Queenstown and things

Thanks everyone for your kind comments about Pushkin.  No sign of her yet, and no response to the flyer I circulated around the neighbours, but I won’t give up all hope just yet.

So, I mentioned Queenstown briefly in the previous post, but only as an aside to the main item, so those bookcrossers among you who weren’t at the unconvention are probably waiting for a report on how it went.

Short version: it was great.  Lots of fun, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and our strategy of minimising organisation worked out fine.

Ok, now for the longer version, with photos 🙂

I actually flew down to Queenstown on the Tuesday, but my destination was actually Alexandra.  It seemed crazy to spend the weekend that close by without spending a few days with my family, so I planned a couple of days either side of the convention to visit them.

There was also the slight motivation of hitting Mum’s craft room to create a few bits and pieces to add to the wee prize packs I’d put together for the release walk:

On Thursday Mum drove me up to Queenstown, via Arrowtown, where we stopped for a lovely lunch in a French cafe, and picked up a few treats in the old-fashioned sweet shop. We also had an unscheduled stop in the Kawarau Gorge, when we had to pull over to let a house go past:

Note how little room there is between the house on the back of that truck and the fence that runs beside the road. Note also that I’m standing beside that fence, where I was taking advantage of the stop to take a photo of a tumbledown house on the side of the road, not thinking about the logistics of the house going right past me on that side of the road. I was holding my breath as it went past, trying to squeeze myself flat against the fence!

In Queenstown I met up with EdwardStreet, my room-mate for the weekend, and KiwiinEngland (who had the suite-sized room next door, which became party central most afternoons). After organising ourselves and a few drinks (see previous parentheses) we headed to the first unofficial event of the weekend, a pre-convention gathering at a pub on the waterfront. Despite slightly confused directions, everyone who was already in Queenstown managed to find us, and we ended up with nearly 20 people around the tables, the Australians completely outnumbering the New Zealanders (a first for a NZ uncon!).

The next day started with a spectacular thunder storm, waking us at about 5 am with huge flashes that were lighting up our hostel room even through the closed curtains. A couple of hours later when I ventured out in search of breakfast, the lightning had stopped, but the rain was still persisting. The forecast promised improvement, but I still watched the skies anxiously all day, worried about Saturday’s release walk.

I had made plans to meet up with Lakelady when she arrived (she’d been down in Te Anau (which she managed to pronounce wrong in a different way every time she attempted it all weekend, no matter how many times the Kiwis attempted to teach her – it became a bit of a running joke asking her where she’d been) for a few days), because she wanted to go up the gondola, and that’s one tourist attraction I’m happy to do any time I’m in Queenstown – the views are just so spectacular. The rain persisted all afternoon, though, so the only views we would have got were of the inside of clouds (if you can hardly see the top of the gondola from town, that’s a pretty good clue you won’t see much from up there!), so we gave up and just wandered around town.

We caught up with a few of the others at the Salvation Army’s op shop (= charity shop selling second-hand clothing, for those of you from foreign parts). That might seem a strange place for everyone to gravitate to, but Queenstown is full of rich tourists, who often need to dump a few items from over-full suitcases. Which means the op shop, instead of being full of cheap worn-out clothes like most op shops, is instead full of hardly-worn expensive brands, but still at op shop prices. I managed to buy myself a really nice top and a winter coat for about $20 each (they probably would have been about $100 and $200 new), and everyone else left clutching bags of bargains too.

That night was the official kick-off of the uncon, dinner in another pub.  We had an upstairs area to ourselves, and there was even space for a book table, which quickly began to fill.

Also making an appearance was what’s certainly NZ’s (and maybe the world’s?) first Ballycumber tattoo (yes, it really is a proper tattoo, not just a fake temporary one like I’ve sported at many conventions), on one of NZ’s first bookcrossers:

More and more bookcrossers began to appear, but two were missing: Skyring and Newk. Word soon came through via Facebook that their flight into Queenstown had been diverted back to Christchurch, so they’d hired a car and were driving the 5 hours up into the mountains. Amazingly, they did manage to make it just in time for dinner.

After dinner the live music started up in the bar downstairs, so most of us relocated to a quieter bar where we could talk in relative peace.

I was up early again on Saturday morning. Because I’d arranged a surprise for the release walk that needed me to stay in a particular place for the whole day, I wasn’t going to be able to do the release walk myself, so I set out early to release some books around the town. Thankfully it was turning out to be a glorious day, lovely and sunny (though with an icy wind blowing across the lake).

