Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch in ruins

We have been hit by another horrifying earthquake.  The aftershocks continue and it is terrifying.

I cannot tell you how unbelievably scary it is in Christchurch right now.  People have died - I have heard unconfirmed reports of hundreds of deaths. So many are trapped in multi-story buildings.

The 6.3 magnitude quake was far more intense that September's 7.1 quake - just 5 kilometres underground, with an epicentre 10ks away from the CBD, at our port, Lyttleton.

We live between the CBD and Lyttleton.

The aftershocks are severe.  They are coming at a rate of 2 -3 per minute in this last hour.  I am undone.  I do not know how I will get through the night.

And we, again, are some of the lucky ones - with moderate damage to our property and effects, and no injuries.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Looping the Heathcote

When I was a child, slide projectors were the iPads of the day.  Friends of my parents would host evenings with cheese fondue, "medium" white wine, and three or four slide carousels of their family holidays.

The oohing and aahing subsided in direct correlation to the host's increasing enthusiasm as slides were paused for full effect.

I am a little bit conscious that this is precisely what I am doing here, sharing my photos from the day's walk around the Heathcote River loop.  Only, I haven't gone to any trouble whatsoever - no little hors d'oeuvres to help you through, or a lovely tipple of your choice.

So please feel free to indulge while I get a little bit carried with my snaps and the accompanying commentary.

If I go out my gate, turn left and walk a few hundred metres, then turn right, I arrive at my local florist.  Before the recession hit, I would visit weekly and choose flowers for the house: two or three vases worth of seasonal, cut flowers.  Now it's a special occasion kind of thing.  I do miss that.

Here, I am standing on Colombo St looking down Fisher Ave with its glorious Plane Trees.  The florist is on the corner of Colombo and Fisher, just to the left, out of view.

A little further down Colombo Street (about 100 metres) is the lovely art school and artist supply shop, 'Passion for Painting'.  Owned and run by two women, who live at the back with their two bichon-frise, the school runs small group and private art classes for children and adults.  Our eldest daughter is desperate to go but must wait another three months until she is seven; the recommended minimum age.

One house down from the art school, across a side road and over a small bridge, is South Public Library, nestled among the Dutch Elms.  It's a magnificent eco-building that has won numerous awards for being clever with grey water, climate control and such.  It's also very high tech (which I guess is now averagely spec'd given it was built several years ago).   The library has a great little cafe, and you can eat and drink anywhere in the library.  This is fantastic because there are so many lovely chairs and sofas to curl up with stacks of magazines and books.  A rill runs right around the west and north faces, and part of the east.  It's very calming.

The river runs along the left of the library (as you look at it) and curves around behind, meandering south.

I followed the river along the north face and looked back on the library's east face. The children's library is through the large doors.  The rocket is for when you, or they, have had ENOUGH.

The boy-child and I headed south, behind the library until Malcolm Ave.  Once you've crossed Malcolm Ave the riverbank becomes known as the Donkey Trail, after a former circus donkey called Jenny.  She was taken in by a local family in 1962 after she became too tame (bored) with her circus act. She was a gift to the family's nine year-old son, Ray.  Each morning, they would walk Jenny down to the river to graze along the bank while Ray and his brother were at Thorrington School, which borders the river.  The children would ply her with carrots and apples.  Ray would then ride her home via Remuera Ave and Colombo St, back to his house in Malcolm Ave.  She died a happy old girl at 18 years.

Apparently, Ray still lives in Malcolm Ave.

To save you endless river shots: I have crossed back across Colombo St and followed the Heathcote River along Ashgrove Tce to the Barrington St bridge, where I double-backed along the other side to the 'Narnia' bridge, upon which I'm standing here.  So called by my friends and I because of the distinctive lamp-post at the foot of the bridge on the forest side.

I followed the river along the forest trail, which is to the right of the river looking at it from Narnia bridge.  Our girls believe Pooh Bear lives in this particular tree.

