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Renowned in Bulgary

When I was interviewed by Bulgarian Cosmopolitan in May, I asked if they could send me one of the magazines with the free copy of Smart Casual. When I had no response, I presumed my request had drowned in the editor’s slushpile.

Then, about a month ago, I received a bulky parcel from Headline Publishing. This was extremely exciting, since I rarely get anything in the mail except second hand books from Trademe or letters from the Vinegrowers Association of Marlborough, (the snailmail version of remedies to enlarge my penis).

The parcel contained two virgin, cellophaned magazine/book packs, along with five copies of what I presume is Smart Casual. Because the cover of the book was different; and both the magazines and books were in Bulgarian. That’s one of those acrylic languages.

Bulgarian Cosmopolitan

I flicked through the magazine and couldn’t understand anything, although the article on ten ways to pleasure your man in bed was fairly clear even in acrylic. I’d sent the editor of Bulgarian Cosmo a photo of myself, but I couldn’t find it or anything that resembled my interview; she must have decided to go with Eva Longoria Parker. Hey – I’m sure I could look twice that good with some extreme photoshop.

I wasn’t even sure whether the book IS Smart Casual, but it has 63 chapters, which is consistent. Also, there were the same number of sentences per paragraph on the first page.

This is what Smart Casual looks like in Bulgarian. That might be a generic cover, but I love it; I would give a lesser limb for a set of pins like that, and I covet those shoes.

Now, when I talk about Smart Casual, I can say:


Although that really deserves to be exclaimed.

Two weeks later, I got another parcel from Headline . . . with more packs and copies of the magazine/book.

I’d noticed there is a section in Marlborough Library which contains foreign language books. Since I don’t have many Bulgarian friends, and was now in possession of about fifteen more copies of the book than I knew what to do with, I decided to give some to the library.

I thought any more than three copies was a touch over-fervid. There was mass confusion amongst the librarians when I presented the books at the counter. It took significant time and gesticulative overhead to establish that I wasn’t either a) checking out or b) returning the books.

Then the librarian was suspicious about my handing over new books, and tried to torture me into confessing that I expected renumeration. Once she established that I was donating the books to the library’s collection – and determined the translation was Bulgarian – she became positively frisky.

“Aw, wow,” she said, “I’ll have to set up a whole new section! We don’t have a Bulgarian section,” she confided.

I successfully mastered the urge to correct ‘Bulgarian’ to ‘Bulgary’ – yes, yes, I know my geography is pure shocking.

The librarian looked as if she wanted to high-five me, but honestly, I just couldn’t get that enthused about a whole new section.

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?”


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.

Part I: The crumpet saga

My top* Trademe purchases to date, ranked according to a weighted assessment  are:-

1/ Panasonic bread machine – $60
2/ Breville Cafe Roma espresso machine – $20
3/Leather motorcycle jacket that I’ve never worn, although I’m sure that will change any day now – $10

* Note: ‘Top’ is calculated according to a combination of: value for money, frequency of subsequent use, and/or unbelievably cool. My waffle iron would have made the #3 slot, except the seller still emails me embarassing photographs of herself. The espresso machine would have made the #1 slot, except the woman who sold it to me refuses to email embarassing photographs of herself.

I use the bread machine pretty much daily since acquiring it just over two months ago. There were several false starts: the honey oatmeal bread with the soggy bottom; the cranberry walnut bread where the yeast didn’t activate so much as die a long, slow, painful death; the country seed bread that redecorated the kitchen.

Then our landlords sent me a recipe for their Acclaimed White Bread For Which They Are Renowned Throughout The Sounds. I can’t write too much about it because I get emotional. But oh! The golden, explosively crusty exterior concealing a light, aromatic, most tender of interiors that you just want to snuggle up to and/or roll around in, the whole emitting such a glorious bready smell. I just- it makes me feel so- so-

Sorry! Sorry! But I did warn you.

Then Meep introduced me to Alison Holst’s range of cookery books, specifically ‘The Bread Book‘. Alison Holst has been around for centuries – or certainly as long as Andrew can remember – and is apparently a Kiwi icon, which I presume means she has a purple perm, a thrilling bosom concealed behind a pinny, and says things like, “First catch your weka”. Certainly, the introduction to ‘The Bread Book’ would appear to support this:

However excited you may be about the wonderful things a new machine will do, you may be daunted by the idea of ‘getting the thing going!’

