Monday, 28 December 2009

Another Post About Stuff

if the universe wants me here who am i to argue?

Sage is away for Christmas and New Year. So is her next-door neighbour Alice.

I have been tasked with feeding their cats. The cats love me for it. It is good to have quality kitty-company after Invercargill’s cat drought.

I have been at Sage’s house for, I don’t know, two weeks now? Three? The long slow summer holidays are unravelling time; days smudge into each other unmarked.

She drove out in her little Suzuki truck to fetch me, did Sage – a school chum I barely knew, one of the industrious degree students who shared the newsroom with us diploma rowdies. A bare-footed rescuer in a bright orange dress and lime green blazer and, crucially, a van, she came straight away from Christchurch, a round trip of a good few hours, after getting my apologetic SOS text message.

Once she’d collected me and my Stuff from the garage where I was stranded, and brought me to her house in Brighton – astonishingly, a stone’s throw from where I had started out that morning – she said I could stay as long as I wanted.

The arrangement is that I do housework in exchange for keep. She won’t take rent until I get a job. So I am the Dish Fairy, the cleaner, the cat-feeder, the house-sitter, the decorator’s mate, the spare pair of hands in the garden.

I felt awkward at first. It is a household of many people. There is Sage, her husband, a 19-year-old son; and two lodgers – a couple in their twenties - in the downstairs bedroom. Then there are the dogs, Charcoal and Lace, and Marvin the cat. Barbara the chicken lives in the garden. The house gets full, very quickly, and they are all used to living communally. I am not.

I felt like an interloper in their midst, a nuisance, an encumbrance, a gawky spare part, eating their food and not doing nearly enough to repay their generosity. I shrank in the face of their open-heartedness. I wanted to flee. Fortunately, I had nowhere to go.

Gradually, I stopped fighting the twist of fate that brought me to Sage’s. Now I recognise it for the blessing it is. Before my car died, my vague plan for the summer was to bum about by the beach, live cheaply, pay off my credit card, and sort out my Stuff ready for my triumphal return to the UK in February (I expect no less than a ticker tape parade, guys).

Now the beautiful beach that drew me at the start of the year, and again the other week, is a two-minute-walk-with-no-shoes-on away. The roof over my head has been mine, some days, for no more than clearing a stack of dirty dishes and making Sage a cup of tea. I can hear the roar of the ocean as I garden. I have signed on for unemployment benefit - because of the Christmas holidays no one is hiring, which I am grateful for as this is giving me the time I need to whittle down my Stuff to bare essentials.

When my chores are done, and after I’ve taken my bestie Charcoal for a twilight stick-throwing marathon at the beach, I hole up in my room with Marvin and together we go through every item of Stuff in my possession, all those everyday ‘at home’ things so used and familiar they become invisible; all those things that lurk in drawers and cupboards and attics to be pulled out and utilised from time to time.

With each thing I ask, do I want this, is it serving me? Would it be useful to me in the future, or is it tying me to my past? I carefully consider whether it has sufficient merit to make it into my new life, or if it represents nothing more than nostalgia.

Everything is getting the treatment. Everything. Even letters from Flatmate. Even my socks.

Most Stuff hasn’t made it. Local charity shops are groaning under the weight of recent Weasel donations, and Sage and I laid out a rug on the ground at the local Saturday market the other week and sold some things.

But the majority of Stuff has been devoured by my laptop. I have always collected snippets from books and magazines, things that have caught my eye - poems, quotes, wisdom, useful or interesting information, examples of exquisite writing. I had folders and folders of clippings, all for the just-in-case, or for the sheer pleasure of the words. I had a big folder too full of torn-out or scribbled-down recipes. These things weigh a ton, take up room, and are pointless to ship when you can slip an external hard drive into your hand luggage. Marvin and I stay awake til the small hours, typing up those words I can’t bear to part with, so that the paper versions can be discarded.

Diaries too. They are fascinating reading. So far I have typed up the one from the first half of 2007, as I was preparing to leave New Zealand to go and live with BK in Cardiff for a year. Stupidly, the Stuff I was battling to get rid of then is the same Stuff I am battling to get rid of now. That time, I failed to bite the bullet and left the bulk of it with a friend in Wellington. My guilty nightmares about the encroachment of his tiny loft and spare room were the only reason I came back. I am being ruthless this time. I don’t want Stuff having a hold over me when I go in February.

I will take with me only those things I’ll need, and if there’s room, some things I want. I will leave behind only what there's no room to take, which can't be replaced. The kitchen equipment, the bedding, the oil heaters, the spanners and screwdrivers and allen keys, the paints and pencils and sketchbooks for that time when I can potter around being An Artist, the summer clothes, those boots I never wear but might one day when I learn to walk in high heels again - all that will be gone.

Ploughing through Stuff is a slow, thoughtful, process. And yet a car-load has become two suitcases, a rucksack, six boxes, an art portfolio and various bags, and then two suitcases, a rucksack, three boxes, and a giant heap of paperwork. Now, it’s two boxes, a rucksack, a small pile of paperwork and a bunch of paper waiting to be ceremonially burnt at the beach.

I am winning, but still there is so much to do. I’m liking the pointlessness and the pleasure of the whole exercise. Ditching Stuff is cathartic; a renewal. I harbour secret yearnings to just dump the lot without the weird hoarding but I’m not brave enough for that. Some Stuff is so imbued with significance it is tapeworm of the soul. I am transforming that Stuff into Truly Cherished Things.

The aim is to leave New Zealand in February 2010 with just one rucksack – the same rucksack I stepped off the plane with that first time in 1998. I landed in Christchurch then, I am flying out of Christchurch now. It will be twelve years, almost exactly to the day. Full circle. Love that symmetry.

As the airline's luggage allowance is a paltry 20 kilos, I hope to leave one or two modestly-sized boxes of Truly Cherished Things with kind-hearted, large-cupboarded friends, and when I have done whatever it is the UK is calling me back to do, I will ship everything back here – even my record collection, still lurking in 80s splendour in my dad’s attic – and return to New Zealand to make a home, a permanent base for myself and my TCTs, with the words of William Morris in mind -

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

And I will never roam the world again. The world, in future, can come to me. I’ll make sure I have a spare room for it: I’ve got some karma to pay back.

