Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Tea for two

Tea is the name Kiwis give to the evening meal. Why, I have no idea, but that’s the way it is. And before anyone tries to tell me that we are mutilating the English language, may I remind you that the Americans call the main course of a meal the entrée, when it’s supposed to be the course before the main course, and they commit the greatest of all culinary crimes by topping an oversized meringue with whipped cream and berries and calling it a pavlova!

The wife and I don’t dine out often. Quality restaurants tend to be somewhat pricey in this country, and being on a limited budget, we get better “bang for bucks” by buying top quality ingredients and cooking at home. Besides, even better restaurants tend to leave us a little disappointed. The wife has an exceptional skill when it comes to flavour and aroma and she has a mastery that few professional chefs could better. A quiet intimate tea for two with a glass or two of NZ Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris or Chardonnay in the comfort of our own home is hard to beat, and there’s no need to drive home afterwards.

While perhaps presentation isn’t quite up to that of the professionals, flavour and aroma more than makes up for it. Here’s a selection of home cooked meals we’ve enjoyed over the past month [Duration – 2m 37s]

Nothing can beat a lovingly prepared home meal


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That’s better

Although the sun is still struggling to get out from behind the clouds, at least we can (almost) see the mountain range in the distance, the wind has died down and the UHF television aerial has been restored to its rightful place on top of the roof. As they say: Happy wife, happy life.

What a difference 24 hours can make


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Unseasonal

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the seasons are very easy to remember: Autumn starts on the first day of March; winter starts on the first day of June; spring starts on the first day of September; summer starts on the first day of December. Easy isn’t it? So how come the weather gods get it so wrong?

Here we are, well into the second week of summer and most days have been like this:

So our television aerial remains lying where it fell during the storm on the first day of summer.


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Feilding Friday

Sometimes, when reviewing world news, my life seems surreal. I see headlines such as US virus deaths top 2,800 in a single day for 1st time and Coronavirus claims 1.5 million lives globally with 10,000 dying each day I wonder if I’m on the same planet as the news gatherers.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are going about our lives as we have always done. Sure there’s an expectation that we scan a QR code whenever when enter a shop or where crowds are, but most most members of the public conveniently “forget” to do so. And if we travel by air, then there is a necessity to wear a face mask while onboard the aircraft, but otherwise we go about our business just like we did twelve months ago.

The pandemic has affected us indirectly. For example many supply chains that cross our borders are broken or under stress. Part of the cause is demand for many goods has increased dramatically as Kiwis abandon international travel in favour of retail therapy and home improvement projects. Part of the problem is due to this nation’s isolated location in the South Pacific, so it can take some time for supply to catch up with unexpected demand. The pandemic only exacerbates the situation as international freight services have been reduced and freight terminals are struggling to cope with demand. A large part of their workforce is typically made up of international visitors on working holidays. They are conspicuous by their absence since the Pandemic started and delays are now a fact of life.

A typical example is the Ports of Auckland, where arriving ships are queued up at anchor outside the harbour for eight to ten days before being able to berth. It can take even longer for containers, once offloaded, to be delivered to their destination and some containers currently piled up at the port won’t be delivered until after Christmas.

The stressed supply chain affects the wife and I mostly by the lack of Japanese food products available from the supermarket and specialty food shops. What’s available arrived in the country prior to the current crisis and no one knows when, or even if, new stock will arrive. Where we were previously able to procure difficult to find products directly from Japan, those suppliers now inform us they are unable to ship to New Zealand. Even Amazon won’t ship – we’ve tried.

But apart from those relatively minor irritations, life goes on as normal. One ritual we often perform is to visit the Friday Feilding Farmers’ Market for local, in season produce. This morning was no different:

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Summer officially started here on the 1st of December, but strong winds made being at the market somewhat unpleasant, not to mention the the need to avoid occasional flying signage. Don’t be alarmed at the lack of face masks and social distancing. Neither are necessary.