Since my children were 10-12 years old, I have found that the best way to learn about a new machine is to encourage them to read the instructions and use the machine. I then get them to show me what to do, and operate it under their supervision, preferably several times. After this, I am ‘away laughing’, can now read the instruction book and understand it, and can see just how simple the machine is.

I was initially put off by Alison’s inability to either a) read, or b) grapple with the complexity of pressing three buttons. However, I was encouraged by her eager grasp of ‘the lingo’.

Due respect: Alison’s recipes produce outstanding results. Furthermore, whereas I am generally a fan of Antipodean cooking, it often has an unhealthy fixation on fats and dairy produce; yet Alison’s bread recipes favour oil over butter; keep the salt and sugar to a minimum; and substitute wholemeal flour for plain.

Husband and I look significantly more robust and vigorously healthy. Yeah, I’m not sure how many kilos it translates to; I’m afraid to weigh myself. We have enjoyed multigrain bread, wholemeal bread, yoghurt bread, muesli bread, cinnamon raisin bread, hot cross buns, pizza bread and fruity oatmeal bread with toasted almonds.

But then . . . then there were the crumpets.

Delicate aroma of stewed clutch

It was cold and wet at 07:00hrs in Oamaru. The send-off committee consisted of Agent of Death and Morty. Agent of Death was so unimpressed by the cold and wet he didn’t venture further than the yard.

I have to say, the send-off committee is definitely better when Andrew is (about to be not) present. There was a distinct lack of streamers, bunting and muted weeping. Well, Her Goatiness was at a goat conference, so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of muted weeping. The nearest approximation was when Agent of Death stepped on Morty’s tail, but that was more a strident yowl.

I was glad it was raining on Sunday, as oppozed (what, opposed isn’t spelled with a ‘z’? Oh come on: it TOTALLY should be!) to freezing. If I don’t post this pic now, it’ll wallow on my hard disk forever never seeing the light of LCD; so here’s what Saturday’s crack of dawn looked like:-

Yep, it really was that cold.

It rained pretty much all the way to Christchurch. I was picking up a bread machine in Riccarton at 11:30 and found the street despite my scribbled directions to myself (I can no longer read my own handwriting). I located Number 4 Flat 3, and hammered on the door for a while. It was opened by a student who had evidently just tumbled out of bed. He featured a spectacular quiff and was wearing a scarf and not an awful lot of much else. I had previously thought Kiwi blokes’ aversion to clothes was limited to summer. Not any more.

“Dude, I hope to god you’re not Shamsen from Trademe,” I said, backing up sharply.


“Grand, sorry to disturb you.” 

After some frantic texting, Shamsen from Trademe located me and handed over the bread machine.

When the weather picked up a bit, I stopped to give Jed a run. Since the boot was full of Husband’s crap treasured belongings, Jed was creased into the passenger compartment. The novelty of sitting on the seat headbutting the gearstick soon wore off as he struggled to get comfortable in the footwell.

Are we there yet?

Hey! My legs still work!

Snuffle time

Getting to grips with a stick

The rest of the drive was moody, the mountains drifting in and out of mist and veils of rain. I stopped for a couple of photos, although it’s always tricky taking pics along the SH1 which don’t lo0k like a close up of a fence, or a study of a lorry’s radiator grille. I’m not a big fan of landscape photography generally – mainly because the digital representation never looks anything as good as the real thing. These images convey only a fraction of the atmospheric broodiness – (I’m thinking around 2/31. Too generous? 3/92 then):-

Close up of a lorry's radiator grille

Study of a fence

The trailer posed few problems. I guess the main key is avoiding awkward situations where e.g. the car is hanging over a cliff with the trailer at a right-angle behind. But that only happened once.

On another occasion, I misjudged how trailer-friendly a garage was from the other side of the road in pouring rain. I basically cut off all access to the rear yard while I filled up, then had to park nose-kerb to pay. However, at the peak of the park I twiddled the steering wheel so the trailer was pointed in the right direction for reversing, and whatever I subsequently backed over was small, so it was all good.

(All things considered, I would call that garage trailer-antagonistic.)

After negotiating the entrance to our drive in a frankly brilliant five-point turn, I was probably over-confident in deciding to back the trailer into the garage. I approached the manoeuvre with a soupcon too much flair, and fetched up in a tree.

The tree/car was on a fairly aggressive slope. It took twenty minutes and the delicate aroma of stewed clutch before I finally positioned the trailer.

