Thursday, December 28, 2006


Although I didn't post to Sunday Scribblings on the theme of change this week, being, as I was, computerless in Taranaki, it's something I've been mulling over. I've also been reading a lot of posts by bloggers who have been reflecting on the past year, and expressing their gratitude. I thought it was about time I added my voice to the general stream of consciousness.

I will begin by saying that this has been one of the most incredible years of my life. As far as life-changing events go, spending a year on exchange in Holland when I was a teenager was certainly formative. However, the last year has been life-changing in the discovering myself and taking charge of my own destiny sense.

The most obvious change this year has been physical. A photograph of me taken at French Farm in Banks Peninsula in January this year shows a slightly uncomfortable Pip, around 14kgs heavier than now. I wasn't necessarily unhappy, but I wasn't settled in my skin, and I wasn't that fit.

Leonie will protest that it was ultimately my decision, but it was she who got me off the sofa and into the Special K duathlon training squad. I turned up at the first training session fairly shaking with nervousness. That first session we ran from Te Papa to Ferg's Kayaks and back. Sarah took off, and I nearly killed myself trying to keep up with everyone. I finished feeling depressed by how unfit I was, but, to my credit, I did not give up.

Formative moments from that first squad? The first bike ride, where I got separated from the pack, rode to the turnoff to the airport before deciding I should probably turn around, and arrived back at the gym jubilant, having cycled around 12km on my very first outing on Lola. The run where I nearly died trying to run up a flight of stairs on the side of Mt Victoria, and ran out of gas on the return leg. Further on, the run where we sprinted up the Dixon Street steps and I found myself storming up The Terrace to the Terrace gym. Then there was the training session where we first jumped on the RPM bikes. After a hard-out hill track we raced back to the Taranaki Street gym on handicap. I remember whooping with adrenalin as I ran down the Terrace gym stairs and sprinted out onto the road, before sprinting the whole way back to the finish. Finally the day of the duathlon arrived. I made it over the finish-line, hand in hand with Leonie, in just over 59 minutes. Target achieved.

After that there was the first Jog Squad, where we trained for the Shoe Clinic 10km event, the second Jog Squad, where we trained for the Wairarapa Country Marathon, and the third Jog Squad, where we just trained for the fun of it. There was also Women's Multis. Along the way there were huge successes, and there were failures. There were great runs, and there were injuries. At the same time I continued to train with Duck, losing a heap of weight, gaining a heap more muscle, and increasing my fitness beyond my wildest dreams. I also conquered one of my biggest fears and finally started the laborious process of learning to swim.

So where does that leave me? Thinner, fitter, yes. Happier? Undoubtedly. However the most important change is more significant than that. To a certain extent I am a different person. I have a new belief in myself. I have learned not to put limits on what I can achieve, because what I can achieve is greater than I would ever have imagined. I have a confidence and security in myself that I have never had before.

So, in response to the Sunday Scribblings theme for last week, if you were to ask me whether it is possible to change, I would say yes, undoubtedly. However ...

A few weeks ago our Department had our Christmas party, and a group of us dressed up as 80s pop stars. In an inspired move, someone decided to stick 'VIP' stickers on our building swipe cards, so that they looked like back-stage passes. Our swipe cards all have our digital photos on them. Mine was taken in January. By the time the sticker idea was dreamed up I had already consumed a few glasses of wine. I remember telling my team leader to put my sticker over the horrible photo. As I said this I puffed up my cheeks to signify that I thought I looked bloated.

A couple of days later I picked up my swipe card and felt horrible. I felt like I was dishonouring that person that I had been, who, after all, had been doing the best she could and had never borne any malice towards anyone. I ended up carefully scraping away the sticker covering my photo, and apologising to myself.

So, lesson learned. Change is all very well, but not if it means discrediting the path taken to become my current self. Which brings me to gratitude...

There are so many things I feel grateful for. Let's get the obvious out of the way first:
  • I am grateful for fitness, for the various training squads I have been involved in this year, for my wonderful trainer, for the wonderful women I have trained with, and for the fact that several have become my friends and not just my training partners.
In no particular order, I am also grateful for:
  • Following my instincts and returning to my former employer. As a result I am now engaged in a job I enjoy, with a wonderful, sociable team;
  • Being involved in the Hihi monitoring programme at the Karori Sanctuary. It's a privilege to be involved in something that contributes to the survival of an amazing native bird, and to be doing something that enables me to feel like I am giving back to the planet;
  • My wonderful husband, who has supported me through this crazy year. Hamish has quietly and without protest put up with my life revolving around training. Thanks for all the dinners and for putting up with the house being in a general state of disorder;
  • The wonderful friends we have here in Wellington with us. In particular, those living within staggering distance of us;
  • Living in this wonderful city, with its beguiling mix of wilderness and culture, its friendly people, and its huge heart;
  • In turn, living in this fantastic, largely liberal and peace-loving country. In a world centred around war and disruption those of us luck enough to live here are secure enough to pursue our own dreams;
  • My three cats - Ede, Gaffer and Tissy. They provide me with affection and entertainment in equal measures;
  • Regaining the gift of writing. My muse disappeared for far too long;
  • Parents on both my and Hamish's side who are still in relatively good health and still together;
  • Music - particularly live music listened to outdoors in hidden valleys cradled by sun and sky;
And finally:
  • The promise of the years to follow, with new people to meet, existing friends to strengthen ties with, and new goals for the taking.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Grey Boxing Day

After the day of Christmas veranda gluttony...

Came the grey Boxing Day of gloom...

I woke to a relatively mild, but grey and windy morning. Running outdoors did not appeal, nor did cycling. A traditional Boxing Day lie-around-in-the-sun-and-eat-chocolate event at the Sanctuary was clearly not going to be on the cards, and I was too late for RPM at 9.00. However a quick jump on the scales led to the horrified conclusion that a 10am emergency Body Attack class was called for. By 9.30 my bags were packed (one of gym gear, and one full of Sanctuary clothing) and I was out the door.

