Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Festival Season

Today's Your Weekend Magazine (DomPost, Chch Press and the Waikato Times) runs my feature on summer festivals around Aotearoa (click here to read). You're welcome.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


I am the FIRST to tut-tut at cultural appropriation: Guy Fawkes, for example, is a ridiculous and dangerous 'celebration' of a 15th Century English pyromaniac, while Halloween is nothing more than a shameless grab for sweets (and an excuse for dreadful costumes) that has zero historical or traditional relevance to New Zealand.

Today, however, I'm prepared to forget about my grumpiness and embrace Thanksgiving, the US holiday which has its origins in giving thanks for the previous year's harvest. The genocide of Native Americans (and turkeys) aside, it seems like a celebration I could really get behind. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and random list making, here are things I'm most thankful for today:

1) The ability to chuck a noun and an adjective together. Not only has it provided me with a pay cheque on, or around, the 20th of each month since I left uni, but arranging words on the page is one of my favourite things to do.

2) Green tea, the proper leaf type. Thank you recent media trips to China and Singapore for keeping me in the green stuff for some time to come.

3) Again on the word theme, but a world without books is unimaginable. In the post digital hell-hole we live in, you can keep your Kindles and e-books and all that other crap. I want the heft and the texture and smell of an old school book, to be able to line my shelves with books, books and more books.

4) Travel. The love of my life. I'm thankful to have travelled to more countries and continents than I ever thought possible, to have lived in the UK twice and, best of all, to have blagged lots of freebie trips as part of the travel writing gig (I'm especially thankful this year to have received even more travel as part of winning the NZ the Travel Writer of the Year).

5) For living in the best place in the world and possibly the best suburb ever. I heart you, Mt Vic.

6) Work. Yes I whinge when the alarm goes off and bitch about editors and the feast-and-famine nature of freelance work, but I'm so thankful that I have more than enough work that interests me, pays the bills, is creatively satisfying and provides all sorts of lifestyle options.  

7) Creative geniuses who've reached into the dark and often fetid recesses of their imaginations to give me the televisual joy that is Breaking Bad, Homeland, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. I genuflect before their breathtaking talent.

8)  Friends. For keeping me sane, for making me laugh, for being a sounding board, a lifeline and as necessary to me as air. For those I already have, and those I am yet to meet, I'm so thankful for the institution of friendship.

9) A fabulous home that not only keeps me warm and dry and from living in a cardbox box under a bridge, but is also my haven and the place where I'm most 'me'.

10) Red wine. Once, while living in London, I was between jobs and down to my last 20 quid. I decided to spend it on the best bottle of Pinot Noir I could find. I've never regretted it.

11) Runner's high. The thought of dragging my lardy arse around the hood always fills me with dread, but once I'm out there and find my rhythm, I'm so thankful that my legs and other moving parts work, that I'm able to keep healthy and fit and, best of all, to be able to eat more sweet things than should be allowed by state law. And I swear the endorphin rush gets better with age...

12) My two boys. Both the human and the furry one. The most special things in my life. Period.

Happy Thanksgiving wherever you are.

(Pic credit: Google Images)      


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Why we should all do more yoga

After a frantic race to deadline this morning, I spent more time than I should have at my neighbour's house, drinking rooibos tea and eating the most divine salted caramel chocolate. We haven't seen other for a while, and she's going through some major life changes, so there was much to catch up on.

I should really be doing some work instead of tootling around in blogland, but I had to share this remarkable story I came across yesterday. The Guardian tells it better than I can but the story is about a couple, Sonny Jacobs and Peter Pringle, who were both wrongly accused, and both faced the death penalty, for eerily similar crimes - he in Ireland, she in Florida. After being exonerated, they met via Amnesty International and now live a simple life in the wilds of Ireland. But what got me most about their story is that although the wrongful convictions swallowed huge chunks of their lives - she spent 17 years in prison, he 15 - both refuse to be angry about it. They say what got them through their sentences, and still does, is yoga, meditation and forgiveness (link to story here).  

