Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Do the dishes

One morning I rode my breath

into the presence of God

and (not wanting to waste the opportunity)

I asked, what should I do?

Some time later

the answer rose up warm through my soles

on the cold wooden floor:

Go do the dishes

So I did and then, and later,

I noticed it was always the right thing

to wash the dishes

as an expression of love and gratitude

a sensual pleasure

a social solution

the end of a string to lead me out of an impasse

After a lifetime of resisting and resenting

dishes as punishment and oppression,

this humble task became my calling

and my relief

my meditation

my prayer

my blessing

Thich Nhat Hanh says:

Washing the dishes

is like bathing a baby Buddha

Rabbi Abraham Hayyim said:

My most important job is to make sure

that no trace of food remains on the dishes

And Rabbi Shmelke confirmed:

Now you know everything you need to know

Rabbi Kushner says

Allowing oneself to be nothing means that

when we are done with our sophisticated-sounding sentences,

the dishes must be washed.

Beyond nothing-to-think is life-to-be-lived

To clean the dishes with kavanah, mindfully,

is to wash away ego


Here I am,

feet on the floor, hands in the sink.

Here I am,

Pulling my attention back and back and back to this act.

Here I am,

restoring beauty and order,

washing away what hides the divine spark.

Tikkun olan

© January 2006

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tapu te Po

At a reader's request, here are the words to O Holy Night in Te Reo Maori, thanks to Pauline and Joby of Pehiaweri Marae in Whangarei.

NB The te reo is sung in parts, harmonising and overlappping where the /slash/ indicates. Also the last word of the 5th line is cut off of my photocopy so I'm not 100% sure I've remembered correctly. And, of course, it is not a straight translation of the English.

Tapu te Po

Tiramarama mai ra
Tenai te Po/ a te Kai whakaora
He Ao hara/ He Ao Aroha kore
Tu mai ra koe/ hei whaka-tau I au
Nga Tumanako O Te Ao Katoa
Puawai i-te/ ata ko te Ao hou
Ina/ nga reo Ana-hera
Tapu/ te Po
Te po/ a Ihu
Te po/ Tapu rawa
He Ao
Ao marama

(and in English)

O Holy Night

O Holy night!
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees!
O, hear the angel voices!
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born;
O nigh divine!
O night
O night divine!

Friday, December 15, 2006

The sweetest thing

Here's a message put on Al's back yesterday by his grand-daughter, Jessica. He wrote "not knowing it was there I headed for Paraparaumu & wandered about with it there, wondering at the ghosts of smiles crossing peoples faces."

NB All the grandkids call him Fafa.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fouling Persons Take Charge!

A new sign by the river stopped me on a walk last week. I had to read it several times, using various techniques such as cocked head and squinting alternate eyes, to try and make sense of it. The Whangarei District Council line at the top is pretty straightforward but it's all downhill from there.

Looks to me like the (possibly foreign) sign writer was unnecessarily stingy with punctuation. And the graphic seems an ill fit for the text: the picture suggests 'no dogs allowed' but words suggest- eventually, with persistance and imagination- that dogs are ok if under the control of a (fouling or otherwise) person.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hikurangi Carnival

Last Saturday was Carnival day in Hikurangi, and also the annual Santa parade. I went along for the farmer's market and ended up having such a good time I stayed for the parade. Hikurangi is little country town usually so sleepy as to be almost comatose. However, for this occasion almost all the shops were open. All but two of them are second-hand/junk shops but there is also a superette and a wee bakery.

It was a great place for people watching:
  • the four old women line dancing
  • the voluptuous woman in a low cut top exposing most a large, colourful squid tattooed on her right breast
  • the bikers with fancy motorbikes, some with handlebars at head height (don't their arms get tired?) and a couple of huge powerful tricycles
  • the police on horses decorated with blue and silver tinsel

But my absolute highlight of the parade was the Hikurangi School percussion band where the instruments were mostly homemade. There were kettle drums out of barrels, and a variety of instruments made out of corrugated PVC pipes. The older kids played very well as they marched along, reminding me of Strike, an excellent percussion group I've seen in Wellington. The littlest kids walked behind carrying colourful fish on long bamboo sticks.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sagittarian seeks stable home

It is commonplace to hear or read New Zealanders saying 'Housing prices are so high now, I feel sorry for anyone trying to buy their first house these days'. The sympathy is always offered by someone who already owns a house with equity that has increased by many tens of thousands in the past three years and that I assume they would try to sell for the highest possible price (who wouldn't?).

I appreciate your sympathy, really I do. I thought you might be interested to know what it feels like to be in the position of wanting to enter the property market from scratch right now.

My tight budget is entirely oriented towards this goal yet no matter how disciplined my saving, house prices rise faster than my bank balance. Every week I cycle through hope, disappointment and despair as I come up with a new scheme for purchasing a property on a shoestring, investigate the realities of said scheme and face yet again the apparent reality that even the most distant and divey of super-cheapies are out of my reach and to feel minimally safe, comfortable and able to get to work and back in less than a day is way, way beyond my means.

When I tell real estate agents how much I think I can afford (and I always exaggerate slightly), they laugh and then hang up the phone as fast as possible. This was without exception until Val from Kamo Real Estate cold-called me this week and said she liked a challenge and told me she'd been in the same position not that long ago. I am now in a hope phase thanks to her and Mal, the tutor of the home ownership course I am taking.

My current hope phase is perfectly in tune with this week's Sagittarius horoscope from Rob Brezny: "Be ready to imagine the unimaginable, see the unseeable, and think the unthinkable... with the most optimistic attitude possible... the almost unbelievable prospects coming into your sphere are interesting and invigorating."

The apparent reality of the housing market presents as a blank wall but I choose to, have to, decide to, believe that there is a chink somewhere for an optimistic Sagittarian willing to imagine the unimaginable, see the unseeable and think the unthinkable.

Bring it on home!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Waiata Joy

I've stopped saying I can't sing, because lately I've been doing a lot of singing so it would be ridiculous to continue protesting that I can't. What I meant, for all those years of saying I can't sing, is that I can't sing reliably well. My voice still isn't very reliable, but lots of practice, good company and good teachers are helping me to understand more about how to control my voice and how to recognise the range where my voice is strongest and most reliable.

I'm singing waiata (Maori songs) with two separate groups. In the Waiata Class at work, most of the singers are not much more familiar with the songs than me, and while there are a range of singing abilities, we've been progressing together at more or less the same pace. The repertoire is designed for us to use in appropriate work contexts and ranges from funny nursery songs to himine (hymns).

At Waiata Joy (at Pehia Weri Marae on Tuesday evenings) I am the new girl in a loose group that's been singing together all year (and some of them all their long lives). The strength of the singing around me simultaneously carries my voice to a stronger place and helps camouflage my weaknesses. The repertoire there is slightly more weighted to the traditional and himine with lots of patriotic Nga Puhi anthems and old party favourites.