An energy borne of desperation got me through one hour of high-impact aerobics. If I thought I was doing it hard, the poor instructor's mike broke down half-way through the class. Full credit to her - her ability to mime while doing star-jumps was absolutely stellar.

It's in classes like Attack that my higher levels of fitness start to really show themselves. At about the time I expect to collapse dying in a heap I somehow manage to keep on going, and going, and going. However higher fitness levels don't necessarily translate to higher levels of co-ordination. I'm still as clumsy as I ever was...

A quick stop at Subway for a Chicken Teriyaki Sub, and it was over the hill to Karori. Conditions were, to put it mildly, interesting. Here was the view of the upper dam just after mid-day...

And looking North towards the lower dam...

And South across the upper reservoir...

I'm hesitant to post too much about my Hihi monitoring activities, but all is action stations in Area 3 at the moment. I managed to miss a fledge, and had to fight my way through wet, muddy bush to try to locate the surprisingly agile young Hihi. I suspect they may have left the nest yesterday while we were all at home eating too much. They were moving too quickly to have just left the nest this morning.

One female is still feeding her chicks, another is about to lay, and the last is sitting on eggs. The males are, depending on what stage the breeding cycle is at, absent, friendly, indifferent or alarmed at my presence. Each of them, however, has their own distinct personality. I've been pushed for time this year, but I do still want to continue with my Sanctuary volunteering. As much as I've been pretty stressed by the lack of down time, I'd really miss my 'feather' children.

However days like today are rather frustrating. The Kaka were flocking in large numbers at the upper dam feeder station, and that made me enthusiastic about being there. Whilst in the lower valley I was still rather sheltered, and that made me glad to be there as well. However, far into the upper valley it was damp, windy and exposed. I didn't have to put on all my layers, but I certainly had more on could be expected at this time of year. Surely we've earned some decent summer by now?

And there's another cold front coming through. Looks like tomorrow will be spent in bed, although I've booked a 5.30pm RPM and will aim to accompany that with either a swim or a weights session. This is me on a holiday...

Monday, December 25, 2006

White Christmas

Grr... the beta Blogger isn't letting me upload photos today. When things are up and running again this post will include photos...

The last week has been well and truly insane. Thankfully none of our managers seemed to expect us to actually get any work done. There are times when I love being a public servant. Weeks where I work at 50% of my capacity and still get told how wonderful I am and how pleased they are with me are those sorts of times.

Oh well, at least I did still get a limited number of workouts in, including my last swim with Lesleigh on Monday, the odd run, and my last PT session for a year. I fully intended to go to RPM on Friday morning, but I guess it wasn't such a good idea to agree to Christmas dinner at Hope Bros on Thursday night, at the same time as the Les Mills staff were having their Christmas drinks. It appears there were also RPM drinkies at the Cue Bar, however my recollections of that part of the evening are rather hazy. Enough said. Actually, too much said, but that's an even longer story, and I really am going to have to stop drinking so much at some stage. Like, tomorrow.

Trust me, I don't want to do another hung over Body Balance ever again. Particularly when it was a new release. The one thing I DIDN'T need was to have to concentrate on a new routine. My body was sooo full of alcohol and food toxins, and so short of magnesium, that nothing was going to be easy. Expecting my body to attempt to stretch was pure foolishness. Going easy was the only option. Loud note to self - do not do that again. Seriously.

The only positive thing about getting slammed on the Thursday night (I am way too old for this @#$@) was that, when our group manager opened the bubbly at 10.30 on Friday morning, I was not even remotely interested. In fact, I could have vomited when someone started drinking red wine in front of me. I ate breakfast, but then didn't even feel remotely interested in food again until 3pm. That's unheard of for me. No more! What the heck do I thnk I'm doing anyway?

On Saturday Hamish and I drove to Stratford, Taranaki for pre-christmas Christmas with my sister Shaz, and my Mum and Dad. Taranaki turned on the usual band of rain between Hawera and Stratford, and remained indifferent for the rest of the day. It was so cold we kept the heater going, and through the gaps in the clouds we could see snow on the mountain.

Mum loves Christmas, and I really don't want to be the Grinch. We had what Hamish referred to as a sweet weekend, with Christmas stockings, wine, food, presents and more food. On Saturday night the weather mellowed out enough for the family to go for a pleasant walk through the park in Stratford, along the Patea River. We watched downloaded television until late, then slept soundly through the night under a soft feather duvet.

I woke at 6am to a crisp, clear morning. The mountain was revealing herself in her ivory cloak, splashed with pink from the sun. I crawled back into the warmth of my bed until 7.30. By then it was well and truly time to get up and run. Despite misgivings about secluded trails at odd hours of the morning the lure of the river was too strong to resist. I spent a lovely 40 minutes getting lost on leafy, bush-lined Stratford trails. I skipped up steps and down gentle inclines, over bridges and along the river-bank. Once again I concentrated on technique. I've given up worrying about speed. Comfort and pleasure are important right now, together with not injuring myself. My knee is liking me for it.

Breakfast preparations were well underway by the time I returned home. A stretch, a shower and then the family sat around the table sipping on strawberry and mint fruit cocktails and munching on bacon, grilled tomatoes, home made bread, fresh fruit salad and yoghurt. Have I mentioned my mother is a dream chef? Then it was off to Opunake where Shaz showed Hamish around her new home on the cliff and Hamish pointed out his own childhood home.

A quick cup of tea back at Mum and Dad's, then Hamish put Mum's new cycle computer on her new bike (she's training for the SPARC duathlon, and I'm very proud), and we jumped in the car and drove back home again. We were home by 6, and had tidied the house and eaten dinner by the time our prospective catsitter arrived to meet the fur children.

