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!

A spot of colour on a grey day

It’s a grey and drizzly day, and not at all ideal for photographing quilts, but I finished binding the Little Squares quilt last night, and I’m off to Wellington tomorrow (these are completely unrelated events, except that being in Wellington will mean I won’t get another chance to take a better photo of the quilt over the weekend), so I dashed out before work this morning to get a few quick pictures:

I’m really pleased with my quilting on this one. Rather than doing an all-over design, I branched out and used the blocks as inspiration for the quilting. It’s not perfect, but I think it looks really good, and it’s another small step in expanding my quilting skills.

The effect is really cool on the back, too:

Work has been ridiculously busy, with a major project deadline looming (actually, several project deadlines – it’s a PBRF round this year (contestable funding based on the amount of research the university produces), so everyone is rushing to get things finished before the end of the year.  Which, for our biggest project, means getting it finished in the next few weeks so it can go to peer review in time to be published in December.)

And with perfect timing, I’m taking the day off tomorrow.  It’s kind of work related though – I’m off to Wellington for a union conference on LGBTQI+ issues in the workplace.  (This seems to be how the union’s going to suck me in to being active again – I turned down the offer to return to the branch committee, but this conference comes with a free trip to Wellington, so, yeah, looks like I’m getting involved in the union again…)

Anyway, it means I’m now doubly rushed to get everything done this week, so I’m grabbing a few minutes in my lunch hour to write this, then it’ll be back to debugging code.  So many bugs…

The other not ideal timing about going away this weekend is that Dad rang to say he and Stepmother are in Akaroa, and planning to come over to Christchurch for the weekend, so while he’s here do I want him to help me paint the laundry (so I don’t have to spend the insurance payout on a professional painter).  Except I’m not going to be here…  Of course, Dad being Dad, he offered to just do the painting himself (and let’s be honest, it was always going to be more a case of me helping him paint, not the other way around), so he’s going to pop round tonight to pick up a key.  So I should come home from Wellington to a freshly painted laundry area.

I never got round to writing anything last weekend, but I did have an interesting Friday night.  There was a night market in the Arts Centre, with a talk at the Teece Museum on the night-life of ancient Rome.  I met up with Lytteltonwitch at the talk (which was really interesting – all about how most depictions of Roman street scenes are nothing like the reality, which would have been crowded, messy, and pretty dangerous), then afterwards we wandered around the market and the shops that have just (re)opened in one of the newly restored buildings – including Fudge Cottage, which was such a wonderfully nostalgic sight to see back in the Arts Centre (I remember going there at the weekend to buy fudge (or just try the free samples if we were all feeling poor) when I first moved to Christchurch) that of course we had to buy a few pieces (well, that was our excuse, anyway!).

Walking back to the bus exchange, we spotted a man feeding the eels in the Avon.  So of course we stopped to watch, and ended up staying chatting to him for about half an hour, while he fed the eels (and a very large trout who joined the party) an entire pottle of cat food.  They are fascinating to watch (as long as you keep your fingers out of the way – they can give you a nasty nip if they mistake a dangling finger for food, and they’ll climb up out of the water to get at it) – we all agreed it was much more entertaining way to spend a Friday night than going to the pub!

Right, time to get back to those bugs…

Small people and musicals

I’ve been using a couple of random bits of fabric and batting as a practice quilt sandwich, for checking tension and trying out new quilting patterns before I actually start quilting something. I’d completely filled up the piece with stitching, so I was about to throw it out and replace it with some new scraps, but then I realised that it was exactly the right size to make a quilt for a doll, so I quickly put some binding on it, and presented it to the smaller mini-Harvestbird today as a consolation prize for not being able to come to a show with me and her big sister:

It’s very random – different patterns and thread colours, and lots of squiggly bits where I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the machine speed before I got it repaired) with absolutely no plan to it (not surprising, considering it was never supposed to be anything), but hopefully mini-Harvestbird’s dolls won’t be fussy :-)

The reason I was taking the elder mini-Harvestbird to the theatre was that I got a text last night from Ade saying she’d double-booked herself, so had two tickets she couldn’t use for this afternoon’s performance of Beauty and the Beast at the local high school (not quite as horrific as it sounds, because Burnside High is known for its performing arts department, so their productions are usually pretty good), and would I like them. I said yes, and (reasoning that small children would be more interested in Beauty and the Beast than most adults I know) messaged Harvestbird to ask whether (assuming such a thing could be done without causing sibling disputes) she’d like me to take one of the girls. Luckily (?) the smaller mini-Harvestbird was sick, so the decision (and explanation to smaller mini-Harvestbird as to why she was missing out!) was pretty easy, so elder mini-Harvestbird and I spent the afternoon at the theatre.

