Monday 13 April 2020

Blowing off the cobwebs...

It has been a while... I certainly hadn't intended the blog hiatus to go for more than six years, but one thing led to another, and the longer I left it, the harder it became to start the engine going (a little bit of shame as well as feeling like I didn't have anything important to say).

Whilst we're under lockdown for Covid-19 seems to be as good a time as any to bring the blog back to life. We're still in New Zealand, and I'm very much of the opinion that we have ended up in the best location to see out the pandemic, in terms of leadership (who else has a Prime Minister who takes the time to reassure children that the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny are essential workers?), the early decisions that were taken (restricting and then closing borders as the scale started to become known), and then a very speedy move from beginning general restrictions to a more complete lockdown. We have had clear and calm messaging, and leaders who have stepped up and inspired trust.

The approach seems to be working; whilst we do have our cases (19 new ones today), and, very sadly, our fatalities (a total of five have passed away so far), it feels like we will come out of this faster, with less human-cost impact, and with more resiliency than other countries. It doesn't mean that life will go back to 'normal' any time soon - it has been made clear that any restriction lifting will be gradual, so as not to undo all the good work that we have done. Our tourism industry, which normally contributes nearly 6% to GDP -(with supporting industries contributing a further 4%) has already taken a huge hit from the closing of borders and the complete halt of non-essential internal travel. We have our share of the increase of people losing their jobs. The knock on impact for service based businesses may well see a proportion shutting for good, even with wage subsidies.

I can also feel very lucky in the ability that I have to work from home, with very little loss of productivity. And I get to spend my days sitting at the dining room table, looking out over the fig tree and the grape vine, and watching the birds feasting on fruit, insects and seeds. There are certainly worse places to be in isolation...

Thursday 6 February 2014


I'm writing this with a bundle of ginger purring away next to me on the sofa. Occasionally, he looks up at me and gently points out that I seem to have stopped stroking him... He's also very interested in the sound that the keys make on the laptop and will bat at the top of the machine.

After ten years of living together, John and I have finally got a cat; we knew we had to wait until after we got a house of our own, and then had various holidays, both back to the UK and with family and friends coming here, and with one thing and another, 2014 became the Year of the Cat.

We picked him up from our local animal rescue shelter, after making quite a few trips to see the cats in their care. We'd already decided that we didn't want to have a kitten (it's less fair when we are out at work all day, and we didn't really want to go through all of the fuss of toilet training!), but didn't really have anything in mind by way of colour, breed or sex; all we knew was that we wanted to get a rescue cat, rather than buying one from a store.

Basil caught our attention from the first visit; he was in an isolation unit(multiple cages in a room, as opposed to cats being able to mingle together), because he hadn't yet had his vaccinations (there had been a delay because he had developed crystals in his bladder), and was very noisy about the fact that he was missing the company of people. There were a number of cats who caught our eye, but Basil won out (even after he caused us a lot of hassle by getting out of his cage, and straight under the other cages in the isolation area - we eventually got him out by making a fuss of another cat! He certainly likes to be the centre of attention...), and we took him home 10 days ago

It took him a few days to settle and get used to our routine (and he's still not overly happy about being shut out of the bedroom at night, and the fact that he's currently not allowed outside until he has the rest of his vaccinations), but he is an incredibly friendly and sociable cat. He's taken friends coming round, both for the evening and for a weekend visit, in his stride.

I'm just having to remember what it's like living with cat hair everywhere (i.e. don't kneel down to make a fuss of the cat when you are wearing your smart, black, work trousers...)!

Sunday 10 November 2013


Yes, I know it has been far too long since I posted. Life has been very busy these last seven months, and something had to give. Unfortunately, in my case, it was my online life - I've also increasingly reduced down the amount of time I've spent on Facebook (down to the point that today I went on there in the first time in over two months, and realised that I'd missed nothing at all...) as well as not blogging.

