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Thursday, March 29, 2007

"I must've been on drugs five minutes ago."*

I have come to a realization in the past few days: This blog is an integral part of my New Zealand experience. Actually, it goes much beyond that, as it is very much a part of my life now.

After posting the other day, when I genuinely felt it was time for me to take a break, I was visited by an old, familiar and unwelcome sensation. That being, a feeling that I had erroneously broken off a relationship - for reasons that felt right at the time but upon reflection now felt absurd. I felt wrong, as if something important was now suddenly missing, and I badly wanted it back.

Okay, I’ll not be that maudlin about it, but suffice to say I made a big mistake.

And now I aim to correct it.

The other night, after a particularly draining and challenging experience in acting class, I came home to post and abruptly felt as if my blog had become stagnant. I looked at my ‘posts-in-waiting’ (of which there are about a dozen) and my recent topics and felt that things were getting a bit random. My themes were lurching all over the place, and not everything was having to do with New Zealand.

In similar fashion, I felt like everything I did in 'real life' was something I was critically evaluating for how ‘bloggable’ it was, and suddenly everything seemed fair game. From how many mochaccinos I had in one day (five) to my strange habit of getting to the last few knife-loads of peanut butter at the end of the jar and realizing it required far too much effort to scoop it all out of there and onto the sandwich. So I’d just buy a new jar and start all over again. But I wouldn’t throw out the old jar, since I didn’t want to waste anything, as there would be nearly a whole sandwich's worth of peanut butter in the original jar! So my thriftiness, combined with a weakness for the allure of that smooth, drool-inducing surface of a newly-opened jar of peanut butter, has served to give me this particular quirk. And about four open jars of peanut butter in the pantry.

I wasn’t sure what was worth writing about anymore and what was truly interesting and meaningful to me or to anyone who cared to read about it. So I felt like it was time to force a little distance between myself and the blog for a while, knowing that I could never truly stop writing it. Just that I wanted to break out of a rut I felt I had fallen into and to gain a fresh perspective.

Something along the lines of how, when you finish writing something for school, it’s best not to immediately proofread it but rather put it in a drawer for a few nights - if not a couple of weeks (depending on your deadline) - and use a set of fresh eyes to critically evaluate it later on.

But I just can’t put this blog down, as I had stated it, even for a little bit. So chastise me for the ‘false start’ (or stop, as it were) and please accept my apology for giving you all the run-around! I love writing this blog and have found that I cannot enjoy my day without thinking about it and viewing the world with more of a writer’s eye. It has become an inseparable part of my whole New Zealand experience, and to broaden it out quite a bit, part of my life in general.

I am Brooksie, and I am a blog-aholic!

*As spake by Farmer Ted in that glorious 80's movie, Sixteen Candles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spiral Out, Keep Going

Wanted to share a little something with you here. This should provide some insight into what drives my everyday philosophy. These words capture quite well how I view the world around me and how I approach it.

It is about that on a conscious and literal level, however it is also so much more. Perhaps in reading it you will get a glimpse of what I mean. Or you could go one better and listen to the words, which are part of my favorite song by Tool. It's called "Lateralus" and this is a part of that song:

Black then white are all I see in my infancy
Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me, let's me see
There is so much more and beckons me to look through to these
Infinite possibilities

As below, so above and beyond, I imagine
Drawn outside the lines of reason
Push the envelope, watch it bend

Feed my will to feel this moment
Urging me to cross the line
Reaching out to embrace the random
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come

I embrace my
Desire to
Feel the rhythm, to
Feel connected
Enough to step aside and
Weep like a widow, to
Feel inspired, to
Fathom the power, to
Witness the beauty, to
Bathe in the fountain, to
Swing on the spiral, to
Swing on the spiral, to

Swing on the spiral of
Our divinity and
Still be a human

I'm reachin' up and reachin' out, I'm reachin' for the random or
Whatever will bewilder me, whatever will bewilder me
And following our will and wind, we may just go where no one's been
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been

Spiral out
Keep going
Spiral out
Keep going
Spiral out
Keep going

Spiral out!
Keep going

I enjoy writing this blog immensely, and creating it has greatly improved my experiences here in New Zealand. Most of all, it has been outstanding to have an attentive audience for this, and for that I am humbly grateful to you all.

But I'm going to put it down for a little while, knowing only that I will certainly come back to it. Just not when. In the meantime, please keep the above words written by Maynard James Keenan in mind, and push the envelope a little bit.



Saturday, March 24, 2007

Theme Park: Rules Of Engagement

Maybe I've got Peter Pan Syndrome, or maybe I'll forever be a kid at heart (the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive), but one thing I will never outgrow is my love for amusement parks.

You see, there are many things I miss about living in the States - specifically, my part of the States. I lived right up the street from Busch Gardens Williamsburg, my favourite theme park of them all. Without veering too far off topic and going on and on about why I love this place so much (and believe me, I could - it would make you beg for vacation slides instead!), I'll just say that it is the prettiest damn theme park you could ever go to. It has a great mix of rides - it's perhaps a bit light on pure thrill rides - excellent food, good shows, awesome souvenirs, cool games, and outstanding scenery.

Busch Gardens is owned by Anheuser-Busch (the beer company, in case you're from Neptune or something) and they do a great job with animal conservation aside from running a kick-ass amusement park. They've set up a reserve for the American Bald Eagle, and they also have wolves and an aviary, both of which are very well kept!

