A kind of Kiwi New Year

Remember the days when New Year’s Eve was the most important night of the year? The days when there would be months of planning going into one night? Trying to be at the perfect party, at the perfect location, and with the perfect outfit? Yeah, me neither. It’s been too long. I’m the parent of a 19-year-old and a 16-year-old. My New Year largely revolves around making sure they are getting to where they are partying, and home again, safely. It is this parental duty that resulted in me and my other half making a spontaneous trip further down New Zealand’s east coast to the Coromandel Peninsula.

While our ’baby’ stayed with friends in ‘teenage party central‘ Whangamata, hubby, and I headed slightly further north óf there to the quieter town of Pauanui for a couple of nights. Pauanui sits on the mouth of the Tairua river opposite the larger town that shares the river’s name. Pauanui has a permanent population of about 1200 which swells to around 15000 over the holiday period.

We stayed with friends who own a bach in the town. A bach is a traditional Kiwi word for a holiday home, usually modest and often located near a beach. Our two-night stay consisted of walking, swimming in the surf, drinking wine, barbequing, drinking wine, playing bananagrams (my new favourite game), drinking wine, reading, and sleeping.

On December 31st we headed back over the hills of the Coromandel Forest Park to the town of Thames situated at the southwestern end of the Coromandel Peninsula. From here hubby caught a bus home to Auckland as he had to work the following day and I checked into a campsite just outside the town for two nights.

And this dear friend is where I spent New Year’s Eve. After a dip in the river, a snacky dinner, and a couple of glasses of wine I fell asleep in front of the TV at about 9pm in the dinky caravan with fixed awning I had rented at $85 per night. After a three-hour nap, I woke up at midnight, check with the kids that they were both alive and well, wished them a Happy New Year, and fell back to sleep. It was the polar opposite of a wild night. The upside was I woke refreshed and ready for adventure on the first day of 2022.

After reviewing the compendium folder in the caravan I opted for a short road trip to Rapaura Watergardens. After paying the $15 entry fee I set about exploring the 64-acre private estate. After I’d reached the furthest point at a lookout over a waterfall I found a spot beside a waterlily pond and did some art. It was well worth the trip.

The remainder of my time at the campsite was spent trying to stay cool, sitting or lying in the river, while reading or resting.

On my way back to Auckland I stopped briefly at the Shortland Cemetery. Set high on a hill on the outskirts of Thames it has been in use since the late 1860’s and is the final resting place of four infant siblings of my hubby’s grandmother, Helena Scott (nee Papa). Once I made the climb to the cemetery I realised it would be nigh on impossible for me to locate Flora who died in 1872 aged 11 months, Annie who died in 1878 aged 7 months, Laurence who also died in 1878 aged 9 weeks, or Rosetta who died in 1885 aged 3 months. The section they were likely to be in was both hilly and overgrown and I had on some very unsafe fake Birkenstock sandals. It was a recipe for a broken ankle or worse. Grandma Helena and another five siblings seem to all have made it to adulthood, while losing 4 out of 10 children would be horrific now I’m sure at the time it was fairly common odds.

Back to Auckland for a rest!

On a completely unrelated matter my second book, What Goes On Tour too is on sale on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for a limited time. It’s always free to read if you belong to Kindle Unlimited.

Happy New Year!

The end of 2011 & the beginning of 2021

Two days past December 25th and I’m still full of Christmas food. While I’m fighting off this food coma I’ve cast my mind back again to 10 years ago and our very different holiday period.

27th December 2011

A Laos sandwich is a great way to start a day. Today’s was scrambled egg, tomato, and cucumber and encased in baguette heaven. After fueling our bodies we set off to see Wat Phu.

Wat Phu was built 1500 years ago to worship the goddess of love, Shiva. There are lots of phallic shapes around and also a crocodile stone where they used to make human sacrifices usually of young girls, so we sacrificed Kenny, just kidding.

Thank goodness it was only a couple of hours drive to our next destination as I seem to have lost the ability to remain conscious while onboard the bus. The engine starting has some kind of magic hypnotic effect and immediately I start nodding off. We arrived at the endpoint of our journey with the Stray bus, it had served us well on this trip from Thailand through the length of Laos. We farewelled it and the driver before boarding a longboat to get to Don Det. Don Det is the second largest island in an area known as the 4000 Islands and it is possibly the most chillaxed place ever. The remainder of the afternoon was spent dozing in a hammock on a balcony overlooking the river before moving to our guesthouse room to doze some more.

28th December

More hammock time this morning. As I catch up on some Internet time, Kenny is lying in a sunny spot on the balcony and the boys have gone off to kick Christian’s Takraw ball around. After a lazy breakfast, we hired two bikes ($1.50 for the day) and headed off with one child on the back of each. We cycled to the other end of Don Det crossing a bridge to enter a national park. We checked out the local Wat then the local waterfall and had a swim. Lunch followed then the race was on to get back for a cold shower and back into the hammock, the circle of the day complete.

Tomorrow we head off in the morning to Cambodia, country

29th December

Today was one of those days when you’re traveling that are really no fun at all. We checked out of Mr. Mo’s guest house which aside from the cockroaches and the lumpy mattresses had been great. Under the guidance of the aforementioned Mr. Mo, we started our journey to Cambodia. All was smooth sailing to start with crossing the Mekong by longboat and getting a minivan to the border. Mr. Mo left us then and we had to look after ourselves for the first time in weeks.

The Laos/Cambodia border was so corrupt it was actually comical. First, we had to get our passports stamped to leave Laos. This cost $2USD each. Then we went to ‘quarantine’, which may be a leftover from the bird flu epidemic but has proved too profitable to get rid of (it would be fascinating to find out how they are dealing with covid!). We had health forms to fill out, had our temperature taken, and were charged $1USD each. We then walked about 500m through no man’s land to start the rort at the other side.

$23USD each for the actual Visa and then another $2USD each for the same trio of wee men issuing the visa to stamp it. There are grand border buildings being constructed on both sides but for now, business is conducted in a series of tin sheds, at the rate they get money out of you they should have the new ones finished in no time.

There were a whole bunch of travelers sitting in any shady spot they could find waiting for a bus. When the bus arrived and the locker doors opened it was like the backpacker Olympics to get to the bus first, get your luggage stored, and get inside to get a seat. This is where traveling in numbers has its advantages. Murray was able to take care of getting our two backpacks under the bus while the kids and I got on board and secured seats. This proved crucial as the number of seats was heavily outnumbered by the number of people who had paid for tickets for the 8-hour trip, which actually ended up taking 9 hours. Never fear, out came plastic stools which were put in the aisle for the unlucky folk who missed out on the padded seats. When one disillusioned soul asked ‘is this a sleeper bus,’ the attendant cackled and replied ‘yes, sure, you sleep on da floor’. Cue evil laugh. Hilarious.

What the bus lacked in seats it made up for in hideous decor and disorganization. The bus windows were lined with purple patterned curtains that gathered with tassels along the front windscreen. Entertainment was in the form of comedy shows which were played at ear-piercing volume. They may well have been hilarious for the 1 person who spoke the language. Eventually a Sth African man begged the driver to turn it off.

