Cheese, wine and tumble dryer fluff

So #50Before50 has kicked off. I’ll be honest and say I am already totally obsessed with the challenge but, so what? Why not? There are far worse things to spend time doing and the focus is good for me. Just over a week since conceiving my idea, I have already ticked off 2.6% of the list. Yes, that’s right, I have spreadsheets, note books, notes on my phone and photos – all to document this adventure because, of course, not only am I getting older and forgetful but I also have the comedy show to do at the end so I need to gather material. There may even be a book in it. You never know… I’ve been posting my photos to Instagram and tagging wineries, cafes, cheese companies and so on, in the vain hope that at some point over the next couple of years I’ll be noticed. There will need to be some sponsorship for the children’s party and, perhaps people will become interested in what I’m up to and help out.

15 of the 51 items on my list have more than one element. For example, there are 50 cheeses, 50 sunsets, 100 wines, 50 places and things to do in New Zealand and one of those is to visit all 26 Monopoly board places. Therefore, altogether there are 861 individual things to do. I realise I already know 2 people called Helen Evans to whom to send birthday cards in 2020 and I can already say Happy Birthday in 3 languages. This week I’ve seen two sunrises, eaten one cheese and drunk 11 different wines. I’ve collected one handful of tumble dryer fluff for the cushion I am going to make. It all adds up.

Tumble dryer fluff
The first handful of tumble dryer fluff has been collected!

Next I will work on a timeline. Some of the things can be worked on right away; others need to be left until my 50th year or close to my birthday. Some of them need to be done in a particular order. I’d definitely much rather do the nude modelling after I’ve reached 50-something kg! Ditto for walking down the street after having my body painted. And there’s no point having the bra made until I’ve had the breast reduction. But yoga I can do now while the water-based activities will need to wait until the weather is warmer. As for the sunrises, a friend’s father pointed out that I can see one every day when I do the Lapland trip as the sun doesn’t get up until 11.30am. That was music to my ears!

The amazing thing about the challenge is that people are following my example and it’s catching on. My sister is now doing 40 things before her 40th birthday and she only has 10 months to go and one of her friends is also joining in! A friend and previous colleague is also doing his own #50Before50. I’m really chuffed. Of course my own challenge started after hearing about my friend Sonja doing her 30 things before 30. When I add the hashtag #50Before50 on social media, I see other people around the world doing wonderful things like climbing mountains and one even had a photo shoot with Annie Liebovitz. I don’t think I will be scaling those heights, but you never know… People have been really open to joining in and helping out. I wanted to photograph every bottle of wine which is easy at home or friends’ houses and even some bars, but it isn’t common to see the bottle at a cafe or restaurant. I’ve been asking waiters if they’ll bring me the bottle and everyone has obliged so far – one was working his first day and thought it was brilliant; one poured the wine with great aplomb and arranged the bottle with the candles and flowers from the table and another asked to follow me on Instagram. Mardi at The Nail Studio, who has been doing my nails for ages, was totally fine with choosing me a random colour for my manicure. She reassured me there are at least 50 colours available without me resorting to fluoro yellow and she’s even going to come to some dinners with me. I’ve found volunteers to come to my first Auckland restaurant from the Metro list, people have been nominating their favourite charities so I can add them to the charity list and friends have set about recommending places to do the yoga, surfing, flying a chopper or plane and so on. It’s almost infectious!

This week I was working in Hawke’s Bay and staying with my really good friend Jenny. She is one of the biggest hearted people I know. She took me under her wing very early on in my time in NZ and she has been one of my biggest supporters over the years. Jenny will definitely be reading this and she won’t mind me saying that she is perhaps not quite so adventurous. But, she’s been egging me on over the past few days with ticking some things off the list. She even stood in the middle of the road to get a photo of me under the Marine Parade sign in Napier as this is one of the Monopoly streets. We’ve been to some of our favourite restaurant haunts – Pipi’s in Havelock North and Mister D in Napier, along with Hunger Monger in Napier which was a new one for us. At every one people have been unfailingly kind and accommodating. As I go to the Bay several times a year for work and pleasure, I hope to do more of my adventures with Jenny and other local friends and I also hope to persuade her further afield. I’m sure she’s always wanted to walk the Inca trail…

Lest We Forget
Lest We Forget – the flower pot in Napier filled with poppies for ANZAC Day

Wines consumed (8 whites; 3 reds):

