But it’s November!

This happens every year in Christchurch, but for some reason it always surprises us. We have a few nice warm days in October, we all decide it’s summer, and then are horribly shocked when the weather reverts back to cold and wet again.  This morning’s frost was a bit of a shock, though – according to Stuff (that well-known bastion of excellence in reporting… not) it’s the coldest November morning for 60 years.  But still, cold spells in November (or even December – the weather doesn’t really settle down for summer until after Christmas) are pretty normal for Christchurch. Spring isn’t so much a period of mild weather as a time of wildly alternating temperatures, where one day you’re sweltering in a nor’wester, and the next the southerly blows back in and you’re huddled up in coats and scarves again.  About the only thing you can be sure of is that Show Day will always be hot, with a strong nor’wester blowing the dust up.  Luckily, I’ll be in Auckland :-)

And breathe…

First term of the semester is over, and I handed my first big assignment in yesterday, so I can pause and relax – well, for a couple of days, at least.  I’ve got another assignment due in three weeks, so I’ll have to work on that over the break.  And of course, I’ll still be work working (which is still incredibly busy), so yeah, about the only thing that changes is that I don’t have any classes to attend for the next two weeks.  But I’m at least trying to have a break this weekend – I’ve purposely left all my books and notes at work, and am so far avoiding the temptation to just pop into the office for an hour to check that one thing (Harvestbird threatened to call security and have them cut off my door access for the weekend, to make absolutely sure I didn’t do any work :-) ), so maybe I’ll get a chance to actually relax a bit.  Of course, given how intensely I’ve been working for the past few weeks (I stay late at work (because it’s easier to access the linguistics software I need from there) to study for an hour or two most evenings, plus at least one full working day at the weekend (the rest of the weekend is usually devoted to essentials like cleaning the house, buying groceries, and sometimes even finding an hour or two to catch up with friends)), it’s going to take me most of the weekend to get myself out of total panic I-have-so-much-to-do-and-no-time mode, so I should start feeling semi-relaxed around Sunday night, I reckon, just in time to go back to work on Monday and be right back into it.

But in the meantime, a couple of days of freedom! :-)

And to make the weekend even nicer, it’s a lovely sunny day after a couple of weeks of rain.  It’s not really warm enough yet to have all the windows open, but I have anyway, just to make the most of that tiny hint of spring in the air.

Talking of tiny hints of spring, look what I spotted in my (rather messy – must give the lawnmower guy a call) lawn yesterday:

Yep, those are tulip leaves!  The lawn may not be the usual place to grow tulips, but that’s because that part used to be a flower bed, but some years ago I gave up on pretending I would ever manage proper gardening and let it all convert to lawn.  I obviously missed a few bulbs when I dug out the plants, because every couple of years something will pop up unexpectedly.  They don’t always survive as far as actually flowering (generally because I forget to warn the lawnmower guy so he mows over the top of them…), but just seeing the leaves is like a promise of spring.

All the colours

An exciting wee parcel waiting for me in the letterbox when I got home tonight (luckily well-wrapped, so it survived the day’s rain/hail/sleet/general horribleness of weather) – a pack of “charm squares” (little sample-sized pieces of fabric – no idea why they’re called charm squares, but it seems to be the standard term in quilting for fabric samples) from Oakshott Fabrics in the UK, the other half of my prize from Tartankiwi’s In Flight draw the other day.

The fabric is really lovely – all sorts of amazing colours, with a subtle shot effect through it.

SO tempted to start a new project so I can play with them!  Must remember I’m starting study again next week… must remember I’m starting study again next week… must remember…

Cold

A rainy sleety day yesterday, followed by a harsh frost last night (though not as harsh as some places – according to The Press, it got down to -20oC up at Lake Pukaki last night!!!) means that the entire city is coated with ice this morning.  Getting to work was a bit of a challenge as a result – I set out to walk, but realised half way down my driveway that wasn’t going to be an option.  Having grown up in Central, I’m pretty good at walking on black ice, but walking nearly 4km on it did not at all appeal (quite apart from the fact that I’d have to walk so slowly so as not to fall over that there’s no way I’d get there on time).

