Monday, 10 December 2012

Sally Lunn and Coffee amongst the Truck-Axles

There were days over the last month when I fervently wished I were laying in a hammock blissfully suspended between two leafy trees while sipping a cool cider instead of taping and waxing hundreds of delicate new kiwifruit grafts under a hot sun.

But, while it lasts, I am grateful for my job and for the company of Spike and Wolfie. We make a superb grafting- team - Wolfie chainsaws, Spike carefully puts the grafts in the notch and I wrap black tape round and round the kiwifruit trunk and dab wax on to secure and protect the new wood.

In addition to the above, we laugh a lot and that has to be good for the soul, surely?

Our boss loves us. Well, he hasn't actually ever said that in proper words but I bet he does because he knows he can commute to his other job each day and entrust his entire property to Spike, Wolfie and me. We keep each other in line except for when it is just not humanly possible to do so.

So who is this man we call the boss? Well, his name is Jon K. Tucky and he loves his chicken hot and spicy. Even if his adorable wife was to cook, say a delicious rice risotto and put it in the fridge for him with his name in large letters, I think he would pretend not to see it and re-heat the KFC he purchased three days previously.

And would you like to know about his implement shed? No? Well, let me tell you just one thing. If you find what you are looking for in there you fling yourself prostrate on the dusty floor and cry a loud 'Hallelujah!' You can't help it because you are just so happy.

Our last week of grafting was the very best. Each morning we borrowed Jon K. Tucky's fancy coffee-machine and threw it into the back of Spike's station-wagon along with the other essentials like coffee beans, chilly-bin, cups and sandwiches along with the work equipment like chainsaws, knives, hammers, big pots of grafting-wax and rolls of black tape. We then travelled one hour out to Tauriko to do the whole grafting procedure there on another kiwifruit orchard but under a dappled canopy.

How we managed to fit Wolf's golden retriever in as well is nothing short of miraculous and on one occasion she almost got crushed to death by the wheelbarrow which toppled sideways on top of her because Spike U-turned very abruptly while eating a snow-freeze icecream with one hand and telling a story with the other.

But Spike blamed that episode on Wolf who had groaned, "Bum Bum! I forgot to buy cat-biscuits for the dog".

To all outward appearances I am just one of the blokes in my sloppy overalls and baseball cap and I am treated as such. Wolf told me on day one of our working relationship that when he missed a plant I could forget all the girly-whirly cutie-pie stuff like skipping up to him and politely hauling him back with a sorry to be a bother and all that.

No, I was ordered to just yell big and loud over his chainsaw, "OI, WOLF!!!! GET YOUR BUTT BACK HERE NOW!!!", so now I do.

Such is my dismal lack of femininity at this job, Spike sometimes doesn't even fully close the door of the corrugated outhouse.

"Oh, don't mind me!", I call out in that vague direction but it's obvious I do not even rate on Spike's modesty-radar for I am indeed but one of the blokes with dirt and dust stuck all over my wax-covered boots, hands, arms and face.

I am revolting to behold and untouchable - people shudder in my presence lest I brush past them.

Even after rubbing my wax-sticky hands with dried grass clippings I have to open the outhouse-door with my elbow and wriggle my overalls off my shoulders. When I finally manoeuvre my bottom onto the toilet-seat I do not expect an enormous thud to rock my little corrugated-iron world but that is precisely what happened to me, mid-pee, last Tuesday and I nearly passed out with fright.

Then I heard my workmates' chuckles and it became obvious to me that they had hurled a rock onto the toilet roof . I'm sure to find that hilarious in about a decade's time.

But let me not forget to mention the most joyous moments of that week which consisted of stuffing huge slabs of Sally Lunn from the Te Puke Bakery into our famished faces and washing it down with a perfect coffee from our borrowed coffee-machine which we had plugged into an outside power-supply, surrounded by cob-webs, a mountain of old truck-axles, muddy tractors and bins of beer-bottles.

I'll take the good with the bad!








Saturday, 3 November 2012

Wind and Paparazzi in the Streep

Wellington is a mere village when compared to say, New York or Tokyo or Paris, but for Cossack and me it is plenty big enough and we don't mind the long drive down to get our occasional urban-fix especially if the  snow-capped mountains shrug the clouds aside and glisten behind that enormous carpet of tussock grasses along the Desert Road.

When the sun shines in Wellington the harbour twinkles and shimmers and people bustle here and there or drink coffee and watch the world go by from outdoor tables.  It seems like everyone is smiling at nothing in particular but everything in general.

However, you can just turn a corner and a cold and nasty wind will wipe that smile right off your face. You may even end up airborne if your skinny frame fails to anchor you to the pavement and your skirt might lift up like a parachute and your nickers reveal themselves.

Several times I had to cling to Cossack's leg for dear life while he clutched desperately at a post to save his own.  What a sight, Cossack and me, tandem-style, in a unique maypole dance with him frantically trying to shake me off his leg while more solid citizens have to walk in a wide arc around us to avoid decapitation!

Ashwyn Sathanantham invited us to an Indian social evening at the university and we were as keen as korma to go, even Cossack, the only one in our family who prefers steak and chips to rices and spices and chapatis and dahl and gulab jamun.

Thanks, Ash, for the Bollywood music that had us all clapping and laughing. Kristen joined in the dancing up on the stage, a pale-face amongst the young men and women in their vibrant combinations of colour - greens and pinks and turquoises and blues. Their moves, fast and joyful, are a celebration of life.

Where did Kristen learn to dance like her dress was on fire? Her arms and legs went nuts and Cossack and I tried to recall whether she was maybe conceived one night after Indian takeaways but it's all a long-ago hormonal blur and does it really matter?   She happened, that's all we know.

