Monday, 31 December 2012

New Years Eve and thoughts on 2012

Well the weather wasn’t quite as predicted, after roasting on Christmas Day it was cloudy with showers for the next three days, not that it matters a jot to us, it’s just a shame for all the people whose summer holiday started on Boxing Day! We had already decided not to leave the house on Boxing Day for fear of getting trampled in the holiday rush! So apart from food shopping we finally went out again on 29th
Boarding the jet boat

We followed some of John’s suggestions and headed towards Methven via the Rakaia Gorge. Once at the Gorge we had a jet boat ride up river and walked back! Jet boats seem very popular here, they are well suited to the very shallow (but at times hugely wide) rivers as they can travel on nothing. They can also turn on a sixpence and are very manoeuvrable! Our driver played to his audience, which was us, and a family with three young children so he was very restrained, only doing slow spins, and warning us before hand, he still managed to apparently drive straight at rocks and make me squeak though.
Driving very fast, straight at a rock!

Our dropping off point, on the gravel!

Speeding off after dropping us at the track start

The upper gorge from the footpath

It was a very pleasant walk, not long and as usual we smashed book time, the river really was an amazing colour, apparently if we run a bath here, it too will be blue. 

The lower gorge, our man out on a 2nd jet boat run
Old coal mine in the 'Snowdon' area

Dramatic views from the footpath

Nearing the end showing the river broadening into a 'braided river'

We got back to the car planning to head off to have lunch in Methven, but we did have to stop to speak to the bride first though! They weren’t married at that stage, but were having photos taken before the ceremony! I’m not sure she knew the boys had only just made it as we heard them talking about running out of fuel as we’d followed them down to the beach! She looked lovely and we had a really good chat, I’m sure she shouldn’t have been talking to us about where we were from etc on her wedding day, but she seemed genuinely interested!

Methven is a ski town, and had a slightly abandoned feel about it, but we still got a good lunch, before heading back over the longest bridge in NZ. Sadly it wasn’t very impressive as it was very low, but we’ve done it! We were late for the cats, but only an hour or so, so they quickly forgave us!

The Nor'west or Canterbury cloud arch (see:
 The cats do make us laugh, we seem to have one good night with Tiffany (she comes in at bedtime) and one when she is a dirty stop out! This isn’t really a problem except that I wake up and call, and she still doesn’t come in and then sleeping is a bit of a problem! Then the boys want to go out, then they want to come back in…. it’s a small price to pay however as they are great. The most we’ve shared the bed with so far is 3 – the big ones, Tiff was out! That was a bit of a squash! I’ve met the local hedgehog a couple of times while calling Tiff, once he was making a huge amount of noise squaring up to another one (boy or girl? How do I know?) The second time he stood stock still pretending he wasn’t in the light of the torch, I thought I’d try stroking him, first his foot, and then his cheek, below the spike line! Well you have to try these things and he didn’t seem to mind! Next doors lambs seem to want some attention too, baaing at me as I hold the gate for the car to go through, quick stroke there too!
The Pacific Ocean at 'Rangaia Huts'. The cloud shows why NZ is called 'The land of the long white clouds'
 We went to look at the sea today at the nearest point, which was 20 mins away, nice pebbly beach, the other side of a long spit of land forming a gentle lagoon. The sea looked fab, so B went in for a paddle, next thing I knew, I was moving his clothes further up the beach and he was on his knees with a wave breaking over his head! It was very funny, but explains why there were no kids on the beach! We didn’t go in for a swim as we thought that might be the end of us! He came out and I thought he’d managed to go in with his hanky in his pocket, but no, his pockets were full of pebbles. That wouldn’t help if he’d decided to swim!

On the whole we haven’t done much here but cook, eat (drink) and fuss cats! It’s been heaven and I shall be really sad when it’s over and our adventure starts again!

Thoughts on 2012:
The last year has seen so many changes :– 

  • “Yes you can have redundancy” Hurrah! But still scary!

  • B being at home to cook my dinner from May

  • Streamlining our lives, we gave away and sold so many of our belongings.

  • Really enjoying my leaving do, thank you to all those that were there.

  • Renting the House out.

  • Re-homing Jasper, very hard, but Hilda is wonderful.

  • Saying good bye to all our family and friends, (it was lovely to leave from my Brothers and spend our last day with Charles and Caroline)
  • To realise that people like us, and want to read the blog, to be told “Reading your blog is like having a hug from you, and cheers me up when I am sad”
Big changes, big upheavals, yes, we miss our friends, but its fab!

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

It was Christmas with a difference for us, pretty much not feeling like Christmas at all as we decided to do something completely different on Christmas Day and go climbing on the assumption that not many people would be out.

