Monday, January 31, 2011

Massacring Model Trees and "Day Stripp" - I mean, "Day Tripper"

The wind is absolutely raging outside my window right now... and it is horribly, horribly late, I have done NO packing for leaving tomorrow morning (which means I'll have to get up at 6am), so I had better make this brief (and we all know how good I am at that, pfft).

This morning Rosemarie set Tom and I out to prepare the left-hand side of the garden for mowing; we picked rocks off the lawn, searched for an elusive tent peg that was ultimately determined to be lost in a pile of bark mulch (annoying, but not as huge of a problem as the lawnmower doesn't mow there), and weeded the pathways. I set about attacking my old nemesis, the yarrow plant. Oh, yarrow, how I loathe thee and thy creeping, massive, knotted root system...

My second task of the morning was to complete (as Thibaud christened it) "Carolyn's Garden" by covering the exposed soil between the plants with dampened newspaper, and then a layer of black matting; this will (hopefully) stop weeds from taking over until Howard and Rosemarie can put in some more plants to fill in the gaps. Of course, Murphy's Laws being what they are, the moment one tries to do anything finicky with matting or newsprint the wind comes right up, so I spent a lot of time having the matting twist out from under me or blowing dirt in my face. The end result is acceptable, though, and looks fairly inconspicuous topped off with a layer of pineneedles to stop the sun from destroying the matting quite so quickly.

The fun highlight of the morning was Rosemarie tossing me a pumice stone she found on the other side of the garden: they really do float in water! I had to run and get my camera to take a picture and prove it to myself.

After mid-morning tea break Howard showed Tom and I how to make model trees for the railway layout using unwound thread fibres, wire, and a hand-cranked drill. I regret to say that I was not very successful; my first tree's trunk wasn't twisted enough, so all the fibres of string (the "branches") came out, and my second tree was accidentally constructed so what should have been the roots was the crown, and vice versa. My third tree was pretty acceptable, once I figured out how to trim the fibres to make it look vaguely tree-like, but the fourth once again looked like a good candidate to be a miniature Whomping Willow. Hanging my head in shame, I opted to stop destroying Howard's store of tree-making supplies, and helped Rosemarie make up the next batch of ginger beer instead.

After lunch I mainly hung out in the kitchen, watching videos on my computer with Tom, and sharing photos with Howard and Rosemarie (ones I have taken here, in other places in New Zealand, and back home in Canada). I gave them copies of most of the photos I took here, which included our trips to the Pigeon Valley Steam Museum and Rabbit Island.

After dinner I forced Howard to play through a version of "Happy Birthday" I wrote out for him (he has to play it at a garden birthday party in a week or so), and in return he taught me that delightfully annoying carnival song that everyone who doesn't actually play piano seems to know how to play (including my mom!), but that I - until this evening - did not. After that things got increasingly sillier as I started playing children's nursery rhymes in minor keys ("London Bridge" sounds pretty good in a minor key!). This gradually segued into Beatles songs, and resulted in Howard putting on Beatles records (yes, records - the Red Album on red vinyl!), me getting the gist of the chord progressions, and then trying to warp them into a minor mode. This is what two glasses of homemade kiwi wine will tell me is a productive way to spend my evening (it was awesome).

The conversation topics tonight ranged from why humans have such a strong reaction to tickling on the soles of their feet, to the technological changes seen in recent lifetimes vs. human evolution as a whole, and an entire tangent on string theory, anti-gravity, and positing on the contents of a black hole. (I also got to hear Howard's theory of the origins of the universe, which really needs to be told in person and not simply read for maximum effect.) Perhaps fittingly, the evening ended with going outside to collect my long-forgotten laundry off the line, and my marvelling at the incredible stars visible out here, far away from the city lights. I found Orion without any difficulty, but I have still to find the elusive upside-down Big Dipper.

Now it is even more horribly late, but at least I have written a decent blog entry, and I have written in Howard and Rosemarie's WWOOFer comment book, too. Off to bed for me... I have to get up in four hours and forty minutes to pack and be out the door by 7:50am (joy). I will miss this place... it really has been like a home away from home. Night!


Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Le prochain que je choppe en train de siffler un intervalle païen, je fais un rapport au pape!"

*Cue blues i-iv-i progression*

Woke up dis mornin’
With a back dat was sore
Spent three hours gardenin’
To make it hurt more

Took drugs for the pain
Swallowed them down
Then played da piano
Got lost in da sound

Oh, yeah... 

Now that’s a far more fun way to sum up my days. I should write blues songs for the rest of my blog entries.

The song pretty much sums up my day, actually. My back was not happy with me when I got up, and spending the morning gardening was likely not the best thing for it. Thibaud, Tom, and I went into the far paddock, which borders on the vineyard, and spent all morning ripping/digging/clawing out with our gloved hands weeds and grasses that were climbing over and under the fence and getting under the black matting. This task was made harder by the dry, rocky soil that wasn’t giving an inch under our pitchforks, and the particularly stubborn weeds; my nemesis quickly became the grass that snapped off at the surface when one pulls, forcing one to dig a huge hole to pull out all its roots.

At midmorning break tensions were running a little high; the story is a bit complicated, but the gist of it is Thibaud needed to catch a bus tomorrow morning in Nelson to take him to Christchurch, but there wasn’t a bus leaving Richmond early enough for him to make it to Nelson in time, because Monday is a holiday here for Nelson, so the buses are running on Sunday service. As such, his best option was to take the airport shuttle, which would cost around $32 (considerably steeper than the bus’s $4). Thibaud felt that Rosemarie should drive him in to Nelson tomorrow morning, even though she make it quite clear to him that she didn’t want to do that, and that she and Howard don’t normally pick up or drop off WWOOFers in Nelson. As a result, Thibaud decided he would leave this afternoon on the bus and spend the evening in a hostel in Nelson instead. He was in a bit of a sour mood when we went out to finish the weeding job by laying black matting down, an intricate job that required moving rocks, cutting the matting to fit, and then covering the entire thing with stones and bark mulch.

We stopped work early and had lunch at 12:30pm instead of 1pm so Thibaud could have a proper meal before Rosemarie drove him in to catch the bus in Richmond. We had hamburgers on the barbecue, with Thibaud’s brownies for dessert, and sat outside on the patio. After lunch Thibaud went to pack, and Howard and I ended up sitting out on the patio and talking about skydiving and then janitoring (don’t ask me how those two are even tangentially related... I can’t remember how we got from one to the other).

After saying goodbye to Thibaud, I read a little bit of Dune (no Knight Rider today), and then ended up spending most of the afternoon and evening playing the piano. Howard and Rosemarie went out to a Blackcurrant festival around 3:30pm, leaving Tom and I to cook dinner (leftovers). I had a wonderful time playing both old pieces and new; I found Bach’s French Suite No. 6 in E Major online and had a go at that, and then downloaded some old Scarlatti Sonatas I learned back in grade nine piano. It’s amazing how much more effortless I find trills now; maybe I did actually learn something in all those hours I made Arthur and Karen suffer while trying to teach me to play properly. ;-)

Howard came home around 7pm (Rosemarie dropped him off and then continued on to her string quartet rehearsal), finding Tom and I enjoying leftovers and watching Eddie Izzard’s Où est la plume de ma tante? on Youtube. Tom shared with me Gad Elmaleh’s routine Where is Brian? - he’s a French comedian, and that particular sketch was poking fun at learning meaningless English phrases. When I found out Tom likes Kaamelott, I pulled up a video of La quinte juste, which I first saw while studying counterpoint, and still cracks me up. Tom was laughing hysterically, too... poor Howard, I think he thought we were rather insane.

For the rest of the evening I played piano again; I found a CPE Bach piano sonata I learned in grade nine and had a go at it. Sometimes when I’m relearning a piece I have to simply shut off the analytical side of my brain and play it a few times until my procedural memory has kicked in and gone, “Right, yes, we remember this piece now: alright, fingers, this is how it’s done!” It’s a bit of an odd feeling; almost as if another person has come to life within me and is controlling my hands as they find old fingerings and patterns again.

I have one more day of WWOOFing here, so I had better get some sleep and rest my back. I took two more ibuprofen, and they’re starting to work their magic. Goodnight!


Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Son des mots qui vont très bien ensemble..." et j'ai mal au dos!

Saturday here, but of course there is no rest for the WWOOFer. We were up and about for breakfast at 7:30am as per usual, and at 8:00am all five of us were out in the garden. Today’s morning mission: pave two sections of the path with concrete, and press decorative stones in on top to create a cobblestone effect. Thibaud and Rosemarie were in charge of the cement mixer, while Howard was in charge of placing and smoothing the cement, and Tom and I were employed pressing stones into the leveled surface. The whole operation went along fairly smoothly, although one of the sections set before we could press the stones in far enough; when we ran the wooden roller over it (to level the stones) they didn’t budge an inch! The resulting path, however, looks quite nice. The key to placing the stones was to try to lay them down in a random pattern, mixing up the varying sizes and shapes; when Rosemarie came over to help us she started putting stones of an identical size in rows!

By the morning break we had done two of the three prepared sections, but sadly (happily?) couldn’t do any more because we had run out of aggregate for the concrete. That wasn’t the end of my time spent with stones today, however; after lunch I was set to work sorting the decorative stones out of the pile of dirt and bark mulch in which they reside (apparently they are the remnants of a previous landscape job on the veranda). As such, my morning consisted primarily of sitting down (or resting on my knees) and handling small stones, which wasn’t bad for my back, but wasn’t really good for it, either. I didn’t sleep well last night because my back was bothering me, and this morning when I went to put on my shoes I found I could only accomplish that task by sitting down on the ground (instead of bending over). And yet, even with trying to be careful, I managed to make things a whole lot worse; I was winnowing the basket of freshly-collected stones, trying to remove excess dirt, when the weight proved too much for my already sore back muscles, and I found myself collasping onto the lawn with a searing pain in my left lower back. It was a couple of minutes before I could stand again and hobble back over to the pile of stones.

