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Posts tagged ‘New Zealand’

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

Love and stuff

Finn and his proud mother

For Mothers’ Day, I got an extra hours sleep, a bottle of Baileys, and a cheese-making kit.

What was that? Oh, a breast-feeding joke. I’m VERY disappointed in you. I dare you – in fact, I TRIPLE DARE you – to come up with a new one. I guarantee you can’t; my in-laws have covered them all. There is no lactation related joke in this universe I haven’t heard before – sometimes multiple times. Evidently I need to be more conscientious in remarking on the deficiency of dickage amongst Husband’s family.

It’s a measure of how much I’ve changed that my Mothers’ Day card made me cry rather than scathe it with derision. Also, that I was only marginally more stoked about pressies and breakfast in bed, than discovering the washing was dry after a week soggily drooping on the clothes line.

Finn’s here; he lives and breathes; he’s a laundry generating machine; you can’t move in the living room without tripping over a brightly coloured toy that rattles; and he occupies (conservatively) 95% of my thoughts and time. Yet even when I’m holding him in my arms with his tiny fingers curled around my thumb, and feel the warmth of him and kiss his baldy little head, I can still barely believe he’s real.

Despite all the years I longed for a child, the concept of ‘motherhood’ holds limited appeal. I used to be young, carefree, full of potential. I disdained Hallmark cards. When I got drunk nobody thought I was a sad old trollop.

All that has changed and I’m struggling to adopt my new identity:

Parent.

Skill-set: accurate prediction of vomit trajectory and identification of several varieties of poo.

However, one thing is beyond question.

I LOVE being Finn’s mother.

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.

Aerodynamically optimal

Three days into our new home and we’re still chaotic. Basically our life can be described in terms of boxes and litres of Jif cleaning fluid.

After the movers relocated the bulk of our possessions last Thursday week, we made one more trip to the container in Spring Creek with a last trailer-load. The container smelled like the gorilla pit at the zoo. Please note it featured this delicate bouquet long before we ever stuffed it with our belongings. I’m not sure whether it seemed more potent due to my enhanced sense of smell or it had actually once contained gorillas.

As Andrew unloaded, “I thought you were going to put your motorbike in the container,” I said. Although phrased as a statement, Andrew recognised it for the pointed question it was.

“Decided not to,” he said. “We’ll have PLENTY of room for it on the trailer.”

I may never learn to decode my husband’s unique blend of brooding pessimism and misplaced idealism.

Container on its way, we set to cleaning the house. I was anxious to leave it spick, since not only are the landlords our friends, but they handed over the house in such pristine condition. Unfortunately, I underestimated the time it would take, allied with how pregnant I am, not to mention pedantic. You might call it a trifecta of miscalculation.

I was still cleaning on Saturday morning, the day we were to drive to Oamaru. While Andrew loudly expressed his astonishment how much stuff was left to fit on the trailer, I desperately wiped down door handles. The end result was three rooms and two bathrooms that gleamed, with skirting boards that could have been declared contamination-free zones. Unfortunately, the living room windows were still smudged with dog snot . . . but at least I got the blood stains off the walls and scraped most of the viscera off the ceiling.

I drove the MR2 the first leg of the trip, while Andrew drove the Hilux Surf towing a trailer that looked precariously volatile but, he assured me, was both stable and aerodynamically optimal.

We swapped vehicles just south of Blenheim and I drove the Surf the rest of the way. Again, I’m not sure whether it was pregnancy or the fact that we haven’t defurred it in a while but sitting into the Surf’s driver seat was a nauseating experience.

We hit Christchurch at around 5pm, where we collected a cot, which posed a challenging logistical problem for Andrew.

In Rolleston, we stopped for a late lunch from BP. I had a gourmet vegetarian pie which, given how hungry I was, should have been a taste sensation. Instead it was rather horrid, tasting of burnt-curry with a strangely chewy texture. It was only after I’d finished it that I realised I’d also eaten most of the wrapping paper.

Poor Andrew had to work on Sunday but I took a day off. On Monday morning, the Spring Creek Container Yard notified me that our possessions had arrived. In a quality effort, Andrew and The Welsh Giant relocated everything to the new house by early afternoon, while I . . . cleaned.

God I hate the smell of Jif.

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.

Cranial topiary

Last week – coincidentally, still my birthday – we went for our daily walk. I’ve been a little monochrome recently and – after two months in Oamaru doing little more than taunt bulls – have only just started back into an exercise regime.

I felt TERRIFIC.

“I feel TERRIFIC,” I announced to Husband. “Where are we going? How about we go up the road and around Jeep and Meep’s track and – hey, I know! Let’s do The Hen’s Beak. In fact, let’s RUN it. No holding back: full frontal assault. Hoo-AH!” I threw in a navy seal style lunge for emphasis.

For some reason, Husband didn’t share my enthusiasm. We were engaged in a tense discussion about the exercise benefits of descending and ascending The Hen’s Beak/pointlessness and authenticity of my mental faculties (depending whose side you take), when I pulled a muscle – halfway up our driveway.

In my defence, our drive is steep to the point of sheer; you practically need crampons to get up it. Still, the situation left no doubt as to who won that argument. You could say I didn’t have a leg to stand on. At least, I had one – just not the other.

