Friday, 30 May 2008

B = Birds

Indigo Bunting, of Alphabird and more latterly Route 153 fame, who inspired this blog, writes frequently of birds. What intrigues me is that she does it with an infectious fascination and love. I’ve never really thought of birds this way before, but this entry is for her.

Growing up by the coast at the bottom of the Pacific, the birds we were most familiar with were water birds, apart from the odd magpie attracted by my mother’s silver hair clips, swooping at her as she hung out the washing behind our house.

In the lake nearby, wild ducks, Canada geese (introduced to New Zealand from the United States as a gift from US President Theodore Roosevelt), and black and white swans were abundant. They never learned that in the beginning of May, duck shooting season began as the winter weather arrived. My dad would go out with his brothers and neighbours almost daily, in the manuka maimai. The results of the day were brought home to us, for plucking and later, for good eating. We always knew to spit out the pellets from the shot gun (poor ducks never had a chance), but forgot to warn my city born and bred husband the first time he experienced this.

Otherwise, the birds we were surrounded with were exotic blackbirds and sparrows. I’m using exotic here in the ”not native” sense of the word.

In the swamp down the road, we often saw pukeko, one of New Zealand’s many flightless birds. The pukeko can be, I learned recently, quite a vicious bird. If you're a duck. But you have to admit, it's awfully cute in a lovably awkward indigo blue sort of way.

Occasionally a fantail or piwakawaka would venture to the coast, miles from its native bush. Going to the bush was a treat – we would look for the tui, delighting at the sight of its tuft, listening hard to identify the chattering clicks and coughs and high notes that make up its song. We also loved the calls of the kokako and bellbird. Their voices were otherworldly, beautiful in their purity. Another thrills was to hear the thumping flap of the wings of the elusive wood pigeon, or kereru.

Living in New Zealand’s capital city in 2008, you would expect we don’t see much birdlife. But in recent years the bird life in the city has exploded as a direct result of the establishment of a bird sanctuary. Tui are now commonplace throughout the city - we have several who love our trees. On fine days I sit at my computer, with my window open, and hear their song. At night, as we lie in bed drifting off to sleep, we often hear the native owl calling morepork or ruru, named as it sounds.

Because New Zealand had no land mammals (other than the bat) or snakes, there were no natural predators for our native birds. Consequently a number are flightless, most famously the kiwi.More beautiful, once thought extinct, is the slow, stately and vulnerable takahe.

Weka are curious and destructive. Many a traveller has left their car on the road to Milford Sound to look at the view or play in the snow, only to return and find their windscreen wipers ripped off by a gang of cheeky weka. Campers are equally vulnerable, leaving their tents or goods unsecured at their peril.

Unfortunately the arrival of humans, who hunted birds for food and who brought rats, stoats and ferrets, cats and dogs, our birds found themselves at serious risk. Some have disappeared, most notably the moa, others are still endangered. Our Department of Conservation has done a wonderful job of saving the black robin and the takahe, to name just a few.

I remember being on a trip once with my family. We had stopped beside a river for lunch or afternoon tea, and my father suddenly hushed us. We could sense his excitement as he pointed out a rare blue duck.

At his funeral, my sister talked about spending time with him when she was young, before I came along and disrupted things. He used to take her to the beach, by the lake, and would talk about the things he thought they could see. When she got her glasses at age 13, she could for the first time see all the birds he used to point out to her, and finally understand why he was so fascinated.

My dad would have liked Indigo Bunting.

Oh ... and I know Helen wanted a shag, so how can I deny her?

Friday, 16 May 2008

A = Architecture

I come from simple beginnings. A small wooden house, which began life as a two-room dwelling but ended life as a three bedroom house. My father grew up there, though when his younger brothers and sisters arrived he was shunted outside to sleep in the caravan (which we later used as a playhouse) with his brother.

By the time my sisters and I came along, the by then three-bedroom house was badly in need of repair, renovation, or demolition. My parents knew that demolition and construction of a new house was the best option. But complications over the farm inheritance delayed this. Consequently I have many memories as a child of my mother poring over design books, or looking eagerly at any new houses she saw. This went on for years. At times she got dispirited and the books were packed away for months and years, but finally (the year I was on my student exchange) they were able to go ahead. My mother designed the house, drafted up the plans and had them approved by the local Council. My uncle then built the house.

It was a simple New Zealand farm house, but with good bones, plenty of sun, warm, and easy to live in.

Surrounded for so many years by housing design books, I learned to accurately read plans, to determine where the sun would rise and set, figure out what shade there would be, how practical different designs might be, and to imagine the house as built.

I took this totally for granted, and thought everyone could do it. Until I started living in and buying houses of my own, seeing the impracticalities of design, or wondering at the odd purchase decisions friends made, hearing them later complain of lack of sun or other problems which should (to me) have been obvious. I am also frequently appalled at mediocre houses and buildings in spectacular locations. How could they not want their architecture to reflect the beauty and magnificence of the nature around them? Or to blend in at least?

