Monday, 8 August 2016

A southern hemisphere Burns night

Our grandson Olek tells me that Burns supper is held in February. And he is undoubtedly correct. However our friends in NZ celebrate the anniversary of his death which was mid-year (21 July according to Wikipedia). And it is a more fitting season to have a Burns Night here anyway as summer is not a season for haggis, mashed potatoes and swedes. Actually to be frank, no season is right for haggis in my view, but what the hey!

Jim and Judy combined three events in to one weekend - a Zero Degrees Club get together, a Burns night and early celebration of Judy's birthday.

So Friday 22nd July David and I drove up to Onaero, north of New Plymouth to stay in a motel close to J&J's place. As we had booked a couple of months earlier (I am a project manager after all, early planning is my stock in trade) we scored the only renovated unit at Seaview Motel - the honeymoon suite, which has a view out over the sea. The others in our Zero Degrees Club had two of the other three units - not so up to date by about 40 or so years, but serviceable and clean and a good size, and as I say, within walking distance of J&J's house, even in the rain.

Of which there was heaps that weekend - it bucketed down off and on each day we were there, and at times it thundered and lightninged, just in case you had thought we were having too gentle a winter here in NZ.

As David is a McDonald whose ancestors hail from Glencoe, and as J&J request a bit of tartan for this event, I organised to hire from Mitchell's Kilt hire ( a whole outfit for David - a McDonald clan kilt, the socks, the flashes, the sporran, waistcoat, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and the bowtie. He wore his own shoes and shirt, but they could have been hired too. Amazing service, esp as I was tardy in organising it (OK, early planning left a bit to be desired in this, but I only thought of it late - OK Marilyn, when you are in a hole, stop digging!)

I didn't call them till the Wednesday and they were very quick. Couriering the outfit to the wilds of Taranaki was going to be problematic, so Helen and Alan stepped into the breach and picked it up from Cambridge, sort of on their way through from Katikati. Such good friends!

I iced and amateurishly decorated the yummy fruit cake that Jenny made - decoration was simple but said what it needed to ... We had bought a few flowers and Helen went scavenging for flowers to add to the bouquet and then did a beautiful job

Cutting the cake with the sparkler candles.

The festivities and formalities of a Burns night had been superbly organised by Jim and Judy, the long tables were set up by Alan and Chris, and the tables were set by Helen, potatoes peeled by Jenny, turnips peeled by David and I know I helped with somethings but I cannot remember what ... Honest, I DID do some helpful stuff (glasses, whiskeys on the table, sautee-ing/sweating the leeks and veges for the cock-a-leekie soup. following Judy's instructions for anything that needed doing).
The table set for all the people - carefully measured using ruler, just like at Downton Abbey, although Helen is nothing like Carson ...

Doesn't he look good? If we did more Scots-related stuff, I'd buy him an outfit for himself rather than hiring.

Jim wearing the Ross tartan, his mother's clan I understand, although he's a Kiwi.

Jim addressing the haggis or whatever the term is. Jim and Judy's daughter Katherine carried it in - there is something significant about that process, but I am not sure what - no bagpipes fortunately ...

I think it's a Burns poem he is declaiming in these photos - he is so expressive. We can tell he used to be a teacher - it's that stage presence that sits with teachers so well.

Is he caressing the damn thing?

A week or so beforehand, Jim had phoned and asked me to reply to the Toast to the Lassies (the whole event is filled with poetry readings, toasts, jokes, etc). He had told me that the man who did the Toast to the Lassies would be giving women a bit of a hard time, so I was to feel free. Well, 'bad move, Jim!!' is all I can say. As soon as he was off the phone, it was out with my feminist tome: Picking on Men (a compilation of quotes about men). Armed with a set of pink stickies, I trawled through for the most appropriate ones. I typed them out with their source and then put them in an entertaining order - well, I thought it was ...
At first they all laughed heartily.

