Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rainy day activities

Do any of my long-time readers remember Grow Cube and how frustrating and fun I found it? Well, last night I decided to send it to a friend, and looked it up. I sent it, then discovered that I couldn't remember how to do it, so had a frustrating couple of hours trying to figure it out. Got that, then went on to Grow Island and got frustrated all over again. How to stop the house from falling down? My little man fell in love and then DIED! But I got that one, too. Eventually.

And then . . . the doctor came! But then the patient's head fell off! Why did his head fall off?

And so on. Now it's your turn.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Today The Man told me about an epiphany he had while in the downstairs toilet. At some point he ended up trying to explain the meaning of Mu.

I got distracted. I tried to think about Mu, but when I did, this is what happened:

(Click for full effect)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tune-up and an oil change

I was just looking at the notebook I used while I was in NZ, and discovered this little note to myself:

'Oil change.' Ha ha ha!

Funny how all it takes is a few words to bring a whole scene back to mind. Let me explain.

I had been visiting one of my brothers, a very religious one, and after a couple of difficult and awkward days (which felt a lot longer) it was finally time to leave. My sister-in-law, who is equally godly and sanctimonious, took me to the bus stop. With her was her 14-year-old son.

I said my goodbyes and climbed onto the bus. I went about halfway back, which is where I try to sit on buses (less swaying around = less likelihood of getting motion sickness). In the front on the opposite side was an elderly couple. The woman was very chatty; her husband less so, although he looked perfectly happy. He seemed a placid sort of fellow.

After a while it became clear the bus wasn't quite leaving yet, so my sister-in-law climbed laboriously onto the bus to talk with me a little more (probably to ask me yet again to translate some Bible scripture into Japanese and record it so her kids could learn Japanese, or something equally insane). However, she didn't get a chance to speak to me. She made the mistake of greeting the elderly couple, and got snagged.

"Nice day for traveling, isn't it?" she said, smiling at them patronizingly. "Are you going far?"

This provoked a detailed explanation of how far the couple had come and how far they were going.

"We're doing the grand tour of the country," said the woman. "We wanted to do it before we get too old. My husband is eighty-one, and I'm not far behind. We're having a lovely time!"

My sister-in-law looked at the husband.

"Eighty-one?" she said, loudly and slowly. "You don't look eighty-one at all!"

(When my sister-in-law talks to elderly people she talks the same way as she does to small children, and it is teeth-grindingly awful.)

The old man grinned.

"Oh, he's doing pretty well," said his wife. "I take good care of him. Every three months I give him a tune-up and an oil change, and he perks right up!"

She threw back her head and laughed and laughed and laughed. The old man nodded, still grinning.

"Works every time!" he said, proudly.

My sister-in-law stared uncomprehendingly for a few seconds. Her be-nice-to-old-people smile froze on her face. Awareness dawned slowly, and with it, horror. Her son was standing right behind her, and was almost doubled over with silent giggles when she remembered he was there and turned to check if he had heard. He rearranged his stance to 'innocent boredom' just in time.

I waited to see what she would say.

She turned back to the old couple again, aghast, and opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. Then she finally said, weakly,

"Oh. That's nice."

And it was. It totally made the whole trip worthwhile.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I've come across this three times recently, so it's obviously not a rare mistake. But how many of you are going to admit that you think (thought) that LOL meant "love you lots"?

And if LOL was 'love you lots,' then what would ROFLOL mean?

Added later:

Hebron wants to know how the Y became an O. The answer is, it didn't. What I meant to type was 'lots of love.'

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


My favicon (the little icon up in the address bar) went missing from my blog, and when I looked into it I discovered that the site where it had been hosted has now gone. This was a bit annoying, as I was quite fond of that favicon, so I have just wasted several hours figuring out how to make a new one and host it somewhere safer.

I am SO proud of myself. I could have used a favicon generator, of which there are several on the web, but I didn't. I made my own. AND I figured out what code to use and where to put it, after a great deal of trial and (mostly) error.

It's actually a lot easier than my tortuous progress made it seem. Once I had it all figured out, it was a piece of cake. It was figuring it out that took so long. And now I can change the favicon easily anytime I want to BECAUSE I KNOW HOW.

How clever I am.


I like the pukeko. I think it's the tail flipping thing they do. It looks suspiciously like they're flipping you off when they do that, and they do it all the time.