The forest trail ends at Swan Lake (seriously).  The lake and surrounding gardens used to be part of a private residence, which has since been bought by a Thai family and developed into the Lotus Spa, and Lotus Spa Tea House and Restaurant. Kindly, they allow the public to wander the grounds.

Loving the swans - they have lived here for decades, despite the ownership change.

Continuing along the riverbank, you can see the Colombo St bridge in the background.  To the left, across the road, is 'Passion for Painting'.  The library is directly across the bridge.  And to the left on this side of the bridge, is the Malthouse.  We have looped.

The Malthouse is home to Canterbury Children's Theatre, which stages two to three productions per year.  It's a cushion theatre, so you bring your plumpest feather and down to last the hour.  It can get rather hot.  Note the small windows.

Fortunately, the building was earth-quake strengthened in the twelve months preceding September's  7.1 magnitude earthquake last year.  Christchurch's stone and brick heritage buildings did not fare well during the quake, and I'm sure the Malthouse would have been damaged beyond repair had it not been for loads of steel rivets and bracing (rivet above right, downpipe to the left).

The Malthouse is also home to 'Malthouse Costumes' - theatre costumes for hire.  It can be quite fun watching sheepish work-attired people return outlandish outfits, and wondering just what sort of party they enjoyed at the weekend.  (Sad, I know.)

And then it's home, to the charmingly dishevelled Lucy, a Schnauzer/Fox Terrier cross.  Actually, she came with the boy-child and I on the walk, but I asked her to pose behind the side gate for the welcoming effect.

She was, as ever, very obliging.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The new malaise

Apparently some recession-weary Americans are saying, to hell with it, and defrosting their credit cards.  It's all about the new malaise: frugal fatigue.

According to the Reuters wire, The National Foundation for Credit Counselling's January poll revealed 66% of US consumers are done with the penny pinching and are ready to resume spending.  But interestingly, 20% of US households forced to curb spending during the recession intend to maintain the changes.  Ironically, financial commentators caution these "perma-frugalists" could have a significant, negative economic impact.

Of course, Americans are not the only consumers battling financial belt-tightening and the Faustian bargaining required to negotiate our modern lives.

Western economies tend to lurch from one extreme to the other and ride out the middle. You have to marvel at a system that requires us to earn, earn, earn and then, spend, spend, spend, and ultimately, borrow to spend.  Growth, growth and more GROWTH.  It's a bit of a trip.

I've only iced my credit card once at some crunch point during my early twenties when my money mismanagement finally threatened to cinch my neck in the debt collector's noose.  The looming shame of having my name registered at Baycorp (NZ's debt collection authority) with the other defaulting miscreants was enough to panic me into miserly submission.  The bill was paid.

Rayban Wayfarers pushed the debt envelope for me
 back in the day - just one purchase too far.
Images via www.yourrayban.com

I can't say I learned my lesson; I just played the game better.   Of course, I can see now that doesn't make me at all clever.  It did help keep Visa and Mastercard and Amex and Diners ticking along though.  They loved me, in that corporate, special-offer kind of way.

I barely rate a salutation now.  It would seem I've fallen off the valued customer radar.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

End of an era

The Farmer is the only man I have dated twice - that's as in boyfriend/girlfriend, not dinner and a movie.  The first episode ended in tears (mine) after several months.  He had only recently returned from his OE in the UK and was charged with minding the family farm while his parents enjoyed their OE.  I had just completed my undergraduate degree and was a farm novice.

The second episode, some three years later, again lasted several months and ended in tears (his).  It was a low point in my life, and one for which I have never truly apologised; all the more agonising because the dear Farmer died in June 2009, just shy of his 41st birthday. 

During our second-time-around we moved to a little farm cottage owned by the Deans family; the First Family, as it were, of Canterbury's early European settlers, arriving in the 1840s from Scotland and farming at Riccarton Bush, Christchurch and Homebush, Coalgate.  The Farmer was managing one of the family's surviving sheep and cattle farms. 

Homebush Homestead
via The Press

Jim and Louise Deans run the home farm, Homebush, plus garden tours and their working-farm tourism business.  A bus-load of tourists would arrive Wednesdays (from memory), and observe the farm dogs working the sheep, the demonstration sheep shearing, and then partake of a full farmhouse afternoon tea and a stroll around the historic outbuildings, gift shop etc.  

