Sunday, 29 January 2006

Busy, busy, busy

I can't believe it's been nearly a fortnight since we last posted to our blog. It seems like only a few days ago. The reason time has been flying past is probably because we've been so very busy.

We've finished decorating the sitting room at last, but we won't be posting any 'after' photos until our new carpet has been laid (another two weeks to wait). It looks as if carpet layer would be a good choice of career path for anyone coming over to New Zealand - they seem to be fully booked about a month in advance.

Last weekend we met up with Liz, an ex-colleague of mine from Repton Primary School, and her husband Pat. They've recently retired and are spending six weeks touring around New Zealand. Wanganui was on their itinerary, so we met up. We went for an evening Jazz cruise on the paddlesteamer Waimarie and then for a meal at the Stellar restaurant. We had a very enjoyable evening. Liz and Pat were carrying on to Wellington, and from there they were taking the ferry to South Island. I'm looking forward to seeing the photos of their trip, especially of 'dahn sahth' - it's a trip we're hoping to take at the next opportunity.

On our hectic social calendar for Tuesday was the world premiere of the film The River Queen, which was filmed on the Whanganui River. Seeing as this will probably be the only time that Wanganui will ever host a world premiere, we were going to go along, but it was absolutely tipping it down with rain, so we gave it a miss. We didn't really fancy spending two hours getting soaked, when the only 'stars' to be seen were a few members of the local Maori iwi (tribe) who had been extras in the film, and the NZ Prime Minister.

To read a report of the premiere, click here:
River Queen Premiere Report

For the film trailer, click here:
River Queen trailer

We haven't been to see the film yet, but we're planning on going tomorrow night. It's had mixed reviews so far, so we'll let you know what we think.

Last week was Iain's first week of lectures, and apart from being nervous on the first day, he's settled in well, and is finding it much less stressful than teaching.

The cats are now twelve weeks old. I took them for their first injections this week, and they will soon be ready to go outside. They don't do microchip tagging here, so I decided to try collars and tags, despite my previous aversion to them (collars are for dogs, not for cats). I've been pleasantly surprised by how well they've coped with wearing them - Pookie went a bit mental for a few hours, trying to bite hers off, but they both seem to be used to them now. To get them accustomed to going outside, we've let them into the garden for a few minutes every day this week (closely supervised, to prevent them running off and getting lost in the jungle above the house). They seem to have enjoyed the experience so far, but are much more wary than I thought they would be. They've been moving very slowly, sniffing every square centimetre of the patio, and staying close to us and each other.

Yesterday we went to a barbecue at Iain's boss's house. It was very pleasant. Plenty of good company and lots of great food, but it was very hot, and despite sitting in the shade all the time, I think I must have got a touch of heat stroke, because when we got home I had to spend the rest of the day lying down in front of a fan.

When we went out today I wore my sunhat, and I refused to take it off, even when we were in the car. I might have looked like an eejit, but keeping the hat on seemed to do the trick. I spent hours and hours outside during the hottest part of the day, and I didn't wilt even a little bit.

One of the outdoor events we went to watch today was speed boat racing on the river. It was the time trials for the Hydroplane Grand Prix which is going to take place next weekend at a lake near Cambridge, Waikato, about five hours north of here. It was great fun to watch, and I even managed to get a few decent photos, which wasn't easy given the speeds some of the boats reach (up to 170 miles per hour along the straight).

a powerboat takes a corner on the 1km long circuit

Another place we visited today was the Gypsy Fair, which is a famous travellers' fair that travels all over the country during the spring and summer months. We love the caravans, almost all of which the owners built themselves. The 'open home' is definitely worth a look inside. It's unique and colourful, and much more spacious than you'd think.

open home, gypsy style

live music

I fancy doing a similar paint job on the RAV4...

...and something like this in my yoga room.

We've also been busy taking photos of Wanganui. We're building up an album of photos of the town. To view a slideshow of our Wanganui photos, click here:

Our Wanganui slideshow

Phew, we have been busy, haven't we?

Next week we're going walking with the tramping (ramblers') club, and at the weekend we're going on a jet boat and canoe trip on the river. We'll try to remember to take the camera with us.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Kiwi Quirks No. 1: bare feet

I've decided to start an occasional series detailing some aspects of life in New Zealand that are uniquely 'Kiwi'. To kick off with, (pardon the pun) I'll start with bare feet.

In the UK, if you go out of the house, you wear shoes. Bare feet are okay in your own home and garden and on the beach, but going barefoot anywhere else is not socially acceptable. If you do, people are likely to assume you are a vagrant or a nutter, or quite possibly both. Barefoot people get given dirty looks and a wide berth.