It was good to see Mum and Dad. Good because, despite everything, they seem well and relaxed. The house seems well-maintained, the garden is flourishing. It's true that Mum complains about Dad and that Dad worries about Mum. This has always been the natural order of things and it's hard to know how much of it to take seriously. They don't have a lot of friends, and when Dad's not working they spend all their time in each other's company. I guess I'd probably want to complain as well. What can I do other than keep in touch and hope I'll be able to sense when the time comes to start paying more attention. Stratford is a lovely town for them to live in, but I'm nervous that it could also prove to be a little isolating, particularly for Mum, who has never learned to drive.

Back at home, the reason Hamish and I chose to stay in Wellington for Christmas was to be able to enjoy the day in our own (selfish) way. All the running around over the last week was supposed to culminate in a day of sloth and gluttony. I'm pleased to report that the day has, by and large, turned out exactly as planned.

The first part of the equation - lie in bed reading until after mid-day. The second part of the equation - Hamish cooks a breakfast of pikelets and organic bacon. The Pip secret ingredient - a half-hour rolling-hill run to Brooklyn then back up the long slow incline to Mornington and home. VERY slow - very full of food and yesterday's alcohol, VERY hot in the glaring sun. However, you know you're a runner when... Anyway, I sent Allie a txt and she'd just gotten back from a 5km run. So there!

A quick shower, then the third part of the equation - more reading, a cider and Radio Active on the veranda at home, while soft feathery rain falls down over the valley of Berhampore. The fourth part of the evening - a long, slow-roasted pork, roasted vegetables and bubbly, followed by left-over Mum's Christmas dessert sampler.

The fifth part of the evening - episodes of Torchwood. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. No tinny Christmas Carols, no screaming children. No expectations.

Yes, as I said, it's a selfish way to spend Christmas. I'll spend next year with family again, I promise. Just let me have this one small moment!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Golden Bay 2004

We had just enough room
for one small hitch hiker
not too much luggage
squeeze them into the
back seat of the Polo
we saw the first passenger
just out of Nelson
flew past her like we were
in a hurry, slammed on the
brakes and u-turned
she was going to Collingwood
we dropped her at her destination
it was only slightly out of the way.
days later we were on our way home
gone through Nelson and
not one hopeful thumb lifted
we were commenting on this
when there was Murray,
thankfully taiko drumless,
though with his black dog
Orphius, animal talisman.
Murray and dog shared the
front passenger seat
crammed against the windscreen
I hugged the back seat
between backpacks, sleeping bags
and holiday detritus
we shared red wine
drunk from the bottle
on the beach in Picton before
man and dog parted on the Arahoe
and we steered the Polo
onto the Bluebridge
we made plans for fire circles
for drumming and
fire dancing all night
under full moons, and
we wondered for years
about predestiny disguised
as coincidence.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2006 Meme

Stolen from Sarah:

∑ What did you do in 2006 that you'd never done before?
I competed in a duathlon, I ran 10km, I ran 20km, I floated, I rode my bike using my SPDs and didn’t fall off.
∑ Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn’t make any, so I didn’t have any to keep, and I doubt I’ll be making any this year.
∑ Did anyone close to you give birth?
A girl from my office had a little boy, but that’s about it.
∑ Did anyone close to you die?
No – not humans anyway.
∑ What countries did you visit?
New Zealand!
∑ What would you like to have in 2007 that you lacked in 2006?
∑ What dates from 2006 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The day of the duathlon, because it was such a huge achievement for me.
∑ What was your biggest achievement of the year?
It’s hard to pick the biggest, but they were mostly sporting related. Going under water is probably right up there. I guess starting to write again, and starting this blog, were also very significant achievements.
∑ What was your biggest failure?
Oooh, I don’t know whether I want to class this as a failure, more a lesson on the path, but I guess failing to complete the Wairarapa Country Half Marathon could technically be classed as a failure.
∑ Did you suffer illness or injury?
I’ve been in great health, other than this ongoing knee injury. Grrrr.
∑ What was the best thing someone bought you?
A framed copy of one of my poems.
∑ Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Although it may all be a clever marketing ploy, Al Gore.
∑ Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Speaking in general terms – any of those people who continue to deny climate change.
∑ Where did most of your money go?
Into Duck’s bank account (personal training, Special K, three Jog Squads and a Women’s Multis).
∑ What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Traveling up to Auckland for Ruth’s 60th birthday, catching up with all of Auckland friends, and the debut of the halterneck dress.
∑ What song will always remind you of 2006?
“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield
∑ Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Definitely happier
b) fatter or skinnier? Definitely skinnier
c) richer or poorer? About the same.
∑ What do you wish you'd done more of?
Writing, meditating, spending quiet time on my own. I would also like to have taken an arts class.
∑ What do you wish you'd done less of?
Pushing myself too hard, being too hard on myself.
∑ How do you plan to spend Christmas?
At home with Hamish, the cats, some good bubbly and a heap of food.
∑ Did you fall in love in 2006?
Yes, in one thousand different ways, with as many different people and things.
∑ How many one night stands?
∑ What was your favorite TV program?
Heroes, closely followed by Carnival (Sophie, how could you?).
∑ Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No – I don’t hate anyone.
∑ What was the best book you read?
I’m re-reading the Bone People, and enjoying it immensely.
∑ What was your greatest musical discovery? Hmmm… Cold Cut? Samuel Flynn Scott? Cat Power?
∑ What did you want and get?
Fancy running gear (and I’m aware of how tragic that is) and the halterneck dress.
∑ What did you want and not get?
Even more fancy running gear.
∑ What was your favorite film of this year?
I can’t really remember seeing too many films. An Inconvenient Truth was good. Casino Royale was pretty good as well.
∑ What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you:
I turned 33 and got riotously drunk on tequila and bubbly cocktails at Tupelo with Leonie, Nic and Hamish.
∑ What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
My year has already been immeasurably satisfying, but it would have been nice to finish the half marathon.
∑ How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2006?
This year I bought expensive running gear, but made do with second-hand and cheap new clothing to keep me going when I wasn’t at the gym. This was the year of the aforementioned halterneck dress, and the size 8 Keith Mathieson jacket, board shorts and trousers, and the cute little Pagani tops.
∑ What kept you sane?
∑ Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most:
I didn’t.
∑ What political issue stirred you the most:
The environment.
∑ Who do you miss?
Fi (come back Fi – Wellington loves you).
∑ Who was the best new person you met?
Sarah listed me, so I guess I need to reciprocate or I’ll be short a running buddy!
∑ What was the best thing you ate?
Mmm… too much good food to declare a winner! There were the crumbed jalapenos, cheese dip and chicken burritos at Flying Burrito Brothers, there was the panfried duck breast at Hope Bros, and there was the entire banquet menu at Spice Island. Actually, I think that the Mrs Macs Chilli and Cheese pies consumed after long runs probably came out on top… or perhaps it was the Whitakers Dark Ghana. Mmmm, cider. Mmm, chilli tequila cocktails. Sigh…
∑ Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2006?
∑ Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
The lyrics from the song I mentioned above probably sum things up:
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Go Walking