So I decided to catch the bus instead, which turned out to be not much faster than walking, because the traffic was moving so slowly, with everyone being super cautious because of the ice (for those of you from Northern Hemisphere type places with proper winters who are wondering why the council hadn’t salted or gritted the roads, that’s because this kind of weather happens so rarely here that nobody’s prepared for it, so the council doesn’t actually have any of the equipment or materials they’d need for such a job.  It’s the same when it snows – the city just shuts down for the day…).  Listening to the chatter over the bus driver’s radio, it sounded like there were quite a few accidents happening despite the cautious driving. I finally made it into work half an hour late, to find a message from my boss saying he wasn’t coming in at all – he normally bikes in, but couldn’t keep his bike upright for more than a few metres at a time, so decided to work from home.  Wish I’d thought of that!

Oh well, at least I’m in my nice warm(ish) office now, and don’t have to go out again until this evening (well, unless I venture out to the student cafe later for a nice warming hot chocolate), by which time hopefully the ice will have thawed. Yay winter.

Stick some gears on it (warning, many many photos)

Lytteltonwitch and I spent the weekend in Oamaru, where they were holding their annual Steampunk Festival.  We didn’t dress up ourselves, but we did go to a few of the events. I think what was most fun though was just seeing all the costumed people wandering around the streets.

I wasn’t brave enough to actually ask people to pose for a photo very often – most of the photos I just took without asking (not that anyone seemed to mind when the did notice I was taking a photo – I think walking around in costume pretty much comes with the assumption that people will take your photo).  I should have asked more often, though, because those photos are definitely the ones that came out best.  Although some of the unposed ones did make for fun juxtapositions.

There was a Steampunk Market on the Saturday, with some amazing costumes on both customers and stall-holders:

Also on Saturday we went to a talk about the science of Scott’s Antarctic expedition (the speaker arguing that the expedition was far from the incompetent “boy’s own adventure” it has been portrayed as in the popular media, but rather was a serious scientific expedition, with many of the “bad” decisions Scott made being explained by the fact that he was more concerned with collecting good data than with his own or his team’s safety.

Then later in the afternoon was a dramatised reading of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, performed by a group from Wellington, accompanied by much audience participation in the form of flag-waving and shouts of “Huzzah!” at appropriate moments.  The performers led us on a walk around Oamaru, stopping at various points to perform another Fit of the poem.

The cast:

Most of the audience were just as decorative as the performers:


“Huzzah!”


Lytteltonwitch was trusted with the holding of the Jubjub bird staff.  So of course she immediately started trying to peck people with it…

On Sunday we saw even more elaborate costumes at the fashion show.  The contestants were judged not only on their costumes, but also on the backstories they’d come up with for their characters.  Some of them were very clever (and a couple were just incomprehensible…).  There was an audience choice section, and it was very difficult to choose who to vote for, because there were so many amazing costumes and stories.

I didn’t get many photos at the show, because we were sitting a few rows back, so I had the choice of either getting lots of audience heads in my photos, or standing up and annoying the people behind me.  So I didn’t take any photos during the competition itself, but did manage to grab a few during the photo shoot session they had while waiting for the judges to return.

This woman’s costume was amazing (she was Absinthe, The Green Fairy), but obviously it was also amazingly heavy, because she had so much trouble walking in it that she needed the help of her kilted companion (who I gathered was her partner, who didn’t normally participate in steampunk events, but had dressed up so he could accompany her on stage) to stop from falling over as she walked the catwalk, and her smile had more than a hint of grimace of pain to it.

[Edit: I’ve been informed that I was mistaken in my assumption that the Green Fairy was suffering under the weight of her wings.  In fact, her wings are very lightweight, but due to an accident she has difficulty walking and climbing stairs, and having spent most of the day on her feet while rehearsing for the show, was in a lot of pain, hence the need for her companion to assist her.  Makes her achievement in participating in the show all the more impressive!]

Another view of those massive wings.

Although the MC tried to coordinate the photoshoot, asking the contestants to all face to one side of the runway or the other, he had limited success, because they all kept turning the wrong way to wave to friends in the audience. Because of where I was sitting, I couldn’t get everyone in frame anyway (and never did manage to get a photo of the people at the far end of the runway), so this is the closest I got to a group shot of all the costumes.

