Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

#16 of Blogging with Friends

My latest Blogging with Friends topic is to talk about a time when a personal prejudice was proven completely wrong. I’m not often wrong (ask my husband), but I’m happy to admit when I am!

I have a friend who, when I first met her, was both both pretty and confident. I was immediately distrustful, prejudiced against her because of her beauty and her confidence; neither of these were qualities I possessed. We got thrown together at work, and I realised how wrong I had been.

She’s someone who isn’t as confident as I assume (though she still has plenty of confidence). But she has a quality that makes you always feel as if she is pleased to see you, and that she enjoys being in your company. I wrote this in my 365 blogging project in 2007:

“Tall, gorgeous and glamorous, effortlessly charming. I almost wanted to dislike you at first, but found it impossible! A friend who always makes me feel better about myself, and always sounds pleased to see me. …”

That quality makes her far more beautiful than good looks. I learned not to judge someone on their personal appearance. And I’m pleased to say that we have been friends for over 20 years.

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Right Now

Reading: I struggled with reading during March, when the pandemic was ramping up, the rest of the world began shutting down, and we then closed down towards the end of the month. Like so many people, I became a little obsessed with reading articles, until I finally stepped away from my devices (where I read my books too) to try to escape from reality. So I did not finish one single book in March. By April we were in full lockdown in NZ, and although case numbers started going up, we knew we were doing something proactive, and there was a degree of comfort cocooning at home. I finally finished Bridge of Clay, by Markus Zusak, which had taken me a while to really get into and begin to enjoy. I decided some happy easy books were required to get my reading mojo back, and read a book that shall not be named, before getting into the lovely The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne that whisked me to Ireland, and Eleanor Oliphant is Complete Fine by Gail Honeyman which had more depth than I expected from the title and cover art.

A friend raved about Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton that, like Bridge of Clay, is about teenage boys in Australia living tough lives. I enjoyed the location, the matter-of-fact integration of refugee/immigrant families into the story, and the writing, although it was a difficult read (emotionally) at times.

I discovered too a detective series with a difference, set in Italy and based on the art world, by Iain Pears. The series is called the Jonathan Argyll series, which annoys me a little because as far as I am concerned, the main character is the female Italian detective, the secondary character is perhaps the male Italian detective, and Jonathan Argyll has more of a bit part. But he’s English and male, so gets top billing! Now, aside from that, I read the first two of this series in May and June respectively, and will read the rest. They’re simple, fun, but perhaps a little predictable. But I love the settings, and the subject matter is interesting. Definitely a cure for a missing reading mojo, and I’m saving the next book for when I need it!

I finished with Jodi Picoult’s A Spark of Light which tackles the issue of abortion in a southern state in the US. I didn’t love the structure of the book, as it works backwards, and I felt frustrated that I didn’t know the ending for most of the book, until I got to the Epilogue which wrapped it up for me! (If only I had checked the Table of Contents I could have saved myself some angst!) It covers a range of the issue’s complexities in the different characters, and I found it wasn’t quite as harrowing as it might have been. It’s worth reading regardless of your particular take on the topic.

I’ve read 19 books, 48% of my target for the year, and Goodreads cheerfully reminds me that I am one book behind schedule. No pressure! I quite like to be reminded, because it is very easy to be sucked down by the internet article vortex, and forget to turn back to books.

Watching: It’s been a great time to finish various series we had been watching, and to binge-watch a few others. I raced through a few series, but my favourites were probably Ozark, Marcella, and the second series of Dead to Me. I’m still mourning the end of The Good Place, and dip back into it again when I just need to feel better. The Prodigal Son is pretty gruesome at times, and a bit formulaic at others, but Michael Sheen is brilliant in it and well worth watching. My husband and I like to watch a programme together every evening, and together we’ve been through the latest series of Billions, and just started the latest season of WestWorld, but our highlight has been an entire BBC (I think) series, George Gently. It’s a detective series set in the 1960s and 70s which we recorded and have watched together, and is sad, and infuriating but beautifully done too.

Oh wait!  I’ve just had a look at different streaming services, and I completely forgot that Killing Eve has come and gone since I last wrote a Right Now post, and the last season of Flack, and Normal People, which I think I liked better than the book. (I know!) The book is excellent, but the characters were a little more likeable in the series, and it’s pretty faithful to the book.

And of course, almost every day I’ve caught up with the animals in Africa, via Wild Watch Live. I’ve seen little hyena cubs grow and emerge from their dens, at first wobbly on their feet, and some tiny lion cubs start to grow and join the pride, playing with each other and their mother. And it is always a joy to just sit and listen to the birds and sounds of the African bush.

