The power of gratitude

We’ve all had our priorities shifted here in Christchurch by recent events. Once the fact really sank in that we live in a place where any second, with absolutely no warning, the earth can rise up roaring under our feet and the walls come tumbling down, we had to accept certain realities, like ultimate lack of control, quite differently.

I mean, sure we can control our day to day realities up to a point, but the big things, the life and death stuff, that’s pretty much out of our hands. That’s the same for everyone, no matter where we live or what we do.

But there’s something we can control no matter what our personal situation. Our own response to life. This isn’t easy. In fact it’s probably the hardest thing of all. Often it feels easier to move mountains than control our own minds.

But here in Christchurch, when we feel so helpless in many ways, shifting our priorities to focus on the things we actually can have some small hope of controlling has been a very healthy thing for a lot of people I know.

I’ve been reading some interesting writing recently about how to grow wellbeing and happiness in our lives, and more specifically, the power of gratitude to increase happiness. I have a small daughter, so I’m particularly keen to teach her how she can nurture happiness in her own life. One thing many of these writers emphasise is how making a daily habit of stating things we are grateful for can create a sense of well being, and encourage the habit of savouring life.

Some people keep gratitude journals. And I am a stone cold sucker for nice stationery, so when I saw this puppy, well, the idea of keeping a book of things I am thankful for seemed all the more enticing.

But we as a family have chosen instead to go round the table at supper and ask each other what we are grateful for. Initially it felt contrived. Some days I struggled to think of anything I was thankful for. I was tired, I felt grumpy, work had been hard and I still had three hours of writing to do once I put the small person to bed. What had I got to be grateful for?

Well of course the answer in these situations is always, “so much, you self pitying twerp!”

As soon as I realised that, I begin to remember the good things, the little moments that illuminated a difficult day. I’m not talking about the bigger picture stuff, like the fact that here and now I am incredibly lucky just to have a job, a house and my family around me (although some days, believe me, when I say I feel grateful for these things, I really mean it). I’m thinking about the gilded instants that lift the whole. The moment when, walking home, the sun came out and the bellbirds started singing. The postcard that arrived from a friend. The hug that my daughter gave me when I picked her up from preschool. The little beautiful things. I’m grateful for them.

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A list of things we’ve learned

Ciaran just insisted, in a charming way, that I go and write a damn blog post.

“Even just a list of things we’ve learned,” he said plaintively.

That’s a tough ask for me, because I’m not very good at learning stuff.

I mean I am good at it, if an authoritative, interesting person tells me what I need to know, preferably with the assistance of books and visual aids. A situation otherwise known as school, I believe.

But learning from personal experience? Oh, that’s hard.

But just for him, because he asked so nicely, I’m going to make a big effort.

So what have we learned from a year of not having a car?