It was actually a lot of fun – the show itself was pretty good for a high school production, even though Disney musicals aren’t exactly my thing (actually, I’ve never even seen the original movie of Beauty and the Beast (although of course I recognised about half of the songs just through how embedded in the culture they are)). What was the most fun though was seeing it through the eyes of a 6 year old. She was so excited by it all, hiding behind her hands when the Beast came out, and bouncing along in her seat to the songs, and turning to me at key plot points to whisper that I shouldn’t worry, because she knew it would have a happy ending. It was fun too seeing her learning the social conventions of theatre-going (which you forget have to be learnt), like when to clap, and she was very confused by the overture – when we were waiting before the lights went down she was exploding with impatience, and kept asking me when it would start, so I explained that everyone had to finish sitting down first, and then the doors would close, and then the lights go down and everyone would get quiet, and then it would start. When the music started and the curtains stayed closed, she turned to me and asked “why haven’t they started?” like she was being cheated – it hadn’t even occurred to me that to a child, an orchestra playing to a closed curtain wouldn’t seem much like anything had started!

Anyway, I think the show was a success. While we were waiting outside theatre afterwards for Harvestbird to come and pick us up, she chattered away to me about her favourite bits, and how she would have made the transformation of the Beast into the Prince so much better (flashing lights and smoke effects while the actor ducks down behind the scenery and removes his mask doesn’t quite measure up to the morphing that can be done in a cartoon, apparently :-) ), and how much she was looking forward to getting home and telling everyone all about it.

It’s been a pretty social week all round, actually. On Thursday night I hosted the craft meetup (it normally rotates round a few different people’s places, interspersed with meeting in bars, so I put up my hand last time the organiser was planning the venues for the next few weeks). I think 8 people turned up – if there’d been any more it might have been a struggle to squeeze them all into the lounge, so that was a nice number. The evening went really well, and I even managed to get a bit of sewing done (putting the binding on the doll’s quilt, actually) in between making people cups of tea and passing around cake. Plus it was nice not to have to venture out into the horrible weather myself, so I think I’ll offer to be put into the regular rotation of venues.

Talking of craft meetups, I forgot to post a picture of the insects embroidery I’d been working on at the meetups, which I finally finished last week:

As always seems to be the case with me and embroidery projects, I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do with it now that it’s finished. Maybe I should do another giveaway – if you want it, let me know!

This month is Diversity Fest at the university, with all sorts of talks and other events themed around various forms of diversity. Last night I went to a screening of Intersexion, a documentary about intersex people, followed by a panel discussion. The film was really interesting – though horrifying to hear the experiences of people who whose genitals were mutilated in childhood without their consent, all in the name of making them “normal”, and the effects that has had on them in adulthood. And even worse to learn that this is still happening to many intersex babies born today :-( The discussion afterwards was great too – the panel was made up of an intersex person, a non-binary person from Qtopia (the student/youth LGBTI+ group that was hosting the event), and a gender studies/cultural studies lecturer, plus there were some really insightful questions and comments from the audience.

And finally, a video. Ages ago (the day I submitted my thesis, actually), I, along with several other students, was asked by the Head of the Linguistics Department if I’d be a talking head for a promotional campaign they’re doing for the department. So of course I said yes, and was interviewed, and then completely forgot about it, until this week when the videos went onto YouTube, and I get to see how badly I stumbled through describing my research (actually, they’ve done a good job of editing it together in a way that almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about!)

Ok, let’s see if I can get this embed code to work…

Quilting and singing and games

I started the quilting!

I did get quite a bit further than that today, but by the time I thought to take another photo the light was no good.  So you’ll just have to wait :-)  I managed to get just over a quarter of it done, though, so I’m making good progress.  And the quilting is working out exactly as I envisioned it, so it should look pretty good when it’s finished.

I went to see the NZ Opera production of Carmen last night with Lytteltonwitch.  It’s actually the first “proper” opera I’ve ever seen, and it was really good.  I was very glad of the surtitles though, as otherwise I’d have had no idea what was going on (Lytteltonwitch summed up the plot for me as roughly “Boy meets girl, someone dies at the end, and in between there’s a lot of singing”).  It took me about half an hour to figure out what language they were singing in, let alone be able to make out any of the words… yeah, I probably should have bought a programme or something :-)

Anyway, I really enjoyed it, and was surprised at how many of the tunes I recognised – a lot of them are ones that are just in the popular consciousness, without you necessarily knowing where they come from.  The staging was really good too – they did some really clever stuff with lighting, like casting shadows of the actors onto the walls during the bar scene, which gave quite a threatening feel to it.  The bar scene also cleverly put the women in a position of power, so that it switched gradually from a group of drunken men demanding that the women (not sure if they were supposed to represent prostitutes?) dance for them, to the women totally controlling the men and making them perform – the confusion at the end of the scene when the men suddenly realising the roles had been reversed was quite lovely.

