I’m never going to the toilet at work again

Well what a week! It’s been a beautiful week in Auckland with endless glorious weather and yet I was working. I can see the harbour from my office window and have had my desk turned round on purpose so that it is not too distracting but it just looked so fantastic and it did make it difficult to fully concentrate on the task in hand. I didn’t really mind working between Christmas and New Year given that I’d worked Christmas anyway and have time off in January and February. It can be quite productive working when there aren’t many other people there as you can get a lot done. It was my big aim to get my admin work done and my desk cleared in a mission to finally go paperless for 2018. That much I did achieve. As usual though, achieving anything was hampered by misfortune and ridiculous happenings.

Viaduct harbour
This gorgeous city in which I live

My office is on a floor which we rent in a private office block across the road from the main building so I often spend all day walking back and for. These last few days I’ve mainly been cooped up in the office, decamping mainly to get coffee and lunch. On Wednesday, I managed to get locked out of the office by simply going to the toilet, which is in the stairwell, without my swipe card. I also didn’t have my phone so attracting attention was impossible and no amount of banging on the door would alert anyone and the staff simply weren’t there. I ended up having to go down the stairs, exiting the building and walking barefoot to the main building to use a computer to look up people’s phone numbers to get help. It took me more than 2 hours to get all this sorted out and made me feel even more of a saddo that I was in work but everyone else was at home enjoying themselves.

It’s not the first time I’ve been locked out of course. There was the recent incident when I couldn’t open the door between my garage and house so I slept in the car briefly before realising I had a spare key secreted away in the back of my handbag from the last time I’d been locked out and rescued it from the neighbours. Then there was the time I slept in the garden after losing my handbag in an Uber. We all know that that ended badly… Then there was an occasion at work when I got locked out in the very same toilet after hours while changing to go to a black tie event. That time I had my phone with me so called a colleague who lives close by. Little did I know he would arrive so quickly while I was still in my bra and pants!

Yesterday was my mate Big Li’s birthday. Big Li is my UK bestie. She’s not big but she occupies a big space in my life, hence her nickname. She called me Aitchie, as in HE for my initials. That’s just how it is. I miss her. It as an odd thing being so far away from family and friends and yet when you do meet up, it’s like you’ve never been separated. We’ve been friends since University days. It is strange to think our friendship rose out of the twist of fate of being randomly allocated to the same tutor group and so we were sent on attachments together. Big Li had a car and lived close by so would give me a lift. This was almost a ritualistic event in that I would wait at the end of the my street and she would stop only very briefly, fling the door open and I’d jump in hastily, all to ensure the car didn’t stall, especially on cold wintry mornings. The car was a Fiat Panda, very lovingly referred to as the egg box. There was always an assortment of cassette tapes strewn all over the floor and at least 3 locks that would be applied when we pulled up. There’d be the one between the gear stick and the hand brake. Then there two between the pedals and the steering wheel. This always seemed like a rigmarole to me, especially as I couldn’t imagine the egg box ever being stolen. Even thieves have standards… It was ages before I found out that these locks were all for show as Big L had lost the keys some years before. In recent years, Big Li and I have had some great trips with a mutual friend where have met up only briefly, usually when I have been somewhere closer to them for a conference. We have had just the best time. There were various escapades in Taipei when Big Li and I ended up eating (not very much) deer penis. Then there was Berlin where the three of us accidentally, yes accidentally, ended up at the poshest Michelin starred restaurant where we had the most fantastic degustation meal while Big L was dressed in jeans, C was wearing flip-flops and I hadn’t dried my hair. Most recently we had a driving holiday in Spain where Big Li and myself segwayed around Barcelona then drove to meet C further north. This involved Big Li taking sedatives to counteract her car sickness while I struggled with the left hand drive car, gears, motorways, the annoying Australian satnav man, all while she snored away in the passengers seat. One night we stayed in an uber-modern newly-opened hotel in Pamplona. While we sat sipping the obligatory cava proffered as a welcome drink, the receptionist started taking our fingerprints. It seemed somewhat unusual until she explained that they have no keys and this is how you get in to your room. What a marvellous idea. No more pitching up at reception as you’ve left your key in the room and slammed the door behind you. So, if a small hotel in Pamplona can employ such technology, why don’t we have that at home, at work and in the car? Surely it will come but I feel like I need it now! If I get locked out of anywhere else ever again, I think I may just never leave the house again. I’m certainly never going to the toilet at work again. I’ll buy a commode instead. Actually, I won’t as we have glass walls and no blinds but otherwise it would be very appealing.

On the cycling front, it’s been a mainly successful week. I’ve cycled the furthest I’ve ever been in one ride at 31 kms and it felt fine. Much of it was fun and I really did enjoy it. That’s about half of the average day’s cycling in Sri Lanka so I feel hopeful I can at least complete the trek. Hills are still a problem however. I asked a friend who does a lot of cycling for advice. At first, everything he said made sense: anticipate the hills, change down through the gears gradually, try to keep momentum up. Then he used the word cadence and the rest of the conversation was white noise. He may as well have been speaking in Swedish. Actually, maybe he was speaking in Swedish?

