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l'enfer du North Island

  a good walk spoilt Friday, 14 January 2011 link

When I were a lad, we used to have a dog. A hairy dog. A hairy wee dog. And I used to have to walk the dog. So I spent a lot of time roaming around the local streets. In summer, ther was a bit of a problem. We were living in Japan at the time, and during summer, the weather during the day was so hot that the poor wee bugger would pant himself insensible. So I started taking him for walks at about 10pm. Similarly, when I was a student, we were pretty skint, and often used to rely on the beer scooter to get us home from parties. I have a number of fond memories of long walks home, quite drunk, late at night, talking bollocks.

So as a result of this, I really enjoy the simple, meditative pleasure of exploring local streets on foot. I particularly like finding accessways and cut-throughs; paths that are only accessible to pedestrians. In some cases, these paths aren't even obvious unless you're on foot and having a bit of a poke around. Staid, boring suburbs are actually very good for this. Driving around, you see a blur of identikit standalone homes. On foot, you see the minor differences, the little personalisations (the wishing well in the front garden, abandoned toys on a lawn), and the empty areas. On foot, you realise that the area between the two main roads is a bush reserve including a rambling stream. You can around the end of a row of houses and look past the end of their gardens, to the waist-high grass, a network of paths trodden down where the local kids have played go-home, stay-home. You can inspect the pipes where a stream disappears under a new townhouse development, and look at the fish ladder that lets native fish migrate upstream. And, as a result of the whole "going for walks at 10pm" thing, I really enjoy going for walks at night.

A week or two ago I'd been quite chuffed to find a shortcut through a section of bush (between Ohariu Road and Winsley Terrace). Finding that sort of unmarked shortcut (it's not on the maps but has a small signpost on the ground) gives me immense satisfaction. So Tuesday night I went for a walk in fading light, took the shortcut down the slippery, poorly marked bush trail in the gathering dark, stepped out onto the tarmac in Churton Park, and promptly went down like a sack of spuds, spraining my ankle. Fuckdiddly. An unfortunate consequence of the severe sprain I got four years ago seems to be that I now have a bit of a glass ankle on my left leg. Fortunately, this time it wasn't as bad, and I did manage to hobble home. Rather put the arse on a nice evening's stroll, though.

  adventures in gardening Wednesday, 12 January 2011 link

This summer, Wellington has been getting a lot of rain, combined with pretty good temperatures. Temperatures have been lurking in the 15-25C range, and humidity often over 80%.

Now, one of my longstanding hobbies is the cultivation of carnivorous plants. A common misconception about these plants is that they're all from incredibly hot and humid jungles. In fact, most of the species are from temperate zones. One plant, Sarracenia purpurea, is the provincial flower of New Brunswick in Canada. Even in New Zealand, one of our native species of sundews (Drosera arcturi) is an alpine, seldom found below 300m elevation and quite happy sitting under snow during winter. In fact, many CPs start to die off if you don't give them a cold winter period when they stop actively growing (something to consider next time you see a venus flytrap in a tropical greenhouse). So I normally grow most of my plants outside. Our front garden now has an assortment of North American trumpet pitchers (Sarracenia), sundews (Drosera), butterworts (Pinguicula), and several pots of Venus flytraps (Dionaea) that I've grown from seed. They're all pretty happy.

But I do grow my hanging pitcher plants (Nepenthes) inside. I used to grow these in terraria; then I experimented with a couple of the more robust species and found that they grow quite happily inside the house as long as I keep them damp enough. I'm mainly growing highland neps, which live on mountains and thus like it pretty cold (but still humid). I've had N. ventricosa and an anonymous hybrid going quite nicely on windowsills around the place.

But one thing about this current weather we're having: it makes Johnsonville into a reasonable facsimile of Mount Kinabalu. So I've had a nep outside for the last couple of months and it's going absolute gangbusters. Throwing out more leaves, and pitchering like crazy. Plus, I've put it next to the worm farm, so it's helping keep down the fruitflies. I'm very chuffed about this; when I started growing CPs back in the mid 90s, the wisdom was that you needed a greenhouse or terrarium to get good results with nepenthes. So finding that I can grow them actually in my garden is wonderful. I'll bring them back inside for winter, but for now they're having a great time out there.

