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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.”

Isn’t he a gorgeous fellow: rhetorical

Westmeat is one of my favourite shops in Blenheim, which might surprise those of you who know I’m vegetarian.

But, you know, I’m not that interested in clothes, and grocery shopping gives me hives, and I don’t participate in any sport that requires more specialized equipment than goggles, and Husband has effectively ensured I will never voluntarily enter an electronics shop ever again ever. I suppose if the post office had soft furnishings and offered a more imaginative array of services, that might be my favourite shop, but it doesn’t and therefore it isn’t.

All I actually buy in Westmeat is food for Jed the Dog. I order chicken necks and chunks of lamb in multiples of 10kg, and it comes in boxes with my name written on it which makes me feel special. So that’s nice. Also, the shop also has minced chicken – in MINIATURE CUBES.

I like cubes.

We can only afford the dogfood, but Andrew sometimes accompanies me into the shop to stare wistfully at schnitzel. However on this particular occasion, he stayed outside in the carpark because he wanted to interrogate a suspected oil leak beneath the car.

When I went to check out my basket of carcass in the shop, I asked the assistant whether Westmeat opens on Sundays.

She said, “Unfortunately, no, because most of us have lives . . . except for you.”

There was no malice behind the comment; in fact, it’s entirely the sort of thing I would say while regretting the words even as they plopped out my mouth. I could actually HEAR her thought process go something like, ‘Hey! I’ve got a joke- yay me!- there’s the punchline- no wait! THERE’S ANOTHER! I’m ON FIRE!- hmm not sure about this but I’m committed now- oops. That didn’t sound as good out loud as it did in my head. In fact it might have been kinda insulting to the wrong person . . . like OH GOD IT’S A CUSTOMER.’

I regretted not doing more than smiling and looking vaguely perplexed, because I found it increasingly hilarious the more I thought about it – while in the meantime her supervisor stared appalled and the poor girl, at this stage bright red, went into blather overdrive.

I’m sorry to say I stored up the mirth until I related the incident to Andrew.

 “Well,” said Andrew, “while you were inside, I was under the car checking the leak and a car pulled up and Jed must have been sitting at the window, because I heard a woman say, ‘Oh, isn’t he a gorgeous fellow?’ and then I popped up just as her husband looked across, and he said, ‘Well, I suppose he’s all right’, and she’s going, ‘Oh, no NO, I meant the dog. Not er, you. Although you’re nice too’.”

Right there: THAT’S why Westmeat is my favourite shop in Blenheim.

So sorry

The first we heard of the earthquake that crushed Christchurch last Tuesday was the phone call from Andrew’s parents. The dog tried to give us a clue; Jed had been stalking around the living room growling and whining. We didn’t actually feel anything here in Blenheim – New Zealand isn’t that small.

However, it is small enough that almost every New Zealander has friends or relatives in Christchurch. In a country this size, a tragedy on such a scale affects everyone.

We have listened to the news with increasing dismay. In the event of an earthquake people are advised to ‘get under a table or stand in a doorway’, but on 22 February it made no difference. The people whose lives intersected with the earthquake were powerless. We heard of a woman who – in the split second she decided to take shelter under her desk – watched a beam crush it flat. The stories illustrate a monstrous randomness in who was spared and who was not.

We are grateful the friends we have in Christchurch are all accounted for and safe. Brett works in the business district but happened to be offsite that day. Another friend left his workplace – the CTV building – an hour before the quake hit; fifteen of his colleagues are now dead. During the week, a neighbour of ours works in Christchurch just down from the CTV building. He was subdued when we talked to him this weekend – as are we.

I am a sphinx

This weekend, Husband’s parents arrived for a surprise visit.

Well. I knew they were coming but Andrew didn’t. Generally, intrigue works MUCH better for us the other way around.

