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Posts tagged ‘volcano’

Filthy spirit

Making mischief

When Finn was 3 months old, I enrolled us in SPACE: a playgroup recommended by Angela.

You know? Angela. Lovely woman. I regret our friendship was so fleeting. It started auspiciously enough, when I bought some cloth nappies from her at the Oamaru Opera House. Unfortunately the second time we met – at the inaugural meeting of the Book Club – I hugged her inappropriately. My excuse – actually, I have two – were: 1) pregnancy hormones; and ALSO 2) she looks cuddlesome.

Angela never invited me to any subsequent Book Club meetings – which was actually fine by me because even still I’m vaguely traumatized by Monique’s recounting how she explained menstruation to her five year old son. Shortly after Finn’s birth, Angela visited the house with some lemon cake and we conversed awkwardly. I couldn’t stop thinking about hugging her, and I could tell the poor woman was terrified I might fling myself on her at any moment for snuggle time.

I never heard from Angela again.

I still miss her.

Anyway, playgroup. Around the fourth session, I discovered SPACE starts at 1:00pm, not 1:30pm. Of course I’d noticed Finn and I were the last to arrive, but had assumed the other mothers were unusually – in fact, retroactively – punctual.

Finn and I had been missing the singing. SPACE kicks off with ‘The Welcome Song’ in Maori. I’m convinced the words change every week; after the first line, ‘Te aro ho(?)/ha(?)’, it’s an organic jumble of ‘wha’, ‘ka’, ‘pa’ and ‘po’ noises.

The rest of the songs – in English – generally involve actions. I never realized how difficult it is to simultaneously sing and mime. In particular, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ makes me almost appreciate Justin Bieber. (I have no idea why Incy Wincy couldn’t have been a possum – or a seal. I can do a wicked seal impression.)

Singing is followed by a ‘thought for the day’, which generally places a sinister emphasis on ‘fun’ and ‘play’. For example: ‘Your baby will remember having fun with you, not whether the house was tidy’.

Quite apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure Finn will remember neither for quite some time; but, where is a child supposed to learn a work ethic? The sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth derived from welding, or preparing tasty snacks for his mother?

Here’s another: ‘the most precious gift you can give your child is time.’

Well, there are 86,400 precious gifts in any given day, and frankly I don’t want to spoil him. Or, you know, bore the shit out of him.

Then we have activities. At first, these were about refining our motor skills, e.g. making mobiles out of ice-cream containers while trying not to drop the babies or stab them with scissors.

Now our crotchfruit are a little older, activity time appears to be geared towards generating the greatest mess possible. Because ‘messy play is important’ according to Ailsa with no supporting rationale.

I try to enter into the filthy spirit of it all, but honestly: every time one of the coordinators says, ‘Yay! Next week painting!’ or, ‘Slime! Yay!’, my heart sinks. It was only when pregnant that I noticed how many people interject ‘yay!’ with the same enthusiasm I apply to swearing; I presumed it was a symptom of morning sickness and would wear off, but if anything it’s getting worse.

Three weeks ago they brought out the pits.

“A few babies try to eat the sand,” said Ailsa.

“That’ll be Finn,” I said, grimly. “If he poos rocks, I’m holding SPACE directly responsible.”

Sure enough, Finn munched through half the sand pit. Otherwise everything was fine – until Ailsa added water, when it turned into the sort of footage you see on the evening news when a landslide has taken out an entire city e.g. Toronto.

Then Ailsa built a sand ‘volcano’, adding vinegar to red food-colouring and baking soda so that it frothed and bubbled over. Swept away in a paroxysm of joy, Finn flung himself on the volcano and licked it.

The week after, the coordinators made up vats of foam (Lux soap flakes whisked with warm water and some food-colouring) and slime (cornflour mixed with water and the playgroup staple: food-colouring). For half an hour, I held Finn literally at arm’s length, between my index finger and thumb.

The coordinators had supplied a bucket of warm water for the purpose of washing the babies’ hands. Well. I had to strip Finn down to his nappy and basically bathe him in the bucket. I even washed his hair, which was covered in pink goo.

Of course Finn loved it. But to put that in perspective, he also loves when I click in his ear – or shake my head. That’s the latest thing; it’s as if my purpose on this planet is to say ‘no’ for Finn’s exclusive entertainment. I should enjoy it before he realizes I say ‘no’ to RUIN HIS LIFE.