Last night we learned a new song (the first song taught from scratch since I started six weeks ago), a beautiful Maori translation of a Christmas carol called Holy Night. When I first heard the demonstration I was moved to tears, and not only at the assumption that there was no way I could contribute to such an exquisite and complex piece of music. By the end of the evening I had discovered I am an alto, and was singing along... not even close to perfectly, but well enough to be enjoying for the first time in my life the sensation of singing in a four part harmony.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rahui at Bream Bay

Following the whale strandings and deaths near Whangarei earlier this month, tangata whenu (local Maori) from Patu harakeke - Takahiwai have placed at Rahui (ban) at Bream Bay. A Rahui is a ban on collecting kai moana (sea food) from this area and will last 14 days. Local Maori history recognises the Whangarei Harbour as a resting place and migration route for whales.

There may be health issues as a consequance the many whales that had to be buried at the beach and their possible effect on the water quality. The ban is not legally enforcable, but is tikanga (customary practice).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Snow White

Everything is bursting into bloom with the thrill of warm spring rains. Swathes of green are broken with pink, red, white, yellow, orange blossoms. I'm enjoying the sights but unfortunately my body is responding with a one woman show about seven dwarves: Sneezy, Itchy, Scratchy, Reddy, Bumpy, Swelly and Teary.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tame garden, wild journal

What have I been doing lately instead of composing frequent, witty, thoughtful blogular commentaries on the world around me?

Well, the vege garden is looking very fine at the moment with the first brocolli ready to eat tomorrow and some tiny dark green nubbins of tomatoes popping out. Because its inside a plastic-house I have to water it even when there's been a lot of rain, and because it's sheltered from most wind, watering is a slow and careful exercise of not getting tomato leaves wet (and thus inviting fungi and moulds). So slowly and carefully do I water in fact, that there is plenty of time to pull all the weeds out at the same time.

And I've been making more an effort to socialise (as in actual face to face contact with other human beings in the same room) than I have for oh, at least two or three years. I still enjoy solitude most of the time, but that 'most' is quite a shift away from the hermit-like existence that I was dedicated to when I first moved to Northland 18 months ago. Yesterday I enjoyed visiting my local bibliophile-buddy who likes to lend me books and who has lots of books worth borrowing.

One of the books I borrowed yesterday is called Artist's Journals and Sketchbooks: Exploring and Creating Personal Pages by Lynne Perrella. It's wonderfully inspiring, as I've been really trying for some time to make my journals more colourful, textured, and playful (initially inspired by The decorated page by Gwen Diehn, also good but not quite so juicy). Immediately on arriving home with this book I started playing with my journal, experimenting boldly to various degrees of satisfaction.

One of my favourite things I read is that if you aren't happy with how a page looks you can just paint it all out and start again with another layer. You can do that?! Oh wow, the freedom... I feel like my imagination is all getting all stretchy and succulent as I let go of being precious about what I write and draw and abandon old rules and prejudices about collage and rubber stamps and texture and colour. I'm literally pushing my own artist's book boundaries by letting my journal bulge, buckle, sprawl and splay in an unseemly and undignified manner.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stoat on the Run

Walking up the right side of the road, minding my own business I noticed a very small animal trotting towards me on the left. I stopped and saw that it was a stoat. A few seconds later she* stopped too, peered at me around the enormous mouthful of dead starling fledgling she was carrying, obviously decided I was not worth bothering about, and resumed running.

She ran right past, close enough for me to admire her white chest and notice that her mostly red fur was dripping as though she had just climbed out of the nearby creek. As she passed I turned my head and began to formulate a thought to take a photo.

At that moment she stopped, dropped the bird and in three sinuous leaps she disappeared into the long grass on the side of the road. I walked over to inspect her catch, saw that it wasn't a precious native bird, commended her taste and carried on walking.

*I'm guessing it was a she, taking lunch home for her babies.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Spring Garden

I went round to visit Mt Tiger, where I house-sat this winter.

I got to have some nice cuddles with Bonnie, who I have been missing lots. She hurt her back leg a few weeks ago and isn't allowed to leap or jump until she is fully healed. She's pretty frustrated with being kept inside (and who wouldn't be with a garden like this- full of birds- waiting just outside the window).

Over the winter I thought it was a nice garden but now I see what a wonderland it can be in glorious spring technicolour.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vermin beware

October Garden

Every now and then something shatters my mild-mannered, peace-loving, bodhichitta-aspiring, hippy-dippy default mode of being. Usually vermin of some kind. Long-time readers may remember a certain over-excited rat that inspired a murderous vengeful rage in me. Cockroaches have a similar effect. Snails and slugs feasting on my seedlings can bring on a slightly muted version: not so much a red haze as an orange one, enough to make me buy (organic) snail poison.

Above is a photo of the vege garden taken three weeks ago. Below is a photo of the same garden (different angle) taken today. See how well it is coming along? I am overwhelmed with lettuces and peas needing to be eaten now now now. I tend it lovingly, enjoying the satisfaction only possible in a Very Small Garden: a temporary sense of completion.

November Garden

But! There is a thief enjoying the fruits of my labours. Every morning I see that something has eaten more of the unripe strawberries, still-small, pale green, seedy nubbins that must be awfully sour. My pleasurable anticipation of the enjoying a lush crimson strawberry harvest is dashed on a daily basis. I suspected that the strawberry thief is the same villain who is nibbling my bean seedlings, clattering across the roof and laughing maniacally outside my window at night. Have you guessed yet?

When I was a kid we had a possum wander through our house one evening like a family cat. I remember the hysteria when we realised it wasn't actually cat, but I don't remember how that particular possum problem was solved. My current possum problem made me go looking for a trap. Turns out the humane Timms traps cost more than I want afford (about the price of 10 punnets of strawberries) but then Nola at NRC offered me a Free Once In A Life Time Offer of a 'small bag' of possum poison. Was I interested? Oh yes I was, imagining a small (strawberry punnet sized) bag of poison. When she slung a big old paper sack on the counter I thought she would be siphoning off a portion for me. But no, as I signed the register for my Free Once In A Life Time Offer she explained that 2kg is the small bag. It usually comes in 20kg sacks.

Using a couple of old plastic milk bottles donated by a work mate I have made bait stations and set them up around the garden. After an initial cautious nibble the first night, subsequent nights have seen the possums gorging on poison and even trying to carry some away for midday snacking (I'm guessing this from the trail of blue bait strewn on the ground). I'm glad the poison is being eaten but it is slow acting and unfortunately the possums are still enthusiastically eating every baby strawberry they can find. See below.

Evidence of murderous rage
Exhibit A: strawberry plants with gnawed empty hulls in the foreground
Exhibit B: Bait station with poison in background
Bonus Exhibit: Stump in right background is a nasty tree I tore apart with my bare hands* because it was shading the strawberries, sucking up all the water, threatening to grow through the plastic sheet ceiling and dropping horrible sticky seed pods on everything.
*Have I mentioned that all this gardening is done without any proper tools?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Birds' House

Remember the baby birds I wrote about a few weeks ago? Well they grew up and fledged surprisingly quickly. I would look out at the nest and see six nearly identical birds overflowing for a second before they flew away in response to my attention. I also encountered them in the garden where the young ones were strengthening their wings with flying games that included dive bombing me in quite a startling manner.