While the staff are cordial and patient and a cut above the rest in the service industry, they are not yet on a par with those employed by Disney or the casinos in Vegas. I know, I know - odd combination of things to compare there, but trust me in this! Nowhere in the States was I ever treated as consistently like royalty like I was by the good people employed by Disney World or by the employees of various casinos on The Strip in Vegas, although obviously for far different reasons. One set of employees were trying to get me drunk and lose all my money in their expensive machines, while the others were just wanting to loosen me up so I'd gamble some more. Haha!

I keed, I keed.

All right, I was about to go off on yet another tangent there (from my previous tangent, no less) so let me wrench this train back onto the right track here. I swear, I think I need an editor for this blog...

Back to my love of all things theme park. I honestly love going to them probably more than anyone you know or have ever known. Even more than your little five-year old cousin or your average Family Of Four out on a summer vacation. I am a theme park FANATIC. All right, so I'm not so annoying about it that I will ruin your whole day there or anything. Not like I did when I was a moody twelve year old. But I have to tell you, I did once harbour the silly notion that one day I would get married at Busch Gardens. Yeah, like that would have really happened!

Can you picture this? Me and the future missus in the very front car of the Loch Ness Monster, the best man and maid of honor in the seats behind us, and the priest in the car behind them - all barreling down that first hill at sixty miles an hour, both of us shouting "I do!" as we rocket back up the hill on the other side!

Yeah, that never would have happened. I mean, I have had girls in love with me before, but not that much. What girl's most perfect day would sound like that?

No, really, what girl? Do you know her? Can I get her phone number?

Again... tangents. Sorry about that.

But I wanted to provide you, my Brooksian friends, with a short list of what my expectations are when it comes to going to a theme park. Because, as friends of mine, the odds over time of attending a theme park with me (read: being dragged to a theme park by me) approach 100%. It is a near-certainty of life, such as death and taxes, that in so knowing me you will end up at Busch Gardens Williamsburg with me, standing in the queue for the Big Bad Wolf. Planning where you will eat dinner. Having just ridden the bumper cars at Der Autobahn next door. Smelling the popcorn and cotton candy at the stall just outside the queue.

You get the idea. So here is the list, and let me just say that they are more of a guideline than a rule. Just like the Pirate's Code according to Captain Barbossa!

1. Have a good time. This seems like a no-brainer, but it really is the first rule of theme parks. Sometimes, and believe me I've been a part of this, you can fall victim to over-planning. If you try and force too much structure on the day ("No, no, NO! We are supposed to be done eating at 11:30 so we can get over to Tomorrowland in time to see the alien show!") you will kill the spirit. You can also succumb to the scenario where everyone is pulling in five different directions at once, so nobody is happy because they all want to do different things at different times. Or they don't want to do certain things and so draw a line in the sand and absolutely refuse to do something in particular. This rule segues naturally into rule number...

2. Go with the flow. Again, kinda obvious but oh-so-important. Sure, you might really have a jones on for riding that monster coaster at the back of the park, but it's going to be there ALL DAY so just relax if everyone else you're with is more keen to spend the first few hours just strolling along and taking things as they come. If somebody really liked that last ride, the one that whipped you back and forth like you were stuck in a gigantic egg beater that was being wielded by an even more gigantic ogre who was drunk as hell, then by all means go on it with them again. If you haven't died from vertigo or vomiting, that is ...

3. Maximize the day. This one is starting to get a bit more greedy, and I understand that, but bear with me on this one. Theme parks are anything but cheap these days, and they for the most part are so chocka-block full of stuff to see and do (some of which you'll want to see and do TWICE!) that you really do have to get to the park very close to when it opens. And - brace yourself for this one - not leave until very close to when it closes! Hell, if I had it my way, I'd be the first schlub they let in through the gates as they unlocked them in the morning and the guy they had to chase around the hedges a few times just to get him to finally leave the damned park so they can all go home and get some sleep.

You start to see how much energy I have for places like this ...

4. Eat the food. It's been very rare indeed that I've ever gone to a theme park with someone who didn't want to (or had no choice but to) eat inside the park, but I mainly put this here to avoid one particular Lame Excuse. That being, oh it's too expensive to eat here so let's go out somewhere for breakfast, show up to the park late, ride a few things, then head home when it's time to eat dinner. Or - even worse - let's take the tram back out to the parking lot, which is miles away from everything, open up the trunk of the steaming hot car, grab a cooler full of cheap warm sandwiches and even warmer Kool-Aid, then park our sorry asses at one of those picnic benches in the Lunchyard Of The Damned* and eat our boring and bland food while we can still hear all those people inside the park having an awesome time riding everything.

Ugh, no way. At least as far as Busch Gardens goes, the food there is excellent, and I know how expensive it is, but trust me when you see those corned beef sandwiches stacked a mile high, or the mile-high chocolate German forest cake next to it, and the gigantic slab of pickle further down the line, and... and... Well, you start to see the picture. Another bonus if we're at Busch - I always have a season pass there, so that's good for 10% off all meals!

5. Try and see and do it all. At least humour me in this. I understand if your dogs start barking (translation: feet start hurting) or if the teacup ride is too much for you. But it's a buzz-kill for me when somebody categorically rules out doing something and will throw a huge grump if anyone even suggests that they would actually like to do it. "No, I don't want to see Frontierland because pirates are gay and I don't really give a rat's ass about Tom Sawyer, or whoever. You guys can go but I'm going to sit right here and sulk until you come back."

Again, you've paid a lot just to get into this place, and unless something is obviously not for you (like Ariel's Little Mermaid's Grotto) then it's worth at least checking out. If it ends up sucking, we can all just leave!