The facts are more specific when it comes to the origins of our son. Nine months prior to his birth our Volkwagen Kombi Camper-van was parked in the beautiful Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, surrounded by cheeky rainbow lorikeets and wallabies, fan-palms and cycads.

Yes, back then Coss and I were travelling through Australia as free as gypsies but bodies have no choice but to collide frequently in the confines of a camper-van when doing even the most innocent of activities like brushing teeth or boiling noodles or playing board-games like 'Monogamy' and 'Scramble'.

The result was a 'Ben-in-the-Oven'.

But why do I digress like that? Fast forward twenty-five years to Wellington and Cossack and I are meandering through the fruit and vegetable stalls at the Farmers' Market near the water-front.

We noticed that a 'Punch and Judy' puppet show was about to start and that little cushions were scattered around for little bottoms to sit on. I would have loved to sit there cross-legged on a kiddy's cushion but didn't feel up to resisting any dagger-looks from parents who might  think my bottom didn't belong on a little cushion so Cossack and I sat full of eager anticipation on a nearby bench.

Just imagine our surprise when a very alternative show, 'Lunch and Spewdie', started up instead. A little girl vomited copiously right next to the puppet-tent! It was riveting in a sick kind of way and I wondered (sympathetically, of course) what had caused her horrible predicament. A tummy-bug or too much candy-floss? The mother ran off to get basins of water which she threw at the spew to disperse the lumpiest bits while the brave father, in a display of noble and unconditional love, hugged his little chunder-child to comfort her.

Meanwhile, a dozen or so teeny weeny kids were still sitting cross-legged on their little cushions politely waiting for 'Punch and Judy'. It was a touching scene from which a pearl of wisdom might one day be extracted.

Anyhow, after all that drama, Coss and I missed 'Punch and Judy' because we had to run and meet our kids at 10.30am. For us that is the best attraction in Wellington -  the chance to catch up on Ben and Kristen's lives over a perfect coffee at 'Memphis Belle' and listen to their ideas and opinions which have evolved for the most part since they left home.

Life tosses the mad and the sad and the glad at us as a divine invitation to grow up and, better than expensive restaurants or Italian lemon gelato or lovely shops and concerts, is the quiet joy that comes from seeing your children are on the way to being who they want to be.

On our last morning we offered Moira a ride into the city-centre.  Now, there is another thing in Wellington that is as annoying as the wind that blows and blows and blows and that is the problem of parking your car. Like in any big city, there are rules and signs and yellow lines but Cossack thinks they are for other people, not for him..

So Cossack ignored a double yellow line and pulled up right on a busy corner where cars and buses zoom this way and that.  Moira leaped out of our car and I jumped out after her to give her a farewell hug but before my feet even hit the pavement a handsome young man sprung gazelle-like right in front of me with a camera, obviously mistaking me for someone famous.

I smiled my most dazzling smile and adopted what I hoped was a sexy stance while he flashed me! It was so exhilarating wondering whether this fluoro-vested novice from the paparazzi thought I was Meryl Streep or  Justin Bieber's god-mother?

So, why was Cossack calling, "Get in, Bern!" and Moira running away?

Next thing I am back in the car where I belong and Coss is splutter-laughing, "That was a Parking-Warden, Bern! ", which of course the more humble part of me had known all along.

A few days later an envelope arrived in the mailbox with $60 in it and a note that said, "To cover the fine I know you are going to get", but Moira, you are getting those dollars right back because it was our fault entirely and anyway, one month later, I can delightedly inform you that that nasty notice never even arrived!

Moira, thank you so much for letting us stay in your downstairs room and for that Aberdeen hospitality.

And what a pleasure to meet you, Sai and Libya and Nicola.

Here, back in our own bed, I look over at Cossack in the old sweat-shirt that he wears as a pyjama top. It has P.T.L written on it and, now that I study it closely for the very first time, I see the tiny words, "Provincial Transport Limited".

Funny how I assumed for years that those letters stood for "Praise the Lord!".


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cookie-Spitting on the Orchard of Luxuriant Growth

About three months ago my work on Neville's property ran out,  but being a woman of action, I swiftly acquired temporary work on another orchard about the same distance from home.

I am now tying down kiwifruit canes to the wires after the rest have been pruned out by my new boss, Mr R. Because of numerous other commitments he is frequently absent from his Orchard of Luxuriant Growth and I am able to pretend I am the boss, not only of myself but of a woolly flock of Shropshire sheep as well.

Yes, I am the only current member of Mr R's tiny work-force and I sometimes wonder what happened to the others. Surely there were others? Then I got to hear rumours that some workers have been missing for years after venturing into the three rows in Block 1 where they were advised never ever to go, so wild and tangled are the vines in there. I guess it serves them right for not listening.

The mind really boggles as to their fate. Are there skeletons in those wild and tangled rows frozen forever in trying-to-escape positions, rusty loppers still in hand? I am honestly too scared to go in there lest I also get snatched up forever and would Cossack ever bother to come look for me? I doubt it very much.

There is one non-negotiable rule when entering and leaving the Orchard of Luxuriant Growth and that is, 'Close the gate behind you so the Shropshires don't escape!'

Every other rule is more like a helpful suggestion - I can start work when I like and finish when tired. As for the hours in between, well, when unsupervised the power sometimes just goes to my head all of a sudden and I command those Shropshires to "Heel!" or "Roll Over! " but they just chew away on their stupid grass like I'm not even there.

I spent a whole lunchtime trying to teach the Shropshire with the blackest head to salute me when I clapped my hands but with no success.

The unruly flock mooch around me when I am trying to listen to important stuff on my little transistor radio. Why do I bother trying to improve my mind? Just picture me if you will, trying to concentrate on Hamlet's Oedipus complex or which wine is perfect with Moroccan pan-fried fish but it's all interrupted by "Baaahhahhahhha!   Baaahaahaaaa!  Baahahhahaaha!" bleated out at full volume in Shropshire dialect?