Hobson's Bay
My starting and finishing point

I pimped my ride yesterday with a bell, phone carrier so I can pick up GPS and a mirror. I even bought a lock so that I can tie up my bike while I go in a shop or cafe. Presumably next week I will be telling you that I forgot the combination and had to abandon my bike… The bell and the mirror have become absolute necessities because there are some really stupid people out there. I have been cycling on this shared cycle pavement with very clear marking as to which lane is for cyclists and which is for pedestrians but it seems that this is too difficult for the average pedestrian to understand. I feel I’ve cycled enough to now understand the biggest hazards:

  • Tourists – these are also usually the quickest to jump out of the way when you shout at them
  • Beautiful people who stroll – these people never move. They would rather be run over than step aside. They are entitled to the whole pavement 
  • Couples walking hand in hand – also very unlikely to move and usually the male gives you the evils
  • Dog walkers – why is it the poor dog that has to walk in the cycle lane while the owner has the pedestrian lane? Usually they are quickly pulled out of the way and there is often a smile as well
  • Mercedes – obviously if you own one of these you can park it where you like. Even on the pavement. Even on the cycle pavement
  • Rolling skating adults – I just don’t get adults on roller-skates. They never move out of your way as they are usually uncoordinated, totally out of control and only milliseconds away from falling over
  • Prams – I hesitated to write babies but it’s not their fault that their parents seem so incapable of driving their carriages in a straight line in the correct lane. Why expose your baby to the risk of the cycle lane? I’ve lost count of the number of babies in prams I’ve encountered who have been parked in the cycle lane while their harassed parents stress over and tend to an unruly toddler. Please don’t do it. Keep your babies safe

Do enjoy my video where I explain more details of the lock out. It is New Year’s Eve tonight. I hope you all have a fabulous evening. I plan an afternoon cycle and then a party with friends. Take care everyone, take your keys with and keep them on you at all times… xx

My festive knees

So today is Christmas. Yes, I am writing this on the actual day. I didn’t prepare it in advance and just press send. That’s how much I love you all. All together now – aaaaahhhhh!

In Christmases gone by there was a routine and I think that perhaps this loss of routine this year is what has made me feel so un-festive, except that being totally honest, now the big day is here, I have shaken off all my grinch-like tendencies in favour of having a lovely day with wonderful people.

When I was little, my brother and I would leave out the obligatory treat for Santa, usually a mince pie* or similar, an alcoholic beverage and carrots and water for the reindeer. Then we’d go to bed leaving our stockings at our bedroom doors and, I can’t speak for him, but it would take me hours to go to sleep. That is quite something as I’ve always been a head-hits-the-pillow-and-sleep-comes-in-two-seconds sort of a girl. My father always said I could sleep on a chicken’s lip. In the morning, we’d be awake unfashionably early (remember I’m an owl) and we’d literally run through to our parents’ room with our stockings, now overflowing. We’d all get into bed together and unwrap the stocking presents right there. I believe this was a conventional double bed, not a queen, king or super-king or something even bigger that the likes of Elton John have custom made and yet we’d all be crammed in – and in later years there was our sister as well!

Eventually, my dad would go downstairs, on his own, to check that Father Christmas had been and also that he had left because of course children are not allowed to see him. This was an absolutely critical stage in the proceedings. He’d also put the kettle on of course as neither he nor my mother can properly wake up without a cup of tea. He would then shout up the stairs and it would be safe for us to go down. There were always presents aplenty, arranged in neat piles, my brother’s at one end of the settee and mine at the other. When we had a new sibling, she had the armchair. My mother was always strict that we opened them one at a time so it was not too chaotic and everyone had chance to digest and appreciate what had been bought and received. Then it was breakfast, followed by a visit to one set of grandparents while my mother cooked lunch, possibly calling in on our Auntie Sylvia on the way home. The other set of grandparents joined us for lunch, there’d be more presents and then time to enjoy what had been bought. Of course this all took place in the northern hemisphere. It’s hilarious that here in the south everyone assumes that the UK Christmas is usually, if not always, a white one. They’ve been watching too many movies. I only remember one white Christmas in 48 years and that was only in 2010 when I went back to the UK from New Zealand for Christmas. In reality it would be grey and miserable so Christmas was an indoors activity. People are often quite sentimental about a cold Christmas but I have no desperate yearnings to return to those days. I am perfectly happy to spend the day outside in the sunshine although some stuffing and Christmas pudding remain obligatory and slip down very nicely thank you very much.

This year, things were as far removed from this routine as possible. I woke up home alone, vaguely thinking of shaking my bones to get out of bed and get ready for work when I had a FaceTime call from the UK family. How technology has come on from the Christmases of yesteryear and isn’t it just wonderful that you can now sort of join in the activities on the other side of the world? Even better that my nephews don’t forget what I look like and vice versa.

Then it was off to work which was surprisingly fine. As much as I don’t like working Christmas Day, I have to just remind myself how awful it must be to be a patient in hospital on Christmas Day. When I was a young trainee, I worked for a consultant whom I knew would not come to the ward on Christmas Day and so I felt safe to send one of my favourite patients on leave for the day. He lived locally but had been in hospital for months. Little did I know that one of the other consultants planned to come in especially to see him, with a present, as he was a favourite of hers too. She enquired as to where he was. I very nervously said I’d sent him out for the day. I thought she would be a bit annoyed as it hadn’t exactly been discussed. But no, she was delighted and we sat and mused about how lovely it was that he had been well enough to go. When he returned, he brought me a chocolate bar from his selection box to say thank you. That was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received but even better that he was beyond happy that he and his family had spent the most wonderful day at home. In the end, he did well and I think about him every Christmas and hope that he is still in good health.

