Bursting Our Bubble

Departure Day

A farewell photo, taken high above Ohope from Julia & Derek’s house

Mr. Bill and I have burst our bubble.

It happened just before the clock struck twelve, on May 13th, when New Zealand went from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2. Unfortunately, all was closed at midnight in Ohope and there was no place open, to go and celebrate our newfound freedom. Nothing for it but to go to sleep and dream of all the things, that we could do come morning: such as, finish packing. We bid Aotearoa farewell, on the day that Kiwis emerged from fifty days in lockdown. Although we missed all the fun and excitement of resuming our stalled social life, at least we were free to stop and say goodbye to friends, as we drove out of town. We might have missed the opportunity to take a final Tiki Tour, when the travel ban between the regions was lifted, but fortunately, it meant we no longer needed permission to drive to Tauranga Airport. And we definitely missed the chance to get haircuts. I fear we’ll be sporting our long, lockdown locks, for a lot longer!

Mr. Bill has hung up his scalpel. It was a hard decision to retire but all good things must come to an end. He has always maintained, that’s it’s better to leave too soon, rather than too late. However, Mr. Bill never dreamed that he would be ending his career in a pandemic, when he decided that this locum tenens would be his last. As the novel coronavirus spread, across the globe taking its terrible toll, he was worried for his patients and concerned that the health care system, would be overwhelmed, should the disease spread to New Zealand. Whakatane Hospital prepared and braced for the worst.

The first case of COVID19 in New Zealand, was reported on February 28th. In the beginning, all cases were related to overseas travel. Contact tracing was implemented and the virus was ‘contained’- not spreading beyond close family members. Arriving passengers, were asked to self isolate for two weeks. By mid March, however, community transmission had occurred, with clusters of cases on both islands. The borders were closed and the country entered into the strictest lockdown, Level 4, on March 25th. Returning Kiwis were placed in supervised quarantine, in Auckland hotels for two weeks. Everyone stayed home, unless they were an essential worker and to the relief of Kiwi Kids, the Easter Bunny was deemed an essential worker. We all tuned in at 1 pm, to Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s and Director of Health, Ashley Bloomfield’s daily briefings, which ended with the reassuring words, “be kind”. New Zealand mourned its first death on March 29, that of an elderly West Coast woman, with no known exposure to the virus. Not being able to determine, the source of her infection was alarming. At Whakatane Hospital, strict protocols were implemented to protect patients and staff alike. Temporary walls went up in the wards, Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit. Portable outdoor showers were installed, for staff leaving the hospital, to protect the public, from possible exposure. Admissions were processed in the parking lot and visitors to the hospital, were banned. All elective surgeries were cancelled, in anticipation of beds being needed for COVID 19 patients. Only emergency operations and cancer procedures were being performed. Yet, incredibly, no cases were admitted to Whakatane Hospital, not one. By working together, everyone throughout New Zealand, had stopped the spread of the disease. On April 28, the country stepped down to Alert Level 3; elective surgeries were allowed once more. Mr. Bill was back in the operating theatre, relieved that he could tackle, the backlog of delayed cases.

Our last days living in Ohope were interesting, to say the least. Like everyone else, suddenly experiencing the restrictions imposed under lockdown, we mourned the loss of all we once took for granted. Our children and grandchildren’s visits were cancelled. Plans were scrapped and life slowed down. The gentle pace of Ohope ground to a halt, on the day that everything stopped. Life, however, didn’t come to a complete standstill. Soon a new rhythm established itself. In the absence of commerce and cars, cyclists took over the empty streets. Walkers and runners easily shared the footpaths, the latter stepping into the road, to maintain a safe social distance. Children went on bear hunts, as they searched for Teddy Bears in the windows. The birds seemed to sing louder, but maybe it was the absence of vehicles, making it easier to hear them. Without the Boy Racers tearing up Ohope Hill at night, we could hear the call of the nocturnal kiwi birds, in the bush behind us. Even the cows enjoyed new delights, when they discovered construction equipment, sidelined in their Pohutukawa paddock. With no workers to stop them, they examined the idle machines, to their heart’s content.

“Stay Home. Save Lives”, was the message but everyone was urged to go outside for fresh air and exercise; just as long as you stayed in your own bubble and kept it local. Unable to go further than my feet or bike could carry me, I came to experience Ohope in a more intimate way. My bike rides took longer and longer, as I stopped to chat (from a safe distance- always) with friends both new and old. I took the time to introduce myself to people, who I had only waved to, when I had cycled by, the past seven years. I must admit, that it was always a hoot, when I would explain that they would know who my husband was, by his distinctive running gait. Sure enough, they always did! Staying home on weekends, meant that Mr. Bill could accompany me on my route. I felt like a teenager, showing off that I did indeed, have a boyfriend. When we peddled by Greg on Ocean Road, I could not contain myself and hollered out, “look who is with me”! To that, Greg shouted back, “the man”!

We missed our mates, Linda and Gavin, over the hill in Whakatane. Video calls, emails and texts were poor substitutes for our play dates but were a Godsend, none the less. Yet life wasn’t lonely in lockdown, thanks to our Balcony Buddies. Living once again at Beachpoint, we found ourselves situated in a row of ex-pats, delightfully positioned between an English couple and an English/Aussie couple. In the mornings, neighbour Janis, on the left, neighbour Vicky on the right and I would chat across our balconies, as we hung the day’s washing. In case of a sudden shower, one of us (usually eagle eyed Janis) would give a warning shout, to save the day. In the afternoons, I could always count on getting a bit of stick, from lefty neighbour, David. In the evenings Mr. Bill and I looked forward to hearing Trevor’s cheery ,”Cheers”, when our right hand-side neighbour, raised a glass of red at day’s end. When we all gathered on our respective balconies for happy hour, somehow, I became the ‘monkey in the middle’; running from one side to the other, repeating what had been said on the left to the ones on the right and vice versa, until I was breathless. Returning home from the hospital each day, Mr. Bill would step out onto the balcony and report the news from the world beyond, to our friends. One afternoon, I was surprised by Mr. Bill’s unexpected arrival and I remarked that he was home early. His reply was, “get used to it”. (Ah the 24/7 togetherness of retirement, would soon be ours). One day, information came from on high, thanks to our friend Julia, who rang from her house on the hill. Julia alerted us to the pod of orcas swimming past; we in turn called out to the neighbours and we all watched the whales, from our balconies. Life was simple. We treasured the little things. We knew how fortunate we were, to be quarantining in paradise. However, the BIG question always loomed large, in our conversations over the railings – how would we all travel safely back, to our respective homes? All of our flights had been cancelled. Options for safe passages home, looked dubious at best. Re-booking flights, was easier said than done, as airlines dropped routes around the world, without warning. Trevor and Vicky were the first to leave, securing seats on a repatriation flight to the UK, after Emirates cancelled their tickets. They are now home in Cornwall, safe and sound. Janis and David are leaving next week. Godspeed Gladwins.