  • Contrary to my own expectations, it was actually harder not having a car in the summer months. I thought it would be tough on cold wet winter mornings, when I had to get up in the dark, wrangle a protesting toddler into her pantechnicon and push her to preschool in driving sleet. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff wasn’t exactly fun. But I’m pretty stoical when it comes to stomping around in unpleasant weather.
  • What was more of a bummer was when the weather got all nice and we wanted to go to the beach for a swim/go camping on the weekend/go for a picnic on the peninsula on a sunny Saturday and we couldn’t, because we didn’t have a car.
  • Even though you save money not having a car, who knows where that money goes? In hindsight, we should have been inspired by the quit smoking exercise, taken the money we would have spent on petrol every week and put it in a high interest savings account/sock under the mattress instead. We didn’t. Oh well!
  • Outings that require more than one bus trip become too hard. Although maybe that’s just us being lazy.
    You gain a new appreciation for your immediate surroundings, because you spend a lot more time there. Instead of driving into town to go out, we just walk down the road. Admittedly we pretty much always did that anyway, because we live in Lyttelton and it is frankly much much nicer than Christchurch, but without a car we became even more ferociously local in our focus.
  • Online supermarket shopping rocks. So fantastic. Quicker, easier and cheaper, even with delivery costs, because you don’t impulse buy. And let’s hear it for automated shopping lists! Unfortunately online shopping is currently not a happening thing in Christchurch post quake, but we want it back. Vehemently.  I should also note that it would be very nice if the supermarkets could sort out some form of recyclable delivery container, because it right gets on my tits when we have made an effort to take our canvas bags to the supermarket, and then I get my groceries delivery in about a bazillion plastic bags. Honestly chaps, you can pack more than two cans of tomatoes in a bag. No really you can. Try it. It will astonish you.  And while you are pondering this amazing revelation, how about considering some reusable, branded crates? Think about it, socially, ecologically and ethically responsible, miles of feel good press releases and happy customers. All for piss all effort. Sounds like a winner to me folks. Why thank you, I will take a small mention in your corporate eco-awards winner’s speech.
  • Major natural disasters are not good times to be without a car. When the earth roars under your feet, the buildings fall down, the roads buckle and all public transport has ground to a halt, it is nice to have the option of climbing in your car and getting the hell out of there.
  • It takes balls/stupidity to be car free with a small child, as there are times when they are sick, in the deepest darkest hour of the night before morning and you too are sick with fear, that you really would like to be able to just get in the car and drive somewhere where nice people in white coats will make it all better.
  • Our friends are the most generous people, and when we have really needed a set of wheels, they have given us theirs. Big thanks especially to the beautiful Kate, who lent us her car in that difficult, frightening post quake period, and made it possible for us to get around our broken town and also to get away to the mountains for a break. Thanks also to Lindon and the flying custard square, which he placed at our disposal as a ‘family car’ with his usual grace and generosity. And thank you to Lauren, Daniel and Clara, who lent us their Demio so we could go on dates, and babysat our little girl into the bargain. You guys are the business and we loves you.
  • I should have got a bike. Although, Lyttelton doesn’t have many down sides, but it’s a bit crap for bikes (assuming you want to just use your bike as a form of transport and not as some form of advanced downhill, off road, neon lycra clad insanity). It’s steep and hilly and the rest of the city is through a tunnel you cannot cycle through (although you can put the bike on the front of the buses and ride through the tunnel that way. Lots of people do). Also did I mention I am lazy? Also I’m too vain to wear a bike helmet. Maybe I will make an effort to get over some of these constraints as I actually really enjoy cycling places.
  • I passionately hate ‘cycling gear’. Really people, is it compulsory to look that bad just because you are riding your bike? In some cities people just wear their normal clothes, you know? Actually this is a total tangent and not something I have learnt as a result of being car free at all. But any excuse to air my utter intolerance for taut nylon bottoms is a good excuse.

It’s the best bike shop in the world, but bugger me it’s in Islington

This breaks my heart.

As the delightful Ms Sam Warland* said only this very day, “My Christmas list just got a whole lot longer”.

And I don’t even have a bike (yet).

Things to love about this place:

  • It’s called Bobbin Bicycles.
  • They sell a bicycle helmet in the shape of a bowler hat.
  • And yellow leather driving gloves, with that sexxxy cut out on the back of the hand. Rowwwrrrr. Down sir!
  • And a ‘Hello Sailor’ reflective collar.
  • And bicycles, lots of cute bicycles, but I don’t really care about the bicycles that much, I only put that in because otherwise you might think I am an accessory obsessed gurrl.

Things not to like:

  • It’s in Islington.
  • The prices are in pounds.
  • It’s in Islington.

That is all.

*Whose many charms cannot be enumerated on the fingers of my three hands.

Things that go bump in the night

4.35am on Saturday morning our day dawned thunderously. I don’t know whether I was ripped out of sleep by the growing rumbling, shuddering, rattling roar shaking the house, or by Ciaran hurling himself out of bed and rushing out the door. Before I was awake I was stumbling after him, not really knowing what was happening, feeling like I was running down the aisle of a dark train carriage travelling at high speed. This isn’t a good sensation.

