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l'enfer du North Island

  herpetomania Tuesday, 28 September 2010 link

Someone on TradeMe is selling a pair of tortoises. The week before my birthday? Coincidence? Or... destiny?!!??!!??

Anyway. It's a common misconception that it's illegal to own tortoises in NZ. In fact, they're perfectly legal to own. It's illegal to keep the native reptiles or amphibians without a permit from DOC, and it's illegal to buy and sell them. Getting a permit to keep them is apparantly reasonably straightforward, and obtaining specimens is a matter of making enough friends among existing keepers, so it's not for the casual hobbyist. But non-native fauna are a different matter. There's no restriction on keeping, buying, or selling them. So you can go to a pet shop and buy Australian species like bearded dragons, blue-tongued skinks, or green bell frogs. Tortoises are perfectly legal to own. But not to import. Any tortoises in NZ at the moment are probably the descendants of ones brought over before we really grasped the idea of biosecurity regulations. So you can, very occasionally, get them on the open market. But don't expect them to be cheap: $3500 seems to be a median price for a smallish specimen (compare to £200 or so in the UK, $300 in the US). That's biosecurity for you, I suppose.

Mind you, one of the other animals that I find very calming and would like to be able to keep is koi carp. It's a relic from my time in Japan as a kid; I love big decorative carp. Unfortunately, they're legally classified as a pest organism here - the "possum of the waterways". It's illegal to own them. Pity; they're lovely beasts. Bit too aggressive at tearing up the waterways, though.

  georgian physical culture Sunday, 26 September 2010 link

Heather and I were chatting the other day about the current popularity of retro-style workouts. You can't toss a brick in a gym these days without hitting someone wanking on about kettlebells - and if you did hiff that brick, they'd probably throw a medicine ball back at you. This caused me to speculate that the next big trend is going to be a renaissance of Georgian exercise wear. Yes, I'd be willing to bet that the hot new look in gyms next year will the the over-the shoulder exercise leotard for men, twinned with a handlebar moustache. Hey, it's basically just a refinement of the single most comfortable cycling garment ever invented, the bib short (if you haven't tried them: you don't know what you're missing. I'm quite serious about this: they are brilliant). And handlebar moustaches speak for themselves.

Which naturally then cascaded on to the question: could you make a go of a steampunk gym? You know, lots of wood-panelled walls, thick carpets, brass fittings, like a gentlemen's club but with an exercise room...

And then I thought, hang on. I don't have to imagine what that would be like. I used to go to that gym.

I used to work in central Wellington. And I used to be a member of the Wellesley Club, the more exclusive, smaller, and ultimately less successful of Wellington's gentlemens' clubs. That's "gentlemens' clubs" not in the lapdancing sense, nor the "workingman's club" sense: the full-bore, faux-English, lunch-at-the-bar,-a-game-of-snooker-in-the-parlour-and-then-a-snooze-in-the-library PG Wodehouse style club. It was an anachronism then, back in those heady days of 2006; it was painfully obvious that the clubgoing public was slim to none. Anyone who wanted the "club" experience normally wanted something more like an American country club (except without the outside leisure facilities) - that market was sucked up by the Wellington Club. Much of the "nearly dead old codgers" market that I believe makes up the club demographic in the UK was taken away by NZ's comprehensive network of RSA (Returned Services Associations - like the British Legion, but marginally less British). The actual, fee-paying membership of the club proper was dwindling rapidly. The income, such as it was, was obtained by leasing rooms as a boutique hotel, and a fairly successful restaurant/cafe on the ground floor. But for a couple of years there - the couple of years that I, handily, worked just over the road - they made a few extra bob by selling "gym only" memberships. The gym itself was a smallish room on the fourth floor, with some pretty basic equipment. But it was cheap, it had everything I needed, and it was right across from work.

So three times a week, at lunch, I'd walk up four flights of polished stairs, under 12-point stags heads, past an original Goldie, through corridors panelled in beautiful old native timber with a worn patina of time, get changed into my shorts and blast my quads. It was awesome. During our time in Cambridge, I spent a lot of time hanging around the original sort of old, timeworn-but-expensive places that this was intended to emulate, and I must say the result was spectacular. Lovely old place; if you get a chance, pop in for a look around.

But you won't be going in for a workout. At some point around about the time I got a job very much not in the central city, the club folded as a club, and reinvented itself as simply a boutique hotel - part of the wider Wellesley Group, a corporate entity which includes various boats, hotels, and one of Wellington's most expense private schools. I believe that the gym was refitted as a couple of extra bedrooms, and an era ended.

But for a while there, I was a member of a gentleman's club. It's unlikely to happen again in a hurry, unless the Wellington Club relaxes its strict policy on the wearing of a jacket and tie on the 5th floor, or the Johnsonville Club acquires a reading room full of leather-bound volumes. Sadly, unlikely.

  friday night lice Sunday, 5 September 2010 link

One of the recent comments about the appointment of associate justice Elena Kagan to the US supreme court was that she wasn't a mother - a class of people described by a commentator in the Washington Post as "people who know what it's like to come home from work and spend a night picking lice out of a kid's hair." The obvious implication being, mothers are the only ones who do this - all those men supreme court justices are off practicing their putting, or stripping down an engine, or something.

This made me extremely testy.

As many of you know, I have two children. Both of them have come down with headlice in the last six months; on Friday, we noticed a few in M's hair, and out came the comb. There's nothing particularly surprising about this - lice are quite common. When my family moved back from the UK when I was 6, I'm told I had a galloping case of headlice. Both times, it's been me who's popped out to the shops, bought the lice removal stuff, and spent large spaces of time carefully combing out every single hair on the little buggers' heads, removing live and dying vermin as I go. It's a pain, but not a big deal. These casual assumptions that fathers don't do any nurturing behaviour - that we're the big beard in the sky, booming proclamations at the kids, involved as mostly absent disciplinarians with occasional awkward bonding attempts involving some kind of sport played with balls - piss me the hell off. Yeah, I'm sure some guys on the supreme court make an excuse and leave the delousing to the missus; but I'd be surprised if there weren't also a few who sigh heavily, get the fine-toothed comb out, and start playing chase-the-invertebrate on their kid's cranium.

Incidentally, am I the only parent who surreptitiously enjoys the thrill of the chase? "Got yer, ya bastard!" Delousing your infants is surprisingly primal. It combines the thrill of the chase with the buzz of caring. I'll be fucking happier when they're clear again, though.

Thoughts go out to all our friends in Christchurch tonight. It's a fucking miracle that the earthquake hit when it did; looking at the photos, if it'd happened at lunchtime we'd have had a lot of people killed by falling bricks. We're thinking of you, and quietly getting around to sorting out our civil defence kits. I thought yesterday that in most countries, being prepared for a major civil emergency is the sort of thing that the right-wing uses as a masturbatory aid; here in NZ, it's just a sensible precaution that the government gives you suggestions for.

  plus ca change Friday, 3 September 2010 link

To a friend, the day before getting my first tattoo, age 18:

"I'm going to get a tattoo tomorrow. I'm pretty psyched about it. It's going to be a freehand piece, based on this awesome flash on the studio wall. I'm a bit worried about the pain but I'm going with a couple of mates who should be able to talk me through it. I know it's permanent, but that's kind of the point, you know? It's like, I like the idea of making a commitment to something that'll be indelible. Plus, I blah blah blah think you should do stuff that intimidates you every once in a while blah blah push your boundaries blah blah..."

Age 34:

"I'll be in the office a couple of hours late tomorrow."

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unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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