The woman with the multi-coloured parasol and her green-suited partner (who featured earlier in the Hunting of the Snark cast) were who I ended up voting for, mainly because their story was very clever (it involved a safari to hunt tea-krakkens).

Oamaru is definitely embracing its new steampunk identity, with a lot of businesses cashing in on the trend (with varying degrees of successs – probably because it’s pretty obvious which ones are only doing it to try and attract tourist dollars).  This sculpture outside a car dealership was pretty cool, though:

And of course, in the midst of the Victorian quarter is Steampunk HQ itself, a very strange place that’s a cross between a junkyard and an art installation, and definitely an entertaining place to explore.

There’s a steampunk-themed playground, too, with elaborately-carved old trees decorating its boundary:

It wasn’t all steampunk though.  We did take an early-morning walk around the waterfront (and later, rode the old train back round the same route – I think the train’s supposed to be for kids, but we still had fun :-) )

We also visited an art gallery, which (among other things) had a WW1 commemoration that was very well done.  If you’ve been to Oamaru, you might have noticed the avenue of trees going up the hill, each of which was planted in memory of a local man killed in the war, and each of which bears a brass plaque with his name.  Over the years, many of the trees have had to be cut down for various reasons (mostly because they were dying), so the plaques were preserved.  The exhibition displayed all of the removed plaques, turning them into temporary artworks.  (Only one sneaky photo, because I wasn’t sure if photography was allowed inside the gallery).

And on Sunday morning we took an early-morning walk through the botanic gardens, which were shivering under a very heavy frost (there was even a decent layer of ice on one of the ponds):

Hello?

DD’s been down again, so of course I’ve spent the last day and a half composing all sorts of interesting and amusing blog posts in my head, and now that it’s back up I can’t remember any of them.  So instead, a few highlights of the past few days:

On Friday I discovered that there are actually some really nice people in the world.  I was waiting at the bus stop in the rain, and as usual the bus was running late, and every time I checked the real-time arrivals thing it would tell me that it was going to be even later.  So I’d resigned myself to being very cold and wet by the time I got home.  Except that a complete stranger stopped her car and asked if I wanted a lift somewhere, which I most gratefully accepted.  (Sorry Mum, I know you spent my entire childhood telling me not to get in a car with a stranger, but not having to wait in the rain for another 20 minutes totally beats stranger danger any day 😉 )

On Saturday night I went to a games night with the Gwilks.  There were enough people that we split into two rooms, so I joined the group playing Shadows Over Camelot, a game I’d actually played before (it’s becoming a joke that every time I go to one of the games nights I end up playing a game I haven’t seen before, and just when I’m getting the hang of it the game is over and I’ll never get another chance to play it, because the next games night there’ll be a new game).  However, this time we were playing a variation on it (so it was kind of a new game, but at least I already understood most of the game mechanics).  It’s a cooperative game, so basically you either all win or all lose, but the variant we were playing had a traitor, so it was them against the rest of us.  Except we didn’t know until the end who the traitor was.  It’s quite a difficult game, and we ended up losing, but it was still a lot of fun.

On Sunday we had a bookcrossing meetup.  Our brunch meetups didn’t suit everyone, so we shifted to lunch instead, and met at the new cafe in the Botanic Gardens.  It was incredibly busy (the line stretched right around the cafe at one point), but we managed to snag a table, and by borrowing chairs from other tables somehow managed to fit all of us around it.  Lots of books being exchanged, of course – the tower of books in the centre of the table was getting quite dangerously high for a while there.

I’d hoped to get some more work done on my experimental quilt, but between all that socialness and having spent a good chunk of Saturday curled up in front of the fire with a good book, I only quilted one square:

The pattern is called Windswept, and I really struggled to get the hang of it.  I just couldn’t get my speed right or the fabric flowing smoothly, and then just when it was starting to go right I discovered that somehow my backing fabric had got folded over, so I had to unpick a big section and resew it (which is why there’s some really messy bits down the right hand side).  I think it’s one of those patterns which could look really good with a bit more practice, though.

The back looks a wee bit better (mainly because the cotton doesn’t contrast so much, so the wobbles in my sewing aren’t as obvious), but it still doesn’t look much like the tutorial:

Oh well, the whole point of the experimental quilt is to allow myself to make a mess of it and learn via my mistakes, not worry about it being perfect…

So cold!

