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Monsoon bucket of suck

In the weeks leading up to the move, everything that could go wrong went wrong.

Well, ok, maybe not EVERYTHING. I suppose Husband could have succumbed to a critical mid-life crisis and left me for a pole-dancing accountant. But strictly speaking, that’s more deviant than ‘wrong’. So I stand by my original statement, as long as I don’t have to defend the position or address any pointed questions about it.

Three weeks ago, we were driving down Opanuku Road when we heard a strange noise coming from the back of the Hilux Surf.

At first we ignored it, because it was virtually indistinguishable from all the other strange noises coming from the general vicinity of the car. However, within a short space of time/distance, an expensive ‘CLONK!’ could be clearly heard – and felt – reverberating joyfully above the cacophony of mechanical acoustics.

After we pulled over, I tramped back up the road in my three inch heels in search of mobile reception. Then we all – my parents, Husband, Jed and I – milled disconsolately around the deceased car until rescued by Flame Haired Titan.

While the Surf flirted with the scrap heap, the parents magnanimously gave up custody of the MR2 during the last week of their holiday. Yet the 2-seat MR2 was not ideal for salvaging packing boxes, nor even transporting two humans equipped with 35kg dog. I was also anxiously conscious that the Surf was scheduled to relocate us and a trailer to South Island in less than 10 days.

Andrew discovered that, by disabling the rear differential, he could operate the Surf in modified four wheel drive. We coaxed the car to a garage; later that day, someone called to inform us that – as suspected – the rear differential was poked; he could replace it with a second hand part for $1000; and he had just got a limousine in for an emergency service so could we collect the Surf because there wasn’t room to store it – oh and he closed in 10 minutes, so before then.

Andrew decided to do the job himself. When he extracted the differential with a lot of swearing, two of the teeth on the cog were completely snaggled, shards of metal in the surrounding oil.

He managed to source a second hand rear differential for $275 on Trademe (when we turned up to collect it, there were about seven Hilux Surfs parked outside this dude’s house; according to his business card, he was a ‘South Auckland Toyota Surf Parts Consultant’).

Then Andrew spent two mornings rolling around under the car covered in grease and oil. I maintained a continuous supply of coffee and occasionally handed him a spanner. There was a tense moment when he removed a section of engine to facilitate the fitting of the 55kg diff, then couldn’t figure out how to get the complex and rather-crucial looking piece back in. With my assistance (I inadvertently hit him with it) he eventually manoeuvred it into place.

That crisis narrowly averted, I received the proof of About Time from my editor, who required a response within a week. For Smart/Casual, this stage of the production process was a soul-sucking, energy-sapping, time-consuming, will-to-live diminishing, hive-scratching, panic-attack inducing suckfest unrivalled in relentless tedium.

Proofing About Time was no different, except for the added frisson of packing crockery between adverbs. Also finalising the moving company, booking the ferry, changing address, cleaning the house, selling items, cancelling accounts, and setting up electricity at the new place. When I called Telecom to request a new landline, there was already a request pending for that address; this took another half a day to sort out.

Three days before we were due to move, the radio reported a fire had broken out 200m from our new house. People evacuated the area, the main power lines between North and South Island were shut down, and helicopters equipped with monsoon buckets were brought in.

For a while, we weren’t sure whether we even had a house to move into.

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Rapid incontinent pterodactyls in vests

Had I not listed the house on Opanuku Road on behalf of my landlords, my life would have been poorer. Because then I would never have met Keith and Don.

Now, I felt a bit sorry for Keith (note: although not to the extent that I wouldn’t slag him off on my blog). He was the interested applicant and had obviously made a real effort to put his best foot forward. He wore his best tracksuit, and had brought along a wing-man for the occasion.

“Come on in, lads,” sez I. “So, this is the garage-”

“AW WOW!” said Don, gazing in rapture at the garage. “This is a REALLY NICE GARAGE!”

I looked doubtfully at my garage, trying to see it through a fresh pair of eyes. I mean, I haven’t done much with the place – it’s more Andrew’s domain – and to be honest, it has an oil infestation and a build up of testosterone in the corners (although nothing a good water-blast wouldn’t fix).

“Um, ok. Well, if you would like to come upstairs-”

“Upstairs,” repeated Don, and sniggered suggestively. Mid-thirties, in case you have a mental image of a pair of thirteen year olds. “I have four kids,” he informed me. “No, I mean five. No! Four.”

“Oh, I can believe it,” I said. “Now, this is the guest bathroom . So, what can you say, really? It’s a bathroom-”

“AW WOW!” Don again. “This is a REALLY NICE BATHROOM!”

“Really?” I said, rather intrigued by this point. “I’ve never thought it was that flash to be honest. What is it about it that, er, grabs you?”