Fortunately, Rosemarie came out soon afterward and asked if I would like to come inside and help with lunch preparations and cherry preserving, so I limped into the house and took two ibuprofen, which I imagine helped somewhat. For the cherry preserves, I was in charge of minding and stirring the cherry/syurp mixture heating on the range, and after lunch I helped Rosemarie portion it into jars. She doesn’t use standard wide mouth mason jars for her canning; instead, we were using recycled jam and sauce jars from the store that she sterilized by heating in the oven. I was somewhat skeptical (to me canning involves a lot of boiling water and vacuum sealing), but Rosemarie assured me this method works well, particulairly because they will be eating the preserves well before the year is up, so the seal doesn’t need to last as long.

After lunch was the obligatory episode of Knight Rider; this one featured Michael Knight working as a stunt car driver to help breathe some life into an ailing track business. While I like the show because it reminds me of the Batman television series from the 1960s starring Adam West and Burt Ward, I can’t help but wonder if my friend Ron (as a youth of the 1980s) would have thought Michael Knight had every boy’s dream job - racing around in a wickedly cool car, performing death-defying stunts, and meeting with tons of pretty women and exciting adventures.

Tom cooked dinner for us this evening; he made risotto, which reminded me of jambalaya (minus the shrimp, and plus eggplant). Thibaud also tried his hand at cooking; he made us some brownies for tomorrow’s dessert, and Rosemarie baked some scones for tomrorow’s tea break. And I? I helped out by chopping vegetables for Tom, and then doing the ever-growing pile of dishes beside the kitchen sink (such excitement). During dinner I taught Tom and Thibaud how to speak Pig Latin, and Tom and I discovered our mutual love of the two first Austin Powers movies, much to the mystification of Rosemarie and Howard, who listened with disbelief as the two of us rattled off our favourite quotes. Rosemarie says she thinks I'm going to become an impersonator or comedian, whereas Howard is simply convinced my head is full of interesting but ultimately useless quotes and tidbits of information.

After dinner Tom, Thibaud, and I hung out in their room, swapping music back and forth from Tom’s computer to mine. I felt like we should have hung a French flag on the door, and written something like Personnel authorisé seulement! Parlez français!, as I brushed up on my French, speaking a mixture of French and English with the two of them. I felt bad for not socialising with Howard and Rosemarie this evening, but I think Howard’s in the doghouse a little bit for his endless teasing and word games, so the three of us retreated to the upstairs bedroom to let Rosemarie have a go at him (I personally think it’s funny, but then again, I’m not the one trying to learn English).

It’s now after 11pm and I must be off to bed; here’s to hoping tomrorow doesn’t involve moving too many stones around, because I don’t think my back can take much more of them!


Friday, January 28, 2011

"Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!"

As of today I’ve been in New Zealand for exactly four months... sometimes it feels like it has been much longer. That’s 123 days, including today... and I’ve got a blog entry for every single one of them. Hmm, that’s a lot of blog entries. Maybe I should stop... nah, it’s addictive now, something I have to do every night before I go to sleep. I’m a compulsive chronicler, no matter how hum-drum the day.

This morning’s work really did feel like being on a chain gang; I started the day off by sorting through bins of stones, taking out the big ones to put on the silver tarp in the vineyard, and keeping the smaller ones for lining the bottom of the soon-to-be concreted path. After that I spent a backbreaking 1 1/2 hours raking through piles of soil and picking out all of the rocks, again for lining the bottom of the path. I’m not sure if it was the raking, the constant bending over, or the staggering across the yard with heavy buckets laden with stones that did my back in... likely a combination of all three. Either way, I now have the back of an eighty-year-old, and getting out of chairs can be a painful experience.

For the last half hour before mid-morning break Rosemarie took pity on me and had me cut some branches of elderberry, and then bring them inside and slowly (but methodically) process them from the stems. Menial tasks like that don’t bore me; I like how I can let my mind wander and think about other things. Of course, I don’t like my mind being abruptly snapped back to reality by the earwigs and the one flying beetle that decided to come for a ride into the house buried in the elderberry bowl! Rosemarie caught the beetle (after it flew up to the light over the dining room table) and let it go outside, but I took great delight in smashing the earwigs with a fork, saying, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!” Oh, yes, you had to have seen that one coming... living with Howard, a.k.a. John Cleese's doppelgänger, it was practically inevitable.

After break was another grueling two hours in the sun for me, as I relentlessly (doggedly?) raked through piles of dirt in search of stones. In a sense, the drudgery didn’t seem too bad, as it was accomplishing several things at once; I was gathering rocks, true, but I was also creating large-rock-free soil for the garden, and helping turn and process the earth. Nevertheless, I was quite glad to be called in for lunch by Thibaud, even if I had almost no appetite at first, due to being so hot.

After lunch was the requisite episode of Knight Rider (this particular eipisode was a fusion of biker gangs and an old Western, all set in a town called White Rock, which made me snicker), and then I went upstairs to my room to knit and listen to music. I’ve added a new colour to my knitting! And it’s a good thing I went online to read about adding a new colour; otherwise I would have knotted the two ends together rather than just leaving tails to weave in later. My knitting is getting more even; my tension is more uniform, and all the stitches are beginning to look the same. Horray!

Dinner tonight was leftovers, with a new cherry and pear crumble for dessert. And by leftovers, I do really mean leftovers... it was literally everything that we have had for the past few nights thrown into a wok and sautéd up (with some freshly added onions, garlic, and meatballs). It was surprisingly delicious. After finishing my contribution to the dinner preparations I sat at the piano and played what hoped was mostly light background music; I even dragged a piece out of my memory that I wrote that I haven’t played in over a year! I really should make a recording of it, or write it down, as Thibaud liked it so much he asked me who it was by, and I’d hate to forget how to play it if other people like it, too. (It must not suck as much as I thought it did, ha ha. :-) 

After dinner (and knitting in hand), and after another round of Howard and I being naughty by backing talkwards and fxcluding the Erenchmen (how we love our word games), the five of us watched The Spiderwick Chronicles. I thought it was alright (I like Freddie Highmore's acting, even if I didn’t understand why they would hire one boy to play two roles when they could have likely more easily used twins), but I must admit I think I paid more attention to my knitting than to the screen. I got another 18 rows done!

Now my back is still killing me, so I’m going to lie down and try to sleep, and hope it feels somewhat better in the morning. Rain is starting to patter on the roof, so I'm not sure what work we'll be doing outside tomorrow. Night!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

To the beach we go!

Ah, today was one of those days of ups and downs, and one of those days that I didn't cope with as well as I would have liked to for parts of it. To be fair, my body has never been one to love extremes at the high end of the temperature scale, but I also think I'm still recovering from the whammy the flu did on my system a few days ago.

Today Tom and Thibaud spent most of the morning digging up one of the garden paths in preparation for concreting it tomorrow; this entailed them shovelling up the bark mulch into a pile, and then the soil underneath (which was really more rocks than it was soil), resulting in very heavy loads of dirt being dumped in the garden until Rosemarie came and asked them to sort the larger stones into bins. Aside from a small mishap when the two Frenchmen struck the sewer pipe (it as well as the irrigation pipes for the garden run underneath the existing path), their morning was a consistent 4 1/2 hours of shovelling and carting in the oppressive summer heat.

For myself, I was given the (mostly) less strenuous job of hoeing and planting a section of garden. I say "mostly" because a good hour was spent breaking up and turning the rock-hard, bone-dry soil with a pitchfork, and then weeding (for lack of a better word) the patch of rocks. I think Howard and Rosemarie should consider growing rocks; they'd have a bumper crop every year. I was working on a patch of garden about 2.5m by 2m, and managed to take out 2 1/2 bucket loads of substantially-sized rocks. This was enough to once again induce the beginning stages of heat exhaustion in me by break time, and so after the break I was very careful to move slowly and methodically (so as not to expend any unnecessary energy) as I dug the little furrows for my seeds. I planted eight alternating rows of lettuces and radishes/carrots, and marked each row with a wooden stick at the ends. In all, I'm proud of my little garden; now I just need to remember to water it every day.

Just before lunch Tom and I helped Howard with his latest experiment: using the same silver tarp we use in the garden, we stapled pieces to the wooden frame of the garage wall, and then in behind it stuffed offcuts of fibreglass that Howard was able to pick up for $5 a bag. Considerably cheaper than buying it in whole sheets for $120, but also considerably messier; even with gloves, long sleeves, and a dust mask, the offcuts threw off substantial amounts of fibres and dust, and my eyes were sore and itchy when we came in for lunch.

After lunch Rosemarie had us plan out what we wanted to bring with us to eat at tonight's barbecue; Tom and Thibaud had to suggest things in English, and I en français, juste pour rire. However, the wind soon picked up violently, to the point where during our afternoon screening of Knight Rider we had to pause the recording several times to go upstairs and shut windows that kept repeatedly slamming open and shut in the wind. Rosemarie said unless the weather settled down we were unlikely to go to the beach, and I moped in my room for an hour or so... I had been pushing myself to work hard in the sun this morning, knowing that the beach was going to be a welcome reward later in the day, and I felt betrayed by the weather.

Thankfully, all's well that ends well; around 5:30pm, the wind had settled down, and we all piled into the car (with five of us plus a plastic bin full of food, it was starting to get a little crowded), and headed out to Rabbit Island, a 15-square-km island at the mouth of the Waimea River in Tasman Bay. Covered in pine tree plantations, it is also a public reserve, popular as a place for swimming, recreation, and barbecues. It's accessed over a tidal flat by a gated bridge, which closes every day at dusk; no overnight camping is allowed.

Having chosen with the group a suitable picnic table and barbecue pit, I promptly made a beeline for the windy beach; I hadn't been swimming since my dip in the Heaphy River mouth on the Heaphy Track on January 6th. Swimming in the Tasman Sea at Rabbit Island was like no ocean I've ever been in; the water was so warm, it was like bathwater to my Canadian-Ocean-seasoned toes. I ran right in and spent thirty minutes being relentlessly pummelled by the waves... great fun! While Rosemarie joined me, having a go at riding with the waves on a boogie board, Howard, Thibaud, and Tom refused to participate... I'm not sure of Howard's reasons, but Thibaud and Tom both claimed it was too cold. Pfft, I need to bring them up to Canada for a swim.

Our barbecue dinner of sausage, onion, eggplant, tomato, corn-on-the-cob, potato, and steak was delicious, if slightly interesting in the way it was cooked: the wood-fired barbecue itself was an interesting contraption, and seemed to lack the ability to heat things evenly; my corn was burned at one end and raw at the other! Still, it was wonderful of Howard and Rosemarie to take us out to Rabbit Island, and to buy steaks for dinner... I certainly have been lucky with my WWOOFing hosts being good people.

