Sunday, 26 February 2006

UB40 concert

Last night we went to New Plymouth to see UB40 in concert. They are on their Who You Fighting For World Tour and are also celebrating their 25th anniversary. Bloody hell, that makes me feel old! The concert was at the Bowl of Brooklands, which is an open-air venue in a city-centre park. The stage is in the middle of a lake, and the spectators sit on the ground in a grass-covered amphitheatre.

The Bowl of Brooklands during the day...

...and at night (This isn't the UB40 concert. They had a much better light show.)

We got there early and managed to bag a great spot. We didn't take our camera as the tickets said it was possible that cameras may not be allowed, and we didn't want to risk having ours confiscated or having to leave it in an unattended car for five hours. As soon as we sat down it started raining, and we thought, Uh-oh, here we go, but fortunately it was just the first in a series of light showers, which fizzled out before the concert began.

UB40's support band were a local guitar and drums trio whose name sounded like Loo Zips Free but almost certainly wasn't. They weren't bad at all. I'd say their style was funk/jazz inspired pop, but then I know nothing about these things and it might just as easily have been plain-song inspired hip-hop. They've got an album out in New Zealand at the moment, the name of which I didn't even manage to mishear, so I'll have to keep a look out for it. It'll be a miracle if I find it.

Although the concert started at 8pm, UB40 themselves didn't come on stage until quarter past nine, but they were well worth the wait. They played a good mix of songs from last twenty-five years, including lots of their best-known hits - Cherry oh Baby, Red, Red Wine, Rat in Mi Kitchen, I Can't Help Falling in Love, Don't Let it Pass You By, and they ended their encore with One in Ten (what else?)

Even though there were 'no standing' signs everywhere, everyone stood up when UB40 started their set - you can't listen to Reggae sitting down, can you? And like everyone else, I spent the entire hour-and-a-half dancing (or jiggling about in an uncoordinated fashion in my case). We had an absolutely brilliant time, and would recommend the gig to anyone. The tour finishes in the UK in June. For information on venues and dates, visit the UB40 official website here.

Thursday, 23 February 2006

More garden photos

We've been spending a couple of hours every day gardening, and we're really pleased with what we've managed to achieve so far.

Here are some photos showing the transformation of bed number 3 in the patio area.

before (90% weeds)



The only problem is, every time we tidy up a bed, the beds nearby look even worse. Next on our list is the bed next to the sleep-out (which you can just make out on the third photo above.)

The unusual edging material is driftwood which we collected from the beach this morning. It was blowing a force eight gale and we got thoroughly sandblasted, but it was worth the effort. It looks much more interesting than any bought edging material, with the added advantage of being free.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Before and after garden shots

We've completed the renovation of two of the beds in our patio area, so we thought we'd post up some before and after photos.

The 'before' photos only give a very rough idea of what the beds looked like before we started working on them. I forgot to take any 'before' photos this weekend, so we had to dig out some old pictures taken in early December.

If you can imagine each 'before' border after nearly three months of neglect, you'll have some idea of how straggly, overgrown and weed-ridden they were.

Bed 1 before

and after

Bed 2 before

and after

As we're reluctant gardeners, we've tried to make the borders as low maintenance as possible, so we've put down black matting and bark to suppress the weeds and the plants we've bought are all hardy, evergreen perennials. The stick-like things in bed 1 are a few of the old plants which we've left in (a lavender, a rosemary and a shrub we haven't identified yet). They were all very straggly, so we've pruned them hard. If they survive we'll keep them, and if they die we'll take them out. It's kill or cure.

If the weather remains fine we're planning on doing some more garden renovation during the next week, so we'll post some more pics. If anyone has any gardening advice or tips, we'd love to hear them, because we know absolutely nothing about gardening and are stumbling around in the dark at the moment.

Right, I'm off now to have a big sit down and a nice cup of tea.

Saturday, 18 February 2006

Today we have been mainly...

...gardening. We realise this may come as something of a shock to those of you who know us well. Let me explain.

Up until yesterday we'd done absolutely nothing to the garden since we moved in (apart from mow the grass). As the previous owners moved out about a month before we moved in, this means the garden has been neglected for over three months. Everything was getting so overgrown the house was in danger of being swamped under foliage like some Mayan ruin.

This weekend we're tackling the patio area which is the main outdoor living space. We'll post some 'before and after' piccies tomorrow, but just to whet your appetite, here's a rare photo of Iain in action.

Iain gets all horticultural

Thursday, 16 February 2006

Thanks to Carin...

... I am no longer showercapless.

A cheeky little green and yellow satiny number arrived in the post earlier in the week.

Here I am, modelling the shower cap and practising my poses ready for when the acting agency calls.

The 'James Dean'

The 'Barbara Windsor'

Thanks, Carin. :-)

Shake, rattle and roll

I can't quite believe that we've lived in 'The Shaky Isles' for ten months without experiencing an earthquake, but last night we broke our duck.

I was woken just after one o'clock by a low rumbling sound and wondered, quite calmly, whether it was an earthquake coming. This thought popped into my head because neighbours of ours told us just a few weeks ago that you can always hear an earthquake before you feel it. Sure enough, several seconds later the house started to shake from side to side. It felt like a gentler version of the earthquake simulator we went on in the Te Papa museum in Wellington. The shocks only lasted about two seconds, but were big enough to wake Iain, which is saying something ;-).

