Friday, 26 April 2013

Mistaken identity

It's the school holidays. With a public holiday falling in the middle of it yesterday, I imagine there are many families going away for a short break this weekend or even a longer holiday. A colleague’s teenage son is away on a three-week school trip to Paris and Nice. That’s a HUGE deal when you live on the other side of the world. We talked about whether he realised what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this is for him at this age (well, it would have been for us when we were his age) but it’s the norm in some communities, especially as travel is becoming increasingly accessible for some.

Another colleague, Sara, packed up her daughters earlier this week and sent them to stay with their grandmother in New Plymouth while she works. (She is taking leave next week to be with them.) Sara worried that her girls probably wouldn’t have any exotic holiday stories to tell once they got back to school, especially considering that their school is in quite an affluent area. We reassured her that at 5 and 6 years of age, New Plymouth would be plenty exotic enough for them, until she told us what happened after the last school holidays ...

Sara's then 5-year-old and a friend were having a play date, with her little friend's mother in tow. Here's how the conversation went:
Friend's mother: Where did you go to for the holidays?
Little friend: We went to Tahiti!
Daughter: So did we!!
Little friend: Wow!
Friend’s mother (to Sara): Where did you stay?
Daughter: We stayed at our cousins’ place.
Friend’s mother [suspiciously]: Your cousins live in Tahiti? Really?
Daughter: Yeah! Oh. No, no. That’s right. We went to Titahi Bay. That's where our cousins live.
Sara [wanting to fall through the floor]: *gulp* 
Not quite

Saturday, 20 April 2013

High tea at Logan Brown

Every so often, a friend and I decide to be ladies and do something posh. High tea at Logan Brown fits the bill perfectly - food pampering at its finest.

We are becoming connoisseurs of high tea. (Yes, I know it's technically afternoon tea.) There is something about tiny portions of food presented in 'order' that is incredibly appealing. Starting from the bottom, the savoury layer included salmon club sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches and a light quiche. The sweet layer in the middle had tiny scones with plum jam and cream, mini afghan biscuits and ginger cake with a rhubarb paste. Rhubarb and ginger was a refreshing flavour combination and the chocolate icing on top of the afghan was decadently creamy in texture. Finally, there was a citrus curd slice with what we think was crumbled raspberry macaron on top and a nut slice with a gooey salted caramel topping - a fantastic way to finish along with the sliver of dark chocolate peppermint slice that came with our coffees. (Yes, coffee. Not tea. They were happy to substitute for us, even though there was a two-page tea menu available.)

High tea at Logan Brown
High tea at Logan Brown is our favourite so far. We simply couldn't fault the food or service at all. From the phone call the day before confirming our booking and checking for food allergies to our service on the day, we felt like distinguished guests. Once we become ladies who lunch, high tea at Logan Brown will definitely be one of our regular activities.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chocolate bus

I've always been really good at making my lunch at home and bringing it to work, but sometimes it's handy having a supply of food and coffee that's just a stone's throw away. At other times ... well, there are alternately victors and casualties in the battle of 3.30-itis. Most days, it's just fine and I can be distracted by a brisk walk around the block. But sometimes chocolate biscuits in the kitchen scream out my name and won't be silenced by an apple or emergency chicken noodle Cup a Soup. Strange, that.

Years ago, I used to work opposite a large supermarket. It was very handy in an emergency but a bit too convenient when 3.30-itis struck. On one of 'those' days, a colleague went across the road to the supermarket and bought some chocolate. It got demolished quickly by the team and everyone was temporarily contented by a mid-afternoon concentrated shot of fat and sugar. Ahhh. A few days later, someone else bought chocolate and passed it around. And then someone else did.

We called it the chocolate bus. It would leave mid-afternoon and bring back little treats and surprises. With everyone in a team of 8-10 taking turns, you'd only need to buy chocolate once every few weeks but could enjoy it a pick-me-up whenever you needed it most. That's what we told ourselves. We deserved it. A tiny bit every now and then couldn't hurt.

The chocolate bus started leaving daily. And then it started leaving earlier each day. We had to impose a rule on the chocolate bus: in future, it would only be allowed to leave after 3 pm. Otherwise, we'd need to start a wine wagon when the next wave of malaise hit around 5 pm and it would all be downhill from there.

Yesterday was one of 'those' days for almost everyone I know: drab, dreary and with very little energy. Today, we had a chocolate relay with a bar of Whittaker's White Raspberry. The chocolate baton was passed around everyone in the office and was not allowed to rest on a desk. I don't know who started or finished it but was reminded of the chocolate bus. Perhaps the chocolate relay could be a new tradition? No, it's a very slippery slope. Anyway, sometimes there are yummy leftovers from catered meetings and there's always emergency soup, right?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Mistake - Douglas Kennedy

"We all see only that which we want to see."
Such true words! The Mistake is a new short story by Douglas Kennedy, whose books I enjoy but usually read with a dictionary on hand. It's a free Kindle download from Amazon and, at only 60 pages, a real page tapper (remember, this is the Kindle version). Thankfully, I didn't need to use the Kindle dictionary while I finished the whole story on the bus to the airport last week.

The story is too short to risk plot spoilers but it's a tale to get you thinking. Basically, it is about alarm bells in life and what people do when they hear them. I'm guessing many people do what I'm great at doing: ignoring or dismissing them, even if the train has practically arrived and left again with you underneath it. They were ringing loud and clear throughout this story and I was willing the protagonist to sit up and listen ... don't worry, I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I'm sure you'll find yourself nodding, equally entranced and horrified by some of Gitte's behaviour as the femme fetale antagonist.

