It’s the end of 2020 in New Zealand

It’s the end of 2020 at last. But here in New Zealand I’m not in quite as much of a hurry for 2021 as most of my friends and family overseas. All things considered, we have without doubt “got off lightly”.

I’ve been texting with my brother a lot lately. We’re trying to understand each other in a way that’s new to us. While we lead very different lives, he’s always been an entirely empathetic and brilliant sounding-board.  But right now, it feels like the first time in my life when I’ve said something about how I feel and he hasn’t said “yep, that makes sense”.

And he’s not the only one. I’m very aware that I lack a shared experience now with pretty much all my friends and family overseas. I don’t know and can’t imagine what a year of semi-permanent lockdown feels like, with little apparrent effect on the virus’ long-term presence.

We had a lockdown here, yes, but it was very different. It was complete, relatively short-lived (just over a month) and almost totally eradicated any community cases of Covid… to the extent that life went “back to normal” strangely quickly. That’s normal as in life before Covid, not any of the new normals that my friends and family are describing to me as their now realities. Of course, when I talk with them, and read the news, I am very aware that our normal, the old normal, is nothing like the new normal that almost everywhere else is living.

So we’re not normal, we’re the anomaly. And the frustration I sense, from my brother and other friends, I think comes from my calling this normal. My belief that this is a normal that we can continue to live. My obliviousness, or lack of appreciation, that Covid is now here to stay, it’s a part of this world, there is no chance of continuing or returning to Life Before Covid (LBC). We’re truly living in a bubble, a country-sized bubble, protected and maintained by very expensive and extreme border controls. Aren’t there movies written about stuff like this? Am I living in the Truman Show?!

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we currently have a life that’s, on the surface, very close to LBC. There are many exceptions of course, such as voluntary QR codes everywhere for track and trace purposes, a complete lack of international tourists, and a lack of supplies from overseas that would normally flow readily. But, despite those, daily life is often (for me) almost indistinguishable from pre-Covid times. (It’s not, of course, for the government, the health ministry, the military, the researchers, the healthcare system, the people suffering from job losses and a recession and crazy soaring house prices. And we still have a daily news update about new cases and total number of cases, mostly in quarantine facilities at the border.) But, compared to other countries, Covid less of a daily reality, and always has been (even during our lockdown).

I went on a train last week – no-one was wearing a mask. (They’re only mandatory on public transport in Auckland and domestic flights.) For the brief period when they were introduced, I found masks almost frightening: a constant reminder of invisible danger around us. Everywhere else in the world it seems like the sight of them has become quite normalised. Is that true? I genuinely don’t know how that feels.

Georgia was in a dance show recently. Backstage was full of bustling children sharing make-up (even lipstick!) and food and pens. The following weekend we went on a crowded “North Pole Express” steam train adventure. Complete strangers dressed up as elves and pixies blowing spitty kisses to children at close range before the kids jumped on Santa’s knee for a photo op.

We have new concepts and language, of course. This is not entirely LBC. The Virus. The bubble. Lockdown. Wage subsidy. Levels 4,3,2 and 1. And new familiar faces in daily briefings: Ashley Bloomfield, Jacinda Ardern, the Chief of Police and representatives from the military in charge of quarantine at the border. And a new awareness of the powers of government to grant and take away our freedoms. Maybe also a new appreciation for where we live, and a strong sense of national pride in this little country that does things differently: first country for women to have the vote, nuclear-free, COVID-free.

From the outside, it must look untenable, unsustainable. This apparent virus-free paradise is wholly dependant on a militarised border: 14 days quarantine in a government facility for the uninfected, swabs every few days, outdoor excursions limited to escorted walks around a hotel car park. More extreme isolation if you show any symptoms or anyone who’s been near you does.

On the assumption that the virus is now “out there”, endemic, part of the human population globally, how long can we keep it out, and is that the long game? Who will be brave enough to open the borders and let the virus in? Will everyone who comes and goes need to be vaccinated? And what about the ones who won’t? Can they not leave or return without quarantine? Or will it just become, with time, like measles. Their risk.