Happy New Year.


PS: If you’re wondering what happened to My Little Car, when Sage got to the garage she chatted up the queue of people waiting to pay and found a man with more eyes than teeth willing to give me $50 for it. I gave Sage the money for petrol.




Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Universe Throws Weasel A Curve Ball

the end of the road
[picture credit: postart.co.nz - click pic for link]

There was something else My Little Car forgot to tell me.

I left Invercargill with a one-way ticket to the UK tucked safely in my handbag (my treat to myself for surviving the year - I fly 5th February) and, loaded up with a carful of Stuff, and hugs and well-wishes from friends, and a large super supreme pizza (my treat to myself for surviving the day) I drove out of town without a backwards glance and headed for the Catlins. Having reduced the amount of Stuff I possessed to allow me to actually recline the car seats and stretch out on a foam mattress this time, I enjoyed an almost comfortable night’s sleep.

Spent the second night at Aramoana near Dunedin. I parked on a long narrow spit extending into the sea, and it was rather splendid to wake up surrounded by crashing waves and wheeling gulls.

As I left Aramoana my intuition – a pesky little bugger at the best of times – started to whine. You’ve never trusted this car, it said. You didn’t even give it a name! What if it lets you down?

Don’t be silly, I said, everything’s fine and anyway I only need it for a few more weeks. It’s running well, it’s ok to sleep in, and it’s even getting up and down hills with comparative ease. Shush now.

I made for Akaroa. Akaroa is the first place I visited in New Zealand after I arrived in Christchurch in 1998. I thought it would be nice to see it again. It is beautiful, and there are dolphins and stuff as it is tucked away in a splendid harbour created by an ancient volcanic eruption. To reach it, you have to drive for miles through verdant flatlands, then up and over the rim of a fucking big (extinct) volcano.

At the crest of the road, there is a place to stop and take in the stunning view that is now spread before you. The first time I saw this view, it took my breath away. This time, I barely noticed it. All I felt was uneasy doubt. Don’t go to Akaroa, my intuition whispered. I have learned the hard way not to ignore this voice. I got in my car and drove back the way I came.

Now I didn’t know what to do or where to go. It was getting dark so I thought I’d park up and worry about it in the morning. I drove to a place called Birdling Flats to sleep by the sea, but couldn’t settle there either. I wasn’t sleepy – I was worried. I wondered whether to push on to Nelson, my ultimate destination. But it was close to 11pm, and I needed petrol, and I should probably stop for the night. What was this awful anxious feeling?

I drove into Christchurch. Where should I stop? I didn’t really feel like stopping anywhere. Out of ideas, I drove out to Brighton where I had slept on the way down in February. Parked on Marine Parade, like before. Had an uneasy night’s sleep. Woke, filled the car with petrol, drove north without even wanting breakfast. An hour or so out of Christchurch, I became aware of a knocking noise coming from the engine. The car seemed to be losing power, ever so slightly. At a small town called Culverden, I pulled into a car park, a sick feeling in my stomach. Should I cross my fingers and push on?

Unusually for me, I took the sensible option. Providence had provided a garage across the road. I nipped over and asked if there was someone around who could have a quick look at my car. Yes, there was – bring it over, they said. As I restarted it, it made a noise so bad several people turned round to stare. This wasn’t looking good.

“Oil,” said the garage man as I pulled up outside the workshop. “It needs oil.”

“But it’s got oil,” I said. “I always check it.”

He removed the dipstick, saw there was plenty of oil, and grimaced.

“Ok, start it up again. Make sure it’s not in gear please.”

That noise again. Worse, now. Was crying all over the mechanic allowed?

“That’s terminal I’m afraid. Cam shaft’s gone, or top end; something’s come away inside the engine. Listen – you can hear it banging on the casing here. It’s spraying oil all over the place. You’ll need a new engine. Cost you at least a grand.”

Oh. My. God. OHMYGOD. Oh my – FUCK. Fucking fucketty fuck. Fucking Adrian. Fucking BRIAN. Fucking hell Weasel you are such a TOOL. FuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK.

Now what?

“Right,” I said. “Ok. Um… would you mind if I just sit in my car for a minute while I try and work out what to do? You see I don’t have any money or indeed anywhere to live, I am flying back to the UK soon and was going to spend January bumming around in my car, and everything I own is in it and I have nowhere to put it and I don’t really know what to do…” I was gabbling. I took a breath. “So can I just sit here and think about things for a bit please?”

“No worries,” he said.

I sat in my Judas machine, ate a banana and tried to think. But my brain wouldn’t formulate a plan. Instead, it was filled with white noise.

Come on, Weasel, you are meant to be clever now. Get that diploma-brain working. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere with a carful of Stuff and no money. It is too far for your friends in Nelson to come out to get you, three or four hours over a tricky and winding mountain pass, and it is too much to ask that they rescue me as they have young kids and jobs and routines and things, and anyway there wouldn’t be room for all your Stuff in their car. You’re on your own chick. What are you going to do? You've got to sort it out.

Nothing. Thoughts raced round and round but none stuck. I switched on my phone. The battery was low. I went into the garage shop.

“Would you mind if I charged my mobile phone in here please? You see, my car has just died right outside there on your forecourt and I don’t know what to do.”

The boy behind the counter eyed the mad dishevelled Englishwoman warily. “Uh, yup,” he said, and found a plug for me in a corner under a desk between a rack of sunglasses and a map display. I bought a coffee and made myself comfortable and had the vague idea I could live there forever, like that Tom Hanks movie about the man who lived at the airport.

When my phone was charged I rang my breakdown recovery service who said they could tow me free of charge to the garage I was stuck at, but any further towing costs I would have to meet myself and it would probably cost about $250 to get back to Christchurch.

I said I'd think about it, thanked them, hung up, and scratched my head.

Then I remembered Sage.


Sunday, 6 December 2009

North

weasel of thinkology

I'm off now - gotta give the internet back to Kad in a minute, and will be leaving town in the morning.

Bye Invercargill, you were... interesting.