The strong winds are more of an inconvenience that the pandemic at the moment. Most of the wife’s evening entertainment is derived from free-to-air television. That provides sufficient choice for her needs. but on Tuesday evening, the wind brought down our UHF aerial. I’m now at the age where I roof climbing fits into the “not me” category, especially as the roof is pitched at 45 degrees and the ridge where the aerial is was mounted is a little over 9 metres (30 ft) from the ground.

The electrical company I called sent around two youngish electricians this afternoon, but they decided that due to the height and strong wind, discretion is the better part of valour. Neither were height certified (I didn’t know such a thing existed) and the work would necessitate the use of safety harnesses. I’m beginning to understand why multistorey homes cost much, much more to maintain than the typical NZ single floor home. So we need to wait on the availability of their only height certified tradesman, which apparently won’t be until the middle of next week. I hope the wife survives.


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Week fourteen of six

One of the inevitable facts of life is that home renovation projects take longer than anticipated. The company managing the renovation had estimated the work would take five to six weeks, but here we are in week fourteen and there’s another one, possibly two, weeks still to go.

The project was supposed to have started way back in autumn, but COVID-19 put a stop to that. Then it was to be a early June start, and finally got under way in the first week of July – mid winter! As part of the project involved adding a large skylight in the expanded upstairs bathroom at one end of the house, and a light tube into the dining room at the other end, some delays were inevitable due to inclement winter weather.

On top of that there’s a total of 6 rooms involved to varying degrees, and the project manager has to organise tradies from his own company and the subcontracting businesses. It’s quite surprising how many subcontractors are involved: scaffolders; electricians; plumbers; plasterers; painters; vinyl floorers; light tube installer; double glazing installer. It only takes one subcontractor to fall behind schedule for some reason to have a flow on effect. And there’s been one flow on effect after the other…

However, we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. We have a working loo upstairs and downstairs at last. This might not seem a big deal to some, but at our age traipsing downstairs to the loo at the opposite end of the house to answer a call of nature in the small hours, and then traipsing back upstairs is no longer the trivial pursuit it once was.

For myself, I loathe turning on lights during the night. I’m hypersensitive to sudden changes in illumination. The experience borders on painful – probably an autism trait. To lessen the discomfort, we have a nightlight in the hallway that provides a soft illumination when there’s no other source of light.

While that’s perfect for getting from the bedroom to toilet, once the toilet door is closed, the problem of lighting raises its head. This is especially an issue for us males as we’re required to aim throughout the performance, so lighting is essential. In the past, its been a matter of gritting my teeth and bracing for the discomfort before switching in the light.

No longer. The new loo has built in lighting “under the rim” which makes hitting the target a simple task. No need to switch on that ceiling light any more. And the wife appreciates the heated seat and integrated bidet.

When it comes to “toilet technology” this country trails way behind the gadetry that can be found in the wife’s homeland of Japan. When I first visited Japan in 1971, heated toilet seats and integrated bidets were quite common. Now it’s not uncommon to find such gadgets as automatically opening lids, automatically raising or lowering the seat depending on which way round you approach the bowl, ultraviolet sanitising, automatic flushing, and integrated bidets that not only wash the privates but also gently air dry afterwards.

When I last visited Japan a couple of years ago, I found myself counting the number of controls in toilets and trying to figure out what each one was for as many only had Japanese script, which I can’t read. Some even had touch screens that as well as providing all the controls for the toilet, seemed to have the functionality that a smartphone or iPad would be proud of!

One commonality that both Japan and Aotearoa share is that it is rare to find the toilet in the bathroom. It’s in a room all by itself. In this country it’s always the case if there’s a single toilet in a home. It’s bad enough having a single toilet for a whole household, but the mind boggles to think of the complications that must arise in a typical family household when washing and toileting share a common space.

And how can anyone enjoy a long luxurious soak in the bath knowing that at any time someone might have an urgent call of nature? It really doesn’t bear thinking about.