After arriving back at the house (and my having a shower to get all the salt off), I sat down in the living room with a cup of tea, and Howard and I talked for an hour about aliens, vegetarianism, politics, and lobbying, culminating with a forty-five minute discussion on computers. I think I impressed him by knowing what grep was, but it's obvious from talking to him that he has an extensive knowledge of operating systems and the details of how they are structured; I really should ask what his post-secondary training is in, because it sounds like it is something to do with programming. When we're not being ridiculously silly at the dinner table, it is good to have a serious conversation with Howard; he's a kindred spirit when it comes to technology.

Anyway, it is nearly 11pm, and I must be up tomorrow refreshed and ready to go to work in the garden, so I had best be off. Night!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Compost Compost Compost...

There comes a point when it becomes hard to keep a daily blog interesting... I think that point was reached today when I realised I spent my morning primarily making compost. Oh yes, all the glitz and glamour of slaving away on the driveway in the baking heat, sweeping up leaves and sticks and twigs for the dry layers, and then having Thibaud arrive with wheelbarrows full of freshly-pulled up weeds for the green layers. I felt like more of a janitor than a gardener, armed with my broom and dustpan and brush; it reminded me of the three summers I spent janitoring at the mill in Crofton. You know, I bet you could put me back there on the 3rd floor of the Ivory Tower (a.k.a. #3 Paper Machine office building), tell me I was doing Wray's route, and my brain would pick up right where it left off in September 2007.

Actually, first thing this morning Thibaud and I did get to plant two trees, a lavender bush, lamb's ear, two carnations, and two other flowering plants whose names escape me at the moment in the patch of garden I weeded yesterday. Finally, planting instead of weeding! Thibaud said I should put up a little sign saying "Carolyn's Garden", and then he turned to me, asking, "Carolyn is your name, right?" What he actually meant was, "Carolyn is your first name, right?", as in French, nom is what Anglophones call a last name or family name, and prénom is one's first name. I'm fairly certain that after a week WWOOFing together he had figured out what my name was!

After lunch I sat and played the piano in the dining room; I downloaded some sheet music off the internet, and with my laptop balanced on top of the keyboard, played my way through Chopin's Waltz in c sharp minor (Op. 64, No. 2), Prelude in Db Major (Op. 28, No. 15), and Sarabande from Pour le piano by Debussy. While it was wonderful to read from the music, especially for the Sarabande, it was slightly irksome to have to stop, reach over, and scroll down the screen every twelve bars or so... I much prefer turning pages!

This afternoon Rosemarie went out shopping for groceries, and picked up our new WWOOFer. His name is Tom, and like Thibaud, he is also from France. I think Thibaud was ecstatic at the concept of having someone to speak French with; after Tom arrived I was sitting here in my room reading Dune, and listening to them jabber away a mile a minute on the landing outside. I didn't understand very much, but what I did seemed to be standard backpacker fare: "How long have you been in New Zealand,", "Where are you going next, where have you been", "Do you like the weather here," and then several conversation topics dealing with their shared country and cultural identity. I can't really blame Thibaud; I'm sure if I had been forced to speak French for over a month, and a WWOOFer came to stay who spoke Canadian English, I'd be chattering on with them, too.

I had my chance to exact revenge today, yet I did not take it; and by this, I mean it was my turn to cook dinner! ;-) Thankfully, my choice of chicken stir fry and honey mustard sauce did work out well, and Thibaud and Tom both went back for thirds. I've decided I don't like being the head chef, however; it's too stressful, and everyone keeps asking you for input into how you want the vegetables to be chopped (it's stir-fry, people, not rocket science; just slice them up biasing toward a large surface area and we'll be good to go). Thankfully, tomorrow afternoon we are going to go out to Rabbit Island and have a bbq for dinner, so I think I will be absolved of all food-related decision-making for that meal.

Now it is just after 10pm, Howard and Rosemarie and Thibaud are watching a movie downstairs (Painkiller Jane; just the title scared me away), Tom is already in bed, and I have just had a shower, and am going that way myself. Goodnight!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chocolate food poisoning? Say it ain't so!

Today was, by all standards, a lovely New Zealand summer day. The problem is, Carolyn's body does not appreciate baking in the sun like a roast chicken under a heat lamp; my epidermis is starting to say, "Hey, aren't we supposed to be in the middle of winter right now? When is this sun going to give us a break?"

This morning I was assigned to weeding; specifically, the removal of vineweed, which insidiously wraps itself around and around the stems of plants, and in the soil lays down a labyrinth of wandering, easily-snappable roots that ensure when one tugs, only a tiny bit comes out. It is, essentially, the perfect storm of the weed family. Now, I don't mind a challenge, but when this challenge must play out in an exposed garden bed in direct sun, I start to feel like perhaps the vineweed has the upper hand. By 10:30am (and 27ºC) I was already starting to suffer from minor heat exhaustion, and was happy when Rosemarie moved me to making fresh compost (hmm, now that's a paradoxical phrase if I ever wrote one) after morning tea break.

Rosemarie and Howard have a particular system for making compost, which is partly their own system from England, and partly modifications necessary to deal with the warmer climate and longer growing season here in New Zealand. First, Rosemarie and I lined the compost bin (a wooden box-like structure, closed on three sides) with a layer of silver tarp, both to hold the heat in and keep weeds and roots from infiltrating the compost and sucking up all the delicious and nutritious fetid liquids. Next, I created a latticework of sticks at the bottom, to elevate the compost pile slightly and provide air circulation underneath. As for creating the compost pile itself, Rosemarie described it like making a sponge cake: the "dry" layers, or sponge, consist of about 70% of the compost, and the "green" layers (the icing), the remaining 30%. After each layer I misted the compost with the hose, to keep everything wet and encourage decomposition. While this job did keep me mostly in the shade, I did have to cart the wheelbarrow back and forth, gathering leaves and twigs from piles beside the blacktop driveway for my dry layers, and it wasn't exactly cool on the pavement. I was quite glad when it was 1:00pm and time to stop for lunch.

After lunch Thibaud headed out to the beach (a 15km bike ride away to Richmond: more power to you, mon ami!), and after watching the next episode of Knight Rider with Howard and Rosemarie, I went and hung out in my room for the afternoon, reading and listening to music. I also started conducting an experiment to test a hypothesis I recently formed (although my results are inconclusive). The day before  I became sick, I went into Richmond with Rosemarie to the Pak 'N Save, and while there I bought a Whittaker's milk chocolate bar (they were on sale; I noticed Rosemarie bought two dark chocolate ones). I had four squares of it before dinner that night, and it was that evening I started feeling sick to my stomach. Yesterday I had two squares, and I had a little stomachache before dinner that went away afterward. Today, I ate another four squares, and sure enough, after dinner I started to feel sick... I ended up throwing up my dinner. While I think it would be silly to suggest four squares of chocolate gave me food poisoning severe enough to put me down for the count for two days last week (I do think that was the flu), after tonight I definitely WILL NOT be eating any more of that chocolate bar. Something in it certainly doesn't agree with me.

I also realise I should likely stop writing blog entries that involve me throwing up... it can't make for appealing reading. Anyway...

Feeling low on energy, I didn't protest tonight's movie choice; Meet Dave. All I have to say is that it stars  Eddie Murphy, and that pretty much explains why it wasn't my type of entertainment. I got a bunch of knitting done during its screening, however; I even managed to pick up a dropped stitch. I'm learning, I'm learning.

My stomach still isn't 100%, so I'm off to bed now. No more chocolate for me for a while!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Opium Factories and Monkey Puzzles

Waking up at 7am today, I actually felt hungry, and looking forward to breakfast. It was such a nice change from the last few days! I started out by watering Rosemarie’s collection of potted plants on the veranda with the mist setting on the hose, which turned into more of a soaking of my feet and pants than the soil of the plants. After that, Rosemarie set me to the task of carting a wagon around the garden and snipping off all the poppyseed, granny bonnet, and honesty seed heads, uprooting the plants for the compost, and carrying the seed heads over to a table to sort the seeds into bowls. With the number of poppy seeds I collected today, I figured we could probably have a nice opium production set-up running next year. I suggested we go on a trip to Afghanistan to learn the trade, but as Howard remarked, “Well, I don’t think they’d take kindly to us as Brits, and my Russian accent isn’t that convincing...”

As I was carting the wagon around (which, incidentally, is almost identical to the green wagons at the museum; too bad there aren’t any hills around here!), I kept finding rosebushes hidden around the garden; struggling for sunlight under bushes, spreading out in clumps low to the ground, or growing wild and untamed, six feet tall above my head. I suppose it’s nice to find such plants amid the weeds, but the scratches on my fingers from my previous encounters with thorns remind me that I’ll be doing battle with them later, armed only with a pair of pruning shears!

I also found a small monkey puzzle, almost completely buried under old shoots of honesty. I was so surprised I called Thibaud over to show him, and then later Rosemarie; she didn’t even know they had one! It reminded me of a smaller version of our ill-fated monkey puzzle tree at home on the front lawn that Arthur and I used to leap-frog over (a rather painful experience if one didn’t clear it completely). For you Eddie Izzard fans, this also led to several instances throughout the day where I said, "Et, le singe est sur la branche!"

After lunch (featuring Howard’s homemade bread from the breadmaker), we watched the pilot episode of Knight Rider that Howard had recorded off the television the evening before. Oh yes, the original 1982 Knight Rider, with David Hasselhoff, “before”, as Rosemarie puts it, “he got a big head”. While I don’t know much about “The Hoff”, having never been a Baywatch fan, I did enjoy the program, and not just for the big hair and pastel clothing. It was intriguing to see the mystique of Silicon Valley and the computer through an 80s lens; the idea that microprocessors could be capable of miraculous feats of AI, and that the technology corporations were the new superpowers of the world economy. I suppose the latter is mostly true, but I haven’t seen any microprocessors capable of creating a car as amazing as KITT in the Pontiac Trans Am.

My afternoon was spent reading Dune, and briefly helping Howard in the garage rig up a reel so he could spread reflective silver tarp up near the roof, helping to repel the heat and keep the garage cool (apparently the roof reaches 50ºC during midday). For dinner we made Spaghetti Bolognese, which I thoroughly enjoyed; as Howard commented, “Ah, the [bottomless] pit has returned!” I wasn’t feeling particularly ravenous, but it was nice to have a normal appetite again.