“It’s the toilet. You know the thing- the flat thing- on the top of the- the-”

“The cistern? The toilet seat-”

“YES! That’s it, the toilet seat. I really like the way it’s DOWN.”

“Ho-kay then,” I said, subtly steering them into the living room.

“This place is great,” said Keith, making his first real contribution to proceedings beyond turning up. “You know, if I lived here I would plant vegetables.”

“Where?” I said. “There’s no garden with the property-”

“Aw, you could just clear half an acre of bush . . . by the side of the house here.”

“Well, I think the neighbour might have some issues with that, since that’s his land.”

“I’d plant spotty dog. You know spotty dog?” I shook my head. “It’s this plant- like a bush- it’s got these leaves, which are green with pink spots, and they- the leaves- they look exactly like that dog, the one with the spots . . . what’s it called again?”

“Er, a dalmation?” I suggested.

“No. It’s a white dog with black spots. What’s it called? Think! Oh yes! A dalmation.”

Must have been my dodgy Irish accent.

“You know herbs?” Keith asked.

“Herbs . . .”

“Like basil?”

“Oh, right.”

“I buy all my herbs from The Superb Herb Company.” This is a farm on Henderson Valley Road, but I wasn’t aware they sold cannabis. “It’s really cheap, because, like, you buy herbs- you know, in a little pot- in the supermarket, and it costs $7 or $15 for a pot of herbs!” He looked outraged. “But The Superb Herb Company- you get this pot of herbs and it’s, like, TOTALLY AWESOME, because they come wrapped IN CELLOPHANE!”

“That’s pretty cool, all right,” I said. I mean, that’s very least you can say about cellophane without coming across as ungenerous. “So, what is it that you do, Keith?”

“Imports.”

That was all he said about his line of occupation, but he did reveal that he has a three year old son (I am frankly astonished a woman allowed herself to be impregnated by him) who lives with Keith’s nan, while Keith – assuming his application was successful – would move into Opanuku Road with his mum.

All this time, Don had manoeuvred to position himself in front of me, standing with his chin propped on one fist and rotating his arm infinitesimally so that I could catch an eyeful of his gold watch.

“You know, this house has LOADS OF SPACE,” he said. “Plenty of room for my GYM KIT.”

“Oh, would you be living here? With . . . Keith?” I asked.

“NO! I’m just saying. I have A LOT OF KIT,” he informed me. “I’m in training for THE BODYBUILDING CHAMPIONSHIPS.”

“Oh . . . really?”

“Yes. COULDN’T YOU TELL?” he said. He stopped just short of cracking out a front lat spread, instead contenting himself with a thrilling little wiggle of his pecs.

“Um, see, the thing is Don, generally I don’t go around looking at other men’s pecs, because the thing is: I’M MARRIED. See the bloke sitting on the stairs over there fingering a steak-knife? That’s called a husband.”

“HEY! You can LOOK-” Don held out his hands, as if warding off an attack, “but you CAN’T TOUCH.”

“I’m glad you clarified that, because I was about to lose all self-control and touch willy-nilly.” *CRINGE!*

As I showed them out, Keith – who had evidently been told the way to landlord’s heart is to tell them you’re in the market to buy – said, “By the way, will you tell the owners that I’d be interested in buying this house. Not right now. After six months or something.”

And bless him, I was looking at him thinking, ‘Dude, you can barely afford to buy a litre of milk and have enough change left over for your weekly ration of dope,’ but I said, “Sure.”

I regretted not endorsing a man whose definition of TOTALLY AWESOME was herbs wrapped in cellophane.

Realistically though, I wouldn’t rent the guy a trailer, never mind a house.

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-”

“No.”

“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.

Blobs of flobber

Two years ago, when Husband and I first saw Turanga Road listed on Trademe, we knew without even seeing the house it was where we wanted to live.

I sincerely hope I come across as enthusiastic rather than calculating when I say we treated the application process much like an interview. We launched a full-scale charm jihad against our potential landlords.

At least: we turned up on time; fully clothed (which we considered a basic pre-requisite but apparently NOT NECESSARILY); we were fragrantly aromatic with base notes of fresh skin cells and top notes of soap. I wore a pair of walking boots to visually support my claim that I was a robust, rugged, outdoor type, ready to machete a blazing trail through the bush at the slightest provocation.

We didn’t massage the truth, so much as shine a rose tinted, warm fuzzy light on it – but even had we lied, we would at least have MADE THE EFFORT to come up with compelling, vaguely plausible lies.

While we were viewing the house, The Competition turned up. Grimly, I considered sneaking out and telling them they had the wrong place, or pretending to be a neighbour and smashing in their windscreen with a dead possum.

