Thursday, 8 December 2011


As of about 2:00 this afternoon, we joined the ranks of those who are in debt by really rather a huge amount to the bank - our house purchase went through with only one last minute hitch; the bank didn't fax the solicitor to say that the mortgage had been paid into their account, which meant that they couldn't confirm the transaction with the seller's solicitor. All sorted out before I could get *too* twitchy about it, though!

All I can think of at the moment is this xkcd comic (click to make it readable!):

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

When one door closes...

Buying a house in New Zealand is interesting to say the least, compared to the UK.

For a start, there is the phenomenon known as the Open Home (I am aware that they are prevalent in the States, too, but not at all in the UK). This is where sellers throw open the doors of their houses for half an hour to an hour, usually on a Sunday afternoon, and allow people to look round. Usually the sellers are not on the scene, but your local friendly estate agent is there to greet you - you look round on your own, rather than having the 'here is the kitchen, here is the bathroom' experience. These open homes are advertised in various property press magazines, and on a good day, you can daisy chain five or six of these together. Whilst the agents also hand out little pamphlets on the houses, a notebook is essential to keep track of the salient points of each house and to stop them all blurring into one big property by the end of the day. (I have filled up over half a notebook, one page to a property, with the houses we've looked round since early September!)

Estate agents do also show you round properties, but most of them seem to focus on the open homes as their way of getting many people through the door for less effort on their part.

Then there is the process to actually buy the house. In NZ, your offer is made as part of the contract, which means that, once you have negotiated the price and any conditions (usually checking council documents, building inspection and arranging finance, though you do also usually go into the offer with a pre-approval on your finance, so this is a case of sorting out the paperwork and getting a valuation on the property if required), it is a binding contract. You then have a set period to fulfil those conditions, usually five to ten days. If you confirm to your solicitor that you are satisfied in those conditions by the end of that time period, then the contract goes unconditional, and you pay your deposit (which you then lose if you end up pulling out of the contract for any reason). Then, on the agreed settlement date, you pay the balance (or get the bank to transfer the money to the solicitor - for some reason they won't even let it touch my bank account...) and take vacant possession (unless you are buying the house for renting, in which case you may opt to keep the tenants). Then you get to move in!

We've managed to go through a couple of interesting variations to this process whilst house hunting.

The first house that we looked at was owned by a lady who had put her house on the market because she'd seen another further up the coast that she wanted to buy. Unfortunately, she hadn't put an offer in on it, and by the time we put our offer in (three days after it had gone on the market), the house she had fallen in love with had sold. Rightly or wrongly, the estate agents persuaded her to go ahead with the sale anyway, and she signed the contract, inserting a clause that stated that she had to put a conditional offer in on another property in ten business days before we could go unconditional. However, over the next two weeks, she had a change of heart (possibly pushed by her teenage son, who wasn't as keen on moving as his mum was...), and ended up not putting in an offer. We had a suspicion that something was going wrong when, five days before the deadline, she was still quibbling over the property that she was interested in, concerned that it was in an earthquake zone and at risk of liquefaction. Given that her current place was just two streets away from the main Upper Hutt fault line, we couldn't really see what the fuss was about. But, she failed to meet her condition, which meant that our contract was void, and she took her property off the market. All very disappointing, particularly as I'd already relandscaped the garden in my mind...

That was on the Wednesday. Our estate agent doesn't work on a Thursday, but on the Friday, he took us round three properties, two of which we liked, one of those very much (great location, recently refurbished inside, small but usable garden, large enough for our book collection *and* guests - it ticked all the right boxes). On the Saturday, the agent called us to say that someone else was putting in an offer on the house that we really liked, and did we also want to put in an offer? At that point, we said that we would wait until we'd been round the open homes on the Sunday as we didn't want to tie ourselves down and miss out on other properties (there was at least one other which I was very interested in from the internet details). After the open homes, the one from Friday was still our favourite, so we asked the agent whether it was still possible for us to put in an offer. He said yes, and came round that evening with the paperwork.

Because we were now in a multiple bid situation, we now hit something slightly new again compared to the UK process for buying a house. We had to put forward our best and final offer, which would be presented to the seller in a sealed envelope. The seller would then open the two offers, and choose the best one to proceed to contract with - no playing each buyer off against the other to get the highest price (and therefore no gazumping, either).

On Monday evening, as I got in from work, I had a call from the agent to say that our bid was the preferred, and, because we hadn't had anything tricky in the conditions we wanted to put forward, they were proceeding straight to signing the contract, which would be lodged with the solicitors in the morning.

So - slight panic mode, as we had five days down for our conditions. I called up the builder who we had already contacted as part of the work we had done on the previous property. He had space available on the Tuesday, as someone else had cancelled, and so I took a half day off work to be able to go up to the property to receive the verbal report (the written one followed over email in the evening). There were a couple of issues, but nothing major, and we were able to use those to get a slight discount on the property price.

On the Wednesday, the valuer went round to appraise the house - his report came through on the Friday, and by some strange coincidence, it was exactly the same amount as we had offered for it... We were then left hanging over the weekend to find out whether the bank was going to approve the mortgage - we already had the pre approval, but needed them to give us the go ahead on this particular property. We had to have everything sorted out by the Monday evening to meet our five day deadline...