These are the long term questions on my mind. But short term, I can’t currently even conceive of travelling anywhere. And don’t have much desire to either.

Why not?, my brother asked (genuinely surprised). Is it vaccine hesitancy? Not really. I’m usually first in line for a jab, especially if it means it opens up my travel options.

Would I take it if I was in London, or Paris, Stockholm, or New York? Absolutely. Because it would give me an immunity that would enable me to walk among people again without fear (is fear what you have? I don’t know the right word). With less caution.

But right now, in NZ, I currently have that ability – to walk without caution among strangers.

What the vaccine gives me is the ability to travel. And the ability for others to be able to travel here. And it will hopefully give the government the ability to ease the border restrictions. That means a lot – and I truly look forward to that day  – but on a personal, daily, level it is not the game-changer that it is elsewhere.

In other countries, it will give you the ability to travel freely again: locally, regionally and between countries. To travel freely between places that all have Covid. I don’t think New Zealand’s in a hurry right now (at least not publicly) to join that party.

Covid Lockdown

I feel a need to acknowledge (mark?) this moment. Because I have no idea what comes next. Nobody does. Here, in Aotearoa, where we have relatively few cases (and I don’t know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, who’s had it), it feels rather eerily like a calm before the storm. The second storm. Not the wild, fiery, out-of-control storm of the virus spreading exponentially around the world. Not the media storm as these local stories unleashed and started overlapping and reinforcing, like ripples finding each other, merging to make one. One common story, the same everywhere but with very local differences. Largely determined by policy decisions. Never before have I been so struck by the tight relationship between science and policy. By the difference that leadership, and different kinds of leadership, can make. In our lives. In 2020*. Not during some distant or past war or famine that none of us coddled westerners can relate to or remember.

The second storm is what comes next. Will it be a new world? Will there be a storm at all? Will we return quickly to a new normal, not so different to the old normal, just a few fewer people around, mostly the old and weak. The pandemic a distant blip of localised sickness and extermination. Or will things never really be the same again? The ease and luxury of international travel; the spontaneous building of new friendships in close quarters (summer camps, backpacker hostels, dance parties); a naïve trust in shaking hands or kisses on the cheek – even air kisses (are they worse?); handwashing; trust in strangers; the way we care for and protect our elderly. Will the social inequalities that have been laid bare and exacerbated become the new normal that we become blind to again? And what does a recession, on the scale that’s being predicted, even mean? What does that feel like, look like, taste like?

One thing I am both fascinated and horrified by is the contrast between the tsunami of heart-breaking news from around the world, these wild projections of economic doom and trial, and our current reality in Lockdown Level 4, Otaki Forks, Aotearoa New Zealand.

This is our fifth Sunday in Lockdown Level Four. The last two weeks have flown. The first week crawled. In the week prior to that, when everything was unknown and the new rulebook yet to be written, time ground to a halt. Stuff that had happened that morning, or three hours ago, felt like the previous week. At least. Hours felt like days. We were riding high on adrenalin and exhaustion, at the same time. Invincible and powerless, at the same time. Four weeks of total self-isolation sounded interminable and now, in truth, I don’t really want it to end.

No-one ever told us that pockets of the apocalypse might be a paradise. It feels unethical, shameful, something I should never admit to. When you think of all those other stories, or situations. The pandemic itself, the abusive households, the people without shelter or income, the care homes ripped through with Covid-19, the front-line healthworkers.

Turns out that we hadn’t even realised how much of an impact the pace of everyone else, everything else, was having on our own family tempo. I’ve stopped the clock before – sailing across the Pacificoverwintering in the Antarctic, but that involved blocking the rest of the world out almost completely, including news and internet. I could never have fathomed a lockdown with internet. The collison of ultimate slow with ultimate fast – no need to commute or even make the effort to meet someone in a cafe and smile at them when they walk in.

Throughout this, I’ve still been working, Andy’s been working. Georgia (4) has been bouncing between us and a friend who’s living in the lodge, sharing our isolation bubble. We’ve found a new rhythm. One that doesn’t depend on the time that kindy opens, or the tradies arrive, or the guests leave, or the invoice needs to be paid by. Doesn’t depend on theoretical academic deadlines that everyone knows are made up but sometimes turn out to be real. Grade deadlines are still there, but the whole teaching space is being renegotiated to such an extent right now that that’s really the least of our concerns. Student welfare is more important than any grade deadline.