But when I saw them, I realised these measures were unnecessary. The man looked like someone had conducted chemical experiments on his head; the exploding tufts of facial hair would most accurately be described as ‘green’. His partner was so obese she could not get out of the car. Great blobs of flobber blotted up against the windscreen. (The real mystery was how she got in there in the first place – there must have been heavy machinery involved.)

Two years ago, I thought that couple was an aberration.

Not any more.

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.

See?

IMPOSSIBLE.

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.

Screwed

In the litany of injury, Jed’s cracked dew claw went nearly unnoticed.

A couple of weeks ago, Jed and I were walking the Pipeline Track off Mountain Road. Jed skidded after his tennis ball and somersaulted into a rock, finishing up with a yelp. He appeared to limp a couple of paces, so I checked his foot.

There was no damage to the pad; when I palpated his paw, he just licked my face; so I investigated between his toes where he likes to store burrs even though they irritate the sensitive skin. There was no evidence of injury. Whatever the problem was, it didn’t stop Jed firing himself down the track after his ball, or impede his lifelong mission to nibble every blade of grass ON THE PLANET.

Afterwards, I was towelling mud off him and he flinched when I rubbed his foreleg. Looking closer, I saw his dew claw had splintered. Apart from slurping at it every now and then, it didn’t seem to bother him much, so I wasn’t concerned. Husband suggested taping up the claw; perhaps we should have done. But I just figured it would, um, grow out.

On New Year’s Day, we were woken by a high-pitched whine. Jed was obviously distressed; he paced around the bedroom, flung himself on the floor, rose again immediately, whined at the door. It was so long after the dew claw incident it never occurred to us that was the problem – until I noticed it sticking out at right angles. Although the claw was still attached, it was sheared right back to the bone; he must have caught it on something (maybe his teeth).

This is the dog who, after leaping off a six foot high sandbank and landing on his head, barely broke stride in his mission to retrieve his tennis ball. However, this time Jed was in a great deal of pain. He couldn’t get comfortable. A couple of times he attempted to lick his dew claw, but it was too tender. He yelped every time an air molecule brushed up against it. We tried to make him sit to assess the damage, but he retreated under the dining room table and refused to come out.

I have no problem with pain and can take it in my stride – so long as it’s not mine. My POINT is, I don’t get precious about my dog barfing, cutting himself, or peeing blood; but I felt sick at the sight of the gruesome angle of Jed’s claw and his obvious distress.

Husband was all for lopping the claw with our cheap, crappy, largely broken pair of dog clippers. In his defence, this is the same man who punched a hole through his lower lip with his tooth and wanted to put a couple of stitches in. Himself. I had to flush the sewing kit down the loo to deter him. If Andrew’s arm fell off, he would no doubt attempt to staple it back on if the hospital was more than 5 minutes drive away. Also assuming he could find the stapler – or fish it out of the U-bend.

All I’m saying is: Husband would not visit any sadism on his dog that he wouldn’t turn on himself and call masochism.

While The Butcher of Waitakere was distracted trying to locate the dog clippers, I called various local vet clinics. I wasn’t expecting much joy, since the entire country was closed from 1-5 January. However, one of the automatic voicemail systems supplied the telephone number of an out of hours clinic at 348 Rosebank Road (09-8207273).

“Well, a broken dew claw is not really considered an emergency,” said the nurse on the phone. “But it is incredibly painful for the animal. The emergency consultation fee is $125.”

“Hey, this website says the vet just rips it out with a pair of pliers,” said Andrew. “I have a pair of pliers downst-”

“No!” I said, grittily.

Of course Husband was just as concerned about his dog as I. In fact, the Swanson clinic was open the following morning, but Andrew opted to bring Jed to the out of hours clinic. But I have a feeling The Butcher of Waitakere is going to stick – at least if I have anything to do with it.

The vet advised putting Jed under general anaesthetic. He said a local involved an injection right by the claw which would be too painful – although I think he was referring to the possibility of Jed chomping on him.

“Did the vet give you an estimate?” asked the nurse. I was so anxious about our puppy I barely even heard the DONG! When I replied in the negative, she scrawled ‘No estimate provided’ across the consent form; evidently, I wouldn’t have noticed even had she beaten me savagely with the warning bell’s clapper.

When we returned to collect him two hours later, despite being groggy, Jed dragged me into the waiting room. I knew he was ok when we thought we might have to ask the vet to surgically remove Jed’s nose from a border collie’s butt.

$420.

That was the total of the itemised bill including five different types of drug: sedatives, anaesthetic and painkillers.

But even though I feel totally suckered, whenever I see Jed bounding after a tennis ball I can’t help feeling it was worth it.

I know, I know.

I AM a sucker.

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

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