And while on the subject of toilets, what is it with American toilets? Most American toilet bowls contain enough water to float the Titanic in! It took me a long time to get over the fact that they weren’t blocked and about to overflow. Ours are “minimalist” when it come to water. as you can see from this snapshot of our new installation.

High tide line

There’s a little over 30 cm (12 inches) from the water line to the top of the bowl whereas in the US the waterline in some toilets was so high, one is in danger of dunking one’s undercarriage.

Our new toilets are somewhat more water efficient than our old ones, being dual flush,and using either 3 litres (0.66 gallons) or 4.5 litres (0.99 gallons). I know President Trump has issues with water efficient loos. Apparently he finds it necessary to flush them up to ten times after use. May I suggest, Mr President, that the problem isn’t the loo, it’s you. Get yourself sorted.

But back to the renovation project. The largest part involved expanding the bathroom on the upper floor into unused roof space so that we could install a decent sized bath. The old one was narrow not very deep and very short. It was impossible to immerse the entire body at once, and no way could the wife and I share a bath. So we overcompensated.

The new bath is a whopper, being 1795 mm (70.7 inches) long by 1050 mm (41.3 inches) wide by 490 mm (19.3 inches) deep and holds 275 litres (around 70 gallons). Plenty big enough for the two of us. We would have liked to have installed a Japanese style bath but they’re not readily available in this country and due to the quantity of water they hold, considerable strengthening of the floor joists would have been involved. As it was, it was necessary to fix steel plates to the joists underneath the new bath.

The new bathroom is divided into in two zones, somewhat similar to a typical Japanese bathroom. A dry area that contains the vanity units, storage units heated towel rails etc, and a wet area that contains the bath, shower, and body jets. The two zones are separated by a glass door and glass side panel on which is printed a photograph of a Japanese autumn scene.

And that glass door is the last of oh so many delays. The manufacturers mistakenly made the glass door and panel to standard door height specifications instead of the size of the opening between the two zones, which extends to ceiling height. So now they have to manufacture a new door and side panel and reprint the image onto the glass. It’s supposed to take up to ten working days to complete which means it won’t be ready until Wednesday next week.

And when this project is complete, we start planning for the next one, which is painting the exterior of the house. Due to the height of the building and steep pitch of the roof, health and safety regulations requires safety scaffolding to be used. Unfortunately as the scaffolding will exceed six metres (19.7 ft) in height, it must be installed by a certified scaffolder. It’s going to be expensive – very expensive, both to hire and install.

Some might argue that as only the wife and I occupy our very large (by NZ standards), multifloor home at the top of a steep hill, we would be better off moving into a smaller single floor dwelling on the flat, especially as we’re now in our seventies.

But we’ve grown into the space available and the incredible view eastwards over the town to the Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges, and Manawatu Gorge in the distance is priceless. We’ve decided we’re staying until we’re carried out in a wooden box.


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Distressing

This afternoon I spent some time on the phone while three “experts” from Spark (my telephone & Internet provider) tried to “help” me solve a “problem” with my Internet connection.

I usually enjoy these “sessions” and try to string along those providing the “assistance” for as long as possible. My aim it to make their “support call” stretch out to more than an hour, but today I only achieved 43 minutes. My reasoning is that while they’re trying to scam me, they can’t scam someone else.

Today I chose to put the phone onto speaker so that I would could have both hands free to undertake other activities while frustrating the hell out of the callers. This was the first time I’ve done that. And it was my undoing.

The wife, who is much less tolerant or sensitive towards people who she believes is in the wrong, today showed a more sensitive streak.

In most interactions with others, I tend to be as courteous and polite as possible, and the wife frequently chastises me for not being more aggressive or confrontational in cases of disagreement. Usually she has little regard to the sensitivity of others when it comes to achieving her goals. She can be ruthless. I know. I have witnessed her in action for nearly 50 years. My ways are much more gentle and yet I’m not convinced she’s any more successful than I am.

I must admit that I find it difficult to read emotion at the best of times no matter how hard I try, but when it comes to dealing with people such as this “help desk” trio, I honestly have absolutely no interest whatsoever. And when it comes to dealing with scammers such as these, I’m grateful for having this autism characteristic.