Ciaran and I collided in the doorway of the Bobbin’s room, as I rushed past him to grab her out of her cot, before waking up fully and realising that he’d been there already and was actually holding the toddler, who had been still asleep when yanked unceremoniously out her cot and was clinging to him groggily.

We huddled in the doorframe, holding onto Seraphine, as the house heaved around us. The shaking became more violent and we were in total darkness as the power went down and the streetlights outside faded to black. The first big quake lasted about 40 seconds, which feels like a long time and was followed hard by further aftershocks. It was cold.

After the worst of the tremors stopped, we all went back into our bedroom and climbed into bed shivering. We figured it was the best place to stay warm until it got light outside.  We stayed there, cuddled together, the bed sometimes shaking under us, but never so fiercely as to drive us to the door again, until Ciaran and the Bobbin slept and the grey of dawn came round the curtain and filled the room. It was very good to see the day.

We got off scot free, our house appears totally unscathed. We didn’t even have any minor breakages. Our friends and family are all well and safe. The whole city has been lucky, no one has been killed, and only two people seriously injured. However the damage is significant and it’s all the beautiful old buildings that have sustained the worst effects. Christchurch isn’t exactly winning any heritage conservation awards as it is, and this is going to blandify the city into further banality. Still, as people have pointed out, we are only bewailing this because we don’t have worse things to lament. If the quake had happened in the working day, rather than in the quiet hours pre-dawn, it may have been a much bloodier tale.

Over 48 hours later the aftershocks are still rolling in. Nerves are pretty frayed, and it’s worse when it gets dark. The thing that freaks me is the almost imperceptible grinding judder that comes after the main jolt. I feel it in the pit of my stomach and under the soles of my feet, like a sailor who has been a long time at sea.

When they are good they are very very good…

Yesterday morning my bus driver played what must have been his favourite romantic mix tape on repeat, loudly. The highlight for me was Dan Hill’s maudlin meanderings repeated THREE times on the way into town.

Allow me to treat you to the pearls that are the lyrics.

“Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much, and I have to close my eyes and hide. I want to hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides. “

I’m tearing up here. But wait there’s more.

“At times I’d like to break you and drive you to your knees…”

That’s romance for you right there folks. But my torture did not end when I fled the bus, as this cheery little ditty is also a mind worm on a truly epic level.  I sang it walking down the street, I hummed it in the loo, I whistled it doing my work, the little horror got stuck in my head with a bulldog like grip and I’ve been alone in a dark place with it ever since.

But it’s not all bad music out there on the buses.

Last week I took the fractious toddler, who was fighting yet another cold, into town. On the way home she fell asleep on me, and as I supported her head and dreamily watched the growing patch of drool on my shirt, I tuned into the conversation the bus driver was having with the front seat passenger.

When I started listening, he was talking about the challenges immigrants to New Zealand who don’t speak English as a first language can have getting jobs that match their qualifications and experience. He was a qualified teacher and a sports coach, as far as I could gather, but had had difficulty getting anything more than short term relief contracts, hence here he was driving a bus. It was a bit of a sad story and I think talking about it made our driver feel pangs of old frustrations because he started instead to talk about Serbia, whence he originally came, telling my fellow passenger about the places worth visiting there, the fine old cities and the beautiful fertile countryside.

He was an interesting man, full of enthusiasm for life and his stories made a pleasant diversion as we trundled through Heathcote. The weather was warm, the sun falling directly onto us through the window and Seraphine was getting overheated being so close to me, grumbling and twitching in her sleep. As we passed through the tunnel, I fumbled our things together one handed, and shifted my protesting sweaty daughter onto my shoulder, where she grizzled as we scrambled, ungainly and over laden, down from the bus.

