Surprising gender awareness from Noel Leeming

Noel Leeming is a Kiwi national appliance chain – arguably the most prominent. Last week I filled in their survey about my “buying experience” for my fitbit in November. I was surprised to find this for the gender question.

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I’d still prefer a gender neutral option, but it’s progress to have a big New Zealand brand start referring to the gender you “most closely associate with”, instead of the gender you “are.”

I’d quit too

Our Prime Minister just quit, effective in one week. This is unprecedented. Our next election isn’t until November 2017. He’s a solid centrist leader with good approval ratings. He has no family crises.

I like to think it’s because he’d have to deal with Trump in the New Year. He’s been close to Obama: Key owns a home in Hawaii and they’ve golfed together in the holidays. And for all I’m a leftist and he’s been the leader of the conservative party, Key’s a good human being. He would never accept Trump’s bigotry and hatemongering.

If that’s the case, good on him. .

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Travel is about highs and lows in the same day

I had one brutal day (in First World terms) this week. I finished it crying myself to sleep from tiredness and anxiety and hunger. And yet, for all that, it had great parts in it.

I skipped breakfast in Masterton, expecting to find an amazing cafe or welcoming vineyard on the Wine Trail route. First up were Carterton and Martinborough. I didn’t pass any amazing cafes or vineyard restaurants, and I kept watch the whole way south to Lake Ferry, right down on the coast of Cook Strait.

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This is the safest place ever for kids.

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I was expecting to get a room at the Lake Ferry Hotel – the only accommodation in town –  and drive out to Cape Palliser the next day. Mistake number one: I did not call ahead. A chalkboard outside announced the hotel was closed. Holy goddamn and shit. I was in the middle of nowhere. There was no cafe, no restaurant. Not even a dairy. There would be no lunch.

I drove out to Cape Palliser anyway. The road winds like a necklace dropped in a rocky Zen garden, twisting along a narrow margin between steep escarpments and a gunmetal sea. An “Active Slip” sign urged I use Extreme Caution. Washouts split the road in two places, but the water was down to only an inch or so deep, so I risked it.

Cape Palliser Road, Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr CC lic.jpg
The road to Cape Palliser. Photo by Phillip Capper on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

It rained the whole way.

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Photo by me

I fell in love with the tiny town of Ngawi, clinging on to the rocks. They make a living harvesting crayfish, but there’s no safe harbor, so every night the cray boats are pulled out of the sea by heavy machinery. The road winds between the tiny fibrolite cottages and two dozen ancient excavators.

Ngawi, Jim Tucker on Flicker CC lic.jpg
Ngawi. Photo by Jim Tucker on Flicker. Used under a Creative Commons Licence. It was raining too hard here for me to use any of my photos.

I have such a yearning to rent a bach in Ngawi for a summer and just read and write and walk along the beach to the seal colony and embrace being a hermit.

Past Ngawi is the Cape Palliser lighthouse. It kept wavering into view through the rain squalls, like a mirage on a postcard.

Cape Palliser Lighthouse, photo by Aiden on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Cape Palliser lighthouse in the sun. I have only seen it in incessant rain. Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

These are the stairs to carry supplies up to the lighthouse. I do not want this job.

Photo by me

Apparently no one wants this job as it’s been unmanned since 1986. Fun fact: it still has the original lens from 1897.

The coast is so gorgeous there, you guys. If there were such a thing as mermaids, they’d swim here.

Coast between Cape Palliser and Ngawi, photo by Aidan on FLickr, CC lic.jpg
Coast between Cape Palliser and Ngawi. Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

It was nearly four pm by the time I got to the lighthouse, and this was a little worrying as I still had to drive all the way back the way I’d come, then head to the next town, Featherston.

Mistake number two: I assumed there would be a hotel or motel in Featherston I could stay at. I couldn’t ring from Cape Palliser or Lake Ferry, because there was no phone service out there, and also, it’s not like there was anywhere else to try: Featherston was the next town.

You can see where this is going, right? Apparently there is a simply lovely motel in Featherston, but I did not find it. And I could not get a strong enough signal to use my phone. I found B&Bs, but they were all full.

