A lot to catch up on

A belated Merry Christmas (or celebration of your choice) to everyone – sorry I didn’t post sooner, but it’s been a busy (and very social) week.

With the university being closed from the 22nd, which effectively made the 21st the deadline for all those PBRF-eligible projects, the last week of work was a lot more frantic than I’m used to the normally-lazy last week being.  But despite a few last-minute hitches (one of which kept us working until nearly 4pm on the last day, when most people had sloped off around lunchtime), and the fact that everyone else was in pre-holiday mode, so we all kept getting distracted by invitations to morning teas, and people just dropping in for a chat, we somehow managed to get all the projects finished and live just in time.

The one I’m most proud of (and not just because I’m listed as an editor in the official citation listing :-) ) is the Canterbury Roll Digital Edition.  We’ve been working on it for well over a year, and it’s taken up a huge amount of my time, as well as that of others of my team, plus various students we’ve had working in the Lab as interns or research assistants.  I’d hate to think how many person hours in total have gone into it, but I think the end product is worth it.

The Canterbury Roll is a 15th century manuscript held by the university, which gives a genealogy of the Kings of England, starting with Noah (yep, that Noah – they took their genealogy very seriously in the 15th century!) and ending with Edward IV.  It’s an amazing document, but it’s on 5 metres of rolled up parchment, and is kept locked away in the library’s rare books room, so it isn’t exactly easy to view.  Which is why we, in conjunction with the History Department, and a few other collaborators at other universities, decided to digitise it.  So now anyone can go online and view a high-quality digital facsimile, which will really open it up for people to study.

And because it’s digital, we were able to add all sorts of other features – like you can click on any part of the Roll and you’ll see a transcription of the Latin text, plus a translation into English, plus you can see which of the four (or possibly five – there’s a bit of academic debate there) scribes who contributed to the Roll wrote which bit, and turn on notes which show you where the scribes made errors.  The interface that does all this was built by the Lab, and I think we did a pretty good job :-)

Plus it’s just been a really fun (and interesting!) project to work on, and taught me so much.  On the technical side I had to learn a new programming language, but as well as that I picked up quite a bit of Latin and medieval history along the way, just by osmosis from being so immersed in it all the time :-)


Once we finally managed to leave the Lab on Thursday night, we all (plus the Directors and a few other staff who’d been involved with the Lab over the year) went over to the Staff Club for a few drinks.  There was an end of year barbecue going on, so lots of staff had their families there, and it was a lovely evening so we all sat out on the lawn and enjoyed being able to relax for a bit, and watch Santa presiding over a lolly scramble for the kids.

It was Antoine’s last day (he’d hoped to be able to stay on longer (and we’d hoped he’d be able to too!), but the budget didn’t stretch to offering him full time work for next year, which he needed to extend his visa past March, so he decided to spend his last few months in the country travelling around instead), so as a farewell present we gave him a book about New Zealand’s great walks, some of which he’s planning on doing before he leaves.  He’s definitely going to be missed, and not just for his programming skills – in the 6 months or so that he and Samuel having been working for the Lab, the three of us have formed a really good team, and it’s going to be tough to have to build that again with a new person.


I was glad to have Friday off (we always get Christmas Eve, or the Friday before if it falls on a weekend, as a University Holiday), so that I could run around madly doing all the last minute jobs I hadn’t had time to get done earlier in the week – cleaning the house, stocking up on groceries, and buying extra plates so I’d have enough for Saturday’s party (I’d invited I think 14 people, so if everyone turned up, the plate situation was going to get tight).

As it turned out, a few people pulled out at the last minute (one of the hazards of having so many extreme introverts in my friends group – running out of metaphorical spoons is reasonably common, especially in the super-social pre-Christmas season) so it wasn’t too excessively large a group that turned up on Saturday.

I’d split the party into two parts, and decreed the afternoon kid-friendly, and the evening for adults only.  That way I could invite the mini-Harvestbirds, so they wouldn’t feel left out, but also have time for proper board games, uninterrupted by children, later in the evening.  It all worked out fantastically well – Lytteltonwitch and the Harvestbirds came for the afternoon, and we played Pictionary and nibbled on snacks until about 6, when the mini-Harvestbirds helped me to make pizzas (I’d made a few batches of pizza dough in the morning (during which I managed to burn out the motor in my food processor, producing big clouds of black smoke, so the food processor and the first batch of dough ended up in the bin, and I kneaded the rest by hand), and asked everyone to bring along some pizza toppings to go on them).  The elder mini-Harvestbird got bored with helping pretty quickly, but the younger one enthusiastically assisted me right to the end, and we got quite a good production line going, with me rolling out the bases and spreading the sauce, and her putting the rest of the toppings and cheese on – we had it nicely timed so that as soon as one pizza came out of the oven the next was ready to go in, and there was a steady stream of pizzas going through to the lounge (the rest of the guests had arrived while we were cooking, so there were plenty of willing recipients for each new pizza).  The pizzas were declared a great success, and I even managed to get a couple of slices myself from the last one out of the oven (I think we cooked 10 pizzas in total – pretty good going for a kitchen staff of two, one of which was a 5 year old!!)

After dinner, the Harvestbirds went home, and the rest of us played board games until the small hours of the morning.  A great party all round, although I was totally exhausted by the end!


The next day (Christmas Eve) I’d planned to have a restful day, with the exception of making a cake to take to Dana’s place on Christmas Day (she’d invited me to have lunch with her, her partner, and her mother).  I wanted to get some fresh fruit to go on it, so my plan was to go to the supermarket nice and early, before it got too busy, and (as motivation to get an early start) have a nice breakfast at a cafe on the way.  The plan was slightly foiled when I slept in (something about the very late night the night before), but I set out for my favourite cafe, which is half-way to the supermarket, only to find it boarded up, and a notice saying the cafe was closed until the broken windows could be repaired (it looked like a car had driven into it – probably someone overshooting from the angle-parking carparks in front).  All was not lost though, as there’s another cafe (not quite as good) just along the road from the supermarket.  Except that one was also closed – no damage this time, they’d just closed for the holidays.  I ended up walking all the way to Church Corner before I found somewhere to have breakfast, by which time it was more like morning tea time, and by the time I actually got to the supermarket, it was totally crowded.  So much for my relaxing start to the day…

I got home, and was just sitting down for a few minutes before starting the cake, when I got a phone call from my former ESOL student, asking if she could come and visit.  I haven’t seen her in about a year, so it was lovely to catch up with her (and meet her granddaughter, who is starting school in the new year!  Time has definitely flown – I thought it was just a couple of years since I finished tutoring her, but I went to her son’s wedding that year, and now he has a nearly 5 year old!).  It was quite a long visit though, as we each caught up with the other’s news, so by the time she left I had to rush to get the cake made.

It turned out pretty well though, especially once I added the fruit in the morning:


I had a nice lazy start on Christmas morning, then caught a bus over to Dana’s place.  Dana was, as always, spectacularly dressed in a totally Christmassy outfit – here she is doing her best impersonation of a Christmas tree:

We had a lovely lunch of mici (little Romanian sausages – very tasty!), devilled eggs, and German salad (Dana is Romanian, and her partner is German, so it was quite an international meal, especially when you add in the French Chocolate Cake I’d brought!) – it looks like quite a small meal when you look at it on the table, but we were all totally full by the end!

After lunch we opened presents. I’d managed somehow to find enough time over the last couple of weeks to finish off a Christmas mini-quilt for Dana, which she loved:


(Obligatory photo of the back, to show off the quilting. I was experimenting with using different colours of thread in the different areas of the quilt, which I think turned out quite well.)

