The weather in New Zealand has been less than clement of late. As I write, it is the height of summer, and we have just been experiencing the worst storms since records began. Hurricane force winds and driving rain day after day after day. Everyone is looking forward to winter. It might calm down and get warmer then.
Its my fault of course.
It all started four years ago. We were on holiday in Australia, staying in Robins house.
"I think", said Robin, struck with inspiration, "that it might be a good idea to rent out my house here in Perth while Im living in New Zealand."
"Not a bad idea," I said. "Of course we really ought to pack it all up. You dont want the tenants using your stuff."
Robin got all thoughtful. "Hmmm," she said, and set wheels in motion. Arrangements were made.
"These," she said proudly, "are boxes." She looked around for a moment. "Over there," she explained, "are things. Put the things in the boxes."
All was crystal clear. I now knew exactly what I had to do. "Of course," I said, and did as I was told. The boxes were large; many things went in them. Some of the things were also large. And heavy.
"Now," said Robin when all was done, "I think the boxes need putting over here."
I hastened to obey, but somehow, overnight, somebody had come into the house and nailed all the boxes to the floor. I heaved and struggled and managed to move the boxes, ripping great holes in the floor as the tortured floorboards gave up the unequal struggle. Robin didnt notice and I covered the gaping holes with rugs. Perhaps the new tenants would fall through and kill themselves; but only after theyd set up the direct debit authority to pay the rent. I piled the boxes neatly and the moving men came to take them away.
"Nice one," said the moving man as he saw the tattered remains of the floorboards beneath the boxes. "The box nailer came in last night and nailed all the boxes to the floor, didnt he?"
"Yes," I said. "But dont tell Robin. She hasnt realised yet."
"No worries, mate. Shell be thirsty work though, getting those floorboards back into place."
"Have a beer."
"Good on yer, mate. Dont mind if I do. Well get this lot out of the way in two shakes of a dead dingos donger!"
I left it all to the experts.
Four years passed and Robin said, "Lets go back to Perth for a holiday."
"What a good idea," I said. And so it was done.
Perth was sweltering in a forty degree heat wave. "Lets check out the storage place where my things are," said Robin. "We can sort out the rubbish and throw it away and then maybe take the rest back to New Zealand. Its silly to pay storage fees when we could make good use of the stuff."
We drove to the storage shed. The air conditioner in the car made the journey a pleasant one. The brown, sere landscape outside drifted past, burned dry and dusty under the pitiless sun. Soon we arrived at the storage depot. Row upon row of identical concrete lockups baked in the sweltering heat. I got out of the car and rivers of sweat immediately broke out all over my body and flowed downwards to gush in never ending streams from the toes of my sandals. I squelched over to the lockup and Robin opened it. I recognised the boxes immediately. The floorboards were all gone; the moving man had done a great job.
"Well go through the boxes one by one," said Robin. "Well pile the junk up over here and take it to the tip tomorrow. Well repack all the good stuff and then arrange to have it picked up and delivered to New Zealand. Lets start with this box."
Interestingly the boxes appeared to have been spot-welded to the concrete. However we were in luck; the caustic properties of the great lake of sweat I was paddling in quickly dissolved the welds, and etched box shaped depressions deep into the floor. I chose a box at random and opened it.
"Jigsaw puzzles," I said.
"Ooohhh goody!" said Robin, elbowing me out of the way. "Let me see."
She sat down on the floor of the lockup and spread the pieces around on a spare space. It didnt take her long to have a rough rectangle blocked out. "Do you think this looks like sky?" she asked, holding out a piece for my inspection.
"I dont think so," I said. "Looks more like sea to me. If you examine it closely, you can see a fragment of shark."
"No," said Robin, unconvinced. "I think thats part of the wing of an eagle."
I opened another box.
"What shall I do with all these Anne McCaffery books?" I asked. "Can we put them on the pile for the tip?"
"No," said Robin, affronted. "Oooh I havent seen these for four years. Gosh, I missed them."
She began to read The White Dragon, holding the book in her left hand and reading with her left eye while her right hand and right eye continued to put the jigsaw puzzle together. Ive always admired Robins ability to multi-task.
"This box," I said, "appears to have several BBC computers in it."
"Oh, plug them in," insisted Robin. "Plug them in NOW! I must have a game of Elite!"
"These Dr. Who videos?" I asked. "Can I throw those away?"
