year old – which, in fairness, Q is – but also I admittedly gave Maxine a look conveying that perhaps she should spend more time doing some cognitive development role playing with her son because what the fuck else would I be doing there?

Then Q said, “Finn’s not at kindy. He doesn’t come on Tuesdays.”

While Maxine rolled around the ground laughing, realisation achingly slowly dawned that both my children, Finn and Saoirse, spend Tuesdays – pretty much all of them since Christmas – with their dad.

You think maybe that incident cancels out the other? Yeah no; I’m still dealing with thermonuclear levels of enriched, weapons-grade guilt. I imagine on my deathbed, saying: “Hey everyone listen up because this is my dying breath so it’s obviously pretty important – hey you! Put down the sausage roll and have some fucking respect! Dying breath, here! Ok anyway, look, I won’t draw it out much longer, but I really want to say this: I have no regrets in my life except that time I forgot to collect Finn from kindy: Son, I’m sorry! I’m so very, very sorry!”

<exhale>

<final curtain>

Driving underwater

In Auckland for my Father-In-Law’s 70th birthday party, we nipped out to buy some groceries and came back with a new car. It happens. The evidence is parked in our garage at the bottom of the garden.

Since my life isn’t challenging enough, I volunteered to drive it home to Oamaru: 1300km over four days – actually, 1400km with a detour via New Plymouth. It was going to be EPIC: wacky adventures, amazing experiences, vaguely creepy but ultimately benevolent strangers, the thrill of the open road.

Only two things threatened to interfere with that romantic vision: 1/ I was driving a fucking Toyota Prius, not a Ford T convertible; and 2/ my travel companions: two children (mine), one of whom takes entirely after me, which is an awful lot of potentially hazardous high-voltage complaining.

But I’d heard the weather is great this time of year, so that decided it.

My original plan consisted of messaging a friend I hadn’t seen since my wedding twelve years ago to say, “How are you? Would love to catch up! Hey, how about I stay at yours tonight? You can meet the kids!”

I was relieved to have committed minimal time, energy and strategizing to that particular plan when it turned out she had moved from Wellington over a year ago.

After a minor route adjustment, we were on our way to New Plymouth to stay with my Aunt-In-Law.

Exploring Mokau

Exploring Mokau

Ok, yes, sure, we can talk about the Prius, why not? To date, our primary family car has been a 1996 Toyota Hilux Surf, which we basically chose for the dog. Otherwise it has a number of advantages: it’s big enough for the whole family, it can drive over boulders, it has a towbar for motorbikes. On the downside: it isn’t the safest car on the road and doesn’t guzzle gas so much as gleefully wallow in it.

We needed a sensible second family car (Andrew: no, the Celica does NOT meet that description- yes, I know it fits everyone but we have to kind of wedge the dog- no, acceleration speed is not a critical factor in- look, we’ve been through this and- just no. Why? BECAUSE I FUCKING SAID SO) therefore Husband looked into what might suit our my requirements. Which were: size, safety and a minimum of four fucking doors PLEASE.

The Toyota Prius was by far the cheapest circa 2010 model that met all the given criteria with the added bonus that, as a hybrid, it does about 3000 miles to the gallon.

A door-friendly car that doesn’t feature at least eight cylinders is a major concession for Husband; a symbolic farewell to International Mysterious Manliness. I’m not sure he’s as inspired by the car’s ultra-low carbon emissions as the technology behind it. These cars are amazeballs: the battery is charged by the kinetic energy produced by the car. And when I found out the driver’s seat is heated, my toasty ass was just so fully on board.

One minor issue is the main car display, which is entirely in Japanese. According to the navigation system – which bizarrely features tiny swastikas, along with other symbols that wouldn’t look out of place tattoed across a Triad’s forehead – we spent a lot of the trip driving underwater.

The navigation display with tiny swastikas

The navigation display

This was slightly problematic on the first day, since Google Maps wasn’t working on my mobile and, after leaving SH1 at Taupiri, I had no idea where the fuck we were. I navigated by the stars until Andrew’s plane landed mid-morning and he called to offer technical support. He advised enabling the setting to connect to data services when roaming, which resolved the problem.

I’d never driven the SH39 to New Plymouth – Hobbit Country – and it was spectacular. After four hours of solid driving, the kids and I stopped on the coast at Mokau for a late lunch and some exploring.

We arrived at my Aunt-In-Law’s early enough for Finn and Saoirse to fully investigate some heavy-duty Duplo. Later, while the children slept, I looked into the ferry crossings for the following day. The only sailing we could realistically make was the Interislander at 14:45.

The AA Distance Calculator predicted the 353km journey to Wellington would take 5 hours 4 minutes. However, I preferred Google Maps’ estimate of 4 hours and 30 minutes; and I figured half an hour was quite enough time sitting around the Interislander carpark with kids fresh off a four and a half hour journey with – say – an extra hour added on for coffee, snacks, snuggles, dropped water bottles, phantom widdles and nappy related incidents; and – I don’t know – another half an hour for roadworks, detours and flat tires.

I aimed to leave at 08:00hrs, latest 08:15hrs, which meant we were on the road by 08:30hrs.

We just needed to cut down on the flat tires.

There was no paper

There was no paper in the back of the car

After three hours, we stopped at a BP for 20 minutes which somehow ended up being 40 – but not a problem – we were blazing down the SH1 bang on schedule – when Saoirse yarfed in the back.

Well, that took care of the epic part of the roadtrip brief.

I swear: she threw up mandarin segments untouched by human teeth, and an entire cheese stick still in one piece. Might even have been still in the wrapper.

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

No warning: twenty minutes before she redecorated the back of the car

I managed to pull onto the verge, put the hazards on, and fished Saoirse out of her carseat. We were an hour out of Wellington and she was absolutely putrescent; I changed her clothes and spent twenty minutes trying to soak up the boke with baby wipes. One and a half packets; a bitter exercise in futility.

By the time we were back on the road, complete with soggy supermarket bag of rancid clothes, we were officially Really Quite Late. At quarter past two and without any warning, Google Fucking Maps adjusted its Time to Destination from 5 minutes to 15.

THE FUCK?!?

Interislander rang again: “Are you nearly-“

“Yes, I’m fiftee-ive- fifive- no, I mean fifive- fuck!- FIVE minutes away. See you soon, byeee!”

I didn’t answer the phone next time it rang.

We were the last car to board.

In the food court, Saoirse recovered enough to eat Finn’s fish and chips as well as her own. Finn and I couldn’t manage much for the throbbing stench of stomach acid.

Fish and chips on the Interislander

Fish and chips on the Interislander

In addition to top-class hospitality, my lovely friend K in Blenheim provided full laundry service complete with folding. Late that evening, I dumped Saoirse’s carseat in K’s bath, chipped off the chunks and attempted to shampoo the padded parts on the straps.

Five days later, it still smells.

From Blenheim, we drove to Rakaia to stay with my friend Sinéad who has two children the same ages as Finn and Saoirse. This was the first time the kids demonstrated anything other than perplexing good cheer in the car, when Finn suffered a psychotic episode:-

Finn> “Stop! Stoppit! Stop saying ‘rabbit’! Mum, Saoirse keeps saying ‘rabbit’- NOOO! She said it again!”

Me> “Er-”

Saoirse> “WABBIT! WabbitwabbitwabbitwabbitWABBIT! HAHAHAHAHAAA!”

You can tell she’s my child.

During one of our daily phone calls, Andrew asked me whether I was enjoying the trip. It was hard to beat a couple of hours sipping margarita with Sinéad in her spa pool; that was pretty good.

But, in fact, I loved spending time with my children. LOVED it. Both responded to having my full attention to talk about the nature of free will and laws of physics . . . only kidding; mainly itemizing all the toys in Finn’s bedroom and shouting beep! beep! at lorries.

Despite having done the trip several times BC I underestimated how massive it was. They were phenomenal; they amazed me, awed me, both of them. Saoirse sat there chortling whenever she saw a tree; and Finn was so considerate – opening Saoirse’s water bottle and raisin packets for her and sharing out snack bars.

Finn (halfway from Picton to Rakaia)> “Mummy?”

Me> “Yes, sweetheart.”

Finn> “I’m happy. This is my happy face.”

Finn> <gurning at the rearview mirror>

I couldn’t have asked for better company.

La Leche

She invited me to the monthly meeting and said there would be snacks. Obviously, as a committed snack-whore, I was fully IN. I was so busy wondering about doughnuts that I didn’t think very hard – or even at all – about what format a La Leche League meeting would take.

Since Saoirse was born, she had problems nursing. She suffered from reflux, a condition aggravated by taking on air during feeding. For the first six weeks of her life, she existed in two states: asleep or roaring, punctuated with epic chunder. Saoirse’s feeding didn’t improve after treatment for level 4 tongue-tie, and when the Plunket Nurse finally referred us to LLL it seemed less drastic than asking my father to exorcise her.

We met up with the local LLL Representative – let’s call her – Bess half an hour before the meeting.

Oh, she was LOVELY. Much prettier than she sounded on the phone. She gave me a mini shoulder massage, and you know the way most amateur masseurs attack you like they’re trying to beat bears out of a bush? They don’t feel they’ve demonstrated their credentials unless you’re in agony for two weeks afterwards and your neck makes a strange ‘click’ whenever you walk up stairs? Well it wasn’t anything like that; it was WONDERFUL: light but confident.

And- AND! Bess was HELPFUL. She observed Saoirse nursing and suggested that since the latch looked fine and Saoirse was happy slurping away like a trainee alcoholic, that I should just go with the flow, as it were. Which may sound simple, but effectively vaporised the mental block I’d been banging my head against for weeks.

It was the first time I’d ever entertained a girl-crush on someone who smells of ylang-ylang and I was just reflecting on the mysteries of the human heart and where the snacks were stashed, when the rest of them arrived.

Now, honestly, I wanted to like these women. I mean: free food, including an insanely delicious cake with the perfect distribution of moist, sharp rhubarb glowing greenly against a backdrop of rich butter sponge DROOLZ.

And at first they seemed nice.

No, wait; don’t get me wrong; they WERE nice. Certainly much, much nicer than me.

Also, worthy.

But then I made the mistake of talking to them.

I’m not sure how we got on to sleep training – you know: establishing good sleep habits and teaching your baby or infant to fall asleep by replacing negative associations with positive ones. Yeah, I read a book. Can you tell?

Anyway. I wasn’t trying to be controversial – no, really – but I might as well have suggested they vaccinate their children.

“Well, I think it’s cruel,” bristled one woman, defensively cuddling her son as if she feared I might traumatise him by proposing he take a nap.

That’s probably only one of the reasons her three year old still co-sleeps with her and her partner.

Ok, right. Let me just flex my fingers and I’ll tell you what’s cruel: when Finn hasn’t had a mid-day nap, he turns into a two-year-old terrorist skilled in the arts of interrogation and psychological warfare. Seriously: when he’s sleep-deprived, my child could give Damien lessons on how to ride a tricycle. (I suspect he takes after me in this respect.)

Also cruel: Husband’s armpit variation on a Dutch oven. It’s ghastly; he waits until you’re fast asleep before snapping his pit over your face like a vice, and I would NEVER subject my child to that level of abuse.

But what the fuck do I know? I’m cruel.

I’d kind of run out of words anyway, but suffered a state of severe speechlessness when I noticed that several of the women were nursing their children. And we’re not talking about babies here; one was hotwiring a tricycle in the corner before he came over and demanded milk.

Let’s be fair: these kids looked rip-snortingly brawny. In comparison, Finn looked a bit, well, runty (sorry Finn! Thank goodness you can’t read yet! But you’re very clever! And great at roly polys!). But regardless how much boob juice I squirt at him, Finn is never going to be an international weightlifter.