We plodded up the hill, with the small person protesting the iniquities of life in my left ear. We’d just rounded chicken corner and I was mentally girding my loins for the long steep hill ahead when  I heard the sound of running feet and an out of breath male voice shouted “hey!”. It was the bus driver, brandishing Seraphine’s sun hat in his hand. I had unwittingly dropped it as I got off the bus, but instead of just turning it in at lost property, this very nice man had sacrificed his break between bus trips to run after us, up a total bitch of a hill. That’s above and beyond the call of duty by several miles. So yay for the heroic bus driver from Serbia. May he find his dream job, inspiring young Kiwis to be as nice as he is. And I must track him down through the labyrinthine bureaucratic networks of Metro admin and send him a bottle of wine as a thank you.


Naughty naughty

I’ve been absent without a note from my mum. Sorry about that. I’ve been bunking off because I started working part time in the office again. Only two five hour days a week, but I tell you what, I am bloody shattered. I don’t know how people manage to work full time and still be the primary carer* for their child. I’d be dead.

By Thursday night this week I had done so much walking that my arse muscles were aching. What with hiking across Lyttelton to drop the spawn off at pre-school, running frantically for the bus, walking slightly more sedately from the bus stop in town to work, and then repeating the whole shebang in reverse, all the while with my great heavy lap top bag slung over one shoulder giving me an attractive lopsided gait, I walk about six miles on a work day, much of it up hill. I’m aiming to do it in heels soon, just for yucks, and because glamour is pain sweeties.

Since we got back from Scotland I’ve definitely been much more active, so by rights I should be bright eyed and bushy tailed, queen of the perky brigade, nauseatingly chipper, you know, one of those happy idiots. Instead I’m mildly morose and knackered. It must be the season getting to me. Still I remind myself, as I eyeball despairingly the mountain of organic seasonal vegetables wilting in the fridge, before making the beast yet another bowl of porridge for her supper, that things would surely be much bleaker, if I weren’t being insanely vigorous.

That’s a resounding endorsement for walking lots eh? I should give up my day job and become a motivational speaker.

Good stuff that has happened while we’ve been off line:

Winter is over half way done, which is good, because while the clothes are better in winter, (boots, hats, big dramatic coats, scarves, jumpers, wheeeee!) getting up in the dark becomes wearisome, and I am half sick of shadows (and big power bills).

I made a chocolate cake with whiskey soaked raisins in it, which gets better every day. Oh yes. It does. Just went to check that it is still getting better, and you can all rest easy, it’s still on its uphill curve.

We’ve been cooking more stuff without meat. Spicy carrots rock my world. So cheap, so seasonal, so fricking delicious. Also dhal. Dhal is good. Ciaran has invented the most delicious spaghetti with tomato and caper sauce and lots of bread crumbs toasted in butter. He usually puts bacon in it, but it’d be just as good without.

Some beautiful and kind ladies took me for an impromptu birthday tea in the tropical house in the Botanic gardens, which is a great place to have a picnic on a cold, grey winter’s day. The only drawback is that there isn’t really anywhere to sit, so we set up camp rather awkwardly on a slightly wider section of concrete path, where we spread out our table cloth, our thermos, and our cupcakes and got stuck in, while other visitors to the greenhouse passed us by, variously attempting to ignore our presence, looking rather aggrieved at our outrageous behaviour or making smart arse/endearing comments.

I’ve signed up for a fiction writing course at the polytech, and promptly missed the first session, because the toddler was ill, again, but we won’t let such minor details stand between us and our good intentions, which is what I am sincerely hoping the course leader will say when I turn up sheepishly late next week.

I bought the world’s prettiest oilcloth to cover our big table from the depredations of paint wielding toddlers. It’s got flowers and birds and it’s just gorgeous, and it complements my big vase of coral roses. What? Pretty things make me happy. Look…shiny!

There, I’ve counted my blessings and I feel much better. Ain’t that nice? Actual topical writing will commence again soon, but Ciaran’s in Auckland listening to music, so you’ll have to make do with fatuous fluff for the now.

*Isn’t primary carer a repulsive term? I’ve been filling out too many tax forms recently. I mean the person who does the most feeding, washing, entertaining, poo removal and general day to day wrangling for the fruit of their loins.

