Age, bloody age

For some reason this morning I felt a great reluctance to get out of bed. It was warm and I had dozed off after waking earlier. Kay had brought me a cup of tea and I had taken my morning pills. However, at such times old men have little choice than to heed the inner call.

I showered, and in the course of a vigorous towelling I disturbed a partially healed scrape I had inflicted on myself the day before. A warm body, the presence of dampness and the required dosage of rat poison in my blood stream combined in a quick spread of vivid diluted vermilion. No Royal blue blood from me; just a fully oxygenated orange red that would have raised little interest from the house of Windsor. A couple of Bandaids later it was under control.

In a rare display of adult responsibility, I gathered up yesterday’s discarded clothing from the bedroom floor and took it out and loaded the washing machine. At such times of expressive virtue, prudence and experience fade away and the trouser pocket of course included my wallet, credit cards and several receipts and memos that readily responded to the washing cycle by disintegrating to a light suspension of white fluff and fibre that spread evenly across the washing load. Several bank notes (yes, old men still carry them as an alternative to Paywaving a credit card which always seems to be a carryover from the flaunting of wealth by less well-bred persons) actually appeared to benefit from the washing, thus giving proof of the phrase “filthy lucre”.

I pinned the clothes on the line and prayed for sunshine and a vigorous breeze to dispel the fluff. There was neither. And nor did they over the several hours that followed.

Another feature of old age is the hours of wakefulness the night includes. My MP3 player gave up the ghost — I suspect through overuse, but possibly also from being lain upon when sleep did return. The MP3 player is excellent for aged insomniacs. BBC podcasts of political pedantry and religious panels can be recommended as an aid to further sleep.

Yesterday I took delivery of a very expensive new Apple I-Pod that I believed would provide all that the MP3 player had done, plus more, including a camera (which I cannot see me using during the night) and the ability to text messages to other insomniacs. But it does incorporate a dictation to text feature for which I can see a real desire.

I had returned to the shop last week an MP3 player I had bought a month ago, and which proved to be the best example of a commercial item “unfit for purpose” that I have ever known. Made in China where, of course, everything else is made, it had poor sound and a system of operation that I think I can remember from the days when electronic controllers were introduced to the wool industry in the 1980’s. So, after a month of frustration (and lost sleep) I took it back and demanded action. Surprisingly, there was an immediate offer to refund that I readily accepted. The outcome was, of course, I went upmarket, the benign visage of Mr Gates beaming in the background.

I unpacked the small package last evening to find Apple now no longer provides neither battery chargers nor manuals. Fortunately, I did have an Apple charger in the office. Some time later I found how to start the I-Pod but nothing more. It insisted on a connection to the Net, and although it was sitting half a metre away from the modem that drives my PC, neither the twain could meet.

This morning (after the Bandaids worked) I went back to the shop and sought out their youngest assistant. I have learned over the years that the youngest assistant has the latest knowledge. He smiled as I recounted my difficulty and (much in the style of a now long-forgotten Ansett television advertisement and the airline receptionist who took charge of the passenger’s rain-drenched cat with the immortal words: “Give Fluffy to me”) took out his smartphone and laid it alongside my I-Pod. For a moment, I felt a pang of insufficiency. His smartphone was so much bigger than mine but that awareness, too, is a consequence of age.

He quickly entered the necessary details and gave the I-Pod to me to put in my answers to its questions. The manager stood at a discreet distance, apparently approving of the young assistant’s ability to give service and assurance to the aged.

I came home re-assured. All the world needed now was for a bit of sunshine and some vigorous breeze to get rid of that damn paper fluff from the washing on the line. But, of course, those whom the gods seek to destroy they first drive mad. They accomplish this by way of Google and the links that are provided in the guise of “HELP”.

The day is drawing to a close. The washing is not dry (and I hesitate to put it and the fluff into the dryer); and I am still trying to get the I-Pod to make friends with the modem, the PC and my music library. The podcasts I will leave for another day, in case the BBC download is affected by Brexit. I can, however, take some satisfaction that my lack of activity today has not affected the healing of the Warfarin-induced wound.

There are, of course, others in this world for whom life’s challenges loom larger than mine. So, it is good to know that there is a new generation who will carry on the tradition of looking after Fluffy.