I've moved job roles, still within the same organisation, but now for a completely different department. Not quite a promotion, but a sideways move within a career that I love, which is helping me get the experience I need to move further up the ladder. It's a great role, with fun people to work for and with, but it requires a lot more work (physical and mental) than my old one did. That, coupled with continuing work related exams (eight down now, another two before the end of November, and then only five after that before I'm completely finished), means that my ability to think coherently at the end of the day, or over a weekend, is dramatically reduced.

The garden is also taking up a lot of time - I've made great headway this year as I do bits and pieces every weekend. Spring has well and truly set in here down under, the vegetables have started growing (peas, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, purple sprouting, potatoes, leeks and garlic are on the menu - though we shall see how successful they all are as the summer progresses!), I've planted a herb bed to give me more than parsley, thyme and oregano to play with (sage, rosemary, chamomile, verbena and chives are added to the list), and interspersed the herbs with sweet peas to give the trellis some colour over the summer. I've increased the number of fruit plants - as well as the feijoa, lemon, grapes, chilean guava, strawberry plants and fig (the feijoa, grapes and fig are a long term project - I'm not expecting to get anything from them for at least another three years), I've now got a redcurrant bush and a cherry tree, both of which will (depending on how much I can wrestle from the birds...) fruit this year.

And lest you think I've just been concentrating on edibles, I've also been having fun with the roses; the orange and pink one from the photo in the last post isn't ready to bloom yet (I think it is sulking from being rather heavily pruned over the winter), but the pink one has already given me a few flowers to take indoors, and we have a bright yellow one which has grown up through the decking (I gave up trying to pull it out, and have decided to keep it as long as it doesn't try to take over too badly!).

The orchestra season is coming to an end - we have one more concert in a couple of weeks, with a film and TV show theme. It's going to be great fun, particularly for me, as, barring a couple of pieces, it's not too exposed for the bassoon, meaning I can relax a bit more than I have been able to over recent concerts!

Hockey season has been and gone - we came fourth in the league, which was pretty much where we'd aimed for, and sets us up for a good season next year.

And shortly it will be Christmas, and then 2014 - not sure where the time has gone!

Saturday 16 March 2013


Roses from the garden

Yes, it's been nearly two months... It's been a busy time - prepping for our next orchestral concert, getting back into study (having passed my Level 4 foundation diploma in purchasing and supply, I'm now into the Level 5 study and exams), out twice a week with different sci-fi activities, and hockey has started again, so my writing has suffered a wee bit.

It is immensely surreal at the moment to imagine the UK in the grip of snow, with my father in law taking four hours to do a half hour journey, and my brother taking 12 hours to do a 2 hour journey (7 of those were stationary). Here, we have the opposite problem. Very little rain has fallen since January, and we are in the middle of an officially declared drought, a total fire ban, a total outdoor water ban, and could potentially see water rationing (still only a possibility, but enough for our local papers to do a scare story on it...)

We're doing our bit - conserving water from the cooking pot so that I can put it on the veggies, and I'm looking at getting a rainwater butt installed so that we don't have the same problem this time next year. Sadly, though, it looks like I'll lose the last of my beans, and the silverbeet seedlings that have just started to take off - there's not enough of the grey water to go round, and I've spent too much time on my tomatoes to lose them now!

Fortunately, there is some rain forcast for this weekend, so I'm waiting with all of my pots and pans ready to catch as much as possible when it does come.

And, the silver lining is that with the total fire ban, we've been asked not to use motor mowers (for fear that sparks or the heat may catch the grass), so, what a shame, I can (for once) not feel guilty about my grass (and the dandelions) getting knee high...

Monday 21 January 2013

Golden harvest

The garden is still flourishing, and we are still enjoying the fruits of my labours (even if it sometimes feels that those labours were simply to put a seed into the ground and watch what grew...)

I panned for edible gold this weekend, digging into the second of my potato grow bags. Whilst there were only a few large potatoes (large here being defined as big enough to cut in half and still be visible in a roasting tin), there were enough middling sized ones to fill my collecting bowl, and we should get four meals out of them. There is something deeply satisfying in burrowing into soft soil (made nicer by the fact that, as they are in grow bags, I know that I'm not going to be digging down into an ants' nest, as I did when I grew potatoes on my allotment) and sifting out the glowing nuggets from the darkness. The largest of the potatoes made up part of our Sunday roast, along with peas, mangetout and the first of the runner beans. The flavouring on the chicken was also from the garden - my thyme bush which was on the verge of giving up the ghost a few weeks back has now bounced back into life.

