Battle of the National Symbols – New Zealand vs. England

POMS AWAY!

The national animal of New Zealand is the kiwi, a small, flightless bird that thinks it’s a mammal. The national animal of England is a lion, a majestic, sharp-toothed hunter that, really, has nothing whatsoever to do with England. At least the kiwi is native to New Zealand!

What about each nation’s other symbols; how do they compare? Let’s see…

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NATIONAL FLOWER

England: Rose

New Zealand:Silver Fern


NATIONAL ANTHEM

England: God Save the Queen

New Zealand:God Defend New Zealand


NATIONAL SPORT

England: Cricket, (but it’s football really!)

New Zealand:Rugby

PATRON SAINT

England:George

New Zealand: The Virgin Mary


COAT OF ARMS

England: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure, (apparently! Well, you know, it’s basically three golden lions on a red background…)

New Zealand: The Southern Cross, a dead sheep, some immigrant ships, a wheat sheaf and some mining tools, which neatly tells…

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A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

The Oldest Library in New Zealand

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to the native tribesmen. He taught as many Māori as he could how to read and write, and about Western agriculture. (Or, as the European immigrants of the time no doubt saw it, how to be civilised and farm properly.) Our tour guide at the Elms was, however, proud to point out that Reverend Brown supposedly treated his Māori pupils as friends and fellow human beings, rather than as savages to be tamed.

The First Library in New ZealandIt was Reverend Brown who built the library. He needed to keep his extensive book collection safe and dry. William Gisborne, a nineteenth century New Zealand politician and fellow English immigrant, described it in the following words:

“The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren.”

Chapel Bell, The Elms, Tauranga(This quote comes from the Elms Mission Station’s website.) As for the rest of the mission station, you can explore the garden by yourself for free, but if you want to enter any of the buildings, including the library, you’ll need to pay $5 for a tour. I found the tour a little awkward, as it was just me and my parents being talked at by an old lady who was obviously used to addressing tourists and children who have no knowledge of either English or New Zealand history.

The other buildings include an almost puritanically bare chapel, an old workshop, a fencible cottage – if you want to know what the hell fencible means, read my blog about Howick Historical Village – and, of course, the main house. I was delighted to discover that it had a games table, though it’s nowhere near as big as mine and Tim’s monstrosity. (Risk is one of our smallest, least complicated board games. We need a big table.)

The Elms Mission House Games Table

Is it worth visiting? Yes, if you’re interested in the history of Tauranga. There aren’t any proper museums in Tauranga, (except Classic Flyers,) which is surprising. I mean my family moved to Tauranga when I was fifteen and it’s only just occurred to me that it doesn’t have a museum like most places… How odd. So, for now, the Elms Mission Station is the best we’ve got. Apparently, they’re planning to build a proper museum, to go with the city centre and harbourfront upgrade, so hopefully, in a few years…

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile you’ll no doubt already be planning a trip to the Elms Mission Station. While you’re there, check out my list of free things to do in Tauranga.

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga, New Zealand

Why Is It So Difficult to Pronounce Māori Words Correctly?

Well… it isn’t, technically. Te Reo (the language) is fairly consistent. But many pākehā (non-Māori New Zealanders) are so set in their ways that they refuse to even try.

I’m not having a go. When you’ve grown up hearing something pronounced a certain way, it’s incredibly hard to start saying it a different way. You automatically say it the way you’ve always heard everyone saying it.

I’m genuinely trying, and I only remember to pronounce, for example, the name of the city in which my parents live, Tauranga, correctly about fifty percent of the time.

The irony is when I first moved to New Zealand, as a child, I pronounced Māori place names more correctly than I do now. That’s because I was learning them fresh. My Kiwi friends, though, laughed at me for saying things differently to the way they had grown up saying them. Soon, I grew accustomed to the “pākehā” way of pronouncing Māori place names and thought nothing more of it.

When I was seventeen, my drama class went on a school trip to England. (Yes, it was an expensive school trip.) For the first week, we attended a school in Devon, mingling with the local students. Of course, we talked a lot about the school in New Zealand that we were from, Otumoetai College. We pronounced it ‘oh-too-mow-tie’, or the even lazier ‘oh-da-mow-die’, as we always had.

Then, at the end of the week, our drama teacher stood up to officially thank our host school, and he used the proper pronunciation of Otumoetai: ‘awe-too-moy-tie’. The British kids started laughing – they thought our teacher was saying it wrong!