I’ve spent a lot of time since the meeting contemplating why I am so actively uninspired by someone breastfeeding her toddler. ‘Repelled’ is too strong a word – I mean, I’m not about to come around and set their garage on fire or anything – but my feelings are approaching that general neighbourhood.

It depresses me because I want to be encouraging of fellow women and mothers, but in this instance the only support I can offer is recommending a good maternity bra.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve nothing against mammaries. In fact, I think boobs are brilliant. They’re fragrant, squishy and accessorised with buttons: what’s not to like? I’ve loved nursing both my babies. I still feed Saoirse on demand, often in public.

But there comes a point when breastfeeding is not ‘beautiful’ and ‘the most natural thing in the world’, but just a whole world of hell no. Or more specifically: WHAT and EW NO and WHAT ARE YOU- STOPPIT- MY EYES MY EYES! in various combinations.

When a child can walk and speak in whole sentences with complex grammatical constructs, they’re too old for nursing. They’re not babies! They’re little people!

And if you want to infantilise your child in the privacy of your eco-friendly wattle-reinforced home, then knock yourself out – but why do you need a meeting to do so?

There is rarely any reason to nurse a child in public after the age of (I’m feeling generous) one. “I’m hungry”? Here’s a banana. “No! I want miiiiilk!” Well, you’ll have to wait. When Finn wants raisins, he doesn’t always get them. I appreciate that setting boundaries might be trickier if I could fire raisins out of my nipples at will – but perhaps even more necessary. Put your boobs away! It’s been fun, but they’ve had their time in the sun!

I don’t think I’ll be attending the monthly La Leche meetings. Here’s how one of the women introduced herself: ‘I was a member of La Leche in Dunedin and I’m looking for a new tribe.’

And I thought: YES, that’s EXACTLY IT.

Although I think she might have meant ‘cult’.

I just don’t understand the whole attachment parenting thing. Personally I think bringing up children is challenging enough and anyway, I don’t  have time for the free-range yoga and weeing on apricot bushes. Well, I used to wee on my apricot bush.

It died.

Even my widdle is cruel.

I’m confident my children know the vasty reaches of my love for them, without wearing them on me. And despite calling Finn runty – oh, and referencing The Omen and The Exorcist in relation to Finn and Saoirse respectively.

“Here at La Leche,” said Bess during her welcome, “we put our children first.”

As opposed to me, who worships my dark lord and master first.

Oh no; wait; that was a phase I went through and I’m pretty sure I’m over it now.

You know, for an organisation that puts children first, some of the kids were dressed in savagely hairy jumpers. I mean, those things must have been fucking itchy.

I’m just saying.

Pubic talk

A few weeks ago, I was asked to be the guest speaker at Plunket’s 100th Anniversary Dinner in Oamaru.

I had a number of questions, which distilled down to one: could I swear? When they responded in the affirmative, I was totally in. I mean if there’s anyone in the world who would turn down Plunket-sanctioned swearing, that person is certainly not me. I fully support any grassroots movement to bring profanity to the masses.

In full cry at Plunket 100th Anniversay Dinner, Portside Oamaru 7/9/13

In full cry at Plunket 100th Anniversay Dinner, Portside Oamaru 7/9/13

It’s been many years since I’ve spoken pubically – apart from a talk I gave at the Oamaru Public Library back in March. There was a terrific turn-out, since it was entitled ‘The Filthy Business of Romance Writing’ and I think people expected me to talk about porn. It went well. At least, nobody complained about the shortage of smut; everyone liked my shoes; and afterwards one of the library staff offered me a biscuit.

Both filthy business and romance writing are subjects about which I have in-depth knowledge. However, Plunket asked me to speak about ‘Parenting’, a topic I find ever more incomprehensible the older Finn gets.

The dinner was last Saturday 7 September and I was scheduled to speak between the main course and dessert. Presumably Plunket wanted to ensure people really wanted meringue.

Shortly before I was up, I remembered to visit the bathroom to check for dental garnish. None of the dishes served for dinner included spinach, but you never know with that stuff.

I figured if my talk bombed, people might be impressed – or at least distracted – by my ability to stand and operate my lucky pubic heels while heavily pregnant. This ploy was relatively successful, although I suffered a wobble when I tried to illustrate a point with a karate-kick and pulled out at the eleventh millisecond. It was a tense moment since I had kind of committed, but hopefully everyone assumed I was referencing a Celine Dion dance move.

I decided prompt or cue cards were unnecessary, but I did blank on two occasions (once during the aborted karate-kick above). However, I successfully garnered sympathy by blaming pregnancy brain.

Following are some of the highlights from the presentation. The photos are by my talented mate Maxine Shea of Captur8 Photography – although I am disappointed she didn’t make me look thinner.

 

Mr Right
I always thought my Mr Right would be called something like ‘Phoenix Gash’ or – I don’t know – ‘Strike’. As it turns out, his name’s Andrew. Nothing wrong with Andrew; it’s a fine name. All I’m saying is: life never turns out the way you expect.

Life plan
According to my detailed and very specific life-plan, I was going to reproduce at the age of thirty. On my birthday.

Dogs and children
Andrew used to suggest that I shouldn’t compare raising a dog to raising children, but now that I have both, I can’t see why not. The similarities are striking.

Parenting: nothing to it
One thing friends did emphasise was how ‘hard’ it is, parenting. Of course I listened and commiserated; but inside I’d be thinking, ‘Oh, come on. If it was that fucking tricky, the human race would have died out eons ago’. And then I had Finn and . . . well, it really is dead fucking easy, isn’t it?

Definition of success
As far as I recall – because it’s a bit hazy now – I spent the first couple of months of Finn’s life trying not to get his head stuck down a drain. If I came to the end of the day and Finn’s head wasn’t stuck in a drain, that was my definition of successful parenting.

Parenting through the ages
Reading between the lines: after I was born my parents basically stored me in a box under the stairs until I’d housetrained myself.

The Answer to Everything
If Finn ever challenges me about my own ‘parenting skills’, I have a response prepared. I’ll say, “He‎y. You didn’t ask to be born!” And when he says, “Wait- that’s my line!” I’ll say, “Oh yeah, right like so fully WHATEVER, dude. Look: at least I never left you in a fucking gazebo.”

I’m pretty confident there’s nowhere left for that conversation to go.

Amazing expanding snot
I have suffered prolonged exposure to Amazing Expanding Snot – and that knowledge can’t be stuffed back into Pandora’s Box. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Andrew and me
Andrew and I have been together for fifteen glorious, happy years. Sure, we’ve faced our share of challenges; nothing too dramatic: extortion, murder, arms dealing, IVF, etcetera – just the usual relationship ups and downs.

Cyanide muffins: deadly
If someone stuck a gun to my head or threatened me with a cyanide muffin, I would have to admit that Andrew is the love of my life. To quote The Boss – that’s Springsteen, not Finn – I love him ‘with all the madness in my soul’. That there’s an awful lotta crazeballs.

How parenthood changes you
After you have children, both of you change – but as a full-time mother, you change more. It’s cataclysmic. When I had Finn, I spontaneously turned into an anti-social, seriously sensible, tediously responsible funsucking killjoy. All: “No, you can’t set the dog on fire until you say please.”

And – bless him – Andrew thinks his life has changed because he occasionally has to buckle someone else’s seatbelt.

The difference between fathers and mothers:
Andrew gets to lock the bathroom door. Oh, I’ve tried that. Yes. Which results in either a tiny tyrant trying to kick the bathroom door in FBI-style; or he infiltrates the bathroom and stands there staring psychotically at my arse as if it’s the most mesmerising piece of kit he’s ever seen. Which it may well be, given his limited life experience.

Status update: intestines
My bowels haven’t unclenched for twenty months. That’s a long time. I try not to be resentful – and I haven’t exactly checked recently – but I’m pretty confident Andrew’s bowels are just the grandest.

Turn-on
These days, my idea of hot foreplay is Andrew putting the baby to bed and folding the laundry. Or anything I can sleep through.

Mystery unlocked
Now I understand why parents park their shopping trolley in the middle of the supermarket aisle. BC (before child) I had no idea; I just thought parents were selfish and entitled. I suppose I could have asked some harried parent, but there’s an awkward conversation. You know: “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question? What is that perfume you’re wearing – it’s quite delicious – and also, why the fuck do you have to stop your fucking trolley in the middle of the fucking aisle?”

And then one day, Finn swept all the spices off the shelf in New World and I’m standing there in a swirl of cinnamon thinking, “EureKA!”

Mystery still locked
Even after having a child, I still don’t get ‘Baby on board’ stickers. Because I can think of no occasion – not one – where I’ve been driving along and seen someone without a baby on board, and thought, “AW FANTASTIC! I’ll just rear-end that sucker at the next red lights!” I’m pretty sure my insurance policy doesn’t cover that.

One of the things you learn as a parent:
Sleeves are multi-purpose.

One indispensible top tip
When faced with a problem, it’s always useful to think: “What would Madonna do?

She could have photoshopped my waist

She could have photoshopped my waist

I made a little girl cry but that three-year-old was so totally asking for it

Over time, I’ve learned how to successfully navigate the treacherous doldrums of the social milieu.

Drunken relatives, flashers, pukers, puking flashers, men with sinister moustaches, people who address me in pidgin Leprechaun: I’ve stared down them all and emerged from each encounter with – variously – enhanced awareness, self-restraint and/or lexicon of expletives.

Then I had a baby and was introduced to a whole new, entirely foreign social protocol.

Basically the problem is: parents.

Or more specifically that, as a parent, you are directly and fully responsible for an irrational, arbitrary, vicious, Hulk-smash werebeast in miniature.*

7/6/13 - Going mountain biking

7/6/13 – Going mountain biking

I mean: what do you do when someone’s child gouges another’s eye out with a sawn-off spoon? Or reverses repeatedly over some baby’s head in a tonka-truck? Or dismembers a teddy bear with a chainsaw?

I can handle the situation when Finn is the aggressor. What do you mean, HOW? I – ah – right. Yes – well – er – the key – I think – is anticipation and prevention. On the occasions Finn slips past my vigilant defence and robs some kid’s toy with a rugby-style high-tackle, I – ah – assess the severity of the transgression allied with the degree of damage to person and/or property. After separating the children and confiscating unlawfully relocated possessions and stanching any blood, I apologise profusely to the associated parent in between expressing how terribly embarrassed I am and I SWEAR HE TAKES AFTER HIS FATHER.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

And as long as Finn’s still breathing, I’m ok when he’s attacked by someone’s child and his/her parent swoops in to apologise profusely and express how terribly embarrassed they are and I SWEAR THEY TAKE AFTER THEIR FATHER. I mean, these things happen. Kids will be kids. Life is full of hard knocks.

But I’ve been – let’s say – taken aback by the number of parents who appear not to notice their lovable little scamps staging a violent coup in the north annex of the playcentre. (I’ve noticed the lack of interest appears closely correlated to their number of progeny.)

Under such circumstances, I’m not sure what acceptable procedure is. I’m particularly uncomfortable disciplining someone else’s child, allied with a primal terror of offending people. But where is the line between my cultural heritage and my duty of care towards Finn? And what message do I give him by standing by and letting him getting hurt? And how much am I being over-protective as a first-time mother? After all, the majority of other children are still in possession of most of their limbs and they can always be sewn back on . . . so perhaps I’m being melodramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time, you might agree.

The other day, I took Finn to a playcentre for children ranging from newborn to age seven or eight. There are two distinct play areas: a room with a playpen for the babies and an adjoining gym with slides and trampolines and cars for the older kids.