See the rest of you somewhere sunny.



Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Trophy

mine's bigger than that

Tonight was the awards ceremony.

It was in the Civic Theatre, which is quite posh, and there was free wine, and a buffet.

When it was my turn to go up and get my award I didn't trip up the steps, or fall off the stage, which was good.

I was very surprised to see my prizes consisted of not just two envelopes stuffed with cold hard cash, but also a FUCKING BIG TROPHY.

A fucking big trophy.

Yes.

Let me say that one more time: a fucking big trophy.

Not even winning a yellow and blue felt rosette for coming third in the 50 yard sprint at Sports Day circa 1977 felt as good as seeing that fucking big trophy sitting there on that stage waiting for me.

Here is a photo of two of my more shy and retiring Fabulous Classmates, Che and Craig, enjoying the fucking big trophy after the awards ceremony:



There were three awards up for grabs for the journalism diploma students. Craig won the third award, for having the most stories published, even though he did not pass shorthand which was part of the criteria! Therefore he won this award simply due to being totally awesome. When he is rich and famous (and he will be), I hope he remembers I let him play with my fucking big trophy tonight, and rewards me with champagne and truffles and a ride on his diamond-bedecked unicorn at his Sydney harbourside luxury apartment and stuff.

Che said she wanted to look after the fucking big trophy for me, because as of next week I will be homeless and won't have a mantlepiece to put it on and anyway they'll need it back next year and I won't be here but she will. I'm not sure of the rules regarding fucking big trophies, but I said that would be ok. I hope it is, because she really liked it.

We journos tried to drink as much of the free wine as we possibly could in the allocated time. Then Che and Craig left and I utilised my fucking big trophy in true pikey-student fashion by filling it with food from the buffet before sidling off home myself.

On the way home I stopped in my favourite park to take a photo. It was still light, even though it was 10pm! That's school in the background, by the way, and sorry for the fuzziness of the pic, but my arms were suffering from muscle tremors due to having to carry a fucking big trophy:



See how big the trophy is? It's big enough for monkeys.

That's big, all right.

I've never had a trophy before, especially not a fucking big one. It weighs about the same as an average sized toddler. That's fucking big, for a trophy. It is all very funny, and very exciting.




Monday, 30 November 2009

Yes Way

excellent!

This is how awesome the heavens are:

My car is now legal. Viva Brian! Don't ask me what he did for his $460, as he certainly didn't fix the CV joint (Brian: "You don't mind a bit of knocking do ya?" Weasel: "No, it keeps me awake"), and paperwork is clearly not his forte (Weasel: "Do you have the inspection sheet?" Brian: "Er... um... no"), but he took it back to the original garage to get it reinspected*, and they were happy with it, and if they're happy, I'm happy.

I have also, ahem, come into some cash.

Tutor Smartypants rang me up last week.

"Are you around next Tuesday?" he said.

"Yup," I said.

"It's just that you've been invited to an awards ceremony," he said.

"Eh? Why?" I said.

"Because you've won an award," he said.

"Waaaaaaaagh! Which one?" I shrieked (calmly and dignified like).

"The one for being top student with best grades etc etc," he said.

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha [etc]" I said (slightly hysterical like).

"So it'd be really good if you could be there to pick it up."

"Oh yes," I said (The award is COLD HARD CASH).

"And while you're there," he said, "You could pick up the other one too."

"The other one?" I said (not at all quick on the uptake like).

"Yes, the I** G****** Award for Excellence in Journalism. You won that as well."

"I didn't."

"You did!"

"Excellence!" I spluttered, choking on the irony. There were several people in my class who are excellent reporters, far more excellent than I'll ever be even if I did it for a thousand million years, however they all flunked shorthand so didn't get their diplomas and therefore weren't eligible for any of the awards. Just me and another girl were, and the less said about that the better.

"Indeed," Tutor Smartypants said. "Well done."

The I** G****** Award for Excellence in Journalism is also cold hard cash and it is just about enough to pay for a flight home.






* I checked - I'm daft but I'm not that daft
** I have deleted the name of the awards in case google ever reveals to the awards people how I have described their hefty and impressive piece of silverware (see next post). I don't mean any offence, I just can't believe how fucking big it is.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Heaven Forbid

i thought it was you and me, little car: how could you DO this to me?

And then of course I see things like this and think I must be totally, screamingly mad to want to go back to the UK, Flatmate or no Flatmate. (I pored over those photos quite expecting to see the pair of us weaving home in the background. It did not make me proud).

But anyway.

I have a plan. Like all my plans, it relies heavily on the heavens smiling on me.

Unfortunately, the heavens must've had a lot on their plate recently. Two days after giving notice on my room, I took my car in for its WOF (warrant of fitness = MOT). The plan was for it to fail on one slightly frayed seatbelt and possibly the brakes, and for me to fix it swiftly and painlessly with the assistance of some early birthday and Christmas "presents" (ie cold hard cash) from My Lovely Sister and dad, then head north to spend the holidays in the sun, working and saving up for an airline ticket.

But then My Little Car betrayed me. Sniff! And I thought we were friends. It had conveniently forgotten to tell me about its dodgy steering rack, its suppurating CV joint, its wobbly headlight and the rust all along the firewall.

The nice man at the garage, whose name was Adrian, shook his head sorrowfully and said "About a grand to fix, mate. I don't know how to say this politely but you should maybe think about buying a new car."

I decided Adrian probably didn't know what he was talking about and took the car to a different, much seedier, garage in the wrong part of town.

"Ah yeah, no worries mate, we can patch that up for you for a couple of hundred," said a man called Brian with extraordinarily blue eyes. "I can't even see where the problem is: I expect we'll just need to wipe the oil off."

This sounded so much more affordable, yet so much more worrying, than the original prognosis.

"Um, the thing is, I have given notice on my house and so will need the car all fixed and warranted before the 5th of December because that is when I have to move out," I said. "I'm leaving Invercargill. I can't afford to buy a new car. I've only got about $500 to spare. I just need a WOF and then I'll be flogging it to some unsuspecting backpacker in a couple of months anyway."

"Yep, yep, no worries. We'll take a look. Bring it in on Monday," he said, pulling out a diary. I watched as he thumbed through blank pages until he found November.

