X marks the cat, and other expenses

So it seems I can either write blog posts, or I can record videos.  Doing either one seems to sap my creative energy for doing the other (or maybe it’s just that doing one makes me forget about the other).  Which is a roundabout way of saying I’ve been even more terrible than usual at keeping up with this blog.  I have been having a lot of fun with YouTube though 🙂

In the meantime, life has been a combination of busy, exciting, and expensive. Especially expensive, and especially this month.  At the same time as various opportunities arose to spend vast amounts of money on cool things, various existing expensive things decided to break and need immediate replacing.

Cool thing number one was that I finally got all my paperwork together to get my passport renewed.  Which was a bit more paperwork than normal, because I took the (some may say sudden and drastic, although I have actually been thinking about it for a couple of years, ever since they announced the law change to make it possible) step of getting my gender marker changed to an X.  I am now officially, at least in the eyes of the Department of Internal Affairs, outside the gender binary!

(Hopefully I’ve successfully blurred/obscured all of the important identity-theft-enabling bits of that photo!)

It actually was much less complicated a process than I expected.  All I had to do was sign a statutory declaration in front of a JP, and then go through the process of a complete new passport application rather than just a renewal.  The most difficult thing was getting the photo done, because you have to use the paper forms (because they haven’t updated the on-line process yet), so I needed to find somewhere I could get old-fashioned printed passport photos, instead of the digital format most places do now (it turns out Post Shops still do them, in case anyone else ever needs one).

It’s hard to describe just how happy I am to see that one little letter in my passport! (Though also a tiny bit nervous about whether it will cause any problems at borders – in theory it shouldn’t, because it’s a perfectly valid passport issued under NZ law, but who knows what border officials will choose to be nit-picky about.  Oh well, I’ll get to test it out in November… which brings us to the next exciting expense…)

The next cool thing was (now that I finally had my new passport so I could) booking flights to go to the NZ-AUS Bookcrossing uncon in Tasmania.  It’s going to be a small, very informal uncon along similar lines to Stewart Island – basically just hanging out together on a (slightly larger :-)) island, doing a few touristy things, but nothing too planned.  Just a long weekend, but I’m really looking forward to it.  Plus I get to add another Australian state to my list of places I’ve visited (only Northern Territory to go…).

The third cool thing is I bought myself a GoPro!  It hasn’t arrived yet, but I should get it in a week or so.  Totally stupid thing to buy when I’d just spent a lot of money on Tasmania (it’s not the cheapest place to get to from NZ – even though it’s closer to NZ than the rest of Australia, there’s no direct flights, so you have to fly via Melbourne), but I’d been looking at them longingly ever since I started playing round with the YouTube thing, and the opportunity came up to save a couple of hundred dollars on one, so it was too good to miss.  So once that arrives, expect me to get even worse at blogging than I am now… (you might as well just give up following me here, and subscribe to my YouTube channel instead)

And then, having spent all that money, the Word Festival programme came out.  And there were so many things I wanted to go to.  And last time, when I managed to miss out on some of the best sessions due to indecision, I told myself that next time I’d just book tickets to everything that interested me, and take time off work if necessary, and see all the things.  So I did.  Including a day-trip to Kaikoura to go whale watching with two whale experts on Tuesday, and something like eight other ordinary festival events between Thursday and Sunday.  Plus I’ve got a few more free events I may go to if I haven’t completely exhausted myself dashing around all the events I’ve booked for.  So it’s going to be a very busy week this week!

And then there were the less fun expenses.  First, my lawnmower died.  Mini-Gwilk, who does my lawns for me, came in looking sheepish one day and said something along the lines of “Um, was I supposed to put oil in the lawnmower or something? Because it’s stopped working, and there’s black smoke coming out.”  Luckily, it didn’t turn out to be *too* expensive to repair, but it was a bit of a pain, because I don’t have a car (and taxis for some reason aren’t keen on carrying dirty old garden equipment in their nice clean cars), so had to beg lifts from friends (many many many thanks, Mr Harvestbird!!!) to get it to the repair place and picked up again afterwards, and the repair place is only open on Saturday mornings, which required a lot of coordination with said friends.  But all was managed in the end, and I now have a nicely working lawnmower (and instructions from repair guy about what to tell mini-Gwilk what not to do next time).

And then, because black smoke is apparently not dramatic enough, I turned on my oven and the fan unit started shooting out bright white sparks and flames.  Cue FutureCat scrambling to switch it off at the wall!  Luckily all of the dramatic stuff was confined to the inside of the oven, so there was no risk of the fire spreading, but it was still pretty exciting for a moment there.  And then depressing, when I contacted my friendly electrician, and he confirmed that it probably wasn’t worth him even coming out to look at it, because I almost certainly needed to buy a new one (and that 18 years is actually pretty old for an appliance).  And then he improved my mood substantially by offering to source a new one for me (and even better, only charge me cost + his time, with no extra markup), which was a great relief, because I really wasn’t looking forward to devoting my entire weekend to trawling through whiteware shops with no real idea of what was good vs what was just marketing hype.  He managed to find me a decent brand (Westinghouse) at trade prices, which even with his time plus the installation cost still cost me way less than it would have to buy retail (and I’d still have had to pay installation anyway), so I was very happy with that, even though it’s an expense I would have rather not had at all (or at least, not this month – though I wasn’t going to wait any longer to replace the oven – even just the couple of weeks I was without it while waiting for it to be delivered was much longer than I ever want to eat microwaved meals for ever again!)

So that was my horrifically expensive August.  I haven’t added up everything I’ve spent this month, and I don’t think I want to!  Oh well, this is why I have an emergency savings account, for times exactly like this. Just hope nothing else expensive happens for a while, so I can top it back up again…

In crafty news, the main thing I’ve been working on are quilts for the two mini-Harvestbirds (who have declared their official internet pseudonyms to be “Harmony” and “Millie”). It started off as a fun idea – I’d design a couple of simple quilts, let them pick the fabrics, and participate in the layout process so they’ll feel like they’d had a hand in the design, and, as a bonus, turn the whole thing into a series of YouTube videos.  I should have remembered that old rule about never working with children or animals though, because things didn’t entirely go according to plan.  Harmony’s quilt went perfectly (despite me messing up my initial calculations for the block measurements) – she was so excited about the idea of being in a YouTube video (suitably anonymised, of course) that I think she would have agreed to anything I suggested.  She was totally happy with the design, with the fabric choices I offered, with everything, really.  All went smoothly, we sewed the first few blocks together, and then after the kids had left, I was able to quickly whip up the rest of the blocks over a lazy weekend. The blocks are now sitting waiting for a free weekend when I can invite the kids over again to help me design the final layout of the quilts.