Go walking South on a
soft warm evening.
Turn left up the rise
until the city spreads herself
out beneath you.
Everyone is roasting chicken
tonight so that fat
and salt linger on the air
together with the heated
fragrance of honeysuckle.
Walk past cheap houses
falling down steep slopes
where cats either welcome
or run while children’s bicycles
lie beneath dark windows.
Climb the sty and scramble
towards the ridge.
Tread purposefully on
unmown grass, past
post and wire fences holding
back coconut-scented gorse.
Look West to the men of stone -
cold, still beacon to ships
coming home from the Strait.
Climb to nestle at their carved feet.
Perch on stone cairn as
Red Admirals stage war
around you. To the East
the Orongorongos are
wearing shades of amber and.
late evening has sedated the Strait.
Mark the passing of the
Kaitaki and the Bluebridge.
Breathe in stillness and
the last of the sun as its
grip slips loose from
Seatoun Heights and its fingers
drag wearily across
the flat plain of
Lyall Bay.
Stay till the sun is
defeated. Cool currents
slip into the tepid
air flowing up from the
North. Stand in salutation
then turn to home.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

With the greatest of ease

Ok, so I haven't been near the pool all week. All week I was skating dangerously close to overtraining. In fact, if you looked at all closely, you would have thought I WAS overtraining.

On Monday I had a lesson with Lesleigh. It was a frustrating lesson, with the breathing taking forever to come right. We graduated from a kickboard to a small little floaty thing, then from that I tried swimming on my side, one arm extended, one at my hip. Just like Super Woman. Except that Super Woman doesn't sink. Right, well at least I managed to float on my back, and I knew what I had to do for my homework!

The day's workout was bookended with a fabulous run with the Jog Squad. We were sent on a scavenger hunt, up to the Basin Reserve, back down and up and down the side of Mt Victoria, down to Oriental Bay, up the very flight of stairs that were my nemesis when I first signed up for Special K at the start of the year, around the side of Te Papa, and back to the gym.

Our little group of women powered around the city on a beautiful, mild and still evening. Lisa and Allie knew all the shortcuts and we kept up a good pace as we left all the other teams in our wake. We were happy little red, sweaty tomatoes as we rounded the corner and made it back to the gym several minutes in the lead. did I mention that I've been feeling rather fit?

On Tuesday I got up early for a weights workout. As the day wore on little stressors kicked in. I was tired, work was stressful, and by the end of the day I was at meltdown. Which is what I promptly did. Enough said. I've posted about that little incident already.

On Wednesday the Jog Squad had its last session before Christmas, which could only mean a fitness test. On another still, warm evening we ran straight up the side of Mt Victoria - ten minutes up then straight back down. I got all the way to the summit sign, despite taking it easy and trying not to put too much pressure on my knee. My days of powering downhill are over. I loped down at a casual pace, letting the others speed past. This running thing seemed easy.

I probably would have been ok if I'd just gone home to bed, but I had a prior appointment with Nic and Leonie to see Casino Royale (highly recommended, incidentally). I didn't get to bed until Midnight, then was up at 6am for my session with Duck. I was still a bit angry about Tuesday, but I don't really hold grudges, so despite everything we had a good workout.

By Thursday afternoon I was bleary-eyed, and I didn't exactly feel a huge amount of joy when I discovered at 1pm that our staff Christmas party involved getting into teams and engaging in a complicated scavenger hunt the length of the city. Five hours of Amazing Race type of eventing left me clinging desperately to a thin veneer of Christmas cheer. It wasn't that I wanted to be grumpy - I was just too darn tired. I was glad I'd elected to miss the last Women's Multis session. I would have been whacked if I'd even tried a swim/cycle/run combo.

I was in bed by 9.30, having had only slightly too much to drink. I was up again at 5.30 for RPM. My legs were pretty dead from the Duck-bashing the day before, but I still managed to turn the dial up. Thankfully no one at work was really in the mood for concentrating after the day before's party. I felt entirely justified in sneaking out at 1pm for Body Balance. My poor aching body appreciated the opportunity to stretch.

Hamish's staff Christmas party was on Friday night, and on Saturday morning I surrendered to the idea that I was NOT getting out of bed to work out that day. I slept in till 11am, which in my world means that I REALLY needed a break. The only workout I got was pushing a shopping trolley up and down New World, then carrying a few bags of groceries down our 46 steps. Oh, and I cleaned the house and spent time with the cats. Miracles will never cease.