We did get into the spirit a bit on Christmas Eve by going into Latimer Square in Christchurch to a YMCA Christmas Carol evening, music by the Salvation Army and a big choir of various schools and colleges in a big floodlit grandstand. Not knowing where to park (and not really sure which roads are open as its right in the area of the earthquake damaged inner city, next to the cathedral), so we headed towards Latimer Square, parking right alongside on a gravel car park. We thought it would be too good to be true, but we checked with officials and they confirmed it was OK, so it was a long 50 yard walk into the square where we bought some doughnuts and a songsheet, found a space and sat down in our folding chairs. 

It was not as warm as we’d hoped, so we were wrapped up in fleeces and feeling a bit cool! Nevertheless the carols were great, a lot we knew and a few we didn’t: ‘What Child Is This’ sung to the tune of Greensleeves, ’Worldwide Christmas Message’ to a very jolly marching band type rhythm and ‘Te Harinui’, a Maori carol. There was a minutes silence to remember the 180 who died in the earthquake and a bit of cheering when the MC announced that yesterday (23rd) marked 12 months since the last damage causing aftershock. A very pleasant evening, the square being overlooked by a magnificent 30m high artificial Christmas Tree! 
The first section of the temporary 'cardboard cathedral'

On Christmas Day we were up at 7:00am and away to Castle Hill in Arthurs Pass. The day dawned grey and quite foggy with a bit of drizzle, but undaunted we still went for it and were glad we did as, when we got to the mountains and gained some height we went above the clouds to a relatively clear blue, still sky, with a very hot sun! 
The Castle Hill climbing area
Unfortunately the climbing was all a bit hard for us, although it was limestone, which we generally like, it was very rounded, a bit like gritstone (which we don’t like!), relying on friction, with few positive holds, just rounded slopers! The guide book (which we bought for $60!!) told us that NZ grades are based on the Australian grades, though ‘many consider that ours are often a little tougher for the grade’. In addition it said of Castle Hill ‘you may find the routes sometimes need a teensy bit more ‘go’ than those at the same grade elsewhere, the number sometimes also includes a factor to keep the locals feeling good and the visitors chastened’. They were not kidding! We consider ourselves mid-range climbers, around French grade 6a to 6b, which corresponds to 17/18 to 20/21. We’d already found 17’s and 18’s challenging at Paynes Ford up in the North of the South Island, but here 17’s were virtually beyond us! We started on a 13, which we should be able to virtually walk up, but found that ‘interesting’! With nothing much else below  grade 17, we tried a couple, but had to ‘top rope’ them and even then had difficulty. 
The 'Tales from the Riverbank' climb.

As a final climb we attempted ‘Tales of the Riverbank’ a three star grade 17 that the guide book described as ‘This is a glorious beginners climb, but due to its popularity it’s a bit slippery.’ After leading and clipping the first bolt I came down and let Jackie have a go, but she also gave up at the same point. I scrambled round the side, put up a top rope and went up on that. It was a great climb and well worth the three stars and maybe I could have led it, but it needed such commitment (‘go’ as the book said) on some polished holds that I’m not sure I would (maybe if I was feeling super-confident one day!). At that point we had our picnic lunch, packed up a bit disillusioned and too hot in the sun and drove back through Arthurs Pass’ amazing scenery to cook our Christmas dinner, which we ate at about 6:00pm on the patio in baking sun! Roast Chicken with 6 veg! (one sprout each courtesy of the freezer - thanks John!) and apple and blackberry crumble and custard (grand blackberries, thanks John!)
Christmas Dinner on the patio!
 We totally chilled out on Boxing Day and today (27th), staying at ‘home’, reading, cooking, having skype conversations with family at home and having fun with the cats. Its been just as well as the weather has been overcast grey with occasional drizzle and rain for the last 2 days and we even lit the fire today as it was a bit cold. It is now 5:00pm and as I look out the window whilst typing the sky has finally cleared, the sun is out (now I’m hot!) and Jackie has gone out to do some gardening. No doubt I’ll get moaned at for not helping, so I’ll sign off now and go and help…. Its supposed to be hot and sunny by Saturday with temperatures up to 28 C, so that’ll be good! (I've come in expecting to be force fed gin and tonic, but first he has to do the vacuuming - well it is him who is allergic to the feathers under the bed, the final remains of the bird I cleared out from under there earlier! Perhaps we are not feeding them enough, though I suppose if that was the case it would have been scoffed not left as a 'present'!)
Tea with scones and cream anyone?


Rosie adding weight to our chairs!

Ustinov looking very grand!

A very pretty, fluffy Tiffany

But its all a bit too much for Tigger!

But its all OK when its dinner time!

Tiffany looking extra fluffy!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Victa, the ride on mower and the manly side of life!

Today, that happens to be Christmas Eve (although it feels nothing like it), I finally plucked up courage to take out Victa, the ride on mower and cut one of the paddocks. I’ve already taken out the petrol push mower and done the lawns round the house, as I’m more used to this kind of mower and wanted to ease myself in gradually, but Victa is for the larger areas.