Millie, on the other hand, was a different matter.  I forgot just how much she has very much her own tastes and opinions on things, so she rejected my first few suggestions, and there was much scrabbling through half-thought-out sketches in my design book before we found one she liked.  Which I then had to turn from sketch into actual design on the spot… which was a fun challenge 🙂  I have to say though, she’s got very good taste – the colour combinations she wanted are going to look amazing, and I suspect I’m going to be very pleased with the finished quilt. The only problem is, it’s an incredibly complex design (it’s one I had in my book as a “one day, when I’ve got time” idea), so it’s definitely not one I’ll get finished in an afternoon.   So far I’ve managed to cut out all the pieces, and sew the 96 (!!!) half-square triangles it needs for the main stars (and that doesn’t include all the snowballed corners I’ll need for the sashing stars).  And I haven’t even begun to sew the actual blocks (other than the one I quickly sewed on the day the kids were here, so she could see what they’d end up like).  Given how busy the next couple of weekends are going to be, part two of the video might not happen for a while.

It is going to be a gorgeous-looking quilt, though:

In case you haven’t already seen it, here’s the video of part one of the process:

In the meantime, I gave the girls another mini-quilt for their dolls, while they wait for their actual quilts. Once again I had one of those practice quilt sandwiches I’d been trying out various FMQ ideas and exercises on (you might be able to identify a few recent projects on there), so I squared it up and stuck a quick binding on it.

I actually reckon it looks not bad for a bunch of random practice stuff 🙂

(Oh, and if you were wondering, no, I haven’t abandoned the Block of the Whenever – I’ve just been distracted by other things. Once I get these two quilts finished, I’m definitely going back to it)

Otherwise, I have as usual been busy with all sorts of interesting things, none of which I can remember off the top of my head right now.  I feel like I’ve been being excessively social this year!

Just this weekend I went to a feminist poetry reading with Harvestbird on Friday night (which was being run by step-sister, so I also caught up with her briefly before the show), which featured some really amazing local poets (Tusiata Avia being the most notable, and also the most incredible to listen to – I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy hearing her perform her poetry).  And then last night I played D&D with Gwilk and some other friends.  I was playing a wizard for the first time ever, which meant a lot of new rules to learn, but was fun to try out – I can see a lot of potential in the character (though I think Thokk will always be my favourite).

And last weekend was another D&D game, plus going out for dinner with the LGBT+ meetup group, and the weekend before that I went to the Botanic D’Lights festival (see video below) with Lytteltonwitch, and a stash swap, and in between there’s been various work events, and I’m exhausted just writing this, but it’s actually all been a huge amount of fun. I feel like I’m finally figuring out the right amount of social stuff that stays enjoyable without making me want to go and hide in a corner for a few days 🙂

Wisdom is overrated anyway

A week or so ago, I had a toothache.  On a Friday afternoon, of course, because things like toothaches never happen on a day when it’s easy to get a dentist’s appointment.  But I somehow managed to at least get in to see my normal dentist’s assistant.  Who, after a bit of poking and prodding, told me that not only did I have a cavity, as I expected, but that it was in one of my wisdom teeth, and therefore wasn’t going to be a quick filling-and-you’re-done sort of job.  And that there wasn’t really anything he could do on the spot (other than give me a prescription for antibiotics I can get filled if it starts hurting enough that I think it might be infected) but that I’d need to see the real dentist* to discuss what to do about it.

Luckily, the pain eased off again (it’s definitely still there, but it’s just a dull ache that I can pretty much ignore most of the time, and so far have only had to take pain killers for once – did I ever mention my high pain tolerance?), because it was a week before I could get an appointment for the consultation with the proper dentist, and, because I’m going to be away at a conference, I won’t be able to get the actual work done until the end of the month.

And yes, the bad news is I have to get that wisdom tooth out.  And he strongly advised I get the other two** out at the same time.

The good news is, it isn’t going to be quite as expensive as I’d been dreading (it’s always scary when the first thing a dentist asks is “Do you have insurance?”***).  Thankfully, the whole thing, including a couple of minor fillings that hadn’t been bothering me, but which I decided he might as well take care of at the same time, should come in under $1000.  So not cheap, but it could be a lot worse.

And the other good news is that, unlike the last tooth I had out, which was just under local anaesthetic, I’ll be properly sedated this time round.  So hopefully that means I won’t even notice the horrible graunching noises of tooth against bone which are almost worst than the actual pain part.

Still not looking forward to it, though.

*Not that the assistant isn’t a real dentist – according to his card, he has a BDS, and he must be a proper dentist if he can issue prescriptions – but the other dentist, who I think runs the practice, is the one who does all the complicated stuff.

**I had one out many years ago when I lived in London.  The others hadn’t come up yet at that time, so I didn’t bother getting them out at the same time.  In hindsight, I really should have while I was covered by the NHS!

***To explain for the foreigners, although we have free(ish) public health care in New Zealand, that doesn’t apply to dental work.  Some people do opt to take out health insurance (mainly because it allows them to skip the waiting lists in the public system), but in theory you shouldn’t have to… until you get a huge dental bill and then start regretting your choices.

And now, to counteract thoughts of pain, three happy things:

  1. Lytteltonwitch and I have booked our flights to Paris for next year’s Bookcrossing Convention!  It’s suddenly all very exciting and real.  We haven’t booked much else yet (just accommodation in Paris and Bordeaux – we’re still working out the rest of the itinerary), but I’m spending way too much time poring over maps of France (and northern Spain), and practising my very rusty French (and only slightly less rusty Spanish), when I should be doing other things. Who cares, though – nous allons en France!
  2. New World were doing their “Little Gardens” promotion again last month, and I finally got round to starting off the three plants I got (I seemed to have bought very few groceries while the promotion was on, probably because I was away quite a bit). We had a bit of a heat wave last week, so they all burst into enthusiastic life very quickly, but have slowed down a bit now that the weather has returned to normal Christchurch spring-ness. I’m not convinced about the feasibility of growing either cucumbers or watermelons in a pot, especially not in this climate, but it’ll be fun seeing how far they get. And the thyme should at least grow ok, once the weather warms up again.
  3. The rapid approach of Christmas has given me the perfect excuse to break out a new project. Or technically, many smaller projects. I, as usual, have got way too ambitious with my plans for “quick” wee presents, but I’m having lots of fun making them (it may also have been a good excuse to buy a couple of Christmas-y charm packs that were on special at one of my favourite fabric shops…).And so, the production line begins:

    (and experimenting with all the possible colour combinations…)

    I did actually finish one of them off completely, because I wanted to include one in the parcel I send off for the Bookcrossing Ornament Exchange, and I’m running out of time to send it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out – I was playing some more with contrasting quilting textures, and using the patterns of the pieces to guide the quilting. I don’t think I’ll do the rounded corners on the rest of them though – they were way too fiddly to do the binding on.