While Andrew carried on with the dog, I limped home nursing my pulled muscle and bruised ego.

In the end, I was extremely pleased I wasn’t up for the walk, because Jed kicked over a wasps’ nest (we should train him not to do that) and a swarm of irate insects chased Husband and Jed home. They were pretty sullen when they arrived back, having both been stung several times.

In addition to crème brulee, dinner was roast lamb for Andrew, with marinated tofu for me and rosemary roasted vegetables. About ten minutes before the roast was ready, with the unique logic impenetrable to anyone but him, Husband decided timing was optimal for buzz-cutting his head.

I would have suggested postponing the exercise except I’d been absolutely twitching to get stuck into Andrew’s hair; it was so bushy I wouldn’t have been surprised had a woodland creature or two wandered out of it.

Though honestly, I was surprised when he asked me to do it, after the one and only time I buzzed his head years ago. But look, that’s an entirely different story and has no place here. Nor, for that matter, anywhere else during the remainder of my lifetime.

Andrew installed himself on one of our dining chairs in the living room, with a mirror propped against the table. Unfortunately, the razor kept crapping out in the face of the challenge posed by Andrew’s thatched thicket.

Since he was covered with bristly hair – and still sported a ferocious furze with some indefinite landing-strips up the sides – Husband spent the next half an hour trying to fix the razor.

Although the repaired device was incapable of much more than de-furring the dog’s bollocks, the haircut was going quite well, I thought. However, Husband was obviously anxious about his quiff, the pelt-sculpture that proudly crowns his forehead. He issued several complex instructions on reducing it while still retaining its character.

Eventually I demanded scissors to address The Quiff. I’ve always been confident and adept with scissors. I’m terrific at cutting out paper circles. Also, I regularly barber the dog. Andrew went to fetch a pair.

Unfortunately, I lost concentration for just a split-second and, when I re-focussed, Andrew was stalking around the living room ATTACKING his head with the scissors. I attempted to wrestle the scissors off him, but nearly cut off his ear, so I retreated to a respectable distance to watch him basically Doing a Sweeney on himself. It was CARNAGE. He ended up with a menacing furry overhang, much like mange-ridden badger squatting on his head mooning passersby.

When he finally surrendered the scissors, I evened it up as best I could; but he still looks like Tintin. Hey, a craftswoman can only do so much with substandard raw material.

Then we had dinner garnished with hair.

Dose of trigger finger

It is wonderful being home again, despite the lavishly wet display the weather has put on since we arrived. It’s also terrific having Husband back after over a month. Eh, suppose I must like him.

Of course, after a weeks’ intense, touching reunion, we’re about due to have an absolute crockery-endangering rip-snorter of an argument. It’s a pattern; usually prompted by Andrew’s asking whether I have fed the dog, and my responding, “Well who the <expletive deleted> do you think fed the <expletive deleted> dog all last month? HMM?”

(In this particular instance the answer would in fact be Agent of Death, who fed Jed with the other farm dogs, but no matter. I’m feeling twitchy. Especially after a week of Andrew’s nocturnal duvet-rustling raids.)

The weather forecast for the weekend was uninspiring, but when Friday dawned beautiful and sunny we decided to go fishing. Ken Ring’s fishing calendar predicted ‘very good’ fishing for 1pm.

I’m somewhat ashamed of our reliance on Ken’s Ring, since it rather undermines my opinion that he’s a dodgy chancer. However, it is comforting to know that Andrew and I will always bond over a primary, borderline chartered-accountant level sense of humour – and, well, Ken’s Ring Hurhurhur hasn’t been wrong yet. The alternative is that we’re gifted anglers with a feeling for fish – and actually I have more faith in Ken.

We made our way to the Point, stuffed the dog in the prow of the boat, and while Andrew fiddled with his rod, I baited my hook and unspooled the hand-line. The weight had barely hit the bottom, when the line tugged.

At first I thought it was an aggressive piece of seaweed; but then it yanked violently.

“Bite!” I roared, trying to wind the line onto the hand-caster. “Ooh, it’s a big one. Oh no- has it got off? Yeow! No! Woah!”

My prey seemed to alternate between fighting like a kraken possessed, and swimming towards the light. My arms had the pulling power of spaghetti by the time the fish broke the surface – and he was HUGE.

“What the fuck IS it?” I gasped.

“Get it in the boat!”

“I CAN’T!”

So Andrew hauled it in. “I think it’s a groper,” he said. “But that’s not . . . they don’t . . . it’s impossible.”

Port Underwood is not renowned for its swarming shoals of groper.

“Why don’t you just call The Sheriff?” I said, as Andrew looked up pictures of groper on the phone, along with the Ministry of Fisheries website to determine the legal size for groper in this area. “I mean, as long as it’s not a kingfish, it’s well above the legal limit for anything else. Isn’t it?” It was 65cm.

Eventually, while Andrew was distracted admiring pictures of moki, I hijacked his phone and called The Sheriff myself. He issued a staccato burst of technical questions – ‘Does it have whiskers out its chin? / Does it have a big mouth? / What size are its gills?’ – it had a huge gob, protruding eyes and was kinda scaly. The Sheriff was of the opinion that, however unlikely, it sounded like a groper pup.

Ok so it looks smaller in the photo.

