A pinch and a punch for the first of the month…a slap and a kick for being so quick!

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December! Really? How the hell did that happen? Only a blink ago it was the summer, then Autumn turned our gardens to a deeper shade of gold, now shop windows are frosted with aerosols, lights dangle overhead, brightly coloured trees sprout up like iced gems all around us…Chritsmas is upon us!

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Wow…

Well, although like most of us, the thought of another year passing, another year older, sends a slight shudder down my spine, I do LOVE Christmas. I love everything about it, it’s ridiculous optimism, that childish sense of magic in the air, over indulgent cupboards and fridges bursting at the seams, all those naughty treats you deprive yourself of, now suddenly tangible…you have the best excuse in the world for nibbling those crisps, those heavy fudge cakes, or sugary treats, hey it’s Christmas! Forget the diets, guys!

I find myself being a child again at this time of year. Yes, for me I HAVE to get my tree up on the 1st December, decorated and glowing and green…and although it’s branches are less green now and more than a little crispy, I adore every moment. LOVE IT!!!! 011

So, in the chilly air, we got our Christmas trees, one enormous 7ft 6″ leviathan for the living room, the bushiest tree I have ever seen – so bushy in fact it that it got stuck in the netting machine gizmo, where it took three of the tree guys to force it through! Then we have a smaller tree for the hall, looking cheerily out of the window to welcome all. Christmas 2013 022

Then it’s the yearly struggle to remember which ‘safe place’ we’ve snaffled the Christmas boxes in, messily taped up to try to contain the copious amounts of decorations in. It is true that I cannot throw ANY Christmas decorations away and for the last twenty years I’ve had a tradition where I buy one new Christmas decoration every year, so now I have loads!

After fiddling with stands and buckets, trimming tree-tops, pruning trunks, we had the trees up and looking proud.

Christmas 2013 011Lol, okay, I admit to a slight idiot move on my part…er…namely cutting too much off the top of our perfect tree so I kind of ruined the look of it, but, I’m nothing if not creative, so some wire, superglue & sticky tape later, and I’d reattached the top & stuck the star on to cover up my cock-up. Looks beautiful now! 003 (2)

Then it’s the usual tangle of fairy lights…it doesn’t matter how carefully you put them away, the little buggers will tangle themselves involuntarily! Amazing all lights were working…ahem, after a sale last year, I found myself facing over 800 fairy lights! 400 on each tree would look ridiculous, right? Amazingly we could have used more, they just seemed to disappear in the branches!

049Oh, but what lovely festive fun! For the first time in months I actually found myself laughing, an amazing feat given that I was so ill through November. But like a tonic, the Christmas spirit is definitely rubbing off on me and all those around. An easing of the spirit. Somehow, the challenges and difficulties of 2013, a year I shall never forget though I’d like to, seem to dissolve against such magical optimism. Problems may be large or small, but they CAN be overcome, they CAN be solved!

Positive thinking, right? Yes, yes, YES! 😀

Christmas 2013 052Anyway, advent calendar windows opened, dangling Father Christmas decorations up, decorations on doors, garlands over mantlepiece and up the stairs rails, and cheesy baubles on trees. LOVE it!

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One other lovely thing, that I will definitely make a Tallis tradition, is going around the garden with a pair of secateurs, taking branches of fir, spruce and holly. Why pay for a Holly wreath or bow, when you can make one?! SOOOO simple and satisfying to do, just a little wire to hold the branches together and a red bow, viola! One instant door decoration and so special as it’s from your own garden!

IChristmas 2013 032f you don’t have fir, spruce or holly available, confer branches would work just as well.

Then, of course, it’s the long process of Christmas card writing – which depending on your mood, can either be a gloriously relaxing affair, or a stressful nightmare! The worst, is drawing up your list, desperately wracking your brain over your second cousin removed and her new hubby whose name you can’t remember, hoping you haven’t forgotten anyone, grumbling over the cost of stamps as they increase every year, finding too many cards and not enough envelopes and writing the wrong addresses on the wrong cards, before rushing off to make sure you’ve posted all your overseas ones before the cut off! Manic? yes, but still lovely! 🙂

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Luckily managed to do all mine this year, including the overseas ones, with time to spare! Wow, that’s a first!

Yes…December has arrived in all its glittering shinyness and though I may miss the blissful heat of summer, nothing beats a crackling log fire and some hearty cheer!

So whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re plans, wherever you are, here’s wishing you all a wonderfully happy, magical and glorious Christmas and festive season!

😀 xxxxxxx

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Merry Christmas Everyone! 😀 xxxx

It’s enough to make you cancel your reservation

And the world just keeps getting crazier! 😀

New Zealand Odyssey Part VII – Volcanoes, Fendellin and the Road Less Travelled.

I left the bubbling visceral wonders of Rotorua and headed south, deeper into the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. Driving on long mostly empty roads in blissful sunshine with ‘The Cult’ blaring out of my rental car, I found myself with a constant smile on my face.