This year, all the patients are too young to know that it is Christmas Day and they won’t remember anything about it so that is something to be truly thankful for. One family had gone all out in bringing Christmas to their child with about 15 relatives, a Christmas tree with presents underneath and a full scale buffet feast in his room. There was barely enough room for him! The weird thing is that these families always go to great trouble to wish the staff a Merry Christmas and they always appear so grateful which just seems wrong.

I was just preparing to leave work when I got wind of the most amazing fact: the coffee cart at work was open! On Christmas Day. I know it’s a special day and all that, but you can’t let the caffeine levels become too depleted or the grinch-like state is totally unshakeable. So, caffeinated and feeling much more lively, I went to visit my friend who has been unwell. I was really pleased for her that her Welsh family have come over for Christmas and that they’ll have a lovely time altogether. She has bought me a present suitable for cycling which I can’t wait to wear. I’ll be sure to take a selfie or make a video when I sport it. I had a day off cycling today but will be back at it tomorrow. My Christmas Eve cycle ride was just lovely. Do watch the video as it explains all about my festive knees, which I got my friend to photograph as I knew they would be appreciated…

I later went to some other friends for lunch. There were 7 adults and 2 children, both of whom love their auntie which is just so sweet. One of them even had his birthday today too! One of the great privileges of being an auntie is being able to spoil the children, not necessarily in a material sense but being able to do things with them that they are not normally allowed to do, even if it is just allowing them to stretch the boundaries a little. So when I was in the toy shop and I had their parents’ voices in my head saying “please don’t get them a drum kit”, I couldn’t resist the temptation to both oblige and be a bit naughty and so it was percussion instruments all round. And what fun we had!

Now I’m waiting for the UK family to FaceTime again with details of the Secret Santa gifts and I am just about to open mine. Even the Queen mentioned the marvels of modern day technology in her Christmas broadcast. I do hope you enjoy my Christmas message. As I am sat here with a very small glass of something nice, I feel I must recommend it to you as it is totally divine. It is Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Cream Liqueur. Buy it. You will not be disappointed… And anyone coming through Duty Free any time soon, yes please, I need a top up!

The last few days I’ve been trying to think which is my favourite Christmas tune. Due to procrastination, I can’t settle on a single jingle. But, I will leave you with a contender.

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad

Feliz Navidad, prospero año y felicidad

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart


So, from me, Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Nadolig Llawen, Meri Kirihimete xx

*In New Zealand, a mince pie would usually be made of mince meat. A mince pie made of dried fruit needs to be prefaced with Christmas to avoid confusion…!

Cwm Bi Dingle is wherever and whatever you want it to be

Somewhere in mid Wales is this wonderful place called Cwm Bi Dingle. It is green and lush. It is dry and arid. It is deep in the Brecon Beacons but it is also beside the sea. It is both hilly and flat, wet yet sunny and when I say it is in mid Wales, it is also in the south and possibly the west as well. It is wherever and whatever you want it to be but is most definitely one of the most magical places on earth. You see, no-one really knows where it is. Perhaps they once knew, but now they have forgotten and to a large extent, it really doesn’t matter. Cwm Bi Dingle is a different place for me than it is for my brother or my parents. You see, Cwm Bi Dingle exists only in our imaginations. I’d love to go back there. I can picture it now. For me, it had a moors-like quality with wild flowers which fluttered in the wind to which the moors are prone. There was the most terrific ice cream van where you could buy the whitest ice cream and where a 99 came with not one flake, but two.

When I was a young child, I was quiet and serious. This may be difficult for my current-day friends and colleagues to believe but it is true. Mr Davies, my favourite school teacher, even wrote on my report that I was too serious for my own good. My mother still has that report somewhere. I was also quite fearful about certain things, one of which was getting lost and not being able to find my way home. I once got lost while playing outside at my Auntie Gwyneth’s house. We didn’t visit Auntie Gwyneth very often so I didn’t really know the lay of the land where she lived and on trying to find my way back to her house, I was threatened by a snarling German Shepherd dog. I back tracked and walked a different way but then I got lost. On another occasion, my mother took me shopping to Cardiff and we went into a department store. We went in a lift between floors and this is my earliest memory of going in a lift. At first I thought it was magic. To go in on one floor and exit on another was both unbelievable and incredible to me. But soon my face crumpled and I began to cry because it seemed that we had left one world and entered another, one where my father and baby brother didn’t happen to be. I was so upset that this was only solved by my mother taking me down the stairs to show me that we were only on the floor above where we’d set off.

One of my parents’ preferred Sunday activities was to go for a drive. Most of my childhood, both my parents had various Ford Cortinas. I think my father had a blue mark 2, a red mark 3, a gold mark 4 and a navy mark 4 estate before eventually breaking the cycle and graduating to a Volvo. My mother had a mark 2 of indistinguishable colour with holes where the locks used to be, a back seat that shot forward whenever she braked and a radiator that overheated every time she drove it. Anyway, we would venture out in one of the many Cortinas, often with a picnic and sometimes with my grandparents in tow in their Morris Oxford. The destination was usually wherever took my father’s fancy. Now, what I would not have appreciated at this stage is that my father’s knowledge of the geography of south and mid Wales is faultless. There is nowhere he hasn’t been and he can beat any satnav directions to a destination. His job as a younger man involved driving throughout the region and he knew the roads intimately. But, his inability to state where exactly we might be heading on one of these trips and precisely when we would be arriving back at the house was always interpreted by me as us being lost. Panic would set in, my lip would start quivering and I would almost silently weep in the back seat whereupon my brother would start laughing, fuelling anger and more upset on my part. Our sister hadn’t been born at this stage but I remember later trips where she was squashed between us in her car seat and when she fell asleep, her head would always flop down onto my shoulder (never my brother’s) and leave a warm, wet patch.