Victa’s home is in the large double garage that is accessed through the electric up and over door, that in itself has a certain manly feel as you push a button and watch the big door open up to a spacious garage – and Victa!
Victa in his garage. Sadly none of me driving him, Jackie obviously didn't think it macho enough!

I’d had a bit of instruction from John before he went and he had left refresher notes for me, so I was sure I could master him. I had to go through the pre-operational checks and refresh my memory on all the controls. Now, lets see, first pump up the rear nearside tyre as its got a slow puncture. OK, done that, next, lift the bonnet and check the oil, apparently Victa is old and uses quite a bit, so he has to be topped up on every mow. Check fuel, yes, John had already filled it up. OK, off we go. Check neutral, check blades off, check blades are up, choke on, turn key….nothing! Press clutch/brake pedal, OK, now it starts! Move choke to off and maximum revs, put on ear defenders!

Now the scary bit, depress clutch, engage 1st gear, lift clutch and….hey, we’re moving! Off we go round towards the grass – and it stops! What have I done? Ah yes, turn the petrol on, but before I could do it Jackie remarked ‘turn the petrol on, even I knew that!’ Its hateful having a woman tell you what to do on a ride on lawnmower, I mean, what do they know about it anyway, this is man’s territory and women should stick to women’s things!

Ustinov having one of his daily cuddles!
OK, petrol on, choke back on, turn the key, yes, now we’re cooking on gas! Into 1st gear and away. Actually 1st is a bit slow, so 2nd (out of 5 gears) it is. Onto the grass, lower the blades to position 2, as instructed, engage blades, into gear and away. The good thing about the ride on mower is that it doesn’t matter about the grass cuttings, they just get blown out the side – satisfying! The first few minutes are fiddly, getting Victa round the edges, forward and reverse etc, but once these are done we’re up and down like a professional! I ventured into third gear, which felt like I was really moving. The slightly sloppy steering makes driving in a straight line quite difficult and occasionally I glanced down to look at gear 5 and wondered what that would be like. I decided against using it and quietly thanked John for not putting ‘L’plates on it. No one was any the wiser, although I probably looked pretty amateurish, wrestling with the steering wheel while going straight! 

I previously had no idea how manly a ride on mower makes you feel, driving up and down, glancing over the edge when near beds in a ‘I know what I’m doing’ kind of way and ducking under branches in a ‘how cool am I’ way. After zipping down one side and doing a cool ‘glance over the edge’ when nearing a bush and the fence, I came across the next door neighbour on his ride on mower. We looked at one another and did a manly ‘nod’ to each other, that said ‘I’m cool and tough and I can see you are too’ If we’d met in a bar we’d have just ordered a whisky and had the glass slid to us along the bar, whilst chewing on some tobacco and throwing a dart straight at the bullseye! A quick check and I could see he was wearing ear defenders as well, so at least I didn’t feel inferior wearing mine. I wondered at this moment whether I should be eating a Yorkie bar, like they used to do in those truck adverts and I glanced down at Victa to see if there was a fitting to take one. Sadly there was nothing, but hey, I wasn’t hungry, there was work to do!

Rosie's position on our bed, between us, every night, all night!
Up and down again and glancing across to the other neighbours I could see Pete, John’s friend. Normally he’s busy in his workshop with his wood working, but today he’s in his garden. I caught his eye and, letting go of the steering wheel with one hand gave a John Wayne kind of wave along with a smile that must have impressed him. With not a wobble I carried on. I’m now really feeling good, but not quite confident enough to try out 4th or even 5th gear! After a few more glances I could see Pete was still in his garden, so I guess he’s checking up on me, can’t blame him, I’d do the same in his position.

After what seemed no time at all the paddock was done and my day’s excitement nearly over. John had said not to run Victa for more than an hour as he can get very hot, so I’ve left paddock 2 and the front section by the road (as big as another paddock) for another day. Perhaps I won’t do it tomorrow on Christmas Day, but the experience was as good as a Christmas present! The only down side is my hayfever. I usually get it in the summer and it comes on when cutting grass, but two bouts in one year, it’s the downside of having 2 summers in one year! Fortunately I had bought some pills, so I should get it under control. Just hope no one saw me snivelling rather than looking tough and macho!
The finished paddock no.1, sadly Victa doesn't cut in stripes, very disappointing!

To take Victa back to the garage I stopped the blades, lifted then up and, with a clear area a long way ahead, engaged 5th gear, lifted the clutch and sped off! Actually I wasn’t that fast and I was glad I had experienced it. Back to the garage, reverse in, switch off, brush Victa down, turn off the petrol, close the door and sit down and write the blog. What an exciting day, I do hope I see other people when I’m out cutting the front, I’m going to practise the manly ‘nod’ in front of a mirror now!
The back garden lawn that I had previously cut with the petrol push mower

The house (you can just see the roof) and grounds from across the road. Paddock 2 is behind the trees and I've got to do along the road and round the corner!