The week beginning the 7th of July 2007.
Saturday the 7th

If you were to look all the way down the "This Week Index" page, you'd see at the bottom the very first weekly page I wrote was for the 7th of July in 2001!  I'm not sure what to say about a six-year-old website - old enough, if it were a child, to have gone to school and learnt to look after itself ...

Feel free to send birthday presents.

Today I did something I always find pretty stressful - mixed two lots of cattle on the hill over the road!  It's such a big paddock, full of so many different sorts of hazards.  We'd re-strung the bits of electric (currently not electrified) tape around and over the gully in which 410 died eighteen months ago, just before putting the young/thin mob in with the pregnant heifers, but there is a big slip in one patch of bush, and several deep grooves down which water runs and the cattle have to jump over further around near the gate across to our main entrance.  Hopefully nobody pushes anyone else into somewhere they shouldn't be!

Sunday the 8th
Ted and Eunice (Ruth and Nicky)

Ted and Eunice, the very odd little couple in Tuesday's Stranger!  Yes, that's blood on Ted's tie, splattered during a bit of butchery downstairs in the cellar.  They chatter insanely to each other during the play, before their next guest joins them for dinner!

You might notice a bit of a cross-dressing theme in my recent theatrical ventures!  When needs must ...

Our last performances today, for an audience of around 40.  We had a house of about 70 people last night, so I'm very pleased with it all.
Most of the cast members stayed and had a barbecue and drinks at the end of the performance while Stephan pulled the set down with occasional help from some of the others and I snuck off home to nurse a months-long headache and breathe a number of sighs of relief!

I found directing Sex, Footy and Lies a really interesting exercise.  I've been in only two productions previously, in both cases playing quite major parts in full-length plays and have watched three or four different directors in action in those and other productions.  I tried to put into practice the things I liked from all of them, leave out the things I didn't and throw in some extra bits I'd like to experience in a director myself.  I had inklings of my own areas of organisational weakness, where I had to call on the others, cast and committee to help and Stephan's always there somewhere.  I had the very great pleasure of working with some people with enormous talent who were so well suited to their parts that they simply shone in them.  Mike, who appears in here from time to time, was a real "find", playing the bachelor friend with all the dry humour for which the part called.  I was still laughing at his lines after I'd seen him do them dozens of times.  My other particular delight was in Candice, who played the younger sister, Debbie.  She rang me one day having seen one of our advertisements, saying she wanted to try drama, didn't feel very confident in some ways, but would try.  She simply blossomed as we worked together, learning new skills and taking direction with such ease and talent that I will always remember her involvement with immense pleasure.

Monday the 9th

Every ninth of July I think about this same date in 1989, a Sunday, when just after 12.30pm my father breathed his last ragged breath, at the end of a five month period during which his body was ravaged by the cancer which began in his bladder.  Eighteen years is a long time - more than the whole lives of some young adults I know - yet it feels like such a short time in the strength of the emotions which surround my thoughts of him still.  He was such a lovely man and I would so much have liked to know him better and longer.  At other times I wonder what his life would have been like had he lived until now; I know too many people who are no longer themselves as they've succumbed to Alzheimer's and wonder if there are worse things than dying too soon?

349's teeth

These are 349's teeth, or at least those she still has!  She lost her first tooth in the spring of 2004 just before her fourth birthday and I just assumed she'd chomped on something stone-like, but she's lost another in the last year, so I think she might just have dodgy teeth!

Her teeth would be a very good reason for her to end up on the cull list, but she's one of the fattest cows in the herd and has produced a good calf every year since she was two, so her production is certainly not suffering because of any reduced ability to feed herself!

I have been a little uncertain about the second gap and have tried on a number of occasions to get this photo to be able to have a good look - it's hard to see what's going on clearly when one is looking at a moving jaw in between chews with a very mobile tongue!  I'm not sure whether the dark tooth-root areas indicate teeth which broke off or rotted out or something else.  I guess if I really ever want to know, I'll have to put her in the head bail and have a good look.

yearling heifers

Moving the heifers is easy, they all come running as soon as I call them - or even as soon as they see me.  They're extremely curious and playful.

Tuesday the 10th

I've been having some physiotherapy for a while and had mentioned my continuous headache several weeks ago.  When my lovely physiotherapist recently enquired about it again and realised I'd had it for so long, she urged me to go off to my physician to check that it wasn't being caused by something serious.  (This story has no dreadful ending, by the way.)  My doctor referred me for a head scan, bearing in mind the Melanoma two and a half years ago and that particular cancer's propensity to metastasise to the brain and bones, and a letter came through at the beginning of last week advising of an appointment this afternoon in Whangarei.

