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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I'm Going Back To College*

I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... hmm, I don't think so
I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... I don't think so

Gonna take classes, some actin', some writin'
I'll be improvisin' and typin', in Wellington
The side all dented, on my beige Lancer
And it's flash, cause it's parked on Courtney Place
Tape deck, air freshener, shaped like a Hawaiian shirt
Them girls go running
GRRRRRRRR clutch grindin', still learnin', to drive it
Driving fast after workin' all day
Fighting the wind, stayin' between the lines
Pop in a cassette, it's auto-play

I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... yea y'all, I don't think so
I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College...

I'm going back to College, for actin', for writin'
Shakin' off rust from hobbies long gone
High school's the place, on Colombo, after dark
Where peeps can learn, make new friends
The classes look fun, and I'm still learnin'
Readin', travelin', shmoozin', cruisin'
Used to act lots, back in the day
Also wanna write, maybe write a little play

I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... no man I don't think so
I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College...

I'm going back to College, revisin', improvin'
Learnin' enjoyin', I can't get enough
My checkbook - small, appetite - tall
I said, I liked, the drama.
Seen libraries on the beach, been told I can teach
But I ain't no dalai lama
If you think me unwise, you'd best reconsider
I'm just lookin' for a good time
No not like that, I just wanna be at
Class, it keeps me outta organized crime

I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... I don't think so
I'm going back to College, College, College
I'm going back to College... excuse me, I don't think so.

* With all apologies to the excellent Mr. Cool J!

All right, the real point of this post is to say that I have finally gotten back into taking some classes. For the past several years I've wanted to get back in the classroom and learn something, and another long-lost passion of mine is acting. Well I've been able to combine both desires and hit it all in one with the first of my two upcoming classes this February: Drama. It's a 90-minute class that meets every Monday night in town for a couple of months or so, and I can't wait!

Don't get me wrong, I have no aspirations of appearing on stage before the Wellington public at any stage (pun intended). But I really miss the creative outlet and the collaborative spirit that is theater. One of my favorite types of acting within the discipline was always improvisation so I know I'm terribly rusty but if we're doing any of that I'll be on to it.

My next class, and one I anticipate at least as eagerly as I do the acting one, is a course in Short Story Writing that doesn't begin until late July. I'd love to get into that right now, but I'm also glad that I'm not doing both at once, for that would be a bit hectic and would take away the focus. Plus, it's been a long time since I've been in school (I really do hate to contemplate just how long...) so no need to throw myself in the deep end with too much at once. Not only do I work full-time but I am probably going to pick up a few shifts at the after-hours clinic for a little extra cash. It'll be mighty stressful, but it won't be permanent and anyways it'll ingratiate me with the after-hours clinic and it'll be nice to give them some relief once in a while.

All right well don't want to ramble but am very excited about taking these classes. Half the reason I am joining is for the fun of it and to keep the creative side of my brain entertained, but the other half is to put myself out there and hopefully meet more people and make some friends. Even if these two classes don't pan out to be all that great, there are scads of others from which to choose, including some cooking classes that looked interesting.

Now if I could just learn how to cook I'd be halfway to being a 'good catch' heh heh ...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A day at the races: Wellington Cup

Right here in Upper Hutt we have a very nice racecourse called Trentham. It's a horse track, just to clarify things a bit. Horse racing is quite popular here in New Zealand, perhaps not to quite the level that it was in the States back in the 1950's (so I am told, when it and boxing were two of the three most popular sports in the country), but it's definitely a large part of the sports coverage in the paper. There certainly is no shortage of 'punters', or those that like to place bets on the horses, so that's a big part of the appeal.

My friend Sarah, the newest vet where I work, sent me a text yesterday asking if I wanted to join her and her fiance at the track. It's always great to make new friends and this was a real 'two-fer' as I was also going to get to check out yet another bit of NZ culture that I have yet to see.

I have to admit, when she first texted me, I wasn't sure what kind of race it was. In my naivete I assumed it was a car race of some kind, as that is popular here as well. Also I had failed to discern just what kind of racecourse we have here in Upper Hutt, even though I've driven by it dozens of times. Such is the life of an absent-minded person like me!

Let's see, where was I ...

Oh yes. So I did get one clue in her text as to the nature of the type of race, as she mentioned that she still had to 'get all dressed up' and that I had a good couple of hours before they'd be up there. Still not 'getting the gist', I pressed on and decided to just get there and see what it was all about, for I was up for it no matter what was being raced: horses, cars, chariots, dogs, pigs - whatever.