As safe as we were in New Zealand, where they first flattened, then smashed the curve of the pandemic’s transmission and are now free of COVID 19 (Good on you New Zealand!), it was still an anxious time to be separated from family and friends, back home in America. We worried and we prayed for our loved ones. We were especially concerned for our daughter-in-law, Mandy, who is a nurse and had volunteered to go, “wherever needed”. Mandy was working long shifts, in a COVID 19 testing tent, in the hard hit state of Connecticut. Soon it was time to leave. Mr. Bill’s contract had ended. Too soon, rather than too late, but apparently with time enough, to take the long way home. Flying on Air New Zealand internationally and on United Airlines domestically, our original itinerary had us booked to Florida, via Houston. However, our way home was constantly changing, as the world’s aviation industry, adapted to the new normal. With the number of global travellers down by 95%, Air New Zealand dropped 85% of its long-haul flights and United Airlines cut domestic routes by 50%. We were rerouted through Los Angeles, then up to Chicago and down to Florida, with long layovers in Auckland, LAX and O’Hare airports. Our trip which usually takes one day, was extended to 41 hours, from door to door. Just a tad longer than the 19 hours it took the astronauts riding on Space X , to travel from Florida, to the International Space Station. But who’s counting?

Now in our new bubble, I am listening to Mr. Bill strum his guitar and sing, while I write these words. Life is good. May it be so, for all of you dear readers. Stay well. Kia kaha (stay strong). Be kind.

COVID 19 precautions at Whakatane Hospital- outdoor admissions & showers

Cows in lockdown

Final ride in Ohope, before our bikes went to a good home

Last lunch before lockdown, with our mates, Linda and Gavin

A royal send off from David & Janis

Trevor & Vicky, home in Cornwall -safe & sound

Teddy Bears in lockdown and words to live by~

A super hero, artist Teddy Bear captures a likeness

Annie’s Teddy Bear, sporting a poppy for remembrance, on Anzac Day

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Caught Out!

I spy Mr. Bill driving up Ohope Hill Road, between the old postal workers’ bach and Froglands.

Caught out. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. This is what comes of playing Juliet to my Romeo.

With a kiss and an embrace, Mr. Bill and I part in sweet sorrow, when he leaves for Whakatane Hospital, every work day morning. Desperate for one last glimpse of my beloved as he drives away, I have thrown social conventions to the wind, and stepped out in my bathrobe onto the balconies, of our various Beachpoint apartments, to wave goodbye. Until this year.

Ensconced in unit 36, we are now in the rear section, set back from the road and nestled into the bush.The balcony on this third floor flat, overlooks the Beachpoint courtyard pool and commands an expansive view of the sea, but alas, not of West End Road. When we lived in #23, we were street side and I could watch Mr. Bill enter the rotary from Villis Glade, sweep past the public toilets, drive to the end of West End Road and turn right onto Ohope Road: where I would lose sight of him, until he returned at day’s end. When neighbours Rae and Don, were breakfasting on their balcony, they would cheerily wave goodbye as well. When residing in #31, a corner apartment above the garage, I could hear the creak of the roll up gate, announcing Mr. Bill’s eminent departure. From the balcony, I would watch Mr. Bill’s car shoot out onto the ramp, with the window down and his arm extended in adieu. I would then track him, as he traversed the short distance of Villis Glade, entered the roundabout and passed the toilet block. When watching from #39, the fourth floor apartment on the third level, I lost Mr. Bill at the toilets. (If wondering how a fourth floor apartment is on the third level, please read the, “New Horizons” posted, June 2016. It will explain all.)

It was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, when we moved into #36 in January, and I realised, that I could no longer experience, the latter part of our farewell ritual. I was bereft. How would I cope in the intervening hours, until Mr. Bill’s return? Love would find a way! The third floor apartments, open unto an outside corridor, which abuts the bush clad, Ohope Hill, and while exploring our new digs, we discovered a ‘secret’ stairway at one end of the passageway. At the bottom, it connects with a footpath leading to West End Road. Would I have to pursue Mr. Bill like the Furies, down the steps and out onto the street, to wave goodbye? Thankfully not. At the top of the stairwell there is a vantage point, with a view of Ohope Road. That’s the sweet spot, where I spy Mr. Bill. Every morning, when his car appears in the gap between the bachs next door and Froglands, we wave one last time, as he travels up Ohope Hill.

Birds serenade us when Mr. Bill takes his leave. Only the fantails, tui, blackbirds and the skittish, flightless weka, witness a quick peck on the cheek and a goodbye hug. When Mr. Bill descends to street level and disappears around the corner, my feathered friends linger, keeping me company, while I wait for Mr. Bill’s car to appear, heading up Ohope Road. I’m in my own little world each morning, as I stand sentinel with a cup of coffee, unconcerned that I haven’t yet dressed for the day. There is never anyone else about, all’s quiet, peaceful and private early in the morning. But never say never. There was that one morning, when a young tradie materialised, bounding up the steps, two at a time. I am not sure who was more alarmed, me or him. Me, for being caught out in a state of undress or him, for stumbling upon the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’, standing like the figure head, of that ill fated ship. Poor dear, I could only feel sorry for him. I quickly explained, that I was waving goodbye to my husband. “That’s awesome”, he said with great enthusiasm, as he opened the gate, of the end unit patio. Then, being a true romantic, he gallantly stepped aside, offering to let me into my next door neighbour’s outdoor space, for an even better outlook. Suddenly shy, I demurred and off he went, across the neighbour’s wrap around deck, to access the roof- which would have been the ultimate viewing platform. But I lacked the courage to follow him. After all, how would I explain that to Mr. Bill?

Stepping outside in the mornings, just the two of us, Mr. Bill and I felt like we were living in our own romantic bubble. Little did we know, that come midnight on March 25th, our bubble would become our, COVID 19-Alert Level 4, lockdown bubble. Now we count down the days, until we can burst our bubble. I’ll even dress for the occasion.

Mr. Bill’s view of where I wait and watch for him.

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Kia Kaha

Be strong. Be kind. No matter where we are in this world, we are all in this pandemic together.

This will be a serious post for Travels with Mr. Bill. Please let me extend a heartfelt thank you, to everyone who has written to enquire after Bill and I. Your kind words and prayers are much appreciated and please know, that we hold all of you close in our hearts.

We are well and are presently living in New Zealand, under the Corvid- 19, Alert Level 4, lockdown; which was implemented at 11:59 pm, on Tuesday, March 24th. It was a bold and wise move by the New Zealand government, to stop the community transmission of the disease and ‘flatten the curve’ of cases. In the words of Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, “we must go hard and we must go early”. New Zealand learned a sobering lesson, from Italy’s delayed response to outbreaks and imposed strict social distancing, sooner rather than later.

A national emergency alert was issued last Tuesday, March 24, at 6:30 pm, stating: “From 11:59 tonight, the whole of New Zealand moves to Covid-19 Alert Level 4. This message is for all of New Zealand. We are depending on you. Follow the rules and STAY HOME. Act as if you have Covid-19. This will save lives. Remember: * Where you stay tonight is where you must stay from now on. * You must only be in physical contact with those you are living with It is likely Level 4 measures will stay in place for a number of weeks. Let’s all do our bit to unite against Covid-19. Kia kaha”.

The borders have now been closed to all but returning NZ citizens and medical workers, coming to help. All domestic travel is banned, except for essential services. All businesses, shops, schools, child care centers, libraries, museums, churches, restaurants-including all take away, parks, playgrounds, farm stands etc., are all shuttered. Online shopping is only allowed for essential goods. If you are not working in an industry deemed essential, you may only drive to Doctors’ offices, hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations.