The bank kept us hanging on until almost the last minute - with 50 minutes to go on the Monday, they approved the finance, but we still then had to get the documents over to the solicitors and then wait for them to tell us that we could pay the deposit to the estate agents. We were able to go unconditional just after 5.00 on the Monday - a week and a day after sitting down with the estate agent to put in our offer.

We now have two weeks to get ourselves ready and to formalise the mortgage paperwork before we complete the contract on the 8th December - from viewing the house to moving in will have been four weeks. Quite a bit to do, particularly given that we have two Sci-Fi social events this Saturday, plus an orchestra concert next Saturday. But I'm starting to work through the tick list - ordered the removal van and handed in our notice on our rented house today... Calm, orderly, and I'll try not to panic at all!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Two years in...

I'll try to get a bit better at blogging - a month is really too long between posts...

Last night marked two years since taking off from the UK, tomorrow morning marks two years since we landed in New Zealand. Tomorrow, I take my lunch hour to go to the Wellington branch of Immigration New Zealand to apply for our full blown Permanent Residency visas which will allow us to enter and leave New Zealand whenever we like. (confusingly, they've changed the process since we landed; under the terms that we got our visas, we have Permanent Residency, but needed to apply for our Indefinite Returning Residents visas; now, under the new rules, we are only Residents, and need to apply for our Permanent Residency visas...)

I still have days when I have to pinch myself to convince myself that we are really here. It just seems so surreal that we are walking around half a planet away from where we were born and raised. And I still have days when I walk round with a great big grin on my face, usually those when the sun is shining and the the wind is blowing enough to stream out the various New Zealand flags around the capital city.

The last two years have gone by so quickly, and I really feel that we have settled in completely. We have a fantastic group of friends, particularly within the sci-fi community, and I believe that our very active social life is one of the reasons that Wellington truly feels like home, and this has been mirrored in conversations with other migrants; those who have settled and don't spend half their time looking back 'home' are those who get out and about, meeting people and making friends.

I have been incredibly lucky to land a job that I enjoy (well, about 80% of the time, which is far more than most!), and the likelihood that this will turn into an ongoing career (helped a lot by a very supportive manager and overall head of department, both of whom are as ambitious for me as I am for myself!). Given the number of jobs that I applied for, and the near miss with the job that collapsed just after we arrived, I believe that I have really fallen on my feet.

We are currently house hunting, so will shortly be setting down further roots when we in-debt ourselves to a bank. The area that we are looking in is further away from Wellington, but the longer commute is offset by better property prices and some lovely houses.

Of course, I miss the UK, but for me, it is always going to be friends and family that I miss, not anything material. The internet has been a brilliant way of making sure that the friendships that we have can continue, despite the distances between us. Skype is a great modern invention - free video calls anywhere in the world? Even the concept was only a Sci-Fi idea twenty years ago (a quick look on Wikipedia states that the first webcam was developed in 1991...), yet the weekly call home to both sets of families is now an integral part of our life - I would hate to think what it would cost if we actually had to pay over and above our monthly internet charges!

The last month has been busy, not only with the usual social activities (plus a few dinner and play dates with people from the board-gaming group), but with house hunting. New Zealand has a great tradition of Open Homes, where people who are selling houses have public viewings for a short, advertised, period of the day (usually about an hour). This means that, with a bit of careful planning, you can get round five or six houses in an area in a long and slightly exhausting afternoon. You do get to know all the estate agents, too - there's quite a few that we are on first name terms with now! The process of buying houses is slightly different to the UK, but that is a whole new post, and will wait until we have reached the end of the journey (I don't want to jeopardise anything - superstitious much?).

Sunday, 9 October 2011


Regular readers of my blog will know that I really do love my wildlife. And here in NZ, that primarily means birds.

One of the rarest birds here in NZ is the Kakapo. There are just over 130 of them left in the world, and are all on two colony-islands off the coast of New Zealand. They are flightless, nocturnal parrots, and are incredibly engaging, intelligent and full of personality.

Viewers of the BBC Natural History Show 'Last Chance to See' (Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine following in the footsteps of the radio show of the same name which Carwardine and Douglas Adams did 20 years previously) will remember the episode of their encounter with Sirocco, a male Kakapo, who, after being nursed through an illness as a young chick, imprinted on humans, and now is not interested in other kakapo at all.

For those who haven't seen it, this is the relevant clip (the title says it all!):

Because Sirocco really doesn't seem to find other kakapo attractive (he even has his booming bowl by the pathway between the conservation volunteers' sleeping quarters and the outside loo!), he is now the spokesbird for the conservation programme, and he is currently "on tour."

He's spending a month at Zealandia, and John and I went to see him last week. Sadly, because he is nocturnal, they had to have dim lighting; good enough for us to see him, but we weren't allowed to use flash on the camera, which meant that I didn't get that many photos which weren't either blurred or black.

However, if Long John Silver had had a kakapo as his parrot, I suspect that he might not have been taken as seriously:

He is just as engaging in 'real life', constantly hunting for the next macademia nut. His handler was in the enclosure to talk about him and to introduce him to his visitors; she is an excellent show-woman, and was able to give a fascinating talk about Sirocco and the kakapo in general. His enclosure has a live stream from the web cam thanks to Three News. It's only available from 8.30 pm NZ time, probably running till about 10.30-11pm (I know that my colleague had to change the time that he was going to visit because poor Sirocco isn't getting any sleep - Zealandia is just too noisy with all the birdsong during the day!)

It was a fantastic evening - hopefully not a 'Last Chance to See' (Kakapo live for 80 years naturally), and well worth the visit.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Geek and Proud!