Nice and warm and cosy

The beast otherwise known as my sweet little daughter is still ill. She’s remarkably cheerful for someone whose arse is exploding at regular intervals, but she also has a veteran smoker’s cough, and a gummy yellow case of conjunctivitis. All of which adds up to her being a nasty pestilential little piece of work. So we are staying inside, being warm and keeping our germs to ourselves.

I am attempting to set a world record for most hours spent wearing pyjamas in one calendar year. I think I have depreciated my current pair to a cost per wear of 12 cents, which is still prohibitive. I can do better than that.

Being stuck inside and sporting a fine line in ‘given-up chic’*is no barrier to cost effective enjoyment so I am thrilled to bring you the last word on fun budget activities in your very own living room.

Now as every talk back radio listener knows, the cheapest way to have a good time is to get irate about something.  So here goes.

It’s hard work staying warm in winter in New Zealand. Professor Robert Vale of Victoria University said “the average New Zealand house is scarily cold, badly insulated, has huge expanses of single-glazed glass, and is a nightmare to heat,” and he was being polite.

What is it with this country and its crap buildings, eh, eh? Piss poor building codes, because we wouldn’t want “bureaucracy” to hinder the poor housing developers in their quest for riches now, would we? Bugger all real incentive to improve the heat retention of older buildings, and every winter we have a power crisis. Well fancy that. Let’s not even get into the unnecessary burden put on the healthcare system by illness caused by people living in unhealthily cold and damp buildings.  I can and do bang on about this topic ad nauseam, but today I’ll spare you the full rant.

Back when I was a newbie in this country, I rented an old Victorian villa in the heart of the swamp that is St Albans. During that first winter I subsidised the rent by letting out the spare bedroom to the district coroner as an overflow morgue facility.  It was icy hell. I put on a hat to go to bed. The walls ran with damp and mould grew on my clothes in the wardrobe. There was NO HEATING AT ALL. I got chilblains on my feet. It was so long since I’d had chilblains that initially I had no idea what they were. And folks, lest you think I was a naive fool for renting such a cold house, please bear in mind that this sort of property is common place in New Zealand, particularly in the rental market.

So here we are, still renting, now with a house that has at least a passing acquaintance with the old pink batts and a nice heat pump, but there are still things that could be improved. And here’s where we get to the point of this post. At this time of year every magazine, newspaper and caring, sharing local council handout is full of advice to toasty up your hovel. But the vast majority of this advice is for people who own their home. What about people like us who rent? We have no control over our heating or insulation; how do we stay warm? Well my gift to you today is the accumulated wisdom from my many years trying to stay warm in winter in rented houses the world over**.

Most windows in New Zealand are single glazed. Ours are and it gladdens my heart of a morning to wipe the mould off my aluminium window frames. With single glazed windows you need HEAVY curtains, preferably full length, so they puddle on the floor and keep draughts from howling around your ankles. You might be lucky enough to have a nice landlord who has installed thermal drapes. If so, cherish them dearly, they are a rare and thoughtful beast. However, chances are that your curtains, if you have any at all, are of that particularly lovely variety, found only in rented accommodation, that resemble nothing so much as a pair of clapped out tea towels strung on a sticky wire. This will not keep you warm.

Here’s how to solve your problem on the cheap and with minimum effort like. Haste ye to Trade Me and buy yourself some bargain full length curtains. You can get great deals on the old Trade Me, everything from moth eaten velvet, granny style florals (très now sweeties), and plenty of nasty eighties prints, which is where you can really grab some good deals. Thermal curtains are a particular score. It doesn’t really matter if the real steals are hideous, because here comes the clever bit…

Beg, borrow or steal some old blankets. It doesn’t matter if they match or not, but if you are going to use an unmatched pair, it’s a good idea to go for some common colour scheme, a cream base for example. Op shops have piles of old blankets. Trade Me has more. You probably have a stash already. Sew your blankets to your old curtains. If you like the look of the blankets best, hang them facing outwards. If you dig the curtains and the blankets are skanky old horrors, use the blankets as lining. Either way, you’ll have yourself a pair of monster heavy drapes that will foil the iciest blast, and look pure dead gorgeous into the bargain. I made some with old blue striped blankets for the beast’s room, and it was my very own little Vogue Living moment. Everyone who sees them ooohs and aaahhs and admires and they cost me $25 and half an hour of slapdash sewing.