Dana had actually given me a gift at the party on Saturday, so gave me a Christmas card so I didn’t feel left out on Christmas Day, which was very sweet of her :-) The gift she’d given me was very cool – two new ornaments for my tree; a gold leopard and a unicorn sloth hugging a rainbow. I never knew I needed a rainbow unicorn sloth in my life, but he is such a perfect addition to my tree!

After stuffing ourselves some more with dessert, we tried out a game Mum had sent me, which involved taking turns playing tunes on a kazoo and then everyone attempting to guess what the tune was. It was hilariously funny (especially because Dana’s mother never quite got the hang of actually getting her kazoo to do anything other than make raspberry noises), and quickly descended into giggly chaos, as we abandoned all pretence of keeping score or following the rules and just played silly tunes.

Afterwards, we played a more sedate game of Ticket to Ride, while snacking on yet more chocolate, so it was about 7 pm by the time I left. It was a lovely evening (after a stinking hot day), so I decided to walk home – it took about an hour, but was a really nice walk after all that food. I met a lot of other people out walking along the way – I think everyone had the same idea to take advantage of the slightly cooler evening!


My original plan for Boxing Day was to go into total hibernation, having been way too social over the preceding few days, but seeing as I needed to replace my dead food processor, I decided to brave the Boxing Day sales, and went to Riccarton Mall. I managed to find a decent one for 50% off, so it was a successful expedition, but struggling through the crowds in the mall (especially carrying the large and heavy food processor box!) was not fun. By the time I got home I never wanted to see another person, so I’m afraid I wasn’t in the most social mood when Lytteltonwitch dropped round that afternoon. She’d come bearing fabric though, for a quilt she’s asked me to make for a friend of hers who’s having a baby (does this count as my first commission?), so I forgave her for interrupting my solitude :-) (and after all, I was the one who’d emailed her with a list of fabric requirements that morning, just in case she wanted to take advantage of Spotlight’s sale, so I couldn’t really complain when she did exactly what I’d suggested).

With a new quilt to work on, I of course immediately abandoned all the half-finished quilts piled up on my desk, and spent yesterday and today happily sewing. It’s quite a simple design, so by this afternoon I had a finished quilt top.


Most of the pieces cut out (I told you it was a simple design).


Laying out the blocks.


A couple of slightly more complicated blocks to add as a finishing touch.


The finished quilt top. Can you tell what it is yet? :-)

Lytteltonwitch’s friend is seriously into Lego, so she asked me to design something with a Lego theme.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out – I think it’s really effective for such a simple design.

I don’t want the quilting to detract from the solid colours of the blocks, so I’m planning to quilt it with invisible thread, which means the quilting part will have to wait until that arrives from the shop in the North Island I’ve ordered it from. The baby isn’t due until February, though, so I’ve got a bit of time.

So, that’s how I’ve spent the last week or so.  How was your Christmas?

Being realistic

Remember those Christmassy mini-quilts I was making?  That I was going to give to pretty much everyone I know?  Yeah, they’re still sitting in a pile next to my sewing machine, half-quilted.  And there is no way I’m going to get them finished by Christmas.  As usual, I totally under-estimated how long each would take, and also, didn’t take into account things like being away in Wellington for a week, and perpetual toothache (and then surgery recovery) tiring me out so I wasn’t feeling inspired to sit down at the sewing machine in the evenings, and, of course, the heat, which definitely hasn’t been conducive to spending time in my hot and stuffy little sewing room.

Maybe, if I spent every spare minute between now and Christmas working on them, I could get most of them finished, but I’m already in panic mode at work with a couple of major project deadlines, so being in panic mode at home too probably isn’t the best idea.  So I’ve decided to finish off the one that I was planning on using for a Secret Santa gift (but not stress if I can’t, because I can always run down to Church Corner in my lunch-break and buy something from the $2 shop if necessary), and otherwise just finish them off at leisure, and put them away for next Christmas.

So sorry if you were anticipating getting one – you’ll just have to be patient :-)


Not having to devote my afternoon to frantically quilting meant that I actually had time to put up the Christmas tree this afternoon (though really, it was almost too hot to do that – it got up to 31° earlier today, so the tree-decorating was interrupted many times for cold drink breaks).  I also had incentive in the form of a new Christmas ornament – Lytteltonwitch and I had dinner at the food trucks in the Square last night, and there was a stall there selling crafts and stuff to support the Cathedral, so I bought a really lovely (and remarkably cheap, given the work that looked like it had gone into it) wooden copy of the old cathedral’s Rose Window (which was destroyed in the earthquakes).

The “glass” in the window is actually an acetate print of part of the original stained glass from the Rose Window (though it’s a bit hard to tell in that photo, with the Christmas tree lights behind it).

I’d also bought a couple of ornaments from the Trade Aid shop in Wellington while I was up there (Trade Aid always has the most interesting selection of ornaments):

And when I pulled out the rest of the Christmas ornaments from under my bed, I realised I had another new ornament, that I’d completely forgotten about, because I didn’t put up a tree last year. It’s one I bought in Venice, from a bookbinding shop we visited, where I was seriously tempted by, but couldn’t afford, their gorgeous hand-bound journals, so bought one of the little paper angels they had on display as a (much cheaper) consolation prize. I’d put it away in the box of Christmas decorations when I got home, and then completely forgot about it, so it was a cool surprise to discover the still-wrapped package tucked in the top of the box when I opened it.

As usual, the tree as a whole is over-crowded, completely uncoordinated, and slightly chaotic, but I reckon it still looks good:

Possibly not for the faint of heart

The conference went really well – our talk seemed to be well-received (my boss was in the audience, along with at least three other people I know as experts in digital archiving, and all were nodding at the right places, so I don’t think I said anything too stupid :-) ), and (once the stress of having to present was over with, so I could actually just relax and enjoy the rest of the conference) I met all sorts of interesting people, and learnt all sorts of interesting things.

Here’s our presentation, if you’re interested:

[Ok, so apparently I can’t embed a YouTube video here (weird, I thought I’d done it before, but maybe not) – oh well, you’ll just have to cope with a link instead (Later: I finally figured it out, so I can actually embed the video)]

I was seriously exhausted (and totally peopled-out) by the time I got back to Christchurch though. Three days of conference is way too much pretending to be an extrovert for me!


I was also exhausted because my sore tooth, although never seriously painful, had been low-level achy for long enough that I was getting pretty run down (which is mostly why I haven’t been posting much – I haven’t had a lot of mental energy for anything for the last couple of weeks).  I’ve never been looking forward to a dentist appointment as much as I was by Wednesday!

I don’t remember much about the surgery itself, because they gave me intravenous sedation, so I spent the whole time in an only semi-awake state.  Every so often something would be particularly sore, or the noise would get particularly gruesome, and I’d half wake up, groan a bit, feel them stick some more local into my jaw, and I’d drift off again.  Having sedation definitely makes the time go faster, but on the down side, I reckon they’re not as gentle with you when you’re not fully concious, because I was feeling very bruised and battered the next day!

Harvestbird came to pick me up after the surgery was finished, and (after an entertaining walk to her car, with lots of staggering around on my part because I couldn’t walk in a straight line) took me home.  She settled me onto the couch, where (after dribbling blood all over myself when I attempted to take a sip of water with a numb mouth…) I promptly fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon.  Harvestbird told me later that she’d had a very productive afternoon getting a load of work done on her laptop while I slept, which made me feel a lot less guilty about her having to take the afternoon off to babysit me (because of the sedation, she was under instructions from the dentist not to leave me alone for at least 4 hours until the effects wore off).

Along with the usual envelope full of dressings, and prescription for antibiotics and painkillers, the dentist handed over another envelope as we left, which on later inspection turned out to contain my wisdom teeth.  I have absolutely no idea why he would give me them – I would have assumed they’d just go straight into medical waste.  I wonder if he asked me, in my drugged state, if I wanted them, to which I’m sure my inner 10 year old would have enthusiastically responded “Cool, yes please!”.