Andrew cut it into steaks; I rubbed one with Cajun seasoning, dribbled over some oil and lime juice, and baked it for 20 minutes the other night – I would highly recommend it.

The following day, flocks of seagulls wheeled just above the surface of the sea, so we went trolling for kahawai. We had to whack them away with a stick; Andrew resorted to casting off from the stationary boat. At one point, there were three kahawai after the lure as he reeled it in.

We donated three to The Hostess with the Mostest and The Mustachioed Muchacho, and two to The Sheriff and Bunqueen. In return, The Mustachioed Muchacho gave us his top-secret recipe for smoking kahawai, and we now have a stack of it in the fridge.

Dinner this evening was fish pie with smoked kahawai, groper, blue cod and mussels – mmm.

Iceland is easier to spell

Before leaving Oamaru yesterday morning, I checked the newspapers and the Emirates and Christchurch Airport websites to see whether Husband’s flight had been cancelled due to the volcano in Chile. Not Iceland. I really feel the media could have been a bit clearer about that.

Thankfully, the ash cloud appears to have blown over.

Agent of Death and The Welsh Giant loaded the trailer while I supervised i.e. criticized Agent of Death’s knots. Due to a previous blog entry, wherein I lamented the quality of send-off staged by the in-laws when Husband was not around, a full complement of in-laws presented to issue hugs, kisses and trailer adjustments. Couldn’t fault them. On the one hand, balloons could have been a nice touch, but on the other they might have suggested celebration at the prospect of my departure. In retrospect, a sound decision.

After gleefully slagging off my in-laws in my blog, I suppose it is appropriate here to mention how overwhelmingly grateful I am for their hospitality and care over the last two months. Evidently I chose my in-laws well and feel privileged to be part of the family.

They were stunned when I left ten minutes before stated, at 09:50hrs. Somehow, I seem to have a reputation for being completely disorganized and eternally tardy. Which is a mystery to me.

The weather on the drive to Christchurch was miserable; grey and rainy. I took it easy with the fully loaded trailer. This included Andrew’s KTM dirtbike and a coolbox full of an ice-cream maker, a bread bin, three freshly sharpened knives, and a set of fish-themed coasters. There was also a tin trunk containing biking gear and tie-downs, and another full of partially-digested tennis balls. 

I reached the airport with plenty of time to spare. Husband rather optimistically/foolhardily/manfully strode out of the airport wearing a t-shirt. I have to say his welcome left much to be desired; Jed got a lot more pats than me. Admittedly, he didn’t snog the dog.

The plan was that Andrew would take on the bulk of 5.5 hour drive north, but after a while I resumed driving because his mach-speed cornering was making me nauseous.

We decided to stop in Kaikoura for a light dinner. For some reason, I absolutely had to have spicy potato wedges and nothing else would do. Since leaving Oamaru, I had been preoccupied imagining the tearful reunion with Husband – and a big, greasy plate of spicy wedges, preferably with sour cream and sweet chili sauce and maybe even some grated cheese sprinkled over the top *slaver*.

Luckily we located a Monteith’s bar; it seemed portentous that there was a double-parking space right out the front. Sure enough, the menu featured spicy potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. I persuaded the Irish barman to throw on some cheese by leveraging his lack of Guinness.

Andrew had spare ribs, or something.

Quick stop at New World for some staples – milk, bread, eggs, coffee – and we got home at about 21:30. It was raining and we couldn’t find the key for the gate padlock; it didn’t appear to be on our keyring. After some prolonged torch-lit rummaging through glove box, centre console, door pouches, and my bag, Andrew eventually hunted it down . . . on the keyring.

We’d planned to collapse straight into bed, but our landlords/neighbours had left a tub of pumpkin soup and some of their freshly-baked white supremacy bread on the sideboard. And I can’t recall ever having seen anything so welcome ever – even that time Andrew got dressed up in . . .

Yes, well.

I suppose it’s all about timing and appropriateness.

I didn’t notice the nuts

“Hope you avoided the bulls,” said Her Goatiness when I returned from my walk.

I paused in the process of unlacing my boot and squinted up at her. “Bulls?” I said. “No, I didn’t see anything. Apart from the two black cows in the paddock below.”

“Black cows? Those were BULLS, Niamhie. Didn’t you notice their nuts?”

Now, I have only recently graduated to the ability to distinguish chickens from goats, never mind determining the sex of livestock. I mean, I’d noticed the cows were a little beefier than the rest of the herd. Good conditioning, I’d thought sagely, congratulating myself on the appropriate application of agricultural jargon.

“Your Goatiness, I’m not some cocky who instinctively checks out an animal’s bollocks,” I said a tad archly. In any case, I generally go out of my way to avoid cows. I hate them: the glazed zombie eyes, the grinding jaws, the udders swinging like wrecking balls. And the way they RUSTLE. Ugh *shiver*.

“Jesus, Niamhie,” said Her Goatiness, “those bulls are seriously dangerous.”

I laughed. I don’t know; perhaps it was a nervous response to having unwittingly stared into the grinding jaws of death.

“I’m not joking! How far away were they?”

“Um. They were beside the gate when I let myself out of the paddock. About ten feet, I suppose.”

Her Goatiness actually went white.

“Jed went over and growled at them. Showed them who’s boss.” Although when one of the bulls lowered his head and wagged it, Jed swiftly ran out of bravado.

