Friday, July 23, 2010

Please check out my new blog:

Sezmeralda's Parlour

There's more stuff going on over there and it's unlikely I'll post here again.

That is all.

xx JLS xx

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Limescale and Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate (800mg)

A little while after I came to stay with Ju and her family, she asked her husband to turn down the thermostat on the hot water cylinder. The water ran just a tad too hot for her liking. This he dutifully did.
But the water now ran too cold. Barely warmer than tepid. (I love the word 'tepid' I think it should be applied to so much more than water temperature. Washed out colours & tasteless food for example). Ju asked her husband to turn the water back up a little bit. After a couple of days of procrastinating he finally turned the water up again.

I know what you're thinking. Too hot again, right?

Actually, no. We lost even the crappy half-arsed warm water of a cylinder not trying to heat the water to the type of water which conveyed the cool disdain of a cylinder not even bothering to heat the water because, well, it's just not interested anymore.

As the closest thing to an electrician in the house it was decided I would go and have a look to see if I could work out what was wrong (sans multimeter, dammit!). Ju's Husband showed me where the thermostat and heating element were and I had a bit of a look. We turned the knob for a bit and listened to the clicking of the switch. When fault-finding an unfamiliar electrical system on an aircraft with little guidance available, one of the methods we like to use is to compare the operation of the faulty system with a 'known good' system (ie, does the system on another aircraft exhibit the same characteristics?). Luckily for me, this hot water cylinder had another heating element and thermostat closer to the top of the tank.
I turned that knob for a bit, but the clicking sounds it made were a little too similar to be conclusive.

"Oh hello!"
Ju's Husband's voice sounded triumphant. As I had been playing with the upper (boost) element, he had continued investigating the lower (main) one. Lo and behold! It was clearly burnt out.

(There shouldn't be any of that black stuff there.)

Another was bought. I installed it. Clickety click.

A day (and several thermostat settings) later and we still didn't have hot water. It was getting a bit obvious the heater must be out too. At the least, something had to cause that little burn-out. I hated to have to admit it, but it was time to call in the plumber.

The block of houses that Ju and her family live in was built in 1952 by the council.

Devizes Rural District Council (since 1952)

This means the hot water cylinder is potentially fifty eight years old. It's probably not, but we do have very strong evidence it's a lot older than six. It's possibly around ten.

The water around here has a lot of limescale in it. (We're about half an hour's drive from Bath. Think limestone, think mineral water, and if you like, think of fat Romans having orgies in large public baths.) Anyway, most electric jugs come with filters for the water. The limescale leaves a skin over one's cup of tea which breaks up in a way that makes me think of the antarctic ice-shelf breaking up. Interestingly, although jugs come with filters to filter out minerals before boiling them (in NZ it's usually one or the other) the hot water cylinders don't. Can you imagine what happens to the hot water cylinders in this town? Scroll down then, and see...


And THIS is what all those minerals will do to the element:


Ju's Husband's Mum resurrected a highchair for Ju's Daughter to use when she gets big enough for one. Since the highchair has been in storage for a while, it got cleaned up and sterilised. I was intrigued with the information on the box of "Milton complete protection" sterilisation tablets.

First, here is a very serious sounding warning:

But look, it's okay Mum - they're fine to use for baby's food dishes and utensils:

(please click on the picture to see an enlargement which is easier to read)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The picky amongst you will be quick to point out the warning is for undiluted tablets. I don't care, I still think it's funny. Oh by the way, did you notice that part of the product name that says -cyan- ? I don't know about you, but to me that sounds suspiciously as though it is a key ingredient in cyanide.

I'm just saying.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ju's Daughter's Christening

Ah yes, the Christening.

This special event was supposed to be held in January, but as those of you from England will know the weather was a little chilly back then. So chilly in fact that the water froze before it even fell from the sky, which made general travel about the countryside somewhat troublesome. So the upshot was that the Christening was postponed to a time of year when Ju's Little Sister and Ju's Mum could make it.

The Church is in Sussex, and since Ju, Ju's Husband and Ju's Daughter all live in Wiltshire, we travelled up to Meadow Barn Farm to stay with Ju's lovely in-laws on the Saturday. There we met many more members of the family - sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents and friends. It was going to be a wonderful family event.
Speaking of family, the Church where all of this was to take place has seen plenty of family members through the years and is very close to where Ju's Husband's Grandparents live. The Church is very old, Norman, and is connected with a lovely big house of seven bedrooms which was built around 1060 by some monks who had come over from France. The Lovely Big House of Seven Bedrooms Built Around 1060 was until very recently the residence of the fore-mentioned Grandparents. I would have loved to have been able to see inside. Ju's Husband's Mum knew a lot of the history of both the house and the church and told stories about them both before and after the service.
Anyway, the original point of this paragraph was to reveal to you the name of the Church and Parish, mostly because I am a little immature, and found the name of this rather august and respected place highly amusing. Yes faithful readers, Ju's Daughter was Christening in Cocking Church. Don't believe me?