Finn has been able to blast his way out of any industrial-strength playpen for several months now, so although he’s a little too small for the gym that’s where he spends most of his time.

When we arrived, a three-year old girl took an interest in Finn – perhaps because he was precisely 50% of her body mass. If Finn had a toy, Katy wanted it. Then she started pushing him.

The third time she did so – with no evidence of any supervision or parental intervention – I crouched down in front of her and said, ‘Ah, now. Would you mind awfully – er – not doing that please? It’s not – um – very nice. Ok? Good girl.’

The look she gave me was so chillingly disdainful I actually felt a piece of my soul shrivel and die. Then, while I peeled my weeping son off the floor, she sauntered off to temporarily terrorise some other child.

Everyone was standing around gathering up coats and bags when I noticed Katy stalking Finn again. Unfortunately, it was too late to alter the course of fate. Thrusting both her hands squarely in his chest, she hurled him into a chair.

I was standing slightly behind her out of her line of vision, so I suppose from her perspective it was something of an ambush when I pounced on her. However, I was gentle but firm. In other words, I stuck my face in hers and barked, ‘NO! PLAY NICELY! NO PUSHING OTHER CHILDREN!’

Look, at least I didn’t call her nasty names.

As she stared tremulously into my slightly bulging eyes, her shocked face quailed and her little bottom lip quivered. Then she burst into noisy tears.

And it was like a stack of dominoes, detonating an explosive chain reaction of wailing. Finn’s friend** Max was so overcome with misery he flung himself on the floor and sobbed inconsolably.

Imagine your worst visualization of Hell, only about ten times noisier.

Next time I’ll ensure there are no witnesses.

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

* Before you ask: not only do I include Finn in the assessment above, he was in fact my primary case-study in formulating and refining this theory (I’m in NO POSITION to discriminate here).

** I love his mother and Max doesn’t routinely fire Finn into furniture, so at this stage that’s a BFF as far as I’m concerned.

How to apply effective pointy finger

I hope everyone is looking forward to a surpassingly excellent Christmas and brewing up an extra-strong cup of kindness for welcoming in the new year.

Wait- one moment please- I’m getting some breaking news from my online feed. Oh. It appears I’m a little belated. Seriously? Is it 2013 already? Are you SURE? Doesn’t feel like it. Never mind; at least I can throw out my extra-strong cup of kindness, which smells like composted grass.

If you didn’t get a Christmas card from us, it’s because the dog ate it. Also, my new android phone is obviously too high-tech for postal addresses, since it dumped them all when I imported my contacts.

Better get on with compiling new years resolutions. Starting with:

1. Better excuses.

So, how is everyone? Sorry it’s been ages since my last update-

2. Blog more frequently.

But in my defense-

3. Less excuses; quality not quantity. Refer to resolution (1).

-after hangin’ with John Key, it’s hard to write a sequel.

4. Meet a(nother) national treasure e.g. The Topp Twins.

(Although should we ever bump into the yodeling lesbian twins specializing in comical country music, I might never blog again because I’d know such an experience could never be surpassed. Maybe I should aim to meet Dave Dobbyn – or simply stick to three resolutions. That’s plenty.)

We have enjoyed the most amazing, exhilarating, thrilling year and I’m quite exhausted – but I can’t wait to see what treats 2013 has lined up for us.

Our little boy turned one last week and it’s difficult to recall what our lives were like before him.

I love his squidgy baby feet

I love his squidgy baby feet

 

29/12 Intrepid explorer

29/12 Intrepid explorer

Watching him grow is a remarkable experience. In the space of only six months, he has progressed from lying on the floor punching himself in the face to- well, mainly punching me in the face, instead- but also: rolling, crawling, standing and chortling – especially when swinging in the playground.

Finn swings

4/12 Finn swings

He never stays still and changing his nappy is a writhing, squirming, flailing conflagration of legs and hands and bottom.

Unfortunately, the way he expresses love can be somewhat violent. At the moment, our family catch-phrases include, ‘No biting, just kissing’ and ‘Use your gentleness for good not evil’. Also: ‘GAH NOT THE GLASSES!’

Finn now puts his arms around my neck and plays with my hair while snuggling – which is lovely until he concludes cuddles by sinking his teeth (all two of them) into my shoulder.

I had no idea how babies got around to speaking, but subconsciously I rather expected Finn to turn around one day and say, “While you’re at the fridge, Old Girl, would you mind passing the Roquefort?” Months ago, his adoring grandmother claimed Finn had an extensive lexicon, but it’s only been relatively recently he credibly says ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘dog’ and ‘uh-oh’.

He’s a sociable little fella, ready with a smile and pointy finger for everyone. A keen and talented grocery shopper, Finn flirts shamelessly with the check-out assistants.

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

1/10 Finn kicks back in New World

He adores his father and practically leaps out of my arms to get to Andrew to confide how I beat and starve him.

However, it’s comforting that I’m still his favourite person upon whom to wipe his nose.

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

29/12 The family at Lake Tekapo

It is such a privilege to love him. Finn is a funny, joyful, generous little boy and caring for him is a gift. I still can’t quite believe how fortunate we are to be able to share his life.

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

27/10 Finn with some woman suckered onto his face

The Greatness

Here’s how it all came about: it was last Friday, and we were trying to avoid Charles and Camilla. They are apparently atrocious bores so you don’t want to get stuck with them at a party or, for that matter, a Canterbury A&P Show.

We were lurking outside the showground when we bumped into John Key – or more accurately, one of his security detail.

“Quick!” I said, “Get Finn out of his stroller so I can introduce him to John Key.”

Andrew was disappointingly reluctant.

“Come on, Niamhie,” he said. “He’s got better things to do-”

“Like what? Kissing babies is his job-”

 “Running the country is his job,” said Andrew primly.

I snorted. Well, John Key quite obviously wasn’t waiting on an imminent fax from Vladimir Putin; he also happened to be snogging a baby at that moment, which I felt somewhat undermined Andrew’s argument.

“Look,” I said, “I think it’s really selfish of you to deprive your son of the opportunity to meet John Key.”

 “What makes New Zealand great is that celebrities can walk around unmolested.”

HUH?

FIRSTLY, John Key isn’t a celebrity; he’s a politician. Secondly, what makes New Zealand great is bungee jumping and Sauron The Dark Lord. And thirdly, these things make New Zealand really pretty awesome but hardly ‘great’. I’m not dissing my chosen home; it’s just that there are very few countries that qualify as ‘great’. In fact I can think of just two: The USA, due to its size and Davy Crockett; and England, because it says so in the title, but also because, you know, Genghis Khan.

Husband eventually capitulated, mainly because I started whining and threatened to sulk.

Johnny is SUCH a dude. No really; I like him. People were swarming around shoving their children at him – many with chocolaty hands – and although there was a touch of rigor mortis about his smile, it never faltered. He wasn’t that sweaty even though it was a hot, sunny day and he was stuffed into a suit.

I had no intention of foisting my cranky, squirming progeny on him, but Johnny seized Finn and didn’t drop him once. He fully complied with my request to ‘show some teeth’.

This is the result of a photo op that lasted about 3 milliseconds:

Husband says it looks like I am throwing my baby at John Key, which I completely did. You gotta be quick since he moves INSANELY fast

Not only did Finn get touched by greatness, I got in a quick grope so you might say I also touched the greatness

Wind chill

I’ll tell you for no extra charge, it’s pretty bracing around these parts. Suppose I’d better poke the fire. Eh, maybe it’ll wait another while.

I can’t believe the temperature in this town. I mentioned it to an Oamaruvian the other day, and she said, “Really? I thought this winter was mild.” Although she looked particularly hardy (well-insulated with a tough, crusty exterior).

Our location is undoubtedly a factor. The other day, Husband said, “How come we get so little light? I thought we reconned this house in winter!”

In fact, we first viewed the house over a month later back in 2011. It had been snowing at the time which, in retrospect, probably didn’t help. I mean, you kind of ASSUME it’ll be a bit chilly. You certainly don’t sit around a snowdrift waiting for the sun to come out to assess how much the house gets.

In fairness, the house had been beautifully warm on both occasions we viewed it prior to purchase. With the exception of the two side-bedrooms and bathroom, the house is toasty and dry if we fire up the wood-burner first thing in the morning and keep it going all day. The only issue is the lack of light; in the rare event the sun puts in a cameo appearance, it doesn’t make it over the hill until 11am and is gone by 3pm.

When we first viewed the property, I thought the RE Agent had over-extended her artistic licence describing the place as ‘landscaped’. I’d forgotten this by the time we moved in last year, in early summer. It’s almost impossible to imagine we’ll be struggling to keep the jungle from overrunning the house in a couple of months.

Now it’s all mud, slick leaves and shivering, skeletal trees. The warehouses lining the street below are clearly visible beyond the denuded willow trees and we have a fabulous view of the neighbours’ roof.

Yet I was trimming the raspberry canes the other day; they seem dead from a distance, but up close they are a beautiful russet colour with gorgeous, tiny vibrant green and red buds along their length. It’s quite fascinating getting up close and viewing the garden on a micro level.

Not that I’ve done much of that, due to the weather and the mini-man’s violent indifference to pruning.

Dressed for Oamaru. The hat is one knitted by Finn’s adoring grandma from a French pattern – which may be why it spins around on his head so that the ear flap dangles rakishly over one or both eyes

How to apply a crotch post

As soon as we got home, I started Finn on solids in earnest. Her Goatiness had procured a high-chair for when Finn visited the farm, after researching every last consumer feedback website on the Internet. Happily the cheapie plastic Warehouse variety (Babywise) scored highest on standards and safety.

Her Goatiness offered to buy us a high-chair too, so we borrowed it for a week to see whether it would suit us. Finn was an instant fan, delighted to sit at eye-level hurling toys at people around the table.

Finn in his high chair

It’s not what you’d describe as elegantly streamlined, but it’s functional and stable. Finn fits comfortably in it; there’s a crotch-post to stop him sliding out the bottom; a five-point harness; the chair level adjusts to three different heights; the tray is sturdy and easy to attach and detach; it has castors; and the harness straps are evidently a tasty palette-cleanser in between spoonfuls. I’m confident the baby is secure in it and he’ll sit quite happily for up to an hour if I give him a spatula to bash himself with and wheel him around the kitchen after me.

Husband never likes to commit himself to positive over-statement, but he definitively declared that he ‘hated’ the high-chair. His issues included ‘it’s ugly’, ‘I don’t like green’ (“It comes in orange too,” pointed out Her Goatiness; “Don’t like that either.”), ‘the straps are too fiddly and in fact makes the chair LESS safe because who’s going to spend the time strapping him in when it takes so long?’

To which I responded, “Er, I am – and, by the way, YOU ARE TOO.”

Although I have a clear understanding of Andrew’s heartfelt antipathy towards Her Goatiness’s consumer-rated high-chair, I’m still a bit fuzzy about what he DOES want. Possibly an ergonomic high-chair equipped with sensors that detect the presence of baby and automatically straps him in, which would rise up out of the floor in a swirl of dry ice with a majestic, discordant chime of organ notes.

Which would admittedly be TOTALLY COOL.

Andrew showed me a picture of the kind of optimal high-chair he had in mind, which was a limited edition WankyNaff™ high-chair crafted from a single piece of wood from the vulvos tree which grows only on the south slope of a tussock in the tiny Laowunha province during the mating season of the batwing bat which happens once every 104 years.

“Nice, isn’t it?” said Andrew. “I think I could make one.”

“Splendid,” I said, “you should jump right on that.”

