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Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Best of 2018 Picture Challenge

Fellow blogger Sonja  has issued a challenge to post 10 photos taken in 2018 on specific topics.  Always nice to look back and choose some favourite ones so here you are Sonja, covering your chosen themes!

1.  In the city
This is the Viaduct Basin area of Auckland waterfront.  It's being redeveloped in readiness for the next America's Cup.  Our son-in-law is a landscape architect and is heavily involved in the redevelopment.  The public seating on the right of the photo is his design and was the first installation of many.  The slat seating has lights inside which come on at night.

Viaduct Basin, Auckland

2.  In the countryside
This is Colville Store on the Coromandel Peninsula.  You can't quite hear the banjos but there are a few "hippy" communes in the area, lots of alternative lifestylers and artisans.  The store stocks just about anything the local area needs as it's a bit of a haul to the nearest town.  Nice place to stop for an ice cream.

"Deliverance" country!

3. By the water
This photo was taken entirely by chance.  We live on the ridge in the background and were just travelling into the village to take part in a pub quiz for a local charity.  The sun was just setting and I stopped for a few seconds to take the photo on my mobile phone.

Coromandel Harbour at sunset

4.  Something red
There was only ever going to be one photo chosen for this theme!  In December, we had the privilege of hosting lovely friends from the island of Guernsey, UK.  We all enjoy plants of all kinds and for some years, I've been teasing Nick about the spectacular NZ Pohutukawa trees which flower in their millions in December.  Well, Nick and Irene finally got to see them in the flesh which has killed any further teasing. (maybe!)

Nick and Irene suffering more smart remarks about Pohutukawa!

5.  People
Our daughter Victoria bought me an Asian Cooking course for my birthday and I chose Malaysian cuisine.  Travelled to Auckland and we went along to learn to create a classic dish from scratch.  Not only did it smell wonderful, it tasted sensational.  An unusual and magnificent birthday present!

Dad and daughter time

6. Animals
Our two cats, Thomas (17) and Annie (7) are very much part of the family and the local community come to that.  Sadly, time caught up with Thomas this month and he's now at rest in the top of the garden overlooking the harbour.  Photo taken around Christmas.

Annie and Thomas chilling in the heat of summer

7. Plants
We're fortunate to live in a pretty much frost-free area of NZ so we can grow a wide range of decorative plants and fruit.  The photo below is a close-up of a bee on one of our dwarf bottlebrush bushes.

Dwarf bottlebrush flower

8.  Something unusual
Back in March, we visited NZ's capital, Wellington; to catch up with old friends.  They surprised us by booking a trip to the movies.  Not any old movies but to a movie theatre in someone's back garden!  It's a 40 seat theatre which specialises in showing old period movies.  The reception area is straight out of the 50's in terms of decor and memorabilia.  They even have a half time interval where "period" food and drink are served.  Crackers and processed cheese with a slice of tomato on top, home made cake and scones, instant coffee and tea from a massive teapot.  Absolutely wonderful atmosphere - no wonder you have to book ahead.  For those who are interested: Time Cinema

The delightful reception area

9. Something funny
Back in August, I demonstrated complete incompetence by smacking a leg into the towbar of our 4x4 with considerable force.  The result was a huge haematoma and massive bruising which was exceedingly painful.  I had a full calendar of motorcycle coaching which would have been seriously disrupted by staying at home for a few weeks.  I looked for a way round this and ended up duct taping an armoured elbow protector from an old motorcycle jacket over the haematoma to protect it from knocks.  Jennie was not best pleased and most of her comments are not printable.  "Silly old fart" is by far the mildest of them.  It worked though and saved me from sitting around feeling sorry for myself!

Brilliant idea!

10.  Best photo of the year
Almost impossible to pick as there are several that hold special memories.  However, the photo below taken in February is pretty special. It was taken at the Moto TT track day at the Bruce McLaren international circuit, Taupo.  We were at Taupo for the Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and taking part in the trackday was part of a fun-filled weekend.  The Suzuki really picked up her skirts and flew.  After about 6 sessions on the track, most of us were exhausted, called it a day and sunk some ice cold beers back at the motel.  No wonder professional racers have to be athlete-fit!  As a 70 year old at the time, I was pretty pleased to hold it all together and lap pretty quickly too.  Growing old disgracefully is great fun!