Inside front cover of the hymn book.

The girl of the hour was very well behaved. She was in a strange place and building, with a lot of people (known and unknown) paying her a lot of attention. There was some singing (of varying talents) and some standing up and sitting down. Then, right about the time she started to get a bit peckish, she was denied the comfort of her mother's arms (and her personal milk factory) and given over to a stranger for the unlikeliest bath she has yet to experience.

Needless to say, she wasn't really too impressed. Fortunately, although she cried, the howls were not demonic and it was only a short while before she could indulge in elevenses. Shortly thereafter her parents and new Godfather had the dubious honour of changing what was probably the pooey-est nappy she could manage given the short notice, in one of the back-row pews. (Good job Uncle James! You're a great Godfather!)

Spiritual safety assured for the now, we all returned to Meadow Barn Farm for the after match function where there was Fun, Cake, Toasts and Drinks.

Welcome to the family, Little One. It's a good think you've been Christened, 'cos you're in for a Hell of a ride!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

First Week In England

Ju's first response was obviously disbelief - "What are you doing here?" was soon followed by "I can't believe you're here!" And plenty of hugs throughout the rest of the evening. It certainly was an ego boost! The actual feelings and sensations aren't really possible to describe, but there was plenty of joy, and an underlying foundation of happiness which makes you remember that Home really is where the heart is.
(As an aside, did you know there is no differentiation in the French language between 'house' and 'home?' I read that in Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue.)

Strange as it may seem that although I am here in England for five to six weeks, I am not actually here for my big OE, and I am not here with sightseeing and touristing as my main objectives. I am here to stay with my sister and her family while Ju tries to finish her dissertation, and to be here for my niece's Christening. For my first week I have only been on short journey's as far as Devizes (literally 5 mins by car) and Trowbridge. Neither of these short trips were for their attractions - they were Quick Trips Into Town To Carry Out Various Jobs, such as groceries and interviews with planners and the like.

Now, given that my time here is spent entertaining the baby (and scrubbing her pooey nappies, and wiping up bits of sick, and giggling at the faces she pulls, and trying to get her to giggle at the faces I pull...) you can imagine that the only pictures I have are of said miniature person.

Here are some now:

Ju's Little Sister & Ju's Little Sister's Niece (aka Ju's Little Daughter) outside on the patio.
It was cold and I was worried about her ears freezing off.

Ju's Husband bathing his daughter (she loves bath-time).

As well as Ju, Ju's Husband and their daughter there are other members of the family living here. One who is allowed inside the house is Solo, their beautiful tabby cat. Solo is a little disgusted that the baby is taking away the majority of her cuddles, but she has a history of scorning cuddles anyway. On the other hand, she seems to see the baby as someone special (despite being an attention hog) and will race up to the door to her room if she hears Baby crying. When Ju went into town for about an hour and left me to babysit, I didn't hear my niece crying for quite a time. I simply wondered why Solo was suddenly so interested in getting out the door. Solo wasn't impressed with my behaviour, and let me know I wasn't a good babysitter at all!


Solo and the London Bridge
(It wasn't falling down, which leads me to suspect that nursery rhyme is not completely accurate.)

The other family members (and to be honest, it's a bit of a stretch to call them that) are a couple of naughty chooks who don't like to stay in the chicken run:


For Easter, Mum sent us over some Cadbury Creme Eggs. It has been a tradition since Ju left New Zealand for Mum and me to send her Creme Eggs from New Zealand. They make them here in England, but they're not the same. When the eggs arrived, I reminded Ju that with Cadbury now being owned by Kraft (did I get that right?) the rumour has been that Creme Eggs are no longer to be manufactured in NZ, they will be shipped in from England. It was with despair and a desire to disbelieve that we bit into the specially posted eggs to find they were of the English variety. Closer inspection of the packet confirmed they were made in the UK, packed in Australia and shipped to NZ. It's the end of an era.


To make us feel better about being scammed I decided (with much reminding by Ju's Husband) to bake homemade Hot Cross Buns for Easter. Luckily Ju's copy of the Edmond's Cookbook (55th Deluxe Edition) had the recipe. I whipped everything together, plumping out the fruit section with cranberries and using mandarin peel which Ju's Husband kindly cut into tiny squares for me, and put the dough in the linen cupboard over night.
Morning dawned, and with a little extra kneading, more time to rise and some heavenly baking, the delicious smell of Hot Cross Buns made Easter Sunday special.