At the scheduled start time for the walk I met up with everyone to distribute maps and instructions, then raced over to the spot on the Frankton Arm waterfront where I’d arranged to meet my co-conspirators for the surprise, Dad and Nephew #1. They’d brought Dad’s boat up from Alexandra, so when the groups of Bookcrossers arrived at the designated spot mid-walk, they were surprised with a boat ride across the lake (well, across the Frankton Arm, anyway – it was too windy and rough to take them out onto the main part of the lake) to Kelvin Heights.

My complicated planning of the release walk (different groups got slightly different instructions, so they’d all cover the same ground eventually, but would arrive at the boat at different times) worked out really well, so nobody had to wait too long for their turn, and Dad and Nephew #1 were kept busy ferrying them back and forth across the lake. And I managed to spend a lot of time getting drenched with icy cold lake water – every time I stood on the little jetty we were using, a wave would splash up over the jetty just as I was reaching over for the rope to pull the boat in!

It was so worth it though – everyone loved the surprise, and some even said it was the highlight of the weekend.

Another meal that night, this time in a very noisy pizza restaurant, where the rugby game on the TV drowned out any attempt at conversation.  As a result, most of us moved on as soon as we’d eaten, returning to the nice quiet bar we’d found on Friday night.  It meant we never really got to do a prize-giving for the release walk (as per Dublin, there were questions to answer along the way, with prizes for the most correct) – I just went round the tables and gave the winners their prizes without any fanfare.

All too soon it was Sunday morning, and our farewell brunch.  As I get to know more and more bookcrossers, a weekend never feels long enough to get a chance to talk to everyone as much as I’d like (especially as it usually takes most of the first day for me to overcome my natural shyness and actually circulate instead of hiding in a corner).  It was a wonderful weekend though, with many old friends caught up with, and a few new friends made.

Back in Alexandra that evening, my brother and his family came round to Mum’s place for the first barbecue of the season.  Brother had been out hunting, so there were such exotic (and incredibly tasty) offerings as hare patties, and crumbed rabbit nuggets.

We rounded off the evening with a parlour game that was a cross between Pictionary and Chinese Whispers. The idea was everyone wrote a word or phrase on a piece of paper, then handed it to the person to their right. That person had to draw what was written, then folding over the paper to hide the words, pass their drawing to the next person round. That person then guessed what the drawing was of, and hiding the drawing, wrote down their guess and passed it on again to the next person, who had to draw what was written and so on. By the time the drawings had been round the table they ended up with very little resemblance to the original words – a politician kissing a baby ended up as an operating theatre, for example. Revealing the chain of words and drawings at the end of each round led to much hysterical laughter!

The rest of the next couple of days were similarly filled with family meals, lots of fun times with the kids (and a lot of minecraft, of course), and a generally lovely relaxing holiday (though I was utterly exhausted by the time I got home!).

And to finish, a couple of photos of the cute:

Niece, totally absorbed in a cartoon on TV.

Raji, who’s grown hugely since I was last down there, but is still terrified of everyone except Mum.


When I got home from Queenstown on Wednesday, Parsnips came running to the door to greet me, and wouldn’t leave my side for the rest of the day – I think she must have missed me.  No sign of Pushkin though.

I wasn’t too worried, because she loves the outdoors, and now that the weather is improving has been spending most of her time out exploring the garden.  But when she didn’t come in for dinner I was a little surprised, but not too worried.

The next day at work I checked with LJ, who was cat-sitting for me, and she said she hadn’t seen Pushkin since Friday night.  But again, I wasn’t greatly worried, because Pushkin’s always been a bit wary of strangers, so I expected her to keep her distance while LJ was around.

But I’ve been home for two days now, and there’s still no sign of her, so I’m definitely starting to worrry.  She’s microchipped, so if she gets taken in to a vet or the SPCA they should contact me, but if she’s been hit by a car and killed, then chances are if someone found her they’d just dispose of the body and not bother with a vet, in which case I’d never find out what happened.

I’m trying not to give up hope yet – apparently a week isn’t a long time for a cat to wander off for (none of my previous cats have been wanderers, so I don’t know), so she may yet just turn up.  I’ve printed off some flyers to distribute round the neighbours just in case she’s got herself locked in someone’s garage, so I’ll go for a walk tomorrow morning and drop a few in letterboxes.