Could almost pass for a young fella if I left my helmet on!


There you go Sonja - challenge accepted.  Any other bloggers fancy having a go?


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Good news and bad news

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Absolute joy that Jennie's hip replacement is going ahead in early February and her suffering over the last year or two will shortly be at an end.   It will be fantastic to have her operating at full steam again.  It's being done at a private hospital and no mucking about these days - they have you up and walking the next day (with crutches) and generally send you home a couple of days later.  No riding for me in Feb whilst I'm taking care of her and doing the household duties but so good to have her out of pain.  It also means that our trip to China at the end of  May can now go ahead as planned.  For a while, it looked like we might lose the deposit with all the medical uncertainty.

This week has been a sad one as we said goodbye to our 17 year old part - Russian Blue cat Thomas.  We got him as a rescue kitten from the SPCA.  The photo below was taken on the day we brought him home.  He looked so sad as he had a weepy eye and maybe that was part of why he was chosen. Or did he choose us..... ?

A little waif in need of love....

He quickly attached himself to Jennie and became quite a character in the neighbourhood.  Thankfully, he was good mates with the cat next door but scrapped with any other felines in the neighbourhood and was quite happy to take on sizeable dogs too.  The local vet got a nice income stream from regularly patching him up!

Attacking the cat flap for some unknown reason

He loved his food and became pretty well-known in the neighbourhood for turning up at BBQ's up to a couple of streets away.  Ever-polite, he wouldn't scrounge - he'd simply sit and stare at someone until a bit of steak or sausage was forthcoming!

When we retired and moved to Coromandel, he loved the lifestyle and often walked to the beach behind our place and explored the rock pools.

Exploring the rock pools at the beach

Thomas was always into thinking big.  He couldn't be arsed to chase the local bird population but on numerous occasions, we'd wake in the morning to the sight of a rabbit hopping around the lounge which he'd dragged through the cat flap.  He never hurt them - just used to bring them home and watch them.  His crowning glory (so to speak) was dragging a very angry pheasant through the cat flap one day which proceeded to flap round the house and poop everywhere before we could get it outside.

After that, he settled for an easier life and recognised that neighbours flushing their outboard engines meant that they'd shortly be filleting their catch.  He'd saunter off and politely sit by their filleting benches waiting to receive trimmings.  Always a very dignified cat.  One near-neighbour used to place a fish scale on his head to signify that he'd been fed when he finally arrived home!

  Thomas inspecting and approving a neighbour's catch


Tussling for the TV remote with his personal servant

A few tears have been shed over the last few days.  As with all animal lovers, they're family and we grieve accordingly when we lose them.  It's one of the nicer traits of the human race when we can give unconditional love to another species.  RIP Old Fella.

Handsome chap

We've been out fishing regularly because of Jennie's upcoming enforced break and so far, it's been a scorchingly hot summer.  In fact, too hot to be on the water for long without good protection.  UV levels in NZ are pretty high and we share with Queensland (Australia) the dubious distinction of having the highest skin cancer levels in the world.   Time to fit a canopy to the boat so that was our slightly belated joint Christmas present to ourselves.

Spent the best part of a day this week assembling and fitting it.  Most of the time was spent in careful measurement and trial fitting before drilling holes.  Not a good look to have surplus holes on a boat.  Delighted to say that everything went well and it works perfectly.   Surprised to find that it was made in NZ, not China.  Great quality product with clear instructions.  Can't wait to try it out.

A shady canopy - pure bliss!

Ready for action

Oh, and in other good news, I've been given Executive Permission (official trade name) to replace the Suzuki this year.  Won't do anything for a few months but there will be some delicious test riding to be done.  Going for something lighter as a nod to my age but no sacrifice in performance.  Errr... I haven't actually mentioned the performance angle to Jennie as I'm trying to portray uncharacteristic maturity.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that another Street Triple is one of my two front-runners.  This time, the 765 R or RS.  However, the other choice might raise a few eyebrows!  It's the KTM 790 Duke.  Despite (or because of my 71 years on the planet), maybe it's time to get an utterly mad wheelie monster of a machine that spells FUN in huge capital letters.  Not that I'd ever be caught behaving like that, oh dearie me no.