Well, it was one hell of a day! The weather was just perfect, although once again I neglected to put on my sunblock. I really am living dangerously down here by not doing that, for there is a big fat hole in the ozone layer right over New Zealand so sunblock is a definite must. My current tomato-faced look serves as a glaring (and painful) reminder of just that, so let's hope this is the last time I get burned.

But when Sarah said she was getting all dressed up, she wasn't lying. It's a big tradition here, just like with the Kentucky Derby back home, for the women to not only get all gussied up but to incorporate large, showy hats with their ensemble. It's very cool! I have seen many attractive ladies down here in New Zealand so far, but wow there were some really ravishing women at the track yesterday. I think there was a race on, and there was definitely some hoo-ha over the horses that seemed to keep circling the track over and over, but I was a bit distracted by the crowd.

Actually that's not entirely true, I did spend most of my time chatting with Sarah and her fiance Simon, as well as their friends that were there as well. A couple were also vets, classmates of Sarah's, and others were friends from before vet school. Yet another group of friendly and funny people that I've met and I look forward to doing stuff with them again. I had to beg off going out with them afterwards as the money is a bit tight and I need to watch it for a while, so the race was enough splurging for yesterday.

Like many things you go to, the real point was to get out and enjoy the awesome weather and socialize and have a few drinks. The horses racing round us (we were in the infield) were just a pleasant distraction, every now and then serving up about 2 minutes of progressively more frantic shouting and cheering from the crowd as they (the horses) neared the finish line. From the sounds of it, lots of people made money, but an equal number lost quite a bit, too. As for the group I was in, one girl made enough money to pay for her drinks and food, so she was happy!

But they compared going to the Welly Cup with going to see the Rugby Sevens* or a game of cricket: you go to see the event, yes, but only during pauses of your conversation and perhaps whilst on the way to get another glass of wine or can of beer. I like the way these Kiwis think! Reminds me very much of how we Americans view baseball games. At least, the way this American does. I love the sport but I really do think that the reason so many of us love it is for the social atmosphere it provides. It's a great combination of getting out into the sunshine, hanging out with friends or family and indulging in a little beer and hot dog goodness.

Well it was another great weekend here in New Zealand, and I've been loving the past few things I've done but I've formed one bad habit: forgetting to bring my camera along. I didn't take it to Big Day Out, or around Tauranga, and now to the Wellington Cup. I promise to do better in the future and, of course, hopefully I'll do all these things again so I'll have a second chance at snapping some pics.
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* I wish, wish, WISH I was going to this! Tickets sold out in FOURTEEN MINUTES. And I know why: it's easily one of the most popular events here in NZ. It's basically a huge two-day party downtown where mini-games of rugby (just 7 players a side) break out every now and then in the Cake Tin (Westpac Stadium). People get all dressed up in groups (pirates, angels/devils, men in drag - you get the idea) and just party down. But I have to work the weekend and anyways I'll try again next year.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"The British are coming! The British are coming!" *

He must be reading my blog, for what did I happen upon whilst reading through my (free) newspaper at the hotel last weekend: a coupon to order a ticket to a luncheon hosted by Bill Bryson! Yes, he's coming to Auckland, New Zealand, next month to talk about his childhood in Iowa and his latest book, Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. He'll relate his life growing up in the Midwest to how it led to his becoming a world-traveling, witty, and insightful author.

I mention that he must be reading my blog (which is pure vanity to even think that, so I say it in jest) because a few posts back I wrote about him and how he should come to New Zealand and write a book about this country. He's written them about the UK, the USA, and Australia, so it remains that New Zealand needs a book written about them in his pantheon of novels! I'd quite like to read about experiences he'd have in this country, although to be honest he could spend a fortnight in Antarctica playing on the computer and trying not to freeze to death and I'd read about that.

But the coincidence is there (I wish for him to come to New Zealand, and so he does), so not wanting to ignore this pure act of kismet I have decided to make a serious effort to go listen to Bill Bryson's speech. It's on a Wednesday, which is my day off, but of course it's all the way back up in Auckland so driving up there is right out. Plus, I work late on Tuesday nights, not getting home until nine on many occasions. So my only hope is to fly up there late Tuesday (or even first thing Wednesday morning), hear his talk, then fly back that night and I won't miss a beat at work. I can't take any more time off right now as other vets are gone during that time frame, so that is also not an option. Flights here within New Zealand have just become quite cheap, so much so that they cost less than the cost of petrol to drive up to Auckland and back!