“NIAMHIE! They’ll kill him, you know!”

I would have been more touched by her concern if, when I’d started out on my walk, instead of saying, “Have a nice walk,” she’d said, “So you’re going for your usual late-afternoon walk which never varies in its route across the fields to the creek? Watch out for the two black bulls in the lower paddock. I’d avoid it if you wish to maintain your current status as ‘Living’.”

Restrictive library snack policy

Time is a valuable thing,
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it tick down to the end of the day
The clock ticks life away.

When I stay with The Outlaws, most days I go into Oamaru to write.

There are too many distractions around the farm: the projectile mud, the violent decor, the mice inhabiting the sofa, Agent of Death’s collection of home-made rum. I also find it harder to ignore the magnetising appeal household chores exert on me when the alternative is writing: unloading the dishwasher, sorting out the spice drawer, fishing out lumps of roast potato from under the oven.

Most critically, I can access the kenken.com site here. Mathematical and/or logic puzzles are to me as vodka is to an alcoholic, or laxatives to a model. At home, Husband has banned selected puzzle and game sites at the server level. These include: Kenken, Kakuro, Killer Sudoku, Tetris and the NY Times games page. Ooh- that reminds me: I wonder if The Sun still has its games arcade?

Looks like that’s tomorrow scheduled.

Anyway. I occasionally work in the library in town, but the librarians don’t allow you to eat snacks even if you bring them yourself. This TOTALLY stifles my creativity, which is a fragile, sensitive entity that requires calm, quiet and careful nourishment.

I used to go to The Bridge Cafe on Thomas St, but the staff were too friendly. Aggressive conversationalists, they were undaunted by my headphones and loud humming and hiding behind my laptop pretending I didn’t see them. They all wanted to know how the writing was going? – to which the answer became increasingly obvious. I persevered because the owner used to give me free coffee, but when that dried up I resolved to relocate my custom to another establishment.

I chose The Roost Cafe. Regrettably, The Roost is directly opposite The Bridge on 30 Thames St. I still cross the road to avoid walking past The Bridge; then hide around a corner and dart really fast into The Roost when a truck passes.

The Roost is FABULOUS and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Their food is modern and delicious: tortilla stacks, smoked salmon quiche, spanakopita, mushroom and blue cheese tarts, a variety of open grill sandwiches. The coffee comes with a tiny, delectable truffle; and the hot chocolate is made with real chocolate.

The staff don’t seem to mind that I can make a cup of coffee and a scone last 3-4 hours; or that I plug my laptop into their power point; or that I have been witnessed chair-dancing while rapping aloud to Linkin Park.

The other day, after a successful afternoon’s creative endeavour, I went to pay for my hot chocolate and scone with cream and jam. About five people – or basically, the full complement of staff on duty – were clustered around the point of sale system. They all looked harried; an elderly woman was on the phone – obviously to a technician (I heard her say, ‘Yes, I’ve TURNED it off and on. YES I’LL WAIT.’) – with a finger jammed up to the wrist in the opposite ear.

“I hate to bother you,” I said to the young dude who’d originally taken my order, “but I’d like to pay.”

“Oh. Ah,” he said, breaking into a light sweat. “We have- you see- this- we can’t-”

“Look. I can pay cash if you can access the register, or, you know, I’ll be in again tomorrow . . .”

Evidently I don’t look like the trustworthy type, because he said, “Oh, you can pay cash.”

So he calculated the total on a piece of scrap paper and I handed over $10 and he managed to open the cash register without aid of a screwdriver and he handed me my change.

And then I said,

“Can I have a receipt, please?”

AND NOBODY LAUGHED.

Can you believe it?

I might forgive them, because they do great scones.

Effluent challenge greater than ever

Cozy Dell

We came down to Oamaru to spend Easter Weekend with the Outlaws. Once we were here, it seemed pointless driving home only to return for the opening of duck shooting. Why not stay and kill two birds with one stone and maybe even an Easter bunny? Or better still, use a rifle.

Ok look, unless you’re vegetarian, I don’t want to hear how cruel hunting is, or how ducks probably don’t think it’s much of a sport (which is hardly surprising not having much in the way of higher intelligence). The living conditions of many domestic animals are appalling and the transfer and processing are crueller than a clean bullet through the head. We can duel if you disagree. (Except I don’t shoot stuff.)

While I’m on the subject, wasn’t the Royal Wedding simply lovely?

The Outlaw’s farm is like our second home. Agent of Death makes a terrific gin and tonic. The tangy aroma of fried fish first thing in the morning. A brown dog multiplied by a factor of three. And I’ve never come across a range of reading material in a bathroom more energising to the lower intestine:

  • New Zealand Fishing News – sample articles: ‘Squid tactics’, ‘Attack of the killer bream’
  • NZ Hunter (with a Deliverance-style picture of a stary dude holding up a set of antlers still attached to the deceased stag) – ‘Pimp your rifle: a new barrel in 7mm SRUM and a dial up scope’
  • Rod & Rifle – ‘Chukar NZ’s toughest gamebird’
  • Country Wide – ‘INSIDE: Special report: Irrigation’
  • Inside Dairy: Your Levy in Action – ‘Managing mastitis’
  • Dairy News – ‘Effluent challenge greater than ever’
  • Farm Trader – ‘Drills, slurry & fertiliser equipment reviewed’
  • Guns & Hunting – ‘Fitting a .223 true-flite barrel with an HCS suppressor’
  • NZ House & Garden – ‘Screenprinting made simple’
  • Country Living – ‘Organic tweeds for today’

My bowels have achieved an efficiency and precision that is, literally, moving.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of our dog. The change in his diet – goats milk, deer tongue, putrid rabbits – has resulted in some terrifying emissions from his butt. Sometimes opening the bedroom door in the morning sends a shock-wave sweeping through the house.

