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While the sun shines

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A while ago we were forced to unearth all of the paperwork that we’d mindlessly hauled over from the UK when we moved to New Zealand last year. We really had no choice: we’d realised that we didn’t actually have easy access to the details pertaining to most of our UK savings accounts and investments, which probably wasn’t very sensible, so we had to trawl through everything and find the relevant information. The two big benefits of this dull task were: a) we now know where our money is salted away; and b) we were able to throw away heaps of unnecessary stuff – five year old electricity bills, that kind of thing.

We were left with a pile of confidential paperwork that needed to be shredded, so I finally tackled it today. It was an enlightening trip down memory lane: most of the pile consisted of old credit card statements, and while I shredded them, two pages at a time (our home shredder is pretty low-tech), I had ample opportunity to review just how we used to spend our money and, indeed, what our lives were like during the past ten years.

Gentle reader, we’ve been so lucky. Our credit card bills told tales of long weekends in lovely places like New York, Rome and Paris. There were entire statements made up of our frivolous purchases while on delightful holidays in New Zealand and South Africa (and I was reminded about how wonderful the exchange rate used to be – even in 2007 we would get NZ$2.60 for each British Pound, whereas now the exchange rate is a dire $1.97 for each Pound, which is why our savings and investments are still in the UK…) There were so many fabulous dinners, and gorgeous afternoon teas at swanky hotels. There were lots of shopping trips to nice clothing shops for me, and great trips for Tristan and his Ducati to various motorcycle tracks around the UK and Spain. There were ski trips to the French Alps. There were concert tickets.

Now, of course, life is changing for us. Our most recent NZ credit card bill tells of a lot of money spent at The Baby Factory, buying a pram. We’ve been overseas once in the past twelve months, and that was only to Australia. Since we’re living off one income at the moment, we can’t yet afford a motorbike for Tristan, and our dinners out have largely been replaced by one brunch each weekend, if we’re lucky. And I have thanked my lucky stars that I bought so many clothes while living in the UK (and – pre-pregancy – didn’t get too fat for them), as I can’t afford to buy much here.

However, life is very good. It’s great to live in a place where we don’t really ever consider shopping as a leisure activity, as we’d rather go to the beach or something. And I certainly feel less like a regular holiday is an imperative when our daily life is conducted in such a nice part of the world. And while being at the bottom of the world, far away from everybody else, restricts our opportunities to do some things, we still get by and make it to occasional concerts and good sporting events.

With the babies a mere 15 weeks away (if we’re lucky and they stay put until the bitter end), I am suddenly aware that I should be making hay while the sun shines and enjoying the simple things in life that will almost certainly fall into the ‘too hard’ basket P.B. (post birth) – for the first few months, anyway. Without necessarily planning it, I feel like I’m lapping up my child-free experiences while I still can.

Some of these things have been slightly less common that your everyday experience – like visiting Wellington a couple of weeks ago and spending three lovely days mooching around with good friends, having coffees, lunches and dinners out and going to the movies. And going to a really exciting Silver Ferns vs Diamonds netball test match (which the Kiwis won, thankfully). And deciding a couple of hours before kick-off to go to a provincial rugby match at Eden Park and swan around in lovely corporate hospitality. Other things are much more commonplace, but no less enjoyable – like taking Tui for a walk on the beach this morning and then deciding, on a whim, to have breakfast at a nice cafe, and going to the movies last weekend.

I guess the long-winded point I’m making is that I’m trying to get my head around the fact that life is about to change beyond all recognition. And while I’m not in the slightest bit regretful of this – I hardly would be, given how long I’ve hoped to become a parent – it is still nice to enjoy a bit of child-free time while we still can!

Politics on Facebook

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I’m posting this picture from someecards primarily because it made me think of Jackie Danicki, who has abandoned Facebook in a bid to escape political pontificating:

I certainly can’t blame her for becoming fed up.  In recent months I’ve noticed an increased number of political posts from some of my American friends, and I’m sure that things will only get worse as the November presidential election creeps closer.