Time is slower, it’s nicer. And, dare I say, kinder. It’s more forgiving. It has lower expectations. It has changed priorities. Things that used to matter, now don’t. Baking does. Going for a walk, does. Picking the feijoas, does. Looking after each other, does.

Meanwhile, in our little slice of paradise, as New Zealand’s new case numbers appear to be stabilising in single figures, we prepare for a relaxing of the rules. Just everso slightly. Next week, we can go to the (local) beach, and for short local walks in the hills. Our staff who work on the land, and builders, can return to work at a safe distance, but cleaners can’t. It doesn’t matter – we won’t be having guests for quite some time. More than anything, our hearts are being pulled continually overseas to places where the virus is still ripping through countries and families. And there’s nothing we can do but listen for the news.


*At the time of writing, on April 26 2020, New Zealand had 1,470 cases of Covid, including 18 deaths. This is 305 cases and 4 deaths per 1 million people.

Comparable numbers elsewhere were:
UK – 148,377 cases (20,319 deaths) = 2,186 cases and 299 deaths per million people
Germany – 156,513 cases (5,877 deaths) = 1,868 cases and 70 deaths per million people
USA – 960,896 (54,265 deaths) = 2,903 cases and 164 deaths per million people
Sweden – 18,177 cases (2,192 deaths) = 1,800 cases and 217 deaths per million people
Israel – 15,398 cases (199 deaths) = 1,779 cases and 23 deaths per million people
Australia – 6,711 cases (83 deaths) = 263 cases and 3 deaths per million people

Data source:

The Gift of Time

I’m thinking of my many friends around the world right now, whether we’re in touch once a month or once a decade. Thankyou for being you, and helping me to be me.

The first few days of 2019 have not been, I admit, representative of my usual daily routine… but they have occurred very firmly within my everyday environment. Maybe being on holiday means I’ve had the opportunity to be more connected than usual. But hopefully this is also a taste of things to come. In the four days that we’ve had this year, I’ve wrangled sheep into a pen at the bottom of their field (second time lucky – Georgia and I didn’t have much success on our own the first time and Andy was away), floated down the О̄taki river, taken Georgia on a hike to meet Andy on his return from an overnight “tramp” in the “bush”, bungled a cat rescue mission, baked bread, pricked green walnuts in preparation for pickling, done some weeding, shot arrows using my new longbow (Christmas present :> ), played a lot of chase and boo, taken out 20 new books for pre-schoolers from the library, and started a new novel (Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140). I’ve also made an attempt to collate contact details of people I’d like to know for longer than I’ll have my current i-device, made good headway into on my tax return for last year, un-decorated a hanging Christmas tree made out of driftwood, and befriended some Hare Krishnas (guests at our lodge). If I didn’t have my other job, I wonder if this is what my everyday life would be like. And I wonder if it would be as satisfying after 4 months as it has been after 4 days.

In my other job, the one that dominates my weekdays, we had a pretty big year. Somehow our two-person-team of 2013 – 2015 has grown quite rapidly so that, come this Monday, we’ll be a ten-person team supporting approximately 15 Master’s students, 3 PhD students and a few hundred undergraduates (mostly taking our science in society courses as a complement to their “major”) as well as quite a few externally-funded research projects. In many regards it’s been a pretty tough year at work, but where we’ve ended up right now is a Good Place. And a pretty amazing place for me as I get to start a sabbatical later in the year – a privilege that I still have to pinch myself to believe.