So you can see how I'd be a fool not to try. Or how I'm an utter fool to even try. But if that's the case, then I don't care. I won't have many chances to see Bill Bryson here in New Zealand so I've got to go for it, and perhaps there will be time afterwards where he'll sign a book for you or something. Then I could rib him about writing his next book about travels through New Zealand, and I'd probably only be the hundredth person to say that to him that day!
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*Although born an American (Des Moines, Iowa), Bryson is indeed a limey - er, Brit - now!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Just got back from Big Day Out and...

GREAT SHOW.

Man, what a fun experience that was. From the quality of the music, to the weather, to the people in attendance, and last but certainly not least my two friends Steed and Christina, my trip to Auckland this past weekend was a total blast. There were lots of carnival rides, plenty of drinkies (I stuck to water), and lots of merchandise that I wanted to buy but couldn't justify. The music setup was cool, with the two main stages being inside the stadium itself, and two outdoor side stages on a hill just outside the stadium. They also had a gigantic big top with two stages inside of it, called the Boiler Room. I only passed through here on the way out but it looked like a great spot. My friends went and saw Lily Allen in here but I had to miss out, as I went elsewhere.

Here follow my capsule reviews:

Kicked Complete Arse: TOOL. Yeah, I am about as biased a Tool supporter as a 'fanboy' can be, but they still were the best thing going. The local paper the next day called them 'best blunt instrument', for their sheer primal prowess as a band. I think it's no small coincidence that Big Day Out sold out this year (possibly for the first time ever in New Zealand) because Tool were headlining the action. But seriously, though, as glorious as they were, there was much other great music to be heard as you'll see below. Tool's set list: Stinkfist, The Pot, Jambi, Sober, Prison Sex, Vicarious, Rosetta Stoned, Forty Six & 2, Schism, Lateralus (very surprised and pleased at this one!) and to finish it all off: AEnima. The best thing out of Maynard's mouth all night, though? His request that we all come back to see them play when they're back in New Zealand this November/December! Aww, yeah! Needless to say, you know where I'll be later on this year: Auckland to see Tool, baby!

Kicked Arse Nearly As Completely As TOOL: Muse. It's a band from the UK, and I'd only ever heard one song of theirs but they were excellent. They played right before Tool came on and were a great lead-in. I am by no means a scholar of musical styles but I know what I like and what sounds good to me. They reminded me a lot of Rush for three reasons: the lead singer's voice was a falsetto like Geddy Lee's, there were only three guys in the band but they produced a massive and very tight sound, and thirdly they just owned like Rush does. I will definitely be buying some of their music and, should I have the chance, be seeing them again in concert. Sixty minutes was not enough for these guys, and in spite of all of their energy and general arse-kicking, you still felt like they were only warming up when their set was done.

Best Band Not On a Main Stage But Should've Been: Kasabian. If you've not heard of them yet, well you heard it here first then. Yet another great band out of the UK, they have a hard-rocking, funky kind of sound with catchy beats. Just one of those bands that really performs well live and you can't get enough of them. A very animated lead singer with a highly talented bunch of musicians behind him. I had only first heard of them about two weeks ago, while doing laundry at the laundrette and their latest video came on, for a song called "Shoot The Runner". This was what they opened their set with, and it only got better from there. I'll be buying their music as well, for they're the kind of band that hooks you in instantly. The crowd was as packed as it could have been in this smaller area, and to me that means the word is already out about how great Kasabian are so do check them out.

Best Band I'd Bought Tickets To See Before But Had To Miss: The Killers. They came on before Muse, and they were awesome as well. I was so glad I finally got to see these guys live, and they did not disappoint. Sadly, the one flaw with Big Day Out all day was that, occasionally, they had problems with their sound. It wasn't the bands at all, but the quality of the sound coming from the amplifiers. At times during the Killers' act (and a couple others on the Blue Stage that day), they sounded as if you were listening to them on an ancient casette in a tape recorder in your car that badly needed its heads cleaned. I'm sure the band members weren't happy with this, but I wasn't sure if they could tell. Still, it was a kick-ass show and they played a great set, taking the full hour and then some. Brandon Flowers (lead singer) has an incredible voice and the band sounded great live. Can't wait to hear their next few albums, they seem to get better with time and they started out great, in my opinion.

