Saturday, 28 August 2010

A year without my wingman

A year ago today you breathed your last breath.

A year ago today, I sat on the couch and held you while David, our vet, slid a needle into your vein, releasing you from your frail, disease-ravaged body. I was assured that you felt no pain in those last few minutes and, indeed, through big, fat tears, I saw you gently close your eyes as if preparing for a wee nap.

You'd probably find it hard to imagine how much the poles and boundaries of my life have shifted in the past year: we sold the villa, renovated the townhouse and moved in, gave away Molly, moved to the other side of the world and collected numerous stamps in our passports. But no matter where the road has led me, everything I've done this year has been done with a dog shaped hole in my heart. For the last 365 days, I've had to navigate enormous pot-holes of grief, an alien journey for someone who has never lost anyone close to her. I'm told grief comes in all shapes and sizes; for me, it's been a bit like luggage: some days I'm carrying a small make-up bag, other days it's a big-arse Samsonite suitcase that totally blindsides me.

In the past year we've lovingly picked apart every memory, hiccup or victory of your life with us: the other day, for example, while walking on the Downs (which you would have adored, there's lots of doggie butts to sniff and places to pee), the Animator and I recalled the warm Sunday, 16 years ago, when we found you at the Auckland SPCA. You were tucked into a corner of the cage, as if trying to make yourself invisible to the larger puppies who kept stepping on you. We were told you were from a litter of 10 stray pups, four of whom had been spared (apparently only the 'cute' ones survived the cull, so your accidental beauty, the result of unknown parentage, saved you from certain death).

True to form, Shazzy (literally) went for the underdog: I couldn't bear to see you being pushed around by the larger puppies. The Animator wasn't sure, he said you “didn't have any personality” and suggested we come back the following Sunday. But you showed him by vomiting all over his feet five minutes after we pulled out of the parking lot!

From that day on, your silky ears, soft puppy breath and endless capacity for mischief assured you a place as the alpha dog of the Stephenson-Haughey whanau.You had attitude like the Italians have pasta, making it known early on that repeatedly chasing balls, frisbees or sticks was for other, lesser dogs, that dog food was beneath you and that if you couldn't see the point of a command, you'd simply ignore it. I was keen on a water and a lap dog – you were neither, only putting up with silly Mummy cuddles because you knew a treat would inevitably follow. But what you lacked in affection (or obedience), you more than made up for with cool charisma and a wise, gentlemanly character.

Probably the hardest thing about this past year has been knowing that, no matter how much we loved and cared for you, we couldn't stop your body from growing too ill to contain your huge spirit. I just hope you know how much joy you brought into our lives and how grateful we are that you decided to hang with us for 15 glorious years.

Today, darling Brompton, my heart aches for you. I wish I could visit your grave and say these words in person but, sadly, I'm 12,000 miles away. I'm honoured that we could walk with you on your last journey and hope you know that it was love from the start, and love until the end.The world holds way less magic without you, my sweet boy, but I know that one day we will meet again....

Shazzy and Marty xx

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A public service announcement on behalf of Romance

If you were to look up the word 'Romance' in the dictionary, chances are you'd find Glenn Gardiner's name.

That's because the mild-mannered architect, a man whose default setting is generous, warm and friendly, just proposed to one of my besties, Sarah Bowyer, in a fashion that has made women the world over swoon (well ok, women in Wellington and Bristol).

On their fourth anniversary, Glenn not only hired the same table in the same restaurant he took Sarah to for their first ever date (Capitol, on the corner of Kent Terrace and Marjoribanks Street, since you ask), he hired out the ENTIRE restaurant so that the two of them could be alone when he offered Sarah a backstage pass to eternal happiness! We salute you Glenn for one of the most romantic ideas in the history of romantic ideas.

Now we're just waiting for the save the date card so we can book our tickets home. On a purely selfish note, it means I get to buy a new dress for the wedding of the year, which pushes all my happy buttons.

And it might not be on the same scale, but on this side of the pond, the heart of romance is also beating. A friend recently came into work brandishing a note which someone had left under her windscreen. It read: 'Hope you don't mind me doing this, but I wanted to tell you how beautiful you are”. Or words to that effect.

Of course my friend worries that it could be the work of a nutter or, in her words, a 'minger' (a deeply unattractive person, to you and me) but at least it shows that someone has the chutzpah to put his words where his heart is.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Brilliant Birmingham

As part of our ongoing quest to visit places neither of us has been to before, today we braved crazy-arse drivers* and headed up the M5 to Birmingham.

Before I visited B-town, all I knew about this Midlands city of one million was that it was:
a) grim
b) populated by locals who “speak funny”
c) a centre for cricket, and
d) grim.

Admittedly, we didn't venture to the burbs or council estates that ring the city, but what we did see was green and leafy, and shattered all my ill-informed preconceptions. We spied Edgebaston, the international cricket ground, and were blown away by the Bullring, a ginormous shopping centre that shows what can happen when the Starship Enterprise is allowed to breed with a tin can. The fact that it rubs up against the 13th Century St Martin's Church further adds to the eyebrows-on-top-of-the-head visual spectacle.