I don't want to get all Oprah on yo asses, but Peter's attitude is pretty friggin amazing:

 "Life has turned out beautifully," says Peter. "Sure, it's not without its difficulties. We have no money. But we do good work. We are at peace. And we have a great life together. We look forward, and we live in the moment."

Probably time to dust off my yoga mat...

(Pic Credit: The Guardian)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cute overload

The last time I saw my maternal instinct, it was wedged firmly down the back of the sofa.

And, to be completely honest, when a friend sent me this link today, my heart immediately melted over the wee puppy Theo, while a colleague lost her mind over the kid. Different strokes, eh?

Anyway, if you want to make the corners of your mouth turn up today, check this out.    

(Pic Credit: Jessica Shyba)

Sunday, 24 November 2013


An epic weekend of wine and food and olive oil and chocolate. We returned from the Wairarapa with punnets of the freshest strawberries ("Picked this morning," said the teenage girl who was selling them from the side of the road, the biggest umbrella I've ever seen shielding  her from the vicious midday sun).

Yes peeps, it was HOT! Like 29 degrees today. And pretty much the same yesterday. This is what happens when you spend your weekend interviewing clever winemakers, chefs, bar owners, chocolatiers and olive oil producers, when you drink in their passion and enthusiasm and absolute love of what they do as eagerly as you swallow litres of water, and wine, in an attempt to rehydrate. And forget to put on sunscreen first.

To the good folk at Destination Wairarapa who hosted us, a thousand thank yous. It was a beautiful weekend and we enjoyed every minute. So much so, we started playing the 'we should get a weekend place here' game. This can only end in good things.

The Animator, of course, took hundreds of fantabulous images which he is now sorting for the magazine. They, however, will have to wait for another time as  my eyes are closing and it's time for bed.  

Friday, 22 November 2013

A Wairarapa wine and food weekend, and epic splits.

It's not everyday you get to shoehorn those two concepts into the same sentence. So yay for me!

This weekend we are off to fill our bellies with all sorts of food and wine on a media weekend in the Wairarapa, a wine region about an hour north of Welly - and then write about it/photograph it for Taste Magazine. Yeah, sometimes I am a jammy git, eh?

Been frantically bashing out two features today, then had to go meet with my lovely clothes woman, Chrissie, and clean the house for the dog sitter, blah, blah, blah.

So no time for words. Instead you shall have the glorious Jean-Claude Van Damme and his amazing flexibility. And, just quietly, I always knew Enya would one day find her way back from the 80s wilderness...

Have a great weekend wherever you are....        

Thursday, 21 November 2013

'Green' Singapore

Yesterday the Dominion Post ran the first of my Singapore stories (God, I am sooo behind I've only written two of the four pieces I was commissioned - ekkkk). Because of the way the Fairfax empire works, the story also ran in the Christchurch Press on Monday (click here to read).

Photos below, and in the article, are courtesy of the multi-talented Animator.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Things that happened today

  • I burned my feet standing on the bricks in our back garden
  • A load of washing dried in about two hours. Tops.
  • While furiously stabbing the keyboard for an 1,800 word feature I was commissioned yesterday (!) I noticed I was sweating (because of the heat, not because I was pissed off with my editor)
  • Bristol's sometime dog-sitter who came over to take him for a walk described him as "lethargic" and keen on as short a walk as possible     
  • All the veges the Animator planted last weekend have been holding high-level talks with dehydration  
  • I changed the duvet to the thinnest one we have. And it's still too hot.
  • Dinner was salad and a glass of wine in the garden. In blazing sun. At 7.30pm.
J'adore you summer. For realz.

This was the view from my garden tonight.  

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Going Rogue

The December issue of North & South Magazine runs my piece on the DELIGHTFUL (caps absolutely warranted) chef and Queen of Chocolat, Agnes Almeida, and Rogue, her new range of artisanal chocolate bars (click here to read).