I had switched the phone to speaker at about fifteen minutes into the call and the wife was able to listen in on the conversation. At first she seemed amused, but when I glanced up at about the 30 minute mark, her grin had gone and something which I have learnt to be associated with concern was showing. Concern for what or who I couldn’t decipher.

However, at about 40 minutes I could tell that the wife was clearly upset and I assumed it was because I was wasting time and hadn’t completed a task for her that I had started moments before the phone rang. At that point I let the the trio know that I knew they were scammers. Of course they tried to bluster their way out and threatened to suspend Spark’s services to me. On my suggestion that they do so, they hung up.

It was only then that I discovered why the wife was upset and distressed, and that was because of how I was winding up the trio According to the wife, they were very frustrated and the woman caller was almost in tears. This was a surprise to me as I’ve seldom witnessed her being sensitive to the feelings of others in times of conflict, and never when she considers the other to be in the wrong.

She’s brought up the subject of how upset the woman was on several occasions over the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, and I can only assume that she was sensitive to their emotions because she was not directly involved – she was an observer and not a participant. Whatever the reason, it is a new and surprising revelation to me. Even after all this time she can still surprise me.

Lesson learnt. Next time (and that’s bound to happen again before the year is out), I won’t enable the speakerphone.


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And on the fourth week…

Kia ora e hoa

It’s getting difficult to remember when it was “normal” around here. I’m not referring to COVID-19. That returned to normal many weeks ago. In fact lockdown and its precautions are definitely a fading memory

No, the normal I’m referring to is the one we had prior to the commencement of bathroom renovations. Today marks the start of the fourth week of a major makeover of the upper floor toilet and bathroom including expansion into the roof cavity and the installation of a skylight, converting part of the roof cavity into a walk in wardrobe for the adjacent bedroom, the installation of a solar light tube to brighten up a dark corner of the dining room, the removal of two woodburners at opposite ends of the main floor that are too expensive to run and maintain, and the renovation of the toilet on the main floor.

Apart from weekends, the place has been a hive of activity with chippies, sparkies, plumbers and others constantly traversing between the basement garage and the upper floor via the main floor. Part of the basement has been taken over by storage of bathroom fixtures and part as a temporary workshop where larger equipment such as circular saws, framing jigs and whatnot have been set up. This way, most work can be carried out regardless of the weather.

The problem with this arrangement is that the garage doors and every door between the garage and the bathroom seem to be open more often than not. To make matters worse, for much of the last three weeks, the renovation area has been open to the uninsulated roof space. It’s the middle of winter here, and the stairwell extending over the three floors has been acting as a funnel drawing all the heat generated on the main floor up to the top floor and out into the roof space. In the process it draws cold air from the basement and distributes it across the main floor.

The airflow from basement to roof space has been exacerbated over the past ten days by strong easterly winds that rush through the open garage doors and create a hurricane-like gale up the stairwell. I’ve taken to switching off the heatpump when the first of the workers arrives at around 7:30 in the morning and not turning it back on until the last of them leaves when it starts to get dark at around 5:00 as its heat output, even on maximum is miniscule compared to the draught up the stairwell. Effectively, all the heat generated was being transferred outside. Let’s just say it’s been decidedly chilly over the last few weeks.

Thankfully the builders have almost finished their work on the upper floor bathroom/toilet renovation – The only major task remaining is the installation of the skylight. Weather permitting, that should all be done by tommorrow. After that, it should be much quieter for a while as the plumbers, sparkies, floorers and such finish off their work.

It never occurred to me to take some “before” photos of the project, so although I have captured a few at major milestones since, you’re all spared a series of photo blogs of “work in progress”. I’ve also realised that the phone camera is not up to the task of recording the work. Bathrooms are relatively small and unless the camera has a wide angle mode, which mine doesn’t, it’s not possible to capture more than a small section of wall/floor/ceiling at a time. I suppose it might be possible to use panorama mode to create a better field of view, but it’s not something I’ve experimented with. Perhaps a video clip that pans around the room might be another option.

