Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Looking elsewhere for No.8 wire

There are those who have faithfully followed the comings and goings here for the first two years and have checked back periodically over the last twelve months despite the lack of new posts. If you are one of those, I thank you and thought you might be interested to know that I have decided to resume posting. After some thought about my various online commitments and the direction I wish to take from now on, I have decided to rally my efforts under the No.8 Wire banner and gently retire my other long-standing blog. I am also taking the opportunity to move the blog over to WordPress so, for now, you can read both the archives and the new stuff at http://no8wire.wordpress.com with this page remaining as a signpost for the time being.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Homeward bound

Halfway down the departures board, I could see that Air New Zealand flight NZ39, bound for London via Hong Kong, was now open for check-in. The pit of my stomach was churning with unbidden feelings and the thought of twenty-four plus hours on a plane made me queasy. Not an hour previous, we'd all - friends and family - been sitting round the dinner table over steaming bowls of pasta and sauces, talking ten to the dozen about Christmas Eve barbecues on the beach, walks in the bush, surprise stockings on Christmas morning and how much wine we had drunk.

The easy friendship we had slipped out of focus, replaced by a stilted awkwardness and the quiet dread of parting that we had been carefully ignoring for days. The well-intentioned bonhomie of the greeting staff did nothing to lighten the mood. The baggage check-in was too quick to offer any delay of the inevitable moment. Tears, hugs, promises to write, more tears, make-sure-you-call-mes, hand-holding; the six of us taking turns, making sure we left no-one out. Then, moving quickly as if on an unspoken command, we walked away with pursed lips and lowered gazes, no-one daring to look around for that last glimpse.

Looking around, I checked the family were settled and made sure that, regardless of the tears, all had their belts fastened. Not one of us said a word, for there was really nothing to say; we knew that this situation could arise and now we faced it as best we could. Leaving good friends behind to head home was always going to be a factor but no amount of awareness prepared us for the heartache. With a deep breath, I looked over my shoulder one last time, pulled out into the traffic and headed home. In ten short days, we'd be back at the airport, standing in Arrivals, waiting to spot Granny and Grandad among the weary folks exiting the Customs Hall and starting the whole process all over again.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Job done - except for a door handle

One of the reasons we chose the home we now live in was it's potential to expand to meet the needs of our growing family or, more accurately, the growing needs of our family. While the four bedrooms upstairs, the decks and the section around the house provide plenty of room to sleep and move around outdoors, the open plan area downstairs means that we all tends to end up on top of each other in the combined kitchen-diner-living-office area. Unsurprisingly, this lack of privacy and space can lead to frayed tempers, heated debates and the odd slammed door.

Before - utility room and office area

Most Kiwi homes seem to have, either by design, conversion or addition, a second living space variously called a family room, rumpus room, kid's den or sleep-out in the case of a separate unit. Half the ground floor of the house was taken up by a double garage with a utility area in one corner and, even during our first viewing, we were measuring and planning how we might covert it into another living space. In the months since we moved in, the garage was used as a storage and dumping area while we settled into the house. However, once I had built a new shed next to the house and moved the remaining boxes, bikes, bits and bobs in to that, the way was clear to convert.

After - office area and door to utility room

We called in a local builder, John, who replaced the automatic garage door with a window and ranch slider, rewired the space with halogen lights and lots of power outlets, built two stud walls and relined the ceiling. This neatly divided the space into a large sunny L-shaped room opening onto the front of the house and a smaller laundry/workshop with a door to the side passage. With the building work finished, SWMBO donned her 'Changing Rooms' hat and set about painting the rooms to her usual standard - those who saw how she transformed our London flat will know what she can do with a few cans of paint. With the decor sorted, John the builder returned to tile the utility room and last Friday, after I had smoothed and filled the holes in the concrete floor, we had underlay and carpet fitted in the larger room.

Before - the view from the homework/craft area

Not one to let the kettle go off the boil, SWMBO cracked the whip on Saturday to push the project to completion. As she headed off to a business seminar with her direct marketing colleagues in Auckland's CBD, I juggled the usual 'taxi' run to the sprog's dance classes with picking up a few last minute things to complete the conversion. Once back home, I relocated our home office furniture and family computer to the designated 'office' corner of the new space and installed and configured a new wifi network and broadband connection to serve the whole house.

After - the view from the homework/craft area

The last major job on the 'Honey, do!' list was to hook up our old UK television/video combo to a budget DVD player that sprog No.3 won in a school competition a couple of years back. Having warned that, as a UK unit, it'd only play region 2 DVDs, I and the kids were pleased to find that it happily plays DVDs from both regions 2 and 4 - a nice surprise in this day and age of locked-down formats and built-in obsolescence.

During - the not-quite-finished snug area, which will double as a guest room when fully furnished.

The next morning brought Sunday, the supposed day of rest, but any thoughts of kicking back and doing nothing were soon banished. In an up-to-date twist of the ancient practice of bartering, I agreed to trade a breakfast meeting spent business coaching friends through the planning needed to expand their business for a three-seater couch they no longer needed. After trailering it back to the house and installing it under several excited sprogs, we all sat down to a brunch brunch of bacon, eggs and homemade baps.