I thought that this was my own super original idea when I made my curtains, but no, it turns out heaps of clever people have had the idea already and executed it better too. If you go to World Sweet World, they even have a step by step tutorial, which means your curtains will end up much flasher than mine and I will hate you. It’s a win folks.

Let me talk to you about draught excluders. They call them draught snakes or something like that here in Kiwi land, but humour me here. Say draught excluders out loud with your very best Glaswegian accent…go on…do it….right now…

Awesome huh?

Right well, draught excluders. These are your friend. Breed the little bastards like pets and use them on every door in your house. If you are crafty you can make your own. Otherwise may I again recommend Trade Me (I know, I’m obsessed, I don’t get out much) specifically the offerings of the lovely Linda, who goes under the trader name of creative_two. Linda makes draught snakes out of sexy designer fabrics, and will also make custom sizes to order. She made me a huge striped snake for our awkwardly high and wide back door and her kids thought it looked like a giant monarch butterfly chrysalis. She is a delight, and very well priced.

Also, hang a blanket over your cat flap. Saucy eh?

If you have a major issue with the old condensation, and I’m yet to live in a house in New Zealand which doesn’t, you can temporarily double glaze your windows for peanuts by getting a plastic window kit. This works wonders, and isn’t that tedious to install, plus you get to blow dry your window frames, which is a new experience, and we should always embrace the new, non? If you live in jolly old Christchurch you can buy these kits from the good people down at the Community Energy Action Trust.

If you can, wrap your hot water cylinder in its own little custom made duvet.

This next section is about subsidies, so if you know all this stuff and your eyes have glazed over, please move on.

If you live in NZ and your rented home is freezing, you can talk to your landlord about the possibility of applying for Energywise funding for insulation and clean efficient heating. This is where the government subsidises part of the cost of insulating and heating a rental property. Your landlord will still have to stump up some cash, so they might say no. But in that case, my advice to you is to move on and find a better landlord.

In Christchurch, the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust is a good place to start for guidance on what assistance you may be entitled to. If you rent within the Christchurch Clean Air Zone (Lyttelton falls outside this zone, bad luck oh Southerly facing suckers like us) and your house is only heated by an open fire or a log burner, your landlord is legally obliged to replace the fire /burner with clean heating and may be entitled to assistance under the Clean Heat scheme to do so.

And that’s all folks. Another day, another ramble. I have plum crumble in the oven and a pot of cream in the fridge. My world is nice. Hope yours is too.

*Thanks to Lindo for this excellent description of the kind of clothing favoured by knackered mothers everywhere. However I would like to state that I am a mere beginner in the field of ‘given-up chic’. The other week I was pootling along Stanmore Road in east Christchurch and a grown woman wearing a fleecy onesie crossed the road ahead of me.

**All this stuff is on the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust site. They rock.

Your shopping trolley is empty

Online grocery shopping for the month has become an extreme sport round these parts. I have a stock take sheet for the household groceries, (which includes rotating our emergency apocalypse larder so that our cans of Spam* never go out of date).

If we run out of something vital during the month, I perform a dire self imposed penalty; something truly agonising like reading The Press.

Last month we ran out of butter. Who was I kidding with my two blocks of butter? The wheels of this house are greased by butter. The Bobbin eats slabs of it for breakfast; I use it instead of moisturiser, I just apply it on the inside. Two blocks might just see us through a week. I won’t be making that mistake again and the dear child is, as I type, playing happily in her new playhouse constructed from 500 blocks of Anchor’s finest unsalted. Also, did you know that if you Google “house built out of blocks of butter” nothing comes up? This is a tragedy.

*Just joking, I’m a total food snob, we’d never have Spam in the house, particularly not if the world were ending.