Occasionally the bus would stop and passengers who were connecting to other destinations would be ushered off. Often they’d return a few minutes later after discovering this wasn’t where they actually wanted to be or where their connection was only to discover their seat was now taken. A foursome dropped off at the wrong spot pulled up alongside the bus a few minutes after it had left on the back of a flotilla of scooters, their suitcases wedged between them and the locals helping them.

We were fortunate that the young couple who sat in the aisle between us were both from my hometown, Tauranga. We had a nice time chatting to them and the male of the pair enjoyed playing on the iPad with the kids. We eventually arrived at Phnom Penh after 9pm tired and hungry, not at a bus station as we had expected, but at a row of tuk-tuks with which we had to haggle with to get to where we wanted to go. Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr Tommy, wants to be our driver for the day tomorrow and has promised us he’ll be waiting for us at 10am.

Friday 30th December

As promised Mr Tommy was waiting for us, not at 10am as we had agreed, but at 8.30. Full marks for promptness, keenness, and making sure we didn’t get lured in by another driver. We negotiated a fee of $15 USD for him to take us where we wanted to go for the day and our family of 5 set off. Yes, our family has expanded. We have been adopted by a French Canadian dude who is lovesick as his recent travel love has gone back to Korea.

Our first stop was at Former office S.21, the genocide museum. This used to be a school until April 1975, when it was changed to a detention, interrogation, torture, and murder facility on the order of Pol Pot, the nutcase leader of the Khmer Rouge. Only 7 people came out alive of the approximately 20 000 that were imprisoned.

It was a deeply sobering and creepy place to be and Kenny particularly was moved by the exhibits and photos.

From there we went to the Choeung Ek killing fields, one of 300 such places throughout Cambodia. We had an excellent audio tour that described in horrific detail how the Khmer Rouge murdered innocent people. Still visible today in the ground are fragments of bone and teeth and victims’ clothing rising up through the dry earth. The memorial Stupa holds hundreds of skulls many of which are visibly damaged from their death.

While I continue my Christmas food coma recovery it’s sobering to revisit this horrific time in the history of Cambodia. I long to be traveling again and be able to have the experiences that go along with it, both the good and the bad. Here’s hoping 2022 will be a year of travel!

A different kind of Christmas

As I rush around like a mad thing, worrying that I haven’t bought the right gifts, or enough gifts while spending hours trying to juggle work and traffic to buy these gifts I’ve cast my mind back 10 years and a simpler Christmas.

24th December 2011

It’s Christmas Eve. It doesn’t feel very Christmassy. Laos being a Communist and Buddhist country doesn’t do Christmas. There have been a few Christmas trees in places where more Westerner’s hang out, but off the beaten track not a pine tree or a piece of tinsel to be seen. Today we are heading to the Xe Champhone Wetlands to Ban Don Ling, Village Forrest Monkey, or Monkey Forrest Village of you put it in English order, for a home stay. After learning from a previous night spent in close quarters with our tour group, we have come prepared and have earplugs to combat the German snoring champs!

On the way to Ban Don Ling we stop to pick up some supplies. Six year old Christian had an up close encounter with a Laos lady. A group of women were pointing to him asking me, I think, if he was a boy or girl. While I was trying to work out how to communicate that he is a boy one of the women took the situation into her own hands, literally, and grabbed a shocked Christian in the groin to find out for herself!

After our lunch stop we ditched our Stray bus and took to a tuk tuk as the roads were so bad.


We made 2 other stops on the way to our night stop, one to see soft shell turtles and feed them popcorn?! They are very unattractive creatures, but don’t say that to their face as the locals believe they are spirits or something and it’s very very bad to speak ill of them. The next stop was at a 200 year old temple that was bombed during the ‘Secret War’, or as the Laos call it the ‘American War’.

The tuk tuk dropped us beside a wide river. The village we were heading to was on the other side. To get there we needed to traverse a treacherous bamboo ‘bridge’. Entertaining I’m sure for the locals to watch us ‘Falang’ (westerners) tottering over while the locals skip across with ease.

Our accommodation for the night was in a village which is home to 810 people and far too many roosters. We stayed in the Chiefs sisters house, a fascinating experience but not at all conducive for a good nights sleep.

The houses in the village are built high on stilts to stop them getting flooded in the rainy season when the river rises. The inside of the house is reached via steep, rickety stairs. There are no toilets inside the houses. There are communal toilet blocks centrally located for the village to share. What with the stairs, the lack of any lighting and the roaming roosters I took my life in my hands getting down to get to the community loo’s in the middle of the night.

25th December 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanucha and Happy Hmong New Year, so many ways to celebrate today!

We started the day early, i.e. 4 (insert swear word) am when the roosters and the locals get up for the day. As expected Santa did not get a Visa to get into Laos, the cover story we’d made up for what was going to be a Christmas with very few gifts for our offspring. The German snoring champs gave our children a lovely Christmas decoration each and the trainee Tour Manager also gave them a gift. When we got back to the Stray bus after visiting a library that houses ancient Laos texts and that Kennedy and I had to wear a Laos outfit to get in to, the kids found some pressies from Murray and I. Christian’s favorite gift a Takraw ball, the sport he’s enjoyed watching in Laos. Kennedy’s, a Laos bag.

A long driving day for Christmas day, the kids constantly amaze us with how well they chill out and get through each journey, each strange meal and each toilet situation. We’ve arrived at our night stop and watched an elephant have a bath. Christmas dinner was a steak ordered from the guesthouse…

10 years on it’s nearly the Christmas of 2021. Both our children have lost all their baby teeth and had braces on their adult ones. They both now drive and I’m the now the shortest member of the family. We still hang the Christmas decorations from the German snoring champs on our tree every year and remember our Christmas in Laos with fond memories.

While gifts are great, driving yourself crazy to get them isn’t. The most important thing during the festive season isn’t a thing at all, it’s the people you’re with.

Have a safe and happy festive season whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or Hmong New Year.

Still trippin’… down memory lane

After getting over our jet-lag in Kuala Lumpur our first, of many, overland journeys was to Penang. The day started with a taxi ride to the bus station. Mobile internet usage wasn’t as easy then as it is now so we had with us a Lonely Planet for southeast Asia. We’d read in it that you should insist that taxi drivers in Kuala Lumpur turn their meters on. We approached the first taxi in the line and requested they do this. Not only was he not keen on that idea but he yelled to every other driver leaning on their car in line while waiting for a fare that we were (and I’m assuming based on his volume and vigorous hand motions) that we were trying to rip them off. This resulted in the entire line of taxis boycotting taking us anywhere. We changed tack and switched to haggling, which is illegal according to the signs on the sides of the very taxis we were trying to employ. To keep it in perspective the 20-minute trip to the bus station cost less than $7NZ, regardless, we felt ripped off by the process! Lesson number #2 when travelling, don’t try to control what you can’t.

The 5-hour bus ride to Penang was very comfy and we were sat up top of a double-decker type bus. It was smooth motorways all the way, for nearly the entire trip the road was lined with very pretty trimmed bushes. We crossed what is supposed to be the longest road bridge in the world, over 13 km which led the bus to Penang, although not to Georgetown where our digs are, whoops!