They're as common as muck, but I only had one opportunity to get close enough to photograph one. My first shot was a total failure. I could not get my camera to work properly. I thought I was aiming with pinpoint accuracy, but the pukeko kept sliding out of focus. I was using a zoom, and thought maybe the fence was in the way, so I took one picture, and then as the pukeko moved off into the field I got more focussed pictures. They are not wonderful pictures, but at least I got some.

It was only when I got that first picture onto the computer that I realized that my camera had done quite a good job of focusing after all. It was just focusing on the wrong bird.

Where did that little guy come from?

Here are two more pictures of the pukeko. The first one shows it with its tail down.

And in this one it is flipping you off.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Decisions, decisions

"Do I go for her now, or do I give her a sporting chance?"

What's he building?

That time of year again

The weather is warming up, and it's coming up to that time of year again when I will be checking the kousa (yellow sand) site as often as I check the weather site. Lovely spring days plus yellow sand and anthropogenic aerosols from China equals face mask weather. There has already been a couple of days of it, just before I got back from holiday. I was happy to miss it. It started rather early this spring, and I think it's getting worse every year. Last spring I wasn't able to get a single picture of cherry blossoms against a blue sky. Clear skies did not happen, at least on the days when I was out with my camera.

How boring. How inconvenient.

How bloody annoying.

Actually the sand/aerosols site will be an interesting one to watch when the Olympics are on. I've never particularly noticed the weather patterns in summer in China, but I've heard from friends visiting Beijing in summer that it is very hot and the air is not clean at all. How much of that sort of rubbish in the air can the athletes tolerate, I wonder?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

White shoes

I went to meet a friend for dinner today. As I was standing at the subway platform in Osaka the train arrived, the doors opened, and a tall fashion disaster in a pale pink dress emerged. He was carrying a little white handbag and wearing white heels.

I reflected that pink did not really go with a five o'clock shadow, or with an Adam's apple. How tacky! I thought. How wrong! And also, how outdated! The white handbag and shoes used to be de rigueur in spring – in fact you didn't need to consult a calendar to find out when the first official day of spring was because the entire female population of Japan suddenly broke out in white shoes and handbags – but that went out years ago. How could he have not noticed? Has he been living on a desert island?

Some people just have no idea.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Another day out

I went to a flea market today. As usual, I took quite a few pictures, although not always of the things or people I wanted to take pictures of. I find it hard to point a camera at people, even if they are dressed in such a way they're positively begging to be photographed. Somehow it seems rude, and since I didn't have the longer lens attached to the camera I did not get as many people shots as I would have liked.

I got one, though. This old guy was dressed interestingly, wearing tabi (two-toed socks), and a face mask.

Whether the mask was because he had a cold or because of seasonal allergies I don't know, but it somehow added to the overall effect. The best part, however, is the bit you can't really see clearly because I was not focused on it when I took the picture. When we walked past him I saw it, and did a bit of a double-take.

This picture is not clear, but at least you can see the shape of possibly the strangest bag I have ever seen. The bag is frog-shaped, and looked horribly as if it was made from a real frog, although as I went past I noticed it had a zipper in the back of its head. I'm fairly sure real frogs don't have zippers. My friend also noticed that it had teeth. Do frogs have teeth? When we thought about it, we realized neither of us knew.

I also got a picture of an old couple I have seen before. These two always carry brooms, and have something to do with Japanese folklore. The Man's memory failed him when I asked. The answer was on the tip of his tongue, but he wouldn't let me hit him on the back of the head to pop it out. The old couple will remain a mystery unless he suddenly remembers, or one of my readers knows who they are.

This next picture is of a sort of plaque advertising Fususuke Tabi, a sock company. Fukusuke is the merchant god of prosperity, and the company takes its name from that. This plaque is old enough that the writing reads from right to left instead of left to right. I'm not sure when it changed, but I'm fairly sure it was before the war. The company is still around. These days they make ordinary socks rather than (or as well as) tabi.

I also found a rather discouraged Buddha. If I grew hair on my belly I'd probably be discouraged, too.

And finally, here is a head, because no flea market post would be complete without a photograph of a head.

Friday, March 21, 2008


I have been looking at some photos I took at the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, a fabulous place I can recommend whole-heartedly to anybody visiting Wellington. (Or living in Wellington, for that matter.)

If you visit, you, too, could be treated to the sight of an acutely threatened Kaka cleaning its toenails.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When you're two

Chasing gulls can be a hazardous occupation when you're two years old.

