Friday, 31 March 2006

Stubbies in action

Great news, I've just found a link to an advert that features stubby shorts.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

Kiwi Quirks No. 2: Shorts

What is it with New Zealanders and shorts?

The Jackson effect
Before we came to New Zealand we thought the fact that Peter Jackson wore shorts while shooting scenes halfway up a snow-covered mountain for 'The Lord of The Rings' was a sign of eccentricity. However, we now know better. Instead of marking him out as an eccentric, this behaviour merely confirms that the esteemed film director is just like every other New Zealand male. A true Kiwi Bloke wears shorts all year round, (even if there's a wind chill factor of minus twenty) and for every occasion, no matter how formal. He'll even pop on a pair of 'dress shorts' for his own wedding.

fig. 1: Peter Jackson - not so eccentric after all

Big boys
In the UK only boys under the age of seven ever wear shorts to school, and most boys nowadays wear long trousers as soon as they enter reception class at the age of five. The first time I saw a group of sixth-form lads wearing shorts as part of their uniform I felt terribly embarrassed for them. If they had been in the UK I would probably have told them to stay off the streets to avoid getting beaten up.

fig. 2: painfully emasculated

Beach wear
Figure 3 shows a pair of board shorts, or boardies, so called because they're worn by surfers. (In New Zealand they're probably worn by snowboarders too.) Boardies are de rigeur on the high street. Iain's even got a couple of pairs and he's never been near a surf board in his life.
fig. 3: a pair of boardies
And finally we come to figure 4, a pair of very short shorts, known affectionately as stubbies. In Europe, shorts this short were last seen at the 1970 World Cup, but over here they're still kicking around. I had hoped to find a photo of a pair of stubbies being worn by a typical owner - a red-faced bloke in his fifties, with excessively hairy legs, large gut hanging out over the waistband, and the back seam splitting under enormous strain. It's probably just as well I didn't.

fig. 4 a pair of stubbies

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Remember, folks, you heard it here first

I just had to pass on this bit of gossip that Iain told me this morning. Allegedly (note the use of the 'Have I Got News For You' anti-lawyer adverb) New Zealand has just had its first death from bird flu.

The story goes that a man who returned recently from Asia has died in New Zealand from symptoms which would appear to have been caused by HN51 (or whatever it's called - you'd think they could have come up with a snappier name for it). Apparently, a post mortem is currently under way and the authorities are awaiting confirmation before making an official announcement.

I haven't yet decided whether I believe the rumour or not. It could well be true, as this is exactly the sort of way in which bird flu is most likely to reach NZ, but it could just as easily be an internet 'prank' perpetrated by some bored teenager in order to spread panic among Kiwis. If it's the latter, then they don't understand the Kiwi character very well - I've never met a more unflappable bunch of people.

Anyway, maybe it was a coincidence, and maybe it wasn't, but this morning in the post we received a government leaflet entitled 'Getting Ready for a Flu Pandemic'. It advises people to have a written plan of action in case anyone in the family should become ill, and to build up an emergency supplies kit. *insert shocked smiley here*

Over the next couple of days I shall be watching the evening news with interest.


Tuesday, 21 March 2006

My, haven't they grown?

Our little mogs are getting bigger by the day, but unfortunately, no more sensible. Pookie still spends a significant amount of time trying to eat her own tail, and Mo regularly gives herself a headache by attempting to fling herself through a locked cat flap.

Here are a couple of recent photos.



Sunday, 19 March 2006

Incy Wincy comes to tea

Last night we were sitting watching telly when I noticed a spider scurrying along on the sitting room carpet. "Ooh," I said, "Is that a white tail?" I put a glass over it and went to look up white tail spiders on the internet. We got a positive ID pretty rapidly. It was a white tail, all right. So Iain did his best pest control officer impression and duly dispatched it.

The spider wasn't very big - only about two centimetres across, but it looked really mean. White tails originated in Australia and have been known in the North Island for over a hundred years.

A white tail doesn't build a web to catch its prey; instead it actively hunts other spiders. Its main method of hunting is to enter the web of its intended victim and mimic the struggles of a trapped insect. This tricks the resident spider into investigating the disturbance and so instead of gaining a meal, it becomes one when the white tail strikes.

White tails' bites are venomous, and they can and do bite humans.
Typical symptoms of a white tail bite include pain and swelling at the bite site. The bite can develop into a small ulcerous wound that heals inside a week. In some instances, victims report flu-like symptoms.

There have also been reports in the media of people who have been bitten by white tails going on to develop more serious infections such as 'necrotising arachnidism', a severe form of skin ulceration, but these reports are generally unsubstantiated and it is not always confirmed that the bite was definitely made by a white tail. All the same, I'll try to steer clear of the little eight-legged darlings in future.