Likewise I slept in to 9am this morning, then spent only a few short hours in the Sanctuary with my fledglings. However I knew that I had to get to the pool today, because I need to be able to show Lesleigh some progress in swimming on my side when we have our last lesson tomorrow. The anxiety monster was out and about again. The water was cold, the earplugs uncomfortable. I had almost talked myself into a nothing practice session.

So what have I learned in the last week if not that I have to take it easy on myself sometimes? I backed off, did a little swimming on my side with a floaty, did a little rock-and-roll, did a little freestyle correction. Finally I had started to warm up and relax, and remember a little what it was I liked about this swimming thing.

The end result? Some half-lengths of the pool on my side, sans floaty, without sinking, and with my legs going vaguely in the right direction. Enough progress to feel like I won't be in trouble with Lesleigh.

I put too much pressure on myself. It's both a gift and a curse. I need to make sure that swimming, running and cycling remain fun. I made a conscious decision not to get out on my bike, even though I "should" have done. Having a break was more important than continuing to push myself. I am a lot stronger mentally than I used to be, but I have to recognise that I do still have limits. It's just that time of year.


The Sunday Scribblings scribes obviously had Christmas on their minds when they thought up this week's prompt. Me, I'm trying really hard to get past Frankenfurter mouthing 'antici-', stockings hitched, bustier tightly laced, high heels poised, leaning ever so slightly towards the audience as we scream, as we have done so many times before, 'say it, say it, saaaaayyyyyy it'!

Finally the not-so-lady sings, as the words ring out breathily around the theatre... '-PPPPatiooonnnnn'. The crowd goes wild...

From a youth misspent learning the audience's lines to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (the writer was a New Zealander), it's a difficult segway into my childhood Christmas reminisences, but I'll try anything once.

Christmas was always a big deal in our household. Mum made us Christmas stockings out of pillowcases, painted with fabric paints. On Christmas morning the stockings would be overflowing, propped up against a pair of child-sized rocking chairs next to the Christmas tree.

Santa was a man of habit. There was always a book in the stocking, usually some kind of inflatable toy for our pool, a whole series of cheap and disposable plastic games and other amusements. At the bottom of the stocking there was always a handful of Mackintosh's lollies, an orange, and a couple of peaches or nectarines.

Under the tree there was always a present from Santa. There was always a 'large' present, and there were always presents from both Mum and Dad. We were spoilt rotten, but only once a year, and I think that somehow we always realised how lucky we were. We certainly never took anything for granted.

The smells of Christmas were always tied up in the anticipation of the day. Christmas Eve was almost as important as Christmas Day itself. There was, of course, the odour of the pine tree in the corner, the Christmas pudding and mince full of alcohol on the bench. When we buried our heads in our pillowcases to get to the very bottom they always smelled of the fruit lurking in their bottoms. To this day a bowl of summer fruit reminds me of Christmas. There's nothing like a few Christmas plums to get me homesick for childhood and Henderson Valley. All that is gone now. There is nothing left of that house, and the trees are too far away to harvest.

Christmas Eve meant lights on the tree, carols playing on the cassette player, running around on the grass in the warm dark night, driving around the city spotting other Christmas trees in other lounge windows, all lit up with the same gaudy decorations. Christmas Day meant presents, swimming, then lunch at an Aunt or Uncle's place, comparing our bounty with that of our cousins.

Christmas dinner meant turkey, ham, roast potatoes, Kumara, pumpkin, peas, Christmas crackers, trifle, chocolate log, pavlova, fruit salad, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. It was the one time of the year we kids drank sparkling grape juice, pretending it was wine.

One year Dad took us into town to test out our new fishing rods. On the way home it was getting late, so he bought fish and chips, which we ate in the car. When we got home Mum had cooked a huge Christmas dinner, and so, secretly already stuffed, we sat down and ate the lot. I don't think Dad ever admitted to his blunder.

Ever since I left home Christmas has become a slightly fraught experience. With my parents living in Taranaki and Hamish's in Auckland, there's no way we can be everywhere, with everyone. Last year we stayed with Hamish's brother and his wife in Auckland, and my mother got extremely upset when I tried to change our arrangements to have a pre-Christmas dinner with my family the weekend before. The anticipation was gone. We were tired of messing around with all that driving, staying in beds other than our own, trying to keep everyone happy.

This year Hamish and I quietly put our foot down. This Christmas there will be just the two of us, at home, in Wellington. It will be heavenly. We will eat all day - pancakes for breakfast and something luxurious and not too complicated to make for dinner. I'm stockpiling bubbly and good wine. It won't technically be Christmas. We won't hang decorations, and we will celebrate summer solstice. If we decorate our house it will be with branches of some sweet-smelling native.

The anticipation is back, and the anticipation is also partly for what will follow Christmas. Every New Years we spend two weeks in Golden Bay, pretending to be feral hippies. I say that in the nicest possible way, full of aroha for the wonderful people we would meet up with there. For several years we would head South on the ferry on Christmas Eve, spending Christmas Day with the hippies, often cooking in a vegan kitchen. We would spend nearly two weeks under canvas, setting up the festival, helping run it, then packing down, before heading home to Wellington and going straight back to work.

A couple of years ago we were helping out at the first year of a new festival, Full Circle, in Cobb Valley. Facilities were slightly more primative than we had been used to, but that was fine, and the people involved were some of the nicest we'd worked with. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side. We ended up camped out in three days of heavy rain warnings. Water gushed forth in springs from the limestone beneath our tents. We were all forced to abandon set up and pitch our tents in the relative shelter of a large marquee that was to be the chill-out cafe during the event.

Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, I developed food poisoning. I was bundled into a four-wheel drive and transported the half-hour drive into town where I was hospitalised on New Year's Eve. I spent the night warm and dry in a pleasant little room of my own, watching the truly awful Coyote Ugly on my own private television before falling asleep. Hamish spent the night wet, cold, worried and trying desperately to VJ from the back of an old Holden on the main dancefloor. With the wind too strong to erect a screen, he was forced to project onto the side of the hill. It was, to slightly understate things slightly, not the highlight of his VJing career.

I returned back to the festival on 1 January, still feeling fairly miserable, and not altogether certain I wanted to be back in our damp tent, with thousands of mosquitos for company. However things did finally start to dry out a bit. I spent most of the night curled up in the front seat of the station wagon, where I could see the dancefloor and hear the music, and where our friends could come and talk to me. I dozed until 3am then went back to bed.

The next morning Hamish woke me at around 7am. He'd been up all night and felt he had to get me up. It was, he said, a gorgeous morning, and the sun was just about to come up on the dancefloor. It was as I was walking across the site towards the dancefloor, in tears because everything was 'just soooo beautiful and there was sun and it wasn't raining' that it occured to me I might be slightly messed up. Still, that was a great party for a few, warm and dry hours. Unfortunately the weather and poor promotion led to some very nice people being left very out of pocket.

I've been to two parties at that site, Cobb Valley, now. The first was the last Gathering, a miserable affair in which a group of previously-close friends did their best to rip each other to shreds. The second was no less stressful, if ultimately rewarding. Cobb Valley is an imposing place - a steep valley with a river down one side. As I mentioned, the ground is full of limestone and quartz. Originally there was a whole commercial pine plantation on the left wall of the valley, but when we returned for Full Circle the trees had all been torn from the ground. There were rumours a forestry worker had died there.

Some places have an unexplained energy, and Cobb Valley is one of those. It is a strong place, and could potentially be the site of many amazing parties. However the people who choose to put parties on there also need to be strong. The site needs to be blessed, and permission needs to be asked for people to gather there. None of those things were done. A number of the women involved in the party felt threatened when they first arrived. Several of us had questioned what we were doing there, and had wanted to leave. We were sent a challenge. Cobb Valley is not a place where you can party without intention. You need to assert your right to a place there.

One of the things I needed to do when we returned to Golden Bay last year was to visit Cobb Valley. The photo at the top of this blog is of me at the entrance to the site. After that photo was taken I sat down quietly and told the valley that it hadn't defeated me. I hadn't given up and I had returned. I wanted to make peace with the land. I hope that it listened, because I really do need to experience another party there.

After that we decided to take a bit of a break from crewing parties for a while. Last year we stayed at home, which was ok, but it wasn't exactly something you look forward to with anticipation. We did, however, spend a lovely couple of weeks in the South Island, just chilling out and enjoying spending time with the people we knew down there. We met up with the Full Circle organisers in a lovely valley near the Riwaka Source on the other side of the hill. The land welcomed us, the weather was kind, and we danced in the sun and lay in firebaths at night. When the party began I was overwhelmed to tears, but over the next few days I could feel I was beginning to heal.

This year we are making a cautious return to the festival scene, with Hamish VJing at Uprising, a party at the legendry Canaan Downs site on Takaka Hill. We're arriving on the 30th, Hamish is vjing, and then we're leaving (or hanging around for the afterparties) to go wherever we wish. We may stay in Golden Bay, we may head to Central Otago, where Hamish's father has bought part of a vineyard. The anticipation has returned.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poetry Meme

Last week's Poetry Thursday homework, one week late!

1. The first poems I remember reading/hearing/reacting to are nursery rhymes. My parents bought me a huge, beautifully illustrated book of rhymes when I was a couple of years old, and I used to make them read to me from it every night. I particularly remember the old woman who lived in a shoe, I think because of the way it flowed when spoken.

I don’t remember much poetry through my early school years, except for the kind of rhyme contained in books like The Cat in the Hat. I remember poetry having to rhyme, then I remember learning that poetry did not have to rhyme.

In High School I remember being introduced to the poems of Hone Tuwhare. I think his were probably the first poems to have a truly powerful effect on me. I discovered that poems could be raw and. I also discovered that poems could have a New Zealand voice, and speak about people I could recognise.

2. I was forced to memorize great tracts of Shakespeare in school and can probably still recite “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” if I concentrate really hard. I don’t remember having to memorise any actual poetry per se, other than my own poetry for end-of-year drama performances.
3. I read poetry because I’m inspired and challenged by other people’s writing. I love rolling poetic imagery around in my mind, savouring double meanings and novel descriptions. I enjoy the emotion a good poem can evoke – that small little twitch of recognition in my chest.
4. A poem I’m likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is the one about growing old and wearing purple. Growing old with as much colour (although hopefully with a small amount of dignity and grace) as possible!
5. I write poetry, but my writing tends to be very much from my own experience. I don’t create other personalities or realities. It’s just not where my creative muse is at currently. The block frustrates me a little, but I’ve learned not to stress about these things.
6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature because it forces me to slow down. I have a bad speed reading habit, and I find that if I try to read poetry too quickly then the whole meaning and impact passes me by. I need to take time to absorb each phrase. That’s one of my few regrets about finding most of my poetry through the Poetry Thursday blog, as I don’t find online reading conducive to quality reading.
7. I find poetry to be something I have to make time for. I’m realising as I write this that I shut poetry out of my life for a long time, and now I’m having to make the effort to let it back in again. I think I’m going to have to go down to my local second hand book store and buy a couple of poetry collections.
8. The last time I heard poetry was a reading of a Mary Oliver poem by one of a group of women sitting in circle together. I had discovered that very poem the night before, and was once again reminded of how such coincidences are not coincidences, but just the Universe thumping us around the head with a MESSAGE. Mary Oliver has since become one of my favourite writers.