I thanked Her Goatiness for her offer and authorized her to purchase a high-chair for our use. I didn’t want her to think we’re ungrateful (just her son, which is probably her fault anyway). After all, it was very generous of her – and, realistically, we would probably have ended up with a second-hand chair spackled with dried rice cereal and one leg splinted with a broom handle. I don’t know; perhaps she was conscious of the incongruity of that outcome.

I figured the chances were Andrew wouldn’t even notice.

We’ve been having great fun introducing Finn to food. I started him on mashed banana and cooked, pureed apple – a couple of tablespoons at a time.

Initially he was enthusiastic if uncomprehending; it took a while before he realized he couldn’t fit both spoon and his fingers in his gob. In fairness, we also underwent a learning process. I’d always thought a spoon was for conveying food to mouth; but in Finn’s case its application is primarily scraping overspill off his chin. Also his nose, cheeks, forehead, hair and surrounding furnishings.

Finn’s interest waned when he hurdled his boredom threshold after a couple of days. However, I’ve added more to the menu and kept it varied. Now, when we put him in his high-chair at the table, he sits with his mouth open and extends a squirming, questing tongue until the food arrives.

I usually add pureed vegetables or fruit to dried baby food. He’s had baby rice with apple, porridge with banana (a big hit), pumpkin soup, leek and potato soup, yams, pureed lentils, and carrot mash. Last night, he hoovered down half my dessert: blueberry frozen yoghurt.

The only thing he turned down was a Watties teething biscuit – and honestly I don’t blame him. I tried one myself and am sure the packaging is tastier and likely more nutritious. I tracked down some Farley’s rusks in the international food section of the supermarket. Although Finn loves them – he’ll spend half an hour solemnly gnawing a rusk to a sticky paste and applying it to his hair – I just don’t have the strength of character to handle the mess. I’m still finding spatches of rusk adhered to random surfaces: the baby monitor, my laptop, the dog’s collar, the kitchen wall.

Here’s a video of Finn about two weeks ago during dinner: LOOK NO BIB!

That’s our definition of daring these days.

Doctors have difficulty finding love

So, immunization.

Before Finn was born, Andrew and I discussed our respective views on vaccines.

Years ago, a friend lent me some literature on immunization. It read like an issue of Conspiracy Theory Quarterly, its message roughly along the lines of OMG YOUR DOCTOR IS TRYING TO MURDER YOUR BABY!!! VACCINES ARE INSTRUMENTS OF EVIL WIELDED BY GOVERNMENT AND BIG PHARMA FOR THE PURPOSES OF POPULATION CONTROL!!! AND AUTISM!!! FORMALDEHYDE!!! SUPER DISEASES!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! TERRIFYING STATISTICS WITH LITTLE TO NO CONTEXT!!!

Then we have Responsible Parents, supported by the government and healthcare profession, which makes out that anyone questioning vaccination is an ignorant hippie selfishly benefitting from ‘herd immunity’ whilst simultaneously subverting it.

No doubt the truth lies somewhere on the scale between both extremes.

Previously, if I’d ever fallen off the fence due to a drunken stupor brought about by intimate knowledge of frozen margharita, I would have ended up on the side of YOUR PAEDIATRICIAN IS A KILLER (single exclamation point only).

Mainly because the headline features more dramatic appeal than, say: ‘Vaccines responsible for control of infectious disease’. But also, I have a viral distrust of the medical profession after 10 years’ involuntary exposure to the doctors of Dubai – a position only entrenched by Finn’s and my current doctor’s dynamic complacency (see below).

I am immune to most standard antibiotics – but not Rubella, despite being vaccinated at the age of 12 (the angry mark on my upper left arm still flares up in sunlight). The one time I got the flu vaccine, I spent the following four months hacking, snorting and gargling snot.

But then Finn came along and pushed me off the fence and, much to my surprise, I found myself on the other side.

Mainly because of this:

Finn would not exist without the miracle of modern medicine and science. And the measures we took to have him required unconditional faith in the healthcare professionals involved.

So it seems a bit hypocritical to say, ‘Hey, thanks for making our dreams a reality and changing our lives utterly, although we’re not so gripped by the sleepless nights – eh, look, forget I said that; it’s a small thing, never mind – what’s that? Oh yes, right. Here’s the thing. We don’t trust you to keep him well.’

In any case, if Finn ever contracted measles or polio or whooping cough, we would be straight up in the grille of the medical profession anyway.

But doctors, they make it so difficult to love them.

Shortly after we got home, we took Finn for his five-month vaccine. Three days later he fell ill.

His symptoms were inspecific: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, pronounced grumpiness (which may simply be his father’s genes gaining ascendency), and unresponsive to the lady on her horse going nim nim nim.

Normally when he wakes up from a nap, he is overjoyed to see me; all, ‘WOW, it’s YOU! HURRAY! This is TOTALLY AWESOME! Aren’t I unbelievably cute? I KNOW! Pick me up pick me up pick me up! HEY, will you do that dancy thing down the stairs? AW, YAY! I JUST NEVER KNEW LIFE WOULD BE THIS MIND-BLOWING!’

For a full week he wouldn’t even reach out to be picked up, but just lay there staring at me accusingly with red-rimmed eyes before crying. And crying and crying. Then breaking my heart and pulverizing it into a fine paste with his tears.

See what I mean?

Eventually I was concerned enough to bring him back to the clinic. The doctor failed to appreciate how critical the situation was, despite Finn sitting quietly on my lap showing no inclination to rip out the doctor’s nose hair by the roots, or kick his kidneys to kingdom come.

The doctor listened to Finn’s chest, palpated his abdomen, checked his ears. He found nothing apart from a lump of earwax the size of a peanut, which rolled onto his desk and spun gently before coming to rest.

“Any coughing?”

“No.”

“Rash?”

“No.”

“How are his testicles?”

“His . . . bollocks?”

“Testicles. Yes.”

“I, er- I suppose they’re round and . . . squishy . . . I don’t know! I’m not an expert on balls.”

“He probably has a mild viral infection,” murmured the doctor, making notes on his laptop. I saw him write ‘testicles normal’, which I felt was sloppy if not downright negligent. I mean, after explaining my lack of expertise in the area of testes, I wouldn’t have thought he’d just take my word for it.

“A viral infection?” I said. “Where . . . I mean, how would he have . . . ?”

“Oh, babies can pick them up anywhere,” he said, conveniently ignoring the fact that he’d injected several nasty strains into my son four days previously. “Give him Paracetamol. Make sure he gets lots of fluid.”

“He has a high temperature,” I said, stubbornly ignoring the dismissal.

“Temperature?” said the doctor, as if this were an abstract and rather random concept. “Oh. I didn’t . . . I suppose I should probably take his temperature.”

“YA THINK?”

When the doctor withdrew his thermometer from Finn’s ear, it read 39 degrees.

“Odd,” he said, frowning. “He doesn’t feel warm.”

“Why don’t you try the other ear? It might be better.”

AND HE DID.

Not that it made any difference.

“So when should I start panicking about him?” I asked.

“Oh, bring him back if you get worried,” he said vaguely.

I’m pretty sure Finn’s sickness was a reaction to his DTaP-IPV-Hep B/Hib immunization. In fact, I’m hyper-positive. It’d be nice to think that after we left his surgery, the doctor reported Finn’s response to the NZ Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring, but it’s more likely he practiced incorporating a squiggle into his signature instead.

When I got home, I did a bit of research on the Internet – which I feel is AT LEAST AS reliable as my doctor – and adverse reactions to vaccinations seem pretty normal. Several people reported that their older infants, who had started sounding words, stopped speaking after being innoculated.

Apart from OMG Finn might be STRUCK PROFOUNDLY DUMB! the Internet didn’t yield any useful advise so I kept Finn hydrated and dosed him with Paracetamol.

After about a week his fever finally broke and thankfully he’s now back to normal.

Although he’s still not talking.

Travel colds

Back in Auckland, trying to dose a head cold with gin. I’m aiming for enough to protect my baby from germs, but short of making him drunk. On the bright side, I don’t have it as bad as Andrew:-

“Everyone knows man-colds are worse. I should probably be in hospital.”

“In fact, I think you should go straight there. I’m sure they’ll admit you immediately if you go to Casualty and explain the situation.”

“Yes. They’ll probably put me in intensive care.”

I think he’s decided to stick around and sneeze at me instead.

Another near miss

True to form, we almost missed the flight from Dunedin to Auckland.

Here’s more form.

Aaand more.

In case you need further convincing.

Ok? Good.

Thank goodness we had enough time to stop off for a Beano’s Pie, although not enough to feed the baby. When we arrived at the airport, Finn had practically started himself on solids by gnawing his own arm off with the hunger, poor child.

I rushed into the terminal to nurse him and was sitting in front of the Jetstar counter thinking, “Hmm, HOW ODD there aren’t more people checking in”.
 
Next thing, I hear an announcement: “Jetstar flight JK837 to Auckland is now closed, the counter is now closed. Any remaining passengers for Jetstar flight JK837 to Auckland please proceed to go fuck yourselves”.
 
And I’m on my feet, baby clamped to boob, trying to distract the woman at the Jetstar counter, who is stowing her microphone with a terrible air of finality, when Andrew saunters in the door like he’s strolling through the public gardens looking for an aviary with a rare breed of cockatoo.

Thankfully he managed to persuade the Jetstar Attendant to re-open the counter by using his charm or underarm sweat – either of which are equally potent.

How to take money from a single mother on the dole

The day before the parents arrived, Her Goatiness came around to polish our windows. The day before THAT, she and Florrie weeded our garden.

Just before we set off for Christchurch to collect the parents, Husband broke the vacuum cleaner when he threw it down the stairs (he said he didn’t mean to, but I’m not sure what outcome he expected from balancing it on a top step and then tugging vigorously on the power cord. Alternatively, he has yet to master the concept of gravity). I put in an emergency call and Her Goatiness hoovered the place while we were gone. I suspect she might also have mopped the bathroom floor.

We borrowed The Outlaws’ Audi Q8 for the trip to Christchurch (Her Goatiness cleaned and washed the car before we picked it up).

(My mother in law makes it REALLY difficult to bitch about her.)

The previous week, I’d bought two foam mattresses on Trademe for collection in Christchurch.

“Niamhie, how are we going to fit your parents’ luggage in the car along with two foam mattresses?” asked Andrew.

“They’re FOAM!” I explained. “Bendy. We can FOLD them. Wedge the bags on top.”

However, when Andrew maneuvered the mattresses into the boot of the car, I couldn’t see out the rear view mirror.

Unfortunately – shortly after the mattress purchase – I’d also bought a baby change table.

“It’s a big car!” I said. “Huge! You’re telling me we can’t fit two single extremely bendy foam mattresses, a change table, my parents’ bags, their golf clubs, a box of baby stuff and my parents in the boot?”

“Pretty much.”

“We could bring the trailer-”

“No.”

“Well, on your head be it.”

I can’t believe he let me win the argument with such a cliché. I don’t even know what it MEANS – or, for that matter, what Andrew’s head has to do with arranging foam.

I’d been looking for a Childcare brand change table on Trademe for some time. The starting bid was only $10; however, the auction closed two days after our trip to Christchurch so I opted to buy now at $40 after checking we could pick it up on the Monday.

There was a box of crap on the doorstep of the given address and a decapitated garden gnome in the entranceway corner. When the trader opened the door, I had to fight an overwhelming urge to bolt back to the car screaming, “CONTAMINATED ZONE!” and seal all the doors.

Really, I should learn to trust my intuition.

