How to survive a natural disaster pt. 1: the loo with a view

If one must, one must in style.

If a person takes a dump in their back yard and everyone pretends not to notice, does it still make a stink?

Ah yes, the age old question.

We now know the answer to this and many other things we never thought about before.  Mercifully our water and sewerage is back on (although we’re still using both sparingly and boiling our drinking water).  But I did promise the obligatory photograph of our back yard ablution block so here you go.

Emergencies tend to do different things to different people.  It can bring out the good and the bad.  And no, that is not setting you up for some lame gag about cathartic motions.  Although I am about to show you a picture of a stool…

In the case of Uncle Puff, it brought out the pragmatic, DIY legend in him.  Admittedly it usually doesn’t take much under normal circumstances.

The question of a lack of facilities with a houseful of people was rapidly becoming an issue.  We had immediately started collecting rain water (just the excuse I needed to rip out the downpipe and set up a rain butt – should’ve done it years ago) with which we could flush the toilet once we got the all clear to do so but who knew when that was going to be?  We couldn’t keep filling it up.  Ahem.

Enter the Puff.  Why just dig a hole in the ground when you can create the Luxury Latrine.  First we identified the most private spot on the banked bit of land behind our house.  We considered the relative difficulties of squatting on a slope and looked around for something to sling our nether regions over (not to put too fine a point on it) when Uncle Puff had the first of his brainwaves.  All we needed was an old wooden chair that we could cut a hole in the seat.  It just so happened that we did have an old chair with a broken back and a solid wooden seat in the cellar (aka The Underworld).  A quick visit to our neighbour Merv (latterly dubbed The Mervinator by the neighbouring kids for his efforts during and after the earthquake) to borrow a jigsaw and Puff’s eyes were aglow with the vision of a back yard latrine of legend.

The throne was completed in no time and the final piece of the puzzle was completed with a stout harakeke branch and an old shower curtain for privacy.  It was only fitting that Puff performed the opening ceremony.

And now, the stool:

I'm going outside, I may be some time. Pass the newspaper.

Although the ‘loo with a view’ has now been retired, the stool remains as our own personal monument to survival.  And I’m still collecting rain water.


And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:


Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.


So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

Hedonistic Paradise*

Recipe for the Best Christmas Holiday as Parents Ever:

  • 2 x cases of wine
  • 2 x grandparents staying for a month
  • 1 x Aunty Taffy – live-in
  • 1 x Aunty Brad – live-in
  • countless summer ales
  • more wine bought by the bottle here and there
  • homemade lemon cheesecake
  • Grilly Xmas cake
  • some more beer
  • lots of music
  • 1 x extremely well utilised BBQ

throw in one ecstatic 2 year old, a paddling pool xmas pressie, turn the sun up to 30 degree heat, open a bottle of wine for the cooks and slowly bake until you have 2 greatly relieved parents, turning fat and a bit pished.

Bon Apetit!

Thank you to the House of Davidson for giving us the best Christmas ever.

* Is the title of a song by the outrageously talented Christina Courtin – surely a contender for my Most Thrashed Album of 2010.

A Kiwi Kinda Christmas. Kinda.

Well I’ve gone and started it now, haven’t I?

Got us all thinking about Xmas (not that you could avoid it in all honesty).  So I thought I’d put it out there in a Tyranny of Convenience kinda way to find out what your ideal or fantasy Christmas would look like and what your actual Christmas is going to look like.

Years ago my family started to have picnics on Christmas day – we live in the southern hemisphere, don’tcha know – and after all it’s usually hot and sunny on the 25th.  It was a kind of revelation.  All my life we’d had the ‘traditional’ northern hemisphere Christmas experience – our parents were from Northern Ireland – and we were brought up with hot turkey, stuffing, vegetables and hot Christmas pudding with custard etc.  Eaten inside on a 28 degree day isn’t really what you wanted as a kid with a brand new water pistol from Santa.

Likewise the trappings were all northern hemisphere-oriented: wrapping paper with snow and sleighs and reindeer; tree decorations with snow globes, tinsel snow etc.  Everywhere you looked – winter.  And this wasn’t just our family of course – the whole damn country was obsessed with Christmas ‘back home.’  Everywhere you went you were beaten around the head with carols like White Christmas and Jingle Bells.  All totally meaningless to a southern hemisphere culture in December when you stop and think about it.

