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Driving underwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Mokau

Exploring Mokau

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

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

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

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

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

The navigation display with tiny swastikas

The navigation display

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

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

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

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

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

We just needed to cut down on the flat tires.

There was no paper

There was no paper in the back of the car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FUCK?!?

Interislander rang again: “Are you nearly-“

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

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

We were the last car to board.

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

Fish and chips on the Interislander

Fish and chips on the Interislander

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

Five days later, it still smells.

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

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

Me> “Er-”

Saoirse> “WABBIT! WabbitwabbitwabbitwabbitWABBIT! HAHAHAHAHAAA!”

You can tell she’s my child.

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

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

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

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

Me> “Yes, sweetheart.”

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

Finn> <gurning at the rearview mirror>

I couldn’t have asked for better company.

32 PSI

On Wednesday morning, Husband rang as I finished packing the car.

“How do you feel this morning?” he asked solicitously.

“Terrific!” I said.

“Right, pay attention,” said Husband. “We’ve been discussing how to get you and Jed to Oamaru, and we think the best way is to parachute you in-”

“I’m driving.”

“You’re joking,” said Husband.

“Nope. Little road trip. <Jed: come! Sit! Good boy!> Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a ferry to catch in eleven hours-”

“What?”

“The eight o’clock. We’ll be with you sometime tomorrow.”

“But what about Jed?”

“He’s looking forward to it. <Jed: hup! Hup! GOOD BOY!>”

“Have you got food for him?”

“Course. Stacks of Tux, some dog sausage, half a cow carcass.”

“Is there enough money in the account-”

“Check!”

“Have you got music for the trip?”

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN YAY! Hey – how much air should I put in the tyres?”

“Niamhie, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Absolutely. You’re so negative. Why are you denying my natural instinct? I was BORN to drive the open road.”

“What if you break down?”

“Eh, some bloke will probably stop.”

“I think you’re mad.”

“Get counseling.”

I mean, come on: it’s not as if New Zealand is that big. Why, it’s not even a fraction of the size of Australia. Well, obviously it is a fraction, but a very, very, very, very small one.

And we were off. We left the house at 09:30hrs, but only hit South Auckland at 11:00hrs after a pit stop to fill up on diesel and air.

I always underestimate the time it takes to get from Auckland to Wellington. Well, obviously, I have limited experience having only done it once before. The AA website estimates the distance from Auckland to Wellington as 658km, or 9 hours and 25 minutes – but they probably cater for the lowest common denominator i.e. tourists trying to locate the accelerator on a campervan. However, it’s a 40-minute drive from Henderson to Auckland Central, and the Interislander specifies check-in NO LATER THAN 1 HOUR PRIOR TO DEPARTURE TIME and they really sound quite snotty about it.

It was a foul day – driving rain. Luckily, I was prepared with Deadlyjelly’s Ultimate Road Mix, a solid foundation of Foreigner, the Erics Carmen and Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Crowded House, Matchbox 20, and Dire Straits, with a dash of Mister Mister and Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

I obviously took full advantage of Bruce, since Husband has declared the house a rock-free zone. He makes the occasional exception for Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Aerosmith – really, any rock band that relies heavily on lamé and/or spandex. However, the soundtrack of our lives mainly comprises female artists that sound as if they are preparing a compilation for their own funeral.

Driving through Kaimanawa Forest Park south of Turangi, the rain retreated and mist drifted through the trees. Jed was inspired to blow raspberries out the back of the car. The Desert Road was bleak and beautiful.

Apart from a diesel stop in Waiouairouaeaou and the odd five minute break to stretch Jed’s legs, I pressed on. So you will appreciate my joy when I discovered a bar of chocolate Helen had abandoned in the center console. In that moment, I loved Helen in a romantic and entirely inappropriate way. Probably just as well she was not present.

In Hunterville, I pulled over to give my puppy a trot and he lifted his leg for the first time. I am not sure whether it was because I had been on the road too long, or I was tired, or because it was a gorgeous evening with late sun tinting the country with a sepia glow, but I got quite emotional thinking about my little dog growing up and how Husband was not there to see him balancing confidently on three legs.

Coming into Wellington, I called Husband and asked him to book me on the 20:00hrs ferry that left in 45 minutes. The Interislander had closed Internet and phone bookings, but there was plenty of space when I rolled up to the check in booth. The Hilux Surf was the only car, dwarfed on all sides by articulated lorries.

