Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Sorry, can't think of a snappy title

Another fortnight has flown past.

Ward Observatory

First of all, let me tell you about our visit to the observatory which Iain mentioned in our previous post. I really enjoyed it, but Iain gave the impression of being a little underwhelmed by the whole experience. Between you and me, I think he was expecting to see images to rival those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. *Insert rolly-eyed smiley here.* The observatory belongs to the Wanganui Astronomical Society, and every Friday night they open it up to the public, two or three society members manning the telescopes and talking about some of the most interesting sights to be seen at that particular time of month and time of year. I was keen to view the moon, but as it was in its fourth quarter it wasn't due to rise until much later at night, so I'll have to go back some time when it's in the correct phase.

the full moon as seen from the northern hemisphere

the full moon as seen from the southern hemisphere

The most memorable part of the evening for me was seeing Jupiter and Saturn. Saturn's rings stood out very clearly and you could see its moons, too. Jupiter looked fantastic - the red spot wasn't visible (must have been round the other side of the planet), but you could see its stripy clouds and its four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

One of the astronomers had a laser pointer, which he used to point out specific stars and constellations. It emitted a beam of very high powered laser light, which must have reached for miles, and which could apparently blind you if it shone in your eyes. I wouldn't like to have been in a light aircraft over Wanganui that night!

Anyway, enough geeky stuff.

Bushy Park

We've also been on a visit to Bushy Park Homestead and Forest, which is about a twenty minute drive from town. The house has recently been renovated, and made into a hotel and conference centre. It's set in several hectares of native forest, and is a very relaxing place to go for a walk.

We took lots of photos of the forest, but due to the very poor light conditions none of them came out very well. However, we did catch this snap of a New Zealand robin. It came up to us and started showing off, hopping around, fluffing its feathers and chirruping. It was very cute. It wasn't at all phased by Iain pointing a camera in its face, and it had lots of tags on its legs, so we think it was probably hand reared.

Other places

We've been to two 'games nights' down the local pub now, and we were the only people playing games both times. In fact we were pretty much the only people in the pub on both evenings. It was so quiet that the barman, Alex, was able to join in. We're hoping that when word gets round about the games night people will be beating down the door to get in...or something like that.

On Saturday we went to visit a fellow immigrant, Mike, in Bulls, which is about half an hour away. He cooked home-made pizza, which was absolutely delicious, and we went down the local to watch the final of the Super 14 rugby, between Wellington and Christchurch. It was held at Jade Stadium in Christchurch, and there was heavy fog, but both the match and the TV coverage went ahead, although it was often difficult to see what was going on on the pitch! I think I might be able to get into rugby, if I make a really concerted effort, but trying to watch this match certainly tested my powers of concentration.

Other Whittaker news in brief
  • The trench in the patio is not getting any longer or deeper, despite Pookie's best earth-moving efforts.
  • I've had another poem accepted for publication in Poetry Monthly magazine.
  • We're planning a skiing trip to Mount Ruapehu in July (see the photo in the previous post). Should be interesting. We're both beginners, I'm highly accident prone and Iain is totally uncoordinated.

Our House No. 2: The Dining Room

This is an unusual room. We think it might originally have been the kitchen, partly because the current kitchen is a later addition and partly because it has an odd little cool cupboard that is built out from the side of the house, which we think probably used to be the pantry. It's quite a dark room, and in the past people have attempted to let in more light by adding two extra windows - one on the wall next to the cool cupboard, and the other on the opposite wall that divides the dining room from the hall. There is no door between the hall and the dining room; we think it was removed to let light into the room from the hall. We think the light fitting is probably original, although the fireplace certainly isn't and is hideous 70's-style faux brick with an electric mock-log fire. Yuck!

We're planning on decorating the dining room soon. It still has its original hardwood floor, so we're getting a blokey in next week to give us a quote for restoring it. We're going to add some warmth and colour to the walls, with a rich red on the wooden cladding and a light but warm shade on the top half of the walls (such as cream). Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely our budget will stretch to replacing the fireplace.

I'll sign off now, with a resolution to try to post more often.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

Snowy Lumps

My students were off doing practicums today, so we were able to take advantage of a glorious morning and go for a drive around the local country lanes. We drove towards the fringes of the National Park, which is a short drive out of town, and came across a great vista.

Iain looking lost. "If only there were some landmarks around..."

Mount Taranaki

Mount Ruapehu

Normally you can easily see Mount Ruapehu from Wanganui (where they did all the Mordor stuff in LOtR - Mount Doom is just behind it), but Mount Taranaki (where the Last Samuri was shot, NZ film buffs!) spends a fair chunk of its life under clouds, however we could see them both from the same spot today.

Nestled in the hills where we stopped was this place. I think I've found my dream home. Imagine waking up to those views every morning?! It felt in a world of its own out there, but in reality was only 20-30 minutes out of the city. So you could easily commute. Wonder how much they want for it?

Iain's dream home

We're off star gazing on Friday night at the local observatory, with some folks from our quiz team - also hoping to brain wash them into playing a few board games with us. This should make up for missing Beer & Pretzels this year. :)

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Good Evening All

I've not been doing anything quite as dynamic as Helen, other than being Dixon of Dock Green once a month for community patrol. Actually, we prefer to think of ourselves more like Crockett and Tubbs or Bodie and Doyle. It's not that exciting really, we just drive around in an unmarked patrol car, reporting people walking in a suspicious manner or being a bit naughty. I was tempted to leap out of the car and shout "Freeze, mother f*cker!!" to a little old lady coming out of a sweet shop, but my partner held me back. She was wearing a shifty looking hat though, so i'd have been within my rights, I reckon.