The house was littered with junk: overturned chairs, broken speakers, shredded boxes of Special K, dead animals. Well, I didn’t see any carcasses, but I wouldn’t have been AT ALL SURPRISED.

The trader was a young woman who was perfectly pleasant and indeed, I thought, rather lovely – apart from exhibiting a gigantic gaping gulch of committed bum crack. She was also wearing a sinister woolen beanie that failed to conceal the fact that her hair needed an urgent appointment with a bottle of shampoo – or a sodium hydroxide based cleaning agent.

Then she brought out the change table.

She excavated it from under an unidentifiable swatch of crusty material and other assorted landfill.

It was absolutely, unbelievably, skin-clawingly filthy. I mean, it couldn’t have been any dirtier had it been stored in a bat cave and Philip Roth wrote a novel about it.

This was probably when I should have made some socially acceptable excuse e.g. “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was made of, er, plastic”, instead of the truth i.e. “I can’t- it’s just- I mean- ew- words- not coming,” then returned the $40 to my back pocket instead of handing it over.

“Oh, I suppose I should maybe have wiped it with a cloth,” she said as Andrew dismantled the table in the drive.

More appropriately, she should MAYBE have water-blasted it.

Back in the car, “I want to wash my hands,” said Andrew, holding the steering wheel as if afraid his fingers might stick to it. “I don’t think this was one of your better Trademe purchases, Niamhie.”

“I know,” I winced. “But I’ll scrub it down and it’ll probably clean up fine-”

“Did you see her teeth?” he asked with a delicate shudder.

“No- what about her teeth?”

“Gak!”

“Oh no! If I’d noticed her teeth, I’d NEVER have gone through with it!”

It was just as well the airline left a portion of the parents’ luggage in Sydney – a box containing two pictures and a little wooden chair my father made for me when I was a child. As it was, Mum and I sat in the back of the car with suitcases stacked between us.

Back at home, when Andrew brought the change table up from the car, I noticed one of the wheels was broken and the lower tray inexpertly glued in one corner – neither of which were mentioned in the Trademe description. Perhaps I could have got over that with some aromatherapy and deep relaxation techniques, but my feelings only intensified after an hour spent scouring the change table in the bath, then disinfecting it, then disinfecting the bath, then burning my clothes and disinfecting myself.

Had the trader lived nearby, I wouldn’t even have attempted to clean the table. I would have towed it back down the road, dumped it in her front garden, and asked for my money back from within the confines of a sealed hazmat suit.

“You didn’t!” breathed Andrew in horror, his social sense of etiquette completely violated, when I told him I’d rung her and negotiated a refund of $20.

“I bloody did,” I said, grimly. “That table was a disgrace- I would be pure MORTIFIED to sell something in that sort of condition (mainly in case someone like me blogged about it, but)- her Trademe listing stated, ‘in good condition, and clean’- which was a total misrepresentation- she must have been fucking HALLUCINATING at the time- hey- anyway- YOU’RE the one storming around griping about how we got ripped off-”

“Yes, but, the time to do something about it would have been when we picked it up-”

“Well, I didn’t notice you thumping the roof of the Audi complaining about the state of it-”

“You realize this poor woman is probably on the dole-”

“That’s no excuse for living in a tip! If she cleared out all the crap in her front room and put in some grass and kept a fucking SHEEP, it would be about a hundred times cleaner not to mention more hygienic-”

“She’s probably a single mother on the dole, and you roll up in your Audi Q8-”

“It’s not my- whose bloody side are you on anyway-”

“With your little high-heels and your hair-”

“What the-”

“And quibble about $20! She probably won’t be able to feed her son for a week-”

“THAT’S NO EXCUSE! SHE SHOULD HAVE BEEN PAYING ME TO DISPOSE OF THE THING! IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF IT!”

Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.

THINGS HAVE INDEED CHANGED.

Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

Top of Trotters Gorge

Finally got around to uploading the pics from Trotter’s Gorge last Saturday. We only got two because the camera sprang a leak.
 

This is me, after climbing to the top of Trotters Gorge. In many ways, the photo is deceptive. As I recall, my face was throbbing red; also, that shirt evidently covers a multitude of sins. One of them being an eight month old foetus. Which is really more a misdemeanor

 

Places of interest.

Killjoy Funsucker III

In the face of overwhelming and largely irrefutable evidence, I’m reluctantly resigned to increasing exhaustion and immobility.

I’m not sure why this comes as a shock. Perhaps because I subscribe to the ‘I’m-pregnant-not-suffering-from-some-chronic-debilitating-disease-symptoms-of-which-include-acute-belching’ school of thought.

Inspired by my mum – who, when pregnant with me, played squash up to her eighth month (which, if you consider the number of times I must have violently head-butted her cervix, may serve to explain much) – and my obstetrician in Blenheim – who ran a triathlon at 36 weeks pregnant at the age of 42 (which, because she was my doctor, I prefer to think of as admirable rather than CERTIFIABLY NUTCRACKERS INSANE) – I imagined I’d still be rock-climbing and shark-wrestling well into my third trimester and practicing extreme karate-kicks with my midwife between contractions.

Therefore, I’m fairly sullen about squaring up to reality. This unhappy station includes having to adopt the recovery position for several hours after a round trip to Dunedin, and being incapable of trundling the dog around the Oamaru Public Gardens without collapsing onto every single park bench for the purpose of puffing.

The situation has been aggravated by my recent erratic sleep patterns. In our antenatal class, while the other prospective mothers complained about sleep deprivation, I merely smiled mysteriously (or more likely unbearably smugly). Because until recently, I slept like a hibernating bear with the chromosomes of Rip Van Winkle. (Did you know a tompion is a pellet of mud and saliva that a bear inserts up his anus before hibernating for the winter so that ants won’t crawl in? The word originates from the French ‘tampon’ and can also be used to describe a plug placed in a gun’s muzzle while not in use to keep out dust and moisture. In case you were wondering, neither application has anything whatsoever to do with my REM quality.)

I’m not sure when it started, but I find it just about impossible getting comfortable in bed. Lying on The Asset’s head used to work, but when I try that trick now he kicks my lungs into my oesophagus. It’s been hella hot in the last couple of weeks, which hasn’t helped. Also, my bladder’s holding capacity appears to have shrunk to that of a beetle, resulting in at least two nocturnal bathroom forays. Previously, I’d return from a bathroom run thinking, ‘Beh I’ll NEVER get back to sleep *huff*!’ and three seconds later I’d wake up in the morning. Now – perhaps in preparation for parenthood – I like to prove myself right.

I’ve also adopted a startling grunt. I emit this grim, guttural expectoration when I sit, stand, ascend stairs, pull weeds, throw Jed’s frisbee, open doors . . . in fact, any action other than lying in a perfectly still, prone position. I would grunt rolling over in bed, except that the action is beyond my current skill-range.

Anyhoo.

Yesterday Andrew and I had planned A Great Adventure.

To be accurate, I planned it and Killjoy Funsucker III failed to talk me out of it.

We drove south and turned west into Trotter’s Gorge where we stopped for a bush-walk. The sign in the carpark estimated the Loop Track at 1.5 hours. It didn’t mention most of it was uphill, which added a striking new depth of flavour to my grunt echoing joyfully around the woody hills.

Back at the carpark, we enjoyed our first swim of the summer in the nearby stream i.e. we crouched in three inches of water seeing who could shriek louder.

We carried on, stopping for a picnic just over Dansey’s Pass: soda bread with great slabs of cheddar cheese, date scones, apples and mince pies.

Last night, I slept like a dead squirrel.

The Great Udder Cake

I’d been waiting for an excuse to make coffee cloud cake. The batter is made by alternately folding stringently sifted flour, espresso and walnuts into a light, fluffy meringue-like base. After baking, the whole is smothered in lush coffee icing.

Now, you might think: WHO NEEDS AN EXCUSE? If you’re not preoccupied thinking NOM NOM NOM.

Indeed, it’s a valid question. But it seemed clear to me that justifying decadence on this epic scale required an Occasion.

Finally Her Goatiness asked me to bake a cake.

Actually, she asked me to stop off at the supermarket and pick up one of the generic sponge cakes that taste like reconstituted carpet and look like an Easter Bunny threw up on it.

However, she asked early enough that I could tell she really wanted me to make one. Also, it was a special occasion: the day after Old Tom’s birthday.

Generally speaking, the anniversary of Old Tom’s debut appearance would constitute The Occasion, except that The Outlaws forgot. When Old Tom called around to have Happy Birthday sung tunelessly to him, Agent of Death was down the milking shed and Her Goatiness wouldn’t let Old Tom watch Worst Teenage Bodies on telly because she wanted to see Downton Abbey.

In the scheme of things, the Guilt Cake is more important than the Birthday Cake. As well as the message, ‘We’re pleased you’re still alive’, it must also convey an apology with some degree of sincerity. As far as I was concerned, the only way to salvage Old Tom’s relationship with The Outlaws was via home baking.

(Also I’m not about to eat supermarket cake.)

Until recently, I’ve been a fan of the one-bowl school of baking. In fact, I’ve never understood why you can’t just fling the ingredients directly into the tin and bung it straight in the oven. But lately, I’ve been foraying into frosting: cinnamon tea cakes with toasted coconut topping, sponge cakes with jam and cream, miracles with chocolate icing and a cherry on top.

I evicted the spiders from the cake pans and preheated the oven and beat eggs and sifted and folded. I think you can estimate how the final product will taste from how much you want to lick the batter. In the case of the coffee cloud cake, I nearly got my head stuck in the mixing bowl and was picking batter out of my hair for the next two days.

The cakes smelled glorious. They looked even better. After they cooled, I leveled the tops, stacked them and slathered the whole with icing.

Coffee cloud cake - optimal profile

I pressed toasted walnuts into the side and cherishingly transferred the cake to a plate. It was only then that I spotted the leftover cake on the cooker hob, and realized . . . I’d forgotten the third layer. It was supposed to be a three-layer cake.

It was just as well, because not only had I run out of icing, but . . . well . . . from certain angles . . . the cake . . . it featured something of an aggressive LEAN. No matter how much I prodded and swore at it, the top layer slumped drunkenly off to one side.

Stop that cake! It's getting away!

However, valuable lessons were learned from the experience.

And without the coffee cloud cake, there might never have been the udder cake.

Last week I was tasked with making a birthday cake for Her Goatiness. The spec was a cake descriptive of a goat’s udder.

Nobody said it had to be three-dimensional, but Her Goatiness is notoriously hard to please. There was high likelihood of her spurning a two-dimensional cake and refusing to blow out the candles.

Andrew obsessively tracked the progress of the cake assembly with a kind of morbid fascination. Given my mother-in-law’s partiality for pus, I was keen to garnish the teats with yellow icing but Andrew said, “Niamhie, you can’t make a cake with MASTITIS.”

No vision.

It took me most of the morning to make a plain 20cm square butter cake and two 20cm round chocolate sponge cakes. I took a break for lunch.

“How’s it going?” asked Andrew. “Have you looked at pictures of goat’s udders?”

“Pictures!” I snorted. “I don’t need PICTURES. Don’t you think I’ve seen enough fucking goat’s udders to know what they look like?”

“Hmm,” said Husband reflectively. “Ok. How many teats do they have?”

“FOUR OF COURSE!” I shouted. “What sort of fucking question is- I’m not some nuffnuff, you know!”

Although obviously an awkward and disagreeable conversation, I was ultimately pleased it occurred. A little disagreement adds spice to a relationship. It fostered greater understanding between us. Also, Her Goatiness’ udder cake would otherwise have sported four teats instead of.

Er.

Two.

As per the standard configuration.