On Saturday, March 21, New Zealand was at level 2 with 56 cases of Corvid-19. All churches were closed and large gatherings were banned. people over 70 were told to self isolate and keep a safe social distance.

On Sunday, March 22 there were 70 cases.

On Monday morning, March 23, there were 102 cases. The country went to Alert Level 2-3. Sadly, the disease was following the same trajectory of other affected countries. It was a stark reminder, when the Prime Minister said, “We currently have 102 cases. But so did Italy once; now the virus has overwhelmed their health care system and hundreds of people are dying every day. The situation is moving at pace and so must we”. When Mr. Bill left for work that morning, he had an all day theatre list (scheduled operations). When he arrived at Whakatane Hospital, he was told that all elective surgeries were cancelled, in order to make beds available, for the expected cases of Corvid-19. Currently, he is only doing emergency operations and procedures for cancer patients. He still makes daily ward rounds on his patients in the hospital. When possible, his clinic patients and his post-op, follow up, visits are done over the phone, to lessen their risk of exposure .

On Monday afternoon, March 23 it was announced that the country would go to Alert level 3 for 48 hours, in order to give people time to prepare for Level 4 lockdown. Kiwis rushed home, from around the world and across the country, to beat Tuesday’s midnight deadline. There were long lines for the Cook Strait Ferries, as travellers queued to get to either the North or South Island, for their period of isolation. There was much panic buying of groceries and toilet paper, despite the government’s assurances, that New Zealand has more than enough of life’s necessities to go around.

On Tuesday, March 24, there were 205 cases and the country’s lockdown began.

Everyone is expected to be sheltering in place, inside their designated bubble. Going outside for fresh air and exercise is encouraged, as long as one keeps it local and maintains a safe two-meter distance. Walkers, runners and cyclists, now rule the roads, while keeping a healthy distance. Mr. Bill and I are blessed to have beautiful Ohope Beach on our front doorstep. Mr. Bill runs, while I prefer peddle power. Most everyone is doing their bit. Wash Your Hands. Stay Home-Save a Life. It’s that’s simple. Sadly, there are always some who will flout the rules. To help stop that, the police have set up a website, where you can report those not in compliance; it crashed on day one. You may not drive to exercise, outside of your neighbourhood and the Minister of Health, was dobed in to authorities, when he drove to a mountain bike trail. Just one person per household, is allowed to grocery shop. Numbers into stores are limited and once that has reached the maximum allowed, it’s strictly one out, one in. Shoppers wait outside, two meters apart in line. Before entering, your hands are sprayed with sanitiser, as well as the handle on your trolley. People are urged to only touch when they intend to buy and shop as quickly as possible. Prepared foods are no longer on offer. To prevent panic buying, purchases are limited to two of the same item. Check out queues are kept a safe distance from cashiers, who are behind plexiglass barriers. You bag your own groceries and cash as payment is discouraged.

It was a sobering choice to remain in New Zealand, when the travel bans were announced. My instinct, like that of the ladybug, was, “to fly away home”. The US Consulate closed in Auckland on March 20th. The State Department sent an email stating, “…in countries where commercial departure options remain available, US citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period”. At the end of the day, Mr. Bill could not abandon his patients and I’m stuck like glue to Mr. Bill. We do hope however, that by the end of Mr. Bill’s contract, travel restrictions will be eased and we will be able to leave. The Bay of Plenty DHB would be happy for Mr. Bill to stay on and his work visa would allow that but unfortunately, Simurgh, the Kiwi insurance company, that we have our medical coverage with, will not renew our policy beyond the original exit date. Not to have medical coverage would be reckless. As visitors, we are not entitled (nor should we be) to use the NZ health care system and our American policies, do not cover us over here. Since 2013 we have purchased our medical insurance from Simurgh, for when we are in New Zealand and happily have never needed it. The irony of a doctor being unable to get medical insurance, despite working in the health care system, is not lost on us. So do please say a prayer, that we will be able to leave, before our coverage ends.

To end a serious post on a happy note, our next door neighbours, Janis and David, have informed us, that on Friday evenings at 5:10, they will be on their balcony and along with Kiwis, all over New Zealand, will be raising a glass, to toast all medical workers.

Cheers, Mr. Bill. This one’s for you!

The 5:10 salute to medical workers

Kia kaha Be strong
There are X’s painted 2 meters apart, on the footpath to keep waiting shoppers a safe distance apart.
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Iron Lady

Mr. Bill has learned that he’s in for a merry dance, when I take the lead; which is what led to our misadventure, in the 2013 Ohope Beach, Ironman Challenge.

Standing alongside Mr. Bill, gazing wistfully at the colourful banner, announcing the Inaugural Ohope Beach, Ironman Challenge, that had appeared overnight on Mahy Reserve, I longed to be a competitor. Organised team sports for girls did not exist, when I was growing up; only boys played Little League Baseball and Midget Football. No matter, there was plenty of opportunity for exercise. I climbed trees, biked, jumped rope, swam and walked the half mile to school (uphill both ways, as the old joke goes). Mothers were ever so lucky, that we returned home for lunch in the sixties and luckily, I had an hour off mid-day, to walk the additional mile. We had neither playground nor gym class, at dear old SPS; there simply wasn’t the need. The chance to finally don a team uniform, would have to wait until I attended Bay View, an all girls high school or so I thought. Adolescence brought asthma, ending my dreams of athletic glory, with a wheeze. There was no fear of missing out, I knew I had missed out.

Mr. Bill is fortunate; he knows the joys of competing. His Little League team won the District Championship and he played soccer and basketball in high school. Now he can be spotted, pounding the pavement in Ohope. Our four children are lucky as well, for they all played sports, sons and daughters alike – times have changed for the better. To further that end, I became the number one driver to: tee ball, softball, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, swimming, cross country, track and golf. Finally, I was involved in athletics! Although cheering from the sidelines, was as close as I would come to playing. Yet, like Marlon Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, in the movie, “On the Waterfront “, there were times, that I wanted to wail and scream, “I could have been a contender“!

Still a bona fide, Iron Man Competition, was coming to town and it would be exciting to watch elite athletes, compete in the charity event. Scanning the poster, the particulars for the bike rally segment, caught my eye. They were allowing amateurs to enter! To ride in an Ironman race, what a pipe dream that would be! I shared that ludicrous thought with Mr. Bill, expecting a chuckle: instead he floored me when he said, matter of factly, “you could do that”. Had he taken leave of his senses? I explained, amateur or not, I couldn’t possibly bike that far, alongside ‘real’ cyclists. Mr. Bill looked at me with surprise, adding, “you bike further than that every day”. I did? Who knew? Not me.

Living in New Zealand has rejuvenated me. Tagging along with Mr. Bill when he became a locum tenens, surgeon at Whakatane Hospital, I felt like a kid again, with the freedom to ride my bike , all over Ohope. I was just having fun. I had never bothered to measure the distance travelled, but Mr. Bill had. Our fates were sealed when Mr. Bill encouragingly added, “you enter, I’ll do it with you and you can set the pace”. Done. Challenge accepted.

