Alien Vs. The Gnarly Nun

Lactic acid scorches my leg muscles. This must be how those Xenomorphs in the Alien movies feel like all the time. No wonder they’re always grumpy and up to mischief. My lungs feel empty of oxygen, as if all the air has drained from them. No matter how hard I suck air in, it seeps out just as quickly.

Up ahead I can see the shapes of Matt and Adam, waiting by the last responder, cheering me on. Their shouts of encouragement make up for the lack of muscle power I have left. A few more pedal strokes and I’m finished, managing to fulfil my modest goal of completing the Port Hills Enduro mountain bike race without a mechanical failure or crash. I clock in for the final time that day, and relief floods over me.

Enduro racing is a simple concept; you’re only timed on the down stages. The transition to each stage isn’t timed. This amounts to either pushing or cycling up to the stage, and going full throttle for a few minutes downhill. As I mentioned earlier, last time I rode the Port Hills Enduro, it didn’t go well, so this time I was happy just finish the course.

I won’t go into the biking details of each track, as it can get a little alienating (cleaver nod to the opening reference intended). I doubt many people care about how the link track between Pedal Fine and Radi Garden was a nice, loamy edition. Or how deceptively long the Bowenvale Bonus was.

However, what is worth mentioning is how gnarly the Gnarly Nun was. Just to be clear, I’m referring to a bike track that was the second stage, not a hard as nails woman of the cloth. Although I can’t help think that The Gnarly Nun would make an excellent B-Movie horror movie.

Anyway, when all but one of the marshals, an ambulance and the largest crowd is gathered around the track, you know it’s going to be an interesting stage. Similar to the aftermath of a car crash, crowds like to preempt the carnage and congregate where there is most likely to be an incident, which inevitably is the most technical section. In this case, a horrible collection of rocks and awfulness that we were expected to find a route through.

It’s amazing how a bit of cheering and ‘Yeah Boi,’ can boost your confidence levels going into a section. You suddenly switch from apprehension to whatever the emotional equivalent of ‘Yeah!’ is. You can bring all the dark chocolate and cranberry snack bars you want (and believe me, I did), but nothing will boost your energy levels more than a well-placed ‘Yeah Boi!’

So just bare that in mind when you see someone struggling through the 3pm slump at work. A well-meaning shout of ‘YEAH BOI!’ across the office will no doubt be received with appreciation. I just tried it then, and I have to say, it worked much better than intended. Everyone seemed to be jolted into paying attention.

Needle in the Grass

A trained dog. Quite a necessity some would say when going on another Dog Tails adventure.

Others may say that two trained dogs would be even more appropriate, based on the number of dogs we have.

I’m not going to argue; both statements are equally valid. But how about a dog with a purpose?

Although another demographic of people would comment on the fact that Oshy already has his hands full with barking, chasing birds, barking, panting a lot, and barking.

As for Rusty, well, basking in the afternoon sun while waiting around for treats does amount to a busy day.

But there is always room for improvement, which leads us neatly to a new dog training course we’ve come across. We’ve recently begun educating Oshy in the skills of tracking, which as it turns out, has been full of loads of interesting facts:

  • Bloodhounds can track someone up to 28 days after they’ve been somewhere
  • Dogs can detect up to 3 million different scents
  • Tracking dogs can be used to seek out noxious weeds for removal, such as Chilean Needle Grass
  • Oshy barked through the entire 40-minute training session
  • I was ‘that guy’ who brought the barking dog.
  • Facts are great for padding out blog posts

Ignoring those last two facts, it is quite surprising what these canines are capable of achieving. Not entirely sure how many more steps are required before they can search out and remove their own crap from the garden, but maybe if they defecate next to a noxious weed, then everyone’s a winner.

Rage Against the Free Sample Machine

‘How many free samples can I have?’


I inwardly sigh, and then reply, ‘Help yourself.’


‘OK thanks.’ The woman proceeds to scoop up the entire contents of the samples box, and pours it into her handbag. ‘I hope he likes them. He can be very fussy sometimes.’


‘You have a good day now,’ I add, through gritted teeth.


The woman turns and happily walks away from our stall, pleased about the bargain she’s just discovered.


A vein throbs furiously in my temple. If I was a cartoon character, I’d have little Hiroshima type mushroom clouds emerging from my ears. I turn to Kat, who is stood at my side, and watched the entire exchange play out.


‘You know, if they have to ask, then -.’ I begin.


‘I know,’ she replies calmly.


‘- and why did she have to take all of -.’


‘I know,’ she repeats again, in a more soothing voice this time.


I throw my hands in the air, frustrated that Kat isn’t sharing my frustration, and move my attention to staring at the back of the woman’s head. My beady eyes are narrowed and focused; my head twitches slightly to the rhythm of the pulsating vein.


Another customer approaches our market stall. She picks up a bag of dog biscuits, and is about to enquire on the cost, when she sees my face.


The biscuits are returned. The customer leaves.


‘Maybe you should sit down,’ Kat suggests.


For some reason, all I can think about is a time several years ago, when one of the temps in work asked how long her 5 minute cigarette break was? Through the haze of anger, I struggle to connect the memory to what just happened, but I’m sure there is something linking the two.


Another customer approaches. ‘Are these your dogs?’ he asks, gesturing to the photo we have on the table.


A myriad of sarcastic, unhelpful replies flash through my mind. Thankfully, Kat beats me to it, and engages in polite conversation with the friendly customer. Listening to Kat happily chatting away, I’m gradually lifted from my pit of fury. As if to provide a physical demonstration of this, I rise from my seat, and nod along to the conversation about dogs, and how wacky they all are.


These markets aren’t all bad, I think to myself. 


I chuckle along to an anecdote, and then even throw in one of my own – something about how much Oshy barks. We all laugh along. The clouds, metaphorical and actual, part. A bright sun warms my face. 


Everything is great again.


‘If only you had some samples I could try on my Labrador,’ the customer adds.


I sit back down.  

Get Amongst It

Everyone knows someone who recently turned vegan, and therefore expects everyone else to follow suit.

Or has suddenly realised that ‘Big-Pharma’ may not be all it’s cracked up to be, and chastises you for buying Nestle products for some reason.

Or just watched a documentary on how 9/11 was an inside job, and has to tell the world that the Iraq war was actually about the oil.

Well, that’s kind of what has happened to me, but with community.

Going up in Wales, we knew our neighbours, and got involved in a few things, but I generally wasn’t that fussed with community stuff. Then I moved to London for a few years where, for the most part, you don’t make eye contact with members of your community, let alone ask them how their day was.

As far as I was concerned, if a stranger started to talk to me, it was either a distraction for when their mates decided to rob me. Or they were a mentalist.

Because of course, friendly conversation on London’s public transport network doesn’t exist.

I brought that attitude with me when I came to New Zealand. Living in Linwood, which admittedly can be a little rough around the edges, the attitude seemed fairly appropriate. Until I started noticing that I would occasionally get a nod from a stranger when I was out walking the dogs.  Or someone would ask me how my day was as I was putting the bins out.

I’ve now started to notice that the more involved I get with community things e.g. markets, workshops etc. the more I get out of it. There are some weird feelings that come from community based things. I haven’t worked out what exactly evokes these feelings yet. Maybe it’s the relief of not being mugged. Or that person isn’t actually a mentalist, and happens to be quite nice to talk to. Or maybe the long, alcoholic days with only two dogs for company are starting to take its toll.

Whatever it is, there’s a lot to be said for getting amongst the community.