Thing is: Finn is a boy. There are already holes in the toes of his socks and muddy fingerprints on all my clothes. Before too long, it’ll be skidmarks on the lintels and slugs, snails and tails in my crockery. What I’m saying is: it’s innate. He hardly needs my endorsement to be messy – never mind ENCOURAGEMENT.

Sharing the drool: You’re welcome, Mama

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.

The Pinnacles

Now, I can’t report JohnO’s contribution to the conversation verbatim, because I don’t listen to him much. The gist of it is that he said, “The Pinnacles? Are you sure you’re able for it?” And I said, “*scoff!* YOU walked it, didn’t you? How difficult can it be?”

On occasion, JohnO says something that is relevant and/or important. In retrospect, this was potentially one of those rare occasions; and instead of saying, “The DOC says it’s only 5 hours and we’re pretty fit. So, you’re building a shed? That sounds pretty uninteresting,” I should perhaps have said, “Able for it? Why do you say that, JohnO? Is the walk particularly challenging from a distance, climb, terrain or predatory animals perspective? Please impart the specifics while I pay attention and perhaps take notes.”

Thereupon he might have told me that most of the 759m climb to The Pinnacles takes place along a ½ km section that redefines the word ‘savage’.

Whereupon I would most likely have said, “Eh, we’re hardy.”

Evidently, I was going to have to learn from experience.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We woke at about 05:00 hrs on Friday morning to a sullen day with low cloud cover. Having packed the tent, we struck out for The Pinnacles. Minor detour back to the car to retrieve the suntan lotion, just in case the sun made a guest appearance.


For a while, we were stuck behind a couple who persisted at walking at the same pace as us. Thankfully, they had an absolutely rip-snorting argument about who had forgotten to pack the map, and we passed them when they stopped to point at each other.

After a gentle 3km meander up the valley criss-crossing Webb Creek, we hit a series of steps hewn into the natural rock. In the early 1900s, packhorses used this trail to carry supplies up to the logging camps of the back country. They must have been fairly gnarly back in the days, since some of the steps required pitons to scale.

We stopped at Hydro Camp to catch a few gasps, then pushed on to the Pinnacles Hut and Dancing Kauri Dam, where we had ‘smoko’ (coffee break to the rest of the world).

Kauri dams allowed kauri logs to be flushed out of the inaccessible back country using a tripping mechanism that released the front gate of the dam and blasted logs down the floods. A plaque advised us that Dancing Kauri Dam was built in 1924 by Jim Angel, who happens to be Husband’s maternal great great great uncle. For the sake of posterity, it is worth mentioning that the bauld Jim was a champion two-man saw master in his day.

He is immortalized in the famous song, Jim Angel (really needs to be accompanied by a fiddle):

When Jim Angel was a baby
He was the size of three grown men
Could pound rocks to rubble
With the flat of his bare hand

Oh! Jim Angel he’s a mighty man <fiddle fiddle fiddle>
Washes his face in a rusty can <increase fiddle tempo>

When Jim Angel was a boy
He was the size of two pack mules
And could do the work of three or four
Made other boys look like fools


When Jim Angel was a man
He built the Dancing Kauri Dam
Kept the leftover trees for picking his teeth
Just because he can


In the book, Tramping in New Zealand (40 great New Zealand tramping trips by Shaun Barnett), kauri dam technology is described as ‘ingenious but destructive’. Evidently his mother’s bloodline is prevalent in Husband.



It is another kilometer and a half to the top of The Pinnacles, a pretty steep climb involving steps, rungs hammered into the rock, and – in two instances – ladders. Because I’m weird, I counted the steps from The Pinnacles Hut to the peak. It was 555 on the way up (I was gutted when I counted only 552 on the return).


The track up to The Pinnacles, photo taken from the hut

I followed Husband, concentrating more on hauling air into my flaming lungs than where I was going, which is probably how I ended up scaling a fairly sheer rock stabbing out of the side of the mountain. Balanced precariously on top, I looked around for any sign of the track.

“Husband!” I quavered, and his head popped up over a rock about 200m beyond me. “Hey! How the hell did you get up there?”

“More to the point, how the hell did YOU get up THERE?” enquired Husband. Then he laughed at me as I tried to get off it without tumbling to certain death.

After lunch at the top, we returned to the carpark via the Billygoat Track. I didn’t notice very much about it, because I was distracted by my thighs screaming in agony.

Since they’re still at it three days later, my ears are now ringing too





Pinnacles Hut from the summit

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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