Best Kiwi Band Who I'm Now a Fan Of: Elemeno P. What a cool band! So many catchy tunes, and they've been on the scene for about four or five years now. Of the whole day, this was the truest Kiwi experience I had for I was listening to a true-blue New Zealand band and was surrounded by scads of Kiwi fans who've been hooked on them since Day One. Again it's hard for me to classify just what style of rock these guys are but it's the kind of band you'd become madly addicted to in college and then think fondly of forever after, kind of like REM or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Yet another band whose albums I will buy one or three of over the next few months, and they too were great live.

The rest: The one band that didn't exactly bomb but did fall flat (and I wasn't the only one who thought this) was My Chemical Romance. I had seen them with Green Day about a year and a half ago, and while they do perform well and have lots of energy, I can say with much certainty that I am not a big fan of the 'emo'. MCR is really popular here in NZ, mainly because of their second album, Black Parade. But their performance just didn't seem to draw the crowd in, like the above bands' performances did. Maybe it's because they're very new, and also the only emo band of the lot I've mentioned. Perhaps if the crowd were made up of nothing but tweens and the like, you'd have thought MCR was the second coming of The Beatles. As it was, the three of us bailed early and headed for the smaller stages (I was off to see Kasabian and didn't want to miss one note) and the review in the paper the next day pretty much mirrored my sentiments above. They weren't bad just... eh. Next.

But the organizers did an excellent job of setting this event up and pulling it off, as they managed to shlep 44,000-odd people around the stadium and show them a rollicking good time. The fans I encountered were all so polite and well-behaved for people getting their 'rock' on, but perhaps it was all that ganja I smelled in the air that kept everyone so mellow. Also, not entering the mosh pit has also skewered my opinion of the masses towards the positive, as nobody tried to clobber me or shove me into a hulking mosher.

But that was it for the concert, and I'm so glad I went! I followed Steed and Christina back to their house in Tauranga (TOU-rong-uh) and hung out with them yesterday and today. They are yet another very friendly and nice couple of Kiwis I have met and they were great hosts. Christina is Andrew's sister, and Andrew is one of the vets I work with down here in the Hutt. He's the one who had me over for their family Christmas. Christina is a drama and dance teacher at an all-girls school, while Steed is a builder. Tauranga is a beautiful place and is right on the Bay of Plenty, which opens onto the Pacific Ocean.

There is an interesting and eye-catching large hill that juts out from the shore, sort of like a piece of land that wants desperately to be an island but the mainland won't let go of it. It's called Mount Maungaraki and in typical Brooksian fashion, I forgot to take my camera along with me to our hike around it. But I did get some decent shots of the countryside on my (eight hour) drive up to and back from Auckland which I just can't be arsed to upload right now. But if you're very good and very keen, I'll upload them for you!

So I had a very Kiwi weekend as Steed put a few kebabs and sausages on the barbie and we all hung out and watched the cricket. We lost to Aussie, unfortunately, although there's no shame in that as they're the best in the world at it right now, and at the very least I came away with a full understanding of how the game is played. I don't feel like such a foreigner now! I'm not as hooked on cricket as I am on rugby, but I can watch it and understand it and chat a bit about it now.

Other good news from the weekend: Da Bears are back in the Superbowl! I'll so be watching that, although beating Peyton Manning and Co. will not be easy, yet it was either them or Tom Brady and Co., so pick your poison there. Go Bears!

Hope everyone else's weekends were good and I'll be posting again real soon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Zunes!


It's now January 15th so it must be time for me to post about yet another cool gadget I've been craving.

All right, so the 15th day of the 1st month has absolutely no significance regarding my avarice for uber-geeky toys, but my headline writer is on holiday so you'll just have to bear with me.

I have retired the Sony Reader to the back burner for the now, as I am chocka-block full of 'real' books at the moment, so until I chew threw all of those I cannot justify purchasing a flash electronic book.

The Reader is also taking a back seat now because I've just read my latest issue of WIRED Magazine and every time I do that, I discover there are scads of new gizmos out there that I realize I just have to have! It's really quite disheartening to read this magazine sometimes, excellent though it is. I'm halfway convinced that in the not-too distant future I'll open the newest edition to find they are discussing the latest model of holodeck for your home, or how to have a replicator installed in your car so you can have that hot Earl Grey tea on your drive to work. Technology really is racing ahead these days.