Since last Friday I have been receiving severe weather-warning emails, warning of the approach of a fairly serious storm, also due to hit us today.  As the days passed, the warnings increased in their seriousness and the forecast timing of the storm didn't change, so I knew we'd be travelling in pretty unpleasant conditions.

This morning when we got up the river was over the bridge but going down, so as soon as it receded enough for us to get out, and before it rose again after another half-hour's very heavy rain, we left!

I had phoned Whangarei Hospital and told them we were going to try to get there, that we were allowing more than four hours for a usual two-hour trip, and that we'd phone again if we got stuck.

the big storm

We had to travel through water over the road between the Mangamuka Gorge and Mangamuka Bridge, at the end of the Otangaroa Road near the Marae, and from then on things just looked worse and worse.

This was the view looking back from the hill just south of Mangamuka Bridge.  It is not usually a lake.

the big storm

We had anticipated that this would be the place we'd get stuck if we were going to: Rangiahua, just south of the one lane bridge - this is the No.1 national highway and yes, there is still a one-way bridge, with a very low bit of road on its southern side where flood-water frequently crosses and closes the road.  It's about 45 minutes from home.
In the ute we knew we'd get through if neither of the cars in front of us was stopped by the water, so allowing enough room to cope if they suddenly spluttered to a stop, we went on ahead.  Having a large truck waiting at the other end of the water was somehow reassuring.  We knew we wouldn't get back home again through the water we'd already "swum" so figured we might as well continue.

the big storm

There was water absolutely everywhere, with horses standing up to their bellies in one place, cattle gathered under a tree in another, not moving to the higher ground visible just beyond them and houses looking nastily too close to the water rising from usually quiet streams.

We joked that we needed our heads read to be out and travelling in such conditions!

The further south we travelled, the less water there was.  I thought there'd have been more water through Moerewa and Kawakawa, but at that stage there was still more pasture than water to be seen and the three humpy bridges leading into Kawakawa had none of the usual signs of flood-water lapping the edges of the road.  It continued being pretty unpleasant driving, all the same.

We safely reached Jill and Bruce's place, Stephan had some lunch (I wasn't allowed to eat before my scan) and he went off to have a wood-turning lesson for a few hours and Jill and I went up to the hospital for what turned out to be a very quick procedure: five minutes lying very still while my head went slowly through the CT scanning ring and then we braced ourselves to go back out into the high winds and continuing rain.

Jill and I had a very entertaining time getting back to the car - I don't think she ought ever to be granted an umbrella licence!  I watched her behind me, coming down around the corner on the pavement with her umbrella suddenly turned inside out, and a car driver carefully stopped on the road as Jill was almost blown out into its path!  It was extremely funny, since we'd already had to fold her umbrella back in the right way on our way into the hospital buildings earlier!  This time it was all too much for the umbrella, several of its spines having been bent or broken.  There's a real art to umbrella sailing in high winds!  As we drove out of the carpark, I stopped for a moment while we watched exactly the same thing happen to someone else as they walked up the hill.

We carefully made our way back to Tikipunga and spent time listening to the radio for reports of how things were around the district.  Whangarei seemed to be in chaos, with flooding, power lines down and so on.  We were extremely fortunate at Jill and Bruce's place to have electricity, food, warmth (a lovely warm fire) and eventually Stephan reappeared, having had a surprisingly uneventful drive back from Otaika, near the airport.

Our new neighbours at home had left a message on our answerphone and I tried several times to phone them back, finally managing to talk with one of the boys, who said his mother couldn't come to the phone because the fire brigade had just arrived to look at evacuating them from their house!  I was somewhat concerned to hear that news, thinking that things must have become rather serious if people were being evacuated, and having heard on the radio that parts of Kaitaia itself were already under water, I wondered what might be happening at home!  It then occurred to me that if the fire brigade had managed to travel in to Diggers Valley, the water can't actually have been too high over the roads, so it couldn't be as bad as our flood-naïve neighbours had feared.

We saw some of the TV news as reports began to come in of Kaeo flooded again, and in Kaitaia, the Switzer home being evacuated and friends and near-family being evacuated from one of the streets in town.  We spent a restless night, worrying about things about which we could do nothing, but wishing we'd been able to be at home.  With all the advance weather warnings, I'd left all the animals in reasonably safe paddocks, other than from the risk of falling trees, which might happen at any time anyway.  But if the water was at an all-time high, I wasn't sure how things would be and the wind was reported to be gusting at over 140km/hr in places and we wondered if we'd have no roof, no house, to go home to!