This is my blog post for the Speak out with your Geek Out week, a movement set up, initially in reaction to the latest (well, it was the latest, but that was a couple of weeks ago, so I'm sure there's been another one since) geek bashing post on the internet. I'd link to it, but I've since discovered that the lady who wrote it gets paid per person who clicks onto the page, and suffice it to say, I don't want her to get any more money!

(I had intended to do multiple posts this week, but as this is the first night I've had in so far, and I'm not going to have another evening 'off' until Sunday, I think it's just going to be the one!)

The week is designed for all of us geeks, of whatever flavour, to consciously post about our hobbies and to show the world that we exist. Whilst there are enough of us who are loud and proud about being a geek, there are also plenty of people, children, teenagers and adults, who think that they are the only ones. There are also plenty of people, children, teenagers and adults, who still think that being geeky, particularly if it is to do with Sci-Fi / Fantasy, is a legitimate target for mocking. I had an example of that this very week, where a friend was very disparaging of the fact that I was going to be staying in on Thursday to watch the NZ broadcast of the first Doctor Who in this second-half series. If I'd said that I was staying in to watch whichever Rugby World Cup game was on at the same time (quick Google later - Russia vs USA), would I have had the same comments? Fortunately, I have a good enough relationship with my friend (and a thick enough skin) that I could take his attitude in the tongue in cheek manner in which it was obviously intended, but I was a little bit disappointed that the comments had come up in the first place.

I was fortunate in that my parents had plenty of sci-fi and fantasy round the house when I was young; I look back on the bedtime stories that I was read, and the majority of the ones which stood out seem to have been sci-fi or fantasy of one sort or another. That didn't stop me from being teased about it at school, but it meant that I always knew that I wasn't a complete outcast - if my parents liked it, it had to be ok!

From that young age, with the discovery of (amongst many others) John Wyndham, J.R.R. Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Robin Jarvis, Roald Dahl, I moved on to Terry Pratchett, Ursula Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark and so many more. I read the school library out of sci-fi and fantasy books - it was a very proud moment when the head librarian asked me for recommendations for more books to get in. As a family, we watched series such as Red Dwarf, Robot Wars, Neverwhere, Crime Traveller and Scrap Heap Challenge. Now, as an adult, my primary reading material is either sci-fi or fantasy (though at the moment, my bedside book is called Cooking for Geeks, all about the science of cookery, and I'm reading a business book on the way to and from work), I very rarely watch anything that doesn't have some form of sci-fi or fantasy content, I go board gaming once a month (and occasionally have friends round for 'in between' gaming sessions), I belong to two science fiction clubs, as well as an orchestra (slightly classical-music geek, too) and I'm starting to turn into a bit of a craft geek, just because I don't have enough things going on (I am teaching myself to crochet, and really rather loving it). So - I may be a 'scatter gun' geek instead of a one-hobby, in depth geek, but I'm still proud of my obsessions.

So - why it is important that those of us who are loud and proud about our geekly ways are able to shout about it? We need to show those who are being teased, whether it is gentle mocking or outright bullying, that there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that they are not alone. The internet is a great socialiser for this - there is a world of knowledge and connections at people's fingertips that just wasn't there when I was a teenager, but there are still people who feel alone, or ashamed of not being 'normal' in what they enjoy.

However, I have news for them. Anybody can be a geek, about pretty much any subject - it isn't just those of us who have the entire Terry Pratchett collection, or who can quote whole chapters from the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy (or lines from the Goon Show). How is the football fan, who plasters his bedroom wall with posters of teams through the ages, goes to every game he can, sleeps under a team duvet and has replica home and away strips hanging in his wardrobe any different to a Star Trek fan, who has posters of the stars hanging over her bed, watches every episode when it comes on TV, sleeps under an Enterprise duvet and has a replica uniform hanging in her wardrobe? It just takes knowledge and enthusiasm to be a geek, whether you recognise that's what you are or not.

I sign off with one of my favourite quotations from The Divine Comedy (MasterMind) (another latent obsession of mine): "So tell me what the hell is normal, and who the hell is sane? And why the hell care anyway? The dreams that we have had are gonna prove that we're all mad, and that's OK."

Sunday, 11 September 2011

What a match!

Wow! We're just back in from the Ladies' Finals - and I can truly say that it is the closest game of hockey I have ever played. We were 2-1 down at half time, with excellent play from both teams. We came out of half time with a bang - two goals in quick succession (one from a penalty stroke) got us 3-2 up. Then, with 10 minutes to go, they scored from a penalty corner. The ball was flying up and down the pitch as the minutes ticked away; every time it got up the opposition's end, I was longing for a last minute goal, then as soon as it started coming back our way, I was determined not to let one through. Then full time whistle blew.

For the Finals, it couldn't just end on a draw, so each team had to take two players off the pitch, and we had another six minutes of play, with the 'Golden Goal' rules (i.e. first team to score, wins). We kept on pushing, with a couple of really close misses, but at the end of the six minutes, it was still a draw. So, another two players each off the pitch, and another six minutes of play. Still no goal.