The weather has been a bit topsy turvy over the last few weeks - torrential rain, followed by days of glorious sunshine and temperatures well into the twenties. My tomatoes are adoring this, and have exploded with fruit, to the extent that I've had to tie up outlying branches, as they have been tipping the pots over with their weight. It's also been nice for me - I've had a few days off from wandering round the garden with my watering can, and has the added bonus that I get nice surprises the next time I'm out when I see how much has grown in my absence.

Some of the surprises which greeted me this weekend have been the flowers which have sprung up. Mainly weeds, but a few deliberately planted as well - principally the sweet peas. They have been so plentiful that I have had a vase full constantly since Christmas, giving the room a subtle fragrance. Today, I was able to add to the vase: pink geraniums, purple lavendar, white Japanese anenomes and the stunningly orange crocosmia (I still can't really accept that a flower that beautiful is a weed, and my heart breaks a little every time I pull up a stem complete with bulbs at the end. But, if I don't want it swamping every thing else in the garden, I have to control it somehow!)

Whilst the nights are drawing in, and we are sending the sun back over to the northern hemisphere, it is still Summer here, and my garden is giving me great pleasure.

Friday 4 January 2013

New Year

2012 has passed by in a flash. When I look back, it amazes me how much we managed to fit in to what seemed to be such a short space of time.

Both family and friends have come to visit, and we have done some more exploring of our adopted country.

I've sat five professional exams, with good results from the three that I've received so far; the last lot will turn up at the beginning of Feb, and I then find out whether I've got the first professional qualification out of three. Work has had its ups and downs, but mainly ups, and I know that there are good things coming in the year ahead.

I've learnt a new instrument to a semi-decent standard; good enough to play Hall of the Mountain King, but I still have a long way to go to pick up the notes outside the central register. We had three concerts, two of them performed twice in different locations, plus Beethoven's 9th Symphony as a workshop, including choir.

I've played for the women's first team in hockey, though I don't know if I'll get asked again, as I certainly struggled over the whole season - I was improving by the end, but we narrowly missed relegation at the end of the season, as well as being relegated at the start. So, I won't complain if I'm playing for the seconds next year, but I won't say no if I get asked to play for the firsts again!

We've spent a lot of time with the different sci-fi groups, at least one, and quite often two evenings a week with friends from one or other. They've introduced me to films that I wouldn't ordinarily have watched, both old and new, some of which I've enjoyed, and some of which I haven't, but all worth it from an experience expanding basis. I've learnt a lot of new board games, all of which have been good fun; I've even won a couple over the last year! I've reviewed a good number of books for SFFANZ, again, most of which I've enjoyed, and a few I've had fun explaining exactly *why* I didn't like them!

We've had our first year in the new house, enjoying being homeowners - no need to ask when we need to put in a nail, no more flat inspections (now it's just the panic tidy and clean whenever we have friends over for an evening or to stay - which is happening more and more. I may have to do regular housework at this rate!).

I've spent very many hours in the garden, with varying success - the weed patches at the front don't look hugely different for the amount of time I spent pulling them up. I do vaguely justify letting the grass grow to seed on the basis that the sparrows and silvereyes enjoy eating it (and then they go and eat the caterpillars which are nomming their way through my potato leaves - obviously that which is poisonous to humans has no effect on insects!).

Though, when I do look at the changes that a few months have wrought, I can see that the work has had some effects (here come the photos!) - this was the front garden in February:

and this is it now:

with a close up of the roses, geraniums and lavender (and weeds. The problem with roses, particularly heavily scented, and therefore thorny ones, is that they discourage casual, walk past, weeding. Good quality, leather gloves, are needed to get at the area in and around the thorns with any measure of safety...)

This is the decking in Feb:

and this is it now... The green tubs contain the potatoes (nearly ready to be harvested) and the red ones should have contained my heritage tomatoes, but they have all died now. The basil in there is doing well, though - I made homemade pesto sauce for the pasta last night, with four different varieties of basil.