Wikipedia tells me that some form of commercial enterprise has taken place on this site since 1142 - probably a bit different to the Gap/TK Maxx/Krispy Kreme shopping experience we had today, but it's still fascinating to think of those in whose steps we follow.

Couldn't resist taking a photo of the bull made entirely from jellybeans (third photo)...a snip at 22,00 quid. Who knew jellybeans were worth so much?

And yes, the sing-song Brummie accent is as delightful as I remembered. One young barista told us many locals try to 'dampen down' their accents which is a shame because I think they're lovely, as was our brief taste of the city.

One more location ticked off...

* What they don't tell you when you get your British drivers' licence: the locals are allergic to the indicator, and nor do they bother with the international convention of allowing two car spaces behind them when changing lanes. Presumably that's only for whimps.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Here come the girls...

There's nothing like cheap cocktails, a jazz bar and copious laughs to take a girl's mind off the fact that summer has all but packed its bags and is heading for the airport.

Accompanied by my darling colleagues Vicky and Christelle, last night I got a whistlestop tour of Bristol's nightlife. And enjoyed the best Thai food I've had outside of Bangkok at Christelle's recent birthday (second photo) which was like a mini United Nations, with French (the birthday girl), Italian, Polish, Iranian, Kiwis and a couple of token Brits along for the ride. Thanks for letting us share your special day Christelle...

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Out damn tune

The crappy radio station that accompanies us on our way to work each day (believe me, it's the best of a bad bunch) is currently going through an Alicia Keys phase.

Every morning at roughly the same point in our 20 minute journey, they whack on her ode to New York.

And every morning, without fail, the song's hook attachs itself to my cranium where it rattles around all day.

"New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of. New York, New York, New York..."

I love you Alicia, I really do, but can I please have my brain back?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The best thing since sliced soy and linseed

Those of you who know the Animator will know that he's made of equal parts Wonderful and Capable.

Today, once again, I realised how "well" I married when the Animator made short work of assembling this kitset lamp. Being from Ikea, it came with 8,426 separate pieces and instructions as confusing - and tedious - as The Da Vinci Code.

But instead of laughing at my bumbling efforts or scolding me for the liberal use of expletives, the Animator took charge and within minutes had it sorted.

Before crash-landing into the world of art, my husband paid the bills working variously as a mechanic, builder and owner of a roofing company. Which is probably why EVERY bone in this man's body is practical, efficient and utterly capable. It's also why I've never had to fill the car with petrol, oil or water, paint a wall, mow a lawn or even change a lightbulb in all the years he's shared my bed. I'm embarrassed to admit I probably wouldn't even know how.

The sub-text of the lamp construction is, of course, that Shazzy is once again wearing her Martha Stewart hat. It is obviously my lot in life to finance shipping companies so in nine months, when it's time to re-pack the boxes, I plan to have all sorts of homewear goodies nestling amongst the new clothes.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

I need to stay in and wash my hair

When I first moved to Bristol, several people mentioned how fortunate it was I had arrived in time for the annual Balloon Fiesta.

Turns out this collection of 150 balloons from all over the world is one of the city's key attractions. Yeah, I know.

Once, a long time ago, I went up in a hot air balloon for an interview. I would imagine the Balloon Fiesta, which takes place this weekend, is very much like hot air ballooning itself: lots of pleasant views, relaxing in a meditative sort of way but, ultimately, arse-wrenchingly boring except when it goes terribly wrong.

While getting ready for work yesterday, we spotted a few balloons flying quite close together (obviously limbering up for the Fiesta). I casually mentioned the possibility of a mid-air collision and what a great story it would make. I am, afterall, a journo and we like nothing better than tales of things gone wrong. The Animator got all huffy and suggested a visit to the Fiesta might help adjust my attitude. But then this is a chap who gets excited about Wellington's Guy Fawkes fireworks.

Turns out the god of rain isn't overly fussed by a bunch of oversized balloons, either - it's been peeing down all day, grounding them.

According to today's Guardian, the RAF's Red Arrows are supposed to be making a guest appearance at tomorrow's finale. Shame Sunday is my night to stay in and wash my hair.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Just because...

This wee fullah totally and utterly stole my heart in Seville a few weeks ago. In broken English, his owner told me he'd named him Livio, after the Roman emperor (and just in case he forgot, it was embroidered on his collar). I swear to God, he was such a doll I could quite easily have shoved him in my handbag and legged it.

Yes friends, canine withdrawal symptoms have kicked in big-time. Fortunately we just have just signed up for what we used to do at home - volunteering at the RSPCA - so hopefully that should go some way to prevent me from turning into the kind of woman who scarpers with other people's doggies.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Limbering up for the drinking Olympics

Lately, I've been starting far too many conversations with the words "let's have a drink”.

From diligently drinking our NZ apartment dry (the other option: leave it for the tenants) to moving to a country where the national sport is drinking, the temptation to drown happiness, anger, boredom and frustration in litres of velvety red wine has been very strong.

To be totally honest, one of the defining features of 2010 has been a passionate love affair with vin rouge.

