Sunday, May 20, 2012

I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.

I'm back again. I've been an intermittent blogger recently but I have decided that life is far too short, and far too amusing to not share the joy of it with the world. I've also decided to start a bucket list. Not because I'm planning to die, but because there are so many outstanding things you can achieve easily without too much expense if you just set your mind to it...and quite often you get little "gifts" when you do.

Let me explain. I first began thinking about this a few months back - I've always wanted to drive the Desert Road but the first time we were down that way, it was "just that bit further" in the opposite direction, so we didn't do it. The occasion was my 40th birthday, so you'd thing I would have made the effort...but I didn't and it haunted me ever after. So a couple off months back we were down Ruapehu way again and I decided it had to be done. Having spent a sobering few hours at the Waioru Army Museum, I managed to convince the rest of the family that the Desert Road would be a fitting end to the day.

So we set off.

It was beautiful, don't get me wrong, rolling hills, lush pastures and a really pleasant drive...but I just wasn't getting the experience. Where was the vastness? Why did the weather have such a reputation, why do drivers get stranded? Why does it close so often? Basically, what's the big deal?

We got to Taihape - Gumboot capital of the World - and I figured that the vastness was going to be too far away to keep the family onside with my little adventure.

So we turned back.

I'm generally not one for travelling the same route twice so, having got back to Waioru, I decided we would head straight on to Rangipo instead of going back the same way through Ohakune.

It was at that point that the Glory of God shone upon me and illuminated the sign saying "Desert Road"!!

If only he'd appeared an hour earlier and said in a booming voice "Read the bloody map you clown!"

So that's what started it - I drove the Desert Road (twice in fact over that weekend) and that was my first tick off the Bucket List...and what a tick! What an amazing experience for free, or the price of a few litres of petrol anyway.

So,another thing on what has now become my Bucket List is to drive a Mustang. I didn't really care if it was a '67, a Fastback, a Mach 1 or any other model really - well I did a bit, I wanted the grunty muscle version, not the slightly more refined 60s models. So, how do you go about driving a Mustang? Simple really, you ask if you can have a go.

And that's what I did a few weekend ago. We went to buy my good a lady a new car and there was a 2002 Mustang Cobra convertible on the yard. Being a bit cheeky, when the salesman asked me if there was anything else he could help us with I said "Well, you could let me have a go in that Mustang"...and he did...for a whole hour...with the roof down.

If I'm honest, the drive was terrible - it was a bit like driving a Sherpa van, heavy, sluggish and just not nearly as exciting as driving my 2008 Ford Falcon XR6. But the whole point was that I did what I'd always wanted to do, just by asking. I had a grin on my face all weekend after that.

And the moral of the story? If you don't ask, you don't get...and you might always wonder "what if?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meat and two veg

It's been a long absence but circumstances have driven me back to blogging once again.

Last night we went to watch Meat Loaf at the Vector Arena and some 12 hours later I am finally able to write about it.

I must say, having never really been into watching live bands in my youth, I decided some time back that, if the opportunity ever arises, now is the time to watch all those artists you will probably only ever get one more shot at seeing. We watched The Who at North Harbour stadium a couple of years back and they were excellent. Townsend seemed to have overcome his obsession with internet research and returned to his full glory on the guitar, Daltrey was vocally as powerful as ever and I still have a wry amusement at the fact that the drummer is the son of a Beatle and older than me.

Then it was Todd Rundgren, who played a fantastic blues set in front of about 80 people at the Auckland Powerstation. That gave me a feeling of being entertained on a truly exclusive level.

After that, The Hollies at Ascension Vineyard - memorable both for the fact that we were treated as VIPs on account of the unfortunate chainsaw accident that resulted in me turning up on crutches and the novelty of sitting on the floor, sipping wine, watching a a very accomplished and entertaining performance...and definitely even more memorable for the sheer number of totally paralytic over 60 year olds staggering around the car park afterwards.

So, after three really top drawer performances, shelling out $200 for me and the present Mrs Chipshaker to watch Meat Loaf in all his glory seemed a bit of a bargain.

The doubts started to set in when I watched the You Tube clip of Meat's performance at the AFL Grand Final. To say it was a bit ropey is something of an understatement, particularly as the supporting singer on Paradise by the Dashboard Light out-performed him. But it was only a 20 minute set, in a stadium, and probably a bit windy, so no-one can blame him for being a bit rusty. I did casually try to flog the tickets at face value at that point but no-one was biting.

No matter - if nothing else, it was a lovely opportunity to have some quality social time with the Missus without the kids.

My hopes shot up when Meat cancelled the Tauranga show due to health reasons. Having seen the announcement that anyone who couldn't make the rescheduled show next Tuesday would get a full refund, I began thinking there might be a way out if he couldn't make Auckland either. I mean, how hard can it be to have a subsequent engagement on the rescheduled date? I checked the internet the whole day long in the hope that he would cancel and even turned up with the faint hope that it was still possible.

Obviously Meat is as smart as I am because the bugger cottoned on to that and was determined to be there last night.