Dinner was a smoked salmon sandwich I had purchased in a BP Connect in Paraparaumu. I had prepared a description of my falsely advertised soggy sandwich featuring the faintest trace of salmon flavour. In fact, it was a superb and supremely salmonly sandwich and I am hard pressed to recall a more satisfying meal. I will also seriously consider serving up Bluebird crisps for dessert the next time we have guests.

Although I was prepared for it, in the end Husband ensured I did not spend an intensely unerotic night sharing the boot with my dog

Waffling

On Saturday, in a stunning coup reminiscent of The Great Espresso Machine Victory of 2008, I held my nerve in a tense battle of wills to procure a waffle maker on TradeMe. I’ve been looking for a waffle machine for AGES – a whole week since I came across a recipe for waffles (get this: you chop up pecan nuts and put them IN the batter, so they get waffled along with the waffles).

It has only been used twice, and was a bargain at $13. Although, I had to drive up to Hibiscus Coast to collect it, so I suppose it wasn’t that much of a bargain if you count the $20 of diesel that fuelled the 2 hour round trip.

As a special, missing-Husband treat (and as an alternative to pancakes), I tried the waffle machine out this morning. Two minutes and thirty five seconds for the perfect waffle. The plates are non-stick, so no oil/butter/grease is required; the waffles just peel off. So they’re much healthier than pancakes – until you drench them in maple syrup, I suppose

Preferably rancid

Since the Puppy Biscuit Freakshow, I have fed Jed an essentially raw food diet. He’s a big fan of fish, particularly tinned mackerel; loves chicken carcasses, necks and gizzards; savages veal bones and lamb flaps; and will take your arm off if tripe or offal is on the end of it.

I have been purchasing his food from a variety of places. Chicken necks and gizzards, and lamb flaps from Pak ‘N’ Save; lamb bones and chicken mince from Countdown; chicken carcasses and lamb neck chops from The Mad Butcher.

In the meantime, I have been researching more economical sources of dog food, since it costs more to feed my dog than Husband (although this may be because there is no longer any room in the freezer for Husband’s food). Also, Jed eats anything up to 2.5kg of meat a day.

No, that’s not a typo. He now weighs 30kg. I am concerned he is developing love handles.

Last week we purchased an ancient freezer on Trademe for $50. It came with a fridge, so Husband’s food bill is likely to increase significantly now that he has somewhere to store beer. We installed the two appliances in the garage.

Thus equipped, I spent $100 on approximately 60kg of assorted animal carcasses from Bombay Petfoods. The grub arrived this morning.

Here is Jed surveying a months supply of food:-

0905 Dogfood

The weather was not as soggy today, so we pootled around the yard for a while. Here are some more pics:-

0905 Jed stalks rock

Jed stalks a rock from his favourite spot in the yard: on top of the trailer.

0905 Husband considers a dogs life

So THIS is what a dog’s life looks like: Husband tries out the kennel run.

0905 He is a catch

Husband stalks wife.

0905 Jed and bone

Jed and his favourite type of bone: old, manky, preferably rancid.

0905 Jed shows bone who's boss

Jed gets to grip with bone

Surprisingly cranky

Mountain biking in Woodhill today:-

Husband: Why didn’t you cycle down that hill?

Me: You mean, apart from the fact that it’s semi-sheer? Let me count the reasons. First of all, I don’t really fancy breaking a fall with my sprained wrist. Secondly, it’s been a while since I mixed it up at Woodhill, so I’m taking it easy. Thirdly, I have a puppy trying to jump through my spokes, which is distracting. Fourthly, I have a husband who stops dead without warning randomly and lethally. Fifthly and sixthly respectively, I am tired and surprisingly cranky. Finally, I urge you to bear in mind that I do not share your cavalier attitude towards life and limb whether mine or anyone elses’, OR your wilful disregard for the laws of gravity.
<note: I did not actually say all that, but I successfully communicated the gist>

Husband: But you rode down there before-

Me: Well I was younger then, and more carefree-

Husband: You mean last year?

Me: YES, LAST YEAR!

Damn that memory card to hell, damn it

On the way to Karekare yesterday, Husband’s own driving made him nauseous. Thankfully, he revived sufficiently to walk Coman’s Track along the cliff edge, then north to Log Race Road via Mercer Bay Loop.

In a bodaciously muppetacious move, I forgot to replace the memory card in my Canon. The photos below were taken with my Sony Cybershot.

