I Finally Visited a Cat Café!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

Can you believe cat cafes have only been a thing in New Zealand since last year? Rather predictably, they’ve become really popular, popping up in more and more places. Not Hamilton, unfortunately, which is why I, self-confessed crazy cat lady, only got around to visiting one this last weekend.

Yes, I took pictures.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThe café I visited is called Barista Cats – awesome name, by the way. It was a little difficult to find, being tucked into a lane off Auckland Central’s Queen Street, behind a solid-looking door and up a flight of stairs. There was a sign on Queen Street, but it may as well have said…

“This is the first test: are you worthy enough to discover the portal and gaze upon the treasures within?”

It felt like going up to see a dentist, especially as there was a waiting room. Then there was the airlock-like entry, double doors to prevent cats escaping. Hands sanitized, my companions and I finally stood within the inner sanctum.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIt was $15 for an hour with the cats, and that included a drink. I had some very nice coconut cream tea. The drinks came with lids, which we thought was a very sensible idea. Then we discovered that one of the cats – a greedy, short-haired calico called Hamburglar – had worked out how to get the lids off!

Meeting all the cats with their different personalities was fun.

There was a tiny tabby with crossed eyes and a loud meow. Apparently, it and its siblings had been thrown into a river in a plastic bag, but the cross-eyed kitten’s meow had been so loud that it had alerted a passer-by and saved them.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThere were two blind cats, one of which was a Manx, and one deaf cat, and one cat with only three legs. A few of the cats had been rescued from the streets, but they were all adorable. They seemed to enjoy staring out of the window, watching the people going about their business in the lane below.

I played with the cats and stroked them and, quite frankly, never wanted to leave. There were other things to keep you occupied in the room – cat-themed reading material and board games – and, of course, there was food. The food was below average for Auckland café food, but the focus is on the cats, so who cares?

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsAs we ate, Hamburglar sat at our feet, periodically reaching up to tap our thighs. You’re not allowed to feed any of the cats, but, evidently, Hamburglar is no quitter.

We were kind of worried about staying too long and having to pay another $15, but it was a quiet afternoon, so they let us off. Maybe it’s for the best that I no longer live in Auckland. I’d keep sneaking off to the cat café like it was some sort of brothel!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIf you’re on a long New Zealand tour and you find yourself missing your feline pets, an hour in one of New Zealand’s growing number of cat cafes might be the answer.

Oh, it turned into an absolutely fabulous cat-filled weekend for me. My partner and I stayed the night at his brother’s flat, and his brother’s flatmates had just brought home a kitten. It was so lovely, climbing up me to play with my hair and, later, falling asleep over my arm with an almighty (for such a tiny guy) sigh. My own beloved Crookshanks died earlier this year, so this weekend felt like an early Christmas present. Thank you, Tim, for taking me.

🙂

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

Road to Perdition

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP

I don’t know where to begin this story. I could begin in media res, with a familiar yet disturbingly alien landscape trundling past a window. I could begin with the provocatively dramatic image of a nun aiming a revolver at a sheriff. I could begin before the beginning, with a little girl arriving in a strange, new place, being comforted with the promise of a kitten. Or with me being told that my beloved childhood pet must now be killed to protect my parents’ carpets.

I won’t begin with my boyfriend finding a lump on my breast.

This is a lot, so I’ll begin with what happened on Sunday, 1st May, 2016. My parents were visiting my boyfriend and I in Hamilton. It was a lovely day, so we all went for a walk around Hamilton Lake. Tim and I were very excited about a larp we’d be attending the next weekend, a western played over eight hours. We were each in the process of putting together a costume: he a sheriff; me a nun. (Explaining to non-larpers why we needed a cowboy hat and a wimple proved rather amusing.)

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP

NUN SELFIE!

During the walk, I asked my mum, just casually, how the cats were. Her refusal to answer was enough. Fighting back tears, I demanded to know. Crookshanks, the kitten I’d got soon after immigrating to New Zealand nearly fifteen years previously, had started pissing on the carpet. You know it’s the end when cats start doing that. So I hastily packed a bag and returned to my parents’ house to say goodbye.

My parents live in Tauranga, but that’s not where we lived when we first arrived in New Zealand. Back then, we lived in a town called Waiuku. Coincidentally, Waiuku was where the larp would be taking place. (Well, at a place just up the peninsula from Waiuku, somewhere my family always went for picnics: Awhitu.) I hadn’t been back to Waiuku in ten years.

Sheriff

Tim

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tim couldn’t come with me to parents’ house, as he had to work and was in the process of fixing a beat-up, old car he’d just purchased. We needed the car to get to the larp. So I had to face saying goodbye to Crookshanks without him. It was quite an upsetting few days. I returned to Hamilton the night before the larp. That was when Tim found the lump.

You know what it’s like. Googling the symptoms. Most breast lumps aren’t deadly. That doesn’t stop me shaking and crying. I’m so scared. Tim’s mum died of cancer last year.

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.

So the night before the larp I barely slept. I was too anxious. I’m the sort of person who gets anxious very easily. I have, in the past, literally cried over spilt milk.

Not just cried. Had a full-on panic attack.

I wrote quite a therapeutic article about my experiences with anxiety and depression a while ago, and a piece about how it relates to the existential crisis of the immigrant child, so I won’t go on about it here. But if that’s what I’m like with things that I have no real reason to get anxious over, imagine what I’m like now.

Which is why the timing of the larp couldn’t have been better.

The thing about larping is you’re spending a few hours pretending to be someone else. You get all caught up in their story and immersed in the drama going on around you. There really is no better way of distracting yourself from anxiety.