Useful resources on growing Nepenthes as houseplants at Nepenthes Around the House. And I can't recommend enough that membership in the New Zealand Carnivorous Plant Society is a great thing if you're into these wee green beauties.

  new trends in the youth of today Saturday, 8 January 2011 link

I was at a new year's barbecue a few days ago. Looking around at one point, I realised that of seven people sitting around me - middle class, in our 30s, all university-educated - only one didn't have any tattoos. That's a slightly higher ratio than normal, but certainly it's safe to say that having a tat or two is now pretty much commonplace in NZ society. Look back at the early 80s: all you needed to look like a scary tough dude is a 3cm tattoo of a tiger halfway up your bicep. These days, everyone's either got one or knows someone with one.

And this is, I think, responsible for a recent trend. A lot of young people are getting first tattoos on their necks, or the inside of their wrists. For women, the nape of the neck seems to be replacing the small of the back as a preferred spot. And why? It's the fuck-you factor. As tattoos become more accepted, people wanting to use tats as a signifier of their alienation or menace have to use the tattoo placement. Now, if you're 20 and want to show that you care nothing for the dictates of society, you get an elaborate neck tattoo - usually stylised text on the side of the neck for guys, text or a picture on the nape of the neck for girls. At least, that's my guess for why I'm seeing so many young people with neck and wrist tattoos these days.

Disclaimer: I am unlikely to get my neck tattooed. Until I've got the house paid off, at least.

  yeah, but all economics is ridiculously oversimplified Friday, 7 January 2011 link

At this time of year, people get really narked with the imposition of holiday surcharges. If you want to have people working on a statutory holiday, you have to pay them time and a half (this is a legal requirement in NZ). So being open on a public holiday - of which we have 11 every year - costs. Many businesses just eat this cost, but some others recoup the cost by adding a surcharge, typically 15%, to the bill. This is most notable in the hospitality trade: restaurants, bars, and cafes. Not all places serving food bang a surcharge on you, but quite a lot of them do. And every time, a lot of people - occasionally including myself - get annoyed with this. "Why don't they drop the surcharge, and just put the prices up a little bit in the rest of the year to cover the increased costs for stat holidays?" is the refrain.

Here's a simple example of why you might not want to do that. Two cafes on the same block:

So which cafe are you going to go to for a coffee? If it's a statutory holiday, you're going to go to Cafe B - because it's a bit cheaper, and you don't feel you're being ripped off by having to pay a holiday surcharge. But the other 354 days per year, you're probably going to hit Cafe A - because it's cheaper, and you're not noticing the holiday surcharge.

Obviously, this is an incredibly simplistic example, but my point is just that places aren't being irrational by taking an action that actively pisses off potential customers - because it's possible that by pissing some people off 11 days a year, they might get more trade the other 354. It's certainly a factor for cafe owners to think about, and it's not surprising that a lot of them end up reckoning they can get away with it. Personally, I definitely find surcharges irritating, and I'd prefer people didn't have them - but I don't think cafe owners are irrational or stupid for choosing to go that route.

  quick quack grunt link

Serious middle-class parenting moment at Reikorangi over the holidays: Rebecca recognised a Paradise Shelduck. "How do you know it's a Paradise Shelduck?" I said, looking around for the explanatory board. "I recognised the noise from Radio New Zealand National, papa."

  a return to format Wednesday, 5 January 2011 link

Christmas in numbers. Two days, two sets of relatives, one trifle, season 6 of Spongebob, no religion, an eight-year old with a new pocketknife, one ham, far too much steak and sausages, mercilessly expensive sausages at that, a 6am awakening, two extra stockings that the adults weren't expecting, and a good time had by all.

I spent much of the holidays looking after the kids, as Heather's been a bit crook. We spent a surprising amount of time lounging around various beaches and walking through the bush. One fine afternoon, paddling in Kaiwharawhara stream, an 18" eel floated lazily past the kids. I looked up, heard the birds calling in the bush, felt the sunshine, watched my kids investigating the rocks to find any more eels, and thought "Man, this sort of thing is why we moved back from the UK."

Completely irrational, of course; we lived in the fens, not ten miles from a city actually named after the eels caught there. But feeling good is seldom rational.

Apart from that, we got a few jobs done over the holidays. The girls and I fixed the bridge at the bottom of the garden. This involved a tripartite effort: Maggie held the nails, Rebecca carried the planks, and I did the hammering. Great fun. I also got around to creating a Tumblr account - Plausible Deniability (tallpoppy was already taken, damnit, as was jackelder - fucking namesakes). If you're interested in a semi-constant stream of small media posts of stuff I've seen around, keep an eye on it.

Apologies to readers using RSS readers who may be experiencing reja vu (seeing something for the first time that they'll be seeing again later). This'll make sense in a while.

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unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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