But the men stopped laughing after about 6 or 7 quotes, then the women were the only ones laughing ... But as the men stopped laughing some women got worried about their chaps and their sensitivities. See Judy's body language? Oh dear! Did I go too far?
I did think they were all fair game - well, I would, wouldn't I being Harsh Bit*h #1? But blimey, guvnor, they'd been making anti-Scottish jokes all evening. So I thought if they were OK with racist jokes then a few sexist ones couldn't go too badly wrong, could they?

I did finish off with showing them my softer side - it was obvious to me that the people assembled for this event (four just over 40 and the rest over 60) that we had been through the mill in our lives - we'd lived, had kids, worked, had health issues etc so there were bound to be things we'd all coped with severally. And what was wonderful was that all of these people were married and clearly loved their spouses. So I said that.

But back to my Reply to the Toast to the Lassies: a taster for you:
  • It took millions of years to make men from monkeys. Sometimes it takes only a few minutes to reverse the process.
  • A man who is wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.
  • The trouble with self made men is they quit the job too early.
  • Bigamy is having one husband too many; monogamy is the same.
  • The occasional lacing of my husband's dinner with catfood has done wonders for my spirit.
  • What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set  ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shirez into urine.
  • The daughter of a friend took her first bath with a male cousin when they were both 4 years old. Being well brought up, she was silent about her anatomical discovery, but that night, as her mother tucked her into bed, she said “Mummy, isn’t it a blessing he doesn’t have it on his face.” 
  • Women like silent men. They think they are listening. 
  • I know what a statesman is. He’s dead politician. We need more statesmen.  
  • The American male is the softest and fattest; this might explain why he loves guns. You can always get your revolver up. 
  • The only reason they say women and children first is to test the strength of the lifeboats. 
  • The trouble with some women is they get all excited about nothing – and then they marry him.  
  • Retirement means twice as much husband on half as much money. 
  • All men are NOT slimy warthogs. Some men are silly giraffes, some woebegone puppies, some insecure frogs. But if one is not careful, those slimy warthogs can ruin it for all the rest. 
See they aren't so bad, surely?

Not sure we'll be invited back next year - good thing we'll be on the boat at the requisite time, but if they do want me to to a repeat performance, perhaps I could do it by Skype from the canals ... I will get my technical consultant on to it! And I will keep an eye on the post ...

Winter is here

OK, it has been a while coming but it is official - New Zealand is now having a winter.

Today when I left home at 8am it was 2 degrees C and clear. On the train trip into Wellington the rain/sleet started and it was cold in Wellington and still wet at the airport. On my way south, it was cloudy and starting to rain in Christchurch, but beautifully sunny and clear in Hokitika - I kid you not, Tom on nb Waiouru. Check out the photos for the evidence.

Most of the photos are of the Alps as we flew over to Hokitika, some of the remainder are of the Alps from just along the road (both directions) from the motel.

I am now in the motel unit, heaters are on, electric blanket is turned on warming up to keep me toasty in what is meant to turn into a -2 degrees morning. Good thing I brought and am wearing thermals ...

It's very cold in them thar mountains

And they are very high and spiky

And they go for miles and miles...

and miles ...

A lot of snow down there.

Hokitika's Clocktower with the railway crossing that has no barrier arms and no warning lights ... The trains do cross at about 5kmh with extremely LOUD horns. Very entertaining as tourists don't know what to expect!

Up the street in the opposite direction to the clocktower. Don't those mountains look wonderful in the approaching dusk?
I tell you, the West Coast is pretty amazing, and while it does get a fair rainfall, its good days are stunning and there are lots of them. I love coming down here, and I feel really lucky to be working in Hokitika.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Winter? What winter?

Working from home this week, and took a lunch break (well, it's a fasting day, so not lunch, just a cup of tea) out on the verandah. David fetched the extremely accurate thermometer as we were both feeling a bit warm in jeans and long sleeved tops.

22.6 degrees Celsius in the shade!!

And see that? 33.1 deg Celsius in the sunshine

To prove it's not summer, you can see the magnolia is leafless. But look at that very blue sunny sky!

The fairy rose is still flowering

And the lemon grass is still growing. I decided not to torture UK readers in the height of the northern summer with photos of the flourishing parsley and rhubarb and alstromerias ...or the flowering tree fuschia ... Kind and merciful, eh?
OK, confession time: the sky has now clouded over a bit as we are expecting a southerly to come through. Well, it's allowed, after all it IS meant to be winter!