Oh well, how bad could it be - we are here now and we might as well make the most off it. If it's going to be bad we should just revel in the badness of it. Ever the entrepreneur, the first thing I did was buy a tour t-shirt. I reckon they would be worth a fortune if he croaks on stage (430,000 people have watched Tommy Cooper shuffling off this mortal coil on YouTube).

It started pretty well actually, with Meat cashing in on the Rocky Horror connection to get the audience going. You couldn't help but notice though that his voice wasn't quite there and he was looking slightly slow on his feet but it was okay. The band were bloody good, although I suspect they were deliberately just that bit louder so that you couldn't quite pick up how rusty the vocals were. To be honest, it was a steady decline. Having "Bat out of Hell" as the third song in the set left me wondering what was being held in reserve for the encore. It seemed to surprise Meat Loaf too! Mind you, the inflatable bat covering the stage captured my imagination - shades of "Eddy the Ed" for those old enough to remember. After that, the three song set from an album that I can't even be arsed googling was probably a mistake judging by the amount of traffic tooing and froing to the bar at that point - even the die-hard fans seemed to be heading for over-priced analgesia! It certainly killed whatever interest I had left in the whole thing. Meat Loaf aficionados (probably all those stuck in the 80s, poodle permed bimbos who posted their undying love for Meat on Facebook this morning) would know what the album was - apparently something he's been touting round for years as a screenplay but no-one has yet been daft enough to take it up. We live in hope that Hollywood won't ever stoop that low.

Personally, I was up for calling it a night after about 6 songs but the need to stick around to see whether my investment would pay off was overwhelming. And, if I'm honest, it was worth it.

I have no idea what the song was anymore, but the highlight of the whole evening was the appearance of the Tellytubbies, Alice, the Mad Hatter and various other characters who had no relevance whatsoever to whether 2 out of 3 was bad or not. It also awakened my interest in the stage, and it was then that I noticed the inflatable fat lass in a pink bikini on the left of the stage (looking alarmingly like a nightmare inflatable blow up doll - they seemed unreachably exotic when I was 15 but somewhat grotesque now). The fact that the inflatable hands that presumably were supposed to salaciously represent an unseen male, were only half inflated only added to the sordid enjoyment of it.

Things were looking up and the concert was clearly drawing to a close when the opening chords of "Paradise" rang out. The first few bars actually suggested that this would be the highlight of the show (how hard can it be to eclipse so many low-lights?). The backing singer was back on, and she was good. Meat had foregone the stool he sat on for "2 out off 3" and the tearful eulogy to the people of Auckland, and we were ready to kick some ass.

Now, for those of you not old enough to remember, let me tell you about "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". I'll set the scene - It's about two kids who drive out to the middle of nowhere, to have a bit off fun. It's in the days before dogging so Stan Collymore doesn't feature anywhere in the lyrics, but the kids park up by the lake in the dark and the young fella clearly has his sights set on a bit of action. He's doing quite well, the music builds and he has managed to get a bit of the young lady's kit off. As the tempo rises you know he has certainly gone beyond "top deck" and, like David Bellamy, is looking to start exploring the damp undergrowth. At that point, the nerves creep in and the respectable young lady will only crank it up a notch if Meat promises undying love and marriage. What follows is classic teenage boy trying to get his way and teenage girl doing everything to resist. In 1977 the emotion of the song was such that you could get blue balls just imagining Meat's blue balls.

Not last night - at the point where he started rambling on, protesting about taking her out for salad and17 varieties of soup, it started to sound more like a bloody Heinz advert than a damp and sweaty encounter in a Ford Mustang by a moonlit lake, and any imagery of teenage lust was lost was my remaining interest in hearing what he had left for the encore.

Been there, got the t-shirt!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Camping: the art of getting closer to nature...

... while getting farther away from the nearest cold beverage, hot shower and flush toilet.

Ah, Easter….the end of the busy season at work and time for a week off to recharge the batteries. And what better way than pursue the Kiwi Dream – the outdoors life getting back in touch with nature. So we headed off to the far North for a few days’ camping. We’d picked up a bargain family tent a couple of months back and had accumulated bits and pieces of camping gear along the way – camp beds, a travel BBQ, a mini gas burner, a whistling kettle and four sleeping bags. In fact, barring the really exotic gear your average seasoned campers had, we’d pretty much got all we needed.

So I packed up the car (note the use of the first person singular for reference later!), squeezed the kids in the back and headed off. Not having camped since we were both much younger, it’s probably fair to say Mrs C and I weren’t really sure what to expect but, after a 2 hour drive we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the campsite – communal kitchen, hot showers, standpipes aplenty and recreation room that young Miss C insisted on calling “the Staffroom”.

Having done one trial run with the tent in the back garden a few weeks ago, we set about setting it up for the real thing. With the instructions discretely hidden for reference by the car wheel, we actually managed to get the whole thing set up within about 15 minutes. Now for people of a certain age, my age, you'll recall that family tents used to be made of canvas - you made the frame up on it’s knees, draped the canvas over, raised it to its full glory, hung the bedrooms inside, pegged out the groundsheet and, three hours later sat back sweating. Well, not these days, this is kind of a family sized version of a kiddies’ pop-up tent. You roll it out, stick a few fibreglass poles in and hey presto, the thing magically becomes inhabitable. The only real downside was that we didn’t have a tent peg mallet. After about five pegs the palms of my hands were becoming quite painful and swollen. Undeterred, I pushed the rest in with that universal of tools, the sole of my jandal. The fact that the pegs went in so easily should perhaps have triggered a few warning signs in my mind as to the current weather situation, but I suppose I was too full of glory from the ease with which we’d raised the tent – a feat made more remarkable by the fact that I hadn’t sworn at Mrs C or the kids once during the process!!