There, that's it! Five simple rules. Trust me, I would never drag anyone into doing something they weren't interested in doing. I don't force people onto roller coasters if they're truly afraid of them, or nauseated by them. And many times I've gone to theme parks with friends and we've only spent the afternoon, or just gone for lunch and a couple of rides and that's it. But that's when we've all got season passes and we've already been to the park a half dozen times this season.

These rules refer more to that exceptional vacation experience, wherein you build the whole day around just going to the amusement park. You know, where someone asks you what you're doing on Saturday and your friend goes, 'Oh we can't, that's the day we're all going to Busch Gardens', and that's what that day is reserved for. In whole. Has a whole magical kind of feeling to it, and I hate to cheapen that magic in any way!

Thanks for indulging me and reading my rules, I hope you've enjoyed them. I suppose I could have just posted a shorter version of them, something that could have read like this:

YOU MUST HAVE |<----------THIS MUCH---------->| ENERGY


Right, well, now that we understand each other a little better, I hope I'll be seeing you at Busch Gardens Williamsburg sometime in the near future!

(And no, that wasn't a marriage proposal.)


*The Lunchyard Of The Damned is so named because it consists of two metal picnic benches that have been painted a pukey shade of orange, which is flaking away hopelessly and will get all over your shorts, thus branding you as one of The Damned who has had the misfortune of having had to sit way out here in No-Man's Land. These benches sit on a slab of cracked concrete and have a flimsy tree planted nearby that fails horrendously at providing you with any shade, so harsh is the sun in this spot. There will be a metal garbage can right next to the picnic tables that is overflowing with smelly trash which has served to attract a colony of voraciously hungry (and pissed off) yellow-jackets that are all too eager to dive-bomb your can of warm Coke and sting the bejesus out of you while you futilely try to swat them away from your soggy bologna, cheese and mustard sandwich, the white bread of which has turned an unhealthy shade of pink-yellow as the bologna has sort of MELTED (omygod I didn't know bologna could do that) and begun to become One with the slice of Velveeta and the French's mustard. Don't ever, ever be talked into visiting the Lunchyard Of The Damned. Should you still somehow end up there, pray for death.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Mighty Kea

Say hello to my little friend (this is a link to Sylvia Stuurman's website, source of the birdie picture). We have met only briefly, and this lone encounter consisted of me scaring him from his hiding place. He abruptly took flight, soaring up into the sky amidst a chorus of surprised squawks and a small cloud of green feathers and dried leaves.

You see, the friend in question is the cheeky Kea (so-named because they often shout 'keeaa' when taking to the air), a bird native to New Zealand and a member of the parrot species. We met on one particularly cold, wet and blowy winter day back in August, in Wellington’s Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Kate and Frank, two Americans who were just about to wrap up a three-month working tour of New Zealand, agreed to meet me earlier in the day and invited me along with them on their tour of the Sanctuary. It would be the first trip there for all of us.

And while the weather was bad, we still had a pretty good show put on by the different species of bird present – who if could not be seen, could certainly be heard by all. The Tui was especially impressive vocally, sounding not unlike R2-D2 of Star Wars fame.

Not only were the bird sounds great, but we managed a glimpse of the native Tuatara, an ancient lizard species, who appeared right on schedule in the exact spot on which the signpost said he’d be appearing. I swear it was just as if he was on the payroll! Must be all those nice fat Wetas (spider cricket type things) they keep feeding him that keep the Tuatara’s cooperative instincts intact.

But one of the birds I’d wanted to see most was the kea. I had read about this crafty little bird long before I got to New Zealand, having been warned unfailingly about him by three different travel guides and yet another guide that is dedicated solely to tramping.

You see, the kea is not only a highly intelligent bird, but he possesses a mischievous streak about a mile wide. These birds prize chewy bits of rubber, such as might be found on the windshield wiper blades of your car, or even the rubber skirting around the car windows, serving to keep the inside (and thus you) waterproof.

A kea will happily flap down – right in front of you – onto your car as you park at the head of the trail you mean to tramp. They’ll use their powerful beaks to yank all the rubber off of your wiper blades, then they’ll proceed to chomp whatever other chewy bits are featured on your car. It seems that the more useful and valuable the rubber, the more inclined the kea is to want to destroy it. How annoying, right?

But what fun they are having! They’ll even root through your backpacks, searching out any and all elastic loot that can be destroyed by their powerful beaks. Eating said objects is purely secondary enjoyment, for the kea seems to delight far more in the prospect of playing with things before actually ingesting them. (Kind of like how the cat toys with the mouse before he finally kills and eats him.)

There is one sad consequence to this brash behaviour, however. It seems that lately the surprisingly beloved kea is falling prey to its own peculiar failing. That is, they are suckers for sweet-tasting objects. Believe it or not, the heavy metal lead is rather sweet-tasting, and it is also soft. So it is a double-whammy for the smart but bored kea, whose two chief vices seem to be chewing on the soft and sweet stuff in life.

(There's also controversy surrounding whether or not they are sheep-killers, so you can imagine why they are reviled by some here in New Zealand. But I digress.)

Recently large numbers of keas have been found dead or dying from lead poisoning, a toxicity that leads an animal to destroy its own red blood cells rapidly. Lead also has neurological side effects, and it’s certainly no fun way to go. Ever heard of 'plumbism'? That's lead toxicity. As a completely random aside, it is now felt that this is what caused all those absinthe drinkers to go insane in the membrane, instead of the absinthe itself (and what glorious stuff that is). You see, they favoured sipping their 'green fairies' out of lead cups, so unbeknownst to them at the time, they were slowly poisoning themselves with their drinking glasses. Lead made them loco far more so than the mildly hallucinogenic absinthe could have done.

