Gold Skiers

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It’s Monday morning on Mount Ruapehu. The weekend crowd of young folk and families has departed, and a new demographic has arrived. It’s those of the grey-hair, gold card, kid-free, care-free retirees.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have reached 65 years old, with knees that still work and a bit of spare cash, can escape for freedom on the snow fields. In fact, if you are 70+ years old and have your own skis, you don’t even need the cash. Your time and days on the mountain are unlimited…well, providing you stay healthy and active.  Ruapehu Alpine Lifts “gifted” this opportunity several years ago and since then the number of senior skiers has continued to rise. Steve Huish, Marketing Manager for RAL says, “At the moment we have 392 people aged 70+ and 1013 aged 60-69 with season or life passes. Not only that, 318 of the 70+ have already signed up for the 2019 Super super pass”. These figures don’t even touch on the number of senior day pass holders.

Now if you think this demographic is the kind that totter, waddle or snow-plough their way to the chairlift gates you are wrong. Most of these skiers have skiid for life and approach the start of the day like a racer ready for a Le Mons start. Calmly clutching helmets and queuing for the First Lifts option they are as keen as anyone to make the most of a mountain day. And, to be fair, the better equipment, well-groomed runs and faster chairlifts have made the sport much easier than when we were younger.

While family groups round up stray children and juggle home-made sandwiches and thermos the super pass skiers seem to know just the right balance between the number of runs and the number of flat whites to have at the mountain top cafes. It’s a vastly different ski experience to the years spent paying for the privilege of taking children skiing, dealing with them screaming prostrate in the snow and pole-towing them to the chairlift. But we were younger then and it was all part of the ‘fun’. On a perfect day it’s hard not to stop atop a peak and take a selfie to post to family on Facebook, a wee reminder of the good old days and confirmation that we are at least, still standing.

Like all sports, a reasonable level of fitness is required and age-related issues such as maintaining balance, flexibility and loss of muscle mass can result in an increased risk of injury. But older skiers tend to take fewer risks and recognize when their body is becoming fatigued, the time when most injuries occur as we brace for one more run before relaxing with a mulled-wine. We know, that an injury at this age will mean a longer recovery time so carefully balance the excitement of skiing with the sensibilities of not over-exerting ourselves. So, what better way to pace yourself than waddle back to the campervan, one of many which are parked on the ski fields, for a wee nana-nap.

At Turoa there is a noticeably high number of campervans parked. Not the small Wicked or Juicy vans, but rather the larger, home-away from home models., another indication of the number of seniors on the slopes. And why not? There is nothing more satisfying than making those first runs early in the morning then popping back into the campervan, taking the boots off and diving under the duvet for a bit of a rest while fortifying oneself for another couple of runs when the crowds have thinned.

In our golden years with it seems only right to make the most of the opportunities available. It’s the end of spring and time to get in quick for those cheap passes for the 2019 season. If you’re 70+ don’t forget to register.

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A Smashing Time

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gabriel-matula-300398-unsplashIt had been one of those weeks. The hot flushes were swooping in with monotonous regularity, I was irritable, angry and the entire family, including the dog were giving me a wide birth. Desperate, I sought help from my doctor, “You need to give me something before I kill someone.” I pleaded. He smiled the sort of smile that indicated he had no idea how I was feeling. “I’m sure you’re not that desperate,” he said with a patronizing laugh. He was wrong, and as I sat in his tiny, overheated office I wondered who this angry woman was.

I left the clinic with the obligatory white slip offering a bit of chemical release but, I knew there had to be another way to relieve the tension I was feeling. That’s when I saw the sign for the “Aggression Session”. My prayers had just have been answered.
All it took was a phone call and I was feeling better already. “Dig This Invercargill” was going to be my saviour even if only temporary.

The friendly voice on the phone advised me not to drink any alcohol as a breath test was mandatory. It was a big call feeling the way I did, but deep down I suspected the red wine may even have been stimulating my flushes.

“Dig This” is in effect a giant gravel pit, New Zealand’s only heavy equipment playground where visitors can operate bulldozers, diggers and skid steers, smash a car or truck and leave with a sense of empowerment and in my case a little less anger.

“I’m ready for this” I told my instructor, Geoff Shepherd, as I started striding ahead to the biggest most destructive machine I could see. “Now hold on little lady” he said. My hackles raised. The sudden ignition of anger had become one of the hardest thing to cope with during this menopausal madness.