Race day dawned fine, with clear skies and cool temperatures, perfect biking weather. I was a bundle of nerves but Mr. Bill was relaxed, as we stood in line with our bikes, to register for the bike rally. When we ticked off amateur on the form, we were given a shorter route, for the ‘non-competitive ‘ racers. I was crushed. This was not mentioned in the Ironman prospectus. Now, instead of feeling like a kid again, I felt like a baby, not allowed to play with the big kids. Not fair! I wanted to do the real 14- kilometre race, not a wimpy 8-K route. This was my one chance to test my mettle. Knowing that I was about to start sputtering, Mr. Bill, who wasn’t upset in the least, by the shortened route, gently reminded me, that it was for charity and paid our entrance fees. We pushed our bikes to the staging area, on Mair Street. The competitive cyclists were already there, with their flash bikes and wearing sleek spandex. We amateurs were a motley crew, with our push bikes and leisure attire. Surreptitiously, I eyed the competition; a mother and her two young children. I felt confident that I could beat the little girl and boy but wasn’t sure about their Mum. I was much older. However, she was much heavier. What was the winning ratio between age and weight? Did I have an edge? I had no idea but I was determined to give it my all.

The race director took one look at the assembled rag tag, non-competitive entrants and announced, that the competitive racers would go first. Apparently, we didn’t need a head start or more likely, it was feared we’d cause chaos on the course. The countdown began, the starter’s gun went bang and the pros were off like a shot, never to be seen again. We five, shuffled over to the starting line, doing our best not to bump into one another. A few encouraging words, a countdown, the starter’s gun fired and away we all went. I sailed onto Pohutukawa Avenue. By standers were clapping and cheering. I was in the lead! Mr. Bill was right behind me, just as he said he would be. Students from Whakatane High School had volunteered to be race marshals and were blocking the intersections for us. What a thrill, I was stopping traffic! What an ego trip! It’s a wonder that I didn’t need a bigger helmet, to contain my expanding head. With no need to watch for cars, I flew down Pohutukawa, smiling at my adoring fans. It was exhilarating. If this was the high, one got from competing, I wanted more. Then disaster struck. The little girl passed me, grinning from ear to ear, with her blond ponytail streaming behind her. I was gutted. Beaten by a child. She was triumphant; she had bested an adult. She had speed, I’ll grant her that. Yet, soon her mad pumping began to wane and she slowed down. I decreased my pace as well, not wishing to hit her. When she slowed yet again by Ohope School, I wondered what the race etiquette was in an amateur event. Would it be churlish to pass a child? The mother and grandmother in me, wanted to let her win but the newly awakened competitive spirit in me, wouldn’t allow that. I passed her. Poor Mr. Bill was mortified by my actions but true to his word, he stayed right behind me and shamefaced, he passed her as well. (After the race, Mr. Bill admonished me saying,”I can’t believe you passed that little girl”!)

My confidence shaken, I redoubled my efforts but there was a desperation to my peddling. I felt the little girl nipping at my heels but I didn’t dare turn to look, lest that should cost me some speed. The grade had changed, after turning onto Harbour Road and now, I too was in danger of slowing down, as I approached heart break hill, leading up to the Port Ohope Store. Something else had awakened in me-my long dormant asthma. I was gasping as I rounded the corner at the top of the hill and turned onto Anne Street. I stole a look over my shoulder, Mr. Bill was right behind me, that was a huge relief. I heard the roar of approaching motorcycles. The noise grew louder and louder, until a trio of bikers sped past, reduced their speed and dropped in front of me. I had an advance team. I should have been thrilled but I was dying. My lungs were screaming for air and now I was choking on exhaust fumes. Still, I simply could not lessen my pace and allow that child to pass me again. On we rode down Ocean Road, soon a Saint John’s Ambulance came alongside Mr. Bill and the driver asked, if we were in the race. “I think so”, was Mr. Bill’s reply and with that, the ambulance tucked in behind him. We were escorted by the bikies the length of Ocean Road, to Te Akau and back onto Pohutukawa Avenue. Finally the end was in sight. With the three motorcycles leading me to glory, Mr. Bill behind me and an ambulance bringing up the rear, I crossed the finish line, wheezing and gasping but nevertheless, proud as punch. Standing there eating sausages, was the fat mother and her two children. This time the little girl was not grinning, I swear she was smirking! How?! How had they all beaten me? Blinded by my ambition to win, I had missed the turn off for the amateur course and had raced the competitive route instead. Loyal to the end, Mr. Bill had my back, as promised. (No wonder a search party and ambulance had been dispatched.) Chagrined, I congratulated the winner. I found that I didn’t mind losing after all, for I was secretly pleased, that I had done the competitive course- a proper race indeed.

At the prize giving, the non competitive division was announced first. I clapped loudly for the little girl, who had won. In fact her family made a clean sweep of the awards, claiming second and third place, as well. Mr. Bill and I applauded for the winners of ‘our’ competitive division. Three buff Ironman sprinted to the podium, on the deck of the Surf Club, for their prizes. Then came the shock announcement of the day, “First Place in the Woman’s Division is Iron Lady, Maureen Longo”! I had won! Mind you, I was the only lady, but it’s offical and I had to certificate to prove it. I am an Iron Lady, fit for purpose.

And Mr. Bill knew it along.

The banner, that started it all.
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Mother Nature Weeps

Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Mr. Bill is on the move once again. Mr. Bill shifts and Mother Nature weeps.

No sooner were our bags packed yesterday, in anticipation of today’s departure, than the wind began to moan, begging him to stay awhile longer. However, Mother Nature’s entreaties fell on deaf ears and she upped her game by sending rain. Honestly, the lady is rather predictable and her theatrics are tiresome. She will now be accompanying us to Tauranga this afternoon and no doubt will create a downpour, as we cross the airport tarmac to board our flight to Auckland. I can predict with confidence, that she will douse us again when we arrive in the City of Sails. It will be a soggy trip between terminals, before we can shake off her wet embrace but we will soldier on.

That’s good news for our Kiwi friends, as they head into summer. Sunny days and blues skies are on the way. Unfortunately it’s bad news for the folks in Connecticut. Snow anyone?

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A Short Black, a Long Black and a Flat White

A Flat White -Espresso with steamed milk

“A short black, a long black and a flat white”, I half expected the sentence to continue, “walked into a bar”. However, this wasn’t yet another variation on the classic bar joke but three of the ways that Kiwis enjoy their morning cup of joe. Amused, I put down the guidebook after reading, ‘What to Drink in New Zealand’. Living in New Zealand was going to be fun!

Coffee was foremost on our minds back in March of 2013, when Mr. Bill and I finally checked in at the Domestic Terminal, after a madcap dash around Auckland during the morning rush hour. We desperately needed caffeine and had I not read the guidebook, Mr. Bill would have ordered two regulars, one skim, instead of two flat whites, one trim. (I like the fact that I’m trim.)

One might well wonder what sane person, would leave the airport to travel the short distance between the International and Domestic terminals, via the congested neighborhoods of Auckland. Yet that is precisely what Mr. Bill did on our first trip to New Zealand. Lest you think Mr. Bill insane, this is what all locum tenens must do, upon arriving in New Zealand. Before he could begin working for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, Mr. Bill needed a license* to practice medicine in New Zealand, which is granted by the Medical Council of New Zealand. The final requirement for all applicants, is an in-person interview in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, where they must present their medical credentials in person, for the council’s inspection and if approved, pay a fee in order to obtain their medical license.