Then about a week ago I looked out the bathroom window and didn't see the nest. Peering down I saw a splatter of dried dirt and bird shit on the deck below. Uh oh, the weight of six growing birds was clearly too much for their mud, straw and bird-saliva construction. The teenagers are still hanging around the garden, but I noticed this morning that the parents have started reconstruction. A lip of mud was balancing on the tiny ledge where the last nest had been. By this afternoon it had doubled in size (about a quarter of the full size of the earlier version). Every now and then I glimpse a wee bird flying in with a beak full of mud or a strand of dried grass.

What great role models for persistent commitment to having the home that they want, where they want it, not matter what goes wrong!

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Let me say that in... most... countries, 95 percent of the built environment is merchandise. It's not architecture. It's merchandise." What separates the two is art - art that springs from logic, from taking into account what Murcutt calls the “‘ings’ of things. The entering, the arriving, the greeting, the progressing, the communicating, the preparing, the eating the discussing, the leaving, the sleeping the loving, the caring, the touching- and all the senses,- the smelling, the feeling, the seeing, all of these things."

This is a quote from a Listener interview with an architect called Glenn Murcutt.

Sadly the kind of houses that are within the price range I can aspire to in the next year or two are not only artless merchandise but the shabbiest kind, the housing equivalent of worn-out and unloved second-hand $2 Shop merchandise. They are still terrifyingly expensive. It’s amazing how quickly one can come to think of $130,000 for a scungy one bedroom unit in the seedy part of town as a bargain when there is nothing cheaper to be seen.

I am giving myself a crash course in real estate, investment and personal finances. I’ve been hyped up by the books that tell me I can make millions in just three years, until I come down enough to realise what they really mean is it’s relatively easily to owe millions. I’ve been depressed by the sober investment books and their tables that show me how much I could have made if I had started being more sensible with my money 20 years ago or even five. I’ve done goal setting exercises and imagined the next forty or fifty years of my life: how I want my life to be and what I will have to do to make that real.

My housing goal is to live out my life in a home that embraces the particular ‘ings’ of the life I enjoy, aspire to, and anticipate: my dreaming, my creating, my sharing, my thinking, my developing, my reading, my cooking, my eating, my learning, my meditating, my stretching, my sunbathing, my loving, my growing old and eventually my dying. Unfortunately it will probably be necessary to invest in some very artless merchandise along the way to that home. And before I put my foot on the first risky rung of the property ladder I've decided to sort out a few things about my current money situation.

One of the things to sort out is my banking, so this morning I telephoned every single bank in the phone book. I was staggered by the differences between them and feel an evangelical urge to encourage you, dear reader, to make sure you are getting the best banking deal you can. Especially if you are up for internet banking, you can get the best bargains: no fees, no minimum balances, high intrest easy access savings accounts.

For the record, I am an internet banking user looking for a flexible, high intrest savings account that would be starting with a lowish balance, and a low or no fee day-to-day account. The winners were Westpac (which as of 1 November will be NZ incorporated) and ASB (Australian owned).

My banking survey was not only educational but quite fun, as the call centre folks are very helpful when you are a potential customer rather than a disgruntled one. It's amazing how many don't know who owns their bank/employer. I felt sorry for the lady at Superbank who told me they were closing for business at the end of this week, and that she would be out of a job. I was disappointed by National Bank who were utterly inflexible when I offered them the opportunity to match their competitors and keep me as a customer for another 10 years.

It took me a little over an hour to talk to nine banks and when I do open my new accounts I will be rewarded by saving $13 a month in fees and an increase of 4.25% in the intrest rate on my much more flexible savings account. Not a bad return for the time invested in research.

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's a number!

This is my odometer (123456) at about 8pm last night just before the turnoff to Oakura.
This post is dedicated to Rachel, Bill and Sylvie who invented the 'it's a number!' game.
I don't expect anyone else to care but I'm too tired to create a backstory to make it more interesting.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My friends are the best measure of my worth

Should I ever get too bogged down in self-criticism, I only have to think about my friends to help get a better perspective. First of all I have lots of friends, so many that in my frequent bouts of craving solitude, I will sometimes declare (quietly, and just between you and me) that I have too many friends. Of course that is nonsense because when the quality of one's friends is as high as mine there is no such thing as too many. But I do keep moving cities/islands/countries, a habit that allows the best of friends to rise to the surface by virtue of their willingness to stay in touch long distance. And fresh starts mean I make room in my daily life for a whole new batch of friends.

So, I can't be a total loser if I have lots of friends, most of whom have loyally remained in my intimate circle despite years or decades of little or no face to face contact. And, I hasten to add, my friends are not losers. They tend to be intelligent, capable, funny, unconventional, thoughtful, sensitive, generous, dynamic and picky about who they stay friends with. And they picked me (or allowed me to pick them)!

Most of my friends don't share my vices, so they can be trusted to pull me out of a hole rather than lead me into it. We talk about work, children, parents, partners, singleness, hopes, fears, food, troubles and successes. Some of my most treasured friends are those I trust to recommend music, movies and best of all, books. I've been indulging in 1+ hour phone calls these past couple of weekends, touching base with old friends and new. If my bladder was bigger (or the phone was cordless) we could probably talk for longer.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Handmade House

The most adrenaline I've produced from reading a book lately has been my encounter with The Handmade House: A love story set in concrete by Geraldine Bedell. The experience of having their unique architect designed house build in the middle of London was as confusing, stressful, overwhelming and crazy as the house itself turned out to be sleek and minimalist. Ms Bedell is unusually candid about her family's finances and the passages describing their precarious money situation were what kept me awake at nights.

She is quite open about the fact that her and her husband were as naive about personal finances as they were about architecture and design. Basically, having decided that from the sale of their current Islington home they had about 600,000 pounds to spend on their next house she impetuously blew that amount on buying a bare section in Hackney. Bridging finance was costing them about 87,000 pounds a month (whimper) when the dotcom crash pretty much obliterated her husband's income. It took 2 and 1/2 years and cost about 450,000 pounds to build the house- while they lurched from one lump sum payment to another. While she never adds up all the sums (the nerve wracking finances aren't the point of her story which is a very interesting and compelling account of the whole process of designing and building as well as blended families and clutter busting etc) she does say that they were living in the house a year before their cheques stopped bouncing.

Yikes! My own response to finding out exactly how much money I could borrow to buy a house was to buy a lotto ticket so that I could cling to some small vestige of hope.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Two new (to me) species spotted lately live and loose in Hukeranui.

1. A stoat ran across the road like a ripple of fox-red fur, stopping me gaping, in my tracks. Bad stoat, no doubt heading off to eat baby native birds. Bad, bad stoat, but kind of pretty.