Watch this space......


Sunday, 23 December 2018

2018 in pictures

2018 was a crazily busy year, even by our standards and went in the blink of an eye.  The following photos represent various happenings in each month with a few comments and thoughts to go with them.

January
This is peak summer holiday season in NZ.  Living in a region which everyone  wants to visit in the vacations, we tend to hang around at home as the roads are busy with feral drivers who leave their brains wherever they come from.  The garden is a riot of colour at this time of year so that's what the photos are of.

 Bee on a dwarf bottlebrush plant, using the camera macro function

Tree loaded with colourful Luisa plums

February
The Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and get-together was held over a weekend at the scenic Taupo township.  For those who arrived on the Friday, there was the opportunity to take part in a trackday at the Bruce McLaren international circuit.  What a fantastic experience in great company.  Pulling 230 km/hr down the back straight then hard on the brakes, hoping I would make the tight left-hander at the end of the straight!

The first photo was taken just after dawn on the way to the circuit.  IAM Chief Motorcycle Examiner Philip on his Fireblade,  Lee on his MV Augusta 675 and my GSX-S 1000.  The second photo was taken by the track photographer of me flying round the left-hander at the end of the back straight.

The three musketeers at dawn en route to the track

Some old geezer trying to recapture his youth

March
A long weekend in NZ's capital to visit old friends also saw me mountain biking on the cycleway on the Kapiti Coast.  As part of the new motorway development, the government department responsible for building a new section of motorway also built adjacent wetlands to attract birds and other creatures plus the scenic cycleway.  Excellent work!

Trying to regain lost youth!

We also purchased a new boat for sea fishing.  Jennie's hip problem meant that the old boat was no longer comfortable.  Delighted to say that the new one does the business.

So-fish-ticated (named by our daughter)

An "arty" shot using the macro function of a plant in our garden after a rainstorm.  Showing off, it's called Dasylirion Wheeleri - a vicious but attractive spiky ball over a metre across which is good for drawing blood from the unwary, especially grandchildren!

Dasylirion Wheeleri from Mexico

The vicious plant in question

Word has also got around the local bird population that I'm a soft touch when it comes to giving them a feed.  If they see me working at the computer and I haven't put food out, they'll tap on the window if the ranchslider is closed or if it's open, they'll come inside and remonstrate with me!  In this case, it's some representatives from the local flock of Californian Quail.

C'mon human, pull finger and get out here pronto!

April
I was hugely proud to be appointed as an IAM Examiner.  Many Examiners are serving police officers with specialist riding and driving roles within the force and it was a genuine honour and humbling to be in their company and the massively competent civilian Examiners.  The photo below is the first rider I took for his Advanced Roadcraft Test and delighted to say that he passed the stringent theory and practical examination.

Chris and his GSX-S1000

We also took our grandchildren out fishing among the commercial mussel beds outside Coromandel Harbour and their parents also came out on their kayak.  Everyone caught fish and a great day was had by all.

Family fun

May
It's not only riders with sporty bikes who join IAM - everyone can benefit.  In the photo below, Trainee Observer (mentor) Tony is coaching cruiser rider Henry. I was mentoring Tony in observing skills and a couple of months later, he passed his Observer Test with flying colours.

Tony and Henry acting the goat

The Coromandel Peninsula is a haven for artisans of all sorts - potters, weavers, painters..... you name it and they're here.  We needed a new bookcase for a guest bedroom and commissioned a local furniture craftsman to make a rustic one for us in solid macrocarpa.  He's also made furniture for our deck and a large bookcase for our lounge and we have a great relationship.  We drop him off fish that we've caught and he gives us organic vegetables from his garden!

Picking up the bookcase from Greg - smells divine

June
Well into winter, although not that cold.  A great social run with fellow IAM members in the Central North Island.  Along twisty, largely empty back roads with freshly made wood-fired pizza for lunch.  Takes a lot of beating!  Also gathering near us for club runs were the local Ford Mustang and Mazda MX5 Miata car clubs.  Everyone mixed in waiting for their respective start times, creating a great atmosphere.

Assembling in the town of Te Aroha

July
Various plants flower all the year round in our garden and all though this succulent has been planted for a few years, it's the first time that it's flowered.  The conical flower spike is about 30 cm long and lasted for about 3 months.  Hope it does it again next year.