This was nerve racking to say the least and we fervently hoped, that this was a mere formality. The Medical Council already had copies of Mr. Bill’s medical degree from Georgetown University (which they had requested be translated from Latin into English), his certificates stating that he was a Board Certified General Surgeon and a member of the American College of Surgeons, as well as a list of every operation he had performed (yes, surgeons keep these statistics, in order to maintain their medical licenses and hospital privileges). Yet we could not help but wonder, if any candidates had failed this final inspection and been sent packing. Adding to the stress, was the pressure of fulfilling this obligation within a four hour layover, as Mr. Bill was expected at Whakatane Hospital the following morning. The clock was ticking from the moment we touched down in Aotearoa. Four hours didn’t seem nearly enough time clear customs, check our bags onto Whakatane and travel to the interviewing official’s home, which was an estimated hour round trip; let alone return to the airport in time, for our connecting flight. Mr. Bill’s recruiter had booked the flights and assured him that it was doable, so we gave it a go!

That first morning is forever etched on our minds. It was a brilliant new day in a new country. Blue skies, palm trees and heat greeted us, a far cry from the six inches of fresh snow we had left behind in Connecticut. Customs and transferring our bags had gone fairly quickly and we hustled outside to hail a cab. There was a line of waiting taxis but none with drivers. I was frantic, where was the queue with the drivers? There was no time to waste, our flight had arrived late, Mr. Bill’s appointment was at 9am and it was already after eight o’clock. We had to find someone on duty to drive us! Mr. Bill however, was unconcerned being faster on the uptake than me. He pointed out, that the drivers were all there, just sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car. Of course! I had forgotten that they drive on the left in New Zealand. What looked all wrong to me at first, was alright after all. Mr. Bill engaged a great cabby and explained the situation. Our driver was thrilled! He was a man on a mission. A map was produced, consulted and discussed at great length with Mr. Bill. Then we were off. Mindful of our time crunch, our cheerful driver zigged and zagged through the heavy Auckland traffic, avoiding the gridlock on the A-1 motorway. All the while, we received a running commentary on New Zealand culture, geography and grocery prices. (Did you know that in 1970, you could purchase a whole lamb carcass for what you pay for some lamb chops today? No, we did not.) His accent was hard to understand and for the first time I began to worry, that I wouldn’t be able to understand Kiwi English. I needn’t have worried; our cabbie was from Croatia.

It took forty minutes but Mr. Kolja Mijian delivered us to our destination. This was no small feat, as the house was hidden down a right of way and tucked into the hillside of one of Auckland’s many suburbs. He wished Mr. Bill well and said that he would turn the meter off while he was waiting, explaining that was “the professional thing to do”, despite Mr. Bill asking him to please, keep it running. Mr. Mijian was clearly a gentleman who took pride in his work. (Please note dear reader, that when Mr. Bill paid the cab fare later that morning, he added a generous tip. By doing so, he was guilty of being an ‘Ugly American’, by not respecting New Zealand’s no tipping culture. However, Mr. Mijian was gracious in accepting it and did not hold it against us. He even gave us his personal business card for whenever we were in Auckland!)

Being curious, I tagged along with Mr. Bill, rather than waiting in the taxi. We were both nervous and feeling a bit lightheaded, jet lag no doubt but also very excited. We had finally arrived at the last hurdle. Soon we could begin our grand adventure. The house was modern with sleek glass panels and dark wood that gleamed in the morning sun. Windows and sliding doors were open and curtains fluttered in the breeze. It was thrilling to see the brass plate above the doorbell inscribed, ‘Officer of the Medical Council of New Zealand ‘ and ‘Justice of the Peace’. I had to restrain myself from taking a picture of the plaque. The time was now 9:10. We were late. It couldn’t be helped and we hoped the interviewing officer would be understanding.

Mr. Bill rang the doorbell. That set a dog to barking but no one came to answer it. The barking died down and all was quiet once more. We looked at one another in mild panic. Was no one home? This was the only contact information that he had been given. There was no Plan B. Mr. Bill needed this official’s stamp, before we could continue onto Whakatane. We waited. After ten minutes, Mr. Bill rang the bell again, which set the dog to barking again. An irate woman stepped onto the balcony and told us to, “STOP ringing the bell”! She was indignant, adding that we were early and ordered us to ” just WAIT outside on the bench” ! Ouch. Chastened, we apologized profusely. Then sat down, after being dressed down. It reminded me of the scene from The Wizard of Oz , when the all-powerful wizard thundered at Dorothy and company to go away, that he wasn’t granting them an audience that day. He didn’t care that they had travelled so very far to see him and neither did our welcoming official. Unbeknownst to us, the recruiter had emailed, informing her that our flight had been delayed and that we might not arrive until 9:45. Our Herculean efforts to present ourselves on time were all for naught. Mr. Bill’s interviewer was not amused to see us bright and early on her doorstep. The old trout!

Mortified, I returned to the cab to wait, abandoning Mr. Bill to placate the Medical Council Officer. Eventually Mr. Bill was admitted to the inner sanctum, where she determined that William Americo Longo was indeed one and the same as William A. Longo and Willian Longo. She stamped his paperwork and we were on our way. And no, in case you are wondering, she did not offer Mr. Bill a cup of tea, let alone a glass of water. Hardly an auspicious start but that truly has been, our only unpleasant encounter in New Zealand. We love Kiwis. They are friendly, helpful and incredibly welcoming. There’s always one contrarian and we consider ourselves lucky to have had it over and done, on day one. Poor Mr. Mijian was incensed, when told what had happened, which prompted a tirade on lazy government workers and many apologizes for being treated so appalling, on our first day in New Zealand. It felt good to have one friend in our new country and it made the return trip fly by.

Back at Auckland Airport, we checked the departure board and discovered there was enough time for a cuppa. Coffee never tasted so good. We clinked our cups together, toasting our arrival with a flat white. Now each time we return to New Zealand, we head straight to the little cafe opposite the gate and order flat whites. Best of all, it’s always Mr. Bill’s shout. *

  • Licence or license? You dear reader may decide! In British English, licence is a noun and license is the verb. In American English, license is both a noun and a verb and they are spelled the same. With apologies to the Queen, I’ve chosen the latter.
  • Shout- To pick up the tab
A long black- double shot of espresso with hot water on the side. A short black is espresso only.
A cheerful flat white!