It doesn’t help that the heating isn’t on at work yet (no idea why not – normally they turn it on at Easter and off again at Show Weekend, no matter the weather in between those dates (something to do with how much it costs to fire the system up for the first time when it’s been sitting idle, so that it’s more economic to just run it continuously than to switch it on and off in response to outside temperatures)) and our largish open-plan office is not adequately warmed by the illicit fan heater we’ve been taking turns to aim at our desks.  So we’re all sitting here bundled up in many many layers trying not to freeze (I went over to the FGW office to pick up my academic regalia this afternoon, because I’m helping out at graduation tomorrow, and I was very tempted to wear my gown for the rest of the day, just because it would provide another layer of warmth).

Also not helping was the fact that although it was dry when I left home this morning, it started raining just as I was half-way to work, at exactly the point of my walk where catching a bus would involve getting wetter standing in the rain waiting for a bus to arrive than just continuing to walk would.  I was at least wearing a rain coat, but my legs got damp enough that it was mid-morning before I felt properly dried out.  It’s looking deceptively dry out there again now, so what’s the bet it will start raining again when I’m about halfway home?

Winterish

All of a sudden the season has changed from autumn-that’s-really-late-summer to autumn-that’s-really-early-winter.  So cold today!  We didn’t at least get the promised hailstorm, but there was an icy wind all day, and some miserable drizzle just as I was walking to work this morning.  Hard to believe just over a week ago I was walking on the beach contemplating whether it was warm enough to go swimming (yes, that was in Golden Bay, which is a bit warmer than Christchurch, but still…).  Really must get the chimney swept so I can start using the fire again – if this weather continues I’m going to need it!

Golden Bay Part 2 (with lots of photos)

Saturday:

We were both awake bright and early, and Dangerous Kitchen (which we’d planned on breakfasting at, having perused their menu the night before) didn’t open until 9, so we decided to head over to Te Waikoropupū Springs (or just Pupu Springs, as they’re more commonly called if you want to avoid all those syllables).  The springs are known for their incredibly clear water, which lets you see right to the bottom of the deep pools.

The water looks so inviting, but the springs are considered tapu (sacred) by local iwi, so you’re not allowed to even touch the water.  Probably a good thing, really – imagine how quickly they’d be spoilt if they started being used as a swimming hole.

With the light low over the water, there were a few too many reflections to be able to see into it very clearly, but it did make for some very photogenic scenes (and best of all, no tourists around!).

There’s a short (and very beautiful) bush walk to get to the springs. I wasn’t so impressed with the beauty of the inhabitants, though (Lytteltonwitch liked him, but then she’s weird :-) ).

At least the rest of the bush made up for the odd creepy-crawly…

After breakfast, we decided to head first to Farewell Spit at the far end of the bay, then work our way back towards Takaka, stopping off at anything that looked interesting.  At Farewell Spit we walked across farmland for half an hour or so to reach Fossil Point – and then realised we’d technically walked from one side of the island to the other (take that, all you Coast to Coast athletes!) and were now on the West Coast.

The beach looked very West Coast-y, too:


These guys were snoozing among the rocks at the end of the beach.


You can kind of spot which direction the wind blows from :-)


One of the fossils that give Fossil Point its name. There are seashells embedded all through the cliff-face and in the rocks at its base.


Not a fossil, but still cool – the remains of a wasp nest clinging to the cliff.


Looking north along the Spit. Ok, so it’s actually just a front coming over, but it did look like there was a clear divide in the sky colour along the spit, with grey over the Coast and blue over Nelson :-)

Seals weren’t the only wildlife on the beach – we discovered some mysterious footprints that we never managed to figure out the origin of.  They looked a bit like a sheep’s hoofprints – which would make sense, given the farmland all around – but they started in the middle of the beach with no prints leading up to them, and then disappeared a few steps later.  And they were a long way from the tideline (and relatively fresh), so it wasn’t like the other prints could have just been washed away.  Of course, some might say that a cloven-hoofed creature that can materialise out of nowhere might be connected with the fact that I was travelling with a witch 😉  Or maybe they just have flying sheep in Golden Bay…