Infected labia piercing

Within about an hour of listing the house on Trademe, I realised more organisation was required than telling interested parties to rock up any time for a look.

I called everyone back and scheduled people at half hour intervals on Sunday. Then, when all available slots from noon to 6pm were booked, I moved on to Monday.

Husband and I scrubbed the house from top to bottom and chucked all our belongings in the pantry. The place looked pretty spruce by the time Doug and Susan arrived.

I had high hopes for Susan. She sounded quite lovely on the telephone. Indeed, she was equally lovely in person, if not even more so.

Shame about her boyfriend.

I encourage Jed to bark whenever anyone comes up the drive. He charges down the stairs at such speed I wouldn’t be surprised to follow him one day and find a Jed-shaped hole in the front door. I suppose he’s excited at the prospect of fresh crotch, and who can blame him?

I normally restrain Jed in the yard until I check whether the visitor is comfortable with dogs then, assuming the response is positive, release him. Unfortunately, for some reason, Doug was walking up the drive in front of his car – which was even stranger since it was raining like it only rains in Waitakere: with a ferocious gusto.

Unfortunately, Jed took one look at Doug, and decided he didn’t like him AT ALL. When Jed dislikes someone his bark sounds quite chilling, like he took a wrong turn on the way from Baskerville. I was aware Jed was making his “Don’t fuck with me mofo” bark, and he refused to come when I issued a recall.

I didn’t see this, but Andrew – who was watching from the bedroom window – reported later that Jed took a run at Doug.

Now, in my puppy’s defence, I didn’t like the look of Doug much either (not to the extent of attempting to kneecap him with my teeth, but still). Jed’s also been rather unsettled recently with the frenzy of packing going on around him.

“Don’t mind him; he’s very friendly!” I called, completely oblivious to my dog swinging out of Doug’s shorts.

“He doesn’t look that friendly,” muttered Doug.

I grabbed Jed by the scruff and banished him to the garage.

I decided Doug and Susan weren’t suitable because Doug tracked mud up the carpet. Also because he kicked my dog in the head.

(That’s the official version of events, and I’m sticking to it.)

Darryl arrived before Doug and Susan had left.

“Hi!” I said, “Darryl, isn’t it? Niamh. Listen, sorry about this, but these people need to get down the drive and your car is blocking them in. Would you mind just letting them out?”

“No problem, sweet as,” said Darryl – and that was the last we saw of him.

He just fucked off!

(Perhaps he was attacked by a tree on the way down the drive.)

Next up was Johno and Sandra. Johno introduced himself thus:-

“The drive won’t work with a boat.”

“Er, you mean because it’s tarmac not water?” I said, confused.

“No. I mean we won’t be able to get a boat trailer up the drive.”

“Oh, I see. You have a boat-”


“Right . . .”

“But I’m getting a boat.”

“Ok. Well, I don’t suppose there’s much point in showing you the rest of the house, then.”

Bev turned up with Philippe, who came accessorised with a natty little moustache, a briefcase and a cravat.

I started into my well-practiced patter: “Aaand here’s the garage – plenty of bench space. Most important part of the house, right Philippe? <nudge>”

“I don’t think so,” said Philippe dismissively. “I don’t do . . . that sort of thing.”

I’m not sure what Sort of Thing he was referring to, but I decided that regardless what that Sort of Thing was, I would not endorse a man who didn’t do it.

I was surprised how many people were looking for accommodation because their current residence had been put on the market. Many gave off a distinct smell of desperation. Except the girl who turned up with eight nose rings, a stud through her chin, and a tattoo of what appeared to be a hamster on her forearm. I think the smell emitting from her was an infected labia piercing.

There was one no-show, and a woman who called to say the mobile reception was too poor for her requirements. Another woman called to say her teenager had gone on hunger strike at the prospect of living so far from civilisation. For a moment I wondered why she was telling me this – turned out she was cancelling.

The following day, we showed the house to four more couples, including Brian and Kushla, who – mistakenly and regrettably – I called ‘Krishna’ for the duration of the viewing.

That afternoon, a car drove up our drive. I wasn’t expecting anyone, but followed Jed downstairs. It was a skinhead and his girlfriend. The skinhead poked his head out the car window.

“We’re on a mission,” he said by way of introduction.

“Can I help you?” I said.

“Are the owners here?”

“Excuse me? No!” I said, so incredulous I didn’t even try to discourage Jed’s attempts to fire himself in the driver’s window and gnaw him.