Then, the moment I'd been dreading; penalty strokes. Each team picks five players to go alternately against the goalie. No pressure at all, then! The walk into the goal each time was the longest of my life - I could hear the supporters cheering from the sidelines, but could only concentrate on the little white ball sat on the penalty spot. And I let the first one in... (I moved in the right direction, which was small consolation) We'd missed our first shot, so now we were 1-0 down. Our second shot went in, their second shot went wide. Our third shot went straight to the keeper's pads, their third shot was lifted into the left corner - somehow - I'm still not sure how - I got my hand to it and knocked it clear. Our fourth shot went in, their fourth shot pinged off of the post. Our fifth shot went wide. So - 2-1 up on the penalties - now down to the last stroke... And it went wide!

So - Upper Hutt Ladies are champions of our grade, and, more than that, we go up the grade into the Premier League next season. A fantastic end to a wonderful season of hockey. I think our supporters would have appreciated it not being quite so wearing on the nails!

Monday, 5 September 2011


We're through to the finals!

Not doing too badly for a team that came up the grade at the start of the season...

It was a really good match, not just because of the fantastic score line, and the fact that I really didn't have to do a huge amount - but because both sides played nicely. There were no temper tantrums on the pitch, even when people got knocked or tripped in the heat of the game (one spectator did point out that the rugby field was behind us...), there was no answering back to the refs (who were fair and even handed throughout), and after the match, a number of the opposing members wished us good luck for the finals. Roll on next week!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

4 Years ago...

I promised - From this day forward, no matter what life holds for us, I pledge to give you my support, friendship, faithful companionship and undying love.

In four years, we have seen many changes from life, but that promise is still as sincere and as true as the day I spoke it. Here's to many more years to come, and I'm looking forward to the next life challenge.

In other news - we finished the round robin at the top of our grade in hockey, so it's semi finals this week - please keep your fingers crossed for us Sunday morning...

We had our orchestra workshop last weekend - it went brilliantly. We had a fantastic teacher for the oboe sectionals, and I have learnt so much. I was even enjoying the Firebird by the end of it (rather relieving to understand that the professionals have ways of 'cheating' their way through the music, too). It is such great fun to be able to spend a whole weekend playing music and feeling a whole orchestra improve together - the difference in our playing between the Friday evening when we did our initial tutti run through and our final rehearsal on the Sunday afternoon was immeasurable!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Spoke too soon...

Me and my big mouth...

As we got into last weekend, I started spotting weather warnings on the news. It was hailing and snowing on Sunday night, and on Monday morning, we woke up to a light icing powder dust of snow on the hills:

This in and of itself is unusual. Whilst we do get snow in NZ (we have a thriving ski-industry), the last time it snowed in Wellington to any major level was in the seventies, and before then in 1936. No wonder, then, that we were a little ill-equipped to deal with the snow which fell steadily through Monday - it took me an hour and forty-five minutes to get home thanks to a broken down train and then frozen points (normally it's about thirty minutes door to door depending on when I arrive at the station). There was still snow on the hills when I left for work this morning, and I got a dumping of hail on me as well as I left the house.

One of my colleagues lives up the hill on the other side of the valley from us; she left early as the weather looked like closing in and they had had the snow settle overnight, making conditions very slippery going up her road. She called me when she got in to say that it was snowing very heavily in Lower Hutt and I might want to make my way home sooner rather than later. I didn't think a huge amount of it - we're pretty much at sea level, and last year we only had a couple of frosts over the whole winter, so I thought that everything would have melted by the time I got in.

Fortunately, I did take her advice (more warnings from National Office about the weather also helped to convince me) - when I got home, I was confronted with a white blanket of snow:

The Ambulance Station over the road

Our Pohutakawa tree

The garden

The very surreal sight of a fruiting Lemon tree (with a feijoa, olive and fig behind it) covered in snow. All the trees are now in the greenhouse - they may be hardy, but probably not to this extent!

The media is calling this a once in a lifetime blast - snow has got as far as Auckland ('The Winterless North') - I'm just very glad of a good gas fire!

Monday, 8 August 2011


Well - the day of my last post was the coldest day in Wellington on record, so it was definitely a good day to stay in and read - I got 120 pages through the book - I may even pick it up again this week (it hasn't grabbed me so far...)

But the weather has flipped quite considerably - the daffodils are out, as are the snowdrops, the trees are starting to get their Spring green. It isn't quite Spring yet - the weather can't make up its mind as to whether it is going to be warm or cold (for my hockey match yesterday, I baked under all the goalie gear - we then went over the hills to the Wairarapa (the local wine growing region) and went through both a hail and a snow storm. However, the signs are there; as well as the flowers, the days are getting noticeably longer, and the wind isn't quite as chill as it has been. It does seem very odd to be coming out the other side of Winter without having really had a Winter at all!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Wintry weather

It's cold outside (well, cold for here - I am sure that my Canadian and UK friends would beg to differ - why, it's not dipping that much below 0, and it was a whole +5C when I went out to play hockey yesterday), we have had snow across much of the country, and, yes, as per the UK, a good chunk of the workforce (mainly on South Island) got to stay at home due to the roads being shut. It's the winter holidays, which means no orchestra tonight, so it is the perfect time to curl up by the gas fire and enjoy one of the perks of being a member of SFFANZ - my review copy of the latest George R.R. Martin arrived at the beginning of the week. At over 950 pages, and hardback, it's not one which I can carry on the train (without doing my back an injury), but I'm sure that the sofa cushions will prop it up perfectly.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

It's a small world, after all...