Walking on water, however, is a piece of cake.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


I'm back! It was a long flight yesterday, but a daytime one so I've managed to hold onto almost normal sleep patterns. Now I'm sorting through photos, and have just come across some I have to share. These pictures show the highlight of the visit to one of my brothers, one who has over the years developed religious mania to the point where staying with him is almost unbearable. He and I used to be quite close, but these days things are . . . well, let's say prickly. And delicate. I have to avoid so many topics, in order to prevent our relationship deteriorating to the point of never being able to speak to each other again, that there was very little left to talk about.

One topic we could talk about was his lawnmower. My brother's lawnmower is more or less the only indication that there is still something of the old little brother left there somewhere inside, and was the practically the only thing we could talk about without things getting tense.

But what a lawnmower! It has a small carbon footprint, is self-propelling, and it also fertilizes the lawn. It needs only a little water occasionally, and to be picked up and moved when it gets stuck in an awkward spot. It even goes uphill, although it took a little longer and more effort.

My brother constructed this based on a picture he saw somewhere, and is working on some kind of water feeder arrangement. I suggested that he also cover one end so there is shelter from the rain, and he is thinking about it. Isn't it impressive?

I was impressed, anyway.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Good vibrations

I am having a lovely time in Wellington, which is still the most beautiful city in the world as far as I'm concerned. Yesterday (was it only yesterday?) I met the lovely and talented Editter, and we had a coffee and natter (and will do it again). That was a delight, and also a relief. You never know whether your net friends will turn out to be homicidal maniacs in real life, but in this case it didn't happen. She didn't show the slightest inclination to chop my head off, or if she did she kept it well concealed. I also thought her head looked perfect where it was, attached to her neck, which means we're both probably safe, at least from each other. We had a lovely chat, or at least I babbled at her and she listened politely. Now and again I let her get a word in edgewise.

I have caught up with a few other friends as well, one of whom I am staying with tonight. She has a computer. It is even a Mac, and what else can a person ask for? (The friend I am staying with the rest of the time also has a computer, but at work, so I cannot monopolise it the way I usually do when I stay with friends.)

I was not going to write a blog entry tonight, but since everybody has gone to bed already leaving me in charge of the computer, and I have already emailed The Man, it looks like you're in for another nephew story, whether you like it or not.

In fact this is not a nephew story, strictly speaking. It is a friend-of-nephew story, and concerns the friend of the lovely six-year-old speaks-only-in-perfect-sentences nephew I wrote about in the last entry.

My sister-in-law told me this story. We were out in her car, and while we were waiting at the lights she apologised for the way the car vibrated.

"Is it idling too slow?" I asked.

"No, it's probably because it's a diesel," she said. "It always does this."

Then she told me about a time she was driving her wee son and his friend to or from somewhere.

"His friend is completely different," she said. "He's the kind of kid who comments all the time on what's going on, and has no filters. Whatever is in his head just pops out."

(This is completely unlike my nephew, who thinks very carefully before saying anything at all, and does the longest pauses of any six-year-old I have ever met.)

My sister-in-law went on to explain what had happened. The two six-year-olds were sitting in the back of the car in their child seats. The car had stopped at some lights. The car was vibrating, as usual, and after a while the little friend said, wonderingly,

"Hey, this car makes my penis wobble!"

Then he added, appreciatively, "Cool car!"

And that's it. It was a short story, but it made me laugh and laugh.

(Apparently my nephew got a look on his face that said something like,

Well, yes, but I wasn't going to say anything . . . )

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Back, briefly

I am off to Wellington tomorrow, but for tonight I am back in Auckland, after a rather hideous four days with a few good bits thrown in. I will omit the hideous bits for now, and instead tell you about one particular nephew, six years old (I have three six-year-old nephews) who is the perfect child, and his less than perfect but ridiculously charming two-year-old sister.

Yesterday, nephew was circling the lawn on his little bicycle, and commented on some toys he was having to avoid. These toys, of course, were his sister's. (He would never leave his toys lying around.) He picked them up, then started off on his bike again.

"Last time I saw you she wasn't born yet," I said. "Do you like having a little sister?"

"Yeah," he said, as he went past.

He went around again, and on the next round added,

"Not really."

"Why not?" I asked.

He did a couple of thoughtful circles. Then, as he passed again, he stopped and sighed.

"It's the noise," he said. He sounded about 100 years old.