Of course, good luck to them if they want to share their political affiliations online, although this could be a good time for some people to master that whole ‘Facebook groups’ feature and just send their updates to people who have actually indicated that they want to be preached to on a daily basis.  But I don’t fully understand the point of all this political posting, unless their party membership requires them to provide evangelical duties on a daily basis.  I’m not sure that I’d like to meet the person whose voting intentions would be swayed by reading an infographic that had popped up on their newsfeed, instead of – for example – learning about what the relevant party stands for by doing some proper research.  And given the strength of some people’s political affiliations (and their willingness to discuss politics a lot), I’d be pretty surprised if they counted amongst their friends many people who held wildly differing views.  To be honest, if I had a friend who, through their Facebook account, revealed to me political inclinations with which I profoundly disagreed, I wouldn’t change my views – I’d just hide them from my newsfeed (or defriend them, if they’d shown themselves to be offensive).

It isn’t that I don’t admire my friends’ passion and commitment – it’s more that I see Facebook campaigning as being akin to those annoying ‘post about this cause in your status update to show the world that you care about this cause’ trends: it doesn’t actually achieve anything.

I also don’t understand the need for the huge volume of political posts.  I get it: you think Mitt Romney is a baddie who will do away with women’s reproductive rights.  The first three or four posts that you shared on the topic got the message across.  I don’t need to see another ten or twelve posts and, unless your friends are morons with the attention spans of goldfish, I bet that they don’t need to see them either.

At the end of the day, I just don’t care about the US election.  I can’t vote there.  I consider the US electoral system to be very odd.  I find the views of at least half of that country to be mystifying at best.  I don’t need to hear about it, and I suspect that the vast proportion of the world that isn’t the United States of America might agree with me, at least to some extent.

Controversial Facebook humour

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Recently I’ve noticed a trend on Facebook: ‘controversial humour’ pages where witless people say deliberately shocking or provocative things and then take huge amounts of pride in the shock caused by their provocation.  During the past two weeks I’ve been made aware of “[Disabled child] is ugly”, “Dead baby jokes”, and “Cancer is funny cause people die”.

Obviously, these pages are idiotic.  I’m guessing that they’re created by fairly lonely individuals for whom any attention is perceived as good attention.  It’s impossible for those of us with normal social skills to comprehend what would drive a person to create a deliberately offensive page.  However, what I find more surprising than the existence of these pages is the way in which sensible people provide them with the oxygen of publicity by getting wound up by them.  I only know about these pages because Facebook friends have either ‘liked’ pages set up to bring down the offensive page, or because they’ve joined hundreds of thousands of others in venting their disgust.  And when you read the ‘ban this page’ comments, it seems that most of the authors are writing vitriolic “I hope you get cancer and DIE!” responses.  It’s just one big swirling mess of lunacy.

In the case of the page bashing some disabled kid, it seemed likely that things got shut down in the end – evidently Facebook has some ‘you’re not allowed to be horrible about people’s disabilities’ clause.  The other two pages don’t seem to violate any Facebook rules, though.  You are allowed to make awful jokes about topics that are generally considered to be beyond the pale.  Facebook is an American company, where free speech rules.   And would we really want things to be different?  After all, absolutely nobody is forcing us to read these pages or interact with the fools that create them – we can just ignore them and get on with our day.  If  people I know didn’t respond to stupid pages, people like me would never know that they exist.  Who amongst us would idly search for cancer-bashing pages on Facebook, or try to find good collections of dead baby jokes?  If the rest of Facebook responded with a blank stare and a yawn, these pages would vanish.  The “cancer is funny cause people die” page is a good example: it has only 8,800 ‘likes’, but 756,182 Facebook users are ‘talking’ about it.  Madness.  Talking about it won’t make it go away, people – and all you’re doing is rewarding the guy that created the page.  STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!

Actually, these laboured attempts to be shocking have no impact on me, but I do find myself getting a bit wound up when I’m exposed to Facebook content that demonstrates woefully ignorant attitudes held by people discussing topical issues.  A recent example has been some Australian Facebook users’ online comments of the “send all the feckless refugees home – it’s our country, so stuff them” variety.  (And again, I only know about these comments because people I know on Facebook have ‘liked’ them).  Somebody I know ‘liked’ a comment of this type recently, which meant that my newsfeed contained a post (from somebody else in the thread, not from the person I know) that said something like ‘we should actually bomb the boat people’s boats, to stop them from reaching Australia.  O-kaaaay.

