Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Firebirds Burn

We made an early start back to Wellington on Tuesday morning as we wanted to get home and then get back out again to go to the basin reserve, there to see the Wellington Firebirds take on the Central Stags in a a game of Twenty20 cricket. It was a lovely day for it, with sun shining and only a few clouds in the sky, but noticeably cooler than in Wairarapa the previous day (where I later found out temperatures had reached 32˚C).

One of the highlights of the game was watching Muttiah Murilatharan, who has joined the Firebirds as their overseas player this season. He duly went on to take 3 for 18, and the Firebirds bowled out the opposition for 155 in the final over, setting an eminently achievable target of 156 to win. Unfortunately they’d lost wicket keeper and batsman Gerry Ryder in the second over of the match, so their batting order was under pressure from the start; and with an entirely preventable run-out, had soon fallen to 49 for 4. Now, run-outs are nearly always foolish, but to make the distance but not have your bat grounded seems like a big mistake to me.

As the bowling ground on, the required run rate stretched further away from them – 8 an over, 10 an over, 12 an over, and with wickets falling regularly they were bowled out with the final ball, 25 runs shy of the target. This is, regrettably, to be expected of the Firebirds, who aren’t the greatest team, and don’t seem to be able to make the big overs needed to get ahead of the run rate. Whilst some of their batsmen did seem to get stuck into the bowling, too often the ball seemed to go straight to the fielders, so what looked like a good strike of the ball ended up with one run added to the total.

They’re playing another home game today, against unbeaten-so-far (and last year’s winners) Auckland Aces. I don’t fancy their chances much.


We had decided to let someone else take the strain this Christmas, and booked ourselves into a hotel in Masterton, in the Wairarapa region. Wairarapa is just over the Rimutaka mountains, which lie between Wellington and most of the rest of the country.

We arrived around mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and after unloading our stuff in the hotel, drove into Masterton for a look around. Most places had already closed early for Christams Eve, so we didn’t spend much time there, just long enough to walk up and down the main street.

On Christmas day we had a big breakfast, then drove out to Mount Holdsworth for a walk up the mountains in the sunshine. As we were equipped with nothing but a water bottle we decided to take the easy walks rather than the longer ones, but even so spent a couple of hours on the mountains in the woods and by the river.

Afterwards we returned and made use of the spa pool in the hotel, bore having Christmas dinner in the evening – turkey, ham and salad, with nary a Brussels sprout in sight.

On Boxing Day we drove out to Lake Wairarapa, with the intention of walking around there. Unfortunately it isn’t really geared up for walking around, and is almost surrounded by private farmland. There was one bit where we were able to get down to the lake to have a look around, where we were followed around by a black chicken, clearly a resident of the area as it didn’t seem to be at all shy.

We then drove into Martinborough to visit a couple of vineyards, stopping off first at the i-site to check which ones were open. We visited the Schubert vineyard and acquired some of their Pinot Noir, then went on to the Haythornthwaite vineyard where we sampled their rosé and various styles of gewürtztraminer. Having made our purchases, we headed back into central Martinborough for a spot of lunch. Unfortunately the café that had been recommended to us at Haythornthwaite was closed on Boxing Day, so we went to the Martinborough café instead and had salad and antipasti. It was a baking hot day –   temperatures always get much higher in Wairarapa than in Wellington in Summer – so we were grateful to find a table in the shade in the courtyard.

Lake Wairarapa

Pimp Your Pod

As part of our “get in the mood for Christmas”, our floor ran a “pimp your pod” competition, with a prize for the best-decorated pod. Our work space is divided up into sections, or “pods” of four people each, who sit facing out into the corners of their pod.

The pod next to us started out early, making snowflakes from paper to hang from the ceiling. It is a strange feature of the Southern hemisphere Christmas that, despite it being sunny and warm, decorations still feature snow and reindeer and the familiar trappings of the Northern hemisphere tradition. There’s even a television advert that features“Walking in a Winter Wonderland” despite it being the middle of summer.

Over the next few days, other pods started on their decorations, with balloons, streamers, and a chimney variously being constructed. When we were asked what we were doing in our pod, I held up a piece of tinsel (about ½” long) and said “here, that’s what we’re doing”. We didn’t actually say “bah! Humbug!”