2. The first time I saw California quail was when two ran across the driveway and flew up the hill as I was setting off for work daylight-savings early. They are lankier than the Brown quail I'm familiar with. These Californians are crowned by lovely curly quiffs and decorated with white flecks on their dark grey feathers. I hope they have babies as cute as brown quail babies- nothing, but nothing, is cuter than those marble sized balls of fluff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Waro Rocks

After visiting four Hikurangi open homes within an hour and 500 metres of each other (three of them asking almost exactly the same price) I drove up to Waro lake with my lunch.

I've written about Waro before when I paid my first visit out of geological interest over a year ago. That time I was too shy to climb up the mound and explore in amongst the dense hill of rocks that was a lake floor 25-30 million years ago. The Karst formations are so imposing, so grand, so special that I felt that my human presence would be an imposition. I don't know the Maori stories about it but I feel sure it must be considered tapu.

But on this balmy Sunday afternoon there were several groups of people wandering about and so I realised that it is frequently visited. Venturing up a few rough tracks I found myself in a series of magical places. The rocks have been weathered over 5 million years into sensuous curves, ripples, stacks and holes. Trees and bushes have grown up between them and in some cases through them. There are secret rooms, caves and tunnels. There are open air chapels and cathedral towers.

Sadly, aside from some DoC interpretive signs there doesn't appear to be any management of the place. It could be a wonderful tourist attraction if it was tidied up a bit, the noxious weeds eradicated and the surrounding area mowed instead of grazed by these interesting shaggy long horned beasts! The picture is a bit blurry because I didn't feel it would be wise to get too close to those serious horns, and my phone-camera has a limited focus.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Home Ownership Aboutface

Since I sold the one house I've owned (Dunedin, fifteen years ago) and blew the profit on travelling, I've been a strong advocate of renting (or recently, house sitting). My antipathy to homeownership is the daughter of my financial situation and my priorities. And for various reasons my priority of late has been to not work full time, a lifestyle I have funded with savings that might have been a house deposit in other circumstances.

I recently helped to convince a friend that she shouldn't get over her head into debt to buy her first house in a town where she doesn't really want to live. I dusted off all my excellent reasons to not buy a house. I summoned rationales based on widely known economic discourses such as 'home-ownership is out of the reach of most NZers not already in the market' and 'the bubble must burst, leaving heavily indebted owners with no equity' etc.

But since then I've become slightly obsessed with wanting my own home. It's something to do with the transience of my past couple of years, with finally getting to live in the part of the country I've longed to live in while quixotically* falling in love with a long distance sweetheart, with rediscovering the pleasure of gardening and with a year of living in other people's homes. How often do I aboutface on my strongly expressed positions? Pretty often but don't rub it in. I like to think that I am a flexible, agile, dynamic and responsive Sagittarian Firehorse (thanks, E) rather than a fickle, unstable, unreliable, untrustworthy dilettante.

*I intuitively wanted to use this word here even though I've never used it before, didn't know how to spell it and wasn't sure enough what it meant to publish without double checking. The Consice Oxford definition is such a good description of what I wanted to express that I feel my intuitive vocabulary vindicated. It means (like an) "enthusiastic visionary, pursuer of lofty but impracticable ideals, person utterly regardless of his (sic) material interests in comparison with honour or devotion" (after Don Quixote).

Friday, October 13, 2006

This year's garden*

Al made a beautiful little vegetable garden here before he went home to Te Horo. There's a ton of lettuce and other greens for right now eating. I'm avidly watching the peas and strawberries which are both flowering but haven't yet offered up anything edible.

One of the first things I have to do in the garden is top up some trenches Al dug with manure from the four cattle on the property. They are big and hungry and intimidate me, I'd like to say a little but that's only from the other side of a fence, they intimidated me alot this morning when I was trying to steal their shit when what they really really wanted from a human visitor was hay which I don't have.

So the manure project is on hold until the cattle wander off out of sight. Meanwhile there's tomato staking, watering and seed sowing to be done. So enough of this idle blogging... I'm off to do some real work.

*Last year's garden

Monday, October 09, 2006

Baby Birds

Outside the bathroom window, perched over the vent for the bathroom's extraction fan is a nest that looks rather like a lump of mud from below. Two pretty little birds with swallows tails and crimson chests do a lot of important twittering and flying back and forth from this nest. The other day I was looking up at thinking, I bet there's eggs in there when suddenly four gaping beaks popped over the rim and peeped in unison before ducking down to anonymity again.

Since then I've been trying patiently to get a picture of the beaks because it is such an amazing sight. No luck yet, but in the meantime Al climbed up a ladder with his camera and a little mirror and got this great view of sleeping chicks as seen from above. Aren't they wee darlings!

New Look

Don't be frightened, it's still the same blog, just a different outfit.

Giddy with the illusion of techno-competence created by simply carrying a 3G phone around, I dared to jump up to Beta-Blogger and play with Bibliophilia's layout after leaving it untouched for the past 22 months and 362 posts. I will no doubt keep fiddling with it now that it's so much easier to do (no more laborious HTML manipulations, just button clicking fun).

I wanted a look that is easy on the eye, but also fresh and cheerful. Did I get it right for your browser? Let me know.

Friday, October 06, 2006

ABBA wannabes

Thanks to Twisty, I found this Swedish 70s kitch site that made me hoot like a baboon.

Telecom brick to Vodaphone 3G

As I sit here in front of the laptop trying to decide what to write about I am making myself sick with a bag of jellybeans that I received in the mail from Telecom. They sent them as a reward for having stuck out my 24 months on a mobile phone plan and as a bribe to make me upgrade to a fancy new phone and a fancy new plan.

Now, the fact is that at this point in my life I don't actually have an address. All my mail is forwarded to me from Kapiti to 'poste restante' in Whangarei where I collect it a couple times a week. I've gotten used to the hair raising side effects of being address-less such as receiving bills the day they are due, but sadly for Telecom, their marketing was too late to have even a chance at tempting me. I have already been seduced by the Vodaphone ads offering to give me a 3G phone in exchange for my Telecom brick.

When I first saw the ads I didn't know what a 3G phone was and when I found out I didn't really care. Something to do with internet connection but only for townies- there is no 3G coverage at the non-address where I stay right now. What I got excited about was the camera on the phone- not as good as the borrowed ones that have been illustrating Bibliophilia for the past year or so but better than the little credit card phone that long-term readers may remember from Purua.

So I was tempted enough to do some more reasearch about the contract I would have to sign with the the big V... turned out that I would be able to cut at least $12 a month off my cellphone payments and with no penalty for abandoning the big T. Where's the catch I'm thinking... there must be a catch.