Quite impressed with myself, I set about putting together the camp beds. Now the traditionalists out there will be pleased to note that the passage of time has not changed the basic design of these things – a series of short tubes, connected together and slotted down either side of a canvas sheet, which is then stretched by the insertion of W-shaped legs. Each bed on its own took longer than the tent to put together! After about an hour of sweating and swearing I finally managed to get the damn things looking like camp beds. After that, I treated myself to a cold beer and inspected the various cuts, welts and bruises around my ankles – it’s quite amazing the amount of damage a piece of W-shaped steel can cause when the tensioning pressure is suddenly released!

But that said, we were done – quite a tidy little campsite all set up and very professional-looking too! By this time everyone was getting hungry, so we popped open the chilly bin to survey a plethora of pre-packed meat cuts, just waiting to be BBQ’d… about four days’ time when they’d thawed out!! Another weather warning sign for you there folks – the meat was still frozen, despite the absence on any kind of powered refrigeration. Never mind, first day of the holidays, we’d worked hard; the least we could do is treat ourselves to a meal out.

It was after the meal and back at the campsite we noticed the first of the things we’d forgotten – it gets pretty dark around 6pm after daylight saving finishes! Still, it gave the kids chance to have a bit of fun with their head torches and we settled back for a game of cards and a glass of wine….at which point we noticed the next thing we’d forgotten. Most wine bottles in New Zealand are screw capped and I’d managed to bring the only two cork-sealed bottles in the house….and no cork screw! Now anyone who has studied physics, or has tried to open a bottle of wine by pushing the cork down with a fork handle, knows what it’s like to have a glass of cheap, cold Sav Blanc squirt up your armpit!

Oh well, time for bed, a chance to lie back and listen to the night sounds of nature – the occasional screech of a Possum, the squawking of Pukekoes as they settle down for the night and the strange call of the Ruru – a small native owl, also called a 'Morepork' because of his call…..morepork, morepork. Quite relaxed, we all settled down for the night.

And at 1am, the old body clock kicked in….the night’s intake of cheap wine was now looking for a way out. Ordinarily it’s no problem to rise and walk, eyes closed, around the bed, into the bathroom, release the pressure and tread the well worn path back to bed, almost without losing snoring rhythm. But not when you are zipped into a sleeping bag, inside a well-zipped tent in the pitch dark 30yds from the nearest dunny. After half an hour of trying to ignore the growing pressure in my bladder I finally succumbed and staggered around the tent looking for a torch and some clothes. It’s only when you exit a sleeping bag at 1am on an autumn night you realise just how cold it can be. And of course the cold does things to you! Having legged it across to the toilet, through cold, wet grass, twanging guy ropes like a virtuoso Spanish guitarist, I finally made it to the dunny…just in time. With a bladder the size of a barrage balloon, I set about trying to find the ‘Old Fella’, who rather sensibly it seemed had decided to escape the cold by shrinking inside where it was still nice and warm!

Mind you. It was probably worth the trip to see the most amazing, clear, star-filled night sky you only get to see by being miles away from any kind of urban life.

Now the thing about going to bed early, is that you generally get up early, but the fact that we were all wide awake at 6am didn’t seem to matter once we got the BBQ going and bacon, eggs and sausages sizzling away. Disregarding the fact that the only pan we had brought wasn’t non-stick, which meant we had shredded bacon, we really were quite enjoying this camping lark.

The next day, we set out for a thoroughly enjoyable trip further north to the Bay of Islands, where the sun beat down on us all day. Tired and fulfilled, we set about the hour long trip back to the campsite….towards ominously black clouds. About 20 minutes into the trip we hit the south-bound storm, and began the race to get back home before the torrential rain beat us to it. Exiting the storm about 10 minutes from home, we raced back and got there just in time to get the kit indoors and the BBQ set up under the awning. Shame the chicken still hadn’t defrosted. Mind you, there were more sausages, so they’d do. Torch in hand, hunched on deck chair like a war torn refugee I set about getting the food cooked before the downpour reached us – no such luck! It’s amazing just how loud the rain is when it’s hammering on a tent! It’s also quite amazing how much water leaks down your neck when your head brushes an, until then, waterproof canopy. With our ears bleeding, and my collar soaking, we tucked into sausages and salad before retiring for another early night.