Flowering succulent, or maybe a Triffid!

It was also our 46th wedding anniversary, clearly demonstrating how tolerant Jennie is in putting up with me!  Didn't take any photos so it's appropriate to post one from our honeymoon in Croatia and Venice in 1972.

Sigh..... when we were young....

August
Regular readers will remember the 17th August blog post of collecting a Porsche Carerra 4S Turbo and delivering it to Auckland.  That is.... remembering that I made a complete fool of myself adjusting the seat, trying to start it, looking for the parking brake and a whole load of other embarrassing incidents.  Apart from the humiliation, it was a surprisingly underwhelming experience.  The electronics package meant that it didn't require much driver input at sane highway speeds combined with poor rearward visibility.  Over $200,000 in NZ plus an equally frightening operating cost.   Has totally put me off supercars  - give me a 70's muscle car every time, or even something like a Lotus 7.

Not exactly an understated colour scheme

September
Two more central north island Trainee Observers passed their Full Observer theory and practical tests in the past few weeks.  Chris, the middle of the three below had just passed.  Neil on the left ran the test.  Pete, on the right, is the new IAM member who Chris was putting through his paces as part of the test.  Now here's a surprise..... Pete is actually in charge of the Highway Patrol road policing team for our province!  Mainly driving cars in his day job but also a keen motorcyclist, he saw joining IAM as a means of regularly maintaining his skills to a high level.  Great guy and a real pleasure to have in our region.

Neil, Chris and Pete

One evening, Jennie and I were heading into our village to take part in a charity fundraising quiz bang on sunset.  I took the following photo by sheer good fortune on my mobile phone a few hundred metres from home which is on the ridge at the rear of the image.  Often, the best photos come about by blind chance!

Sunset over Coromandel Harbour

October
A busy month.  Turned 71, fitted a new Nitron custom shock to the bike (Jennie's birthday present to me!) and had a brisk social ride with some of the fellow IAM Observers from our region.  The first photo was taken in a town called Paeroa.  The Lemon and Paeroa (L&P) bottle signifies NZ's nearest equivalent to Coke.  Originally made in Paeroa in 1907 from local carbonated spring water and lemons.  Now made in Auckland and almost certainly bears no relationship to the original product!

From left: Lloyd, Rob, Neil and me

October also saw the second of 3 punctures in 4 months, one of which necessitated the replacement of my Michelin Road 5 rear tyre.  All of them happened in out of the way places and I'm glad that I always carry an electric pump and 3 different options for repairing a puncture.  Overkill?  Not when you live out in the boondocks!  The next picture shows me fixing a puncture with "dog turds" during a training ride.  Hopefully, the run of bad luck has finished.

The smile is more relief than amusement!

November
Long-term readers might remember that an adorable, tiny stray kitten just a few weeks old turned up at our place in 2011 and never left.  We called her Annie (as in Little Orphan Annie).  A few weeks after she turned up, my old cat passed on and since then, Annie made it her business to supervise everything I do.  She's rarely far from my side when I'm at home.  Here she is making sure that my computer work is up to scratch and it looks like I've been found wanting by her expression! 

Must try harder, human!

December
Jennie's birthday and took her completely by surprise with a wooden skeleton clock which I'd commissioned a friend to make for her.  All sorts of tricks were pulled and white lies told to throw her off the scent.  The details are mentioned in a recent post but to say that she loves it is an understatement.  Had to laugh when she told me that she'd been monitoring our joint account to see what I'd spent in the run-up to her birthday.  Thought she might so had a crafty way to get round that!

One happy lady....

Whilst in Auckland helping to run a motorcycle course, I stayed with our daughter Victoria and son in law Luke.  Luke is a landscape architect and his design for public seating was chosen as part of the Auckland waterfront upgrade in time for the America's Cup defence in 2021.   The first one has just been installed.  Consisting of computer-cut slats with internal lighting for nighttime, it looks spectacular.  Very proud of what Luke is achieving so early in his career.

Cool public seating at the Viaduct Basin, Auckland

December sees millions of pohutukawa trees in full bloom in NZ.  The photo below was taken from our son's house on Christmas Eve.  The crimson blooms have formed a carpet of red "needles" in the road.  A whole lot better than snow!