It was now five thirty pm.

“Fuckit,” I thought. “I’ll push on to Wellington. It’s only a 70-minute drive. There are hundreds of hotels in Wellington.”

Mistake number three: I did not phone to check any of them HAD ROOMS. In my defence, I had the phone issue. It would have taken 30 minutes just driving around trying to find enough signal to use the internet. So, I drove into Wellington.

Okay, up side: driving over the Rimutaka Ranges was INCREDIBLE and I want to do it again, over and over. It helped that it had stopped raining.

Rimutaka ranges. Photo by Duane Weller on FLickr, CC lic.jpg
Road over the Rimutakas. Photo by Duane Weller on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

What didn’t help is that EVERY HOTEL IN WELLINGTON I TRIED WAS FULL. Including all the ones right out by the airport. How is that even possible?  It’s our capital city! And sure, it was a business day, but there’s so many of them. Maybe the beds were all filled by insurance assessors after the earthquake.

Now, when I say every hotel, I’m lying. There was one hotel I found with three rooms left. I had the address. I found the hotel. I just found it on the other side of an intersection on a one-way street. I couldn’t get to it. “Ok, fine,” I figured. “I’ll just circle around.”

If you’ve never been to New Zealand you might not understand the trauma I was about to go through. So, A) Molesworth Street – one of the main thoroughfares – is closed after the November earthquake damaged an office building that is now being demolished floor by floor. B) A lot of smaller streets were also closed for repairs. And C) much of Wellington is super-hilly. The flat bit – the CBD – is largely built on land reclaimed after an 1855 earthquake lifted it from the sea (can I point out here, that was an incredibly stupid thing to do in the first place.)

This means the city is not constructed from simple blocks. It’s a couple of long straight main streets squashed tight between the ocean, and tortuous, narrow-as-fuck, winding roads canted at angles only drunk teens riding in wheelie bins enjoy.

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A simple manoeuvre to circle around to get back to the hotel left me instead climbing the hills around the university quadrant, before descending a hairpinning lane the width of roll of washi tape. It was straight out of a 1960s James Bond film (the scene would involve a suitcase on wheels and an automatic weapon disguised as an umbrella).

But my spirits rose as I miraculously failed to meet any cars head-on, and the road spat my car safely out into the CBD again. I approached the hotel, still on the other side of the road, but hooray, this was a two-way street. Two blocks up from the hotel a delightful traffic-calming median berm rose from the middle of the street, planted with saplings. The tiny elms shivered as they mocked me: there would be no U-turns today.

It was farcical. I circled around again, going the other way this time, but was stymied by a set of orange road cones blocking entrance to a side road, and a set of one way streets designed purely to taunt me.

I gave up.

“Fuckit,” I thought. Again. “I’ll go out to Petone. It’s only 15 minutes out. There are motels there.”

This time I couldn’t phone ahead because there was zero parking, and when I pulled into a taxi stand to try to grab five minutes on my phone a taxi arrived and the driver was an asshole.

Also, question: why does no one in Wellington indicate until they’re already turning? What’s with that? I thought Aucklanders were supposed to be the bad drivers but we are thoughtful, compassionate, and we indicate for the full two seconds.

So, Petone. Town of a thousand trucks.

petone, Photo by Brett Vachon on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Petone. Photo by Brett Vachon on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

The beachfront Esplanade is lined with motels. They were all full. My cellphone was out of juice. I cruised up and down the main strip three times hoping to find a place that had a room. Finally I spotted it: a motorlodge without a No Vacancy sign! I pulled into the parking lot and practically leapt into reception.

Turns out their sign was misleading: the motel was full.

I burst into tears.

Right there, at the reception desk.

I was so tired and the only sustenance I’d had all day was a pot of peppermint tea and my knee hurt from micro-braking on so many hilly roads all day and it was all too much and I cried.

I want to give a huge thank you to the receptionist at BK’s Esplande Motor Lodge for not even mentioning my blubbering, instead simply phoning around to find me a room. It was a simple kindness but it meant so much to me.

