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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.

Tagging: a national crisis

I love the news in this country, where tagging (graffiti) is considered a national crisis. Yes, yes, of COURSE I might feel differently had I ever had ‘scank’ scrawled across my living room window in a neon pink barely legible hand and spent days trying to scrub it off with an abrasive cleaner.

But you know New Zealand is a wonderful place to live when front-page news is: ‘Woman mauled by pet cat’, or – my personal favourite – ‘Man kicks hedgehog’.

Most days, the first thing I do is throw an eyeball at Stuff. Boy, was I glad I took that extra ten minutes this morning. What a treat! Had I been successful in tuning in The Rock, it would have been the perfect start to the weekend.

First up, Auckland’s annual Boobs on Bikes parade. Can I just state upfront that I have every respect for any woman taking her top off at this time of year. I’m sure Queen Street was a tit bit nipply yesterday.

The organizer of the event, arc-welder Steve Crow – oh, sorry, no, my mistake; that would be PORNOGRAPHER Steve Crow – pledged to distribute 12,500 vouchers for a full-length hard-core porn film worth $20.

“There is a lot of evidence,” said Steve, “that ready access to porn actually reduces the incidence of rape and other sexual offences in society so I thought why not get behind this evidence and help do something to try and reduce the shocking levels of sexual and violent crime in our country.”

Go Steve the porn humanitarian! I can’t wait to hear how he proposes to combat tagging.

Next, Man drove off in ambulance as friend treated. The 22 year old Dunedin man – he’s gotta be a scarfie – called paramedics when his buddy fell four metres over a concrete wall and fractured his skull and vertebrae. After they arrived, he drove off in the ambulance, no doubt giggling insanely. He can’t have been going very fast, because the flashing lights didn’t come on and one of the paramedics caught up with him 50 metres down the road.

Senior Sergeant Steve Aitken, demonstrating a commendable gift for understatement, said, “Alcohol could be a significant factor.”

His ex-friend was taken to Dunedin Hospital.

And finally, The Vatican rejects the resignations of two Irish auxiliary bishops following their reported involvement in the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse.

I don’t understand The Vatican, these servants of . . . God, is it? The Vat’s ongoing response to the child abuse scandal continues to confound, although if the Roman Catholic Church condoned it in the first place – which it undoubtedly did by suppressing and denying reports of abuse in the first instance – then denying it is a minor offence in comparison. But surely denying a crime on this scale is like attempting to conceal a corpse with a hanky covered in holes?

If The Vat refuses to account for its involvement and cover-up of sex abuse scandals for moral, ethical and – what’s that word again? – oh yes, CHRISTIAN reasons, it should probably do so for the PR.

Monsoon bucket of suck

In the weeks leading up to the move, everything that could go wrong went wrong.

Well, ok, maybe not EVERYTHING. I suppose Husband could have succumbed to a critical mid-life crisis and left me for a pole-dancing accountant. But strictly speaking, that’s more deviant than ‘wrong’. So I stand by my original statement, as long as I don’t have to defend the position or address any pointed questions about it.

Three weeks ago, we were driving down Opanuku Road when we heard a strange noise coming from the back of the Hilux Surf.

At first we ignored it, because it was virtually indistinguishable from all the other strange noises coming from the general vicinity of the car. However, within a short space of time/distance, an expensive ‘CLONK!’ could be clearly heard – and felt – reverberating joyfully above the cacophony of mechanical acoustics.

After we pulled over, I tramped back up the road in my three inch heels in search of mobile reception. Then we all – my parents, Husband, Jed and I – milled disconsolately around the deceased car until rescued by Flame Haired Titan.

While the Surf flirted with the scrap heap, the parents magnanimously gave up custody of the MR2 during the last week of their holiday. Yet the 2-seat MR2 was not ideal for salvaging packing boxes, nor even transporting two humans equipped with 35kg dog. I was also anxiously conscious that the Surf was scheduled to relocate us and a trailer to South Island in less than 10 days.

Andrew discovered that, by disabling the rear differential, he could operate the Surf in modified four wheel drive. We coaxed the car to a garage; later that day, someone called to inform us that – as suspected – the rear differential was poked; he could replace it with a second hand part for $1000; and he had just got a limousine in for an emergency service so could we collect the Surf because there wasn’t room to store it – oh and he closed in 10 minutes, so before then.

Andrew decided to do the job himself. When he extracted the differential with a lot of swearing, two of the teeth on the cog were completely snaggled, shards of metal in the surrounding oil.

He managed to source a second hand rear differential for $275 on Trademe (when we turned up to collect it, there were about seven Hilux Surfs parked outside this dude’s house; according to his business card, he was a ‘South Auckland Toyota Surf Parts Consultant’).

Then Andrew spent two mornings rolling around under the car covered in grease and oil. I maintained a continuous supply of coffee and occasionally handed him a spanner. There was a tense moment when he removed a section of engine to facilitate the fitting of the 55kg diff, then couldn’t figure out how to get the complex and rather-crucial looking piece back in. With my assistance (I inadvertently hit him with it) he eventually manoeuvred it into place.

That crisis narrowly averted, I received the proof of About Time from my editor, who required a response within a week. For Smart/Casual, this stage of the production process was a soul-sucking, energy-sapping, time-consuming, will-to-live diminishing, hive-scratching, panic-attack inducing suckfest unrivalled in relentless tedium.

Proofing About Time was no different, except for the added frisson of packing crockery between adverbs. Also finalising the moving company, booking the ferry, changing address, cleaning the house, selling items, cancelling accounts, and setting up electricity at the new place. When I called Telecom to request a new landline, there was already a request pending for that address; this took another half a day to sort out.

Three days before we were due to move, the radio reported a fire had broken out 200m from our new house. People evacuated the area, the main power lines between North and South Island were shut down, and helicopters equipped with monsoon buckets were brought in.

For a while, we weren’t sure whether we even had a house to move into.

Destiny’s grand design

We woke up to blazing sunshine yesterday, so decided to venture out to Riverhead with the mountain bikes.

“It’s going to rain, though,” predicted Andrew gloomily.

I ignored him, because:

a) Husband is a pessimist who often asserts things with no basis in reality or the NZ Met service; and
b) we’ve been together nearly 12 years (look, it would be virtually IMPOSSIBLE to pay attention to EVERYTHING that comes out of the man’s mouth) (although barf always gets my attention)

While I organised coffee to go, snacks, finances and dog balls, Andrew loaded the bikes on the back of the car.

As we trundled down the drive, tiny pricks of rain settled almost imperceptibly on the windscreen. Along Mountain Road it started drizzling in earnest, intensifying to rain with a definite spatter effect up Candia Road. By the time we reached Swanson, it looked like a blizzard outside.

We pulled up outside The Station Café and made a dash for it across the carpark; me with a couple of old magazines clamped to my head, Andrew using the dog to shield himself from the driving rain. Sitting miserably moist and lightly steaming over a couple of coffees, we agreed there was no point biking.