“We’ve got a quick Health and Safety talk and some training before we let you loose on the monster,” he said. I was keen, so took note of the quote on the wall “You’ve got two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion” and kept quiet and listened. Briefing concluded it was time for some action.

First challenge was getting into the digger. The steps were high and my legs are short. “Step here, here and here. Three points of contact at all time,” he said as I struggled up. I’m sure he probably wanted to give my big bottom a hoist but he waited patiently as I climbed and got myself sorted. Feeling slightly heady and overpowered by it I was finally belted in with headphones on and ready for digger control 101.

“Right hand back, out and in, push forward, push out, pull in to leg. Push out closes the elbow, do this and it spins left, do this and it spins right. This is the brake. Push these two levers forward and the tracks move. Easy.” Geoff’s disengaged voice floated through my head.
“Arm, elbow, bucket, I repeat, got it. Not!”
“In the event of an emergency just take your hands off the machine and the kill switch takes over. Remember, Keep breathing.”

As he gently coaxed me, the giant digger rose on back tracks into a mechanical kind of handstand and spun around on its axis. At this stage I had grave concerns that my squealing was exceeding the decibel limits for Geoff’s headphones. I raised my hands. Everything froze. I was tilted back like in a dentist chair and my head was spinning.

“Relax,” he told me. “Apart from your vocals you’ve got it sussed.” Second challenge was to dig a hole. A deep hole. A very deep hole. And as I dug it I thought of what I’d like to bury in it. My angst, anger, frustrations, baggage. Lots of old baggage. This therapy was really working.

“You’ve done well. Time for the Aggression Session,” Geoff said guiding me out of the machine and leading me towards a much bigger digger which sat beside an old car. My aggression had lessened and slowly been replaced with a sense of euphoria.
A surrounding wall was covered in graffiti, “anger, tax, rent, mortgage, wanker”. “Do you want to spray paint anyone’s name on the car before you crush it?” he says with a laugh. “Ex-husband? Mother in law?” The doctor runs through my mind but I know I was just being irrational.

I revel in my new skill base, raising the shovel as high as I can then releasing it fast and hard, plunging it onto the chassis. An overwhelming sense of power takes over and I’m raising and dropping that shovel at double speed. The more it crushes, the happier I am. How flat can a car get? Very! When it was completely flattened I switched off the motor, climbed down, and stood like a conqueror on the crushed remains.

Would the release I felt last? Probably not. But for a short time at least I could feel the old me return, a strong, powerful, woman in control of her life and destiny.

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Not Holland but Otahuhu

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“Auntie…I need a coffee, can I have a coffee?”
“Not long now. Just stay in your cubical.”
“Auntie…I’m going for a smoke.”
“No. Wait. Stay here, we’re just organizing x-rays.”
An orderly arrives but it is too late. The patient has disappeared.

From calls of “Nurse, I’ve got stinky feet. Can I use a shower?” to abusive patients being pushed around by a swarm of family, the activity in the A&E department of Middlemore Hospital never stops. It is like being in the middle of a reality TV programme.

This is not where we were supposed to be. We were suppose to be in Holland, tiptoeing through the tulips at the Keukenhof, drinking coffee and appeltart at sidewalk café’s, joining family for a fun reunion followed by a month of climbing and kayaking in the Norwegian Fjords.

Instead, Dirk’s knee became painful, swollen, unbearable the night before our flight. We spent three ten-hour days in the A&E, during which time we saw two cars full of armed police arrive, (a scary sight at 6am) an obnoxious, abusive visitor being taken away by security, calls for security to remove others, and had a visit by a senior hospital staff member to see if those of us (and there were lots!) were okay after the aggressive disturbances.

Finally, on the fourth day, back in the hotel room which we were extending day by day in the hope of a miracle, we got a call for Dirk to go back to hospital and be admitted. A diagnosis, an operation and now on Day Six things are looking better.

I have nothing but admiration for the staff at Middlemore hospital. Such kindness and patience during days of the junior doctor strikes, an unappreciative public and the daily threats of violence is unbelievable. I am full of respect and gratitude.

Back at the hotel I am greeted like a long lost friend. Perhaps they see dollar signs when I walk towards the counter every day or maybe they are just very friendly. I have become one of Uber’s biggest supporters, booking two rides or more a day. The drivers have all been immigrants, living in New Zealand for less than six years, holding down two jobs and always, always praising our country. I’ve never felt safer.