We made it to the Old Penang Guesthouse located on Love Lane (chuckle) after finding a local bus. The guesthouse is in a beautiful old building in the heart of the Unesco heritage area. After having a couple of food fails in KL we opted for authentic Malaysian cuisine in an outdoor food hall type thing with a plethora of options, something for everyone in the family. We decided to skip the fish head curry and the claypot frog porridge and opted for a simple pork and rice number.

Alas before it could arrive, Christian (6), who had been complaining on and off of a sore tummy all day announced loudly, “I’m going to vomit.” I scooped him up and tried to run, as fast as I could while carrying a 6-year-old, to the nearest exit. We nearly made it. We got as far as a stall next to the exit where Chrisitan proved to be a man of his word into what, I hope, was a rubbish bin and not a bin holding mise-en-place for the frog porridge. We didn’t hang around to find out. While Kennedy and Murray ate I took Christian back to the guesthouse. It wasn’t until the next day we found out why his tummy was sore.

The next day…

With the wee man still not feeling the best we had a lazy start to the day after a rookie, travellers cock-up by me. On leaving the bedroom the four of us were sleeping in, to use the shared facilities, I strained my bleary eyes to read my 15-year-old swatch. I love a good Swatch watch and this one is no exception. I bought it in Switzerland years ago and it’s served me well including a jaunt through the continent of Africa in the summer of 95/96. Its face is however crowded with dials that I have no use for or idea what they do. I noted the time was 6.10 am. Excellent, I thought to myself. We’d had a couple of 4 am-ish wakeups the last couple of days as our body clocks adjusted, this was progress. When I arrived back our the room I thought I’d check emails on my iPad while the rest of the family slept. To my dismay, the time on the iPad showed 2.13 am… Fuck! Not long after the kids stirred. Determined to get them sleeping longer I sushed them for about an hour encouraging them to close their eyes and go back to sleep. During the shushing I spent time being really irritated by the sun rising so damn early in Penang. I was also irked at the bird’s tweet-tweet bloody tweeting so early and was annoyed by how long this day was going to be! After shushing and being annoyed as it was lighter in the room I rechecked my watch. It showed 7.50 am. The sodding iPad was way off due to no wifi signal or some other technical reason.

After what had now turned into a lie in we had breakfast then headed off on a public bus intending to go to Batu Ferringhi beach. When we got there it
looked like Corfu in March, not very appealing, so we stayed on the bus and went to Teluk Bahang a gorgeous fishing village and entrance to a national park. We coaxed a reluctant Christian who was still suffering from a sore tummy to walk a bit into the park. A few minutes in we came across a family fishing and 3 kids playing on some cool rope swings onto the beach.

The highlight of the trip so far was seeing the kids laughing and playing with the 3 local kids.

The beach itself had beautiful white sand but was littered with dead fish and rubbish, not inviting for a swim. Malaysia is mainly Muslim and quite conservative, even if I’d wanted to swim my nana togs would’ve been too racy. As we walked back towards the entrance of the park we stopped at the public conveniences the reason for Christian’s sore tummy was revealed. Constipation! Not something I’d thought would be an issue in Asia. If anything I was way more concerned about the opposite. Now that we had a diagnosis making sure his fluid intake was upped was top priority.

For dinner, we ventured to Little India and ordered a selection of yummy meals, which for the four of us cost 22 RM, just under $10!

The following day…

We started to settle into some kind of routine. We’d have a leisurely start to the day and make the most of the free toast for breakfast. We’d decide what we are going to do for the day and head off around 10 am. C is usually tired by mid-afternoon and so am I so we head back to our digs and play cards or he does writing or drawing and we have a rest (and drink lots of water). After M and K come back we head out to dinner around 6.30 pm. Before bed, the kids write in their diary, while we try to keep a semblance of school work up. Murray will often go off exploring while we have downtime, he is excellent at scouting the area and finding spots for us to head too.

Today’s adventure was to Penang Hill, 833m above sea level by funicular railway. The 45-minute bus ride to Penang Hill cost $2 NZ for all of us. The bus weaves through fascinating suburbs. Most streets in Penang are lined with small shops where you can buy anything from fruit to lawnmowers. Most of the drainage is with open which gives the place a certain special aroma.

The view from the top of Penang hill was spectacular looking over the straights to the Mainland. We had a nice lunch there, Christian has discovered a love of the prawn so every meal must have at least one, we wandered around then repeated the trip in reverse back to Georgetown.

As every traveller knows toilets are quite a central focus of every day. Where will I find one? What will it be like? Will there be paper or a door that locks?There are two main types of loo the world over, the squat or the sit, also called starting blocks or a throne. It will be my job on the blog to give you a ‘view of the loo’. Malaysia has a fairly high ratio of thrones which should be good news at least for K and I. What is standardly absent is paper of any description. Instead, there is a hose for cleaning yourself with. As the toilets are always soaked the squat toilet is usually a dryer option. I haven’t worked out what the next step is after the hose.

It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since then… stay tuned for more throwback travel adventures. If you’d like to follow my fictional travel adventures What Goes On Tour – Camping is on sale during its pre-order period. You can order it HERE

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10 years on

I’ve just realised that December the 1st, the launch date of my third book, What Goes On Tour Camping, is also the 10 year anniversary of the date we left New Zealand on our epic, around the world, family O.E. It’s time to take a trip down memory lane.

This time 10 years ago we were frantically finishing up our day jobs, packing up our home, trying to book hostels in far-flung corners of South East Asia, as well as easing our 9 and 6-year-old kids into what life on the road would be like. To be honest, we were making most of it up as although the grown-ups had travelled a lot, we had no idea what it would be like to travel for eight months with two small humans.

As our small humans weren’t able to carry any substantial luggage we decided that between the four of us we would take only two backpacks. This gave each of us a supermarket-sized bag space for clothes. The rest of the husband’s backpack was stuffed with sleeping bags and towels, the rest of mine with every kind of medication and first aid supply in existence. The kids each had school bags they could carry on their backs for a couple of toys, some paper and coloured pencils etc…

This arrangement also allowed the adults to have hands free to hold onto a child each while we were walking between transport and accommodation. For extra security, each child had a whistle on a lanyard that they could blow if they got lost and on the lanyard was an emergency phone number in New Zealand. It seems crazy now when mobile phones are permanently glued to everyone’s hands, but we travelled without any form of telephone. We had an iPad (1) for blogging and keeping up with emails.

Our first stop, an overnight at the Sudima Airport Hotel, Auckland.

We sent the kids to school on their final day in the country, to give us time to finish off last-minute tasks. We picked them up straight from there and got a ride to the airport where we’d booked to stay at the Sudima so we were nearby for departure the next day. There had been a market day at their primary school recently and one of our offspring had purchased a stress ball. This was a kids version of a stress ball, a balloon filled with flour. We got our first taste of how different travelling life would be with kids when after flying on a domestic flight to Christchurch we checked into our international flight to Kuala Lumpur. As we were at check-in said child was playing with the stress ball. That is until the balloon ruptured spewing white power all over themselves and the check-in counter. I was sure at that point we’d be denied entry to the flight for appearing to be smuggling anthrax or cocaine.