It is true he has always been a very quiet boy, and the noise his red-headed sister is capable of is extraordinary. But it occurred to me that perhaps, because of his own quietness and politeness and prematurely adult behaviour, and because of the attention his thrill-seeking, loud and funny sister demands and gets, perhaps he is missing out a little on the attention he deserves. I determined to spend a little time with him after his sister had gone to bed.

In the meantime, we played on the 'ramp.' The ramp is a bit of grassy lawn that goes downhill sharply in the backyard, a little too steeply for him to ride his bicycle. So I rode his bicycle (incredibly awkwardly, knees and elbows sticking out everywhere) and he rode his sister's three-wheeler. His sister tried to join in by running down the ramp, but ended up huddled down by the gate, a bit worried that we were going to run her over. There she stuffed her mouth full of white stones she'd found somewhere. I decided not to worry about that, since at least they stopped her from yelling. Every time we shot down the ramp (me skidding sideways and frequently wiping out - small bicycles are VERY difficult to control) she staggered back against the fence and spat out another stone or two, watching us warily. It was the first time I had seen her stay so quiet for so long. He and I, on the other hand, were laughing and shouting and carrying on like, well, six-year-olds.

After a while I stopped beside him and whispered,

"We've been making more noise than your little sister."

He looked at me. Then he looked at her. She stared, spat out another stone, and grinned.

After his sister had gone to bed (great drama! End of the world!) he was on his bike again, and this time he had a pump-action spray bottle filled with water. He was going around the lawn again, but stopping now and again to spray plants, or some patch of lawn. I asked him what he was doing.

"I'm putting out fires," he told me.

"Oh, I see," I said. (Earlier he'd been reading his favourite book to me, which was about a bush fire.)

After a while I said,

"Look! There's a fire over there! Quick!"

He cycled to the spot I indicated, and sprayed madly. Then he got back on his bike and looked at me expectantly, a little grin on his face.

"Oh my goodness!" I shouted. "Your hair! A spark must have got in your hair! It's on fire!"

He giggled. Then he aimed the nozzle at his own head and sprayed.

I sent him round the garden madly putting out fires while I reclined in a deck chair with a post-dinner glass of wine, remaining bone-dry myself. (Did I mention that this child is ridiculously polite? I would never dare play this game with my other nephews.) I pointed out some ducks flying overhead and told him they were running away from a fire, so he had to go in the opposite direction to put it out. Then, as he was coming back from that one, I stood up and pointed,

"Your pants are on fire!" I yelled, urgently. "Quick! There are flames shooting out of your bottom!"

He stared, and I got the distinct impression that I'd just said the silliest thing he'd ever heard from a grown-up. Then he laughed, fell off his bike, grabbed the bottle, aimed it at his own bum, and sprayed.

I was SO proud. That kid is usually so careful and thoughtful it is spooky, but I had him spraying the flames that were shooting from his nostrils, the back of his neck, his toes, and everywhere else I could think of until he was thoroughly soaked and had giggled himself into exhaustion.

After his bath I went to say goodnight. As I gave him a big cuddle, I said, quietly,

"Today, we were noisier."

He lay down and closed his eyes, and a sleepy smile spread over his face as he remembered.

"Yeah," he whispered.

And just for a moment, I felt like a Good Aunt.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Today I'm off to explore the more primitive wilds of Family, where there is no Internet connection.

I will post as soon as I reach civilization again, probably four or five days from now.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Environmental matters

Those two days I spent with my brother and his family had an environmental theme, possibly because he lives so far out in what he calls the suburbs but I call the wilds of Auckland, but also because the children's school is very concerned with environmental matters.

When we went down to the little beach one time, the kids found some fishing wire tangled in the bushes. They spent a good ten minutes untangling it, winding it up, making sure they'd got it all, and making sure there were no hooks left behind. They seemed to think this was their job. There was certainly no question of leaving it there.

When they finished, they handed it to me.

"Why are you giving this to me?" I asked.

"You have to carry it, because we'll be riding our bikes when we go home," said the eight-year-old.

"Why are we taking it home?" I asked.

The six-year-old rolled his eyes.

"This is how you do the ENVIWONMENT," he said. He didn't quite tell me I was an idiot, but it was a close thing. I was suitably humbled.

These environmental concerns seemed to have been catching. Every time my brother farted loudly, which happened more often than I want to remember, I accused him of increasing his carbon footprint way beyond what is reasonable for any one person. This had no effect. He even seemed quite proud of his contribution to global warming.