As we left Farewell Spit, the front caught up with us and it started to rain, but we were hopeful it wouldn’t last, so we headed inland to the Aorere Valley, aiming for the Naked Possum, a wildfoods restaurant that sounded like it might be an interesting experience.  Which it was – although actually, just finding it was pretty interesting in itself.  It took the definition of “middle of nowhere” to new heights, being at the end of a maze of dirt roads with minimal signage.  We thought we were completely lost at one point, when we came to a junction with no indication on which way to go, but then we spotted a small sign way off down the road – having it actually at the junction would have made a lot more sense! (though from what the woman who served us at the restaurant said when we commented on how hard the place was to find, they kind of did that on purpose – it’s like a test: if you can’t find your way to the Naked Possum, then they don’t want you eating there).  By the time we reached the restaurant it was pouring with rain, but luckily they had some inside tables.  Despite the name, there was no possum on the menu (too much 1080 poisoning going on to risk it), but there were plenty of other interesting meats.  I tried a tahr* steak, which turned out to have a flavour somewhere between goat and venison (kind of as you’d expect, really).

*Tahr are a kind of mountain goat native to the Himalayas which some bright spark decided to introduce to the Southern Alps, where they promptly became a pest, pretty much like every other animal that the early settlers introduced to New Zealand.

We’d planned on doing part of the Kaituna Track, which starts right beside the Naked Possum, but it was still raining when we finished our lunch, so instead we headed back to the main road.  We stopped off briefly at the Langford Store, a tiny historic store that is half shop, half museum, and half art gallery (yes, I know that’s too many halves, but it was that kind of place).  The groceries for sale on the shelves are mixed in among a display of old tins and boxes, and random items like two boxes full of tea cosies.  Very strange place.

In Collingwood we stopped off at one of the items on our “must see” list – Rosy Glow Chocolates.  A tiny wee shop with an incredible selection of handmade chocolates, but we tried to be reasonably restrained in our purchases (ok, so maybe not *that* restrained, but it was Easter after all – there has to be chocolate!).  The rain had eased off a bit now that we were away from the hills, but it was still drizzling, so we only stopped briefly at the historic cemetery in Collingwood (for Lytteltonwitch to find a geocache) then headed back in the direction of clearer skies towards Takaka.

Our next stop was Labyrinth Rocks, a weird little place just outside Takaka.  It’s a series of maze-like walkways a local man created/discovered among natural rock formations (the local limestone gets weathered into all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes around Takaka), to which he added all sorts of little sculptures and ornaments.  When he died a few years ago, the Rocks were taken over by a trust, and they’re now freely open to the public.  Over the years, people have added all sorts of extra decorations, mostly in the form of little plastic toys hidden among the rocks (but also other weird things, like the odd sheep skull).  It makes for a fun game to see how many of the little hidden treasures you can find.

Of course Lytteltonwitch, who always travels with a pocket full of little plastic toys, had to add a few to the rocks, and created (among other things) a spider-infested cave:

I found a cat among her stash, so I made my own mark on the Labyrinth:


(These ones aren’t plastic – I found them growing at the base of a tree)

We were joined for most of our walk through the Labyrinth by a very inquisitive photo-bombing fantail.  Fantails always like to follow you through the bush, because of the insects you stir up while you’re walking, but this one was particularly fascinated by me and my camera.  Every time I lifted my camera to take a picture he’d fly towards me, and passed by close enough for me to hear his wingbeats several times.  I’m sure he was trying to tease me – he’d pose beautifully on a branch or rock just inviting me to take his photo, then fly away just as I clicked the shutter, with his chattering sounding very much like laughter.  As a result, I filled most of my memory card with pictures like this:

But I also got a few like this:

In the last of the daylight we visited the Grove, which is like a super-sized version of the Labyrinth Rocks (but without the plastic toys) – a huge outcropping of limestone with pathways running through cracks in the rock. The setting sun was lighting up the rocks in magical ways:


The view, looking back towards Takaka, from a lookout point part-way up the rock.

Books released:

Watermelon by Marian Keyes – Te Waikoropupū Springs
The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewartc – Fossil Point
The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt – Naked Possum
Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle – cafe in Collingwood
Dance of Death by Lincoln Preston – Collingwood historic cemetery
Liberty by Garrison Keillor – Labyrinth Rocks