I'm sort of getting used to the fact that Wellington is like a village. That there is a high likelihood that two people from completely random sides of my life will know each other, usually through another, totally random, facet of theirs. I can take the knowledge that now, over 18 months into our lives here, I am going to meet someone that I know every time I walk down the main street. That I will see a colleague or friend when I go shopping on a Saturday. And I like it. It makes life a lot more friendly and a lot less anonymous.

What I'm not going to get used to is meeting someone at work, and finding out that they used to work round the corner from me in Bristol. Or than someone else used to live not five minutes' drive from my in-laws on the south coast. That's going to get me every time...

And the hockey team is currently at the top of the grade - we're going great guns as we head into the second half of the season!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Catch up...

It has been incredibly busy once again; this weekend we had four different 'engagements' happening at the same time; a hockey/cinema fundraiser, a Ceilidh being run by a couple of members of the orchestra, a work social and the monthly Phoenix committee meeting and social. We opted for the Phoenix social - John is on the committee now (and was standing in for the Secretary whilst he was away), so he couldn't really miss it, and it also gave us the opportunity to pop in to see another friend (and give him a lift to the social).

We've had a mixed few weeks with hockey - a couple of draws were a bit frustrating (especially last week's, where the opposing team scored the drawing goal with less than a minute remaining!). We are still bouncing around the top of the league (there are only three points separating top 6 out of 8 teams!), but we're going to have to up our game if we want to ensure we get through to the semis and finals at the end of the season.

We've had our orchestra concert; a gorgeous rendition of Alfred Hill's Viola Concerto (part 1) (part 2 and 3), which has very rapidly become one of my favourite pieces of music. We also played Bizet's L'Arlisienne Suite; most people know the first movement, but the fourth (Carillon) has a fantastic wind section which I got to play the second oboe part for - one of the few pieces where the second oboe part isn't in octaves or thirds to the first! All great fun; and now we have a couple of weeks off before we get into practising for the weekend workshop - the Firebird Suite and L'Apres Midi d'un Faun, which I'm very much looking forward to!

We also had our week away up in Auckland (a few photos in the previous post); a brilliant Sci-Fi convention weekend, where we got to catch up with old friends and make new ones. It is always nice to get to spend a few days where insanity is the norm and conversations are wide ranging from the serious to the silly. We then stayed in the Parnell area to unwind from a very hectic few months at work, and to do some touristy bits and pieces.

We had a superb tourist boat trip around the harbour; it included hop on and hop off on a couple of islands, so we have walked up a (probably extinct) volcano. Rangitoto Island didn't exist 600 years ago, and the lava fields are still very 'raw' (I got a nicely grazed knee from slipping on the clinker on the way back down!), with the vegetation in some areas in very early stages of growth (you can still see the lichen that will rot into hummus, which in turn provides the basis for small seeds to bed on). It does mean that in places it looks very bleak, but in others, particularly right at the summit and down on the shore line, there is an abundance of vegetation. Not so many birds, but, according to one of the signs, this is more due to the fact that there is currently not enough fresh water to sustain significant numbers.

We also stopped off at Motuihe Island, which is in the process of becoming a nature reserve (at the moment, the walking tracks are more hope than anything else - we got our feet very wet pushing through long grass until we got down to the beach and decided to take a short cut back across the sand and rocks!). It was very peaceful, though - there were only four of us on the island for a couple of hours until the boat came back to pick us up! On the way back to Auckland Harbour, we were treated to a pod of dolphins playing around the boat, which was absolutely stunning. It's the first time I've seen them close up, and they were definitely playing, including diving under the boat several times, and doing back flips out of the water. One of my 'must do' items ticked off very unexpectedly!

For my birthday, we went to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, the first aquarium in the world to do a perspex 'tunnel' through the aquarium so that the visitors can see the fish going overhead. They had a stunning collection of sharks (one of their 'extras' is to go cage or free diving (depending on how brave you feel!) with them - another of my 'must dos' but slightly out of our budget range for this holiday!), and even had some baby carpet sharks which had only recently hatched (the mini aquarium that they were in still had one shark in its egg - you could see the shadow of the baby!)

We did also find the most stunning chocolate cafe in Parnell; their cafe menu had about six pages of different chocolate drinks! We only managed three visits over the week - we may have to make further trips back next time we are in Auckland!

Some Auckland photographs

Because I've been so bad at writing words recently, have some photos of our recent (a few weeks ago now!) trip to Auckland...

We travelled up north by train, which was an incredibly relaxing way to go. Mount Ruapehu dominated the scenery for about half an hour of the journey.

The Skytower from the Rose Garden park in Parnell.

Rangitoto Island, a volcanic (now believed extinct) island off of the coast of Auckland; it didn't exist until roughly 600 years ago!

A thrush at the top of Rangitoto Island, which had very little birdlife (according to the signs, because of the lack of fresh water), until we got to the summit, and then there were small birds everywhere! Most of them were paying very close attention to a couple of backpackers who were having an early lunch break...

The silvereyes were also more interested in breadcrumbs than they were with me and the camera.

On the way back to Auckland harbour, we were treated to a pod of dolphins who played around the boat for about ten minutes. I got a lot of photos of empty water!

Even though our hotel wasn't near fresh water that we could sea, there was a small kingfisher sitting outside the window on the first morning.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Speeding through the year

Can someone explain to me how it got to be June tomorrow? Life continues apace, particularly since we didn't get raptured last week (disappointingly, my desk with its mountain of work was still there when I got back in on Monday morning...). Though apparently the countdown is now on until October, when we get to go through it all again!