Thankfully we made it safely onto the plane and to our first stop, Malaysia.

I didn’t really have any expectations of KL but overall I quite enjoyed it. We landed late and it was well after midnight before we arrived, weary, at our guesthouse, Paradiso, where we were greeted in our rooms ensuite by an enormous tropical cockroach. Murray dispatched it in a very un-Buddist way with his jandal. Paradiso was located in Bukit Bintang which is a great area and very central. Our first full day was all about survival and getting through until bedtime by visiting the nearest playground and the KL Gallery.

The next day we ventured further afield to the Batu caves. The kids had their first experience of free-range monkeys much to their delight. We scaled the 200+ steps with me bringing up the rear. It was a fantastic view at the top and well worth the hike.

In the afternoon we taught the kids some traveller survival skills. While our B&B is totally adequate for our needs it could never be described as flash and the closest you get to a swimming pool is the breakfast area after one of the regular tropical downpours… So… Traveller lesson number one, how to walk into a flash hotel like you own the place and lounge by the pool for an hour or so. The kids mastered it in one go, quick learners, and we had a refreshing dip before returning to our budget digs.

It’s hard to believe 10 years have passed since then… stay tuned for more throwback travel adventures. If you’d like to follow my fictional travel adventures What Goes On Tour – Camping is on sale during its pre-order period. You can order it HERE

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A new book cometh

While I vowed and declared not even 12 months ago that my first book, What Goes On Tour would be my one and only, the universe had other ideas.

My main job is working for a cricket club, it’s busy in the summer, not so much in the winter. Usually, during winter I’d travel overseas for a while, this gives me something to research, plan for, look forward to, bog about, and keeps my brain busy.

Overseas travel is 50% possible at the moment from New Zealand. You can get out but it’s nearly impossible to get back in. Spots in the compulsory managed isolation system are as rare as hen’s teeth so leisure travel is still (heavy sigh) a no go. While I’m tempted to go somewhere one-way, my husband and offspring demanded that I stay put and cook for them.

So… winter stretched ahead forebodingly. To keep my brain occupied I started writing a sequel to What Goes On Tour and before long What Goes On Tour Too was completed. Or so I thought.

When I gave it to a couple of people to read and give me feedback, the common theme was that the ending should be happy, rather than the dramatic one I had created for the protagonist, Shaz.

To achieve the happy ending I wound back the books ending and finished it a chapter earlier.

Mission complete.

I had a great ending, but… I now also had what was an awesome next chapter in the lives of my main characters. There was only one thing to do! Write another book!

What Goes On Tour – Camping follows Shaz on another tour around Europe in the summer of 1996. It introduces some colourful new characters and sees Shaz in more chaotic situations while she leads a new group of tourists around Europe.

The official release date for What Goes On Tour Camping is December 1st, but it is available now for pre-order on Amazon. AND it’s on SALE for just 1.99 in most currencies.

What Goes On Tour Camping e-book is on sale until December 1st.

Believe it or not, book number four is also underway. This won’t be completed at the same frenetic pace. Summer is coming and I’m very much hoping covid restrictions lift soon so that cricket can get underway!

Lockdown life – part 2

Lockdown Day 8 – I’m baaaaaack!

‘Fake it till you make it’ is one of life’s great mantras. It can be used in many settings and for many reasons. Today I’m adopting faking happy until the happy flows. This should be at 5pm coinciding with the flow of a glass of wine.

Last night we visited Australia, the country known for oversized things. Among others it’s home to the big banana, large lobster, massive merino, inflated cricket team, huge pineapple and colossal prawn (can you spot which one I slipped in there to irk my Australian friends?). Our menu last night fitted this theme, we had fucking enormous chicken parmy’s. A bit of a fail on my part. I should have sliced the breast in half and then pounded, instead I just pounded the breasts whole. I then dipped them in seasoned flour, egg wash and finally a panko and parmesan crumb. After frying till golden I put the massive mammaries in a baking dish, smothered them with passata and topped with every type of cheese in our fridge. We did not go hungry!

A couple of episodes of Modern Family helped to lift my mood as did a fairly good nights sleep. As I lounged in bed this morning dozing between the hours of 6am and 8.30am. I have discovered the pattern of my moods. With a sample day of one I realised that the day I spread my legs was the day I was happiest. I set off on my walk determined to safely spread my way back to my former happy state. I worked on my #spreadelfie (Spread/Selfie – I’m copyrighting it) technique which provided better results and less shots of cellulite. Leaving the shorts at home helped too.

I present to you my modern art piece, a tour of ‘Devonport Through My Legs’. Enjoy!

1/ The Esplanade Hotel 2/ Auckland skyline 3/ William C Daldy 4/ The best cricket club in NZ (North Shore) 5/ McHughs 6/ Rangitoto 7/ Iconic Cheltenham coloured flats (flats through flaps if you like)

Please reciprocate by posting a #spreadelfie of a site close to you so we can ‘spread’ the love.

I put in another solid 23 minutes of frenetic housework this afternoon and did some more work. Murray is in charge of dinner tonight. He’s taking us to America… One hour to go until I see if my faking it till I make it has paid off… tune in tomorrow…

Lockdown Day 9

Short and sweet today. We went to the USA last night with hamburgers, although, with their German roots I’m not so sure… Off for a walk this morning and for the rest of the day I’ve been on a virtual course about social media. My brain is very tired now! So less talking and more visual today. Photos of somewhere I don’t walk to often, Fort Takapuna.

Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown Day 10

The things that make you go hmmmm edition.

Last night we went to Greece with gyros on the menu. A bit more Modern Family and then a good night’s sleep. This morning started with the usual work then a walk. On my walk there were some things that made me go hmmmm.

The first was this work on the footpath.

This tree is a stunning protected tree. Its roots obviously need some more room to grow, hence the footpath being thinned. What made me go hmmmm was wondering how this was going to end? Are we going to have to walk onto the road one day in the future so the tree can keep growing? Hmmmm.

A quick #spreadelfie for health in front of the historic gas light on King Edward Parade.

The next thing that made me go hmmmmm was the playground being locked up but the lurid orange scooters being allowed to remain littering our footpaths. Hmmmmm.

I made a quick trip to the supermarket for a few essential items. Overall it was well stocked apart from a couple of exceptions. Flour and wine… It seems Devonport are all baking and boozing… hmmmmm…

Today I created my first ever Tik Tok account, this made me go hmmmm, and WTF. This account is for the cricket club and to connect with the kids. It’s been a busy I.T. day, I also had an hours mentoring session to help me with my website. There will be a big reveal when I have it sorted. Time to tune in for the 3pm announcement. No huge surprise that Auckland isn’t moving out of level 4 on Tuesday but the likely two more weeks, that made me go hmmmmm. TWO MORE WEEKS IN LOCKDOWN. There are 195 countries in the world but I’m not sure I’ll have the will to cook from all of them. Bummer!

Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown Day 11

Things that make you go ouch.