She found me a room! The new motel was only 10 minutes drive inland. On the way there I spotted a Lone Star. Booyah! Things were looking up. There would be pan-seared sea-run Marlborough salmon for dinner! (A meal also functioning as breakfast and lunch).

I checked in. The room was basic, but it had beds. At this point, sleep and food were literally all I cared about. I jumped back in the car.

I got to Lone Star at 8:42.

Their kitchen was closed. They could not feed me. And no, they replied when I asked, there were no other eateries open at that time of night.

Pffft, foolish Aucklander, expecting a restaurant to be open past 8.30! We’re so fucking ridiculous.

On the way back to the motel I spotted McDonalds flags on lampposts. I drove in desperate, ever-increasing circles looking for it. But I couldn’t even locate a Big Mac. Without my phone – charging back at the motel – I was utterly helpless.

I found a supermarket, but I was out of spoons and I just Could Not. I drove back to the motel. I drank a glass of water and got into bed and cried again and went to sleep.

But Cape Palliser, man. Hell, yeah. Go there.

Cape Palliser, Photo by Aidan on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative COmmons Licence

Flash Fic!

I have a flash fic up on the magnificent unicorn-run Boy Meets Boy Reviews to celebrate their anniversary. Way to go, unicorns! I love you all.

Today is day three of my road trip. This is the delightful hot tub in the charming back patio of the motel I stayed the first night.

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On the bright side, yesterday I went to the New Zealand Bakery of the Year 2016, Ten O’Clock Cookie. Also I visited Manukura, the little white kiwi. I was this far away from her [——————] . She is not so little. She’s five now, and I feel like her claws could disembowel an unwary petter.


And hey, Anne, if you’re reading this, I totally took your advice. I’m not working, not thinking about working, not planning when I’ll work next. I am totally and completely off duty.

Right now there are magpies singing their quardle-oodle-ardle-wardle-doodle outside. It’s gonna be a good day.

Kia kaha, Kaikoura

Lovely little seaside town Kaikoura – a top option for my relocation out of Auckland – has been badly hit by this morning’s earthquakes.

That’s about 4,000 residents and 1,100 tourists with no water, power, or sewerage, and all roads in and out closed by multiple landslides. No stores are open. Water won’t be restored for days. A navy frigate is on the way to evacuate the tourists.

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There are dozens of these along the coast road i.e. the ONLY road.
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The blue line is where the rail line is supposed to be. The red line is where it is, pulled away like a piece of lace poorly tacked to a hem.
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Marooned cows
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If the earthquakes had happened during daylight hours there’d be a lot more casualties.

Awesome M/M author Gillian St Kevern was evacuated after the tsunami warning and spent an uncomfortable night waiting to be allowed back home. There were small tsunamis around parts of the coast, luckily only a few feet high at the largest.

There’s a special place in hell for the assholes who burgled the homes of people who evacuated.

I’ll match the value of all book sales this week, under all my pen names, to go to Kaikoura Red Cross.

All photos by Newshub.

Looking for new shores: Planning road trip one

As I mentioned when I lost my job this year, I really need to leave Auckland. I just haven’t done anything about it yet. I’ve been under the thumb of my depression for the last couple months and I’ve found motivation difficult to come by. I’ve been sleeping a lot. But inactivity will not help. I need to take some action to improve things. It’s time to find a place I want to move to.

Kapiti Coast, by Aiden, FLickr CC Lic.jpg
The Kapiti Coast. Photo by Aiden on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

One of the reasons I’ve been struggling is that a few months back my mom came to live with me. Her Multiple Sclerosis has caused too much cognitive decline and she couldn’t keep working any more, or live alone. It’s not like it was a surprise. MS has a predictable progression. We’ve been lucky that she’s been able to work up till now. She’s still mobile without a wheelchair, but mentally it’s getting much more obvious. MS doesn’t change your IQ, it just destroys your executive function and language skills. Plus she’s also autistic, so that makes things even more challenging. When you talk to her she very clearly sits askew from the world. She has meltdowns fairly frequently. I’ve been interpreting the world for her since I was about eight.