"No, no! Find the video player. I want to watch the episode where the daleks say Exterminate for the first time."
"What about the sewing machine?"
"Curtains," shrieked Robin. "I have to make curtains for the lounge. Right this minute!"
"This box is full of power tools. Drill, sander, a miniature lathe."
"Bookshelves! I want to build bookshelves. And a table. Wood! I must have wood."
By now all of Robins limbs and most of her brain were engaged with multiple activities. It seemed the perfect time to introduce a delicate topic.
"When we get this pile of stuff back to New Zealand, what are we going to do with it? Where are we going to put it?"
"Ive been meaning to talk to you about that," said Robin. "I think well have to build six more rooms."
"Thats a good idea," I said supportively. "But I have a much more cunning plan. There is a rather large room downstairs which we arent currently using for anything. Perhaps you could take that over."
"But its icky!" said Robin. "Bare concrete floor. My toes will freeze and drop off."
"OK. Well get that seen to."
And so it was decided.
Back in New Zealand, we asked around. Who is good at floors? There was an outstanding unanimity of opinion. Carpet 2000 were the best. We drove there. They were closed.
Nothing daunted, we went back the next day. An astonishingly efficient and extremely pleasant husband and wife team answered all our questions, told us what we needed and guided us to a solution.
"Well be round on Saturday 14th to lay the carpet."
"Its a deal."
Saturday 14th February 2004 dawned. It was a fine day though rather cloudy. A man turned up, festooned with carpet and intriguingly shaped bits of wood which had special nails in them. He laid these around the borders of the room and hammered the nails deep into the concrete. Id never seen nails go into concrete before and I was genuinely impressed. Perhaps the boxes in the lockup had been nailed rather than spot-welded. Hmmmm
"Did you live in Perth a few years back?" I asked. "Was it you who sneaked into houses and lockups overnight and nailed all the boxes to the floor?"
He looked shifty. "No squire. Not me! Never been to Perth in my life. Id hate to go there. Everyone tells me its as dry as a dead dingos donger!"
My suspicions were confirmed. He spoke the language fluently!
He put down the underlay and then the carpet, attaching it cunningly to the bits of wood so that all was smooth and tickly beneath the feet.
"There you are, squire. All done. Brand new carpet. Makes a big difference to the room, doesnt it?"
I had to agree.
It is a well known fact that serving coffee in aeroplanes causes turbulence; and that washing a car causes rain. What is less well known is that laying a carpet causes hurricane force winds, and monsoon-like downpours for days on end. This is so that the wind can drive the rain in through the doors and windows so as to saturate the newly laid carpet and ruin it.
No sooner had the carpet layer left than the heavens opened and the rain pounded down. It flattened the grass and vast torrents poured down the road.
On the evening of the day upon which the carpet was laid, David Bowie was giving a concert in Wellington. Robin and I went.
Bowie pranced upon the proscenium, out into the crowd, singing his heart out. I felt quite guilty as the rain poured down upon him. He donned an anorak and pulled the hood up and continued to sing, making the most marvellous music. The crowd was entranced.
At the end of one song, he turned to face the band who were safe and dry upon the covered stage behind him.
"Come on in," he invited them. "The waters fine!"
Every so often, a stage hand would slink on to the set and push the excess water off the proscenium with an extremely large mop. It slopped down into the crowd, but it didnt seem to dampen their ardour.
"We got everything here in Wellington," said Bowie. "We got squeegees, we got mops. Oh look! A towel!"
Like all good SF fans, Bowie knew where his towel was. He held it tight across his body and strummed it like a guitar.
"See!" he cried. "Its an air towel!"
He crumpled it and dried his hair with it.
"Now its a hair towel!"
He laughed immoderately at his own joke. He was obviously having a great time, despite the weather. He sang another song.
Robin and I went home, buoyed up with enthusiasm after a wonderful concert. I went to the downstairs room to check out the carpet. Dry as a bone!
"Ya boo sucks, weather gods. Ive got great drainage. You wont get me that way."
For the next two weeks they tried and tried. The rain poured down in solid sheets and the driving wind hurled it angrily in every direction. It sought out the most minute cracks, the most minuscule crevices. All over New Zealand houses were flooded and roads were closed.
But my carpet stayed dry. Im grateful for that. But Im sorry that I almost sunk the whole country beneath the sea, just because I had a carpet laid.
I wont do it again. Promise.