Over the years I’ve developed a strong view of the architecture I prefer. I like strong contemporary individualistic architecture. Whilst I can appreciate a classic villa and think they can be very beautiful, I am unlikely to choose to live in such a house. I also particularly dislike subdivisions full of mediocre architecture, mass built, all looking like variations of the same design. Suburbia never appealed. Perhaps it was growing up singing Little Boxes at school and playing my sister’s copy of “Mother’s Little Helper.” I was shocked when, years ago on my first visit to the US, I was taken to a housing estate in silicon valley in California. Huge expensive-looking houses, but all the same same same. No individuality. The kind of place you’re not allowed to hang your washing outside.

And whilst I love Italian and French villas, I love them in Italy and France, not New Zealand. They don't work here. They don't look at home. I love homegrown architecture, that looks comfortable in the landscape. Like this place.

Our current house appealed to me strongly with its different shapes. I fell in love with it as I walked down the drive and caught the first glimpse of its sharp lines.

When we opened the door and found
a multi-levelled, spacious house with a view, with a cat curled up in the sun, it was a done deal. So we resisted the conservative advice of our engineer father-in-law who felt it needed too much work, and bought the house. We’ve been here 15 years now.

I still get pleasure from the view of our macrocarpa trees through the window in different lights,

or the different angles of the ceiling and stairs.

And I love the view across the valley.

I do however harbour a dream of designing and building my own house one day. It doesn’t have to be a mansion, and I definitely don’t want it full of marble and grandeur. I like unusual (often cheaper) materials used creatively. I want a smallish, quirky, stylish house that meets our needs for socialising and nesting, for work and play. With a view of course.

With this ambition tightly held, following in the footsteps of my mother, I buy architecture magazines to keep up with the latest trends and to get ideas for my dream house. I am constantly on the lookout for the perfect design and perfect location. For the perfect budget too of course. I know none of these exist. But it’s fun looking.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Z = Zealous

I’m not the zealous type.

I’m not religious. I’m not passionate about my career. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up. I enjoy a variety of pastimes but don’t want to focus on one to the exclusion of all others. I can’t even commit to learning one language fluently. I want to try them all. I struggle to name anything “favourite” as my favourite things change depending on my mood, the day of the week, the weather, what I last read/saw, etc.

I tend to do all things in moderation … well, with the exception of sweet things and wine … and time on the internet ...

Oh sure, I can be a little pedantic about certain things.

I’m a bit of a Thai food nazi. I object to so-called “fusion” food becoming lazy and serving basmati rice with Thai food (the horror!), and really object to Thai restaurants offering Malaysian roti bread, or presenting you with a knife instead of a spoon. They should know better.

I was also a one-woman crusade against Starbucks when they arrived in Wellington. (Don’t get me started ...)

But lately, I find myself becoming increasingly obsessed. I’ve even been heard to yell at the television and radio. I find myself ranting to anyone who will listen. Usually my mother-in-law and my understanding friend.

What I'm about to write makes me cringe, as I know I never received a solid education in English grammar, and my vocabulary is self-taught. I make plenty of mistakes. But I cannot believe the declining standard of English, its pronunciation and grammar.

Maybe I don’t have enough to do?

Or is it simply a case of old age setting in?

My particular pet peeves recently have been:

  • The increasing tendency to hear “There is ..” followed by a plural. Even Dr Who said “There is 10 million people …” on TV last night. Fortunately I have not yet seen this in written form. Then, without doubt, apoplexy will take hold, I am sure.
  • Toni the weather girl says “in the evening time.” “Evening IS a time!” I scream at the TV regularly. At Christmas I was delighted to discover my sister has the same peeve. Mind you, she’s older than me.
  • People who say “…ink” instead of “ …ing.” There is a local supermarket chain that has an advertisement that says “everythink we do, we do to save you money.” Needless to say, I shop elsewhere.
  • People who pronounce “remuneration” as “renumeration.” Over the last few weeks there has been an industrial dispute between junior doctors and their employers. One of the employer representatives referred to “renumeration.” Maybe that’s a Freudian slip. I doubt it. I confess to being delighted when I would catch a particular radio announcer doing this. She was also guilty of pronouncing “disingenuous” as “disingenious.” It would make my day, even as I yelled at the radio.
  • The struggles the news announcers and interviewers have had the last week to pronounce Myanmar. Miranmar, Miamnar, and a dozen other variations.
  • “Could of” instead of “could have.” I see this a lot on the message board where I volunteer. Women from all walks of life visit and I understand their mistakes. Just don’t get me started on the senior journalist who says “could of” instead of “could have.” He’s lucky he’s a radio journalist.
  • People who confuse “less” and “fewer.”
  • Unnecessarily embellished words. Spellings with a "z" instead of an "s" - like “burglarize” instead of “burgle” which manages to incorporate several pet hates in one word.