Wednesday the 11th

Jill and Bruce were due to go back to Dargaville where they're temporarily working, but the news reports said all roads were closed out of Whangarei.  Jill insisted that wouldn't apply to her road, obviously convinced of a divine hand ensuring she could reach her destination, parting the flood waters and slips of mud before her as she travelled!

We all went for a short drive down to the Whangarei Falls, which were thundering down their course at far more than their usual volume - in terms of both water levels and sound.  None of us was very comfortable standing very close to the edge!  I had some Cave Creek anxiety moments when standing on the viewing platforms, looking straight down the cliffs to the churning water below.

I'd called the Automobile Association Road report number several times during the morning and on each occasion the reports said exactly the same thing, but had begun to be at odds with some of the radio news, so we decided to set out on our way home, borrowing a couple of books to read in case we had to wait anywhere, and filling the thermos with hot water so we could have a hot drink wherever we got stuck.

We drove for about twenty minutes and were turned back just north of Hikurangi, to take a detour around the Jordan Valley Road.  There were no signs anywhere, so lots of traffic doing exactly as we were and we just followed anyone who looked like knowing where they were going - and ahead could occasionally catch sight of vehicles like a stock truck and a bus, which would obviously be going where we wanted to.

the big storm

Before we'd been turned back, I had seen, out to our left, a great expanse of water back between the hills and it was that water around which we had now had to turn back and travel.   This was one of the stopbanks, with the flooded river on the right and a lower water-level on the left.

A little further on, we could look back and see where the water was coming over the top of the stopbank and flooding the surrounding country (below).

the big storm

We then passed a large hay-barn with several people standing on top of the top bales, throwing them over the side to the ground below, the roof of the barn across and along the other side of the road and loose power and telephone lines dangling from their poles.  There was a large mob of Jersey cows milling around a nearby shed, presumably waiting in vain for milking time, which would no doubt be long delayed by the chaos and lack of electricity.  I felt a great deal for those people, in this area which was also badly affected in the big storm back in March!

After leaving the Jordan Valley Road we travelled on northwards, wondering where we'd next be stopped by the flood waters and were really surprised not to find any!  Kawakawa was relatively dry, as was Moerewa and then our next concern was the Rangiahua crossing, which was also bereft of water, although the floods had obviously been over the road there by a couple of metres.  Some of the road-side fences were flattened and the rest were completely festooned with debris.  Because I'd thought we would be stopped there, I didn't get the camera out in time and we'd simply driven on through.

the big storm

This is almost the same view as above, but with more land and much less water!

There was so much water here yesterday morning and so little further south and now the situation is entirely reversed.

the big storm

Driving up the Mangamuka Gorge, it became obvious that there was a slip somewhere ahead, as the other lane of the road became more and more muddy.  And there it was, with a conveniently bulldozed track through the middle of all the slumped soil.  There were one or two smaller slips on our way up, but the road-clearing crews had obviously been working hard to clear up enough for traffic to pass, even though it was only one-way in several places.

the big storm

Then at last, within a quarter of an hour of home, on the down-hill run, a slip which must only just have come down and a little blue machine we recognised (from Stephan's trip up to the Rotten Rock Quarry a few weeks ago).  We sat there for ten or so minutes, then were waved through on our way.

As we neared home, we became more and more nervous, until it was suddenly clear that almost everything was absolutely fine!  We have a dry house, three cats, sheep and cattle in their paddocks and only one obvious casualty...

the big storm

The tree of which one third fell after the big rain in February, had lost another third of its bulk during this storm.  It had been gradually looking lower during the last few weeks and I had stopped putting animals in the paddock for fear that it would fall.

The flood waters had been pretty high, coming over the top of the trough and leaving all sorts of rubbish hanging on the fences, but the fences were standing and it appeared the water can't have been much more than a few inches higher than we've seen it at other times in recent years.

After some lunch I set out to check on the animals at the back of the farm, seeing most of the cows and gradually reassuring myself that nothing untoward had happened in all the wind and rain.

At the top of the hill was this very quiet little White-eye, which allowed me to crouch very close to where it was feeding in the grass (on what I wasn't quite observant enough to note).