Then there’s the not job, the new business, that has kept Andy busier than either of us had ever anticipated. But he also seems really fulfilled. Man of the land now. In the last year we’ve (read “he’s”)  built a new yurt, a new cabin, a new office, looked after 10 acres of land, sorted out our sewage system, drainage around the lodge, and a new water system, planted trees, got sheep and chickens, got a dog, got a new accreditation on the high ropes course, re-launched Aloft Alone, the list goes on. And befriended every tradesman (yes) in the gorge. I’ve been very involved too – but more behind the scenes and less full-time: signage, marketing, social media, bookings and money (I know more about tax returns, Xero and and how to pay people than I had ever aspired to). Not so hands-on. I wonder if it’s time to get my hands a bit muddier. And would I actually like that, or does it just seem romantic from the safety of my keyboard and hideousness of online banking?

Georgia is nearly three. She is of course our number one, before other job and not job, always comes Georgia. At the heart of this move was more time together as a family, especially for Andy and Georgia. (At no point was it running a business!) We’ve had a wide range of amazing childcare support over the time we’ve been here but always, always, we’ve held sacred regular days for individual time with her, as well as days as a family. To my eyes she’s utterly delightful, heartbreaking and fascinating (mostly). But she’s also a right little chatterbox and a bossy-boots (takes one to know one). And “full of character”, as someone said to me recently – I would hope that most 3-year-olds are.

All in all, I start 2019 feeling quite content. 2018 was busy – felt like there was a lot going on, a lot of hats, a fair amount of juggling and quite a few dropped balls. Very inward looking, and as a result also quite self-centred. I could have definitely been a better friend/ correspondent/ supervisor/ mentor/niece/daughter/sister/ mother/teacher/ student etc. I hope that “busy work” provided some building blocks and foundations for broader horizons in 2019. People come to this place where we live to find time – time to dance, sing, drum, play with friends, get married, have family reunions, write, read, work, grow new ideas…. I think it might be time I learnt about making better use of my time too.


Not job
Waihōanga River Lodge and Retreat
Aloft Alone
social media:
Facebook @waihoanga
Instagram @waihoanga

Other job
Centre for Science in Society
Science RnR (blog)
Speech at Zonta Science Awards
researcher with Te Pūnaha Matatini and the Deep South Challenge
Twitter @rhiansalmon

familyphoto2018 - 1 (1)

All Change

The first day back at work in January is an immensely satisfying day for me. Here in New Zealand, most people are still on leave – this is the “summer holiday” and it’s not uncommon for people to take the entirety of January off work. Think Norway in August.

For the past seven years, I’ve run or had oversight of an online summer course at Victoria University, called Contemporary Issues in Science and Society, which has grown from a fun little 5-week course in 2011 to a well-regarded, dual-option (6- or 12-week) course with a regular enrolment of 200-students that is now part of an undergraduate Minor in Science in Society (comprising 4 complementary courses run by our group) and leads students towards our new Master’s in Science in Society that is launching in March 2018. I’m really proud of the growth, and positive feedback, that these courses and programmes have experienced and of how much my colleague – Rebecca Priestley – and I have managed to achieve with our expanding group over the last few years.

But all that to say that while January is usually a quiet time in any workplace around here, it’s always found me at work since arriving in this country and is probably my favourite time of year to be in the office. Last week, however, I had a particularly satisfactory day when I set in motion a now-annual tradition (starting last year) of archiving my entire INBOX into a folder called “The Past”. Only 4,791 of those emails (a small proportion of the total) were still identified as being unread. All now in The Past.

So – if you’re expecting to hear back from me, it may be worth writing again. (Admittedly, that was just my work address…. the state of my gmail reality is far, far worse.)

It’s been a satisfying year for other reasons as well. Andy and I made some pretty big, quick, decisions this year with the net result that we’ve sold our house, are selling our boat, and have moved an hour north of Wellington where we’ve taken over the running of a Lodge and Retreat centre, complete with new puppy, chickens, sheep, 10-acres of gorgeous land on the side of the pristine О̄taki river, yurt, house, multiple cabins and a high ropes course.

All a bit random you might ask? Well, you’d be right. But we have a history of taking big decisions lightly, and quickly, and in many cases that’s the only way without becoming paralysed in a quag of overthinking (something I’m highly skilled at for far less important decisions, like buying a pair of jeans or what to cook for dinner).