Driving home, the rain eased up, the sun sullenly emerged from behind the bank of clouds and, by the time we pulled into our drive, the elements were entirely agreeable. So we could have gone biking after all.

Evidently, the cosmos had other plans for Husband and me.

These plans being investigating the leaking differential on the Hilux, and lying on the sofa reading respectively.

Depressing that destiny’s plans for us are so pedestrian.

Hopalong

Today I wore shorts.

Far from being a grand gesture to welcome summer with open arms and double helpings of cellulite, I was thinking more along the lines of saving a pair of trousers getting drenched and slathered in mud. But hey, at least it was warm enough to wear shorts. In fact, doing jumping jacks while sprinting up the road, it was almost TOO warm.

So I set out to terrify woodland creatures and inflict psychological damage on my dog. Jed was so traumatised by the spectacle that he occasionally mistook my leg for a stick. Evidently a particularly large, squashy stick that emitted nuclear quantities of fluorescent energy.

For the last two days, dog-walking duty has fallen on me, since Husband sprained his ankle. Nothing exciting like commando-rolling through a plate glass window, or trying to execute a complex move in a sexually charged tango with a fat French double agent. No, I’m afraid it was all rather mundane. He was out walking. I like to think he’s talking it down. E.g. maybe he was attacked by a crazed squirrel, or fell down a pit lined with wooden stakes?

One way or another, that’s his Olympic dream in tatters.

He couldn’t have timed it better. Not only has the weather been savage, but the height of his recuperation coincided with rubbish relocation. Even I didn’t have the heart to send an injured man off down the drive with the rubbish, when every second step elicited a raw scream of pain compressed into an anguished grunt.

Husband is still lurching around the house and his trousers keep falling down around his knees. I’m not sure how this is related to spraining his ankle, but it must be. Unless you believe in coincidence. Which I don’t.

AWW!

090317 Porn star dog

So, you know how Jed recently blew away the competition to take the World’s Best Dog title? Well, here is your opportunity to own some of his genes. From the same breeder and parentage as The Esteemed Jedster:

Red curly coat retriever puppies

AREN’T THEY JUST THE CUTEST ITTY BITTY LITTLE FLUFFY THINGS YOU’VE EVER SEEN?! I’m working on Husband to get a playmate for Jed. I particularly like the little fella third from left, who reminds me of my late paternal grandmother – although I might have to find another angle to convince him

Flashback to the 1970s

Husband aspires to a style of dining that could be described as ‘fine’. He treats mealtimes as if he were in a top class restaurant.

“Right, may I have . . . let me see . . . lamb chops with a balsamic reduction, potatoes au gratin, with a side serving of braised asparagus, and for dessert maybe some baked Alaska, or chocolate truffle pudding would be acceptable.”

“No. The choice is cheese on toast.”

“Or?”

“Toast.”

Seriously, I enjoy cooking and make an effort to feed us well. I would be MORTIFIED if Husband were to succumb to malnourishment. Therefore I keep the fridge well stocked with all sorts of yumminess: shredded chicken, shaved ham, smoked salmon, bacon, eggs, a variety of cheeses, pickles, chutneys. I make him honey toasted muesli for breakfast, and ensure he always has spare rations. I prepare dinners carefully balanced with the optimal blend of carbs and protein.

Since it is easy to revert to potatoes, salad, and whatever form of protein happens to be wandering around the freezer, I try to be adventurous within Husband’s tolerance levels. I avoid foodstuffs Husband spits out (anchovies; mushrooms; olives; vegetables in large, concentrated quantities; artichokes) and am selective about ingredients that make him retch depending on his humour and barometric pressure (rice and pasta).

Yet we still have conversations like the following:-

Husband: What is this? <prodding with finger>

Me: Peppered fish with zesty lime salsa. Mmm.

Husband: Meh.

Me: How much do you want?

Husband: None. I’ll just go hungry. *sigh!*

Me: THIS IS NOT A RESTAURANT! YOU WILL EAT WHAT IS PUT IN FRONT OF YOU!

Me: I HATE THAT I SOUND LIKE MY MOTHER!

You can’t see anything for the goosebumps

Since our bask atop Mt Eden last weekend, Auckland has enjoyed a week of near perfect weather. Yesterday was so warm, I was moved to strip down to a camisole top while lunching on the deck with the family in Mt Wellington.

This morning, we awoke to another perfect blue sky, sunshine winking in the bedroom window. We decided to go to Karekare Beach.

“Let’s take the MR2,” suggested Husband.

Last summer, Husband and I drove everywhere in his sports car, posing in sunglasses with the roof panels off. It is a two-seater, apparently designed for anorexic models and athletic teenage car-jockeys. In other words, not much spare room for anything more than a spare bikini and a credit card.

So I travelled to Karekare with 36kg of canine sitting on top of me. Jed occasionally managed to kick Husband in the face with his hind leg, before he discovered the optimal position sitting on the floor on my feet, with his front paws on my lap. Sadly, it was far from the optimal position for my bladder.

Unhindered by cloud, the glittering sun cast deep shadows beneath the trees. Our drive was accompanied by the sticky sound of melting tarmac and the acrid stench of lightly broiled bitumen. Just before Karekare, we turned onto Lone Kauri Road, where the warm, buttery smell of gorse wafted us down to the beach. Ah, the scents of spring.

I’ll tell you how hot it was: I went for a swim in the sea.

Perhaps that only tells you how insane I was.

Husband would have come in too, but he has a rare condition which makes him react violently to salt water and he could die. What’s it called again? Oh yes: Being a Total Wuss.

Husband took a video, but you can’t make out anything for all the goosebumps. So here’s a clip of another swimmer:-

Greeting spring with a good wallow

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

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

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

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

090829 Wallowing

Mud + stick = heaven

090829 Mud stick heaven

Come on in!

090829 Let me at it

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

090829 Mud monster

See? NOW I’m covered.

090829 Fetch

Windburn

I planned on driving until I felt tired, then pulling up beside a lake or stream, cuddling up to Jed for warmth, sleeping like an antivampire, then waking to watch the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.

Husband failed to appreciate this romantic vision. In fact, he really didn’t enter into the spirit of the road trip AT ALL. He suggested that if I slept in the car, I should camp in a populated location like a garage or Mitre 10 carpark. If I was questioned by police, I was to say I felt sleepy,  so pulled over for a nap as recommended by their copious advertisements lining SH1. He asked if I had a torch; when I answered in the affirmative, he asked if I had a 48” monkey wrench to twat all the assailants who would be queuing up to break into a 1992 Toyota Hilux Surf with duct tape over the rust spots.

Husband finally snuffed out the last vestiges of my spirit by pointing out that a guesthouse would be equipped with a shower.

He booked me into Sequoia Lodge in Picton: $27 for a bed in an empty dorm, complimentary hot water bottle, bedlinen, and lashings of hot water.