So the larp. It’s called The Train Will Whistle One Last Time. It begins with all the characters – cowboys, Mexicans, Indians and various other western types – boarding a train to a town called Perdition. For some, it’s returning to a place they’d rather not go back to.

Waiuku Train Mural

From a mural in Waiuku

In real life, I was returning to Waiuku – a place I never thought I’d go back to. It was nice enough when my family first moved there, but by the end I was fairly glad to escape. I was bullied rather badly there. I had some great friends too, but it was a small town in which one could easily feel trapped. It’s one of those towns outsiders make fun of.

As Tim and I approached the town in the newly-repaired car, the sight of the fields and trees trundling past the window made me feel odd. I kind of remembered them. I had this uncomfortable feeling that we shouldn’t be driving this way. No good would come of it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Waiuku… has changed.

Waiuku

Was this always there?

It’s gotten a lot prettier in the last ten years. Seriously. It looks like it might actually be worth visiting now. (And if you do, you can camp overnight in the library car park for free with a self-contained campervan rental.)

One of the oldest pubs in New Zealand, The Kentish Hotel, was a dingy, seedy-seeming establishment with sticky carpets and no real character when we lived there. Now it’s dead nice. This is the ceiling in the dining room.

Waiuku The Kentish

(It’s an old map of New Zealand!)

History is apparently Waiuku’s main focus now. It has some old (for New Zealand) buildings, including a colonial jail and schoolroom. They’re down by the water, where there’s a new walkway. Of course, the buildings were there when I was, but there weren’t quite so many signs proudly proclaiming Waiuku to be this wonderful, historical town.

Waiuku1

See?

The depressing, gravel-and-broken-glass-strewn car park where I once tripped and split my lip now has plant life and a boardwalk around it. Small improvements like that make a lot of difference to a place.

But I was happy to find the weather stone unchanged.

Waiuku Weather Stone

(Read the sign!)

So it turned out that returning to Waiuku was not at all like returning to Perdition. I won’t go into details about the larp to avoid spoilers, but I will say that it was possibly the best larp I’ve ever played. And I got to point a revolver at Tim! I didn’t end up “killing” anyone in the game, but at one point one of the other players ran back to the train shouting, “The mad Mexican’s shot the sheriff and the deputy!”

All in all, a great weekend.

Except I just thought about the lump again.


UPDATE: It’s just a cyst! A stupid, harmless cyst. I don’t even have to do anything about it!

🙂

Thank you to all the people who messaged me/commented with kind thoughts. Hearing about all the women (and men) who’d been through the same thing was greatly comforting, especially hearing that the vast majority of those lumps and bumps were benign!


 

The Great Kiwi Barbecue

Here’s another difference between Britain and New Zealand: barbecues.

Before my family moved to New Zealand, I’d only ever been to one barbecue, and we didn’t spend much of it outside. (I remember we were actually forced outside by our friend’s elderly golden Labrador letting one off in the lounge.)

We’ve spent much more time outside since moving to New Zealand, and had barbecues beyond counting. Of course, the weather is to thank. (As I write this, in the middle of winter, I’m sunbathing on my parents’ deck, and the sunlight is glaring off the pages of my notebook, and the cats are sprawled out next to me, and I hear a tui in one of the trees… I suppose, to be fair, Tauranga is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.)

If I ever go back to Britain, I’ll miss Kiwi barbecues. They’re awesome.

You’ve got the smell of the oil, the smoke, the caramelising meat, the citronella to keep the mozzies at bay, the waft of the cool potato salad as the cling film is lifted off; the cats darting towards us when they realise dad’s firing up the hotplate. And the steak. The STEAK. It’d better be done no more than a minute on each side or so help me!

IMG_1078The wine, the lager, the ginger beer for the kids, the kebabs, the sauce, the corn on the cob oozing juices down your chin… I know I’m just listing now, but there’s so much to a great barbecue, and not just the food and the aromas. There’s the sitting around talking as the sun goes down, lighting the candles and the brazier and letting the darkness place a comfortable blanket around us. We feel warmly full and slightly drowsy, drinking and talking and not wanting it to end. Perhaps there’s ice-cream; there’s always laughter.

The barbecue is a very typically New Zealand thing, although it is one of the ways in which New Zealand is similar to Australia. (Sorry, Kiwis.) When a Brit does an impression of an Australian, they’ll invariable call people Bruce and say, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.” No matter how culturally accurate or inaccurate this is, it shows how the act of barbecuing is a very laid back form of cooking, perfect for both Australians and New Zealanders.

It’s great for bringing people together: everyone can contribute with minimal effort, just bring a pack of something to slap on the hotplate. The common expression here is, “Bring a plate,” an instruction that often confuses recent immigrants, us among them. We, and so many others before and since, thought it meant, “We don’t have enough plates for all our guests, so please bring your own.” So, much to our new friend’s amusement, we showed up to their barbecue with an empty plate each, only to be told that what they actually meant was, “Bring some food for everyone to share.”

Of course, we don’t just have barbecues in each other’s gardens. It’s common in New Zealand to have a barbecue on the beach – indeed; a barbecue on the beach is the traditional image of the Kiwi Christmas Dinner.  The barbecue is such a Kiwi icon that many beaches, parks and New Zealand campgrounds have permanent barbecues that are free for the public to use. Sometimes there is a small fee, and sometimes you have to book ahead, but it’s a fantastic idea and one that tourists should take advantage of more often.

IMG_1064

If you ever have a holiday in New Zealand, you absolutely have to have a barbecue. I’ve found it’s a brilliant way to eat when you hire a campervan – it gets you out of the tiny campervan kitchen while retaining that important quality of self-cooked meals: cheapness. You can find a recipe for a Great Kiwi Barbecue here.

And it really is the best way to eat steak.