    The quilting looks really good on the back, too (and for once, I actually remembered *before* I did the binding to add a label, and some little loops in case the recipient wants to hang it up instead of use it as a mat).

Stewart Island

What, a blog post about a convention that was only two weeks ago?  What is this madness??

So, yes, the Aus/NZ Bookcrossing convention (or unconvention, technically) was the weekend before last, on Stewart Island.  Stewart Island is not the most obvious place for a convention (for the foreigners, it’s that little island at the very bottom of New Zealand, with a population of a few hundred, one tiny town, and pretty much no roads).  But after the success of the Queenstown convention, which was very much run in an uncon style (i.e. minimal organisation, just gather everyone together in one place for a weekend and play it by ear), and proved that Bookcrossing conventions don’t have to be held in cities, CrafteeCod (who was living on Stewart Island at the time) offered to organise the next convention, and the idea was seized on with great enthusiasm.

In the intervening two years, life happened, and CrafteeCod ended up having to move back to the UK, so the organising reins were taken up from a distance by EdwardStreet, who (after an initial unsuccessful attempt to arrange group bookings for various potential activities) pretty much told us what date to arrive, booked us all in for a meal at the (only) hotel, and left us to organise the rest ourselves.  A very sensible approach, and one that worked out incredibly well in the end.

Lytteltonwitch and I left Christchurch on the Thursday morning (with Albert in the back seat, of course) and had a leisurely drive down to Dunedin.  In theory we could have done the whole distance to Bluff in a single day, but it’s a very long way, so it was much nicer to break the journey with a night in Dunedin.  We arrived early enough to be able to visit the Otago Museum – we’d hoped to go to the butterfly house there, but it’s closed for renovations at the moment, so we just explored the rest of the museum.  I haven’t been to the Otago Museum for many many years, and a lot has changed since I used to visit as a child (it was definitely among my most favourite places), but I was thrilled to discover that a few of the galleries are pretty much unchanged.  The cases full of stuffed exotic animals up in the attic, which were always my favourite, have been thinned out a bit (presumably some of the animals got too moth-eaten), but they’ve preserved the Victorian style of the gallery, so it brought back wonderful memories.  Lytteltonwitch was particularly impressed by the model ships on display in another unchanged-since-the-70s gallery on the floor below – I was just pleased to see that the whale skeleton still dominated the centre of the gallery.

Next stop was the supermarket to stock up on snacks – the forecast for Stewart Island wasn’t looking good, so just in case we were stuck in the hostel playing board games all weekend, we wanted to be well prepared.  We of course made sure to get plenty of truly kiwi treats (chocolate fish, Pinkie bars, Buzz bars, Whittaker’s L&P chocolate, pineapple lumps…) for the Australian contingent 🙂

We knew MeganH was staying at the same hotel as us, so we’d left a message for her at reception.  We weren’t expecting her to arrive until late, because her plane wasn’t landing in Christchurch until afternoon, and then she had to drive down to Dunedin, so we headed out for dinner.  When we got back, the receptionist told us she’d arrived and gave us her room number, so we headed up to say hello, and spent the rest of the evening catching up.

The next morning we were all up bright and early, and had breakfast together in the hotel’s dining room… accompanied by Albert, of course, much to the amusement of the staff, and of the tour bus full of elderly people who were also having breakfast (though I think we may have knocked a few years off the lives of some of them, after they walked into the dining room and saw a skeleton sitting at a table!).  Travelling with a skeleton is definitely a good way of getting strangers to strike up a conversation with you!

We travelled in convoy to Bluff, because MeganH hadn’t been that way before, so didn’t know the road.  Apparently she wasn’t impressed by me telling her there aren’t any really big hills between Dunedin and Invercargill – in my defence, to a New Zealander, those aren’t big hills!  But yeah, to an Australian they might have seemed slightly larger…

The weather had been looking steadily worse all morning, and we could see a very obvious southerly front approaching.  As we reached Invercargill, the front hit us in a massive downpour.  Things were not looking promising for the ferry 🙁

At the ferry terminal in Bluff, we immediately spotted a contingent of Bookcrossers:  Skyring, Fiona and her husband.  The ferry crew were just as amused by Albert as the hotel staff had been, and gave permission for him to sit in the cabin instead of being consigned to a cargo bin.  I opted to sit out on deck despite the weather (I’ve been across Foveaux Strait on the ferry before, so I know how rough it can get, and I also know how seasick I can get even on a calm day if I sit inside).  It was certainly an exciting crossing , with the boat being tossed all over the place, and spray being thrown right over the deck.  I even had to sit down for part of the trip.

After the horrible weather on the crossing, we reached Stewart Island and the sun came out.  It very quickly developed into a glorious day, with no sign of the southerly.

As we got off the ferry, we spotted EdwardStreet and KiwiInEngland sitting outside the hotel (which used to hold the distinction of being the southernmost pub in the world, until they opened a bar in Antarctica) enjoying a drink in the sun. We stopped to chat for a while, but knowing how fickle the weather can be on the island, I suggested a walk before the rain returned, in case it was our only opportunity to get out in the bush. Most of the others had booked on a bus tour (I was amused by this idea, as other than a couple of short roads to the next bays over from Halfmoon Bay, there really are no roads on Stewart Island!) so declined, but after dropping off our bags (and Albert) at the hostel, Lytteltonwitch and I set out to walk the track to Horseshoe Bay.

The first section of the walk was along the road (with a slight detour into the cemetery, where Lytteltonwitch was in search of a geocache), but then we turned off onto a walking track. It was a really lovely walk (though it involved some serious hills!), round lots of little hidden bays inaccessible other than on foot or by boat, and the weather stayed amazing. Random photos from the walk:

Cemetery with a view (and someone walking on the beach)

Black oyster catcher

Looking back across Halfmoon Bay to Oban

Onionweed flowers – not very exciting (or native), but they looked pretty in the sunshine

As a child, I used to call the native fuschia trees (kōtukutuku) “paper trees”, because of the thin bark that flakes off them.

Yes, the water really is that clear (way too cold to swim in without a wetsuit though – that’s the Southern Ocean out there: next stop Antarctica!)