But wait, it's now 6am Wednesday morning, it's cloudy and 10 degrees C, no wind, no rain - what southerly, I ask! Winter, what winter?

Saturday, 2 July 2016

70 this week

 Gary Fredrick Collis, lovely friend, on 7 July. His maxim:
Make people welcome, 
Feed them well. 

Sam Hunt, NZ poet on 4 July. His maxim:
 Tell the story
tell it true - 
charm it crazy

A party for our Gary next week. He is not allowed to cook.

OK, we are decided and booked

We have faffed and pondered, faffed some more, made some bookings and changed them. But now we are decided. Tickets are booked and paid for.

We are having a 5 week holiday this year instead of a 5 month one. My project won't be completed when we head away, but we need to be in the UK to spend the two week October holidays with the grandsons. Not because we are obligated, but because we really love being with them, and they with us.

So we are leaving here on 22 September and leaving the UK on 31 October. And in between we have big plans and little plans.

The big plans (i.e. already booked and paid for) include
  • taking the boys to Disneyland in Paris and up the Eiffel Tower. (Well, that will be David and Tim with the boys - I will be the one with my feet firmly on the ground)
  • hiring (yes, hiring) a boat for a short break from Monday to Friday - from Oxford so we can go out on the Thames, depending on conditions, with the boys. (I will be interested to see how we are treated by owners when we are on a hireboat as opposed to how we are viewed when onboard Waka Huia...)
  • taking them and Tim to The Lion King stage show in London for Tim's birthday.
The little plans include visiting family and visiting friends around the country. As we do so, I will continue to work - not fulltime, but a bit.

In the meantime, we are enjoying a very pleasant winter here in NZ. May was the wettest one since 1877 on the West Coast and when it rains there, it is HEAVY. But unlike in Wellington, it comes straight down so umbrellas do work. In Wellington more umbrellas are seen upside down in rubbish bins than in use.

I've spent the last two weeks in Hokitika and this last week, the weather was beautiful and the mountains looked spectacular.

In a couple of weeks we are getting our windows double glazed - it's a retrofitting exercise, and we are looking forward to it. This is the first winter we have had in this house, as last year we left here in May and got back in October. And we have been interested to find that the house is very warm (it's well insulated in the walls and ceiling and is on a concrete pad) but the windows get quite a lot of condensation overnight, even with the lined blinds down. So it'll be interesting to see the effect of the double glazing.

So it's busy here in Waikanae - I am flat out like a lizard drinking with work, David is fully occupied with his Weaving Memories work, and Lynne our friend and house guest is having to fend for herself. The next couple of months will go quickly for us both, and the third week of September will be upon us before we know it. And as our friend Mick said to us yesterday from where he and Julia are moored near Yelvertoft, if we had to choose a summer not to be boating, this is it given the rain ...

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A weekend away

I wrote the post below about a month ago, and with the hours I have been keeping at work, it wasn't till I posted this morning that I saw this one languishing in the Drafts and rescued it. I could have edited it but decided it would end up in Drafts again if I did that as I would be bound to get interrupted - cups of tea, brekkie, book to read ... So here it is, unabridged, unexpurgated: Just cast your mind back to about 9 June, before Brexit, before Bor-exit, when Farage was still going around in his bus saying you'd have £350bn a week to put into the NHS ...

We are just coming to the end of a long weekend here in NZ - Queen's Birthday Weekend is celebrated with an extra day off on the first Monday in June. We are much more observant of the Queen's birthday than you lot in the UK are - we have made it into a holiday!