Thereafter, I consulted pictures on Google images and drew an elevation of the udder before starting the sponge-carving.

I stuck the cakes together with jam to discourage independent roaming. Then, with input from Andrew’s gag-reflex, I made up a vat of revolting pink butter icing. From my experience with coffee cloud cake, I knew butter icing was tricky, collecting crumbs and preferring to stick to the spatula rather than the cake. Thankfully, I’d read an article which suggested dipping the spatula periodically in a jug of boiling water and thereby encouraging the icing to slide off.

It’s probably fair to say Her Goatiness had never seen a cake quite like it. Nor anybody else, for that matter.

Goat udder cake

The dog ate my blog post

I missed a post last week.

(Shh! I don’t think anyone noticed!)

Still, I feel the only polite thing to do under the circumstances is to offer up an excuse. Since I’ve used ‘the dog ate my blog post’ at least once, I’m kind of stuck. All my creativity appears to be channeled into gestating. At this rate, The Asset will be a work of art. Or a real piece of work. Maybe a bit of both? Whatever.

Also, we’re still full-on just over two weeks into our new home. I have been engaged in an orgy of scrubbing. I assure you, the word ‘orgy’ (please see previous sentence) was wittingly applied. My affair with cloth is obsessive, dirty, frenzied, exhausting and slightly lustful; all appropriately packaged in complex emotions like shame and guilt.

So far I’ve cleaned the kitchen.

Really quite thoroughly, you know.

Also, I could do with a shower.

I would have liked to have the entire house scoured by now, but there have been so many other critical items demanding our attention, including but not limited to: extensive rugby analysis; thinking up imaginative insults for Irish and South African referees; distracting our midwife from discussing ‘bonking’ and the more literal aspects of digestion; and spending hours attempting to train Fisher & Paykel’s customer relations representatives. I am also required to provide critical backup and support for Andrew’s stealth ops to Mitre 10.

And then there’s the garden. If you sit and stare at it, you can actually see the vegetation advancing on the house. It is – literally – a jungle out there. We may not be at risk of being attacked by tigers in our back yard, but currently the most efficient way of getting to the garage is swinging Tarzan-style on a vine from the front door.

Which has proved challenging at seven months pregnant.

Yesterday, armed with a trowel and sunhat, it took me five hours to clear an area roughly the size of a manhole cover. At the current rate of progress, the garden might be free of weeds by 2030. Alternatively, I could send Andrew out with a vat of Roundup; or we could just spend the money and tastefully concrete the entire section – which is the option I’m currently favouring.

I could savage a slice of broccoli quiche

Judgement Day is inevitable.
– Terminator 3

Two days left before the move and I’m sitting in the living room surrounded by boxes, bubble wrap, sheets of cardboard and shreds of packing material. I can’t find anything except dust bunnies. Although thank goodness Husband still manages to locate a screwdriver or glue gun when he needs one. It’s a relief.

The only reason the sofa isn’t packed is that, in my current condition, getting out of a bean bag involves some applied input from Husband to achieve output and frankly he has enough to be getting along with.

Bless him: I have no idea where he finds the energy. In addition to working a full-time job, Andrew has wrapped, stacked and labelled anything not nailed to the floor; transferred it to the upper garage; finalized the house purchase; sold his boat; and yet has still faithfully watched all the All Black’s matches except the one against Canada and even I couldn’t see the point in that unless you were so bored the only alternative was clipping your own toenails.

I’m trying to keep pace with the boxing, but have slowed down a lot in the last couple of weeks – Andrew might say CONVENIENTLY. But really, at the moment, I can wrap about three plates and a coaster before I have to take a nap. Exhaustion seems to accompany spurts of activity from The Asset and for the last while he has been making really quite admirable efforts to kick me in the shins.

However, I did make a major contribution to proceedings by calling every packing company, moving business, freight specialists and guys with vans, trailers and/or wheelbarrows in New Zealand. The cheapest quote for a door-to-door move was $3000 + GST, but we could hire a container in Spring Creek and have it relocated by rail to Oamaru for around $1200 inclusive.

Originally, Andrew planned to ferry our stuff into Spring Creek on a trailer. I was concerned he had underestimated the volume of our possessions, while overestimating the capacity of Sherriff’s trailer (assuming Sherriff allowed us borrow it in the first place). But despite Andrew being more concerned about dust from the gravel road getting into his stereo system, he was undeterred.

This changed after he experienced some twangs out of his back – trying to extricate me from the nether regions of bean bags – and we decided to hire a local moving company to transfer our things from Port Underwood to Spring Creek.

Evidently this plan is imminently sensible as befitting our status-in-transition to responsible parents who file early tax returns; but I’m also optimistic the movers will be beefcake eye-candy with winning smiles and rippling muscles.

Past experience suggests they will more likely be exceedingly sweaty with rippling paunches.

Chances are they’ll also probably grunt inappropriately.

Terrifying wainscoting

Hindsight has imbued The Great House-Hunt with heroic and epic proportions. When realism catches up, I can acknowledge how quickly and relatively painlessly we acquired a house.

One of the most distressing things about the frequent trips to Oamaru (all two of them) – apart from the WWII documentaries over breakfast, the prolonged psychological exposure to RE Agents, the terrifying wainscoting, and the ever-present fear that it was all futile and we were going to end up homeless and I’d have to give birth under a bridge – was that The Rise of the Asset was completely overlooked.

Being fully gestational is so exciting that I resent any time not productively spent feeling incredibly blessed, excited and/or clever (honestly: being knocked up makes me feel like a GENIUS, despite all evidence to the contrary involving numerous teenagers demonstrating conclusively that it has more to do with stupidity and/or stunning quantities of alcohol). Although I feel satisfied in living a full complete life, pregnancy is undoubtedly the closest I’ve ever been to a genuine miracle.

During those trips to Oamaru, there were whole MINUTES where I completely forgot I was pregnant. Until I tried to leap over fences, or caught myself stealing food off other peoples’ plates, or assessing railway bridges for exposure to draughts. Which are generally not the aspects of pregnancy upon which I prefer to focus.

Now that we’re home – when we’re not dealing with lawyers, booking containers, performing extreme weeding, sourcing boxes, packing, and selling fishing boats – it’s all about The Asset again.

For a long time I hadn’t been sure whether what I felt was The Asset exploring the boundaries, or pickles negotiating the dangerous bends of my digestive system. But recently there’s been no doubt. I’ve sometimes wondered whether The Asset has a bouncy castle in there, or a squash racquet and ball. In fact, the little guy has been extremely active since the start of the Rugby World Cup. Coincidence? I think not. This is, after all, a Kiwi baby.

The other evening, I was sitting on the couch when the prodding got so extreme I wondered whether the effects might be visible to the naked eye. Although I felt a bit foolish – I’m just into the 24th week, which was surely way too early to visibly detect movement – I pulled up my sweater and stared intently at the Homewrecker.

Next thing, my whole belly did a Mexican wave.

“It was AMAZING!” I gabbled to Husband later. “Possibly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen! It was like . . . like . . . like it’s ALIVE in there!”

“Er, Sweetie,” said Andrew gently, so as not to startle or alarm the pregnant lady. “It IS.”

Unfortunately, Husband has yet to witness the phenomenon. He’s too impatient to sit staring at the Homewrecker for longer than it takes to demand a cup of coffee; and The Asset refuses to perform on demand. Yet.

In any case, Andrew’s presence appears to have an incredibly soothing effect on his child.

Wild Rose House

So by now I hope we’re all agreed that there’s a special annex in Hell reserved for Real Estate Agents. Any place featuring a conglomeration of RE Agents can only be living torture; but I like to imagine this wildlife reserve also features rancid food, lashings of foul-smelling slime, oxygen that causes choking and taps that drip eternally.

It actually distresses me that Claudette is destined for this place. If she is, I fervently and sincerely hope she gets a room with a nice view.

Claudette is a RE Agent with LJ Hooker, and we love her. In a face-off between Claudette and Haemorrhoid, I just KNOW Claudette would so completely bitch-slap Haemorrhoid right back up her own arse.

I met Claudette while Andrew was still in Dubai, after a friend of The Outlaws’ referred me. Naturally I expected someone in a barely legal mini-skirt reeking of expensive French perfume, but in fact Claudette looks like she would take really good care of you if you had a head-cold. She wears a natty red leather jacket and has wonderful, twinkly eyes and round cheeks that you just want to rub because you instinctively know it would be a life-altering tactile experience. (Obviously you don’t, because being arrested would probably be a similarly life-altering experience.)

I was taken aback when Claudette actually appeared to listen to my description of what we wanted; and frankly startled when she processed that data and presented me with a short-list of property from her books that met all my criteria of being private and secluded with a generous garden.

One of Claudette’s recommendations was Wild Rose House. Since access to the house was tricky, Claudette said I was welcome to do a driveby. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the place. I was immediately predisposed towards it. I like things that are confounding.

On our first joint reconnaissance to Oamaru, Claudette took Andrew and me to see Wild Rose House. It wasn’t where I’d thought it was at all – which was why I couldn’t find it, if that makes sense.

The day we viewed the house it had snowed overnight. The garden looked lank and miserable, but Wild Rose House itself embraced us in a snuggly fug of cosiness. Cunningly, the vendor had just baked bread, so instead of stale cigarettes or mouldy carpet or a build-up of dead skin cells mainly comprising feet, it smelled deliciously yeasty.

Despite the fact that we loved the house, there were a number of factors that put us off. For me, it was the vendor not offering me a slice of bread. In retrospect, if she’d given me the whole loaf, I would have put down a deposit right there and then.

For both of us, the main issue was location – not from our perspective, but for its resale potential. Although you can’t see them from the house, warehouses line the main road below. But we were more concerned that the area is renowned for being the chilliest spot in Oamaru. When I describe the house’s location being “in the cold, damp gully”, everyone goes, “Ah, THERE”.

However, we were charmed enough by the house itself that it sidled unassumingly into the number four slot on our short-list.

After this first house-hunt, we were rather surprised to find that neither Orchard House nor Wild Rose House hit the top slot. In fact our first choice was a house on Tay Street, which the RE Agent advised we could probably get lower than the asking price.

The initial viewing of Tay Street was unfavourable, due to the place smelling of armpits and my fear of catching herpes from the carpet. The back of the house was was a bolt-on extension, with a ‘conservatory’ that was effectively a glasshouse chopped in half. However, it was a beautiful old period house with high ceilings and original fittings, in a wonderful location about five minutes from the centre of town overlooking the harbour. It also included a fully contained sleep-out at the bottom of the front garden.

Demonstrating a guilefulness I’d previously unsuspected of him, Andrew suggested we could sell the sleepout to pay for renovating the house. Cosmetic alterations, he hastily reassured me. Coat of paint, rip out the smelly carpets, polyeurethane the floor – that should cover it. Have it done in a weekend.

Her Goatiness and Agent of Death shattered our dreams when, upon our request, they went to check out the house. “Dry rot,” was Her Goatiness’ verdict. “Everywhere. Window sashes like butter. SOFT butter,” she elaborated. “Also the extension at the back needs to be ripped out. Doesn’t have a building permit.”

So. After we didn’t get our way with Orchard House, we moved onto #3 – Andrew’s preferred house on Bushy Bush Road. After his kindly agreeing to bid on Orchard House, the least I could do was pretend to reconsider Bushy Bush.

In the end, even Andrew agreed Bushy Bush was a long shot. It required extensive interior decorating and, since the asking price was significantly higher than our budget, it was clear that in the unlikely event we actually got it we would have to decorate the interior with artistic interpretation of wattle and mud.