At 04:00hrs, I woke up feeling cold, and lay there for a while fretting about Jed’s temperature in the back of the car. I got up, pulled on a top and pair of jeans, and went to check on him. Jed was shivering, so I wrapped my fleece around him and put his little paws in the sleeves. I rubbed him for twenty minutes, then added another two rugs to his wool blanket and left him again. However, I was still anxious about my puppy, so I got up early.

Applying makeup at 06:00hrs is a measure of how much I love Husband. That, and how haggard I looked (after six hours of sleep, I resembled two-week-old carrion).

We were past Blenheim when the sun rose over the sea. It was so beautiful – full of golden promise, the sanctity of a new day, a suggestion of redemption – that it brought tears to my eyes. Alternatively, it might have been the knowledge that I willfully passed up another couple of hours in bed, or Jed vigorously licking my left ear, or a combination of all the above.

Pulling off SH1, Jed and I bounced down to a wide, shallow river tumbling over bleached rocks. It was balmy: the sun was warm, the sky a piercing summer blue. I stripped down to a thermal top, long sleeved t-shirt, woolly jumper, fleece and a jacket (it was a lightweight jacket). Jed splashed around a while, then settled down by the water to chew his bone. I sat on a large rock and raised my face to the sun and felt fulsomely content.

After Blenheim there was a garage drought, so even though I still had a quarter tank of diesel left, I stopped to fill up in Kaikoura.

“How much is diesel per litre?” I asked when I went to pay, still mildly stunned at having to fork out the same amount for three quarters of a tank of gas as a full tank in Auckland.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the cashier, fingering his left nipple. “Changes all the time. Goes up and down.”

“I noticed neither you nor the BP Connect up the road advertised the rate.”

“Yeah, we’re too embarrassed. The locals don’t like us much.”

“Well, I’m from out of town and I don’t like you much either. If that makes you feel any better.”

“Oh, ah, no, not really.” Although he laughed, but I wasn’t really joking.

For two days, I had subsisted on a restricted road trip diet of a) crisps b) salted peanuts c) sandwiches d) pies e) chocolate f) whole, solid forms of fruit and/or g) mints. Further down the main drag in Kaikoura, I stopped at Hislops Organic Café to treat myself to breakfast, and had a visceral response to the hash browns served with my eggs benedict. They were a genuine taste sensation. The staff at Hislops also recharged my mobile phone, brought Jed a bowl of water, and scratched his ears. In fact, the service could only have been improved had they scratched my ears, too. Highly recommended, campers.

Although vast tracts of the trip were unremarkable, there are snapshots that stand out with a shining clarity: mist over Lake Taupo; the incredible blue of the sea driving down the east coast – each wave trailing a half rainbow; Jed charming drivers out the back window; sitting by the road with the morning paper in Kaikoura with my dog by my feet. There was something liberating about not being answerable to anyone, with nothing to do but drive and think about whatever popped into your head (admittedly, not that much, usually).

Every time I let Jed out for a break, he went berserk; yet not once did he refuse to get back into the car. I was so proud of my little boy.

We arrived in Oamaru shortly before 17:00hrs. Jed was overjoyed to see Husband again and leapt around doing cartwheels and somersaults, much like myself.

ROAD TRIP STATISTICS

Total mileage
Auckland to Wellington 658km
Picton to Oamaru 583km

Total driving time
Auckland South to Wellington 8 hrs
Picton to Oamaru 7 hours

Percentage of time Jed stuck his head out the window
8

Injuries sustained
Niamh: superficial scarring on forehead from stick wound
Jed: windburn

Sobriety: elusive

We flew to South Island yesterday, which explains the dearth of blog posts – not being in South Island so much as the volume and quantity of Stepfather-In-Law’s G&Ts. It is also the occasion of Sister-In-Law’s 40th birthday. Realistically, I aim to be vaguely sober again by Tuesday.

At Auckland Airport, about to board the airplane:

Husband: What seat numbers are we?

Me: 29 E and F.

Husband: So do we board through the front or rear door?

Me: Well, I suppose there must be no more than forty, forty five rows on the plane. So the back.

Husband: Let’s board at the front.

Me: Why did you ask my opinion if you are just going to ignore it?

Husband: There’s less people boarding at the front.

Me: So what-

Husband: And the check-in attendant said rows one to thirty board through the front door.

Me <doubtfully>: She did?

Husband: Yes, definitely.

So we boarded through the front door, whereupon we spent the next 20 minutes fighting through swarms of passengers to get to the SECOND LAST ROW OF THE PLANE.

Husband <collapsing in seat>: Maybe she said, rows one to THIRTEEN board through front gate-

Me: Gah!

Dairy free

This afternoon I cycled into Henderson to pick up a litre of milk for Husband. I was motivated by love, devotion – and guilt (I forgot to buy milk during the weekly shop).

It was only when I arrived in Henderson/Misty Valley that I realised I had left my wallet behind.

To put this in perspective: I had just cycled 8km, my knickers had disappeared up my arse, I was splattered with sweaty mud, and I had an acute case of Helmet Head. Had I been driving, I would probably have returned home to collect my wallet; or – more likely – rummaged around the ashtray, delved into the seat joins, and turned out the glovebox until I scraped together $3 worth of 5c pieces.

However, there was no way I was about to CYCLE home and back again. I just don’t love Husband that much. Is this wrong? It might  have been his birthday, but it was hardly as if a litre of milk was his present. He got a Playstation III and a pair of spiffy sunglasses. All things considered, I felt that cycling into Henderson ONCE was an operatic response to the call of duty.

In the superette (similar to a newsagent store) at Parrs Cross Road, I explained the situation to the shop assistant. Perhaps I overdid the forehead slapping, because she refused to consider gifting or loaning me a litre of milk, or opening a credit account, because she only worked there and all the above were against store policy.

Since there were no cows in the vicinity, I decided to try the second dairy on Henderson Valley Road.

By this stage, I was completely mortified. What, you thought that emotion didn’t feature in my range? Not at all; I’m Irish, so have an innate patriotic ability for mortification especially of the flesh.

However, I focussed on the journey home: 8km of it involving 400ft climb, and the joy and hope dying in Husband’s eyes as he slowly realises I have returned empty handed and dairy free. I was therefore compelled to enter the other superette.

This time, I had my story better prepared. I didn’t go into details about the sweaty mud, because that was largely self-evident. But I told the store manager about my great journey; how it was Husband’s birthday and he couldn’t have his muesli that morning and had to drink black coffee; how terrible that made me feel; how – if they only found it in their hearts to donate a litre of milk – I would return on Wednesday to pay and thereafter shop at their store with a fierce loyalty and regularity until I died.

