Ooh, drama next door – a fire engine pulled up a few minutes ago with lights flashing, and they went into the house with a hose. No sign of any smoke or anything, though, and there doesn’t seem to be any major sense of urgency about proceedings, so I assume it’s nothing major. I don’t know those neighbours well enough to go over and be nosy, I mean, a concerned caring neighbour checking they’re ok.

Looks like they’re packing up to go now anyway, so whatever the excitement was, it’s obviously over.


Like most New Zealanders, my ancestry is a bit of a mixture. On one side, I’m a 5th generation Kiwi – my paternal grandmother was named Charlotte Jane, after the ship her grandparents came from England to New Zealand on (for my American readers, this is like having arrived on the Mayflower). Then there’s my paternal grandfather, whose antecedents are a bit more hazy – his father was definitely German, but there’s no record of how he got to New Zealand – family legend says he jumped ship. And my mother is Scottish (although her surname is a Welsh one) – she and her parents emigrated when she was a child. So I’m part English, part German, part Scottish, probably part Welsh, and who knows what else.

But at this time of year, I mostly think of myself as Scottish, and I always feel nostalgic for the New Year’s Eves of my childhood. New Year’s Eve was always a family event, and almost more important than Christmas. You got presents at Christmas, but New Year’s was special. There was always a party at my grandparents’, but not the raucous drunken parties most people associate with New Year’s – this was a much more civilised, family-centered party. There was plenty of whiskey drunk, of course, but an equal amount of tea. Most of the guests would be people of my grandparents had met on the ship from Scotland, and their families. As the years went on, and people died or moved away, the parties dwindled to just our family, with perhaps a few neighbours dropping in, but the preparations were still the same: the whole house would be cleaned, as much out of superstition (that you should greet the New Year with respect, as the way you start the year will determine how the rest of it goes) as in preparation for visitors, there would be copious amounts of sandwiches, shortbread and mince pies made, and the best whiskey and sherry brought out.

At midnight, everyone shook hands or kissed, and there’d be singing, usually led by my Granda – Auld Lang Syne, of course, but also A Guid New Year, and Granda’s favourite, The Green Oak Tree, a song about Greenock, their home town. Then would come the first footing. Just before midnight one of the visiting men (preferably someone tall and dark-haired for good luck, but any man not of the household would do in a pinch) would have left the house, and would now knock on the door, and be greeted as the “first foot”, the first visitor to cross the threshold in the new year. Then we’d usually go en masse round the neighbours to first foot them, taking symbolic gifts of food, drink and a piece of coal or wood (to represent the wish that in the coming year the recipients’ home would never been short of food or warmth (just as important as food in a Scottish winter – there’s an old Scottish saying “Lang may yer lum reek” (i.e. “long may your chimney smoke”) which is said as a half-joking blessing, but before the days of central heating, keeping the fire burning was a serious thing)).

Without my grandparents, New Years has never been quite the same. I’ve been to “real” New Year’s parties, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in a crowd of thousands on Queenstown’s waterfront the year that was *the* place to be, I’ve spent it in a London pub, even spent it in Scotland one year. But those wild parties never felt as much fun as those parties at Granny and Granda’s, the nostalgic celebrations of a home they’d left behind (and that had probably never quite existed anyway in quite the way they remembered).

And so every New Year’s Eve I feel a bit wistful, wishing I could be with my grandparents again, remembering the time Granda dragged me up with him to sing The Green Oak Tree to our bemused neighbours, because he knew I knew all the words and he was too drunk to remember them all (so I, who have absolutely no confidence in my singing ability, was left singing most of it on my own to a roomful of strangers!); the time we all piled into the car and drove for miles into the countryside so we could first foot some friends of Granny’s that were on a camping holiday (and poor Dad couldn’t drink all night because he’d have to drive); remembering the fun and laughter and music and friendship. And so tonight, although I always say I can’t be bothered with New Year’s, and that it’s just another night, I’ll stay up until midnight anyway. And I’ll wish I was at one of those parties, and I’ll vaguely consider first-footing the neighbours (but I won’t, because I know it won’t mean the same to them, and they’d just be confused if I brought them a log of wood).

And although I’m not at all superstitious really, today I cleaned the house from top to bottom. Because you have to. It’s New Year’s.