For my part, I shall sneak back to the shop tomorrow and hopefully find today’s helper has the day off and there is another young assistant able and willing to help the aged.


Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

A weka takes up farming

Weka 0120 April 2017: Over the past week I’ve watched a weka farming a section of the parking area by my generator shed. At this time of year (late autumn) the wekas are building up their fat reserves for the winter and grass grubs and berries are their number one priority. For that reason it is traditional for us to wait until the first full moon after the first day of May to take them for food. I should add that the weka is not native to the Chathams — it was introduced in 1905 by James Fougere — and so it is not a protected species, but a much valued food resource.

My weka will, however, be free from any murderous intention on my part. She has raised a couple of clutches of young this spring and summer, and deserves a break. Besides, I want to see what she does next.

weka scratchingsThe weka began by turning over an area of grass where the roots were weakened by grubs, and overnight she tilled about half a square metre. The uprooted grass was left across the ground and I watched her turn it over each morning and evening. About the fourth day, events took a new turn. Overnight, she dug over and doubled her area of harvesting, always leaving a complete cover of dead grass that with the dew had produced a protective layer under which insects could shelter.

It is also an area that is close to an overhang of berry-bearing Comprosma bushes, so I think she has been enjoying a double harvest.

Nothing succeeds like success, and the weka has gone on to enlarge her area of tillage by doubling it again.Weka and Chick 02

Posted in 1 | 1 Comment

English as she is writ


I believe I have a reasonable command of the English language, and have even earned a living by writing it. Needless to say, I’ve noted and regretted the change in the use of words and their presentation as the years have gone by. My particular gripe is the confusion many journalists and radio presenters have in their choice of “less” or “fewer”.

But I digress. I’ve had two experiences today that warrant a rant on blogside.

We needed to buy a new pressure cooker. The old Tower has served us well for 38 years, according to Kay’s records and the shop receipt, but it has not been possible to find a replacement gasket.

With another trip to the island pending, I needed to preserve some pork slices, some bacon pieces and some beef mince. I use small jam jars with new lids, and 45 minutes at 15 pounds per square inch pressure and a slow cooling has proved a safe and satisfactory method.

I’ve used pressure cookers for about 68 years, and in that time the only disaster I’ve seen (but not responsible for) was when my mother overfilled her pressure cooker with beetroot and a piece jammed the valve. The result was an intense jet of pulped beetroot and juice squirted across her kitchen ceiling. It was a salutary lesson for her sons in their later cooking careers.

So, I follow instructions.

However, my new replacement pressure cooker — on special at Briscoes — was accompanied by a brief instruction manual that (as might be expected) was composed in Chinglish, some examples of which I quote:

“The pressure cooker must not be used in the event of any discrepancies with regard to the operation of the safety valve.”

“Press down lightly on the lid with the left hand (fig G) and with the right hand turn the upper hand horizontally towards the left until it is directly over the lower handle and can move no further. Now pull the switch of the safety lock towards you in the closed position (fig. H).”

“If during normal use the safety window situated in the rim of the cover (fig. C) should operate before the first valve (inside the upper handle) stop cooking immediately.”

It reminded me of the unintelligible manual that came with my Chinese diesel generator.

The other shock to the system was an advertisement from Estee Lauder in one item of the mass of weekend trash brochures delivered into our Sunday letterbox:




Cushion Stick Radiant Makeup

Makeup + Pro Tool in One

Touch on, buff and blend to your perfect nude.


Apart from the strange and unnecessary punctuation, the mind boggles and, having boggled, moves on. Apparently, it was a cosmetic applicator.

Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Expect the unexpected

The flying fox  glides quietly above

The flying fox glides quietly above

Across the starlit Darwin sky,

don’t look up when the bats pass by!

And remember if there is thunder,

they are above and you are under!

There is much to commend that most northern city of Australia. Perhaps not in “The Wet”, or in “The Lead-Up” which precedes it, and is when a significant proportion of the population goes “troppo”. This. I am given to believe, is something like an advanced form of pre-menstrual tension, only worse. The term “batshit crazy” comes to mind.

