Duncan the drinking bird

Many years ago when I was about 6 or 7, maybe younger, my family spent Xmas at my Aunty’s house in Manurewa and all I remember from that Xmas was getting a drinking bird for Xmas, but it only worked for a day. On boxing day it refused to drink and that was the last I saw of it.

My dad tried so hard to get it to work, but it just refused to drink.

A couple of weekends ago I was at a friend’s place and we were talking about toys from our childhood and Duncan the drinking bird came up. I said they should remake him coz I’d pay good money for one of those. She said you can get them, they’re around, so I Googled him, found him and bought one immediately.

Duncan took a few weeks to arrive from Australia – as with all things coming from overseas these days, he spent a while at the airport waiting for a courier to pick him up. But he arrived and I’m pleased to say after a bit of experimenting he works.

I think the problem on that dark and sad Boxing Day morning (I remember it being very grey outside, maybe even raining), was that it was just too cold for Duncan. The instructions say he works best in 25 degrees. This morning he was disappointing me again by refusing to drink, so I moved him in to the sun and 4 hours later he’s still drinking.

Hamilton Gardens & the Good George Brewery Tour

Back in February on the 20th a friend and I did an awesome tour of Hobbiton and then we drove to Hamilton to check out what’s new in the Hamilton Gardens. They have created several fantasy gardens and they were amazing, loved them.

The rest of the gardens were beautiful and well worth checking out.

After the gardens, we drove across town to the Good George Brewery, where we made it just in time for a free tour. Good George is the brewery that provides the Green Dragon in Hobbiton its beer, so we had to check it out. This was quite possibly the best brewery tour EVER! Before the tour starts you are handed a glass of beer to taste what the beer you are about to learn about tastes like. Then near the end of the tour you get to sit down in the boardroom and sample as much cider as you like, while learning all about the history of the brewery and the many awesome things they do, like making free hand sanitiser for charity.

I think that was a cunning ploy to make you buy more beer on your way out. We stayed for a late lunch/early dinner in the bar and ended up buying glasses, beer and a whole lot of cider.

Our tour guide.

What a fantastic big day out.

Hobbiton

On the 20th of February I went with a friend to Hobbiton, it’s about a two hour drive from Auckland and somewhere I’ve always thought about going to, but it’s not cheap so the price has always put me off. However my friend read an article about Hobbiton and how they may have to close because the number of tourists is way down thanks to Covid and they might not be able to continue with the upkeep. So we decided to go just in case we never get the chance and that would be a real shame.
The tour bus was full, lucky we booked. The very brief bus ride is basically to get you across the road from the meeting point, shop and cafe and in to the farmland where the movie was made (it was filmed on privately owned land). The guided tour starts the minute the bus takes off – they play a DVD with music from the film and scenes from the movie to remind you of what areas we were driving past looked like in the movie. It set the scene and got us excited, it was strangely emotional. It also made me want to watch the first movie all over again, luckily there is a big gift shop and I could buy the DVD.

The bus ride ended at an instantly recognisable stone path where either Bilbo or Frodo met Gandalf and excitedly we set off.

It was exactly like in the movie – the details were amazing and I understood how the cost of maintaining the movie set justified the price of entry. It was well worth it and I’d happily go again.

Eventually we came to Bagend where Bilbo lived and I couldn’t actually believe I was seeing it for real.

The tree above Bilbo’s house is the famous tree that featured a lot in the movie – turns out it’s not real!

After that we headed to the Green Dragon Inn for a complimentary beverage – the beer they were serving is brewed by the Good George brewery in Hamilton, you can also do a tour of their brewery.

After that the tour was over and we headed for the bus. On the way back we crossed paths with another tour party just setting out and it made me appreciate how lucky we were to be on the tour with reduced numbers. At times it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves and we could walk around at a very leisurely pace. But I imagine in the height of the tourist season the place would have been packed and the tours would leave every 10 minutes rather than every hour or so.

From there we set off for the Hamilton Gardens and a tour of the Good George brewery.

Russell January 2021

For many years now a friend of mine has been trying to get me up north to stay at her farm cottage, but it’s never happened for many reasons. But this Xmas break we picked a date and stuck to it and it actually happened.

Selena picked me up in her brand new car and we headed north. Our first stop was at the Eutopia Cafe which I have driven past many times and always thought I should stop in because it looks so cool and very different. So I was really happy to be stopping there for coffee after all these years.

