Saturday, 31 March 2007

Tane's Five lots of Five

Five things I am hoping will happen this year

1. NZ beat Australia to win the cricket World Cup
2. Lauren and I ride an elephant in Laos
3. Lauren and I take to a boat to Lesbos. Heh. Lesbos.
4. Lauren and I ride in a balloon over Cappadocia
5. We're in a pub in Ireland to watch NZ win the rugby World Cup

Five movies I’m looking forward to

1. Pan's Labyrinth
2. Spider Man 3
3. The Simpsons Movie
4. Pirates of the Caribbean 3
5. Harry Potter 5

The last five books I’ve read

1. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander Solzhenitsyn (well, still reading - it's bloody good)

2. His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman (incredibly imaginative and filled with beautiful descriptions, but the plot was sometimes messy)

3. A History of God - Karen Armstrong (interesting and well written, if repetitive - people's ideas of God tend to be similar)

4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time - Mark Haddon (fascinating autistic narrator)

5. LOTS of comics - especially The Swamp Thing by the great Alan Moore

Five books I’m looking forward to reading

1. Birds without Wings – Louis De Bernieres
2. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman
3. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
4. War of the Flowers – Tad Williams
5. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Five things I am currently procrastinating from doing

1. Writing my CV for Ireland and the UK
2. Doing my TEFL course
3. Cleaning the car
4. Putting my fan on trademe
5. Reading Umberto Eco’s “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Laona”

Lauren's Five lots of Five

Five things that have made me laugh recently

1. The new Simpsons. “Duffman said stop punching and kicking Duffman”
2. The swan in Hot Fuzz.
3. Sawyer’s line in Lost: “you found yourself a hippy car”
4. Laughing with Tane about far too much to describe here
5. Scaring the bajesus out of Stephen when he walked into the house this morning

Five places I really want to see that I have no current plans to see

1. Tikal, Guatamala
2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
3. Petra, Jordan
4. The Kremlin, Moscow
5. Krakow, Poland

The last five books I have read

1. “Lolita” – Vladimir Nabakov (like looking at a beautifully taken photograph of something horrendous)

2. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – Victor Hugo (this book surprised me with its raciness. And how much Disney was wrong.)

3. “The English Patient” – Michael Ondaatje (a good book although a bit pretentious for my liking)

4.“The Five People You Meet in Heaven” – Mitch Ablom (nice and soppy)

5. “Summer Fires, Winter Country” – Maurice Shadbolt (great New Zealand short stories. I recommend.)

Five books I look forward to reading

1. The next Harry Potter. Oh yeah. I get excited whenever I see the advert outside Borders on the way to work. I hope that I can remain dignified when scrambling to get a copy on July 21.

2. The next Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, whenever that will be.

3. Shopaholic and Baby. Thanks to Philippa for lending it to me, along with most of my Civil Union outfit.

4. Senor Vivo and the Cocoa Lord, by Louis De Bernieres.

5. Vanity Fair. I am part way through and look forward to Becky Sharp getting what she deserves. I hope.

Five fruts I am in (fruts = food ruts)

1. Lollies
2. Coke Zero
3. Suhsi with tuna and avocado
4. Caramel Chews
5. Fruit of all kinds


Bookshops are to book geeks like me what lone mountain caves are to long-bearded hermits. They are somewhere to kill time without over-eager shop assistants asking if they can help you every five minutes. Somewhere to meet a friend who is always notoriously late as browsing a bookshop is far more pleasant than standing on a windy street corner. Bookshops are also great for, well, looking at books.

Borders bookshops in particular have been my lone mountain cave during my travels in North America. To me and my family, Borders has became as much a part of the American experience as lard-filled doughnuts, watching strange daytime TV and visiting shopping malls the size of a small city containing such diversions as an orchestra of life-sized mechanical bears. Between the impressive collection of books that American Borders’ bookshops contain, the deliciously comfortable seats and the conscious policy of staff leaving customers alone while they browse, a Borders bookshop is a weary traveller’s dream. As whoever came up with the Borders concept also deliberately ignored the sacred commandment of book lovers “thou shalt not drink hot beverages and eat cake while reading”, when my feet were crying for mercy after hours of walking around an American city, finding a Borders always felt a bit like striking gold.

