Monday, 4 July 2016

Winter? What winter?

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

22.6 degrees Celsius in the shade!!

And see that? 33.1 deg Celsius in the sunshine

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

The fairy rose is still flowering

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

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

Saturday, 2 July 2016

70 this week

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

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

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

OK, we are decided and booked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 June 2016

A weekend away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A walk on the wildside

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

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

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

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

Mountains on the drive from Greymouth to Ikamatua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim, not quite in my shadow ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puddle #1 from one wrung out sock

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Westport and those Southern Alps

A few weeks ago I had to go to Westport for a meeting. It's a fairly long drive from Hokitika, but what amazing scenery I went past!

I have been to Westport a couple of times before, once with David, Mum and my aunt Molly when we brought her out to NZ for Mum's 70th birthday, and once with our friend Jo Brownie when she and I drove to Blackball to deliver Melita's cat Spike to her mum's place.

I had forgotten how stunning the drive is along the coast. It is amazing and it is no wonder that this whole coast is such a tourist destination, even though it is pretty remote by the standards of NZ and other small countries.

Anyway, it was a good thing I had left Hokitika with plenty of time to spare on the drive up to Westport - I had to keep stopping and looking and taking photos. It's not a fast drive by any means, and I took it quite slowly so I could drink it all in. And I was clear that I want David to come down so we can travel that route and enjoy it together in a relaxed fashion.

The day wasn't particularly sunny, and the sea-spray is evident.

Just so you know, I did pull over into a layby to take these photos. That is a cyclist coming up the hill - gives an idea of the height of the cliffs alongside the road.
The view inland up Fox River

I remember this bridge from our trip with Mum and Molly back in 1993/4. Had to stop for the sake of reminiscing.
Can't remember where this is but it looked pretty impressive - I did wonder how it all stays in place in heavy rains ...

These flowers are apparently a weed, but they do look lovely along the sides of the road. I had seen them on the way to Westport, but they were on the wrong side of the road for safe photography.

And they are rather beautiful close up.
Then on my flight home a couple of days later, the Alps were starting to get some snow on the tops.
See what I mean? Looking impressive, eh?

Funny how it settles down in the valleys.

That big one is Aoraki Mt Cook, NZ's highest mountain.
Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its height since 2014 is listed as 3724m, down from 3,764 metres before December 1991, due to a rockslide and subsequent erosion.

How lucky am I to be working in a place where I get to see such amazing sights? I truly understand why so many DOC rangers love working for the organisation - they get the legitimate work-based opportunity to spend time out in the mountains, in the ranges, up the rivers as part of their daily life. I feel fortunate enough to fly over those mountains and visit stunning parts of this beautiful country.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Goodbye, Mary

On Saturday, David's mum Mary died at home, with David and Ginny holding her hands. They had been with her for almost five weeks, since she had been diagnosed with pancytopenia - her bone marrow had stopped functioning, so she wasn't producing white or red blood cells or platelets. For the first 4 weeks she was fine but got slower and tireder. She still tottered around using her walker, and laughed and joked with them. It is only in the last week or so that she was bedridden and slipped in and out of consciousness. A few days in a row David would ring and say they thought today would be the day, but she hung on - her incredibly strong little heart just kept on beating.

But on Friday the Kahukura nurses who provide in-home palliative care in the Wairarapa told David and Ginny that the end was nearing. And on Saturday at 12.45pm she died peacefully and calmly with her two favourite people there, one each side, loving her and gentling her as she left.

She has been a lovely mother in law - I have always reacted strongly against mother in law jokes as they are such a crappy stereotype. And for me they could not have been more wrong or cruel.

David came home on Sunday, Ginny is staying with friends for a couple of days before they start the inevitable clearing the house - Mary was no hoarder, and most of John's hoarded papers were disposed of in an orgy of skip filling a few years ago. So it will be an easy task this time - easy in terms of there not being much, but hard as it'll be the memories of particular things that will get them.

Mary is being cremated tomorrow with no fuss (she is of the generation that did not like a fuss), and on Sunday next week we are having an At Home for friends. I am facilitating the event and will do most of the catering - Mary loved my cheese tart (as do Ginny and David), and she loved sponge cake, lamingtons and custard squares. Even though she won't be there eating them, we will have some of her favourite foods - I do draw the line however at grated cheese and celery salt on crackers ...

My lovely sister Dee has been here with me since Thursday (she had to look after herself for a few hours till I got back home from being an earner) and she is still here - together we have been looking after David, the newly orphaned.  We have been very kind and loving, with the occasional pis*-take - our thinking is that he needs to know that life continues, that we will treat him lovingly as we always do ...

This morning some dear friends came for breakfast, which if I do say so myself, was spectacular. (Dee and I are a damn fine team in the kitchen - we've had lots of practice over the years.) But the main purpose was for them all to be with David and give him their support. Two bottles of bubbly appeared with the guys for toasts to the newly orphaned (and his entree into the Orphans club) and to his lovely Mum.