My outer not-10 year old is equal parts fascinated and repulsed by them (warning, seriously gross picture ahead (although, by the time you’ve scrolled down to read this bit, you’ve probably already seen what’s coming… sorry!))

To refresh your mental palates after that, here’s a pretty picture of the flowers Harvestbird bought me to cheer me in my recovery:

Not enough? Look, more pretty!

With three large holes in the back of my mouth, I’m still in a bit of pain, but it’s definitely improving. And after I get the stitches out next week (and the really painful bit, paying the bill!), hopefully that will be the end of my dental adventures (and being in pain) for a while!


In other news, my little cucumber and watermelon plants are still struggling along. I repotted them into real pots (which I’m sure are nowhere near big enough, but they’ll just have to cope, because it’s all I’ve got), and they’re sitting outside on the front step now, along with the mint jungle, and last year’s fennel and spring onion which somehow came back to life this year. I almost feel like a real gardener (nah, not really – those 5 little pots are pretty much the limit of my patience for gardening!).

Talking of not gardening, it is a gorgeous sunny day today (according to the met service it’s already 29°), so I think it’s time to abandon the computer and go and find a nice cool spot under a tree somewhere to read a book.

Checking in from Wellington

Yep, I’m back in Wellington again, for another conference. A bit different than the last one though – this time it’s the National Digital Forum, a conference/gathering for people on the technical side of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be decorating our name tags with glitter and rainbow stickers this time…
I’m going to be presenting at this conference – well, co-presenting – one of the developers who’s been working with us to migrate our archive to a new system and I are going to be talking about the migration. I’ve got the easy half – I just have to talk about the background to CEISMIC (which I’ve done so many times I could do it in my sleep, I reckon!) and why we made the decision to migrate. My co-presenter gets to talk about all the (potentially boring, depending on the audience) technical stuff about how it was actually done.
The conference doesn’t start until tomorrow (Monday), but I came up on Saturday so I could have a weekend in Wellington. The original plan was to catch up with Discoverylover again, but she was away for the weekend (although we’re going to try and meet up for dinner tonight), so instead I’ve had a nice lazy weekend wandering around the city.
My first few hours in Wellington I spent shopping – yeah, it’s not my normal choice for a holiday activity, but the change in season has meant I’ve dug all my summer clothes out of my wardrobe and realised how old and worn out everything is looking, so I really need some new stuff. So, rather than face the horror of the malls in Christchurch, I decided to take advantage of being in a “proper” city that actually has shops in its CBD, and try and find something up here. I wasn’t overly successful – every shop seemed to be full of the same boring pastel palette of pale pink, pale grey, and pale blue, none of which colours greatly appeal to me. I ended up buying a pale blue shirt just so I’d have at least one tidy thing to wear to the conference, and I did manage to find a couple of pairs of jeans, but otherwise completely failed in my mission. Oh well, looks like I’ll either have to make my old clothes last out another season (and hope for a drastic change in the fashion next year), or bite the bullet and succumb to the pastel tide.
Eventually, having seen more pale pastels in one morning than anyone needs to see in a lifetime, I gave up on the shopping concept, and went and sat in a café to read a book – much more my scene!
I spotted a poster for a production of Venus in Furs at the Circa. As I’d missed it when it was at the Court, I decided to see if I could get a ticket. Luckily they had seats left for that evening, so after a quick dinner I went to the theatre. I knew very little about the play, other than it was loosely adapted from Sacher-Masoch’s novel, but I’d heard good things about it. It was definitely worth seeing – it’s emotionally fraught, as you’d expect, but lightened up by just enough comedy to keep it away from melodrama. The actor playing Thomas/Severin (who’d also directed the play, in a nice parallel with the plot…) was a bit disappointing – it was hard to tell sometimes if he wasn’t that great an actor, or if he was just playing a bad actor, but given that he seemed to stumble over his lines a couple of times when he wasn’t in character (there’s a play within the play, so the two actors play both themselves and their characters in the play), I think it was the former. The actor playing Wanda was great though – she transformed herself amazingly between the three characters.
There was a production of Peter Pan on in the Circa’s other stage, so it was a bit disconcerting to emerge from the highly charged ending of the play (which ends with one of the characters tied to a post, humiliated and emotionally destroyed) into a foyer filled with small children waiting for the actors from that show to emerge from the stage door and sign autographs!
(Later that night – just got back from dinner with Discoverylover – great to catch up with her, although we realised it’s only just over a month since we last saw each other, in Stewart Island, so there wasn’t actually all that much catching up to do. We had a good chat, anyway (and ran into my co-presenter, who happened to be having dinner in the same restaurant!))
This morning I decided to try walking up to the top of Mt Victoria (not as impressive a feat as it sound – Mt Victoria is more of a large hill than a real mountain). It wasn’t as long a walk as I’d expected (though it is very steep – I suspect my legs are going to be complaining tomorrow!) – it only took me about half an hour to reach the lookout at the top. There’s great views up there, across the city, the harbour, and out to the airport. It really makes you appreciate what a tiny strip of land the airport sits on when you see it from that angle! It’s quite a busy spot, too, although most people had driven up instead of walked (although I did pass quite a few people on the walking track).
After I left the lookout, I walked further along the track to a former pa site (Maori fortification) – there wasn’t much to see there, other than an information board, but you could see why it would have made a great defensive position. In theory I could have kept following the track all the way out to the south coast, but I didn’t want to end up on the airport side of the hill and have a really long way to get back, so I found a track heading down the Wellington side of the hill and took that instead. It ended up taking me down to Wellington College, where I got a bit lost trying to figure out how to get back to the road without trespassing (there was a rather ambiguous “no unauthorised entry” sign), but a groundskeeper doing some overtime work pointed me in the right direction in the end.
The rest of the day I spent quite lazily – what was meant to be a quick stop back at the hostel turned into falling asleep for an hour, when I made the mistake of sitting down in the patch of sunshine that was lying across my bed… When I eventually roused myself to go out, it was only to find a café where I could sit and read the afternoon away – I am on holiday, after all! :-)
(Apologies for the lack of photos, by the way – I had to choose between the carry-on bag that fits my camera, or the one that fits my laptop, and as I’m up here to go to a digital forum, the laptop had to take priority. So no photos of the amazing view from the lookout this morning, sorry.)


To go back in time a bit, I spent Friday afternoon (which was Show Day, so a public holiday in Christchurch) at a “Showsgiving” dinner, which is a combined American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinner held on Show Day (I’m sure that was obvious from the name, though, wasn’t it?) It’s the invention of a few of the North American postgrads from the Linguistics department, who were missing their respective traditional holidays, so decided to put on a combined dinner, but picked Show Day (instead of either of the actual Thanksgiving dates) because it’s a holiday. Over the last couple of years it has grown to include most of the Ling postgrads (of many different nationalities), various friends and friends-of-friends from outside Linguistics, so there’s now 20-odd people who attend.
They held it at a community centre in Richmond (right on the edge of the residential red zone – I arrived a bit early, so went for a bit of a walk, and it’s so surreal out there – just crumbling streets and emptiness, with lines of bushes and trees still delineating where property boundaries would have been), which is in a lovely old heritage building that had at various times been a school and a youth hostel.
It was a really fun afternoon, with lots of good food (it was pot luck, so given the variety of nationalities involved, there were many interesting dishes, plus a gigantic turkey!), and it was great to feel like I was part of the Linguistics department again for an afternoon (makes me reconsider my decision not to do a PhD just yet…)
Anyway, have to get up early tomorrow to check out of the hostel and transfer to the hotel the university is putting me up in for the conference (I wasn’t going to pay hotel prices for the extra nights I’m here – the YHA is fine!), before I need to be at Te Papa for the first workshop.