Family, eh?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

500-year-old babies

My two day absence from blogging seems to have lost me most of my readers. I just checked my stats and saw that yesterday I had a total of seven readers. Has everybody given up on me? I'm still here! I was only away from a computer for two days!

Yes, that's right. I was persuaded to stay for two whole days at my brother's place, mostly by the nephews, who are greatly enarmored of their Bad Aunt. However, I have to admit that the charm had worn off somewhat after the second day, as the Bad Aunt discovered that there is only so much of, "Bad Aaaauuuunnnntie!" she could stand, and the nephews discovered that not only did Bad Aunt like to read to them she did not want to stop, especially when the story in question was Asterix and the Black Gold. Bad Aunt had not read that story since she was about twelve, and was greatly looking forward to reading the second half of the book. By then, unfortunately, the nephews had had enough. They did not understand the puns, and could not understand why Bad Aunt wanted to keep them up so long past their bedtime even though they had asked for that particular book in the first place.

"Just one more page?" I kept pleading, but no, they were tired. They wanted to sleep.

I should have noticed how weird they were when I learned that they both like to eat the whites of eggs but not the yolks. They are not normal AT ALL. Wouldn't any normal kid stay up forever to hear the end of an Asterix book? And have to be forced to eat the whites of their eggs?

The birthday gift went down pretty well, however. I suspect the book will grow on the eight-year-old rather than be an instant TOTAL success, but as it was he was fascinated by certain aspects of it (mostly pictorial), and deeply concerned by others. There was one rather ghoulish picture that caused a drawn-out and worried conversation in the car today.

"Bad Aaaauntieee?" came the voice from the back belonging to the eight-year-old. "How do they KNOW the baby is five hundred years old?"

The idea of a 500-year-old baby is rather hard to grasp, I will admit, so I tried to explain.

"The baby died when it was a baby," I said. "But it was frozen in ice, and scientists are very clever. They know how old the ice is. The ice is 500 years old, so they know the baby died 500 years ago."

"But what if the baby died and was buried?" he said. "How would they know THEN? What if someone killed it and they buried it under a tree?"

"Usually dirt doesn't preserve bodies," I said. "Only ice. If it was dirt, there wouldn't be much left after five hundred years."

"What about mummies?" he said. "Mummies are THOUSANDS of years old - MILLIONS - and they're not in ice!"

"Well, thousands," I said, desperately, "But the ancient Egyptians used special chemicals, and wrapped up the bodies. And some kinds of peat works for that, I think. I expect scientists know how old the wrapping is, or the peat, and that's how they know when the person died." (How I wished for a decent scientific education during this conversation. Seamus Heaney's bog people poems did not prepare me QUITE enough.)

"What if they buried it under a wok?" chimed in the six-year-old.

"Why would they bury it under a wok?" I asked, somewhat puzzled but welcoming the interruption. "Um, do you mean Chinese babies?"

"No, not Chinese! New Zealand ones! Just like the cwabs!" he said, and added in an aside to his father, "We found some cwabs under woks today, Daddy!"

"Oh, those sorts of woks," I said. "And yes, we did, didn't we? They had one leg bigger than the others, didn't they."

I was hoping to change the topic, but it didn't work.

"But what if the baby died, and then someone buried it under YOUNGER peat, or YOUNGER ice?" said the eight-year-old, after some thought. His brow was furrowed so deeply I worried that he would develop frown lines at a way too tender age. Also, I realized (rather belatedly) that he was worried that the rather ghastly baby in his new book was not really 500 years old, and he didn't like not knowing who it was exactly.

"If it was buried and someone found it and could see it was a baby, then it was probably fairly recent," I said. "I don't think that happens very often."

"But what if it DID?" he persisted. "What if nobody found it? Nobody would notice!"

"Oh, somebody would notice if a baby went missing," I said, crossing my fingers. "The baby's parents would be very sad, and would tell everybody. Everybody would know who the baby was and how old it was. That baby in your book was an exception. It died a very long time ago, and I'm sure its parents were very sad. We just don't know the details because it was such a long time ago."

"Why didn't they write a letter?" he said. "We could read it, and know who the baby was."

In other words, it was a difficult conversation. The topic of time, it turns out, is rather a shaky one when it comes to eight-year-olds, especially one who is also having trouble with his times tables. I persevered, but ended up having to resort to some basic mathematical facts we'd been practicing earlier.

"What's eight times seven?" I asked, and the conversation ground to a halt.

So yes, I have had a lovely two days, but before I see the nephews again I will be Googling 500-year-old Innuit babies, just in case.