Our Christmas tree - Aotearoa-style

And yet, I loved it.  I’m not for an instant suggesting that I was in any way deprived as a result of a culturally topsy turvy Christmas.  It’s just a strange fact.  Slowly over the years, New Zealand has been creating a Christmas iconography all of its own.  BBQs and beaches are replacing snow-filled countrysides as the settings for festivities.  Kiwis (the bird, that is) wearing jandals, floppy sun hats and sunglasses deliver presents to kids playing beach cricket, wearing zinc and swimming trunks while mums and dads lounge around the bbq on deck chairs with ice cold beer or perhaps a glass of sauvignon blanc.  There’s a great kids book called ‘A Kiwi Night Before Christmas‘ recasting the classic rhyme in a kiwi setting:

It was the night before Christmas, and all round the bach

Not a possum was stirring; not one we could catch.

We left on the table a meat pie and beer,

In hopes that Santa Claus soon would be here.

Who inevitably arrives on his trusty tractor complete with sheepdog.  And there’s been one or two attempts at some kiwi christmas carols too.  Perhaps the most memorable  by Lindon Puffin ‘Pohutakawa Xmas’ – which seems to annually duke it out with Snoopy’s Christmas for the top spot on the Yuletide Charts.  I wish I could link you to it – it sums up a southern hemisphere xmas experience perfectly.

Nowadays our annual xmas lunch generally revolves around a gourmet BBQ but there’s still some ‘traditional’ elements of our past – roast turkey, ham, Christmas pudding.  But our tree is a Rata in full bloom – alive! Which is how you tend to feel at this time of year.  We’ll gorge ourselves beyond what is seemly, drink far too much wine, there’s bound to be at least 3 types of dessert including 2 trifles and the whole thing followed by the richest xmas cake known to mankind with whisky and wearing those daft wee paper hat crowns from Christmas Crackers while endlessly reciting sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and singing old TV theme tunes. If we don’t haul ourselves out for a stroll to the timeball it’ll be  snooze o’clock for all concerned.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe…

This post was inspired by an article on one of my favourite websites right now The Idle Parent (check out the manifesto!) about their ‘fantasy family Christmas’.  It’s a cracker, I hope you enjoy it and I hope you are finding and making your peace out there, wherever you are.

So, your fantasy yuletide vs. the reality? – let’s have it!

Camping Deluxe

Given the developing conversation in the comments section of the previous post, I thought I’d start a little thread on that most divisive of topics – camping: lean & mean or lush & lazy, emphasis on the ‘lush’.

Are you the type to ditch the car and walk for days, sleeping in tiny, lightweight hiking tents, subsisting on scroggin and water from your environmentally-sound steel water bottle?  Or are you more likely to load up the 4×4 with everything from the solar shower to the case of fine wine, herb & spice rack and the foam mattress?

To pee in the wilderness or look for a camping ground with ablution and kitchen blocks, recreation centre and powered camp sites?

Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.  Maybe you like both, some of the time?

Ahhh, the simple life...

Me? I must say I like to camp near the sea or rivers so I don’t much need a shower block and I prefer to camp in quiet places because I can make enough noise all by myself – you should hear my guitar-playing.  Then again, maybe you shouldn’t.  So that kind of rules out busy camping grounds with all the facilities.  BUT I do love taking nice food, good wine and cold beer.  I like deck chairs at sunset with drinks holders; fresh coffee and B&E for brekkie. I also like that old foam mattress instead of the closed cell mats which feel more like you’re sleeping on a layer of second hand Mills & Boon paperbacks.

I once spent the most incredible ten days four-wheel-driving and camping with my sister and brother-in-law in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.  Our days spent exploring some of the oldest rock landscapes in the world and seeing incredible wildlife, plants and views to leave you speechless.  We’d race to pitch the tents, avoiding the ever-present ant armies, and get the chairs set up for an ice-cold Coopers under the vivid, red sunsets.  Nights camped under millions of stars drinking and eating excellent food prepared from scratch (it was generally a 3 person job – one to cook and two to swat the flies away) and eating pistachios and chocolate.  Not too shabby eh.  We were literally days driving from any other humans and most of the areas for camping were little more than lines on a map – no facilities whatsoever.  But we had the trusty 4×4 and a large chilly bin. (Esky, cooler, whatever).  Two essential conveniences.  The best trip of my life.  Now, those guys know how to camp.

I suppose I’ve been a little bit spoilt by that experience ever since.  Anyway, that’s why I’m kinda excited about the prospect of camping on those guys farm over the New Year…

61 acres of cloud... eat yer heart out!

Obviously it won’t be snowing then…

And I’ve found some inspiration for future luxury camping ideas – I’ll leave you with this little image of bliss in the wilderness:

So, which kind of camper are you?

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?