Occasionally, The Farmer would be called upon to put his heading dogs through their paces and shear a sheep or two, to the absolute delight of the (mainly Japanese) tourists.  They adored the dogs; absolutely couldn't get enough of how clever they were. 

via http://www.homebushstables.co.nz/

Jim and Louise also kindly opened the homestead, a wonderful triple-brick house built more than 150 years ago, to viewing by appointment.  The house and grounds are of significant local and national historical interest, and more recently, the property was used in the filming of The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, starring Tilda Swinton.

Photo: The Press

Sadly, Homebush was demolished in November 2010 after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake of September 4th rendered it uninhabitable.  (The quake's epicentre was just 10 minutes down the road at  Darfield.)  The central staircase collapsed and external walls were sheered off.  Because the earthquake struck at 4.35am, Jim and Louise were miraculously unharmed.

A still taken from aerial footage of Homebush
via New Zealand Herald

I'm sure The Farmer would have been saddened to see Homebush like this.  And even sadder to see it flattened. 

Louise Deans said the repair costs were simply prohibitive, despite being fully insured. What can you do? They have plans to use some of the bricks in their new home which, surely, must be a heart-wrenching process.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Revisiting Valentine's Day

I did have good intentions. Sunday afternoon I ducked down to Ballantynes in search of a small but perfectly formed gift for Mr T.  I forgot the department store was 'on sale', a staged event over three days.  The ground floor, where I had hoped to find the perfect thing, was swarming - bargain hunters jostling at specially erected trestle tables brimming with stuff.

It never ceases to amaze me just how alluring thoughtful merchandising and display can be. Of course, the opposite is equally true.  Even the loveliest items look shambolic and cheap heaped on tables, and let's not talk about the behaviour of generally decent people unhinged by the prospect of a discount.

I did notice men's fragrances were, on average, $30 - $50 below retail but it was bedlam!  As it was over in men's accessories, and menswear in general.  Not even a box set of hankies and golf tees survived the snatch 'n grab fest.

I did not venture upstairs to Contemporary Lounge, where the cool(er) stuff is. Firstly, I just couldn't bear it any longer and secondly, I knew full well there would be no Valentine's Day gift from Mr T to me, and I would so hate to embarrass him with a really expensive gift.

So I left the city with one skirt and two long-sleeved tee-shirts for the children (something each), three glass tumblers to replace the three that succumbed during one of the larger aftershocks, and a little something from Eve Lom for me.  I was also feeling somewhat resplendent after a skincare demonstration and a triple shot flat white.

On Monday, Valentine's Day, I changed tack and decided to visit the florist after taking the girls to school.  The traffic was heavy, the lights were in my favour, so I took the right-hand turn just before the florist.  I could easily walk back to select an arrangement of fresh, cut summer flowers.  No roses though; just a selection of red hues to honour the day.  Or so I thought.

By 1.30pm the boy-child was down for his afternoon nap and I started leafing through my small collection of cookbooks.  My new resolve was to make individual sticky date puddings in the ubiquitous heart-shape with lashings of butterscotch toffee sauce.

Just before 3pm (school pick-up) I raced into Taste, a local deli, and seized the first red heart-shape treat I could see.  By 3.45pm I noticed the treat's chocolate swirls had melted in the car's glove-box while we were in the library squabbling over how many books a six-year-old could actually read in the allotted three weeks.  

At 4pm I dashed into The Cupcake Collection, a divine little shop even closer to home, to snaffle whatever was left.  I found this.

Forgive the reflective wrapping, but I did want Mr T to see it was a personalised Valentine's treat, not one of four (or more), the rest of which I had polished off during the course of the day.

Having learned my lesson, I put the "Mwah" cookie in the fridge both to hide it and to prevent the icing from sliding off the biscuit base in the afternoon heat.   Whereupon I rediscovered it at 10pm, and offered tea and a biscuit, feeling fully 61 instead of 41.