Well, duh, Brooksie.

But the latest gotta-have-it gadget I've been frothing over is the new Zunes, from Microsoft. Yes, I realize I should just as well barter my soul away to Beelzebub since I'm picking Bill Gates over Steve Jobs (Apple), but the latest dope on the iPod has me wanting to reach for a Zunes instead. Especially for the kind of cash layout involved - and don't even get me started on the prices of accessories!

The stock woes of Apple notwithstanding right now, I'm also concerned that they seem to be getting a bit snarky with what exact content is allowed to be played on their iPods versus what isn't. The Zunes player seems to have a much more 'open source' approach to files and sharing, and they also have an FM tuner on there - something I don't believe is available on the iPod.

I am an avid iTunes user and am amped that it is finally available to us here in New Zealand, as of just about a month ago. The software is top-notch and I've always pulled for Apple from the very beginning, for a number of reasons. But dollars are hard to come by these days, so if I'm going to fork it over for an MP3 player, I'm thinking long-term here and you really just can't beat the prices of a new Zunes with all of its features.

I've really cut back on my spending on such frivolous things for the most part, only allowing myself the occasional macchiato from Starbucks (a venti one, made with soy milk) and the odd used book or three (all sizes, and no soy). But there is an apt reason for my wanting this particular hunk of silicon and metal, and that is it would serve to make my hikes to and from Cannon Point much more enjoyable.

You know how it is with something like exercise: there's that initial burst of enthusiasm you have as you set out to try and do it three or four times a week. But once the novelty wears off, the initial rush of your routine begins to ebb and before you know it, it's difficult to become motivated again. This is particularly true with walking/climbing, especially if it's the same route every time. Don't get me wrong - the view from above is extraordinary and on most clear days I can see right into downtown Welly. But I must be getting a little jaded for even that fine sight is beginning to become less surreal, so I am looking for other sources of inspiration.

Being able to listen to the latest podcasts* of "Pardon The Interruption" on my Zunes while hiking to and fro would double my reasons for getting out of the house and taking those hikes!

The odd bit of music wouldn't hurt, either.

* I'm aware of the irony of using my Zunes to listen to podcasts, but all's fair in love and war, dontcha know.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A bit of House and Laurie


Am I too old for role models? Is it too late in life to have someone that, you know, you want to be?

I'm not sure there are rules on such things, but all I can say is that in the past half-year I've really become aware of just how great a person Hugh Laurie is.

Sure, I've been a big fan of House, M.D. ever since the first season, but like most Americans (initially - including the executive producer of House, Bryan Singer) I had no clue that Laurie was British. This is mostly due to the fact that he has adopted a flawless American accent, but also in some small part because until this show, he hadn't been in anything memorable that was easily seen by U.S. audiences.

In England he's been well-known since the 1980's, in large part because of his excellent work in successful series like A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Blackadder, and Jeeves & Wooster. The BBC network and all of its programming are much more part of the pop culture mainstream down here in New Zealand than they are in the States, although there is no denying the steady growth of the BBC's popularity in recent years back home. But until I came over here, I had never heard of any of the above series that Laurie was in, save for Blackadder, and then only because of Rowan Atkinson's acclaim ("Mr. Bean" himself) and not Laurie's.

Seeing "House" in period satire, playing a total twit and dressed as an aristocrat was nothing but a pleasant (and hilarious) surprise. Since renting (then purchasing, natch) the Blackadder series, I have made a steady but voracious path through most of Laurie's television works. I am now the proud owner of A Bit and Jeeves & Wooster now as well, and I've given them all several repeat viewings.

Again, no need to remind me of my lack of social life. I sent away for one of those in the mail weeks ago, and it still hasn't arrived yet! So zip it.

Anyways, to all of you House fans out there (and I'd assume most of you like Laurie as well as the show, unless you are so repulsed by his portrayal of the intensely caustic doctor that you care not for his 'real' persona), I'd highly recommend any and all of these BBC classics to watch. Only then will you appreciate just how excellent the man is at acting. Hell, performing in general. I see that he was just guest host of Saturday Night Live (and damn it all, I missed it!) and that on there you get a glimpse of his musical talents. I remember from some episodes of House that you see Laurie playing the piano, and possibly the guitar as well, but I don't remember him singing.