Borders in Honolulu was a place to enjoy the crisp air conditioning and shelter from the sweltering heat and humidity, while enjoying the view of palm trees from inside the café. Borders in Chicago was the opposite, the warmest place I could find to sit and read on a December day so cold I thought I would lose the use of my fingers. Borders St Louis was where I went to reduce my heart rate back to normal after making the ill-informed decision to visit the top of the towering St Louis arch. Borders in Los Angeles was a place to pretend that I wasn’t in the smog capital of the world. For my Dad, Borders in San Francisco was where he went to occupy his mind after witnessing a bank hold up and shooting while innocently walking down a street in the downtown area.

The Borders formula is a cunning one indeed. Despite all intentions of going to a Borders to escape the weather and rest tired feet, trying to lug home to New Zealand far too many books than was sensible also became part of the American holiday experience.

Given my long association with Borders, and also having recently inspected the one on Queen St in Auckland, I was excited at the prospect of one opening on Lambton Quay. The morning it opened, I scrambled to the new store for an initial inspection. On the surface, it met with approval. Good travel section. Lots of magazines. Great non-fiction books. However, upon returning a few days later for a proper peruse Borders Lambton Quay started to feel … odd. I was at a loss to understand why – the books were good, the chairs comfortable and the winning café-and-browsing formula was the same. What was missing? I met up with my Dad in the café to discuss. Why was this Borders different? Dad hit on the answer after we heard some staff talking near-by.

“You know” he said. “the thing I always notice about America Borders are the heavy American accents over the intercom.”

He was right. The only reason why that Lambton Quay Borders didn’t fit with my idea of what a Borders ought to be like was simple – it was on Lambton Quay. My feet weren’t sore. My house was a short bus ride away, and I had not been walking around Wellington all day. What’s more, I knew exactly where it was located, so hadn’t stubbled upon it after a day of being a tourist.

Next time I go to North America, or any of the other Borders bookshops around the world, it will be different. Already Borders on Lambton Quay has become a place to meet friends who are notoriously late, and somewhere to kill time when I don’t want to be pestered by over-eager shop assistants. When next in an American Borders, I wonder if I will think about the vegemite on toast you can buy at the one on Lambton Quay, as well as the New Zealand history and literature books found there. I wonder if doing something that used to feel part of the American experience might, next time, leave me feeling more than a little homesick.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Civil Union FAQ's

I am officially a child of the 21st century! I have four parents, and flat with my gay ex-boyfriend and his boyfriend. And, just to make being a child of the 21st century official, Tane and I have decided to be the 841st couple in NZ to get a Civil Union and will do so in three weeks time. The ceremony itself will be a small affair, but we’ll be having a party to celebrate that night (Friday 13 April) at our flat if you are able to make it. It's not in lieu of a wedding - we'll do that with all the bells and whistles when we get home from the big OE in a couple of years time. It would be great if you could make it, but if not that's fine too - I know that plenty of you live far far away. We promise you'll get more than three weeks notice when the real thing rolls around.

Since deciding to get a civil union, I have been asked questions like you wouldn’t believe, so have added a Frequently Asked Questions section to my write up of this on my blog:

8 most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)*

1. How is it different than getting married?

Legally, it’s not. I could go around calling myself Mrs Aikman if I wanted. BUT, we are able to change our Civil Union to a marriage later, so will do that. Apparently, the only difference is that we are not legally recognised in most of the world. So if I have to tell creepy men in the Middle East that no they cannot buy me for a camel they probably would not understand why.

2. Why don't you just get married?

Because we would much rather spend our money on travel than a wedding, and don't really see the hurry anyway when we have this great interim solution at our fingertips ...

3. Are you going to change your name?

If I am, I won't till I get married later. Dunno. I am sure that every girl wonders about this, and I am always really interested in which of my girlfriends change their names and which don't. Apparently 1 in 5 NZ women keep there maiden surnames. Any thoughts on this? Am curious to hear opinions on this debate.

4. Is it true doing this caused you to lose a bet?

Yes it did. I gave Geremy his 5 chocolate fish yesterday, and was told they tasted like victory.

5. You do realise that you are getting civil unioned on Friday the 13th?

Yes I do. Imagine me looking at you with a blank expression. That is my caring face. (I am not superstitious, and we planned it for three Fridays from now without really looking at the date)
6. Are you engaged?
I realise our situation doesn't fit nicely into conventional boxes of "boyfriend/girlfriend" then "engaged" then "married". We are engaged to get a civil union, and intend to get married later. Although, in three weeks time we have technically overtaken the "engaged" stage I guess. And I also realise that I have given a typical bureaucratic answer that doesn't leave you any the wiser. Tee hee.
7. Will you have a bridal party?
No, we are just going to have significant witnesses. Stephen has agreed to be mine, although has not agreed to wear a dress.
8. What does Max think of it all?
As long as he still gets fed, Max appears unconcerned. He sleeps soundly.