Ju's Brother, Ju's Other Sister & I bought Ju a camera for her birthday.
That's why I have photos of my hot cross buns.

"Nah, this is just for the photo. Honestly Ju - YOU take the first bite!"
(Seriously, you first.)


Though it's been grim and rainy here for most of the week there have been some exceptions. One morning while Ju, Ju's Husband and the Baby were in Devizes Doing Jobs and Making Their Appointments On Time, I became somewhat excited and enthusiastic about a small rogue shot of sunshine terrorising the clouds and put on an extra load of washing. Quite a large extra load actually. The house already had two clothes horses full of whites (read: nappies) but it was okay - these could dry on the line outside!!!

Or not.
They weren't dry when the family came home. The sun wasn't even bothering anymore. We all of us left for the afternoon to go into Trowbridge, and while we were there it rained twice and hailed once on the clothes.
They went on the clothes horses over night.

On another fine day we went for a walk.

For some reason, Ju's Husband started obsessing about collecting wood.

They didn't warn me it would be muddy, so I am wearing the wrong kind of footwear.
In hindsight, it had been raining solidly for the last three days, so they shouldn't have had to have warned me, should they?

At the end of the lane was this fantastic Hazel Grove.
I am definitely using this in one of my stories.

As you may be able to tell, Ju discovered her new camera can take pictures in black & white. Also, Ju's husband didn't know how to take the new camera OFF black & white.
Ju was in the process of posing as a super hero.
She can be as zany as me sometimes.

And that is really just about that. There hasn't been a lot else going on. I'm looking forward to my trip to Turkey which I haven't booked yet, and I'm looking forward to the Christening which Ju's Mum will be over for. We have a list of things which we'd like to get done while I'm here. A bike ride across Salisbury Plain, a trip to Bath, hopefully I will also get up to visit Lorenzo the Llama for a weekend. That would be awesome!!
But I think this post is long enough already, so more on all of that later.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

To the United Kingdom

Since about November or December last year, I have been in secret communication with my brother-in-law. Secret, because we didn't want my sister to find out.

Sounds a bit dodgy, doesn't it?

The truth is, we were planning the most fantastic present for her - a surprise visit! For the last few months Ju's Husband and I have been organising the best time for me to visit, and the dates I will need to be picked up from the airport. And the whole thing worked like a charm! Ju's Husband collected me from Heathrow in the afternoon of 29 March and brought me back to their place. I walked in the door behind him, then as he was greeting Ju I stepped to the side so she could see me and the grin on my face.

The first thing she said to me? "What are you doing here?"

But more on the first few days of my holiday later. For now here are some delirious ramblings from my time in the airports on the journey over:

28 March – San Francisco Airport
I still can't get over how completely hassle-free this airport turns out to be. Where I expected a forty five minute wait at border control, I only stood in line for five. Where I expected a drudge to put my bag on the wrong conveyor, I re-checked them myself at the correct counter. I feared I would be another forty minutes making my way through security, but even being moved aside and patted down for a body search barely took a moment of my time.

So in comparison to LAX, I am not only pleasantly surprised, I am actually relaxed and almost enjoying myself. I sit at the gate lounge (anyone who has travelled will agree they are too open for me to be able to say 'in' the gate lounge) and I watch the ground staff deal with people's questions with frendly efficiency. I'd like to take this time to work on either one of my stories, or on one of my characters for the dice-rolling games I play. I already have a character for Eclipse, and two for Casus Belli. I want to delve deeper into their natures, but I am too tired. It has been twelve hours on a plane for me already, and I am looking forward to another twelve or so. This time I am not just landing in a foreign country unvisited, but one in which I don't speak the local language. The sum total of my German (barely remembered from high school) is Guten Tag, Wie geht es das? and Ich habe zwei Schwestern und sie sind zillinge. The last is my favourite of course. I love the contortions required to pronounce the words.

I find myself wondering how different this string of thoughts would be if I wasn't slightly sleep deprived. Not very, probably.

Despite facing another long flight – let me check: another 10 hours and 50 minutes – I am at the moment glad that I am not stopping over for the night. I like San Francisco, and would love to spend more time in this beautiful city but I am also eager to be finished with this journey. I have no patience for the delay a stop-over would cause. It is thirty minutes to boarding, according to my boarding pass, and it is about twenty minutes too long a wait. Though I am yawning every half minute, I want to move. I want to get there.