Don't Shropshires understand that I have lofty ambitions for my life but just do not know what they are yet?

Smoko is a blissful coffee from my thermos while perched on top of a cane pot-plant holder I found in our shed at home. I sit there in the sun and, just because I can, I now and then abandon all the etiquette my mother ever taught me.

For instance, I might stuff my mouth with as much cookie as will fit into it and then spit out the chewed-up bits in a gloriously disgusting sky-ward arc . Then I fling my banana peel and apple-core for the sheep to devour and wipe my hands on my tee-shirt.

I suppose I am a middle-aged rebel without a cause but I do actually know how to behave when society demands I should.

At a dinner-party I know that I grab cutlery starting from the outside and work in towards my plate and I know a red from a white and I can nibble at camemberts and olives like I was born for that very purpose.

One of the Stropshires (spelling mistake intentional), kept trying to steal my chocolate muffin today so I grabbed my pump-action water bottle and squirted it right between its very devious eye-balls which resemble the glassy marbles I used to play with as a kid. It just winced a little, shook the droplets from its evil woolly brow then went back for a second assault so I squirted it again between its hind-legs until it finally  huffed off .

If I can disregard the occasional pyscho- sheep that should be a delicious Rogan-Josh, I like my job for I am Captain in my Own Head and what more could a woman in the very middle of a mid-life crisis ask for?

Lots I guess. Yes, there is lots one could ask for but I have learned to boom where I am planted. Or is it bloom? I'm not sure what that fridge-magnet said now.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ashes and Goat Curry

Cossack's head is getting bigger and bigger and that is not necessarily a good thing. All kinds of people are grinning at him these days because of how he stars in my blogs and I suspect he loves the attention.  So I am not mentioning him at all this time round other than to tell you that he now thinks he can make decisions without consulting me because, after all, he is Cossack.

For instance, Cossack purchased a coffee-bush for our garden and we now have to cover this oh-so precious plant every night all winter with layers of mesh cloth lest one of our frequent frosts murder it.

Cossack, it will never ever produce a single coffee-bean, let alone a cappachino, so why, oh why?

Not only does he stubbornly persevere with doomed horticultural experiments but Coss also stated in no uncertain terms that a dogwood tree belongs on top of a dead dog and no other so Pinnie's burial-plot is now honoured with the straggliest thing you ever saw.

Enough of Cossack. Even negative attention may be feeding his ego but let me just quickly thank him for fixing my coffee-plunger tonight. All the metal bits fell apart and he re-assembled it so I am in no hurry to have such a useful man erupt in a cloud of ashes from Mount Ngauruhoe.

How spooky was it though that straight after writing my last blog about that volcano, nearby Mount Tongariro erupted unexpectedly after a quiet hundred years or more!

That got me to thinking even harder about life and death and ashes and then to add a spook to spooky I accidentally reversed my car over the metal bucket in which we collect the ashes from the previous night's fire in our lounge.  My rear right wheel crushed it and ashes spilled over our driveway.

I meant to ponder long and hard about the significance of all this ash but Ben rang from Wellington and sounded like he was dying.

Our poor son was suffering explosive bouts of vomiting and diarrhea that lasted for an un-solid 24 hours as a result, he's pretty certain, of a goat-curry he ate.

Oh, how distressed was the mother-heart in me thinking about the hygienically-challenged monster with a fake 'Food-Safety' diploma who nearly killed our Benny.

Heartless Sock (spelled phonetically and backwards because I wasn't going to mention him again), on the other hand just said, "That'll teach him not to eat from grubby stalls".

According to his more compassionate sister, Ben was as pale as a corpse but he recovered, thankfully.

Please do not remind him any more than necessary of that goat-curry. Apparently he is still rather fragile and doesn't want the whole world to know about his projectile vomiting and diarrhea and how he galloped in panic from bucket to toilet, bucket to toilet, bucket to toilet, bucket to toilet, so please, it's just between you and me, OK?

If you love Ben like we do you will not go on and on and on and on and on and on and on about all the humiliating details like how, in his most desperate moments, he lay sideways across both toilet and bucket so both ends could erupt simultaneously.

To be fair, maybe the goat -curry wasn't even the culprit but isn't it good to have a literal scape-goat when something makes us sick?

To change the topic ever so slightly, I went for a lovely walk on sunday after lots of rain and there were zillions of worms meandering across the main road like their lives didn't depend on it. Of course, I tried not to stomp on them but very fast trucks just drove right over the poor creatures flattening them something awful.  I wanted to hold little funerals for each squashed worm but it all got too much.

Then I noticed some litter-bugger had thrown a whole lot of CDs into the ditch probably from a passing vehicle. That got me to thinking about ashes again - how fame can abruptly end in metaphorical ashes with the tossing out of a CD that once was played endlessly and loved and danced to.

Who out there remembers playing vinyl records?  Op Shops are filled with boxes and boxes of them these days. If you flick through them you will find Val Doonigan and Heintje, Kamahl and Jim Reeves, all smiling sweetly but obsoletely from more innocent times, their former glory now reduced to a 40 cent bargain.

So it is with any claim to fame. Yesterday we heard that the winning shot-putter, Nadezhda Ostapchuk from Belarus, was found to have had drugs in her system while competing at the just-completed Olympic Games in London.

Well, that put a shot right through the gold medal around Nadezhda's neck and now our kiwi girl, Valerie Adams, gets to upgrade from silver to gold!

An honest win surely tastes far sweeter than a steroid-inspired one and so dreams can turn to ashes and ashes to dreams.

It is unlikely that the eight runners who beat Nick Willis in the 1500 meters running race are all going to be disqualified so that he ends up with a medal after all.

He said, "It's just heart-breaking when you put in so much work all year...and to not be able to come through on the day that mattered most felt quite frustrating. I just had nothing left".