Lytteltonwitch released a book on this beach – and (despite it being about an hour’s walk from the road) got a catch before we got back to the hostel!

The entrance to Horseshoe Bay

You can just see the South Island through the haze (that’s Bluff Hill)

Most of the walk was through areas with a lot of fuschia, so we saw hundreds of tui (which feed on the nectar). I decided the tui were teasing me, because every time I pointed my camera at one of them, it would immediately fly away, turn its back, or hide behind a branch. I took many many photos before I finally got a few decent ones. A typical sequence of photos:

Hiding in the darkest part of the tree

After much patience, he finally comes out, and immediately flies to a tree at the limit of my zoom (and then only because I blew the photo way up and cropped it – otherwise he’d just be a tiny speck in the distance)

Now why would you do that just when I’ve finally got close enough to get a better photo?

Success at last (though a bit blurry – see comment above about blowing photo up to prevent speck-sized bird)

See, now he’s definitely just laughing at me!

Finally got one to show off his plume of neck feathers (and the reason early European settlers called them parson birds) properly!

I think this was the closest I got with a camera in my hand (when I wasn’t holding a camera, they got much closer, of course – they were swooping right past our heads!)

We walked back from Horseshoe Bay by the shorter route along the road (and were passed by the “tour bus” full of the other Bookcrossers along the way – the driver must have been confused when all his passengers suddenly started waving out the windows to a couple of random people walking down the side of the road!), but even so Lytteltonwitch’s fitbit was still registering a total of 15 km walked by the time we reached Oban – so not bad for a little walk!

That night we all met up for dinner at the hotel. I opted for blue cod, of course, as I did every night we were there – I had to make the most of it while I was far south enough to get the good stuff (it really has to fresh-caught from the cold southern waters to taste right – I make it a rule to never eat blue cod north of Oamaru). But I didn’t say no when Fiona’s husband offered up the remains of his crayfish for the rest of us to pick over – he’d left all the best bits behind in the legs and claws!

It was Friday the 13th, so Lytteltonwitch had planned a spookily-themed book tree. So after dinner we all trekked up to the top of the hill, to the only suitable tree we’d been able to find (the island is covered in trees, but a book tree requires a certain sparseness (and bareness) of branches, which native trees aren’t good at. The wind was picking up, but we managed to tie all the books to the tree. The planned photo-shoot with Albert wasn’t so successful, though – the wind sent him flying onto the muddy grass before anyone got a decent photo of him leaning against the tree.

One of the activities EdwardStreet had attempted to organise was a guided tour of Ulva Island, a predator-free nearby island. There were several different companies offering tours, at wildly varying prices, but after talking to the staff at the backpackers (who were fantastic about ringing around the different tour companies to get details for us) we decided to go with the most expensive option, as it seemed to offer the best value for money in terms of how much time you’d actually get on the island. At dinner that night we confirmed numbers, and (the backpackers staff having made the booking) arranged to meet up in the morning so we could all walk over to the tour guide’s office to pay. At breakfast though one of the staff told us she’d been rung by the guide asking if we could come and pay earlier than arranged, because she had to go out on another tour. So we quickly gathered together everyone we could find, and I put the fees for the late sleepers we hadn’t managed to get hold of on my credit card (that’s the nice thing about bookcrossers – I knew I could trust everyone to pay me back later!).

That bit of organisation out of the way, Lytteltonwitch and I decided to walk over to Golden Bay, where we were going to be meeting the guide that afternoon, to see how far it was (I’d been there before, and thought I remembered it being only 5 or 10 minutes walk from the hostel, but we thought we’d better check before we told everyone when to meet up). It did turn out to be only 10 minutes, even given the giant hill we had to walk over, and the little harbour there was just as beautiful as I remembered.

Just to show you how changeable the weather is on Stewart Island, only a few minutes after I took that photo, this happened:

Luckily there was a little shelter by the wharf where we could wait out the rain, or it would have been a very damp walk back to the hostel!

We had lunch at a cafe that technically wasn’t a cafe, because they only did takeaway coffees… except you could eat them on the premises. It was a wonderfully Stewart Island way of getting around regulations set by the local council in Invercargill. The owner explained to us that in order to run his business as a cafe, the council’s regulations required him to have toilets. But the little shed he was operating out of didn’t have any, and it would cost a fortune to install them (building anything on the island is incredibly expensive, because all the materials need to be shipped across on the ferry). But if he only offered takeaway coffees and food, then he didn’t need toilets. So he served everything in takeaway containers, and told his customers if they wanted to consume their takeaway purchases inside his shop (and sit at the convenient tables and chairs he just happened to have there), then they were welcome to do so.

After lunch the eight of us going to Ulva Island walked over to Golden Bay to meet the guide, and the boat that was taking us across to the island. Our guide seemed very bossy at first – giving us instructions about how to walk so that we’d make the least possible noise, and telling off anyone who dared speak at the wrong time or rustle a food wrapper. But it quickly became evident that she was doing so because she wanted to give us the best possible chance of seeing all of the rare native birds that the island is known for (many of which have been driven almost to extinction by predators in the rest of NZ). We spent an amazing four hours on the island as she showed us birds that we’d never have seen if we’d just been wandering around on our own, and told us all about them, and the trees, and the ecosystem that supports them. She definitely knew her stuff, and I learnt a huge amount.

I had as little success photographing most of the birds as I had with the tui, but that didn’t really matter, because it was so cool just getting to see them in the wild that taking photographs was very much secondary to the experience. I did get a few cool photos from the day though:

Stewart Island weka. They’re much smaller than their South Island cousins, but just as curious – as you can see, this one walked right up to us on the beach to find out what we were up to.

Keen photographer Skyring and keen birdwatcher MeganH in their element

A yellowhead (mōhua) – best known for appearing on the $100 bill

Robins are easy to photograph – they’re even more inquisitive than weka, and all it took was the guide scratching at the ground to get one flying down to check if any tasty insects had been disturbed.

A tiny native orchid – the first time I’ve ever seen one flowering

And an even better example

Saddlebacks (tīeke – one of the endangered species (super endangered, in this case – at one point there were only 36 of them left) that are thriving on Ulva Island) proved particularly hard to photograph. They specialised in positioning themselves exactly behind closer branches and leaves that my camera would decide to autofocus on instead of the bird (I really must practice being faster at switching my camera from autofocus to manual for situations like this!). There’s two saddlebacks in this photo, somewhere in the blur behind that perfectly sharp leaf…

I finally get a saddleback in focus, and he’s silhouetted against the sky, so you can’t see the distinctive colouring that gives it its name

At least kererū (wood pigeons) stay still for long enough to get a photo, though he was very high in the tree, so my zoom was at its limit

Stopping for a chocolate break…

…where we were joined by another very inquisitive robin, who sat on a branch just above my head, and took a great interest in me as I took his photo (many many photos – now that I finally had a bird up close and sitting relatively still, I made sure to take advantage of it!)

