Suddenly, here we are, down to the last week of school and truly free-range writing. Then there’ll be visitors (yay, someone to buy us beer!) and Christmas, and after that just three weeks to pack up the whole household and get myself and the boys on a plane.
We begin the process of uprooting ourselves in reverse, finishing up bottles and jars of things and not buying more, rationing the last half-jar of peanut butter, running out of HP sauce and icing sugar and raisins and Napisan. We finally finish the tandoori paste and the bran flakes, and the last of the green peppercorns that mysteriously stowed away with us from Auckland. I eventually jettison the little jar of harissa, older than our second son, that for some reason I thought I might finally use this year, unaware of quite how crashingly unexotic our diet would become. Hapless runs dangerously low on AeroPress coffee filter papers, a commodity completely foreign to the Wanaka market, and takes to carefully rinsing and drying them on the windowsill.
The freezer starts to look satisfyingly bare, and I shop and cook hand-to-mouth, erring on the side of stinginess, with the side effect that we sometimes run out of food. This, at least, compels us to finally eat the half-packet of brown rice that was in the house when we arrived, and the 1.5-litre tub of experimental brown lentil soup languishing in the freezer.
Hapless gives away the rest of the firewood, hoses the outside of the house, vacuums cobwebs out of the corners of the ceiling and hundreds of dead flies out of the ranchslider tracks. We have anxious conversations about the refund of the bond and the steam-cleaning of the carpets, which have been comprehensively trashed by our children. Will the letting agent notice? Should we preemptively clean or chance a more expensive bond deduction later? Will the reek of ancient piss, sprayed with nocturnal abandon over the walls and percolating richly for 12 months under the fake wood-print lino, ever come out of the boys’ toilet?
After a year of blank walls (thanks to the blue-tack exclusion clause) and strictly utilitarian surfaces I look forward to being reunited with some of our homely, non-essential stuff: framed art prints, a few ceramics, my borderline out-of-control book collection. (Although Hapless announces a stringent stuff-reentry policy: no item will be allowed back into the Auckland house without being strictly scrutinised for eligibility in at least one qualifying category, namely aesthetics, immediate and demonstrable utility and/or strong sentimental attachment.)
I put off until the New Year the horror of dealing with the boys’ bedrooms, when I’ll have to sift through the strata of a year’s accretion: rabbit bones, rifle shell casings, pet pine cones, best-ever skipping stones, tissue-box robots, a life-size giraffe drawn on 30 sheets of sellotaped-together A4, hieroglyph-filled spy notebooks, code-cracking keys, lists of car number plates, notes on the Morse alphabet, the aurora borealis and Stephen Hawking, artworks, artworks, artworks.
We start to cross things off our ‘must do before we leave’ list, exploring local campsites, 4WD roads and bike tracks. We finally tackle the Otago Central Rail Trail, taking the kids out of school and cycling most of the middle two-thirds with a feverish, virus-ridden Firstborn, which on Day Three afforded us a genuinely charming glimpse into the workings of a nearly-deserted Ranfurly Hospital and the kindness of strangers in the middle of nowhere.
This week the boys, once again bearing the emotional brunt of our whole adventure, will say permanent goodbyes to most of the kids and teachers who have made up their happy little community this year. A few promised January playdates, a couple more weeks roaming the streets with the Charles Court crew and a goodbye barbecue for the neighbour parents, and it will be over and out for all of us.