Stewart Island

What, a blog post about a convention that was only two weeks ago?  What is this madness??

So, yes, the Aus/NZ Bookcrossing convention (or unconvention, technically) was the weekend before last, on Stewart Island.  Stewart Island is not the most obvious place for a convention (for the foreigners, it’s that little island at the very bottom of New Zealand, with a population of a few hundred, one tiny town, and pretty much no roads).  But after the success of the Queenstown convention, which was very much run in an uncon style (i.e. minimal organisation, just gather everyone together in one place for a weekend and play it by ear), and proved that Bookcrossing conventions don’t have to be held in cities, CrafteeCod (who was living on Stewart Island at the time) offered to organise the next convention, and the idea was seized on with great enthusiasm.

In the intervening two years, life happened, and CrafteeCod ended up having to move back to the UK, so the organising reins were taken up from a distance by EdwardStreet, who (after an initial unsuccessful attempt to arrange group bookings for various potential activities) pretty much told us what date to arrive, booked us all in for a meal at the (only) hotel, and left us to organise the rest ourselves.  A very sensible approach, and one that worked out incredibly well in the end.

Lytteltonwitch and I left Christchurch on the Thursday morning (with Albert in the back seat, of course) and had a leisurely drive down to Dunedin.  In theory we could have done the whole distance to Bluff in a single day, but it’s a very long way, so it was much nicer to break the journey with a night in Dunedin.  We arrived early enough to be able to visit the Otago Museum – we’d hoped to go to the butterfly house there, but it’s closed for renovations at the moment, so we just explored the rest of the museum.  I haven’t been to the Otago Museum for many many years, and a lot has changed since I used to visit as a child (it was definitely among my most favourite places), but I was thrilled to discover that a few of the galleries are pretty much unchanged.  The cases full of stuffed exotic animals up in the attic, which were always my favourite, have been thinned out a bit (presumably some of the animals got too moth-eaten), but they’ve preserved the Victorian style of the gallery, so it brought back wonderful memories.  Lytteltonwitch was particularly impressed by the model ships on display in another unchanged-since-the-70s gallery on the floor below – I was just pleased to see that the whale skeleton still dominated the centre of the gallery.

Next stop was the supermarket to stock up on snacks – the forecast for Stewart Island wasn’t looking good, so just in case we were stuck in the hostel playing board games all weekend, we wanted to be well prepared.  We of course made sure to get plenty of truly kiwi treats (chocolate fish, Pinkie bars, Buzz bars, Whittaker’s L&P chocolate, pineapple lumps…) for the Australian contingent :-)

We knew MeganH was staying at the same hotel as us, so we’d left a message for her at reception.  We weren’t expecting her to arrive until late, because her plane wasn’t landing in Christchurch until afternoon, and then she had to drive down to Dunedin, so we headed out for dinner.  When we got back, the receptionist told us she’d arrived and gave us her room number, so we headed up to say hello, and spent the rest of the evening catching up.

The next morning we were all up bright and early, and had breakfast together in the hotel’s dining room… accompanied by Albert, of course, much to the amusement of the staff, and of the tour bus full of elderly people who were also having breakfast (though I think we may have knocked a few years off the lives of some of them, after they walked into the dining room and saw a skeleton sitting at a table!).  Travelling with a skeleton is definitely a good way of getting strangers to strike up a conversation with you!

We travelled in convoy to Bluff, because MeganH hadn’t been that way before, so didn’t know the road.  Apparently she wasn’t impressed by me telling her there aren’t any really big hills between Dunedin and Invercargill – in my defence, to a New Zealander, those aren’t big hills!  But yeah, to an Australian they might have seemed slightly larger…

The weather had been looking steadily worse all morning, and we could see a very obvious southerly front approaching.  As we reached Invercargill, the front hit us in a massive downpour.  Things were not looking promising for the ferry :-(

At the ferry terminal in Bluff, we immediately spotted a contingent of Bookcrossers:  Skyring, Fiona and her husband.  The ferry crew were just as amused by Albert as the hotel staff had been, and gave permission for him to sit in the cabin instead of being consigned to a cargo bin.  I opted to sit out on deck despite the weather (I’ve been across Foveaux Strait on the ferry before, so I know how rough it can get, and I also know how seasick I can get even on a calm day if I sit inside).  It was certainly an exciting crossing , with the boat being tossed all over the place, and spray being thrown right over the deck.  I even had to sit down for part of the trip.

After the horrible weather on the crossing, we reached Stewart Island and the sun came out.  It very quickly developed into a glorious day, with no sign of the southerly.

As we got off the ferry, we spotted EdwardStreet and KiwiInEngland sitting outside the hotel (which used to hold the distinction of being the southernmost pub in the world, until they opened a bar in Antarctica) enjoying a drink in the sun. We stopped to chat for a while, but knowing how fickle the weather can be on the island, I suggested a walk before the rain returned, in case it was our only opportunity to get out in the bush. Most of the others had booked on a bus tour (I was amused by this idea, as other than a couple of short roads to the next bays over from Halfmoon Bay, there really are no roads on Stewart Island!) so declined, but after dropping off our bags (and Albert) at the hostel, Lytteltonwitch and I set out to walk the track to Horseshoe Bay.

The first section of the walk was along the road (with a slight detour into the cemetery, where Lytteltonwitch was in search of a geocache), but then we turned off onto a walking track. It was a really lovely walk (though it involved some serious hills!), round lots of little hidden bays inaccessible other than on foot or by boat, and the weather stayed amazing. Random photos from the walk:


Cemetery with a view (and someone walking on the beach)


Black oyster catcher


Looking back across Halfmoon Bay to Oban


Onionweed flowers – not very exciting (or native), but they looked pretty in the sunshine


As a child, I used to call the native fuschia trees (kōtukutuku) “paper trees”, because of the thin bark that flakes off them.


Yes, the water really is that clear (way too cold to swim in without a wetsuit though – that’s the Southern Ocean out there: next stop Antarctica!)


Lytteltonwitch released a book on this beach – and (despite it being about an hour’s walk from the road) got a catch before we got back to the hostel!


The entrance to Horseshoe Bay


You can just see the South Island through the haze (that’s Bluff Hill)

Most of the walk was through areas with a lot of fuschia, so we saw hundreds of tui (which feed on the nectar). I decided the tui were teasing me, because every time I pointed my camera at one of them, it would immediately fly away, turn its back, or hide behind a branch. I took many many photos before I finally got a few decent ones. A typical sequence of photos:


Hiding in the darkest part of the tree


After much patience, he finally comes out, and immediately flies to a tree at the limit of my zoom (and then only because I blew the photo way up and cropped it – otherwise he’d just be a tiny speck in the distance)


Now why would you do that just when I’ve finally got close enough to get a better photo?


Success at last (though a bit blurry – see comment above about blowing photo up to prevent speck-sized bird)


See, now he’s definitely just laughing at me!


Finally got one to show off his plume of neck feathers (and the reason early European settlers called them parson birds) properly!


I think this was the closest I got with a camera in my hand (when I wasn’t holding a camera, they got much closer, of course – they were swooping right past our heads!)

We walked back from Horseshoe Bay by the shorter route along the road (and were passed by the “tour bus” full of the other Bookcrossers along the way – the driver must have been confused when all his passengers suddenly started waving out the windows to a couple of random people walking down the side of the road!), but even so Lytteltonwitch’s fitbit was still registering a total of 15 km walked by the time we reached Oban – so not bad for a little walk!

That night we all met up for dinner at the hotel. I opted for blue cod, of course, as I did every night we were there – I had to make the most of it while I was far south enough to get the good stuff (it really has to fresh-caught from the cold southern waters to taste right – I make it a rule to never eat blue cod north of Oamaru). But I didn’t say no when Fiona’s husband offered up the remains of his crayfish for the rest of us to pick over – he’d left all the best bits behind in the legs and claws!