And once the storm had passed, the local wildlife set about its nocturnal symphony. Now it could be that we were too spellbound by our first night to realise just how loud the Great Outdoors really is, or how savage it can be. It’s not so much a symphony as the soundtrack to mass murder. You’ve got Pukekoes (probably the crappest bird ever invented – they can fly - badly, they can walk – stupidly, they can eat - messily and they don’t even squawk properly) sounding like they are being strangled……squawk, squawk, honk, SQUAWgluklglukgleeeeAAYYK. The Possums were clearly having a gang fight, with a posse from over the valley mounting some kind of dusk turf challenge – Eeeeeeeech, Eeeeeecccchhh, EEEEEECCCCHHHHH. The Rurus, being somewhat pissed at being left out of the action, decided to voice their scorn over our somewhat unoriginal sausage diet…Morepork? Morepork? MOREPORK?? MOREBLOODYPORK!!!! (They were beef sausages for christ's sake!) And then, to cap it all, the cows in the next field clearly came into season at some time around 3am, much to the enjoyment and gleeful anticipation of the resident bull – mooo…..moooo….mooooo…..MOOOO ...MMMOOOOOO...MMMOOOOOOOOMOOOOOO!!! Judging by the amount of bellowing going on he must have had an erection the size of a telegraph pole! I couldn't quite decide whether to be worried he'd have a coronary or worried he'd pole-vault over the fence and onto our tent!!!

Now don’t get me wrong, camping is great and we all thoroughly enjoyed our first trip and we learnt a lot. However, for those that haven’t tried it and aren’t sure if they’d like the Kiwi camping culture, here’s a little experiment you might try before you waste a lot of money on expensive gear – get a deckchair and one of those disposable picnic BBQs, set them up in the bathroom, stick “Good Morning, Good Morning” by the Beatles (Sgt Pepper album) on the HiFi at full tilt, turn the shower on to cold, turn all the lights off and get some sausages going – If you can drink a cold beer and still smile, you’ll do okay camping.

Oh, by the way, Mrs C asked me not to mention the fact that she wiped all the tent pegs clean with toilet paper before putting them back in the bag… I won’t!! I also won't mention the fact that when I packed the car everything fit in, but when WE packed the car to come home, using Mrs C's alternative suggestion, we had to unpack it again and repack it using my original method, so that we might take home everything we had brought with us!

Happy camping!!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed

He might have been a power-mad despot but he knew a thing or two did "Old Boney", and I cannot help but think it was fate which led to my first encounter with the New Zealand Health Service.

And so begins the story.....

I must apologise in advance for labouring through the circumstances leading up to my chance encounter with the medical services, but I feel these events themselves are worthy of mention before I take you to the Medical Centre.

Firstly fate conspired to match an early-finish meeting with an unusually low tide, which provided ample time and opportunity for a spot of evening rock fishing - not the easiest or best way to catch your dinner but usually a bit of fun and a chance to watch a fantastic sunset and catch up with a couple of mates. So me and a mate head off down to the local beach for a couple of hours.

Not a hugely successful haul - two undersized snapper that had to go back - but it was certainly worth the effort and, after a couple of hours we head back to his place to to sink a quick beer and tell a few fishing lies out on his deck. After one beer - note that well, one beer - it was getting too dark and we both had work the day after, so it was time to head home. We had plenty of stuff to carry (including tonnes of plums for an imminent wine brewing venture) so my mate offered me a lift home. He gathered some stuff together and headed across the back garden towards the car. Chipshaker Junior, true to form, followed him carrying as little as possible, leaving me to gather up a tackle box, two pairs of wet jandals and an 8ft fishing rod.

With no outside lights I headed barefoot for roughly the point where the steps down from the deck should be. Having successfully negotiated the four steps I thought there should be, I set off walking to head round the side of the house. Unfortunately, the existence of a fifth step mean that my mind and body, geared to travel in a horizontal direction, were not prepared for the remaining six or seven inches of vertical drop that followed! Now I have no idea how spectacular the fall actually looked but, if it is proportionate to the pain that followed, it would have been impressive. Truth be known I don't really know what happened, except for a couple of things that were immediately apparent - the amount of blood coming from my knee meant that it had come into contact with the concrete pad at the bottom of the steps, the pain in my right foot meant that I had definitely not landed smoothly, and the air rushing out of my lungs, combined with the excruciating pain in my right testicle meant that the butt of the 8ft fishing rod had tried to break my fall...unsuccessfully. Completely unable to cry out, I lay in a ball for a few minutes, listening to my mate carrying on a conversation with me from round the side of the house that I had no hope of participating in. Eventually, I recovered enough to test out the extent of the damage and managed to hobble round to the car, where I had to try to explain what had happened.

Anyway, to cut a long story a little shorter, I was delivered home where, after packing up the fishing gear, I advised Chipshaker Jr that all I wanted was a beer and a sit down. "I'll get you the beer Dad........CRASH!". I turned round to see the puddle of beer expanding across the garage floor, with Jr stood in the middle of it, the blood slowly mixing with the beer and broken glass.

"Stand STILL!"

I then eased myself into a sitting position, and helped Jr sit down in a dry patch, so as to avoid standing on any more glass. I then began to pick up the larger pieces of glass, after first establishing that Jr had only nicked his foot.

And that was the point Mrs C returned home, to find us both sat on the floor, bleeding, in a pool of blood, beer and broken glass!!

"What the hell is going on here?!"

And so we come to my encounter with the local Medical Centre.