I was interested to find out whether the earthquake was a minor, local event, or whether we'd been on the outer limits of a bigger quake. I made a mental note to try to find the earthquake on the national earthquake site when I got up this morning.

It didn't take long to find details of the quake. It registered 5.9 on the Richter Scale which sounds pretty big to me (but then I'm no seismologist) and the epicentre was out in the middle of the Cook Strait, the stretch of sea separating North Island from South Island. I wouldn't like to have been sailing on the midnight ferry last night!

Click below to read
details about this morning's earthquake.

Friday, 10 February 2006

Our Whanganui River Trip

Last Saturday morning we drove for an hour and a half, most of the way on gravel roads, to get to the town of Pipiriki, where our river tour started. I call it a town because that's how it was described in the brochure, but really it's more like a village. In fact, thinking about it, it isn't big enough to deserve the name village, consisting as it does of just half a dozen houses and a public toilet block. So let's call it a settlement.

From the boat ramp at Pipiriki we rode in a jet boat up river for about an hour. Our guide, who was the owner of the tour company, stopped at a few places of interest along the way, including an area of river underneath an arcing rock cliff called the amphitheatre because the acoustics are so good there. In the 19th century when paddle steamers plied the river, the local Maori used to put on shows at the top of the cliff for the visiting tourists.

At another point our guide showed us metal rings driven into the rock a few feet above the water line. These rings used to hold lengths of rope. At points where the river was particularly shallow, paddlesteamers would often run aground, so these ropes were installed so that they could attach to them and be hauled over the shallow bits.

After about an hour on the jet boat we arrived at Mangapurua landing and from there it was a forty minute walk through the bush (native forest) to the famous (in New Zealand) Bridge to Nowhere.

not the Bridge to Nowhere ~ must be the bridge to somewhere

This photo shows Iain walking across a hanging footbridge on the way to the Bridge to Nowhere. Our guide told us that the bridge had only been completed just before Christmas. The previous footbridge had been washed away by floods the previous season.

The Mangapurua valley was first opened up to farmers between the world wars. About thirty farming families lived there by the mid 1930s when the bridge was built as part of the new road linking the Whanganui River with the town of Raetihi to the north. By the time the bridge was finished eighteen months later, only a handful of families remained. The road was never finished. The reason? Poor farming conditions in the valley combined with a sudden decrease in river traffic when the 'river road' was opened in 1934. This was the first road to connect Wanganui to the interior of the North Island. Before that everything came on the river.

The Bridge to Nowhere

We ate our packed lunch on The Bridge to Nowhere and then set off back to the landing. Our guide took us several kilometres back down the river in the jet boat, and dropped us off at a rock and driftwood strewn beach where there were a couple of canoes.

Action Helen paddles furiously

It's a really isolated bit of the world up river - there is no road access or even walking access to vast sections above Pipiriki. One of NZ's 'Great Walks' is a five day wilderness canoe trip down the Whanganui and it really is pretty wild up there.

Why are you smiling? Haven't you seen Deliverance?

Having been abandoned somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we thought we'd better start paddling back. Open Canoes, I have decided, have the potential to wreck marriages. "Paddle left! No right!! Where are you going?" etc etc. Eventually we sort of got the hang of it, and managed to proceed in a zig-zaggy way down river. I'm sure you're only supposed to tack against the wind when you're in a sailing boat! There were a few small rapids along the way, which were lots of fun for us 'newbies' and we managed to get back to Pipiriki in one piece without being molested by any banjo playing hillbillies.

Taking a well earned rest from canoeing sideways down the river

Overall we had lots of fun and are contemplating buying our own canoes (not open ones!) to do a bit more splashing about in the river. The five day trip sounds like a lot of fun.


Wednesday, 8 February 2006

A poem

I'd like to share a poem I've written, inspired by our river trip on Saturday. We'll be collecting the photos later on today, so we should be posting our trip report this evening or tomorrow morning.

On the Whanganui River

I grasp the moment
the way I grasp this paddle
as lightly as I can,
knuckles still white.

The weight of time
is my ballast -
the ghost of a seal hunter
cutting through ice water.

No glacier melt here.
The river gorge is a leaking boat
letting in sunlight
to leave me soaking hot.
Even the river is sweating.
It smells of damp earth
and newly-minted oxygen.

On the stony sandbank
an installation of
driftwood sculptures
lies artfully abandoned.

Among the tree ferns
and rata vines
cicadas complain incessantly
about the heat.

A harrier hawk rises like a hymn
at the note of my paddle
and then is gone.

Helen Whittaker

Sunday, 5 February 2006


...we made it back in one piece after our jet/canoe trip along the Whanganui River yesterday. Unfortunately we can't post any photos yet. We didn't dare take our digital SLR, in case we dropped it in the river, so we bought a cheapo disposable camera and took some snaps with that. The camera processing place in town doesn't open again for a couple of days, as it's a holiday weekend here, so we'll have to take the camera in on Tuesday, wait a couple of days for the film to be processed (or maybe succumb to impatience and pay extra for their 1 hour service) and then scan the prints into the computer before we can post any photos to the blog. We'll post our 'trip report' with the photos.