It was on one of these trips that we discovered Cwm Bi Dingle. “You know where we’re going, don’t you Dad?” “We’re not lost, are we Dad?” And so it went on. “Don’t be so daft Love, we’re off to Cwm Bi Dingle”. On the next trip, we had the same old questions but I was reassured all was fine as we were off to Cwm Bi Dingle again – and again, and again. At one point I asked my parents why we hadn’t gone to the same precise part of Cwm Bi Dingle as the first time, the place where we’d had the ice creams. The answer was obvious – it was a big place and it wasn’t possible to see all of it every time we went. If I’m honest, no visit to Cwm Bi Dingle ever lived up to the first time but it didn’t matter too much because at least my father knew how to get there and, consequently, how to get home.

I don’t remember when or how I found out about this elaborate scheme. Not that it was elaborate. I think he had made this place up on a whim, in the spur of the moment but it became embedded in family history forever. Maybe there was no big revelation, just a gradual realisation that Cwm Bi Dingle was in fact a series of places. It wouldn’t be correct to say that Cwm Bi Dingle never existed as all of the places were real. It was just that they were all places with other names, none of which was Cwm Bi Dingle and they were all in different locations.

In the present day, I wouldn’t say I enjoy getting lost but it usually frustrates me rather than causing mass panic. I have a relatively well developed sense of direction and am confident I would be able to find my way home from anywhere by simply re-tracing my steps. But today I found my Cwm Bi Dingle.

I wanted to try a new cycle route so I looked up local possibilities and settled on a track of around 7.5kms. It was not a circuit so there and back would be 15kms and I vaguely thought I could do it twice to make 30kms to build up distance and stamina. Armed with the map downloaded onto my phone, off I went. I immediately went wrong even while driving there and ended up entering the track about a kilometre after the start. The track seems to connect a series of parks and each time I entered a new park I’d end up circling it at least once before finding the exit. Signage was terrible, not helped by some of the signs looking like they’d been turned around either as some sort of jape or to conspire against me. A couple of times I ended up on the main road by mistake and there were several car parks where I just went round and round until it became more obvious where I was supposed to be heading. The map on the cycle track website was not terribly clear and not all the road names were marked. A map of the area on the navigation of my phone looked totally different but did not have cycle paths marked. I ended my outward cycle when I reached the motorway! Yes, I could have continued all along the side of the motorway to where I work but it’s not very scenic and I can save that for another day. Worryingly, my map didn’t show this cycle path joining up with the one alongside the motorway but perhaps the connecting of the two is a recent event (or I went wrong again, which seems more likely).

How did I get here?
And all of a sudden, I am unexpectedly beside the motorway!

So, unsurprisingly, my cycle trip was 13kms one way and 7.5kms on the way back. What a difference! Parts were alongside the river so there was some undulation and there were more teeny tiny hills for practice, some of which were preceded by downhill sections so I was able to gather some momentum and speed for the ascent. This is the first time I’ve cycled over 20kms and I felt I could have carried on longer if it hadn’t been for risking getting more lost but also the light was fading and it was getting dark. In the end, it didn’t matter that I may or may not have cycled along my intended route. It was the distance that was important, the fact that I really enjoyed it and that my confidence continues to grow with each outing and I begin to feel more at home in the saddle.

So, Cwm Bi Dingle is whatever and wherever you want it to be. Today it was in west Auckland but its precise location remains unknown and is irrelevant as long as you enjoy where you go and get something out of the experience. Now, where was that ice cream van with the double-flaked 99?

A disaster on the teeny tiny hill and a puncture

I’m an owl. I go to bed late and as much as I’ve tried retraining myself over the years to become a dove, it always fails. My most successful attempts have been on returning from Europe when jet lag tends to help me achieve a brief dove-like state but it is always short lived. Those people who retire by 9.30pm and get up at 5am are a source of envy but an enigma to me. I’d love to be like them and they’re always so smug, but failure always catches up with me. I try regularly to go to bed at 9.30pm but I never actually get there before midnight despite the fact it is just around the corner from the living room in my very small house. The combination of my owl status and my fondness for procrastination always conspire against me. I am also queen of the snooze button. I’ve literally tried everything – putting my alarm across the other side of the room, keeping my bedroom cold, drinking a litre of water before I go to bed and so on. Nothing works. It takes my setting the alarm every 5 minutes for at least an hour before I can even think about swinging a leg over the side of the bed. And I may as well forget it in winter as the slightest chill in the room is such a disincentive to rising. I love my bed and I love it especially in the mornings. So it is a challenge to get up in time for the gym 3 mornings a week and it never gets easier.