"What time?" I asked.

"Oh, you know; any," he said. He scrawled something incomprehensible along the top of a page. "See you Monday then."

"OK, thanks," I said.

That was Thursday.

Today is Monday. Today I have been round to that garage six times so far. It has been locked up, deserted, each time. I look at the calendar and see a precious day of big strong oily men tending to my car, wasted. A small knot of fear sits in my stomach. I force myself to remember that the heavens have never let me down yet.

Brian, on the other hand, is a different matter.






Sunday, 22 November 2009

Tipping Point

the only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart, and beer

Friday, 11am. Walk to school. The sun is so hot I have to stop and take my coat off. I think I remember why this is - something called "summer".

Friday, 12pm. Attempt to use up some of the 453 print credits I have left by printing off three copies each of every story I got published this year. Afterwards, still have 351 print credits.

Friday, 1pm. Feature was marked and returned yesterday, so am just waiting for Tutor Smartypants to give back Wednesday's internet editing test and another exercise from that unit. Once this is done, my academic year is complete. Feel a bit weird about this.

Friday, 2pm. Take a big gulp, then delete everything from my school email account. Even though I have already backed up all my work to a CD and have a scrapbook full of clippings, still cannot bring myself to delete the stories from my hard drive.

Friday, 3pm. Classmates gather in the newsroom, drawn by Tutor Smartypants' offer of a few beers to celebrate the end of the year. Tutor Smartypants hands back the internet unit results. I passed. Of course I passed - I've passed everything to date, why was I so worried? Idiot girl. Big sigh of relief anyway: the uncertainty's over. Tucking the papers carefully into my backpack I feel that small, delicious, tingling sensation of my life being my own again. Get a kebab to celebrate. Then a double chocolate fudge sundae ice cream. In a waffle cone.

Friday, 4pm. Fed up of waiting for Tutor Smartypants and Tutor Mr mr, who for some inexplicable reason still appear to be working, we students (ex-students?) retire to the pub.

Friday, 5pm. Tutors are here, beer is flowing, life is good.

Friday, 6pm. Ditto. Bar tab ran out some time ago, but somehow beer is still flowing. Tutors are telling us how they reckon they've perfected their 'good cop bad cop' routine: Mr mr is The Nice One, Smartypants is Darth Maul. "If you're so evil," I say to Tutor Smartypants,"How come everyone at the ODT said 'Aw, he's lovely' when I went there for work experience?"

Friday, 7pm. Ditto. Tutors reveal they have both been following my blog throughout the year. "Oh no," I say. "Oh yes," they say. "Sorry about the trouser thing," I say.

Friday, sometime after the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth(?) pint. I hear Tutor Smartypants say to me, "You're totally mad, but you write beautifully. Beautiful writing. Just beautiful." I melt. A few pints in the pub on a Friday: $28. A year's study at the Southern Institute of Technology: $997. Hearing those words from someone I respect implicitly: priceless. I don't even mind the mad bit. As I stare drunkenly and dumbfoundedly at Tutor Smartypants across the table, something inside me shifts. The self-doubt crumbles. The moment crystallises into the reason I left Flatmate behind to come back to New Zealand. The year of hell I've endured in Invercargill has been entirely worth it.

Friday, now it's dark outside. Friends of the tutors have joined us. Why have I never noticed what a brilliant place Invercargill is before?

Friday, soon after. Someone taps me on the shoulder, a hand is proffered. "All the best," says Tutor Smartypants. And he's gone.

Some unspecified point between Friday and Saturday. Mr mr has stepped into the beer breach and pints are being magically replenished all round. I am talking to a right-handed architect called Brent, Southland Times reporter Amy, and a man from Sheffield who is awesome. Mr mr quizzes me on my relationship with Flatmate. His contention is that it makes no sense. My sole defence is "But he's lovely".

Closing time. Mr mr rounds up the willing and leads us to the piss-barn down the road for more beer and dancing. Like baby ducklings, we follow.

Saturday, 2am-ish. A live band is playing at the piss-barn. The beautiful music student is there watching. I ogle wistfully. One of my Fabulous Classmates is removed from the premises by a bouncer for falling asleep on the unkindly comfortable leather sofa.

Saturday, 3am-ish. Where is all this beer coming from? The Weasel finds her feet and takes to the dancefloor with gusto. I am immediately set upon by a young man who insists I meet his friend "David Bain". He drags me to the smoking area where "David Bain" is having a ciggie. "David Bain" is indeed a tall, weedy sort of chap with spectacles and a monstrous jumper. "David Bain" tells me he is a well-paid computer geek with no girlfriend and I should come back to his house for a party later. "David," I say, "I would but you slaughtered your family. How can I trust you?*"

Saturday, 4am. Just me, Mr mr, one solitary Fabulous Classmate, Brent the right-handed architect, "David Bain" and "David Bain"'s mate remain. We are throwing some serious shapes on the dancefloor, and creating a bit of a mardi gras atmosphere, but the bouncer kicks us out regardless. "We're closing," he explains. That is like so unfair.

Saturday, 4.10am. Brent the right-handed architect lives just across the road and wants us to come back to his flat to listen to music. Mr mr and Brent adopt a tactic of deliberately dawdling so as to lose "David Bain" and chum. I think this is a shame. It is a well-established part of my social repertoire to collect random weird people on my nights out**. At the flat, Brent plays The Pixies and Arcade Fire so loud I have to cover my ears. Mr mr, Brent and Fabulous Classmate dance drunkenly as I look on regally from a reclining armchair.

Saturday, 4.45am-ish. Fabulous Classmate has found a guitar. She insists the music is turned down so she can showpiece her guitar-playing abilities. I think how fun this would be if Flatmate were here. But he isn't. He is 11,929 miles away. Start to get gloomy.

Saturday, 5am. Stand up abruptly, put coat on, wave at Fabulous Classmate (who is still murdering the guitar), shake Brent the right-handed architect's hand. Mr mr comes over. "You're leaving?" He gathers me up in a big bear hug, kisses my forehead. "Take care, love ya," he says. This could be the beer talking. I leave. Why is there a lump in my throat?