Last night we went to Japan with chicken katsu, delicious. Afterwards we had a heated game of Trivial Pursuit which ended in both victory and disaster. More on that later.

On Monday morning as I was heading downstairs to go out for my walk I sprained a calf muscle. I wasn’t running. I wasn’t jumping. I wasn’t doing anything I don’t do 10 other times a day. My calf muscle just decided on this particular day that it would lose the will to contract without sending me into a spasm of pain. My children mocked me mercilessly about how old and pathetic I am. I defended myself to the best of my ability, that ability being limited as I couldn’t actually chase them to whack them. Back to last night’s Trivial Pursuit. We played in pairs. My partner seemed hell bent on us losing.

No matter how many times we got the sport question wrong he insisted that we try again, and again, and again, and again, and again. As we fell further and further behind. My team mate insisted that perseverance was the key. During this long, long, long time of landing on orange, being asked a question, getting it wrong, waiting for our turn, landing on orange etc… I decided to jump up to refill my drink.

I sprung off the floor like a supple 35 year old, bouncing to my feet and turning towards the kitchen in one seamless move. Here’s where things went slightly astray. Distracted by kicking the empty game box with my right foot I momentarily lost my bearings. My left foot, the toe next to the little toe specifically, connected solidly with the heavy leg of the couch. After swearing loudly I hobbled to the kitchen to complete my task.

By some miracle we got the next orange question right. We then hit somewhat of a run to eventually seal victory. The final question was a blinder of an answer by my team mate to correctly identify the first line of the national anthem of Swaziland. Are you smarter than a 16 year old? I’m not!

I headed off to bed content in our victory. Throughout the night the blanket hitting my toe would wake me up but this morning while my foot was sore I felt I could attempt a walk. I like to walk clean so I had a shower first. During the process of drying my feet, between the sore toe and the next toe, I heard a loud crack and felt a pain severe enough to bring tears to my eyes. So much so I aborted my walk and headed to the local medical centre instead.

Diagnosis… broken toe. Fuck! I’m now in a sexy shoe and taking drugs which I’ll supplement with gin later. In better news, the #spreadelfie is taking off.

Eat-Sleep-Repeat (apart from the breaking bones bit)

Lockdown Day 12

As I’m a bit confined to the house today it seemed a good day to do some work on my website, write my first blog post. Be kind, it’s the first website I’ve ever built! You can check it out HERE

Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown Day 13

Last night we visited South Africa with a bobotie. I’d never heard of it before I googled ‘what do South African’s cook with mince’ but it was delicious, if I do say so myself. It’s a curried cottage pie but with a savoury custard on the top instead of potato. This was the recipe I used if you’re looking for a fun way to jazz up your mince HERE

Cooking a dish from Africa took me on a trip down memory lane. After completing the summer of ’95 working for Contiki in their chateau in France, where we’d saved as many of our hard earned pounds as possible, Mo, Lisa, Bron and I had a bunch of jabs (although for one person not quite enough), loaded up our backpacks with antimalarial pills, water purifying tablets and mosquito nets and flew to Nairobi. We were blissfully unaware of the challenge that travelling Africa in an overland truck with a driver/guide called Dodgy Ron, would present but were youthful enough to roll with it and, somehow, survive it.

The members of the tour were split into teams of four and a roster created. Each team was rostered on to have a turn cooking. Cooking consisted of being in charge of building and maintaining the fire, sourcing food for the group from a fund collected at the beginning of the trip and cooking the meal. At one particular stop, in Malawi from memory, Lisa, Bron, Mo and I were in charge of cooking. Given that three of us had experience in cooking for much larger groups we felt confident in our ability to nail this.

We headed off into the area surrounding our camp to try and source food. One vendor said he had chicken. ‘CHICKEN!’ we exclaimed with excitement. It was quite hard to source meat so our diet was mainly vegetarian. How popular would we be if we provided a chicken feast? The vendor disappeared out of his rickety stall. When he returned he presented us with the chicken. It did not come out on a handy tray, wrapped in plastic and with a barcode. Instead it was held upside down by its feet flapping and squawking at the indignity. We politely declined the chicken and opted for carrots instead.

One thing we hadn’t factored into our confidence about cooking was the readily available and super cheap Malawi cobs. After sourcing the food for dinner we split into pairs for the afternoon and didn’t communicate. Each pair decided to partake in some of the local specialties (Malawi Cob). It wasn’t until the four of us reconvened to start the fire we realised that we were all equally narcotized. We eventually managed to get a dinner prepared but spent quite long periods of time hypnotically staring at the fire and laughing at absolutely nothing in the process.

The trip was epic. I think I’m one of the few people to leave Africa having gained a ton of weight after a month in Cape Town eating everything not tied down. This trip down memory lane also made me think about health. We encountered water contaminated with cholera, mosquitos carrying malaria were everywhere and food had to be washed thoroughly to avoid Hep A. The side effects of the malaria medication were fairly alarming. While some people had amazing dreams, my tent-mate dreamed of murdering people. I can’t blame her after I had a nasty bout of something gastric in Malawi and lost control of something you never want to lose control of in a sleeping bag, inside a tent, in 30 plus degrees. I’d have wanted to knock me off too. Despite best efforts one of our band who had unfortunately missed getting the Hep A shot caught the disease. She had to leave Cape Town early to head home and recover and lose her yellow tinge.

I wondered if my memories were correct. Here are a couple of comments some friends made on the post on FB that made me chortle. 26 years on we are all mature and responsible adults… promise.

Fabulous trip down memory lane Gillian. How we survived that trip is astonishing and survived a PADI diving course in Lake Malawi! Think your gastric issues struck in a wetsuit during that too. The dodgy as fuck ferry back from Zanzibar, the machetes coming out when Mo and I were shopping, the borders with guns and Ron chucking what the guards wanted on the ground, we were so high we could not even blink, but hey my memory might not be accurate, 🤣🤣🤣

Lisa 2021

The Best of Times – too high to blink indeed.. remember the trip towards (Namib?) border when we tried to get rid of as much evidence as we could as quickly as we could & then the bloody truck got another burst-out.., & when we all got out to change the tyre half of us could not even make it down the steps & the rest of us could only stare around us like zombies.

Craig 2021

This morning after taking an inside #spreadelfie at home I went out for a slow, short walk before hitting the keyboard to do some work and zoom meetings. I had an epiphany later in the day. What I need is a scooter. That way I can rest my sore foot on the scooter and scoot with my other foot so I can go a little further afield on my mental health walks. Thanks neighbours for the loan of the groovy coloured beast.

More work this afternoon in preparation for a board meeting tonight after we visit Germany for dinner.

Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown life

Here in Auckland, New Zealand, we’ve been back in a lockdown for 21 days now. The only time we are supposed to leave the house (unless an essential worker) is for a walk, or to go to the supermarket.

I’ve been sharing on my personal Facebook page daily updates. Here’s some highlights… or lowlights… from the first seven days, you decide.

Day 1

Day one lockdown report from COVID ground zero – Dangerous Devonport.