Now, I love my 450D; I do. The shutter makes a gratifying noise that is halfway between a click and a whirr, and I can do lots of stuff that I can’t describe (and half the time can’t do either). And the image quality nearly always defies my best efforts to under- or over-expose it, or focus my finger instead of the subject etc.

However, using the Sony again reminded me how handy it is. It takes three seconds to whip it out of the case and slide the lens cap, just in time to capture the dragonfly alighting on the one daisy within three kilometres.

In contrast, preparing the Canon for photography is a full-scale production: taking off the camera bag, laying it flat, unzipping it, taking out the camera, choosing and affixing the lens, removing the lens cap and storing it (turns out throwing it on the ground is only a time-saving strategy in the short term), turning the camera on, tweaking the settings. Then one must spend a reasonable amount of time maintaining artistic integrity and fermenting the inspiration. By which stage the dragonfly has gone through three life-cycles and night has fallen.

But I kinda missed it.

0902-karekare-beach

Karekare Beach from Farley Point

0902-mercer-bay-loop

Mercer Bay Loop path

0902-mercer-bay

Mercer Bay

0902-husband-slashes-through-the-bush

Husband dodges charging tree

0902-deadlyjelly

Self portrait

0902-husband-stays-connected

Husband keeps up to date with current events

A medium adventure

This afternoon, Husband and I are driving to the Coromandels, camping overnight, and walking the Pinnacles Track tomorrow. So if, by remarkable coincidence, you are also walking the Pinnacles Track and spot us, be sure to stop and say hello and share your biscuits.  Deadlyjelly – that’s the blog, not me referring to myself in the third person – will be back on Sunday morning with photos.

Hope the weather improves a bit; Auckland is overcast and a bit sullen at the moment

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

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

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

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

Stag’s Roar – photos

Here are some pics from the orienteering event at Stag’s Roar last Sunday – photos courtesy Haze – thank you!

The Team: Haze, me and Husband – sweaty yet triumphant.  Rare image of Husband almost smiling.

Husband demonstrates his internal compass, thankfully with his arm. It looks as if I’m biting him, but I’m not.

Me, pushing in on the tree’s photo op.

John orienteering.

Fungus: mushy

The difference between John and me

On Sunday we went orienteering with John and Hazel at Stag’s Roar. Well, Hazel did the course with Husband and me, while John felt navigationally compromised and read his book under a tree.

A few things have changed since I last orienteered. No more twaddling around with clear contact; control cards have been replaced by electronic ‘keys’ which are inserted into a reader at each control. No more huddling by master maps waving your arse in the air; the courses were pre-printed on the maps. No gaiters, but I think that’s a cultural difference. There appear to be less brambles to whip the shins in New Zealand.

And there was blazing sunshine. Perhaps it’s inverted rose-tinted glasses, but orienteering events in the Irish eighties seemed to always be accompanied by gale force winds, horizontal rain, knee-high mud and puddles of ice.

Husband’s sense of direction continues to be purely instinctive. I was gutted when he hit the third control before Hazel and me. Still not completely recovered from it.

Afterwards, we all went to The Carriages for brunch.

The following exchange illustrates the fundamental difference between John and me.

John: Went to the movies last night.

Me: Oh cool! What did you go see?

John: The Painted Veil.

Me: The- what?

John: The Painted Veil. Edward Norton-

Me: I love Edward Norton. Great actor.

John: Yeah, him, and that babe – what’s her name again-

Me: Liv Tyler.

John: No-

Me: Halle Berry.

John: It’ll come to me in a minute. Anyway, it was excellent – much of it was set in China at the turn of the nineteenth century, in the cholera epidemics. It was really interesting.

Me: Sounds . . . nice. We went to the movies too.

John: Really? . . .

Me: Yes! We went to see IRON MAN!

John: Oh, with Harry Connick Junior.

Me: No, Robert Downey Junior. He IS Iron Man – he totally rocks! Awesome actor. And Iron Man is such a great superhero – I mean let’s face it, Spiderman is great but Peter Parker can be a bit whiny. But Iron Man, you know, he’s pretty single-minded and you gotta admire that in a superhero-

John: I’m not convinced.

Me: What? How can you not be? Iron Man has compelling motives, an engaging character arc, and he blows stuff up and flies!

John: Mmm

Storms

The view from our balcony this afternoon after a thunderstorm that lasted all day yesterday and today

Bethells Beach

Husband ponders the impact dog rules will have on his existence

This is a photo of black sand

Wave effect

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