Some Dunners Stunners with my Stephanie-Jane

Nipped down to Dunedin last week to rub my friends Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybum’s tum tum (that’s the code name we came up with together to protect their anonymity).


Dunedin is excellent IMHO.  I Love the drive to get there, the people, the culture, the sense of community.  It feels like a tiny wee antipodean Aberdeen (others say Edinburgh, I am sticking with Aberdeen) to me.  I Loved the three years I spent in Scotland as a young child.  So it’s not a big jump to figure why Dunedin found its way so firmly into my big mushy hobbity heart as well.

It’s a student town.  And everyone who lives there is used to seeing all sorts of shenanigans.  Even the tour guide at the botanic gardens had one or two stories of student mischief to share. Here are a selection of snaps from our trip to the Botanic gardens, where we managed to get a ride in a fully electric trolly thing.


Dunedin has so much more to offer than student bars and cheap take-away joints (although there’s no shortage of either of these).

From the Octagon, to Otago Peninsula there’s a ton of fun shit to do and see in this plucky little shining light in the South Pacific.  This place punches so very far above its weight, and I will always jump at an opportunity to visit.

As mentioned, there is a very Scottish feel to darling Dunners.  That includes the weather.  Dunedin is prone to grey and dismal spells of weather just like her Northern twin.  I’ve seen rain come in sideways, and fog that would give my grandmother’s pea soup a run for its money in the thick and gloomy stakes.  Is this a bad thing??? HELL NO!

Here are just SOME of the views from the Otago Peninsula that you can enjoy if you hike up there for a look around.

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If you find yourself lucky enough to be placed in Dunedin in the autumn or winter, please drag your tourist ass up the hill to Larnach castle very early on a foggy morning.  It’s magic.  It feels like a scene from Wuthering Heights or, maybe, even Scooby Doo?  At any rate.  It’s proper eerie and one of my favourite things to do, on a long list of favourite things to do while I am in Otago.

The Peninsula is amazing.  That little library, the views, the teeny-tiny-windy road.  The walk to Sandfly Bay (did I get the name right?)  It’s all good.  Go there.  It’s good.

There’s also a thriving art and culture scene.  Not to brag or anything (yes, I am just about to FULLY brag) but I am friends with one of the driving forces in this area.  Pam is a soft spoken powerhouse with a git’er’done attitude and tenacity that fears no red tape or neigh sayer.  She remains unwavering in the face of obstacles or intimidation.  She’s got an eye for beauty and a heart of gold and is a force of nature in and of her own right.  She’s also one of the very first EV owners in all of New Zealand, and almost certainly the first commercial EV owner in Dunedin.  She helps organize exhibitions, record breaking meet ups, rallies, social events and countless other things in between.  She’s absolutely one of my all-star heroes.  As are the other champions I have come to know and Love in the deep South.  Alan and Veronica are full of enthusiasm and knowledge and I never quite feel like I get to spend enough time with them when I sneak down.  OH!  And Scott and Jenna!!  Artistic and tied to nature and their community inextricably.  I should stop there, because I could be here all day.


I realized, on this last trip, that I’ve not been to Dunedin without a visit to Nova cafe.  Why is this?  Um, because the coffee is off the fucking hook and food is amazing.  Also, it is in the lobby of the art gallery which is very warm and welcoming.  Feels quite Scandinavian to me, with all that wood and open space.  I am vastly and deeply in Love with many things Scandinavian, so that scores Dunedin some extra points.  Extra. Points. For Dunedin.

So my daughter and I had no plan as such, we just wanted to have a couple of days of girl time and to see my friends and wish them well.

We drifted around in our little rented Holden sewing machine sized car.  We got to ride in the fully electric bus around the botanic gardens.  Probably, the most fun we had though, was op-shopping around town.  The second hand stores in Auckland and Wellington can have a bit of a hipster feel, or be overpriced at times.  Not in Dunners.  No sir, they have well lit junk shopping.  No pretence or toff scoffs anywhere!  I paid $1 a piece for a set of six hand made (locally hand made) coffee mugs.  They’re beautiful.

We spent our second night at the foot of the world’s steepest street (Baldwin Street) in a lovely apartment on top of a cafe that was run by a most unpleasant young woman.  She was packing up and we asked for directions to the place we had booked to stay and she feigned complete ignorance, despite the fact the apartment was located right above the coffee shop she was just closing up.  Strange.  I thought she was having a bad day, but nope, the next day she was awful as well, as I dared to nip down and ask if they were open yet (because the doors were open) and apparently they were not.  All good.  You don’t get through 40 years on this planet being Dee West without coming across some people who have nothing but the “are you something I need to scrape off my shoe” look to offer.  It’s all good.  I don’t sweat the small stuff much these days anyway.  And the apartment was PERFECT.  We really enjoyed it.