Saturday, 5.05am. The sky is lightening in the east through a gap in the clouds. The morning chorus is deafening, a weird sci-fi soundtrack, an alien language. I shuffle homewards through my favourite park. I feel desolate. Tears are building behind my eyes like a tropical storm. Eventually, they spill. I don't stop them. I don't really know why I'm crying. I drop to the ground by the stream under a weeping willow and let it all out. Now I'm howling: tears and snot and pure, sweet pain. Articulate it, my rational brain urges. What's the problem, Weasel? You've had a great night, a great year. Why are you so sad?

"I miss you, Flatmate," I bawl to the trees and the birds and the stream. "I'm done here now. I want to come home."










*Note to Mr Bain's solicitors - This was merely light-hearted banter as David was cleared of his murder convictions at his retrial and it is wrong to suggest the verdict was flawed.
**Note to my friend Matt - remember the guy who was so drunk he'd shat himself? Awesome. I still stand by my belief that the magnificence of his shirt outweighed the smell.



Monday, 16 November 2009

Countdown

coming soon

I have written my feature. It is 1545 words of chocolately goodness. In essence, it is a thinly disguised pop at the council for being a visionless bunch of twats. I like it very much. If the newspaper doesn't want it - which is significantly more than highly likely - I may even post it up here.

I spent a small part of Friday night working it. Then a small part of Saturday night. Yesterday, I treated myself to a whole evening off, and lounged around eating chocolate. This morning - the deadline is tomorrow - I thought I'd better get cracking.

So I prised myself out of bed early. I sat down at my desk. I cranked up the laptop. I spread out my notes. I flexed my delicate little Weasel paws. Then there was a knock at my door.

Somehow, and I don't know how this happened, my female housemate has got the idea that she and I are best buddies. I think it may be because I have an inexplicably high tolerance for idiots, and can nod in all the right places when they are banging on about their latest bout of meaningless, self-inflicted crises.

Today's crisis was that she still doesn't have a job. She hasn't had a job since she chucked in two perfectly good ones in Invercargill in June to move to Auckland to look for a job. When she got to Auckland she found she didn't like it there, so she came back to Invercargill three weeks later having spent all her savings. She has no money, and she does not qualify for a government benefit because she is from overseas, and there is no work, no work anywhere at all. She's already had money sent from home three times. She cannot go on like this. What is she to do!

As we were talking, her phone rang. It was the employment agency, the one she's been bombarding with phone calls and visits for weeks, pleading with them to find her work. Bombarding to the extent they had to tell her politely to quit bugging them.

We have a job for you, they said. We need people immediately, today - can you get here right now?

The agency is a ten minute walk away.

No, said my housemate, it is raining, and I cannot walk in the rain because I get a fever. Perhaps lunchtime when I can get a lift? No? Okay then. Bye.

Without missing a beat, she hung up and carried on talking about how terrible life was. For a moment I contemplated killing her and burying her in the garden, but in the end I began shuffling my notes and chewing my pencil and saying things like "Well, that's interesting, but I really do have a lot of work to do."

"Oh Weasel," she said, "Can I just quickly borrow your laptop? I know you are busy, but I will be very quick."

I handed it over in silence - silence for me is always a very big clue I am thinking "YOU MORON" - and started re-reading the tutor's 'how to write a feature' handout. After a couple of minutes, I glanced over. She was browsing through her emails. Then I heard:

"I show you a picture of my brother!" I was treated to a tour of an online family photo album. Followed by a quick tour on google maps of the place she grew up.

Eventually, I managed to wrestle her out of my room. I wrote the feature. As I was doing so, I had the realisation I really, really like writing. Then I walked into town, and went to the letting agency, and gave three weeks' notice on my tenancy.

I am outta here.




Thursday, 12 November 2009

I Shall Say Zis Only Once

diploma: u r doin it rite

This morning, at about 9.17am, and not that I was counting, I passed the second shorthand test.

The chances of me getting a diploma are suddenly looking rather good. As far as course work goes, I have one story waiting to be marked, and one review (they MADE us go and see an am-dram performance of 'Allo 'Allo for this, which I feel breaches some sort of human right). There is a 1500-word feature left to write, and an internet/editing test next Wednesday which Tutor Smartypants, in his professional capacity, described as "a piece of piss". And that is it.

Short of shitting on Tutor Smartypants' desk, or eating his baby, I am cautiously optimistic I now have no need for the image (above) I "borrowed" and carefully filed away when I saw it several months ago, ready for this time of year.

Huzzah.

Discussing this astonishing turn of events with Tutor Smartypants this morning (and he no less astonished than I - "Just think, this time next week you will be a fully qualified journalist, and Jesus that is scary for so many reasons," I think he said) I put it to him that for me, this year had mainly been confirmation of something I already knew - that I can do what I'm told.

He looked surprised when I said that. So surprised, in fact, maybe I need to go away and reassess that opinion.

But before we start all the thinky stuff, there's that small matter of the 1500-word feature.

See you on the other side.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

Here Is The News

bong...

Invercargill was rocked this morning by the news One Fine Weasel passed the first of two shorthand tests required to obtain a National Diploma in Journalism.

Ms Weasel, 42, stayed up until midnight yesterday, and got up early this morning, to put in the extra practice needed to achieve this feat.

She said she had resigned herself to failing the entire course because, despite eight months of study, she had yet to master the outline for 'little'.

"Goddamn, I blitzed that motherfucker today," a jubilant Ms Weasel told a crowd of well-wishers after the event.

"And that in spite of the fact I wasn't even wearing my lucky T-shirt. In-s-p-t. Wr-ing. L-k-i. Oh God. Gin. I need gin, give me gin," she said.

Shorthand tutor Lynn Youshouldn'tbeleavinganygapsatthisstage said Ms Weasel had performed well under pressure.

Ms Youshouldn'tbeleavinganygapsatthisstage said there had been just 1.5 errors in her transcript, and several lucky guesses.

"One [shorthand test] down, one to go," she said.

Classmate Sandra Yeahbut said Ms Weasel was overcome with emotion after the examination.