In “The Dry”, which it is currently, the temperatures are about the same in the low to mid-thirties (Centigrade) during the day and the humidity is low. The evenings are balmy, and the nights eased by sleeping separately or the judicious use of air conditioning.

But Darwin is a well organised, open and attractive city, with some very good architecture that results from the devastation wrought by Cyclone Tracy in the 1970s. I could live there and enjoy what it has to offer, even with from time to time the thunderous sounds of the Royal Australian Air Force hosting its many allies to a couple of weeks of aerial war games and other aeronautical jollies. Darwin has open spaces and room for a quadrupling of its population without crowding out its roads and beaches.

The shaded swimming pool at Nightcliff beside a really good cafe

The shaded swimming pool at Nightcliff beside a really good cafe

There is, perhaps, for those who enjoy suburban life and a house in garden surroundings, a minor reservation. The tropical climate grows plants and trees quickly, and many tropical trees produce quantities of fruits and seeds.

Enter the species Pteropus, commonly known as the flying fox or large bat, about the size of a small cat with greatly extended “wings”. Small flocks hang around the tree lands described as “The Bush”, suspended by day from shaded branches and by night they forage forth. The suburban garden is one of their targets.

The Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act provides in the sternest of terms that people “cannot interfere with (shoot, touch, feed, take, move, injure, manage) flying foxes without a permit.” Try and get one! The bats were there first! Likewise the small furry possum with a penchant for tomatoes that are almost ripe.

A range of ethnic food stalls and a car park filled with tables and chairs make for a great community

A range of ethnic food stalls and a car park filled with tables and chairs make for a great community at Malak Centre

Darwinians rightly enjoy their multi-cultural outdoor life. Covered patios encourage the barbecued evening meal (and breakfasts), or an evening market with a multitude of ethnic food stalls.

A 120 kilometre cycle race last Saturday attracted hundreds of entries (starting in the cool of dawn) from individuals and families. The finish was in a city park beside the huge enclosed swimming area with its artificially generated waves, more stalls and cafes and a troupe of acrobats performing on a trapeze erected in the open. People swam, or lazed quietly on the lawns under trees.

A safe artificial beach close to the CBD even has artificially generated waves

A safe artificial beach close to the CBD even has artificially generated waves. Thanks Dinah and John.

Darwin is a place to expect enjoyment. It isn’t a bit like my weekly home enjoyment on television of “Territory Cops”. Mind you, I wasn’t out in Mitchell street at the Honey Pot Club at midnight, or encountering that police sergeant with his three-inch wide leather belt.

I was introduced to the suburban life by the morning hosing of the batshit from the railings and a precautionary hosing of cars parked outside. Batshit, I am advised, is extremely corrosive to paint enamels, and is probably why Darwin seems characterised by the cleanly high polish of its vehicles.

It is distributed widely and randomly.

Darwin is probably not a place for astronomers to gaze the heavens. For those who do, expect the unexpected.Darwin 3


Posted in 1 | 1 Comment

Celebratory sculpture

Art in the eyes of the beholderToday I celebrated a number of things, which took my mind of Brexit and other distractions of seemingly little relevance to my current being.

I now have my main PC computer up and running again on Windows 7, which means I can now use my Photoshop 7 and Pagemaker 7.5. I can also start to learn the program Dragon Naturally Speaking that I bought just before the disastrous shift to Win 10.

A second delight lies in the work we did yesterday to prune all the fruit trees and grape vines. The strong arms of an 18-year-old student friend (or rather the son and grandson of friends) did much of the hard work and I could go to bed last evening with a couple of Panadol and the knowledge the unaccustomed aching muscles and joints would be gone on the morrow.

The gardening resulted in a huge pile of trimmings that need to be taken to greenwaste, so the little red Ractis will get the present tomorrow of a new tow bar that will mean I can use the trailer again for the first time since we sold the Camry.

The biggest celebration is that I can see again properly with my one good eye and colour and detail are brilliantly clear. A cataract removed does wonders, and a new pair of reading glasses set for the distance from the computer screen gets me back to where I was a year ago.

Finally, the new laptop I bought from Dick Smith just before last Christmas (yes, just before the collapsed of the company) is now (28 June) matched up with an external monitor running from a high definition cable  and giving me the necessary quality and resolution for desk top publishing.