Not the best photo technically, but definitely my favourite 🙂

Finally, an elusive saddleback without any branches in front of it (just his head stuck inside a punga as he searched for insects). And then I took a couple of steps to the side and…

A decent photo of a saddleback at last!!!

Back at the jetty, we sheltered from the rain (it had rained off and on all day, but we were under the canopy of the trees most of the time, so it didn’t bother us), and watched the weka who came to investigate while we waited for the boat to come back and take us back across the inlet to the main island.  As the wind had got up quite a bit and the sea was too rough for us to stay out on deck for the trip back, we all crowded into the wheelhouse where Discoverylover kept the skipper entertained by putting on an impromptu version of the “Baby Bounce” programme from her library, complete with a reading from a Dr Seuss book, and an action song (no babies though, which was disappointing – we wanted to know how well they bounced 😉 ).

We all agreed the tour was well worth the money.  If you ever find yourself on Stewart Island, I highly recommend doing a tour with Ruggedy Range – for $135 per person we got a private tour for our group that was tailored to exactly what we wanted to see (we discussed beforehand what our interests were), with an incredibly knowledgeable guide (I think she said she had a degree in ecological science?), and an overall fantastic experience.  There are cheaper options, but from what we could tell, they didn’t offer nearly as much value for money (the ferry company offers a trip to Ulva Island for $70, for example, but it only gave you one hour on the island, and we were told that the guides were just ordinary ferry crew members, with little specialist knowledge).

That night we ate at the island’s only other restaurant (there is a “kai kart” which sells fish and chips, but it was closed for the off season while we were there), a much more upmarket place than the hotel (but it’s still Stewart Island, so it’s definitely not black-tie – no noses were turned up at us bunch of scruffy backpackers 🙂 ).  They don’t like to book large groups, because their kitchen is quite small, so we had to go in two separate seatings.  But it was actually nice to eat with a small group, where everyone could be part of the conversation, instead of the big long table full of people we’d had the night before.  The food was very impressive – I had a starter of paua ravioli which was amazing (and the paua was actually tender – a very tricky thing to achieve!), and then blue cod (of course 🙂 but cooked in a different style than the “battered with chips” I’d had at the hotel).  Then, all too full for dessert, but still wanting to try them, and none of us able to make up our minds which dessert to choose, we ended up ordering one of each and sharing them around the table.  I think we spent about three hours at the restaurant (we ended up overlapping with the group that came later, so we did kind of get to have another big group dinner 🙂 ) just enjoying the food and the company – a really great evening.

The weather got worse, and by Sunday morning it was obvious that it wasn’t going to improve in a hurry.  In fact, it was bad enough that all the ferries and planes back to the mainland were cancelled (luckily Goldenwattle was the only one of our group who had booked to go back that day, and she was able to change her travel arrangements reasonably easily).  So we spent most of the day sitting in the lounge at the backpackers putting together a jigsaw of a Paris street scene (to get us in the mood for next year’s world convention), eating the lollies Lytteltonwitch and I had provided, and generally relaxing.  At most conventions I would have been frustrated by the enforced idleness, but it had been such a casual, laid-back weekend that I actually enjoyed it – it was nice to all just enjoy each other’s company with nothing in particular we had to rush off and do.

The main reason we’d all opted to stay until Monday was so we could attend the famous quiz night at the hotel (which came to the world’s attention when Prince Harry took part when he visited the island a couple of years ago).   The pub was crowded with all the people who had been stuck on the island by the weather, but we managed to squeeze ourselves in round a couple of tables, and formed two quiz teams.  It was a great quiz, with the questions actually written by the two young guys who were running it, rather than being one of those horrible commercial quizzes that so many pubs use these days. It was all very light-hearted, with spot prizes awarded to people who could tell good jokes, or do a convincing Russian accent. And a lot of laughter when one of the quiz-masters inadvertently gave away the answer to one of the questions 🙂 Of course, our two tables were fiercely competitive (against each other, at least – we didn’t particularly care how we came in relation to the rest of the pub!), but I’m sad to say the other table won the day – they came second equal, whereas our table only got fifth place.  It was all a lot of fun, and a great way to end the convention.

The next morning the weather had cleared enough for the ferry to be running (although it was still pretty rough – 30-40 knot winds, and 4 metres of swell), so we all boarded our respective ferries or planes and left the island.  The crossing was another exciting one, though I didn’t think it was as rough as it had been on the way over – I was able to stay standing up the whole time this time, and it wasn’t nearly as wet out on the back deck.  At Bluff we farewelled all our Bookcrossing friends, and Lytteltonwitch, Albert and I headed up through the back roads of Southland to Central Otago (with a slight detour to visit the town of Nightcaps – well, we had to really, I’d had the book Nightcap sitting on my bookshelf for years, waiting for the next time I was in Southland and could release it there!).

We spent the night at Mum’s place in Alexandra, so I finally got to see her new house, and the changes Brother and SIL have made to the shop (it looks amazing).  Mum invited Brother and family round for pizzas for dinner (the kids didn’t know we were visiting, so it was a cool surprise for them when they turned up at Granny’s and I was there – though I think Niece was more excited to see Albert again than she was to see me! 🙂 ), so we had a lovely family evening (and Brother and I had a long debate about gender identities – we may not agree, but at least I know he’s trying to understand).

We ended up not leaving Alexandra until after lunch on Tuesday, having spent a nice relaxing morning chatting with mum over many cups of tea, so our drive back to Christchurch had to be much more direct than our normal meandering road trips, but at least it meant we got back to Christchurch at a reasonable hour.  It was a struggle to wake up in time for work on Wednesday though!

So that was our Stewart Island adventure.  And that was an entire convention blogged and photographs posted in the same month that the convention happened.  Yeah, don’t hold your breath for me to manage that for the next one…

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.

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!