I was interested to note that The Australian Museum Online's factsheet on white tails mentions that

White-tailed Spiders around your house can be controlled by ... clearing away the webs of the house spiders upon which they feed.
Up until now I've been leaving alone any spiders' webs I find, as they help to keep the number of insects down (we have a real problem with flies here) but this morning I went round with the long-handled duster and got rid of all the cobwebs.

I must admit feeling some alarm when I read the following from the University of Southern Queensland's 'Find a Spider' guide:

They are most likely to roam at night and can drop down from the ceiling onto beds.
I wasn't enormously reassured by this little snippet, either:
The spider often hides in clothing, especially if it is left lying around on the floor.
However, I think I may have found a way, at long last, to get Iain to stop leaving his dirty clothes on the bedroom carpet. ;-)

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Miscellaneous ramblings

It's been a bit of an uneventful week, really.

As Iain spent quite a bit of time chopping wood last weekend, and it was also a bit chilly, we tried out our log burner for the first time last Sunday night. We were impressed with the amount of heat it gave off, but somewhat alarmed by the large amount of wood we managed to burn through in only a few hours. We've put in an order for a couple of trailer loads of firewood, so hopefully we'll have enough to last the winter. Also on Sunday night was the strongest gale we've experienced since we arrived in New Zealand. It was a real humdinger, and I became so worried about what might happen if the huge tree on the slope above the bedroom were to lose a branch or two during the night, we dragged the mattress into the sitting room and spent the night there.

We went for our first proper Maori lesson on Tuesday night, and the three hours whizzed past. It was good fun, and we learned lots (or 'heaps' as they say here.)

On Wednesday we won the quiz night at Rosie O'Grady's for the first time. This was only because we joined forces with another team, who were seriously short of members. Fortunately, our various areas of expertise* complemented each other. We won a fifty dollar bar tab, so we'll have to go again this week - what a blow! ;-)

We didn't get a very good night's sleep on Friday because we were woken repeatedly between about 1 am and 8 am by a series of five earthquakes. They weren't as strong as the one we had a few weeks ago, but they were much nearer, with their epicentres all in the same place - out in the Tasman Sea about 30 kilometres southwest of Wanganui.

So far we've had a very lazy weekend, apart from our run this morning. In an effort to get fitter, we started on the Runner's World beginners' running schedule last month, and tomorrow is the start of Week 6 - run for twelve minutes, walk for two minutes, run for twelve minutes. We've managed to keep to the schedule so far, which is great. This is yet another case of different skills complementing each other. I find the running itself a bit of a challenge, so Iain is able to support me in that department, whereas Iain finds getting out of bed in the first place the biggest hurdle to overcome, so I help him with that! If we manage to survive Week 8 (run for 30 minutes continuously) I'm going to enter the 'Round The Bridges' fun run in May. It'll be just the incentive I need to work on my speed. At the moment I'm being overtaken by old ladies on zimmer frames.

*or areas of ignorance

Sunday, 5 March 2006

I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK.....

There's been a bit of a cold snap for the last few days, so I thought I'd better get my axe out and chop up some firewood - just in case. Naturally I had to put on my lumberjack shirt as well, just to get into the spirit of the thing.

A study in Zen and the Art of Woodchopping

I dress in women's clothing and hang around in bars...

Sadly the forecast says it's going to warm up, so I may not get the chance to do the caveman "Ug, fire" routine just yet.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Taking the first step on a long journey

On Tuesday night Iain and I enrolled at Te Wananga O Aotearoa (the University of New Zealand) to start learning the Maori language. The course we are doing is called Te Ara Reo Maori (The Pathway to the Maori Language). It's an evening course, with one three-hour lesson every Tuesday night. By the end of the course, in two years' time, we should have a reasonable knowledge of the Maori language and also be familiar with some of the most important aspects of Maori culture.

Before I went along I assumed that the people on the course would all be Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) or immigrants (like us). I was quite shocked when I saw that over fifty percent of the students looked as if they might be of Maori descent. I'd just assumed that all Maori would speak their own language. Apparently this is far from the case. As recently as the 1980s Te Reo Maori was a dying language. It wasn't taught in schools and was only spoken by a small percentage of the Maori population. It's only in the last twenty years that Maori culture and language have made a resurgence. Te Reo Maori is now recognised as an official language of New Zealand (alongside English) and Maori language and culture are taught in schools.

Te Wananga O Aoteroa (the institution we're studying with)

Te Ara Reo Maori (the course we're doing)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday Iain and I took some photos of Kowhai Park, a really cool children's playground which is just a five minute walk away. It's so good it almost makes us wish we had children so we could have an excuse to visit it all the time. Now that's a scary thought to have, even if only fleetingly.
Click on the link below to see a slide show.
Photos of Kowhai Park