The other evening, Husband and I took Jed down to Cozy Dell, known locally as Nooky Cove, to wash off some of his insulating crust of cow shit. The temperature was perky. However, the light was gorgeous, with the late sun slanting low through the trees.

Husband's builder's bum was a bit camera-shy that day.

'Thank you' is Jed's command to give up whatever's in his mouth. For a dog, he has beautiful manners.

Husband builds cairn. Only because he knocked it over in the first place.

Jed waits for the off.

As a bonus, here’s a couple of vids of Jed diving for his water-logged tennis ball. He hasn’t QUITE figured out how to breathe underwater. Yet.

Jed lets Husband know just how cold the water is:

Puppy love: overrated

We left Port Underwood at 02:00 hrs to make an appointment with our macrobiotic accountant in Christchurch.

While Andrew drove through the night, I slept on a mattress laid out in the back. The dog made it clear he was unimpressed with sharing his boot space by sitting on my face. We argued. Then we kissed and made up. Afterwards, every time I opened my eyes, Jed’s big furry head was on my pillow staring at me soulfully if not downright romantically. Sometimes he burped post-digested possum. Puppy love: over-rated.

I was surprised how well I slept, even though the SH1 from Blenheim to Kaikoura is hardly conducive to balancing on top of a triple-folded mattress. But I was lulled to sleep by the thunder of the tyres on the road and the stars swirling by the window and I was only dimly aware of the wedges of orange light washing across my face in the townships.

We’re staying with the Outlaws in Oamaru for the next few weeks. Normal service will resume next Sunday. In the meantime, I hope you all have a happy Easter infested with chocolate bunnies.

HI! We’re invading your privacy!

One feature of thing about living in a remote part of New Zealand is scruffy men prowling through your garden with knives and/or rifles, preceded by a pack of wolves.

I’ve spent most of my life in cities, where the automatic response to one or more strangers snuffling around your gnomes is to check the doors are double-locked before calling the police.

However, in a small community, placing a 911 is considered bad form. In any case, you just KNOW the dude with a lazy eye and a claw instead of a hand will turn out to be your neighbour’s son/mother/best friend/beloved family pet or – even worse – the only hairdresser within a 100km radius.

The first time we encountered pig hunters on our premises was a few months ago; Husband and I were in the garden when a dog appeared out of the surrounding bush. While Jed investigated whether he could insert his entire head up his new friend’s arse, two men strolled down our drive followed by three more hounds.

I secured my squirming dog by the scruff while the pack of hunting dogs sniffed my ankles suspiciously. I’m thinking, “this had better be good”.

I expected an opening salvo along the lines of, “Hello- terribly sorry to disturb. We weren’t aware there was anyone here, our mistake. We simply can’t apologise enough. We assure you it won’t happen again.”

Instead, the man I’ll call ‘Claw’ (even though he didn’t actually have a claw), said, “Have you seen a pig?”

My instinctive response would normally be some loud advice based on a solid framework of expletives. Unfortunately, you can’t afford to do that here (see above). They were also better armed than us – even though I’m pretty sure Andrew could have taken Claw’s mate with the trowel.

However, I was so miffed I didn’t even invite them in for a cup of tea. If you’re Irish, you will appreciate quite how VEXED I was.

It’s lucky the situation was contained, because of course Claw turned out to be The Sherriff‘s brother from another mother, and is – according to The Sherriff – a lovely bloke when he’s not skulking.

The other day, our landlord The Mustachioed Muchacho called to let us know he’d given ‘Pail’ permission to hunt their land. The Mustachioed Muchacho explicitly told Pail to avoid our house, but we decided to keep Jed inside just in case. Any pack of dogs has the potential to gang up on one; and I’ve yet to be thrown into an envious rage by the control hunters have over their animals.

We were in the living room when Jed sprang up with the meaty WOOF! he uses to make us spill our coffee. Next thing, two men, a boy and a swarm of dogs trotted past our house. They waved in the window at us. Kind of a, ‘Hi! We’re invading your privacy!’ wave. Which was . . . nice?

They carried on down our track to the promontory. One of their dogs took a crap and I know it’s what dogs do and when you’ve gotta go you’ve gotta go, but NOBODY EVEN WHACKED THE TURD OFF THE TRACK.

On their return, they waved in the window again.

(Even though I didn’t want to I waved back and even employed all fingers.)

All this time and for the next half an hour, Jed paced, groaned, whined, yodelled, barked and howled. He alternated pacing around the living room with trying to scratch a hole in the sliding door.

Some time after that we took Jed for a walk. With Andrew’s permission, Pail had parked at the top of our drive, by the gate. On our return – an hour after the hunters said they would be gone – I thought I heard our gate clink as we rounded the bend in the road.