I’m still dealing with some sadness that this will be my life now, but I have always known it was coming. 95% of the reason I bought this particular condo was that it was one level, with a lift, so she’d be able to physically manage getting around. Plus there are close neighbors, and a small, contained local shopping centre with a great library. (I didn’t grok that MS would take away her ability to read a book. Fuck MS.)

So yeah, this isn’t a surprise, but it’s just . . .  I had kind of bargained on still being employed when she needed to retire.

Real dollars and cents talk: My mortgage is NZD$1610 a month, which is bloody cheap for Auckland, much cheaper than rent. I am very lucky. My property tax is $6,000 a year, and my condo fees are $516 a month. Add in groceries for two, non-subsidized medications, and clothes, and I can’t support both of us on my savings for all that long.

So, solution: if I move out of Auckland I won’t have condo fees or a mortgage. On the down side I definitely will have less chance of getting a job — there’s little employment out of the main centers — but frankly I’m close to unemployable anyway. I’m an autistic non-gender-conforming  fat woman over 40 with an utterly impractical PhD. There are very few niches for me.

So on Monday 28 November I start leg one of my Find A New Home road trip. A four-day road trip along the Kapiti Coast,  from Otaki down to Pauatahanui. The northern point of the Kapiti Coast is still only 90 minutes away from Wellington Hospital, so it’s close enough to drive my mom to her hospital appointments.

Peka Peka beach, pic by Aiden on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Peka Peka beach. Photo by Aiden on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m looking for a community where I think I could make a life. This process makes me really evaluate all the things that I think I “need” for contentment. I feel like I need a cafe where they know my name and I can get a good flat white and sit at a table for two hours and no-one will huff impatient sighs at me. But, you know, that’s not a need. Maybe I have to give that up. I think I need a library nearby. But I guess once a month I could drive to a library. It would make me finish my tbr pile.

I do need space. I need to be able to shut myself away from my mom and get some down time. Maybe I could look for a place with a yard big enough to build a tiny writing cabin with a desk and a day bed.

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Sleepout by Skyline. I want the picnic table too.

But I do need internet. This one is not negotiable.

And you know what? I’ll finally be able to get another cat. I’m so ready for a cat.

At this point I’m planning for leg two to be the Wairarapa, and leg three will be Kaikoura, but these won’t be until next year.

I am so lucky to have these options. I am so lucky to have fluked my way into an unprecedented housing price rise. I get to cash out of the market now and live a good life in a safe, beautiful country, when I did nothing to deserve it. All I can do is try to pay it forward where I can. Maybe I need to find a place with a guest room for American friends to come for retreats, although I’m not sure that will do much to ease the pain you are feeling right now, or the future you are facing.

Two weeks until I leave. I’ll take my camera and laptop and keep y’all updated.

Cattle and homes

This field is on the way to my local burger place.

Photo by me. These guys all ran down to the fence to say Hi.

The family homes behind the cattle will cost you around one million NZ dollars. That’s USD$716,870 at today’s rate. They’re a couple of years old. The new builds are $1.25 million. You can still squeak into a 2-bedroom terrace apartment for $565K (USD$405K), though.

The median New Zealand income is $45,000 p.a.

I wonder what the cattle think.

When I was a kid this is what my neighborhood was like: a farm that had been carved up for housing. Except the houses cost $60,000 – about 3.5 year’s average salary.

On the other side of the main road stood open fields and horses. One kid rode his pony to school. A gully was left uncleared; too steep for cheap building. Of course that’s where we all played. It was an exotic wild jungle to us. The cutty grass sliced our palms, and we carried home triumphant toitoi.

By the time I finished high school the gully was gone too.

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Toitoi, Mangawhai cliff walk, Northland. Photo by Thomas Sobek on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I moved here two years ago. Back then when I went to get a burger it was along shiny new asphalt roads leading nowhere much. I had to drive cautiously to avoid a flock of geese. They’d spent their lives wandering open farmland, and suddenly a main thoroughfare cut through their patch.

The geese were still there in March. Now they’re gone – all but two. They haunt the shoulder of the highway onramp, bedraggled gray bundles of feathers, hissing at commuters starting their long morning drive into the city.