How to have a good night on the cheap

Stay up all night with your vomiting toddler. Luckily you have a stinking cold, so you can’t smell the puke. Then carry the sad little person around all day clinging to you like a limpet. Finally put the recovering beast to bed, escape room on tiptoe and listen with breath held for the sound of silence. Rejoice mightily.

Cost: several more grey hairs and approximately $500 in electricity to wash every item of clothing and bed linen in the house. How do kids manage to get that puke so far? Are you having fun? I know I am.

Make yourself a killer hot toddy, infuse sage leaves, grated ginger, lemon juice and zest, orange, New Zealand bush honey (thanks Olly) and a hella hella hefty whiskey.

“Darling, can you pop outside and get me some sage?”  “Why, yes my love, it is raining cats and dogs, and you are tending to our poorly daughter, I will nip outside into this inclement weather and get you some sage.” “Why darling, these sage leaves are awfully furry, and they don’t smell quite as I expect, could it be you gathered me the digitalis instead?”

Actually he didn’t, it was sage all along, but we contracted a major attack of paranoia, dumped the first batch of sage and went and picked more. Moral of the story, don’t let foxgloves self-seed in your herb bed no matter how pretty they are, it will come back and bite you on the arse one dark rainy night.

Cost: $0.50 for hot toddy ingredients. The whiskey was a gift, thanks Si & Biddy. The added enjoyable frisson of thinking you’ve nearly poisoned yourself is free.

Now you are drunk. Huzzah! Attempt to write a coherent and thoughtful blog post about a vision for a car free central Christchurch. Fail. Instead write complete drivel about your crap weekend because in your addled little mind it tenuously fits a theme of simple mindful living.

Congratulate yourself heartily on managing to post once this week. Post a link to a much better blog as compensation to your loyal readers. Take yourself off to bed, thinking fond thoughts about your beloved partner who upgraded the electric blanket to a really good one.

Cost: nothing but lasting damage to your self esteem.  Now do I know how to show you a good time or what?

Cool cheap shit to do without a car in Christchurch

Banks Peninsula has been riven from mainland New Zealand by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The rest of the country has been devastated by a vast tsunami, drought, floods and the ensuing mass sickness.  The population has been decimated, starvation and violence are rife*.

It’s amazing the cheery fantasies one can have on the loo in the morning, no?

So I thought I’d start a series of occasional fluff pieces on cool stuff one can do around the hood without an automobile. Just for fun I’m going to throw in the additional handicaps of a toddler and limited moolah.

Just in case you think this blog is descending into lifestyle supplement drivel, I’d like you to know that I’m also working on an incisive piece of investigative journalism about the true cost of the trucking industry, but it’s a bit hard, alright.

I joined a new Facebook group called Secret Christchurch recently but it turns out most people’s idea of a secret isn’t that secret, and mainly revolves around shopping. Now me, I like to spend money, just like the next person, but, as I might have mentioned before, we had a baby almost two years ago, and babies, while cute and all, have a tendency to play havoc with your finances. I had plans to dump the wee snot bag in daycare asap and rush back to work once my maternity leave was up, but when it came down to it, I didn’t. So here we are, at home and broke. My mother told NZ Customs that I was a housewife. Me, I tell people I work part time from home and then segue into a rapturous rant about how fabulous and accommodating my employers have been (they are, thanks guys!) to cover the fact that I have no idea what I am doing with my life. Still that’s for another story. In the meantime, while I’m trying to work out what to do when I grow up, I’ll take the wean on some amusing budget outings and tell you all about it. Deal?

In installment part the first of this exciting new series, Mumminy Umminy** and the Bobbin go to Ferrymead to buy a bathmat.

Going from Lyttelton to Ferrymead is awesome. If you are feeling absurdly energetic you can yomp up over the Bridle Path, down to Heathcote and onwards to the sea. I did that once with the little person on my back, when she was about eight months old. I was bloody knackered afterwards, and she weighed half of what she does now. Now we get the bus through the tunnel and get off on the other side and walk from there.