Before - garage door ready for removal

Soon after that, the guy who cuts our grass turned up to repair the damage his wife had visited upon our water tank connection with a brush-cutter two days previously. This is no small matter- like most of rural New Zealand, there is no mains water supply here and precious tank-stored rainwater is all there is to last us the summer, unless we order in extra deliveries by tanker lorry at some expense. No sooner was the repair done than a guy turned up to buy the garage door we'd removed and sold on Trade Me, the local equivalent of eBay. The bundle of lovely green dollars barely touched my skin before they passed to the clutches of SWMBO, who announced that she was off to look at beds for the guest area of the new room. After two days with barely time to draw breath, I was beginning to wane and as the afternoon wore on, the sore throat I'd been nursing all through a hectic week at work decided to undergo its own conversion into a head cold and a raging temperature.

After - ranch slider and window replace garage door

Having decided that a hot lemon and honey would ease my fevered brow, I was boiling the kettle when SWMBO rang the house. From the checkout at the bed store, she announced that they could deliver the bed she had just purchased but it would be an extra $60, so could I kindly hitch up the trailer and go and get it please? As I hooked up the trailer and start the Pajero, I found myself thinking that, should I ever undergo reincarnation, I would inevitably be reborn as a water buffalo - one destined for a life yolked to a plough in a paddy field with SWMBO as the whip-cracking rice farmer. That said, an scant hour later, I was back home with the new twin trundler bed unloaded, unwrapped and installed in the new room.

For all the hassles and the 'drama', as they say round these parts, the flexibility the new rooms offer us is more than worth the effort. We now have a separate utility room where the laundry gets done, the big freezer sits and I can colonise a small corner for a work bench and tool racks. The main room is now a place that offers a snug hidey-hole where the sprogs can hang out with their friends (and, no doubt, boyfriends in the years to come) and guests can sleep in comfort when they visit; an area from which SWMBO can build and command her growing skin care and supplement empire and a light and airy table for the inevitable homework, crafts and hobbies in the years to come.

I was going to close by saying that the only outstanding task on my list is to fit a door handle to the utility room door but, as is the way in this house, another job has just been added with SWMBO informing me that 'the new fangled wifi-server-thingy' is not working. If you are reading this, then you'll know I have fixed it and am back to just the door handle.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Kapa Haka

Kapa Haka is the term used for the traditional Maori performing arts. The term kapa haka derives its meaning from two words: kapa (to stand in rows) and haka (Māori dance). Kapa haka requires the performers to sing, dance, have expression as well as movement and combine all these elements into each performed item. In this sense, kapa haka also acts as a sign language, as each action has a meaning that mirrors the spoken words.

Here, our youngest sprog is making the 'wiri' hand gesture. The wiri represents the world around us, from the shimmering of the waters of a bright sunny day, to the heat waves rising from the ground to the wind rustling the leaves of the trees.

The boys of the Taupaki School Kapa Haka group perform the 'Ra! Hupane, Ka -upane!' part of the Ka Mate haka, the original of the two haka used by the All Blacks before their rugby internationals.

The newer haka, "Kapa o Pango", features the controversial throat-slitting gesture which has received so much criticism - usually from the national press of the opposing team! For more information on the kapa haka and Maori culture, try http://www.maori.org.nz

Just like in the movies

Click on image for larger versions

An unusual event interrupted my pottering about in the garden yesterday. I was in the middle of cat proofing my 'square foot gardening' vegetable patches, surrounded by chicken wire, tools and the odd sprog, when I heard a sound one normally only hears in films.

Buuuur-bup-bup-bup ... buuuur-bup-bup-bup ... phut-phut-bup...

I looked up and saw a small jump plane tracking low across the clouds and blue sky above the township and seemingly trailing smoke from one engine. It was making the kind of noise that came from Ginger's Spitfire shortly before he 'pranged his kite' in those 'how the RAF won the war' black and white movies of my childhood. A few seconds later, four skydivers exited the plane in close order, opening their canopies almost instantaneously while the plane lazily turned west. Shouting for the sprogs to come and see and grabbing the camera from the kitchen counter, I returned to snap a few shots, rationalising that I had obviously got it wrong and the smoke was simply vapour trail (unlikely at that low altitude in this warm weather) or a skydiver's cannister that had malfunctioned in the plane (very unlikely but still possible). As I clicked away, I was aware of the noise again.

Buuuur-bup-bup-bup ... phut-phut-bup...[silence]

Abrupt silence - never a good thing when flying I suspect, except in gliders maybe. As the skydivers slipped from view and into the paddock behind the local pub, I wondered whether I should dial 111. I didn't. Well, for one, I wasn't sure of what I had just seen - was it a plane in trouble or simply throttling back to reduce the prop wash for the skydivers? Did jump plane pilots have parachutes? There'd be a loud explosion if the plane had crashed, surely?