The Devonport grapevine was in overdrive yesterday afternoon as word spread that one of our own was the new community COVID case (whoever you are I wish you a speedy recovery), it seemed a fait accompli by the time that Jacinda addressed the nation at 6pm last night that a lockdown was on its way. After a great sleep I woke to lockdown day 1. I sorted a few work logistics out then headed out for a walk.

My favourite shorts glared at me as I left them on the shelf in favour of leggings but the weather looked ominous… and I haven’t shaved my legs since May. Dark clouds were gathering, and it wasn’t just the mood of the covid deniers or lockdown protesters, it was actual dark clouds. I took a stroll past the new erections that have appeared at Narrow Neck. COVID testing tents, the line for which was long.

Settled back inside the house it was time for some writing. Book #3 is well on the way, filled with literary genius like this … ‘I feel another ball of gas rising from my stomach. I break contact with his lips, turning my head away again. I try to make it an erotic move. Arching my back, I toss my head backwards and to the side releasing the gas along with a dramatic erotic moan to detract from any burping noise. I try to blow the curry smell away at the same time.’ Shakespeare is literally turning in his grave.

No, you haven’t missed book #2. It’s nearly finished and will be flying off the shelves in a couple of months hopefully. We’ve slipped back into lockdown routine, tuning in for the 1pm update and then turning thoughts quickly to dinner. We’ve planned for the week. If we can’t actually travel we will travel with food. We’ve even paired each meal with a drink. I’d like to say each with a fine wine but they seem mostly to be beer or dodgy cocktails. Ole! Although shouting at the neighbours is off the cards I hereby declare 5pm is still the time to start drinking…. roll on day 2.

Lockdown Day 2 – Covid Ground Zero

This post is going to be full of gratitude. It’s going to spew gratefulness. It will be so sweet and sickly your teeth might actually dissolve. Brace yourself.

Last night we started our ‘eating around the world’. I’m so grateful you no longer die from eating pork which is slightly rare, as I think mine was. Or it could have been perfectly moist. You’d think with the amount of Masterchef I watch I would know AND be able to cook pork better. 50% of the family enjoyed the wheaty beer that was paired with it. I’m grateful for half a happy family, even if I am in the 50%.

Today I spent most of the day on a course. I’m super thankful that I was accepted onto the course that is helping creatives to build a sustainable business. This was the 5th one day course of 6 (spread over weeks). Oh so grateful that the course provider was able to pivot quickly and put the course on zoom. I do though, at the risk of bringing down my grateful score, fucking hate zoom. The ‘quick’ group introductions took an hour so I knew the day was going to be a test of my concentration and perseverance. Creatives can be chatty. I’m grateful that zoom has a mute function and that I purchased a 0.29c camera cover for my laptop so I could engage with the learning without my brain being overloaded with having to remember not to do something embarrassing like picking my nose or burping loudly and that the other participants were spared from boy child’s hour long shower accompanied by rap music. My brain is now filled to bursting with new information that I’m grateful for and I met some fascinating new creatives to connect with. #blessed

After the course I went for a walk. I could not be more grateful for the two beaches I can stroll on. Today the eastern one was like a Pacific island summer paradise while the western was a wintery blowy Armageddon much like the current situation in Auckland. I strolled down a road I don’t often and came across a stunning tree that had the most tuis I’ve ever seen in one place. I’m so grateful for tuis. They fly like lazy drunks but sing like angels.

After putting out my menu for the week I received some critique about my lack of effort on tonight’s drink selection and told to up my game from beer to margaritas… grateful for the feedback. I’m hoping the universe is providing tequila to solve this massive error on my part shortly. Rest assured I will try harder. Will be really grateful for tequila. No time for writing, editing or painting today. Nearly time to have an ‘I survived the day’ drink and start preparing dinner, go to bed and repeat tomorrow.

Lockdown day 3 – Covid Ground Zero

I think I need to change that moniker. After the original case being identified in Devonport, fuck all has happened down this way. I think the fact that we have zero nightlife of interest to twenty-somethings may have let us off lightly. The epicentre is now past Horrific Hauraki beyond Terrible Takapuna and over the ocean at Awful Auckland. This is the ungrateful edition.

Night two of our around the world dinners was a trip to Mexico. The universe provided tequila just in time for me to whip up a jug of frozen grapefruit margaritas to go with enchiladas, Mexican chicken wings and a Mexican salad. After the universe delivered me tequila I found a perfect margarita sized amount in the back of the booze cupboard, ungrateful to the booze cupboard. Boy child snap-chat messaged me first thing yesterday with the sad news that comedian Sean Lock had passed away. As a tribute we decided to watch an episode of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. The boy child decided audience participation and a little wager on the winner would add to the send off. I think he spotted a chance to fleece his old, slow parents. He wasn’t wrong. At the end of the episode he had a whopping 28 points. I secured the CRUCIAL Countdown conundrum to sneak into second place at the last minute. It certainly helped that Murray had never watched Countdown before (not sure why I married him). Anyone who has read my debut novel, What Goes On Tour (available on Amazon – shameless plug), will know that Countdown has provided much inspiration. Ungrateful to the universe for taking funny comedians too young and to nature for dulling my grey matter response time.

After some work I went out for a nice stroll. Masks, both grateful and ungrateful for them. Walking was a bit like the drive from Nice to Florence. Except it’s not sunglasses going up and down, it’s masks. On my walk I became fixated on the number of annoyingly beautiful pink magnolias there are out, and flowers in general. So… much… pollen. Pollen + Gill = Sneezing. Sneezing in a pandemic is not the best look. I visited my new favourite tree. Not only was it laden with tuis, it was also humming with bee life.

I had a productive book afternoon. What Goes On Tour Too is now, pretty much, ready to go. Given that I swore less than 12 months ago that I’d never write another book I’m pretty impressed with myself that I’ve now written two more! I was so excited I thought about doing some manic cleaning. Thankfully that feeling passed quickly. Dust… WTF is your point. I have no gratitude for dust. Time to start thinking again about food. It’s Italian night – Pizza and Prosecco. Eat-Sleep-Repeat.

Lockdown Day 4 – don’t read further if you don’t like swearing…

seriously stop now… I don’t want any moaning.

Three words.Can’t. Be. Fucking. Arsed.

Before you ask, yes I did pass school certificate math. I got 47% by answering all the multi-guess questions in 57 minutes of the three hour exam and getting out of there at the earliest allowed time, the 60 minute mark. The other 4% I achieved to get my final mark of 51% was due to 50% of every other 15/16 year old, who hadn’t already left school, in NZ in 1985 being thicker than me. These were tough times. You didn’t get all year to make up credits so if you have a bad day, week, or even month. This was the cut-throat world of the 1980’s. Winner takes all. One shot for victory. If I do say so myself… I timed my effort to perfection.

Also… I don’t really consider Fucking to be a word. It’s more of a way of living, a life force, an expression of existence. Last night we went to Italy for dinner. One member of the family already couldn’t be fucking arsed and didn’t bother showing up (they were still in the house, don’t worry about any lockdown breaches). The rest of us enjoyed some pizza. No I didn’t use any of the 15 or so kilos of fucking flour I still have to make pizza bases… I couldn’t be fucking arsed. We used pre-made store-bought bases which we decorated with various pieces of cured meat, tomatoes, spinach etc… and cheese. We washed it down with a rose prosecco. Saluti.

