I was working in the keep the other morning when I turned in my chair and saw a large grey shape in the doorway and thought, [EXPLETIVES], that is one big [EXPLETIVES] rat!

Then it lopped away at my big girly gasp which roused The Dog and The Puppy, and after some running and hopping and hiding, the interloper was captured alive.

Nice one, Stu.
The interloper, dubbed Stu, in captivity.

We’re not sure how the rabbit got into the fortress. Presuming it gained entry through the cat flap by the dining hall, it made it past our presumably sleeping guard hounds (their performance against their KPIs will be noted accordingly) to reach the keep which is at the opposite end of the building. I suspect The Kitten brought it in for some playtime but the rabbit is unmarked.

Anyhoo, we have a rabbit in Fortress Mamea. And it’s a cutie.


Tight Spot

Now that the cavalry element have settled on the same property as The Goddess, they’ve been finding ways to make mischief. The Exmoor Mini in particular has provided entertainment (for me, at least; The Goddess, not so much) by having her own ideas about how things should be done. One of those things is the paddock to which she is allocated at any given time.

I totally understand her modus operandi:

  1. arrive in new paddock with quiet excitement;
  2. hoover up all easily grazeable (?) grass;
  3. do a second, slower, pass of the paddock to eat remaining grass;
  4. patiently find opportunities to look meaningfully at human captors;
  5. when captors don’t bend to one’s will, wait for dark to make alternate arrangements;
  6. greet captors from outside allocated paddock the following morning.

Most times, her alternate arrangements are awesomely worth it. (Luckily, there are enough fences and gates on the new Fortress Mamea lands that she can’t hurt herself.)

Some times, things don’t quite work out.

The Exmoor Pony in a bit of a tight spot.
The Exmoor Mini on the edge: those luscious dark green leaves behind her hide a sharp two-metre drop into the stream.

Same thing with my projects: some take off; some don’t.

I’m in the process of mothballing a project I’ve poured 250 hours* and a good amount of money into since late last year. I’m consoling myself that I’m mothballing it rather than scrubbing it: I’ll learn what I can from the circumstances of its being mothballed, and try again next year.

Meantime, I’ve got a couple of other projects — including Kingswood which has attracted some interest** — that I’ve been itching to get on with.

I can’t help thinking that if this had happened a few years back, all writing would have sulkily ceased, this blog would have gone black be very quiet (yet again), and The Goddess would be girding herself to smack some sense (yet again) into the sighing hairy blob in a corner of the keep***.

I daren’t suggest that I might be maturing in this writing gig. But tight spots like this are no longer the catastrophic failures they used to feel like. They’re 1). a learning opportunity, and 2). time to spend elsewhere.


* Damn straight I keep a worksheet of how I spend my time.

** I know! Actual outside-family-and-friends interest!

*** The Goddess doesn’t smack me about, not even figuratively. She’s pretty good like that.


Dog Cuts

Back in the Big Smoke, The Dog and I had a basic three-mile running route that I called, with writerly flair, the fleur-de-lis.

Fleur-de-lis: ‘X’ marks the start and finish point.

(I’ve just remembered I usually referred to it as the cloverleaf route but fleur-de-lis has a certain ring, yes?)

The first iteration of Fortress Mamea being in suburbia, the route followed roads and was all asphalt, so the dog ran on a lead. (We had another couple of routes, five and seven miles respectively, in the Waitakere Ranges where she could run off-lead.) The routes and distances were fixed, and for over a decade we ran those three, five and seven mile distances together.

The current Fortress Mamea is on a piece of land large enough to allow the dog — and The Puppy, now — to run off-lead without worrying about automobiles or newly-relocated townies who think all dogs should be on leads with muzzles. After a few months of getting to know the property, we have a running route that I have dubbed the corazón.

Corazón: I know the heart-shape only really applies to the loop-de-loop on the left there but most of my running time is spent in The Wood.

The corazón runs through two wooded areas (The Wood and The Copse) that are separated by paddocks, meadows, and the fortress itself. The running surface includes long grass (that can obscure uneven terrain), half-hidden tree roots (that can still catch a foot or toe), and loose sticks (that can stick, stab or trip you up). The wooded areas are pretty cool to run through (they make me flash on the opening minutes of Silence of the Lambs) — check it:

The Wood: from within.

