The long white cloud

Monday, May 29, 2006

25/05/06

This week the gaffer and I have been trying to get more into the kiwi way of life, and so decided to settle down and watch the super 14 final. Which is identical to the FA cup final, except that the ball and the goal posts are the wrong shape and the ref never seems to spot that there are too many people on the pitch or that half of them are committing hand-ball. Still, despite that , we decided to watch like “real” kiwis and pinned our colours firmly to the mast of the Wellington Hurricanes (go “Canes !”). The reason that they garnered our support as opposed to the Christchurch Crusaders (boo!), was for the entirely sportsfan fickle reason of being from the North Island , and being the underdogs. But the whole thing turned into high farce anyway, because an hour before kick off a thick pea souper fell over the whole ground reducing visibility to about three feet. But instead of sensibly calling the match off, in that typically stoic kiwi fashion they just played on, making for an all-round comic affair. The close-up action the cameras could just about deal with, as could the commentators. Hoowever, on the long-shots (the bulk of the coverage), the commentators just repated for an hour and a half, that they could not see anything, and towards the end simply started speculating as to what was happening on the pitch. At half-time much of the crowd left the game to go and watch it down the pub, so that they could at least see the close-up shots. Anyways, the Canes lost, the Crusaders (Aders ?) won, and to add even more mirth to the event, the newspapers reported the following day that the Canes were involved in some sort of bust-up in a nightclub , that resulted in former all black captain Tana Umaga , hitting one of his berserk colleagues with a woman’s handbag, after the bloke had punched another night-clubber in the face. And after this sternest of reprimands from Umaga the guy promptly burst into tears (quite literally handbags).

We have recently discovered that the house seems to have been infested with some sort of mite (and no that's not a thinly veiled attempt to deter visitors). Either fleas or bed bugs, we are not sure which. But I appear to be their food of choice, and most mornings I wake up with some bites on my person, whilst the gaffer on the whole appears to be escaping unscathed. I have started researching the whole thing on the internet in order to formulate my plan of attack (do you know how much stuff there is out there, regarding flea infestation ?). I am a bit reticent to have the whole house fumigated - though it’s definitely an option - mainly because of my asthma and the fact that we would have to vacate the place for 24 hours. Instead I have decided to set up a flea trap (cunning eh?). Basically it involves suspending a lightbulb over a shallow dish of water, the idea being that the fleas jump towards the light and then fall in the dish and drown. No really. Apparently some people swear by this, so what the heck I will give it a go. Will keep you posted, I know you are all intrigued..

Two big stories here at the moment. The first is the queen’s 80th birthday. Whereas over in the UK any mention of a royal event triggers calls for an end to the royal family and various impromptu vox pox that reveal our indifference to Liz et al, over here it’s really quite different. People see her as a genuinely important person and (inter)national treasure and seem to get all misty eyed at the thought of her having aged yet another year. Personally I feel that this has more to do with the extra public holiday that they receive, rather than any genuine sense of patriotism.

The other big story here is about New Zealander Mark Inglis, who became the first double amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest on prosthetic legs. I am not sure whether the story has reached the UK, but in a nutshell Inglis and his party discovered a dying British climber David Sharp at the death zone of Everest (over 8000m) and left him there and continued their journey. The story was not meant to end in this ignoble fashion. Inglis , whatever you think about him, is a quite remarkable character. A picture in the Star Sunday Times, showed him shortly after the Everest expedition sat in a hospital bed , four of his finger tips were jet black with frostbite (all but one will almost certainly be amputated ) and with further signs of blackness along the stumps of his legs. He is considered something of a national icon and has worked tirelessly for charity since he and a colleague both lost their legs to frostbite on Mount Cook almost 20 years ago. The ascent of Everest just being his latest in a long list of achievements. The abandonment of the climber on the mountain however, appears to have changed the way the NZ public now perceives him. The story would possibly have blown over, except that Sir Ed, voiced his disgust at the action of Inglis’s party (for a completely different perspective on this BTW, click here). Hilary , not for the first time has been voted the most trustworthy person in NZ, and is pretty much considered royalty over here, and a condemnation from him - together with the recent rescue of another climber Lincoln Hall - could have serious implications for Inglis who is heavily reliant on sponsorship deals.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

11/05/06

One of the nice things about living in Auckland is the plethora of beautiful regional parks all within a relatively short drive. The gaffer and I have been checking out some of these at the weekends and they are truly wonderful places. You can hike anything from 20 minutes to 8 hours in some of the bigger parks, or you can go camping,mountain biking,fishing etc. In fact, during our visit to the Hunua park, we saw two guys with huge knifes stuffed down their belts and about 5 very tough looking dogs each wearing a tracking collar, these guys were out hunting wild boar and although resembling extras from Southern Comfort, they were most polite in asking if we had seen any pigs.