Pathetic I know. I even punctuate my text (SMS) messages.

This last week I’ve been debating telling my local cafĂ© that almond is not spelled “almand” and that truffle is not “trufle.” But I haven’t. I haven't written to TV3 to complain about Toni the weathergirl, or the radio station to complain about Sean, or the supermarket about their advertisement, or the BBC about Dr Who.

Obviously, I have a way to go before I can qualify as zealous. Intolerant, however, I have well in control.

Disclaimer: I no that I could of written this real grammatically bad but if there is anythink wrong I hope you and me will still be friends.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Y = Yesterday

5.55am Awake from a nightmare – involving Jennifer Garner, star-gazing, and cockroaches in my hair. Not sure which is the scariest.

8.30 Establish with some relief that only my GST (goods and services tax) return and payment was due yesterday. Finish calculations. Disgusted at pathetic number of offsets available to me. I obviously need to buy more business-related stuff!

9.30 Begin spybot scan before doing internet banking transfer.

10.30 Inexplicably spybot scan is still going on and I need to leave.

11.00 Get great Mojo coffee (my one and only coffee for the day) and feel so much better. I’m not a great coffee drinker, but I must have one once a day. I’m of the view that if I drink coffee, it has to be really good (ie not homemade – I make terrible coffee). It’s the best coffee in the city – I relish every sip/gulp.

11.30 Meeting with CEO. We’re having a power struggle between the Board and management - a relationship that by design has innate tensions. Whilst we are on similar wavelengths for most issues and have an excellent working relationship, on this one I have to put my foot down. I shudder every time I hear of fraud charges brought against company directors, and so try to make sure I operate by the book.

1.10 Yay, no ticket! Parking in Central Wellington is not easy to find. And the parking wardens are vigilant. Too often I get back to my car just 5 or 10 minutes late, and get hit with a ticket. Not today though!

1.30 Bought a pretty box for my mother’s Mothers’ Day present. I’m never sure where to put the apostrophe on Mother’s/Mothers’ Day. Is it a day for a singular mother (ie mine, or for all mothers? Found this amusing site.

1.45 Shopping for my husband’s birthday next week. I want to get him DVDs of a TV series he has loved for 30 years. But the DVDs available are confusing. Are they really asking $29.99 for just one episode per DVD, but with a whole pile of extras (interviews, discussions about the set etc) which are just boring padding and which he’ll never watch? Or are the titles for a series of episodes. Resolve to research in detail on the internet.

2.05 Receive phone call from brother-in-law. Sister seriously stressed out with new baby and her lack of growth, and needs help next week. I’m to coordinate with other sister to see which of us is available to go and help when he gets back to work.

3.00 Lamb shanks in orange juice, onions, garlic, mustard and rosemary in oven.

3.15 Disconnect my portable hard drive and complete spybot check quickly. Pay my tax, and cringe at the state of my bank account, and the lack of confirmed forward work in my order book.

3.30 Starting to stress out. It’s been a few years now since I learned I was unable to have children. It’s something we all assume we can do if we want to, and so recovering from that shock was a long process. It has been some time now since I have contemplated holding a baby in my arms, with all the related emotions. Hoping I will be able to cope, as I do want to help.

4.00 Afternoon spent creating Mothers’ Day present. I have a series of flower photographs from my recent trip to Krabi, and I am creating a Flower Series notecard set. What do you think?

5.30 The house is full of the smell of lamb shanks. Yum.

Older sister wants to be first to see our new niece. Stress relieved. She goes next week. Agree to send her a lamb shank recipe.

6.45 Finish preparing dinner.

7.30 Open a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and enjoy melt in the mouth lamb shanks.

8.30 After about a 6 week hiatus, Lost is back on TV. More mysteries of course. The smoke monster reappeared. What IS that? But where did the polar bear go? And why don’t they just do away with Ben? What is Michael doing on the boat? Naveen Andrews as sexy as ever. (Did you see him in The English Patient? Swoon!)

10.30 Aaaaahhhhh. Reading in bed quietly must be one of life’s greatest and simplest pleasures. Pity about the book.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

X = Xanthippe

The wife of Socrates (Mrs S no doubt knows all about her) bequeathed women with a damning stereotype. She may have been unjustly accused. Plato spoke well of her, and I like this analysis of the Phaedo scene.

Blogging is so educational.

This reminds me of an incident in the 1980s. Then New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange once got himself in trouble by reading a letter from a complaining constituent, and scrawling “She’s a shrew!” across it. The letter was mistakenly sent back to the woman along with the more diplomatic official reply.