After dinner we enjoyed pavlova with boysenberries and strawberries and whipped cream, and then I entertained Thibaud by showing him photos of Queenstown and Milford Sound on my computer (he is going to be heading there next to WWOOF). I also amused Howard by showing him this diagram -

- which apparently is only funny if one likes computers, because Thibaud and Rosemarie didn’t really get it, and these two videos: the Mac Rant and Microsoft Designs the iPod Packaging.

Now it is 10pm, and I’m surprisingly tired (I guess it’s a result of still not being 100% better). I’m off for a shower and bed, and hopefully no more dreams about living in residence; for the last two days I have dreamt that I am attending university and living in dorms! Night!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Here comes the sun" (but actually, it rained today)

Hallelujah, the stomach flu is on its way out. I am by no means 100% better, but at least I can tolerate being around food without wanting to throw it up. I even ate three (albeit very small) meals today.

This morning Howard and Rosemarie were quite relived to see that I was getting better; I think they were running out of ideas as to what to do with a sick WWOOFer. I started out the morning by finishing pruning the rosebush I had started a few days ago (and got a few new thorn injuries in the process), while behind me Thibaud attacked the trees and hedges with a pair of pruners, a saw, and his trained landscape gardener's eye. I think Rosemarie was a little nervous to see him hacking and chopping away at her plants, but she was optimistic, saying, "Well, things grow so quickly here, if I don't like it I imagine it will be back to the way it was in under a year!" Thibaud's approach to pruning reminded me somewhat of my dad's: more is less. Waaaaay less. One need only reference a certain cedar tree by the corner steps, or beauty bush by the back door of our house to see what I mean.

After completing the War of the Roses (I'm so witty) I set to work weeding one of the strawberry beds, but the constant moving and bending over was doing a number on my still-sensitive head, so Rosemarie assigned me to a sedentary task of stitching up holes in the netting that covers the strawberry beds. This task kept me busy right up to morning teabreak, and I finished just before lunch at 1:00pm.

After lunch (I ate a small sausage roll and half a slice of bread; improvement!) all four of us went out to visit the Pigeon Valley Steam Museum in Wakefield, about 11km south of Hope. It was a bit of a disappointment; supposedly every Sunday in January is a "Steam Up" day, with rides behind a traction engine and on the bush tramway, but when we got there at 2:00pm we were definitely the only visitors, and there was no sign of any live steam; just half a dozen older men wandering around, tinkering with their machines. By consulting the notice board outside the office building we discovered a larger event is planned for next Sunday, which likely explains how dead it was today. Nevertheless, we had a wander around; the Museum at Higgins Park is actually a collection of several different vintage machinery clubs, who all work together in a communal space and put on special events (like "Steam Up" days) to showcase their toys. I did enjoy wandering around the collection of vintage trucks, which reminded me of an expanded version of the Antique Vehicle Shed at the BCFDC (except the Forest Museum doesn't have any tanks(!) or land rovers). My two favourites were the bright yellow "Crust and Crust" truck (it definitely didn't look like a baker's; I'm thinking it was the name of a contracting company in Dunedin) and the vintage spindly-looking fire truck, with a bell mounted on the ladder rack, and a decal reading "No Hope Fire Department".

In all, the Pigeon Valley Steam Museum gave me a glimpse of what the BCFDC would turn into if we didn't have a clear mandate specifying our focus in preserving the history of the logging industry in British Columbia; we'd possibly have a lot of interesting things (like tanks) but absolutely no way of organizing them into coherent exhibits, or more likely we'd have a bunch of junk lying around that certainly couldn't form a coherent exhibit, and would be an albatross on our backs. Thank goodness Aimee is so good at fending off unwanted "donations"! I salute you, Aimee. I think the Pigeon Valley needs someone like you. :-)

Returning back to the farm, I did a load of laundry, which of course meant that it would start to rain (which it did!), so now some of  my things are drying here in my room, and the others are hanging up outside under the porch roof, where they're probably not drying, but at least not getting any wetter. Thibaud asked if he could use one of my computer's USB ports to charge his "M-P-Trois" player, and we ended up sitting on my bed swapping music back and forth... he likes rap, so I couldn't help him out much there, but I gave him some Björk, whom he said he likes, and also some La Bottine Souriante, so he can take a little Quebecois back with him to France.

Dinner was breaded fish sticks, potato wedges, and ratatouille (it doesn't look anything like it does in the movie, despite my efforts of tugging at Howard's hair to make his arms move like Alfredo Linguini). I've never really had aubergine (eggplant) before, but I found it not dissimilar to a zucchini in texture; I think (like the zucchini) it readily adapts the flavour of what it is cooked with.

After dinner we all watched Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, which had a few funny moments (the penguins were my favourite, and hearing David Schwimmer's voice come out of a sensitive giraffe was hilarious but brilliant casting), but in all didn't amuse me terribly; I couldn't believe how sexualized some of the content was, especially considering this is a children's movie. The animation wasn't anything to write home about, either; perhaps that was the style the animators were going for, but after watching this film I felt even more strongly that Pixar can't be topped in terms of animation quality, storywriting, and production quality for computer-animated films.

Now I am off to bed; here's hoping I wake up tomorrow morning to actual sunshine, and a stomach that feels a little bit more improved than it was today. Night!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Misery, Part Deux

Another day in abject misery have I spent… this morning I woke up fitfully with my alarm, but very quickly went back to sleep, to be awakened by Howard at 8am coming into my room to see how I was doing. He was quite caring and kind and simply wanted to know if I would like anything to eat; he opened my windows to encourage the fresh air to flow through the room, and told me I could "stagger downstairs" when I was ready.

I ended up coming down and choking down an apple, which didn't sit too well with me; as I watched the others hard at work outside, I decided to try and make a small contribution by doing the dinner dishes from last night which were still piled beside the sink. That went okay until my sense of balance deteriorated (and my sense of smell decided that the odour of old food wasn't doing anything to help my nauseated stomach retain its apple). I flopped down on the couch in the living room and didn't move for the next three hours, sleeping on and off.

Around 1:15pm I woke up when Thibaud came in to make himself some lunch, and at 1:30pm Howard and Rosemarie came back from a mid-morning drive to see if they could find a farmstand selling black currants (no luck; most of the farms here are under contract to a large juice producer in New Zealand and grow their crop exclusively for the company). To please them I managed to choke down part of a piece of plain toast, then came upstairs and lay down in bed for most of the afternoon.

In the late afternoon I was once again downstairs, this time in search of some sugar (orange juice did the trick), and Rosemarie encouraged me to play the piano for a few minutes, just to give my mind something to do. I did so, once again until I got too headachy to continue, and went back upstairs to bed. Yes, I spent a lot of today either sleeping or in bed!

Just before dinner I watched two episodes of The Secret Life of Machines on my computer; the Word Processor and the Photocopier. Good ol' Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod, they always cheer me up with their ingenuity.

For dinner (leftovers) I had a small spoonful of cold mashed potatoes and the rest of my orange juice, and three or so cut up strawberries for desert. I'm amazed I'm not any hungrier, but every time I put food in my stomach it protests horribly and tries to convince me to throw it up.

After dinner Howard, Thibaut, and I played several rounds of the card game Thirty-One (I taught them), until my headache got too strong, and now I have come upstairs to have a shower and go to bed. So off to bed am I, hopefully to arise much improved in the morning (but sadly I am not that optimistic). Goodnight.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Stomach Flu = Misery

I went to bed last night feeling not so hot, and woke up feeling much the same; it was an eerie resemblance to the two awful days of food poisoning I suffered when I was travelling with Mainline Steam. The problem this time is not one of the other three people in the house are sick, and we have been eating the same food, so unless I can get food poisoning from eating 1 1/2 cobs of corn or four squares of chocolate (the only differences between my diet and theirs yesterday), I'm going to have to call this a stomach flu.

I managed to work weeding in the vineyard with Thibaud for the the first part of the morning, but after that I was assigned to turn and shovel compost, and the physical exertion did not agree with me; I slept through mid-morning tea break, and afterward Rosemarie was merciful and assigned me to the indoor (and sedentary) task of slicing a good deal of the tomatoes we picked yesterday for making tomato sauce. I also chopped four onions, ginger, and garlic, so my hands smell very interesting (and not at all appealing to my poor stomach).

I ate a hamburger without meat for lunch, which was likely a mistake, as I lay down all afternoon, fitfully trying to sleep, but when I got up for dinner at 6:30pm I promptly threw up the remains of lunch. After that I remarkably felt a little better, so I had a small bit of mashed potatoes, a beetroot, and a little spoonful of silver beet leaf for dinner, and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, but that's not sitting so well right now, so we'll have to see how I do tonight.

The one highlight of the afternoon was lying in bed upstairs and listening to Rosemarie practise her viola; she was playing the prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G by Bach. It is so nice to listen to music in a household being played by another; it's something I rarely hear, as save for my brother's trombone practising, I am the only one who plays a musical instrument at home.

After dinner I started watching a special on earthquakes with Howard and Thibaud, but quickly became jaded by the sensationalism, and somewhat annoyed that the program was focusing almost exclusively on how much damage will be done to Seattle in the next "big one": yes, we know, we live with the threat of an earthquake every day, but living in a state of heightened fear is no way to live. Maybe it makes a good hour of television entertainment, but in the end provides very little in the way of informative or useful information.

Now it is 8:45pm and Rosemarie and Howard are heading out to Cinema in the Park, where tonight's outdoor movie is 42nd Street. For obvious reasons I am not going, but Thibaud may. I'm going to lie down, not move, and hope my dinner contents digest, or at the very least stay put in my stomach.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

PYO Veggies, Roses, and French WWOOFers

This morning it was cloudy again; the weather just can't make up its mind. Actually, the clouds were a blessing; today Howard's task was mixing up several batches of cement in the previously mentioned borrowed cement mixer, and because the weather didn't get blazing hot he was able to actually get it into place before it set in the wheelbarrow. I also enjoyed the cloudy weather, as I was outside first thing in the morning, weeding the vineyard, and listening to my iPod. You know you have a lot of remixes of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" when you can weed for over an hour and the whole time be listening to iterations the same song!