But Nick, you did us proud and a person of integrity and dignity is respected long after most of us have forgotten who won medals in this event or that one, in Beijing, London or next time round in Rio.

Well, I might just go cosy up with Sock on the sofa and stare at the blank screen that was our TV until a howling wind decapitated the aerial - my spouse is a very odd sock but then so am I.

Cascades of aroha from Bern-the-Deep Thunker


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Bare Minimum

Once again I am postponing my Mills and Boon story in which Cossack and I were to star and this time it is for ethical reasons. You see, I remembered that 27 years ago my wedding ring got engraved by some banana-brain in Cairns, Australia, with one letter wrong in my name and so I really must check out my marital status.

At the time I thought it was a big laugh that my name was spelled 'Belnadette' but now, whenever I look at Coss I wonder, "Am I his wife or just a fraud?", and " Are our grown-up children illegitimate?".

So, I will philosophise instead about the enormous satisfaction to be gained from getting back to the bare minimum in life. Now, I am not referrring to Cossack's bare kind of minimum as was revealed in the dance he recently did on the 8th floor of an Auckland hotel in his birthday suit.  That was way too bare.

No, I am talking here about decluttering our homes and our minds and how kiwifruit pruning is the perfect analogy to illustrate the benefits of cutting back.

Never judge an orchard-worker by her pathetic biceps for give Belnadette a big pair of loppers and a dangerously sharp saw and she is intimidating. Let no-one get between her and those kiwifruit canes for who knows what anatomical bits she may cut off my mistake?

When I look up to admire a newly completed bay of kiwifruit canes all pruned and neatly tied down to the wires I have been known to fall splat to the ground after tripping backwards over the big pile of spindly old canes on the ground.  Sometimes I wish I could spend just one full day in my life being dignified but it's unlikely to happen and I guess my yearnings should be more noble like peace in Syria or fresh air and feathers for battery-chickens.

An orchard smiles after a good cut-back but I swear that our homes are even happier when we declutter them. They grin from wall to wall. For me, decluttering started well before Peter Walsh's book made it popular when I ripped our ugly lounge curtains from their railings and donated them to the Methodist Op Shop. Cossack's look of utter bewilderment when he went to draw non-existent curtains that evening was very funny if that kind of thing amuses you.

Pruning back one's possessions is a glorious and enriching adventure enabling one's mind to feel as clear as one's benches and one's thoughts as organised as one's cupboards. Of course one mustn't get carried away and get rid of essentials like toilet-paper and clothes and toothbrushes and food. You won't be popular if you do that.

It is sentimental stuff that can clog our cupboards very annoyingly so I have been guiltily tossing out the least aesthetically-pleasing of the dozens of paintings our cherubs whipped out in a creative tornado at Playcentre.

In those days we parents got taught to ask, "Now, Ben, would you like to tell me about your picture?", rather than say something like,"Oh, Benny, I love the way that little puppy is sniffing that daffodil!", because it might not represent a little puppy sniffing a daffodil and Benny's self-esteem may be irreparably damaged by my moronic assumption.  Maybe Benny's painting was of a turtle brandishing a shotgun and the little deviant would prefer to tell me that all by himself.

Sorry, I digressed a bit there. I also guiltily tossed out our children's grubby chewed-up baby-rugs and most of their school certificates with incredible accomplishments hand-written on them by various teachers like, "Well done! Kristen had a very healthy apple and mandarin in her lunchbox today", and, "Marvellous! Ben can now play, 'Three Blind Mice', on the recorder".

Hooray for geniuses who think of clever decluttering strategies. This man on TV suggested you take photos of those possessions you are sentimentally attached to and then you won't mind parting with them so much.  For me, it worked like magic. I photographed the orange bib-shorts and soccer-jersey that Kristen and Ben wore so often and then gave those garments away with no qualms at all. I just needed the memory stuck in an album because we mothers are like that.

What a sentimental idiot I was keeping Ben and Kristen's baby-teeth in two separate little jars. I am thinking about super-gluing them to a photo-frame but they look a bit like rodent teeth. Oh well, children and rodents, what's the difference?

I got rid of hundreds of incense sticks by burning them all at once. A crazy smokey haze of patchoulli, musk and sandalwood wafted through the whole house and Cossack felt nauseous but couldn't find them all to put them out.

Stacks of books have gone because I seldom read a novel twice and these days you can just google any information you want. Expired medicines and pills got biffed so I hope neither Cossack or I get a cold-sore or tape-worm or waxy-ears or all three.

Enough! One must also prune back on words if one is to retain one's blog-readers so let me finish by telling you that Cossack has solemnly announced that when he shuffles off his mortal coil he wishes to be cremated and then, if I outlive him which I hope not to do because I'd be lonely, I have to trek up Mount Ngauruhoe and shake him out of his urn into the steamy crater. 

For goodness sake, Cossack, by then I might be 88 years old!  If I ever find Belnadette, your lawful wife, she can slog up that mountain but if I can't find her I'll just take a helicopter ride.

I am so proud of Coss. Is it not the ultimate in sacrificial decluttering to be reduced from a normal-sized man to a few handfuls of ashes which then explode all over the countryside when the volcano next erupts like a big poof of fertiliser?

And if people who don't know he is dead ask, "Where is Cossack these days? Haven't seen him around", Bob Dylan and I will sing together sadly,

"The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind".

Friday, 8 June 2012

Bills and Moon

The Mills and Boon story I promised in my last Blog will just have to wait. One simply cannot write the perfect romance when one has witnessed the main character dancing a deliberately silly version of the can-can in his birthday suit in a flash hotel (please forgive the pun) eight stories high on the Auckland waterfront.