Not in Caroline Bay

I was supposed to be in Caroline Bay today with lytteltonwitch and awhina and co, but the weather has packed in again, so we decided this morning to postpone the expedition, probably until Tuesday. So instead I spent the morning reading the new Terry Pratchett book I got for Christmas, Wintersmith, and the rest of the day will probably be spent like most of this week has, playing The Sims (I’m not obsessed, really I’m not! :-)).

We’ve been experimenting with our new panini press, although so far we haven’t actually used it for toasting paninis 🙂 I can report, though, that it makes very good ordinary toasted sandwiches, and burritos work well too, and the other night, remembering the very yummy toasted souvlaki that we used to get from a takeaway in Papanui (unfortunately since closed down), we got some ordinary souvlaki from the kebab place up the road and experimented with toasting it, which worked well once we’d figured out how to keep the pita bread from unrolling before we got the lid down. I’m sure we’ll quickly get bored with eating toasted stuff and it’ll be consigned to the back of the cupboard with the other gadgets, but for now we’re having fun trying out different breads and fillings.

I’ve had a few good catches lately: The Golden Fruits by Nathalie Sarraute, which I released in Napier, was found in Mt Maunganui, and is now on its way to Queensland; The Later Adventures of Tom Jones by Bob Coleman was caught in Wedderburn, and The Last Innocent Man by Phillip M. Margolin was caught in Wellington.

They took it back!

One Scrubs DVD successfully exchanged for a voucher, which we promptly spent on several more DVDs. Which means the ratio of books to DVDs on the living room bookshelf has fallen even further…

And a large chunk of our Christmas money has been satisfactorily spent, mostly on CDs and a panini press (pretentious, I know, but our old toasty-pie machine died several years ago, and this seemed like a more flexible option for replacing it).

OMG Petz!!!111one!!

Don’t worry, I haven’t gone all l33t, that’s just an in-joke reference (from the More Awesome Than You Sims site) to the Pets expansion pack for The Sims 2. Which I got for Christmas. And which has been absorbing a large chunk of my time and attention for the last two days 🙂

Christmas was christmassy, in a calm, no family around sort of way. Just me and MrPloppy, some good food, a few presents, and lots of chocolate 🙂 Despite having (as every year) said to all three sets of parents that we didn’t want to do presents, they all sent us something. Mum’s kind of got the message, and just sent a couple of little things, but Dad sent us money as usual (it’s become a bit of a family joke that he never buys anyone a present, just gives them the money (although there’s a very good reason for that: he’s in retail and doesn’t have staff, so when’s he supposed to do his Christmas shopping?)), and although we at first thought the Outlaws had also got the message and just sent something small, on closer examination of our gifts we discovered several £20 notes tucked inside them! I should feel guilty about the fact that we only sent them a Christmas card, but we did tell them we weren’t doing presents, and we told them not to send us anything, so if they choose to ignore that, that’s not our fault!

So, having talked ourselves out of the guilt, and with our usual philosophy that gifted money shouldn’t be spent on practical stuff, the plan for today is to go to the bank and get the money the Outlaws sent us changed into dollars, then add it to the money from Dad and the voucher from the Awhinas, and hit the post-Christmas sales!

The other thing we have to do in town today is attempt to exchange a DVD. For the first time ever, MrPloppy and I managed to buy each other exactly the same gift: Series 4 of Scrubs. It’s actually amazing that we haven’t done it before, given our similar tastes in TV and movies, but this is the first time. MrPloppy opened his first, and burst out laughing and handed me another parcel of the same size… so now we have two copies. I got his from Amazon ages ago, at the same time as I was ordering some other DVDs for his birthday, so it’s way too late to return it, and he got mine from Whitcoulls, which has a no returns policy on DVDs. But he’s still got the receipt, so we’re going to take both copies in to Whitcoulls today and try and plead our case, because if we’ve got two copies it’s pretty obvious we aren’t pirates trying to copy the disk and then return it. Probably won’t work, but it’s worth a try. Oh well, if they won’t give us an exchange, we’ll probably just give the extra copy away (anyone here like Scrubs and have a Region 4 DVD player?) – actually, I might donate it as a prize for the Bookcrossing convention.

Merry Christmas!

It’s 7.30 am on Christmas morning, and I’m just waiting for MrPloppy to wake up so we can share the true meaning of Christmas: PRESSIES!!!!

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all my DD friends (and to anyone else who’s passing :-)) – hope you all have a wonderful day (and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, just have a wonderful Monday anyway!), and that Santa brings you everything you want.