Afterall, what's not to love about a woman who brings doughnuts and chocolate to the interview?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Burning jandle

In other parts of the world they're known as flip flops or thongs; here in Aotearoa, we refer to these deeply unsexy, flat, backless strips of rubber as jandals.

Today a colleague alerted me to this ridic, but hilarious, story about a burning jandle. The 17 fire-fighters Vs one jandle equation is comedy gold. And the quote from the fire chief must surely be a contender for the year's best: "We're now waiting for the other jandle to catch fire, wherever it is".

The silly season, it appears, has come early...

(Pic credit: Havaianas) 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

New appliances, rosebuds and the rugby

Last night we gobbled down delicious Asian-fusion food with our friends Gosia and Martin (Aardman alumni who came to NZ for work three months ago). A visit to Chow isn't complete without a Rosebud - a friend clued me in on their passionfruit sweetness years ago and I swear, there would be a riot if these dollops of heaven were ever removed from the cocktail menu.

Dinner with friends twice in one week - I really know how to live....

The rest of the weekend was made of work, the rugby (lovely, as always, to watch the ABs smash the Poms) and, as if further evidence was needed of my excitement-filled life, new appliances. First up was this shiny microwave, to replace the one we shipped back from the UK, the one whose purchase was memorable mainly for the number of expletives that accompanied it. It was May 2010, I'd just arrived in Bristol and, seeking to spend as little time in the shithole of a kitchen that was attached to the equally shithole of a flat the Animator had rented, we needed to buy a microwave stat. The nearest and cheapest was at our local branch of Sainsburys and as we had no car, we were forced to carry it up the inappropriately named, and unfortunately quite steep, Whiteladies Road. I do remember the F word making more appearances than Joan Rivers at her plastic surgeon's office.    

This weekend we also opened our wallets for a barbecue to replace the one we sold before moving to the UK. Putting it together was more confusing than the Da Vinci Code (and almost as tedious), but we're looking forward to using it. Lots.

Friday, 15 November 2013

A Mexican feast

You probably don't want to hear about the veggie enchilada I had for dinner last night at this excellent restaurant.

Or about the conversation which ranged from rental property vs the stockmarket (that's what you you get when one of your party is an accountant), to the merits of Wellington vs Auckland (as happens when two of you call the former home while the other two opt for the latter) and being carted off in an ambulance (a whole other story).

Our friends Sharon and Glenn were down from the City of Sails to see Sharon's son graduate from Police College. After a wine in our sun-drenched garden, we walked down to dinner and they stayed the night. I met Sharon a few years ago when she organised the first of my many media trips up north; she has since become a good friend. It was fun to catch up with them and trade travel stories and laughter. A pleasant way to ease into the weekend.          

Today's visuals are, what else, but cute canines from Tumblr...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Another Welly Home

No time for words today - been frantic doing some work for a previous contract. Instead you shall have my second story from the November issue of Your Home & Garden Magazine (click here to read).

The answer to a question a friend asked me the other day is Yes, I do plan to write about almost every house in Wellington (well the nice ones, anyway...)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tardis and white roses

How a conversation with a 20-something colleague went today:

Him: "I love being this age and never want to get older. Shazzy, do you ever wish you could go back to your 20s?"

Me: "If I found a tardis that could take me back to my 20s, I would grab a hammer and smash it beyond all recognition before setting it alight."

Him: "Wow, so you didn't enjoy your 20s then?"

Me: "God yes, especially the living in London and seeing the world through a drunken haze bit. But being poor and a smart-arse, despite knowing absolutely nothing, drowning in a sea of hormones and inane anxiety, thinking society owed me and being crippled by a lack of confidence, yet still behaving like an arrogant, immature brat, as pretty much every 20-year-old on the planet does? Hell to the no..."

Him: "When you put it like that...."

As a sign of my increasing maturity, the thing that filled me with the most joy today were my white roses. I am about as far removed from Maggie Barry as it's possible to be, but I have been on rose watch for the past two weeks, ever since the buds first pushed their tiny faces towards the sun.

Soon, very soon, pitchers of them will fill every available surface, and their fragrance will hang like a heavy quilt over the house.