There’s a lovely wee park in Heathcote, nestled in the valley and with some fine big old trees, it looks like a great place to have summer family picnics. Haven’t done that yet, but it’s on the list of stuff to do when the sun returns. If you hang a left down past the park you’ll come to a cluster of funky local businesses, coffee roaster Upshot and Rhombus cafe, the organic tofu man and the delightful gift shop Blackbird. Head down there on a sunny morning and sit out on the grass with your coffee and you might hear kereru in the trees opposite and see groups of riders from the Heathcote Valley riding school ambling past.

But yesterday we didn’t go that way. Instead we carried on down Bridle Path Road, stroking the venerable gum trees as we went past and I successfully fought the urge to turn up the drive to Aromaunga Flowers and blow the grocery money on great armfuls of lilies and jewel coloured posies of anemones. They grow the flowers on site in acres of glasshouses behind the old homestead, and as I walk up the drive, shaded by the big mature trees, past the graceful house and the older glasshouses, I like to imagine that I live there and grow flowers. I always go there in December for Christmas lilies and big boxes of cherries.

On we went, past the horses in the paddocks in their winter coats, which tickled the Bobbin mightily and past the entrance to Heathcote Quarry, which I am ashamed to confess I have never visited, but I bet it’s brilliant and will be correcting that omission very soon.

Not far from the entrance to the Quarry is a villa with a plaster death mask hanging from its veranda. The eyes are closed and a half smile plays on the full lips. It is hung with wire, so it sways slightly in the breeze. If you’re not expecting it and catch it out of the corner of your eye, as I did the first time, it can give you quite a start. Actually it probably isn’t really a death mask, but a touch of the macabre makes for a far finer anecdote, I always find.

Yesterday morning there was no wind at all. When we came to the estuary it was glassy calm, and the reflections were sharp and perfect. Even the shags drying their wings had their upside down twins. We leaned over the rail of the bridge and could see our own watery faces staring back.

One of my favourite places in Ferrymead is the $2.00 clothing warehouse. This frigid cavern filled with miles of garment rails, crammed with colour coded clothes, is a paradise for the poverty striken clothing fetishist. It took me a while to see the true beauty in the place. The first few times I visited I thought, “Ew! Miles of stinky grubby polyester, run, run away,” which isn’t actually far from the reality, so lower your expectations now. It’s the slops bucket for the city’s better quality second hand clothing emporiums, where they send all the stuff that is too cheap and nasty to be sold in their more expensive city centre shops. So there is a lot of nasty crap. But in the last two years I have grown so much as a person that I am able to see beyond the unpromising first impression to the beautiful pearl hidden within. Yes that’s right folks, I’m poor and I’ve got nothing better to do.

You’ve got to be in the right mood to trawl through hundreds of horrible garments to find the hidden master piece, but the Bobbin loves it there, because there are lots of other kids for her to make eyes at, so I got at least half an hour of uninterrupted browsing, before the poor wee mite got hypothermic and bored and had to be moved to the exciting flesh pots of Mitre 10. In that time I found the most exciting item of clothing ever; a peacock blue velour trackie top, which might not sound initially promising, but this utilitarian item, dear friends, is embroidered with a heraldic crest, bearing the motto “one’s way of life”. I fell on the floor weeping with delighted mirth and had to be given CPR by a passing fellow bargain hunter.

After such dizzy heights of retail bliss, there wasn’t much else to recount. We then went to Mitre 10 and bought a bath mat, as previously advertised and a new wooden toilet seat as a wild impulse purchase (because the manky old plastic one hitherto gracing our not very salubrious loo, had pinched my arse in its gelid maw  one time too many). And on that topic, I have to say, a decent loo seat is a wonderful thing. Which brings me full circle to my apocalyptic morning musings, and so I leave you. Adieu, adieu.

* But on the plus side, property prices in Lyttelton have fallen dramatically.

**That’s me. The Bobbin came up with that all by herself. Gifted child I tell you.