So I Googled for reviews of the give-away phone. And sure enough there is a catch... as 3G phones go this one is the bottom end of the market. The most trenchant criticism of its 3Gness seems that it has a ridiculously small memory for a device that can hold, play, send, receive and manipulate photos, videos and music; and no capacity to add extra memory. There was also some criticism of its more fundamental functions such as too quiet ringing and speaking volume and keys lagging or being overly sensitive. These latter problems seem to have been more or less resolved* in the year since the phone came on the market (it's role in the market being as a free (or discounted) gift or an entry level 3G). By the time I'd read a hundred reviews from the UK*** I'd decided they were all completely unreliable anyway, probably written by juniors in marketing companies to promote their own products or undermine the opposition's.

I did a bit more research such as I texting a few fancy-phone-owning-friends friends who all said they preferred the other brand but were uniformly excited that I might be stepping up to the fancy-phone circle of pxters. Finally I went down to the local Vodaphone shop on a Saturday morning and there amongst a crowd of teenagers I asked all the stupid questions I could think of while testing all the functions I could understand (some tiny proportion of the phone's potential).

Satisfied that the volume issues and camera were up to my meager standards, I decided I had nothing much to lose except the continuity of my telephone number**. I handed over my old phone, with some trepidation to part from my reliable 24/7 companion device of more than two years. I asked the bored young woman serving me not to send my old phone to the knackers until I was satisfied my new phone wasn't a disaster. She humoured me, and promised to do her best despite company policy to get rid of the trade-in the same day.

So I suddenly find myself the somewhat pleased owner of a far fancier phone than I thought I would carry this decade. My techno naitivity means that this first week with the phone has been equal parts frustrating and satisfying. Challenges have included
  • entering all my contacts by hand as Telecom don't have SIM cards so no way to transfer a hundred or so names and numbers electronically
  • one of those circular software installation experiences ultimately resolved by ignoring the phone folder on my laptop for several days and then finding it all works perfectly.
  • tearing my hair out until Kate accidentally figured out how to work the camera
  • forcing myself to learn to use predictive text (I didn't realise how many Maori words I use in casual texting conversation- they all have to be spelled out)
  • realising after quite a few messages exactly what the difference is between MMS and SMS
  • struggling with a new way of navigating commands so frequently losing texts instead of sending them
  • etc
But it's getting easier now and one of these days I will figure out how to post text or photos straight from the phone onto this blog. In the meantime, here's first phone-photo, thanks to Kate. (The flowers at the top are all my own work).

* New phone owners are advised to remove the clear plastic sheet from the speakers to facilitate improved volume.
**Email me if you want my new phone number and if you are not a complete stranger or weirdo stalker aquaintance I will give it to you.
*** Sample review: Me got 1 or 2 tings 2 say bout dis ere fone it be gettin massif respect ratins from me coz it be so sick da fone got one respecetable camra n also 1 respectable vidyo recorder coz da piacture quality is so gangsta, me wud recomend dis fone 2 anyone yo massif respect n pease out

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taste of Europe

Every time I've asked anyone in Whangarei where to go for good bread, at best they've wrinkled their brow and said "The bakery at Pak'n'Save?" or at worst they have promptly answered "Pak'n'Save". My response has been along the lines of "No, no, I mean real bread". I did try the Pak'n'Save bakery once in desperation but it was just the kind of white spongey nastiness I expected from a cheapo supermarket. So aside from homemade bread my sojourns in the North have been bread-mediocre.

Until now! My dear friend Ellis and her husband Paul have just opened Whangarei's only European-style deli and Pandoro bread is being delivered from Auckland three times a week. Don't think about the food miles, just get your teeth around some real chewy sourdough. Being Dutch they also stock big wheels of Gouda cheese to be sliced into wedges for making the bread into sandwiches.

There are also the obligatory jars of Dutch licorice and I asked Ellis today, 'What is it with salty licorice? I don't understand.' She responded by encouraging me to try some 'salty-sweet' licorice as well as the sweet variety. The salty sweet is like training wheels for salty-licorice doubters. It's sweet enough to make sense to my taste buds, and it's just a little bit salty so the part of my tongue that wants to eat potato chips can get in the act too without trying to take over my mouth. I think I'm starting to understand, but I'll stick to my training wheels a while before wobbling off into salty-salty licorice land.

At the opening party on Saturday there were sixty or more people crammed into the shop (which is not tiny) enjoying complimentary wine and nibbles and some teenage opera singers strutting their stuff very competently (at least according to those who know opera- unlike me). Ellis and Paul have done their research with the European ex-pats in Whangarei. Most of the crowd were happily chatting to each other in languages other than English and people were lining up to buy armfuls of delicious treats from home. I was particularly attracted to the almond cookies, various vinegars and oils and some weird chocolate ribbon stuff which apparently goes on top of white bread, according to the picture on the packet. We ended up with a jar of pickled curly kale and were advised by various Dutchies to have it with mashed potatoes- which turned out to be just the thing.

So if you are in Whangarei, check it out at Taste of Europe on James St, opposite the Food Hall. Its got a classy comfortable decor which makes you want to hang around asking Ellis to explain all the mysterious items without translations or illustrations on the labels. She's looking forward to making your tastebuds tingle with everything from German sausage to Italian vincotto. See you there!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Herpetofauna Heaven

The owners of our current housesit are mad keen on water features (and rocks, which they brought in every last one of from her brother's farm). There's a creek with a dam that is currently weed-choked to a swampy consistency. There's this lovely little zen pool-on-a-rock under the camellia bush (and did you know that cattle love to eat camellia leaves and also avocado and nikau leaves, even if there is plenty of grass about?). But best of all is the pond next to the patio which apparently was once home to golden carp but is now home to.... drum roll please ... frogs! Ok, so maybe that doesn't sound so exciting to you, but me and Al, we're excited.

So far we've spotted three frogs and heard some lovely croaking (so we know they are not native because all NZ native frogs are silent). One big green one that we are pretty sure is a female Southern Bell Frog (introduced from Australia) or perhaps a Green and Golden Bell Frog (also from Australia). I think perhaps the two little dark ones may be older males because the females are bigger but they get darker when they are older. There's this handy frog identification guide but we haven't been able to get a good enough look at them to use it. They are very shy frogs with no interest in posing for identification purposes nor for portraits. I could have posted one of a number of photographs of the pond, and used photoshop to draw an arrow at a few pixels that Al swears is a frog, but honestly, you wouldn't thank me. As compensation I offer this most excellent of links to finish. Click here for some croaking.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I was visiting a family this weekend where, Rory, about 8 years old, turned out to have an even more extensive collection of possum bones than I do (I keep using mine in projects and having to collect more). We made up a few skeletons together on the old copper covered rudder of the sugar barge they live in.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Passing of a True Princess

Last night I dreamed about a tiny Yorkshire Terrier puppy flying around the world to come and be with me. When I woke up I realised that it was probably Princess, because one of her human companions had texted me the evening before, our first contact in nearly a year, but with no mention of Princess. Continuing our text conversation after my dream, I found out that Princess has been buried overlooking Princess Bay in Wellington. She was very old and had been frail and sickly for a long time, kept alive by the tender care of many people, most especially Ben and Sarah.