God, I love New Zealand. As I cycled home, litre of milk digging comfortingly into the small of my back, I only regretted not scoring a refreshing bottle of sportaid as well

Photos and rare footage from Woodhill

0901-husband-catches-air

Husband surfs a thermal

0901-husband-at-speed

Speedfreak

0901-husband-dodges-charging-pinecone

Husband dodges charging pinecone. Don’t be fooled by the fingers on the brakes – there is no evidence (photographic or otherwise) of him EVER pressing them into service for anything other than hanging his helmet from

0901-see-he-is-occasionally-happy

See, Husband does occasionally smile. Think he mistook the camera for a trick flower

0901-left-the-bro-right-husband

Here, Husband is smiling because The Bro had just headbutted the ground. Not sure why The Bro is looking so pleased with himself – probably relieved he didn’t dent his head

0901-the-bro

The Bro negotiates a twiglet

As usual, there are no photos of me – BUT! As a special treat, there is VIDEO FOOTAGE.

Deadlyjelly confuses diving for cycling. Note how Husband’s camera never wavers, maintaining his artistic integrity throughout

Deadlyjelly demonstrates how to pull knickers out of arse without anyone noticing

And one of The Bro in a rare, almost (but not quite) uncool moment, getting taken out by a seesaw

The long way home

0901-greetings-from-shannon

2300km later, we are home. We decided to take three days for the return bike trip: Oamaru to Hanmer Springs; then to Wellington via the Interisland Ferry; and the final stretch to Auckland.

Since I am now a seasoned biker, I was pretty confident. Leaning was second nature; I could crack walnuts with my core muscles; and boy, could I wear a set of leathers.

Unfortunately, the day we set out for Hanmer Springs, New Zealand hosted a heat wave. To give you an idea how warm it was, Husband ventured into a river for a dip. (If you noticed an arse flexing beside Highway 7, that was probably mine. I hope you liked it.)

When biking under normal summer conditions, I wear a fleece and quilted insert under my weatherproof jacket. An hour out of Oamaru, I shed the fleece and the jacket insert followed shortly after. By the time we reached Hanmer Springs, I wanted to crawl out of my skin and spend three weeks in a nice, dark fridge. Or alternatively, lie down and moan. Since that appeared to be the simpler option, that is pretty much what I did for the next three hours.

That evening, we stumbled into Hanmer Springs for dinner. Afterwards, we propped each other up and supported ourselves to a patch of green by the side of the road. We lay out on the grass and watched the tree branches turn dark against the waning light, and a bird crapping overhead.

“Something just crawled up my jeans,” I said.

“You don’t sound that worried.”

“No, I am. It’s just that I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.”

The following morning, the fleece and insert went back on. We biked through Springs Junction, stopped for coffee in Minihaha, then on via Wakefield to Nelson. Just beyond Havelock, we turned onto Queen Charlotte Drive, which was where a police car buzzed us.

Husband flipped up his visor. “Honey,” he bawled. “I think that police car just checked us. Were we speeding?”

“What’s this ‘we’?” I roared.

“Ok – was I speeding?”

“Most likely.”

“What limit is this?”

“No idea.”

I don’t see much from the pillion, apart from a close-up of Husband’s helmet-clad head. Also, I was busy picking dead insects out of my lipgloss at the time.

Let’s just say that, in a 60kph zone, chances are Husband was charging along at a clip that would make a policeman choke on his doughnut. He pulled into a driveway to await the long arm of the law, while I dismounted to perform some imaginative stretches.

“Can you see them?” he fretted.

“Nope.”

“Quick! Get back on the bike.”

“Shouldn’t you wait a bit longer-”

“No, they had a fair chance.”

There was still no sign of the police as we roared off down the road. They were probably consulting the index of their standard issue first aid manual for ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre’.

We pulled into the ferry terminal at Picton around the time the officer was having emergency surgery to remove the half masticated piece of doughnut from his oesophagus.

The motorbike is a bit like a puppy or a third nipple, in that it attracts a lot of friendly attention. We parked beside another bike to wait for boarding, and an old geezer came over for a chat: ex-services blazer, slacks, slip-on shoes, not a shred of hair and a hole the size of Spain in his cranium.

“Nice motor-cycle,” he said. “What size is it?”

I said, “Er. 800cc? I think.”

“No idea,” he responded. “I turned back because of rain.”

“Um,” I said. “Ok. Yes well, we had a bit of damp outside Whangamoa.”

“Can’t say I do, young lady. Where did you get that notion?”

“I’m not really- what were we- ANDREW!”

“Trout or herring?” said my buddy.

“What?!”

“Wait. I’ll put my hearing aid in. Can’t hear a blessed thing without it.”

Turned out our 82 year old buddy was the pilot of the other motorbike. He had biked halfway to Invercargill that day, before turning back. In other words, he was unbelievably cool. Certainly cooler than us.

“What sort of speed can you get out of her?” he said, nodding at the Honda.

“Well, I’ve done” – Husband cocked an eye at me – “100, maybe 110.”

“Miles per hour?”

“Kilometers.”

“Get 240 out of mine,” he cackled.

That evening, we biked from Wellington to <Unpronounceable Name Possibly Beginning With P>, about 45 minutes up Highway 1. Biking at night was strangely mystical: the swirling darkness, the roar of the wind, the thrum of the engine.

This was our second night in a YHA. I spent much of my youth in youth hostels chatting up Danish backpackers (top tip: ‘Would you like some baked beans?’ has limited efficacy as a chat-up line. I would not recommend it).

On the journey to South Island, we stayed at Sequoia Lodge in Picton, an independent backpacker’s hostel. For $70 we had an ensuite double room, wireless Internet, access to the communal spa pool, free chocolate pudding, tea, coffee and breakfast. So I had high expectations for the YHA, which charged roughly the same sort of price.

In comparison, the YHA hostels were disappointing. I’m pretty sure there were fleas in the Hanmer Springs hostel. The one in <Unpronounceable Name Possibly Beginning With P> was better, but the following morning our helmets were covered in ants enjoying a bonanza buffet of dead bug biltong.

I was tasked with de-bugging the helmets. When I went out to the bike, Husband was talking to a German woman who looked like Sylvester Stallone in a long, red wig. Strangely erotic, in case you were wondering.

Husband was saying, “Aw yeh, you’re all right if they don’t catch you.”

I gather he was talking about the police. Evidently, I should paddle his helmet harder.

At Whakamaru we stopped for lunch. Afterwards, Husband spent five minutes on his hands and knees crawling around the bike. He likes to appreciate it from many angles, so I just assumed he had overlooked this vantage point previously.

Turned out we had picked up a screw in the back tyre. The tyre was largely deflated – as, indeed, were we. Fortuitously the café – in addition to having a delectable range of pies, pastries and other baked goods – was across the road from a garage.

There was a fabulously slutty peroxide girl at the garage, with – intriguingly – a Tiffany pendant nestled in the gently oily valley of her lush bosoms. If my squandered vocation weren’t Rock Goddess, I would so totally regret never becoming a female mechanic.

Unfortunately, her job description did not extend beyond the cash register. An uninspiringly ugly bloke fitted a tubeless tyre bung for $10. These are the most amazing things: basically, a rubber compound is jammed into the puncture, which expands inside the tyre and plugs the hole. People seem to be conflicted about exactly how temporary this measure is, but it took us the remaining 250km to Auckland.

I think the trip is best summed up by this little exchange, which probably took place at one of the countless numbers of roadside cafés and diners we visited en route.

I asked Husband whether he was enjoying his road trip.

“Well,” he said, “Ye-ah-hmm. I think I’ll enjoy it more when it’s finished.”

In a rare moment of understanding, I knew EXACTLY what he meant

Bizarrely random and inexplicable emotional response

It is so good to be home. As we drove up Taranaki Road, Husband said, “Isn’t it funny how this house feels more like home than our place in The Springs ever did?” The sentiment did not make me spontaneously chortle aloud, but I gave him a sympathy laugh. Personally, I would be more inclined to call it ‘weird’ or ‘a bizarrely random and inexplicable emotional response’.

Perhaps ‘funny’ has that covered.

In Dubai, we performed a drive-by on our house. We had attempted to make physical contact with our tenants, but they quite actively didn’t want to see us. Maybe they were nervous about what comprised physical contact. I was referring to a handshake; maybe fingertips brushing around a cup of tea. Certainly not full coitus. I don’t know, maybe they were confused.

As we drove in the security gate of Springs 2, I braced myself for a bitter tide of nostalgia, with eddies of longing and perhaps a vicious crosscurrent of regret.

We had trouble finding the house. Husband couldn’t remember the street number, although he knew how to get there. We used to recognize our villa by the neighbour’s full-size Indian flag hanging over his garage, mounted on an iron brace to deter thieves armed with industrial impact wrenches and a jackhammer. Said neighbour must have suffered a crisis of patriotism in the meantime, because the flag was gone.

The only other thing distinguishing our house from the rest used to be our cars parked in the drive: my GMC Yukon and/or Husband’s Chevy Lumina. Number 66 currently features a Nissan Patrol and a blue car.

I felt nothing. Although this is mainly a relief, it also makes me feel a bit sad

Someone stole my bold

On Thursday, the weather was so balmy we opened the doors and windows and ate lunch on the balcony. It’s been a while since that was possible without being swept away by a tsunami of rain. The temperature has climbed at least four degrees in the last ten days.

But enough about the weather. At the rate I go on about it, you’d think I was Irish or something.

The sunshine was that saucy (last mention, honest), it tempted Husband and I out on our mountain bikes. Again, I’ve written essays on cycling, so I’ll almost leave it there. Except to say this was the first time in over a week we’ve been out biking, since we were visiting the Outlaws in South Island. If that comes as a surprise, well, I’m canny like that.

It’s calving season on the farm, which means there was a disturbing amount of mucous. According to local legend (Craig), one of their pregnant heifers suffered such a build-up of gas that she fired her newborn right across the field. I suppose you might call it an explosive delivery. If the calf wasn’t dead at blast-off, it certainly was by the time it hit the neighbouring paddock.

Since I am chronically afflicted with Pteromerhanoboviphobia (fear of airborne cows) I spent the entire week cowering in the living room. Husband’s family pretty much treat me as one of the livestock, albeit a pedigree. It suits everyone: I get fed and watered, and have even trained the Outlaws to the extent that everyone is horrified when I fix myself a drink.

Mother In Law: Niamhie, did you make that?

Me: *martyred sigh!* Yes.

Mother In Law: CRAIG! Poor Niamhie had to get her own drink.

Craig: Ker-rist.

Don’t ask me how I arranged that; I only wish I knew. [Note: this phenomenon applies only to Husband’s immediate family, not Husband himself.]

It wasn’t an entirely one-sided arrangement. Every now and then I did the dishes, in order to feel useful and moan about how dishwashing fluid dries out my hands. Also, I exercised the farm dogs, albeit inadvertently when they came to round me up at the end of the day. And I am great entertainment value in the evening.

At least the surfeit of sloth gave me time to catch up on some quality TV.

On Oprah, I discovered that apparently, someone has stolen my bold. The pyschologist was regrettably vague about who or when, although it was probably a man (cue earnest shot to earnest woman in audience nodding earnestly). She also failed to specify whether I could retrieve the Bold if I staged a daring counter-raid, or whether it would be a waste of time because shortly after the theft my Bold was traded on the Black Market. Then again, it was difficult to make her out with all the hair patting and gesticulating.

I can’t say I’m happy about the situation because, despite not being entirely sure what it is, my Bold sounds like a useful asset. I’m considering robbing someone else’s Bold. Maybe Husband’s, because he appears to have double or even triple rations of Bold. Even though he heatedly denies it, chances are he was the one who stole my Bold in the first place.

Once you get over how profoundly disturbing shows like The Swan and Wife Swap are, they make compelling telly. On Swan, women who are mentally compromised and/or have deep-rooted issues apply for a makeover, because they believe their earlobes or abnormally large ankles are what is holding them back in life. In a fairly typical overview, Kelly explains how she has always hated her teeth: “Kids made fun of me in school. They called me- they- <sob!> called me ‘Rabbit Teeth’. I kind of nibbled my food. I just know <pause to wipe eyes> if I didn’t have these teeth, everything would be better.”

When I say ‘makeover’, two participants are whisked off to a hotel where they have cosmetic and/or reconstructive surgery, followed by an extreme diet and exercise for three months. Neither woman is allowed see themselves until the grand unveiling in front of a full-length mirror.

“Are you ready?” asks the presenter, gripping Kelly’s hands fiercely. “Are you ready to meet the brand new you?”

The curtains over the mirror swish back, and Kelly’s all:-

“Oh my God! Oh my Gaw-haw-hawd! Is that- I can’t believe it’s really ME! I’m SO BEAUTIFUL! Waah! Waah! Waah!” <fluttering hands>

“You’re a new person!”

“I am! A new person!”

In this case, Kelly was fitted with a full set of glow-in-the-dark veneers. Despite the fake choppers being freakishly large and causing a significant overbite, Kelly appeared to be ecstatic. She proceeded to the Swan Pageant because her competitor was disqualified for smuggling a mirror into the hotel in her anus.

Wife Swap features two families where the matriarchs abandon their families to be temporarily installed with another. Wiccan chicken-worshippers are placed with born-again Christian families, and composting yoghurt-weavers with families who mainline MacDonald’s. That sort of stuff.

I don’t know what the duration of stay is, but the whole exercise is staggeringly irresponsible. I’ve only seen the show a couple of times, but it has never featured anyone I would trust to water my plants. No family members have been killed in the production of this show, but it can only be a matter of time.

In ‘Don’t Forget The Lyrics!’, contestants have to guess the lyrics of a given song. In a nail-biting buttock-clencher, Nicole had to guess the next ten words to Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’.

Girl close your eyes
Let that rhythm get into you
Don’t try to fight it
There ain’t nothing that you can do
Relax your mind
Lay back and groove with mine
You got to feel that beat
And we can ride the boogie-

____ ____ ____ ____ ____
____ ____ ____ ____ ____

There you go folks, what are the last 10 words?

$600,000 at stake, and Nicole tanked.

The Outlaws have viewed me with a new respect since I leaped to my feet, gripped my crotch, and nailed the lines in a dazzling performance:-

Share that beat of looove!
I wanna rock with you-OW!

Of course, they were not to know that I have stored in my memory banks a library of seventies and eighties lyrics, including the entirety of Boney M’s canon. Couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast this morning, but

Caribbean Queen!
Now we’re sharin the same dreeam!
And our hearts they beat as one
No more love on the run

So that’s what early looks like

Early morning sun on the city

Yesterday morning was bright and clear, so I got up early and walked to the top of the hill. No singing; thought I’d spare you that. There were a number of trees down across the trail and I got attacked by a couple of aggressive bushes, so I got pretty wet.

There’s nothing like the first cup of coffee back at home. The smell of brewing coffee and that first caffeine hit – YUM! And the post-walk shower, when the outer extremities are still mildly chilled, is about five degrees more comforting than normal.

Not the worst way to start the day

Sniffing the highlighter pen

This was the view out the bedroom window this morning. I’m not sure whether the image fully captures just how WET it is. Does it? Odd that the raindrops the size of teabags didn’t come out in the photo.

There’s something wrong with my Internet connection which, by association, means my landline is poked. Internet access is erratic yet manageable, but when Husband called me last night there was a 7 second delay on the line and it sounded like he had been sniffing the highlighter pen. I mean, maybe he had, but it would be a new development.

Husband spent 40 minutes before he got through to Slingshot‘s advancedly useless customer support. I would have called them, because there are times when nothing beats banging your head off a brick wall, but of course my phone doesn’t work and mobile coverage here is non existent at the best of times. It will take Slingshot up to 48 hours to address the issue, presumably because they’re run off their feet ignoring customers

Lower limb equivalent of a coma

Because Friday was gorgeous, I took the bike to Fairy Falls. Cycling down Turanga Road is always fun; then I cut across a section of bush to Mountain Road.

In the 500m from the bottom of Mountain Road to the Fairy Falls carpark, I figured out why it is called Mountain Road. I’d never noticed the gradient in the car. I’m pretty sure I broke the law of gravity several times.

After my walk, I wasn’t sure the brakes on my bike could handle the descent, so decided it was safer to carry on up Mountain Road. Over the course of the next six kilometers, I blatantly disregarded several biological laws as well as flouting more laws of physics. By the time I reached Scenic Drive, I was exploding sweat and could only wheeze. I still can’t feel my legs. They are in the lower limb equivalent of a coma.

Fairy Falls

Yesterday, New Zealand experienced ‘the worst storm in 10 years’. Newspapers issued dire warnings of power cuts and rogue winds. After battening down the house and storing outdoor furniture, I repaired to the In-Laws. As I drove to Mt Wellie, the traffic lights in Henderson pegged out.

The electricity is still down at the house, but that’s hardly anomalous Captain. We normally lose internet connectivity and/or power if the wind goes above breeze level

Auckland on better days, for example Friday

Movie magic

After months of cinematic crap of the ‘A Chicken Ate My Baby’ ilk, the cinemas are suddenly bristling with bounteous offering. There’s so much, I am worried I might not get to see it all before Husband’s return.

The most exciting release is The Dark Knight – WOAH! YEAH! – the new Batman movie. But some films are transcendental experiences that can only be shared softly with one’s lover. The Dark Knight is such a film. It would be an act of betrayal to see it without Husband. Not only that, it would be disrespectful. Some philistines might suggest that Husband and I can always see the film again, together. No. That first viewing – watching a film unfold like unwrapping a gift – is special. Rewatching it is not the same. The magic is diluted. The sparkle is dimmed.

Yesterday I found out that Husband is going to see The Dark Knight with David. Talk about an act of betrayal. Now my only concern is seeing it first, so that I can call Husband and spoil the ending.

I’ve held off going to see Hancock for several weeks now. The trailers were so promising. Will Smith is as funkadelic as ever. But the critics spanked it. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 38%. The last movie to score less than that was A Chicken Ate My Baby.

Of course I have to see Get Smart because I was such a fan of the original TV Show:-

“Once again the forces of niceness and goodness have triumphed over the forces of evil and rottenness!”

RTE1 used to show Get Smart on Saturday mornings. Mind you, there wasn’t anything else on telly on Saturday mornings, apart from Sesame Street. Of course, Sesame Street was always engaging, especially Count Dracula: ‘Vun! A! A! A!’ But I watched Get Smart even though I didn’t have a crush on Don Adams.

I might have to go and check out Mamma Mia. Initially I was extremely put off – I might even go so far as to say REPELLED – by the poster featuring Meryl Streep in a pair of dungarees. I’m as big a fan of Meryl as anyone – although she never quite made my Top 10 Lesbian List – but the woman is getting on a bit for dungarees. Hell, I’m getting on a bit for dungarees, and I’m half the woman’s age. Probably.

I’ve heard the film is good. Some are even saying it’s better than good. So I might have to check it out in the interests of the prevailing of truth over lies and deceit.

And, of course, in the interests of personal gratification

Proof of sun

I wanted to post this earlier, but YouTube took an active dislike to my browser cache and refused to reflect thumbnails. Sorry about the detour into geekland there. Click here or on the link below to access the video.

Husband shaped hole in the universe

Husband left me on Friday.

Sorry to be so megalodramatic. It’s just a three week business trip to Dubai, but I am surprised how aimless I feel. I got a bit soggy at the airport. If the floor hadn’t been dirty, I would have thrown my arms about Husband’s legs and begged him to stay.

If this all sounds pathetically codependent – hey, I’m not about to argue. In my defence, Husband and I have lived and worked together every day for the last six months. He comes grocery shopping with me and entices me into Mitre 10. Joint decisions include whether to put on another jumper. We schedule summit meetings on what to cook for dinner. So is it surprising that my universe features a great, big, silent Husband-shaped hole? Or that I’m a bit chilly?

I haven’t yet resorted to sniffing his clothes, but I have a fleece top on emergency standby. It harbours three weeks of Husband’s skin cells.

(On second thought I might put that in the wash.)

The only way I can fully express myself is via the medium of dance, which is what I did at Fairy Falls yesterday. I think this covers how I feel about my husband, whilst also conveying my longing, anguish and despair:-

The difference between Fitz and Husband

The scene: early afternoon at Bethell’s Beach. Stately clouds roam the sky. Seagulls wheel overhead. A fine mist drifts inland from the exploding waves. Clotted volcanic sand huddles close, freshly black with rain. Swatches of surf-froth shiver in the gusting wind.

Fitz crouches to photograph the froth. He ponders the exigency of flash, searches for the best angle, manually focusses the lens, adjusts the settings, takes numerous test shots.

Meanwhile Husband gallops across the beach kicking up froth, going: “Hee hee hee!”

Brr it’s COLD!

AND WINDY

Husband pulls faces for the camera. Someone should’ve reminded him to stand in front of it

Smile or wind-frisked grimace? Hard to tell

Belle takes a moment

Small, drowning mammals

Fitz and Belle arrived yesterday for a five day holiday to see a bit of the country. Unfortunately, little of the country has been visible through the mist, fog, cloud and swirling rain.

About the only sensible response was to drink plenty of alcohol, which we duly did. Husband is presently lying in bed moaning, and I’m trying to remain optimistic that Fitz and Belle are still alive. The only noises I can hear are multiple plops and small drowning mammals. And the occasional chilling moan.

We will probably aim for the same effect for the remaining days of Fitz and Belle’s visit – although we will be trying to minimise the moaning

How to distinguish sun from lightning

We woke to rain again this morning. When I say ‘rain’, it fails to convey the force of nature that it is here. It patters on the leaves, it dreeps from the gutters, the wind hurls it against the windows in pellet form, and the trees release water bombs that explode on the balcony.

It was around 11:30 when – “Hey!” I said. “Sun’s out!”

“That’s not sun, it’s lightning,” said Husband.

“Let’s do something. We’ve had no exercise for over a week.”

(Australian food still prowls my digestive tract on a round trip to my hips.)

“We could walk up to Scenic Drive,” suggested Husband.

“Ah now come on, that’s barely beyond the postbox. Wouldn’t raise a pant, never mind a sweat. Let’s go to the top of the hill.”

“Why?”

“For the view.”

“But it’s raining!”

“Be hardy.”

We set off fully equipped for the weather. In other words, I had a waterproof jacket and Husband an umbrella.

The creek by the drive is in full flow. A stream has taken out the corner of the road by the neighbour’s drive. About half a kilometre from the house, the rain picked up again.

We got wet.

Note the shrinking hips, cause: exercise or damp (undetermined)

Mr Poppins

Kauri leaves, illuminated by sunshine. Or it could be lightning

The woodlands unspeakably move him

These photos were taken on the Waitakere Dam Walk last April. I have only just figured out how to make a GIF file. I wanted to set this to the tune of “Gimme Some Lovin'” from The Blues Brothers, but Husband tells me that requires Flash and I’m not quite there yet.

By the way, Husband is largely recovered from his man cold. I’m incubating it; I can feel it in my bones

Auditioning for friends

When we moved here, one of the things I dreaded was making friends. They’re such an overhead of time and money: the phone calls, the constant demands for reassurance, the endless thoughtful birthday presents (I mean how many birthdays can one person have?), the three hour lunches  . . .

No, wait.

I meant to say: I dreaded the process of MEETING people.

The circle of friends we had in Dubai were in many ways the closest thing we had to family. I miss them every day. Now we have to start all over again.

Making friends gets harder as you get older. You look for deeper qualities than an extensive wardrobe to pilfer borrow from, your boyfriends being best mates, a frothy sense of humour, or whether someone will talk to you. Admittedly, I am still drawn to people who talk to me; but these days I prefer a sense of humour that’s crisp and refreshingly dry. As for our partners being best friends? Well, all that indicates is both of us has dubious taste.

Not only is it harder; the process itself takes longer. Teenage friendships were so easy:-

“Polo mint?”

“Yeah thanks. My boyfriend is SUCH a jerk. You’re my best friend.”

“I know! I feel like I’ve known you forever, instead of, like, six minutes.”

“Seconds.”

Now, with benefit of hindsight and a dash of maturity, I know it takes years. The potential of a new relationship sparkles, but nothing surpasses the lustre of an enduring friendship.

Of course, the effort is worth it. It’s just . . . well . . . why can’t friends just spring into your life fully formed? How long does it take to learn the in-jokes, for goodness’ sake? If you trust me, I’ll trust you. There. Any freaky character traits you want to share? No, me neither.

Ok, I know, I know, I KNOW. *kicks sofa*

I was flattered by the number of people who assumed Husband and I would have no problem Making Friends, that there would be so many hopeful applicants we would have to hold auditions every Wednesday and beat them off with a stick.

The only thing we’ve been beating off is mosquitoes.

Much of this has to do with where we’ve chosen to live. We will move to South Island within two years, so there is not the same imperative to meet people. Socialising is complicated by a half hour drive to civilisation and Husband working evenings.

My first attempt at procuring a friend was an abject failure. At the Christopher Howard Seminar, I met John and Yvette. Many of the attendants I sincerely hoped I’d never come across again – especially if I were alone and unarmed – but John and Yvette were different.

For a start, John’s ‘cynic shield’ (as one woman described my attitude) rivalled mine. He refused to partake in the hyper high-fiving, so I high-fived Yvette across him and occasionally high-fived the upside of his head when he wasn’t getting the message.

Afterwards, Yvette asked for my phone number and we exchanged contact details.

“I have a FRIEND!” I crowed to Husband. “We’re meeting for lunch next week. She’s LOVELY. Do you have a lovely friend? No? I do. Bet you wish you had a friend. We’re meeting for lunch next week. She’s LOVELY. Do you have a etc.”

For the rest of the week, I seized upon every opportunity – and even made up a few – to remind Husband about MY FRIEND and how great she was and how I was really looking forward to lunch.

The day before lunch, Yvette called to say she couldn’t make it for a reason which, at the time, sounded entirely genuine (washing her cat).

“What’s up?” said Husband as I mooched around the living room moodily dodging advancing dust bunnies.

“My er, friend postponed lunch to next week.”

“Never mind, baby,” said Husband soothingly. “She’s probably just busy.”

During the week, my self-confidence returned and I promoted Yvette from Erfriend back to My Friend. I also stepped up the guerrilla tactics, sneaking up on Husband unawares and shouting: “My friend!” into his ear.

I’m sure you can see exactly where this is going.

Yes. She cancelled again (Christmas shopping).

“What a cow,” said Husband, instead of: “Where’s your buddy now, huh? Ha ha HA! Niamhie No Mates! Niamhie No Mates!”

The compassion is all part of his long-term devious scheme to drive me over the edge.

“Maybe you should advertise for a friend on Trademe,” he suggested.

“What? Like: ‘Friend: low reserve, very loyal, never returns books, no funny stuff?’”

In the end, we didn’t have to. Last time we were in South Island, we learned that Husband’s college mate’s brother lives just down the road from us (that being about 8km).

The first time we met MarkJ, we went around to his place. We wondered whether we had got the right house – the entire place was dark – but rang the doorbell anyway. There was a bang, followed by a mechanical hum; then the garage door groaned up and it was like that scene in ET – you know where the aliens stop by to pick up ET and you wonder what’s going to come out of the spacecraft?

When the garage door opened fully it was still pitch black, and I don’t know about Husband but I was holding my breath. Then the light blared on and there was MarkJ perfectly framed in the doorway.

It was possibly the most dramatic greeting I’ve ever experienced. Subsequent meetings can only suffer in comparison, but each has been full of chat, frequently entertaining, and often freaky. MarkJ is a multi-talented, all-purpose friend: he can conduct simultaneous conversations with Husband about cars while discoursing the nature of solitude with me. We will see much more of him.

Some time ago, our Dubai-based buddy JohnM sent an email to me and Shelley, a friend of Sylvia’s living in Devonport on the North Shore. It said:-

Niamh, meet Shelley.

Shelley, meet Niamh.

‘Do Lunch’

So we did. Husband got bored around the two hour point and went to – ok, I’m not sure where because I didn’t notice him leave – but Shelley and I talked for another hour and a half and could have kept going.

Last weekend, we met her husband Greg who is almost as nice (Shelley’s Irish. It’s an unfair advantage, I know), and daughter Victoria. They are an awesome family.

And finally, can we claim John and Haze as new friends? John is less grumpy having left Dubai, and Haze less dusty, so it’s almost like they’re different people.

No?

Contemporary romance

I’m on a roll: NZ Immigration approved my residency visa ‘in principle’. It has been two weeks since Husband and I groveled along to the Henderson branch to submit a rose tinted account of our relationship; more evidence supporting our entirely contemporary frenziedly nibbling romance; and faxed references from friends and family.

Thanks a million to all who summarily supplied letters at such short notice: you rock.

It was particularly stressful writing a description of our relationship that didn’t include the words ‘feckin langered’, ‘champagne goggles’, ‘copped a grope’, ‘tummy burp’ or ‘what can you expect? – he’s a Kiwi’.

Since then, I have obsessed in vibrating 3-D Technicolour about being kicked out of the country (that’s when I wasn’t obsessing about my Little Black Dress contract.) Every time a car came up our road, it was the police arriving to escort me to the airport and see me onto a plane to – who cares? Eritrea – Husband sobbing uncontrollably as I desperately clutch his grasping fingers. The last thing I hear as I am dragged by the heels into the waiting aircraft nursing my broken digits is Husband wailing:

“My darling, wait for me! I swear to you: I WILL FIND YOU! <Get your filthy hands off me Plodfreak; I’m a New Zealand citizen.>”

Thankfully, not many cars come up our road.

Hey! – another idea for my second novel. I tell ya, they’re coming thick and fast these days

Atmospheric conditions

Auckland has a reputation for being soggier than the rest of the country (with the exception of the west coast of South Island, where the rain falls up as well as down).

One of the reasons Craig and Margaret moved from Te Anau to Oamaru was the brutal climate; yet whenever we visited, we were treated to balmy sunshine. It was quite embarrassing; Margaret would insist there was horizontal snow and cyclones until the day before we arrived, and we’d be all: “Oh, SURE,” and wishing we’d packed more shorts.

In fact, on every occasion Husband and I visited New Zealand – including the hoary depths of winter 2006 – we experienced phenomenal weather . . . everywhere except Auckland.

At the end of December, we arrived in the middle of what many agreed was the warmest summer ever (although I am reminded of Dubai, where each summer everyone swears it is the hottest on record).

“I can’t believe how warm it is!” people would exclaim, and then: “not for you, I suppose, coming from the Middle East,” not noticing my face stuck to a glass as I vainly attempted to deflame my facial capillaries. Auckland City was indeed clement.

Then we moved to Waitakere. It is at least 2˚ cooler than the city and everyone warned us of the savage climate up on the range. Yet within a month our water tank dried up and we had to order a delivery of 10,000 litres from the Council.

Inevitably, the day after the water truck came, it started pelting down and didn’t stop for nearly a week.

This morning, we woke to driving rain churning up thick fog. Three hours later, the sun is gently steaming the ground.

There are no half measures here.

Dead tree 30/4 10:02 . . . . and seventeen minutes later 10:19

Natural affinity for squirrels

My legs are killing me.

Today we went orienteering at Shank’s Pony near Kaukapakapa (that place is still easier to write than to say. Barely). Husband doesn’t mind the orienteering, but is not fond of getting out of bed. While I registered, Husband worked on his enthusiasm with a cup of coffee in the car.

Last week at Stag’s Roar, we did the 3.8km Orange course. This time, I was looking forward to something a bit more challenging.

“The red courses are quite technical,” said the woman at registration. “I would recommend a beginner’s course.”

OH, SHE WOULD, WOULD SHE?

Could she not see my rugged mien, feel the accumulated years of navigational savvy, smell the faint scent of Irish 1980s woodlands on my skin? Could she not sense my natural affinity for squirrels?

There was evidently something wrong with the woman, but I wasn’t about to turn down such a blatant challenge.

“Red 2, please,” I said.

“Are you sure?” She eyed me doubtfully. I was outraged, especially since she was wearing a pair of clogs.

CLOGS!

“How much?”

“Have you orienteered before?”

“Of course!” I snorted. Could she not . . . <as above>.

“The terrain is quite tricky and there’s lots of climb-”

“GOOD! I love hills! More the merrier, that’s what I say! I hope they’re REALLY VERY STEEP!”

Aaand that’s how we ended up doing the 5.0km Red 2 course.

It took us 20 minutes to find the first control – see Friggin Fig 1 below. The line of trees off the north of the track was obvious, yet for reasons that will remain classified we followed the track west to its conclusion and splashed around in the stream for a while. Or more precisely, around 15 minutes.

Friggin Fig 1

However, we hit our stride and charged down checkpoints 2-6. Husband and I were on fire, heartbreakingly in synch with each other and the universe.

The leg from checkpoint 6 to 7 was a kilometre long, which was when I started to wilt. It crept up on me spontaneously; one minute I was hurdling a fallen tree, the next I was negotiating with my legs for every step.

“Come on Niamhie!” bawled Husband, sprinting up a field. “This bit’s flat!”

He ran out of puff around checkpoint 9. I could tell, because when he found the control he kind of whimpered, instead of waving his arms around roaring: “OVER HERE! IT’S OVER HERE!”

Technically, this course was much more advanced than last week’s. There were few giveaways; you had to be right at the feature to access the control. Some of them were stuffed down rabbit holes and one was half eaten by a cow. We finished the course in just under two hours and have been subdued ever since.

To your right! Look! Over there!

Action shot: Husband tears off towards the finish. All right – he balanced on one leg for this photo, but you’ve got to admire his beauty and grace, like a constipated gazelle

Husband channels Chariots of Fire: note the proud chest, the splayed arms, the agonised grimace. Unfortunately, some of the essence is missing due to Husband’s trying to run in slow motion. Really takes it out of you – and I should know

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