The gaffer and I have been toying with the idea of learning to ski. Although the bulk of skiing in New Zealand is on the South Island, good skiing is also available at the no-frills central North Island resort of Mt Ruapehu . With this in mind, we decided to give the indoor skiing a try, though we weren't really expecting that much. And so we found ourselves at Snow planet on the North Shore of Auckland, and although the gaffer was much better than me (she was allowed on the adults slope unsupervised after only a couple of hours), we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although I have to say if the real thing is anything like the indoor variety, you shouldn't go skiing unless you are prepared to make a fool of yourself. I cannot remember the last time my male ego took such a beating.

Well we are approaching winter now, and it is definitely getting colder. Oddly - I have mentioned this before I know - they are not big on central heating over here. Which takes a bit of getting used to. It's not just that they don't have it in domestic dwellings, they don't tend to have it in municipal buildings or business premises. So schools, gyms etc don't have it either. I know this because my "Chinese for beginners" class on a Monday evening takes place in a perfectly modern classroom, furnished with all of the latest gadgets and gizmos, all of which I would gladly swap for a single radiator !

I have been put in charge of the sheep for the next few weeks (being man of the house n'all). Which sounds like a lofty appointment, but basically means keeping an eye on the amount of grass in the paddock and moving the little blighters if they have cleaned it out. Today was the first time I had to do this, so I enlisted the aid of the gaffer to hold open the gate whilst I rounded them up. A quick head-count revealed that one of my flock was missing, and like any good shepherd I began an immediate search. I must admit that I was slightly concerned and hoped that nothing untoward had happened to it, as you may recall from earlier posts, my reputation as a "real" country man has been sullied by some regrettable incidents. The temporary shepherds job was a means of redeeming myself, so to lose one of the "girls" on my watch would have been disastrous. I found the blighter, it had poked it's head through the bars of the wooden fence and then through a second metal fence, and was stuck fast. After much pulling and tugging and baahing, I realized that this was a predicament that called for more than simple pulling and tugging and baahing. I decided that the only practical solution was to cut the metal fence on either side with my hacksaw , carefully bend the remaining metal avoiding any contact with the sheep's eyes, then simply rotate the sheep through 90 degrees and with a swift push-down and lift up motion raise it's head over the bent metal and secure it's release. The gaffer suggested pushing the metal fence forward so the sheep had more clearance to pull it's head out. Which although admittedly freed the sheep, I feel lacked the panache of the original plan.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

04/05/06

No more stories of country critters to enthral you with this week. However, I did think it worth mentioning just how different things can be in another part of the world, and how rapidly they seem to become the norm. For instance, our house is not connected to the public sewer system, not surprising really as we are out in the country. All sewerage is in-house - or outdoors more precisely - as properties tend to have their own processing plants in the garden. This has been working like a charm since we moved in, but in the last few weeks the alarm has been going off, indicating that something was wrong with the processing unit. As it turns out the filter just needed cleaning , and being "the man of the property" (as Wendy keeps calling me...) it was my responsibility to see to it. Actually as I am fascinated by anything remotely bazalgettesque, ,I quite enjoyed it. But my point is that being a part-time sewerage maintenance man now seems perfectly normal to me. Also, we have no mains water (again not surprisingly). Water is collected in a butt, at the side of the house directly from the roof. When we first moved in it seemed strange that the water was not treated in any way, surely the roof would get dirty wouldn't it ? But again, it seems perfectly normal now, and neither myself or the gaffer have had the two-bob bits since we have been here. I have even put off buying a water filter as I am starting to think that it may actually be beneficial in keeping my immune system on it's toes. Although , it must be said that sometimes things do go awry, last month there were a couple of deaths in an outbreak of legionnaires disease , in the next village (although that is nearly always related to air conditioning/ hot water systems, and not water-tanks as the scaremongers of the press tried to suggest !!)

We have had our first tsunami alert, since we have been here. It was nowhere near where we are, it was down at Hawkes Bay or more precisely Gisborne, but it was still pretty exciting. Where we are located it would have to be an awfully big tsunami to reach us, we are only about 1k from the coast on a hill and buffered by a series of islands, including the very long Waiheke island. This has been quite a big story in the news over here and the media has also taken a lot of interest in the going's on with the Labour party over in the UK, especially the woes of Charles Clarke and Prezza. I was watching the news the other night and almost choked on my dinner (porterhouse steak, well done, plenty of caramelised onions). Picture the scene, the in-studio news reader on NZ national TV is speaking with the on-location reporter in London about the crisis surrounding the Blair government. She inquired as to how much trouble Charles Clarke was in over the foreign prisoner crisis, and the reporter gave an extremely professional and erudite summary of the story, so far so good. And then she went on to say, "and if that wasn't bad enough we hear that the deputy prime minister is also in trouble, surely a politician of his seniority could further threaten Mr Blair's premiership ?". Now the reply that came was of such a beautifully honest and accurate nature , that I only hope I live long enough to hear Andrew Marr deliver something similar on the BBC, he said.. "Oh no, Prescott doesn't have any REAL power you know? He is just a fig leaf for Old Labour. No, to be clear, he is just a fat old bloke who has been caught shagging his secretary, the Charles Clarke drama is the real story in London..."