But again, I digress. It only takes a little bit of lead to be absorbed from the intestinal tract to become fatal, so even if a kea manages to swallow and then pass even the smallest amounts of this soft metal, he is still a potential goner.

Lots of these dead keas are turning up on the south island’s west coast, in part because that is where most of them live, but also because there is a high number of trampers and climbers in this region. Lead comes from all sorts of sources (old buildings - especially on farms - for instance), but some of these keas aren’t even finding it high up in the hills. They’re also ingesting it from around households, and the kea’s unquenchable curiosity regarding humans, combined with the slow but steady expansion of humans into kea territory, are leading to this disturbing uptrend in kea poisonings.

The word is out about this down here in New Zealand, and though I have not (yet) been the unwitting victim of a kea car-stripping or backpack-raiding, I feel certain that even the Kiwis who have had this unpleasant (though comical) experience would not want to see the kea meet an untimely demise.

Shamelessly large is the number of native New Zealand birds that have fallen afoul of introduced predators (human and otherwise) in the past 150 years, not least of which are the Moa and the Huia. Until now, the kea has avoided ending up on this notorious list, but now they are inching closer to it, having just been downgraded to 'Vulnerable', the lightest status under the "Threatened" category.

I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, and by no means am I going to go all ‘activist’ on you and rail against the burgeoning human population or the tragedies of Man versus Nature. Human expansion is inevitable, and thankfully lead is used in fewer and fewer circumstances these days.

I feel good about the kea’s future here in New Zealand, as the Kiwis (the people, not the birds, haha) do not take such matters lightly and no matter which government is in place (Labour or National), they seem to place the welfare of indigenous species high on the country's agenda. New Zealand was a land of few natural predators prior to the first Polynesians' arrival, so it was truly a haven for birds. The moa was a large flightless bird, with unprotected nests, which made it hopelessly easy to be preyed upon by introduced dogs, rodents and humans. Similar dismal fates awaited dozens of other species when the Europeans arrived centuries later.

I also don't think any of these lead poisonings are intentional, although it is ironic that an animal is said to have a ‘lead deficiency’ if it is a nuisance in any way. (Implying that it needs to be shot - bullets traditionally being made of lead, you know.)

Well, I’m sure if someone was cheesed off enough by a kea’s unwelcome visitation upon their precious car, they’d go a more direct route to dispatch of the kea than by just leaving out a trail of poisonous lead ‘crumbs’. They’d probably opt for the more traditional 'projectile' method of delivery instead!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Now is the time when we dance!"

Work Permit Status: ACCEPTED
New Expiration Date: March 21, 2009

Kia Ora, Brooksie!

Your work and play session here in New Zealand has been extended another two years. We have noticed that you like our cafes and our outdoor walks, and this has been a check in your favour.

We have also noticed that you have a long way to go here in New Zealand, with about fifty zillion kajillion coffee houses and walks left to try - and that's just in the Wellington region alone. So hop to it, mister!

Don't forget to submit your application for residency, sort of now-ish. We invited you over two months ago and you've only got about three weeks left before that particular offer is off the table. We know you like going to the doctor and having your blood drawn and all that, but please don't let that be a reason to let this invitation slide just so you can do it all over again. There's a good fellow.

Your blog is no more than a mere blip on our radar, even though you've been added to the NZ City collection of personal web pages - of which there are hundreds. So you'll have to do better than that, Brooksie, to really stand out. Might we suggest getting published or perhaps landing a role in one of our many theatrical productions? That's right, Carpe freakin' Diem and all that.

OK before we let you go we'll leave you with this strange new video that's taking the world by storm! It would have been good enough for "Sprockets", ach meine Lieben!

His Hands Are... Bananas

Friday, March 16, 2007

Red Rocks Redone and Lake Taupo

Photobucket Album

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Why not set out extra chairs for the March Hare and the Mad Hatter?!"*

So I'm sitting across from Albert Einstein in Mojo the other day, which is a cool new cafe I was told to visit on the recommendation of a friend named Rachey - and boy, does she ever know me well. What a cool place!

It was pure kismet that I ran into Al there, so you can imagine my surprise when I beheld his unmistakable coiffure on the far side of the counter.

After placing my order for a mochaccino I took my seat against the wall, opposite the famed German physicist. Right away, I noticed how comfortable Mojo's bench seats were, with their leather finish and perfect width. The entire ambiance of this little cafe was quite welcoming and relaxing. Tucked away on a street corner that is busy with car traffic but not so much with pedestrians, it has rapidly become a favorite spot of mine in which to indulge in a little caffeine, a little solitude, and a lot of unwinding.

Not to mention a little hobnobbing with famous dead people.

"So Albert, how's things?" I asked.

"Wenn ich es nur gewußt hatte, ich wurde lieber der Schlosser," he said.

"Uh, Al, do ya mind not speaking German? I got people who are gonna want to read about this..."

"Ach! Ja doch! Sorry my friend, but I did not realize. Tell them that I said, 'If I had known, I would have been a locksmith'."

"Oh no, Albert, having a bad day?"

"Well, being dead is not all it is cracked up to be. You'd think that once you reach the afterlife, you finally get all the answers to life's mysteries. Bis nein! No, Brooksie, that is just the beginning..." Albert lamented, as our coffees arrived. Well, my one mocha and Al's four espressos that were set down before him.

"Got a big day ahead of you, Al?" I said, my eyes wide at the massive amount of caffeine on the table before us.

"You try being dead and coming back to life, sonny," Albert said in perfect deadpan. "This is my fifth round of these already. You've got some catching up to do!" he said with a twitch as he slammed back the first of the four tiny ceramic cups.