(Our teacher went on to impress the British kids greatly by making them think he could speak Te Reo Māori. In a serious, speech-making tone, he reeled off a list of Māori place names. “Whakatane, Rotorua, Papakura, Waiuku…” Of course, us New Zealand kids thought it was hilarious.)

Lately, the New Zealand media has been giving a lot of attention to the issues surrounding the pākehā perception of Te Reo. Should it, for example, be the law to teach the Māori language in New Zealand schools?

I’m all for it. Learning another language is good for a child’s development, as is the instilment of a certain cultural appreciation. I also believe in making an effort to pronounce Māori words correctly, which is why I do make the effort. I don’t always succeed.

It’s not just that your brain automatically jumps to the pronunciation you’re used to hearing. It’s that when you do make an effort to say something correctly, and everyone around you isn’t bothered, it makes you feel like a pretentious wanker.

And, of course, what if you do make an effort and get it wrong?

A few times, I’ve gone to say something the correct way and bottled it halfway through, coming out with something that’s half-right; half-inarticulate mumble. Something like ‘awe-too… mow-die’. It’s silly, I know. But I’m going to keep trying.

It’s a matter of principle.

I’ll leave you with a story I heard when I first moved to New Zealand. I don’t know whether it’s an anecdote, a joke, or an urban legend, but here it is:

A couple of well-meaning English tourists were on holiday in New Zealand, and a Kiwi asked them where they were staying.

“Onehunga,” they replied, pronouncing it ‘one’ – as in the number one – ‘hung-a’.

After a moment of confusion, the Kiwi said, “Oh, you mean ‘o-ne-hu-nga’. O-N-E is pronounced ‘o-ne’, not ‘one.’”

“Oh, right,” the tourists said. “In that case would you please direct us to O-ne Tree Hill?”

My Wandering Accent

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be a New Zealander. As soon as I open my mouth, people assume I’m on holiday here. Or that I’m one of Britain’s post-Brexit escapees. It’s the same conversation every time:

“No, I’ve lived here since I was child,” I say.

“Oh, your accent’s still really strong,” they say.

“They don’t think so back in Britain,” I say. “They tell me I sound slightly Australian.”

It’s the inflection, I think. I’ve picked up on the Kiwi inflection, but not the vowel sounds.

People say I haven’t lost my accent, but a while ago Dad was digitising some home movies, and we were all shocked at how strong my accent used to be! There’s a video of a tiny me reciting Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and my short ‘a’s and short ‘u’s stand out like gunshots.

That’s the Northern accent. Those harsh, practical vowel sounds are obviously so ingrained in me that no amount of Kiwi influence can erase them. Only smudge them.

“Your accent’s all over the place, to be honest,” a British friend told me recently. “But you can still tell you’re fundamentally a Northerner. I couldn’t say where in the North…”

My accent’s partly all over the place because I spend a lot of time putting accents on, especially the various British accents. If I watch Shirley Valentine or Red Dwarf, I’ll briefly become a Scouser. Once, I binge-watched the entire first series of The Crown and, without meaning to, spoke in an awfully plummy RP accent for the rest of the week. I find it surprising difficult to put on a Kiwi accent, though.

When I first moved to New Zealand, I was very stubborn about keeping my English identity. I didn’t want to lose my accent. I exaggerated the Northern as a matter of course. (This was partly because my Kiwi classmates thought that being English automatically made you posh. I. AM. NOT. POSH.)

As with my accent, I accidentally, and then accidentally-on-purpose, wrote £ signs on my maths work instead of $ signs. Then, one day, I realised I’d been using $ signs without thinking about it. My parents also pointed out that I was beginning to sound Kiwi. I stopped. I haven’t started again.

The Kiwi accent is so laidback, you see. All the vowels end up sounding the same. They get blurred together in a sort of lazy, monotonous mumble. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian. (And you can’t fake an accent without putting any conscious effort into it.)

The only time I’ve ever come out with a Kiwi accent is when I haven’t been thinking about it.

Once, I had such a sore throat that I was putting as little effort into speaking as possible.

“You sound like a Kiwi right now,” a Kiwi friend said.

Another time, I was pretending to whine about something, and my Kiwi flatmate said, “Ooh, you sounded Kiwi then.”

“That’s because I was whining,” I replied.

He pulled the finger at me.