I often find it difficult to focus on spoken poetry. I love a good reading, but I lose concentration easily and need to see the written word to comprehend anything complex. I have, for example, heard several David Whyte poems, but prefer reading them myself for the luxury of lengthy indulgence in meaning.
9. I think poetry is like rain swelling a waterfall in the bush after a month of dry. The water is cool, clear and pure and its force grows until it can no longer be held back and breaks over the edge of the precipice, freefalling into a deep pool below.

For me the best poetry writing is like this – something vital that bursts forth naturally and fully-formed. Having it looming inside me becomes such an intense experience that it is a relief to have it out

On the Streets

Quick and dirty this week. Unedited and definitely improvable, but hey, it's mid-way through December and the fact I'm posting at all is a miracle!

Growing up on hard luck street
where the streets are paved with
broken glass and fences
bloom in place of trees.
Windows stare vacantly
at Cortinas rolling past
aching with arthritic
rust and mufflers emitting
smoker’s coughs.
Hope springs eternal
but hope is informed by
little more than the
detritus of junk mail and
the golden dreams of
fast meals fancy wrapped in
marketed dreams.
Is this is a place where
only weeds resist poison?
Are we to believe that
no Kauri will ever grow,
no Kahikatea brush
the skyline?
In a small sheltered corner
nurtured by a secret gardener
a sapling grows.

More poets exploring their neighbourhood here

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Failure, or?

When I ran the Masterton half marathon event that I had to pull out of at the 10km mark there was a guy running in front of me with a t-shirt that read 'the only thing worse than failing is quitting'. I'm not so sure any more.

Surely there are days when you just know that what is asked of you is too much, even though it would probably be within your capabilities on a normal day. Surely on those days it's better to just say no, then to push yourself beyond your limit at that moment?

And you probably shouldn't beat yourself up for making that call either, nor feel angry at someone else for trying to push you at the wrong time.

I'm sure everything will look better after a good sleep.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Existing to Train

Just to demonstrate that I'm truly mad... here's my week in training:

Monday - A swimming lesson with Lesleigh in the morning. I continued to make progress with my 'rock and roll' and mock freestyle with the kickboard. We had the pool to ourselves for most of the lesson, and I felt really pleased with how things were going. Then on Monday night I enjoyed my first run back with the Jog Squad since being banned from running by my physio. So much for a gentle introductory run. We ran up Aro Valley, up a long, zigzagging pedestrian accessway, over to Kelburn, down Salamanca Rd to the Terrace, and down the Dixon Street steps back to the gym. I had enough sense to take it gently, but felt comfortable the whole time and my knee didn't collapse under the pressure. It dawned on me that I might actually be quite fit!

Tuesday - an hour of weights, cranking up the chest press and shoulders in the morning. At 6 I met up with the Women's Multis squad for a 20km bike around the harbour and a short run. Duck and I, as the only women on road bikes, managed to lose the others. I was reluctant to slow as I hadn't taken a wind jacket with me and was dying from the cold Southerly blowing. It was a relief to get off the bike, throw on the sneakers, and warm up a bit on the run. I cranked up the pace for the return leg, but Duck still managed to leave me behind like I was going nowhere as we were approaching Oriental Bay. Of course Duck has just been training for Lake Taupo, so it's a bit like comparing my swimming with that of a pro, so I wasn't that upset. On the other hand, I did leave the other girls behind on the run. It occurred to me again that I might be quite fit.

Wednesday - comparatively light with only a circuit training session on the waterfront. Wellington decided to treat us to a day of perfect summer weather and we sweltered as people loitering around Te Papa on their way home stood and stared. We finished with a hover-off. The previous Jog Squads had led to the formation of a small, elite 4-minute hover club. I'd previously only managed 3 minutes, but as Sarah and I droped to the ground our eyes met and there was a nod of recognition. This was OUR day. Duck's 4 minute count was accompanied by the cheers of the other jog squadders as we dropped, sore but victorious, to the ground. Target met, and elbow-grazes the only scars. It occurred to me that I might be a little stronger than I used to be.

Thursday - Duck bit during our personal training session. She's working my legs again now, and isn't taking it easy on me. Lots of walking lunges with power bags, leg presses, box step work, shoulder weights and more core work. I love it when I get to go hard, and I'm loving the results. I am not one of those women who is afraid of muscle. Bring it on! Thursday night saw the women's multis squad back in the pool, jumping out halfway for a quick run around the block, then getting back into the pool again. I discovered that the shorts I pulled on chaff when wet, and that I don't need to wear a bra under my togs. I'm still trying to decide whether to wear socks or not. I hate wet feet rubbing in trainers, but I hate pulling socks onto said wet feet even more, particularly given the time lost in transition.

By Friday my butt was feeling the workout on Thursday morning, and I was approaching the 'can't sit down' mark. My legs were pretty shattered too, so going REALLY hard only served to shatter them even further. I spent the rest of the day wobbling around work. It was worth it.

This morning I had another swim with Lesleigh. We were scheduled to meet at Thorndon Pool, but as the hail fell outside the kitchen window I called to suggest we move the lesson to Freyberg. Lesleigh was driving into town from Akatarawa at the time, and as she spoke to me she drove straight into a wall of rain. She was easily persuaded!

I had one of my best sessions yet, with my 'fake' freestyle flowing, my breathing clicking, and my kick strengthening as I focused on working those gluts. I floated on my back for the first time, and I started working out how to swim on my side. At first I sank like a stone, but as I got my confidence up that miraculous ability to float slowly returned. I've printed out the More FM triathlon training programme and am going to be following it, using my 'fake freestyle' for a little while until I can do the real thing.