When I first met Princess she went everywhere with Ben as one of the most inconguous human-animal companionships I've come across. Princess was the archetypal twee lap dog and Ben a young surfer dude. He'd adopted her when his elderly neighbour had been forced by her deteriorating health into a home. His laconic affection for this most unlikely of pets (surfer dudes should have big macho dogs, surely) was one of the easiest ways to see past his cool image to his compassionate heart.

The last few years have been much quieter for Princess, with fewer surfing trips and loud parties. She spent a lot of time following the sun from cushion to cushion across Ben and Sarah's clifftop livingroom, overlooking the Cook Strait. She had an exceptionally good life with some unexpected twists and turns but always lots of love. I have missed her since leaving Wellington and I am very grateful that she visited my dreams last night like an puppyangel .

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hitching Stories

I did a lot of hitch hiking around New Zealand in my late teens. It was easiest to get picked up when I was alone, but felt safer when I was with another girl- though in reality some of the worst things happened with a hitching buddy. I rarely hitched with a guy, because it was much harder to get picked up. This was in the mid-eighties and I and my friends mostly were dressed as punks or other alternative style. I used to keep myself warm and entertained by singing and dancing on the side of the road and would flash big smiles at approaching cars, hoping to persuade them to stop for me.

The first time I ever hitch hiked was with a girlfriend who had done it before so I made her get in the front seat with the business man who picked us up. They were chatting and I was dozing and then they went quiet and I woke up to see him reach across to her lap. I looked over into the front seat and saw his fly was undone and he was trying to get into my friend’s pants. It didn’t make much sense to me so I said “What are you doing?” and he angrily stopped the car and left us in the middle of nowhere. It took us a while to work up the courage to stick our thumbs out again after that, but we had to so we did. The next ride was a van and neither of us were willing to sit alone in the front with the driver (who proved to be entirely harmless, like almost everybody who has picked me up since) so we both rattled round in the back for hours.

That experience made me careful but didn’t put me off hitching. I was on the dole and had lots of time and desire to travel but next to no money so it was an ideal way to get around the country. For about two years I travelled between Dunedin and Hamilton regularly as well as exploring other parts of the country. Some of my best rides were with big scarey looking Maori guys and some of my scariest rides were with straight looking white guys. Very few women ever picked me up and they would inevitably tell me that they had done some hitch hiking at some point in their lives.

I had lots of adventures. The craziest trip was from Christchurch to the West Coast with a girl who I didn’t know very well and never saw again after we finally got back to civilization. Our ride over the pass was with a car full of young guys who were drinking cans of beer and throwing the empties out the windows. As soon as we got in and saw that there were no door handles on the inside we wanted to get out so made up some excuse and escaped as soon as we could.

On the way back we got a ride with a man who said he would take us to the turn-off we wanted but he had to do a few detours to deliver magazines on the way. We weren’t in a hurry so we didn’t mind. I sat in the front seat and my friend sat in the back. He was quite friendly and chatty, asking us lots of questions about ourselves. Eventually I noticed that he was wearing a bra under his business shirt and pantyhose under his trousers. When he stopped at the first place to make his delivery I twisted around in my seat and was telling my friend what I noticed about his clothes. She showed me one of the magazines he was delivering and it was a newsletter for people into kinky sex. Then I saw that under my seat there was a tape recorder and I said “Look its recording” as I turned it off and then we saw the man coming back to the car. We were too mortified to try and talk about any of these things with him. We got out of the car as soon as we could and exploded into giggles.

Later that day, we got dropped off at the top of the pass and went to the public toilets to smoke a joint. Just then a bus from the Girls Home in Christchurch stopped there and we found ourselves surrounded by much tougher girls than us who grabbed our joint and finished it while bullying and taunting us. Fortunately their Matron came in and my friend and I took the opportunity to run away as fast as we could and hide in the bushes until their bus had gone past us. Then just as we emerged to try and get a ride, the car with no inside handles screeched to a halt and the same group of drunk young men tried to give us a ride. We ran again!

For years after I got my own car I would stop and pick up hitch hikers, but I have grown more and more cautious, slowing down to look at their faces before I stop. Once I was driving from Christchurch to Invercargill and several times I passed this one Maori man hitching . He was big and rough looking with tattoos and I kept talking myself out of picking him up but then he would pop up again on the side of the road. Finally, just south of Dunedin I stopped and gave him a lift to his destination in Gore. We had a great chat, he was a fisherman heading home for some leave with his family, I felt ashamed that I hadn’t picked him up earlier, but the thing was he gotten so many rides so quickly that he ended up travelling all day at the same pace as me anyway.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Signs of Spring

Every time I walk up Waiotu Block Road there are more signs that spring is on the way. The monochrome of lurid green pasture is now contrasted with banks of wild flowers. Forget-me-nots line the side of the road like a blue haze. Unidentified red, orange or pink flowers flourish in the tangled borders between pastures and tracks.

Lambs and calves are filling out, no longer the spindly new borns of a few weeks ago, they are sturdy and frisky now.

Birds seem to be busier, often in pairs. The other day as I rounded a corner I heard a strange sound: half croak, half screech, a terrible rent in the peaceful afternoon. I looked up and saw a grey heron flapping into the air a few metres of front of me. I don't know who got the biggest fright, the heron interrupted in its feeding or me to discover that the most elegant bird I know has the most horrible cry.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Kaipara Charms

If it's a common stereotype that JAFAs lump together and ignore the majority of New Zealand south of the Bombay Hills, then it is just as common that Northland is rendered invisible to the rest of New Zealand by the tall buildings and glaring lights of the big city taking up the entire isthmus connecting Northland to the rest of the country. In case you'd forgotten, Northland is that long skinny stretch of land, like the nose of a swordfish of the tail of a sting ray sticking out above Auckland. It's impossible to be more than 40km from either coast, and there's a lot of coast wrapped around the region.

Whangarei sits on an East Coast harbour and is overwhelmingly focused eastward. But last week I was housesitting to the west, a third of the way along the road to Kaipara on the West Coast so it seemed like a good excuse to check it out.

The highlight of our day out west was stopping in the tiny village of Te Kopuru where Al had preached during his days at Theological College. The church was long gone but the main street was still lined with charmingly unrenovated houses and eccentrically unlandscaped gardens. This particular garden made spectacular use of buoys and other beachcombings. Other gardens featured hubcaps and painted tires. All had meticulously groomed lawns.

We liked the beach at Glinks Gully but not the more famous Bayley's Beach which had all the charm of a filthy parking lot, complete with jeep full of young men burning circles on the sand. We liked Dargeville: Al for the old clocks powered by solar panels, and me for the very nice sage suede shoes I found on sale in an independent shoe shop. It might just have been the long awaited sunshine but I got a good feeling about the town which seemed lively and friendly.