The grapes are liking their sunny wall, though I now have a book on fruit growing, and know that I need to redo the canes that they are up against - a bit of work once autumn comes. The fig tree persists at growing at an angle back into the bushes, no matter how hard I try to get it to bend back upright again. It is happy, though, and has put on 36 cm along its longest branch, 25 along the next (and this from a plant that didn't have any branches at all last year) - it has added an extra third to its height!

The tomatoes which have survived (those passed to me as ready grown seedlings by a friend) ended up on the grass - they were on the decking until some very high winds started to send them flying, and I was worried about losing the baby tomatoes that were growing on the plants.

The area that I am most proud of in terms of effort put in is along the back fence. In Feb, it was covered in a nasty weed called Bears Britches.

Now, it is home to my peas,which have been feeding us about once every three meals for a good month now, beans (which have just started to flower) and sweet peas (which have refused to use the bird netting or the bean poles to climb up, and which are instead using the feijoa...). I also spent a considerable amount of time clearing out eleven bags of weeds (mainly Wandering Willie) from around the compost bin and the kowhai tree, discovered the concrete that had already been laid down beneath it (which saved me a job and money - I was planning on putting down some form of tiling!), relocated the compost bin so that it is completely upright, and added a weedmat to try to keep the weeds down for a little while. I think I've gained about 20 sq foot of garden for the effort - now I just have to make sure that I keep it tidy...

The vege box is also being put to good use - here it is when I built it back in April:

Now I have three giant borage plants (mainly used for attracting the bees, but I have added a couple of the smaller leaves to salads), a whole host of spinach, five very happy asparagus plants (the fern like ones on the right of the picture - I'm not allowed to pick any this year or next, but in 2014, they should give us a meal or so every couple of days; and at $2 a bunch at the cheapest in the market, that will do me fine). There's also one lonesome salad pepper / capsicum plant, still cloched under a half coke bottle. The rest didn't make it, but I have silverbeet seeds ready to go where they stood, once I know that the final one is going to survive an onslaught of other plants!

My birdbath is still giving me great joy - only today, we had the birds queuing up to use it - first a blackbird, with a thrush waiting, then, when the thrush had a go, it was joined by a couple of sparrows, jostling for the best space (they managed to move the thrush over half way round the birdbath before they both got bored and flew away!)

All in all, 2012 has been a good year, and I am looking forward to seeing what 2013 will bring.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christmas thoughts

Christmas evening in the garden. The sun has dropped low enough that I don't fear burning. Around me, summer lives in all its glory. The family game of cricket in the distance, hearing the whoops as an uncle or father is caught and bowled. The birds sit and chirp in the rustling trees, tui, kakariki, sparrows and blackbirds, occasionally swooping overhead, flashes of black, brown, green and red filling the air. Our neighbours garden, running the hosepipe over the parched plants, and pruning back the roses. Smells waft over in the breeze; roses, sweet peas, tomato plants and the roast lamb in the oven. The wind is cooling on my skin after the heat of the day.

This is so different to the traditional northern hemisphere Christmas with its dark evenings, frosts and sharp air. Since moving, I have found a different feel to the festival; Christmas is no longer an anticipation of the Earth turning, coming out of the darknes and towards Spring, but a joyful celebration of life around us in all of its glory. It is a reminder that we should not spend all of our time planning and looking forward to the future, but, every so often, take the time to enjoy the here and now.

This is something that I, a pathological planner by nature, am inherently bad at doing. So, my New Year's resolution, made sitting with a glass of wine, and finding the moment, is at least once a day to enjoy the present. What sprang to mind which illustrates this the best are the two verses that I first heard on the Divine Comedy album Promenade:
Happy the man and happy he alone,
Who in all honesty can call today his own;
He who has life and strength enough to say:
“Yesterday’s dead and gone.
I’m gonna live today.”
(from Booklovers)

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
"Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today."
(the end of the album, taken from Horace)

Now, if you'll excuse me, there is a glass of wine and a summer evening to enjoy.