By the way, my sister has an irrational dislike and fear of owls. This has made me realise that they’ve been omnipresent for the last few years. You can’t even buy a decent tea towel without an obligatory owl festooned upon it. Recently however, I feel they may be on the wane in favour of unicorns. Unfortunately my sister doesn’t like unicorns either. It’s a double whammy for the poor love but at least provides the rest of us with birthday and Christmas buying fodder. What a fussy one! She will kill me when she reads this…

You can understand therefore that getting up needlessly early is the worst kind of torture for me. And so it was today. “Don’t be late” said Sam, my boxing trainer at the gym. “I have someone else directly after you”. I managed to leave the house on time, gym kit on, work bags in the car, cats fed and watered, house alarm set and so on. So, imagine my disappointment when I was a few hundred metres down the road and I heard a sadly familiar noise. I had a puncture. As I was not far from home, I drove back. I thought that at least I could try and sort it out from the comfort of my own home rather than beside the road. At first I thought my workmen could help when they arrived (yes, the renovations continue still) but then I thought no, I’d rather they finish the endless renovations this side of 2018. So after a shower, I called the AA and waited patiently. Actually, they were very efficient. You don’t even need to speak to a human to get them to come and a friendly man called Chris appeared quickly. However the wheel was changed to one of those space saver jobbies so my next port of call was a tyre shop where I remained for the rest of the morning, my work time ebbing away along with far more dollars than I wanted to relinquish. They’re never pleasant places are they? A waiting room of torn leatherette chairs and decades-old magazines and a toilet which looked like it had not been cleaned since the last millennium where a “hover pee” was definitely the order of the day. As I sat there waiting, I thought fleetingly that at least it was the Italian branded car that had suffered this fate and not my bike because if I had a puncture on the 2 wheeled vehicle, I would literally have no idea what to do other than walk back to from where I had set out. I must resolve to put this right, I thought casually. I shall learn to change a tyre. I am really not sure how I thought I would learn this but at least the intention was there.

So, imagine my shock, when on ascending the teeny tiny hill this evening, I lost my bike chain. There are 3 things I have been dreading on the bike, other than failure of course: the chain coming off, a puncture and falling off. Not knowing what to do about the fact that at the front of my bike the chain seemed to not be around any of the 3 cogs (is that what they’re called?) but rather was flapping loosely in the breeze, I initially thought I’d just get back on regardless and give it a go in case I’d made a terrible mistake. I had not. Then I realised I had no choice but to walk the bike 4.5 km to the start of the trail, where I had parked. After a few metres I came to the realisation that this was ridiculous and forced myself to have a proper look at the bike and to really think about how I might be able to re-connect the chain. And I managed it – even without resorting to Google. My hands were filthy, but the chain was back on and I could resume my cycling. It felt like a triumph.

So, a puncture and a chain disconnection in one day but maybe not how I can completely imagined these events unfolding. Now all I need is a fall…

In other news. I have received paperwork from the charity organising the trek. There is the usual stuff about insurance, visas and ethical tourism. But then there is the packing list. This is always most enlightening. For example:

  • Underwear (or undwear as they’ve typed). Do I really need to be told to pack my kecks? I’m highly unlikely to forget underwear. It feels so strange when you forget and head out of the house without any, floppy bits a-swinging in the breeze, that you instantly remember. It’s like putting milk on a shopping list. But thanks for the reminder anyway
  • Thermal socks. Hmmm. It will be more than 30 degree celsius most days
  • Jogging shoes. No thanks. Cycling 470 kms is enough without resorting to jogging on holiday
  • Cycling gloves to avoid sunburnt hands. Well that’s helpful as I’d never have thought of that as a potential problem
  • Travel towel. Sorry, I’m not falling for that old chestnut again. They’re so small and non absorbent you can only dry one bum cheek and it gets so wet you may as well throw the damned thing away. I’d rather manage with a flannel or drip drying
  • Pannier or handle bar bag. I wonder if I show up with my small bag if someone will finally show me how it actually fits on a bike?
  • Cycle helmet. Hmmm, you said they were provided
  • Toe clips. What are they?
  • Bike shoes. Ditto?
  • Bike pedals. I really, really hope you haven’t rented bikes without pedals for us
  • Bike saddle. Same
  • Gel seat. Well yes, the catastrophists are so concerned about my nether regions that I’d already thought of that one
  • Playing cards. OK, is this the 20th century still?

But I know exactly what will happen. I’ll feel I should take it all anyway just in case and end up with the world’s largest case then only ever use about 10 per cent of it. But, it’s a start and they haven’t mentioned bringing any resuscitation equipment so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

This video doesn’t exist

Thanks to those who have already made donations. I already have enough for more than one bike. I am truly grateful. Here is the site for anyone else feeling jolly and generous this festive season!

Right, my next post and video will be my festive message to you all. You have been warned xx

Ye olde teeny tiny hill doth defeat me no more

I’ve invented a new word. I’m sure others have used it before so maybe I didn’t really invent it. Anyhow, it’s un-festive. It does what it says on the tin and describes how I feel at the moment. I’m not grumpy nor am I in a bad mood. I just feel un-festive and any ho-ho-hos that emanate from my lips do so through gritted teeth.

It’s that time of the year. Everything seems so hectic. Children are excited, adults are stressed, traffic is abysmal. But worse than anything, people keep asking what I’m doing for Christmas. “Working” is the answer. It’s not exactly exciting is it and if I’m honest I’m quite resentful about it. I don’t have any business feeling this way. Someone has to work Christmas and, after all, I knowingly and willingly signed up to a vocation that involved 24/7 cover and that means everyone taking their turn and sharing the roster. I last worked Christmas in 2013 and it was super quiet. I ended up being able to stay at home all day on Christmas Day and was even able to have people over for lunch. I’m not expecting it to be busy this year but not quiet either. This still doesn’t explain the resentment. Nonetheless, I will pitch up to work donning a Christmas outfit and probably everything will be absolutely fine on the day.