On reflection, my Valentine's Day planning and implementation could have been better.  Or maybe I should resist it altogether.  I mean, is it really for married couples?  We already know how we feel about each other -  no outing necessary, surely?

There was one, truly memorable Valentine's Day though.  Just after midnight, a song was dedicated to me on the local radio station. (There were several clues that it was intended for me, not least of which my first and last names).  The dedication was from You Know Who and the song was Madonna's Crazy for You.  It was 1987, I was seventeen and bursting into tears was my heartfelt response.  Later that same Valentine's Day, there was a message in the local paper's Valentine's Day personals column.  Again it was clearly to me: this time signed, Your Dashing Young Man.  Shrieks!

To this day I have absolutely no idea who sent those Valentine's missives, which might be taking the original spirit of it a little far.  At some point a reveal is expected, don't you think? Although I suspect the answer(s) must have been right under my nose.  If only I hadn't been so caught up in the drama of it all, I might have worked it out.  Unfortunately, the trail is well cold.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I am in awe of Roxanna Zamani's couture collection, 'Incongruous'. It's not that I covet a piece, divine as the dress below is, but more because I deeply admire her talent.  

Designer: Roxanna Zamani,  'Incongruous'
Photography: Inge Flint

It astonishes me how she conceived the designs, sketched them, made workable patterns, and then put them together in the workroom.   Her vision, skill set and artistry is amazing.

Roxanna says 'Incongruous' captures the beauty of opposites reconciled; the tension between rigidity and fluidity, and the contrast between structure and softness.  You can read more about the collection and Roxanna Zamani here and here.

Photography: Inge Flint

And you can see how the garments move (or not) in the short runway clip below.

I hope you enjoy the link.  In a sure sign middle-age looms, I find myself absurdly clucky about talented young New Zealanders, and just a little bit wistful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Full dress uniform

There is a veiled sense of chaos at our house, which gives way frequently and without warning to calamity.  I suspect it will intensify as the children are hijacked by various maturation hormones and any semblance of calm is jettisoned for the next 10-15 years.  

We are awash with cortisol.  It's just the way it is.  

So yesterday's events were not without precedent, but for the soothing ministrations of the gallant District Commander in full dress uniform.

I have never before had a man in uniform on hand in a time of need, and I have to say, I like it.   Calm, well-mannered and so totally in control, I can appreciate how the polite or genteel women of yesteryear found such encounters 'thrilling'.

Certainly my poor mother rallied after a nasty fall, as before her on bended knee, holding her hand, the recently arrived District Commander ran through an injury checklist.  This, after he had swooped her off the ground and settled her on the sofa in one effortless manoeuvre.  His starched white handkerchief was duly prized.

Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer and a Gentleman
via www.listal.com

Meanwhile, in a 'the person you need is Nanny McPhee' moment, three girls were running around in various states of undress, while the boy-child seized their discarded uniform items, favouring shoes, and started throwing them at us.  And the dog, oh god, the dog... like a Muppet on a pogo stick outside the dining room window, barking incessantly because someone had breached the property boundary and was INSIDE. 

Would you like tea?  I asked, extracting the boy-child's honeyed fingers from our younger visitor's school blazer, the District Commander's granddaughter.

He even appeared to contemplate the invitation, as if we could and would simply sit down, charming and composed over the tea cups.

You have to love a man who can make you feel every inch like a woman in full possession of her faculties when, clearly,  I am but wafting around in a delusional haze.

I am pleased to say, my mother is okay and was rather taken with the silvered alpha male and his unbelievably shiny shoes.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oh that I had...

Mt Eden Dubstep, featuring Ruby Frost, has been keeping me company this week with the beautiful collaboration: "Oh that I had".

Ruby Frost
via thecorner.co.nz

It's an interesting blend of dub-step beats with ethereal, synth-pop vocals.  I especially like it late at night when I'm trying to engage my brain to string a sentence or two together for free-ranged.

I hope you enjoy this sound, fresh out of Auckland, New Zealand.