In New Zealand, on the other hand, going barefoot is neither a sign of abject poverty nor of being mentally unhinged, it's just another clothing option. Whatever the occasion, in any location, in any season, you'll see people of all ages and from all ethnic backgrounds walking around in bare feet.

When we first arrived in Auckland we were shocked to see whole families wandering around the streets of the central business district barefoot. I remember doing a double-take the first time I saw an elderly gent get out of the driver's seat of a car in bare feet. But plenty of people drive barefoot here. Iain has tried it, and reckons it's actually safer, because you can feel the pedals better, but I'm yet to be convinced.

At the school Iain taught at in Auckland, none of the kids had trainers as part of their PE kit. During games lessons and at break time they'd take their shoes off and play rugby and football barefoot. They'd then line up to wash their feet before they came inside.

Last week I saw a well-off elderly lady, hair newly set, wearing a smart blouse and skirt, pushing a shopping trolley through the car park in bare feet. And here's something else we've heard about but not yet seen for ourselves: apparently quite a few hikers go rambling barefoot, too. Ouch!

Saturday, 14 January 2006

New Discoveries

Today was a fairly laid back sort of day. Helen had to spend a few hours writing to hit a deadline in the UK, so I got on with a bit of decorating. So far so average. Then we headed out for the afternoon to find some new places nearby.

First stop the Wanganui Botanical Gardens. A very pleasant place to spend an afternoon, must return with a picnic and a good book to read! Then we went to a nature reserve just around the corner for a quick bush walk and a stroll around the lake, finally we went in search of a new beach.

Now so far we've not found anywhere that quite matches the west coast beaches of Auckland, the beach in town is in an area called Castlecliff and is a bit manky. It's fairly industrial and is what the estate agent called "up and coming" i.e. It's a dump. So when we went to the beach there we weren't expecting much, and it lived up to expectations! However it's a very long beach, so today we took a drive a few kms further along and had a look there. Wow! What a spot! Much better, pretty much deserted except for a few fishermen on quad bikes, and absolutely stunning scenery. I couldn't believe all the locals crowd around the grotty end of the beach instead of heading a few kms further up. Their loss - we had the place pretty much to ourselves and it was a gloriously hot Saturday afternoon. Supposed to be a good spot for surfing, but I don't think the world is quite ready for "Iain the Surf Dude" just yet, so I resorted to my Englishman abroad stereotype, rolled my trousers up and went for a paddle instead!

Tonight we're having a barbie and then taking a stroll through the park into town to make sure the local beer doesn't get past it's sell by date. Sweet as, bro, sweet as! (As they say in Kiwi land)

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Views of Wanganui

The other day we went up the Durie Hill War Memorial Tower,

Durie Hill War Memorial Tower

a popular viewpoint overlooking the town. It has 176 steps, which is more than it sounds (or maybe middle age is finally catching up with us!).

From the top of the tower you're supposed to be able to see Mount Taranaki

photo of Mount Taranaki downloaded from the web

about sixty miles to the west, and Mount Ruapehu

photo of Mount Ruapheu downloaded from the web

about 50 miles to the north.

However, when we went up, the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu were just about visible with the rest covered in heavy cloud, and we couldn't see Mount Taranaki at all. Mind you, that's hardly surprising. We drove around the base of the mountain a few months ago and we didn't get to see it then either!

We did get a couple of shots of the town, though, so we thought we'd post them on here.

The shot above shows the view downriver looking towards the Tasman Sea. The racecourse is just about visible on the other side of the river, and the big building with the orange facade is our home away from home, Mitre 10.

This shot is looking upriver. You can just see the paddlesteamer the Waimarie docked on the left-hand bank. The green swathe just past it on the right is one of the town parks, which is only a five-minute stroll from our house.

It's a grey, wet day here today, but the next fine day we get, we're planning on taking some more photos of the town, this time from ground level.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006

New Job

After finishing my contract in Auckland at the end of December, I thought I'd better get a new job in Wanganui. It just so happened that on the day I moved down I noticed a newspaper ad for a college tutor for Teaching Aides (Learning Support Assistants in the UK), so I applied. Just found out I've got the job, which is pretty cool. That's 2 interviews so far in NZ, and 2 jobs!

It seems like a really good set up. It's a government funded private college which specialises in "second chance" learning. Small organisation, very friendly but also very professional and committed to helping people who failed at school first time around.