It’s not as if I haven’t got anything to which to look forward. I have a fabulous ski trip to Switzerland in early January and the cycle trek in February. It’s not even that I haven’t had a great time recently. I’ve had several weeks of celebrations with colleagues and friends that have set my social calendar alight. Last week alone I had a function nearly every day. Tuesday was just a brilliant day as my friend who has not been well had her birthday and a small group of us treated her to a helicopter trip over the harbour to a vineyard for lunch. She was feeling good that day and was super-excited to sit in the front of the chopper with the pilot on what was one of the most beautiful days of the year. The harbour put on a spectacular display. On a day like that it is one of the most glorious places in the world. The lunch was at a lovely spot overlooking this incredible place and the food and wine were delicious. In those hours there was no illness, just friends having a great day out, away from the mundanities of life.

Wednesday saw me babysitting for some friends. For some reason their 5 year old thinks I am the bees-knees. No sooner had they left for their night out than he was out of bed and beside me on the sofa. I won’t confess to them that I was secretly disappointed when I arrived to find him already safely tucked up in bed so this was fine by me. We sat and chatted about his hopes for Christmas. He has some very specific requests – that his trampoline be round and red, with a handle; preferably he’d like a drum too and that he be allowed to leave cakes for the reindeer just like he did last year. I tried to negotiate carrots but he wasn’t having any of that healthy food nonsense. He gave away some trade secrets about family life which made me snigger and then, like any good auntie, I yet again answered his question about why ladies have boobies. Setting the alarm for five more minutes out of bed was a minor coup for me as he couldn’t really argue when it went off (although I may have been conned into changing it to seven minutes but no-one need know that). He agreed to go to bed if I went with him for a snuggle. He was most indignant that this meant my taking my shoes off so as not to mess up his bed despite the fact it appeared to already be full of mess-creating felt pens without their tops. He then equipped me with a “blankie” just like his and as he was about to go to sleep he enquired innocently if I had anyone to snuggle at home. No, I said. This induced him to jump out of bed, go to his cupboard and find me a small cuddly dog to take home as a present, so that I had something to snuggle when I was on my own. How touching was that? He also gave me a half completed dot-to-dot colouring book and a dried up felt pen and instructed me to bring it back to show him when I’d finished it. Bless him. What a lovely boy he is shaping up to be.

Presents from a five year old
A second hand cuddly dog for me to snuggle and a half used colouring book. These are the best gifts ever because they were given with such love and good intention

The following day was a choir concert in the Town Hall. This is an a cappella choir in which a friend sings, along with several other people from work. Usually this concert is a bit tedious but this year it was genuinely lovely. Not only was the singing really good, the theme was love and so they sang some really great tunes. There were also some other performers including the usual obligatory school groups who made everyone coo. We won’t mention that in the last few bars of Only You by Yazoo, sung to round out the first half, someone’s phone started ringing in the audience. It may have been mine but I’m still in denial at the embarrassment.

Friday was a really great dinner followed by the musical version of Sister Act. What a fabulously fun show just before Christmas. I don’t know what it is about singing nuns but they have a certain something that makes everyone happy. On Saturday we had our departmental Christmas party and for the first time we were requested to wear outfits. The rather flamboyant “Gary” whom you have met in previous videos insisted upon this and it would be fair to say there was some reluctance. Such is the nature of our team that every single person nonetheless rose to the occasion and it may be strange to say so about something so seemingly trivial, but I felt proud of them. It just seemed to me that this stood testament to the fact that ultimately everyone embodies the team spirit and as their leader, I can’t want anything more from them than that. The following day was the Christmas function of another department in which we also work. It was out in the country at their director’s home and was a lovely informal and relaxed affair with great weather, company and food complete with a bouncy castle fire engine and tractor rides for the children. Finally, after all these functions I had a well earned day off partying and then yesterday, again, there was another evening do for yet another team to which I contribute. Again, more lovely people who were generous hosts and with whom I am delighted to work.

So, throughout all of this, how has the cycling been going? Well I have been out on the bike a few times and done more of the same which basically means I have again mainly cycled on the flat. I feel like I can build up distance but I am still fretting about hills and gears. In the gym, my training sessions are now focussed on improving my cardio abilities in readiness and we have been pushing the tension on the static bike in multiple short stints followed by going all out on the rowing machine. I’d secretly rather do the cardio work than kettle bell swings anyway but don’t tell my trainer this. A colleague at work who is a triathlete has offered to take me cycling over Christmas to show me how to deal with the gears. This is terribly kind but also incredibly scary. The man is a machine and I cannot imagine how embarrassed I will feel donning my lycra and showing myself up in front of him. Hopefully he will forget this kind offer… However, today I have had a minor achievement. I won’t spoil all but will let you watch the video which describes it. Suffice it to say that the title of this post gives it away and you’ll be proud of me.

Finally, I have had some discussions with Variety this week, the charity organising the trek. They have set up a Facebook group of the people partaking but so far no-one but me has joined so I have no more info yet on my fellow cyclists. I have also booked my flights which is exciting but means there is no going back now and that is scary. It is actually only just over 8 weeks away. While there is no fundraising target as such for this trip, we do have opportunity to raise money if we wish and I sort of feel I would like to try to do that given how much effort this cycling business is taking from me! The purpose of the fundraising is to purchase bikes for disadvantaged school children in New Zealand. While this wonderful country in which I live is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and progressive in the world, it nonetheless has a problem with child poverty. Some of the children I see at work come from the most challenged families and so to be able to help in whatever ways I can is a true privilege, whether that be through my work or charitable ventures or both. Just $200 buys a child a bike. Even better, I can choose the low decile school to which I donate the bikes, which could be in my local community or anywhere else of my choice and furthermore, I can go to the school in person to deliver the bikes. This is a very tangible form of fundraising and being able to see the end result will be tremendously rewarding for all my efforts. If you feel you can donate, I would be extremely grateful. If you can’t donate, please just continue to support me in other ways. Your kind words and encouragement are enough. My fundraising site is here.