After the lesson I spent a leisurely spell in the spa, took a long slow shower and wandered off to the supermarket. I had woken hellishly hung over after eight glasses of wine at the first of two work Christmas parties the night before. A group of girls from work had gone dressed up as 80s popstars. I was wearing a friend's tiny little denim mini skirt, a singlet top, the crocheted tank top Leonie gave me a few weeks back, three quarter length tights and my gold sandals. Annabelle teased and hairsprayed my hair into 80s bouffant, and a hefty dose of eyeshadow and lipstick rounded the picture off. Rose and I shared a cab home and I walked barefoot in pouring rain down the pedestrian zigzag, and then down our 46 steps. I'm amazed I didn't kill myself, although I did keep stopping to giggle and shake my head at how messed up I was. So my resolution to make it through the Christmas party season with my liver intact is not off to a good start... Oh well, at least the swim got rid of the worst of the hangover.

This afternoon I went to a two hour yoga technique class at Les Mills the Terrace. I didn't need as many adjustments as I'd expected. I just need to remember to keep my shoulders back and down. The longer session really suited me, and I came out at the end feeling very relaxed and stretched.

Tomorrow would usually be my 'rest' day, but with some chicks due to fledge at the Sanctuary, and a group of us going out to Les Mills Hutt City for an RPM class, there won't be much of that. At some point as well I really need to clean the bathroom, fold the washing, and do some other mundane things like that.

Or I could just train.

Afternoons Well Spent

One week of no Internet access at home has felt like an eternity! Thankfully I haven't been home much, so there wasn't time for too many withdrawal symptoms to set in. Unfortunately I've realised I've left my Poetry Thursday homework saved on my work computer, so I won't be able to post it until Monday, but I do have a meme prepared.

In the meantime then, here are some photos from the Thorndon Fair on Sunday. Hamish and I had a fantastic time wandering through the hoards on one of those (incredibly rare of late) Wellington good days.

The Thorndon Fair is held very year in a heritage suburb a few minutes' walk from the city. Although I still miss the Grey Lynn festival in Auckland, Thorndon Fair certainly does seem to have lifted its game. There were a number of stallholders this year who were selling excellent, locally made gourmet goods. We spent way too much money on good quality olive oil, rock salt, fruit wine and olives. Hamish also bought a particularly attractive vintage coffee grinder. I fell in love with an old picnic set, complete with little plastic thermoses (with cork stoppers), tin sandwich boxes, little glass bottles, and plastic handled forks and knives. Lucky I did not have the $155 cash needed to take it home with me.

This tickled our fancy - a children's playground set up in the grounds of Premier House, and mothers lounging around on the lawn in the shade watching the merry-go-round spin.

Eventually Hamish and I retreated to the Speights Alehouse for beer and cider. This photo's for Leonie - finally a Pip in a Pink Hat on this blog! The woman in the blue top standing outside the window had just bought some delicious looking antipasto. As soon as we went back out I spent $19 on a container of stuffed olives - garlic, almond, blue cheese and chilli. Every mouthful is a small heaven.

Towards the end of the day we discovered this lovely man's stall, set back from the main road. Ian is one of those rare true craftsmen. He told us he spent 40 years working in government administration, and I think it's a shame it took him so long to get around to doing what he so obviously does best. Ian will be attracting a lot of our custom over the next year or so.

We're starting with one of these spice cupboards, which will look perfect on the yellow and scarlet walls in our kitchen. After that I'm going to get him to make us a kitchen table, then a hall table, and finally a free-standing wardrobe for the bedroom.

Eventually we staggered home and feasted on the fruits of our fair-hunting. A fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, topped off with a swim at Freyberg to cool the (extreme) sunburn. Nice!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Within an Hour

Late this week thanks to our Net connection going down at home. It's amazing how bereft we've felt being disconnected to the outside world!

Anyway, I'm posting this clandestinely at work, so here it is, my Sunday Scribblings post:

A baby is born. An elderly man stops breathing and dies. An earthquake causes a huge wave that will eventually wash thousands away. A plane crashes into a building causing damage that will lead to its collapse. In a garden somewhere a flower unfurls. In a nest high in a tree a chick hatches from its egg. A woman completes her shopping and drives to the local school to pick up her son. Another woman finishes sewing her thirtieth pair of running shoes of the day and wipes the sweat from her brow.

A man plants a tree in an urban park. Another man chops down a tree in a rain forest. A fallen trunk is painstakingly carved into a canoe by a group of young men who are taking part in a community probation project. A tramper pauses while crossing a river to roll a smooth, cool pebble between their fingers. Rain falls on the coast. Drought-stricken farmers brush dust from their eyelids.

A student finishes their homework and logs onto Myspace. A swimmer takes off her goggles and cap and heads for the showers. A body builder flexes his muscles and readies his mind for another deadlift. Someone decides at the last moment not to mug the old guy standing at the cash machine. Another is overcome by the heat of their anger and beats at their partner until she stops moving and lies pale on the floor. A cat licks at the kittens suckling at her belly. A horse nudges her foal to its feet as it squints at the world in which it has just found itself. An insect unfurls its wings and flies into a spider’s web, where it hangs, frantically buzzing.

An asteroid burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere. On the ground a young child points to a falling star. A ceasefire is broken. A car bomb explodes. A man with little intelligence and even less understanding of what he is done is led to an electric chair. A woman who has swallowed ten small balloons filled with a bitter white powder is stopped as she walks through border control.

A young boy kisses a young girl. Two teenagers wander gossip about a film star who has been admitted to an eating disorder clinic. A department-store worker hangs up sale signs. An admin assistant accidentally hits ‘reply all’ and creates a major diplomatic incident. Another hits save two seconds before his computer crashes.

Big things happen. Little things happen. Momentous decisions are made. Inconsequential decisions are procrastinated over. Historically important events are witnessed by millions. Significant ones pass unnoticed. The minutiae of everyday existence continues to ebb and flow without anyone particularly paying any attention. Life happens in an hour.