It has taken six months to get there. I went out to buy myself a Christmas present of a new laptop at their pre-Christmas sale. I found one with the highest resolution (1920 by 1080) and at a good discount. The assistant, however, persuaded me to pay another $200 for what he described as the same machine but with much increased memory and processing capacity. It seemed a good deal.

However, I was back in Dick Smith when it opened on Boxing Day to complain about the poor definition and colour. We wasted an hour before I went home persuaded it was a matter of adjustment. I was back again the morning the company collapsed. The manager agreed it was not what I needed and was preparing to organise a replacement computer (the model I had intended to buy) when he was called away to an urgent phone call. I never saw him again.

I emailed the receivers; I called the Acer help desk, and; I phoned every geek I knew. On balance, I assessed that although the machine I had bought was more powerful than the one I had intended to buy, it had been fitted with a screen that had a lower native resolution and that was being activated by a lower resolution driver.

So I rang Acer help desk again, and tried to explain the problem. The first difficulty was our varying use of the English language (on which I tend to pride myself I have a reasonable command), and the second was the young lady’s comprehension. Her third difficulty was that she could not identify the model number. I said I accepted I had no chance of redress from Dick Smith and was looking to resolve the issue by looking to replace the driver and screen. Her response was that even if Acer technicians replaced these it would void the warranty. My response was somewhat terse, but not offensive.

So, over the following months I kept the laptop charged while my eyesight deteriorated and began to accept the unacceptable that it was a dead duck.

Last week I went into Harvey Norman and in the course of conversation with a young man in the computer department I described my misfortune. His immediate response was to suggest an external monitor driven from the HDMI outlet. I had not known the computer would have had this facility. He grabbed a laptop (yes, an Acer) from one counter and took it across to connect to a monitor that just happened to be on special.

Wow! The result was great. A 24-inch high resolution image was convincing, but the canny Scottish genes that still float around my system played for time. I suggested I go home and bring my laptop into the shop. Meanwhile, would he hold that monitor for me at that price. Two hours later I was connecting up the new screen.

I can even tolerate Windows 10 on the laptop, even if it won’t run Photoshop. I now harbour the faint notion some young geek will manage to overcome that shortcoming.

So, what is the significance of the sculpture at the head of this page?

My friend John MacGibbon sent me an email detailing a composer I had never heard of — one Satie, who I must Google — of whom one relatively brief musical notation is required to be repeated 840 times in its 18-hour performance, and its premiere was encouraged by patrons being rewarded with a discount of 20 cents for each hour they listened from the $5 admission fee.

I received this email while eating my morning porridge, after which Kay retrieved three containers of frozen food from the freezer to be packed away in marked plastic bags.

I idly freed the two meals of casseroled beef cheek and one of soup from the plastic containers and stacked them while Kay marked the bags. They seemed to resemble something of a modern sculpture and I thought of John’s Satie.

I took a photograph that I transferred to the computer and called up Photoshop on Windows 7. It was a pleasure to take out the background with the magic wand and to save the result, while enjoying the colour and detail I can see again on the screen.

Meanwhile, the morning radio programme chattered on with David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn representing the views of the stunned mullets that now rule Britain.

It rather takes away the pleasure of knowing that this is now the month of Wimbledon. The ball boys (and girls) in their little costumes will be crouching by the net, and it will probably be raining.

And is there still strawberries and cream for tea?

P.S. Apparently the England soccer team has been beaten by Iceland. Is there no end to this humiliation?





Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Old Man and the wrong red Ractis

The colour of the new car contrasts nicely with the ripening green grapes

The colour of the new car contrasts nicely with the ripening green grapes

I think it was the National Radio presenter Kim Hill who, when asked what sort of car she drove, replied it was a ‘red one’. Today’s choices of colour for cars is limited, which is (I suspect) for the benefit of car repairers and panel beaters who have to match the hue of their finished effort. Mind you, it was Henry Ford who started it all, by giving his customers the choice of any colour they wanted, providing it was black!

