Sunrises, double cauliflower and being in trouble with friends

Sometimes I surprise even myself. If anyone had told me I would get to enjoy the sunrises, I would have thought them literally deluded. But, I am actually really loving them. Why? Well, there is surely nothing more beautiful than a bright orange sunrise on a clear day. Not all of my sunrises have been on clear days and you can’t plan them of course. Even if the weather forecast promises a lack of rain and full sun during the day, there is always a chance that Aotearoa New Zealand will live up to its nickname and the long white cloud will be on display along the horizon. But, there is always a colour change in the sky, even if the gorgeous ball of the rising sun can’t be seen in its full orange roundness.

But the beauty of the sunrise is about far more than its appearance. There is this amazing calm and sense of serenity that is not apparent at any other time of the day. Even driving or cycling to my chosen viewpoint is lovely as the roads are quiet. Then, for me, there is also a wonderment that our world is just so incredible. It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on in the world, the sun always rises and sets. Just as the world rotates and the tides ebb and flow, the sun is guaranteed to repeat this pattern every single day for eternity. But, unlike the world turning and the tide coming and going, you don’t necessarily always appreciate the sun rising and falling. Rain and clouds hide it. Sleep and activities mean you may not notice it. And so it has been for me for most of my life. A sleep-in and my love of the snooze button has always won over any inkling of getting up early. But now, I travel out for these sunrises and I feel almost evangelical about them. Standing on a deserted beach or a windy coastal lookout, I have at times felt absolutely freezing cold as though my fingers will drop off or be left behind in my gloves, but I have inevitably felt at my happiest for that day.

So far I have seen only eight of these wonders, each in a different place but only two accompanied by other people. I’d like to think I can continue to find different places to see them, which was never the intention but is now becoming a challenge in itself as time goes on. Of course they are now getting earlier due to the days getting longer again, a sure sign that the seasons rotate and time moves on but at least maybe an indication that I don’t need to almost sacrifice my fingers to the elements to continue my enjoyment of the day’s beginning.

Will I continue with the sunrises after the #50Before50 challenge ends? I’m never likely to fall out of love with a lie-in but certainly a well-timed sunrise on a weekend work day may very well become a habit I find hard to kick.

In other news, I have spent a day in Christchurch where, to my shame I have not been for a few years. It is always quite dividing for me. I feel a sadness that a city which was so beautiful and vibrant was so destroyed and with such loss of life by the cruel earthquakes. I feel even sadder that large parts of the city and some notable buildings remain ruined or derelict. Yet, I feel so uplifted and inspired by the resilience of the people of Christchurch. Some of the new buildings which have risen from the ashes of the former city are just wonderful – funky, modern, eye-catching. My friend Carol showed me around and so much has changed since I was last there. There is street art everywhere. The trams are back in action. The cathedral may still be in ruins but it is now going to be rebuilt. I saw the Transitional (aka cardboard) Cathedral which is probably the newest church I have ever stepped foot inside. Its simplicity is perhaps what defines its beauty but it is light, airy, welcoming and with a true sense of community which I have never witnessed before in a western place of worship. This is a truly modern church. I even made a donation by credit card as I had no cash! Elsewhere in the city, the dining scene is especially buzzing and we had some truly memorable food. The hip and trendy Hello Sunday; the crowded fantastic 2018 version of a food court that is Little High and many more which await my next visit. Now, I know people think I’m bonkers most of the time but believe me when I say that the double cauliflower I ate for breakfast (yes, breakfast) at Ilex, a great new cafe in the botanical gardens was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a very long time.

In the video, I mention some other things which I’ve been up to, including a great review of Coco’s Cantina, a favourite #50Before50 Metro restaurant and also I share my hopefully misplaced fears about an upcoming girls’ weekend where I may just have set us all up for a disaster…

Do enjoy!


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

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…!

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 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!)