"Yes, well, ignoring that little dig that I am so boring I may as well be dead, I'll just ask you what you think of the music that's playing in here."

He started at me, expectantly, holding the second cup paused in mid-air.

I cleared my throat.

"So, Al, what do you think of the music that's playing in here?"

Einstein grinned, showing coffee-stained teeth. "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives," he said with a glint in his eyes.

"Ah, yes, I thought the funky jazz sound was very fitting as well. Sort of complements the buzz you get from the caffeine, yet is random enough to form a sort of white noise that allows you to focus on your partner or your book or your keyboard," I said, in a lame attempt to philosophize with the master.

"Do not speak to me of white noise, boy. You are in over your head on that one," Albert intoned sternly, though not without compassion.

"Aye, you have the right of it once again, my brilliant imaginary friend. I think I'll head to the next cafe, seeing as how the food selection here is tasty but limited. May just grab one of those Oranginas for the road, however..." I said as I stood from the bench.

"Sei unbesorgt auf euer Hindernisse stoßen Mathematik, ich sicherstellen du das mein sie sind überweigende."

"Albert, the German...?"

"Ach, ja ja ... I mean to say, 'Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics, I assure you that mine are greater'."

"Mm-hmm," I nodded as I tossed down some money onto the counter, where one of the friendly girls on staff scooped it up with a smile. "I think you mean to say, 'I'm too lazy to do the math in my head, so why don't you pay for these coffees instead?'"

Albert beamed at me. "You always were such a bright boy!"

I rolled my eyes as I waved goodbye to the eccentric old man, who I have to admit didn't look half-bad, all things considered.

I then headed uptown, to Newtown, for a favorite coffee spot I’ve recently adopted. It's literally right around the corner from where my acting class meets, so I decided to bowl into The Office for a spot of caffeine like I usually do before class begins.

The amicable girl with the illuminating smile who always seems to be working behind the counter greeted me and took my order. This time, I was having an Americano. I scanned the interior of the cafe, which really also doubles as a pub, with its flat-screen TV above the bar and full-service menu and tables. There is even a downstairs rec room, complete with another TV and a pool table, as well as things for the kiddies.

I took my usual seat at a table facing the large window that opens onto the busy Riddiford Street just outside, and produced a book from within one of my coat pockets (A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers).

Once again, however, I would be pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of two more long-lost make-believe (but living) friends. This time my wait for coffee would be filled not by the supremely engaging prose of Mr. Eggers, but instead by the high-octane company of Messrs. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

“Hi-ho, Peter, look what we have here!” said Stephen, obviously in the character of one of his many personae from their hit show, A Bit Of Fry & Laurie.

“Dammit, John, just look at him, will you? Sign of the times, this is …” lamented Hugh, right in sync with his comedy partner as always.

This was their 'boardroom drama' bit, wherein they take the piss out of overly energetic and Type-A American business types. Something that’s not hard to do.

“Hey there, fellas, what brings you to this part of town?” I said, trying to avoid being the target of their jokes. Again.

“’Town’ he says, Peter?! Like this city of Wellington isn’t big enough for his enormous American appetites,” Stephen/John said with a sneer, before belting back a shot of bourbon from a tumbler.

“Typical,” muttered Hugh/Peter as he regarded me with mock contempt from the side of his eye. He swirled bourbon in his own tumbler glass, and clearly it was 5 o’clock somewhere in the world for these guys to be hitting the piss already.

“Look, guys, I don’t know what you’re on about, but you-“

“Hah!” spat ‘John’. “I bet Marjorie put you up to this, didn’t she? Spying out the competition to make sure we don’t get a leg up on her! Dammit, you tell her it’s too late, Brooksie. We’ve got two legs and an ARSE up on her already, so she should just give up!” he cackled.

Marjorie is John’s ex-wife, and is a fierce business rival to he and his business partner Peter in everything they do. She’s ruined them in the health club ‘game’, the share trading ‘game’, and even the organized religion ‘game’, getting the best of them every time with her impeccable timing and charming ways.

But I am not Marjorie's stooge. No more than I am the Queen of England.

“Yes, she should just quit everything, full stop,” suggested ‘Peter’, as he poured himself and ‘John’ another snootful of bourbon each. “She’s finished, done. Over. Over and done with, full stop. Finished. All-stop, hold everything.”

“But the atmosphere in here is so great,” I stated. “It’s so roomy – but not drafty – and the lighting is perfect,” I said, a little defensively. “There are plenty of seats at the bar and even though there are many tables, you don’t feel crowded at all but rather nicely secluded. So it’s the perfect spot for a date, or just to spend some time sipping a latte and catching up on the latest novel.”

I took my coffee from the waitress as she brought it to my table and thanked her. As usual, the service here was always polite and prompt.

“Dammit, Brooksie! You can forget about her,” ‘John’ warned. “She’s one of ours now. No way are you going to lure her over to Marjorie’s side. I don’t care how many coffee shops she opens in the CBD! You haven’t even tried any of the food here yet – and it’s excellent!”

‘Peter’ nodded in agreement. “And we’re going to make this coffee shop the one that puts Uttoxeter on the damned map!” he threatened.

“It’s Newtown, Peter. Newtown,” Stephen whispered to Hugh, sotto voce.

Hugh cracked a huge grin, jesting and not insincere. “So how are ya, mate? Life treating ya good? How’s the flatting out in Upper Hutt going?”

“Yes, yes, how is the dear old flat, chap?” Stephen said, flashing a reptilian smile. “Still in the market for that house we showed you over in Seatoun? Marvelous views there. Simply stunning.”