Yes, Cossack and I, who generally stay in Backpacker Hostels,  treated ourselves to a night of luxury so of course I understand that Coss was excited to have a real nice bed instead of a top bunk in a dormitory. Of course he revelled in big TV and knobs and switches everywhere and a bird's eye view over the plebians wandering home from nightclubs far below us. And yes, I suppose he was entitled to leap from the shower in his birthday suit because it was, after all, his birthday, but he should have been aware of the high-rise ANZ Bank building over the road from us.

"Coss! Those people in that building can see you! Stop that right now!"

Well, that was dumb thing to say because it acted like a red flag to a bull and he decided to do a few little Cossack leaps to entertain the staff at their computers in the ANZ bank. I was mortified and ducked under the sheets.

"Don't worry, Bern, their windows are tinted and anyway, nobody will be there yet," and he added some twirls to his repertoire.

"Cossack, are you crazy?! Their windows are tinted so we can't see them but they can see us! And some people start work early so stop in the name of the law!", but my duvet-muffled words held little sway. He stopped only because he wanted breakfast.

When we checked out I was half-prepared for the receptionist to tell us there had been phoned-in compliments disguised as complaints about Cossack's muscular body from across the road but she asked only one question,

"Did you take anything from the bath?" 

It was turn once again to squirm. How could the receptionist possibly know I had taken two little plastic bottles, one filled with moisturiser and one with shampoo?  Did she then also know about the three sachets of Twinings English breakfast tea, four sachets of instant coffee and three sugar-sticks in my handbag? Had we been surveyed by hidden cameras in our room? Had this woman also seen Cossack prancing in his birthday suit? Was she going to keep his phone number? Should I glare at her or would that make matters worse?

I was about to confess all and plead that management not be too harsh on me as I had never even thought of stealing their towels, cups or hair-dryer and I always thought we were allowed to take stuff like I took because it is all built into the overnight costs when Cossack said, "No, we had nothing from the bar".

Nothing from the bar! Oh, that's what she asked! No, of course we hadn't had anything from the bar. How stupid would that be after learning the hard way in Singapore years ago that one little packet of peanuts and a Gin and Tonic can cost about 800 NZ dollars or thereabouts, give or take a zero here and there.

I hoped I looked like a movie-star when I stepped out into the city through the revolving hotel door but I didn't seem to make an impression on anyone at all. Cossack and I decided to counter-balance our extravagance with breakfast at Merge Cafe at 453 Karangahape Road where they do real cheap food and are very kind to homeless people. We didn't feel out of place at all and the coffee was OK. Coss's toast was a tad sad but he said his fried egg and sausage and baked beans were excellent value at $3.

Our homeless frugality was vital because I forgot to tell you that Cossack lost one lens out of his prescription glasses the previous night when we considered eating posh and we couldn't find it anywhere. Those glasses had cost $800 and I guess Cossack still had $400 worth of eyesight in one lens but it all proved too hopeless and he snatched my glasses from my nose every five minutes thereafter in order to read the hamburger menus once we realised our huge financial kick in the head.

Yes, sadly, because we incurred several unexpected expenses over the long weekend and because Cossack's can-can was possibly triggered by the full magnificent moon which shone into our elevated hotel room - but does that excuse him? I think not! - I have had to drop the Mills and Boon romance and settle for an awful spoonerism.






Friday, 27 April 2012

Short Curtains and a Whisked Away Kennel

Cossack will sometimes endure miserable conditions just to prove a point. The pointless point he stubbornly makes each autumn is that he is tough and therefore we do not need to light our first fire of the cold season until May 1st. He is prepared to freeze while watching TV and, although the fire is all ready to go with paper and kindling in a neat little wigwam, no match dare come near it for 3 more nights as from now.

So, wrapped in rugs, I sit in our living-room with pretty icicles forming at the tip of my nose and look out at the black night which is possible to do even with our curtains drawn because nobody told me that you shouldn't make curtains out of Indian cotton because they will shrink with each annual wash. Our curtains look like mini-skirts and are equally useless for keeping one warm as they now only come down to my navel. Next winter they will only come down to my chin. Our curtains are ridiculous and much mocked by visitors.

My hardy Cossack is quite nice to our visitors in his own unique way. He tells them how proud he is of never lighting the fire before May 1st and then asks them whether they would like him to abandon his principles just this once and light it for their comfort. They inevitably say no and I then feel obliged to wrap the poor people up in duvets to ensure their survival as friends rather than iceblocks. They do keep coming back to our place but I have no idea why.

Anzac day was a glorious sunny day to have off work. I planted a punnet of pansies on top of our dead dog and the marigolds are still blooming faithfully in fits of orange and yellow.

The kennel has gone. Now we have only Pinnie's collar and leash left and noone is getting them as I need some kind of souvenir to remind me of the best dog in the whole world.  The 'Pinnie Palace' as we called the kennel got claimed by a neighbour up the road. Months ago, when he heard about our dog having a heart condition, Gill Bert said in his matter-of- fact way, "Hey, when your dog's dead I'd like to buy that kennel", and he did so as soon as I told him that Pinnie had shuffled off her mortal leash on life.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the Palace got whisked away on Gill's trailer in a cloud of dust but I am actually happy it's gone to a good home and it's a reminder to me that life goes on and there is no point in a vacant kennel. A dead dog's kennel may as well house an alive new puppy.

Years ago at a flea-market I noticed this lovely older woman selling all sorts of things including a pair of soft French leather shoes. I bought them for Cossack and she touched my hand and said, "I am so glad these shoes are going to someone nice because they belonged to my husband who died a few months ago".

Funny how she assumed that my spouse must be nice just because I am but anyhow, Cossack knows what it is to walk in someone else's shoes (even if that someone is dead) and they fitted him like a dream by the way.  So tonight the dear man who must have been metaphorically walking in my chilly shoes lately gave me his old laptop computer because he bought a new one, how noble is that?