It looks like the tulips and cheeses will have to wait. For the next few days I will continue my holiday in Otahuhu, Auckland.

The writer of this blog has not been sponsored by Uber, the hotel or the hospital however the insurance company will sure as heck be called upon!
Happy Holiday to those of you who have made it onto your flights.

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We should be drinking Dutch coffee and eating Appletaart.

20190503_174633Instead we were holidaying in Otahuhu and staying at Middlemore Hospital.

Don’t go on a Fasting Retreat with Chocolate in your Pocket.

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A Fasting Retreat? For a week? You’ve got to be kidding. The whole concept was as remote as refusing a giant piece of pavlova.  ‘Fast’ to me, was a way of moving, the speed of my bike, the passing of time. I never for a moment had considered going on a ‘fast’. This was something Jesus and Moses did in the desert, Muslims recognize as an essence of spiritual cleansing, and Hindi gurus propound.

However, in a moment of madness and of perceived fatness I allowed my good friend Julie to persuade me to join her on a Fasting Retreat. Indeed, her excitement when sending me the link to a Aio Wira Retreat was hard to ignore. “It’s so good for you” she said, “It’s been known to improve brain performance, lower risk of diabetes and so many other benefits.”

The pre-fast information sheet advised us to moderate eating in the days leading up to the retreat, stick to salads and vegetables, cut out the caffeine and alcohol (are you getting the picture?) By preparing our bodies it would be easier to slide into the regime of daily juices, herbal teas, body brushing and giving ourselves enemas. Yes. You heard me. Enemas, not enigmas, nor the pretty little anemone flowers! There is nothing pretty nor enigmatic about an enema.

Aio Wira Retreat Centre is just 40 minutes from Auckland and tucked away on four hectares of native bush in the Waitakere Ranges. Founded in 1970 by a group of yoga students, the centre which is not based on any fixed spiritual philosophy, has developed to become a centre for many types of, body, mind and spirit gatherings and holds workshops from yoga, pilates and meditation to Qi Gong, mindfulness and wordless weekends. So many wonderful options for seeking and finding physical health, spiritual wellness and self-fulfilment, which leaves me wondering how I ever ended up on the fasting retreat.

Before arriving on a Thursday night, we stopped and had our last, light meal at the closest café to the centre. The last solid food for five days, then drove the last ten kilometres before turning onto a short gravel road. It was late but never too late to be greeted enthusiastically by the woofer (seasonal worker) and a fasting regular who had returned for his fifth fast in that many years.

We were shown to a row of homely rooms set up with wool blankets, crochet covers, cushions and hot water bottles, (or were they the enema bladders?) While unpacking, I happened to find a lost, lonely row of dark chocolate. Honest. I’m not kidding. They were not hidden there deliberately. Those four squares of chocolate were to test my willpower like nothing else. Well, nothing except the fact there was no cell phone coverage. I contemplated the best course of action. I could quietly eat the chocolate straight away, but, strictly speaking the fast had already started. To eat them would be to cheat. Wouldn’t it? I could tell the others and they would keep me on the straight and narrow or, they might make me share it! The final choice was to just forget I had it, which is what I tried to do.

We soon settled into the routine at Aio Wira beginning with a lesson on how to use the enema kits, accompanied by nervous giggles from those of the 17 participants who were first timers.  A daily timetable was hung up detailing sessions for yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and sharing sessions with empty spaces for signing up for other optional health regimes including seaweed wraps, posture alignment and counselling offered by independent consultants.

By day two the growling and squeaking of empty stomachs dominated the sharing sessions along with more personal reflections of how people were coping. Strangely enough after the first 24 hours I felt no real desire to eat. The fruit juices and evening broth were doing their job. However, by Day Three, I was getting hangry and restless for contact with the outside world.  All the talk of people’s bowel habits and enema encounters was becoming too much. It was time for a drive to Bethells Beach in search of wide open spaces, cell phone coverage, a coffee cart perhaps and, maybe, just a nibble on the chocolate. Gosh. I was beginning to behave like a teenager sneaking out after dark. Fortunately, I was not alone in my cravings and clandestine escapades.

By Day Four I had little energy for anything, even contemplating unwrapping those four squares of delicious, dark chocolate was exhausting. I began counting down and dreaming of the date-filled baked apple they had promised us for breakfast as a gentle breaking of our fast.

Tuesday morning began with much excitement. The thought of food made it difficult for me to meditate. The morning walk was just a mere stroll as we drawled over what we would eat when we left. And then it was over.