I hope she’s ok, but I live on a very busy road, so it’s hard to stay hopeful 🙁

Live-blogging from Queenstown

After a lovely evening with the early – arriving book crossers I’m now sitting in kiwiinengland’s hostel room with her and edwardstreet, where we’re all being terribly antisocial in a geeky bookcrosser sort of way sitting here with laptops and tablets registering books and making release notes and eating fudge and drinking wine.  and I’m attempting to write this on my tablet, which really isn’t designed for such a task. So apologies for typos,  but I’m just happy if I can get it to vaguely recognise what I’m trying to type.

The pplan for tomorrow is pretty vague,  but it includes lunch at the top of the gondola with Lakelady.  I think some of the others are doing the shotover jet, and there was some wild talk of bungy jumping being thrown around. I think there’ll be lots of adventures to report at dinner tomorrow night.

And the convention hasn’t even officially started yet.

Random things

I seem to have drastically expanded my social circles all of a sudden, joining two new groups in the space of just a couple of weeks.

For a start, I’m now officially a Christchurch Blogger.  I’m even on their list of blogs!  And there’s like an official-type button I’m supposed to put on my diary somewhere (once I remember where in the complicated DD dashboard thingy I found the option to add things to the sidebar).  But most importantly, there’s a really cool and crafty group of women – potential new friends who actually (shock horror) live in Christchurch! Not that I don’t love all of you, my friends who don’t live in Christchurch (or indeed NZ, most of you), but I’m realising more and more that you seriously outnumber the very few local friends I have (it would help if people would stop disappearing off to foreign parts!), and sometimes it’s nice to have friends you can actually catch up with in person instead of over the internet.

I’d actually heard of the group ages ago, and had made tentative contact, but due to various complications they had a long hiatus in meetings, and only just got together again a week or so ago.  I also had an ulterior motive for wanting to meet the group, as we’ve been looking for blogs about the earthquakes to add to the archive, so I’d been emailing back and forth with Tartan Kiwi, one of the group’s organisers, about that.  So when the stars finally aligned and the group got together, I was invited along to talk about UC CEISMIC.  So bonus, not only did I get to meet the group, but I was getting paid to do so!  Mega win all round 🙂

It was a really lovely evening – they held the meeting at Make Cafe (which has an open crafting evening on Thursday nights), so most of the women had brought crafts along to work on while we chatted (I so wish I’d been organised enough to do that – I was feeling quite jealous of all the creativity going on).  The short presentation I gave went really well, and there were several people interested in contributing (so I could take my couple of hours time-in-lieu off the next day completely guilt-free :-)), but more importantly, they’re just a great group, and I felt totally at home among them.

So I asked Miriam to add me to the mailing list, and next time they have a meeting I’ll be able to go along just for fun, without having to worry about working to justify being there.

The other group I joined is Toastmasters. I joined completely on a whim – we have a little community newsletter in my suburb that’s sent around a few times a year, and in the most recent edition there was an invitation to come along to an open evening the club was holding.  As I had nothing in particular to do that night, and as the meeting was being held in the church hall just across the street, I thought I’d go along and have a look.  And they turned out to be a really lovely friendly group of people, who seemed to have loads of fun at their meetings (while also learning some really useful public speaking skills), so I decided to take the plunge and join.

It should be really helpful to me professionally, because my job is more and more about having to give presentations and speak to pretty senior people in all sorts of organisations, so building my confidence with public speaking will be a huge help.  Plus if I continue down the academic road I’m on, I’m going to end up speaking at conferences and things, so it’ll help with that too.  And of course, again, it’s just a really nice group of people who I can have fun with.

Oh, and in line with all the people from my past who seem to keep popping up in my life lately, at the first meeting one of the speakers seemed really familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew him from.  At supper he came up to me and said the same, so we spent several minutes running through all the places we might have met.  Finally, a light clicked on and he said, “Did you use to teach maths?” – It turned out he’d been in my third form class when I was teaching in Westport, many many many years ago.  Definitely makes you feel old when someone you remember as a 13 year old starts telling you about his own children!