So I will be able to sit up in bed as snug as a bug and write my Blogs. Life is good.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Snorus Chorus



Out of sheer habit I almost grabbed Pinnie's red leash the other day when I went for a walk down in the paddocks but then sadly remembered that the best dog in the whole world is now pushing up marigolds. The sentimental part of me almost took the leash for a walk anyway for old time's sake but then I thought, "What if someone sees me dragging a leash with no dog attached to it?", so I didn't.

The ache lingers but I must not let my dead dog side-track me from today's topic which is snoring. No, my topic isn't snoring but it is if you know what I mean?

Lots of people snore. Perhaps someone in your bed snores? Someone in my bed certainly does and his name is Cossack. Yes, the very same man you have come to know and love through my Blogs spends two-fifths of his sleeping-life totally silent, thank the Lord for that, two-fifths nostril-whistling what he thinks are melodious tunes like 'Puff the Magic Dragon' and one-fifth snoring like a dysfunctional chainsaw.

I suppose I cannot punish Cossack for his nocturnal crimes as he is unaware of them but what is a woman supposed to do when frightened into wide-eyed sit-up awakeness by the sudden onset of his chainsaw routine?  Sometimes I discuss my options with Coss such as sleeping on the sofa now and then or suffocating him and he seemed to prefer the former option so I either do that or else I just turn Lloyd on FM 101up louder. That helps.

Occasionally, when I am in a silly mood, I play the cutest little bed-time game with Coss who doesn't seem to mind participating in the least. In my school-teacher voice, I ask my sleeping spouse,

"So who's the naughty boy then?"

Coss answers with only a few more revs of the chainsaw so I raise his hand high in the air for about twenty seconds. He doesn't even notice so, when my arm gets tired, I drop his hand and it clunks down, often onto his own nose which stops the snores abruptly after a bit of a shocked snort.

The other technique that works well is tickling Cossack's nostrils but he tends to react by assuming I am an extremely annoying mosquito and swatting me hard across my hand. That is not very nice of him but the good news is that he then tosses and turns and the snores stop for a wee while. I had to do this repeatedly a couple of weekends ago because we turned the clock back for Daylight Saving and he took the liberty of snoring for a whole extra hour, bless his soul.

It's a wonder I could do an honest eight hours work for Neville today after the horrific night I had. It was about 2 am, I think, that I resorted to nostril-tickling after which came a tremendous bellowing from Coss  followed by gurgling noises so terrifying I was nearly catapaulted out of my very own skin.

It was a commotion like you wouldn't believe could issue forth from a throat and two little holes in a man's nose and I truly thought my Coss was experiencing death throes of the kind that kill you so I passionately grabbed him and hollered sweet nothings into his chest. Then he went silent. Completely silent.

I checked for a pulse in his neck but there wasn't one but that might be because I had the wrong part that doesn't pulse. In fact I think I got Cossack's artery and Adam's Apple confused.

"COSS! ARE YOU OK? COSS! ", and I shook him vigorously and started CPR but forgot how many chest compressions to do so blocked his nose tight while I tried to remember.

Next thing my silent corpse started laughing because, as it turned out, he was playing a very cruel wide-awake joke on a distressed spouse. It was shocking to think that Coss could pretend to be dying just to test the strength of my feelings for him so, in a daze of relief,  I found myself staggering to the fridge for a consolation-to-my-frazzled-nerves munch.

I was delighted to find an Easter-egg behind the marmalade and was about to eat it but then didn't because it belongs to my Cossie-Wossie.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Dog-Blog : A Heart Condition

It's hard to believe that Pinnie, best dog in the world, is now buried in our front- yard with marigolds planted on top of her along with a vase holding several red hibiscus flowers.

When going through a valley of sadness like this, it is easy to wish we had never got that foxy-spaniel cross thirteen years ago that grew into the best dog that ever lived, but that is futile thinking because we did have her and she did have us and what a sterile life it would be if we knew no love or loss.

I should have realized Pinnie's poor prognosis that day last year when I had to carry her home up the last hill after a short walk in  the paddocks behind our house. She just went on strike there and then and I had no choice but to look a right goof-ball returning home with a rotund dog and four paws protruding at right-angles from my chest.

A state of denial is a blissful one. We thought Pinnie's expensive heart-pills would rescue her and ensure near immortality but of course a heart does eventually stop beating.

For a while I doubted Cossack had any true fondness for Pinnie  because he sometimes came out with harsh words like, "Get off that sofa, Pin!", or "Bern, your beep-beep dog ate my pineapple lumps!", but he cried as much as I did when the best dog in the whole world succumbed to the vet's injection.

We were both grateful though when her body slumped peacefully for her discomfort was over.

But what do you do with the daily little events that cause you to react instinctively as if your dog is still mooching around? Like yesterday, Coss spilled some tuna on the decking and I called Pinnie over to do her usual slurp-slurp clean-up but then I remembered that she was dead and dead dogs cannot lick up tuna.

I expect her at the back-door with damp nose against the glass but when I look there is no damp nose with a dog attached to it. How can we walk on the beach without Pinnie to fetch the sticks we throw into the waves? What is there to laugh at with no dog to bark ferociously at a hunk of driftwood or a seagull?

Why do I go to fill up her water-bowl when the sensible part of me knows she is gone? Obviously, the mind takes a while to adjust to sad new chapters on our lives. We want to pretend for just a bit longer that things are as they were.

Sure, Pinnie drove us crazy at times. Did she obey basic commands like, "Quiet Pin!", when she barked and barked and barked and barked and barked at every visitor, even a friend?  No, she didn't.

Was Pinnie a thief? Indeed she was. When we caught her licking out a stolen jar of 'Nutella' under the sofa, such was her menacing snarl when we attempted to remove it from her that I wondered if she had originated in the very pits of hell. Fortunately, Pinnie was all bark and no bite, all spark and no spite.