At 9:30pm Rosemarie and I headed out to PYO 185, a fruit and veggie farm store (PYO = "Pick Your Own"; I'm assuming the 185 is their address) with the hopes of PYOing some green beans. Alas, when we got there all the PYO beans were gone (their season finished last week), but we were able to pick two great big buckets of tomatoes (at $1/kg) and a bagful of beetroot ($1/kg). I had no idea there was a cylindrical form of beetroot! You really do learn something everyday.

After midmorning snack I was once again out in the garden; my new task? To prune the rosebushes. My experience with roses and gardening is extremely limited, as we can't grow them at home (the deer would eat them). Rosemarie showed me how to snip just above a bud to encourage new growth, and told me that the "more is less" approach is the best one to take; the more one lops off, the harder the rose compsensates by sending out new shoots. Apparently there are two seasons for roses here in New Zealand; a spring-summer and summer-fall, and by cutting back now in mid-summer there will be another flowering in a month or two. I enjoyed the rose pruning, save for the several nasty encounters I had with thorns ripping into and embedding themselves in my fingers (OUCH).

After lunch was again Warehouse 13 time (or if you're me, Dune-reading time). I phoned Air New Zealand and after several joyous minutes spent on hold and another fifteen talking to a representative, managed to change my flight date home (a mere $100 CDN penalty + $50 NZ service fee. Criminal).

At 3:20pm Rosemarie and I headed into Richmond, first to the Pak 'N Save (she needed milk and bread; I needed toothpaste and hair conditioner), and then to the bus stop to pick up another WWOOFer: his name is Thibaud, and he is from Avignon, France. His English is pretty terrible, but I'm not allowed to speak French with him, as Rosemarie and Howard have a strict rule about WWOOFers who come to New Zealand to practise their English being allowed to converse only in English. However, I'm allowed to use French with him to clarify word meanings. It's funny, though; I'm by no means anywhere near fluent in French, but I'm finding it really hard not to speak French with him!

After a dinner of corn-on-the-cob (or as they call it here, "sweet corn") and lasagna, and apple crumble with cooked pears (leftover from the winemaking) for dessert, we all sat down in the living room and watched tonight's TV movie, Nim's Island, starring Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine fame (as well as Jodie Foster, although I didn't recognise her right away; it's been awhile since I watched Silence of the Lambs). I initially wasn't going to watch it, but seeing as I like Abigail Breslin I gave it a chance. I imagine I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I were 11... oh well. Breslin's performance often reminds me of Mara Wilson, whose acting in Matilda I loved and still love.

Anyway, I've had a shower, and now it is 10:30pm, so I'm off to bed. Night!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Stony and the Ivy

The wind last night blew all the clouds away; when I woke up this morning it was to a brilliant yellow sun rising over the mountains, sending rays of bright yellow sunlight streaming through my window. However, it is windy again tonight, so I'm now wondering if the wind won't just blow away all this good weather, and tomorrow will be crummy again.

This morning I set out to the joyous task of weeding; after the rain yesterday the dandelions and such underneath the grape plants in the vineyard have shot up like, well, weeds. In attempts to keep the weeds off, Howard and Rosemarie have tried piling stones, black matting and stones, cardboard, black matting, and stones, and finally, their current scheme of cardboard, black matting, silver tarp, and stones. The black matting, which would normally work alone to keep the weeds from growing, breaks down under New Zealand's intense sunlight (carpet and drape manufactures in this country won't guarantee their products against bleaching and fading because the sun is too strong). My job was to weed the one remaining section that still had just stones (and therefore the most weeds), lay down cardboard, black matting, silver tarp, and then pile the stones on top again. Along the way I became friends with some very large beetles, which disturbed me because they can jump very high(!) and because I could hear their not-so-little legs clicking as they scuttled away from me across the silver tarp.

Another fun aspect of this task was hauling rocks around; realizing that I couldn't put the rocks I had removed from the dirt back onto the silver tarp (the idea is to use clean stones, so as to minimize the dirt and thus minimize the ability of new weeds to take hold), I had to take several loads of rocks to the end of the row, dump them in a pile to be washed, and then find another pile of previously washed rocks and cart them over to the vineyard in the wheelbarrow. Not to state the obvious, but rocks are heavy! Also, it's no fun to run a wheelbarrow laden with rocks over a ground strewn with large rocks; imagine trying to wheel a full wheelbarrow across a dry riverbed, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

After the midmorning break of muffins and tea, Rosemarie kindly assigned me a job in the shade (she and Howard both know about how easily I burn and don't want to turn me into a lobster): I was to cut around the trunks of several pine trees over in the corner by the woodshed, removing the heavy tendrils of ivy that have been growing there for the last thirty years or so. The last WWOOFers they had attacked the trees a little too voraciously, shall we say (Rosemarie's hope was I would use "intelligence rather than brute force"). My tools? A handsaw, pruners, and a crowbar. The crowbar and saw proved the most effective: I would saw into the ivy to define a section to be removed, and then prise it from the tree using the crowbar. I was amazed both at how thick the vines of ivy were, and also how little bark was left on the pine trees; the ivy had cannibalised everything, sending little tendrils into the bark, and leaving nothing but the inner bark intact; essentially, the ivy had become the tree's outer bark. The idea with removing a section all around the tree is to kill the ivy by starving it of water and nutrients. Seeing as this job required some strategising and allowed me to work in the shade, I was much happier. :-)

Lunch was "cheese and tomato toasties" as Howard called them, and after lunch I was free to do as I pleased; so while Howard and Rosemarie watched Warehouse 13, I cleaned the upstairs (my) bathroom. Yes, voluntarily. Well, it was more to save my sanity; the bathroom was filthy when I got here, and it was bothering me that I was showering and washing my face in a room full of hair and soap scum that didn't belong to me.

The rest of the afternoon I spent by paying my Visa bill and lamenting at how poor I'm getting (that seems to happen when one doesn't have a job), reading Dune (it's getting fascinating) and helping Howard fix computer problems (videos were playing with audio, but no picture; I told him to check if it worked in another browser besides Safari, and when he downloaded and installed Firefox it fixed the problem in the other browser). I also called my brother today; it's his birthday back home.

After dinner today I had a go at playing Rosemarie's electric piano; it's actually a synthesiser/sequencer as well, so Howard and I had a lot of fun messing with the settings, making it blare like a bagpipe and wheeze like an accordion, accompanied by funk and house beats, or playing jazz standards at 210 bpm. Sometimes it just feels good to be silly. :-)

I'm off to bed now; all the rock work today has made my back sore and I think lying down will be good for it. Night!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fermented Pears, Mathematical Drapes, and Computerised Trains

As predicted, I woke up this morning to a drizzle, which quickly became a steady rain, and has been alternating between a light pattering and an all-out downpour for the rest of the day (and now evening), with a few gusts of wind every now and then for good measure. As Howard and Rosemarie are kind, humane people, my tasks today were all indoors (or at least, undercover).

We started the morning by peeling d'Anjou pears for winemaking; Rosemarie and I peeled and sliced the pears (removing a good deal of mushy rotting brown centres; the pears were overripe), placing them in bowls filled with water and a sterilizing agent to prevent them from turning brown, while Howard decanted some boysenberry wine he had started making earlier to ready the equipment to accommodate ten kilograms of pears. (Well, they were 10kg when we bought them, for a rockin' $4; by the time one removes the skins, the cores, and all the mushy bits, the total weight was something like 6kg.)

The peelings, mushy bits, and cores all went into a nifty composting system promoted by the local county called Bokashi, which is a Japanese word meaning "fermented organic matter". The basic idea of the system is to pickle the compost using anaerobic bacteria, rather than letting it decay putrefactively with aerobic bacteria, as in a normal compost. The main advantages for this are a) the unit is sealed, so there is no smell, which makes it ideal for indoor use; b) the fermentation is complete in four weeks, which can be much faster than traditional composting; and c) the nutrients contained in the produced juices are readily collected and can be fed back to living plants. The home-sized system promoted here in New Zealand consists of two 15L square pails, one with small holes drilled in the bottom sitting inside the other. Organic matter to be composted is placed in one-inch layers in the inner pail, interspersed with "Compost-Zing", which is a brand name for what is essentially sawdust, treacle (molasses), and EM, a "beneficial microbical culture" (this is what encourages fermentation, rather than putrefaction, to take place). The inner bucket has a tight-fitting lid, so as little air as possible can enter the system. The nutrient-rich juices from the fermenting process seep out of the holes and into the bottom bucket, and can be collected every few days and mixed with water and fed to plants, as can the pickled compost once the fermentation process is complete. I thought it was a pretty nifty little system, and perfectly suited for indoor environments; I have some friends who live in apartments who would probably love to start a Bokashi compost.

The pears squared and pared away (haha, I'm so droll... but I just realised that only sounds funny if one reads it aloud), I pasted labels on jars of boysenberry jam, tomato salsa, and pumpkin and feijoa chutney to be put in the pantry. That finished, Rosemarie directed me outside to the veranda, where I sat in the loveswing, safely protected from the rain, and peeled the labels off of empty commercial wine bottles so they could be used for housing hommeade wines. Some came off easily, and some had be sitting there gritting my teeth as I pulled one tiny strip of of sticky gum off at a time.

After a mid-morning tea break of mince tarts and (guess what) sliced pear, the three of us tackled the other box of pears (yea, the house is now pear-free), and then I set to work helping to hang new drapes in the living room and kitchen/dining room. The fun part of this task was counting the number of hook-rings (and thus the number of hooks to be used), then counting the number of potential hook mounts on the drapes and doing the math to figure out how many spaces should exist between each hook on the drapes so as to acheive aestetcially-pleasing and even bunching. While it wasn't such a bad job for me to do because a) my arms are longer than Rosemarie's, so I was better able to reach up high and hang the curtains, and b) I don't mind doing a little math, the fussiness of the bunching to get it all even reminded me of why my brother and I disappear every time my mom takes down the fabric skirts from above the windows for washing and then spends two hours getting them all back on their runners and neatly bunched up again.