We have changed cars. The Toyota Camry, which we had really loved for its comfortable ride on long distances, became difficult to get in and out of for one with arthritic joints. It was also harder to park at the supermarket where the marked spaces have been getting narrower, to the stage where  both sets of wheels seem to be touching the white lines, and one extricates oneself with difficulty.

We have had two sets of panel beating to repair anonymous dents and scrapes caused by adjacent cars.

So, we now own a little red Toyota Ractis, which has the great features of upright seats one steps up to, a much narrower footprint, a large hatch at the rear and fold down seats. It is said to be the favourite of Japanese florists and bakers, by suiting their commercial and family needs. It is not a very common car, and it has a rather unique form of transmission that was first designed by Leonardo da Vinci (not, I hasten to add, that he actually designed it for Toyota).

We like it, and have just done our first long trip to Taranaki and back, noting a very economical fuel consumption and, more particularly, no complaints about comfort from either the front or rear seats.

Yesterday we went to Coastlands, Kay to the supermarket and me to the Warehouse Stationery to print off an enlarged photograph. We agreed to meet later wherever Kay had parked the car in the general area between our two intended activities.

The printing took some time because the machine had not warmed up sufficiently and I was the first customer of the day. Eventually I emerged into daylight and saw a little red Ractis parked not far away. I headed towards it and, while I was avoiding some traffic, noted the driver’s seat was empty. The front seat passenger appeared to be asleep. I felt a little guilty that Kay had had to wait so long. As I put my hand on the door handle I noticed the clothing of the sleeper was a different colour from what I remembered Kay wearing.

The sleeper stirred and I hastily made my way around to the passenger side and tapped on the window. It wasn’t Kay; it wasn’t our car, but; it was an identical little red Ractis.

As I say, the choice of car colours is limited, and old men can easily make mistakes.

However, a person of advanced age must never use the word ‘confused’ to describe any event. It is a dreadful trigger word that stirs the family doctor into a series of questions.






Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

A final farewell to a foy foy

The chops were, however, worth the effort

The chops were, however, worth the effort

For Christmas lunch this year we had bought two large lamb shoulder chops. I marinated them in olive oil, marjoram and a little garlic, before getting out the foy foy. What the Hell is that, I hear you ask?

Many years ago (about 1973) I was in Greece and was entertained to lunch that was cooked at the table over a small brick barbecue of traditional design filled with glowing charcoal. I remember it well, because I came back home and found a potter who would make me one from a photograph that I had taken. I think we used it once.

However, I decided to bring it back into use after its long resting on a shelf in the old office I now use for storage. I was careful to give it a preliminary tempering by lighting a small fire in it for a while on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day came and the foy foy was loaded with charcoal, primed with methylated spirit and set alight. Incidentally, the charcoal was imported from Namibia, of all places, and the printing on the sack described how it was produced as a conservation measure by clearing an unwanted woody plant before a more desirable species replaced it. I thought about the wildling pine trees on the Central Plateau of the North Island and in Central Otago, and the use they might be put to in firing up barbecues.

I made a rack for the chops and placed them over the coals. An appetising smell soon wafted across the back section. I turned the chops and filled another glass with wine. Barbecuing lamb chops can be a thirsty task.

Suddenly, there was a gust of wind, somewhat colder than was comfortable. There was a loud “ping” and the top bowl of the foy foy holding the charcoal split. It held together while the chops finished cooking, but I fear that that is the finish of my foy foy.


Posted in 1 | 1 Comment

A world apart

I have a special appreciation of my wife Kay’s essential practicality. It often brings me back down to earth.

This morning there was a news item about the discovery (so far) of the biggest super nova that ever existed. The news presenter referred to its four billion light-years distance from our planet Earth. I was impressed.

“If you travelled at the speed of light it would take four billion years to reach its source,” I said.

“By then it would probably have gone out,” was her response.


Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

an ill wind no longer

DSCF6567“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good,” as the old Scots saying goes. I think it came from the Shetlands or the Orkneys, where the winter wind is a bit like our own. I have a much-thumbed book about life on the island of Foula, where the hay cocks are tied down to dry.

I had intended to harvest another of the gum trees I planted in the woodlot nine years ago. But the gales of this past winter played havoc with some of my other trees.