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A Change in the Weather

A good omen- a rainbow welcomed us to Tauranga

Mr. Bill was on the move again and Mother Nature sat up and noticed. Foolishly he thought that he could quietly slip away without any fuss. He may have loaded the suitcases into the car and navigated around the construction barricades undetected but the sound of tires crunching on gravel, was his undoing. The gig was up and with The Furies nipping at our heels, we left The Land of Steady Habits behind and began our odyssey back to the Little Country at the Bottom of the World. Driving in record time from Connecticut to Newark Airport, in New Jersey, we checked our bags through to New Zealand, breezed through security and wandered around the concourse, all the while congratulating ourselves, on our smoothest exit yet. We marveled that we even had had the leisure that morning, to enjoy a surprise visit from our son and grandson, before we headed out the door. With the first leg of our long journey done and dusted, we felt that we were finally on our way and had every reason to be hopeful, that our flight to Los Angeles would depart before the predicted thunderstorms. That’s when Mr. Bill’s dormant super powers engaged. We were in for a weather walloping. We should have known better and perhaps should have warned our fellow travelers, that Mr. Bill attracts stormy weather. Mother Nature’s furious response to his departure brought Newark Airport to its knees, as she hurled her powerful “Bohemian Rhapsody ” thunderbolts and lightning, which were indeed very, very frightening. The sky turned black as night, the heavens opened, thunder roared louder than any jet and lightening flashes, revealed stranded planes on the tarmac. Flights were grounded and diverted as the storm raged around us. All this drama, because Mr. Bill had the temerity to leave, without a proper good bye.

Mr. Bill kept a low profile, as we waited out the storm. There was nothing to do but suffer through Mother Nature’s tantrum. No one suspected that the catalyst of this catastrophe, was among the stranded passengers in the crowded terminal. Yet each time Mr. Bill checked the departure board, a strange thing happened- our flight was further delayed. Time and again, our flight’s departure was pushed back, despite other planes taking off and landing. United Airlines pleaded for everybody’s patience; blaming the delay on the fact that our plane had arrived late from Frankfurt and required a custom’s check and thorough cleaning. However, we knew better and our lips were sealed. Eventually our flight to Los Angeles was called and we boarded, knowing that we’d miss our connecting flight to Auckland. The Lady had made her point.

We were relieved that we had booked our flight through Air New Zealand, for we knew from past experience, that if a problem occurs, Air New Zealand will sort it. Unfortunately, United Airlines turned out to be the weak link in the Star Alliance. While en route to Los Angeles, the flight attendants reassured all the passengers, who had missed their connecting flights, “that there would be someone waiting to assist them, once they had exited the plane”. Perfect! All sorted! Wrong. United Airlines idea of customer service falls far short of Air New Zealand’s. Whereas Air New Zealand dealt with missed connections, by distributing re-booked flight particulars to us while still on board, United’s method was to have a ‘helpful’ representative standing by the walkway, giving directions to Customer Service, with the caveat, that our documents would be there waiting for us. They were not. What awaited us at six in the morning our time, was more waiting. All the passengers who had missed their connections, now formed a weary queue in front of two equally tired customer service representatives. There was a collective gasp when one left, leaving just the one, to solve an entire plane load of problems. It wasn’t looking good. There was murmuring down the line, as we witnessed one couple being dismissed and a second couple leave upset. We quickly banded together, Aussies, Kiwis and Americans and planned a group strategy. Our demands were: new flights booked with boarding passes, accommodations for the night and food. Our leader was an Aussie who googled passenger’s rights on international’s flights. He loudly announced that, “United needed reminding, that they were acting as agents of Air New Zealand and they were obliged to treat Air New Zealand customers accordingly”. Time dragged. We could not help but wonder, as we watched the sole agent laboriously search for the next available flights, why wasn’t United prepared? They knew that they had a late arriving plane, filled with passengers who had missed their connections. Surely, we weren’t a surprise. Where were the promised documents? Eventually two more customer reps arrived and we broke into spontaneous applause, which caused one agent to smile and take a bow. The reinforcements were terrific and the line surged forward. Soon we were a merry band with new tickets in hand, on a shuttle bus to dreamland and it only took an hour. (Note to self-in the future pack a change of clothes in the carry-on bag.)

All stress was forgotten the following evening, as soon as we stepped aboard Air New Zealand Flight One and were greeted with a warm “Kia Ora”. Ah, Mr. Bill and I love flying Air New Zealand. The longer the flight the better. What could be more relaxing (not to mention romantic) than dinner and a movie, high above the clouds? Why a choice selection of New Zealand wines and Whittaker’s chocolate, of course! After our meal, Mr. Bill relaxes and sleeps like a baby, while I stay awake, binge watching all things Kiwi. We also experienced two, ‘only in New Zealand’ moments while on board. Our flight attendant announced that it was our pilot’s last flight. After forty-one years flying for Air New Zealand, our captain was retiring. They would be passing around a card and would all the passengers please sign? With pleasure! When we landed in Auckland, all on board clapped and wished the Captain well. There was another announcement, wishing a special little girl, a very happy sixth birthday. She had missed her birthday when the plane crossed the International Dateline and the calendar jumped forward by a day. More clapping! Truly, what charming, endearing people work for Air New Zealand.

Was our unplanned layover in LAX, penance for Mr. Bill changing hemispheres without first informing Mother Nature? Was all forgiven? I was more than a bit nervous. It was hard to tell, in the pre dawn darkness, when we touched down in Auckland, a day behind schedule. The tarmac was definitely glistening beneath the runway lights. Was that water on the asphalt? Ever the optimist, Mr. Bill decided that it wasn’t. Actually unlike me, Mr. Bill wasn’t giving the weather much thought, he was far more concerned about our checked bags. Had they made it? Yes! Before long they appeared in the luggage carousel and off we headed to customs. The line moved quickly and we beat the deadline, to check our bags for our flight to Tauranga. What luck, this had never happened before! We have always had to push our laden trolleys, from the International to the Domestic Terminal and check them there, for the last leg of our flight. Sweet As! Looking forward to fresh air and a pleasant walk between the terminals, for once unencumbered by our heavy suitcases, we stepped outside into a maelstrom. Wind driven rain pelted us. It had been noted, Mr. Bill had arrived.

Despite not being able to shake off the liquid sunshine since our return, we are never the less, thrilled to be back in Aotearoa. We have settled into a cozy bach on Ohope Beach and are positively giddy to have escaped the Big Dig back home. No more construction for us. Therefore, imagine our dismay, when we went grocery shopping at New World upon arriving and discovered the liquor department under renovation .

Oh no Mr. Bill!

Hello to Ohope.
The view is from our bach, which is what Kiwi’s call a beach cottage.
(It’s short for bachelor pad!)
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Living Down a Sunny Dirt Road

Mr. Bill’s peculiar super power of attracting cyclones has not gone unmarked in this blog. It cannot be denied that these powerful storms find Mr. Bill irresistible, pursuing him across the hemispheres like a jilted lover. The latest stalking ended with the bang of a cyclone bomb and we have been breathing easy ever since. Despite that grand finale, Mr. Bill was greeted a bit warily last year, upon our return to New Zealand. However, the Kiwi are good sorts and they welcomed the storm magnet back, knowing full well, that calamity might not be far behind. I’m sure more than one household stocked up on emergency supplies, when they heard that he was back in town. Much to our neighbor’s relief,  2018 was cyclone free. Soon recollections of Mother Nature’s frenzied pursuit of Mr. Bill from the Pacific to the Atlantic, faded from the collective memory.

tearing up the street while Bill watches from the  house.

Our paved street becomes a dirt road. Can you spot Mr. Bill?

Life with Mr. Bill is never dull. We returned to gentle Ohope only to discover it abuzz with the sounds and disruptions of construction. Our temporary shelter from the storm was being renovated and the roads were torn up as well. I can clearly see now, that what I mistakenly assumed was a one-off experience, was yet another manifestation of Mr. Bill’s unique super power. When Mr. Bill travels, he creates a vortex of chaotic repetition trailing close behind. Whatever we have just experienced, becomes Mr. Bill’s own Ground Hog Day time loop, which we relive over and over again. Renovation and construction have been dogging us ever since we bid dear Ohope farewell, last November. After a winter’s respite in Florida, we returned to Connecticut to experience anew the joys of both.