Later, at the school firework display, which the whole township attends, the jungle telegraph was in overdrive - the skydivers were rehearsing for a pre-display jump when the plane got into trouble. The pilot managed to walk away from a landing that left his plane upside down amongst the vines in a local vineyard. Not one to miss a trick, the head teacher raffled some of that vineyard's latest output as 'plane crash vintage, never to be tasted again as ten rows of the vines have been totalled by the plane!'

A write up and video report of TVNZ's version of what they're inevitably calling 'The Grape Escape' can be seen here.

Picture: TVNZ

Monday, October 30, 2006

Joy and pain

Cruising on the Harbour Bridge

On the limit at the finish

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Two hours, seventeen minutes & fifty-two seconds

I ran over here today

The 21.09kms mix of rolling hills, flat dockside and Harbour Bridge of this morning's Auckland Half Marathon took me 2:17 to complete. To put this in context, my new personal best time for the half marathon is a full thirteen minutes slower that it took the Kenyan Paul Tergat to run twice that distance when setting the world marathon record in 2003.

Having risen for breakfast at 3 a.m. and previously only run 10k events, the extra 11kms were new territory for me and a challenge, despite twelve week's training. A solitary instep blister was the only 'injury' I experienced during training so I was surprised and annoyed when, at just the 8km mark, I picked up a nagging pain in my right knee. My post-race masseur offered the opinion that this might be associated with the iliotibial band, a common problem for runners.

After driving home gingerly, taking anti-inflammatories, soaking in a bath and icing my knee, I had a quick lunch and a long but fitful nap. Suitably refreshed and revived, I have just enjoyed one of SWMBO's superb roast chicken dinners and am now enjoying a chilled light beer.

picture: beautifulnewzealand.com

Monday, September 18, 2006

Our very own Swan*

No.3 took part in her first ever soccer tournament last week in the annual competition between the primary schools of Huapai and Taupaki. The fact that we live in Huapai and stood amongst neighbours cheering for Taupaki school made for tense moments on the touch line. Coming off the bench in the first half, No.3 played a crucial pivotal role midfield, tackling the opposition and playing the ball forward, playing her part in the eventual 5 - 3 win that saw her team take home the trophy for another year. Quite what the dance examiner who invigilated No.3's ballet exam today will have made of the bruised and stud-marked legs I'm not sure but we're proud to have a kid who is equally happy on the pitch or in the dance studio.

*The Swanz are the New Zealand women's soccer team

Saturday, September 09, 2006

View from the sofa on a wet Saturday

The rich, warm, orchestral tones of Joni Mitchell plays while the day-long rain turns the water pooled on the deck effervescent and bubbling like a dull sparkling wine. 

The mild regret of a day's chores hijacked by rain is balanced by the peace of mind that the rising water in our tank brings.

The damp of the day is kept at bay by the burnt ochre glow of the gas fire and the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies hanging in the air. 

On the sofa, the sections of the weekend paper are jumbled up with remote controls and cushions.  Those cushions not on the sofa are on the floor, where they support the dozing forms of a black cat and a mood-drained teenager. 

Behind the music, differing rhythms are played out by the raindrops; the constant gravel-crunch on the flat roof above versus the bigger irregular splashes on the bay window in the kitchen.

As the rain eases for the first time since dawn, the strings of Barber's Adagio swell to mirror the sombre greyness of the sky, causing the teenager to stir and the cat to curl tighter.

Savouring the comfort and warmth of being submerged in the sofa is slowly giving way to the desire for tea and a cookie - but not just yet.

However, as soon as a hopeful thought of prolonging the moment occurs, the wail of the fire service siren calls the volunteers from their homes and the moment slowly dissolves.  The teenager awakes and, inevitably, asks: are the cookies ready?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Father's Day

It is Father's Day today and, as tradition demands, I was served breakfast in bed. Consuming cereal, toast and tea in a semi-horizontal position is not good preparation for exercise so, after several seconds indecision, I abandoned the idea of a staggering outside for a run and settled in for a lazy day.

I recently caught a re-run of an episode of Rick Stein's fabulous show, Food Heroes, where he visits a delightfully barking Irish hotelier who makes really good soda bread. Having the house to myself in the morning and knowing that we had buttermilk in the fridge, I thought I'd make some either for lunch or to go with the roast chicken dinner later this afternoon. As it requires no proving, soda bread is just the bread for those seeking near-instant home baked gratification. I whipped up a double batch of the moist, sticky dough and baked two gorgeous loaves of bread, one for us and another for our neighbour, who has been busy painting her cottage over the last few days.

Food is a central to Kiwi life with many cuisines from around the world represented in both the home and restaurant cooking here. From the national fixation with meat pies (the village pie vendor is called 'Hua-pie') and the baked goods of workplace morning teas to the ready availability of cheap sushi almost everywear, New Zealand is a nation that enjoys its food, a fact that is borne out in the worsening obesity statistics published each year.