Don't mention the 'e' word

In the event I find myself cast away on a deserted tropical island and granted one 'thing' (assuming I already have the survival skills of Bear Grylls and a decent Swiss army knife), then hands-down, no question I'd like The New Oxford Dictionary of English.  A risky admission on the speed dating circuit possibly, but there you have it.  I am a word geek. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, reading the news online yesterday, I was stumped by the use of the word error.  I realise my brain has atrophied since the arrival of all those mothering hormones several years ago, chewing through synapses for sustenance.  But seriously, error?

Wikipedia got off to a cautious start.
The word error entails different meanings and usages relative to how it is conceptually applied.
Generally speaking, I understood error meant: mistake; being wrong. But again from the Wiki, there's the whole error versus mistake consideration.  
An ‘error' is a deviation from accuracy or correctness. A ‘mistake' is an error caused by a fault: the fault being misjudgment, carelessness, or forgetfulness.
So perhaps sending a baby home with a broken neck and some paracetamol after a few hours in the Emergency Department was a mistake then?  Because New Zealand's independent Health and Disabilities Commissioner's report concurred with MidCentral Health's own investigation into the incident, ruling out any error in the care or treatment provided to the baby.

An interesting conclusion given the news story (click here to read the article).  
  • A ten month old baby boy and his mother are taken to the local ED by ambulance following a car crash.
  • Ambulance staff suspect a neck injury.
  • A junior doctor tends to the baby, who is discharged some hours later with paracetamol.  The mother remains in hospital.
  • The father returns the baby to the ED the next day because the baby's head is lolling on his collar bone.  He sees the same junior doctor and urges the doctor to give the baby an x-ray.
  • Specialists at Starship, New Zealand's only dedicated children's hospital, view the x-rays and ask the baby to be put in a neck brace immediately and air-vac'd to Starship.

Since then, the baby has had 2 MRI scans, 3 CAT scans, nearly 100 x-rays, one surgical bone graft, and earned the dubious distinction of being our youngest child to be placed in halo traction, which he wore for three months along with a half body cast.

He has become the 'poster child' for Starship Hospital's spinal injury unit. Starship says he's lucky to be alive.

I understand injuries can be missed, especially in very young children.  I also understand that things can and do go wrong, especially in medicine, and most especially, in trauma medicine.

What I struggle with is the apparent misappropriation of every day language; the revision of meaning by managers, lawyers and communication experts.  I am not privy to all the facts.  I am not a clinician or health manager.  But to say that there was no error in the care or treatment provided would seem disingenuous at best.

Clearly, something went wrong.  A baby was sent home with an undiagnosed broken neck.

Assuming the care and treatment provided were without error, then surely the diagnosis was "incomplete", flawed, missed, botched, plain wrong.  (Is that a mistake?  Or an error?)  And if so, since when has diagnosis (accurate or incomplete, as the case may be) been excised from the prevailing concepts of care and treatment?  Isn't diagnosis implicit in care and treatment?  Shouldn't it be?

Policies, procedures and guidelines are proven management tools for effective and efficient businesses.  But they are also reductionist by nature, allowing clever managers to review 'incidents', obfuscate and deflect, and conclude, as in this case, no error was made.  

So maybe it's the execution of all these constituent steps of care and treatment, these policies and procedures, that's the problem.  Maybe the junior doctor (et al.) made a mistake with the care and treatment provided - an error of judgement.

But then, that would surely depend on how you conceptually apply the word.  I guess it's back to The New Oxford Dictionary for me.

Bear Grylls: no room for error.
via http://www.beargrylls.com/

Friday, February 4, 2011

Buyer's remorse

Back in the salaried days, I would spend NZ$100 on books and magazines most weeks; usually books. 

I know this because at one point a persistently pesky Financial Adviser asked me to keep a cash flow diary for three months.   The idea was to shame me into seeing just how much I squandered, which could/should be invested in a diversified growth portfolio. Fortunately, I really disliked him and opted for debt-reduction instead. No trailing commissions forthcoming. I digress...