After cleaning up my knee it turned that, whilst being the most painful of the various injuries, it was in fact the least serious and was now being overtaken in the pain stakes by my rapidly expanding big toe! Having broken a few bones in my youth, I was familiar with that special aching, throbbing pain that comes with broken bones, and I was fairly certain I had broken the toe. I also knew there was bugger all that could be done for broken toes, so I gobbled down a few painkillers, had another beer and went to bed.

That was Thursday night and, faced with a number of meetings and a huge "To Do" list, I headed off for work on Friday morning, armed with enough painkillers to hopefully see me through the day. However, by lunchtime it became very apparent that this was probably a very silly thing to have done and by 4pm my left foot was its usual size 7 whereas the right foot was a size 9, with unattractive shades of blue and purple. On arriving home, I succumbed to the pressure and agreed to let Mrs C take me to the medical centre.

And what a truly glorious experience it was!!!

At first, it seemed like any other emergency waiting room - rather sterile, the walls decorated with posters warning me about sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of sneezing on people, and a TV playing to itself in the background.

Then gradually, you realised that, along with everyone else in the waiting room, your attention had subconsciously been drawn to the TV.....

"and so now we are going to perform an incision around Maureen's scalp, draw back the forehead and incise around the ears. We pull up and staple into place........CLICK, CLICK, CLICK"

"Two weeks later Maureen visits Dr Smith's dental surgery.......and we remove the fillings like so, drill around the teeth [weeeeeeeee, weeeeeeee, WEEEEEEEEEEE] and insert the new caps over the top"

As if the TV wasn't enough, the nurse on duty then felt compelled to compete with these outside influences and picked up the phone...

"Yes, this is the Medical Centre, I have a woman with an amputated fractured finger and I called for an ambulance a while back......well do you know how long it will be?.......well yes, it's just hanging on by a scrap of's on it's way? Okay, thanks"

Then, turning to the gathered crowd of pale onlookers, she addressed us collectively, seeking out her next victim....

"Darryl? [big bloke with bandaged calf (the bottom bit of his leg, not a young farm animal) stands up nervously] Yes, can you come this way please....[heading down the corridor] it's just a tetanus is it? Righto. And it was a shark bite was it? Dear me, how many stitches?......27 STITCHES! My word!"

Now that's what I call health care! No drawn curtain, no patient discretion, just full-on graphic commentary for the enjoyment of all.

I went in feeling very dejected and in a great deal of discomfort, but I came out extremely uplifted, having enjoyed perhaps the greatest moments of unintentional comedy I have seen for a very long time. I was also resolved to never go there with any kind of ailment I wouldn't freely admit to others, for fear of walking down the corridor to the loud accompaniment of..... "so, it's just the penis suppurating profusely is it? We'll soon get that sorted"

And the best thing of all? The whole experience, glorious as it was, lasted less than an hour and the nurse even put some cream on my grazed knee!!


As a post script to this wonderful experience, I went back to the medical centre yesterday morning for an X-ray to confirm the extent of the damage. It is indeed broken as suspected but most impressive of all was the way the doctor nonchalantly took down a book from the shelf entitled "Practical Fracture Treatment", which he proceeded to flick through before writing up his treatment notes. Now I know these guys have to learn a lot, and they can't possibly know everything, but I'm not too sure they should be learning on the job!

If we think about this carefully, I diagnosed a broken toe on the Thursday night, which was considered to be a correct diagnosis when viewed by a doctor on Friday night, confirmed by an X-ray on Saturday morning and treated by reference to a text book and use of multiple strips of Band Aid. In the past, I have also correctly predicted tonsillitis in myself and my children and successfully treated it with salt water gargles, convinced Mrs C that the children have a heat rash not meningitis, identified chicken pox, and have treated several deep wounds (in myself and close friends and family) with home-made butterfly stitches, thus generally avoiding a four hour sojourn fighting off the unwanted attentions of drunks and drug addicts in British hospital waiting rooms .

I can't help but feel I may be somewhat wasted in my current job and can see a future with the Chipshaker Travelling Medicine Show. After all, it doesn't really seem that difficult and, if anyone in New Zealand can be an estate agent, surely the conditions for being a doctor can't be that rigorous?

Friday, January 19, 2007

I wanted to do something nice.... I bought my mother-in-law a chair, but my wife won't let me plug it in!

(If it weren't so true that old joke would indeed be funny)

Yes, as I write this I come to the end of three very long weeks in the cloying company of my wife's mother - an individual I found intolerable during previously infrequent encounters, let alone having to live with her for three whole weeks. (And I should point out that this is notwithstanding several vicious and underhand tricks she did when I first seduced her beautiful daughter some 18 years ago, which I try hard not to influence my loathing of her).

Apart from the fact that she is perhaps the most thoroughly dislikeable person I have every met, most adults of a certain age will probably admit that it is also very difficult sharing ones personal space with another adult you wouldn't ordinarily choose to live with. That said, once I had got over the initial urges to mark my territory by urinating on the dining table leg, rationalised that I was only connected to her by some tragic fluke of marriage, and that my summer holiday/Christmas was going to be buggered up beyond redemption, I have to admit that I did settle down somewhat to revel in the spectacle that was to follow.

