Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is lane rage, the next aggressive phenomena?

Taking up swimming in New Zealand was my antidote to lack of exercise in my last months in the UK. You’d think that it was a harmless enough pastime.

You've probably heard of road rage or air rage but now there seems to be a new phenomenon, lane rage. That’s swimming lane rage – a particular kind of aggressive behaviour that develops in my local pool from time to time.

The lane swimming contingent can be quite large and with such mixed abilities lanes are usually divided up for slow, medium and fast swimmers. I tend to hang around in the medium swim lane as I have to strike up a steady rhythm of swimming to have any hope of completing my quota of 70 lengths.

Sometimes, when you least expect it you can be overtaken by people travelling at a faster speed. I have no problem in principle with those that are moving faster but I do object that this incredible turn of speed is often because people are using flippers to swim. To see people swoop past at a fast pace did initially create a demoralising sense of failure but I now realise that it’s only a ploy for swim cheats to try and to psych you out of the lane.

Not to be outdone by the flipper brigade, there is also the tidal wave gang that push of the end of the pool with such ferocity and front crawl splashing furiously to create a disturbance and try and drown you in their mini tsunami.

In contrast there are the slow coaches who take forever to get from one end of the pool to the other. Or indeed the light weights who only manage one length before congregating at the end of the lane to catch their breath and have a good chin wag blocking the path of the long distance swimmer as they turn for the next length.

So swim sessions are not all plain sailing – you need your wits about you to stop yourself from drowning. Although as a rule there is plenty of lane discipline there are times when tempers flair as incompatibility of swimming style and pace becomes apparent.

I for one like the quiet life and now am experienced enough to read the lane rage signs. If there are enough lanes open you can generally switch across lanes to avoid the swim boy racers or the retired gents who have a tendency to raise the blood pressure. So far there’s been no blood spilled but there have been occasions where the lifeguards have had to intervene in altercations when it gets messy between fellow swimmers.

It’s usually at this point that I head towards the exits stairs and head for the changing rooms to escape the carnage. If anyone tells you that swimming is relaxing, they clearly haven’t swum New Zealand style!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Progress, despite the weather!

It rained for 13 hours solid yestrday (Saturday) and caused more chaos on roads and rail. Our local train between Wellington and Johnsonville was de-railed close to Khandallah because of a landslip. We saw them cleaning up the debris when we headed off to Kaitoke to see whether the bridge had been swept away.

It was a delight to see the progress is being made and expectation that it might actually complete on Wednesday as planned. You'll see from these photos that this is a substantial piece of engineering. Give the potential for rising level and speed of the Pakuratahi stream it needs to be big enough to withstand what nature throws at it.

We also met up with our neighbours - one set who have a horse treking business and the others who are setting up a organic and biodynamic small holding. It was fantastic to talk to others who share our enthusiasm for the location and for the potential lifestyle.

We also bemoaned the developer who is responsible for the sites. We're trying to keep optimistic as we look like only having a 3-4 month delay, they have been waiting for 8 months for the bridge to be constructed so that they can easily reach their land (which is split across the river) and for completion of their fencing. Fingers crossed that this isn't signs of things to come for us. Big hui (meeting) with the vendor this week to get the story straight and translate to legal agreement so fingers crossed we'll have more certainty by this time next week.

Looking back down the valley under the bridge
Almost the access we need to get to our new land!

Has Spring arrived?

Yeay, I thought spring has arrived at last. But, no the daffodils sprouting up on people's jackets as I walked to work were because of Daffodil Day.

Daff' Day is always the last Friday of August and the main fundraising vehicle for the New Zealand Cancer Society. They expect to make around $4 million from this fundraising day. I wished I'd had my camera with me as almost everyone you passed in the street was wearing their daffodil with pride.

It was hard to avoid the Daffodil sellers in Wellington as there was one stood about every few metres along Lambton Quay. I was ambushed as I stepped of the bus so there was no escape for me.

Fundraising days/weeks are common here in NZ. Almost every week there is some cause that is fundraising and they are out in force with their buckets for public donations. A quick poll in the office found that Daffodil Day was seen as a positive cause to give to - with 25% of New Zealanders affected by some form of cancer it was not difficult to see why.

Despite the fact there are Daffodils springing up in the shops to buy, I wouldn't go as far to say that spring has arrived. It was a beautiful sunny clear day today that warranted a quick walk around at lunch time but in the knowledge that the rain storms are blowing in for the weekend.

I missed seeing the Daffodils I planted last September before I left the UK so hopefully it won't be long before the real Daffodils of NZ start to show their heads as a definite sign that spring is here!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is there no escape from football?

It's been all change in our house since the UK football season start last weekend. Him indoors has signed up to video highlights on the internet, started scouring the sports channels for programmes and generally getting overly excited about a few men kicking a ball about a field.

Somehow I should have known better that his footie passion wouldn't go away, even if he is 12,000 miles away from the action. And, I can't begrudge his armchair sporting pastime - it keeps him occupied and out of my hair!

The only thing I really object to is getting the blame when his beloved Coventry FC lose. You'd think that I was personally responsible for the result just yesterday when they were thrashed by my Dad's local team.

The kiwi's don't really get that excited about the soccer, it's rugby that's their obsession. There'll be some competition in our household for the TV at the weekend as the All Blacks play the test match in South Africa. That's if I can get anywhere near the remote control to switch off the retched footie from the West Midlands!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maori king named

Tuheitia Paki has been named the Maori king hours before the burial of his mother, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu after a six day tangihanga on her marae at Turangawaewae in Ngaruawahia. This role is not a heridiary right but he was chosen by the Maori iwi (tribes) across New Zealand as the best candidate for the job.

There were thousands of mourners for the former Maori Queen who streamed to Turangawaewae and her final resting place of Taupiri Mountain. The mountain was covered in mist this morning - a sign, Tainui say, of the spirit world gathering to welcome Dame Te Ata to her final resting place.

The former queen was taken first to the Waikato river where she was placed on a waka and then paddled by players from the queen's two favourite rugby teams and the Kaumatau to Ngaruawahia. She was finally carried up the mountain to Taupiri, Tainui's sacred mountain.

It's been an interesting experience to observe the Maori traditions and rituals associated with this Tangi. It's open my eyes to the spiritual world that Maori's live and the importance of the community within Maoridom. There has been some criticism from high profile Maori scholars of the national press at their poor reporting of the Kingitanga movement and how it came about and a call for all New Zealanders to be more aware, and indeed be educated, in Maori language and culture.

If they hold the Waitangi Treaty to its true values then mutual respect and understanding of Maori and Pakeha ways is definitely what was intended. But in the true colonial style the indigenous population was dominated leading to the gaps that currently exist in terms of disadvantage for the Maori. It's not to say that the Crown has not sought to redress the balance and remunerate for the loss its just led to a new democracy and leadership in Maori that is based more on western economics which has not been entirely successful in every case.

This new insight to Maori has made me dig out my history of New Zealand - an easy to digest book about how New Zealand came to be the country it is. It's worth getting a copy if you're interested in a much better informed account than I can give in this blog.

Michael King, History of New Zealand, published by Penguin

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Extreme frustration

I am almost bursting with the extreme frustration with the development of the house. To cut a long story short, weather has slowed progress on the infrastructure increasing delays.

Intransigence on the part of the land vendor to commit to a firm plan moving forward is only adding to the painful process of planning. Nevertheless good news that we now have a design for a house to build but this somehow makes it even more frustrating to see a vision for the future so clear but unable to move towards achieving it.

I am sure that I'll look back on this time in a more philosophical way but for the moment I'm to have to blame the weather for spoiling things once again!

Here's some photoblogging for the future:

Side view of the house
Rear views of the house

Friday, August 18, 2006

Families, who'd have them?

Being so far from family and friends, makes you appreciate them all the more. As I learn more about Maori culture I've started to think about some of the concepts of family.

Whanau is the concept of family - its more than just your immediate family but the extended family where people may also be linked by a common ancestor. It is very common for whanau to return to their Marae where they sleep with their ancestors and gain strength from being together.

But, the concept of whanau is also used to describe small communities - these could be clubs, or just friends. In the modern world when families are spread all over the world it's friends that become the extended "family".

Thinking about this reminds me of how my husband's maternal whanau come together in his auntie's conservatory and whilst it's more of a modern 1980's structure than an ornate Marae and we haven't yet all slept in there, it's fair to say that there has been plenty of family bonding. I am not sure that Uncle Jeff's jokes and quizzes have quite the cache of the ancestral stories but they seem to hit the spot after a few glasses of wine.

As for my family there are a dwindling number and I've started to think I should get to know more of my geneology. For Maori this is their whakapapa - where oral history recalls the ancestors and how they will have arrived by canoe to the land of the long white cloud.

It's too early for us to have developed our New Zealand whanau but its a comforting to think of the Bulkington style of Marae and know that regardless of location we'll always have a whanau wherever we are.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

End of a Maori era

Seven days of mourning has started for the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, who died yesterday at age 75. She has reined as Maori Queen for 40 years and has been a driving force for maori issues over this time.

Dame Te Ata is directly descended from the first Maori king, Potatau Te Wherewhero, who became king in 1858. It is expected that her successor will be her son and announced at her Tangi (share tears) that will take place over the coming week.

From the newspaper reports this Maori Queen has been one of the most influential figures within New Zealand. She also played a leading role as a cultural ambassador for Maori and indigenous people. She was also New Zealand's richest Maori with a wealth of over $9million.

Clearly respected by Maori and Pakeha (non Maori/whites) alike, it is going to be interesting to see how Maori issues continue to be championed as the Government looks towards creating a stronger national identity for New Zealand.

This sad news comes at a time where I am starting to be inducted into Maori culture and language at work. So in keeping with my weather obsession, it's been very cold and today Ka tau te hukapapa (the frost settles) on Khandallah. Roll on Koanga (spring)!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Did the earth move for you?

No time for photoblogging this weekend, we've been catching up with chores. However, my mind has continued on the landslip theme, but this time because we had a newsworthy earthquake today.

There are about 15,000 recorded earthquakes in New Zealand every year, with between 100 and 150 big enough or shallow enough, to be felt. The reason for this activity is our position on the boundary of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates.

I experienced my first earthquake in my first few days of arrival. It was a strange experience with most of the furniture swaying before my eyes before I realised what it was. Given I was probably still jet lagged I panicked thinking it was a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) kicking in.

After several months of periodic quakes we've become accustomed to the movement and simply hold out breaths for a few seconds and hope that this is not the big one. Today was significant enough for it to make it to the news - 5.9 on the richter scale and only 100km underground it certainly made the furniture sway this time.

Much is made here about preparation for the big one - you need to have your emergency pack ready (tinned foods, water, clothes and first aid kit to name a few, together with your crisis management plan with family as to where you'll rendevous). Quake protection your home is also a big thing (like tying down your water tanks and blue tacking your ornaments.

I have most of what we would need but haven't yet made it into my emergency pack - after all, you never know whether where you finally store it will be accessible in the event. Some Wellingtonians have a special pack at work too - a small backpack of essentials, including socks and trainers for walking home or to safer ground.

We are due to have the next "big one" in about the next 100 years so you need to be prepared. Here's a story about the last big one to hit http://www.eq-iq.org.nz/eq-intro/eq-stories/eq-stories-thebigone.aspx

So think on about when the earth next moves for you - it might be a quake, or maybe not!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Are we slipping away?

A devastating consequence of continued rain in these parts is landslips - these are chunks of hillsides slipping away.

It's a regular sight to see a pile of rocks and dirt at the side of roads where mini slips have occurred and just recently the roads up to Khandallah were subject to some slip prevention measures. This involved mens swinging from ropes to clear the loose debris to prevent is crashing on passing traffic.

On Wednesday this week a house in Lower Hutt (just across the Wellington Harbour) was demolished before it was pushed down a gully. This was because it's foundations disappeared with a landslip leaving is hanging in the air, threatening the houses further down the hill. It was a tragic sight to watch on TV this home, complete with furnishings, crashing into the gully. Luckily the homeowners were insured but it can't make up for the fact all their worldly goods disappeared down the hill.

This is a serious problem around Wellington because houses cling to the hillside. Whilst modern house building and planning regulations mean that special engineering is in place but for other homes (like the one I've mentioned built 40 years ago) no such provision was made. Clearing hillsides to build seems like the right thing to do with a growing population but it has a destabilising effect on the landscape and it's the law of gravity that prevails eventually.

Fortuantly we're building our new house in Kaitoke on a flat building site but we'll have to invest heavily in ground engineering to ensure that one day our drive doesn't slip away down the 20-25m drop of our hillside. In the meantime we're living safe on top of the hill although starting to get used to the regular falls on the buses as we commute home up the hills and just hope that one day nothing comes crashing down on the car.

Once again I am struck how the weather impacts on how we live here in New Zealand - the extreme winds and lashing rain (suposedly the worse for years) are almost of arctic proportions so if you've seen the movie The March of the Penguins you'll know how strong it can be!

Friday, August 11, 2006

The week that was

I've just realised how much I've neglected my blog this week, not intentional just a victim of colliding priorities. I never had this problem when I was a full-time domestic-executive!

But there's no point me hankering after my leisurely pace as its going to be at least another year before that dream becomes a reality. In the meantime, I'm taking an opportunity that will allow future domestic working to be more financially secure and sustainable in the longer term.

So, with plan in hand I can get back to the job of observing New Zealand life without the distraction of where things may be going in the future. To celebrate this momentous opportunity I've taking new inspiration from others who have trodden this path and am reading "It's a long road to a tomato - tales of an organic farmer who quit the big city for the [not so] simple life."

But, such plans of rural paradise are a long way from the realities facing my homeland with threats of mass murder in the air and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East. One wonders where it is all going to end, if it ever will, or whether the 21st century is going to be dominated by violence preventing ordinary people living a normal life safe from terror and distruction.

Bleak thoughts I know during what has otherwise been a positive week. Let's hope that things get better soon or at least don't get any worse.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Speaking with intent

Hotfoot from holiday, I've been catching up with my coaching homework. The focus of which is speaking with intent. This means speaking clearly, succinctly and generously.

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me its exhausting trying to keep things short, sharp and with a human touch. Regular readers of this blog will know from my rambling this is something I need to work harder on!

Reflecting on who might be a role model I'm drawing inspiration from a former colleague who didn't say much but when he did it was worth listening to. So it just goes to show you don't have to be the loudest in the room to get heard the most.

Although speaking with intent is a powerful communications skill, it's certainly cramped my style to wax lyrical about my trip to pacific paradise. But, this might be a good thing for the sake of my colleagues sanity.

So, in my new spirit of generosity I've spent the day listening to all the fun things I've missed in the office and only after 8 hours back at base it seems like I've never been away. Still, I'm hanging onto the memories to keep me warm in the chilly wind and rain.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Photoblogging: Fiji routine

It's a tough life

Favourite lunchtime tipple

Time for the afternoon stroll

The end to another beautiful day

Evening nightcap

Photoblogging: Fiji wildlife

Baby turtles out for a swim

Peacock taking in the view from a tree

Native parrot - very rare

Mr Iguana taking the air

Starfish, basking in the sunlight

Natural beachwear

Photoblogging: Fiji paradise

Sun, sea and palm trees

Fiji sunset

Views across the hills

More seaside views


Almost the best thing about going on holiday is the memories that you'll hold onto. After a hectic couple of weeks jetting off to a Fiji paradise was just what the doctor ordered. It was all I hoped for and more!

We stayed in a resort on the southern coast, known as the coral coast on account of the coral reef. Based on a lagoon our traditional bure (thatched cottage) was complete with our own hammocks and we whiled away the hours taking in the views, snoozing and catching up on that much needed escape in our books.

Food and drink was superb but even the daily morning swim didn't stop the clothes starting to feel tighter by the time we came home. Although it was cloudy and breezy it was a balmy temperature just right for strolls on the beach, day trips and other sloath like activity.

Our return trip was an adventure with our plane home delayed because it was fog bound at Auckland meaning an unexpected overnight stop before returning to Wellington. I guess the downside of southern hemisphere travel.

So refreshed and reinvigorated, it's good to be home. And, it did feel like home to take the scenic route home from the airport - stopping in Thorndon for our supplies and pick up the work clothes from the dry cleaners. Who'd have thought it a year ago we'd be holidaying in Fiji and having a home on the other side of the world!