I grabbed Jed and called, “Hello?”

The van was still there; and so were the hunters, Pail wearing a bloody pig as a scarf.

“Are your dogs friendly?” I asked, but before Pail had even finished saying, “Aw, yeh, friendly AS,” two of his dogs set into Jed with a flurry of fangs and snarling.

Jed tore back up the road yelping, a dog swinging out of his backside by the teeth.

Long after Jed had forgotten all about it – including, conveniently, what a great big cowardy custard he was – I still had my ears flattened against the side of my head.

Queen of Cod

The title ‘Queen of Cod’ suits me on so many subliminal levels that I’m delighted it also applies literally.

The fishing trip last weekend started inauspiciously. Halfway across the bay, boat plunging through the waves, I realized I’d left my book in the car.

I always bring a book fishing. It’s insurance, in the same way carrying an umbrella means it won’t rain, or putting on 10 kilos and wearing ugly boots guarantees you’ll bump into your partner’s ex-girlfriend even if she lives in Angola and really has absolutely no business whatsoever being in New Zealand, I mean isn’t the world big enough?

While I reflected on the probability of my having jinxed the expedition, a sharp yelp from the back of the boat announced the dog had impaled his tongue on a fishing hook. The only surprise was that Jed hadn’t done so on numerous previous occasions, since he appears to think bait is a tasty treat we thoughtfully provide as nourishment on fishing trips.

Thankfully, the hook only nicked him. I don’t relish picking hooks out of fish’s gobs, never mind Jed’s. His teeth are bigger and sharper than a terakihi’s.

We anchored off the island, over our favourite ledge. I was ON FIRE, pulling in fish one after another. On a couple of occasions, I wound in my line to check the dog hadn’t somehow managed to eat my bait at a depth of 10m, and had a fish on. We caught three kelpie for Jed’s dinner and three blue cod for ours.

On the way back, Husband suggested we try trolling for kahawai. Crying gulls swirled and swooped and squabbled over the fish breaking the surface with silvery flashes and splashes.

We followed the flock, circling around them at about 7kph. I took the rod first, since Andrew still doesn’t trust me to pilot the boat. In fairness, if there were one freak rock in the middle of the ocean, I feel pretty sure I’d find it with the outboard motor.

It was my first introduction to trolling or deep-sea fishing.

“Have you got a good hold of the rod?” asked Andrew. “They bite hard.”

He wasn’t joking. When the first one hit, it nearly wrenched the rod out of my hands.

This was when Husband decided to advise me how to reel in kahawai:-

“TIGHTEN THE REEL! KEEP THE ROD DOWN! NO- PULL IT UP! REEL IT IN ON THE DOWNSWING! DON’T DO THAT- YOU’LL LOSE IT! TIGHTEN THE REEL! <EXPLETIVE>! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? REEL IT- HURRY- PULL IT-GAH!”

If that sounds more or less like gibberish to you, it was completely incomprehensible to me. I blame Andrew entirely for losing the first kahawai.

“Ok- you- don’t- what the- don’t shout orders at me! I don’t LIKE IT! Also- and- also, it’s a little LATE to be telling me how to do it when I have a fish on the line!”

Much like having your first CPR tutorial when confronted by a warm, pulse-free body stretched out on the floor in front of you.

I reeled in the second fish like a pro. Almost calmly, I tightened my reel – Andrew having shown me the twiddle – I hauled, I reeled on the downswing. When the fish was within reach, Andrew grabbed the line and swung it into the boat.

The span of my arms is insufficient to demonstrate how big that fish was.

After Andrew took the hook out of its mouth, it leaped out of the boat like Free Willy.

It seems obvious the men in my life are engaged in a conspiracy to sabotage my fishing career.

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.

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.

Armadillo knees

Solartap:  How are you?

Me:  Great! I’m wearing a wetsuit with armadillo knees.

Solartap:  Armadillo . . . knees? Is that a . . . what is that?

Me:  You might call it the cutting edge of seventies neoprene technology.

Solartap: Huh?

Me:  Yeah, the knees are, like, they have WINGS. You probably need to see it to get the full effect.

Solartap:  For ease of movement?

Me:  Not that you’d notice. I think maybe it’s some kind of retro fashion statement. It’s about thirty years old.

Solartap: Why are you wearing a wetsuit that’s thirty years old?

Me:  It has no arms. I’m going to try it out for swimming. Used to belong to Andrew-

Solartap: When he was EIGHT?

Me: More like fifteen.

Solartap: Thirty years ago he would’ve-

Me:  I was rounding up. Jeez.

Solartap: So you can fit into a wetsuit that fit a teenage boy. What does that say about you?

Me:  Nothing. I think it says more about the sagging nature of neoprene over time.

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

Brett and Debs are new friends – but not quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short: it was real.

There are killer whales in the back garden, dear

Frankenwings

At any point in time, Husband has a number of projects in various stages of consideration and/or completion. For the last few months, he’s spent many hours in the garage constructing a wind turbine.

When we lived in Waitakere, he considered building a hydro-electric power station at the bottom of the drive – as you do – to harness the energy of the river that cascaded thunderously into the lake by the driveway.