One more sleep!

Yayyy!!! It’s Christmas Eve!!! One more sleep ’til Christmas! And even better, two more weeks before I have to go back to work!!!

MrPloppy and I hosted our almost-traditional (we’ve done it three times now, which is nearly a tradition) Bookcrossing Christmas party on Friday night. We were supposed to be starting at 7.30, but last time I’d seen awhina we’d vaguely discussed her and meerkitten coming round earlier and ordering a pizza or something for dinner. I rang her at 5 to check whether that plan was still on, and she’d forgotten, but said she had some fresh fish she’d intended to cook for dinner, so if I supplied the vegetables she’d bring the fish over and we could cook it here. She arrived with Ken (soon to be Mr awhina) and his daughter in tow (they were supposed to be arriving late that night, but had come up a day early), and between us all we managed to somehow create dinner for six (well, seven, actually, because lytteltonwitch arrived while we were eating, so we dished up a plate for her too) in about half an hour – pretty good going!

Lytteltonwitch had brought an engagement present for awhina and Ken: a large box of goodies, topped by a Ken doll (to keep awhina company until Ken moves up to Christchurch permanently :-)). The two kids were eagerly peering into the box over their parents’ shoulders until awhina spotted what was underneath the doll: lytteltonwitch had put together a collection of “things newlyweds might need”, and just a glimpse of the first item (chocolate penises) before awhina quickly slammed the box shut was enough to get the girls giggling for the rest of the night and demanding to know what else was in there (we said we’d tell them when they’re 18 :-))

Then it was a quick rush to get the dishes done and everything cleared away before the gwilks and TheLetterB arrived. The gwilks brought some games along, so we played several hysterical games of “Apples to Apples” until it started to get dark, then piled into cars and headed over to Jelly Park, to decorate a tree with books. This was the second time we’ve made a Christmas booktree, so we were all well organised with plenty of Christmas-themed books (everything from biblical stories to barbecue recipes to romances with “Christmas” in the title – about 80 books in total, I think), and hung books (suitably protected from the rain in plastic bags, and decorated with red ribbons) from every accessible branch (and a few inaccessible ones, which the kids climbed the tree to get to). The tree looked fantastic when we were finished, with lights from passing cars reflected off the plastic bags as they fluttered in the wind:

(that’s lytteltonwitch posing beneath the tree, in her special Christmas dress – she wore that to work!)

The books I contributed to the tree (all with Christmassy titles or cover art) were:

Just like last year, cars were tooting and waving (well, the people inside were waving, anyway!) at us as they passed – though that might have been because of lytteltonwitch’s short skirt and the fact she kept bending down to take books out of the box!

Once all the books were hung, awhina, ken and the kids headed home, and the rest of us went back to our place for supper and a few more games. The gwilks had to get home and relieve their babysitter at midnight, but lytteltonwitch and TheLetterB stayed on, so we tuned into Radio Shropshire for the weekly Bookcrossing update. We decided we needed to ring in again and wish the host, JimOnTheRadio, a Merry Christmas, so lytteltonwitch was delegated to the task (I did it last year, but I wanted to be able to listen to it myself this time!) She rang the station, and they arranged to ring us back (so we didn’t have to wait on hold on an international toll call). A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was Jim. He interviewed lytteltonwitch for several minutes about our booktree, her short skirt, and our horrible weather, and she did very well with her first ever radio appearance, sounding much more confident than I felt when I did it last year!

A very successful party overall, I think – everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, anyway, and I know I certainly did!

The next morning, the kitten knocked on our door, bearing a Christmas card for us (with a book voucher inside! Whitcoulls boxing day sale here we come!!!) and several of the books we’d hung from the tree. Apparently they’d just driven past the tree, and while some books were still hanging from it, some had obviously been pulled down and then just thrown on the muddy ground :-(. Luckily, most were still in their bags so protected from the mud and rain, but one (Married by Christmas, which lytteltonwitch had released) had been removed from its bag and was soaked through too badly to be saved, so I had to throw it away.

I promised the kitten I’d release the others somewhere dry, so this morning I walked up to the supermarket in Bishopdale for a few last minute things, and while I was there released the books (Small Change, Can This Be Christmas, Christmas Due Date, and The December Rose) plus another Christmas-themed book that I’d just finished reading (The Christmas Train). Hopefully they’ll fare better this time.