  • Cable Bay 2012 Viognier
  • Mission Estate 2016 Syrah
  • Gibbston Valley 2010 Pinot noir – I’ve been cellaring this one for years so it was great to open it at last and a relief to find it was totally sublime
  • Loveblock 2017 Sauvignon blanc – thanks to the lovely people at my local cafe Deco
  • Clearview 2014 Viognier
  • Vidal 2017 Sauvignon blanc
  • Julicher 2017 Riesling – thanks to the staff at Hunger Monger
  • Amisfield Lakes Hayes 2017 Pinot gris – drunk at my favourite Hawkes Bay restaurant Pipi’s where the waiter was super helpful
  • Mud House 2017 Sauvignon blanc
  • Peregrine 2017 Pinot gris – thanks to Rosie at Mister D in Napier who was fabulous
  • Te Mata 2017 Syrah – also at Mister D and consumed with my first cheese…

Not included on the list of wines is the Montana pinot gris I drank at a friend’s house. Turns out that despite this vineyard being one of New Zealand’s oldest and one which put NZ sauvignon blanc (and hence wine in general) on the international map, they have decided to import grapes from Australia! I guess this explains why they have reverted to using their Montana label which disappeared when they re-branded a few years ago as Brancott Estate. Each to their own but Australian wines are not included in the challenge so off the list they go!

Montana Pinot Gris
Montana Pinot Gris. Not a New Zealand wine, so excluded from the challenge!

Cheese eaten (1 so far):

  • Origin Earth Washed Rind – beautifully presented and accompanied by the most lovely homemade crackers and quince jam at Mister D
Cheese # 1
Cheese number 1 – Origin Earth Washed Rind, eaten at Mister D’s Dining in Napier

Nail polish colours (1 so far):

  • Denim Patch

Monopoly NZ places visited (1 so far):

People called Helen Evans to whom to send birthday cards in 2020 (2 so far):

  • My sister-in-law
  • The lady in the student office at the University to gets my mail by mistake

Happy Birthday languages (4 so far):

  • English
  • Welsh
  • French
  • Te Reo Māori

Sunrises seen: 2 so far

Not a bad start, even if I do say so myself. Do enjoy the video. I recorded it on Marine Parade but the wind from the sea caused havoc. The first bit is fine then it totally falls apart but that gives it the usual rustic charm…

Until next time xx

Tiger balm, table wars and transplants

Last week I had the privilege of attending the winter World Transplant Games in Switzerland. Not that I have had a transplant myself, but I went as a supporter. I was fortunate enough to be able to escort a young patient who attended a children’s ski camp as part of the games. He certainly had a ball and after just a few days of skiing looked almost like pro!

My time at the Games was mainly spent skiing in the daytime. I first went skiing in 1982 with my school. I am not the sportiest soul and quite possibly the clumsiest person I know. Mrs Bowen the PE teacher had a right old laugh when I declared I would be attending the school’s ski trip to Italy. She was laughing on the other side of her face a few months later when I came home from the trip as the only bearer of a silver medal, and a two star silver medal at that. Over the years I have been skiing again several times to countries such as France, Austria, Germany and New Zealand. But my last trip was probably about 12 years ago and I had lost my skiing mojo.

I look now at these fearless young kids racing away down the slopes leaving clouds of powdery white snow behind them and I am in awe. The older I get, the more of a scaredy cat I become. Who knows why? Someone said there is a lot more at stake. Maybe, but I don’t think so in my case. My 11 year old self had my whole life ahead of me with hopes of careers and families in the future. My much older self has already had a decent career and I don’t have a family of my own to leave in my wake should something terribly tragic come to bear. But perhaps stories of people falling and having devastating head injuries have had an influence. Natasha Richardson died after hitting her head skiing and Michael Schumacher was left in a (presumed) vegetative state. Not that this has ever been confirmed, but one has to think that his life must have been catastrophically altered given his complete disappearance from the public eye. Obviously these are just celebrity faces of tragedy and there will be many more whose names we will never know. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of people hitting the snow-strewn slopes on a daily basis who have the most fabulously exhilarating time and come to no harm whatsoever, other than to their wallets which seem to shrink in an instant that the words “ski pass” and “equipment hire” appear on the horizon. As cautious as I may have become, my childhood memories of whizzing along (or slipping as Big Li would say) on the white stuff and the complete exhilaration that brought with it were beckoning to me and were ultimately too much to resist.

So along I went to the ski hire shop on the first day with my wads of cash, hopes and fears and took the plunge. In the good old days we wore hats. Now I had a helmet, a modern day precaution I was pleased to see almost universally embraced in the resort I was at. I felt instantly unwieldy with my bulky clothing making me almost unable to flex any joints and the ski boots making it impossible to walk any distance. One day I left my glamorous padded trousers undone so I could bend over properly to manhandle my legs into my ski boots. If only I had remembered to do them up again when I stood up. It would have saved me embarrassingly realising they were heading south as I walked awkwardly to the bus, skis over my shoulder and so in no position to be able to pull them up with my be-gloved hands. Then there is the major decision-making as to just how many layers you need to wear. Ski chalets are designed to be warm. You get lulled into a false sense of security that maybe it is not so cold after all. I returned from a day on the pistes and was so incredibly hot in my apartment, I stripped down to my thermals. Sadly I forgot this until I was striding across the road to the supermarket for milk, the sudden rush of coldness all the more tangible when one is only wearing matching snowflake-emblazoned thermal undergarments.