Unfortunately, that previous sentence could be sued for fraudulent misapplication of artistic license. The river was more a creek – and that’s being generous – and when I say ‘cascaded thunderously’, it crawled miserably down a slimy rock to stagnantly huddle in a muddy puddle before draining out under the drive.

“Yeah, but I only need a litre per second to power the whole house!” said Husband.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d be lucky to get a litre a MINUTE even during one of Waitakere’s signature downpours. Perhaps he came to this realisation himself, because the power station never materialized.

Then we moved to an exposed promontory on the east coast of South Island. Not much water, but plenty of wind. Difficult to say how much, but definitely Lots.

In the absence of any tried and tested method of converting canine methane gas to power, Andrew stated his intent to build a wind turbine.

I had little input into the design and construction process, apart from conditionally stating that the turbine be erected not less than 50 paces from the house. I had visions of it taking off in a gust and somersaulting through a window. In fairness, the ‘wings’ that Andrew spent weeks constructing weren’t what you’d call streamlined masterpieces of aerodynamic ingenuity. They were sheets of aluminium bolted onto wooden frames. Kind of like Frankenwings.

Yet when he finished his turbine yesterday, I was impressed. It’s nothing like the giant single-pivot whirligig that I’d visualized. The three 1.5m long wings are secured at either end so they stand vertically and spin around a central axis, much like a merry-go-round.

Andrew explained how he chose a design sturdy enough to withstand the swirling winds typical to these parts. He was so plausible that, for its maiden run, I agreed he could erect it right next to the house beside the dog kennel.

Husband is disappointed that it only generates about 55w of power instead of the 300-400w he’d anticipated – but that’s another story. Mine picks up in the middle of last night, when there was a muffled ‘CRUMP!’ followed by a shudder.

“<Expletive deleted>,” I moaned. “Th’ turbine. Sounds like a wing . . . lodging in . . . a deck.”

Andrew got up to investigate. He was gone a while, so I presumed he was outside picking up shrapnel.

“Well?” I mumbled when he returned.

“The turbine’s fine,” he said. “Had a look around but . . . yeah. No.”

“REALLY?” said I, genuinely surprised. “Oh. Ok.”

Ten minutes later, I was 95% asleep when Andrew said, “Hey. I wonder . . . maybe it was an earthquake?”

And at what I’ve only now determined was 04:37hrs, Husband looked up geonet on his mobile, and discovered we’d just experienced a 4.4 magnitude quake that originated a few kilometres north of us.

The turbine has been disabled for routine maintenance.

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!

Chill.

Cold blooded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep,” I said grimly.

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

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

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

I’m not sure how to address that.

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

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

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

Connoisseur

Dinner at Sherrif and The Bunqueens’:

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

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

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

Me: Well, it’s lovely.

Me: I can highly recommend it.

Engineered with bounce in mind

If there’s one thing Blenheim doesn’t have, it’s cheap, quality tennis balls. Also a Pak N Save, a water park and an indoor skating rink, but that’s a post for another day.

When we lived in Auckland, I used to buy 3-packs of tennis balls for Jed at the $2 shop in Glen Eden, next to Pet Shop Boyz. Generally speaking, the balls operated and, most importantly, proved resilient to Jed’s digestive system.

In Blenheim, we have tried tennis balls from New World, the $2 shop and three different brands from The Warehouse. Unfortunately, all seem to be engineered with bounce in mind rather than withstanding an applied chomping. After about five seconds of Jed’s er, HANDLING, the balls are in several component pieces tenuously hinged together by scrolls of fluff and slobber.

Once in this condition, the balls are of limited use. Well, they won’t roll or bounce, and are often attacked and carried off by eagles.

However, the other day, we found an application for these sadly mangled tennis balls. Because – depending on the state of the ball – if there is but one or two holes, IT SINKS.

Always keen to challenge and test the limits of our dog – i.e. amuse ourselves – we chucked it in a pond to see if Jed would retrieve it.

And we were SO IMPRESSED with our dog’s freediving. He’s slightly too buoyant around the arse to handle depths greater than three feet; when his body is submerged, his hind legs float over his head and he twirls around like an asynchronised swimmer.

On his recent visit MarkJ did what I’ve been threatening to do for WEEKS and took some wonderful pics:-

The release.

 

Dive, dive, dive!

 

Catching the tail end of the action.

 

Full immersion.

 

We were pleased he came up for air every now and then.

 

Husband bravely rescues a foundering ball. He didn't take to the water with the same level of enthusiasm as his dog. Andrew looks like he has a six-pack here; either he's seriously clenching, or MarkJ is VERY talented photographer. Take your pick.

Exploding eyeballs

There is a herd of wild goats that rampage around our promontory, raping and pillaging at will.

Since Andrew got his gun licence, he has talked at length about going and shooting one, but there’s always been an excuse a valid reason not to. Either he’s due to start work; or the goats are hiding; or his trigger finger’s stiff; or he needs to further research his prey by observing their grazing patterns from the living room.

Personally, I suspect he was intimidated by the Billy giving him the glad-eye.

Finally, last Friday the herd was sunbathing in the clearing above the cliff. If you squinted you could actually see the bull’s-eyes on their foreheads.

“The goats are in the open,” I said. Andrew barely looked up from his laptop screen. He said something that sounded like, “Um”.