In our absence, plumber Rob, had located the source of the leak, which had damaged the family room ceiling and contractor David, had installed new sheet rock. My vacation was over; it was time to paint. Fortunately I had an indispensable assistant- Mr. Bill. Usually painting is my domain and I am quite happy working alone. On this project, however, I discovered more of Mr. Bill’s hidden talents. In addition to moving the ladder and wiping the odd paint drip, he helpfully pointed out every spot that I had missed. Every last one. Under Mr. Bill’s watchful eye, I then tackled the outside doors, since painter Joe, was a no-show. With expert supervision, the doors were caulked, sanded, primed and painted. Now I realize that the only impediment to perfection, is a lack of proper oversight. With Mr. Bill on site, there’s no fear, of a less than perfect outcome.

Brushes cleaned and stored for another day, renovations for this season were complete. Our road is another story. The construction that began in August 2108 is still on going, nearly a year later. Clearly Mr. Bill’s keen eye is needed! It’s impossible to understand the project’s helter skelter excavation and work processes at a snail’s pace. The pipes that will separate storm runoff from the sewer line, are not being laid one after  the other, as they were by the Ditch Witch in Ohope. Holes are scattered up and down the street. Our road resembles a giant ‘connect the dots’ drawing and we eagerly wait for the random holes to be linked together, so that the picture will emerge. If only we could have enticed the Ditch Witch to return with us to Connecticut. I am certain that she would have it all sorted by now. But wait! She’s here! One morning the Ditch Witch appeared on our doorstep and oh, what a sweet reunion it was! I had spied her out the window and excitedly called out to Mr. Bill, who dashed out the door. She was smaller, a mere shadow of her former self. Poor Dear, had she been pining away for Mr. Bill? Was she really here or was it an apparition, conjured by Mr. Bill’s desire to have his street paved? I was unconvinced that this was our Ditch Witch, for not only had she lost weight, she was shorter as well.  Baby Ditch? Heavens no! After a wee chat, Mr. Bill had all the answers: she was a distant relative of our gal and was not here on his behalf but to lay cable lines for our neighbors. Still, we were happy to make her acquaintance and asked to be remembered to our Ditch Witch.

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Together again!

In the meantime, the word was out about Mr. Bill’s observational skills and he was pressed into work by the water department. Before our return, the water department had flushed dye down our toilet, in an effort to determine where our sewer pipe connected to the city’s line. Then they  looked down the manhole in the street, to the left of our property and  waited for the colored water to reveal the location. Unfortunately, the water never trickled by and they could not determine were our waste water went.(Hmmm, for nigh on one hundred years, it has been going somewhere.) Flummoxed, they waited for Mr. Bill’s return, to enlist his help in solving the mystery. Again dye was flushed down the toilet but this time Mr. Bill, expert spotter, was on the job. He was handed a pair of gloves , bottle of dye and instructed to flush the toilet and run the water. After completing his task, Mr. Bill ambled down the driveway and out into the street to the open manhole, which this time, was two houses down on the right. Patiently he peered into the black abyss and eventually little green drops, that glowed in the dark, drifted past. Mystery solved. Now we know, we flow to the right!

2019 delivered a glorious June. It was the perfect pause between spring and summer, what New Englanders call, “good sleeping weather”. Windows are opened wide, the heat is off and air conditioning is not needed. This year, as the summer solstice approached, the days were pleasantly warm, nights were cool and humidity had not yet reared it’s sticky, sweaty head. What could possibly disturb our sweet dreams and mar the best slumber of the year? Loud rumbling diggers outside our bedchamber was what! Mornings were ushered in at the crack of dawn not by birdsong but by the sound of heavy machinery roaring to life. This was the first time that we actually welcomed a heat wave, for it meant we could  shut the windows, turn on the AC and enjoy a good sleep-in, once more.

Now like the Berenstain Bears, we live down a sunny dirt road. We cheered when the asphalt was stripped from the street, thinking that the roadwork was nearly finished. Sadly, our celebration was premature. The excavators have returned and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, to the Big Dig. Residents have been informed by the project’s spokesman, that by mid August, they should  be able to announce a completion date. However, Dear Readers, as we all know by now, it’s entirely dependent upon Mr. Bill’s strange super power. I can predict with confidence, that the street will be restored, once Mr. Bill has taken his leave.

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Progress

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The Ditch Witch

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The Ditch Witch arrives for work in Ohope Beach

She’s here! She’s here! The Ditch Witch is in Florida! And it appears, that she is enjoying a busman’s holiday in the Sunshine State.

Not long ago, Mr. Bill returned panting from his daily jog. It was excitement and not exertion that had left him breathless; he had thrilling news to share. In fact, what he had to tell me was so astonishing, he didn’t waste any time playing, “You’ll Never Guess”. Gasping, he blurted out that he had just run past the Ditch Witch on Ryder Cup Boulevard. “Me too, me too”! My excitement matched Mr. Bill’s and I could not help but top him by adding ,” I took her picture”!

Now, you may well wonder why a piece of construction equipment, sparks such passion in two otherwise calm individuals, from the Land of Steady Habits? It’s easy to explain. The last time that we saw the Ditch Witch, she was toiling away in Ohope Beach, New Zealand and all things connected to The Land of the Long White Cloud, makes us happy.

Once again Mr. Bill and I are on the move. We are joining the queue of snow birds heading north. However, I wouldn’t mind hitching a ride on the Ditch Witch’s big broom.

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The Ditch Witch on vacation in Palm Beach Gardens

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A Hot Mess

 

My Tormentors Pounding on My Roof

Our upstairs neighbors

 

This story is for Allen and it’s a story I never intended to write. However, after regaling Allen with my ‘loo misadventures’ he roared with laughter and urged me to tell the tale. How could I not oblige him? With apologies for the long wait between blog posts, here it is per Allen’s request

Mr. Bill and I had stopped to bid our first landlords, Allen and Mara, a fond farewell on the morning we left Ohope for Florida. Allen and Mara were also pulling up sticks; they had sold their home on Pohutukawa Avenue and were busy sorting and packing when we dropped in to say goodbye. “Why haven’t you written anything new lately”? Allen demanded. My answer to his query was a groan. Moaning more, I explained that I had found it impossible to write my blog while living in a construction site and besides; I didn’t wish to write a snarky blog. We love living at Beachpoint and it was unfortunate and unavoidable, that our recent stay there happened to coincide with renovations. Construction, like the stuff that bears leave in the woods, happens. I had complained ad nauseam to poor Mr. Bill and my friends; I didn’t wish to bore the pants off my readers, as well. Yet life on site wasn’t all doom and gloom, there were moments of hilarity and with a little distance, one can always see the humor in a trying situation.