Basically, I’d like everybody on Facebook to adjust their settings so the stuff they choose to ‘like’ or comment on doesn’t show up in my newsfeed.  It would save me the effort of hiding people from my own newsfeed when I realise that they have political inclinations that I find vaguely horrifying.

Happy and glorious

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As I write this the Olympic closing ceremony is drawing to a close, ending two incredible weeks of sporting entertainment in London.

One of the abiding pleasures of having lived abroad for a very long time is the way that you can feel so much pleasure on behalf of the place that you called home.  I have been so, so proud of London during the Games.  The event has gone off without a hitch, and all of the reports indicate that Londoners were hugely welcoming to their foreign visitors.

Of course, I go mental whenever New Zealand wins a medal.  We’ve had an awesome Olympics, winning 13 medals and finishing 16th on the overall table.  Our population equates to the number of people who catch the London Underground each day, so by anybody’s standards we’ve had a sensational time.

What was lovely, though, was being able to get almost as excited whenever a member of Team GB won a medal.  The Brits have been simply outstanding, dominating many events and also excelling in some disciplines, like dressage, for the first time.  It has been so lovely to think of the pride and happiness that these athletes will have brought my friends and family in the UK.  For us, the excitement was magnified because Tristan has worked with so many of the successful sports over the years.

I know that a lot has been spoken about the importance of ensuring that the Games creates a ‘legacy’ for Great Britain – in other words, that it generates lasting benefits for British society.  People will talk about reinvigorating school sport, or encouraging further investment in East London.  However, I hope that the legacy of these Games might be a shift in attitude from the British people – a reversal of the automatic “it will probably be rubbish if we’re doing it” Eeyorish attitude that so many Brits had before these Games.  It would be absolutely brilliant if the sucess of the Games could help Brits to realise that, as a nation, it’s possible to be positive and optimistic about things, without inviting ridicule, and that they have every right to trust in their own abilities to perform at the highest standard, both as athletes and as members of the public.  Really, the only people who thought that the London Games might be a flop were British people – the rest of the world knew that London would put on an amazing show, and we weren’t disappointed.

I’m already hatching plans to go to the Rio Games in 2016 – to see New Zealand win the first Olympic Sevens medal, of course!

Olympic shenanigans

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While it’s all very well and good to contemplate the fantastic sporting endeavours of the amazing Olympic athletes, it’s also fun to consider the other element of the two weeks they’re spending together in London: the almighty shag-fest that is the Olympic village.  This ESPN article talks about the way that the athletes all seem to act like randy teenagers.  Apparently, it’s partially because of the absence of parents and coaches, and the pent-up hormones that are generated by all that training and dedication.  Plus, nearly everybody looks great and has an amazing body, which can only help matters.

When you start to consider this kind of behaviour, it’s entertaining to consider which athletes are likely to be Olympic bonkers, and which ones might be tucked up alone in bed each night, reading an improving book.  For example, I suspect that Usain Bolt gets up to a bit of mischief:

Apparently, he’s been trying to learn Spanish before the Olympics – he’d noticed that a lot of really hot girls only spoke Spanish, and he didn’t want to be at a disadvantage.  That kind of planning signals his intent, I think.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily expect that Women’s Shotput gold medalist Nadzeya Ostapchuk is the type to writhe around in semi-anonymous ecstasy with some French swimmer she only met in the dining hall half an hour earlier:

Mind you, I might be unfair in writing off Nadzeya as a bit of a raver – she might be a party girl of note.  Good on her, I say.

Port Douglas

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Lovely people, we had the most idyllic seven days in Port Douglas.  If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere and need a bit of mid-winter sun I really can’t recommend it enough.  The town is small enough to be easy to stroll around (particularly if your accommodation is only a couple of blocks away from the main street, as ours was), but big enough to have plenty of nice cafes and restaurants, and some interesting shops.  Everybody seemed to be very pleasant and good humoured, and the whole place just had a lovely, relaxed vibe, as if the locals are so accustomed to people visiting them for a chilled out time that they’ve become permanently chilled out themselves.  Everything was really nice, without being stuffy or too formal.