But the moment I stepped out of the cable car onto the snow, it was like the old days. Who can resist a scene of glittering white snow against a deep blue sky and how amazing is it to ride up the mountain in the gondola and see all the beautiful tracks of skiers and snowboarders in the almost virgin snow below? People suggested I should not be scared or nervous as the techniques would all come back to me “just like riding a bike.” How ironic given that we all know that until recently, I’d never really cycled. However, they were right. These people always are. I tentatively headed my skis down the nursery slope and it was fine. I tackled my first drag lift with unfounded trepidation and after only half an hour it was like being transported back many years. Admittedly I fell off the ski lift on the first day but some sort of disaster was inevitable. As my sister would say – this is H, so anything is possible. The next few days I had mixed luck; a day of cancelled skiing due to bad weather and the lifts being closed; two wonderful private lessons with a local guide, mainly helpful from a navigation and confidence point of view; skiing with new friends; losing my gloves in a cafe after another obligatory vin chaud stop; my first ever fondue with my mate Liz; falling while stationary; my skis falling out of the outside of the gondola car in mid air after I put them in the snowboard slot. But all the while, I was captivated by the frozen beauty of the slopes which had sucked me in all those years ago. This early in the season the pistes were quiet. Sometimes I would be skiing along and notice I was totally alone for a few moments. It was picturesque, breathtaking, serene, all at the same time. Mind you, I am more than four times older than I was the first time I ventured out skiing and copious amounts of tiger balm and generous helpings of vin chaud were needed to soothe my aching muscles. Thank goodness for my mate Jean who was able to source these brilliant giant tiger balm patches. The aforementioned thermal undergarments held them in place very securely and I even slept with my calves encased in these delights. I think you’re meant to keep them on for a maximum of an hour or so but the packets are in a language I can’t understand so therefore this information didn’t exist in my mind!

Yet the real inspiration on this trip was not the skiing but the totally incredible people I met as part of the Games. Such is the modern era of medicine that a transplant recipient can now expect to have many years, often a whole lifetime, of restored health – all at the expense of a generous deceased donor family or a selfless living friend or relative who puts their own good health at risk to transform the future of their loved one. Some people were there as sole participants, others members of large national teams. We were grouped into restaurants for our meals and so I spent most of my time with people from Canada, Australia, Ireland, Norway, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Spain and Poland. Aside from the ridiculous table wars which saw the restaurant absolutely insist we sit with our own compatriots and not mingle, those of us from countries with only a small contingent having to buddy up to form a table of orphan nations, this was the most sociable time – one of bonding over shared tales of transplant experiences. As an observer, it was striking that one could look around the room and not know who had undergone a transplant, who was a live donor, who was a family member and who was a health professional. These people’s tales were touching, poignant, sometimes almost unbelievably so. Yet any suggestions of tragedy or bravery were universally dismissed as they had all refused to be defined by their illnesses. While there was occasional questioning as to who was “a liver” and who was “a heart”, for the most part, these were ordinary people with ordinary lives except for an extraordinary interlude from which they were now recovered. That is not to say that they had not experienced pain, hardship, loss and sadness, but they had just got on with what needed to be done to rebuild their lives after organ failure and transplantation. My own charge, who had the most wonderful time at the ski camp, was just a tiny baby when I first met him, his body ravaged by liver disease from which he would never have recovered save for a transplant. He raced down those slopes faster than me despite never having been on skis before, all the while half of his mother’s liver playing a constant reminder inside him of how differently things might have been. The boy is incredible. He has never even had a day off school. I should be led into thinking that my own silly tales pale into insignificance except that these amazing people would say that they are equally affecting as it is context and timing that makes upset and tragedy what it is to an individual.

What we must remember however is that these people survived transplantation because of positive attitude, supportive families and friends but most of all, the selflessness of their donor or donor family. Every day, thousands of people die while awaiting a transplant. Not everyone has a suitable or willing live donor. Some people live in countries with no access to transplantation. If, by reading this blog, even one of you changes your mind about being a donor when your time here is up, or takes this opportunity to discuss your wishes with your nearest and dearest, then my job will be done.

Thank you World Transplant Games Federation for the amazing work you do and for the opportunity for me to spend the last week with you all. Until next time… x

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

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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…!