It feels great. Most exciting of all is seeing Andy and Georgia enjoying the land so much. I’m sure Andy will be called back to the sea again, and hopefully many times, but for now he’s like the proverbial pig – running the property, being the ever-generous point of contact for guests, going for long hikes right from our doorstep, and, most importantly, spending wonderfully long stretches of time, including a dedicated day each week plus weekends, getting up to mischief with Georgia, who is rapidly approaching her second birthday.

Georgia is still a delight, waves at and plays with pretty much everyone, definitely “not shy” as one friend put it, and sees humour in almost every situation. She toddles and runs, jabbers and babbles, points, cuddles the puppy, wrestles the chickens, paints, splashes, loves food and making a mess, and does all those other healthy things you’d hope for in someone her age.

I split my time between my work, the new business, and our new home, and would of course love to have more time for them all. My main goal this year is to not kill the new veggies that my sister-in-law lovingly planted for me when she and my brother were visiting over Christmas. Of all the things I currently do, looking after a veggie patch is for some irrational reason the one that fills me with most fear. Not helped by Andy giving me gardening gloves, a gardening calendar, and a gardening self-help book for Christmas: I get the hint. Watch this space.

I wrote this on my commute home, a 1-hour train journey that tracks the west coast with a stunning ocean view… a beautiful way to both wind-into, and wind-down-from, a day in the City. A fun, fun city that we both still love.

So – as ever, there’s an open invite out there to friends and whanau… but this time we really mean it, and we’ll likely even have somewhere for you to stay!

Wishing you all an adventurous but uneventful 2018….

blog 2017 - 1 blog 2017 - 2 blog 2017 - 3

Image credits: Silvia Varela (first two) and George Guille

Christmas Eve 2016: boat, baby, and a new business

Carols are playing, a candle has been lit, ten-month old Georgia is asleep downstairs.

Christmas Eve is coming to a close in New Zealand and just starting in Europe. Two hours ago, Andy sailed into Bluff (the southernmost port in NZ), bringing to a close his first commercial trip with our boat, Baltazar. He’s just been to the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands and back. We have more trips booked for 2017 but completing the first feels the most significant. So much work went into getting this far – for himself, the boat, and the paperwork.

We have a lovely baby girl, healthy, happy, really smiley and pretty chilled out. I feel very lucky; she’s fun to hang out with, quite self-contained, laughs a lot, and beams at anyone who makes an attempt to connect with her. She’s increasingly inquisitive, moderately mobile, and plumpilicious (a little chubster, like both her parents were).

While we’ve been starting up both a new business and new family, I’ve also had – at times – a fairly demanding year with work and am massively appreciative of my colleagues who have helped me navigate a new work-life balance. Hats off to all of you out there who manage it. I’m also proud to have done our little bit towards normalizing being a working mum with a baby. That includes Andy doing at least 50% of the real hands-on, day-to-day, active parenting while he was around (not to mention meetings with a baby and milk logistics on my side of things..). While the new work takes Andy away from us during much of the summer season, I’m hoping we’ll get pay-back in the off season when he gets to be superdad every day. (It was noted, however, how much credit and kudos he got for doing something that so many mums do every day, all year round…)

It’s not been all hard yakka; we’ve had a wonderful year. That includes taking the opportunity of Georgia’s arrival to go sailing for a several weeks when she was 3 months old, and to Europe when she was 6 months old – including meeting with my extended family in Germany to celebrate my uncle’s 80th birthday, and joining Andy’s family in Worcester afterwards. Both were great trips and I am happy (and relieved) that we keep on adventuring.

Carols are over, the candle has been blown out, ten-month old Georgia is asleep next to me. Andy joins us tomorrow for our first christmas as a trio. It’s a funny old world.



last day of bump


when Georgia was 3 months old, we escaped on our boat and hid at Great Barrier Island

Picking a pub lunch near Andover (photo: Craig Nicholls)

Picking our pub lunch (photo: Craig N)


Baltazar at sea

Love to you and yours in what has been one of the more bizarre years in politics and world events. All things considered, New Zealand feels like a good place to be right now. Come visit us any time!