"She basically demanded a hug and then burst into tears," Ms Yeahbut said.

"After I'd wiped the snot off my shoulder we talked about stress-related illness for a bit then went and had a coffee."

The test required students to take dictation in Teeline shorthand at 80 words per minute for three minutes, then accurately transcribe their notes.

Ms Weasel has five opportunities left to pass a second test.



Monday, 2 November 2009

One Year

Us, but who's the chicken?

It has been one year, my love.

One year today since I last saw you, held you, kissed you.

One year since we huddled together on a sofa in the Buddha, smiling at the open mic offerings with our fingers entwined and you looking at me like I was the most beautiful thing in the world.

One year since we wandered in Roath Park, lovestruck, at 3am. It was drizzling. We huddled close under your umbrella, walked and talked, looked at the ducks. You stood on a tree stump and told the world you loved me. You said you knew I was the one, the one you would settle down with. Nobody, ever, would be as good as the Weasel, you said as you gathered me into the folds of your coat and held me there for a warm eternity.

"Do you remember that first time," I said, "That first time we walked in the park together and you were going off on one about Shakespeare right there by the boatsheds and I didn't know what you were talking about?"

"That was the night we played Scrabble in the Albany and that man came and looked over our shoulders and didn't believe 'hew' was a word," he said. "I seem to remember I got two seven letter words that night. Who would've thought it would end up like this? I love you Weasel," he said. "I love you."

"Even though it is impossible to beat you at Scrabble," I said, "I love you too."

A night of a thousand kisses.

Dreams whispered, intentions stated. We both had separate paths to take for a year or two, but after that...

No promises made. Promises are too easily broken. Let love go free and it comes back to you. Tie it down and it wriggles away. Place trust instead in the process, in the feeling. You and me - it felt so right.

My feelings haven't changed at all since that night, little badger, or since that terrible morning when I crept away from your house into the grey Cardiff dawn, cold and numb with shock that I was actually leaving you.

It has been one year, my love. I have missed you every single day.



Friday, 30 October 2009

Angels With Pencils

it has been scientifically proven that merely owning the stuff makes you healthier

When I withdrew my operations at home into the sanctuary of my room, seeking to avoid polluted kitchens and voluble, moronic housemates, I purchased a small, cheap table thing from an old lady charity shop to put my kettle, toaster, fruit bowl and muesli collection on.

I bought this table many months ago. I carried it home with my bare hands. I dusted it, gave it a wipedown, and arranged my kettle, toaster, fruit bowl and muesli boxes on it.

Every morning, I leapt out of bed (...kinda) and rushed across the room to whip up a cup of instant coffee and two slices of toast to start my day (muesli is too demanding to actually eat - I don't have time for chewing).

Every morning, I looked at the table and saw nothing but crumbs.

Yesterday morning, as I waited for the kettle to boil, I glanced down and noticed something odd. Something written, in large letters, near the corner of the table. A pencilled message. Right in the gap between the kettle and the toaster.

What did it say?

I leaned in. It was upside down, facing the wall. I turned my head.

It said, "I love you".

Wow.

Faced with a straightforward choice between 'that has always been there and I just haven't noticed it' and 'I have been visited overnight by pencil-wielding angels', a Weasel will always go for the sexier option.

Squealing quietly with delight, I immediately texted Flatmate to tell him about this exciting angelic development.

That is scarily cool, he replied. I have been wishing a lot of good things for u recently but a talking coffee table, well! I love you too x x


UPDATE: I went out and bought batteries for my camera today just so I could show you the angelic endorsement on my table thing. Here it is. Unfortunately while the camera failed to pick out in any meaningful way the pencilled message, it certainly knew how to focus on the crumbs. Angels clearly don't mind sloppy housekeeping.





Monday, 26 October 2009

Hair Here Hair

oh i curled up and dyed

Okay, so perhaps one afternoon you were all shorthanded out and so to take a break from all the studying you decided to pootle about on the internet for a bit.

And so you went to Google image and typed in the phrase "hairstyles for a 42 year-old woman", because you happened to be a 42 year-old woman who needed a haircut.

I'm guessing you wouldn't be too surprised to find pictures like this:



Or this:



Or even this:



But this?



(Actually I really like the orange one).

Remember these are all results meant to be offering styling advice to the, ahem, more mature lady:







But this was my favourite:



"Cut my hair like Josef Fritzl's, bitch, and no I'm not doing anything nice at the weekend."



Sunday, 25 October 2009

Scribble

(i also have a digital voice recorder)

Too much shorthand hurts
All day I have toiled but still
my pencil fails me.


Just a little haiku there to get things started (blame the man with no accent).

The excitement is mounting. Shorthand exam no.2 came and went with yet again not one solitary soul passing the damn thing. I cannot describe to you what a foul mood that put me in, as I had convinced myself that this time I would scrape through using a combination of 1) a swig of Baileys just prior to the test, and 2) rat cunning.

Now the awful truth looms - I will actually have to do shitloads more practice.

Life just like totally sucks sometimes.




Thursday, 15 October 2009

Teeline Is My Life

on the other hand, i'm not doing too bad

We had our first shorthand exam today. The first of nine - we have to pass two to get the diploma. Dictation at 80wpm for three minutes; today a passage called 'The Art of Listening'. Ha bloody ha.

I failed.

The great news is, so did everybody else! Including the only person in the class who's been blitzing the 80s up until now.

I am immensely cheered by this. And having made a mere 25 errors out of potentially hundreds - nay, thousands - in today's transcript, I have vowed to devote my life to shorthand until I crack this thing.

Today in class the tutor said the word "sphere". I only realised I'd traced a 's', 'f' and 'r' in the air with my finger when everyone laughed at me.


(That says 'bring it on' in Teeline, by the way. And no Beadle jokes please).


Monday, 12 October 2009

Reasons To Be Fretful, Part III

and now i'm not just worried about the baggage retrieval system they've got at heathrow, i'm also worried about the weird cat thing in the video too

OK, so where do I start.