Throughout all this, we kept coming back to Wild Rose House. We drove by it on several occasions to gauge the concentration of cold and relative saturation. High on the side of the gully, it enjoys sunlight morning, mid-day and afternoon. Despite our concerns about resale, we both acknowledged that it was precisely the type of house and location we personally wanted to live in.

Our offer was accepted and possession is in early October.

I just know we’ll be so happy living there.

Extravaganza bonanza

Well folks, it’s been a spectacular show at Deadlyjelly’s Travelling Circus.

We have now officially viewed every house/shack/shed for sale in Oamaru; got to grips with dry rot; negotiated until our eyes bled; counter-offered until the vendors’ eyes bled; and fought off ravening real estate agents with targeted nudity. We set the dog on one and currently have a hit-man contracted to take out another.

As if that weren’t enough, there was also a fortieth birthday party with possum; explosive goats; t-shirts with nipple holes; a caesarian resulting in two squeaking puppies; and five bags of baby clothes. In the meantime, I tested the structural integrity of a lamp-post with the rear bumper of the Outlaws’ Audi v8.

But in the midst of this extravaganza bonanza, by far the most exciting event was SANDWICHES!

No, wait. Not that.

I meant: the auction.

The auction with SANDWICHES!

Because the latest trip to Oamaru was scheduled around the sale of Orchard House.

Three weeks ago, after viewing Orchard House at the open home, we called in to see the real estate agent – not affectionately called Haemorrhoid. When we told her we were interested in the property, she practically gnawed our arms off.

Haemorrhoid agreed to show us the place again two days later and, while there, I reiterated our interest and suggested we might put in an offer before it went to auction. With a practiced pout of devastated regret – which she might have pulled off were it not for the smug smirk and misplaced air of self-importance – she said, “Weeell, we’ve had a lot of interest, you know. Lot. Of interest. Especially from out-of-towners. You’d really need to put your best foot forward.”

As it turned out, I should have followed my instincts to put my best foot forward then and there and rearranged her face.

That would be called a Benefit of Hindsight.

We came away with the distinct impression that we were too shabby to afford Orchard House – and that we should wash our car.

However, we had an undercover agent operating on our behalf in Waitaki. Concealed in a shrub with a pair of binoculars, Her Goatiness staked out the open homes every Saturday and Sunday in the lead-up to the auction. Her report stated: ‘Nil zero sum total zilch visitors. Quote lot of interest unquote appears alleged and spurious. Slash Haemorrhoid’s tyres? Please advise.’

A week before the auction, Haemorrhoid sent us a text message asking if we were attending. After analysing the slightly desperate tone of the text, Andrew and I deduced we were possibly the sole and exceptionally rare party interested in Orchard House.

Now, you may have picked up that Andrew was immoderately unenthused about Orchard House upon first viewing. And yes, of course I considered emotionally blackmailing him with the additional leverage of being 5 months pregnant with his child.

However, after many extensive discussions on the issue of property, we came to understand what is important to him and me and to us as a couple, and an awful lot of that is wanting the other to be happy. Which is just one of the reasons I love being half of this partnership. So I applied no further persuasion (apart from occasionally reminding him of the ORCHARD! just to be absolutely sure he was aware of the presence of peach trees.) Eventually he announced he ‘could live there if he had to’ – which, as far as I was concerned, was a seal of approval.

His change of attitude was more a gradually encroaching yet entirely grudging acknowledgement that Orchard House was perhaps the best of all the properties we’d viewed within our budget.

And so we geared up for auction. We notified Haemorrhoid we would attend; Andrew boned up on auction terminology; we confirmed our finance was set to go; we scoured the auction pack; we wondered whether there would be snacks.

Ok, I wondered whether there’d be snacks.

(I mean: they were going to a lot of trouble; you’d think they’d lay on snacks, right?)

We agreed Husband should do the bidding, since I was rather over-excited. My job – which Andrew made up on the morning to keep me amused and make me feel involved – was to note the progression of the auction: the order of bidding and amounts. I had a pen.

We were barely in the door when I was distracted by three huge platters of SANDWICHES! They looked WONDERFUL: cut on the diagonal with no crusts and an imaginative and challenging range of fillings involving mayonnaise. I asked Andrew to taste a couple for meat and/or poison but pushed him out of the way because he took too long.

I’d just about finished the first platter when the Old Girl – one of the vendors, who we’d met at the second viewing of the house – came over to chat. She asked after The Asset, then disappeared and returned seconds later with a gift: a knitted doll. Her husband’s hobby is knitting dolls. He’s Dutch. Really, I can’t make further comment, because it was an incredibly sweet gesture and I was – look, I was touched. It’s our first baby present.

Befjes Muff Diver

However, I do blame her for my neglecting to spot the plate of miniature Lamingtons until just before the auction started. The presentation was a thing of beauty: a mass of chocolate and delicate pink coconut-covered confections topped with puffs of cream. Unfortunately I only had time to cram one into my mouth before the auction kicked off.

There were about twelve bystanders: a couple of families with kids, some squinty-eyed mouth-breathers and a coven of real estate agents who all looked like they styled their hair with a deep fat fryer. I stood there eyeballing potential opponents to intimidate them – a difficult stunt to pull with a knitted dolly tucked under one arm and my chin pebbledashed with dessicated coconut.

Now, my Bucket List isn’t that ambitious. Well, it’s virtually indistinguishable from my New Year’s Resolutions for the last decade, except that it includes singing karaoke. I’ve never been much interested in seeing the Northern Lights because, you know, I’m pretty sure you can achieve much the same effect with certain drugs. And I’ve never had any interest in swimming with dolphins. They’re slimy, nasty, vicious creatures with a reputation for kidnapping, bullying, extortion and even murder. They probably don’t put the toilet seat down and also, DOLPHINS RAPE WOMEN. That last link is well worth reading for Pearl Caligula’s description of Ireland’s national treasure alone which, if it doesn’t make you laugh like a drain, either your sense of humour or mine is defective. No no, I wouldn’t like to say which. I’m sure you’ll giggle.

Bidding at auction was never originally on my Bucket List, but that, my friends, was an oversight. The tense battle of nerves between auctioneer and bidder was such a RUSH. And when Andrew bid – I swear I have NEVER experienced anything so SEXY. It was just as well he was the only person bidding. It could have got positively indecent except that, thankfully, Husband had a SANDWICH! concealed in his pocket. (Curried egg mayo with grated carrot – surprisingly delicious.)

Our bid didn’t reach the reserve despite the auctioneer’s increasingly desperate attempts to persuade us to bid against ourselves; or anyone else to join in. The auction passed in.

After all the excitement, the aftermath was a bit of an anticlimax. We went into the house and sat on hard chairs. Haemorrhoid seemed at a loss as to how to facilitate negotiating an agreement midway between the vendor’s reserve and our bid. We attempted to kick-start the process by upping our offer. She ignored that and instead, attempted to intimidate us by informing us there was another couple present who were prevented from bidding at auction but planned to put in an offer. Unfortunately for her, we’ve never been much intimidated by imaginary people.

At this stage, Haemorrhoid had a face on her like she’d been licking a cat’s arse, which was putting me off the remainder of the SANDWICHES! I realized it was all over when I discovered the fucking kids had cleaned out the Lamingtons. We made our excuses and left after the Old Boy attempted to confiscate his knitted doll.

As it turned out, we should have known better than to take on a Dutch couple with nearly 160 years of combined cunning, guile and inbred tightness between them. The last thing we heard from Haemorrhoid was that the Old Boy had asked her to relist the house at precisely the mid-point between his reserve and our offer.

So just to spite her, we bought another house.

Talent for casting shadow figures

There is indeed a blog post simmering, but it was parked for an impromptu trip to the hospital yesterday.

You’ll be glad to hear The Asset is in cracking form and appears to have a startling talent for throwing shadow figures.

Unfortunately, his mother wasn’t performing so well. Nothing major: just some inspecific pains around the midriff that felt like a cross between gas, the onset of nausea, cramps and/or a critical build-up of Hyperactive Imagination. 

An ultrasound showed The Asset is fine; my blood pressure and heartrate is normal; so far there is no explanation as to what’s going on with the belly. Most likely, the discomfort is a result of my uterus trying to perform martial arts after a lifetime hanging around doing nothing more energetic than playing tiddlywinks with my spleen.  However, it came on so fast we decided to check it out.

Wairau Hospital kept me in overnight for observation – not because I had critical organ failure and frothed at the mouth – but more because we live so far out of town.

We have been so impressed with the level of publicly-funded service and care we’ve received at various clinics and hospitals around New Zealand. With the exception of one fertility doctor who spent half an hour persuading me she had no idea how to use a speculum, it has been absolutely outstanding.

Bear with me: there will be a post tomorrow at the latest.

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.

ORCHARD!

We thought the house-hunting trip to Oamaru might afford an opportunity to shift some of our possessions.

We asked Sheriff if we could borrow his trailer – the official reason being that ours wasn’t big enough for the sort of Extreme Relocation Husband had in mind.

Unofficially, only two days before our extremely unpremeditated and totally disorganised trip, we realized our trailer’s warrant of fitness had expired. We considered renewing it on the way through Blenheim, except Andrew feared it would fail due to the condition of the wheels.

I suspect this officially qualifies us as Bogans.

Andrew wasn’t sure whether Sheriff had a trailer, because ‘he has a tractor’.

I really had no idea why possession of one precludes the other; so, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I snorted. “Of COURSE Sheriff has a fucking trailer. He has EVERYTHING. I’d stake my life and that of my unborn child and this delicious caramel slice on it. Oops. Too late.”

Admittedly an aggressively anti-dainty response, but I’m basically trying to spend my surplus swearing credit for the next 13+ years before the baby arrives. That’s a LOT of execration to jam into four months. My language is absolutely filthy. I’ll go back and attempt to edit it out of this post. (Note: this translates to a roughly 75% depreciation on wordcount.)

Of COURSE Sheriff has a state-of the art trailer that features its own braking system probably with anti-lock and hydraulics; it has four wheels, a jockey wheel, twice as much bed area as ours and a built-in spa pool.

Instead of merely touring our possessions around the country, we relocated my purple fridge, Andrew’s dirtbike, coolbox, a crate of Andrew’s junk oily man things, and two boxes of my crap beloved literature for storage at The Outlaws’.

Then we started into the property search, with a grand tour of all the open houses in and around Oamaru. This was equally uplifting and depressing. Uplifting from the perspective that there are some entirely habitable houses in Oamaru if you have a spare $200k and don’t mind strange, unidentifiable smells. Depressing due to the accumulative psychological effect of our standards imperceptibly rising with each property visited.

We visited pretty much every house for sale in Oamaru. Amongst the quite respectable family homes, we viewed places that would have been perfect had the garden extended further than the bush in a pot; houses with stunning views of the local landfill; houses with stunning aromas of the local meatworks; houses with State Highway One two paces from the front door; houses with patches of wall boarded up with plywood; places featuring grubby tenants in the front room preoccupied with snorting spliffs and erectile dysfunction.

Now, I’m not sure about Andrew, but I was expecting – perhaps it was naïve – or idealistically romantic for Oamaru – but I thought. Well.

I imagined Andrew and I walking into a house and our eyes meeting in an instant of perfect, piquant accord, our excitement swelling as we trail after the real estate agent until she leaves us to “talk it over”; barely containing myself until she closes the door softly behind her, then giving a shriek that somehow manages to be sexy and charmingly girlish rather than making the nerves spasm in cramp and leaping into Andrew’s arms and him twirling me around, laughing joyously. Then we’d both start talking at once and there’d be more joyous laughter and possibly more twirling.