All was fine and dandy up on the fourth floor, when we were cocooned in our winter headquarters, otherwise known as Flat 39. We had returned to Ohope in late July, surprised to discover the front section of Beachpoint sheathed in plastic and surrounded by scaffolding. Our apartment lay inaccessible beyond the barricades. Renovations were well underway, the tradies were hard at work but an exceptionally wet winter had delayed the project’s completion. Temporarily displaced, we moved into number 39 and waited for the big reveal. High above the fray, we were not impacted by the bustle beneath us and we resumed our morning routine undisturbed. Mr. Bill left for the hospital promptly at a quarter to eight and after waving goodbye from the balcony, I would settle myself with a cup of coffee at the computer and begin writing. Construction which commenced by 7:30 a.m., filled the air with a rhythmic background track. A gentle rat, tat, tat, in synch with the tap, tap, tap on the keyboard, produced a productive tune. Words flowed, stories were posted and Allen was happy.

All good things come to an end and eventually the first phase was completed, with the exception of the roof. Health and Safety signed off and the refuges were allowed to return home, as work on the roof continued. When told that construction would be on going, while we were living beneath, I shrugged unconcerned and said that wouldn’t be a problem. After all, it wasn’t my first rodeo. It certainly had not been a big deal, when we had our roof replaced back in Connecticut. Honestly, how bad could it be? I found out the next morning, when I sat on the toilet.

We had shifted apartments on a Sunday and right on schedule that first Monday morning, Mr. Bill left for work. When I stepped onto the balcony to wave goodbye as usual, I waved good morning to the tradies as well. For some strange reason never explained, work began later at the beginning of the week, which is why Mr. Bill’s morning ablutions, on that fateful day were undisturbed and may I add with envy, private ; whereas I had company. Sitting on the loo, I was startled to hear loud male voices directly overhead. Looking up through the skylight above the toilet, I spied a pair of roofers setting up for the day. Their shadows fell across me as they walked around the skylight, which was slated for removal. Instead of blue sky above, my view was of men wearing short-shorts and construction boots (standard Kiwi work attire for tradies), kneeling around the opening. They commenced drilling. Living in The Commonwealth made me wonder, what would the Queen do? Should the privacy of her throne be breeched, no doubt her knights in shining armor, would rush in to defend her honor but sadly, my chivalrous Mr. Bill was long gone. With no hope of a rescue from the awkward situation, there was nothing to do but pretend that I was one of Her Majesty’s subjects and “Keep Calm and Carry On”. At least there was music. The tradies blasted their radio, all the better to hear above the whine of their power drills and as I stepped into the shower, I was serenaded by Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’. Who says there are no co-incidences in life?

Thus began my winter of coping. I would last a few hours in the apartment in the morning doing my daily chores, before the din would set my teeth on edge. I tried but found it impossible to write and I sought refuge outdoors. Fleeing the premises on the granny bike, I took longer and longer rides, taking the time to stop and talk to all the sheep and cows, along my route. I tried timing my rides to end, when the crew stopped for their tea or lunch breaks, in order to get a little writing done. That brilliant plan was thwarted however, when they began staggering their breaks. As they say, timing is everything. On one unfortunate day, I returned too late to rescue my clean laundry, which I had left drying outside on the balcony. As I peddled past the apartment homeward bound, I was aghast to discover that a worker was power washing the roof. Sheets of filthy water were cascading over the roof’s edge, onto my smalls below. Following that incident, I gave up on solar power and used the dryer, never knowing when dirt and debris would be blown off the roof.

After cycling, with the mornings behind me but hours yet to go before quitting time, I devised various ways to escape the afternoon’s barrage of noise. My getaway plans included long walks on the beach, capped by a hike over the hill to Otarawaiere Cove, where I would chat with ‘Lobster Man’, to delay my return. I went for coffee at The Quay and Moxie’s, staying until their winter closing time of 3pm. On one such afternoon, I wiled away the final hours of sunlight, sitting at a picnic table in Mahy Reserve, working on my laptop. That went well until the gulls shat on the keyboard. When the Whakatane Writers met, Keturah was my rescue ranger, giving me a lift into town. Desperate to attend the meeting but unable to write something new, I shamelessly submitted a story, that was penned long before I joined the group. I even went to doctors appointments that weren’t mine. I gladly tagged along on Gavin’s trip to the dentist in Tauranga and to Linda’s GP visits in town. It was heavenly- at least for me.

By far the best diversion was ‘Lunch with Linda’. Once a week, Linda would pick me up in her flash car and off we’d go to lunch, the further afield the better. Naturally, there was shopping afterwards (Poor Mr. Bill!). When Cathy and Julie were free to join us, the Great Escape became a Hen Party and I forgot all about the racket back home.

I did my best to be a good sort and not complain but fell far short of the mark. Returning home each evening, Mr. Bill would thrown caution to the wind when he asked, “How bad was the noise today”? On the worst day (there always is a breaking point) the construction noise was deafening, as it reverberated around the building in stereo. Workers were pounding and drilling overhead, while simultaneously the cement walkways across from our apartment, were being jack hammered. At day’s end, Mr. Bill was alarmed to discover, not a wife but a hot mess waiting for him. He gently asked, “Do you want me to book you an early flight home”? I blurted out, “Yes”!  Shocked into silence, we stood there stunned, looking miserably at one another. Had I really said that? In a flash, sanity returned. The mere thought of being separated from Mr. Bill was too much to bear. Bucking up, I shook my head and announced, “No. I’m staying. I can’t go back early. Who would cook for you? Who would do your laundry”? To that Mr. Bill  put on a brave face and said that he would manage. No, I simply could not leave Mr. Bill, not ever. No matter how besieged I felt, no decibel-shattering disturbance could part us, for I travel with Mr. Bill, not without.

Now all is glorious again, bright, shinny and fresh at Beachpoint. We left in November, three week’s shy of the completion of the project’s first phase. Although we didn’t get a chance to cheer the sound of silenced power tools, we were none the less glad to leave the mess and stress of construction behind. Little did we know that it wasn’t the end of our construction woes but merely a brief reprieve. After enjoyed a fleeting idyll in Florida, we headed north to Connecticut and straight into a construction zone!

Our street was a disaster. Ripped open from end to end, a huge construction project to separate storm run off water from the sewer lines, made the road nearly impassable. Closed to through traffic, Mr. Bill drove around the police barricades to reach our home,  managing to avoid the worst of the potholes. Surveying our street, at first glance it seemed that we had gone from the frying pan into the fire. Soon we realized, that however frustrating the daily detours and delays were, it was blessedly quiet. In the absence of passing cars, the only road noise was the sound of the diggers rumbling down the street, heralding the beginning and end of each work day. Extremely bearable. There were no men stomping on the roof and only the sun and the stars, were visible through the bathroom skylight. Ah, pure bliss. Alone at last. Undisturbed we resumed our morning routine, sleeping in after staying up late.

Did I begin writing again, now that there were no impediments to the creative process? No, not a chance. Christmas was coming and in the words of our five year old grandson Billy, there was a lot to do. Now all Mr. Bill and I needed to get cracking, was a little noise- Christmas carols!

Noisemakers

A little privacy please- they covered the skylight!

Hard at Work

Tea time upon the roof

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A high five from the painters

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Kiwis are always polite

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Lobster Man!

Blocking Our View

Last glimpse of Whale island before the scaffolding was covered in plastic

 

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Separating waste water from the sewer lines

The Digger gets a Police Escort!

A police escort for the digger

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