This month, I threw together the last of my pottery. Unlike the others in the class, I had very little experience and almost no natural ability. This was how things went:
There is a government-backed committment to make New Zealand predator free by 2050 and Kiwis are being encouraged to trap and kill predators in their own backyard. The focus is on rats, possums and stoats, but they would also like to see the back of hedgehogs. I have to admit I couldn't bear to kill the two hedgehogs we found in the sump last summer. Hedgehogs are dying out in the UK but it seems they are thriving here.
We have however been trapping rats. We have 12 traps in the attic that Duncan checks on a regular basis and there are now 6 dead rats buried in the garden. Until recently I had three trap tunnels baited with peanut butter and set up around the house to catch rats. These didn't catch any rats, only sweet little field mice (which are also an invasive species).
Although I didn't like it, I continued trapping these poor mice until one of the traps caught and killed a sparrow. Another "exotic" species, but that was a the last straw for me and I've stopped using those traps for now.
Another month has whizzed by, we're well into Autumn and we have been busy working on the house and garden while the good weather continued. Fortunately, the veranda was replaced before the weather turned wet this week. I'm also happy to report that I no longer get seasick going off to bed as the house has been re-levelled and new piles put in to keep it level-ish.
This week, I have been working on the illustrations for Chapter 13 of the second FAB Club book. By the next Epistle the drawing should be finished, which will ease the deadline pressure somewhat.
I've also been busy running cartoon workshops in Lyttelton. The first was in the library with kids aged 7-12. They were enthusiastic and engaged and it was very rewarding to see how much their drawing developed in a couple of hours. The second was at a youth club that catered to 11-14 year olds. We started with about a dozen kids and ended up with four! All of them were the younger ones who weren't distracted by their peers. It was a good learning experience for me.
I think that peer pressure in the early teens is a big factor in which interests we take up. Most kids give up drawing at this point, believing that their drawing isn't good enough to impress their friends. I was lucky at that age to have friends who loved to write and draw and we created comics to entertain each other. Without that encouragement, I might have given up too, as I don't find that drawing comes naturally to me and I have to work at it. It is the reason I give myself deadlines in order to develop my work. Doodle Diary on gocomics.com forces me to to draw at least three sketches of my life every week, many of which debut in the Epistle.
Hiking in New Zealand With Our Dog
I discovered that Oxford Forest allows dogs, plus the tracks take you through native forest (you can see photos on a previous post) with the sound of bellbirds all around.
It had been years since I had done an overnight walk and camp and I consulted my essential tramping list to make sure I didn't forget anything:
- Down sleeping bag (I HATE being cold), silk liner, mat, tent
- boots, lightweight shoes, walking poles (I used to scoff at these, but they really prevent you becoming tired)
- cap, raincoat, warm hat, gloves, down jacket
- lightweight towel, two sets of underwear, merino t-shirt, merino long shirt, two fleeces, trousers, leggings, (maybe) shorts, Buff scarf
- glasses, contact solution, ear plugs, toothbrush & paste, deodorant (longer trips), medical kit, sunscreen, insect repellent
- rubber bands, headlamp (I have one that takes rechargeable AA batteries), camera, phone
- matches, fork & spoon, camp cookware, plate, penknife, cooker, gas, water bottle
- book, notepad and pencil/pen, cards (if I'm going to be in a hut with other people)
- tea, nuts & raisins (or trail mix, if I've been organised. Not on this trip.), crackers, salami, cheese, prunes, 2 minute noodles, tuna, chocolate, ginger nuts (the only biscuit that is nearly indestructible)
It was a nice short tramp, taking just over an hour to hike to the beautiful Ryde Falls where we camped for the night. The night was cold, but starry and we wore nearly all our layers and shared a lot of red wine (part of Duncan's essential packing list) to keep warm. Billie retreated to the fleece blanket in the tent.
Billie is much improved after last month's scare. He is still walking like a drunk and did fall down a small bank on the walk but he was happy and acted like he did on the Coast to Coast, barking at us to get going if we stopped for more than 5 minutes. Which was fine as the sandflies would turn up after that. Maori legend has it that sandflies were created to keep people from being idle and it feels that way when you are tramping.
This is an excerpt from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up at the bottom of this page, or here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do):
Having a Dog in New Zealand
When my partner, Duncan, and our Jack Russell, Billie, headed off on our extended cultural sabbatical 9 years ago, Billie was 5 years old and packed full of energy. He travelled everywhere with us and, at the age of 9, he walked nearly 200 miles on the UK’s Coast to Coast. When we left Spain last year, we said we were moving back to NZ to settle down and for Billie to enjoy his retirement. I think if Billie had had any say in the matter he would have chosen to retire in the Basque Country where he had snacks on tap - going out four or five nights a week to stroll around the pincho bars was his idea of heaven. But, after a 24 hour flight and the shock of 10 days of quarantine, Billie adjusted to being back here. When we left New Zealand it was very hard to go anywhere with a dog. Coming back we found that things had changed. The 2014 Food Act made it legal for bars and cafes to allow dogs on the premises, which was something that has always been the case in the UK and much of Europe (though not in Australia). Billie fitted back in faster than we did and soon learned where all the best snacks were to be had (Spooky Boogie, Civil & Naval and Fat Tony’s).
At 14, Bill hasn’t lost much of his energy. He still wants to chase the tennis ball up and down the hallway after dinner and he goes nuts when the three of us head out on a walk. So it was a real shock last week when he fell off the couch, stumbled about and started hyperventilating.
We thought he might be having a stroke or may have been poisoned.
We have a problem with trap-savvy rats and were going to poison them until a friend told us how rats can stash the poison to eat later and that stash can be found by your dog. Also, New Zealand is the only country I know of that still uses 1080 poison. Because NZ has few native mammals, 1080 is left in areas of native bush to control rodents and possums, but many dogs get caught in the crossfire.
We rushed Billie to the vet and she reassured us that he probably hadn’t been poisoned, nor was having a stroke. He was diagnosed as having geriatric vestibular disease. At 70 dog years old (x5 for small dogs) our Jack Russell is now officially old. His disorder is caused by build up of crystals in the inner ear. It can cause a range of problems including a loss of balance and, in his case, eyes flicking all over the place accompanied by general weirdness. It can resolve on its own in a couple of weeks so we have our fingers crossed.
This is an excerpt from my Illustrated Epistle, which goes out in the middle of the month. It is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a cartoonist (specifically, mine). You can sign up at the bottom of this page, or here (and unsubscribe if you don’t like it, or even if you do, though that would be a bit daft, as how many emails do you get that you actually enjoy reading?):