“I’m not trying to insult the Kiwi accent,” I continued, battling to construct an academic argument through our laughter.  I really hadn’t meant it as an insult. (That time.) “It’s just the truth.”

Various Kiwi comedians have pointed out the whiny and monotonous nature of the Kiwi accent. It sounds like an accent that’s trying its best to be unobtrusive. Maybe it’s all to do with Tall Poppy Syndrome. Kiwis don’t want to stand out. (As a country we do, but not so much as individuals.) I occasionally catch myself deliberately toning down my articulation so people won’t think I’m pretentious.

Hey – I never realised quite how many metaphors for the Kiwi attitude to life can be found in the Kiwi accent. (I should also point out here that, on the whole, unpretentiousness is a good thing, and one of the reasons I like living in New Zealand. Laziness – or, to put it another way, carefreeness – can also be a good thing. What’s the point of working hard if you don’t enjoy life?)

I may not habitually speak in a Kiwi accent, but I have, of course, picked up plenty of Kiwi slang. I criminally overuse the word ‘awesome’. I never say ‘sweet as’, but I quite often respond to people with ‘sweet’ – in a Kiwi accent, I might add. I don’t try – it doesn’t work in any British accent. (Try grunting the word ‘swede’ with an upward inflection. That might get you close.)

I feel like my years in New Zealand have kind of neutralised my original accent; averaged it out across all of England. I definitely sound posher than I did as a kid. More Southern, even though those harsh, Northern vowels can still be detected by someone who knows what they’re listening for. It’s easy to slip back, though.

It’s so funny meeting another English person at a party. I met someone from near Nottingham (Not-ing-um) once and, before I knew it, I was speaking with the broadest Nottinghamshire accent imaginable. So was the other person. It was like a positive feedback loop. My partner said the same thing happened when we met a lady from Yorkshire in an antiques shop. He said he watched in bewilderment as our accents just got stronger and stronger. It’s a wonder all the Yorkshire didn’t explode and knock over a table of antique teacups.

Infiltrating the World of Rugby

I’ve lived in New Zealand fifteen years and I’ve never come around to rugby. But then I am opposed to all sports in general, aside from rock climbing and chess. My partner is the same. Tim was born in New Zealand, and he’s never gotten into rugby either.

You’ve seen The IT Crowd, right? Tim’s pretty much Moss. (Luckily for him, I happen to find Moss deeply sexually attractive.) You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when Tim, who was staying with his brother down south for a few days, texted me this…

Tim: We’re on our way to a rugby game.

I recovered just enough to type a reply that, even with a text message’s inherent lack of vocal tone, Tim would know was thoroughly sarcastic…

Me: Well I’m sure you’ll enjoy that immensely.

At this point, my mum asked who I was texting and, subsequently, what Tim was up to. She was just as surprised as I was. I proceeded to do an impression of Moss at a football match in that episode of The IT Crowd. You know, this one…

Then, a short while later, I received this text…

Tim: Hooray, he’s kicked the ball. Now the ball’s over there. That man has it now. That’s an interesting development. Maybe he’ll kick the ball. He has indeed and, apparently, that deserves a round of applause.

Me: Ha-ha! I quoted that to Mum just before. We are soulmates and I love you.

Tim: I love you too.

Tim continued to send me texts throughout the game, which should give you some idea of just how riveted he was. I’ve reproduced them here (with his permission) for your amusement…

Tim: Now the game is on hold so we can analyse slow motion footage of men diving onto a pile of other men.

Tim: A decision was reached. Now they’re running.

Me: You can get through this, darling.

Tim: I thought so too, but I’m not so sure now that I’ve spilled beer on my hand-knitted alpaca wool gloves.

Tim: One of the numbers on the digital display has increased, followed by positive music. This is a good omen.

Tim: My distress about the alpaca wool has been neutralised by more beer, this time taken orally.

Me: You might even get drunk enough to enjoy it.

Tim: I am full of beer and not drunk. Alas.

Tim: The game is on hold again. Some players take the opportunity to call their assistants to tie their shoelaces.

Me: Who’s playing? (Mum asks.)

Tim: Blues and Highlanders. There can be only one.

Hands up – who got that reference?

Soon, the game was over. Tim had survived.

When he got back, I asked him whether his experience had converted him.