My joy didn’t last long, as they didn’t have any Covid check in QR codes displayed anywhere and there was no hand sanitizer anywhere and no soap in the toilet. Luckily I always have some with me and I asked for their QR code. They were quite rude about it and gave me a look that said: “this is not Auckland – we don’t have Covid”. So we didn’t stay there to drink our coffee, we took it back to the car and drunk it on the way. Turns out a week later somebody with Covid visited that cafe and it became one of the locations of interest!

In the past when I have asked Selena where her cottage is she has always said somewhere north of Whangarei, so I thought we were headed for a place near Whangarei. So when she asked me how hungry I was and would I be ok till we got to Russell because there is a nice hotel there she wanted to go to for lunch, I was very surprised but very happy to be going there for lunch. I have been to Paihia but never Russell and I had an Irish flatmate in Japan whose claim to fame was that she’d worked at the “Duke“. Which is a famous hotel in Russell and one of the earliest hotels in New Zealand apparently.

When we made it to Paihia we had a bit of a drive round to see how much it’s changed since I was there back in the early 90s. Then we headed for the car ferry that takes you from Paihia to Russell. We drove on to the pier after a really short wait up the road and then the pier MOVED! Well not really but I thought it did – turned out what I thought was the pier was actually the car ferry. Guess I was expecting something big like the Cook Strait ferry or maybe even the Devonport ferry. But this thing was more like a floating platform that moved. I was hoping to get out and move around maybe even get a drink or something – but nope – we were trapped in the car! For a whole 10 minutes LOL.

After a really great lunch in the grand old Duke of Marlborough we strolled around Russell, bought some supplies for the cottage and headed for the farm.

We took a slight detour to see one of Selena’s favourite spots where there is a house tucked in to the hillside and for some reason made me think of Hollywood and Marilyn Monroe.

Finally we made it to the farm – what a stunning place. Nobody around for miles, lots of land for cows to stroll around and a view of the ocean. So peaceful and so quiet, it was going to be very hard to leave this place.

Shortly after arriving we grabbed a few drinks and went for a stroll down to a small river that runs through Selena’s land – she called it a stroll, I’d call it a trek across dangerous terrain and wilderness. While seated by said river and enjoying the nature I saw a random cow appear out of nowhere and as I tried to remain calm it got closer and closer. Eventually I exclaimed: “COW”, which Selena thought was hilarious, because she couldn’t see the cow approaching from behind her. Till I yelled out: “There’s a COW headed for your river”. I thought I was safe on my side of the river but apparently the river didn’t make any difference to the cow and it crossed over in order to get a closer look at us which is when I took off very quickly up the steepest bit of terrain I could find knowing it couldn’t follow me. I had no idea though that this was a mountain climbing cow and the hill meant nothing to it. Selena tried her best to shoo it back to where it belongs – turns out the herd of cows don’t belong to her and had somehow broken through the boundary fence, probably lured over by the smell and sound of naive Auckland city folk (and alcohol).

That’s the cow that chased me – it didn’t want to face me once it saw the camera and we weren’t on good enough speaking terms to ask for it to pose for a photo.

The rest of my time on the farm was awesome, Selena even lit a fire for me and scared off a few curious possums. The cottage was wonderful – filled with books, plants and beautiful old furniture – and each piece had a fascinating story of where it had come from and what its history was.

Thank you Selena for a wonderful trip.

Lockdown 2020

The COVID-19 (Novel Corona Virus) which started in Wuhan China late December 2019, forced New Zealand in to lockdown on Thursday the 26th of March.  Prior to this I started working from home on Monday because I had a laptop and was not involved in any face to face training that week so I could.  News of the lockdown came on Monday afternoon, so I raced to the supermarket before the inevitable panic buying set in leaving nothing for me to buy on the shelves.  I’d seen videos of other countries and the awful behaviour of people buying up all the toilet paper and desperate people punching each other in attempts to get at least one pack.

Luckily when I got there I only had to wait in a queue of about 10 people and only took 10 minutes before I got in to the supermarket.  It had a strange surreal feeling about it, people behaved weirdly and one lady with her friend going up and down the aisles at the same time as me constantly commented loudly so everyone could her how virtuous she was, on how they were only buying just enough to get buy on and shame on all these other people.  However she wasn’t virtuous when it came to the 2 meter distancing rule coz she constantly got way too close to me, which made me speed up my shopping but as luck would have it, she ended up right behind me in the checkout queue.  I gave her the death stare but she was too busy bragging about her minimalist shop to notice.  Her trolley was overflowing – how many people live in her house?

My supermarket had plenty of toilet paper but no bread!

While heading back to my car a slight panic attack set in as I thought the stress of the world closing down had got to me and my car looked strangely different.  It had changed colour and one wheel was all rusty (had I driven through some rusty coloured puddle?).  But then the car parked next to it backed out revealing MY car.