So David and I have spent the weekend with Jack and Sarah at Olive Estate in Richmond near Nelson. David flew down from Wellington to Nelson on Friday (preceded by a train trip - free, of course [it's the Gold Card, don't you know] - in from Waikanae, then on to the Airport Flyer bus - free of course [same deal]). Jack and Sarah picked him up at the airport - also free. His trip was probably about the same duration as mine, but I drove for 4.25 hours from Hokitika to Richmond, with a stop off for salami and bacon from the Blackball Salami shop. Blackball has several claims to fame, not the least of which is the Salami shop. Two others are:
  • Blackball is the home of the NZ Labour Party - it's an old mining town, and miners were pretty radicalised in terms of protecting workers' rights
  • it's the home of the hotel known as 'Formerly the Blackball Hilton' - as you can tell, it WAS called the Blackball Hilton, until the Hilton chain found out and threatened legal action if they didn't change the name. So they did. Now it is world famous, unable to be sued, and doing a roaring trade. Note to self: some US companies are dumb, so do not emulate them ...
The drive over here was special - the countryside in this part of the world is out of this world - gorges, hills, mountain ranges, rivers. At this time of year, with a week or so of solid fine days with frosty mornings and evenings behind us, there has been a need for roads to be gritted. As I came over the Hope Pass, I saw a couple of women had stopped and got out of their car to take photos. Why, I wondered. And then I glimpsed the deep frost down off the road - still in place at 3.30 in the afternoon.

And because we've had the wettest May on record on the Coast, the rivers are still running quite high and the hills have the remains of the waterfalls to release the surface water.

The weather here in Richmond has been stunning - the views of the mountains from Olive Estate are lovely - not as grand as the ones along the highway between Greymouth and Hokitika, but quite lovely for being less grand and more distinctive.

But sadly, or not, Sarah and I have been working for a goodly part of each day. I have commissioned Sarah to re-jig a really important document. She is the cleverest person I know at this kind of work, and she and I have worked together numerous times since 1988 (that is a really long time ago - but she was very young then! In fact we both were - I was 38 and she was 28.) You know how there are people (now known as go-to people) who can turn their hands to an amazing range of tasks, and if you need ANYTHING done, you know if you ask them, they'll take it on and do a fabulous job? Well, Sarah is one of those people for me.

So we have reviewed the content of the document and worked out how it should hang together. It's literally (using scissors and sellotape) been cut and pasted. I am heading back to Hokitika tomorrow, and Sarah is going to be left to pull it all together on the computer. I do hope she remembers what all the notes mean. Of course, she's 10 years younger than me ...

In the meantime, David and Jack have:
  • walked the dog, 
  • walked the dog,
  • reviewed a TradeMe ad for selling Jack's boat
  • reviewed a TradeMe ad for selling Jack's boat
  • laughed, told tall stories, 
  • laughed, told tall stories
  • reminisced.
The food has been good:
  • Friday dinner was a pork and apple cassoulet
  • Saturday lunch - I was going to make BLATs, but there was no lettuce to fulfill the L. So I made BACTs with celery instead
  • Saturday dinner - some fish dish made by Jack (I slept through it and had consumed enough nibbles to obviate the requirement to eat fish) ... but I did have some of his famous and yummy carrot salad 
  • Sunday lunch - pizzas made by Jack and David - the production process was like watching paint dry. (Sarah, who is kinder than me says it was painfully slow - note that paint and painfully share the first 4 letters. And, by the way, we were able to work while observing ...)
  • Sunday dinner was a Rick Stein Albanian lamb dish - yummy and will be replicated at Cafe Rata
  • Monday lunch was a frittata with mushrooms, bacon, spring onion, tomato and feta, served with Sarah's plum sauce
  • Monday's dinner was a chicken curry.
The wine hasn't been bad either - I shopped in Hokitika for pinot noir (S&J), muscato (D) and chardonnay (me).  Then we ran out, so in a rare release from the work prison, Sarah and I walked to Richmond and bought more - equal division of duties, I chose and paid, she carried. Seems eminently fair to me!

 On the Tuesday morning, I drove back to Greymouth for a planning meeting - following the previous week's trip to the Alexander mine site. Then on to Hokitika, and as the weather was due to turn to icky custard a couple of days later, and I didn't want to be unable to get back to Waikanae, I changed my flights and flew back to Wellington and caught the train back to Waikanae. It was a long day and I travelled for about 9 of the 16 hours I was awake ...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A walk on the wildside

Yesterday I got paid for going for a walk - now that's not a bad gig, is it? OK, best I explain before you get upset that I am being paid for pleasurable activities ...