We slept in till 8:30 on our last morning, so didn’t manage to get up in time to see a sunrise or go for one last walk on the steep streets of Dunedin.

We got to the airport without struggling through any level of traffic at all, and my daughter was pleased to bits with how tiny the airport and runway were, compared to, lets say: LAX or Heathrow.  That child has grown up proper Bougie and I’ve got no-one to blame by my own damn self for it.  But she did Love our trip to the Scotland of the South, as I always do as well.

So thanks for hosting me and Steph last week Dunners.  You really are a stunner. XXOO

Getting Bach into my Crazy Life

If you’d like, you could listen to Bach’s Orchestral Suite #3 in D Major, as it takes about the same time to listen as to read this blog.

I like Bach.  He had 20 children.  7 with his first wife Maria and another 13 with his much younger second wife Anna, an opera singer and quiet achiever who history doesn’t hold in enough regard IMHO.  11 of these children survived to adulthood.  He was quite profoundly blind further into his career, and would have required a lot of support from his family in the wake of this.  He lost 7 of his 20 children either shortly after birth or in their infancy or childhood.  Yet his marriages remained intact and his genius thrived with the strong foundation of his family and friends.


Different times.  History is quite fascinating, and I am always comforted by the telling of it, as not a single person who graces the pages of any history book lived without extreme struggle, strife and a fairly hefty dose of eccentricity.

This song, my second favourite Bach creation (after Toccata and Fugue) is a thoughtful piece that plays an important part in hundreds of movies. It is the background music to reminiscent montages after loss or change, or plays wistfully during rainy or snowy scenes of people falling into, or out of Love.  It is the background music to thoughtfulness and nostalgia.  It is sad, and joyful, and powerfully gentle.

This is the background music playing in my mixed- up mind a lot recently.

For the third time in 15 years I am adrift and bereft of desire to stay coupled to Phteven.  There’s so much metaphor and foreshadowing that led to this place.  We’ve been to emotional hell and back at various points since meeting when I was a lost, loud, self-destructive 23-year-old working at an ISP, and he was an insecure and somewhat emotionally oblivious genius starting what would one day become a global phenomenon.

Somehow, against so many odds, that shy genius found this loquacious hurricane at just the right moment in both our lives for us to fall quite formidably in Love.

Every friendship, marriage, relationship, even our frenemies and nemesis connections go through phases and require thoughtful maintenance and management.  There’s no clear rule book as to what relationships will last and which ones will fade.

I’ve written countless blogs about clawing up the cliffs of uncertainty, pain, and difficulty so that we can rest for a time on the safe plateaus of comfort that can only be truly appreciated through struggling to get to them.  Sometimes, it gets to the point that it doesn’t seem possible to keep climbing, particularly if the next safe place is too obscured and distant to know when or how to reach it.  At the moment, I’d take a rocky outcrop to tie myself to while this storm passes.  A safe plateau seems quite inconceivably far-flung as I write this.

A formula that remained the saving grace between Phteven and I, through my big steaming pile of bat-shit crazy, and his well-documented lack of social and emotional finesse, was honesty, acceptance, humour, hope, tenacity, Love, respect, but perhaps most importantly, staggered crisis management.

What I mean, is that we have both had huge blows over the years.  Everyone does.  He doesn’t deal with mortality, and I do not deal well with failure or rejection.  He doesn’t speak his heart readily, and I never stop talking.  We’re both incredibly insecure and formed a functioning cocoon of co-dependence that was incredibly comfortable.  Sometimes, he doesn’t think how he might be affecting others, and I can’t stop thinking about everyone and everything else as other people’s happiness is one of my many anesthetising addictions to remedy the constant chatter and self-loathing that is the white noise of my epic adventure through life.

During his last rough patch, he joked often that we’d never make it through if we were to both fall off the mountain at the same time.  We took turns feeling helpless and broken and defeated.  One of us was the always the harbor, and one of us was always the ship, and we could weather any storm when these were the rules that the universe played by.

We were smacked in the face with some intense and harsh realities after years of struggling to get a diagnosis for one of our four kids.  This was after a succession of personal and professional bombshells that weakened our defenses to the point that this news was a fatal blow that fractured both of our hearts, seemingly irreparably.

We dealt with our self-loathing and grief in very different ways.  Every time I look at my husband I see our son.  I see failure.  I feel loss.  And I’ve always pushed any kindness or comfort away with fervor and force when I am in crippling emotional pain.

We’re immersed in every kind of therapy imaginable.  Couples, family and individual counselling.  We’ve got friends shoulders to cry on and spare rooms to sleep in when needs be.  We’re both lost, and sad, and filled with self-hatred and we can’t find our way back to each other, despite both being smart enough to know that it would be the most solid foundation to rebuild upon.