(Most people would now share some holiday photos, but Tristan and I are the world’s worst tourists and never take holidays snaps, so all of the shots in this post have been lifted from various websites and accredited where necessary)

The weather was delightful, ranging from 24C to 27C while we were there, and because it was winter there were no flies or mosquitos to annoy us, and it wasn’t humid.  Returning to unusually cold 10C weather in Auckland was a rude shock last night, but we’re hoping that spring will be on its way soon.

We stayed at the Meridian Port Douglas (and these photos come from the property’s website).  Our room looked like this:

Thankfully, our room didn’t have those bright colours on the bed.  My eyes!

We also had this bathroom:

Aside from a few big resorts (which are all a fair way out of town, requiring a hire car, which we didn’t want to have to have), most of the accommodation in Port Douglas seems to be serviced apartments.  Our building was adults only, which meant that the pool was blissfully free of screaming children.  Of course, whenever we return for another visit we will have two screaming children of our own to consider, but it was nice to have a ‘grown up’ place to stay this time round (and we actually booked the whole holiday just before we found out that I was pregnant, so it was pure coincidence that we went for the child-free option this time).  The rooms were lovely and airy, and although they weren’t serviced every single day, this actually suited us quite well because it meant that we could laze around for the entire morning if we fancied it, rather than having to scuttle out and make way for a maid.  And we’re not particularly grubby, so our room didn’t turn into a cess pit or anything.

We spent a fair bit of time in, and beside, this pool (and this shot is from a Port Douglas tourism website):

It was lovely.  God, I love pools, and warm weather!

We really didn’t get up to much at all while we were away: we slept, ate, lay in the sun, swam, and read.  It was blissful – exactly what we both wanted out of a holiday.  I have suddenly started feeling very pregnant indeed, both physically and in terms of being knackered almost all of the time, so I wasn’t really up to doing too much else.

One thing we had wanted to do was to go out to the Great Barrier Reef for some snorkelling. However, we were a bit wary because it involves 2.5 hours on a boat each way, and the water can be pretty choppy, forcing most people to take seasickness tablets as a precautionary measure.  Obviously, this wasn’t an option for me at the moment, so we compromised on this occasion and just visited the Low Isles instead, which are the part of the Reef closest to the mainland (and only involve an hour’s trip each way).  This still gave us a chance to snorkel and see some lovely coral and fish – and lots of people saw turtles, although neither of us did, sadly.  However, we did see a snoozing stingray and managed to avoid it stinging us in the heart, Steve Irwin style.  We were really lucky with the weather – there was no breeze at all that day, and the sea was so calm.  And as I’m a very novice snorkeller, it was actually quite nice to be doing it in reasonably shallow water – we’ll head out to the Reef proper on our next visit.

This is where we went:

We sailed with Sailaway, which was great (and the following photos come from their website) – some of the companies have huge boats, with hordes of tourists making a racket, but we only had 30 or so people on our catamaran, and only a couple of annoying people.  Here’s the catamaran upon which I lazed around, reading in the sun, while Tristan went for a second snorkel after lunch (I was too tired):

What else did we do on holiday?  Eat and eat and eat.  There was a fantastic gelati place that we visited at least once a day, in order to sample as many different gelatos and sorbets as possible.  And there were some great places for dinner.  After being slightly revolted by the sight of food in recent weeks, it was such a treat to not have to prepare dinner myself.

We’re already planning another trip to Port Douglas for next winter, although we’ve had to suss out alternative acccommodation to take into account the two littlies…

To read more about pregnancy stuff on holiday, check out this Knocked Up Jacq post.

To find out about my dream dress shop, inconveniently located in Port Douglas, visit Another Frock.

Holiday

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We’re on our way to the airport and will then catch a flight to Port Douglas, in Northern Queensland, for seven days of rest and relaxation. Hurrah! I’m suddenly knackered on a constant basis – something to do with this whole ‘growing two brand new people’ thing, I’m given to understand – and Tristan hasn’t had ‘lie around and do nothing’ holiday since early 2009. So this feels well overdue (for him, anyway – often lie around and do nothing).

We’re hoping to head out to the Great Barrier Reef during our trip, and we’ve got big plans to watch the Olympics well into the small hours of the morning. And then laze around on sun loungers during the day. Can’t wait. I’ll try to take photos and stuff, like a good tourist.

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