I'll start with this baby, spotted last week in a local newspaper - a graphic depicting every single earthquake on my doorstep between 15 July and mid-August this year:



That's a lot of earthquakes. Pic nicked with thanks from LINZ. But that's not all. The whole of New Zealand appears to be being tickled by tectonics at present. The last one was yesterday in Gisborne, and there was a reasonably big one the day before in Wellington. Click here if you don't believe me. I know it's a rickety old country but still. Next!



Now this very attractive graphic is nicked from Stuff and it's about the recent Samoan tsunami. It's not the times of impending tsunaminess that worry me, it's all the other little dots showing all the other earthquakes around the place. (If you can't see the pic very well click here to big). And of course we've had the Vanuatu one since.

Now have a look at this:



Unfortunately, nicking all these graphics has made them go squished and fuzzy so to see the above pic clearly I suggest you visit USGS here to see all the world's earthquakes in the last month.

My point is this. All this seismic activity is making me jittery. I can't help but feel we're building up to a big one. I don't like earthquakes. Before I moved to New Zealand I used to scoff at those fools who made their homes on fault lines. The thought of nice, solid, dependable terra firma going postal on my ass is not a pleasant one. And yes, yes, I know the earth moves around all the time, I've read books you know.

But here's the thing. Take a squizz at the USGS map. Top left. Up there, tucked away at the top of Europe. See it? Little green place. Wales. Cardiff, in particular. Not one bleeding earthquake. It's kind of making me want to go there, immediately. But only because it's statistically safer - nothing to do with Flatmate, honest.

Up next is this: NZ$208. Not only is this my weekly income, it's also the approximate state of my bank balance. Yikes. My car's WOF (MOT, in Pom-speak) ran out in July and I haven't had the dosh to patch up the stuff that needs doing to get it roadworthy again. But I will need my little car ready for my escape from Invercargill in six week's time. What is a Weasel to do? Good thing I love a challenge! And good thing I know that everything always works out in the end, somehow! And a very good thing I am able to survive on dandelion leaves, breadcrumbs, and moisture from the air when necessary.

Then there is this: my living arrangements are stressful.

I share a house with three people. One keeps crying all the time, because she is a long way from home, and she cannot find a job, and she has no money. "Weasel," she cries, wringing her hands, "You must help me. You must know someone who can give me a job because you are a journalist!" I am forced to admit my contacts extend to the man at the council who does drains and sewerage, and two old ladies involved in Good Works. Her boyfriend, who lives in the house too, is a recruitment consultant. He is also a long way from home, but is dealing with it by being a pompous arse who cannot get his girlfriend a job. They are harmless people, but tend to watch TV at a volume that threatens to shake ones eyeballs loose from one's skull, talk VERY LOUDLY at all times, leave floods of water on every bathroom surface after they have been in there, and dedicate ten minutes of their morning ablutions to noisily hawking, snorting and retching up the contents of their noses and throats. As a Quiet Person with Impeccable Habits, I find this trying.

The third housemate is a Nazi. He watches Nazi documentaries late into the night, chuckling away as the Messerschmidts whine and the machine guns rattle. He plays death metal "music" at ear-splitting volumes on Sunday afternoons. He has stuck up a picture of Rommel on the noticeboard in the lounge. He wants to get a swastika tattoo. Also - and this is the worst bit - he turns off the taps so tightly my little Weasel paws struggle to undo them. He would be a blog post all by himself if I could bear to think about him. As it is, I don't want him in my head. So I will just add that since I stopped using (and therefore cleaning) the kitchen it has unpleasant stains on the tea-towels, mouse shit on every surface, and thick furry black mould in the microwave thanks to Nazi's overflowing instant noodle preparations.

I stay in my room with my breadcrumbs.

And then of course there's school. First day back and by lunchtime I am already swearing at Kad for being an annoying tit (well, he was) and the retards are getting to me and I have two essays, two stories and a scholarship submission to do by Friday. And shorthand. Bloody, bleeding shorthand. To pass the diploma, I have to increase my speed by at least 20 words per minute within, oh, a week.

I suspect this ain't gonna happen.

But hey.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

¾

because I'm worth it

I am very excited about being three quarters of the way through my course.

I have been sorting through the mound of notes and handouts I've accumulated in readiness for throwing it all in the bin in two months' time. It is a nice feeling. And instead of being filed in piles on the floor, my academic output is now stored in three neat, smart, colour co-ordinated folders. It looks kinda sexy.

Work Experience II was lovely. If I wanted to work as a reporter and if I wanted to stay in Invercargill I would definitely want a job at this place. I worked with a small team of friendly, unfazeable people who asked almost nothing of me and gave me a thank you card and a box of chocolates when I left.

They said I did really well which is astonishing as they hardly forced me to do any work. When left to my own devices I tend to follow the advice a friendly Buddhist called Neil once gave me: Do as much as necessary and as little as possible (he was a fine fellow).

What I did at this place was chat to then write stories about: a chemist, a violinist, a lady who'd lost weight on some diet programme, a window dresser, the receptionist of the local backpacker's hostel, a teacher who'd organised a school's art exhibition, a lively woman who runs a speed dating business, some kids who were learning how to grow vegetables, the owners of a noodle restaurant, and some people at the polytechnic who were doing a computer course.

I also stood in the street and asked five people how they would feel if Invercargill's name was changed then wrote down what they told me (and took their photographs), watched a school production of Guys and Dolls, wrote 300 words about Pink Ribbon day, and took photos of the mayor outside a fish & chip shop. On my last day I strolled with a real reporter along to the library to ask some children about their favourite books.

That, my dears, was it. Sum total of a fortnight's toil. It felt wrong. Work, to me, involves sweating and frowning and going home physically exhausted at the end of the day. One of the main problems I am having with journalism is that it doesn't truly feel like work.

The blondest thing I did was to write a photo caption that started "Fourteen people...". When the paper came out it was hard to escape the fact the photo was of nineteen people. But I need Tutor Smartypants' withering sarcasm to survive.

I still got a box of chocolates though; he can't take that away from me.

One term to go.

Awesome.


Monday, 28 September 2009

Talk To The Animals

painting by amy jordan

I left work just after six, and meandered through empty streets with vague thoughts of a stroll in the park before darkness fell.

Turning a corner, a bird sat waiting. A small brown lady blackbird, perched on a low wall. It caught my eye, so I said hello.