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What are the chances eh!  I never see any other cars on the road like mine, it’s not really very common, it’s a bit old now.

On the drive home it felt like the world was ending, everybody was driving like maniacs, far too fast and doing strange things like U-turns in weird and dangerous places and like they were the only cars on the road.  It felt nice to get home and close my garage door shutting out all the madness.  And so started this blog post, I thought there would probably be many more strange events that would fill a blog post and be a reminder to me one day when I can look back at all this, and think oh yeah – that’s right, that did happen.

The underpants incident.

One morning while getting dressed for working from home, after putting on boxer shorts and a tee shirt I had this random thought that the black boxers looked just like shorts and who would know or care if I didn’t put shorts on today.  Even if I attended a video conference for work nobody would ever see or realise I wasn’t wearing shorts.  However that is not something I would do, so I put some shorts on and laughed to myself how much the shorts really did look like the boxers, just a little bit longer.

Later that day I went to the mailbox… just as I got to the end of the driveway having walked past several people and houses I had a terrible thought – I wasn’t wearing any shorts!!!  I did a very weird kind of maneuver as I tried to pull down my tee shirt to cover up this fashion disaster, in case anybody was looking.  A moment later I remembered I was indeed wearing pants and I could breathe normally again.

The Bush is Closed.

One Sunday morning halfway through lockdown I set off for my usual bushwalk, really looking forward to seeing the beautiful huge trees and getting out for some fresh air.  As I approached the path that takes you in to the bush I noticed a man staring at the track and I thought he better hurry up coz I don’t want to come too close to him while entering the track.  But he just stood there and soon enough I caught up to him.  He told me it was closed and sure enough there was a brand new fence blocking our way in to the bush!  Shortly a very fit jogging lady turned up and then an elderly couple came walking down the hill.  We all just stared at each other and then turned around and headed back the way we came from, all in different directions.  I guess there are parts of the bushwalk that would be impossible to get past someone without entering their bubble, so they had to close it to keep us safe.  I’ve never seen that many people headed for that track ever.  I’m always alone!

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So I went for a longer walk along Onewa Road.  It was strange to see no cars on the road.  Onewa Rd is one of the busiest roads on the North Shore.

You can’t buy Wine or Beer on Easter Sunday.

I usually go to the supermarket on a Sunday evening, but with the lockdown I know this is not the best time to go and now that I have to make my lunch every day, it’s important to go while they still have cooked chickens available so I can eat some kind of meat for lunches during the week.

So I have been keeping a very close watch on the Google “popular times to visit” chart.

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I rushed out when I saw there was a dip in the chart and it turned out to be very wise as there was only 4 people in the queue and I only had to wait about two minutes.  I managed to get a chicken no problem, but shock horror I could not buy any wine or beer!!!  How did I not know this?  I drank up all my wine last night happy in the knowledge that I would be able to replenish my stocks the next day.  But no – all the alcohol was trapped in cages, like animals in a zoo – only to be looked at but not touched!

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Things I missed the most while in lockdown:

  1. Hugs
  2. Buying my lunch
  3. Mitre 10
  4. The TV Guide

Things I learnt while in lockdown:

  1. I can make my lunch every day and be creative if I have to.
  2. You can’t buy wine or beer from a supermarket on Easter Sunday.
  3. I am on a lot of emailing lists – including every single chemist I have ever brought restricted medication like Voltaren from.

And now New Zealand has moved from Level 4 lockdown to Level 3, we were in level 4 for 4 weeks till the 28th of April – but I’m still working from home and living in a bubble, so it doesn’t feel any different to me.  I still can’t get hugs or go shopping in Mitre 10 and I still have to make my lunch.

My Garden Makeover

A friend of mine asked me back in January how my courtyard was looking these days.  It was quite a timely question because another friend of mine had recently paid some students to do a massive clean up of her backyard and I had looked longingly at her very tidy garden and wondered what it would cost to get someone in to tidy up mine.  So I told the friend who asked after my courtyard and I told him what my other friend had done, he offered to do the same as he was currently between jobs and looking for something to do.  The next weekend he came round to have a look at what was involved and guestimated what it would cost.  Done deal!