Hockey is going well - though the game on Sunday was a teensy bit stressful, not the match itself, but getting there. Rather than it being at our local astroturf, we were playing at the national hockey stadium the other side of Wellington. Whilst we have played there before, this was the first time for me driving there. I knew roughly where I was going, and I'd looked it up on the map, but I am not one for keeping directions in my head. What I should have done was write out the instructions from Google, but I have a sat-nav, so, I thought, no need. Unfortunately the sat-nav decided that it was going to take an early holiday, and didn't even find a satellite until after I'd driven into Wellington and off the wrong junction of the motorway, onto a one way system, which wasn't labelled as such. I discovered this the hard way, turning round in a car park to try to get back onto the motorway, and seeing that I was turning into the path of oncoming traffic. Fortunately, this being Wellington on a Sunday morning, it was one car, still quite a way away from me, and I was able to pull up onto the pavement whilst I worked out what the heck I was going to do! The sat-nav glitched in and out of contact with the satellites, so I'd get an instruction, and then it would all disappear again. What I hadn't realised was that at some point it had decided that it wasn't going to take me to the stadium, but was instead going to head back towards the previous location we'd visited, most of the way back home! I realised this when I suddenly found myself back on the motorway, heading in the opposite direction, luckily just before I passed the last turn off for 8 km. However, already being 5 minutes late for the warm up, I might have been a tad stressed by this point! Reprogramming the sat-nav didn't take too long, and it gave me a couple of directions before dying completely, but those were sufficient to take me to a location I recognised, and from there I could muddle my way through, arriving with 10 minutes to spare. It takes me 8 minutes to put my goalie kit on...

So - last time I trust technology - I sent John out to the AA shop (he's on holiday this week) to pick up our free allocation of road maps that we get for being members! Hopefully my next journey will be slightly less stressful when we go back to good old fashioned drawings. On the plus side, we won 5-2...

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I know, I know - it's been a few weeks - sorry! Things have been a little bit crazy recently, both at home and at work. Very long days at work + active social life = not a huge amount of time at home, and my brain hasn't been hugely active in order to get a blog post written...

Since I last posted, we have had another couple of friends come to stay. This was a lovely weekend, as I'd not seen my uni flatmate since 2002, far too long a time. We went back to the seals and also took a trip round Zealandia. We were treated to a gorgeous display of bellbirds, and I may have even caught some of their song on video (I haven't had a chance to get it onto the computer to see how good the sound was!) - I wasn't able to actually catch the *birds* on video as I think I need to practice a little bit on catching moving objects; I did get a lot of shots of empty branches and out of focus leaves!

I've also been having fun with hockey - we ended up finishing the initial round robin top of our grade (without letting a single goal in), so we have gone up to the next one. Sadly, we didn't win our first game in the higher grade, but it was very close (and should have been a draw, but I'm not allowed to criticise the ref's decision ;-) ), which gives us the confidence to know that we are playing at the right level, rather than potentially coming up a grade only to be knocked back down again at the end of the season.

We're enjoying the freedom that the new car is giving us; we have been out at friends' houses for the last two Saturdays for playing board games (I've got a new game which I'm really enjoying, a re-release of a game which I'd played with my cousins which I was a child; it's called Survive; Escape from Atlantis, and is great fun - as you get to attack other people's characters with sea monsters, sharks and whales, you can make silly noises as much as you like!), and have also been able to help another friend with his house move.

We're gearing up for our next orchestra concert - fortunately, I'm not having to do too much practice as I've already played two of the four pieces before (Slavonic Dances and L'Arlisienne), and the remaining two don't have too difficult a piece for the oboe. Which is a good thing, as I'm not getting that much time to play outside of rehearsals.

Monday, 25 April 2011


We had visitors this week - two of our UK friends have been in NZ for a couple of weeks travelling round and they arrived in Wellington on Sunday night, flying in in one of the autumn's first gales (it was apparently a bit of a heavy landing...). They were staying with another friend up in Upper Hutt, but I booked myself a day and a half off work (unfortunately I had meetings on the Monday morning) and met up with them for a bit of sightseeing. It was bitterly cold, and we almost got blown away up on the look out, so, once they had had a look around, we decided that an indoor venue would be a little bit nicer, and we headed down to Te Papa for a couple of hours (which I'm now getting to know quite well! There is still something new each time we go, though, so it doesn't ever get boring - this time, we visited an exhibition of the photographer Brian Brake). Then, a quick trip up the Cable Car to the Botanical Gardens (some plants still in bloom, even this late in the year), and it was time to head back to the Hutt for some supper. We visited one of our local Indians, Little India, and had a very pleasant evening.

The weather was better on the Tuesday (still windy, but there was no ice in it), and so we headed round to Owhira Bay, south of Wellington itself, where the map said there was a seal colony where the seals spend the winter months. We parked up, and began walking - there was a track which could be driven on, but only for four wheel drives and motor bikes (we saw a couple of each, but we were able to share the path easily).

The air was very clear from the Bay, and we could even see South Island and the snow on top of the mountains.

The wildlife was out in force, with cormorants sunning themselves between fishing dives.

The tide was going out, and had left behind this beatiful starfish. It was still damp underneath, so I got the bottoms of my jeans wet and put it back in the surf - I couldn't leave it for the seagulls!

Even though the wind had dropped slightly, the waves were still crashing on the rocks - this wasn't a place for going surfing!