This tale of inevitability is a really enjoyable read and a delicious, if tiny, taste of Kennedy's clever writing style.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Paul Simon in concert

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I went to see Paul Simon live in concert in Auckland on Monday night. Anyone who read my tweets after the concert will know just how much I loved it. Anyone who knows me knows that the concert coincided with a major life event. Anyone who is still around will know that I spent most of this week floating back down to earth. Slowly. What a night!

My concert-going has matured much in the way that my coffee drinking has over the years: there are fewer these days but they are of much better quality. This means that I really look forward to concerts (and coffee) and savour them before, during and afterwards. My excitement in the lead-up to Paul Simon was almost tangible. Coming back to reality a few days later was hard.

Four years ago, I made a similar hikoi to Auckland for Simon & Garfunkel. Actually, that trip was mostly just to see Paul Simon and his solo set in the middle of that concert had me vowing to go anywhere, any time if he ever toured New Zealand on his own, never thinking that it would actually happen. On the day this year’s shows were announced, I had booked flights and annual leave before concert tickets were even on sale; there is no way I was going to miss this musical legend on stage. I don't even know what the tour was called, only that I would do whatever it took to go. And I’m so glad I did. Monday night’s concert was worth every cent, every logistic detail that needed organising, every hour spent on various forms of public transport. I’d do it again in a flash.

I had planned on doing a post mortem of the concert, reliving each song blow by blow for my own musical gratification. However, a super-hyped sleepless night after the show and notes scribbled in the dark on the back of my ticket didn't lead to anything coherent until some draft ramblings during the past few nights. So this post is less of a review and more a reflection of impressions and highlights.

You can find the set list here; it’s a goodie. Given Simon’s impressive back catalogue, the two hour list could easily have been made up of completely different songs while still delivering a stellar performance. We were treated to two more songs than Dunedin concertgoers: Still Crazy After All These Years and The Boy In The Bubble, which I am used to listening to at the start of a Paul Simon session as the opening number on Graceland.

There were so many musical highlights: being reminded of how central a good rhythm guitar is in Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, the brilliant orchestration in Late In The Evening (albeit too fast), then waiting for that bass solo in You Can Call Me Al. Dad and I have spent hours ripping those two palindromic bars apart, never quite managing to put them back together again in just the right way. Well, the bass player slapped it (because he could!) and repeated it at the end of the song (because he could) to cheers from the crowd. Magic!

The truly incredible thing is that Simon sounds exactly like he always has. Neither his voice nor guitar playing has degenerated over the years. That certainly can’t be said of every artist who has been in the game for so long. Much like Bob Dylan, Simon’s songwriting is so strong and beautifully constructed that it can be interpreted and reinterpreted in so many different ways without losing any of its authenticity, which is just what the excellent eight-piece backing band did. This saw us treated to a slower, more mellow version of Slip Slidin' Away along with some other songs being rearranged.

The transition from Hearts and Bones into Mystery Train and Wheels was clever, comedic and certainly entertaining. However, I’m not sure the people sitting either side of me even realised that there were two other songs in this medley ... but I digress. Likewise, I enjoyed the way Kodachrome merged into Gone At Last, offering up the only key change I spotted during the night. The band managed to fill the gaps where Phoebe Snow’s wailing would have been without any fuss.

Although I didn’t expect to hear Take Me To The Mardi Gras, it would have been nice to hear in place of a Here Comes The Sun, an unnecessary Beatles cover that pleased the crowd but left me wanting more of who I had come to see. Also, I would have loved to hear Mother and Child Reunion and had been looking forward to the changing rhythms at the end of Loves Me Like A Rock, but they weren't necessarily glaring omissions.

For me, the evening was about the experience of seeing a legendary songwriter present his work on stage as much as the songs he chose to do this with. I am so thrilled to have ticked another concert off my Top 5 list, as this is one that I never expected I'd get to do. It's fitting that Paul Simon's music has once again provided the backdrop for a major event in my life, making the trip down memory lane on Monday night about even more than his music.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Feeding the need to read

I am an avid reader and reading has always been one of my favourite pastimes. As a child, I was glued to books and had pretty much read the local library dry. As an adult, I have always had 2-3 books on the go, even during painfully long reading droughts where time to enjoy a book has been practically non-existent. As a teacher, I believe the best gift you can give your child is a love of reading.

I am really enjoying reading more for pleasure these days and love to see others share my passion for the written word in its many different forms. Perhaps it's a sign of our busy times that much reading nowadays seems to happen in snippets snatched here and there? eReaders are great for that, as they're very portable and a large selection of material is always on hand, making it easy to accommodate a change of mood while reading.

I love seeing that other people also can't wait to read. During the past week, I have seen someone pull an e-reader out of their bag while queuing at the post office, a woman reading a library book at the bus stop and a man totally engrossed in a paperback while standing on a bus. Public transport has become BYOD (or maybe BYOB?), extending far beyond MP3 players and mobile phones, seeing most people glued to the next installment from their book. It seems like even a few precious moments at a time to get caught up in the world of print is enough to feed some readers' insatiable appetite for words.

We were away camping this weekend, making the most of the end of daylight saving. After setting up our tent and finding the rest of our group, we congregated in a sunny spot and a selection of books appeared. We briefly checked out each other's selections before settling into comfy positions. There were two different models of Kindle readers, an iPad, a hardback and three paperbacks all capturing the undivided attention of seven readers; we didn't talk for nearly an hour and it was absolute bliss! When the sun started playing peek-a-boo with the shade joining in to warn us that our golden run of good weather is coming to an end, extra layers of clothing appeared but our undivided attention remains on the words we were reading ... until a few drops of rain finally broke our trance. Now, that's what I call a camping trip!

How do you read? Short snippets snatched here and there or do you enjoy the luxury of long stints with a good book?

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Sometimes I know that feeling! LOL