I suppose those that don't know me may feel my opening comments are a little uncaring (those that do know me probably feel the same!), but be assured that Mrs C does in fact share my dislike of the woman, although perhaps not to the same extent, and begged me not to abandon her to her tender mercies. Undeterred by this impassioned plea, I pointed out the undeniable truth that she was in fact no relation of mine and our paths had only crossed by an accident of early 20s lust and animal attraction (to Mrs C, not her mother!!). Therefore I patiently explained that I was quite within my rights to find every excuse possible to disappear with the children, play golf or undertake marathon Playstation sessions in another room or join the Merchant Navy. And at this point, It is worth bearing in mind that the visit was only grudgingly agreed to for the sake of the two Chipettes, who mistakenly believed they were missing out on something by being 10,000 miles away from Grandma. If you care to read on, you can make your own decisions on whether they were.

As I say, at first it was perhaps just a little difficult because of the territorial aspects of three adults cohabiting. Nevertheless, it became apparent after only the first fifteen minutes that it was going to be much much more than that.

Having passed through New Zealand customs control myself a few times, I am very aware that there are stringent drugs controls in this country and a notable intolerance of smugglers. That said, The Bride of Satan managed to fox this country's trained enforcement officers and their clever dogs somehow and arrived with the biggest haul of drugs I have ever seen! Antihistamine tablets, thyroid tablets, aspirin, allergy tablets, enough Rennie to have rendered Acid Bath Haigh harmless, anti-depressants, sleeping tablets, distemper tablets, foot and mouth cream - you name it she had the lot. The only thing she was missing was the medication to treat her hypochondria!

When I was stupid enough to comment on the size of her pill box (more a travel bag than a pocket box) she regaled us with tales of how she had scourged the pharmacies of Sydney (during a 10 day stop over) because she was worried she only had enough blue pills for the next 3 months!! Not content with that, we then got a blow by blow account of her extravagant pill popping excesses.

"This blue one I have 75mg one day and 50mg on the next, then 75mg again....or is it the other way round, I can never remember? Anyway, this yellow one I have three times a day. The white ones I just take when I fancy......"

I'm assuming the white ones were in fact mint imperials, which she harped on about regularly throughout the visit (and which were later found, half sucked, in the bed when the covers were changed after her departure!!). Judging by her miserable countenance and lethargic shuffling round the house, I can only assume the blue ones were not speed! I also have a theory that her insomnia could be triggered by some kind of mad urge to get a sugar rush around 10pm every night - mint imperials, honey, assorted biscuits, Ovaltine, you name it. All were consumed as part of the going to bed ritual, accompanied by 10 minutes of exaggerated yawning and the oft repeated chorus of "Oo I'm tired, I'm worn out, I am tired you know, I think I'll go to bed". After 5 minutes of which I was fighting back the urge to scream "Well, just effing go to bed then, so that the rest of us can hear ourselves think!"

Somewhat suicidally bored and fighting back the urge to self harm, I retired gracefully to bed at the end of day one!

In the following days she displayed perhaps her only skill in life (assuming paranoia isn't considered a talent), being the ability to fill every single waking second with unnecessary noise or vacuous and inane chatter. Let me give you but one example - upon meeting her on the stairs one evening she greeted me with the earth-shattering revelation "Eh look, it's me, with my camomile tea and honey". Now Stevie Wonder may have struggled to deduce that one but I just about managed to draw that conclusion by assimilating the assembled facts (ie, it was definitely her, she was holding a cup of hot liquid, she'd never stopped harping on about camomile tea since she got there (this was before we'd scoured Greater Auckland to replenish mint imperial stocks) and it was past 10pm so there was bound to be a shovelful of honey in there!). Somewhat stunned by the enormity of this event I was fleetingly tempted to contact Sky News to advise them of this world-changing revelation but, on further reflection, opted for the wintry smile instead.

Mind you, it's a wonder she can find time to brew camomile tea quite frankly, what with the hectic social life she seems to live. After all, she seems to be on first name terms with just about every A-list celebrity you can imagine. Or at least I assume this is the case based on the running commentary she gives whenever she watches the TV (which is almost constantly). "Aw look, there's Elton, he's been going some years, eh look, it's Rod - he's nearly as old as me you know. And Shirley, she's done some stuff over the, la,lelah, bum, be bum"

Now I have to confess I'm perhaps not Shirley Bassey's biggest fan, though her talent is undeniable, and I am reasonably familiar with her most popular songs. However, I couldn't for the life of me place the one that had just been attempted by Beelzebub's Bedfellow

But perhaps the greatest revelation of all, and one the New Zealand Herald would definitely be interested in was.... "Aw Diana - she's not dead you know, oh no, she'll never die, she'll live forever"

I don't know about you but after a fairly conclusive post mortem, endless media coverage, a State funeral, several messy stains in a Paris underpass and a high profile enquiry I thought it was a given that she'd shuffled off this mortal coil, but apparently not. Nevertheless, this little snippet did leave me wondering if it was all a ruse so that Di could get some respite from the media attention. Perhaps she's teamed up with Elvis and works in a burger joint in Des Moines, and only Mrs C's mum knows the secret?