We headed on round the bay, and came across a Seal Watching tour coming round the bend the other way. They told us that there were a number of seals very close by, and, indeed, when we rounded the bend, we nearly walked right over one pretending to be a piece of driftwood

and another lying in the middle of the pathway at the very aptly named "Devil's Gate." The signs up told us that we had to stay further back than 20 m, and not to get between the seals and the sea. Fortunately, this one was very much enjoying his doze and barely blinked as we walked between it and the side of the cliff (we left it its escape route to the sea, just in case!)

The sea was still whipping round the rocks when we crested the hill through the "Gate"

and when we looked down, we spotted a number of seals below.

This one was very much enjoying his snooze in the sun, so much so that he really didn't mind me getting in close for this shot.

Then, as we were watching, another seal came out of the surf onto the rocks in front of us.

We were also very lucky to spot this Little Kingfisher who was very interested in us as we passed.

The seals certainly weren't phased by us at all - one distinctly appeared to be posing!

As we turned to head back, a yacht appeared sailing round the bay.

I am sure it was far calmer sailing further out from the rocks!

It was a glorious walk in the late autumn sunshine, and a place that I definitely want to visit again.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chilli Jam

With about ten pots of chilli plants (most of which have at least two plants growing in them, many have three), plus my five pots of tomatoes (and the two little ones which have grown from 'windfall' tomatoes, I have had quite a glut of fruit sitting in the fridge. Whilst John may beg to differ, there are only so many chillies that you can put into a dish without it becoming inedible. And so, I took a look on the internet for a recipe which would use up the chillies and tomatoes and be something which we both could eat (John not liking the taste of tomatoes, and me not liking my chillies to be overly hot).

I found this recipe over at BBC Good Food, but it called for ingredients which I didn't have (red wine vinegar for a start - who leaves their red wine open long enough to go sour? ;-) ). So, I decided to have a play (using the Good Food recipe as a basis) and got together a 'take some' recipe for Sweet Chilli Jam which didn't turn out too badly, even if I do say so myself.

Tomatoes (I used cherry, as that was what I had growing)
Chillies (There are at least three different types growing in the garden - some of which I think are more of a sweet chilli (i.e. less hot) than the others) - approx three - four times the amount of tomatoes
Capsicum / Salad pepper - I used one large and one small - orange and red look nicer than green, but I don't think make much difference to the overall taste.
Ginger - I used a couple of teaspoons of pre-grated stuff, but fresh would have been even better
a few cloves of Garlic
Red Wine
Sugar - Approx 100g for every 150-200 ml of Wine
a squirt of tomato ketchup

Roughly chop up the solid ingredients (leave the seeds in for the tomatoes and chillies) then blitz them in a food processor - they don't have to be puree, but should be reasonably runny.

Add into a thick bottomed saucepan with the liquid ingredients - the amount of wine should be enough that the solids can easily move around, but aren't too 'sloshy'.

Bring to the boil, and simmer for 50 mins, stirring every 5 or so so that it doesn't stick on the bottom of the pan. After 50 mins, the mixture will have reduced enough that it starts to go thick - keep stirring until thickens and looks like molten lava. (about another 10 minutes)

Decant into sterilised jars (I found it easier to pour into a glass jug first). Half a bottle of red wine made about 600 ml of finished jam.

Goes very well with cheese and cold meats...


It's been nearly 18 months since we arrived, but we have finally got our hands on a car! It has been a little bit longer than planned, as the friend who was going to be selling it to us delayed a little while... (about six months!)

Whilst it has been nice to think that we have been kind to the environment in either using public transport, Shank's Pony or car sharing, it has started to get a bit wearing (particularly when yet another train is delayed or cancelled, or when you are trying to juggle four full shopping bags on a tiny bus), and there are only so many times that you can get someone else on the hockey team to carry the goalie kit to and from training and matches.

So, we are now the proud owners of a Ford Mondeo, and this last week has been brilliant. My 20 minute walk to / from TKD is now under 5 minutes; my journey to hockey (train and walk) is now 7 when on the way out, it would be 20 mins - half an hour (depending on how long I waited at our station), and on the way back it could be anything up to 45 minutes (as the end of hockey practice and the trains did not tie up at all) - I now no longer have to wait on a cold, dark station. This weekend, we did our shopping, including a trip to the library across town, in 2 hours (normally at least 3, and the library trip would usually add another half hour), and were then able to go up to Upper Hutt to the cinema (We went to see Paul, which was only showing late in our local cinema. It's a good film - full of geeky references, with some really nice touches.). Today, as well as the hockey match (which we won, 13-0...), we also headed out to the friend who sold us the car (a half hour car journey or an hour and a quarter on the train) for lunch and a quick spot of board gaming.

Whilst we aren't going to be overly frivolous with the car (petrol is not quite as dear here as it is in the UK, but it is getting close!), we suddenly now have a whole load more freedom to get out and explore some more of this beautiful country - I can feel some more photo heavy posts coming up!

Sunday, 3 April 2011


The hockey season has well and truly started now. I'm in the seconds team again, but, due to the way the pitch gets divided out during practice, get to train with both the firsts and the seconds, depending on who is using the goal at the time.

Our first match was technically last weekend, but the opposing team defaulted (i.e. they weren't able to get enough people together to make up a team), and so we won 5-0 without having to go out into the cold and the rain.