From my travel journal:

Saturday 17 November 2012, 7.30 am: In a cafe somewhere in Canberra (I don’t know, I went for a walk, so I could be anywhere…)

I really should have started writing this up last night, but sleep was more urgent.  It was a very long day yesterday.  Started at 3.30 am NZ Time (which someone last night reminded me meant I’d been up since 1.30 am Australian time – no wonder I was fading by 10 pm! (yes, I know, I just broke my cardinal travelling rule of never thinking about what time it is at home))  At the airport by 4.30 to check in for a 6.30 flight, and thankfully managed a bit of a nap on the plane (despite Jetstar having the most uncomfortable seats ever – obviously their cheap flights are because they save money on seat padding), and arrived in Sydney at 8 am local time.

I’d picked the early flight because past experience with Sydney airport has taught me it can be an hour or more to get through customs, so I didn’t want to be panicking to get to the train on time.  Of course, that meant that for a change immigration was a total breeze (yay for the new e-passport – stick it in the slot, get your photo taken and you’re through – no queueing behind someone who’s getting the full 20 questions treatment!), my bag appeared on the conveyor belt as I walked up to it (very unlike Sydney – I once waited half an hour before any bags emerged), and customs waved me through without even wanting to scan my bags.  The train to the city was even pulling in as I got to the bottom of the platform escalator.

So, end result, I was at Central Station before 9 am, and had three hours to fill in before the train.  It was raining, and I had a big heavy bag to lug around, so I’d resigned myself to spending it all sitting in the station’s rather uninspired cafe, but then I noticed the sign for bag check for Countrylink trains, so (after battling my way through a huge crowd of primary school kids obviously on their way home after a school trip), I dumped my bag and headed off for a walk.

First stop, of course, had to be the evil bookshop.  I was very restrained though, and only bought myself two books. Then I wandered a bit further, and was very quickly totally lost – that’s the trouble with Sydney – I know it well enough to feel confident about wandering off without a map, but not well enough to be able to figure out where I am if I turn off the streets I know.  But I managed to retrace my steps successfully, and found my way back to the station in plenty of time, and only slightly damp from the rain (it was much too warm to wear my jacket, so I was walking around in a t-shirt while all the locals were bundled up in coats and scarves).

On the train, an unpleasant surprise – I was sharing a carriage with another school group, so it was a very noisy trip.  The teachers were great and kept the kids under control, but there’s still a certain unavoidable noise level that comes with 30-odd over-excited 11 year olds.

And then the train was delayed (by track work, I think?  I couldn’t properly hear the announcement over the chatter), so it took us 5 hours to get to Canberra.  My head was seriously aching by the time we got there!

But I’m still glad I took the train – it was great to see a bit of the countryside (including some mountains, apparently – when they announced we’d be late getting to Canberra, the woman next to me tried to ring her daughter but couldn’t get a signal on her phone, and commented that it was probably because we were in the mountains.  Really?  The bumps in the landscape were so small I doubt we’d even count them as hills! (She also amused me by saying, when she discovered I was from Christchurch and had been there for the earthquakes, “Oh yes, I know what that’s like, I was in Newcastle for ’89.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her she had no idea what it’s like!)), and even saw a few kangaroos – the first time I’ve seen them outside of a zoo.

Skyring and Mrs Skyring picked me up at the station, and Skyring showed off his knowledge of the secret taxi-driver routes to drop me at the YHA.  I checked in, and as I stepped into the lift to go up to my room, the woman getting in behind me looked at my bookcrossing t-shirt and said “I should probably know you” – it was JennyG!  And when I found my dorm room, she turned out to be heading for the same room – by total coincidence we’d been given the same room (and last night, at least, had the room to ourselves, so there are now books everywhere 🙂 )

A short nap revived me enough to head out to dinner at a Thai restaurant.  Two long tables full of bookcrossers, books being passed back and forth along the tables, goody bags (!!! at an uncon!  Canberra have just totally raised the bar for the next NZ one…) and good food.  Sorting out the bill was chaotic, but we all put in what we thought we owed, and I think it somehow worked out in the end.

Then we retired to the snug of a nearby bar, where Edwardstreet somehow talked me into agreeing to help her organise an uncon in Queenstown next year (why let a little thing like no local bookcrossers stop us?), which was announced to great excitement. (I am so going to regret this when I’m up to my eyes in study again next year, but she promised my assistance can be minimal.  Yeah, me doing something minimally, that’ll be an interesting challenge…)

I was fading fast, so left the bar at 10 and headed back to the hostel, where I slept like a dead thing until about 3 am, when there was a huge crash outside – it sounded like someone dropping a skip from the top of a building, but apparently it was just the rubbish truck doing its rounds.  I drifted back to sleep a bit after that, but was wide awake by 5.30, so got up and headed out for a walk.

So, having released a few books (there are so many cool statues and sculptures dotted over the city centre, all just begging for themed releases!) and explored a bit, being amazed as I always am in Australia by the “exotic” birds that are the local equivalents of sparrows and seagulls (those pink cockatoo things, proper parroty-looking birds, some sort of miniature magpie, and assorted others I couldn’t even begin to identify), I found a cafe that opened early for breakfast, and now I’m all refreshed and ready to head out again (or maybe back to the hostel to prepare for this morning’s release walk).


Funny-looking sparrows

Lots of cool places to release:


I loved this sign!

Monday 19 November, 7.25 am, back in the same cafe for breakfast

This weekend has gone so fast!  And as usual I was much too busy enjoying myself to write my journal, but I think I remember most of it 🙂

Saturday morning was the release walk, starting at Parliament House.  JennyG and I decided to walk over the bridge rather than catch a bus, and had a lovely stroll over there and through the rose gardens.  Except JennyG thought we were supposed to be meeting at Old Parliament House, and I didn’t bother to check the programme… so when we got there, proud of ourselves for arriving with 10 minutes to spare, there were no bookcrossers in sight.  And that was when I did check and discovered our error, which left us only 10 minutes to run up the hill to the new Parliament House.  JennyG opted to stay behind and catch up with us when the walk stopped for morning tea, but I set off up the hill at high speed, and after a bit of confusion finding the right path (Canberra is not great at signposts for pedestrians, and the roads tend to wind around a lot, so following road signs often leads you in the wrong direction) I made it up to the correct meeting place only 5 minutes late.


View from the bridge

National Rose Garden:


I see bookcrossers in the distance – I’m not too late!

I hardly had time to catch my breath before we were heading off down the hill again, at a much slower pace this time, leaving a stream of books in our wake.

The view down the “Mall” (there were many jokes about the lack of a McDonalds) was spectacular, looking past the old Parliament and across the lake, and then up the avenue of ANZAC Parade to the war memorial – there are definitely advantages to a planned city.


A very long straight view


This was cool – where the road had been cut through the hill, the underlying strata of the rocks had been revealed.