There is an old (mining stopped there back in the 1930s) gold mine site up the Snowy River Road near Ikamatua (well, there are a few but one was our focus yesterday). It is on the list to be cleaned up and I am tasked with doing a bit of planning for that so the Governance Group can make some decisions about it.

We were meant to do this walk back in April but had to re-schedule because I went home early when David's mum started going downhill. But yesterday was a stunning day to do it - it was blo*dy cold when we set off (3 deg C) from the DOC office in Greymouth and I am sure it was colder when I left Hokitika an hour earlier than that in the dark- I'd had to throw a couple of kettles of water over the windscreen and side windows to remove the frost.

Getting to the mine (ex-mine) is an hour's drive from Greymouth into the hills through farm land and then into beech forest on a single lane gravel road. Once above the bushline we had to stop a few times to move fallen branches off the road. Jim and Dean did the first three and I said I'd help with the next - of course that one was more of a tree trunk about 8 inches in diameter! Fortunately it was rotten so broke up easily and I didn't have to get back in the van without having helped move it. That would have severely dented my pride!

Mountains on the drive from Greymouth to Ikamatua

Frosty scene as we drove up the Snowy River Road - just before we got to the bushline

Jim is the fundi about the historic features around this area - he is a historic ranger at DOC and has been the driving force for getting some of the sites cleaned up, as well as being instrumental in a whole heap of restoration projects as a volunteer. I posted about him here back in February

John is the Engineer to Contract in the Waiuta Remediation Project that I am currently working on and Dean is its Primary Contractor. (Dean and I turn out to have previously been related through my former marriage to Dean's mum's second cousin - I remember going to his mum and dad's wedding, and I also seem to remember dandling Dean on my knee when he was a little baby... Spooky, eh?)

John returning from having a pee. Note that he peed quite a distance away from his pack ... He's the youngest of the four of us and wore shorts for the trek.

Dean setting up the GPS - I thought it was an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) so we could be found if we got lost.

I was going to caption this as Nearly ready for the Off, but John's clothes are still not back in the van, Jim's not ready and the GPS is still getting itself sorted. I am posing for a photo though, so I am ready! Look closely, you can see my shorts are over my longjohns - classy or what?

Once we had parked and got kitted out - me with boots and puttees, (merino) long johns and shorts over them (such a cool look) and thermal top, sweatshirt and fleecy, plus silk scarf (OK OK I know silk may not be standard bushwear, but it is light and very warm) - Jim did our JSA. That's the Job Safety Assessment where he briefed us on the hazards and how to avoid them, what to be careful of. It was blo*dy cold, as I say, particularly when standing still in the shade ... Then off we went, heading for the river so we could cross it a few times - well, why not?
That white stuff isn't blossom - it's ice! And you can see the frost on the ground too.

Jim and John. Jim has a proper gnarly stick, John is using one of mine that he confiscated as I was finding two sticks were more of a hindrance than a help.

There were meant to be 4 river crossings on the way in and four on the way back - well, Jim lied! Unless of course he wasn't including the streams in that count. I am sure I must have crossed about 30 waterways each way. OK, I exaggerate but only slightly. I was dreading crossing the rivers a) because it was going to be cold, and b) because I was unsure how I would cope walking on rocks.

Just another mountain in the background - one of the lower ones

I rather liked the patterns on this rock - plant life
 So the water was very cold, but my fabulous woollen workman's socks (in the smallest size available) are amazing at being wet but warming up with my feet as the heat source and making the water inside my boots lovely and warm - my feet were the warmest parts of me at times. So that fear disappeared. And given I was wearing merino longjohns, my legs kept warm even though I was up to my thighs crossing some parts of the river - of course, it was merely up to Jim's knees then ... The man is excessively and unnecessarily tall, in my opinion.