Until next time, enjoy your festivities or un-festivities and whatever the crazy season brings to you and yours xx

A Beautiful Day

Believe it or not, I once went skydiving. It was circa 2002 and I was travelling around southern Africa in a truck on a small group adventure holiday with a fantastic company called Drifters http://www.drifters.co.za. We’d had a great but tiring time wilderness camping alongside a river where we’d been kayaking and in the desert where we’d hiked sand dunes and spotted dangerous wildlife. Now we were arriving in the Namibian seaside town of Swakopmund renowned for its adventure activities. Drifters owned a number of inns around southern Africa so the grass roots down and dirty experiences of camping were intermittently broken up by a night of relative luxury. A good shower, proper bed and a bar were most definitely the order of the day in Swakopmund. As it turned out, the inn was run by the man who had been the guide on my first Drifters adventure to Botswana some years previously. It was great to see him again and reminisce about our previous capers and the group involved. It is an odd thing, holidaying with a bunch of strangers. You live in such close proximity to them for a few weeks and get to know them well and yet you then part ways and never see each other again, despite promises of reunions. These days there would be Facebook groups and the like of course but it’s still an unusual form of friendship.

Over a few beers that evening, the following day’s activities were planned. The strange German couple decided they could not rest unless they revisited the desert road we had travelled along en route to Swakopmund in search for these weird looking plants called the Welwitschias which are almost unique to Namibia. Seeing these things was almost their raison d’être and they were unamused that the spring-like weather meant that there was greenery in the desert which had hidden them. Everyone else, however, was bound for quad biking the giant sand dunes in the desert just outside the town. This sounded dangerous to me but it also seemed like a prerequisite and the thing you had to do while in town. So it was. In fact, it was brilliant. I really enjoyed it and even had a certificate for a time to prove my bravery.

However, that was not all. I’d managed to be talked into doing a skydive. I think the rest of the group was a bit surprised that when the guide enquired as to who wanted to do it that I was the first volunteer. I’d always wanted to do one and couldn’t imagine that there would be anywhere better than this town where the desert bordered the sea. Up I went at dusk to 12,000 feet in a plane with a man called Michael strapped to my back. He was friendly and had induced confidence in me despite his dodgy moustache. In my opinion moustaches on their own should be relegated to the plughole except, of course, during Movember when they can be justified in the name of charity. I forgave him for this however as he seemed like he knew what he was doing and would make sure I was returned alive and intact to the UK at the end of my trip. I had phoned my mother the night before. I hadn’t spoken to her since the start of the holiday due to us being out in the wilds and it had cost me £16 because I’d stupidly told her about the impending jump and then spent most of the call trying to get her to stop sobbing. I knew this was likely to be a once only experience for me so I’d paid extra to have a videographer jump as well. This was in the days before Go Pros and the like of course and so he literally had a video camera strapped to one side of his helmet and a still camera to the other. He operated these with wires which he bit down upon at the right time. There would be no sound at that height but he would capture plenty of shots and footage. He jumped first then Michael and I shuffled to the open door of the plane. I sat with my legs over the edge and he shoved us through the gap. We were off. It was indescribable as I experienced his massive but momentary lurch of my heart and stomach into my mouth but then we were lying prone, floating through the sky and it was just absolutely incredible. I was thumbs up all the way down, the videographer laughing and giggling, Michael shouting in my ear about how well I was doing and me responding accordingly with big grins and hand gestures. Then Michael pulled the chute and we settled into a seated position, spiralling ever downwards towards the sand-covered earth we call home. It was sunset and a clear day. I could see out to sea but all the time below us was this crinkly sandy surface, each of the teeny tiny imperfections being one of those giant sand dunes which I had ridden up early in the day.

As always for me, the ending was not perfect but rather comical and it turned out to be a befitting way to punctuate the exhilarating yet emotional experience that went before. On hitting the ground, I fell face down and by default Michael ended up spreadeagled on top of me with the chute engulfing the two of us. Safely rescued and back on our feet, we went into the office to watch the video footage and I was asked whether I wanted it set to music. I instantly knew that the only appropriate sound track to this video would be A Beautiful Day by U2. It must have been recently released because we had listened to it endlessly in the truck where the CD collection was somewhat limited. We would be driving along and when it came on we would all sing it at full voice, even the Germans joining in occasionally. In the days and weeks following this holiday, I would watch the video frequently, both in amazement that I had actually done it, in a show off sense to my mates and whenever I felt like I needed a laugh. I haven’t seen it for years as I no longer have a video player and this has been a reminder that I must get it digitised so I can watch it again.