It hopped along the wall just ahead of me. Then it flew to a bush outside the next property. It waited for me to catch up, looked me square in the eye, then flew to the next tree.

As I walked, the blackbird swooped and fluttered ahead, a short distance each time, pausing while I drew level, then flying off again.

This, I thought, is just like Narnia (except colder). From bush to wall to guttering, that bird was definitely trying to lead me somewhere.

So I followed. It was not the first time a bird had brought me a message. I thought back to the time when my mum was dying.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'd flown back to England at my sister's request: "She's really in a bad way this time."

It was the second mercy dash I'd made that year. I'd come back to find nothing had changed - all the suggestions I'd made to my dad on how to make Mum's life easier had been ignored.

There was still no home help, still no medical intervention. No ramp installed for a wheelchair, no commode - even though she could barely walk - and no bed brought downstairs. Worse, no alteration to meal routines to accommodate the fact she could barely chew or swallow. It was just meat and two veg, the same as it ever was, and screams of abuse when she failed to eat them. Screams of abuse when she didn't make it to the toilet on time, too. No concessions had been made at all for her frailty. My father, the coward and the bully, the stupid, selfish man, simply refused to accept she was ill.

My mother, the eternal victim, thought it was her due, and suffered in silence while my father and I battled around her. I raged with him from the moment I arrived to try and get him to release his iron grip on her life, but he would not budge.

As her spouse, he was her next of kin and legal guardian and without his permission I could not involve social services in her care.

He resented my "interfering". "I'm not having those people in my house," he'd spit.

Sometimes I wondered if I was one of "those people" too.

My mother was too ill and defeated to stand up to him. "It's not worth it, he gets so angry." She'd given up years ago. She so badly needed help. I fought and fought.

I went for a walk one night, to escape the house of misery. My feet paced automatically along streets I'd roamed as a child, as familiar to me then as they'd ever been though it had been seventeen years since I'd moved away. In a broad tree-lined alley next to a church hall, I heard a rustle in the dusty bushes close to my feet. I stopped, and peered down to see what had made the noise.

It was a dove. A small white dove. Just sitting there.

I stared at it. It stared at me.

I edged closer. How near could I get before it took fright and escaped? It drew back. I inched nearer still, and put my hand out towards it. In a sudden whirl of feathers it tried to fly away. But it couldn't. It flapped a few feet off the ground, then fell back to the floor, its chest heaving.

Its wings weren't broken. There wasn't any blood. What was wrong with this little bird that it couldn't fly?

I knelt in the dirt and for a while we watched each other silently. The bird is clearly damaged, I thought, and I can't leave it here for a fox or a cat to get. I have to help it. I have to take it home and phone the RSPCA.

Sorry, I informed the dove telepathically, I know you're afraid but I am going to have to pick you up and pop you into my jacket so we can get you sorted out.

I reached out again. Again it tried to get away. We repeated the manoeuvre a few times. It occurred to me if I did manage to catch it I could damage it even more. I carried on anyway. Eventually the dove scuttled under another bush, completely out of reach.

I sat on my haunches, and thought very hard.

A few minutes later, I got up, stretched my creaking legs, thanked the bird for the lesson, wished it all the luck in the world, and carried on walking.

It was painful to leave it behind, but I had just figured out you can't help things that don't want to be helped.

Some things are simply out of your hands. Some things are not your responsibility. You can't fix someone's life - even when it's badly wrong - if they are choosing to live that way. You just have to do what you can, and let the rest go.

The next day I told mum I could no longer fight her battles for her. I told her I would back her all the way but if she wanted things to change at home she would have to pick up the phone and call social services herself.

She was terrified, but she did.

I have never admired her more.

Shame it was too little too late.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Anyway, that was not my only bird experience - my friend Noeline once called me a goose.

The blackbird hopped and fluttered along the road until it reached a sludge-coloured building. There, it hid in a bush out front, and refused to play the 'leading Weasel down the road' game anymore.

I glanced up to see what the building was.

It was a diagnostic medical laboratory.

Hmmm.

Cats talk to me too, but usually only to say things like 'Worship me for I am beautiful', or 'Where is my food?'


Sunday, 27 September 2009

Time Travel

the future is only a quantum mechanic objective basic probability anyway

Saturday. BK phones.

"Are you excited about the clocks going forward tonight?" he says. "I am. I've already put the clock on my bedside table forward so I don't forget to do the others."

"The clocks aren't going forward tonight, idiot!" I say. "They go forward in October. They don't go forward this early. Do they?"

"Duh, yes they do."

"But I'm working at a newspaper! I disseminate vital information to the public! How come I didn't know this?"

"Because you're an idiot? I've been looking forward to it for weeks. It's summer, innit!"

"I refuse to believe you. They always go forward in October. Why would they suddenly change it to September?"

"The clocks are going forward. Tonight. Really."

"You're winding me up. I know what you're like. This is a trick. Instead of believing you, I shall verify this with an independent source, because I am a journalist and learning journalism has made me clever."

I forget to check.

Waking on Sunday, I remember this. Now, while I am pretty sure what day it is, I am not 100% certain of the time. This is a disconcerting feeling. My clock says twenty to eleven... but is it?

I text BK.

"I 4got2 check!"

"It's 11.42am on Monday, they decided to skip a whole day this year too."

"Pls don't make this worse for me. U kno I am easily confused."

"Wooo I exist in the future."

"I think I just slipped in2 the fourth dimension. Stop messin wiv my brain."

"You never really existed in this one. It's 11.42ish on Sunday, the year is 2012."

"I shall wait 2 hear wot the little man in the radio has to say about it thank u. Meanwhile I shall carry on in Weaseltime. Chances r nobody wil notice anyway."

I switch the radio on.

Bollocks.


Monday, 21 September 2009

The Office

My first day of work experience went well. I interviewed a rather spunky (and please note, British readers, spunky means something very different in New Zealand) young violinist, and a pharmacist, wrote two reasonable stories, and scored a big slice of chocolate cake. If only every day could be like that.

The last place I was at was like this:



But this place is like this:



So I think I'll be ok.