I headed towards Lake Taupo, a huge sunken supervolcano or caldera and not only the country’s largest  freshwater lake, but the largest in all of Australasia. The 485-square-mile caldera itself, not visible due to the lake waters, was the world’s largest known eruption in the past 70,000 years and tends to blow every 1,000 years. It’s overdue.

Stopping off first, I came to the extraordinary Huka Falls (Huka meaning ‘foam’ in Maori) and the Waikato River. One of New Zealand’s longest rivers, it suddenly narrows from 100m across to only 15m , as its squeezed into a granite canyon before dropping in a series of falls and rapids. The last waterfall being the most impressive, as approximately 220,000 litres per second tumbles over the final drop. Standing on a viewing platform perched just beside it, with the roar of the falls in my ears and the water vapour drenching me, was thrilling, but it was the astonishing colour of it which surprised me. The purest brightest blue.

I eventually left the falls, utterly soaked but gloriously happy and followed the highway south to the town of Taupo, nestling on the shores of Lake Taupo. The lake, more of an inland sea, is enormous, the town though, was small and welcoming. Cruising in an unhurried fashion along the lakefront and stopping for views, I found a cheap motel to call my base for the next few weeks. I dumped my equally enormous backpack, now getting almost too heavy with mementos to carry and checked into the Lakefront Motor Lodge. To my delight, my little room overlooked the lake and had the most stunning views.

I walked along the lakeshore losing myself in the beauty of it all and splashed out on a restaurant for my first evening meal. To describe Taupo as picturesque, is to do it a disservice. Watching spectacular sunsets over its shifting waters night after night, with the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park clearly visible in the distance, it became like a dream world for me and…a dream I didn’t want to wake from.

I spent lazy days exploring the town itself with its marinas and harbours, little shops and lack back bistros. Venturing out I visited the aptly named, the ‘Craters of the Moon’, a geothermal and volcanic lunar landscape that brought to life once more, just how powerful mother nature is. Then I tried some of the hot springs in the area. The sensation of having a very hot bubbling public bath, is strange to say the least, but oddly liberating (…no, I kept my bathing costume on at all times!).

But always, it was the volcanoes on the horizon that kept drawing me in. Packing some small provisions, I headed south, skirting around the eastern edge of the lake, towards the National Park.

Stopping halfway, I ventured off to the Kaingaroa Forest, the largest manmade forest in the world! Made entirely of plantation pines, with a few native ferns and species struggling to survive beneath the canopy, it was the strangest, spookiest forest I have ever visited. I loved the feeling of isolation but the silence was overwhelming, no birds, no animals. So alien to the rich diversity of the Waipoua Kauri Forest in the far north, or any of the woods I had wandered in.

Following the State Highway south as it hugged the lakeshore, I passed through Turangi at the southern most tip of Lake Taupo,  and entered the Tongariro National Park, one of only 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Trying to keep my excitement in check, I left the main highway or Desert Road as it’s known and came to the much smaller Lake Rotoaira. Sitting on the lake side I had a picnic lunch, watching black swans glide effortlessly as the mountainside behind vented sulphurous steam into the air. Everywhere I went, I found myself saying the same thing over and over, “I’ve found my Fendellin, I’ve found my Fendellin, ‘Lost Kingdom of Dragons!”

“Pass now beyond the mountains white

Where frosted rivers leap and spring,

Amongst the golden grasses light

Where fÿrrens dwell and soar and sing.

 

A land as old and fair as stars

Of snowy peaks and moonlit seas,

Of darkling woods we travel far

To gaze upon its silvery leaves.

 

Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

As I travelled further south, nothing could have prepared me for the awe-inspiring spectacle of Tongariro National Park’s crowning glory, its three active volcanoes, Mount Tongariro, the perfect cone of Mount Ngauruhoe and the monstrous size of the explosive giant, Mount Ruapehu!

Leaving the State Highway, I took the road less travelled into a world of epic fantasy and landscapes on a grandeur I could never have imagined before. Raw, untamed, magnificent and the true stuff of imagination!

Climbing the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu, still steaming from eruptions only a few months before, camping beneath the stars in a sea of yellow gorse as I watched the sunsets bathe the volcanoes in gold…I found myself profoundly moved and in tears so many times, yet I have never felt freer.

Little did I realise while I was immersed in the whole majesty of it, that only a few years later, a certain Peter Jackson would use the same landscapes which had become such an inspiration to me and my first novel, ‘White Mountain’. As I travelled around, I kept seeing real-life locations for my ‘Darkling Trilogy’, suddenly brought to life in front of me. Watching the ‘Lord of the Rings’, some four years later, was made even more surreal and magical as a result, not only by recognising places I had visited but by seeing parts of my Fendellin used as their Mordor, my Kallorm used for their Fangorn! Very strange but thrilling!

But my awe-inspiring and magical odyssey was not over yet…