And I wouldn't have been able to cope crossing the rivers with fast-ish moving water and rocks underfoot. But John suggested at the first crossing that he and Dean should link arms with me and help me across. That was modified to holding hands and it worked an absolute treat. One of the dis-benefits (I know, crap made-up word, but it's in use in projects for some reason) of getting older is the loss of surefootedness/balance on uneven surfaces. I used to leap about rocks and muddy slippery places up at the bach in Taranaki - but over recent years I have become so much less good at that. Without the guys either side of me yesterday I would have been sitting down in freezing cold water on numerous occasions, I know for sure.

(I am really lucky to be working with such a great project team - great guys everyone of them, and each with their own strengths to bring to the work. Besides which they are kind and helpful - that was borne out yesterday in spades.)
The first river crossing - Jim went first to check out the depth. This is where the young guys decided to help the old woman across each time - good call, I say! What a fabulous team I have working with me!
And when we weren't crossing rivers or streams, there was lots of surface water to slosh through. The West Coast has had the rainiest May since 1877, and last week's rain hadn't fully soaked away or evaporated in the sun that has been shining since Monday. So my new boots are still looking good but no longer pristine - they are drying out at the moment. A bit of a big ask as they are goretex on the inside, so they don't leak, except over the top and that water doesn't come out so easily as it goes in.

Beech forest with minimal undergrowth - very different from Taranaki bush, that's for sure.
It took an hour to walk in - I know the guys would have done it in about 40 minutes without me, but hey! As Jim said today the slower pace gave him time to look at artefacts on the way in, check the state of the old roadway we were following and make mental notes of what needed attention.

Jim, not quite in my shadow ...

We stood around in the sunshine eating lunch - I had to sit as I hadn't made sandwiches and had to construct my rice crackers with ham etc. So I got out my emergency heat blanket - a giant sheet of aluminium foil - and spread it on the ground to sit on. Necessary as the frost had melted into dew and it was very wet.

At the battery site in the lovely warm sunshine. That is a warning sign you can see notifying people that the area is contaminated.
There was much discussion over lunch of how the remediation could occur then we went further into the bush to check out the roaster. Jim and Dean disappeared off to take water samples from a few locations up and down river of the mine site. While we waited we checked out the roaster, John took lots of arty photos plus lots that would inform the decision-making process.
Some kind of moss stuff growing in the middle of the old road - Jim will tell me what is really is.
I liked the look of these feathery seedlings ... (and he'll tell me what they are)

and of these red berries (and he'll identify these too)

It was damn cold standing around waiting for the water samplers to come back, so we took the first opportunity to head back to the battery site to stand in the sun and warm up. Gosh, the sun felt lovely on our faces.

Then back we headed the way we came in. Seemed quicker going back than the trip in somehow, but that always seems to be the way, in my experience.

It was definitely getting colder even though it was only about 2.30. John and Jim changed clothes but Dean had left his change of socks in his car at Stillwater, and I had left my entire change of clothes in the car at DOC's office in Greymouth - doh!! So while John and Jim changed I took photos ...
John getting his jeans on - brave man as he was barefooted in this photo and the ground was pretty chilly.

Jim wringing out his socks
The heater went on full bore on the way back, and once we'd discussed and organised a planning session for next week, so I can quickly pull a short scoping document together for the Governance Group, it got rather quiet in the back seats.

On arrival at Greymouth I really couldn't be arsed changing my clothes so I drove back to Hokitika still feeling warm and with sloshing boots.
On my drive back from Greymouth I had to stop near the Blue Spur Road and take photos of the mountains.

I tell you, the West Coast is NZ's best kept secret - a stunningly beautiful area that I reckon overseas tourists know more about than we do as NZers.

Wet boots, puttees and longjohns - sitting outside the motel room

Puddle #1 from one wrung out sock

Puddle #2 from second wrung out sock and a pair of now chilly feet exposed to the air.

Then it was into the shower and off out for dinner with Katrina and June - plenty of wine and chicken tikka marsala. Then back to the motel and into bed for an early night for some reason.

Not going to be long out of bed tonight either - all the excitement is catching up with me! The motel unit looks like a laundry - socks, longjohns, shorts all drying around the place. Most importantly, my boots are drying upside down on my walking sticks above the wall heater - chilly night means heater stays on - I am getting old and soft!