I was awake for a while during the night, not unusual for me, so I started watching a new show On Demand, called Dr Death. I’d recommend it. It’s about a Dr who can’t be fucking arsed operating properly.

If you’re not aware, it’s now the weekend so a short lie in was in order. After, I did a solid 23 minutes of frenetic house cleaning then I went out for a stroll. The weather also couldn’t be fucking arsed. The sun couldn’t be bothered coming out, but the rain didn’t really put in an effort either. Low clouds hung over everything, very much like my mood, and the sky has just kind of leaked on and off all day. I did spend most of my walk talking to a friend (on the phone). I’ve got some major literary issues to solve (like using too many Brad’s) and chatting to her helped. I took a photo of this tree fern. At the time it struck me that there is probably some great symbolism in it’s form about new shoots or something but can’t be arsed fleshing that thought out any further.

I had planned to do some art today. I felt like the process of actually doing something with my hands rather than on a laptop might actually be good for my mental health. It’s 2.51pm and I haven’t been arsed yet. I had a soak in the spa pool. After I couldn’t be arsed getting dressed again so I got into my Oodie. This is the perfect ‘can’t be fucking bothered attire’. Before you ask, no, I don’t think 3.20pm is too early to be in PJ’s. I did a quick watercolour painting. Now have to try and be arsed to cook Indian.

Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown Day 5

It’s just a little prick.

Sure, I’ve heard that line before. The best one was, ‘it’s just a little prick but there’s 16 stone pushing it in.’ Hard to refuse that offer, but I digress.

The person who gave me ‘just a little prick’ today was nowhere near 16 stone. They said I wouldn’t feel a thing, they were wrong. I felt a lot of things. I felt hope, that this virus can be stomped down to manageable levels so that we can get on with life. I also felt hopeful about the possibility of travelling freely again. I love you NZ but I can’t wait to get out… and then come back and then get out… and then come back. I felt grateful for science… thank fuck for science.

Back to last night…Cooking in an Oodie is challenging. I was worried, often, that I’d go up in flames. But I managed to avoid disaster and prepare a meal from India, complete with Kingfisher beer. It was the end of the can’t be fucking arsed day, so it wasn’t very exciting. An early night and a couple of episodes of Dr Death to draw a line under the feeling of funk.

Today WILL be more positive. I woke up feeling chirpy after a Sunday lay in. The sun was shining on my walk. People were out and about strolling, biking, running and enjoying their day. On my amble I headed up main street snapping a few photos in the village of things that took my fancy. As I was out walking I remembered one very positive thing about lockdown. It has saved me from further public humiliation.

After being part of a team that won a national award earlier this year for female cricket participation I seem to have become some kind of local beacon of hope for getting middle aged women playing sport. I’ve had a few sports contact me to brainstorm their ideas, or ask me to join them, the latest being squash. I have known for about 45 years that I am okay with hand-eye-ball sports, netball, volleyball, touch rugby etc… but, put a racket in my hand… I’m fucking hopeless. Put a cricket bat in my hand and I’m fucking hopeless but I suffer that indignity because I know it’s only for 12 balls and I can go straight to the bar afterwards to erase it from my memory with alcohol.

When I agreed to give squash a try I forgot about my decades of being hopeless and thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d be okay at it as I supported an initiative to get women away from Masterchef and onto a squash court. It started badly. I was 25 minutes late. I was 5 minutes early for the time I thought it started, my usual standard. I had the time wrong. Once I’d answered the question about my level of experience, absolutely zero, I was led to a court that contained a male instructor and four other women. One was near my age, the other three were mere foetus’s. Not a grey hair among them, no stretch marks, no double chins, no saggy boobs. I should have walked out then… but I didn’t.

I joined in with the air squash exercises. I was quite good at that. I could step and swing forehand, step the other way and swing backhand. Nailed it. Then the instructor added the piece of equipment that was sent to make me fail. The ball. While all the ‘barely out of high school’ women whacked the tiny piece of black rubber this way and that, I continued to excel at air squash as the ball fell underneath my racket thingy onto the floor as I spun in pirouettes. It was bad enough that I couldn’t hit it, what really stung was the overly nice support from the youngin’s. Reminded me of the way I used to speak to my Nana. So, thanks lockdown. I have a valid reason to NOT have to play squash again. Also, i didn’t see any bar.

Nearly time to try and cook something from Thailand and a bucket of alcohol. Roll on tomorrow. Eat-Sleep-Repeat.

Lockdown Day 6

*Contains sexual content.

*Reader discretion advised.

Sawadee Ka from Thailand. Land of satay and buckets, what’s not to love.

When we were last in Thailand, yes I feel like a wanker typing that, the kids, friends and I did a Thai cooking class. We learned heaps and made 7 delicious dishes each. Could I remember anything from that experience? No. Still, 10 points for effort.

Yesterday during the daily address to the nation, Chris Hipkins, our minister for education for those not in NZ, made an amusing malapropism. Instead of telling people to safely stretch their legs, he sternly advised the country to safely ‘spread their legs’. Always wanting to do my bit for the country I have, obviously, taken this on as my mission for the day.

I started spreading as I had my breakfast this morning. After nailing some work and ordering some alcohol to be delivered I set off for my stroll. After being ignored for days, I decided this was the day to take my shorts for an outing.

I could see Girl child was doing an exercise regime outside, she was putting one leg behind the other and dipping down. Great stretch, I thought, I’ll try that. I’d only moved my right ankle slightly behind my left when my hip clicked and my back went into a spasm. Warm up aborted.

The first outdoor spread of my legs took place on Arawa Ave, a short, quiet street that leads down to Cheltenham beach. I looked around furtively to make sure the coast was clear. I turned my phone camera on. I turned my back to the beach, bent over and took a photo through my legs. A few things sprang to mind immediately.

1/ it’s really hard to get a good spread leg perspective from this angle, and

2/ camera is really close, catching all the cellulite.

As I righted myself I spotted a woman walking towards me, who then swerved into the road to avoid me. I had to explain, shouting from a distance, that I wasn’t actually taking a photo of my undercarriage. Great start.

It was a lovely day for a stroll and I tried my best to spread my legs Chris, honestly. But my legs just don’t spread far, it looks a bit odd in public and at one point I lay on the grass, spread my legs and seagulls landed at my feet staring hungrily up my shorts. I don’t want to be seagull food. Legs successfully spread, I returned home for more work. I did a spot of weeding and now waiting to tune in for the 4pm announcement…. Seems we need another 7 countries to cook… suggestions welcome of both countries and cuisine and drinks to go with them please. Eat-Sleep-Repeat

Lockdown Day 7 – warning: devoid of humour

Lockdown brain fade is well and truly setting in. I had a zoom chat meet scheduled for 2.30pm yesterday. It was only at 4pm when I sat down, post weeding, that I realised I’d missed it and the reason why. I’d set my alarm for 2.30am.

