The land of sheep and chocolate

Monday, January 14, 2008

Its the end of the road for sheep and chocolate

Having failed to update sheepandchocolate for a year, I am declaring it dead.

However, I am carrying on at Eatmyhorowhenua - a blog in bite-sized chunks! It's the same but different.

Feed you face at

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More Mountains

It’s six months since we’ve ventured into the Tararuas behind Levin. The forests up there are massive and untouched, but it’s all a bit of an effort to get to them through the miles of ankle deep mud. But there is an alternative, behind the village of Manakau where we were confidently informed by the tourist office that we could drive straight to the walking track and leave the car in a car park. It sounded too good to be true. Was it too good to be true?

Of course it was. You have to be careful of Kiwis. They don’t have the same sense of danger as the rest of us. What we were told was that we could just drive through the gate to the next gate and then to the car park. Here’s a list of things we were not made aware of:

1. The road was a winding, potholed mud track.

2. The track was on the edge of a narrow precipice.

3. The track was several kilometres long.

4. There was nowhere to turn around.

The chances of sliding off the side of the cliff were therefore higher than expected.

Having said that, the views through the valley were pretty good and there were some cute baby cows on the track. And it probably wasn’t as bad as we thought. The most frightening part about it, apart from the fear of skidding to our deaths, was that we had no idea how long the track was; we were under the impression that it was a few hundred yards but it seemed like it was going to go on forever.

The advantage is of course that you get the place to yourself. No-one else was stupid enough to drive down that road this afternoon. There was a lovely bush walk down to a river bend, clear water bubbling through the gravel and jagged forested hills looming in the background. You almost felt like we were the only people ever to have gone there. Perhaps having to put in a huge effort to get to these places makes them all the more special.

My old boss once said that he thought the area didn’t get many tourists because it didn’t make the most of its assets and I have to agree. The mountains are great but you have to be pretty determined to get to them. I just feel that it would be nice if there was easy access to the forest somewhere in the district. It can’t be much too much to ask can it?

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Charles de Gaul once asked how you could run a country with 246 different types of cheese. In fact he was wrong; France has more than 400 different types. He would have no such problem here.

New Zealand is famous for its dairy industry, which is responsible for half of its greenhouse gas emissions. With so much milk sloshing around, you’d think the cheese here would be brilliant, in the same way as the chocolate is. But you’d be wrong. Supermarket fridge shelves are full to bursting with cheese but it only come in 4 types, all of which are essentially the same. Mild tastes like mild cheddar. Tasty tastes like strong cheddar. Colby also tastes like mild cheddar, as does Edam.

The bizarre thing is that there are loads of dairy companies all making exactly the same range. At Countdown the other day, in a slightly French fug at the lack variety in cheese, I counted eight different ranges of Colby, Mild, Anchor and Tasty. That’s Mainland, Anchor, Valumetric, Basics, Signiture Range, Alpine, Dairy Fresh and another one as well. That’s 32 different varieties of identical cheese. Is this what Maggie meant by consumer choice?


Levin has its good points but it is quite insular. It’s a very small place, and isolated, being 40 minutes by road from anywhere. There is a daily paper published in the town which has one page of national news, with the rest of the paper being devoted to local events and moaning about the council. I realised the other day that after a year here I have no idea what David Beckham has been up to. Living here is like living in the 1970’s, whilst the rest of New Zealand has probably made it to the 90’s by now.

All this is rubbing off on use just a little bit as we realised the other day when we went to Wellington for the day. Wellington is not exactly a big city but compared to Levin it really feels huge and super-sophisticated.

We are so used to small-town living that we were completely thrown by basic things like one way systems and not being able to park right outside the place where we were going to. But there seemed to be a real buzz in the air, a palpable feeling of excitement like this was the kind of place where things really happen, like important decisions being made or buses running on a regular basis.

I have moved jobs now and I am commuting to the next town down the highway from Levin, towards Wellington and closer to the action. I am already feeling like I’ve made steps into a larger world.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The PM comes to town

Today was a big day in the Horowhenua with the visit of the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, for the official opening of Council's impressive new offices. You don't get to meet the PM very often and I wasn't about to miss the opportunity.

Helen, as we were advised to address her, is a woman known for her severe hair, serious expression and eyes so fierce they could freeze the blood in your veins at ten paces. She is a woman who has what you need to survive in a mans world and she's been in power for eight years.