Other than that I've been steadfastly avoiding digging ditches in the patio - ably helped by the weather and tweaking my neck this morning. I'm now staggering about like Lurch, hopefully it'll wear off shortly and I'll resume my digging duties. Or maybe not.

A treatise on meteorology, plumbing and pet medication

Well, the last week has been pretty non-descript, and the weekend has been a real washout - forty-eight hours of almost constant heavy rain, which has put paid to our plans to fight the next battle in the war of attrition against the garden.

On the bright side, the bad weather has meant that Iain's not had to do any digging. Let me explain. When we called a plumber in to sort out some toilet trouble a few weeks back, he told us the pipe that connects our toilet to the main sewer needs replacing. In an effort to save some money, Iain volunteered to dig out the necessary thirty-foot trench across the patio himself. So far, there's not a whole lot of hole.

I've had a busy week, work-wise. I've got a brand new contract from Longmans, writing extra material for the revised version of their MathsWorks scheme which will bring it in line with the latest version of the national numeracy strategy. As I sat down next to Mo on the sofa on Monday morning, ready to start tapping away on the laptop, I noticed that she had a lump about half the size of a kiwi fruit on her operation site. I took her to the vets' and came back with one stressed-out moggy and fourteen little pink antibiotic pills. I did some research on the internet on the best methods for administering pills to pets and found this:

Giving pills to cats and dogs


  1. Pick cat up and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.
  2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.
  3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.
  4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of 10.
  5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse from garden.
  6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, holding front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold cat's head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.
  7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines from hearth and set to one side for glueing later.
  8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with its head just visible from below spouse's armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force cat's mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.
  9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, drink 1 beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap. Throw pieces of towel in garbage.
  10. Retrieve cat from neighbour's shed. Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard and close door onto neck to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.
  11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw T-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.
  12. Ring fire brigade to retrieve the friggin' cat from tree across the road. Apologize to neighbour who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.
  13. Tie the little **** 's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining room table. Find heavy duty pruning gloves from shed. Force cat's mouth open with small spanner. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour 2 pints of water down throat to wash pill down. Pray vigorously while performing all steps.
  14. Consume remainder of Scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.
  15. Arrange for RSPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and ring local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters left.


  1. Wrap it in bacon.

The cat lovers amongst you will be glad to know I haven't let this cautionary tale deter me from my duties as a responsible pet owner; in fact, over the last week I've become a dab hand at administering pills to a cat. I wait until Mo is asleep, smear a little pink pill with margerine, prise the cat's mouth open, pop the pill on the back of her tongue before she realises what's happening, and then give her the margarine-y spoon to lick. So far she's swallowed the pill every time! I've also been careful to call the pills 'sweeties' when she's in earshot. Probably being over-cautious there, but you can never tell. ;-)

Iain keeps saying he's going to make a post to the blog, but the delights of the XBox 360 are keeping him away from the computer at the moment, so don't hold your breath.


Sunday, 7 May 2006

A busy fortnight

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I've been incredibly busy over the last couple of weeks. The highlights of the last fortnight have been last weekend's stay at a marae and today's 'Round the Bridges' race.

Noho Marae

Noho marae means 'marae stay' in the Maori language. It was my first ever visit to a marae and I was quite nervous beforehand, but I needn't have worried, as I had a great time. I took a disposable camera with me, but frustratingly it didn't work, so I've not got any photos to post.

After taking part in the powhiri (formal greeting ceremony) and eating a meal together, the main event of Friday evening was the mihimihi, where every person stood up in turn and introduced themselves by giving their whakapapa (genealogy) in the Maori language. Some people (like me) simply listed their grandparents, then their parents and finally introduced themselves and said where they were from. Others gave a much longer and more detailed family tree. There must have been over eighty people in the room, and it took nearly three hours for everyone to introduce themselves, but it was a really good comprehension exercise and I amazed myself by not 'switching off' at all. Apart from the hosts and our university tutors, everyone else was a beginner, and it was great the way everyone supported the person who was speaking, especially anyone who was struggling , either with the language or with nerves from speaking in public.

On Saturday morning we learned about the history of the village, which was founded as a Christian community shortly after the First World War by a man called T.W. Ratana. Here's a link if you'd like to find out a little bit about him.

weaving flax ('borrowed' image)

After lunch we had a flax weaving workshop where we were taught how to make a simple bracelet. This was my favourite activity. I found it very relaxing.

I wish we'd looked this good!

Finally we learned a Maori song and dance about fishing for seafood which we then performed at the farewell ceremony at the end of the afternoon. In the time we had, I think I could either have learned the tune, or the words, or the dance, but trying to learn all three was a real challenge!

Round the Bridges River Run

This annual charity fundraiser is in its 29th year, and offers a choice of two courses - one 7.9 km long and the other 4.7 km. As I only started running in February I thought it safest to train for the shorter distance. At one point I thought I wouldn't make the race at all. I developed a very sore throat on Thursday night and spent most of Friday in bed, feeling really rough. I thought I'd got a throat infection and assumed I wouldn't be well enough to race today. Fortunately, it turned out it was just a cold, and by this morning I felt fine.

As you can imagine, I was thrilled to be well enough to race after I'd thought I wasn't going to be able to, and I was even more delighted to get round in 28 minutes; three minutes faster than when I ran the course in training two weeks ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the race and I'm keen to run a proper 5k at the earliest opportunity.

about two thirds of the way round

I did it!

Hopefully the frantic pace of our lives will slow down just a little now, so I get a bit more time for posting to the blog!