And of course, as you’d expect, some really powerful singing, especially from the performer playing Carmen.

On Friday night I went round to Dana’s after work (this is becoming a regular thing).  There was quite a large group there, so rather than play video games (as is usual on Friday nights – they have a Nintendo Switch connected to a projector, so the screen is pretty much the entire wall), we played a few board games.  One was totally new to me (and I can’t remember the name of it now), but the others I’d played before with the Gwilks – Dixit and Codenames.  A lot of fun, even if I did feel a bit old at times (most of the people there were in their mid twenties).  And I was on the winning team for two of the games, which is always good :-)

Off with their hair

Those of you who know me in real life (TM) will know that for the past year or two I’ve been muttering about how one day I’m going to suddenly cut off all my hair.  Well, one day arrived…

Yeah, bit of a drastic change :-) (Although in photos it doesn’t really look all that different, because I always tied my hair back anyway, so you couldn’t really tell in photos just how long it was).  It’s still not exactly the way I want it – I’m going to go back in a few weeks to get the top cut even shorter, but the hairdresser wanted me to leave it at this stage for a few weeks while the follicles relax back into shape – having had it long for so long (and almost always tied back in the same way) has stretched them into weird directions, so I still have a very noticeable part down the centre of my head at the moment, which would be emphasised even more if the hair was even shorter – hopefully it will disappear as the follicles realign themselves.  But even so, I’m very happy with it.  And a bit nervous about what everyone’s going to say when I go into work on Monday… (I didn’t tell anyone what I was planning :-) )

Harvestbird accompanied me to the appointment (mainly to make sure I didn’t chicken out at the last minute :-) ), and documented the entire process (the hairdresser was having a lot of fun demonstrating various cutting techniques and hairstyles from the ages as he cut it steadily shorter), so once she’s uploaded the photos (and video!) I’ll post them here for everyone’s amusement.

Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts.  Work was stupidly busy for a while there (it still is, but at least I’ve got my two new staff now, which has taken some of the pressure off), so I’ve been getting home at night and just crashing, and haven’t been feeling inspired to write.  I really should try and get into the habit again though – I’ve actually been having all sorts of non-work adventures, but haven’t had time/energy to write about any of them.

Most recent was that last Tuesday Dana and I went to see a talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson, which was amazing (even if I did have the odd moment of wishing he was Carl Sagan instead (hashtag geek-child of the 70s)).  For a start, it was at the Horncastle Arena (where graduation was), which is Christchurch’s biggest venue, and normally reserved for big international music acts.  That a scientist was speaking to a sold-out audience in that venue was an amazing thought – rock-star scientist indeed!

He spoke very inspiringly and entertainingly too – I was so glad I went.  At the end, they had an opportunity for audience members to ask questions, but we were sitting so far up the back in the cheap seats (which were only relatively cheap – rock-star scientists command rock-star prices!) at the top of the arena that there was no way we’d have made it down to the queue for the microphone in time (not that I would have been able to think of a decent question anyway, even if I’d been sitting right up the front).  The first couple of questions were of that non-question “Here is a long rant about my favourite hot-button topic, what do you think?” type, but then people started asking really complex and interesting questions about astrophysics (some of the best questions came from kids!), and deGrasse Tyson gave wonderful answers that managed to be non-technical enough that everyone in the audience would understand it, without dumbing down any of the really deep and interesting stuff that made the questions so fascinating.  The Q&A part went way over time, because deGrasse Tyson kept saying he was going to make his answers briefer so more people would get a chance to ask a question, but then would get caught up in the complexities of the answer, and it would be just as long as the previous one.  The compère kept suggesting that maybe it was time to wrap things up, and deGrasse Tyson would agree, yes, just one more question, and then carry on :-)   By the time he finished, the security people were herding everyone out the door almost before the applause had finished – I think they wanted to get home!

I haven’t made a lot of progress quilt-wise, for similar reasons to the lack of blogging (plus it being too cold in the study most evenings).  But I managed to get a few more rows sewn onto the little squares quilt:

Although I’m loving how it’s turning out (I think it’s my favourite one I’ve made so far), I’ll be so glad to get this one finished – matching all those seams is hard work!