Monday, 12 March 2007

The last weekend of summer

Last Friday, Tane and I were spending an afternoon of annual leave poddling around in outdoorsy-type shops. While in one of these shops, Tane decided to buy a tent. And to justify this purchase, we made a spur of the moment decision to go camping.

Less than an hour of frantic travelling back to the flat for some even more frantic packing later, we were sitting in the car, heading north. Although by "heading north" you must not assume that we were travelling at speeds higher than 30 km an hour. By "heading north" I really mean "driving so slowly that smug looking cyclists were overtaking us". Stuck in a traffic jam so bad that whenever we turned on the radio the main news story would be "traffic jams north of Wellington", we crawled to Wanganui over a period of 5 hours. The beauty of having no-where to be at no particular time, though, is that I still enjoyed myself. Good company, good music and good junk food made for a pleasant beginning to a great weekend. This, in spite of the fact that 1) by the time we found a random camping ground what felt like halfway up the Whanganui River it was too dark to pitch the tent, and 2) in all the frantic packing Tane had forgotten his sleeping bag anyway. 'Twas a cold night that night, and no wonder - turned out we were staying like a metre from the river.

It was a weekend of random beaches along the Surf Highway, reading in the sun, and good brunches. We took a detour up to Dawson's Falls at the base of Mt Taranaki which was spectacular, an amazing view of Taranaki as well as some pretty snazzy bush. Camping was great fun too once we arrived in New Plymouth and figured out how to put up the new tent. Tane got his beach swimming fix, and I got my seeing the Mountain fix.
There was one aspect of the weekend, though, that was less than pleasant. We stopped in at Cameron's Blockade on the way home, a historic barn type fortification built in the 1860s in case Titokowaru were to invade. The blockade looks, at first glance, like a Wisconsin-esque barn perched on a hill. Looking closer though you can see the carefully made holes in the walls for shooting muskets from, as well as the thickness of the walls to provide security. There was a small door at the top of the building that I decided I wanted to look out of, so scrambled up the ladder to the loft of the building.

Setback #1 - the small door was locked. Upon realising the door was locked I also realised how creepy and dark the loft was. Setback #2 - my puny arm span wasn't big enough to position myself on the ladder to climb down. I was stuck in the creepy loft. Setback #3 - at risk of sounding like a super-wuss extraordinaire, about this time, I remembered I was scared of heights. It was not fun at all. I got down eventually, but don't intend to ever investigate the loft of a blockade house again. I do wonder though if any of those colonials ever got stuck up there.
Scarier than it looks
This aside though, it was a great weekend. I still can't believe that we have had such good weather in the middle of March, and am glad that by going camping last weekend we are enjoying every bit of the NZ summer we possibly can before heading off to Europe later this year. I read on Stuff this morning to expect the summer weather to cease this week, and can't help but feel a little smug about having such a good last weekend of summer.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Croquet in the park

Like most other Wellingtonians, Tane and I have spent the weekend frantically relaxing in the sun. No-one can frantically relax like a Wellingtonian. I think the Wellingtonian brain works something like this: "Sun! There is sun today! I might not see another day of sun until next Christmas! I must go as quickly as I can to relax at the beach/in the park/in my yard!" Only that train of thought could possibly explain the masses who flock to Oriental Bay on a sunny day, even if it is July and only 5 degrees.

On Saturday, a group of us had a picnic in the park to celebrate Stephen's birthday. It felt like something out of a Famous Five novel, but with more beer and smutty jokes. We had a portable gramophone to play songs that the Botanical Garden's probably hasn't heard for 60 years . We had a bun stuffed with cicada shells that Stephen tried to trick Kerry into eating. And best of all, we had a croquet set.

Stephen pumps up the boom box

Croquet sounds like an innocent and simple game, but don't let the blunt mallets fool you. Oh no. Those sticks can be vicious, and on account of the twiggy terrain, the game quite a challenge. I had the honour of being the worst croquet player ever, and Tane gets a special mention for being the person whose ball I knocked out of the way most often. I am determined to secretly practice my croquet skills to enable me to wow and dazzle the next time they get cranked out. Or, at least, good enough to knock everyone else's balls out of the way to take everyone down to my level :)

Erin hit what was was universally agreed to be the Best Shot Ever