Happy christmas eve

It’s the morning of christmas eve, 2015. A natural time for reflection. This time last year I was in a buddhist monastery just outside San Francisco. I spent the evening there reading, and sometimes repsonding to, the 200 plus emails I had received after my Mum died. It took eighteen months to actually look at them; these things take time.

My plane took off on christmas eve and landed on boxing day. I lost christmas entirely (and deliberately). And came home to our new house, and Andy, complete with smile on his face. Our first christmas in our home, suitably chilled and wonderfully relaxed.

This now is our second, and we’re much more settled, whatever that means. Andy’s parents are visiting for a couple of months and yesterday an itinerant sailor friend appeared for the festivities. In a few days, another good friend we met on our travels – from Chile – will rock up for New Year. Having spent so many years living out of bags and taking advantage of other peoples’ open door policies, it feels great to be able to return the offer. That was my only need for a house really: if we’re going to have a house, it has to have space for guests. Wonderfully, my Dad was the first to take advantage of this when he came to stay for five weeks earlier this year. Thanks to him, we now have a far better equipped kitchen than any I might have stocked!

Andy’s been working on the Spirit of New Zealand for almost two years now, and loves it. He really loves it. Sailing a tall ship and hanging out with teenagers, ten days on, ten days off. It’s one of the more tame? regular? structured? jobs he’s had, but also richer in so many ways. And feeds a fresh reservoir of stories to share every week! I’m still employed at Victoria University, in the Science and Society group, and I love that too. Our group is growing, we have fantastic students, and I have enormous freedom. So many academics complain about the workload (rightly) but we forget sometimes how good we have it.

I’ve also been enjoying changing shape lately. A few weeks ago I changed from elegant avocado to resembling something more like a cantaloupe. This week it’s definitely more watermelon shaped and I’m moving a bit slower. Hoping all goes well, this trajectory will lead us to becoming parents sometime in February. And a whole new adventure.

I’ve been pretty quiet about telling folk so word has got out mostly via family or people who physically see me. I find it strange how this information – unlike updates concerning most other changes in our lives – is something that the community at large (and at times really quite distant) feels a right to know, almost before we ourselves have come to terms with it. And through many years of not being pregnant, and actively enjoying being child-free (why do people not want to believe that – grrr), I always struggled a bit with the amount people talked about pregnancy and babies as though everyone was interested in them. (Although it turns out that quite a lot of people are.) So – if I haven’t told you but you wish I had, then the fault is all mine and my somewhat convoluted inside-head conversations – apologies.

Back to today, and christmas eve, a contemplative time. A day that Erika always loved and made special in our house. Smoked salmon, candles on the christmas tree, music…. presents! Lots of people out there will remember christmas eve at the Salmon household.

We’re really well. The future is about to burst newness upon us once again, which is exciting. Just as exciting (not more, not less) as every other change we’ve enjoyed in the past. And we still have our boat and lots of balls in the air, each holding a different dream of the future.

Wherever you are, sending you love from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Magic cupbboard

There’s  a magic cupboard in our new house, and only the most curious of people find it. Which is, of course, to say, the people with most curiosity. It’s not like Narnia – small people have been known to spend hours inside. I don’t know where they go. I don’t ask.

Sometimes I find house ownership all a bit much.  Way too boring. Especially when it comes to locating things like furniture and cutlery. So, inspired by the following cartoon, I’m thinking I might fill it with playpen balls instead:


Happy Midwinter

Midwinter is always a special time, and this year – for some of us – especially so. Today is the tenth anniversary of our midwinter at Halley. Happily, it seems we must have had a good time as most are still eager to stay in contact, even if we’re not always that regular at it. Two of us now live in New Zealand and we just had a skype call with another seven who have gathered in Yorkshire (along with their families), and one who joined by skype from a north sea oil rig. Of the other eight, I still hear from three of them and I wouldn’t be surprised if the remaining five maintain contact in their own ways.

Some of the stories and memories are vivid, but others needed jogging. I was reminded of little things, like when we tried to make ketchup, got over-excited by our first storm (and told off by the base commander), when the girls got snowed-in the caboose, the smell of Nido (I was living quite happily without that recollection) and sound of squeaky snow under foot.

