Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Happy Birthday

I’m not sure when my birthday became a reminder of my mortality, rather than a celebration of my existence but one thing is for certain: they certainly seem to come round quicker as you get older.
That said, I think both Pat and myself were looking forward to our granddaughters birthday, even if she wasn’t that sure of what was going on.  That will be very different next March when she turns three, but we won’t be around for that one, so we made the most of this one.
James and Erica sensibly staggered her presents over the weekend, which started last Friday, her actual birthday. In the morning we caught the bus into the city, walked along the waterfront (always a favourite), hit the swings and joined the contents of a cruise ship who all wanted to ride the Wellington Cable Car, up above the city centre to the Botanical Gardens overlooking the bay. After our regular “fluffy” in the Rose Garden Cafe and a visit to one of the plant houses to count the goldfish in the pond there (another favourite), we caught the bus home. When Erica and James got in from work we piled into their new car, bought some fish and chips, and scoffed them on the beach, below Oriental Parade, with friends Angelee and Phil, along with their adorable Airedale, Dolly, and Phil’s parents, who are also visiting New Zealand, and live in Hertfordshire, just a few miles from our home in Welwyn Garden City.
Fish & Chips on the beach on Livi's birthday
More presents followed on Saturday and Pat and I went shopping in the afternoon and treated the kitchen to a new wok, which we still have to try out. Sunday was the big day, when she had her party. The theme was “The Gruffalo”, a popular children’s book right around the world it would seem. The cake was ... sensational, and I have included a picture of it, for it is a work of art, or rather was, as Livi ate the last piece earlier this evening. The day was a great success and it all went very smoothly, though the weather was showery due to the tail of tropical cyclone brushing past. All the children were roughly the same age as Livi, knew each other, and played happily, leaving the parents to chin wag.
The birthday girl and her "Gruffalo" cake
Pat and I bought her a buggy to push her toys around, and Pat got busy with a needle and thread on the run-up to the birthday and made her dolly’s carry cot,  pillows, blankets etc. Right old clever clogs is the First Mate, and just in case you had forgotten what we look like, here we are, still tanned a bit, but the autumnal weather has started to rear its ugly head and we are experiencing more dull and showery days.

Pat works her magic with a needle and thread
This weekend we are off to Nelson on the South Island to visit Vic and Val. I went to Junior School with Vic, and we bump into each other around the world regularly. He travels more than we do!

Vic has been banging on to me that Nelson has a great Ukulele Club, so I am taking my uke over and going to the meeting on Sunday afternoon. Nelson is my favourite town in New Zealand, so I am looking forward to seeing it again. The weather is always a bit better there as well, so we might get some sunshine.

Monday, 10 March 2014

A “Big” Weekend

Spend any time in either Australia or New Zealand and eventually you will come across “A Big Something". It might be a piece of fruit, such as an apple of kiwi fruit – occasionally it’s something man-made, such as a wellington, or a gum-boot, as the Kiwis call this apparel of footwear.

A Kiwiana Wall

The Big Gum Boot

The Big Kiwi Fruit

Provincial towns boast that they are “THE home of the Big Apricot” and their road signs as you enter said town confirm this. We have passed through the town of “Bulls” several times on this stay, about two hours north of Wellington. “A Town Like No Udder”, boasts it’s sign and the police station has a sign outside saying "Home of the Consta-bulls".

Sign as you approach the town of Bulls
It’s a phenomena, that  both Australia and New Zealand embrace, though I do remember once, passing through the town of “Garlic”, in Texas, and being confronted with a garlic clove, 20 foot high, offering a similar welcome to all.
Well, that’s enough of a preamble. Our weekday routine remains roughly the same and our excursions into the city by bus continues to delight our granddaughter. Think “Wheels On The Bus” which I play for her around 10 times a day on my uke. The weather has been very mixed in Wellington, and the South Island has had big storms with poor old Christchurch getting flooded - many of the homes affected had just been re-built after the devastating earthquake there.

Livi takes the ride into the city on the Number 3 very seriously
We spent the last weekend at our friends Kevin & Helen’s farm, just outside Hamilton, about 300 miles to the north of Wellington, and the grass for miles around is yellowy-brown. They have not had a drop of rain for weeks. It was lovely for us to enjoy temperatures around 24-26 degrees, but Kevin and the rest of the farming community in the Waikato region are praying for rain.
We always have a great time with Kevin and Helen, though normally see them at their holiday home up on the Coramandel Peninsular at Whitiagna. It was only the second time we have been to their 200-acre estate, where they farm cattle and a few sheep. We drove to a high point where you could see the extent of the farm, lying, as it does, between the towns of Morrinsville and Cambridge.Great views.
Pat inspects Kev's new milking line
We joined them for the local school fete, and a family birthday barbecue. On Sunday, Kevin drove us over to Raglan, a small seaside town, about 40 miles from Hamilton. What a delightful spot – a lovely little town – quite “arty-farty”, with strong surfing connections. We had some very good fish and chips on the wharf and I got to try some “Good George” beer, brewed in Hamilton, which I have to say is the best I have encountered on this trip. I will have to visit the brewery next time we visit.
We enjoy some mussels in Raglan . Tasting tray of "Good George" beer in foreground

Raglan on a sunny Sunday afternoon
We shared the driving to Hamilton and it was a bit of a slog to do it in one day, but you can never really tire of driving around New Zealand. It’s a strictly-enforced 100k speed limit outside of town, which is around 62mph. That’s plenty fast enough. The scenery constantly changes and the climbs and falls you encounter, create fantastic vistas. Woodland, follows farmland, follows desert, follows marsh land etc.
Earlier in the week my pal Vic flew into Wellington from Nelson on the South Island and we attended the NZ premiere of Ukulele documentary, made in Santa Cruz, California, where they have the biggest uke club in the world. Somewhere around 400 members. Called “Under The Boardwalk”  it was a gentle, funny, charming film, shown in a small “boutique” independent cinema in Petone, around the bay from the city, organised by “Love My Ukulele.Com”, a popular international uke site, run from Wellington by the very genial Jamie Houston. Jolly entertaining it was too.
The Lighthouse Cinema, Petone
We are now around half-way through our stay here. We hear  that the UK is experiencing similar temperatures to Wellington, at present. Hopefully it’s drying up all those tow paths around the system, and we will return in a few weeks to a sunny spring.
Pat is already planning our New Zealand strategy for the next two to three years. She will be returning in August, when Erica has her second child. I will be looking for a crew for those two weeks. Let me know if you are interested. She is trying to persuade me that a second permanent home here would be a good idea. I must say I am coming round to it.
Toodaloo chums

(15% ehhh Partners. Don’t spend it all at once now)