By this point, we were only a few days in and I was beginning to wonder if I would stay the distance without "going postal". Nevertheless, Christmas Day was imminent, so I felt duty bound to soldier on. And what a joy Christmas Day was! We were treated to Christmas courtesy of QVC - for the uninitiated, QVC is a shopping channel available on satellite, cable and freeview in the UK. It specialises in selling chintzy, tacky crap of all descriptions to insomniacs who are too tired to venture out during the day, mostly because they sit up all night watching QVC! And the Monster-in-Law is a most avid fan - I can recall a time when Mrs C revealed how she had opened a cupboard at her mother's house, only to have a near-death experience under an avalanche of Jiffy envelopes and boxes all bearing the QVC emblem.

Anyway, given their origins, it was perhaps not surprising that most of the gifts fell apart after the first hour or so, prompting a rant about all the things that upset her the most about Christmas. Somehow, this turned into a discussion around the jewellery adorning the Monster-in-Law's crabbed hands and a revelation far greater than the immortality of Princess Di...

Mrs C, whether out of mischief or morbid curiosity - I know not which , asked "Why do you keep buying all that stuff Mum?"

"Well, I'm a collector you see. I buy it all on Easypay you know - I just pay over four months so it's a lot cheaper. And most of the things I've bought have appreciated in value".

Now at this point, apart from being in danger of losing control of my bladder, I was also stunned to realise that there was in fact a market for "Diamonique" and "Rubyite" jewellery outside those that sit up all night watching camp wannabee presenters waxing lyrical on the aesthetic and intrinsic value of a glass-and- silver-plated ring that wouldn't look out of place falling from the big end of a Christmas cracker. I naturally assumed that pieces of shaped glass were of limited value, regardless of their colour, unless made in Waterford instead of Warrington. Needless to say, when the Harpy from Hades does get the call to return to Satan's side, I'll be sending Mrs C straight off to the Antiques Roadshow with her inheritance!

Mind you, if - as I suspect - the 'jewellery' (I imagine the Guild of Master Jewellers may dispute the careless use of that word as gross misrepresentation) turns out to not be worth enough to pay off the Easypay instalments, we will still have something to remember her by. Well, that's assuming Mrs C doesn't chuck out that one of her set of her best towels her mother ruined when surreptitiously dying her hair.

And I couldn't help but marvel at the underhand way she "confessed" to this wicked deed.

Waiting until Mrs C had gone out, the MIL backed me into a corner and numbed me into semi-consciousness with a rambling account of how the sun had dried her hair and taken the colour out (Bearing in mind this is the same sun that had seemingly failed to appear most of the time......"Oh I am disappointed with the weather, it's been nice seeing the kids but I'll be really upset if I don't go back with a suntan", but that she had basked in at every opportunity, turning the uncovered parts of her body into charred flesh...."Oh no, it's not sore, look I can even do this...." [slaps horrible turkey neck violently to demonstrate lack of excruciating radiation burns]". She wasn't fooling anyone though, the putrid stench of burnt flesh and the oft applied Savlon were testament to her misery and stupidity).

Anyway, almost to the point of semi-consciousness, I suddenly realised this rambling soliloquy actually had a point......"all the grey was showing through, so I had to dye my hair. I brought an old hand-towel with me especially but it was too small and my hair was still wet. So I borrowed one of Mrs C's towels to finish it off....the stains'll come out when it's washed I'm sure...."

I have to admit, I couldn't resist mentioning to Mrs C on her return that she might want to have a quick shufty at the top quality, extra thick CREAM-COLOURED bath-towel currently residing in the laundry basket....

And so let me finish with a message to all sons-in-law out there, particularly those who reluctantly allow their mother-in-laws to stay. It may seem like a prospect worse than death but, with the right mental attitude, it can be hugely entertaining and incredibly educational - I now know much more about immortality, celebrity lifestyle and the specialist collectors' market than I could ever have imagined, and I learnt some new swear words too when Mrs C found the towel!

Oh, and I also improved my golf handicap and won prize money in the club competition two weekends running!! Not bad for a bloke who usually couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo!!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Meanwhile, fears of universal disaster sank to an all time low over the world

Well Isaac Asimov may well think that but my insurance company certainly doesn't!!

Six hundred and fifty five quid they want, for buildings only insurance on an empty house! Not only that but the insurance only covers damage by lightning, explosion and aircraft damage? What about the good old stuff like loosened roofing tiles, subsidence and burning down?

I mean, we lived there ten years before we emigrated and I can't honestly remember the house ever being struck by lightning or exploding. These are the kinds of things you'd tend to notice I feel.

And as for aircraft damage, well we are some twenty odd miles from the nearest airport, in a sprawling urbanisation. But apparently aircraft damage is a major concern to the insurance company it seems. So much so that, under the terms of the policy, my parents have to visit the property at least once a week to make quite sure that there isn't a Boeing 747 sticking out of the lounge window.

One assumes that, at such an extortionate price, I at least get salvage rights over any commercial, military or recreational aircraft that should just happen to choose my house to crash into out of the millions of others in the Greater Manchester area!

I'm thinking someone has been watching too much Emmerdale! Bloody insurance? Surely the whole idea of insurance is that they assess the odds and take a gamble? Quite honestly, at nearly seven hundred quid a chuck, I can't see a downside for the insurance company!