Our local area, the fruit basket and vineyard of Auckland, is renowned for its fresh market garden produce and large number of eateries; indeed, the availability of take-way food in New Zealand must rival that of the USA. We can indulge in wood-fired Italian pizzas, charcoal-grilled Turkish kebabs, Kiwi roast dinners, Thai satays, Chinese noodles, English fish and chips to name just a few, washed down with numberless wines and beers, without ever touching the stove or the fridge and by walking no more than a few hundred metres.

That said, we enjoy cooking old favourites and new discoveries at home and sitting down to a meal with friends is always a great way to spend an evening. As a reward for those who still drop by and read this blog, here's a couple of recent recipes that I have come up - enjoy!

Huapai Open Sandwich

I had a hankering for a deli style open sandwich and came up with this combination. We are lucky enough to have Greg Flutey, a great Kiwi specialist baker, at the bottom of our road so we can get superb bread locally (even when I'm not in the mood for baking!). The taste and texture of the haloumi balances nicely with the peppery salad and the herby dressing and the chilis tickle the tastebuds, cutting through the flavoursome sausage slices. Perhaps it is just as well that I'm training for the Auckland half marathon, as this substantial lunch went down all too easily.

Serves one

Five grain sourdough bread
Mesclun leaf salad
Salad dressing (Cotterill & Rouse's Garden Fresh Herb Dressing is great)
Pickled piri-piri chilis
Left-over home-kill beef sausages

Heat slices of haloumi and sausages under a grill or on a ribbed skillet until heated through and browned at the edges. Meanwhile, toast two slices of the bread and then spread with mayonnaise. Pile with dressed mesclun or other small leaf salad and scatter with finely chopped pickled piri-piri. Slice the still-warm hamouli into chopstick-sized sticks and scatter with the sausage pieces over the salad. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately.

Fridge d'Or Ravioli Sauce

After a twelve hour plus day at work, I'm rarely in a creative mood. However, a few nights ago, with the family elsewhere and a sparsely populated fridge staring me in the face, the desire for a quick tasty meal provided inspiration. I grabbed the contents of the fridge door and came up with a sauce that took 5 minutes to make and, thanks to the chili bean sauce, tasted more complex and sophisticated than my usual quick tomato sauce.

Serves two

½ large tomato
¼ onion
½ stick of celery
4 or 5 sun dried tomatoes
1 tbsp chili bean sauce (toban djan - paste of fermented broad beans and chili)
dried basil and thyme
Beef ravioli or pasta of choice

Chop tomato, onion and celery into small pieces. Place in lidded plastic container, vent and microwave on high for 1 minute. Shake and repeat. Add sun dried tomatoes and chili bean sauce to container and reduce to a chunky puree with a hand mixer or similar. Stir in a couple of pinches of the herbs, a little salt and black pepper. Spoon the sauce over the freshly cooked pasta on warm plates and serve with freshly grated pecorino or pasmesan.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Working From Home

What is your definition of 'home'? Is it the place where you currently live? A country you left long ago? Can it really just be wherever your heart is at any given moment? Since saying to a colleague a few weeks back that I'd be working from home the following day, the phrase has stuck in my mind and has led me to thinking around the concept of 'home'. While I'm curious about this notion, I am also cautious about seeking to define something that has meant different things to me at different times in my life.

As a young child banished to his room for various and heinous crimes, 'home' was often my bed, where I'd lie for long periods, staring out of the window at the patterns cast by the branches of an oak tree against the sky. As an older youth, 'home' was either a destination reluctantly sought when I was having fun and more eagerly wished-for when I had over indulged.

The long list of bed-sits, house-shares, squats, theatrical boarding houses and spare room sofas I progressed through as a student and out-of-work actor were never 'home' but rather a place to sleep, shout, smoke, debate, sulk, rehearse lines and avoid landlord's agents.

Though the acting career faded and 'normal' jobs took over, I never quite made the transition to responsible tenant or respectable homeowner and, consequently, never really thought of anywhere as 'home'. This was due, in part, to never having enough money to buy a place of my own. However, I suspect the main reason was that I simply couldn't be bothered; certain that didn't want the seemingly onerous responsibilities that go with property ownership, I simple bumbled along from one rented room to the next.

Periodically, I would complicate matters by entering into yet another ill-fated liaison with a whacky theatre designer, uptight actress or manic runway model. Having a girlfriend only muddied the waters further. In the early stages of any of these relationships, I would invariably spend a disproportionate amount of time at her place, being a clingy pain in the arse who had no idea that 'space' can actually be a good thing and girls like to see their friends without 'him' in tow every now and then. As the seeds of doubt grew in her mind, I'd lay siege to her place, visiting more often and overstaying my welcome, all the time driving her further away and cursing myself for it. When the inevitable rejection came, the cold draughty room that awaited my vanquished pride just didn't feel like 'home' either.

When I met SWMBO, we both lived in other people's places before we moved into her previously rented bed-sit in commuter-land so 'home' remained a concept rather than actuality. The first one bedroom flat we bought together was great. We lived there in the year or so before and after our wedding, decorating and doing all the things not-quite-so-young couples do in their first place. When our first dog joined us, it seemed pretty much like 'home'. However, the combination of the arrival of daughter No.1, losing my own business to a greedy partner and looming debt, compounded by the negative equity mortgage scandal of the late '80s, saw us selling up.