So Bach’s 3rd Symphony in D major plays with mournful strings in the background as my memories flicker like old movie cast onto a sheet from a projector reel.

Finding out we were pregnant with Daniel the week after my 26th Birthday. Births, funerals, travel, laughter, tears, walking away from Serato and starting new adventures.  Building the treehouse while I was building our third child in my small round body.  Second wedding, Impromptu honeymoons and weekends at the ski lodge bathing the babies in a bucket.  How could anyone not crave a continuation of a dream that flies well beyond most peoples’ wildest imaginings?

It’s messed up.  He wants to work it out.  What’s wrong with me?


I don’t know.

My sister, who has been around for the three previous failed attempts I have made to run away from my long-suffering husband, said something insightful.  After I had finally convinced her that I was ready to walk out and close the door for good this time, she looked at me and said:

“So what is it you need?  What does happy even look like if you can’t be happy with him?”

Without taking the time to think, it poured out in a trembling timbre with a descant of tears: “I just want to not hate myself every time I look at him.  I have no idea who I am and everything I do know… I actually fucking loath right now.”

And that’s it.  It’s that simple.  There’s nothing more scandalous than my own selfishness and disorientation keeping me drifting farther away from the one true thing I used to rely on so steadily.

I don’t deserve to be Loved.  By anyone.  I don’t deserve to be tolerated after my ever-increasing catalogue of failures.  And I don’t have anything to offer to him in his dark hour, so, aside from the most final of possible solutions, what can be done to escape this relentless cycle of anger and sadness?  If anyone knows, feel free to fill me in.

Every marriage goes through dark times.  Every relationship has highs and lows.  It can feel darkest just before the dawn, so I guess I am hopeful, because things are as dark as I remember them being between us.

If I could take a magic pill to want to cling to the man I call Grumpy through the tempest that continues to rage, I would swallow it down, even if it came at great cost I would.

Our last intensive marriage counseling session I had to promise to publicly say that we are working on staying together.  This effectively, just made me worry his concern is not so much for us, or me, or even his own happiness, but that he was not keen on the embarrassment or demoralisation of separation.  An infuriating prospect when, as two total losers who were bullied mercilessly through most of their lives, we always had each other to cling to in a world that could be incredibly cruel to weirdos like us.  His strength, and one of the things I fell so deeply in Love with, is that he simply does not give a fuck.  Our core relationships and our tribe’s opinions will always matter, everyone else will solicit little more than an eye roll.  It’s who we are, it is how we roll, it is what makes it possible for us to get shit done against seemingly insurmountable odds.

He corrected me, on my assumption of the source of his protest and his hope that I would stop talking about separation.

“When you say it, it means it might really happen.” Was his earnest and poignant explanation. “And I don’t ever want it to be over.”

So I steel myself to go into battle in defense of one of the greatest Love stories I’ve ever read, which is my own.  We are all characters in our own epic adventures, and we’re all faced with incredible trials that can break us or make us.  I’ve recognised the fact I need to shed the pathetic princess pontifications I’ve perpetuated, and will build a very firm bridge to get over myself.

Things still suck.  I am still battle wearied after a roller coaster year and more triumph, tribulation than I have ever known professionally.  Add to the mix a truly exasperating and wretched last quarter, and you’ve got a recipe for total mental meltdown it turns out.  But life is tough and full of stuff.  Punishing myself and the person who knows me better than any other person on earth for it over, and over, and over again probably is not be the best remedy to the tumult of late.

I see couples married for 50 years and wonder what they may have seen together and how deeply the wounds run in their hearts since they placed them in the others’ hands.  And I get advice from people I admire and adore on their own experiences in Love and life, and the one thing that is universal is struggle.  It varies in intensity and subject matter, but it is a part of every single one of our lives and we are all given the options to let it make us stronger or break us to pieces.


I guess what I am saying, in my typically verbose and dramatic way is this:

I’m going to ground for a little bit longer so I can get the tools I need to build that fucking bridge.  I’m going to build it, I am going to cross it, I am going to get over myself and keep moving fucking forward.

Take the time to listen to the song “I wish somebody would build a bridge, so I could get over myself.”  I’ll have on high rotate by the Australian band Thirsty Merc, as that’s going to take over Bach on my playlist for a while I think.

Hopefully with Phteven if he’ll have me.

Thanks for reading.  And thank you especially to everyone who’s been watching ringside or further afield and offering Love and support to both of us.  Your stories of clawing through your own tough times are humbling and helpful beyond measure.

Lots of Love from this crazy (not currently so happy) Hobbit.