Listening: Superb autumn weather and lockdown walks around my neighbourhood gave plenty of time to listen to audiobooks, and I raced through Kafka’s Metamorphosis read by Benedict Cumberbatch and How to Survive the Roman Empire, by Pliny and Me by Hattie Naylor. Every day during the lockdown at 1 pm I would try to remember to listen to the daily briefing from our Prime Minister and the head Health official, reporting on the status of cases within NZ. Those have ended now, but we still get more regular press conferences and comments that are covered by Radio NZ National, and there’s a comfort to being informed regularly by our leaders. I listen to the radio most weekdays, as it gives a nice coverage of current events, arts and literature, and local music. In the weekend I often listen to relaxed Spotify playlists if I’m writing or editing photos.

Following: The spread of the virus, closely followed by extreme stupidity, around the world. It has not been a particularly satisfying exercise.

Drinking: Not too much. We stuck very much to our routine through lockdown and as we came out of it, trying to ensure that there are two-three days that are alcohol free every week. I went seven weeks without a barista coffee, bu have had one or two a week since then.

Cooking: Oh, the cooking! Over the lockdown, and before we could get back into eating takeaways or going out for lunch again, I enjoyed cooking and meal planning and rather belatedly got into baking. I made for the first time:

Chocolate Marshmallow Easter Eggs, Sticky Cinnamon Buns, Chocolate Peppermint Slice, pizza dough (for homemade Margherita Pizza), Roti Canai (a flaky flatbread), naan bread, focaccia bread, and thanks to a blogger friend from Slovenia, Bread by Klara.

And made some old favourites: ANZAC biscuits, chocolate chip cookies, lemon slice, cheese scones (almost weekly)  beer bread, hot cross buns (though a new recipe).

Eating: See above! Since all our restrictions have been lifted, we’ve gone out for dinner a couple of times, have enjoyed takeaways (burgers, fish and chips), and have enjoyed a couple of lunches out too – Chinese food, an Indian curry, Subway etc. In fact, yesterday I added up how much we spent on buying food out of the house yesterday and it was a bit shocking after a couple of months of none of that. No wonder so many cafes and restaurants have gone out of business. I’m doing my bit to help them out now!

Wearing: The winter wardrobe is well and truly out, as I largely live in black long-sleeved thermal tops under jackets, cardigans, fleeces etc pretty much from May until October. Winter jackets are out, and I’ve even had to resort to a scarf one day already!

Anticipating: A visit early next week (I obviously wrote this last week – it’s today!!!) from my sister, niece (the famous Charlie), and brother-in-law. We haven’t seen them since November, so looking forward to exploring Wellington, eating out, and just catching up.

Trying: Not to get depressed about the international situation, focusing on what we can do here instead.

Loving: Living in New Zealand. We’re lucky. We’re far from perfect. We have an election in September that worries me. But at the moment, we have no COVID community transmission, and that means, compared to much of the rest of the world, we are free. And I’m very thankful for that.

Still unashamedly copying Loribeth’s regular series every few months here on A Separate Life.

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Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite thing to do is to travel. Right now, of course, there is no chance of travelling internationally. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, I immediately told myself that I wouldn’t be travelling until the rest of the year, and made my peace with that. Not long afterwards, that got extended by about a year, and so since then I have been hoping for travel in 2022. But I am not relying on that, and I know there is no guarantee, especially as I see cases skyrocket overseas in developing countries that will struggle to contain the virus. Worse, I see the cases still skyrocketing in developed countries with educated citizens that should know better. So there is considerable uncertainty as to if, not when, this situation will ever resolve.

Ironically, the EU and other countries would welcome New Zealand tourists right now – Fbk was advertising Greece to me today (ads I’d never seen before). But the reality is that most Kiwis will not be risking travel, as to get to Europe or many other places we have to take at least two long haul flights, sharing planes with passengers from countries that have not contained COVID19 as we have.

So, the reality of the situation is settling in, and I am starting to feel a little trapped. We’re here at the bottom of the world in the little dinghy lifeboat, with a few other little dinghy lifeboats in pockets around the world. And together those of us in the tiny lucky lifeboats are watching the rest of the world go down with the COVID-19 ship. This analogy is not mine, but courtesy of a cartoon I saw recently. (I’ve been trying to find it online to give credit to the cartoonist, but I can’t.)

So, for the time being, we are socially distancing from the rest of the world here in NZ, yet with full freedom of movement and the comfort that – almost certainly – there is no COVID-19 out in the community. That means that we can travel domestically, so our only travel options are here, on the islands of New Zealand. (There is talk of opening up a “bubble” with other countries that are effectively COVID free, but these seem a long way off.)