When it was about 9am Sunday 28 March New Zealand time, I was probably in the shower. Since then I have lived out another twenty five hours or so with no shower. Twenty minutes ago I bought a new t-shirt from a souvenir shop and changed out of my long sleeved tee which was smelly and too hot for the plane anyway. I deodorised. I feel better.

If I keep typing and keep rambling and keep writing this for a post which may not eventuate, then perhaps I won't fall asleep. If I don't fall asleep now I certainly must on the flight. I need to sleep on the flight.

I need to sign off before your metaphorical ears drop off from the boredom induced by reading this post.

Auf Wiedersehn.

29 March 2010 – Frankfurt Airport
Now having travelled the next eleven hours or so I can admit there were times – long, painful, boring times – when I was tempted to think a day's stop in San Fran would have been a better idea. The Lufthansa flight had no personal entertainment. In fact it felt like a domestic flight which happened to last for eleven hours. There were large CRT television screens hanging from the roof over the aisles and the majority of the entertainments were advertising for the Star Alliance and music videos. There was also a movie which played for the middle section of the flight. I think it had Matt Damon and may have been a spy movie. I didn't bother with it.
Instead I tried to sleep.
It didn't work very well.

I was surprised that I was provided with no entry documents on the aircraft. As far as they seem to be concerned I was never here. No stamps on my passport, no forms handed in. I get out of one plane, and through an x-ray point to my next gate, then on to my next plane out of the country. Like a ghost. But it's not long now. In about an hour and a half I should be allowed into the gate lounge (I am allowed to say 'in' this time as they are cordened off from passing strangers) and boarding will undoubtedly follow soon after. The next flight will be like a domestic one for me – one hour and thirty minutes makes it pretty much the same as the Christchurch-Auckland journey.

I feel a bit stink for non-english speaking countries' airlines. The staff have to be fluent in english anyway, and all the signs are doubled. All notices are repeated in english. The attendant at the gate counter seems to have more of an english accent than german. I had always had the policy in the back of my head that if you visit a person's country you should be prepared to make an attempt at their language. But I'm actually terrified of greeting someone with Guten Morgan, or saying thank you with a danke shoen, just in case they spout forth with something I can't begin to fathom. I only fear this because I've been complimented on two seperate occasions by native speaking germans for my accent. (Thanks Mrs Oppenheim). Anyway, it's a stupid fear, completely unfounded, and I've avoided it in total by speaking english like everyone else.

Which leaves me here, sitting on the cold concrete floor until the gate lounge opens for me. I have now been flying for a total of almost twenty four hours, and it must be about thrity six since I last had a shower. Rachie will know how squirmy that's making me. I hope Ju doesn't mind hugging a smelly sister.

I think she won't mind.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Forty Nine

The sensation of gently falling from the sky in a graceful swoon always contrasts with the sounds the aircraft makes around me. The hydraulics working overtime, the flaps lowering, the engines straining to maintain lift while dropping speed. Coming in for the landing is my second-to-favourite part of flying. We touched the runway on the go and the sound of engines roared to full volume as we were pushed into our seat belts while the tube around us strained. Then we were back in our seats and taxiing sedately into the terminal. I looked past the two people between myself and the window (I always chose aisle seats) and saw the grey tarmac was littered with the expected planes of a dozen airlines. Suddenly a new plane pulled into view, and as we slid in next to a towering B747, the Air New Zealand Koru on the tail invoked a wave of homesickness and yearning ache in my heart.

But we weren't home yet. Geoff and I had landed in San Francisco. We walked up the air bridge and looked over at the computers near the gate next to ours. We each were hoping there would be an Air New Zealand stewardess waiting to call people to their flight, but while the electronic scrolling sign was advertising a flight home there was no one to talk to. We left the airport feeling as though we'd been away far too long.

The train in to SFO proper was uneventful, and it didn't seem that long before we'd navigated our way through the streets to find our hostel, checked in and claimed our bunks. From there we collected some pamphlets from the front desk and started to plan our stay. Geoff's must-see was Alcatraz, and I was hoping to see Muir Woods. But overall I was pretty cruisey about where we were going to go. I knew our couple of days here wouldn't be long enough to see everything and I really wanted to see the city with my Aunt (who used to live here), so I wasn't expecting a lot from this trip. It was going to be a taste. What a taste it turned out to be!

That afternoon we thought we'd walk through Chinatown and down to the wharf to get a feel for how long it was going to take us the next day. Chinatown was a vibrant place full of activity, sounds and smells. In some part I was disappointed that a lot of the shops were very similar to the occasional Asian shop found at home - full of souvenirs and two-dollar junk.