I'd been to Dargeville once before to visit the Zinzania Paper Factory where handmade paper is created from the rice grass chocking the local waterways. The rice grass arrived in the form of clay bricks from China used as ballast by ships arriving to collect kauri back in the day when cutting down old growth forest was still a growth industry. The clay bricks were dumped in the river and the seeds in the rice grass straw germinated with enthusiasm in the warm moist conditions of Kaipara. A hundred years later, after the dairy factory closed down, some locals decided to use the souvenirs of past economies to try and develop a contemporary craft and tourist attraction. Their paper is excessively lovely but, like all handmade paper made in the West, terrifically expensive. Only diehard book and paper fans like me are likely to make a special trip to Dargeville to visit see paper making, and there's not much else to attract tourists to town. So, I'm not sure how the business is holding up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Threehalf Press

'A poem is a picture you hear.
A photograph is a poem you see.'

Check out this lovely website,
and maybe you won't mind so much that right now
I have nothing to say.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Stone Walling

I am currently house-sitting and cat pampering over in Maungatapere which is on the way to Dargeville. So far it's not nearly as bad as it sounds, though today I am actually going to take an excursion to Dargeville so I'll know for sure after that.

In the meantime I've been checking out Maungatapere which is characterised by dry stone walls. Some are so overgrown that they just look like giant caterpillars crawling around the edge of the paddocks. But plenty, like the ones pictured here remain as fine examples of the art of stone wall building.

Friday, September 01, 2006

International Random Acts of Kindness Day

Only Ash and Kate made the effort to Dress Up for Madonna Day, but don't they look Fabulous! We listened to Madonna tunes all day boogying along until the lunch rush crashed in.

Tim was immortalised as Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On. He noted early on that today is International Random Act of Kindness Day. His random act of kindness was to bring me a wooden spoon when I was plaintively wondering if there was a clean one anywhere in the kitchen. Zane and I shared a random act by deciding not to serve the dried up pie to the nasty customers but to give them a nice fresh one instead. The most random act I was involved with was being called 'sweetie pie' when I took a bald guy his muffin.

Ash would just like to let everyone know that she is single and looking. Single, handsome, rich men are invited to call into Cafe Narnia. I recommend using the code words 'banana banana' so Ashleigh knows that you are trying to hit on her. Anyone attracted to the other Cafe Narnia staff pictured here should know they are already taken.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Madonna Wannabes

Tomorrow will be my last day working at Cafe Narnia. It also happens to be a Friday which of course means it's Dress-Up Day and this week's theme is 'Great Madonna Music Videos'. It's an excellent theme of course because Madonna creates a unique sartorial paradigm for each new video which gives us a wide range of possible looks to choose from. This would have been the perfect dress-up theme for me ten or twenty years ago, when indeed I did dress up as Madonna for parties, if not work.

However, my current wardrobe is so extremely limited that I only really have the option of dressing as either a frumpy middle-aged woman or a daggy slob. Surprising as it seems neither of these styles have featured in Madonna videos to date- at least not that I'm aware of. It could happen, but I suspect not soon. Even my underwear is too sensible and too aged to pass as Madonna-wear. I'm stuck for a costume, unlike Ashleigh who has been loaned a PVC corset by a groupie, I mean customer.

She pulled out the corset today so we could all wonder at its kinky shine. It looked best on Zane who makes Kate Moss seem porky. I was quite pleased with my reflection in the oven door and gratified at my colleagues wonderment at my waist coming out of concealment: like objects in the mirror actually being closer than they appear, I'm actually more shapely than my daggy/frumpy clothes usually suggest. Tim refused to even allow the corset to be held up against his generous frame and attempts to do so led to a lively chase through the cafe as Kate sprinted after him and the rest of a trailed hoping for a perv*. No luck, and despite the promise (or threat) of seeing Tim in a cheerleader uniform** tomorrow I expect he will, as always, be in his chef gear. I hope to have the camera with me and plan to post pix of the whole Narnia crew a la Madonna so watch this space.

* Just for the record, there were no customers on the cafe during the entire corset episode.
** Apparently Tim decided that he'd rather come as Kirsten Dunst than Madonna, which is fair enough I suppose.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Magnolia of the Year

As I may have mentioned once or twice I am slightly obsessed with magnolia trees in bloom. Whangarei is a particularly fine town for magnolias and the past few weeks have been greatly enhanced by spotting them hither and yon on my travels through town. Aside from my wonderful childhood memories of sheltering in a beloved magnolia tree I think there are several reasons why I'm willing to make an exception to my favouritism of fragrant flowers (though I did recently meet an unusually strong sweet-smelling magnolia in the rose gardens downtown).

I love them because of their luminous purity. The pale pink ones show this trait most strongly, but even the dark magenta blooms seem to glow with an inner light. I think this might be because the petals are so fleshy and the pigmentation sits on top of a deep icy whiteness that much catch the light and reflect it. Blossoming as they do in the middle of winter, they seem to light up grey days with warmth and beauty. Magnolias start blossoming on bare branches in the depth of winter, for a week or two the trees are covered in luminous pink and then soft green leaves join and eventually overtake the flowers.

The two families of magnolia that I am passionate about are tulip and star. Tulip magnolias are the ones with a few big firm petals which start in something of a tight tulip-like bud before splaying indolently outwards. They are the most elegant shaped blooms and come in a wide palette of cream through pink to magenta. (See picture above).

Star magnolias tend to the paler shades of the magnolia spectrum. They have many thin floppy petals and I have a physical reflex to the sight of a star magnolia: I can't help but stretch and wriggle my fingers like a baby. Star magnolias seem both wanton and innocent to me and somehow make me think of fluttering angels wings.

If you get up close to a magnolia petal, whether still blooming on the tree or part of the carpet fallen below the branches, they are delicious to the touch. Cool, tender, moist but not sticky, remarkably like the fresh sweet skin of a baby's belly, they are pleasant to hold and stroke until they begin to bruise brown. Eleanor and I met on one of my magnolia pilgrimages a few years ago and Iremember her special interest in fallen tulip magnolia petals imprinted by shoe sole or tire tracks.

To honour this glorious plant I am introducing a new award: Magnolia of the Year. Consideration is solely dependant on my awareness of the tree, so it helps if it is visible to the public and not hidden in a private enclave. The criteria for winning is arbitrary and opaque. The prize is being highlighted on this blog.

And the winner of the inaugral award for Magnolia of the Year 2006 is this fine specimen currently blooming opposite Cafe Narnia on Kamo Road in Kensington, Whangarei. It's just started flowering so will be at it's best for at least another week or maybe three.

What is so remarkable about this particular magnolia tree? 1. It is so tall and so lavishly blossomed that it practically lights up the neighbourhood. 2. I was facinated by this tree even before the blossoms revealed it's identity as magnolia because of the 'hula skirt' (thanks Ash) modestly obscuring the lower trunk. 3. It happens to have exacty the same kind of cream and magenta coloured tulip blooms as my childhood companion tree so it gets points for nostalgia value.