We stopped for refreshments at the Old Parliament House, and watched (from a respectful distance) a ceremony going on at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, where a funeral for an elder was in progress.  Then we headed down to the lakefront, where Skyring had snuck on ahead to prepare a surprise – the row of plinths commemorating Australians of the Year had been converted into Bookcrossers of the Year – 33 of us 🙂  I think just about everyone ended up releasing a book on “their” plinth.


We discover Skyring’s secret mission (yes, that is Flat Jay peeking out from behind the wall)


I won! (Oh yeah, so did everybody else…) 😉


Next we visited a Peace Garden, a Reconciliation Park, and the High Court (which, as Edwardstreet noted, didn’t make us particularly peaceful, reconciliated, or high), and finished the walk with a leisurely lunch at the National Library.

After lunch, we drifted off to various activities for the afternoon.  I decided, as I had a couple of war-themed books to release, to walk back across the bridge and then round the lakefront to ANZAC Parade, which is lined on both sides with war memorials, as well as the big memorial museum at the top.

After a long hot walk round the waterfront, I finally reached the point opposite the line of the Mall, so headed up towards where ANZAC Parade should be, only to be blocked by a big busy road with nowhere to cross (see above re. Canberra not being designed for pedestrians).  In the end I had to backtrack for quite a distance before I finally found an underpass.


What do you get if you cross a globe with the Ferrier Fountains? This sculpture on the waterfront, apparently.


Edwardstreet, having visited the memorials the day before, had suggested that I walk up one side of the Parade and back down the other, to best see all of them.  So I set off up the sunny side, realising about half way up that I really really should have put on a hat and sunscreen first – two things I hadn’t thought to bring (everyone always describes Canberra as cold and wet.  They lied.)  By the time I reached the top of the hill I could feel the sunburn setting in, and was tired enough that I decided to skip the museum and just continue back down the (slightly) shadier side of the avenue.  I was very glad to get back to City Walk and a reviving gelatto in the shade of a plane tree!


I remember seeing these kete handles on the news when NZ gifted them to Canberra.


I think this was my favourite memorial – it was dedicated to nurses, and was made up of pathways of glass panels. The light inside it was amazing.


I liked this one devoted to Greece as well. It hasn’t come out well in the photo, but the ground was covered in blue mosaic, representing the sea.


Did I mention the confusing signs? This one was best of all – I never did work out which way I was supposed to detour, so I just walked straight ahead 🙂

Back at the hostel, I sat down to read for a while and ended up sleeping for an hour, waking up with very stiff legs – a reminder of just how many km I’d covered over the course of the day.  I found the Street Sisters sitting out on the balcony, so joined them and we were entertained by a couple of rather drunk young Germans who were showing off their juggling skills with wine bottles.  They suggested we join them going out clubbing, but we demurred, opting for the convention dinner instead, back at King O’Malley’s.

We had a private room at the pub, and were entertained after dinner by a local bookcrosser who is a cryptic crossword compiler and writes …for Dummies books on puzzles and codes.  It was a really interesting talk, especially the parts about exactly how a cryptic crossword is put together.  There were door prizes too (all this despite there being no convention fee – no way we’ll be able to compete with Canberra’s efforts when it’s NZ’s turn next year!) and I won a booklight.

Despite quite a late night (for me, anyway), I woke up at 6 on Sunday morning, so rather than disturb my roommates (we’d acquired a couple of pole-dancers, in town for a competition (we joked about whether we could combine our two hobbies in some way – maybe flinging books into the audience while spinning round a pole?)), I went out to the book exchange shelf (conveniently located right next to our room – it’s like the YHA people knew we were bookcrossers :-)) and spent a happy and productive couple of hours registering all the books.  There were already quite a few bookcrossing books on the shelf, deposited by the others BCers staying at the hostel, so it’s become quite a proto-OBCZ now.

Brunch was at Pancake Parlour, and all too soon the convention proper was over.  Hugs all round, and those few of us staying on for another day made plans to meet for dinner.  Littlemave was talking about visiting a market in Kingston for the afternoon, so I joined her.  We never made it to the market, though – after waiting half an hour for a bus, we were told by another waiting passenger that she’d had a text from the bus company and the bus was cancelled – it’s broken down, and rather than send a replacement bus they’d just cancelled it.  So we decided to go to the National Museum instead, a short (ish – we took a short cut that turned out not to be) walk round the lakefront.

The museum was a bit disappointing (I can see now why Skyring always raves about Te Papa), but there were a few interesting bits, and it was pleasant to wander around in its airconditioned cool.  We decided to try our luck with the bus system again to get back into the city, and this time the bus turned up, and even better, the driver gave us our rides for free because we were only going one stop.

Littlemave headed to the station to catch her bus back to Sydney, and I went back to the hostel, where I met the others and firmed up our plans for dinner.  After a multi-media attempt to contact everyone (texts, facebook messages, and a note on the hostel bulletin board) and a quick bit of internet time (where I discovered I’d already had two catches from the release walk!) we headed out for dinner at a taqueria, then drinks at the casino, where we were entertained watching the very serious Chinese gamblers playing Pai Gow.  And then, all too tired for another late night, retired to our respective hostel and hotels.

3 pm, Canberra Airport

I should have been in Sydney by now, but the best laid plans and all that…  My flight was first delayed with mechanical trouble, and then cancelled, and I’ve been rebooked on a later flight.  Luckily I was going to have several hours to fill in Sydney before my onward flight, otherwise I’d have a bit of a problem.  My new flight should get me to Sydney with just enough time to make check-in.  It means I miss out on the Koru Club though – Edwardstreet (who caught a flight with a different airline just before they announced the delay on mine) and I had arranged to meet at Sydney and she’d get me into the Koru Club as her guest – hope she’s worked out by now that I’m not arriving and not to wait for me (she hasn’t got a mobile with her, so I can’t let her know about the change of plans).  So no free dinner for me 🙁

So here I am stuck at Canberra airport for another hour, which is not the most exciting airport in the world to be stuck in – only one shop and a couple of cafes.  Good thing I’ve got a book (or several) with me…

PS. For those who wondered, yes, I did end up with a vaguely ballycumber-shaped tan line (if you squint and use your imagination a bit).  There’s definitely a pale patch where the tattoo was, anyway:

. .