Last night we stayed local – Kiwi fare was on the menu. Fish ‘n’ chips, coleslaw and tartar sauce, washed down with a vodka cruiser. The drink gave one member of the family some dodgy flashbacks, rum is the drink that does that to me. After a big night underage drinking rum and coke in Kulim Park, circa 1985, that might explain the school C math result, I really can’t look rum or coke in the face.

I had a shit night’s sleep but it did give me some time to get into Modern Family which gave me a giggle. This morning I wondered what all that loud truck noise was outside during lockdown. It was only as I saw the truck pulling away from our house I realised it was the rubbish truck and therefore today must be Tuesday. Fuck.

I’m sure you can relate that Lockdown is a rollercoaster, or as a friend said, a coronacoaster. One day you’re low and can’t be fucking arsed, next you’re on a high and legspreading all over your neigbhourhood. The roller coaster dips again and you’re thrown around the phases of grief like a sock in a tumble dryer (I don’t know why that was the first metaphor that came to mind).

The 7 stages of lockdown grief:

1 – Shock and denial – are we really going into fucking lockdown again??!! AGAIN??!!

2 – Pain and guilt – I wish I’d scanned in more often, tidied my desk, had that fucking massage I’ve been meaning to book in for months

3 – Anger and bargaining – FUCKING LOCKDOWN – I’ll scan more often, just let me out

4 – Depression – Can’t. Be. Fucking. Arsed.

5 – The upward turn – We might get out! Let’s turn on the TV and see…

6 – Reconstruction and working through – I still have flour, I can order in alcohol

7 – Acceptance and hope – It’s okay, I’m okay, my family are okay, this will end…Today my grief as gone 7 – 2 – 3 – 7 – 6 – 1 – 4 – 7

I didn’t go for a walk today. I’ve done some work, some book editing and a tiny, and I mean tiny amount of housework. It’s now time to get to work on dinner. Tonight we are going to Australia. No walk so no photos…

Where it began

People have asked me where I get ideas for some of the crazy situations Shaz, the protagonist in What Goes On Tour, gets herself into. This may give you an insight.

Picture this… It’s the summer of 1995 and I’m working as Head Cook at a French château. This château sleeps 150 people a night. During their two night stay they are fed two breakfasts, two dinners and a picnic lunch. This is where I come in. I’m in charge of making sure that all happens. My role involves ordering the food from the local butcher, baker, fresh produce supplier and supermarket, many of whom speak no English. I take weekly stock takes, doing the accounts for the kitchen and actually cooking the food along with two assistant cooks both who have less experience than me.

My experience heading into this role? Virtually none. I spent three months the summer before working as the fourth staff member in a campsite in Venice. I did a lot of cleaning cabins and chopped a few tons of onions. Previous to that I’d been working in New Zealand for the Inland Revenue. I actually wanted to train to be a tour manager in the summer of 1995 but the office had other ideas. They decided throwing me in to the deep end of a running massive kitchen operation was the place for me.

For the most part I think I did okay. No one died, as far as I know, and people mostly got fed edible food and on time. There was one unfortunate incident with a suicidal mouse.

The building had been mostly empty over the winter as it was being redecorated. This, and some food supplies left behind from the previous summer, had led to a population explosion of tiny rodents. While we had laid lots of bait and got the local exterminator in, some determined little devils remained. One busy evening tour passengers assigned to help with dinner service were trailing through the kitchen collecting plates, kitchen staff and road crew were serving food while I was hard at work at the deep fat fryer keeping a steady chain of piping hot pomme noisettes coming.

Suddenly the fat fryer started bubbling and spitting for no obvious reason. I looked closer into the furiously bubbling oil and floating balls of potato to see what had caused this sudden flurry of oil activity. A kamikaze mouse had scampered across the top of the industrial stoves and took its final plunge into the boiling oil. The awkward thing was I couldn’t fish it out as there were so many people in the kitchen, so there it stayed until the end of service. Aside from that, the kitchen ran, mostly smoothly.

It was a very busy job with very few days off. If you were lucky enough to get a couple of rostered days off in a row one of the preferred things to do was to jump on the next coach leaving the stopover and have a few days in another European city. When I had time this is exactly what I did. The coach I was on headed to Barcelona. I had a couple of nights there and then convinced Gary, who worked there, to jump on the next coach with me and head to the next stop for a couple of nights. Our plan was that we’d then travel together back to my work site and he’d get another coach back from there to Barcelona. What could possibly go wrong?

We stocked up on a case of cava (Spanish champagne) for me to give to my work colleagues when I returned, as a thank you for covering for me while I had a break and jumped on a coach headed to Antibes.

The next day on the French Riviera we heard through the grapevine that there was a coach leaving from Fragonard’s Perfumery in Eze tomorrow morning heading to Lyon, the closest city to my place of work. Keep in mind this was 1995. Cell phones were still only something that Maxwell Smart had in his shoe. We couldn’t check this information but we figured that the cost of a taxi for the 45 minute trip from Antibes to Eze to get a free ride to Lyon would be cheaper than each paying for a local train to Nice then a regional train to Lyon. Plan in place we hit the campsite bar for a night of celebrating nothing in particular.

The next morning we dusted ourselves off, got the campsite to call a taxi and loaded into it our small amount of luggage and our large case of champagne. The plan was working out great as we enjoyed the scenery along the coastline and the views as we climbed above Nice towards Monaco. It was still going well as we drove down the steep driveway of the perfumery and said goodbye to our taxi driver after handing him a fistful of francs. It was only when we found the road crew to let them know we’d be joining them that the plan fell foul.

The coach that we had made our way to was not in fact heading to Lyon. It was going to Lucerne, or somewhere equally far away and useless for our needs. We had to think fast. I was due to be starting work in the kitchen later that afternoon and we were now further away from Nice train station than we had been when we woke up. While I guarded the champagne Gary chatted to the various coaches parked at the perfumery until he found one that was heading back down the hill to Nice. We bartered a ride with a couple of bottles of cava and we were soon inside Nice train station looking at the vast board for the quickest and cheapest train to Lyon.

It was with huge relief when me, Gary, our small amount of luggage and our now ten bottles of cava were on a train moving out of Nice train station. That feeling of relief though was short-lived.

Now geography isn’t my strong point but I knew that Lyon was north and west of Nice. What became quickly obvious was that this train was heading due south, not north nor west. The Mediterranean sparkled out the window on our left as we hurtled back past Antibes and through Cannes. It looked like we were heading back to Barcelona!

Deciding we needed help we tried in our, very limited French, to ask some of our fellow travellers if this train was heading to Lyon? Oui, they assured us. We weren’t convinced. To ease our mounting anxiety we decided the only thing for it was to drink cava. If we were going to be lost we may as well be lost AND drunk. Our area of the train was like a magnet as thirsty travellers joined us to share in the international language of cheap fizzy wine.

We did eventually make it to the Château nearly in time for me to start work, but by then I was in no fit state to be in charge of knives or flames so I was dispatched to my room to sleep it off.

All’s well that ends well. It’s travel tales like this, and generous friends who also have tales to share, that have given me some ideas to include in my books.

Did our friendship survive? Sure did, here we are (with other former staff) at a reunion last year before the world went mad.