I laughed as I took a sip of my drink. “Yeah, guys, life goes well. And it’s good seeing the two of you again, even if you are always performing.”

They were into their ‘estate agent’ bit now, sending up the stereotypical persona of bad realtors: slimy, repulsive and sickeningly eager to act as your best friend. At that, it was my signal to go, before I ended up either paying twice market value for a shoddy house or shooting the two of them dead for their overly-accurate portrayals of estate agents.

In any case, I was late for my next coffee with another dear friend, all the way back in the CBD.

As I strode hastily into Felix, Dr. Niles Crane was already there, wiping down his chair.

“You’re late, Brandon,” he said sternly, but not hostilely.

“I know, Niles, and I’m sorry for that. But I’ve had the most unbelievable day. Really most extraordinary,” I said apologetically.

Tucking away his omnipresent white handkerchief, he studied me for a moment and then said, “It’s all right, I was running a bit late myself actually. My meeting with my Bipolar Disorder group became a little chaotic when Dr. Schenkman’s Passive-Aggressives group sullenly refused to leave the room and began using sarcasm. Luckily, none of the bipolars were in a manic state.”

This made me laugh, even if it were at the expense of others. But then I always enjoy the younger Dr. Crane's (make-believe) company over coffee.

We were seated at one of many small tables set along the long floor-to-ceiling windows of Felix’s café. This was a prime spot of real estate for just such a venture, as you could see most of Wellington stroll by on any given weekday.

I gave a sudden start as I looked up at the coffee bar, realizing that in my haste to get to Niles’ table I hadn’t yet placed my order.

“No need to worry, Brooksie, I’ve taken care of it,” said the observant Niles.

“Thanks for that. What did you order?”

He grinned cleverly. “Oh, nothing too special. Just a new Zimbabwean blend, with a hint of vanilla and a whisper of cinnamon. I asked them for a moderate amount of foam, however, such as to suggest the clouds in a Monet painting but not so much as to be something drastic, like say from Edvard Munch's Scream.”

This was vintage Niles. “Sounds perfect, my friend. Told them to hold the nutmeg, though, didn’t you?”

He smirked. “Yes, you know how that inflames my stomach lining!”

“I know, I’m just kidding.”

The energy in Felix, at least on this day, was much different from that of the other coffee shops I had sampled so far. There was a sense of urgency in the air, although not one of impatience but more from people on the go. It mirrored the energy of the crowd outside, full of people moving swiftly to get to their varied destinations.

And I’m not sure if this has anything to do with it, but the long and slender shape of this bar might have had something to do with the pace of the crowd within. If I knew anything more about feng shui I could probably make an educated comment about it here, but I don’t know jack about it.

So I asked my friend Niles about it.

“Oh, yes, I see what you mean,” Niles agreed. “It’s like my gardener Yoshii explained to me, before he died in that elaborate hedge maze he created. It's all about how it directs the qi or energy of the room. The way the coffee bar parallels the windows along the length of this building, combined with the smooth, black polished surface of the bar, serve to give the flow of energy in here a very positive and direct feel.”

Suddenly, I felt dizzy.

“Ah, here’s our coffees now,” I said, as the waiter hurried them over to our table.

These drinks were in keeping with the high standard of coffee houses I’ve frequented all over Wellington. By that I mean they were of ample portion, perfect temperature, smartly presented on a saucer complete with serviette and a dusting of cocoa. Two fat marshmallows adorned the side of the mug on the saucer, and the impression of a silver fern floated on the head of foam at the top of the drink. We each had our own personal tea spoon as well. Three different types of sugar and artificial sweetener were at every table, along with cream.

“Perfect,” Niles pronounced as he took the first sip of his drink.

“Yep,” I agreed, ever so articulately, as I sampled mine.

“We’ll have to come here more often.”

“I agree, my fictitious friend!” I said with a smile.

But before I can meet the eminent Dr. Crane (either one - it's all made up, who cares?) at Felix again, I first have about thirty or so other cafes to explore before I can be satisfied.

And I don’t know about you, but the prospect of that intrigues me to no end!


* That is a quote from an episode of Frasier. The nature of this posting is strange, I grant you that. But I wanted to present these reviews of these coffee houses in a different way, that way being in the manner of having coffee with random people who have influenced me in some way. When I have coffee somewhere with a friend, I'll post that, too, and I believe you can easily spot the difference when that occurs! Also, I wrote all of these on my own before reading any of the linked reviews, so I was particularly surprised (and pleased) to see that the Frommer's reviewer got the same sort of impressions I received when I was at Felix. I'm not plagiarizing here, honest! If you like this format, let me know and I'll continue to use it. If not, fair enough, and I'll come up with something different. Hell, I may just do that anyway!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Kiwi-English Dictionary, Collegiate Edition

Here at Brooksie we're always hard at work on our next post. Our writers are always trying to make the most streamlined, entertaining, and memorable posts ever known to mortal man. We want you to come away from a spell at Brooksie feeling refreshed, enlightened, and - gosh-darnit - just all-around scintillating.

Well, until that happens, you'll have to settle for a post like this: a shameless re-hash of a previous missive which I hope you'll enjoy. I cannot guarantee that it'll leave you feeling all fizzy-like. Effervescent, even. But perhaps you'll feel a little sparkle, and that's all I'm gonna promise.

And no, I (we) do not have a multiple personality disorder or anything, so when I (we) write something like '...we're always hard at work' or 'our writers', I mean 'we' and 'our' in that universal, literary sense of 'me'. As opposed to the fractured-psyche/'talk amongst himself' sort of way.

Steve is the only crazy voice inside my head, and right now he's asleep.

So ssshhhhhhh.