Give me white roses and a birthday cake weighed down with candles any day...


Monday, 11 November 2013

All that Jazz

North & South Magazine's November issue runs my piece on Lesley Burkes-Harding, a local costume designer, and the fabulous outfits she's designing for the Auckland Theatre Company's production of Chicago. Click here to read.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

No Kidding!

About six or seven years ago (if I wasn't so afflicted by can't-be-arsedness I would go look it up in my clipping folder) I did a feature for NEXT Magazine about women who don't want kids. As with the numerous other pieces I've done on this subject, I used myself in the into.

In the course of the piece, I interviewed an Australian member of No Kidding! a non-profit social group for those who, for whatever reason, have never felt the need to litter this already overpopulated planet with their progeny. At the time, I remember wishing there was a NZ chapter of the group which, since being conceived in Canada in 1984, has grown to 48 groups globally. As though to taunt me, the week I left for the UK in 2010, Wellington got a chapter.

It's taken us almost two years to get our act together sufficiently to attend one of their events and, today, we and the Hound woke indecently early for a Sunday to drive to Upper Hutt for our first No Kidding! meet-up - a two hour slog up ridiculously steep hills along the Cannon Point Walkway. Our hard work and sweat were rewarded with great views, fun folk and lots of laughs. And, as the only canine present, everyone fell in love with Bristol and spoiled him rotten. Which is nothing less than he deserves.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic in the sunshine. A lovely day with our kind of peeps. We will be back, especially for their events that involve alcohol (pub quizzes) and food (dinners, barbies,etc). The best part, though? I got to wear my sunglasses, which managed to conceal my hideously peeling face.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Today's post was brought to you by too much makeup

I'd read the after-care notes and been warned by my facialist but I was still unprepared for the sight that greeted me this morning. "You look like a burn victim," suggested the Animator. "Or like you've gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson."

Apparently following IPL it can take up to a week for the burnt/bruised/swollen epidermis to flake off. Until then, I will be channelling my inner Essex Girl and wearing more foundation than is appropriate (sadly even that doesn't hide the worst of the scars). I also wasted half an hour changing the way I part my hair in an attempt at strategic disguise; I don't need to tell you how successful that was.

This morning I did an interview for Homestyle Magazine and, despite my convoluted explanation and apology for my appearance, I'm sure the couple's four-year daughter took fright.

If you need me, I shall be hiding in the wardrobe until things return to normal.  

Today's visuals are of the Melrose house, c/o owner Jo Macdonald.

Friday, 8 November 2013

The one where it ends well

The Grumpy Olympics continued apace today - this time interview subjects and editors were among the competitors.

And the poor bird died. It was chirping this morning when I got up and although I tried to hand-feed it (following the sage advice of yesterday's bird woman) by the time I went to check on it later in the morning, it had gone to a better place - or at least a place without bastard cats. And yes, big old sook that I am, I did have a wee cry.  

But the day got better when the sun came out and my friend Rachel came over - it's her birthday tomorrow so I baked a cake and after a walk with His Highness in the town belt we sat in the glorious sunshine and ate and gossiped.

Other good things that happened today: a commission from Taste Magazine to eat and drink my way though the Wairarapa and another for one of my Seoul stories from a Hong Kong-based magazine. Speaking of Honkers, today I finally got around to contacting the airline and tourism body to organise the famil I won as part of the travel journo of the year thingy. Am hoping to also get to Europe on this trip so let the planning commence.      

And I have just returned from my first - and last - IPL session. There's no need to look it up - it basically means 'painful facial treatment that I should never have let my facialist talk me into'.

Am off to lie down with a glass of wine and a cold compress. I may be a while.

Today's visuals c/o Rachel.


Thursday, 7 November 2013


The Grumpy Olympics were in full swing today - everyone from colleagues to the chick at the bookstore to the receptionist at my doctor's surgery seem to be enthusiastically competing.