I loved the winter and I’d do it again if I could guarantee the same crowd, or similar, and the same base – which now no longer exists, and the same people in the larger project, and the same naivety (only allowed once). All those have changed. But the essence, I hope, is the same. The stars and aurora, sastrugi and fogbows, mirages and ever-lasting dawn…. when it eventually arrives. Those long, long shadows.

I don’t follow the blogs of people who are down there now, and I rarely follow stories of current Antarctic science or adventures. I like to keep my own untarnished, rose-tinted, memories sealed in a very precious, and only occasionally opened, box.

Everyone looked and sounded exactly the same. Despite the arrival of new partners and kids, houses and jobs, responsibilities various. At heart, we’re still the same people, and our Halley – as we knew it – is unchanged.

This week I am a bachelor

This week I am a bachelor. I live in a bachelor pad, I eat cold pizza for breakfast, and I even had my electricity cut off last night for [the bachelor] forgetting to pay a bill. I love it. I live in the heart of the city, it’s quicker to buy food than cook it, and to blow out any cobwebs you just crank up the amazing sound system. When I arrived there was half a bin bag forgetfully left on the kitchen counter and a warning note to not even consider opening the microwave door. The kitchen table is piled high with fish oil capsules, whey powder, and soy milk, and the corridor is a filing system for piles of esoteric papers on design and new media. There is also, of course, an enormous TV screen. I love it so much I want to become it, to live it. For the two weeks that I’m here at least.

Last week I was a grand dame. Proprietress of a large Wellington villa, enormous rambling gardens, four double bedrooms (each with en suite) plus a billiard room, lounge, dining hall, extensive kitchen with polished stainless steel double sink and draining area, mannequins, portraits, signed photos, budgies, cockateels and fruit trees multiple (lemon, lime, apple, feijoa and grapefruit). The winding staircase has an opulent red carpet that provides inspiration for flouncing down in long petticoats or inviting guests over just so that I can nonchalantly call down “come on in – I’m upstairs” in order to enjoy their wide eyes upon approach.

Previous to that, we had a gorgeous wee spot right on the beach. Right On The Beach. We’d wake up and jump in the sea before work, or even a cup of tea, and go to sleep to the sound of the ocean lapping. It was summer perfection. I caught the ferry to work and went for delicious coastal bike rides in the long summer evenings. It was a neighbourhood: the ferry driver knew my name and I borrowed a cooking pan from the house next door when they were out. The garage was full of bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, and wetsuits. Up the hill behind us was New Zealand bush that you could walk in for days without hitting a road.

In each place I’ve lived, I’ve lived it, I’ve loved it, and I’ve imagined making a life just like that. Until the next place comes along.

Since the end of 2011, I have lived in eleven different places and moved more than that (I returned to some of those locations a few times). Terms of condition varied from house-sitter to tenant, with several variations on house-guest/ lodger/ freeloader in between. In all cases the payment was more likely to be in the form of stories (Andy’s where? He’s doing what? You’re now working with who?!) than cash. We have many people to thank for keeping a roof over my head – and a base for Andy to return to when he was in town. Often returning to a different location each time. Home, we have always said, is where the other is, and sometimes where we sleep, but rarely restricted to one location. For the last year I’ve kept a range of clothes in the filing cabinet of my office mostly to pretend that I have an element of consistency and stability in my work-life at least. No-one appears to believe the myth.

There is a joy and freedom to being itinerant. The only burden is related to possessions: Buddhists have it right there. Packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, never knowing where that thing is, losing crucial bits of paper, having a PO Box on the other side of town and two different storage units (one for the business, one for the boat). These things are boring and tiresome. Very. After a while they wear you down and then you’re Trapped. Trapped by your trappings. The trappings we’ve been trying to escape, to avoid, to be free of. The trappings of boring and conventional. But if you cave, they’ll grow. They’ll take over. Suddenly you will not only need a shelf, a table, a filing cabinet… but also a bed, a pan to cook with, some art for the walls, space for those things you love that have no purpose, a spare room, a shed…. And once you have those, then you can have anything you want: a rice cooker and a juicer, sharp knives, books, hundreds of books, music, more art, plates and chairs for lots of guests, glasses, bags, boxes, clothes, shoes…. hell, you might as well throw a pet in the mix. And the next thing you know, you have a house. So you might as well call it a home, make it a home. Enjoy having a home. Grow carrots and receive mail. Invite friends to stay – indefinitely. Fill cupboards with food and cook delicious meals. Know where you’re coming home to every day.