“Do you have the owners’ contact number? It’s just,” he continued in the face of my rare speechlessness (and Jed’s slavering teeth), “we heard this house is for rent and we thought-”

“It’s been let,” I snapped. “This is my private residence. Please go away.”

Had he stepped out of the car, I would have ENCOURAGED Jed to bite him. As it is, I hope Jed clawed up his paint work.

But the best was yet to come.

True love: definition

I love my landlords. I mean it: I love them. So many things about them: the way they say my name, how they know what I’m thinking without having to speak, the way they run laughing through cornfields with sunlight playing on their hair. You might say Darren and Ingrid COMPLETE ME on a real estate level.

But seriously, it’s just about impossible not to love a man with the names of his children tattooed down his legs, or a woman whose sense of fairness is so highly developed she gave me a gift voucher to cover any gas that might have leaked. Go on, give it a go: try hating them – or start smaller; try simply being indifferent to them.



However, when I offered to list and show the house to prospective tenants, I was unaware how MUCH I love Darren and Ingrid. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t go to that much trouble for Husband, who I indeed love, a lot.

But I suppose there’s only one of him, and two of them.

Within two minutes of listing the house, I got the first enquiry. Then, for the next two days I walked around with a telephone clamped to my ear, getting used to conversations like this:-

Enquirer: Hello?

Me: Hi.

Enquirer: Yes, I’m calling about the house. On Trademe. The pictures look GORGEOUS-

Me: Well, it’s lovely at the moment, but not so much in winter. I won’t lie to you: it’s DANK. You need at least two dehumidifiers going full time. Sometimes it rains for an ENTIRE WEEK straight-

Enquirer: Have many people called about it?

Me: Yes, loads.

Enquirer: I’ve always wanted to live in the bush.

Me: But, you know, there are limitations living in a place like this. The house is pretty high maintenance. You have to clean the water filter on the tank once a month, and if you take runoff from the roof, you have to clear dead possums and shoes out of the gutters-

Enquirer: That’s no problem, I used to be a plasterer.

Me: Um. Ok. So, what do you do now?

Enquirer: Oh, we- me and my wife- work in the city-

Me: You realise this place is pretty isolated? It’s four kilometres up a dead end road and the last bit is gravel. If you’re commuting, the entry point to the motorway is snarled up from about seven in the morning-

Enquirer: We’re used to commuting. We live on Queen Street, takes us at least QUARTER OF AN HOUR to drive to work.

Me: Can you believe it? So, would it just be you and your wife?

Enquirer: Oh no, we have five kids, my parents, a dog, four cats, a kitten and a hyena.

Me: Really, I’m not sure this house is for you. It was designed and built for a couple. There’s only two bedrooms and no garden-

Enquirer: No, no, it looks PERFECT. When can I see it?

Me: I suppose that depends on how long it will take you to travel from your distant planet.

Deadlyjelly on the move

At the start of summer, Husband started talking about moving to South Island. He brings the topic up every now and then, usually at the beginning or end of a year when he bemoans his lack of achievement (apparently living a happy, fulfilled life doesn’t count).

I was all, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure thing Honey. I’m with you 100%. No, wait; my mistake. Make that 110%.”

Because I knew he’d do nothing about it.

Now, if you think you can see where this is going, you are so wrong. Sorry, I hate to be confrontational, so let me rephrase: you might be right, except you aren’t. Indeed, Husband did nothing about it, except for threatening to sell my purple fridge.

No, no; much to everyone’s astonishment – in this context, ‘everyone’ comprising Andrew and me – this is all my fault.

It was last Thursday week and I was bored. I decided to spend a quality half hour on Trademe before bedtime. I did a few searches on chimineas for sale, Goretex, bread makers, chickens, any items in the shape of a pineapple. Then, seized by a relentless whim, I did a search on rental properties.

I wasn’t looking for anything specific, just listings of 2-3 bedroom houses for rent in the $200-$400 range in South Island that included keywords: “private”, “secluded”, “trails”, “bush”, and “heated towel rails”.

After viewing 50 properties ranging from spectacularly awful to oh-my-god-you-would-have-to-pay-me-to-live-there-and-even-then-it-wouldn’t-be-enough, I was about to go to bed when I saw it.

Unfortunately, the scenery is obscured by a big wet patch. Here is the view looking south:-

And north:-

Welcome to Marlborough country.

We move in three weeks.

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