Currently reading: Eragon by Christopher Paolini (borrowed from the kitten – I thought I should read it before I see the movie)
Currently listening to: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

A Hoist of Angels

I was going to spend some of the weekend getting my diary a bit more up to date, but then I stupidly spent several hours playing the Sims on Friday night, and made the even stupider mistake of sitting on an ordinary chair instead of my proper office chair while doing so, and the even even stupider mistake of sitting on a funny angle, which all added up to me waking up on Saturday with a very sore back. So I thought I’d be best to spend the weekend as far from a computer as possible to give it some vague hope of recovery.

My back’s still a bit sore (carrying a heavy bag home last night was probably a silly move…), but I’m being good and sitting correctly on my ergonomically designed chair at my ergonomically designed desk, and making sure I get up from the computer and walk around my office every half an hour, so it’s slowly improving.

Anyway, we had our proper meetup on Saturday, postponed from Tuesday to suit a couple of people who’d said Saturday suited them better, and guess what? Yep, none of them showed up! So it was just me, lytteltonwitch and awhina and the kitten as usual. We had breakfast at Trattorie, and tidied up the OCZ bookshelf a bit afterwards. I’d brought along a couple of books, but decided in the end to take them back home with me and keep them for Wellington, because the shelf was pretty full, and it didn’t look like the books were moving much (I recognised most of the titles from my previous visits).

A lot of the books are looking a bit shabby, which probably doesn’t appeal much to the clientele of this reasonably up-market cafe. We really should get organised sometime and go through and remove all the shabby books and replace them with better ones, but I’m not sure whether it would be worth it, because the bookcrosser who’s been leaving all the old ripped books there would just keep doing it anyway (and would probably get angry at us for interfering with her books – from previous encounters with her, I know she doesn’t take criticism well, no matter how nicely it’s done). So we’ll probably just leave it as it is 🙁 I’m surprised the cafe owners put up with it, really.

On Sunday, it was time for my annual church visit, to see the kitten in her nativity play. Actually, there were three separate mini-plays, each performed by a different age group. As usual, there was much unintended humour, especially from the 5-6 year olds, whose play not only featured cardboard cutouts of Mary and Joseph being staple-gunned to the scenery (through the forehead, no less!), but also what the young narrator proudly announced as “a hoist of angels” 🙂 The kitten also provided her share of laughs in her play, when she forgot her lines and grabbed for a script hidden in the scenery. Awhina laughed loudly at that, and the kitten, hearing her, turned to where we were sitting in the audience, fixed her mother with a stare and said “oh, shove off”, then with perfect professionalism calmly returned to her place in the script. That brought even more of a laugh from the audience than the hidden script had, but this time most of it was directed at awhina.

I kind of released God Knows by Joseph Heller in the church. When awhina had come to pick me up that morning, she’d spotted it in a pile of books and said it would make a great themed release at her church. I’d demurred, because I didn’t want to offend anyone, but she insisted that everyone at the church was broadminded and would see the joke, so I eventually agreed. However, when we got there and I got it out of my bag to release it, she decided she actually wanted to read it herself, so it didn’t get much of a chance in the wild! She’s promised to release it in the church herself sometime…

I was supposed to go out again last night, to dinner with the Chick Flicks group, but I completely forgot. In my defence, I’d had a pretty fraught day at work, having had some entirely undeserved criticism from someone, which really upset me. Luckily, when I spoke to my boss about it, he agreed it was unwarranted, and said he would speak to the person concerned, which improved my day slightly, but by the time 5 o’clock arrived all I wanted to do was get home and hide from the world, and it didn’t even occur to me to check my diary. So it was a complete shock a couple of hours later when, comfortably ensconced at home, I got a text from lytteltonwitch asking where we were supposed to be meeting, and I remembered I was supposed to be in town at 7.30. I did for a moment contemplate quickly getting ready and taking a taxi into town, but it all seemed like too much effort when I just wanted to curl up in front of something mindless on TV feeling sorry for myself, so I sent back a message with my apologies.

Sorry witch! Hope you had a good time anyway.

Had another catch from my Wellington trip: The Observatory by Emily Grayson (and the catcher actually noticed the themed release!), plus a couple from the Mt Cook trip: The Paradise Tree by Diana L. Paxson, which I’d released in Maheno (yes, I know that’s even further from Mt Cook than Ranfurly is); and Escudo by Thomas Gifford, one of the books in the YHA which I’d stuck a pre-numbered label in.