So that didn’t happen. Didn’t come close. Possibly because I’m not sure Andrew’s given to anything more excessive than an enigmatic smirk. Also, of course, the social twiggle he issues to acknowledge someone has gone to the effort to make a joke although they’ll have to try MUCH harder to evince anything in the vicinity of joyous laughter.

He’s also not the twirling type – although I live in hope. Once – admittedly a LONG time ago – at least 10 years – also Andrew was really quite lopsided – we were at a nightclub and he treated me to a Dirty Dancing moment. You know after “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” Patrick Swayze throws Jennifer Whatsherchops over his head and then everyone starts dancing and he lifts her up in the air. That bit. Frankly, it was quite uncomfortable about the pits and after – ooh, I don’t know – four seconds, I felt a bit of a pratt poked up there. I know I was supposed to be carried away by the moment and Andrew’s strong, manly arms, and oblivious to anyone but him, but I ended up looking around thinking, “I hope he puts me down soon and nobody steals my vodka and ginger ale in the meantime”. But all said and done, it’s a nice experience to have shared together and I remember it fondly.

ANYHOO. It soon became apparent that Andrew’s and my preferences are – astonishingly – completely contradictory. Basically, the problem is that I prefer tasteful houses, while Husband doesn’t.

I fell for a gorgeous 1890 house in pristine condition about 25 minutes out of town with an orchard. ORCHARD! Everything I loved about it, Andrew hated: the walk-in larder off the kitchen (“That would just annoy me, having to walk down two steps to the fridge”), three bedrooms (“Too small”), original wood paneling (“Feels dark”), woolshed (“Eyesore. We’d have to tear that down”), a log burner and a destructor (“SNIFF!”), brass fittings (no comment), fully self-contained and largely self-sufficient (“Lots of maintenance”).

Andrew’s flat refusal to be swayed by the ORCHARD! makes me seriously question the foundation of our marriage if not our entire relationship.

Thankfully, whenever I struggle with doubt, I have that Dirty Dancing moment to fall back on.

The property Andrew liked didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It had a roof, walls, driveway, whatever. View of the sea – but really, EVERYWHERE in Oamaru has a view of the sea. It also, admittedly, had lambs – but in my opinion lambs are overrated. I’ve just never understood their popularity/appeal.

It is probably just as well both properties are likely beyond our means at this point in time.

We will have to compromise between my search for a home that might sate my violent nesting instinct, and Andrew’s interest in investment potential and sale value.

I’m looking for a haven where I can hang mobiles and paint the nursery while considering the benefits of terry-cloth nappies over disposables. Andrew’s looking for a shack he can do up and make a killing on – preferably a massacre – in five years time.

I have visions of me going, “Honey, we need to go; contractions are 10 seconds apart and also: FU-” and Andrew saying, “Yeah, look, can you just give me two minutes until I finish plastering the fireplace.”

The excuses

SORRY SORRY SORRY! We are currently in Oamaru on an undercover reconnaissance trip – guess this officially blows our cover – gathering intel on properties for sale. We’ve just spent the last two days doing the rounds of open homes, or stalking real estate agents depending how you look at it (and whether you’re the terrorised agent).

Unfortunately I’m too exhausted from walking around houses and practicing psychological intimidation to write a blog post. I’ll update later in the week if I can either a) wake up and/or b) stop eating long enough.

In the name of the recipe, and of the ingredients, and of the oven temperature preferably in Celsius. AMEN

I’ve been nesting.

(NB If nesting includes housework, I’ve been too generously interpretive with the artistic licence again. I’ve never been a keen fan of housework – apart from a fastidious approach to my kitchen. I am known to wipe down my kitchen cupboards on a daily to hourly basis. I also practice an aggressively contemporary approach to laundry.

However, a legion of dust-bunnies would have to be annexing the west wing and most of the south and east before I’d apply a duster. One of the main reasons I married Andrew was because he hoovers VOLUNTARILY ENTIRELY OF HIS OWN VOLITION WITHOUT BEING ASKED.

I know: he is A Treasure. Although Andrew thinks it was due to other attributes/charms, I’m pretty sure the hoovering was why I had to beat other women off with a broken Tequila bottle when I first met him.

It’s probably important to reiterate here that this is the sole expression of Andrew’s feminine side. I would like to remind you he also performs extreme car maintenance and once crumpled a beer can against his forehead.

Where was I? Oh, yes: basking in my own smugness.)

When I say ‘nesting’, I mean I’ve been spending a lot of time baking. Much to my shock, Bunqueen recently gave up her powers – without my even having to threaten her with a broken Tequila bottle – when she lent me her book Ladies, A Plate by Alexa Johnston.

The author is a historian whose hobby is cooking, and the book is a compilation of traditional recipes from community newsletters and old cookbooks. Although most of the recipes have a distinctly Kiwi flavour, many of them were staples of my own childhood (perhaps because my parents lived in Australia when they met): shortbread, pavlovas, pikelets, gingerbread biscuits, rock cakes, queen cakes, sponge sandwiches. The book also includes slaver-inducing recipes for Anzac biscuits, afghans, neemish tarts, cinnamon oysters, miracles and custard squares.

According to NZ Women’s Weekly, many people burst into tears upon opening the book. Which makes me seriously question the mental stability of many antipodean people, so let’s move on.

I embarked on a baking bonanza, making ginger crunch (Husband’s request), shortbread, almond macaroons, miracles, queen cakes and ginger kisses. In fact, I have limited interest in the end result. It’s the batter I snort by the dessert-spoonful; and I also love sitting around gazing adoringly at my ginger kisses.

While in Oamaru, I picked up a Sunbeam Snowy ice-cream machine to replace my old Krups, which was leaking freezer fluid into the bowl (lent a disturbing synthetic overtone to frozen desserts). So we’ve also been enjoying Irish coffee, almond praline, and white chocolate and toasted coconut ice-cream.

In case you think all we eat these days is biscuits and ice-cream, we do occasionally eat potatoes and – what are those things again? – oh yes, vegetables. My culinary crusade also embraces homemade pasta and breads; vegetable chili with sour cream and cheese; garlic bread; hot treacle griddle scones with butter and jam; spicy bean burgers with yoghurt and sweet chili; parsnip and potato mash with parsley sauce; spanakopita; Mediterranean rice with toasted almonds; potato bake; pancakes and/or waffles with chocolate sauce, fresh fruit and yoghurt; fettucini with pesto sauce; homemade baked beans; egg mayo sandwiches with watercress on herby Parmesan bread; and Cajun fries with sour cream.

Despite my being 17 weeks pregnant, Andrew and the dog appear to be the only members of the household putting on weight. Really, it is a mystery how I am even in the vicinity of 60kg, never mind remaining stationery.

Unfortunately, this fresh enthusiasm for all things boiled, baked, grilled, toasted, fried or waffled has suffered a couple of setbacks.

The first is that I’ve been having problems with vegetables. Gangs of turnips roaming around graffiting the garage . . . no, sorry, that’s just my imagination. Normally I’ve nothing against vegetables particularly parsnips and any pregnancy book I’ve read somberly stresses the importance of whangin into spinach. Yet there’s absolutely nothing that makes me crave a packet of salt and vinegar crisps like a broccoli floret.

I try to deflect any potential vegetable deficiencies with soups. Also, I had a carrot last week.

The second is that my brain appears to be broken. I used to be proficient at scaling up or down recipes on the fry, usually making 3/4 or 2/3 portions. These days, dividing by 3 yields at least four different answers. The problem is further exacerbated by somehow scaling all but one key ingredient, such that I end up with about four times too much salt or tabasco.

Conversely, I appear to have increased ability to multi-task – which would be useful if I were ever fully aware what I’m actually doing at any point in time. The other day, I flung two teaspoons of yeast and three tablespoons of flour into the bread machine before I realized I’d forgotten to insert the bowl.

I’ve also managed to refer to the opposite page for cooking instructions, resulting in hamburger buns which were – I’d like to go with ‘crusty’ but regrettably for the sake of accuracy it’ll have to be ‘charred to the consistency of calcified coal’.

Unfortunately I’m not an instinctive cook, investing a sort of religious faith in my cookbooks: ‘In the name of the recipe, and of the ingredients, and of the oven temperature preferably in Celsius. AMEN.’ The oven has to be belching fire and brimstone before I smell a- well, anything at all really.

We might be in danger of burning to the ground – but hey! At least we’re not about to starve.

Strictly scruple-free zone

If you’d asked me three months ago whether we’d leave Port Underwood, I would have said, “What? Eh? Sorry, I- I don’t understand the question. Why would we want to move? We love it here! There’s FISH!”

Of course we had discussed plans should we be fortunate enough to achieve extreme gestation. Husband and I were fully agreed that Port Underwood was an IDEAL location in which to nurture a baby with its abundance of natural beauty to nourish a child’s soul and herds of feral goats to keep them amused/alert.

Shortly after we got a positive pregnancy test, Andrew left me in the unsafe if not downright hazardous hands of his parents during his month-long business trip. While my defenses were low and coated in a thick slime of morning sickness and jittering anxiety, Her Goatiness worked her dark, bovidae magic.

By the time Andrew returned, I had practically purchased a property next-door to The Outlaws.

At least now, when he says, “I came back from Dubai and Niamhie told me we were moving,” I can respond, “Well, it’s your mother’s fault.”

Me? I operate in a strictly scruple-free zone.

The reality of extreme gestation resulted in a cosmic shift in priorities (along with my intestinal system – which is now more of an anarchic revolution).

Although conception involved WAY too many people, there’s no reason the rest of this pregnancy shouldn’t proceed normally (although I have to say that so far, my experience of pregnancy ridicules all previous definitions of ‘normal’). However, we don’t want to take chances given how far we’ve come to get here.

The idea of staring down labour with a 45 minute drive along a gravel road in a car that’s on its last wheels, as driven by Husband ‘Bite Me Schumacher’, is potentially a challenge too far. At least for me, if not Andrew.

Furthermore, we have little to no support here. We love our neighbours (well, I do; Andrew thinks they’re pretty nice and wouldn’t turn down a beer) – but there are only two of them. We see a lot of our landlords, The Mustachioed Muchacho and Hostess With The Mostest; also Sheriff and The Bunqueen down in the bay – but neither couple has children. While they’re thrilled for us, I can’t see myself swapping stories about episiotomies and mucous plugs with them.

What’s that? Why the <expletive deleted> would I want to?

Well, indeed. I’m not quite there yet myself. However, I have been reliably informed by Those Who Know – i.e. former people incubators – that there will come a time when you will beg me to shut up talking about lactation and just pass the parsley sauce, already.

I’m not sure Oamaru would have been our first choice of home, but it seems logical with The Rise of The Asset given the concentration of family, who originally settled there for the, er. Beets?

But even without the imminent arrival of The Asset, we would have had to consider moving on. Although we live in the most stunning location, we are on the bones of our arse at the end of each month. I recycle tinfoil and gladwrap; Andrew’s not allowed soap because HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MUCH THAT STUFF COSTS? RUB YOURSELF WITH A ROCK FFS.

I am admittedly privileged that my definition of abject poverty is being unable to afford maple syrup IT’S A TRAGEDY. Just as well, because we’re not close enough to rob anyone to fund my P addiction.

This situation has much to do with the exchange rate, since all our income is in US$. Every month for about two years, we’ve consoled ourselves: “At least the exchange rate can’t get any worse”. We’ve tried putting a positive spin on it – “The exchange rate HAS to get better”, but optimism hasn’t been effective either. Moving will significantly cut many of our costs.

Much to my surprise, after three years seeking privacy and seclusion, I’m actually looking forward to getting involved in a community again.

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