I have enjoyed living in other people’s spaces, especially when they’re away. And I’ve learnt a lot about how to keep a house. We think we know but really, where does that information come from? Like parenting – parents have no training, they just do what they think is right largely based on what their own parents did or did not do. So it is with houses. When I live in someone else’s house, I follow their rules. Some people rinse dishes before they go in the dishwasher, others don’t. Some people have special cleaning regimes and cloths for particular surfaces. Some just care about the plants being watered and pets being fed. Most like to have their bills paid on time.

So, the time has come. We’ve reached the end of this particular road. I have one more move left in me, for now. We’re buying a house. It will be my first somewhat long-term, non-parental, address since 2001 (a house in Canada that I lived in for almost three years). I don’t think Andy’s ever had one of those.

Surprisingly, the initiative for this came from Andy. Andy the itinerant. Andy the sailor. But if you look a bit deeper, there is a logic to that. I love living on our boat. I love it, genuinely. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, but I still love it. I like what it says about us, and how it makes us live. Unfortunately, a boat can’t really be a boat if it’s also a house. I live and work in Wellington and, not unreasonably I feel, I like my home to be where I left it when I return at the end of a day. However, if your home is a boat, that puts huge restrictions on a boat’s inherent boatiness. And we don’t want to do that, so I say “no problem – the boat must be a boat, I’ll house-sit….” And somehow, not deliberately, I’ve ended up living more in other people’s houses, than in our own home. Our lovely boat.

Don’t get me wrong now: boats make wonderful homes if you can move with them. But now, while we’re committed to a single location, we’re going to see what it’s like to have a house. To have a base. And to release our boat to be a boat. And maybe, one day, we might even go sailing again…

2013 – nothing like a summary

Not a single post in 2013? What does that tell you? Well – maybe it was just more of a private year than others. And maybe we were re-creating ourselves……  And maybe our energy was being focused elsewhere. And maybe, well, maybe I just didn’t want to blog. Sometimes you don’t want to share your daily experiences, thoughts, and activities with the world-wide-web. And that’s ok too.

Without a doubt, the year was dominated with my Mum dying. And that’s so personal, and so hard, that I don’t want to say much more about it. But to not mention it would be like the way I meet people on the street – and they know – but they don’t say anything. And all I want them to say is “sorry to hear about your Mum”, so I can say back “thanks”. And then we move on. It doesn’t have to get any heavier than that. But it does need to be acknowledged.

We had highlights as well though, mostly around being in New Zealand and developing our lives here. Here are four:

1. Andy started a business: Aloft Alone – a system for safely climbing – and descending – your mast alone (“won’t let you down until you want it to”). It’s based on techniques used by climbers but with some extra thought put into application to a yacht’s mast. It was launched at the Auckland Boat Show…. the most interesting thing for me was how many women were excited about it: complete independence for them if they want to climb a mast, and no more need to either be winched up, or winch some else up, a mast!

2. I got a job as senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington. I have found a partner-in-crime, Rebecca Priestley, and together we have established a new group called Science in Context – research, teaching, and talking about science. It’s fun. We have put together a suite of online undergraduate courses that explore some aspect of science and society, carry out research into science communication and history of science, and are involved in the development of various conferences, workshops, outreach activities, and events.

3. Andy and Baltazar joined the Oil Free Seas Flotilla, at the end of which he celebrated his 40th birthday:


4. And I had an opportunity to give a TEDx talk about Sailing, Tsunamis, and Climate Change:


Finally, we’ve just had a wonderful – and important – holiday with my family (brother, sister-in-law, and dad), and look forward to Andy’s parents visiting later this year. And who knows.. I might just feel like writing again.

Wishing you all a rich and rewarding 2014.