The following years were not easy, with a few marital ups and downs played out in a number of rental properties and bed-sits for me when I went AWOL. Some of these were nicer than others but none were 'home'. Our last home in London was originally a council flat which we eventually bought. On the day we moved in, I christened it 'Chateau Sarajevo', as it looked not unlike the pockmarked, bullet-riddled apartments we saw on the nightly news. Though I swore I'd not raise my growing tribe in such a place, we stayed there and, with a little help from me and some others, SWMBO slowly turned it from a squatter's paradise into warm, comfy, habitable home for us and the kids. Although I never truly liked that flat, I have fond memories of reading and dozing on our bed on Sunday afternoons when the sun streamed a warm comforting glow through the cotton drapes. Thinking back, maybe it was a sense memory thing; a reminder of childhood moments spent gazing at dark twisted oak twigs against the conveyor-belt cloud above.

Last month, we moved from our large but impractical rented house to a lovely family house at the other end of the township. Although moving house is never fun, I actually enjoyed hauling twenty-seven trailer loads of boxes and belongings the length of the township to our new place and was impatient to be done with the rental house. It was more than wanted to be finished with the landlord hassles, endless water supply problems and the blind indifference of the letting agent. More than ever before and perhaps because we are so far from friends, family and all that is familiar, I wanted to be in my own home.

Already, for me, our new house feels more like home than any that has preceded it. While SWMBO and the sprogs have tapped into the school and church networks to make new friends quickly, with work and commuting I have had less chance to do so and find myself wanting for company outside circles of work and family. Even so, the house is a familiar magnet that I am happy to have pull at me most weekday evenings as I finish work. Why? I'm not sure I can say. It might be that it is a house that stands on its own section on the edge of the village, detached but not removed, behind gates that can be opened in welcome or closed in retreat. It might be the tentative but growing friendship with our reserved neighbour who keeps her own quiet counsel but tells us she secretly wished for a family to move into this house. It might be the knowledge that, in a week that has seen more fear and uncertainty creep into lives across the western world, we chose to make our new home in a country that rarely figures large in world events. Or maybe it is just that here, in a house on a small country road in a small country village on an island at the end of the earth, is where we are meant to be at this time in our lives.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Two pieces of paper

The result of 3+ year's research, time, effort, worrying and more than a few tears.

Some people can tell you where they were when Kennedy was shot or how they stayed up late to watch Kennedy's pledge to put a man on the moon come true. Well, it may not be on the same world-rocking scale but I'll always remember where I was when I learned we had been granted indefinite residence in New Zealand. It was the rather mundane and unglamourous men's toilet of a conference venue because SWMBO has an unerring habit of calling me whenever I'm otherwise engaged.

Earlier today, exactly eight months to the day from the day we flew into Auckland as a family of emigres, I walked out of the Immigration New Zealand office into the crisp Kiwi winter sun, clutching passports with residence permits and returning resident's visas for 4 of the 6 of us. The last two permits and visas will be issued when the passports concerned are renewed in a month or so. I shall be using my newly enhanced passport next week when I travel to Melbourne and Perth on business but, for now, I'm just happy to relax and drink a glass of Pinot and be thankful for the outcome of our hopes and labours.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Easter heralds autumn

As Easter approached, the sprogs were all busy with rehearsals for a dance display at one of the local village halls. For the first time in a good few years, all four are taking classes again and it was good to see all of them in a show together. With hair scraped back and makeup liberally applied, they all looked marvelous and danced their pieces beautifully.

The fifth birthday of No.4 was celebrated in style on a bright sunny day with fun & games on the tramp and an outdoor birthday tea. The guest list included just one brave lad who, undaunted by the 7 to 1 girl/boy ratio, held his own against the pink masses all afternoon.

It's pink, was made with heaps of chocolate and things, has heaps of chocolate buttons on top and had five candles on it. The look says it all - why on Earth would anyone in their right mind want to share this heavenly cake with their family, let alone friends.

Though the natives say that this year's Easter Show at Auckland Show Grounds was not as good as in previous years, we still had a fun day out. No.3 was adamant that, despite having eaten a large cone of chips just minutes before, the mini-bungee was a great idea.

SWMBO is a great lover of horses and has spoken of happy childhood evenings spent watching the Horse Of The Year Show on television, so she was keen to take in the eliminator final of 1.40 metre showjumping, which proved to be an exciting jump-off.

Sadly, the same couldn't be said of the Madagascar stage show we queued up to watch. With the usual tacky merchandising and actors in suits miming to a soundtrack of B-side pop songs, it didn't take long for the children in the audience to tire and vote with their feet.

The week after Easter, I took my first few day's leave from work. We loaded up the trailer and headed North to Waipu Cove where we camped for the first time as a family, just a few metres from the Pacific. It was a great place and we plan to return there next summer.

