Oh What a Night

Late September back in ’63….
Oooops, that’s the song not the weather.
Another night of gale-force winds has given a few of us a night of broken sleep. If it wasn’t the rising sound of the big gusts or the sound of things blowing around the neighbourhood, it was the rat’s-tail tree joining the party by throwing missiles onto the roof.

So, after a week of cabin fever induced by lurking indoors with rabid school-holiday kids, parents might be looking for a bit of whimsy…

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of The Galactic Senate last night, the learned and the wise sucked their false teeth, scratched their thinning thatch, and made “weeee-ooooohhh” noises as they tweaked their hearing aids during a conversation about the weather, while I took notes.

After a windy old week, it was time to reflect on whether things were worse than normal – global warming and all that. Sadly, the accumulated wisdom was inconclusive, but some humorous things have been seen and heard in recent times.

Having been spoilt during the wonderful month of September with two distinct periods that could only be described as “early summery” the return of winter-like days has been playing merry hell with people’s climatic clocks. The garden too. Overly optimistic gardeners, like yours truly, indulged in a bit of cuckoo clock gardening, popping in and out planting seedlings and herbs that had been bought in a moment of weakness under a sunny sky. Early flowering tomatoes were whisked outside to wave languidly in the hope of attracting the amorous advances of the odd passing bumblebee, only to be hauled inside out of the wind or frost to turn the lounge into an impromptu potting shed.

Monday’s northerly gale had gossip columns abuzz when a normally decorous and respectable reader of this column of twaddle was seen in her front yard with her new Polish boyfriend. Having been tossed about in the gusty wind while waiting for a taxi, Fifi (as she wishes to be known, so that her high society friends won’t recognise her) decided to embrace a nearby lamp post for a bit of a rest. Fellow residents of her normally sedate southern suburb thought her new beau looked a bit wooden, but tooted their approval of the union as they sped past. Mrs Buckett would not have been amused.

The northerly gale eased on Tuesday morning, moving aside for a brief but feisty thunderstorm that afternoon. Wednesday’s southerly steadily rose in strength, the sun switching on and off like discotheque lights while the weather’s rhythm section played showery squalls about the place. Wellington’s infamous lazy southerly – too lazy to go round you, it just cuts straight through – ruled the roost holding daytime temperatures at Tawa to 7ºC, and a bit of hail clattered a cheery greeting against the windows at 4:20 p.m.

Having become bored with the southerly theme, Mother Nature changed her mind (a woman’s privelege) and conditions became still as the temperature plummeted to 1ºC overnight. If any frost settled on the ground while we were sawing logs overnight, it had been blown south by the northerly already winding up through the scales that greeted early risers. By the middle of Thursday it had reached gale force and was nibbling away at the rhododendron flowers to balance the shrubs which had been denuded on the southern side the previous day. Gusts up to 48 km/h in the garden here at Tawa threatened to better a windgust record set in January 2005 mid-afternoon.

The norfolk pine decided its usual party antics were being ignored, after throwing rat’s tails and seed pods at the roof, and started targetting windows. One bullseye shot must’ve come close to breaking a large window and the tree was rewarded by a shaken fist being waved at it from the front door. Telepathically projected images of roaring chainsaws seemed to do the trick and it desisted its annoying game.

Winds eased late in the night, and an eerie silence pervaded central Tawa on Friday morning. The rattle of roofing iron had ceased, the sun was shining, and it was nearly calm and still. But something was missing. Ah, the bellow of train horns and the jangle of the railway crossing bells cheerfully announcing carriageloads of happy commuters on their way to the slave pits of Wellington were missing. Trains had been reduced to a 30 minute sardine service due to a rail fatality around 6 a.m. and then halted completely after an overhead electricty feed came down. A skeleton bus service was put in place, but most commuters seem to have made other arrangements, or rung in to work to report a sudden outbreak bubonic plague.

Tranz Metro managed to put up the “trains are replacing buses” signs at a few stations, to the shock of at least one commuter. Having collected a few commuters from Takapu Road Station at about 9:30 the bus driver discovered a commuter transfixed by the sign on the platform, just before the bus crossed the rail overbridge. A protracted tootling of the horn failed to attract the attention of the commuter whose needle seemed to be stuck in the groove “buses are replacing trains. blip. buses are replacing trains. blip buses are…” It is a pretty sign, but hardly falls into the category of the fallen madonna with the big … well never mind. He was probably still transfixed when the much-delayed Capital Connection tip-toed through the station some time later.

The commuter rail service was restored late morning and the Tranz Metro website happily announced that trains were again “running to timetable.” The only catch was that it didn’t seem to be any timetable known to commuters until early in the afternoon. This was the perfect excuse to abandon metropolitan pursuits for some retail therapy in Tawa or a bit of garden maintenance.