After lunch I had free time, and Howard and I had a nice talk about the first Macintosh computer, and he offered to show me his N-scale train layout. Of course never being one to turn down an invitation to play with trains, I readily accepted. I was expecting a nicely-modelled railway, perhaps half-built, but featuring some stations, houses, perhaps a factory, interspersed with forest, pasture, and maybe even a river or lake if Howard had been feeling particuarly ambitious. What I saw instead was nowhere near as visually impressive, but once I understood what was going on, it was ten times cooler. (To Howard's credit, the model railroad has only been set up here for two years, and for most of that time he and Rosemarie have been concentraing on the garden, so he hasn't had a lot of time to do scenery.)

Howard's railway consists of a large square-shaped track with two main loops (outer running counter-clockwise, inner running clockwise) and plenty of passing loops, sidings, and one long section of track looping out from the lower left corner that will one day join up with the main outer loop again. What makes his system so fascinating is it is entirely controlled by a computer. While I was picturing a control box like my brother's model trainset used to have, Howard has written a program containing 70 000 lines of code to control his train layout. The software (so far) can handle multiple trains of varying priority and type, automatically switch the points, send trains to stations and to sidings, and perform automatic decoupling (but not yet coupling) of cars. Separate sections of track are all monitored and controlled by their own circuit boards, and then everything feeds back into the main computer running the software on the Windows 2000 platform (the program is written in Java, however, so it could work on other platforms as well). It was absolutely fascinating to watch six trains whiz around the tracks, pausing on passing loops to let higher-priority trains go through, backing onto sidings, and waiting their turns until main lines were clear so they could continue on to their prescribed destinations. Also amusing as watching Howard troubleshoot bugs, of which there were many; there was a lot of dust on the track system, as Howard hasn't had much time of late to play with his trains, so the engines kept losing electrical contact with the rails and causing red "trouble" lines to appear on the digital map of the layout on the computer screen, alerting us to a track continuity problem. As Howard said, "A lot of model railroaders don't want computer-controlled train sets because they figure there'd never be anything to do. There's always something to do!"

Incidentally, Howard has made the source code of his "Train Control Centre" software freely available online; you can download it and read all about it here. Howard belongs to MERG: the Model Electronic Railway Group, which is an international (but based in the UK) collection of model railroaders who mix their passion for trains with a passion for circuitry and computer programming.

As we were making dinner Howard and I were discussing books, and Dune came up; turns out he and Rosemarie own several copies of the movie (on VHS and DVD), and we ended up watching the first fifteen minutes after dinner; I wouldn't watch any more because I don't want it to spoil my reading of the book, and I didn't think Rosemarie was keen to sit through a three-hour movie; she looked pretty tired. I'm feeling pretty tired myself; I just had a shower, and since sitting down to write this blog entry I've been yawning and feeling my eyelids droop lower and lower.

One last train-related thing before I go to bed: Howard has a little set-up on the Christmas tree (yes, their Christmas tree is still up) where a circuar piece of track is braced by diagonal stays against the trunk, and a two-car electric train goes round and round the tree about three feet up in the air. You know you're a serious train nut when...

I best be off to bed... if the rain and wind let up I imagine I'll be out in the garden tomorrow. Night!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Hope, Richmond, and Nelson... and all in NZ, not BC!

Today marks the start of my next WWOOFing adventure; I’m currently situated in the home of Howard and Rosemarie Amos, a couple from the UK who moved to New Zealand two years ago. Their hobby kiwifruit farm and home garden is located in Hope, which is just outside Richmond, which is just outside Nelson. Does anyone else find it amusing that these three city placenames can also be found in British Columbia, albeit spaced far more widely apart?

This morning over breakfast (nutella and toast, how predictable), Bryan and I discussed the politics of the WikiLeaks (he’s for them, which surprised me; at first glance he comes off as a Republican American, not a Democrat) and the lack of accountability in big business. Gary stopped by as he and Judy headed out the door for a day of cycling around Nelson; he wanted to give me their address, and told me if I was ever passing through Edson, AB, a bed and a hot meal would be waiting for me. This is the part I love about travelling; meeting hospitable people from all over the world (or even just the next province over). I returned the favour, and gave him my home address in Duncan (don’t worry, Dad, he’s a nice, easygoing guy, and you’d get along well; he likes to hunt and he’s a Forest Ranger!).

Around 11am Howard called me on my cell phone to tell me he and Rosemarie were five minutes away, and true to his word, five minutes later they pulled up, piled my stuff into their station wagon, and we were off. After a stop at the market in Richmond to pick up some fruit, vegetables, meat, and milk, we hopped back in the car again (now very full with the three of us, all of my stuff, all of their shopping), and drove the ten minutes to Hope and their hobby farm. While it does feel rather remote and rural out here (we’re surrounded by apple farms; all I can see from my second-floor window is acres and acres of small tress stretching out toward the hills), we’re really only about 1km from the main road, and the terrain is all flat, so cycling places won’t be very difficult.

Right away Rosemarie got me started on my first task: running the electric chipper/mulcher to clear up the hedge and bramble trimmings that were lying in piles, blocking vehicle access to the vegetable garden. I did so from 12:15-1:15pm, when I was called in for a lunch of sandwiches and fresh corn on the cob, and then at 2pm Rosemarie and Howard settled down to watch Warehouse 13, one of their favourite shows (which I had never heard of), and I headed back out to finish my chipping. Normally I will have afternoons off to do as I please, but seeing as today I didn’t work in the morning I worked all afternoon instead.

All afternoon the wind steadily increased, blowing in clouds and bringing cooler weather, a welcome respite from the baking heat of the morning. What’s not so reassuring is the origin of the clouds; they are the remnants of the tropical storms that have lashed Australia for the last week, causing extensive flooding. Mercifully for us in New Zealand, very little remains of the storms’ original power, and all that’s expected for tonight and tomorrow is some moderate winds and showers (in the Nelson area, at least).

When I was almost done the mulching Rosemarie came outside and showed me around the garden, pointing out tasks that need to be done so I can choose one that suits me best to start on tomorrow. There is a small vineyard here that needs weeding, and then to prevent more weeds they have laid down cardboard, black matting, silver matting, and then a layer of large stones. The stones (and this was a little disheartening) are all from the garden; the valley in which their property lies is an ancient riverbed, and one only has to dig down about four inches to start finding substantially-sized rocks. Digging out beds for the garden is another task, as is weeding the flower beds, and pulling down ivy (to prevent it from choking the palm trees). Depending on the weather tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll find something to keep me busy.

Heading inside around 5:00pm, I had an hour or so before I was needed to help with dinner, so I called my cousin Rebecca to wish her a Happy Birthday, and then called my Grandma Wright because I realised I never called her on her birthday, and felt badly about that. Both were glad to hear from me (even if both were initially perplexed as to who on earth would be calling, with such a strange number showing up on the display!), and it was nice to talk to them.

I helped Howard to make dinner (chicken quesadillas with onion, cheese, and pepper), and after dinner we had apple crumble and ice cream for dessert. I think Howard and I are going to get on well; he has that dry British wit, and his mannerisms and vocal inflections often make me feel like I’m talking to a Monty Python-era John Cleese! (His appearance is a little John Cleese-y, too.)

After dinner we watched an episode of Weird or What? hosted by William Shatner (whom I couldn’t help but make fun of the whole time), and then seeing as the forecasted rain for tomorrow decided to arrive early, we all ran outside into the garden to move a borrowed old-school cement-mixer under a tree where it won’t get as wet (Howard and Rosemarie borrowed it from a neighbour, so it was pretty easy to move, as it was still strapped into the back of a pup trailer).

Back in the kitchen, Howard and I started talking about VHS vs. PVR recorders, and this led to me bringing up the Secret Life of Machines episode on the Video Recorder on my computer, and Howard and Rosemarie both sat and watched it with fascination (Rosemarie figures she may have seen an episode or two back when she was living in the UK). The simple, lo-fi - yet incredibly informative - nature of that program as opposed to Weird or What? is a stark reminder of how much television has changed in the twenty years between the two programs; everything is so sensationalised now, yet as Rosemarie said, “ [Weird or What?] is twice as long, but contains four times as much waffle” (i.e., the pace is much slower, with tonnes of dramatic recaps, and very little in the way of thought-provoking information). It’s the equivalent of eating a twinkie made with high-fructose corn syrup, where as The Secret Life of Machines is more like a homemade granola bar; not nearly as sickly sweet and creamy, and with a few tougher raisins and such that require persistent chewing, but in the long run will keep you full and feeling healthy for a lot longer.

Now it is almost 11pm, and seeing as I have devolved into comparing television programs to foodstuffs and also have to be up and downstairs and ready for breakfast at 7:30am, I had best be off. Goodnight!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Bikeride to the Beach: The Perfect January Activity!

This morning I woke up to an empty room; all three of my roommates cleared out before 8:00am, leaving nothing behind but their stripped beds and a pair of red ribbed towels (I think those belonged to the American girls... oops). I got dressed and went out into the kitchen to have some breakfast (nutella on toast) and met a young couple from Toronto, who were eating a decidedly healthier breakfast of museli, grapefruit, and tea. They are living and teaching in Australia for a year, and have come over to New Zealand for the summer holidays; today they were headed out to go kayaking up in Abel Tasman. They certainly picked a wonderful day for it; the skies were bright blue and clear, and a gentle breeze assured that it would not get too hot out on the water.

After breakfast I sat in front of my computer for an hour or so, figuring out busses and bookings for when I go do the Milford Track in February (I know it's almost three weeks away, but seeing as I'm doing it by myself without anyone to help me plan, I want to make sure I have all my ducks in order). I booked the hostel in Te Anau for the nights of the 3rd and 7th (the day before I start and the day I finish the track), and also booked the Intercity bus (Queenstown - Te Anau, and then Te Anau - Christchurch for the way back).  It is a relief to know that things are falling into place; now all I can do is worry about the usual things, like where I'm going to put the rest of my stuff while I am walking the track, and buy some more supplies (I still need to buy bandages, blister pads, sports tape... I just *know* what is going to happen to my feet!).

Lunch was decidedly more healthy than breakfast: a sandwich with cucumber and orange pepper and cheese, a sliced tomato, and half a can of pickled beets. Feeling energised, I slathered on two layers of sunscreen, and then went out to the shed to select a bike and helmet. And then I was off, riding down Vanguard St, heading for SH6, which would take me onto Wakefield Quay, eventually ending up at Tahunanui Beach.