She was a ghetto-dog through and through, of unknown but probably dubious parentage.  Yes, Pinnie had faults but she also had brown eyes of velvet kindness and ears so soft that when Coss and I took her to the vet last Saturday, I wished for an insane moment that I could do a Van Gogh and claim a bit of just one ear for a souvenir. Of course I didn't because that would be weird but I can truly say with hand on totally unbiased heart that our dog had the most beautiful ears, not only in New Zealand, but anywhere dogs are between here and infinity.

Thank you, Kristen, for demanding a puppy on your 10th birthday. Thank you, Ben, for fighting with your sister over who loved that puppy the most.  Thanks, Trish for those walks on the beach and a huge "Thank you" to my mother for being so good to Pinnie while Coss and I had busy lives and our children had grown up and left home.

Perhaps I should walk on the beach sometime soon. I'll go early on a sunday morning and noone will see the condition of my heart when I throw a stick into the sea and it just washes, un-fetched, back on shore.

Sentiment has its place but so does gratitude for what is lent to us for a season. Thank you Pinnie.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

In Which Modesty is Desperately Chaste

Once upon a time there lived a young girl who, in order to protect her privacy, we shall henceforth refer to as Netsirk, which is her real name spelled backwards. Before she got a real job in Notgnillew she worked on an orchard with her mother, also known as Mum, and I shall also spell that backwards to protect that fine woman's reputation.

The following story did not unfold at the mother's current workplace and unless my memory serves me incorrectly, the address was strictly highpathetical.

Anyway, this once-upon-a-day turned out real hot and Netsirk was sweltering in thick grey trackpants. Eventually she could stand it no longer and was about to faint under the vines.
"Why didn't I wear shorts?", groaned the daughter for the nineteenth time.
"Look Netsie", her mother said in total exasperation, "There is noone around for miles except you and me so just work in your undies, for goodness sake".

"Shall I?", Netsie asked hesitantly but then came to her senses and, before you could say 'Derierre', had pulled off those horrible thick grey trackpants. All of a sudden she was flitting from vine to vine like a chirpy fantail, her secateurs flying through those kiwifruit tangles as if caught up in a tornado.

The liberated lass did take the precaution of draping her horrible thick grey trackpants over a nearby wire in case someone, like a certain Slovakian tractor-driver, should chance along. It was very important to her that, in but a flash of flesh, she could reclaim her modesty.

"Mum", the daughter said happily, " It is such a wonderful and free feeling wearing just undies out here in the glorious outdoors!".
"Oh, that's very nice indeed", replied the mother, "But you call them undies? Looks like a sling-shot to me".

At 2.55pm Mum suggested they start heading back to the Smoko-Room and that is when dear little Netsirk lost a garment and her mind at precisely the same time. Frantically she searched the overhead-wires for those ugly grey trackpants but how futile the effort for they were gone! Completely gone. In fact, they were as gone as Micheal Jackson and in circumstances equally mysterious.

How poor little Netsie ranted and raved, hollered and panicked! Oh, how desperately she longed to go to Smoko and get a nice cold refreshing drink with her mother but of course her buttocks couldn't turn up in only a sling-shot. The rest of her was decent enough but totally embarrassed buttocks cannot be left behind, if you will pardon the pun.

So, crazed with excessive emotion, Netsie got on the quad-bike and tore round and round the entire orchard block calling out for her track-pants as if they had ears maybe. Her mother kept right on working as there was no point both of them getting hysterical.

It was 3.07 pm now and Netsie screeched to a halt in front of her mother.
"Momsie! Please help me find my pants!", she begged desperately.
So Momsie took off her leather pouch, pulled her teeshirt away from her waist and surprise, surprise, Momsie gave painless birth from her navel to her daughter's ugly grey trackpants.

Yes, that twisted woman had hidden them up her tee-shirt and secured their invisiblity by squashing them flat against her stomach with her waist-pouch.

Netsie stared in disbelief at her ugly grey trackpants and didn't know whether to laugh or sob so she wrestled her mother to the ground.

"Where is da Crazy-Lady?, asked a certain Slovakian tractor driver when Netsirk finally ran into the Smoko-Room just as the others were leaving.

"Oh, she's a bit tied up", explained Netsirk and gulped down a Coke.

And apparently Momsie was.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

"Goodnaht Coss-Boy"

When Cossack just wants to blob after a hard day's work he is a bit undiscriminating when it comes to what he blobs in front of. Basically, he will watch any old crap on TV and I get bombarded with shoot 'em ups and car-chases and sirens while trying to pour my entire heart, soul and guts into a blog here in the office. I tell you, it contaminates my train of thought something dreadful.

Now, so as not to be unfair to Coss, let me make it quite clear that, unlike some social deviants, he can differentiate between TV and real life. He is not a serial killer or weirdo but I truly believe he would intervene if I were being attacked. He would leap on my assailant after only about two minutes hesitation and chop his head off with a shiny sabre, thereby making him a monogamous killer only. That is not nearly as bad as a serial one.

However my spouse can be ungrateful as well as heroic. Take this morning for instance when he searched forever for his vitamins before finally accosting moi as to their whereabouts.
"Bernadette, WHERE ARE MY VITAMINS?".
"Oh, your vitamins. Coss, I've simplified things in the medicine cabinet by putting everything in alphabetical order. So your vitamins will be near the back behind the Ural effervescent sachets and Vermox worm tablets but in front of the Zovirax tube. I reckon I'd make someone an incredible P.A with my organisational skills"

"Yeah, you may as well get paid for what you are good at", Cossack muttered and then made a joke that he laughed at all by himself about me being an expert 'Pain in the Ass".

That's when I grabbed him by the ear and escorted him to the sofa.
"When couples have been married as long as us, Coss, they need to bond more so sit down."