I adore bookshops. They are among the first places I seek in a new town, especially those offering a great flat white coffee.  There's something intimate about selecting a book. It's almost as if certain volumes whisper to you from the stacks, tables or shelves.  And when you strike it right, the way a book draws you into another world, well beyond your lunch-time hustling and bustling, is magical.

My preference is for independent booksellers such as Scorpio Books, a Christchurch institution, and Madras Cafe Bookshop, with fabulous coffee and home-made chocolate fudge slice to complement a comparatively small but well honed book list.  The independents are true book lovers and know their stock.  Sometimes you can sense their delight that someone actually wants a particular title, or their momentary misgiving at having to relinquish it.   And best of all, I love it when they put certain titles aside for you because they think you might like first dibs.  

So why oh why did I finally succumb and order via amazon.com?  

Money. The two-for-one lure, including freight.  To emphasise my buyer's remorse, I actually spied and coveted one of the titles at a local book shop (albeit a franchised New Zealand brand), but replaced it.  Price check: $75.

Two days later I decided to call the shop and ask an assistant to hold the book for me, but I couldn't recall the author.  So I Googled the title and, to be sure it was the correct book, I went through to amazon.com (which topped the search list) to check the dust cover.  And there was not only the one book I did like, but several others I might like, and all at ridiculous prices, with discounted shipping for 'multi-buys'. Like an automaton, out came the credit card.  

So much for the discerning consumer.  I was just another lemming over the global brand's edge.   And I really should know better.  

To compound my slump below the buyer's line, I didn't select several titles of contemporary literary fiction, or from the classics, but this piece of eye-candy... 

via amazon.com

...and one of its reader recommended companions.

via amazon.com

I am resolved.  The next time I feel the urge to indulge myself in a little interior whimsy, I will a: visit the library, b: peruse the latest magazines, or c: visit one of the many, wonderful blogs, such as alife'sdesign@blogspot.com.

In the meantime, I shall wait six weeks for my package to arrive, by which time I will be so repentant, I will probably hide it under the bed. For a while.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dream scene

I knew Mr T was the one after a particularly lucid dream.  We were sauntering along an idyllic, cobbled village street in one of the Romance language countries (probably Italy).  I was also idyllic; some charming idea of self in an alluring Collette Dinnigan dress and ballet flats.  And Mr T - actually, I'm not certain what he was wearing because I really only got a sense of him from the shoulders up - but I remember he was bronzed and gorgeous.

It would have been a cue-the-soundtrack moment had it not been for the addition of two children- one little boy perched atop the aforementioned bronzed shoulders, and an older girl-child with her hand in mine.

I somehow knew they had to be ours. Alarming in and of itself, but aside from the children's unsolicited cameo, I was also troubled by how quickly we had apparently jumped from dating for a few months to married with children.  We weren't even living in the same city and I was definitely not a serial girlfriend type.  It was a bit of a stretch. 

At that moment, I knew just how estranged my conscious and subconscious minds had become.  

Nevertheless, it felt like some sort of epiphany.  So while rational me started hyperventilating, my heart felt, well, love.  It was all ok.  In fact, I wanted it.  

My every day life was occasionally fun, but more often, vacuous.  And lonely.  I was a Marketing Manager in the finance industry,  and it suddenly seemed completely misguided - caring so much about the brand, frittering my salary away (and then some) on myself, creating an endless cycle of having to stay on the high paying career track to service my lifestyle debt - much like an 'own goal', really.

It took me another five years to work my way out of that particular form of entrapment.   

Vaugines, Provence
Photo: Gunnar Holmertz via trekearth.com

We have still to enact my dream.  We are both a bit ravaged by time and too often, each other.  But we have the key ingredients.  It's all there: Mr T and me, and not two but three young children.  And then there's Mr T's conviction that he was born to speak French and Italian, as evidenced by his command of the accents and easy conversational ability.  How could we not?

So we will wait for the boy-child to grow beyond the lug-him around/wrangle him stage, and then see where we land - France, Italy, Spain.  And one day, perhaps, we will saunter through an idyllic village, and everything that came before will make sense for one fleeting but perfect moment in time.