This week was much better for playing hockey - blue skies, with enough of a breeze to stop it being too hot, without that biting icy wind which I know will come later in the season. This was a good thing, as I was playing twice, once for the firsts (standing in for their goalie, who was away), and once for the seconds. It's very nerve-wracking to be asked a couple of days before a match whether you are able to play, and I'm just very glad that there was enough time between games that I wasn't going directly from one to the other.

Both games were good in their own way - the firsts game we drew 2-2, which was a bit frustrating as we had been dominating for most of the game 2-0, but two very quick goals off of two penalty corners put us level pegging. I did save a few others, so the scoreline could have been a lot worse. The seconds game we won 1-0, but the match was much more even with neither side really having overall control. I'm very pleased, though, we have two very good players at the back, and so for that game, I didn't have to actually do a huge amount apart from tell them where to go!

Overall, though, a good start to the season - I hope that we'll only improve as we get to gel as a team; we have a number of new players this year, so it will take a while to get used to everyone's playing styles.


I couldn't let the summer completely disappear without a quick post about our luffa plant. I haven't treated it very kindly, I do have to say - it is a vine plant, and I'm paranoid about letting it grow 'wild' in the landlady's garden or greenhouse. So it has been pot bound, and has sulked at me all summer (flowering but not really fruiting; fruits growing but withering before they got to any size). But then one fruit did start to grow, and, although it never got very fat, it did get to be almost the length of my arm. It then seemed apparent that it was not going to get any bigger, and the luffa itself was trying to flower, but the effort of flowering and fruiting at the same time was definitely too much for it.

So - I found a nice website which told me how to prepare a luffa, to turn it from this:

into a loofah to take into the shower with me.

It was far simpler than I imagined - I peeled it:

- a little bit harder than it should have been, but I think that the size of the luffa meant that it didn't have a solid 'core' for me to press against when I peeled, and so I missed little bits.

Next, I squeezed out the middle jelly like insides, and attempted to get most of the seeds out (I've saved them for next year, but I'm not sure whether they were mature enough). Then I left it on the windowsill to dry:

And that is it - I now have my very own loofah:

It may not be long enough to clean my back thoroughly, but for a first try, I'm very proud of it. And it works perfectly well in the shower :-)

The luffa plant was so pleased to have the burden of the fruit taken off that it has started flowering again already. I'll move it into the greenhouse when autumn really starts setting in and see if I can keep it growing through the winter.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Filling the Basin for Christchurch...

I certainly didn't intend it to be nearly a month between blog postings - sorry!

Things have been very busy here - initially, I was helping out at work with our earthquake response, which has led to late evenings and a Sunday shift; and then the hockey season restarted (I hadn't realised I was quite unfit), and the publicity communications for our orchestra concert needed to be sent out, and there may have been a few games of online Scrabble in there, too...

But, last weekend, John and I ended up in the Basin, where we watched a charity Twenty 20 cricket match between the Wellington Legends and the Christchurch Invitation XI to fund raise for the Christchurch Appeal. Cricketing stars, both national and international (such as Shane Warne) took part, as did a whole host of others, such as Tana Umaga, an ex All Black captain, who certainly proved his sporting talents, with one wicket being taken off of his bowling, catching another whilst fielding, and then getting two boundaries (I can't remember now whether they were sixes or fours), Russell Crowe, who coached the Christchurch side.

The day was absolutely gorgeous, and they allowed families onto the pitch to play before the main event:

The TV cameras were, of course, out in force - this was being broadcast live.

I tried to find where they were selling the T-Shirts, but the stand was hidden by the crowds.

A lot of the action happened at the other end of the pitch to us - but we did get to see a lot of people's backs!

And we were close enough to the TV screens and scoreboard to not be missing out on any of the action

Wellington were in black, Christchurch in red, and the umpires were in yellow:

I'm quite proud of this action shot...

We got a treat just before the end of the first innings when the game was interrupted by the Stig walking onto the field, with the full "Some say..." build up (which I can't now remember!)

and revealed himself to be New Zealand fast bowler Andy McKay...

The poor batsman who was facing him decided that he would be safer wearing the Stig's helmet

but didn't last long, as that meant he couldn't actually see what was coming at him!

There is an online video of the over here

During the break, our Prime Minister, John Key, got to face Shane Warne, with $100,000 at stake - if John got a boundary, then Fujitsu would donate that amount to the Christchurch appeal. There was a predictable amount of 'sledging' beforehand, and it was played for the crowds; he did however, get three boundaries off of the over, which started with an underarm bowl and Shane claiming he'd got confused after going 10 pin bowling the day before... Ian McKellan was umpiring, in a deck chair, and one of the fours did very narrowly miss him - I expect that Peter Jackson had a few conniptions at that!
There's a video of the over here

I did take a few shots through our video camera, but I am having a few issues with editing it all together, so that may take a while to come through...

The Wellington batting then started

with Martin Freeman (who will be playing Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming Hobbit film) as one of the umpires. He is on the left here - you can see why he might have been chosen for the part of the Hobbit!

Midway through the innings, the announcer mentioned that Ian McKellan was one of the team going round with a bucket, and he was then picked up on the big screen. I thought to myself, "I recognise that pagoda", and turned round...

I didn't go up and bother him - he was surrounded by people for well over half an hour, and genuinely taking his time to talk to everyone who came up to him.

Overall the event raised over $500,000, and was the best cricket match I have seen (just pipping England beating Australia with the last ball about six years ago!) - the weather was perfect, the atmosphere electric and just great fun to be a part of.