It's afternoons like today, when the sun is shining brightly (and intensely as always) and I walk barefoot across the sands, letting the waves (which by the way, were bath-tub water warm to my Canadian Ocean-seasoned feet), lap over my toes, that I feel like I am cheating somewhat by having summer twice; it feels surreal to know it is the middle of January and I am in the middle of summer, sporting a t-shirt and capri pants. Tahunanui Beach is gorgeous; I got there just before low tide, and the long stretches of sand were dotted with all sorts of beachgoers; families with young children, splashing gleefully in the shallow waves, older boys and girls chasing each other and swimming in the deeper waters, teenagers playing games with nerf balls and lying baking in the sun (some were very dark brown indeed... skin cancer, people, skin cancer!), and surfers (old-school, kite, and sail varieties) catchin' a wave (or breath of wind).

I chose to walk a long length of the beach (it's huge), then settled down in the not-so-dry sand to read. I must have either sat there longer than I intended to, or misjudged how quickly the tide comes in: one minute I looked behind me and there was a good ten metres between me and the water; the next minute, it was rushing up, and nearly caught me! I scrambled to my feet as quickly as I could; while I don't mind getting a little wet, my camera was in my left pants pocket (and I've had enough problems with my camera over the past few days without adding "waterlogged at the beach" to the list).

By 4:30pm the skies were starting to cloud over somewhat, and I walked back along the beach, brushed the sand off my feet as best I could, donned my shoes, and hopped across the highway to a gelato shop; my one treat for the day was two scoops of coffee-flavoured gelato in a waffle cone (the waffle cone tasted like gingerbread! I wasn't expecting that, but it was delicious). Then it was back on the bike, and I wandered my lazy way back to The Bug Backpackers. Perhaps a little too lazy; I ended up turning up Rutherford St. instead of Vanguard St, and momentarily got lost!

One fun part of today was riding my bike in downtown Nelson and getting mistaken for a local; I was waiting at a light when the couple in the car beside me rolled down their window and asked me for directions on how to get to the Nelson Girls' College. It was too bad that I couldn't help them, but for a moment there I had a brief thrill of knowing that I looked like a Kiwi (don't worry, I still love Canada. Mais oui, je suis Canadienne! It's just nice to not always stick out like a tourist).

Back at the hostel, I had tea with Judy and Gary, the two Canadians from Jasper that I met yesterday, and their two new American friends (who happen to be my roommates tonight!), Bryan and De, who are from Iowa (I think). I can definitely hear their American Mid-West accent... sometimes it amazes me how different their speech can sound to my British Columbian ears.

For dinner tonight I had my second cob of corn (still delicious, mom!), and then made stir-fry, and managed to burn myself with splatter of hot oil (ouch). Afterward I talked to Gary and Judy some more, had a shower, and phoned Howard and Rosemarie, my WWOOFing hosts; instead of my taking the bus to Richmond tomorrow, they're coming into Nelson to shop, and they'll pick me up on the way back! Excellent, I saved a $4 bus fare, and I don't have to worry about trying to get downtown with all of my stuff.

Now I am off to bed; tomorrow a new adventure begins... my second (well, technically my third, but Mary wasn't at home in Granity and I didn't really do much) WWOOFing experience. Wish me luck, and goodnight!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Navigating Nelson (by Foot)

Let's start things off on a high note: I now once again have a working camera. I downloaded some photo recovery software and managed to salvage almost all of the photos off my corrupted SD card (yes! The Mines of Millerton live on!). After several unsuccessful attempts to reformat the card using both my camera and my laptop, I declared it legally dead, and resigned myself to buying a new one when I went into town today.

The Bug Backpackers is located on Vanguard St, and is about a 15-minute walk from downtown Nelson. I headed out around 10am, and by 10:20am I was smack in the middle of Nelson's Saturday Market, which is situated in the Montgomery Carpark. It was a lively place, with loads of local crafts (everything from gourmet soap, shaped to look like cupcakes, tarts, and blocks of fudge, to handmade wooden toys and aeroplanes made out of pop bottles) and produce; I saw blueberries, honey, bbq sauce, and vegetables galore. I bought a bar of soap from Global Soap and a bottle of Pete's Natural Lemonade (made in Wakefield, just outside of Nelson) to sip on while I walked around the stalls. I bought peppers, a cucumber, tomatoes, and two cobs of corn from several different farm stands; I love being able to purchase vegetables directly from the farmer, as the food has likely traveled the least distance from the farm field to my plate, and most of the profits stay with the farmer, instead of being divvied up between the farmer, the transporter, and the supermarket.

I wandered down the street (taking in a string quartet playing "It's a Raggy Waltz" - I gave them $2) and into the Dick Smith electronics store, where I purchased another SD card for my camera. I then walked up Trafalgar Street to the Nelson Cathedral, and tested my camera by taking a picture of the beautiful structure, whose foundation stone was laid in 1925, the nave built from marble in 1932, and completed in concrete and consecrated in 1972. However, the cathedral sits on the site of a former Maori pa known as Pikimai, and the first act of Christian worship was conducted in 1842, with the first Parish church opened in 1851. The most fascinating aspect of the cathedral (for me) was the organ, whose pipes are placed on a free-standing carved wooden stand that one walks under to access the west nave of the church.

Leaving the cathedral, I walked down Nile Street to the Nelson School of Music (sadly, closed for summer holidays, so I couldn't visit), and then over to Hardy Street and down to the Botanics Reserve, a park with a large green that hosted the first rugby game in New Zealand on May 4th, 1870, between the Nelson club team and Nelson College. Up atop Botanical Hill is The Centre of New Zealand, a geodetic triangulation point set in 1870 by John Spence Browning, the chief surveyor for Nelson, in order to connect the previous independent surveys of New Zealand performed by previous surveyors. The name is a bit of false advertising; while the Centre of New Zealand was indeed the centre for surveying purposes, the actual Centre of New Zealand, as determined by the Department of Science and Industrial Research in 1962, is 41.deg 30min S., 172.deg 50minE., a point in the Spooners Range in the Golden Downs Forest.

Another bit of false advertising: the sign marking the "Centre of New Zealand" path says it is a fifteen-minute walk to the summit of Botanical Hill; sure, if you run the whole way! I'm not exactly out of shape, but it took me twenty minutes of well-paced, determined walking up the steep gravel path to ascend the hill; for a slow-moving elderly person or a child with short legs, it would be closer to forty-five.

Heading off down the Hill I walked back across the green and followed the Maitai River path back into town, coming out near the iSite Centre. I wandered around looking for the library, but when I found it it was almost 2pm, and the library was open from 10:00am-1:00pm on Saturdays (which I found a little weird; what about kids who need to do homework on the weekend?). Across the street was the Kathmandu, so I went in there instead and bought a fleece shirt (clearance, marked down from $99 to $24), a plastic pack liner, and three freeze-dried meals for my days on the Milford Track. Then I began the long trek back to the hostel, broken only by a brief stop at the New World supermarket to buy bread and more nutella (my love affair with nutella continues...).

Once back at the hostel, I had a late lunch, then worked to sort through the salvaged photos from my damaged SD card (the program just grabbed everything it could off the card, including a bunch of thumbnail "preview" photos and files that were half-written over). I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on a couch in the lounge, working on my knitting, enjoying listening to the voices and conversations around me (many in German, a few in Spanish, and several others in English).

Dinner was rice and the fresh veggies from the market (mom, the corn on the cob was amazingly good), and now it is late and my stomach is happily digesting tasty food and making my eyelids droop. Time for bed... goodnight!


Friday, January 14, 2011

Off to Nelson (and my camera must DIE)

I'm in a grouchy mood right now; my camera has somehow decided to corrupt my SD memory card, and I've lost all my photos from the past week. This includes photos I took of Punakaiki Rocks in the sunshine, my Shantytown photos, and most tragically, all the photos I took at Millerton. :-( I rode a bike uphill for 6km and hiked for three hours to an amazingly cool (and dangerous) place, and now I have nothing to show for it except my blog entry and my own memories. If I would allow myself to swear on my blog, this is when I'd do it.


This morning I walked down to the post office to mail thank-you cards to Warren Smith and Ian Tibbles for their help and generosity in letting me purchase the Shantytown Steam School textbooks, and then I sat in the lounge of the hostel and added photos to my Heaphy Track: Day Five blog post. Yes, all five posts about the Heaphy Track now have photos to accompany them! Hopefully the photos provide some context and make the posts more enjoyable to read.

At 1:30pm this afternoon I caught the Intercity bus heading for Nelson; or rather, the Nelson Coachlines bus operating as an Intercity bus. Now, I'm not sure if our driver was accustomed to automatic transmissions, or if the bus has a really sticky gearshift, but either way, we were mashing gears and jerking all over the road the whole way... "find 'em, don't grind 'em", as Bill Nye would say. I'm thinking it was the operator's driving ability that was lacking, because we were also screeching to a halt at yield signs and traffic lights and getting thrown into the seats in front of us (or maybe this bus has a faulty brake pedal as well, but really, I'm not buying it).

As the bus started from Franz Josef this morning, we stopped at Punakaiki Rocks (whoo-hoo, my second time in four days) for a lunch break; I didn't bother going down to the rocks, but sat instead in the café, eating an overpriced (but relatively tasty) chicken sandwich and reading my Steam School Module 1. We continued on up the coast to Westport, picked up a few passengers, and then headed inland on SH6, through territory I traveled with Stray on November 10th. Twisting our way up and down the winding highway, I took in the sights of the Buller Gorge, which reminds me so much of British Columbia. We made it through Hawks Craig without getting stuck under the rock overhang (the one-way stretch of highway was carved out of solid rock!).

We stopped at Murchison for tea at 5:30pm (at the same café the Stray bus stopped at for lunch); I didn't partake, as I had spent my allotted food money for the day; instead, I sat at a small table on the deck and read my book until it was time to get back on the coach. From there it was another hour and a half to Nelson, which welcomed us with warm, yellowy-orange rays of sunshine and the sight of dozens of people enjoying a drink or meal out on the balconies of all the restaurants we passed by.

When we arrived at the bus depot I called my accommodation - Bug Backpackers - for a pick-up, and twenty minutes later I was checking in to one of the smaller but funkier backpackers I have been to; it seems a little cliquey, even, perhaps, but it should do the trick. The name refers to, of course, VW Bugs and station wagons, which are the running theme; the room I'm staying in, for example, is called "Nelson Bug". I was supposed to be booked into a dorm room, but due to circumstances beyond my control I'm now in a four-bed share room instead (so no bunks), with three guys (sigh, I'm always the only girl). I will have my earplugs and in-ear headphones + iPod close by tonight when I go to bed; statistically speaking, I'd be very surprised if at least one of them didn't snore!