The chemistry between he and Stephen Fry makes the both of them better, and you cannot watch any of the aforementioned BBC series and not take notice of the excellent Fry as well. It's easy to be a fan of both actors, and hopefully in a future series of House we'll be treated to having Fry as a guest on the show. That will be a real keeper and I can't wait to see what they do with it. The show's writers will be very hard pressed indeed to keep Fry & Laurie from taking over the show themselves!

The one other thing that sort of puts Laurie 'over the top' for me as a role model is his ability to write. As talented an actor, singer, and musician as Laurie is, he's equally remarkable as an author. Even though I knew how good he was on-screen, I sort of scoffed at the notion that he'd make for a quality writer as well. The man can't be that good, can he?

Oh, but he can. If you are an avid reader like myself, do yourself a favor and check out his lone novel (to date), called The Gun Seller. It is nothing earth-shattering but it is an engaging work and highly entertaining. There is a script in development somewhere about it, and Laurie's second novel is due out September 2007, so I am eagerly anticipating that.

I may be preaching to the choir here if you are already as big a fan of Laurie's as I am. Then again, he's so damned talented you might just as well hate him. But to see his earlier comedic works and to see him now as Gregory House is to appreciate just how much range this guy has as an actor. For example, look at a still shot of his House character and it's almost chilling how much that role has transformed Laurie. For the now.

I am hoping for a reprise of Fry & Laurie one day, but both men are so busy now I'm not sure that's a realistic hope. Perhaps if I hone my writing and acting talents quite a bit more (quite a lot more), and then just learn to play the guitar, piano and harmonica, and then learn to sing, and find a comedy partner as versatile and formidable as Stephen Fry, I can pick up where that show left off!

Cha! And monkeys might fly out of my butt.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

R.I.P. Bob

Today was a sad day indeed, as we had to put our beloved Bob the cat to sleep. Sometime last night he was hit by a car, as today we noticed he wasn't around like usual in the morning. We got a phone call in the early afternoon, and a neighbor of the clinic's found him in their courtyard. Seems he was lying on his side but when they went to try and pick him up, he scurried away. Even to the end, his alley cat instincts came through.

His left hind leg was shattered and he was in shock when he was brought to us. These past two weeks Bob had been steadily going downhill, as he lost a lot of weight and his arthritis was really wearing him down. It was a family decision (that's what we are, Bob's family) and we decided it would be kindest to put him to sleep. I really didn't want to have to be the one to do it, but somehow I always knew it would be me. He went gently and many a tear were shed, but we couldn't let our stalwart mascot suffer any more and for a cat to live to the advanced age of eighteen is quite remarkable - especially for an outdoor cat on a busy street.

I'll always remember him for his quiet but confident presence, his lordly manner, and his cheeky habits of always trying to sneak a hand-out in the break room. I do have a fitting sort of final memory of him. The other day, as I was leaving work, I cast a glance over my shoulder back at Bob (as I often do). Having just been turned out for the night, he was in the clinic driveway, with his gaze fixed on the horizon at something that caught his interest. Could have been a bird, or another cat, or maybe some people out for a stroll. Whatever it was he saw, when I got to my car and turned around again to look at him, he was gone.

And so he is gone now, off on some distant horizon, chasing prey and doing outdoor cat things.

Cheers, Bob.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Can't take me anywhere

First off, let me just wish everyone a very Happy New Year. As I write this, it's still 2006 back home on the east coast (this is a shout-out to all my peeps in Virginia, yo yo yo!), but I've always liked a little bit of time travel. So, in a very "Groundhog Day" kind of way let me say that I hope your experience ringing in 2007 is as great as one as I had last night.

That is, all except for the part where I spilled red wine all over the hosts' carpet. Yes, I am a freakin' moose apparently. There I was, talking to Martin and Amy, a New Zealand couple whose youngest son plays in-line hockey over here and wants to one day play ice hockey in Canada, when I somehow managed to tip over a nearly-empty wine glass that was resting on a CD case behind me. It wasn't my glass, as it happens, but I guess during the conversation I had managed to drift backwards a bit while shifting in place while talking, as you do.

Or maybe it's just me that does that, but even if you do as well, it was with a rather graceless shuffle that I suddenly sent the glass tumbling. Luckily there wasn't the sound of shattering glass, however you could certainly hear the 'galumph' sound that liquid makes when it spills forth and onto the floor. And down the wall. And all over the top of the CD case and two CD's lying there.