Currently reading: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Currently listening to: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

The meetup that wasn’t … and then was

Yesterday was the second Tuesday of the month, so should have been meetup night, but the general consensus after discussion on the BCNZ Yahoo group was that most people’s social calendars were already full, December being December, so we decided to postpone and have a brunch next Saturday instead.

But yesterday morning I sent a text to awhina to invite her to our Christmas gathering next week, and in passing mentioned the cancelled meetup. Very shortly afterwards, I got a reply saying “But I wanted to go out for dinner!” – as usual, she hadn’t been reading her emails, so had completely missed the entire Yahoo discussion, and had promised the kitten a meal out. Several messages back and forth later, we decided to meet for dinner anyway, at a mexican restaurant we hadn’t tried before, and a few more phone calls and emails added MrPloppy and lytteltonwitch to the plan, so our non-meetup night was suddenly looking pretty much like a meetup.

The new (for us, anyway – I think it’s been open for a year or two now) restaurant wasn’t too bad – the music was a bit loud (especially considering there were only a few tables occupied) and the food not quite spicey enough for my tastes (but then, I burnt out my chilli sensors years ago 🙂 ), but it was ok. Awhina (for a change) was impressed by the service, but I think that’s mainly because the waiting staff (of which we had several, all very attentive – I think they must have been expecting it to be busier than it was, because there seemed to be a lot of staff on for so very few customer) were very patient with the kitten’s fussiness about what she did and didn’t want on her meal.

What was most notable about the place, though, was that on the dessert menu it listed (along with the usual flan, icecream, or chocolate cake) a margarita cheesecake with chilli base, served with avocado icecream. Of course, I couldn’t let a gastronomic challenge like that pass me by, so I had to order it. It was… um… interesting. I’ve never had a margarita, so I don’t know if the cheesecake really tasted like one or not – to me it just tasted like ordinary lemon cheesecake with loads of grated citrus peel through it (which was unfortunate, because I don’t like peel all that much – a few pieces are ok, but too much makes me feel sick). You could kind of taste the chilli in the base, but not much – about as much as chilli-flavoured Tim Tams: enough that you know there’s another flavour in there, but not enough to really taste it properly. The icecream was what was really odd – it seemed to be just vanilla icecream with avocado mashed into it. So in one spoonful you’d taste vanilla, and in the next frozen avocado… which was… well… “interesting” is really the only word for it (the waitress asked how I’d liked it, and when I said “interesting” she commented that everyone had said that so far!)

I didn’t bring any books along (because not expecting a meetup I hadn’t organised any), but awhina brought one (that I’d already read), and lytteltonwitch had grabbed a couple off the book-swap shelf at her work. Neither of those appealed to me, so for once I actually went home from a meetup without having added to Mt TBR!

Currently reading: The Light of Other Days by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Currently listening to: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

Busy, busy, busy

I’m really not doing well at keeping my diary up to date, am I? I just don’t seem to have had the time or energy lately… or possibly it’s just that I keep getting distracted by other things.

Anyway, been a busy week or so. The end of the year is fast approaching, which signals time for all those end of year parties. For work alone I’ve so far been to two Christmas lunches, and have another couple coming up – which would be good, but my workload hasn’t shown much sign of doing its usual summer slowdown yet, so all these distractions are making it hard to keep up. In fact, I even had to do some overtime on Saturday, just to make sure I manage to get one particular project finished before Christmas.

MrPloppy invited a few friends around for a games evening on Saturday night. Unfortunately, yet again several of them pulled out at the last minute, so it ended up being just us, T, and lytteltonwitch. We still had a nice evening, though, playing a seemingly endless game of Trivial Pursuit (I’d forgotten we’ve got the Australian edition, which meant many of the questions were about people and events none of us had ever heard of – we ended up invoking the “put overly Australian questions back in the box” rule, and even then we were still all getting sick of the game towards the end, when it seemed like nobody would ever get that last piece of pie to win).

Had a catch the other day for one of the books I released on our Mt Cook trip. The Plague Dogs, which I released in Ranfurly (yes, I know Ranfurly isn’t really near Mt Cook, but we had a bit of a detour – I really will finish writing up the trip soon) was caught in Queenstown – no idea how it got there, but at least it’s travelling.

Currently reading: The Light of Other Days by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Currently listening to: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel