Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Lockdown by Numbers

49 Number of days at/in Level 4 lockdown.

3 Number of times I commented about adding an extra day, just to crack the half century, before eye-rolls commenced.

1 Number of times I asked whether we are ‘at’ or ‘in’ Level 4 before my question appeared to cause physical pain.

7 Number of novels grabbed from the school library shelves the day before lockdown.

7 Number of novels returned unread 49 days later.

2 Number of novels read! Discrepancy attributable to the fine Murakami novel that’s been sitting on my shelf, unread, for 14 years (and 7 house shifts). And the library book, loaned by the wife.

6 Number of whacky family activities devised to pass the time.

0 Number of times we played charades in French or cards in Te Reo. Or, indeed, passed a fine evening reading Dickens aloud to one another.

0 Number of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals I had watched pre-lockdown.

6.001 Number watched during lockdown. Because they were streaming on YouTube, and it was a bit of a Sunday night treat with dinner on your lap. Don’t judge me!

0.001 Number of viewings of Lloyd Webber’s ‘By Jeeves’ required to prove it is absolutely unwatchable.

27 Number of times the wife or I shouted at the kids to stop blooding singing bloody ‘Phantom’ tunes while they did the dishes.

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2 Number of birthdays celebrated with a nice walk and homemade takeaways. The lack of consumerism produced two songs, and one dance, in celebration. And one spookily accurate portrait built in Lego.

3 Number of nights out toasting marshmallows under the stars, watching Elon Musk’s dumb satellites whizz overhead.

16 Number of sudden, inexplicable emotional outbursts or meltdowns. Because… yeah.

6 Number of family kick arounds at the park followed by lining the kids up against a wall and throwing a small ball at them.

9 Number of times we wondered what the hell we were doing, and swore to tell no one.

2 Number of times someone in our bubble had to get ‘the tickle’ because they may have the Rona, maybe.

12 Number of various types of rashes, aches, tingles and sudden lumps on the neck that manifested while waiting for the (negative) results.

1 Number of times I called my friends, just to ‘check-in’.

57 Number of times I felt fucking useless for not calling friends or family.

270kms Distance biked or run up and down the river, so I stopped feeling fucking useless, according to my exercise app.

38 Number of times I felt weirdly excited seeing unfamiliar faces when I exercised.

Withheld Number of chocolate bars I didn’t need to buy, or eat, but did. So there.

52 Number of feature stones transported from the river up to our garden, as a direct result of family walks down to the river.

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49 x 3 Number of vigorous tummy rubs demanded (and received) by Thomas the cat.

4 Number of times Thomas the cat bit me because I was ignoring his demands.

2 Number of unfinished novels I finally had a chance to work on with all this spare time.

2 Number of such novels totally untouched due to carrying rocks and worrying about strange tingles and odd lumps.

6 Number of new stories written and submitted to competitions here and abroad.

1400 Total number of words in those 6 ridiculously short stories.

Heaps Number of times I suddenly hugged a family member, just because.

Slightly less than heaps Number of times I got a ‘what are you doing?’ look in response.

1 Number of songs I wrote!

60 Number of times I practiced the song over 2 days, because I was so nervous. Singing and playing guitar at the same time? Gah!!!

321 Number of times I said ‘What are you doing?’ during home schooling when the child was ‘just checking’ something on the computer.

321 Number of times a child was ‘arsing about’ on the computer, with good reason.

321 Number of times I asked myself ‘What am I doing?’ by even attempting to keep them on task.

1 Number of times I wore a mask at the supermarket. Felt such a dick.

4 Number of times I held my breath, and awkwardly burst bubbles with a stranger, in the narrow underpass out of Kelson before deciding to use the scuzzy horse underpass instead (even though it seems like a great place to get knifed and lie unfound for days).

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36 Number of cut-price Easter eggs purchased and scoffed in the month after Easter.

25 Number of days I wrote in my daily lockdown diary over the 49 days.

0 Number of insightful observations about life under lockdown in said diary.

100% Percentage of days where I just list what I ate and what we watched.

18 Number of times I did an online BodyBalance class with the wife and felt 100% happier, healthier and infinitely more chill.

Withheld Number of times I reached out in the darkness of the night to my beautiful, kind and patient wife just to feel the reassurance of her warmth.

Also withheld Number of times I reached out in the darkness of the night for a slightly different reason.

45 Number of times I got up in the middle of the night to read countless in-depth articles about what was going on.

4 Number of times I shared my half-baked recollections of what I had read.

3 Number of times I watched the daily 1pm briefing from Cindy & Ashley. Daily numbers tell you little.

580 Number of screws and nails and gap-fillers of various sizes and types bought in the mad chaos of Mitre 10 the day before lockdown.

6 Number of long-term maintenance projects I could now complete with all the spare time and 580 screws and nails etc.

580 Number of screws and nails etc still unused 49 days later. But who’s counting?

37 Number of history podcasts about historical plagues/pandemics listened to that gave me a greater understanding about what’s happening (and what will follow).

23 Number of ‘More or Less’ podcasts on COVID statistics that underline the countless words wasted trying to describe the numbers.

2 Number of times I stayed in bed in the morning. It just felt too depressing and devoid of luxury.

99% Number of nights I stayed up way too late, avoiding the prospect of another day being positive and undaunted.

Zero Number I times I wanted be somewhere else.

Incalculable Number I’ve been thankful to face all this with the patient, kind, loving people I have.

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Coasting by Numbers

6 years since my last trip to the West Coast with the lads.

33 years since I first went to the bach.

0 amount of power or phone reception at the old fisherman’s bach.

4 expressions of interest in stopping at the notorious ‘F**k Off Café’ in Springfield in order to livestream it’s newsworthy rudeness.

0 visits to ‘F**k Off Café’ after reading that the infamous owners had gone into hiding.

5 Number of times we pulled over and raised the hood of the overheating Terrano.

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9 different parts of the engine we inexpertly poked looking for the cause of the gurgling.

11 bottles of water received from friendly Australian tourists at the top of a bitterly cold Otira Gorge in order to fill the radiator.

2 snowballs thrown by tourists in Porter’s Pass (probably not thirsty Australians).

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3 mutterings of discontent regarding the American Brownies purchased at Arthur’s Pass.

66% of mutterings due to lack of sharing of said brownies.

33% of mutterings directly attributable to the unexpected presence of walnuts.

6 pies eaten, at altitude, while resting at Arthur’s Pass.

99.9% ethnic homogeneity observed at the Greymouth New World supermarket (many shades of grey).

8 times we ‘feel the pain of everyone’, thanks to the Dinosaur Jr. (and a poorly performing shuffle algorithm).

7 times someone asks ‘who’s this?’ when a song by Deerhunter is playing.

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100% sunny days enjoyed while the rest of the country is pelted with grey winter rain.

100% of the time 3 middle-aged men drink like 20 year-olds while eating like middle-aged men.

2 Number of vegetarian sausages required to sate the hunger of a middle-aged man who’s been drinking in the sun. ‘I might save my other two for breakfast.’

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3 varieties of alcohol taken along to enjoy (red wine, vodka and craft beer).

3 guts suffering acid reflux after too much red wine, vodka and craft beer.

100% agreement that acid reflux due to the orange juice mixer rather than vodka etc.

50% of drunken toasts directed to the good ladies at home.

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900% Amount of unexpected gameplay found in the ‘alphabet game’ where you go through the alphabet by theme. Bands, girls, fake album titles, Australian(s). Novel names for parts of the anatomy. Marital acts.

Zero muscles pulled, knees scraped and bones fractured while scrabbling over wet boulders in the dark after consuming beer, wine and vodka drink.

1 sighting of another human on the massive West Coast beach over the three days.

100% disappointment due to lack of sightings of seals, whales and dolphins.

9 spectacular, and challenging, golf holes created on the deserted beach.

3 pars made.

2 birdies!

1 ricochet fired directly back at a cowering golfer from a treacherous rock.

1 golf ball lost due to the club finally connecting with full force.

66% of middle-aged men actually wore shorts in the middle of winter… because it was so darn sunny!

33% of middle-aged men tough enough to climb the rocks in bare feet.

33% of middle-aged men assured enough to wear their comfy slippers on the rocks.

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19 bright red sand-fly bites discovered on my left foot.

1 bright red sand-fly bite detected on my right foot.

7 theories developed to explain this asymmetry 1. I wash the left side of my body more thoroughly than the right 2. Marmite accumulates on the side of the body you prefer to sleep on 3. The insect-repelling nature of the Vitamin B in Marmite is a bit of a myth, but only half of the time 4. Marmite churned counter-clockwise takes a left-handed bias 5. I forgot to wash my left foot. 6. Sand-flies prefer to dine in well-frequented establishments. 7. I jiggle my right foot more than my left while listening to Deerhunter.

19+ rat droppings discovered in bed after sleeping in it for two nights.

4+ Number of days it takes me to recover from 3 nights in the South Island.

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Coming Soon!


Imagination is tricky. I live with 3 kids so what-ifs are a constant.

Last night we talked about time travel over dinner. We were discussing Matariki and how long it would take to reach the stars. I said it would take 100, 000 years to reach our nearest neighbour, Alpha Centauri, if you travelled at the speed of light.

Since some sort of time trickery would be needed, the girls started coming up with ways it might work. Magic and machines. Science and Mr Peabody. The wife chipped in that time is ‘bendy’ as you can sometimes achieve a task when you simply don’t have enough time. Which is a version of the Dr Who’s “wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey” stuff.

One of the 11 year-olds added that déjà vu was proof that you had visited a particular point before.

It was a fun discussion. But I steered it towards an aspect that had really blown my mind.

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Historians of Time Travel claim that there were no such stories until HG Wells wrote The Time Machine. None. There were stories about people falling asleep and waking long in their future, but none with travel as we think of it. Forward and back. Here and there. Checking out the sights.

This blows my mind. All cultures are full of fanciful tales of imagination. But HG Wells had a novel idea that was so attractive that it is viewed as a possibility, only slightly out of reach.

So why did this idea pop up in the 1890s?

Historians believe it’s because an age of unprecedented change in technology and society had begun. Electricity, trains, telephones and telegraphs. All unimaginable to their parents’ generation. What rapid change lay ahead? Moving pictures, radio communication and flight; all within reach. The reliable constants of life were no more.

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Some things are impossible to imagine. Time travel was one of them. Now it seems impossible to unimagine.

Somehow it must work. Each one of us around the dinner table last night agreed.

Somewhere all our pasts continue, awaiting our benign intervention to put things right. While multiple futures sit before us full of disaster, glory, dystopia and lotto wins.

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Stories have power.

China recently banned time travel stories as they undermine the status quo.

What is must be.

What isn’t. Is unthinkable.

 

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The Iron Chair

The other day, the wife asked, ‘are you sure you’re not gay?’ It was a fair question.

She was making a comment about how I had chosen to tart up an old chair.

I’ve had the iron chair for thirty years. It was left behind in a flat which had once been an Op Shop called Mother Hubbard’s. It was a pretty rough place, rumoured to be among the oldest wooden buildings in Christchurch but, best of all, right in the heart of town.

The nature of our living conditions was wryly commented on by a journalist who went through once Mother Hubbard’s was threatened with demolition, and then relocated to Redcliffs and restored.

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I loved living there, and I loved the chair. It sat downstairs in the lean-to kitchen which had a fridge but no oven. My bedroom upstairs overlooked the Avon River and I often went to sleep to the sound of ducks punctuated by the groans of the old building adjusting itself through the night.

That’s where I started writing, and where a fumble friend once saw a ghost, giving me a big chunk of my first published story.

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I took the chair with me when I shifted out, painstakingly ‘painting’ over the bold white with two gold pens and making a cushion covered in red velvet.

One night, a flatmate decided to add lots of black pen doodles in an act of drunken inspiration. It was pretty fancy.

The iron chair then spent many years stored in garages or under houses as I took up acting and went on the road. I can’t count the number of times I shifted it from one dark place to another, always wondering, ‘do I really need to hold onto this?’

For the last seven years it has sat under the house I have just sold. Always in the corner of my eye as I renovated and emptied the house.

I wanted to spray paint it a bold colour. Give it a cushion so ridiculous that you couldn’t help but sit on it. I didn’t want it shoved in the corner, a place to dump bags and crap.

Once I had stripped all the old white and gold, I painted it with a neon pink purchased years ago to appease my then-six year old. But the tin ran out before all the iron work was covered. And when I went to get more, the people in the paint shops all raised their eyebrows at the very idea of neon pink. It was impossible to get a replacement in enamel.

So I plumped for plum. And went fake fur for the cushion. Icelandic fox, to be exact, possibly a little influenced by the Icelandic novel I had just read where a 49 year old man does up a broken hotel instead of topping himself.

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Hotel Silence is not as bleak as it sounds. It’s very enjoyable. I loved it to bits. It got me reading novels again.

Despite my fears, the Iron Chair has been a big hit in the new house. It sits by a bookcase, looking too fabulous for words, the perfect place to sit with a book or mess about on guitar.

I’m so glad I held onto it.

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I Want To Read Books

I love books. I love talking about them. I love being surrounded by them. I get more and more whenever I take the girls to the library. They love them, too.

But reading seems hard. I have a pile of books by my bed, and I want to devour them all.

There is always an excuse. So many things to do. Distractions to indulge. It seems such a waste of precious time to sit in the company of the printed word. Lazy, even.

I could be writing fresh words of my own, or listening to a story while I get chores done.

But, dear Reader, this situation cannot stand.

Last Friday night I fought distraction and read a book. It was short, but I read it in one evening. It was so enjoyable. A French novel set in the Russian Civil War. Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli. Simple and perfect. Pretty and compelling. The final paragraphs were so astounding I read them again and again. Something I have never done.

I was so thrilled that the next morning I picked up a New Zealand novel and read the first few lines. I didn’t put it down until I was 57 pages in. And that was because I had to go to work.

The Ice Shelf by Anne Kennedy is hilarious and gripping. A comedy that will not let you look away. It has a dark, comic book cover that suits the wicked insights within.