In small groups we took ourselves off to our cars and headed home. How many of the women would jump on the scales and how many of the men would down a quick pint was anyone’s guess. The only thing for certain was that most of us would be on cell phones as soon as we were in signal and that the four squares of chocolate wouldn’t last much longer.

bty

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New Plymouth-You Rock!

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It’s been forty years since I was last in New Plymouth. The hometown of my first love.  Oh how I remember those clandestine snogging sessions parked up by the Fitzroy Life Saving Club. However, the love was not reciprocated, and life moved on. New Plymouth is now memorable to me for all the right reasons:  scaling Paratutu, the peaked rock jutting from the coastline, Mount Taranaki giving us a shy glimpse of her beauty from beneath a veil of cloud, the ever-so-shiny, rolling, convoluted curves of the Govette-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre with it’s mesmerizing, shaking, quivering, oh-most-famous art work “The Blade”, and those 200+ parks and gardens full of rhododendron and other exotic species. It is no wonder that New Plymouth was voted Lonely Planet’s Second-Best Region in the World to visit in 2017.

There is nothing about this area that doesn’t enchant and energise me. Art adorns walls and buildings in the form of giant murals and towering Len Lye kinetic sculptures, historic buildings like The Gables in Brooklyn Park give a hint of the past and opportunities for exercise are everywhere: yoga in the lupins, cyclists and walkers vying for position on the 11km coastal walkway (although I wonder if it is aptly named as the cycles far outnumber walkers), nippers paddling surf skis furiously and surfers alongside stand up paddle boarders riding long swells.

Strangely enough we chose to visit New Plymouth for none of these reasons. We came for the Floatation Sanctuary, a chance to experience the sensation and healing therapy of floating. Not that either of us are unwell, just that we like to experience different things. Eleanor of the New Plymouth Floatation Centre welcomed us into her very professional premises. We filled in a few forms, listened to her briefing on the benefits and processes and then were taken to the floatation room. In the subdued lighting emanating from Himalayan Salt Lamps was a large ‘egg-like’ capsule. I immediately envisage Robin Williams in the ever-popular series “Mork and Mindy” stepping out of his egg space capsule and saying ‘Nanu Nanu”. My little chuckle was fortunately interpreted as nerves by those present. While my partner had the first session I used the time to bike the short distance back into town for a wonderful tea drinking experience at the Empire Tea Rooms. If you ever go, they have the most amazing cinnamon pin wheels which I will pretend I didn’t eat as it is best to ‘float’ on an empty stomach. Back at the centre it was sooon my turn. I began with a thorough shower, ridding myself of any grime or beauty creams or in this case the grim that had stuck to beauty creams as I climbed Paratutu. Then cautiously lifted the lid of the capsule. An alien glow illuminated the water. Ever-so-carefully, I step in. It’s not deep, just deep enough to float in and float you most certainly do, aided by 30kg of Epsom salts which will help replace minerals lost. Just a tad nervously, I pulled the lid down and when I felt safe in this wee nest, reached for the button and switch off the light. Even with earplugs I could hear the hypnotic music being played, soothing me, calming me, lulling me into nothingness and sending me floating into space. I was not aware of when that music stopped but once deprived of all senses and supported by the water my mind shut off and there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometime later I become aware of where I was, music played once more, it was time to emerge from my cacoon, wash off the mineral water and burst forth into life with a renewed energy or …..not.

Like having a long bath in the middle of a summer’s afternoon I felt the need to go back to the bus and sleep. And I did. A deep exhausted sleep. The effects and benefits of Floating are said to be varied and many, for some they are instantaneous, for others, it takes a while to recognize the benefits. Whether it was the float or the sleep afterwards, I was soon ready to head into the city again to experience more of its culture, history and people. I loved it.

There is an air of affluence about New Plymouth but not in any poncy way, it simply feels like a city that knows it’s past, knows where it’s going and has a positive outlook for the future.

New Plymouth, you rock!

 

The Road to Whangamomona

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It’s a strange thing when you realise that you’ve become caught up in the BookaBach system and suddenly, in the middle of everyday life, have to pack up your stuff, put the things you need in the camperbus, secure any personal items in the lock up room and head out of your house for nine days, or whatever period it might be. But that’s how it’s been with us for the holiday periods. The income generated pays for our next holiday as well as, in most cases, leaves us with a surplus.