Tomorrow I'm going to check out the Saturday market and do a little wandering around Nelson; the hostel has free bikes we can use, so I may take advantage of that in the afternoon. And judging from George's skin (the French guy here in my room), I'm going to wear a double layer of sunscreen... he is very lobster-like indeed. Night!


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steam School Textbooks and Buried Locies

This morning I was so excited about getting those Steam School textbooks that I woke up at 7:30am without an alarm (or maybe it was the on-again off-again snoring coming from the Italian guy at the far side of the room). Either way I stayed in bed reading until 8am, then got up and had some breakfast (nutella and toast! So nutritious), and then made my way down Chapel Street and over onto State Highway 6 to Tai Poutini Polytechnic for my 9:30am appointment with Warren Smith. Turns out his new office space has a window that looks out toward Noah's Ark Backpackers, and if I had leant out my window while we were on the phone yesterday we likely could have seen one another! Forget the cell phone, we could have had two tin cans with a string...

Warren had the Steam School textbooks sitting on his desktop; just as I remembered, there were three spiral-bound modules, and then two smaller books, a practical and a theory assessment workbook. We talked for a little bit (I gave him a BCFDC flyer) and he said in selling the books to me he was really only looking to recoup the printing costs, which were a bit higher than might be expected due to the colour photos on a lot of the pages. I was just so happy with the fact that they were going to let me buy the books I wasn't very concerned about price, and $196 later, all five books were mine! Warren said to keep in touch; I think he's hoping if the Forest Museum ever develops some sort of steam school Tai Poutini Polytechnic might be able to assist us in setting it up.

I practically skipped out of the Polytechnic, hugging the books to my chest as I walked back up the street to the hostel: here, in my arms, I had my reason for coming back to Greymouth, and after a few phone calls and a little persuasive conversation I had achieved my goal! As someone who hates approaching people to ask for things, I was quite proud of myself. I went straight into the dining room / lounge, flopped down on the couch, and proceeded to devour the first sixty pages of the first module. Oh, how I want to go home and study Samson now, matching everything up to the diagrams! (I also started correcting the grammar and spelling mistakes. I can't help it, it's compulsive...)

After a brief supermarket visit to pick up some soup, bread rolls, and canned beets for lunch, I spent the afternoon reading and updating my blogs for the Heaphy Track with photos; I now have pictures up for every day except the last one, and I'll try to get those up tomorrow. For the last part of the afternoon I went out and sat and read on the balcony of the hostel, and finally figured I had to blow off some of this excitement about my newest acquisitions to the only type of person who would understand: a fellow steam nut, Ron. I called him up and in the midst of our conversation about my adventures at Shantytown I remembered I have to make a list of some of the redneck Kiwi jokes I have heard ("Maori roast" as a euphemism for "fish and chips" being one of the more politically-incorrect ones).

While I was making dinner my cell phone beeped; it was Craig Campbell, the fireman I met yesterday, asking if I were free this evening. We met for a drink at Speight's Ale House, where we talked trains for about ninety minutes solid, and then he took me just up the road in his car to show me where some locomotives and coal tubs are eroding out of the side of the riverbank; in the 1930s and 1950s, old steam locomotives and the like were piled up against the side of the river to prevent the banks from eroding further and thus endangering the rail line. As it turns out, the river's course has changed, moving it closer to the bank, and while the rail line was moved to safety farther up the side of the mountain, the old "retaining wall" of locomotives and rail trucks has started to erode into the water. Craig told me in 2005 he watched several old locomotives being salvaged from the bottom of the river. He's been surrounded by steam trains his whole life; his dad worked for Mainline Steam, and now he (Mr Campbell) has started his own steam railway project up in Springfield (between Greymouth and Christchurch). We had a nice (if nerdy) evening together, and he said to give him a ring when I'm in Christchurch with my parents (where he lives) and we'll go out and look at Ferrymead Heritage Park's steam train.

Tomorrow I am off to Nelson; I will be staying at a backpacker's for a few days, and I just got an e-mail back from a WWOOFing host up in Nelson saying they can take me on Monday! And get this: they run a miniature world as well as their organic garden, where they do some model railroading. Things seem to be falling into place. :-) Night! (For some reason I feel like ending this entry with "All aboard!" instead. It really has been a day of trains.)


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steam School and Parents Ahoy!

I headed down to the i-Site this morning (New Zealand's equivalent of BC's Visitor Information Centres) and booked the shuttle bus to Shantytown (the "Shantytown Gold Express", it's called) for 9:30am. While there I overheard one of the i-Site employees talking to a man with a North American accent about sailing in Abel Tasman National Park. Seeing as I took a really neat catamaran cruise there, I told him all about my experience with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures, and he was delighted, as it was exactly what he wanted to do. Turns out he is from Campbell River, and has friends that grew up on Bell-McKinnon Road! It's crazy what a small world this is sometimes (or maybe it's simply that a lot of people from BC come to New Zealand).

Trying to kill time until 9:30am, I was walking around downtown Greymouth and my cell phone rang; it was my mom, calling to tell my dad has gotten time off from work starting February 16th, and she was asking me what I had already planned for February so she could start looking at flights to New Zealand! I must say, now that it's actually going to happen I'm somewhat incredulous; my parents, who haven't travelled anywhere major since they took my brother and cousin and I to Disneyland in 1994, are going to fly down to the bottom of the world to travel in New Zealand.

My mom said she was going to call a travel agent to figure out how to book the best flights, and I walked back to the i-Site and caught the bus to Shantytown. Also on the shuttle bus was a family from a hotel out of town, and an elderly German tourist, who insisted the shuttle had to have him back at the Greymouth Train Station for 12:45 as he was catching a bus at 1:20pm... so seeing as there was no other way for me to get back, I ended up being able to stay at Shantytown for less than three hours. While the driver assured me that was "plenty of time" to see all the attractions, I knew better: it was like when I tell visitors at the Forest Museum they should allot about two hours to walk around, ride the train, and visit some of the exhibits, but knowing that if they really wanted to properly explore the site they would have to spend a whole day.

Once at Shantytown I wandered around, looking at all the old buildings; it really is like a mini-Barkerville, except that a) there are no boardwalks and b) a lot of the buildings were brought to the site, not built there originally. After wandering through Chinatown (hidden on the other side of the giant waterwheel) I made my way over to the train station, and boarded one of the two passenger carriages for the twenty-minute ride (like the Forest Museum, that includes a 10-minute stop). At the other end of the line I wandered up and through the locie's cab (like the rest of the tourists), and struck up a conversation with the engineer, Jeffrey, saying I was interested in the Steam School's textbooks and had been trying to get in contact with Warren Smith. When he found out I worked at the BC Forest Discovery Centre (I showed him my baseball cap emblazoned with the BCFDC's logo) and explained my steam experience, he invited me up for a cab ride back to the main station, and told me I was welcome to come ride in the cab again for the 11:45am train.

When the train got back to the main station Jeffrey took me over to the waterwheel and introduced me to Ian Tibbles, the head of the Steam School and the author of the textbooks I was trying to lay my hands on (he was busy trying to fix the waterwheel; the first thing he said to me after being introduced was, "Do you know anything about fixing waterwheels?" My response of "Add more water?" likely wasn't the answer he was looking for). Although he seemed reluctant at first to consider selling the books to me without my taking the course (he said he had "never considered" selling the books separately, as they are designed specifically for the course he teaches), I explained how I had read part of them when I met someone taking the course, and how helpful and well-written I found them, considering all my steam engine training has been oral/hands-on or reading old books from nearly a hundred years ago. He brought me back to his office, gave me his card, and took my name and e-mail and phone number. We continued to talk trains (I told him all about the BCFDC's collection; he seemed to already know about our Climax engines) and took me over to the rail shed to look at the Climax engine owned by Shantytown (it's just a baby, at 20 tons).

At 11:45am we walked back over to the train station, and as promised I got my second cab ride with Jeffrey and his fireman, Craig. I had a wonderful time; Jeffrey even let me drive part of the way and back! The engine was Kaitangata, nicknamed "Kaitie" (just shortening the name), a 22-ton coal-fired 0-6-0 built in 1896 for the Kaitangata Coal & Railway Co., with an operating pressure of 160psi. The last time I was here in October with Mainline Steam the train pulling us was Gertie, a 20-ton coal-fired 2-4-0 built in 1877 by the Avonside Engine Company in Bristol, England, also with an operating pressure of 160psi. I felt happy to have been able to see both trains in operation, and getting a cab ride/driving opportunity on one of them was an unexpected bonus! I told Craig that my parents were thinking about coming down to travel around New Zealand, and he replied, "Well, you'll have to bring them here then!". Shantytown for a third time? Yes, I could probably go for that, especially if I can weevil another cab ride out of them. ;-)

I caught the shuttle bus back to Greymouth, and had an oh-so-nutritious lunch of noodle soup and bread slathered in nutella (FYI: the bread is bearable if I put so much nutella on it it's like eating a candy bar). I was in my room at the hostel, getting ready to head out to the library and post office, when my cell phone rang; it was Warren Smith, calling me back to say he had just been out to Shantytown, spoken with Ian Tibbles, and if I came by his office at Tai Poutini Polytechnic tomorrow morning (it's just down the street from the hostel) he would sort me out with getting the textbooks! Who-hoo! I feel like all my efforts have paid off.

When I got back to the hostel at 5pm my phone rang again (I spent a lot of today on the phone); it was my mom and dad (and Piha the cat, meowing/yowling in the background), calling to tell me they had bitten the bullet and bought plane tickets to New Zealand; they arrive on my February 22nd in Christchurch, and fly home on March 13th from Auckland, which gives us just under three weeks to explore the country together (translation: just under three weeks for me to drag them around). Now I have to formulate a list of things I think they may want to see and do, they will send me a list of things they want to see and do, and we'll see what overlaps and then I'll start planning out an itinerary, travel, accommodation, etc.

Today has been exciting but exhausting (or maybe that owes more to going to bed after midnight and getting up at 7am). Either way, I am off for a shower and bed now... night!