For the first time I have seen the crown of a four-metre high cabbage tree that had snapped off and been thrown to the ground a metre away. Similarly, down in the wetland, my 12-year-old Australian swamp gums had big branches snapped off at the trunk and the ground was carpeted with smaller branches and leaves. That, at least did some good. The leaves have stopped the spring growth of bracken and grass between the trees.

It took me a couple of days to clean up the area with the chain saw and get the branches cut into logs that I could transport out of the area on the back oi the quad and up to the woodpile. There was no way I could get the little trailer across the drain into the pond, so it was a case of a few logs at a time and a careful passage in four-wheel drive.

Eucalypts make good firewood (particularly when burned in conjunction with gorse stems) and these logs were up to 200 mm in diameter. There were also the smaller branches which, cut into suitable lengths, could be loaded into the firebox of the wood stove, and a big bundle of even smaller branches broken into kindling and hung in the carport.

By the time I had finished stacking the logs it was obvious there was no need to cut down another tree. There would be enough firing for next winter and the winter beyond.

My cousin George and I share a saw bench. More correctly, it is George’s saw bench, but when his motor clapped out I provided a replacement. Irrespective of ownership, it is a good little machine to use, and it is quite capable of handling logs up to about 120mm if it is fed carefully and not forced.

I took the quad and trailer down the hill and returned slowly with the saw bench. Two hours later I put it back on the trailer and returned it to George’s shed, leaving a very large pile of blocks and several logs that had proved too big for the saw. The chain saw soon fixed them.

However, the larger blocks need the attention of an axe and my pacemaker does not like me using an axe, particularly if I have to swing it above my head to split the log. The answer is to split a few blocks each day. Eventually, most of the blocks were split and stacked away and the rest can dry out and be ready for my next trip.

DSCF6568The wood box in the back porch is full and there are three full fish boxes as well. The old water tank is full and the rest of my wood stock is under cover beneath the deck. It’s a good feeling to know I can have a fire going within minutes of my return to the house.

As George often says: “It’s warm and dry, and the roof don’t leak.”


Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

The joy of new season’s honey

DSCF6569A few days ago, Michele and Mana (whose bees share my section with me) brought me a present. There is probably nothing more delightful than honey fresh from the comb, when its golden colour is matched only by the liquid sweetness than runs on to one’s fingers from the edge of the buttered toast. I brought a jar back to Paraparaumu to share with Kay.

It is a strange year. The weather forecast is for severe El Nino conditions with droughts in some eastern areas and storms and rain in the west of the mountains. For the Chathams, our low-lying island will probably get both, and the expectation is for a dry December through to January and even February. But there has been a surge of growth after a cold winter and late spring and trees, bushes and grasses are all in flower or about to burst into bloom.

The bees, however, have been working frantically and at the entrance to each of the 10 or so hives there is during the day a cloud of whirling bees and an intense humming sound of wings ventilating the hive and evaporating the nectar they have collected into honey. The honey flow has matched their enthusiasm, and there should be another benefit in a larger than usual set of seed on the native bushes and trees.

Since the bees came, I am sure the amount of seed that has been produced from the plants has more than doubled. The low-lying Coprosma bushes produce a mass of berries that are eaten by the wekas who, in turn, distribute the seed across the ground.

But my greatest surprise and pleasure has been to sit on the deck in the evening, when the air is warm and there is little wind, to enjoy the gentle fragrance of the cabbage trees that are currently bearing huge bunches of flowers.DSCF6159

As well as the honey hives (now increased in height by additional boxes), Michele and Mana have their little “motels” — half-sized single boxes in which they raise for sale their nucleus colonies each of a newly mated queen and her supporting workers. We are fortunate in that our island is free from the Verroa mite, American foul brood and other bee diseases. Hopefully, we will also continue to be free from the disastrous effects of the neo-nicotinoid chemical sprays that are used in market gardens and maize production and have caused such a problem to New Zealand bee-keeping.

I came home to that other world and something I never miss on the island — television. A day or so later, Kay and I were watching a Rick Stein cooking programme filmed in Greece. No other country loves honey as much. One of the dishes was a slice of cheese, quickly fried in olive oil, sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with liquid honey.



Posted in 1 | Leave a comment