So, here we are, on the road again, this time heading for New Plymouth via the Forgotten Highway. It’s a bit of a round about trip from Rotorua but there is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, Whangamomona. I’ve been saying it for years, I can spell it and I can even pronounce it properly and now, it has become a reality. There are a few teething problems as we consult google on the best route but eventually we decide to head to our destination via Bennydale. Where you ask? It’s a little hard to describe, hidden away in the middle of nowhere, miss and you blink it. Just a few scattered houses and the Wooden Heart Café which is having peak rush hour when we arrive. A dozen foreigners speaking a language I fail to recognize, are trying to decipher the chalk-board with the help of a heavily full-face tattooed local who gives them a local experience which money can’t buy and which they will take back to whichever country they come from.  We are not surprised by the fact that we are the only New Zealanders in the café (apart from the staff) 75% of the traffic we have seen has been campervans, caravans and farm quad bikes.

The area which has been little known for so long, is now part of the Timber Trail, a section of bike-riding on the NZ cycling circuit. A route following old tramlines and special cut tracks from Pureora to Ongarue, which you’ve probably never heard of either.  Accommodation is limited but among the few local houses and their flaking paint which peels off and blows in the wind, there is an immaculate wee house, the BikeaBach which caters for cyclists, and others.

We pass old pongas with their old leaves falling like brown skirts, moss -covered fence posts, musters of sheep and stop for a spot of blackberry picking by the side of the road and finally arrive at Ohura, yip, I’d never heard of it either. No one is at home in this town. The main street is wide, every shop is closed, we stand in the middle of the road feeling like displaced people. Suddenly I see a familiar sign, toilets, I wander down a side street to a water tank kitted out as public conveniences, they are meticulously clean, so someone must live here. There is a bunch of plastic flowers placed on the floor by the toilets, the kind that you see faded in cemeteries, or by the side of the road.  I wonder if someone is “repurposing” them or maybe they are genuinely there to brighten the place up.

The drive through gorges and saddle roads opening out to spectacular high country scenery is stunning. It is real heartland New Zealand.  And then we arrive. Whangamomona. Permanent population of 12. IT is everything I imagined. This tiny village is its own republic, complete with president and it’s own passport and fast becoming added to many backpackers bucket list.  We arrive in the late afternoon and as we pass the hotel it’s hard not to notice all the patron’s heads turn and follow us as we turn towards the Camping ground.

The manager is a man of few words. Like those in the Australian outback he appears to be a stranger to polite conversation and pleasantries but speaks volumes without actually saying a word. He takes our payment and points towards the carefully manicured grounds and hedge along which we can hook to power. The facilities are in an old school house and are ever so clean. In the ‘ladies’ there is a set of scales. One can only assume that the weight conscious must arrive with regularity. Me, I have done nothing but sit in our camperbus and eat all day so the scales will have to remain unemployed for tonight at least.

It is a still night filled with stars and a moon so bright we have to pull the bus curtains. It is the kind of night that you only find in a place like Whangamomona.

The Farmyard Idol

Publications

An ideal read-aloud book for 4-9 year olds from the Read and Colour Collection.

“A collaboration between well known children’s writer Angie Belcher, respected artist Debbie Tipuna and book designer Sarah Elworthy, this book is an absolute gem. The story follows farmer Fred and his marvellously musical animals. When farmhand Joe suggestions a competition to find out which animal is the best, ‘Farmyard Idol’ is born. A poster advertises the competition and milk shed venue. Hen decides to enter, as does Dog, Horse, Rooster, Sheep and Pig. The animals take their turn to perform in the ‘Farmyard Idol’ with Fred, his wife Betty and farmhand Joe as the judges. It’s a hard decision as to which animal is best!

This A4 sized picture book is lavishly illustrated and full of wonderful whimsical touches throughout. The exciting design features an opportunity for children (or adults!) to colour in some of the illustrations. This isn’t essential, however, as the book works really well as it is with the mixture of eye-catching coloured and uncoloured illustrations.

The copyright page is set against a delightful background map of the farm. This is followed by the intriguing addition of four illustrated postcards which can be removed and sent through the post – a charming marketing tool. The cover is bright and attractive, sure to appeal to children. I especially love the two rows of bunting which are repeated during the story. The book has been brought together very nicely and I can easily see it becoming a family favourite and, in time, a New Zealand children’s classic.”

DEBBIE McCAULEY CHILDREN’S LIBRARIAN

farmyard idol cover - angie belcher