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!