I found myself drawn to the shops selling swords and heavy wooden carvings as there was some beautiful-looking craftsmanship. People would stand at the entrance to their shops in an effort to entice customers into their domain. One promised me they would get the sword to NZ for me and was disappointed when I respectfully declined.

Through China town we only made it along a couple more blocks before we decided we were getting hungry and the wharf was a bit far away for this trip. We started to think we would take the cable cars tomorrow instead of walking. The reminder of San Fran's famous attraction set us off in the direction of some of the cable lines in order to investigate that avenue of transport. But not before we saw evidence of Christmas spirit in the park:

I was fascinated by the idea of the cable cars. In Wellington (NZ) there is a well-known cable car and I had used it a couple of times when staying with cousins. There are two cars which work in tandem - one being pulled up the hill as the other rides down. It is a simple system - cars go straight up and straight down the steep hill and the car doesn't have to turn around at either end. These cable cars were obviously very different, and I was caught by the sound of the cable which I could hear running under the street.

Despite our grumbling stomachs we resolved to follow the tracks to the top of the hill, and I'm glad we did because we chanced upon the Cable Car Museum. We hadn't seen anything about it in our tourist flimsies, and it wasn't an extravagant affair. But it was the building where the cables were powered from and there were some wonderful posters explaining how the system worked as well as the history of cable cars in San Francisco.

After the museum we kept up our mission to the top of the hill. I can't remember if the following photo was taken from the very top or not, but the island out in the harbour is Alcatraz, and that's where we were off to the next day!

The next morning we set out for the Wharf. This time we followed yesterday's decision and took the cable cars. They weren't a particularly expensive form of transport, but they had become such a tourist attraction that they wouldn't be worth using if one were to live in the city. The journey was interesting and it was great to see the principles we'd read about yesterday being put into practice!

We made it in time to buy our ticket out to the island and although there was a significant queue, it really wasn't long before we were on the ferry and on our way. Alcatraz was an amazing place and an amazing tour - I learnt so much about the place.
The island was initially a military prison, then a state penitentiary, home to some protesting Indians (of the 'Native American' kind) and finally a state park and tourist attraction. It really deserves a post of its own, so for this post I'll just put up some of my pictures which I especially like, and leave the explanation to another day.

Our next day in this fair city was spent with Dylan of Dylan's Tours. I've just been scouting around the internet to see if he has a website, and he doesn't, but there are a lot of reviews around and he's had positive comments all the way. I agree completely. IF YOU GO TO SAN FRANCISCO BOOK A DAY WITH DYLAN'S CITY TOURS! Even the locals think he's amazing! Dylan taught us so much about the city and took us to a little bit of everything. He managed to take us through most of the districts, including Mission, Marina, Castro, Tenderloin, Knob Hill and Twin Peaks. He even took us out to Muir Woods, so I was happy!
During our drive around I learnt that although people think of SFO as being all the populated areas around the bay, the city itself is actually squeezed into an area 7 miles by 7 miles, which makes it only 49 square miles in area. Combine this with the fact that the population of the area exploded around 1749 during the goldrush, and there is the reason for the football team calling themselves the 49ers!
Our fellow tourists were pretty much all Australian which made for great conversation and a little across-the-ditch teasing. Dylan had obviously had plenty of experience with the rivalry and put in his comedic two-cents in every now and then. Again I could write a post on its own about this day, and it would be filled with some amazing facts about the city, but I'll tease you with some photos instead:

At Twin Peaks, looking out over the city

Famous Hippie Hangout - Cnr of Haight & Ashbury

House of the Grateful Dead

The Bridge at the Gate to the Golden State

First Building to be erected in the area - the Chapel of St Francis of Assisi
(incidentally, the chapel at my high school was dedicated to the same)

Ju's Little Sister in front of the.. um.. pretty building. (hey, 12 months is a long time!)

Redwoods in Muir Woods

Hey! Where did New Zealand go?

That evening, although Dylan had recommended we go see the movie Milk, we were pretty done in from an exciting couple of days.

San Francisco was our last stop before we turned our noses in the direction of The Land Of The Long White Cloud (New Zealand) and I was glad we had booked more than a day in that great city. Though I was exhausted and ready to go home, I was entranced by San Fran and would love to return there some day. One day, I hope, I will be able to travel there with my Aunt and she can show me all her favourite places. Dylan's local and personal knowledge of the city was invaluable, but there were questions I wanted to ask here while I was there - questions I hope one day to have answered.
I'm not a city person. But I will be raving about this trip for a long time to come.

Monday, May 04, 2009