Colour me red.....


Looking forward to what 2019 might hold.  The "knowns" are a hip replacement for Jennie which will see her out of pain at last, a visit from old friends from the UK, a trip to China and replacing my Suzuki (Official Permission, no less!) .  I'm sure that there will be many more surprises along the way!

Here's wishing all fellow bloggers and readers a fabulous and safe 2019!



Monday, 3 December 2018

A piece of art and a connection to bikes

I'd like to introduce Graham Christmas.  Graham is a fellow Institute of Advanced Motorists member, Aprilia Tuono V4 and GSX-R owner, keen on trackdays and also enjoys mountain biking.

Graham - trackday on the Tuono

Graham and wife Tessa at the trackday briefing

Apart from our motorcycle connection, Graham is a qualified cabinetmaker and a master craftsman.  Both Jennie and I love all forms of art that uses traditional skills, irrespective of the medium used - painting, pottery, metal or wood etc.  It would a tragedy if these skills die out and we have a few original one-off pieces of art in several types of media.  My pride and joy is the Damascus Steel carving knife shown HERE .

Jennie's birthday is at the beginning of December and back in August, I asked her what she wanted as a present.  "Dunno" she says, "But as I'm buying new bike suspension for your birthday, mine better be good".  The onus was clearly on me with that shot across the bows!

All sorts of things were briefly considered and rejected for various reasons but one stuck.  Graham is multi-talented and makes anything which requires high level cabinetmaking skills.  Ages ago, Jennie had seen the photo of a wooden skeleton free-standing clock which Graham made and fell in love with it.  Why not talk to Graham and see if he would make her a skeleton mantle clock to go on our dining room sideboard which is made from solid rimu timber?

A quick email to Graham and the answer was a very positive "yes"!  Then came the drama of figuring out a design which would please Jennie without raising suspicions.  Fortunately, we've been together long enough to know that she loves clean, simple art, very much in the Japanese taste.  More emails and sketches followed and a basic design was settled on.  The frame was to be made in walnut, the gears from beech and the clock dial from NZ heart rimu.  Graham then got stuck into the detailed design calculations.

Early design sketches (source: Graham)

One problem was that Jennie and I have joint accounts and I didn't want to face a grilling on expenditure so Graham graciously offered to let me make full and final payment on her birthday.  However, I sneakily withdrew small amounts of cash and sent them to him to cover material costs.  Jennie admitted later that she did indeed monitor our accounts to see if she could get an inkling as to what was going on but she failed to spot anything!  Haha - 1-0 to me!

As Graham was building the clock, he kept photos of the construction so that he could put the story of the construction together as an electronic presentation to Jennie as part of its history over the years to come. I also made a booklet of the emails between Graham and me so she could see all the discussions, not to mention deviousness which went into getting the final result!

Cutting the beech gears (source: Graham)

Spokeshave work on the frame (source: Graham)

Ready for assembly, polishing and calibration (source: Graham)

A couple of weeks ago, got a call from Graham that the clock was ready and as he was going to be just a couple of hours from where we lived doing a trackday and some downhill mountain biking, would I like to meet him and pick up the clock?  Going on the bike posed a problem in transporting the clock.  Going in the car needed a story to stop Jennie coming along for a ride!  Not exactly telling lies but being economical with the truth, so to speak!  

Me: "Honey, I'm off in the car to meet an IAM mate (true) to talk about the upcoming training course (untrue)".  Jennie: "Why aren't you taking the bike?"   Me:  "Don't want to risk another puncture on a quick trip and besides, I have all these training course notes to carry" (brandishing a heap of IAM documents lifted from my cupboard in anticipation of difficult questions). Haha, 2-0 to me!

The sneaky handover from Graham

The stunning finished article


A very happy Jennie

Massive thanks to master craftsman Graham for making such a magnificent clock - a genuine piece of original art.  I can't thank him enough for helping deliver the complete birthday surprise for my soulmate.  You can judge the standard of his work from the photos on his website.  His clocks are HERE and his other superb items are HERE

I've already got permission to replace the bike next year so I was simply happy to help make Jennie's day a memorable one as opposed to using up brownie points with a heap of grovelling!