And so it was that yesterday was also A Beautiful Day. Nothing so dramatic happened but every so often you have a perfect day just because the circumstances conspire with you and not against. Black Friday 3 did not happen so I awoke in my own bed in my own house after a short but justifiable lie in. I stepped into the indulgent rainforest shower in my gorgeous new en suite which is now complete with the windows unfrosted so I can stand there looking out at the beauty of this fabulous place where I live. Then a friend came around with a Christmas tree for me as they sell them near her house and she has a car big enough to transport one. She brought her daughter but no amount of manhandling by them and supervision by me was going to make the tree stand upright. Cue a phone call to another friend to come and give us a hand. By the time he arrived we’d got it sorted so then we were free to sit in my lounge and drink café frappés and Lewis Road Creamery chocolate liqueur (just try it!). The doors were open and it was a wonderfully balmy day outside with one of those ink blue skies and just enough breeze to offer relief and to deliver a faint whiff of jasmine.

In the end, we parted ways and I went to visit my friend who has not been well. It is no secret that she is undergoing chemotherapy. As much as she doesn’t like to talk about being brave or of it being a battle or she a victim, it is a deeply unpleasant experience nonetheless and she has impressed us all with her resilience and positive attitude. I like to think about keeping things as normal as possible for her. After all, she is a friend who happens to have cancer, not cancer which happens to have a friend attached to it. She is at the same point in this current chemo cycle as when she was at her worst in the last. I have tried to check in with her daily by text to make sure she is OK and she has seemed fine but it was still a really fabulous surprise to me to find her at home ready to go out as she was feeling as well as she could be. We had a lovely lunch in a trendy cafe overlooking the water and she ate the most she has in ages. I was so pleased as this meant she was up for the truffle fries and I could help her finish them… They just happen to be a weakness for both of us. After that, we mooched around some trendy but expensive shops where I happened upon lots of things I’d buy except for knowing that Christmas sales are just around the corner and I hate buying things that then get reduced! We retired to hers to watch some trashy TV while trying a cocktail of Chambord and sparkling wine to try and re-create a wonderful raspberry drink we’d had in times gone by. Actually, I seem to recall an evening after a day working in Nelson when we had a Chambord cocktail at the Rutherford Hotel followed by a meal including truffle fries at Hopgoods. Or maybe that was the time that Hopgoods had only ordinary fries on the menu and I sulked like a teenager. It was certainly the night that we retired to her room to drink a bottle of champagne and when we phoned a friend to come and join us he showed up in his dressing gown as he’d already gone to bed!

Now, many people have asked me why I’m doing the cycling trek. Well, no one reason really. I like a challenge and I like to do my bit to support charity, especially ones with a focus on children and local ventures. However, more than anything, I’m doing it because my friend suggested it. She supports this particular charity, Variety, but she is obviously not up to a cycle trek at the moment so I thought, why not? Why not do it for her and at the same time for me and the charity. Despite being unwell, she has been so amazingly encouraging and has never wavered in her opinion that I can do it. I know she will wave me off with a variety of crazy face masks, muscle lotions and chocolate just as she did for my last overly ambitious venture. Thats what friends do for each other. So, I set off from her place resolved to have another go on the bike.

So far I have cycled only on a quiet track in the bush near where I live. This time I went along the Auckland harbour water front on a shared cycle path and pavement. It was much busier and being a sunny day, there were people everywhere – walking, skating, cycling, just wandering; locals and tourists, adults and children alike. There were also hazards like pavement works, cars, ramps and so forth. But, it was absolutely fabulous. I loved every minute. Yes, it was flat again, but it was the furthest I’ve been so far at 15.3 kms and there was enough of a breeze to relieve the heat from the sun but also to make it a bit challenging as I had to pedal a bit harder.

Auckland is the most picturesque city and I feel lucky every day to be allowed to stay here. There are those from outside who pour scorn on our city and its inhabitants, referring to us as JAFAs* and criticising our traffic and housing prices. Well, where else could you cycle from one stunning beach to another with the glittering blue waters right next to you, looking out to sail boats and an island volcano and most people giving you a friendly wave or hello? The traffic may be heavy and the housing prices high but show me a city where they aren’t.

After coming home, I put all 150 ornaments on my Christmas tree, each one a reminder of such-and-such a market, holiday, friend or family member. There are Aboriginal baubles from Sydney, reindeer with conical hats from Vietnam, metal hearts from Cardiff Castle, gingerbread men bought by one set of nephews, a shiny silver handbag from my sister and a festive foot made out of flour from another nephew. The whole thing is a construction of sentiment and, in my opinion, this just makes it even more beautiful than it is anyway. Bugger those who have to have a colour scheme or the right shaped baubles. Sod off to those who say my tree isn’t right as it doesn’t have tinsel. Christmas isn’t about trends, design and showing off. Christmas is about family, friends, reflections, memories and looking forward. Yes, this may be soppy and so to lighten the mood, I’d just like to add that if my mate J doesn’t offer to swap his inflatable reindeer costume for the departmental Christmas party for my ever-so-small Little Bo Beep Santa dress, then he may no longer be on the Christmas card list. As he would say, this is no deterrent as I haven’t sent cards for years, preferring to donate the money to the Auckland City Mission! Actually, that’s just a cover up for being hopelessly disorganised but from bad sometimes comes good.

So, I hope you all had A Beautiful Day! Do let me know in the comments what makes a perfect day for you. I’d like to think of the blog as a conversation rather than a diatribe.


PS The Germans never did find the welwitschias but we happened upon one in the car park of a campsite a few days later and they were grudgingly happy

* JAFAs = Just Another F***ing Aucklander (sorry mother but at least I spent another £16 on phoning you to let you know I survived the sky dive!)