Waxeye Waxeye

In yesterday's The Northland Age which we didn't see until this afternoon, was the following review of the plays:

Footy and lies but not much sex

Anyone who bought a ticket to last week's KDS production of Sex, Footy and Lies in the hope of witnessing plenty of the former would have been disappointed - indeed one of the male characters confessed, somewhat superfluously, part-way through Paihia playwright Judy O'Connor's work that women tended to have their heads full of dresses and the like on the night before a wedding, while he and his mates had drunk so much that they weren't likely to contribute much in that field.
That would have been the only disappointment though.  The cast of nine, large by KDS standards, did a fine job of presenting O'Connor's part-comic part-dramatic play, marking an impressive directing debut for Ruth Renner.
The play told two stories, of a bridegroom and three other supposedly typical New Zealand men who spent the night before his wedding drinking beer, watching a rugby test match and philosophising on a fairly basic level, whilst sharing the stage intermittently with five women, the matriarch (she of the lies), her two daughter and two granddaughters.
Lighting was used very effectively to switch from one story to the other and every member of the cast delivered beautifully.
Karen Galley is an old hand and can always be expected to perform to her best.  She did so again, ably supported by daughters Martha (Libby Nunn) and Alice (Cheryl Rapira) and granddaughters Debbie (Candice Henry) and Briar (Semira Davis, the bride, who didn't have quite the same opportunity to shine).  All four represent major finds for the society, and will hopefully be seen again.
The expectation that the lies of the title would be revealed sooner or later were sown early on, and while Karen Galley's character's on-stage demise deprived her of the chance to evolve further the other women, particularly Libby Nunn, took the story inexorably to its conclusion in impressive fashion.
The same demands weren't made of the male cast, although they made their contribution in fine style.  Dark mutterings following Sunday's final performance that they portrayed the archetypal New Zealand male were perhaps a trifle exaggerated, but there were some recognisable features to their evening, including a bottomless chilly bin and a somewhat cavalier attitude towards the state of holy matrimony.
Stephan Mathew has long been a jack of all trades for the KDS, and a master of all, and on this occasion was well supported by Mike Bryan, the morrow's groom, and best man (Peter Smith, who was heard to confess to his mates at Top Print that portraying someone who could think of no better way of spending an evening than sharing a few beers in front of a test match had hardly required him to research his character).
It's been a while since the KDS has taken the stage, and this production of a New Zealand play (a Far North one, even) was well worth the wait, as was the entree, Tuesday's Stranger, described as a quirky little play (strongly reminiscent perhaps of a short horror story such as the English once wrote so well), also penned by a NEW Zealander (Mark Casson).
The cast of two - Ruth Renner and Nicky Cooper - did an excellent job of creating an uneasy although hardly Gothic atmosphere in little more than 20 minutes, with the added bonus that one of their props - a packet of chocolate fingers - seemed to have made its way into the Little Theatre foyer for the intermission refreshments.
The KDS is already working on its next production, which faithful fans will no doubt anticipate with relish.
Thursday the 12th
Little Theatre stage

We went off to town this morning, and while there picked up an urgent message from Alan, the caretaker/manager of the Community Centre, saying the Little Theatre hadn't been tidied up since we'd finished the play.  Stephan had understood someone else was going to do that earlier in the week, but obviously hadn't, so we went in and put the last of the bits and pieces away, swept the floor and so on.  Sometimes we end up feeling like we just have to do too much.  It may be time to get out of it for a while.

unidentified small white fungi

I wanted to find the rest of the cows in the Big Back paddock, so took the plonker stick with its ragwort-killing granules out for a hunt.  I came across these fungi in a wet little gully when I was trekking up the hill.

When hunting ragwort, I try to take a slightly different route whenever I'm walking anywhere, so I see and kill as many of the plants as possible.  It also means I get to see all sorts of other interesting things.

I am not a fungi expert, so cannot tell you what they are.

split Puriri trunk

This is the fallen Puriri trunk, where the front third has split off from the rest.  I don't imagine it'll be long before the last bit goes as well, having lost the supportive attachment of the rest of the bark and trunk.  It is the bit on the left which supports the part of the tree which is still standing upright.

I had left Stephan doing a bit of tidying up, cutting chunks of leafy branch off the fallen part of the tree, ready to be taken out to Ivy and her mates.  I don't really want to put them in here until the rest of the tree has fallen, because it's hard to tell exactly where it will land and then possibly bounce.

Amazingly the part which has most recently fallen has missed both fence-posts in its way.

Friday the 13th

It was a gloriously fine day!  And I can't quite remember what I did, other than moving the yearlings late in the afternoon and hunting down some ragwort.  It was probably washing day!