So here is the before pic – a bit overgrown but looking very lush.  I really just wanted the Leaning Tower of Yucca to be chopped down and get rid of all the wild bromeliads in the corner.  My friend recommended water-blasting, repotting and planting some stuff in to the small strip of dirt at the back.  Ok!garden 1

Thursday the 6th of February was Waitangi day so my birthday holiday had officially begun and my friend turned up to get stuck in, another friend decided it would be fun to join in (she’s crazy).  So here they are trying to chop down the massive yucca with a very small handsaw!garden 2

At the end of the day the yukka was chopped down but there was a big mess and we all had places to go so we had to just leave it like this…garden 3

I wasn’t feeling very comfortable about it looking like a tornado had swept through, but by the end of day two I was loving the new garden and even thought the yucca looked kinda cool where it was laying waiting to be removed, so I suggested we leave it there, as it might act as a garden edging and stop mulch and soil from ending up on the cobbles.garden 4

My friend dug a massive hole which took hours big enough to plant the bamboo and we hoped it would survive the transplanting.  (I’m pleased to report that a month later not only did it survive, but it’s thriving and no less that 5 new shoots have appeared.)  This leant itself to the creation of a little Japanese corner.garden 5

After the water-blasting the whole backyard looked brand new and I love it.garden 6

Even the frangipani did some late blooming to add a beautiful finishing touch.
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From upstairs…garden 8

I think it’s nearly ready for visitors.garden 9

The timing of the work on my courtyard could not have worked out better.  As we are now in lockdown my backyard is the only place I’m allowed to go, so I get to enjoy it every day for a lot longer and much more regularly than ever before.

My 2019

Sometimes it’s easy to look back on a year and think it wasn’t a very good year, maybe it’s because the bad things that happened stick out more than all the good things.  So I decided to look back through all the photos on my phone as a reminder of all the cool/awesome things I did in 2019.  So these are the main highlights:

January

~ Sculptureum with Barb & Tony in Matakana.
~ Built the Disney Castle out of Lego.

February~ Trip to Palmerston North with Una.
~ Massive birthday bridge walk to the Huia Dam with the gang.
~ Birthday lunch up the Sky Tower with Dad & Paula.
~ Heroic Garden festival with Barb.
March~ Built the Taj Mahal out of Lego.
~ Te Papa, Wellington day trip with Heidi and the gang to see the Terracotta Warriors.
April~ Went to “The Mousetrap” at the ASB Waterfront Theatre with Michelle B.
~ Day off work to enjoy High Tea at Sugar, Chelsea Sugar Refinery with Heidi.
May~ Reconnected with all my old friends I used to work with in London back in 1988, through a Facebook group that found me.
~ Tried on-line grocery shopping for the 1st time & decided it’s not really my thing.
~ Built the Flintstones House out of Lego.
August~ Christchurch for work & my nephew cooked me a special dinner in his flat.
~ Finally gave in and joined Netflix, there was a Lego documentary I really wanted to see, exclusive to Netflix.
~ Hit my broadband limit first time ever – thanks to Netflix.
September~ Grand opening of the Xmas Heirloom Co in Milford with Heidi.
October~ Home & Garden show with Barb which led to the buying of an awesome Italian Coffee Machine.
~ Auckland Marathon with Barb (watching out for Tony of course).
~ Sky City Convention Centre fire – not a highlight but a major event.
~ Auckland Brick Show with Arian.  7th year, 1st one was in June 2013.
November~ Auckland Lego Store finally opens in the brand new Westfield Mall, Newmarket.
~ Celine releases Courage.
December~ Special Xmas lunch with Dad, Paula & Karyn (Xmas Eve).
~ Christmas with Heid in the Cordis.
~ Waiheke Island with Heidi & friends.

 

Sydney 2020 Day Four

February 14 – Friday

My last day in Sydney, and one of the many kind things the guy at reception did for me when he upgraded my room was ask me what time I was headed for the airport and extended my check out time till 12:00 for me.  So that meant I had half a day to enjoy the amazing room and do some last minute shopping.

I figured I had enough time to race to the Westfield Mall to check out Myers Lego department and then go up the Sydney Tower, the sun was shining so it was a great day for going up the tower.  The salesperson in Myers said the same thing about the Sydney Skyline set – it has been retired.

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My trip up the tower was probably the fastest “been there done that” sightseeing I’ve ever done.  I even asked the girl selling tickets how long it would take.  Crazy question I know but I needed to know if there was a long wait to get up there – there wasn’t.

I made it back to the hotel in time for one last look at the spectacular view, grab my bag and check out.

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Because it was so hot I contemplated getting a taxi to the airport, but then I had noticed a lot of taxis driving around with their windows open, so I didn’t like my chances of getting a taxi with air conditioning.  Plus if there was traffic I’d be quite stressed, so I caught the train which was fast and easy and nowhere near as hot as the one I caught from the airport.