The hosts, Lorraine and Antony, are tremendously friendly and nice people and they told me several times not to worry about it, everything would be fine. A veritable congregation of guests had gathered round the hosts, and their daughter appeared with a roll of paper towels. After Lorraine had scrubbed the wall and case free of red wine, Antony had knelt down to scrub at the several dark stains in the carpet. One guest said that pouring lots of salt over the stains and leaving it overnight would do the trick, so this they then did.

I cracked a lame joke about how at least the CDs were safe, as I dried them off with a paper towel and inspected the discs inside. The joke was that, being that they were Early 80s compilations, they were far more important than the rug or wall and that since they were safe, all was well. The daughter laughed and again Lorraine and Antony were so good about the whole thing, as Antony put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Don't worry about a thing, mate, it's going to be all right."

Still, I felt a bit bad as while leaving a little later, there I saw Lorraine again inspecting the carpet. I sure hope that salt trick works!

It was just one of those things, and of course this wasn't a malicious spilling of the wine or anything like that. Had I wanted to be an unruly house guest I would have done something like torn the toilet roll dispenser off the wall while trying to use it to rise from the floor in the bathroom. But, unlike last year, there were no tequila shots and absinthe cocktails waging a war in my bloodstream, so fortunately I didn't do any real harm to my hosts' drywall this year.

I'd really like to get Lorraine and Antony a gift, not only for hosting such an excellent party, but for being so good about my clumsy faux pas. A bottle of wine normally makes for a wonderful gift, especially down here, however I think the irony of gifting them with more wine might be a little much for me. Any suggestions on a gift? Steam cleaner for the carpet perhaps?

But let me stop whingeing and tell you about this party. It was fantastic. I met so many friendly Kiwis and really enjoyed myself. Lots of them had been to the States at some point, and I got into a lengthy discussion with one of them about New Jersey and the airport in Newark and I-95 and how, well, even though Jersey is beautiful these parts of it would lend the casual passer-through to the conclusion that it is a grey, sooty dump. I also even got an NFL update from one of them who gets ESPN as he told me that the Giants beat the Redskins and earned their way into the playoffs.

They had a great spread of finger food that they brought around at regular intervals to us guests, of which there were about thirty. There were barbecued prawns, tiny egg rolls, blocks of camembert and brie cheese with crackers, and then at the end there was a marvelous array of desserts. Tiny eclairs, Greek New Year's cake (awesome!), lemon tarts, apple and almond cake, fresh strawberries, and a whole bunch of other trays of stuff that I couldn't fit onto my little plastic plate. When they weren't putting out a great spread they were going around making sure everyone's drinks were topped up and they kept a great bunch of music playing in the background. The music was a mix of bands like the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and a bunch of stuff from the late '70s and early '80s.

When midnight came and brought with it 2007, everyone joined hands and in a large, asymmetrical circle we all sang "Auld Lang Syne", punctuating its final verses by collapsing the circle then widening it back out repeatedly. It was really nice. Miraculously, nobody fell down, nor did any furniture catch fire as we lit off dozens of those 'poppers' that shoot confetti into the air.

One cool thing was that lots of their teenage kids were present at the party as well and they all had a really great time too. The drinking age is a lot lower here in NZ than it is in the States, so it was good for the parents to have their 'of age' kids around on New Year's instead of worrying about them being out and about somewhere. It was kind of like one of those chaperoned post-prom parties and if the kids thought it was 'uncool' to have the folks around during their New Year's party, it never showed. Everybody mingled freely and it was just a really great time.

I am really excited for 2007. It is during this year that I hope to obtain residency status here in New Zealand (the step before citizenship, which takes much longer). That is my biggest goal for this year. After that, I'm looking forward to a trip back home to the States, maybe one to visit Charles and Shannon in Vietnam before they leave in April, perhaps a trip to Aussie to see Danie and John at some stage.

And for next New Year's Eve, given my tradition of causing a bit of a ruckus in my hosts' homes, I am going to attend the next party situated inside one of those baby saucers. You know the ones, with the sling-like seat in the middle of a round innertube-like ring of protective hard plasitc, and the whole thing's on wheels? Yes, this way I can shuffle around to my heart's content, all without the danger of sending wine glasses flying or wall fixtures tumbling!

Have a safe and happy New Year's, everyone!