I remember a NZ Tourism promotion in the 1980s, exhorting us to travel in New Zealand before we took off to see the world.

Now of course, we don’t have any other option. New Zealand is a relatively small island country – bigger than the UK, but slightly smaller than Japan or Italy. The advantage of New Zealand though is that we have very different terrain (and therefore, experiences). This is not true of many other places we have been. The US might share tropical islands and volcanoes and deserts and mountains, but not as close together as in NZ. Switzerland or Norway are both stunningly beautiful, but they don’t really vary. Yet here we can drive through rain forests with glaciers followed by lush farmland, cross desert plateaus or mountain passes,  visit vineyards, and end the day in lakes surrounded by snowy mountains. Nowhere is more than a few hours from the coast. You can see an example of this in my Favourite Road Trip post about a particular route driving around the South Island here. Even in winter, the north has mild temperatures barely requiring a coat, and the south (or the mountains and plateau in the north) has snow and freezing temperatures. This gives us a great choice of destinations and things to do.

But our landscape’s variety means that it is easy to drive past some wonderful areas that are worthy of exploration – especially if we have time constraints. The road trip I wrote about could take months if you stopped at each place to truly investigate it and enjoy what it had to offer. So although I’ve driven past a lot of places in the past, I now have the opportunity to explore destinations in more depth. I can simply relax in different environments, or take trips that are usually dominated by overseas tourists, and support our local, suffering, tourist industry. Right now it is winter, which means I won’t be sitting out in vineyards sipping on wine, but maybe I’ll be inside enjoying a glass beside a roaring fire. I’m not a skier, though I’d love to be, but maybe I can take advantage of the temperatures to travel to the mountains to enjoy some snow for a change.

Whilst some people might suggest that NZers are smug about our country (as a British rugby writer recently pointed out – out of jealousy, if you ask me!), there has always been a tendency amongst us of “cultural cringe” or thinking that “real life happens in other places.” Despite our distance from the rest of the world, Kiwis travel a lot. Many of us are having to put international plans on hold, and look inwards. Perhaps for this reason, some internal destinations have begun advertising themselves to NZers as if they are international destinations, knowing that we are all having to refocus our travel aspirations for the rest of the year (at a minimum). Dunedin, for example, is one of our main cities, and sits in the south of the South Island. It is known for its Scottish heritage, beautiful surroundings, and university-town vibe. It has come up with a slogan, “Not a Bad Plan D.” Its tongue-in-cheek humour compares its hills with the pyramids, its beaches with Bali (“but with a wetsuit”) and its buildings with Edinburgh (“It’s not exactly Edinburgh, but it sort of is”). Another region only four hours north of Wellington is taking a similar stance. Hawke’s Bay, one of our largest wine regions, compares its offerings with wine regions around the world, including Sonoma (California), Barossa (South Australia) and Tuscany, and urges us all to take a Baycation. I like all these regions, but I have to say that my favourite parts of this country are uniquely New Zealand, and that’s what I love the most.

School holidays start in about a week, so we’re staying at home for most of July, both because Charlie and parents are coming to visit, and to avoid crowds. But in August or September, we intend hitting the road and enjoying our fabulous country. We can’t go away for too long at any one time, because of elderly parent care. But that is the joy of not having to fly across the world to our destination. We can come and go to different destinations much more easily here.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue going somewhere when I am actually going nowhere. There are lots of ways I can do this. As I write this, I have a video going beside me of one of the safari drives I’ve already talked about. And over the lockdown, I’ve taken some YouTube trips on some great rail journeys (courtesy of Mel’s blog here), and (also thanks to Mel and Google street view) have “walked” around one of my favourite towns in Italy reminiscing about my visit seven years ago. I haven’t visited the dozens of online museums yet, or got into planning future trips (as they feel a little too distant right now), but they are all options for me to travel when I’m going nowhere. Of course, visiting international blogs and talking to friends on social media exposes me to other countries and people and makes me still feel connected to the world. The wonderful aforementioned Mel also introduced me this morning to WindowSwap, and that makes me feel like I’m somewhere else. I can almost smell the flowers, and feel the heat from the northern windows. And I haven’t yet mentioned reminiscing. That’s always a good way to transport myself to other times and places, when I can remember the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of exotic destinations.

The great thing about travel is that it is all about opening your mind to possibilities and experiences. And that’s the way I’m going to travel during this pandemic – both domestically in person AND internationally, thanks to photos and technology. For the rest of the year, at least.


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