Monday, June 26, 2006

Guest Blog: Country Ice

Photograph and Commentary By Country Bumpkin
There are people in the deep South Island of New Zealand who still have no electricity two weeks after the first snowstorm of the season came through. Now the second one is in its final stages, and today there were no roads open between Auckland and Wellington, which means Auckland was cut off. The cold and the wet and the misery of it all are at least a month early. Readers will vividly recall my descriptions over the last few years of trying to drive to Auckland in July, of which the first week is statistically the coldest of the year.
You can imagine what all this is doing to our stock of firewood, and it’s been so humid and windless for 3 or 4 months now that wood which was delivered dry has absorbed moisture again, which means it will neither burn properly nor give much heat. I called in my firewood merchant for a consultation, since he had guaranteed the wood would be satisfactory, and he helped me stack the worst of it outside the woodshed, where the green mould is slowly drying to grey.
The clinging moisture means that the ground doesn’t dry out either, and hasn’t for many weeks. Pity the poor cats, who in their fastidious misery have to defecate where they can, and a popular choice has been the thin coat of gravel under my carport and right in front of the woodshed door. A moment’s inattention has the most unpleasant consequences, and I spend a few minutes every morning scooping poop and hurling it into a waste area in the garden, where I expect there will shortly be a tonne of the stuff. Maybe we’re over-feeding them.

In some ways the most unpleasant effect is that which afflicts the journalists who bring the country’s closed roads and sliding traffic to our early evening screens. In that world there is no such thing as a blizzard or a snowstorm. Instead there is a blast, and it can be polar, icy or wintry. There is never ice on the highway, but icy conditions, or wet conditions or hazardous conditions. This relentless search for adjectives is a right pain in the arm, and is comparable with such tautological excrescences as a torrential downpour, and a raging torrent. Then there’s war-torn Serbia, or strife-torn East Timor (the latter a slightly lesser degree of conflict, I assume) and I wish, oh how I wish, these darned people would stop trying to sex up a perfectly good story. Adjective me not!!!! Stop!!!

This edition of Country Life comes to you from my near-new Apple Intel-duo iMac, which I bought through the auction site TradeMe (recently sold by its founder to the Fairfax Group for upwards of $700 million) in a quick, responsible and thoroughly principled transaction with a foreign student living in Auckland. It’s a gorgeous piece of new technology, though more complex than Apple technology of the past. Big, sharp screen, very very fast, mildly confusing. And of course quite a lot of my old and perfectly serviceable software doesn’t work, so now I use two computers, this one and the old one which has a new home in my wife’s office.

My Number 1 grandson has long had an interest in theatre and film, and the other week he and a troupe from his school made it to the finals of the inter-secondary schools Shakespeare competition. His troupe performed a 15-minute cameo from "Hamlet", which seemed to be full of well-known quotations (“To sleep, perchance to dream”), and was quite stunning. I had to be reminded by my son that the last time I saw Shakespeare live was when he played in "Taming Of The Shrew", all those years ago in high school. My grandson’s crowd did very well, and are going on to further competitions, and if these go well he may get an all-expenses trip to see the restored Globe Theatre in London. Imagine that.

Keeping warm in our house involves a fireplace, as you already know, and a system to pump the unusable surplus heat in the ceiling to the back of the house. In this weather it does very little good, and I feel a heat-exchanger system coming on, but the point is that when the temperature reaches a pre-set level in the living room a thermostat flicks a switch to turn on the blower of the heat transfer system.

The other week, the thermostat died, and the fan stayed on no matter what the temperature. It took at least eight phone calls to find an electrician to come and look, and finally one turned up and removed the dead appliance to order a new one. A week later someone turned up and installed a new Honeywell, and it rapidly became clear it was the wrong one for the job. Instead of switching on the fan when the temperature rose, it switched it on when the temperature fell. Another phone call and a clever young man came and reversed a couple of wires. No change. Another phone call. Nothing. Another, with the gas turned up a little. Still nothing. Another call today. Only the voicemail this time; the receptionist wasn’t even there.

These sound for all the world like the symptoms of a firm gone bust. If it’s so there are consequences, because they are said to have the electrical contract for a big supermarket development at the south end of town. I for one will stop dicking around now and call in someone else. If anyone claims it the electrician can have the new thermostat back, and meanwhile I’ll use it by flicking the little manual switch on the front panel.

If they haven’t gone to the wall, the whole performance can be put down to the Wairarapa way of doing business, I suppose.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s too cold.

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Country Bumpkin's recent guest blogs include Country Living & Country Coincidences and Country Pudding. You can read them here and here.

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