“No,” he said. “I mean I was never really against rugby. I think it’s a good thing for a country to have something to rally behind. It’s a good excuse to go out, and there are lots of different kinds of people there, but I still find it fairly boring to watch. I’m not for it. Watching rather than doing seems a bit pointless. I think I only devoted about half my time to actually watching it. I was more distracted by the people and the advertisements. I don’t know… I just… I wish our national sport was less risky.”

“So, you’d prefer competitive programming?” I asked.

He laughed.

“Do you think this makes you less of a New Zealander?” I probed.

“Not really. Kinda. Yeah-nah,” he said. “There are different groups within New Zealand. Some would be against anyone who voiced a negative opinion of rugby. There are also lots of people who don’t like rugby. I suppose it’s nice to have something that the bulk of the country can relate to on some level. Most hobbies are specialised, so you don’t meet a range of different people.”

So, there you are. Over the years, I’ve had a few readers write to me to ask whether, if you live in New Zealand, you have to like rugby. The answer, of course, is yes.

I’m joking. Yeah-nah. Of course you don’t have to like it. Just do what you want. You don’t have to like rugby to get involved occasionally and encounter different sorts of people. Or not. It takes all sorts to make a world.

How I Caught a Kiwi Accent

The last two weeks have been bad. They found cancer in my mum’s lymph nodes, they sent her for surgery, and we visited her in hospital. That was covered in my previous post. Since then, my body has gone and decided that my mum really shouldn’t get all the attention.

Certain problems that have been developing in the background for some time have suddenly jumped to the fore. On Thursday, I woke up in agony and ended up in hospital myself. That was the day before we were due to travel to New Plymouth.

You see, I was expecting this post to be a happy one: a return to the traditional travel blog format. My partner, Tim, and I had been planning this trip to New Plymouth for a while. It was the weekend of our fifth anniversary.

We were supposed to travel down with our mate, Ems, meet up with Tim’s family, spend a day at WOMAD, (a hippy music festival,) a day at my favourite museum, and then head back to Hamilton. Even with the day in hospital, it still looked like this was going to happen.

I was sent home from hospital loaded up with painkillers. (They can’t do anything until I have an ultrasound; it will be weeks before I get an ultrasound.) Ems joked that it would be okay – we could just share her wheelchair at WOMAD! And it would have been, but… then came the flu.

By the time Ems came to pick us up, I had lost my voice. It was still fine. I realised I must have caught it visiting my mum in hospital, because my mum had it too. (On top of recovering from surgery!) I was just a little frustrated sitting on my own in the back seat, unable to communicate.

The drive down from Hamilton to New Plymouth takes three and a half hours. Once you’re past Te Awamutu, a small town just south of Hamilton, mobile reception becomes practically non-existent, so make sure you have physical maps available.

It was late when we got to where we were staying, and my illness had worsened. My body couldn’t decide whether it was hot or cold. I was barely aware of my surroundings. In the morning, I felt thoroughly beat-up, but it was time to go to WOMAD.

I was drenched with sweat before we’d even entered the park. I volunteered to push Ems’s wheelchair because I needed something to lean on as I walked. We joined the growing line of aging hippies eager to get into the festival.

I’d been to WOMAD before. I knew it wasn’t really my thing. I mean I don’t mind the interesting music from around the world. I don’t mind the exciting variety of food stalls. I don’t mind the market filled with beautiful, hippy clothing. It’s just that being in a crowd makes me uncomfortable.

I get panic attacks. And now I was battling a steadily worsening bout of what I was coming to realise wasn’t just a cold.

It was bearable at first. We got there early, so there weren’t so many people. They were still setting up, much to the confusion of these two geese:

We got breakfast from one of the food stalls, (a gorgeous Polynesian raw fish salad,) and I was able to join in the conversation, albeit in a whisper. At some point, Ems asked me why I was speaking in a Kiwi accent.

I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was a child, but I still have a British accent. I find it difficult even to fake a Kiwi accent; whenever I try I sound Australian. The reason, I think, is this: the Kiwi accent is incredibly lazy.

Seriously. As soon as you put any effort into a Kiwi accent, it becomes Australian, and it’s difficult to fake an accent without putting any effort in. Now, however, here I was, speaking Kiwi. Whispering Kiwi.

I realised that, because it hurt so much to talk, I was putting as little effort as possible into making my vowel sounds.

“You’ve caught a Kiwi accent,” Ems laughed.

Whatever I’d caught, it became harder and harder to endure as the day wore on. The whole thing’s kind of a blur. Here are some photos I got:

That was funny. Can see what the sign below it says? PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB ON HISTORIC CHIMNEY.