At first, The Dog ran the full route with The Puppy and I.

Lately, she has taken to running more efficiently:

Corazon: with dog cuts.

For me, my fitness regime of, in effect, running around in circles, is more of a journey-rather-than-the-destination kind of thing.

For her, it’s a social thing: she still gets to run (mostly) (kind of) with the pack. Since she has twelve years and several thousand kilometres under her collar, I think she’s entitled to conserve her energy for other pursuits.

Photo1281 - Version 2


Mammoth (and some housekeeping)

Housekeeping here.

First, my apologies for the cliffhangers — in case you were wondering:

  • the buggered burnerDave the Chimney Sweep rebuilt the burner and re-installed it a fortnight later. The time we were without heating was survived with little incident and few cross words, thanks to an oil column heater in the smallest room, and a steady supply of hot water bottles.
  • the blown B1: this, too, needed a stint in a workshop, but The Boys from McQuinn’s were terribly helpful with a loan pump to keep the water flowing, and generous with their patience and knowledge (like I said, the people up this way are helpful and friendly).
  • the correspondence of D F Mamea, Esquire, newly of Northland: those situation reports are of much interest to myself and The Goddess but I bet they are of little interest to you, Beloved Reader — you’re here because I’m (supposed to be) all about the scriptwriting, and the last few posts, as entertaining as they may be, haven’t really been about that; I thank you for your forbearance.

Having said all that about the relevance of our new digs to writing…

The previous inhabitants had let the property go to seed in various areas (q.v. burner and B1), the most visible sign being the establishment of Jerusalem cherry through The Wood and in the Green Zone. Although its green, orange and red fruit provide a splash of colour, its fruit is rather poisonous.

Solanum pseudocapsicum04.jpg
Solanum pseudocapsicum04” by Paul venterOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

So, most days since we took possession of this land, I’ve been pulling that weed out by hand (Fortress Mamea is organic, thank you). It’s a simple enough job, mindless and repetitive (and immediately gratifying) but because a considerable part of the property is under this weed, it’s also an awfully immense task.

The only way to handle the size of the task at hand has been to a). prioritise the workload, and/or b). do it a bit at a time. Since the weed is fruiting right now, the priority is to pull out whatever’s fruiting because each of those fruit contain at least a dozen seeds, and any one plant can have as much several dozen fruit on them. Sometimes that gets boring — or overwhelming — so I stake out a little 5 by 5 metre area and pull out all of the Jerusalem cherry, and afterwards stand back and feel a little bit like General Sherman.

Which is a typically long-winded way of saying… I’ve started writing again.

The move to Northland, and the work required to tidy up the property and its surrounds for clear fields of fire, have consumed much more of my mind and energy than I expected. The blog posts — as you can tell — have been more about the new circumstances rather than trying to see the writing angle in things.

But I’ve started writing again. Which meant I had to dig out my notes and files to try and remember where I’m at with various projects. Some projects are so large and/or complex that I’ve had to prioritise my method of reacquaintanceship, or nibble at the edges to make sense of a small part of it. It feels a little overwhelming — a bit like a patient coming out of a coma and trying to come to terms with the time lost — but it’s manageable. I can prioritise. Or I can start small.

Just like with the damned Jerusalem cherry.



Mod Cons

Relocating Fortress Mamea to a rural location means a little bit of doing without. Cellphone reception is spotty — upon departing the property, cellphones tend to trill with backlogged txts and messages. Our nearest neighbour is over a hundred yards away (in Auckland, our neighbour’s garage was five yards away). And our water comes from… a water tank on the property.

Yep, when it comes to water, we’re off the grid. Rain water is collected and stored in a large concrete tank, with the idea of collecting it over a wet Northland winter, and stretching it out over the drier months. Long, hot showers are being enjoyed while it’s raining outside; come summer, navy showers will be de rigeur. Water closet discipline is observed as a matter of course.

Between the living quarters and the water tank is a pump that, y’know, gets water from the tank to the tap or shower head.

The B1
The Daveys B1 pump.

I don’t know if I’ve owned up to this before but The Goddess wears the pants in our relationship: She’s DIY, green-thumbed, and an all-round nurturer; for my part, I require supervision when using power tools, am the destroyer of all pre-approved greenery, and love to be nurtured. So when the property was acquired and its various rural peculiarities noted, one of my fears was having something essential and mechanical break down.