NB Nominations are now open for 2007's Magnolia of the Year Award so feel free to write in about your favourite tree. Next winter the judge might take a tour before making her decision.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ngawha's Eccentric Style

Ngawha is probably better known as the controversial site of a recently built prison, I mean, Correctional Facility. The area is also a thermal hot spot, with a little power station and even better, two complexes of hot springs. Last winter I made several visits to the complex featured in the film Kaikohe Demolition, which was all very nice until I discovered Jimmy’s pool complex, and since then there’s no going back. Hot springs are good no matter what, but hot springs with character are the best.

These pools are lovingly handmade out of mostly salvaged and recycled materials with no regard for fashion or convention. The landscaping is as extravagently eccentric as the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. This place is to resort design what outsider art is to David Hockney.

Note the ‘Nga Puhi greenstone’ created by banks of knobbly bottomed soft drink bottles. Old banisters and beams, rope railings, black plastic pallets with blue spots are combined with pragmatism and creativity. Arrangements of concrete, stone, rubber, plastic and wood are thoughtful, balanced, and quirky. And the point of it all is the fifteen hot pools each with its own shade of brown or grey or black water, its own temperature and combination of minerals all contributing to the strong smell of sulpher in the air.

The entrance fee makes it probably the most affordable attraction in the country, but fortunately it's too far off the beaten track for many tourists to find. The soakers are mostly locals: old kuia and kaumatua soaking away their aches and pains, young families escaping their own prisons of childen inside on endlessly rainy days and all sorts of folks, ordinary and extraordinary, chatting quietly or not at all, enjoying the soothing heat and unique ambiance.

Warning: Not for the faint of heart or delicate of stomach

While wandering around Ruapekapeka, a beautifully maintained and interpreted pa site not far from our current housesit, a cow in the neighbouring paddock caught my eye. At first glance it looked like she was shitting a long red rag. At second glance I took in the new born calf lying at her feet and realised I was watching her expel an enormous placenta.

I beckoned Al over from his inspection of an old cannon and we watched while the cow shat then pissed on her calf before reaching round to start chewing on the placenta. It stretched the length of her body like a prayer flag, in shades of blood, tissue translucent with a pattern of opaque clots, beautiful and gross at the same time. She chewed and swallowed with persistance until at last the final bit fell to the ground. After a while she tried to cough it up but she had eaten too much and there was no alternative but to keep sucking it down. It was too tough for her grass-chewing molars to cut through. I started to feel a bit sick in sympathy as I imagined the feeling of endless slimy tissue filling my vegetarian gullet.

Due to our facination with the placenta eating we were late for our date at Ngawha Hot Springs but we had to leave before she finished eating and didn’t get to see the cute calf feeding scenes we were hoping for.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Vanity and the Low Maintenance Haircut

The first hour is always the worst after a new haircut. I think it's the lingering trauma of being forced to stare for 30 minutes into a mirror at my unadulterated face propped on top of a cape. No softening of its roundness with hair or clothes, no escaping all the features I avoid in the quick dance around mirrors at home to ensure I'm presentable with as little attention as possible.

This lengthy session of self-regard makes it difficult to feel anything but disappointed when the new hairdo fails to have made my face look any different. The hopeful magic promised by the NEW LOOK articles in women's magazines has not worked, again. I'm still me with the big cheeks and rough skin. Worst of all, that moment of truth is the one when I have to tell the hairdresser what I think of their work. It's impossible to blurt "It's awful" especially when I remember that the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is but 2 weeks, and that it will look completely different when I have washed it and let it dry naturally. So I feign enthusiasm and pay my money.

This time I fled to Narnia afterwards for comfort and sure enough the glad cries, the compliments, the fussing and playing with hair, the enthusiasm for its styling potential got me through that rough worst hour. An hour of not looking in the mirror and of letting my hair relax into its own response to being thinned out was enough for me to start feeling ok about it. After a wash I might even like it enough to post a photo.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beach Mystery

While I was on Tiritiri Matangi I spent some time picking up rubbish on the beach. The island is only 4 kms from Auckland's Whangaparoa Peninsular and catches a lot of the city's litter that washes across the harbour. Mostly I collected up bits of plastic which had originated with junk food and junk drink but I also found a single stylish shoe, a well-rinsed condom and this:

In situ, on a pile of seaweed and more tightly wrapped, it looked a bit like an old fashioned cartoon bomb, the kind with a sizzling fuse that will leave the hapless cartoon character covered in soot and frizzled hair, with little stars winking in and out over their head, at least until the next scene when they are miraculously restored to full health. So it was with some trepidation that I unwrapped the bright red cloth and found this:

It's a mystery to me. Does anyone out there know why a whole fresh coconut tied up with red string and then wrapped in red cloth would have fallen in or been cast upon the waters of the Hauraki Gulf? Regulars on Tiritiri Matangi said that, next to the dead whale, it was the most interesting thing anyone had ever found on the beach there. There was some speculation about possible Pacific Island People's rituals and jokes about fertility and curses. But no one really had a clue. Do you?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tiritiri Matangi

The highlight of my stay on Tiritiri Matangi Island, an 'open sanctuary' in the Hauraki Gulf, was standing in the midst of a flock of bellbirds/korimako singing in unison. All my walking about the island was to the soundtrack of many birds of many species calling their songs in a glorious cacophany but this is the first time in my life I have heard a dozen birds deliberately singing in harmony.

It was at the feeding station on the Kawerau Track, which is a long and lovely boardwalk through rejuvenating coastal bush. The feeding stations which provide nectar-water inside special cages are intended for the stitchbirds/hihi but the bellbirds join them in equal numbers. Their favoured feeding stations are a hubbub of activity and noise with dozens of birds of both species flitting to and fro, ducking into the cage to suck at the flower shaped feeders, chasing eachother around and hanging about singing lustily. As I stood there, less than a metre from the feeder, enjoying the visual and aural feast all around me I noticed more and more bellbirds chiming in with the same few liquid notes until about ten of them were all singing in unison, with the rest providing a counterpoint of clucking and trilling.

This weekend was the first time I'd ever seen bellbirds close up and my first ever sighting of the extinct-on-the-mainland stitchbird so even without the chorus I would have been thrilled. Not to mention personal first sightings of kokako with stunning blue wattles; takahe, like oversized and muted pukekos; North Island robins/toutouwai; saddlebacks/tieke and whiteheads/popokatea. One robin in particular was so fearless that I almost stood on it as it was the same colour as the damp leaf litter on the track. Despite this near death experience it stayed close to me for ten minutes or more until I walked on.

Other birds were delightful to see closer, fatter and in far greater numbers than before including tui, fantail/piwakawaka, kakariki/red-crowned parakeet, and quail. I find quail completely irresistable: something about their shape makes me want to hold them in the palm of my cupped hand. Sadly, no quail has ever allowed me to get remotely close enough for that to happen.

Unfortunately, the only penguin I saw was dead on the beach. I didn't join the night walk and so missed out on nocturals like live little blue penguins/korora, lap-landing petrels/oi and two tuatara!

Photos of takahe, kokako, saddleback and robin courtesy of Al.