Don't suppose anyone out there knows any dodgy pilots do they? Perhaps a retired Kamikaze veteran looking for a quick buck (assuming of course Kamikaze pilots can either be veteran or retired?)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this :

"If Gladstone fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity."

Quite a wag that Benjamin Disraeli, but I suppose he has a point.

Let me share with you then, my misfortunes of last week.

The week didn't start too well when Mrs C advised me casually, in passing, that her mother was coming to haunt us for five weeks over the Christmas period. Five weeks!! I only get two weeks off for Christmas and I was rather looking forward to the peace and tranquility of Christmas on the beach. As it stands, I'm more likely now to be stood in the dinner queue at Mount Eden prison for Christmas dinner. She once lived with us for three days and how I held my tongue that long I'll never know - five weeks is a feat of endurance beyond even a saint. To say I don't like the women is perhaps understating things somewhat and it's probably no exaggeration to say that I'd rather have Peter Sutcliffe use our gaff as a bail hostel.

Naturally, when I picked up an e-mail last Friday morning advising me that our house buyers in the UK were dropping out 24 hrs before the date of completion I was very slightly less than gruntled. On the assumption that these things come in threes I was also starting to look carefully around me for the next drama on the horizon, and I travelled very warily to work that day. But then I told myself that it was all a load of guff, nothing else could go wrong and I'd had my quota if such things even existed. I also couldn't recall breaking any mirrors, and you tend to notice doing that.

But I was wrong! I might as well stood under a ladder and smashed a mirror over the black cat running past!

Come 9am I'd just got my first cup of tea and was settling down to my usual Friday turgidity when the phone rang. Not content with already ruining my Christmas, Mrs C decided to twist the knife a little further. "I'm not quite sure how to tell you this.......". Turns out that a mate of Stevie Wonder's had driven his bullbar-adorned 4x4 Schoolrunmobile into our parked car and stoved in the two offside doors. I can only assume he was a mate of Stevie's because there is no other explanation for him failing to see the large, silver family saloon he crashed his front end into as he reversed slowly at an angle out of his adjacent parking space - one assumes the seeing dog in the passenger seat wasn't having a particularly good day and failed to bark his customary warning in time.

Fortunately, the dog had a conscience and scrawled his telephone number on a note (Thank goodness for the dog, because a Braille note from the driver would have had me well stumped!)

Taking a deep breath, and reassured that my third and final piece of bad luck had now arrived, I assessed the damage over the phone and concluded that the car was unsightly rather than undriveable. Surprising myself with my calmness (is there a difference between calm and abject resignation I wonder?) I left Mrs C with the words "Right, I'll deal with it when I get home, but please, please do not phone me again unless someone dies, I couldn't take anything else".

She's a grand wife is Mrs C, very bright and deeply beloved to me, despite having a mother rumoured to be the daughter of Satan. And she followed my instructions to the letter.....until around 2pm, when the phone rang again.

Now you know when you answer the phone and you can tell just by the way people breath that they are about to relay something catastrophic? Well it was like that - shaky breathing, muted sobs and I could definitely detect trembling through the ether. With the words ".....unless somebody dies" ringing in my ears, bile rising in my throat and her "I'm really sorry to phone you" opening gambit, I immediately began to wonder which one of the children's names I was going to hear!

The word "hospital" was all I heard in the next sentence!

Turns out, she'd turned around quite innocently and innocuously whilst helping out at school, and crumpled in a rather messy heap on the floor (probably with her legs firmly closed and her skirt neatly clamped between her knees, because women somehow have this reflex action for falling that way whenever they faint or collapse - or is it just me that notices these things?). Anyway, I digress. After a trip to the hospital, the conclusion is a torn calf muscle, a bill of $80 for a bit of tubigrip bandage, some aspirins and a pack of anti-inflammatories, plus $30 deposit for the crutches, which will be refunded when she returns on Friday for a check up (which will probably cost the returned $30 deposit plus another $50 no doubt!). Now I put this kind of injury either down to old age or playing football....and I don't ever recall seeing her wearing football boots!

So not only was my Friday a disaster of unfathomable proportions, but I had to spend a whole weekend of Mrs C alternating between hopping around like an amateur Long John Silver or shuffling up and down stairs on her backside like a stricken leper.

Regardless of what Disraeli says, I still haven't decided whether all of that was purely misfortune, or whether the quantum of those misfortunes qualifies it as a calamity collectively.
And all of this whilst going through the itchy and deeply irritable hell of a two week old moustache in aid of 'Movember' - an event in aid of Men's Cancer charities. I mention this a) because the itching was already making me bad tempered and b) in a shameless pursuit of cash in a good cause. If anyone would like to sponsor my flowing Mexican moustache, complete with underlip tickler. Log on to the Movember website here and quote my rego number 34760. Leave your e-mail address in the comments section and I'll send you a mo pic to laugh at/stroke/drool over (I currently hold 5 gold "Best Mo" stars, 4 red "Most Stylish Mo" stars and 4 blue "Best Porno Mo" stars to lead the office competition!)

PS, in response to the anonymous comment...Ron Jeremy? Pah. I don't think he can compete on any front! Even Merv Hughes is cacking himself