Something like the water pump, which stopped working on the first month anniversary of moving in.

THE GODDESS stands over the reticent B1 PUMP, a wrench in hand.


(re. pump)

... Oh dear.

Our WRITER, standing nearby, makes an involuntary noise, not unlike a whimper.


Do you want to move back to Auckland?


This is just a... first act obstacle in an Alistair Maclean book.


That’s my boy.


Who you calling ‘boy’?

She smiles.



The Dog on her old bed on her new deck.
The Dog on her old bed on her new deck.

Would you believe that I’ve moved to a town that I first visited* only several months earlier? It feels like The Goddess‘ Five Year plan pulled a sack over my head and WHOA, here I am in Northland**.

It’s nice and green and open up here. The town city is small without being tiny or compact, it’s to be home to a Hundterwasser Museum, and the overall vibe is of 1970s New Zild — unhurried and she’ll-be-right.

It also seems to have a bit of a rep. I was puzzled and a little concerned by people’s reactions to the announcement of our northward move. “How safe is it?” asked a favoured relation, which I misunderstood to mean the health and safety hazards inherent in a rural property. “Better have eyes in the back of your head,” a colleague emailed, with a link to a recent sudden and violent death in the district. And then there was the Mamea family reaction:


(into phone)

We’re moving to Whangarei, Mother.


(V.O.; filter)

To where?


(into phone)



(V.O.; filter)

... Whangarei is full of Maoris, son.



(into phone)

You do know that more than half of your grandchildren are part Maori?


(V.O.; filter)

Yes, and every day I forgive their parents.

I think we’re as safe here as we would be anywhere else in the world — safer, even, with our natural barriers. The natives are friendly — more than they’ve a right to be since we’re part of a wave of former Auckland residents increasing house and land prices — and there’s no sense of being judged on appearance.

I like how fellow road users use the two-second rule, obey the amber light, and merge like a zip. I like how, in shops and businesses, people are sincere with their howdedo’s, and they sound genuinely sorry for not stocking an item you’re after. I like how winter in Whangarei town looks like a rugged outdoor clothing convention, where mud-encrusted gumboots or jandals complete people’s ensembles.

There’s something about our new town that I can’t quite pin down. It’s friendly but not overbearingly so. It’s rural but not isolated. And there’s a shooting range five kilometres down the road (and ’round the corner, even!) from Fortress Mamea, a far, far cry from Auckland where the ‘local’ range was 50 kilometres away.

Why, yessir, I could get to like this place.


* Driving through en route to Cape Reinga or Kerikeri doesn’t count.

** Some dramatic licence there, obviously.


E Day Plus 3

From the correspondence of D F Mamea, Esquire, newly of Northland.

The new Fortress Mamea's first egg.
The new Fortress Mamea’s first egg.

Dearest Lovely Wife

I thought a situational report (henceforth sitrep) would be helpful, informative, and an aid to my ailing moment-to-moment memory.

The alarm went off at 0555 and I immediately turned it off. I had purposely set it for 0555 the night before, thinking I-don’t-know-what (yes I do: thinking that farm-type people get up at 0555 or thereabouts [not thinking further that Those People probably go to sleep a lot earlier than the 2330 time I went to bed and set the alarm for the coming morning]). After a few rumbles of paws on the verandah I roused and said hello to The Dog and The Puppy. They were boisterous in their morning greetings — it’s one of the things I love about dogs: every absence, no matter how short or long, is ended by effusive and licky reunions — and I gave them breakfast.

The morning perimeter check commenced soon after, the dogs and I starting with the chicken run (henceforth Green Zone). Yesterday, on the dusk perimeter check, two of the girls — Dumb White Chicken and Not Dottie — had presumably used the decrepit chicken tractor to fly out of the Jerusalem cherry-free Green Zone; Dumb was successfully coaxed back into the safe zone and eventually returned to the chicken house; unfortunately Not Dottie was Not Interested. This morning, the adopted guinea fowl, Giselle, was out of the chicken run completely, and Not Dottie had been joined outside the Green Zone by Dumb White Chicken and Clint. I dragged the chicken tractor into the centre of the Green Zone so that it could no longer provide means of escape.