While friends in England are enjoying the flowers and warming weather, here we are slowly moving into autumn, leaving for work in darkness and arriving home at dusk. Our evenings are now spent in front of fires made with tea tree and pine, which we chopped and stacked in our garage before the autumn rains began.

More than seven months have passed since we flew into Auckland from the Cook Islands. With the routines of work and schools, our lives are moving from those of unsettled people in transit to people who live in and are part of a community. Our days are gradually taking on a comforting semblance of normality. We rarely stop to convert everyday prices, our accents are taking on the trademark Kiwi upward inflection and our terms of reference are slowly changing with the help of new friends and acquaintances. There are a good many things that we miss and friends we'd love to see but these feelings are balanced by the sense that the lives that we are building for ourselves are good and worth the efforts we're taking.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Twisted and bitter

My bike was twisted and I am bitter - hence the following rant - bear with me, it will be short.
  • Removers crushed my bicycle when we moved to NZ.
  • The movers shrugged their shoulders and pointed to the insurers.
  • The insurers spent three months trying all avenues to avoid paying.
  • Stream of notated photos, techincal reference material from self eventually prompts cheque for two/thirds replacement value.
  • Took bike to posh bike shop on posh street for quote; they said they'd ring me with one.
  • Ten days later, called them for an update and was told 'The bike's ready'.
  • Arrived at shop to be ignored in favour of those spending $4k on shiny new road bikes.
  • When asked why job was done when I had asked for a quote first, no answer given.
  • Rashly paid without checking work as shop was busy and I was pissed off & wanted out.
  • Checked bike at home to find incomplete and ill-advised slap-dash repairs.
  • Turned air blue and cursed self for not listening to abdominal warning signs when first visiting posh bike shop on posh street.
  • Took bike to local mountain bike shop where nice couple treated me with respect, talked about what I used bike for, spoke confidently and honestly about sourcing spares and the time needed, discussed alternative bike scene and offered heaps of friendly advice.
  • Kicked myself black and blue for:
    • not going to local mountain bike shop in the first place as I had planned to do in December.
    • not insisting on fork replacement (as-new repairs are impossible and are potentially dangerous if stressed metal fails).
    • not kicking up a stink in the shop and embarrassing the smarmy buggers.
  • Resolved to purge poisonous feelings and shame my own stupidity/lack of balls by blogging the whole sorry episode.
Moral of the story: When it comes to bike shops, listen to your gut.

I'm off to a barbeque to chill out, have a beer and hopefully meet up with our UK-based Kiwi friends, currently back in NZ to visit family.

And relax.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One acronym begets another

In the last five weeks, our previously mentioned EOI (Expression of Interest) has undergone a metamorphosis. Today, what left this house as bits and bytes - and a large credit card payment - returned in the form of a large courier package containing a large bundle of papers, forms and supporting material which makes up the New Zealand Immigration Service's ITA (Invitation To Apply) - along with a request for another, much larger credit card payment.

If we thought that we'd broken the back of the bureaucracy involved in securing residency, a quick review of the covering letter and checklist put us straight. As well as having to provide panel medical reports, X-rays and police check documentation within the next ten days (before their six month lifespan expires - we had them for a while), we now have to provide all the 'proof' documentation to support our claims in the EOI. This might sound fairly straightforward but I have discovered that one of the companies I worked for in the '90s has been swallowed up by another and getting proof of employment might be difficult.

To be honest, my heart sank upon realising that we're in for another extended bout of paperchasing and cajoling folks into providing evidenciary documents. Being in the middle of two very heavy weeks at work, I am finding it hard to work up the enthusiasm right now, even thought the ultimate goal is what we've spent over two years working towards. Recognising this, I have decided to stop beating myself up, stuff it all back into the courier pouch, grab a beer and take a night off, as has SWMBO. What that really means is that she's surfing real estate web sites for houses and I'm catching up on email and paperwork. I suspect I'll last all of 30 minutes before I give up and wander off to watch House, followed by the superb James Spader/William Shatner double act in Boston Legal.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

From spring to autumn

It was only when I was on my second St Patrick's Day Guinness that I realised why the date of the Paddy's Day posters looked familiar - March 17th was the expiry date on the original visitor's visa in my passport meant that we have been in New Zealand for exactly six months. I thought I'd ask the rest of the family to say what they have liked the most and least about the last six months and here's what they said.

  • MOST: Seeing the children exhilarated by outdoor activities; driving to school through rolling countryside rather than city streets.
  • LEAST: Not having old friends on hand to share great experiences; missing Radio 4 - and our old milkman.
No. 2
  • MOST: Lots more opportunities at school and home like softball, sailing, cheerleading; swimming with dolphins; lots of new friends.
  • LEAST: Being away from friends; the mosquitoes.
  • MOST: Swimming with dolphins; the great weather; the views; athletics and swimming
  • LEAST: Seeing lots of roadkill; the dangerous roads and drivers.
  • MOST: Watching sunsets; feeding roosters and cows; going to Kindy and friend's houses.
  • LEAST: "Nothing's bad about New Zealand".
  • MOST: Seeing the kids reveling in their new surroundings; more time doing fun family stuff outdoors; laid back attitudes; beautiful countryside.
  • LEAST: Lack of cycling buddies, old friends and trusted colleagues; no old stone buildings; favourite pubs and The Lahore restaurant.
However, the fact that No.1 is in her room, hates me and is generally exhibiting all the teenager symptoms of parent-itis proves that, regardless of what country we are in, some things don't change. That said, the last six months have seen our family grow and change in ways that means that we look forward to the next six with hope, excitement and expectation - and just the occasional look over our shoulders.