I am sure you're waiting breathlessly for this next lesson in Kiwi slang! I, as your own personal ardent observer in the world of Kiwi, have broadened my knowledge of all things New Zealand. I have learned new (but not necessarily improved) terms, phrases, and lingo. I do it all for you.

So sit back (but not too far back), relax (but not too much - try and stay awake!), and enjoy (OK go for broke on this one) these new words for your vocabulary!

See also!

Kiwi-English Dictionary the First

Kiwi-English Dictionary 3: In 3-D!

Kiwi-English Dictionary 4: The Final Chapter of The Return of the Dream Master

snog and pash - as far as I can tell, these mean more or less the same thing. That is, to make out. Kiss. Heavy petting, for you Baby Boomers (heh). Snog seems like the verb, and pash is the noun, as in "Brooksie was spotted in a trendy nightclub having a bit of a pash with Jennifer Love Hewitt." Or, "Did you see those two snogging at the party? They didn't care who saw them."

chocka-block - or just 'chocka'. Filled up to the max. Packed. "The streets were just chocka this weekend with people at the Carnival!"

can do - A Kiwi response to something when you ask for help, usually in reference to work. Reflects the Kiwi 'can-do' attitude faithfully. "Could you help me with the nail trim on this German Shepherd?" "Can do, yeah."

fingers crossed - as if to say, 'good luck'. I like this one! It's rapidly become a part of my everyday speech, dontcha know.

bit of a worry - in typical understated Kiwi fashion, this phrase deceptively describes a situation that is quite a lot more than just 'a bit' of worry. "Did you hear about Dave? Lost both his arms in that freak farming accident." "That's a bit of a worry, ay?"

ay - often added to the end of statements, sometimes with a rhetorical question mark, at others as a prompt for agreement. Not quite the same as the Canadian 'eh' in pronunciation, but very similar in context. As far as this yank can tell, ay.

all up - in total. "But you said it was only going to be four hundred dollars all up for my new rims! Beyotch!*"
*(They don't say 'beyotch' over here. I just added that cuz we Americans love to say it so much. Dave Chapelle rules.)

stoush - conflict, disagreement, often with fisticuffs but not always. "There was a bit of a stoush going on at the Sevens last year, but this year everybody got on really well."

cruisy - easy-going, relaxed, adventurous, fun. I've only heard it used by women, and then only to describe either (a) guys, (b) their day, or (c) a club. Have yet to hear a guy use this term, including yours truly.

harden up - in America the definite equivalent is 'suck it up' or 'quit yer bitchin' or 'wah!' or a million similar phrases. Very often followed by the term...

softcock - wimp, whiner, wussy. You get the idea. Persistent whingeing (I refer you to the first edition of this dictionary for that one!) will almost certainly earn a 'Harden up, softcock' comment.

sook - noun, similar to wally so I'm using it here as well. Closest I can think of is 'crybaby' or perhaps someone who's overly sentimental. "My partner always likes those movies but then she's such a sook when it comes to Disney."

soppy - heard when describing something sooks often like, like sappy (how's that for a synonym!) or mushy films or novels. Interestingly, many films held dear by many Americans and Brits (like "Love Actually" or "The Princess Bride") are seen as way too soppy by many Kiwis. But then again they love the game of cricket, so go figure.

won't be tidy - like saying "It's not gonna be pretty!", in that sort of context. "Sure, I'll come and help you tranquilize and capture those two wild horses, but it won't be tidy!"* *(Mad props to my vet friend Dave, whom I met on the fishing trip and this is from a true story he was telling me. Cuz that's what guys do on fishing trips. They tell stories. And drink.)

figjam - I have a suspicion this one isn't Kiwi in origin, but I had never encountered it until reading the sports section one day. It usually means 'F**k I'm Good, Just Ask Me' and is the unofficial nickname of Phil Mickelson, an American golfer (who can't carry Tiger's jock, but I digress). This particular paper, though, was reporting on Phil's latest collapse in a tournament, when he squandered yet another victory on the final day, and they thus dubbed him 'F**k I'm Gumby, Just Ask Me'. Haha. That's really probably only going to be funny to my fellow sports fans in the audience. Gosh, I sure hope there are some sports fans in my audience...

tucker - food, glorious food! "Milly's getting really fat, you know. Time to cut back on the tucker a bit." (Milly being an overweight Labrador Retriever, by the way).

packing a sad - something a sook would do. Like throwing oneself a pity party. Nauseating.

have a squizz - although it has heavy urinary overtones (now doesn't that sound smelly), it actually means to have a quick look at. "I'll have a squizz at the directions, see if I can't figure out how to get that timer to stop flashing '12:00'."

nutter - crazy person, usually in an eccentric way. But sometimes just downright ga-ga. "You think emo bands are the best? You are such a nutter!" Sounds awfully much better with the Kiwi accent ('nut-TUH') than it would in, well, American (as in, rhyming it with 'butter'. Although, the Nutter Butter is one damn fine cookie).

nappy - baby diaper. Short for 'napkin' which actually means the very same thing, although they are coming around on this. So when you ask for napkins at the restaurant, be prepared for a bit of confusion and laughter at your expense! They call what you'd use to wipe your mouth after eating a 'serviette' round here, so remember you read it here first. Also, while I'm on the subject of word confusion, do NOT ever refer to that touristy little velcro and nylon satchel you wear around your waist as a 'fanny pack'. Fanny is a dirty word down here and it refers to a woman's... well, woman-y place. Big difference. Again, you read it here first.

aluminium - read that word carefully. Notice the extra 'i' towards the end? Well I didn't at first. And I still forget. But dammit, we Americans say this one right and the Kiwis have it wrong! Saying 'aluminium' just sounds so stupid. But trust me, to the Kiwis, so does saying 'aluminum'. If I want a cheap laugh from a Kiwi, all I have to do is say 'aluminum' in my white-boy, Virginia accent. Gets 'em every time.