You'll be pleased to note that I won't be straining myself too much, Wednesday-Friday I start at 1 and finish at 3. Monday and Tuesday are a full day slog though (well, until 3 anyway) but that's because they include 5 hours of non-contact planning time!!! 20 hours a week in total. This should give me enough time to do some more studying through the NZ equivalent of the Open Uni - just got to decide what to do now. Child Psychology looks like a good bet at the moment and may open up a few more career options in the longer term.

Right at the moment, life is looking pretty rosy from where I'm sitting. Wanganui is turning out to be a fantastic place to live and this job is just what I was looking for - a move out of primary teaching, but still making use of my experience and qualifications. Just got to finish the decorating, and all will be right with the world :)

Sunday, 8 January 2006

A strange place to sleep

Cats Sleep Anywhere

Cats sleep anywhere, any table, any chair.
Top of piano, window-ledge, in the middle, on the edge.
Open drawer, empty shoe, anybody's lap will do.
Fitted in a cardboard box, in the cupboard with your frocks.
Anywhere! They don't care! Cats sleep anywhere.

Eleanor Farjeon

Pookie attempts to prove Eleanor Farjeon correct

Thursday, 5 January 2006

On waking

This is what I saw when I woke up this morning.

I think it's safe to say the cats have settled in!

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

In the decorating doldrums

That's a real log fire

Coffee table? It's a footrest.

We've spent a fair bit of time decorating our living room over the last couple of days (and even more time avoiding decorating it.) These photos show what it was like before we started decorating. Not too bad really, except for the fact that the wallpaper is brown (our least favourite colour) and the paintwork's in a pretty bad way. We decided to tackle this room first because a) we spend a fair amount of time there, b) it'll nice to have a pleasant living room for when we have visitors, and c) it's the only room for which we've got all the furniture we need, so it's the only room that stands a chance of actually looking good!

After sanding, washing down and other general preparation work yesterday, we started on the painting today. We didn't have a good time. The ceiling is 3.2 metres (about 12 foot) high, and has a raised grid pattern. The paint roller on a long pole just made a drippy, uneven mess, so Iain had to get up a ladder and use a brush. It took him absolutely ages and the finished result was almost as bad as it had been with the roller. We'd bought Dulux ceiling paint because we thought it would be like the Dulux ceiling paint in the UK - very good coverage, and nice and thick to reduce runs and splashes. We were wrong. It was thin and watery, it splattered everywhere, and hardly covered anything at all. We really were arcehtypal whingeing poms today, I can tell you. Iain was doing a very good impression of Victor Meldrew.

We went to the pub quiz to get away from the smell of paint fumes and cat poo and won a prize of a thirty dollar bar tab valid during next week's quiz. So if you're in Wanganui next Wednesday night, we'll buy you a drink!

Sunday, 1 January 2006

Happy New Year

I think I ought to warn you in advance that this post may be a bit odd as I have had a glass of wine. As you may already know, I only rarely drink alcohol and consequently it doesn't take much of it to affect me quite profoundly.

Well, it's late evening on New Year's Day and we've spent a fair chunk of the day making a start on decorating our living room. I've taken some 'before' photos, so I'll post them up once we've got some 'after' photos to compare them with. We lifted up the corner of the carpet the other day and found out that the floor of the living room has the original hardwood floorboards (we think they're oak), so we'd planned on spending the day scraping the old, perished underlay off them before sanding them down. Unfortunately, when we took the whole of the carpet up we found large patched areas in pine and chipboard, so we've abandoned our plan to restore the original floor. As the floorbords are very uneven, we won't be able to lay wooden or laminate flooring on top, so we'll have to make do with carpet (not a popular option). Never mind, at least if we get a carpet, it'll mean less work for us, as we can get someone else to lay it! We've sanded down all the paintwork and now we're ready to make a start on the painting tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to painting the ceiling, as the room is 3.2 metres high.

Last night we went out to the local Irish bar, Rosie O'Grady's, to celebrate the New Year. Considering that we've only just moved here and so don't know anyone yet, we had a surprisingly good evening. We got talking to a local primary teacher whose friend was buying everyone drinks because he was part of a syndicate who owned a horse which had won a race at 29 to 1. We also spent quite a while chatting to a very nice couple from Durban in South Africa who emigrated to New Zealand a couple of months ago.

New Year's Eve is a bit surreal, isn't it? I've never felt entirely comfortable with the New Year's celebrations. The way humans chop up time into organised chunks, as if by doing this they could somehow control it, seems bizarre sometimes. This feeling is most intense at New Year. The counting down to midnight, which in reality is just another moment passing, seems arbitrary at best, but I suppose we need rituals like this in order to give life a semblance of the meaning and order that we crave.

Right, that's quite enough philosophising for one evening. I'm off to bed.