His eyes lit up with anticipation of who-knows-what until I snuggle-buggled up to him and started up the first of a whole series of  'The Waltons' I had hired from the library. Believe it or not, Coss had never watched a single episode in his entire life.

No "Goodnaht John-Boy" and "Goodnaht Mary-Ellen"  featured in Cossack's childhood memory-bank. I knew there and then that this serious deprivation was responsible for his corrupted head and he needed urgent re-programming. The Waltons, that large and loving and poor but rich family who resided so blissfully beneath Walton Mountain were exactly what the doctor ordered.

Coss stared at the screen in disbelief at first when a raggedy bunch of kids in denim dungarees ran around the screen but he and I watched three episodes without interruption, I kid you not.

When Elizabeth's sick racoon died he wiped away a tear which I think was genuine or it may have been a result of me twisting his head so hard in order to eyeball him and check whether or not he deserved an 'Emotional Warrant Of Fitness'.

When Grandpa got merry on the Baldwin sisters' "Recipe", Coss laughed his head nearly right off and when Mary-Ellen ran away I noticed a little paternal concern contort his features just as if it were his own daughter chasing a sweet-singing minstrel into the sunset.

Honestly, all the appropriate emotions were forth-coming from my Coss so right now I am recording the miracle in this very Blog and thinking smugly how I personally had transformed him into a man who values all that is wholesome and beautiful..

"Good naht, Coss- Boy!", I called affectionately from around the office door to the sofa.
'Good naht, Bernadette", he replied affectionately from the sofa to the office.

But then I saw him grab the remote and pollute the precious moment with, "Well, raht now I maht just watch me a bit of good ol' violence".

And the living-room was assaulted with a blood-curdling scream with enough decibels to raise the corpse of Grandpa Walton.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Many Colours Make a World

While in the shower this evening, as orchard grime gurgled down the plughole, for some reason I thought of various people who have stayed in our home over the years.

Goro was a hilarious Japanese man who came to New Zealand to sky-dive. Once back home he wrote us a letter which included the heart-wrenching sentence, "I am disappoint that I not find kiwi girl because I so charming and intelligent and handsome. Also at party I can hit chandelier with cork from champagne bottle".

I replied that he was indeed all of those adjectives and more but perhaps next time he should stay longer than just three days in New Zealand if he wished to snare a female's heart.

Oh yes, now I know why Goro came to mind - while staying with us he joked about how our shower had little pressure, "only one or two dlops water on head maybe, how must Japan man wash hair?".

Then there was Ajith who stayed with us for a few weeks. He quickly became a dear friend and long after his departure, we had the pleasure of remembering Ajith by the packet of hot spices he left in our cupboard called simply "Number 64".

Cossack's eyes watered like Huka Falls and my mouth darted flames and scorched the ceiling as a direct result of eating delicious but dangerous Indian fried chicken coated in "Number 64".

Then there was my Chinese pen-pal, Eli, who I was thrilled to finally meet as we had been corresponding since 1973 when we were both 16 year old school-girls. What a joy to hug my petite friend from Hong Kong when she arrived at the airport and our lives, already intertwined by letters, became even more so by talking until late in the night and sharing our dreams and ideas.

Did I tell you that Gabriel, the French man who shared in our family's Christmas, was black? His handsome presence was very evident during daylight hours but at the the midnight carol service, I didn't even see him sitting right next to me until he lit his candle and at first I thought I was witnessing the Nativity star itself but it was just Gabriel's teeth glowing brightly in that Anglican church pew.

Sometimes I think it would be nice if Cossack were black or brown or yellow or purple because our kids would have turned out gloriously pigmented but I refuse to be so shallow as to hold Cossack's paleness against him. However, on two occasions he held it against me and that is how I suppose we got Ben and Kristen.

We have had many shapes and colours and personalities slumber on our beds.  A very tall Norwegian spent one horribly uncomfortable night with his bits of leg from the knees down dangling over the end of the mattress. The next morning he could hardly walk and that made me feel bad for not offering to let him sleep diagonally across the entire lounge with his upper body and head out on the porch.

Well, this interesting array of people have very exotic sounding lives so, while still in the shower, I thought about mine. You see, some people say things about Te Puke like, "Blink and you'll miss it", or, "Bloody logging trucks", and once an American man innocently asked me, "Tell me, is this town pronounced 'Te Puke' as in 'to throw up'?"

Actually, I'll have y'all know that Te Puke and its rural environs is a mighty fine place to live. I can always find a car-park right outside the library to rush in those overdue books and find myself a friend while I'm in there to go have a spontaneous coffee with.

I can fling banana peels over our hedge and play Creedence Clearwater Revival or Pavarotti loud enough so I hear it while out in the garden picking cos lettuce leaves for tonight's salad and no neighbour is close enough to complain.

My job at the orchard is only minutes way and there is no traffic congestion enroute.  However most mornings I am lucky enough to have to stop for a herd of cows leisurely crossing the road after milking and I get to inhale the aroma of fresh sloppy cow-pats which splatter my car no matter how slow I drive through them.

No corporate clothes for me. I wear shorts and tee-shirts all summer under the vines and listen to Radio New Zealand National from the little transistor radio in my pocket. Oh yes, my favourite station keeps me informed about the big wide world out there. I know about riots in Syria and the naughty personal life of Italy's Berlusconi and floods in Thailand and Greeks being a little upset by austerity measures designed to save their asses.

I hear interviews with authors and scientists and comedians and bop and lop under the vines to Rock n Roll or Classical or Folk tunes from Peru or Namibia or Portugal.

And when, like right now, I forget that my towel is still drying outside on the washing-line I can run like a maniac from the shower in my birthday-suit to grab it. It's a bit risky doing that in Hong Kong or inner-city Wellington, isn't it Kristen?