All right, I think that ought to hold you for now! Go on out and start using these words and phrases, it's the only way you'll ever learn them for good. Besides, don't you want to practice up for your trip down here to see me?

There will be a pop quiz sometime next week on these new words. But don't worry - it's 'open browser'.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mellow In The Bottle

Start to finish time

A whole day. Eh, who cares what time it is? Just relax and enjoy the whole process.


5 good friends
1 arts, crafts & food festival in wine country
1 concert with Bic Runga and her sister Boh at a winery estate
1 blanket large enough to hold 5 friends comfortably and safely off the grass
1 designated driver
1 set of benevolent parents to mind the kids for the day
1 random veterinary client (Ubiquitous. No substitutions.)
3 large pizzas with a variety of toppings on each
2 friendly, bubbly next-door neighbours to liven up the evening
1 extra concert ticket, to be given away impulsively


Preheat outdoor temperature to a cozy 22 degrees Celsius. Scatter clouds across the sky - liberally at first, but not too thick so that they may separate nicely later on, allowing the afternoon sun to peek through at random intervals. For best results, use the Wairarapa Valley.

Absolutely no rain. Excess moisture of any kind will ruin the concert portion of this recipe badly.

Have two friends arrange to pick up the designated driver en route to the destination. Can be a little late, but that's all right - especially if said tardiness is to help a new flatmate move in. Besides, you have the whole day ahead of you so what's the rush?

Remaining two friends should arrange to have children taken in by kindly, angelic parents. Reserve some time for chatter with the two friendly neighbours, who may or may not appear unexpectedly.

Blend friends together once they are all arrived, preferably at a house in Greytown that has enough room to accommodate everyone later. Drive together in one vehicle over to neighbouring town of Martinborough. Place smallest of friends in middle of back seat for best results, but don't sit on the seatbelt. Mind the empty bottles of "V" in the front seat.

Park anywhere in Martinborough for the festival. Outdoors should be pleasantly heated to proper temperature at this stage so extra walking is just fine. Disperse friends at will throughout festival, sampling the assortment of arts, crafts and food along the way. Be sure to take in a good mix of each or optimal results cannot be guaranteed.

Be pleasantly surprised to run into a favourite client of the vet hospital. Day should be a little brighter but try not to linger.

After all five friends are sated on crafts and food, transfer them to Alana Estate, site of the day's main course. Timing is everything, so do not try to walk all the way there but also do not rush. Designated driver can be used or saved for later in the recipe.

A steady accumulation of pictures and movies is encouraged throughout the creation of this dish. If camera has not been broken out already, do so now, but try hard not to look too much like a tourist. Kiwi crowd may be amused at overly-American displays of accent and/or enthusiasm with the camera.

And remember the sunblock. Those clouds offer no protection and there is a hole in the ozone layer. This means you, designated driver!

At entrance to winery estate (Alana Estate is best), hand extra concert ticket to security guard. Instruct guard to hand out free ticket to anyone he wishes, to serve as good deed for day. This sweetens recipe to some degree, but also adds a dash of bitterness. Best not to use this ingredient again, as will not work as well for Night At The Opera! recipe, to be created later in the year.

Find suitable location from which to view Bic and Boh Runga concert. Ideally close to stage but not too far from the beer & wine stall, the food stall, the port-a-loos, and most importantly - the coffee stall. Maintain temperature at steady 22-24 degrees Celsius. Spread large blanket out evenly and scatter friends onto it for finest level of comfort and sunbathing. "Annexing of territory", or keeping ingredients distinctly separated on the blanket, may occur but only in good fun.

Friends should sip wine and coffee casually and enjoy the soothing melodies of the Runga sisters. Mellowing should peak at this phase, in spite of occasional ill-suited placement of lawn chairs in front of blankets by other careless ingredients. Mellowness enhanced by alcohol, to a point. Whole process of concert should run 3-4 hours. Any ingredients with children should silently thank saintly parents for fifth time today for watching the kids.

Corral friend ingredients after show and attempt to proceed to vehicle in orderly fashion. Designated driver can prove useful here. Leakage from some ingredients along way may occur.

Transfer friends via vehicle back to initial cooking surface of Greytown. Park in town and lift inredients from vehicle and into nearest pub. Watch the rugby but ONLY if results will be good; otherwise ingredients may become depressed and flatten. Should this occur, sprinkle alcohol liberally over ingredients for lightening.

Before completing the course at the house in Greytown, send 1-3 friends to obtain the pizzas. Variety is encouraged, and allow time for proper preparation of pizzas. More time may be necessary if diverse number of ingredients chosen for pizzas.

Designated driver should transport remaining friends and pizzas safely back to the house. The host ingredients should make coffees available, if properly mellowed. Otherwise, remaining ingredients may be 'buggered'. If bubbly neighbours have not yet appeared, invite them over. Chances of invite being turned down by neighbours close to nil.

Enjoy company of neighbours and friends into the night. Mellowing may continue or turn into effervescent, lively feeling. Or a combination of both. Immersing ingredients in neighbours' spa later on is recommended, but optional.

Leave friends in house overnight, savour results of Mellow on following day. Make plans for repeat in future, allowing for minor or major variations. Tramping On Ice and Jamming To Fat Freddy's Drop both popular choices, but nearly infinite possibilities exist.

Serves 5-7.