It was Friday the 13th, so Lytteltonwitch had planned a spookily-themed book tree. So after dinner we all trekked up to the top of the hill, to the only suitable tree we’d been able to find (the island is covered in trees, but a book tree requires a certain sparseness (and bareness) of branches, which native trees aren’t good at. The wind was picking up, but we managed to tie all the books to the tree. The planned photo-shoot with Albert wasn’t so successful, though – the wind sent him flying onto the muddy grass before anyone got a decent photo of him leaning against the tree.

One of the activities EdwardStreet had attempted to organise was a guided tour of Ulva Island, a predator-free nearby island. There were several different companies offering tours, at wildly varying prices, but after talking to the staff at the backpackers (who were fantastic about ringing around the different tour companies to get details for us) we decided to go with the most expensive option, as it seemed to offer the best value for money in terms of how much time you’d actually get on the island. At dinner that night we confirmed numbers, and (the backpackers staff having made the booking) arranged to meet up in the morning so we could all walk over to the tour guide’s office to pay. At breakfast though one of the staff told us she’d been rung by the guide asking if we could come and pay earlier than arranged, because she had to go out on another tour. So we quickly gathered together everyone we could find, and I put the fees for the late sleepers we hadn’t managed to get hold of on my credit card (that’s the nice thing about bookcrossers – I knew I could trust everyone to pay me back later!).

That bit of organisation out of the way, Lytteltonwitch and I decided to walk over to Golden Bay, where we were going to be meeting the guide that afternoon, to see how far it was (I’d been there before, and thought I remembered it being only 5 or 10 minutes walk from the hostel, but we thought we’d better check before we told everyone when to meet up). It did turn out to be only 10 minutes, even given the giant hill we had to walk over, and the little harbour there was just as beautiful as I remembered.

Just to show you how changeable the weather is on Stewart Island, only a few minutes after I took that photo, this happened:

Luckily there was a little shelter by the wharf where we could wait out the rain, or it would have been a very damp walk back to the hostel!

We had lunch at a cafe that technically wasn’t a cafe, because they only did takeaway coffees… except you could eat them on the premises. It was a wonderfully Stewart Island way of getting around regulations set by the local council in Invercargill. The owner explained to us that in order to run his business as a cafe, the council’s regulations required him to have toilets. But the little shed he was operating out of didn’t have any, and it would cost a fortune to install them (building anything on the island is incredibly expensive, because all the materials need to be shipped across on the ferry). But if he only offered takeaway coffees and food, then he didn’t need toilets. So he served everything in takeaway containers, and told his customers if they wanted to consume their takeaway purchases inside his shop (and sit at the convenient tables and chairs he just happened to have there), then they were welcome to do so.

After lunch the eight of us going to Ulva Island walked over to Golden Bay to meet the guide, and the boat that was taking us across to the island. Our guide seemed very bossy at first – giving us instructions about how to walk so that we’d make the least possible noise, and telling off anyone who dared speak at the wrong time or rustle a food wrapper. But it quickly became evident that she was doing so because she wanted to give us the best possible chance of seeing all of the rare native birds that the island is known for (many of which have been driven almost to extinction by predators in the rest of NZ). We spent an amazing four hours on the island as she showed us birds that we’d never have seen if we’d just been wandering around on our own, and told us all about them, and the trees, and the ecosystem that supports them. She definitely knew her stuff, and I learnt a huge amount.

I had as little success photographing most of the birds as I had with the tui, but that didn’t really matter, because it was so cool just getting to see them in the wild that taking photographs was very much secondary to the experience. I did get a few cool photos from the day though:


Stewart Island weka. They’re much smaller than their South Island cousins, but just as curious – as you can see, this one walked right up to us on the beach to find out what we were up to.


Keen photographer Skyring and keen birdwatcher MeganH in their element


A yellowhead (mōhua) – best known for appearing on the $100 bill


Robins are easy to photograph – they’re even more inquisitive than weka, and all it took was the guide scratching at the ground to get one flying down to check if any tasty insects had been disturbed.


A tiny native orchid – the first time I’ve ever seen one flowering


And an even better example


Saddlebacks (tīeke – one of the endangered species (super endangered, in this case – at one point there were only 36 of them left) that are thriving on Ulva Island) proved particularly hard to photograph. They specialised in positioning themselves exactly behind closer branches and leaves that my camera would decide to autofocus on instead of the bird (I really must practice being faster at switching my camera from autofocus to manual for situations like this!). There’s two saddlebacks in this photo, somewhere in the blur behind that perfectly sharp leaf…


I finally get a saddleback in focus, and he’s silhouetted against the sky, so you can’t see the distinctive colouring that gives it its name


At least kererū (wood pigeons) stay still for long enough to get a photo, though he was very high in the tree, so my zoom was at its limit


Stopping for a chocolate break…


…where we were joined by another very inquisitive robin, who sat on a branch just above my head, and took a great interest in me as I took his photo (many many photos – now that I finally had a bird up close and sitting relatively still, I made sure to take advantage of it!)


Not the best photo technically, but definitely my favourite :-)


Finally, an elusive saddleback without any branches in front of it (just his head stuck inside a punga as he searched for insects). And then I took a couple of steps to the side and…


A decent photo of a saddleback at last!!!

Back at the jetty, we sheltered from the rain (it had rained off and on all day, but we were under the canopy of the trees most of the time, so it didn’t bother us), and watched the weka who came to investigate while we waited for the boat to come back and take us back across the inlet to the main island.  As the wind had got up quite a bit and the sea was too rough for us to stay out on deck for the trip back, we all crowded into the wheelhouse where Discoverylover kept the skipper entertained by putting on an impromptu version of the “Baby Bounce” programme from her library, complete with a reading from a Dr Seuss book, and an action song (no babies though, which was disappointing – we wanted to know how well they bounced 😉 ).

We all agreed the tour was well worth the money.  If you ever find yourself on Stewart Island, I highly recommend doing a tour with Ruggedy Range – for $135 per person we got a private tour for our group that was tailored to exactly what we wanted to see (we discussed beforehand what our interests were), with an incredibly knowledgeable guide (I think she said she had a degree in ecological science?), and an overall fantastic experience.  There are cheaper options, but from what we could tell, they didn’t offer nearly as much value for money (the ferry company offers a trip to Ulva Island for $70, for example, but it only gave you one hour on the island, and we were told that the guides were just ordinary ferry crew members, with little specialist knowledge).

That night we ate at the island’s only other restaurant (there is a “kai kart” which sells fish and chips, but it was closed for the off season while we were there), a much more upmarket place than the hotel (but it’s still Stewart Island, so it’s definitely not black-tie – no noses were turned up at us bunch of scruffy backpackers :-) ).  They don’t like to book large groups, because their kitchen is quite small, so we had to go in two separate seatings.  But it was actually nice to eat with a small group, where everyone could be part of the conversation, instead of the big long table full of people we’d had the night before.  The food was very impressive – I had a starter of paua ravioli which was amazing (and the paua was actually tender – a very tricky thing to achieve!), and then blue cod (of course :-) but cooked in a different style than the “battered with chips” I’d had at the hotel).  Then, all too full for dessert, but still wanting to try them, and none of us able to make up our minds which dessert to choose, we ended up ordering one of each and sharing them around the table.  I think we spent about three hours at the restaurant (we ended up overlapping with the group that came later, so we did kind of get to have another big group dinner :-) ) just enjoying the food and the company – a really great evening.