Having blown out the cobwebs with a post-work run, the Hound and I found, as we rounded the corner to our street, a bastard neighbourhood cat attacking a poor defenceless bird. I raced over and snatched the tiny bird from the jaws of the stupid cat and legged it home. What I know about our avian friends would barely fill a post-it-note, but I somehow managed to get the bird into the laundry.

Bristol of course, was fascinated so I had to lock him outside while I trawled the internet for a local bird rescue organisation. I eventually tracked down a very nice chap who, unfortunately, focused only on rescuing injured ducks. He managed, however, to put me in contact with a woman in Upper Hutt who, despite being in the bath (!) calmly talked to me about the bird's injuries - the loss of most of its tail and wing feathers and a munted foot - and suggested I find a large box, fill it with newspaper, bowls of water and softened dog kibble and leave it be. It would, she said, be stressed after its ordeal. It's not the only one.

The agitated tweets coming from the laundry seem to have stopped; either the poor mite has passed or the dark, warm box is working its magic. I shall check on it before I go to bed.

Here's a photo of it shortly after the dramatic rescue, spurning our offer of water and bread. If you were in the vicinity of Mt Victoria tonight, that demented woman chasing a cat down the street was, indeed, me.  


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The best news!

Two weeks ago, I trotted off to have my breasts fondled by a lovely South African woman.

Yesterday I received the news that the pesky lump wasn't cancerous. But, being the nosy jouno I am, I wanted to know more: why hadn't the first screen two years ago picked up the lump, why did I have to discover it myself and then be shunted into the private system's bewildering array of ultra-sounds and needles? And why did none of their correspondence with me make reference to a lump or the monitoring of said lump? I thought it would make a good article because if I wasn't given all the answers then surely there were others in the same boat?

I ended up chatting at length to the clinical director who must be in line for the 'world's nicest chap' award, who patiently demystified the screening process and talked through my x-rays and what they meant. Result: one satisfied, and happy, camper.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the system does work...


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Warning - the noise you can hear are the hooves of my hobby horse

When I become President of the World, the first thing I will do is ban Crocs, cats, noisy neighbours and fireworks.

Tonight, we cleared our calendars (admittedly, only of work) so we could spend hours calming the Hound and reassuring him that the loud bangs and shrieks emanating from the neighbourhood wouldn't harm him. It helped that we had the brilliant House of Cards and Homeland to distract us, but even these weren't enough to assuage my feelings about Guy Fawkes.

Why, in 2013, do otherwise sane beings feel the need to watch large piles of cash burn? Or celebrate the misadventures of someone 12,000 miles away and hundreds of years ago?

Tonight Hilary Barry told me there was a petition to ban the sales of fireworks, that their use should be restricted to public displays. The ban has been spearheaded by the NZ Fire Service, the SPCA and the Vet's Association and, if enacted, would align us with our cousins across the ditch where the public sale of fireworks was banned years ago. I couldn't whip my pen out quick enough.

But until someone at the top of the food chain sees sense, we have to put up with lunatics letting shitty loud bangy things off, scaring the bejesus out of innocent animals. Seriously, isn't it time we grew the f*ck up?!


    (Pic credit: Google Images)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Seoul Food

The October issue of Taste Magazine runs my foodie travel piece on Seoul, including the incredibly odd and not terribly pleasant sensation of tasting raw, still-alive and still very much wriggling amputated baby octopus. Even putting aside my objection on the grounds of animal cruelty, it's a practice I shall NEVER be repeating (click here to read).

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Canine heaven

Despite the race to deadline for a magazine piece, the Hound demanded we down tools for the weekly doggie meet up group. Today's venue was the Ataturk Memorial where we joined about 20 others for an hour long walk.

Bristol was beside himself: there were big dogs and ones smaller than him, retired racing greyhounds and SPCA specials. At one stage, I picked him up when he was getting over-excited and his tiny heart was pounding so hard it was in danger of escaping from his chest. Today should keep him going until the next canine love-in.  

For the humans, it was a chance to mix with our kind of peeps. A good Sunday for humans and animals.

(Pic credit: Tania S and moi)


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