The nesting boxes have yet to be discovered by the chickens but one egg was on the floor in the hay — at least one of the chickens, it would seem, has settled into their new environs.

As for the rest of the property:
— the horse troughs are all full;
— goddamn there’s a lot of Jerusalem cherry in The Wood awaiting our attentions;
— The Puppy dived and jumped and played in a large puddle of muddy water which strengthens the case for her being part water dog;
— there’s plenty of firewood in The Wood — will need to drag out and place in the woodshed to dry out before cutting with either the skilsaw (currently in Laingholm) or a brand spanking chainsaw (which I shall call “Mother”).

Here ends the first report. Don’t know how regular these will be, but if I can be persistent they should provide some kind of log of things needing doing, and things done (it’s also been a good springboard for my to-do list for the upcoming town trip).

Yours, always




Chicken sermon.

It’s time to come clean.

Fortress Mamea is not an actual fortress. I have described various parts of it with fortress-like words (like armoury) — all of the parts exist… but in a real-world Kiwi quarter-acre section and house kind of way. (Hey, what did you expect? I’m a writer.)

And the reason for this moment of truth is that the inhabitants of Fortress Mamea are leaving West Auckland and moving north where — with, as always, the Goddess’ indulgence — a new home has been established.

Located in the rolling hills outside of Whangarei, the new, more substantial and redoubtable Fortress Mamea is over fourteen acres of land, bounded on three sides by a moat stream, and includes:

The Wood
There’s acres of this stuff. Ideal, one might say, for paintball adventures…

So, yeah.

More space. Less excuses.

New chapter.


Mucking with the G

This came to mind after a recent rodent run-in:

It’s that time of the year when some of the forest folk seek shelter in Fortress Mamea from the inclement weather. When scratching noises emanated from the kitchen, The Kitten was duly dispatched. She promptly returned to her currently favoured chair (a Sanderson linen-covered armchair) and resumed her nap.

The Dog and I were then dispatched — The Goddess exhorting us to Kill it kill it kill it — and we chased the rodent from the kitchen, through the Big Hall, around the Banquet Room and finally back to the kitchen. As The Dog and I caught our breath, the invader made Yah loser noises from deep within a cupboard.

Right then, I breathed. A trap was set with a wee treat of peanut butter.

The following morning:

A Fortress Mamea interloper who pushed their luck.
A Fortress Mamea interloper who pushed their luck.

So did I do a little Sean Connery impression when I took the above photo? Yesh, I did. I hope hish friendsh were watching.


The Camry Sportswagon

The Sportswagon, circa 2008
The Sportswagon, circa 2008

Almost ten years ago, we acquired a second-hand, New Zealand-new stationwagon. The Boy, seven at the time, took one look at the Advanti Racing alloy-shod Camry 220 GL and declared it a sportswagon. I suppose when you’re seven and you’re a Holden V8 fan with a cap and jacket to prove it, you make do with what you get.

I grew up with a succession of Ford Falcon stationwagons. A lot of my childhood holiday memories include lying in the rear cargo area, in a cocoon of blankets and luggage, en route to some faraway destination; if I got bored, I played polite games of shoot-’em-up with the driver of the vehicle behind us.

I never thought I’d end up driving a Toyota as an adult. They’re so ubiquitous that… well, I thought Other People drove the damned things. Not me.

But the Camry grew on me. The 2.2-litre engine is a good compromise between around-town trips and our annual cross-country holidays. It’s wide enough to give each occupant room to move — on long trips, the kids would fill up the backseat and footwell with a myriad of items to keep them occupied. The rear cargo area can accommodate: luggage for five; film-making gear; a month’s grocery shopping; or firewood aplenty (with the backseat folded forward). It’s a workhorse, baby, and it can take on any job you throw at it.

I know that, alloys aside, we’ve got a stock Camry. But there’s something about our ‘wagon that makes it stand out from the rest of the ‘wagons out there.

And you know what it is? They’re not sportswagons.

(This post started out as a bit of a love-post in 2007. I thought I’d published it ages ago but obviously haven’t. So why now? The Camry is about to be retired. We added 200,000+kms to the odometer, traversed State Highway 1 innumerable times in it, and it has long been Fortress Mamea’s faithful and reliable war- and work-horse. A farewell ceremony involving fish ‘n’ chips and lipstick is scheduled in the very near future.)