The weather got worse, and by Sunday morning it was obvious that it wasn’t going to improve in a hurry.  In fact, it was bad enough that all the ferries and planes back to the mainland were cancelled (luckily Goldenwattle was the only one of our group who had booked to go back that day, and she was able to change her travel arrangements reasonably easily).  So we spent most of the day sitting in the lounge at the backpackers putting together a jigsaw of a Paris street scene (to get us in the mood for next year’s world convention), eating the lollies Lytteltonwitch and I had provided, and generally relaxing.  At most conventions I would have been frustrated by the enforced idleness, but it had been such a casual, laid-back weekend that I actually enjoyed it – it was nice to all just enjoy each other’s company with nothing in particular we had to rush off and do.

The main reason we’d all opted to stay until Monday was so we could attend the famous quiz night at the hotel (which came to the world’s attention when Prince Harry took part when he visited the island a couple of years ago).   The pub was crowded with all the people who had been stuck on the island by the weather, but we managed to squeeze ourselves in round a couple of tables, and formed two quiz teams.  It was a great quiz, with the questions actually written by the two young guys who were running it, rather than being one of those horrible commercial quizzes that so many pubs use these days. It was all very light-hearted, with spot prizes awarded to people who could tell good jokes, or do a convincing Russian accent. And a lot of laughter when one of the quiz-masters inadvertently gave away the answer to one of the questions :-) Of course, our two tables were fiercely competitive (against each other, at least – we didn’t particularly care how we came in relation to the rest of the pub!), but I’m sad to say the other table won the day – they came second equal, whereas our table only got fifth place.  It was all a lot of fun, and a great way to end the convention.

The next morning the weather had cleared enough for the ferry to be running (although it was still pretty rough – 30-40 knot winds, and 4 metres of swell), so we all boarded our respective ferries or planes and left the island.  The crossing was another exciting one, though I didn’t think it was as rough as it had been on the way over – I was able to stay standing up the whole time this time, and it wasn’t nearly as wet out on the back deck.  At Bluff we farewelled all our Bookcrossing friends, and Lytteltonwitch, Albert and I headed up through the back roads of Southland to Central Otago (with a slight detour to visit the town of Nightcaps – well, we had to really, I’d had the book Nightcap sitting on my bookshelf for years, waiting for the next time I was in Southland and could release it there!).

We spent the night at Mum’s place in Alexandra, so I finally got to see her new house, and the changes Brother and SIL have made to the shop (it looks amazing).  Mum invited Brother and family round for pizzas for dinner (the kids didn’t know we were visiting, so it was a cool surprise for them when they turned up at Granny’s and I was there – though I think Niece was more excited to see Albert again than she was to see me! :-) ), so we had a lovely family evening (and Brother and I had a long debate about gender identities – we may not agree, but at least I know he’s trying to understand).

We ended up not leaving Alexandra until after lunch on Tuesday, having spent a nice relaxing morning chatting with mum over many cups of tea, so our drive back to Christchurch had to be much more direct than our normal meandering road trips, but at least it meant we got back to Christchurch at a reasonable hour.  It was a struggle to wake up in time for work on Wednesday though!

So that was our Stewart Island adventure.  And that was an entire convention blogged and photographs posted in the same month that the convention happened.  Yeah, don’t hold your breath for me to manage that for the next one…

The big reveal

The mystery quilt has been handed over to its recipient, so now I can show it off here:

Given the subject matter, no prizes for guessing who it went to – Lytteltonwitch of course. When I saw the fabric (everything inside the inner purple border is a single panel of fabric) I knew I had to turn it into a quilt for her.  The big challenge was to finish it in time for Halloween, especially as I was running short of weekends in October (next weekend is the NZ/Aus Bookcrossing convention, and this weekend I was supposed to be spending most of on a couple of long walks as part of the Walking Festival, but the weather has reverted to winter again with heavy rain all weekend, so the walks got cancelled and I was left with a free weekend, which is really the only reason I managed to finish the quilt off yesterday).

The patchwork itself isn’t particularly complicated (the border is made of Courthouse Steps, with Log Cabins on the corners, which are both pretty simple blocks), but it’s the first time I’ve really done multiple borders (I don’t count the added-at-the-last-minute borders on the Flower Garden quilt, because I was very much making them up as I went along – this time I actually planned the borders in advance and worked out all the measurements so everything would fit).  In the process, I learnt that my quarter-inch foot doesn’t actually sew an exact quarter inch, although I don’t think it’s the foot at fault – I actually think my machine is slightly out of alignment.  It’s only out by about a millimetre, which isn’t a huge issue most of the time, but when you add all the millimetres in all those Courthouse Steps up, it was out by about an inch in the total length.  Which meant I had to trim the blocks next to the corners quite a bit to make them fit properly, so some of the “steps” are very narrow compared to those around them.  Luckily though it’s not really noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for, so it doesn’t spoil the quilt overall.  I’ll just have to keep the not-quarter-inch thing in mind next time I’m doing a quilt where the measurements are so crucial.

As I mentioned, I’m really proud of the quilting on this one, because I didn’t use an overall design, but quilted different sections differently so that certain parts would stand out more.  Most importantly, I stitched an outline around the skeleton, then (other than a few internal lines to keep the batting stable) left the skeleton itself unquilted, with dense quilting in the background (spiderwebs, of course :-) ), which makes the bones really stick out. It’s a bit hard to see in the photos, but in person it looks quite 3D.

I did something similar with the borders, using dense and sparse quilting to increase the contrast between the dark and light steps.  I also changed the thread colour between sections, again to keep the contrast nice and clear.

You can get a better idea of how I did the quilting by looking at the back of the quilt:

The difference to the final product between doing elaborate quilting like this and just doing an overall design is subtle, but I really like how it came out.  And, as always, I learnt a lot in the process.  Every quilt I make expands my repertoire of skills a little bit more.

Needless to say, Lytteltonwitch was very happy with her gift :-)

Oh, and the skeleton glows in the dark…


I went last night with Lytteltonwitch to see the film adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover.  I’m not sure what I thought of the movie as a whole, because it was filmed in post-earthquake Christchurch, so (just like the first time I saw the Lord of the Rings movies), seeing so many familiar places on the big screen distracted me from the actual film (I think the same was true for most people in the audience – I kept hearing whispered comments from around the theatre of “Hey, that’s…”).  I’ll probably have to see it again to judge it properly.  But a few (spoiler-free) initial thoughts:

  • Timothy Spall was really good.  A bit too good, really – he made the local actors look slightly amateurish.
  • Setting it in Christchurch (or, at least, filming it in Christchurch – I don’t think they actually say in the film that it’s Christchurch, but they mention the city being destroyed by earthquakes, so there’s not really any other western city it can be) was, I think, a good choice – the empty residential red zone provides a suitably eerie backdrop to the story.  I wonder though how audiences outside of Christchurch (and particularly, outside NZ) will respond – what’s become normal to us (an antique shop in a shipping container, half-demolished buildings left abandoned, streets with the outlines of gardens but no houses, and in particular, parts of the city being so incredibly normal when everything around them is damaged) be so weird as to be incomprehensible to outsiders?  How will outsiders read things like cordon fences and flooded streets, which have so much extra meaning to Christchurch people?
  • I haven’t read the book (yeah, I know, but it’s one of her later books, so I missed out on reading it as a kid, and she wrote so many I haven’t caught up with all of them as an adult), so I don’t know if it’s meant to be this way, or if something was lost in translation from book to film, but there were a few moments where I got really confused about what was going on – it felt like there were plot points that had been skipped over or something.
  • (Just to harp on about the landscape a bit more…)  As films always do, they took a lot of  artistic licence with the geography of the city – there’s scenes where characters walk from what looks like Bexley to the CBD in a few minutes (it’s about 10 km in reality), and buildings that are far apart (in time as well as space – in one scene a couple of the characters are on a balcony looking across the city.  Right below them is a building under construction – except I know that when that building was at that stage of construction, the building they’re supposed to be in (which they definitely weren’t in, because it was earthquake-damaged so would be too dangerous, and it’s on the other side of town anyway) had already been demolished…).  None of this detracts from the film though (unless you know Christchurch well, of course, when it’s a bit distracting – again, I heard a few whispered comments in the audience of “How did they get there so fast?”).  It mostly just amused me, seeing how they’d warped the city to fit the needs of the plot or atmosphere (or just logistics – there’s one scene that shows an ambulance travelling along Hagley Avenue towards Christchurch Hospital, but when it arrives, it’s at Princess Margaret (an old, mostly abandoned, hospital on the edge of town) – obviously they couldn’t film at the real hospital because it would be too disruptive).