My wife is reading the same book. Not the same copy, mind. That would be a bit tricky. Last night we abandoned the dubious pleasures of Love Island and sat side by side, snorting and laughing. Luckily, I am a many pages behind her so I am free to read-out quotes and relive favoured scenes without spoiler-ing anything.

But I want to consume this infectious narrative before my Beloved.

It’s not a competition. No. My copy is due back at the library and I cannot renew it. Some other lucky eyes are seeking this treat and have placed a reserve.

So back I go, to read. To spend more time with the mad writer as she wrestles a broken old fridge up and down the twisted paths of thwarted ambition.

 

 

Not About Sharks

I’m finding it hard to stop writing. I handed in my final folio for a 6 week summer fiction paper at Victoria University on Friday and the momentum and pressure has left me in daze.

It is Monday, and there are so many other things to do.

Fixing the broken doors, latches and handles in the new house the family moved into 4 weeks ago. Shifting boxes. Unpacking boxes. Sorting piles of things. Putting pictures on walls. Working out what each of the keys do around the place, and if they’re the only copy. Working out how to cook anew now that the wife has gone vegan. Finishing the painting (inside and out) at the old house, which needs to be on the market ASAP because we can barely afford one mortgage let alone two. Arranging tradesmen to do the things I can’t legally do. Exercising my old aching body, that needs large daily doses of anti-inflammatories and stretching until I get a big chop-chop operation on my Achilles. Cleaning this house for the first time since we shifted in. Two bathrooms. Two toilets. Six sinks. Two floors to vacuum. An overgrown garden to tame and explore.

I could go on.

But I need to write. It is a need. Not just the two new stories I wrote for the course. Both of which will not leave my mind alone. One, a story of writing and love. Sharp, clever and funny. The other a dark wee fantasy fable that has mushroomed into the biggest thing I have ever written, and clearly needs to get bigger again. Or the kids’ story I started bashing out in my journal on Saturday as I watched the kids at their gym class. It holds my mind the most, being at that hot and fertile point where you can just keep writing and writing until the tale is told. Which is what you must do because if you stop the momentum is lost and the ink has dried to a hardness that will not take another coat without becoming a different picture altogether. And there are the two novels that need revision so they can seek publication. Plus the letter I promised to forward back in December. A real letter, on paper, that needs to be reconsidered because it involves care and caution. And there is my diary; the beast I started with great hope having re-ignited the habit last year, managing to knock out 200-250 words each day. This year I have been doing 600-700, until the last few weeks when life’s demands left it sadly neglected.

So what do I do?

I write. A blog for 5-10 people to read. I used to get 25-60 readers with every new post but those numbers have passed. The world is awash with words seeking eyes. The ‘attention economy’ places great demands on our time.

So why write, fool? Because I must. Why write this? Because the words came out when I sat down. The muscle needs movement and cannot relax or stay still.

 

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Smiler

Smiling can be hard in the morning, especially in the face of the stress and the unexpected.
This morning I got to the airport just as the check-in went to shit. The computers had stopped talking and the baggage conveyer wouldn’t work. The queue at bag-drop snaked out of sight through the terminal. People were huffing and puffing and walking into me as they tried to deal with the stress.

No drama was required, the plane couldn’t leave without our bags. Still, people pushed and fussed and contrived ways to jump the queue. A young woman behind me tottered away out the terminal and blundered back into line at the front of the queue. Well, she was wearing a very short green skirt and ridiculous heels.
I struggled not to glare.
As I reached the conveyer belt it froze once again. When it restarted after 5 minutes the short man beside me had a fit when told his soft bag needed to be placed in a tray. ‘Why couldn’t you have told me that before? I’ve been bloody standing in front of you for 5 mins!’ I laughed a little too loud and shook my head at the poor woman from Air NZ.
‘We’re all stressed,’ she said. I smiled in agreement and went to stretch my legs.
While waiting to board I started to write. I had received several random smiles and it wasn’t yet 9am.
This has been happening a bit these last two weeks. Are people happier or is it me?
I suspect it’s got to do with the joke I played on myself.
When the heatwave hit a fortnight ago I shaved my big grey beard into a ridiculous moustache. Think the bastard love-child of Lemmy and Derek Smalls. A heavy metal scowl drooping under my chin like curly white tusks.
I have the air of a pompous little monkey blown up into a man. It’s in no way attractive but it attracts the female eye.
Of course, I may just be projecting on co-incidence and quirk. Just because a woman gives you a second look, smiles, and then appears right beside you means little more than middle-aged fancy.
Still. Woman are smiling at me like never before. It’s nice. I like it.
So when I saw the feedback machine as I went through security, I hit the smiley button.
Then I smiled at the woman gawping at me as I boarded the plane.
But when I saw that the young woman in the short green skirt was sitting right behind me on the plane I thought, fuck it. I am not going to smile.

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