A midweek teatime picnic - one of our new family activities

There is another noteworthy event this weekend - SWMBO is launching her own blog. Whilst she is certainly not a Luddite, SWMBO is not an early adopter of most technology and has a pathological aversion to reading instruction manuals of any kind. This combination means that it has took the insertion of 12,000 miles between SWMBO and her friends to prompt her to embrace email as quick and effective way of closing that gap. A few weeks back, to support her first business venture, she put up a branded web presence and added a separate email address. This week, she has decided to put up a blog. Like me, she tried to keep friends and relatives up to date with family news and adventures with emails but has, I think, found it difficult to ensure that she gets the same news to everyone who wants to know and remember who has read what. I have just managed to sneak a quick preview and I can see that I am going to have to raise my game. So, if you have always wondered what SWMBO has to say for herself or why on Earth she puts up with me, head on over to A Word From Wendy to find out - and now you know what her name is!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Don't blink - it might disappear

About 10 minutes ago, SWMBO idly surfed onto the New Zealand Immigration web site to login in and check whether status of our Expression Of Interest submission had altered from the 'received' it has been showing since we lodged.

We were certainly not prepared to see the following message.

Whilst hopeful and positive in outlook, I had quietly counselled myself for disappointment - at least the first time we applied - and had certainly expected to wait somewhere closer to the full 24 weeks our submission was valid before we heard anything. To be selected for vetting, and potentially an invitation to apply for residence, from a pool of around 800 well-qualified immigrants on the first draw after our submission is beyond any reasonable expectation we might have held.

All credit to SWMBO who collated all the papers we needed, highlighted the data I needed to provide and bullied me into filling in the labourious online application on evenings after work when I just wanted to grab a beer and relax. As it is too late for a beer, I'm off to bed with a mint tea and a book. Goodnight all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Clearing more hurdles

The Pinot Noir is flowing again. As related in Lining up the second hurdle, we have submitted our Expression Of Interest to the New Zealand Immigration Service and so have begun the long haul towards securing residency. In the meantime, we have continued to chase up various leads and applications and I am now happy to relate that, in the last 24 hours, we have been informed that:
  • Our EOI has been received and submitted to the pool for bi-weekly consideration over the next 6 months.
  • Our police check documents, fresh from the UK, state that we are not criminals.
  • SWMBO has been granted a work permit to run concurrent with mine.
  • Now we have paid handsomely for student visas, the sprogs can now [legally] attend school.
With that, I'm off to watch All Celebrity Kitchen Makeover with SWMBO and the rest of the Pinot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lunch with cicadas

Today's LDL cholesterol-avoidance lunch

Following the sad and untimely death of an employee last year, my employer has recently taken a number of steps to support employees more in terms of lifestyle, health care and insurance provision. The onsite caterers provide a good variety of meal choices (though they still cater for those Kiwis who love their stodge and cakes), the company has introduced death/disablement in service cover and now are providing wellness clinic health checks. At 0800hrs last Monday and having fasted since 0400hrs (not including the obligatory morning cup of tea), I went before the 'company nurse'. After a chat to see if I was telling porkies in my health questionnaire, she measured and tested and prodded and drew blood.

The results are interesting and not unrelated to our emigration, hence baring my soul here. Whilst lugging 22 suitcases half way round the world might have stretched my arms and played havoc with my RSI, it didn't compact my vertebrae because I remain 184cms tall. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my weight which has crept up by 2kgs to 87kgs since we left the UK in September of last year. The lack of routine, the increase in take-away food and the generally unsettled life of living in temporary accomodation and travelling for interviews certainly took it's toll on my diet and the amount of exercise. These two measurements were used to calculate my Body Mass Index (BMI) by squaring my height then dividing my weight by the height squared or, for those that want the lowdown, 87 / 3.38 = 25.73. In general terms and ignoring the all-important family health history and lifestyle considerations that should always be taken into account, most folk's BMI should be between 20-25. By exercising less (laziness through lack of routine) and eating more (easy to do in New Zealand), I have let a two kilogram increase in my weight nudge my BMI from just inside (24.81) to a little too far (25.73) outside the healthy range.