’Twas the night before judging, and all over the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a…wait, what’s that? The three members of the pod turned up after work and, with the assistance of one Santa’s helper, decorated the pod with green tissue paper, wrapping paper, and a sign saying “Beery Christmas” (made up of letters from logos of various beer brands), and the pièce de résistance, the beer tree (topped with a green teddy beer).

When people arrived for work the next morning, then, they were presented with the fruits of our labours (as we have the pod right next to the door, they couldn’t help but notice it). The beer tree drew many comments.

And so it came to the judging. Two judges, the heads of the two departments on our floor, judged based on effort and imagination. We felt that with our beer tree and our themed decorations, we were in with a  fighting chance…and so it turned out, as we took the first prize, a $100 restaurant voucher.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clear And Present Manger

On Friday night we headed out straight after work for dinner and a show.

Back in June, Cuisine NZ announced the 50 finalists in its restaurant of the year awards. 50 restaurants were named, 10 of which were in Wellington. Some of these we knew and had visited, other names were new to us, so we had decided on a programme of visiting all of them. Logan Brown was for once absent from the list - but this was due to their chef being one of the judges rather than anything to do with the quality of their food. One of the Wellington finalists (and eventual runner-up in the awards) was The Ambeli - a modern European bistro on Majoribanks Street. So we decided to go there for dinner before the show.

After a brief discussion with John, the maitre d' and sommelier, I decided to let him choose the wines to accompany my starter of vine leaf-wrapped quail and main of fillet steak. This is because he often has wines that are not shown on the list (either at all, or not by the glass), as he may be trying them out, (as was the case with the red I tried), or had opened one at lunchtime. Unfortunately we had  to depart in a bit of a rush to catch the show, and so I wasn't able to have a full discussion about the wines with John. However, we had a quick chat, the upshot of which was that next time we go there I'll have a glass of wine on the house, and maybe a bit more time to enjoy them!

We dashed out to make sure we didn't get left out of the show, which was on at the Downstage Theatre just across the road. The show, Clear And Present Manger, is Raybon Kan's Christmas show, in which he gives his unique take on anything and everything Christmassy. His humour is more observational (and a little bit ranty at times) so raised chuckles and titters rather than side-splitting hilarity.

Shake, Rattle And Roll

On Saturday we took our first "proper" ballroom dancing medal. The medals that we've taken so far have all been in the "social" category - for bronze, you do two dances, for silver, three, and for gold, four. However, the standard of dancing does not need to be very high to gain a pass - in fact it's rumoured that you get a score of 90 just for showing up for the first one! The Ballroom class includes waltz, foxtrot, quickstep and tango. For the bronze level, we do waltz and foxtrot, as we've been doing these dances almost from the beginning, and we're now trying to improve our technique rather than learn the steps to these dances. The tests were running late when we got there (as always seems to be the case - an instance of Hofstader's law in action?) and we were just able to get in before they decided to take lunch.

In the evening we went to the social dance, which is usually arranged for the same day as the medal tests so that badges and certificates can be presented in the evening. We'd arranged with a few of our contemporaries to meet up beforehand at a Chinese restaurant nearby, before proceeding to the dance in the Whitireia Performance Centre, our usual venue. It was while we were dining here that the earth moved - quite a significant rumble (magnitude 5.7, we found out later, and the most severe earthquake in the region since 1966). We joked about it, as you do, and then finished our dinner.

At the dance we were presented with our bronze medals and certificates, together with the examiners' comments. I guess the time has now come to start paying some proper attention to these in order to improve our dancing style. Still scoring in the Highly Commended category, but at the bottom end of the score range these days instead of the top. I definitely need to work on some aspects of my dance before I attempt another medal. We are, however, increasingly confident at the social dances and can tackle most of the dances that are available. We are planning to take our dancing out "into the wild" again in the new year.

On Thursday morning of the following week, we were once again visited by the earthquake gods - this time with a relatively minor 4.2, which I missed because I was at street level. When I got back to the office I found out about it - but then, you always feel them more when you're on the 7th floor.