I hesitate to count the ways in which this is wrong, but when my local off-licence operates on the principle of piling it high and flogging it off cheap (like the £3 Chilean Merlot we quaffed while watching the movie 'Nine' last night – nice drop, dreadful movie), it seems rude not to imbibe.

Concepts such as 'wagons' and 'climbing aboard' have been bandied about in a vague, non-commital sort of way but I'm slowly coming to accept that red wine is as sacred to me as cows are to Hindus.

I do wish the words “No, I don't drink, except for a rare glass of bubbly on festive occasions or to be polite” would tumble from my lips. But sadly I, the Animator and the manager of the off-licence all know that will never come to pass.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Almost as good as a bought one

Fresh from Shazzy's pre-historic oven - one tray of Afghan biscuits to be consumed by colleagues tomorrow.

It all started with a "soup-off" at work - four delicious home-made soups that were duly judged and points awarded for texture, taste and after-kick. I offered to bring in my lovely Thai pumpkin and coconut soup that some of you may have sampled over the years. But a pumpkin can't be had for love nor money in this country until Halloween (WTF??) Turns out the Poms think they're suitable only for feeding to pigs. So my default position was something sweet and Kiwi - and none of my colleagues had ever heard of Afghans.

I reckon I deserve double points, seeing as how I was working in extremely challenging conditions: ie no mixing bowl, no measuring cup and an oven that was installed when Margaret Thatcher was PM. Oh how I miss the well-appointed, well-stocked kitchen I had at home.

They'd bluddy better like them, is all I can say...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Spectacular Seville

Random musings on our long Spanish weekend:

1) The centre of this compact city seems to consist solely of shoe shops and banks. Which leads me to conclude that all the locals do is walk to the bank.

2) I'd expected molasses-thick heat but nothing can quite prepare you for 43 degrees (on Sunday), nor the fact at that 10.30pm at night the temperature gauge outside our hotel was still showing 37 degrees. Cue swollen feet and a wedding ring that wouldn't come off. Having said that, it was the kind of heat that makes you feel glossy rather than dessicated. Wish I could have bottled some for the coming months.

3) We spent the equivalent of New Zealand's GDP on aqua, sangria and Manzanilla sherry – anything to rehydrate. And when we weren't drinking, we were eating our body weight in seafood paella, olives and calamari so fresh it could have walked out of the sea minutes before.

4) Seville is a city that doesn't like to be told when to go to bed. Thanks to the aforementioned heat and the officially sanctioned Nana nap (it might go by the sexier term of siesta, but you can't get away from the fact that it's really an excuse for a moi in the middle of the day), the locals consider it totally uncool to be seen out before 10.00pm.

5) Flamenco is so sexy it hurts. Herded into a back-street bar where the collection of several hundred bodies raised the temperature even further, we watched slack-jawed as a 40-something, black-clad woman stomped and twirled her way across the stage, telling a story of angst, love and pain with the most exquisite facial and body expressions.

6) As luck would have it, our visit coincided with the city-wide rebajas (sales). One day I promise to stop banging on about buying shoes – but today isn't that day. I found a pair of sexy green shoes for the incredible price of 5 Euro (less than NZ$10), and you can't go to the spiritual home of Zara and not buy something – my bargain was a pair of very cool brown suede wedges for 15 euro. Saddest moment of the weekend: on the way to the airport I spied a billboard for an outlet mall featuring both Zara and Mango stores! Damn those missed opportunities....

7) I can now dismember enough Spanish phrases to get by. Hablo un poco de espanol.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

It tastes better when you lick it off the footpath

Things I've seen in the past 24 hours:

  • A couple - middle aged, well-dressed – dead drunk and arguing on the way home from the local pub. She reaches out and grabs our rubbish bin for support and predictably both she and the bin tip over (fortunately it was empty). Her to him: “Don't call me a nutter, I ain't a nutter”. His response: “Shut up, you're such a nutter you don't know what you're saying”. Much gnashing of teeth and crying ensues (both him and her) while the Animator and I watch riveted from the upstairs bedroom. This is better entertainment than the rubbish that passes as free-to-air TV here.
  • Local homeless guys arguing over who spilt their precious vodka. As I walk past, one lies down on the footpath and starts licking up said beverage. His mate, not wanting to miss out, immediately follows suit.

Both these incidents happened in Clifton, the leafy, much touted “best” suburb in Bristol.

Come back Wellington, all is forgiven.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

'O' for Awesome (Kiwis will get this one)


Three doggies successfully delivered to San Francisco.

Apparently there was some tarmac-based delay and fuckwittedness on behalf of SFO airport and Air NZ at the other end, but my lovely Molly and her two new siblings, Higgons and Brissie-Koru, played their parts perfectly, including crossing their legs for 18 hours!

Rumour has it Molly has already shed her provincial Kiwi persona and, in a metamorphosis Madonna would no doubt be proud of, has reinvented herself as a hip, urbane chick.

Now that July has finally inched over into August (why does this year feel like doing backstroke through treacle?) we're only four months away from seeing her again.

Will she recognise us? Will she forgive us? Will I be able to leave her again? Yay, something else to torment myself with over the next few months.


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