One of the respectable senators at Friday night’s meeting was able to confirm the sighting of flying saucers in Wellington’s Whitmore Street recently. It seems that an advertising shoot was taking place in the outside dining area at Wellington’s newest hotel, the Holiday Inn. Whitmore must be one of the capital’s windiest streets, with wind coming ashore from the harbour with gusto (no pun intended) and sweeping all before it as it heads up towards Parliament and The Beehive. The less politically-correct (pun intended) of us believe that the hot air generated there by the nation’s law-makers creates a chimney effect, sucking in the cooler air inhabited by us with our feet on the ground, thereby drawing wind from the harbour.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the ad-shoot. A few moments’ observing was rewarded by the spectacle of the wind blowing plates of food around the rocking tables, and scrabbling actors trying to manage the conflicting demands of protecting their immaculate hairstyles, capturing levitating salads, restraining perambulating plates and chasing steaks that had more jump than when on the hoof. Flying filet mignon, anyone? Perhaps it was an advert for “food to go?”

Another gale overnight was more destructive in the Wairarapa where it cut electricity to many consumers. Here at Tawa it built to a crescendo at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday before again easing. The author is still searching for an appropriate word to describe the noise made by some of the larger gusts as they wound up. It’s not really a roar, and it certainly wasn’t a whistle. The search continues.

But the wildness of the weather hasn’t held back the new season’s asparagus crop and, with supply improving, supermarket prices are good. This sent me rifling through the bookshelves for Digby Law’s “Microwave Vegetable Cookbook” to remind me of the companions for fresh asparagus. It likes to be dressed with a bit of parmesan, snoozes comfortably on a piece of fresh bread that has been spread with mayonnaise, likes wriggling around in melted butter and garlic, gets on well with capers and, for the time-challenged, can be wolfed down on hot buttered toast (dressed with a few twists of pepper) for a toothsome brekkie snack.

If you want to kick-off a riot between otherwise orderly guests, this is a good time of year to throw a couple of seasonal favourites on the table and run to a safe location where you can watch feeding time at the zoo.

Savoury egg sammies: Three hard-boiled eggs, shelled and mashed. After years of ham-fistedly picking tiny bits of shell out of the white, I’ve found a recipe for easily shucking hard boiled eggs from the shell. Oh, the wasted years and tears of frustration. Googling gets you a Julia Child method that’s supposed to be fool-proof (some would say that’s the solution for me) but you need to have half a day and several kitchen gew-gaws to get it done. The method shown here works well and, after the weather we’ve had, the cold tap provides the ice-cold water needed to keep the yolks golden yellow.

In the true tradition of one-pot cooking, put the boiled eggs back in the rinsed cooking pot when you attack them with a potato masher. Add half a dozen chives, finely chopped. A small handful of chopped parsley. A dash of curry powder and ground pepper to taste. Mix ingredients, progressively adding mayonnaise to give a spreadable consistency.

Spread the egg mixture over slices of fresh un-buttered bread and dress with wafer-thin slices of fresh tomato. Add a twist of ground pepper and top with a slice of lightly buttered bread. You can add a slice of ham for variety, but a scrum still forms hereabouts when these sandwiches are served without it.

Fresh asparagus sandwiches: For a quick snack, snap the wooden base from two or three asparagus spears. Plonk them in a shallow microwave dish with a small splash of water, cover with a paper towel and nuke on medium for 2 minutes (1200W microwave oven) to produce crunchy, lightly cooked aparagus. Spread two slices of bread with a thin layer of mayonnaise. The asparagus can be added to the sandwiches hot or cooled. Waving a bit of grated parmesan over the asparagus spears before you slam the lid on adds zing. Cooking the asparagus with a little crushed garlic and then rolling them in a knob of butter while they’re still warm adds decadence. But be warned, the decadent variation means that a number of the spears disappear before reaching the bread if you have a gannet in the kitchen.

Asparagus is nice raw too. If you are one of those horrible creatures (like me) who eats half the contents when shelling peas, earning glares from the cook and complaints about shortages from fellow diners, you’ll like the taste of raw asparagus. Snap the woody end off each spear and wash thoroughly in cold water. Shake dry and cut into 1 cm lengths and add to leafy salads. Lip-smacking good.

With another calm day between the storms, I fear that the on-again off-again weather has unhinged a few of the birds. They’re all looking a bit moth-eaten and ruffled, but the blackbirds have found a new ablution routine. The sparkling clean water in the birdbath is not for them today. They’ve discovered a large plant pot saucer filled with leaves and manky water and have been wallowing in it most of the afternoon. Takes all sorts, I guess.

A monarch butterfly did a flutterby the window while I typed the last few lines of this bit of whimsy. Seems a bit early in the season to me, so maybe they’ve been fooled by the warm spells during September too. I hope it has a nice safe mooring booked for tonight, as we’re in for more gales.

Oooh. That’ll make a nice change….

One Response to “Oh What a Night”

  1. Chris M says:

    I note further developments with the “patio” dining area at that hotel on Whitmore Street – the door leading out from the restaurant to the dining area now has a fascinating pattern of cracked glass and a sign proclaiming “do not use this door – damaged in high winds”! No doubt pieces of that fillet mignon flying around at hurricane speed 🙂 Diners wishing to partake of dining in this pleasant outdoor location currently have to detour via the main hotel entrance.

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