We assembled in the swanky new lobby, waiting for the PM to arrive, which she duly did, to be greeted in what I assume is the traditional Maori way, by a man dressed in a flax skirt with ferns wrapped round his legs and torso. She waited by the arch until everyone was ready and then there was singing as she walked into the building, surrounded by no security whatsoever. It's nice that the PM feels safe to enter a room full of people who could be anyone; no-one having been bothering to check identification on the door. But in a country with 2 million guns, is it wise?

There is something odd about seeing someone who you have only ever seen on TV; they always look the same, but different. Helen is much bigger than expected. Not taller or fatter; just bigger. But she is much less harsh. As she walked down the aisle past where we were sitting, I couldn't decide whether to doff my cap or try and meet her steely gaze. But she smiled and walked on.

Then there were speaches. Half an hour of the local Maori bigwigs talking in Maori. Which was excessive I felt. Then the mayor spoke for a bit about how well things are going in the district.

We listened politely and attempted to entertain Lily. But any one-year-old in a hushed event is like a bomb waiting to go off and the tension was mounting until the PM finally took to the stage and told us how great the building was and what great things the Council is doing. Lily sat through it all, but it was a relief when it all finished without any screaching incidents.

Helen actually seemed rather nice. Afterwards, a couple of people demanded to have their picture taken with her and she seemed happy to oblige. She had a quick chat with a few people before disappearing out the front to be taken back to Auckland, leaving behind a vague impression of someone who was slightly fluffier than expected. She has got cold, hard eyes. But that's because she makes cold, hard choices. She is, afterall, the PM, not a cuddly toy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Doggy Power Struggle

Continued doggy indiscipline has has meant that we had to cave in to the inevitable last week and bring in the dog trainer. Too much barking in the front garden, and chasing flys round the sitting room has pushed us over the edge. Enough is enough.

They are cute and furry, but Molly clearly thinks she is in charge, or so said the dog trainer. Even Jake, downtrodden whipping boy of the pack apparently doesn't respect us. He just can't take on Molly. So, an evening routine has been establised where we bully the pair of them for ten minutes in order to show them who is in fact in charge.

And it is working, and has done right from the start. Both of them are much calmer and happier. By all accounts they don't want to be in charge; they just weren't convinced we were up to the job. Now we have started pushing them around, they seem quite relieved to hand over the reigns. Molly has become quite submissive.

The only unexpected consequence is that Jake has become more uppity and wilful and has started to stand up to bullying, formerly power-mad Molly. Last night they wrestled for hours and for the first time ever, he comprehesively defeated her. He seems to have decided that the time is right for changes to be made in the structure of the pack. Which all means that Molly is now trying to reassert herself to cover her own position.

Dog ownership. It's a constant fight for supremacy.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hot Dogs and Hot Weather

After lots of false starts and just in time for my Mum and Dad's visit, Summer's finally here in the Horowhenua. After months of wind and rain we've had unbroken sunshine for the last two weeks.

It's all too much for Jake, the shaggy and confused Cavalier King Charles Spaniel whose thick black coat is long and fluffy, ready to keep him warm as toast in the cold English winter. Here in the strong Kiwi sunshine he has been flopping around on the kitchen floor trying to keep cool, and shedding black clumps of hair all over the carpets. So we've given him a drastic haircut and he looks like a puppy again. And under all the hair, we can see enough of him now to be able to tell that, in spite of months of dieting, he is still a bit fat.

Summer also means that the beaches are (relatively) full. At Foxton Beach today the water was sparkly blue with waves gently lapping onto the grey sand. Still a bit cold mind.

Lily's Top 5 words

1. Mum
2. Dad
3. Duck
4. Milk
5. Teeth

Friday, February 02, 2007

My Courgette Hell

How many courgettes does a man need? I quite like them, so I put two plants in and we've been inundated for the last eight weeks. I've let some turn into marrows the size of rugby balls. What can you do with those? There is only so much marrow you can eat at any one time. Being inexperienced in these matters I put another three plants in a while ago and they are now leaping into production. We are going to be buried in courgettes. I think we will probably have enough that we could live on them and nothing else, if we wanted, which we don't. And there's not much else doing in the vegetable patch at the moment. That's my courgette hell.