I made it to the airport with plenty of time for several beers and shopping, but I think that should have been the other way round, because it was hot and I was thirsty so I drunk many beers quite quickly and then went shopping.  This of course made the purchase of the really expensive new Apple earpods with noise cancellation very very easy.  But I love them, and thank you to everyone who gave me birthday money – this is what you bought me.

Oh and as I passed through bag search, guess what I found… the Lego Sydney Skyline Architecture set, for about $20 cheaper (duty free) than what it would’ve been if they’d had it in any of the stores I went in to.

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The flight home was fun and I managed to finish off the movie I started watching on the way over – Judy, starring Renée Zellweger.  The flight even had wifi so I needed to take a picture of something so I could post it on Facebook (seemed like a good idea at the time), so this is the pic I posted.

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Getting my bag and going through customs etc was easy and a very kind friend was waiting outside to pick me up and take me home.

Sydney 2020 Day Three

February 13 – Thursday

My Birthday and my whole reason for going to Sydney.  I woke up earlier than normal because all these wonderful birthday wishes started happening at about 6:00 am because that’s 8:00 in New Zealand.  So I was wide awake and enjoying the rainy overcast view (cooling everything down for me) when my magnificent room service breakfast arrived.

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Eventually at about 9:00 I set out for the Apple Store to buy myself a birthday present.  The weather gods even decided to stop the rain as an added bonus for my birthday, so I set out in glorious sunshine.  However the glory didn’t last long – the Apple Store was CLOSED FOR RENOVATION!!!  Seems I’m doomed to never get inside that particular Apple Store, it wasn’t open back in 2015 when I was last in Sydney either, click here to read about that day.

That completely threw me and I completely forgot it was my birthday and didn’t really know what to do after that, so I stayed on the flash new air conditioned tram till I got to a stop near Paddy’s Markets.  When I was 16 my parents took the whole family to Sydney for the August school holidays and one of the places we went to was Paddy’s Market – it was cool.  There was so much amazing stuff you couldn’t get back in New Zealand and the coolest thing I bought was a Nintendo Octopus game.

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Sadly the Paddy’s Market of 2020 was nothing like the 1981 version.  Or maybe it is still cool I just didn’t like any of the stuff they were selling now that I’m not 16, it seemed like a never ending $2.00 shop with row after row of identical stalls, so crammed with cheap stuff that you couldn’t move around each stall to have a proper look.  But I did find some Stubby Holders which was on my list, so it was worth it just for that.

After the markets I headed for the Chinese Garden of Friendship which I really enjoyed and it only cost $8 to get in.  The garden is set amongst some really tall buildings so at times when I looked up it felt like I had been magically transported to Hong Kong.  There were the biggest frangipani trees I’ve ever seen in full bloom and these gigantic lizard things that just lay around everywhere (I nearly stood on one, not sure which one of us got the biggest fright).

After that beautiful relaxing experience I headed for the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium with a quick stop at McDonalds along the way.  The aquarium cost $45 to get in and definitely was not worth it.  The best part (and probably the reason I went) was the lovely cold air conditioning keeping all the fish & penguins cold.  I got to see a Dugong but the whole place seemed run down and creepy.  The penguin expedition was over in about 30 seconds!  So glad I didn’t need to queue up for it.  Check out this sad penguin in dry kinda ugly conditions.

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Last time I was in Sydney I caught a ferry back to Circular Quay from Darling Harbour and it took about 10 minutes, so I thought I’d do the same thing this time.  I asked the ticket man which peer for the ferry to Circular Quay and he pointed me in the direction of a ferry that looked more like a hydrofoil than a ferry, so I thought things have really got flash in the last 5 years.  45 minutes and about 20 stops later, me and several other tourists realised we were miles away from the Quay and certainly not headed in the direction we should be in.  One lady asked a crew member if this ferry was going to Circular Quay and he said no – so they hurriedly got off, but it took me too long to work out what they had asked the dude and what just happened.  So I got off at the next stop and luckily the ferry returning to Sydney was just pulling in.  It took another 45 minutes to get to where I was supposed to be going, so all up a 10 minute ferry ride took me an hour and half.  At least it was a pleasant trip around the very expensive North Sydney harbour suburbs.  I guess a 90 minute harbour cruise for $6 is a bargain.

Here we are heading in the wrong direction getting further and further away from the city.

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According to my iPhone this is Drummoyne.

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90 minutes later this was a very welcome sight.

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So… after all that I wasn’t really sure what to do for my birthday dinner.  I really didn’t feel like getting all dressed up to sit somewhere flash all by myself, so I bought a box of beers, a lot of junk food and thoroughly enjoyed my wonderful hotel room with the stunning view.