So yeah, I need to see it again (and probably read the book) to really decide whether or not I liked it.  If any of you (especially the foreigners) get to see it, I’ll be really interested to hear your thoughts.

Playgrounds and poetry

Brother and family were up at the weekend to go to a concert. It was a bit of a flying visit, but I met up with them for dinner on Sunday night, and then took the morning off on Monday (finally using up some time in lieu I accumulated months ago!) so I could faciliate a meeting between Niece and the mini Harvestbirds (who met her at my graduation party, and had asked me frequently when she’d be back in Christchurch so they could play with her again) at the Margaret Mahy playground before the family headed home.  The meeting was a great success – the children reconnected and spent several hours playing happily on the playground, while Brother, SIL, Nephews (who are getting much too grown up to be classed among the children any more), Harvestbird and I sat in the sun and chatted.  Definitely the best possible way to spend a Monday morning!


Last night was a very late one, because I went with Harvestbird to an open mic poetry night.  Stepsister is a regular attendee (and I think involved in organising them?) and had invited me to come along sometime, mainly because there’s quite a few NB-type people who go along and she thought I might like to meet them.  I extended the invite to Harvestbird, seeing as she’s a real poet, so we met up for dinner beforehand, then went to hear the poetry (and participate, in Harvestbird’s case).

It was a really fun night – the poetry was of variable quality (from amazingly good to seriously average), but most of the poets only read two or three poems, so even the not-so-good ones weren’t up for long enough to become tedious (and the really good ones more than made up for them!), and there were all sorts of little fun audience participation traditions the event has (like everyone singing when a new poet gets up to read for the first time – Harvestbird was greeted with a rousing round of Oma Rāpeti, complete with all the actions), plus regular breaks to let people refresh drinks and chat.

I never did end up meeting the NB people Stepsister had promised to introduce me to (I think maybe they weren’t there – she mentioned there were a lot of people missing that normally turned up), but it was definitely worth going along anyway just for the entertainment.  Harvestbird was keen to go back again too, so maybe if I go to enough of them I’ll be inspired to brush off my own very rusty poetifying skills (don’t hold your breath!)


In other news, still no progress on the whole having a government thing, but the final results with the special votes should be out soon, which is what Peters says he’s waiting for, so hopefully things will start moving after that…  And in the meantime, other than a lot of “experts” pontificating in the media about which way they predict Peters will go, the country potters along as if there’d never even been an election.


Three happy things:

  1.  Nephew #1 shot me a rabbit the night before they came up to Christchurch.  It was delivered to me skinned and gutted but otherwise intact, but thankfully Brother quickly deboned it for me and cut it into usable pieces, so I was able to cook myself a very tasty stir-fried rabbit and peppers dish for dinner on Monday night, and there’s enough meat left that I’ll be able to make a small casserole at the weekend. Parsnips got the scraps, but wasn’t overly impressed, and only ate it when it became clear I wasn’t going to give her anything else – rabbit is a bit gamey for her fussy nose, I think.  But that’s ok, even if she doesn’t appreciate Nephew’s gift, I certainly do!
  2. I started quilting the mystery quilt, and it’s going really well (wish I could show off some work in progress photos, but they’d give the game away).  I’ve been trying out some new FMQ techniques, and I’m really pleased with how they’re turning out – I reckon the quilt should look pretty cool once it’s finished.
  3. The weather has been warm enough for the last few days to have the windows open.  It’s amazing how much better the world feels when there’s a pleasant breeze wafting through it.

There’s pretty pictures at the end

Number one thing: I want to know whose decision it was to schedule the election for the same weekend that daylight savings starts?  Have they no sympathy for those of us who stay up half the night to watch the results, and then get an hour less to sleep in the morning?  This is nothing but cruelty.  If I make it through the day without falling asleep at my desk, I’ll be amazed.  (And I don’t even drink coffee, so I can’t go for the traditional solution :-( )

So yeah, the election.  Not quite the result anyone could have wished for (well, maybe with the exception of Winston Peters, who must be loving being back in such a position of power, having the whole country once again waiting for him to decide which coalition he’ll join). I got invited to the Greens’ Ilam gathering to watch the results on Saturday night (because I’d been a scrutineer for them again) – it was a pretty subdued evening, of course, but interesting discussing the results with people who know a bit more about the behind the scenes stuff.

(For those of you not in NZ, the short(ish) version of the election results is that neither major party won enough votes to form a government either on its own or with its obvious coalition partners, but NZ First, one of the minor parties, has just enough seats to push either side over the line.  But NZ First’s leader, Winston Peters, is a bit of a volatile character, so is as likely to make the decision based on who he feels has personally insulted him as on such unimportant things as policies or ideology. And last time he was in this position, in 1996, he took great pleasure in stringing everyone along for weeks while the two major parties grovelled to him.  Which means we’re probably in for more of the same this time round, while the country waits impatiently to find out who the government will be.)


Last week was a busy one. Lots of political stuff, of course, but plenty of other things as well. I took Monday morning off to be a support person at a mediation hearing for a friend who has been battling ACC (she asked me because she knew I’d been to mediation meetings when I was involved in the union, although they were quite different, being through the employment court, and with a lot more lawyers involved). I can’t go into any details about the hearing itself, because it is of course all confidential, but it was an interesting process. My role was mostly just to take notes and ask for clarification occasionally (the details of the case were very complex, and even the mediator was getting confused at times!), but my friend said she really appreciated having me there, because I could stay clear-headed and make sense of what the ACC person was saying, which she was feeling too stressed to do on her own.

There were of course a lot of politicians visiting campus last week. I didn’t have time to go and listen to all of them speak, but I did get to hear Metiria Turei talk at an event organised by the Māori Students’ Association. She was really inspiring, and seemed pretty genuine for a politician – a pity that the whole benefit fraud scandal has destroyed her political career. She spoke really openly about the scandal and her choice to go public, and said she doesn’t regret it, because it at least opened up a discussion about how we look after the most vulnerable people in our society. I can’t condemn her for her choices (either the fraud itself or in going public), but I also can’t help wishing it hadn’t damaged the Greens so badly.

On Friday I went to an apolitical (but also very political – maybe just not party political) presentation from Gen Zero about the Zero Carbon Act (NZers, if you haven’t signed the petition already, why not?). Another really inspiring talk, and great to see Gen Zero taking change into their own hands, rather than waiting on the government to get round to it (which could be a long time, depending on which way the coalition discussions go…). It was great to have a chance to catch up with Rosalee, too – she’s been doing amazing things by the sound of it, touring the Zero Carbon Act around the country.

But I did get to do some fun stuff during the week as well – I finally made it back to the craft group meetup on Thursday night (for various reasons I’ve missed the last few weeks), and then on Friday night I went round to Dana’s place to watch an anime series with her and a few other friends. I haven’t watched a lot of anime, so it took me a couple of episodes to get used to the narrative style, but once I did it was quite entertaining. We only got about a quarter of the way through the series, so I think we’ll be continuing the viewing next week.