The good, the bad, and the… also good

One of the nicer side-effects of the earthquakes is that because we lost almost all of the city’s arthouse cinemas, the mainstream cinemas have started showing a broader range of films to cater to some of that market.  As a result, the local Hoyts is celebrating Diwali with a selection of Bollywood films, one of which we went to see last night: Son of Sardaar.  A totally mad mix of action movie, slapstick comedy and musical that could only be produced in Bollywood, it was great fun – we both giggled our way through it (even if we were often laughing at different times to the rest of the (mostly Indian) audience).  Of course, now I’ve got the theme tune stuck in my head…

On the less pleasant side of the earthquake balance is the fact that it’s our suburb’s turn to have its sewers checked for earthquake damage (the council are slowly working their way round the entire city – a four-year job, apparently).  We got a letter the other day warning us that they’d be working at night (because apparently not disrupting traffic is more important than not disrupting our sleep) and that there might be some disturbance from noise and lights.  What they didn’t warn us about though was the smell – they must have been forcing air or water through the pipes to test them or something, because there was much bubbling and blowback from the toilet (luckily it seemed to only be water splashing out, but we put the lid down anyway), and a wonderful reek of sewer gasses through the house.  Plus I reckon they must have had the truck parked right outside our house, and it was just noisy enough that whenever I’d start to drift off I’d be woken up again.

So not a pleasant awakening this morning, to not enough sleep and a lingering horrible smell.  Luckily it’s a nice day today, so MrPloppy will be able to open all the windows and air it out a bit, so hopefully by the time I get home tonight the smell will be gone.

I really hope though that that’s our bit of pipe done and they’ll move further along the street tonight, because the notice said they’ll be working on the pipes until the 30th, and I really couldn’t cope with that every night!

In other good news, I got my marks back from my assignment, and I got an A+!  It’s only a provisional grade at the moment, because postgrad work has to be checkmarked by an external assessor, but I’m still grinning like a mad thing.

Now all I have to do is keep that up for the next three years, and I’ll have a high enough GPA to get a chance of a scholarship…

And talking of good things, I got a parcel yesterday from Lytteltonwitch.  She definitely knows me well:


And the perfect size for carting books, too.  Thanks, LW!

And even more good news, the electrician has almost (after many stop start visits when he had to drop our work to go and attend to earthquake rebuilds (which we’d said we were ok with him giving priority to – people who’ve been living in broken houses for two years definitely have a greater need than us!)) finished our re-wiring.  Thanks to Stepfather’s generosity in his will, we’ve not only got a much safer house, we’ve now got power points everywhere we need them (instead of trying to run everything off one power point per room plus a spaghetti of extension cords and multi-boards), and better lights, and can even do exciting things like run the washing machine and the dryer at the same time without blowing all the fuses (trust me, that’s exciting when you’ve been living with 1950s wiring for 10 years!).  He’s just got to finish disconnecting the old underfloor heating system (which we’ve never used, because it cost a fortune to run and generated more smell than heat anyway) and installing a nightstore heater in the hallway, and we’ll be done.

Next project: carpet.

In Bookcrossing news, only a few days until the Australian UnCon.  Which means I’ll be getting up ridiculously early on Friday morning (my flight’s at 6.30 am, so that means check-in at 4.30, which means…. arrgh, I don’t want to think about what that means about when I have to set the alarm for!) to fly to Sydney and then catch a train to Canberra.  Canberra’s not supposed to be a particularly exciting city to visit, but when it’s full of bookcrossers it’s sure to be a fantastically fun weekend.

And a few recent (and not so recent – I must remember to post more often) catches:

Mr. Corbett’s Ghost  by Leon Garfield was an early Halloween release (ok, so I meant to release it on Halloween but got the date wrong) that must have been caught almost immediately, because I released it in Deans Bush about an hour before they close the gates for the night, and it was caught that same night.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett is a second-generation catch on a book I released in Washington DC.  After being caught and taken to Seattle, it languished in a lost and found box for months before being rescued and enjoyed.

The Tower on the Rift by Ian Irvine – a catch from Ireland, from our visit to Clonmacnoise.

Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann and Consequences by Anna Dillon – more Ireland catches, this time from the hostel in Cashel.

Working Wonders by Jenny Colgan – and another one from the hostel in Killarney.

Beside Myself by Russell Haley – nearly two years between release and catch, a couple of blocks apart from each other.

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons – caught and re-released.

Demon Rumm by Sandra Brown – and a quick catch for a themed release.

2011 in review

So many ways to sum up a year.

First(ish) sentences:

  • January: I know I said we were going to have a quiet night and probably not even see the New Year in, but plans do have a habit of changing.
  • February: It’s the first of February, so that means TWO MONTHS UNTIL AMERICA!!!
  • March: We’re back in Christchurch, and feeling much refreshed and ready to face whatever this city throws at us.
  • April: In just a few hours I’ll go to the airport to fly to Auckland, where I’ve got a couple of hours’ wait before I fly for another 12 hours to San Francisco, and then it’ll *still* be the morning of the first of April! (I love time travel ;-))
  • May: We’ve just come back from Riccarton, where we almost but not quite bought a new vacuum cleaner (our trusty old Dyson has so many parts needing replacing that it’s been looking more and more economical to just get a new one – and we realised it must be about 11 or 12 years old now, so it’s actually lasted quite well).
  • June: Another big aftershock this morning.
  • July: In the last couple of weeks I’ve actually ventured in to town a couple of times.
  • August: Too late to back out now, I’ve booked my flights.
  • September: One year ago today, the people of Christchurch thought we’d had a disaster, but we had no idea how much worse it was going to get as the year progressed.
  • October: After a couple of incredibly busy weeks trying to catch up with work and study after my unplanned break, I had my final exam on Friday, which means I have finished my BA!!!
  • November: Yay! I managed to release 11 books at 11 am on 11/11/11.
  • December: Yesterday’s mail: I got a corporate Christmas card, MrPloppy got a bank statement, and George got a parcel from Lytteltonwitch.

Photos (a few of which never made it into my diary, me being so slack at updating this year!):

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August

    (Ok, that was actually taken in July, but it snowed in August as well)
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

Or just in thoughts. This has been such a huge year. The bad stuff (earthquakes, depression, work uncertainties, Stepfather dying, more earthquakes…) has been so prominent it’s hard sometimes to remember that this year also contained some pretty good stuff. The American roadtrip, for a start – I keep forgetting that was only 8 months ago! There were enough wonderful moments in that trip to last a lifetime. And looking back through the year’s entries I’ve been reminded of all the other good times of 2011: going camping (and goat hunting!) with brother and the kids, making bookmarks with mum, fishing for yabbies with dad, welcoming MrPloppy home from his trip, all the laughter and catching up with friends at conventions in DC and in Wellington, finishing my degree and being accepted for honours… yeah, for a stink year it’s actually been quite good, really 🙂