Talking of old friends, the Kimis popped by a couple of weekends ago, on their way home from a South Island adventure.  It was lovely to catch up with them again (and of course to show off my new furniture acquisitions :-)) and we shared a very pleasant afternoon chatting over burnt-butter brownies (yeah, I know it sounds horrible, but they’re amazing – it was a new recipe I was trying out, where you brown the melted butter to the point of burning before mixing it in, which gives a really interesting nutty edge to the chocolateyness.  I won’t post the recipe here, because copyright, but for NZers, it was published in The Listener a few weeks back (sorry, I didn’t keep the full magazine so I don’t know the exact date), so your library might still have it, or if you ask really really nicely I might share by email…)

I haven’t done a lot of crafty-type stuff lately (well, except for finishing off a couple of secret projects that will stay under wraps until they reach their intended recipients), but I did spend a constructive weekend sorting out all my bookcrossing books, and getting a pile registered and labelled.  Some are destined for Queenstown, of course, but I’m hoping the rest will inspire me to start doing a bit of bookcrossing again (well, maybe once the weather improves, at least – it’s been horribly wet and cold lately) – I think a lot of what was un-inspiring me was the messy pile of boxes my release fodder had become.  So I’ve now got a couple of shelves dedicated to ready-to-release books, sorted by theme and all labelled up and ready for the big wide world.  Of course, there’s still the several boxes of unregistered books hiding under my desk I need to deal with, but one step at a time…

And talking of bookcrossing, it’s been a while since I did a catch report.  This is not an exhaustive list (I usually put the interesting catch emails into a separate folder so I can find them later, but I’ve been forgetting to do that lately, so I’m sure I’ve missed some), but a few interesting ones anyway:

  • The Other Side of Power by Claude M Steiner – released in Wellington, journalled three years later, and now in Canada (wow, I just noticed that was caught back in January – it really has been a long time since I’ve done a catch report!)
  • 7th Heaven by James Patterson – a local catch this time, and much quicker
  • The Princess and the Pea by Victoria Alexander – this is an exciting one: released in the Gapfiller bookfridge, and caught by an anonymous finder who took it to Antarctica!
  • The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes – I think I remember seeing this one be caught, only a few minutes after I released it, but the journal entry didn’t come until a month or two later
  • Cats by Peggy Wratten – released for my 10th bookcrossing anniversary, it got two anonymous finder entries before being “removed from circulation” due to falling apart (from memory, it was almost at that point when it was given to me – my temporary repairs obviously didn’t hold up)
  • Wealth Addiction by Philip Slater – almost exactly a year between release and catch
  • The Shack by William Paul Young – a catch from Dublin!  Turned up in a charity shop, which is actually quite a rarity for me, strangely enough – you’d think more books would end up passing through them.
  • Ein dicker Hund by Tom Sharpe – another Irish catch, this time from Newgrange, and proof that spending an evening registering all the books in the hostel’s bookshelf, even the ones in other languages, is well worth it 🙂
  • McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy – a quick catch from our wee expedition to Invercargill to pick up mum’s cat
  • The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott – the result of another evening with a hostel bookshelf, this time in Canberra, since when it’s been spotted in hostels in Adelaide and Perth
  • Rommel? Gunner Who? by Spike Milligan – released in the Catlins in 2004, and only just caught.  Yet another example of why you should never give up on getting a journal entry.
  • And finally, just to get me in the mood for next week: Where the Heart is by Billie Letts – released in Dunedin and caught six years later in Queenstown, it’s now in Australia.

This is a pretty erratic entry – that’s what comes of leaving it so long between posting: I can’t remember everything I’ve done or what order it happened in, so it all just gets dumped out randomly onto the screen.

Oh yeah, one more cool thing I’ve just remembered – I went and saw Kathy Reichs (author of the Tempe Brennan mysteries and Bones TV series) talk when she was in Christchurch a few weeks ago.  She talked not just about her writing, but also about her work as a forensic anthropologist – seriously interesting, and I could have happily sat and listened for several more hours.  She did a book signing afterwards, and I did think of staying for it and buying a book or two, but the queue was enormous, and I had a long trek home on the bus ahead of me (it was held at the Addington events centre – not a great place to visit on foot at night, by the way – you have to walk a long way across very poorly lit car parks to reach the main road), so I settled for downloading a couple of e-books when I got home instead.

Right, I reckon that’s enough randomness, and it’s got you all mostly caught up on what I’ve been up to.

Welcome to any Christchurch Bloggers who’ve popped by!  And for everyone else, see some of you next week!