On any number of occasions the cat had at least a paw and three whiskers out of the bag. One time I barely stopped myself blurting out, ‘Which bed should we put your parents in?’ And I can’t tell you how often I came THIS CLOSE to standing in the middle of the living room shouting, ‘YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING! YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING!’

The Quack Team were also coming across from Nelson to celebrate Andrew’s 40th birthday. Well, I can keep one secret at any given time, but not two; in any case, I felt telling Andrew about The Quack Team’s visit might facilitate my coordinating of his ulterior schedule.

Turns out the man just flatly refuses to take direction. Friday morning Andrew resolved to go into Blenheim to purchase ‘connectors’. I hastily postponed The Outlaws’ arrival during a clandestine communiqué with Her Goatiness, whispering hoarsely into the telephone with the shower running. Then, after we returned – around the time The Outlaws were due – I practically had to lash Husband to the deck to stop him going fishing.

When his parents rolled down the drive, Andrew claimed he’d  known something was up; said I’d been unusually twitchy. But I WAS A SPHINX. I might have believed him if he’d said he thought I was coming down with malaria.

Bow wow wave

It’s been all about the swimming lately. Over the last week I have boldly ventured into the bay daily, armed with nothing more than togs, cap, goggles and a natural immunity to salt.

The likelihood of my head imploding from the cold has moved down the list to make way for being mowed down by pleasure boaters. Either that or an angler mistaking me for a barracuda. After six months searching for survivors under toxic amounts of tumbleweed, this place is suddenly heaving. On our last trip to Blenheim, we came across two other vehicles on the road and a guy in a wetsuit. (See? HE to the VING.)

On Friday morning, I drove Husband to the beach to go diving with Sheriff and – after they’d launched – availed of the opportunity to go for a swim. Not that I’m short of opportunities but, you know, I was there.

The target was 80 strokes.

Leaving my dog burying his tennis ball on the beach, I waded into the shallows, adjusted my hat, wedged on goggles, and one deep breath later struck out parallel to the shore.

After 40 strokes, I stopped and pivoted for the return leg and WOAH! there in my face, coming at me with a look of grim intent, paddling like a maniac on fire at such speed I was nearly knocked over by his bow wave*, was Jed.

And if he DIDN’T intend to splash water in my face with his forelegs while simultaneously karate-kicking me in the stomach with the rest of them, I’m not sure what he was about.

* Ok, is there any possible way I can make a joke out of bow wow and wave? OH NOW COME ON!


Cold blooded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep,” I said grimly.

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

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

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

I’m not sure how to address that.

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

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

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

A dream comes true

I’ve always wanted to walk into a shop and shout, “Horseshit!”

Although secretly what I’ve REALLY always wanted is to sidle into a shop, grab a packet of Smarties, empty them into my mouth, then RUN OUT WITHOUT PAYING. Perhaps cackling as I go, as long as I could be sure it would come across as vaguely menacing rather than insincere and trying too hard. But once I reached the age of 9, I gave up the dream. It was time to make a choice: to embark on a life of crime, or devote myself to goodness and general worthiness and procuring of confectionary via lawful financial transactions.

But it’s been hard, knowing I will never fulfil that dream, which explains why, when an opportunity presented itself to walk into a shop and shout, “Horseshit!”, I engaged it fully and enthusiastically.

The notice beside the bags of shit stacked outside the Riding for the Disabled Centre in Blenheim stated, ‘manure $2/bag pay at the dalry’. While we loaded three sacks into the car, we tried to work out what a dalry was. We only realised 100 yards down the road as we drove past the local dairy (that’s the grocery store to the European Unionists).

So I marched into the dairy clutching $6 and shouted “Horseshit!”. Given the sentiment, I felt thumping the counter would be a little OTT, so contented myself with projecting from the diaphragm.

“Oh,” whispered the shop assistant. “You mean . . . the . . . poo?”

Which I felt was ambiguous for all that it might have been admirably dainty.

“HORSESHIT!” I confirmed.

At last, a dream comes true.

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