“Well, are you going to go and shoot something?”

“Let me just check the weather forecast.”

The weather conditions were evidently favourable, because twenty minutes later we were edging down the track. I was present in my official capacity as Dog Handler and Controller – not that you’d have guessed it by the state of the squirming mutt at the end of the lead. Andrew stalked in front, gun at the ready, issuing Navy Seal hand signals over his shoulder.

He shot a young male goat in the head.

Its eyeball popped out.

 “I hope you identified the target beyond all doubt,” I said, quoting the New Zealand Police Arms Code. “How did you know it wasn’t our neighbour, Tim, snuffling for raspberries?”

“Well, if it was, he’d shrunk and was sporting a goat costume.”

After boning up on his Basic Butchering of Game and Livestock, Husband gutted and skinned the animal, then chopped it up. Most of it will keep Jed in dog food for maybe a week; Husband might roast some goat chops in the slow cooker.

Personally, I don’t really have the stomach for it

Sheepdog

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

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

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

Suddently, a herd of sheep stampeded down the drive.

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

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

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

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

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

SPRING!

It’s official: spring is here! As evidence: a daffodil.

Daffodil singular, unfortunately. I’m hopeful of more, since Jed trampled all over it shortly after I took this photo.

To celebrate the advent of SPRING! we had croissants for breakfast. What do you mean, where did we get them? It’s not as if we can pop down the road to our local patisserie; and none of our neighbours are retired French chefs, the bunch of inconsiderate bastards.

Only kidding! We’re very fond of our neighbours. Hi Jeep! Hi Meep! Hi Sherrif and The Bunqueen!

I made the croissants.

We sat out on the deck in our dressing gowns, basking in the SPRING! sunshine and guzzling oven-warm croissants slathered in butter and jam. They were delicious. At least one member of our family thought so.

Jed guards the last croissant.

Middle age gets another finger on the stranglehold

Husand rang me to report that he’d picked up the slow cooker I bought for $5.50 from TradeMe. Only used once!

I told myself the big grin plastered across my face was an expression of the customary joy I feel when conversing with Husband, rather than excitement about my new purchase almost within my clutching grasp.

“But it has a big crack in the lid,” said Andrew. “Did you know about that?”

“No! The listing never- there was no mention of cracks. She said it had been used once (although there was nothing about what for). And she had 100% positive feedback. Aw, this SUCKS! $5.50 for a broken slow cooker! What a crock!”

“Yes. I told her she was a timewaster and you’d give her a red face and then I set the dog on her.”

“Wait- wait a moment. You’re having me on, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

This time I couldn’t lie to myself: the relief I felt was because my slow cooker was uncracked and almost within my clutching grasp.

AND there are videos

Jed demonstrates limited interest in kayaking:

Dog vs. Kayak: Jed 0, Kayak 1

Jed gets onboard:

Part II: The crumpet saga

I was so excited when I came across a recipe for crumpets.

Perhaps a little historical background is required here. Husband used to LOVE crumpets. Back in the first fresh halcyon flush of our relationship, it was a real treat to pick out a vacuum-sealed packet of mass-produced, chemical-ridden, cloyingly stodgy crumpets; toast them; and smother them in butter and jam in a semi-successful effort to render them palatable.

When our relationship graduated from fast-food and ready-packed meals, crumpets got left behind along with tequila slammers and snogging on the sofa for eight hours straight (these days if I snogged for eight hours straight, I think my mouth would just shrivel up and fall off).

It’s fair to say we haven’t had crumpets for years. Possibly decades. Well, one anyway. Definitely multiple years though, so we’ll stick with that since it sounds longer and therefore more DRAHA!MATIC.

So you can imagine the excitement upon discovering Alison’s recipe for crumpets. Or perhaps it was Alison’s description:-

Crumpets are a bit like pikelets risen with yeast instead of baking powder. They have tunnels which run from bottom to top and a special, different texture because they are made from a very runny dough. Our homemade crumpets aren’t exactly the same as bought ones, but they’re very good and fun to make.

Now, if I have one fault, it would be over-confidence. As faults go, I consider it preferable to character flaws such as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, or a tendency to over-dramatising things.

Although perhaps not when applied to crumpets.

In short, perhaps I approached the recipe with a soupcon too much confidence. I’m pretty fault-free when it comes to measuring ingredients – agonising over how to measure ⅔ of a teaspoon – but instead of the light bread cycle, I erroneously chose normal bake. And rather than standing the batter in the machine for 20 minutes after kneading, I removed it before realising my mistake and returning it.

The resulting batter looked a bit runny, but then Alison HAD said ‘a very runny dough’ and, being a crumpet virgin, I was hardly in a position to judge (I believe standard missionary lends itself best to judging).

I heated the frying pan, greased up some cookie cutters, and poured in the batter. Despite the flame being low, within fifteen minutes the living room was shrouded in a haze of smoke. At first, some tantalising bubbles popped on the surface of the crumpets, but thereafter they just farted steam out the bottom. After the recommended seven minutes of frying, the crumpets were fairly cemented to the cookie cutters. The best part of the crumpets was the golden brown top, but the underside tasted distinctly of scorch. The interior was deconstructed mush.

Ultimately, regardless how much butter and jam we applied there was no way to render these crumpety travesties even vaguely palatable.

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