And oh yeah, that was where I bumped into someone from the same obscure, little town in England as me, but couldn’t say anything to him, so he wandered off awkwardly.

I’m dying in this photo. Like just take it. Please, just take it. I’m about to collapse. No, please, no more, just let me die.

Pretty trees. Can’t breathe. Can’t go on…

And that’s where the weekend ends, pretty much. We couldn’t go to my favourite museum. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Besides, by now Tim was getting sick too. We just had to go home.

The last few days I’ve been drowning in the worst flu of my life. I’ve been coughing up blood and, well, I won’t say what else. Tim’s bad too. What an anniversary weekend! I pictured us lying in bed together, but not like this. Not like this.

Summer’s End

Summer ended abruptly this year. One day it was warm and bright and cicadas were chirping outside; the next it was cold and dark and my mum had cancer. I mean a month’s worth of rain fell in a day and a night.

There’s flooding, of course, and warnings of more severe thunderstorms to come. Rather ironically, Auckland is now facing a water shortage – unsettled silt in the dams due to flooding, apparently. And my mum has cancer.

It’s all I’ve been able to think about for days.

There was a brief respite when, during a shower, I heard a knocking at the door. I hurried to answer it, flustered, dripping, and with a towel held awkwardly around me, only to find that it was a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

They asked me, quite patronisingly, if my husband was at work.

Okay, one, I’m not married; my BOYFRIEND is at work. Two, I’m also at work, actually, as I work from home. Three, THIS IS THE SECOND TIME IN TWO MONTHS THAT YOU’VE GOTTEN ME OUT OF THE SHOWER.

It didn’t even occur to me until after I’d gotten rid of them that some people find solace in religion at times like this. I’m not that kind of person. I’m the kind of person that obsesses over the worst-case scenario of any given situation. And I’ve been in this situation before. Three years ago, my partner’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago, she died.

“I know you’re thinking ‘not again’,” my mum told me over the phone.

She knows me so well.

Fortunately, my boyfriend and I already had plans to visit my parents this weekend. We booked the coach a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my parents live right beneath the big, red, swirling thing on the ‘severe weather warning’ map. The road there is going to be… interesting.

***

I’m on the coach. The clouds are such a deep grey I can barely see to write. (The light above me isn’t working.) The driver says we’re going a different route because of a collapsed bridge. My mum had surgery again yesterday. I rang today, but she felt too sick to talk to me. Dad’s picking us up when we get there. I don’t know why I even tried to write.

***

I’m at home. My parent’s home. It’s still weird calling Hamilton home. According to our flatmate, the pavement in front of our house is knee-deep in water. It’s not actually too bad here. Weather-wise. There’s more of a depression inside my dad than outside the window. That was a bad joke, but ‘storm’ wouldn’t have worked because he’s not angry. I can barely hear him his words are so heavy.

***

I’m at the hospital. Mum’s good. Well, as good as you can be when you’ve had two major surgeries in as many weeks. She’s had chunks out of her legs and lymph nodes out of her groin, but she’s up and laughing and worrying about her hair.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only gone all flat and greasy.”

She laughed. She tried to show Dad a picture of her stitched up shin, but he couldn’t bear to look.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s only like Nightmare Before Christmas.”

She managed to do a lap of the toilet block with a walker. (When she came round the corner, I held out a coat like a flag.) She’s doing so well it’s hard to believe she’s got cancer at all. Maybe she hasn’t anymore. Maybe they caught it early enough and it’s all been cut out. Maybe she won’t have to have radiation or chemo. Maybe her legs haven’t been screwed up for life. (Because, you know, removing lymph nodes isn’t exactly good for the body.)

Maybe. We’ll see.

It’s the ‘we’ll see’ part that’s driving me crazy.

***

The old woman in the hospital bed next to my mum’s said, “I’m very fastidious when it comes to cleaning. I can’t stand to have anything crooked; I’m always straightening things. I’m a bit AC/DC, you know.”

Mum whispered that to me. She knew I’d want to write it down.

***

I’m back in Hamilton. And guess what. IT’S SUMMER AGAIN. It’s warm and bright and cicadas are chirping outside. Typical bloody New Zealand weather and, I might add, not at all symbolic. Mum’s still in hospital.

Sorry for the patchy blog post this week, but I’m feeling too weird to fix it.