My home office is almost directly below the upper floor bathroom and at this point in time the noise is becoming decidedly unpleasant. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but the sound that is emanating from above reminds me very much of a dentist’s drill. So I think it’s time to withdraw and find a quite corner in which to hole up. So for now, ka kite anō.


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When chaos reigns…

Today is day one of a six week renovation project, the major part of which is our main bathroom upstairs. And being the first day, it is, in the words of one of the project chippies (Kiwi slang for carpenter or builder) the best part of any project: knocking things down. That means noise – lots of noise!

Noise is one of my autistic hypersensitivities, And although it’s just half an hour after noon (at time of writing) I already feel somewhat jaded. Roll on 5PM when once again silence will reign until 8AM tomorrow morning.

Being mid-winter here, the option of retreating to the garden isn’t really an option on most days. Yesterday was an exception, warming to 15°C (59°F) and I spent most of the afternoon outdoors, but today it’s on and off drizzle, a stiff breeze and a high of 11°C (52°F). So, when chaos reigns…

…relive the calm

What better way than to enjoy the garden as it was yesterday. It might be mid winter but there’s sufficient flowers out to remind us that spring is just around the corner. To top it off, there’s the sweet perfume of over a dozen Daphne shrubs scattered alongside the pathway. Here’s a few snapshots taken in the front garden yesterday


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X marks the spot

Kia ora.

Yesterday (before the nation closed down apart from essential services), I visited the service station (gas station) to top up the car petrol tank, and the supermarket to do our weekly shopping. I’m determined not to stock up on more than we usually do, and I was surprised that the urge to buy a little bit extra didn’t arise at all.

Mind you, the environment in the supermarket wasn’t conducive to looking out for bargins. The particular supermarket we frequent has a “quiet time” on Wednesdays between 2:30 PM and 3:30 PM with reduced lighting, reduced restocking of shelves, reduced noise (no public announcements or promotions, sound turned off on checkout scanners and registers etc) – perfect for those of us with sensory issues. Except yesterday.

Even though the store was no busier than on a typical Wednesday, the bright lighting, noise – especially the continuous COVID-19 safety warnings – made the whole experience less than pleasant. And as I’m the designated shopper for our household I had no choice but to grin and bear it. And get out as quickly as possible.

Neither the supermarket nor the service station were busier than a typical Wednesday. At the supermarket, I found a park right in front of the building entrance, and at the service station only four of the eight refueling bays were occupied. The most noticeable difference from normal were the bright yellow X’s at both locations.

At the supermarket there was a line of bright yellow crosses at two metre intervals on the floor at every checkout (four at each lane). And as we were reminded every few minutes over the public address system, the crosses were to mark the required separation space between shoppers. The only other obvious indication that the circumstances were unusual was that we had to pack our own bags and a requirement to use hand sanitiser before entering one’s PIN into the EFT-POS terminal.

The unusual circumstances were a little more obvious at the service station. The convenience store was closed and payments were made through the after hours night-pay window. Here they’d set up some barriers to form temporary lanes, and there on the ground, two metres apart were a line of bright yellow X’s, and several notices reminding us to stand on a cross while queueing.

So for the foreseeable future, X will indeed mark the spot.

From the vantage point of our home, we have a great view over our town amd extending to the ranges and wind farms in the distance. Feilding is not an especially busy place, but today, the absence of vehicles and people in the streets give the town an eerie post-apocalypse feeling. If I’d seen a line of zombies stumbling up the hill towards our home, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s that surreal.

This evening, as I look across town, vehicle headlights are conspicuous by their absence. However what is more prevalent than usual is the frequency of seeing blue and red flashing lights. I’m guessing the police are checking that the few cars still on the road are there for a valid reason.

So, as our first day of lockdown draws to a close, I have to wonder: Is this the new normal?

Kia haumaru, kia kaha