Then on Saturday I managed to squeeze in a Bookcrossing meetup between scrutineering and going to the Greens’ event in the evening, and then I spent yesterday afternoon at the Len Lye exhibition at the Art Gallery with Harvestbird and her children. The miniest-Harvestbird had been to see the exhibition with her class, so she was very proud to be able to show us around, and tell us how the sculptures moved.

So yeah, a pretty busy week! No wonder I didn’t have time to post anything before now.


Finally, to update last weekend’s happy things:

The flowering cherry is fully in bloom, and looking amazing (ignore the state of the lawn – it rained all week, and once the sun finally came out for long enough to start drying it out, mini-Gwilk was away for the weekend so couldn’t do any mowing for me):

The apple blossom is starting to come out too:

I found the perfect frame for Yetzirah’s painting (it’s made out of recycled fence posts, which seemed apt), and hung it next to one of her very early efforts. The difference between the two is amazing when you see them like that – I hope you’re feeling suitably proud of how far you’ve progressed, Yetzirah!

And I managed to squeeze in a little sewing time, so my secret project quilt is starting to come together. You’ll have to wait until the big reveal to see the whole thing, but in the meantime, a sneak peak at a couple of the component blocks (yes, of course some cat fabric snuck in there, what else did you expect!):

Three happy things

  1. Got home last night and found a large envelope in the letterbox.  Inside, a beautiful watercolour painting by the talented Yetzirah.  It’s even more gorgeous in person than it looked on screen – can’t wait to find an appropriate frame and decide where to hang it!
  2. Some of the blossom is out on the cherry tree! I’ve been watching the buds for the last few days, waiting for them to burst, and it finally happened this morning. Barring wind, the whole thing should be in bloom in a few days.

    In the back yard, the apple blossom isn’t quite out yet, but it’s very close:

    And, amazingly, the plum blossom hasn’t all blown away in its first appearance, for the first time in many years, so I might actually get some plums this year (or, more realistically, the birds might get some plums – the chances that I get a chance to pick them quickly enough are pretty slim).

    Spring is definitely sprunging.

  3. The other exciting parcel in my letterbox last night was a piece of fabric I have actual plans for (as opposed to my usual “this is cool, I must add it to my stash” purchases). You know how sometimes you see something and you immediately know the perfect person for it? Well, one of my favourite fabric shops had a sale on, so I was browsing through their site, and saw a piece of fabric which I knew I had to buy and make into something for a particular person (who reads this blog, hence my deliberate vagueness). It arrived yesterday, and is just as good as I thought, so I spent a couple of hours this morning picking out other fabrics to go with it and drawing up some design ideas (photograph taken with inspiration fabric conveniently hidden…)

    So this afternoon it looks like I’ll be ignoring the three quilt tops still sitting in my to-be-quilted pile, and starting a new project instead.

    But what’s life without too many projects on the go at once? 😉

The rest of Wellington

Seeing as the conference was on a Friday, I decided to stay up in Wellington for the weekend.  Discoverylover, as well as offering me a bed, arranged a bookcrossing meetup for the Friday evening, so after the conference finished I walked down to the railway station to meet up with her and the other bookcrossers at the station cafe. There were suprisingly few books on the table for a bookcrossing meetup (I think, just like our meetups in Christchurch, the Wellington meetups have become less about the books and more about just catching up with friends), but it was an enjoyable evening.  I revealed our secret plans for the 2019 and 2021 NZ/AUS conventions, and they were met with general approval (mysterious cat is mysterious – if you want to know more, you’ll just have to wait until Stewart Island… 😉 )

Discoverylover had a cold and an essay to write, so I absolved her of any duty to keep me entertained the next day, and caught the train into Wellington (she lives out in the Hutt Valley).  The weather was pretty dull and grey (and windy, of course), but after a long leisurely breakfast in a cafe, and stopping off at a few bookshops, I went for a wander along the waterfront (my favourite bit of Wellington), and managed to take a few decent photos:


(Yes, the “let’s destroy bridges by covering them in padlocks” trend has hit here too)

Jacq, a friend from the UC Linguistics department, was at the conference too, so I’d arranged to meet up with them and their partner for lunch.  Discoverylover had suggested that I check out the National Library’s He Tohu exhibtion, so I invited the two of them to join me.  It’s an amazing exhibition – it’s subtitled “Signatures that shape New Zealand”, and that’s a great description, because the centrepiece is three documents that formed NZ as it is today: the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration of Independence that lead to the Treaty, and the petition calling for Women’s Suffrage.  Seeing even one of those documents in person would be cool, but having all three in one place was amazing.

Because they’re such precious documents (and not particularly well preserved, especially the Treaty), they were displayed in a darkened room, with buttons on each display case that turned on lights for just long enough to be able to see the document without causing damage.  And flash photography was of course forbidden.  But I managed to hold my camera steady enough to get a couple of non-blurry photos even in the dim light:


Te Tiriti


The suffrage petition (when the petition was presented to parliament, the pages were stitched together into a long roll, in an intentional attempt to increase its impact when it was rolled out across the floor – a very effective ploy, as the roll looks so much more impressive than a pile of loose pages would be!)

The rest of the exhibition was displays and videos explaining the impact of the three documents, and how they still have an affect on the way New Zealanders see ourselves today.  It was really fascinating (and I learnt a lot of the history of my country I never knew – probably because when I was at school nobody really talked about Te Tiriti much), and we ended up spending well over an hour looking at it all.

As we were leaving, Jacq said they’d quite like to take a tour of the Parliament buildings (the National Library is pretty much across the street from the Beehive) – they’re Canadian, so after learning so much about NZ history from the exhibition, wanted to see something of how modern NZ runs.  I’d done the Parliament tour before, but it was years ago, so I was happy to do it again (and it was actually quite cool doing it for a second time, because instead of looking at the things the guide was showing us, I spent most of the time looking at the other artworks and things we were passing).  So it turned out to be an educational afternoon all round (though I had my doubts at the start of the tour, when the guide was showing us the earthquake strengthening in the basement, and explaining how the base isolation system would withstand the horizontal movement from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, so no matter what happened to the rest of Wellington, Parliament would still be standing.  My immediate thoughts were (a) you know that earthquakes get a lot bigger than that, right? and (b) if it’s anything like Christchurch, it’s the vertical movement that does most of the damage.  But I didn’t say anything – the guide was obviously a historian, not an earthquake engineer, so I didn’t think she’d appreciate me asking technical questions like that :-) )

After I said goodbye to Jacq and their partner, I met up with Discoverylover again for dinner (at a place that does proper Italian hot chocolate! This may necessitate many more trips back to Wellington…) She hadn’t made much progress with her essay, so I think was glad of the excuse to abandon it and come into town to meet me :-)

My flight back was at lunchtime on Sunday, but I managed to squeeze in another quick adventure – instead of going directly to the airport, I left early enough so I could catch a bus out to a nearby suburb where there was a quilt shop.  So many cool fabrics!  Luckily I was constrained by how much I could fit in my bag, so I didn’t spend *too* much money there, but it was really tempting (they have an on-line shop, but it’s not the same as being able to see all the fabrics in person).  Even better, the shop was within walking distance of the airport (via an underpass which goes under the runways!), so I didn’t have to rush to get to my flight.

As I was waiting at the departure gate, I heard a familiar voice – it turned out Dan had been in Wellington for a different conference, and was on the same flight back as me.  It was great to catch up for a few minutes while we waited for boarding.

Back in Christchurch, Harvestbird met me at the airport, as we had tickets to the Clementine Ford talk that afternoon.  It was a wonderful talk – she pretty much just went through some of the horrific comments she gets on-line, and responded to them with thoughts about feminism, and anecdotes from her life.  There was a signing afterwards, and for once I was actually organised and had her book with me, so I was able to get it signed.

So, a busy, and very social, weekend all round!