My resting pulse rate, at 64 beats/min, is well within the ideal band for my age and indicates that running at lunchtimes and in the forest at weekends over the last month or so has helped me regain some aerobic fitness. Furthermore, I can use this information to better inform myself as to how hard to push myself when out training by calculating . Using my resting pulse rate, I have calculated my minimum and maximum training heart rates (i.e. 60-90% of my maximum heart rate) as 106 and 142 beats/min respectively, which will help me train more effectively. Likewise, my blood pressure is pretty good at 125/80mmHg against the quoted national ideal of 130/80mmHg though, with 1 in 5 Kiwis suffering some form of hypertension, I'm aiming for an optimal of 120/80mmHg.

With a low 'estimated heart event risk' score (a murmur-inducing phrase if ever there was one), my main target is getting my LDL cholesterol down. Like my Dad, I like a bit of cheese with brown bread and butter most days but I suspect that my main downfall has been a few too many take-aways and lack of portion control with my own home cooking. My alcohol consumption is pretty fair considering our home is amongst vineyards and wineries, not to mention the boutique brewery down the road. I think, all in all, I am very happy with my wellness check. Already being aware that I'm still getting back into my regular routine and that I have some way to go yet, the 'no worries but keep a watching brief' result from the nurse is as good as I could hope for I think. All the above is a very long-winded explanation for the low cholesterol lunch you see above, which I have been munching whilst writing and listening to the sound of the chirruping cicadas in the grass and trees beyond my window. These noisy creatures seem to be celebrating an all too brief gap in the rainclouds now sweeping in from the West after two days of stormy North Easterlies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And they say it rains in England

Widespread heavy rain can be expected through to this evening [...] 50 to 80mm of rain is possible,especially about the hills north of the City [...] STRONG WIND WARNING AUCKLAND: Northeast winds are expected to rise to gale this morning, with possible severe gale gusts of 120 km/h in exposed places between 11am and 8pm today.

They are not wrong. Having bailed from work early die to ill-health brought on by budget forecasting, I was hoping to get home early. I hadn't factored in the four-car smash on the North Western motorway that required me to spend another hour stop-starting through Auckland in an effort to make my way home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lining up the second hurdle

I can hardly believe it myself. About 30 minutes ago, I willingly and without menaces, voluntarily read out my credit card details to SWMBO, who was seated at the family PC. That said, this was not your common or garden run of the mill internet shopping session but more of your landmark fingers crossed and hope for the best moment.

We have just coughed up $300 dollars in order to submit our Expression Of Interest to the New Zealand Immigration Service. If you follow the link, you will see that this process is not for the faint-hearted, the poor or the ill-prepared. If you are not up for being honest, spending many hours doing research, even more collating documentation and then having every aspect of your very being scrutinised, then emigration is probably not for you. It will test the strength of your marriage just as much as your resolve, it will provide opportunity for self-doubt at every turn, it will rob you of the time to enjoy your new surroundings and it will cause you to question just why you wanted to embark upon the journey in the first place. What is more, this is just the process to signal your desire to remain resident. We now must wait to hear whether I am selected from a bi-weekly draw from the pool of applicants, with the likelihood of success inexorably linked to the number of points attributed to one's skills, qualifications and experience. If you have significant experience but no degree (like me) and you only just make the minimum number of points required to express interest, this could be the start of a long drawn out cycle of six-monthly submissions (with the attendant fee, of course) and bi-weekly draws. Whilst I am usually the half-full foil to the half-empty SWMBO, I am not holding my breath in this instance. New Zealand quite rightly attracts a lot of bright and highly qualified folks and I do not expect to have the same luck I had with the extraordinarily quick turnaround of my work permit application.

Having anaesthetised myself with half a bottle of our neighbours Pinot Noir, I am now off to bed. I will leave you with a mildly humourous but true work story. Next week, I shall be heading off to my first overnight business trip in my new position, on a two day management strategy and team building session with my peers. I scanned the email for the venue details, lobbed them into the NZ equivalent of Google Maps and, lo and behold, it is exactly 5.7kms from my home. I can't decide if this is good (short drive home afterwards) or bad (was hoping for Pacific island resort).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Easy like Sunday morning

Our Sunday mornings are beginning to take on a semblance of normality, or at least what passed for normality before we decided to up stick and moved to the other side of the world. This means that SWMBO and the sprogs head off for church and I take the opportunity to try and get a couple of hours quiet writing under my belt. Sadly, the theory is great but, in actuality, what happens is that I invariably get diverted by email or checking out an interesting web site and before I know it, the family are back and baying for lunch. Another diversion has been my frankly pathetic attempts to settle back into running every other day, a simple enough programme but one which I have yet to accomplish. Compounded by a back strain earlier this week, my current sweat-drenched efforts are woefully inadequate considering that, in just four weeks time, I shall be taking part in an 18 hour, 160 kilometre relay race around Lake Taupo. All of which is my way of recording that I am finding it hard to get back into writing regularly and have found procrastination all too easy to embrace, even when I have house to myself and peace and quiet reign throughout. Not content with finding reasons and excuses for not being able to write here right now, I have also resumed my more geekish jottings over on my long-standing blog bignoseduglyguy, where I can get a shameless instant gratification fix by posting short and snappy comments rather than the longer, more considered pieces I have been posting here.

Teacher's Note: Must try harder.