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.

What the Internet’s Like in New Zealand

It’s the year 2000, and you’re trying to connect to the Internet. You grit your teeth through the cacophony of chirps and screeches, like crickets being tortured through a transistor radio.

(Yes, kids, that was the mating call of the dial-up modem.)

You think you’re finally connected when suddenly your mum’s voice starts coming through the computer speakers. She’s on the phone; your very important MSN Messenger session with friends with whom you’ve just been at school will have to wait. Your initial annoyance is replaced with the thought that this would be a great way to spy on people…

Those were the days. The days of asking Jeeves, in grammatically correct sentences, the answers to your homework. Of logging into chat rooms just to see if there were any of those bad people you’d been warned about. Of wondering what on earth a Trojan was and why it had anything to do with horses… For me, those were the days just before my family immigrated to New Zealand.

Back then, I knew very little about New Zealand. I was a nine-year-old living on the other side of the planet. The image I had was of the sort of South Pacific island that cartoon characters tend to get stranded on, populated by primitive tribes. The chances of them having the Internet, I thought, weren’t high.

Obviously, I was wrong.

We moved to New Zealand in 2001. Over the next decade, we progressed from dial-up to wireless broadband, but it was slow, unreliable and expensive. If you ever asked why, you’d receive a vague reply involving New Zealand’s low population density.

Our usage was carefully monitored to make sure we didn’t go over our data limit each month. You know when your dad stalks around the house turning off heaters to save money? Well it was like that, but with YouTube. When I left home for university in 2009, I had decent Internet access for the first time in my life.

I was living at a university hall of residence. I was amazed: YouTube videos played without buffering! Like at all! It wasn’t wireless, but I wouldn’t get Internet access that good again for another few years. In 2012, I lived in a building that charged you $10 for 1GB, and it expired after a week. I used to ration it out so carefully, consuming it slither by slither. I had just enough data per week to do all my uni work and watch ONE episode of Game of Thrones.

Internet access in New Zealand has gotten better over the last few years. Speeds have greatly improved, and fibre is more widely available. Even now, though, you’re looking at $100 a month for unlimited Internet plans.

I will say, if you’re looking to move to New Zealand, don’t be put off by the relative crapness of its Internet access. I mean I work from home; my job depends on the Internet, and I’m fine. I only occasionally experience frustratingly slow speeds and am rarely unable to connect at all. I do, however, live in a city. If you’re planning on running an Internet-reliant business in New Zealand, it would probably be better not to live anywhere rural.

If you’re looking to travel around New Zealand, beware that mobile data coverage is patchy. You can buy mobile data for about $20 a month for 10GB a month. More and more city centres have free WiFi now, and many cafés do. Libraries, information centres and museums have it, but don’t expect much.

For more New Zealand holiday tips, check out my 10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips. (They’re totally awesome.)

Healthcare in New Zealand

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination, but now it seems more so than ever. My Best Place to Live in New Zealand article suddenly became popular at the end of last year – no prizes for guessing why – and continues to be one of Poms Away’s most-viewed. So, with no sign of global interest in moving to New Zealand slowing down, I thought I’d write an article of use to both potential immigrants and tourists. (Also, I registered at a new medical centre just this morning, so the topic happens to be on my mind. I moved house last week, you see.)

Socialised Healthcare

In New Zealand, the medical system is socialised. This means that hospital visits are free for citizens and permanent residents. Even tourists can get help with accidental injury treatment costs through ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation. Yes, it means you pay for the nation’s healthcare through your taxes, but most people are fine with that and wish more was spent on it. And it means you’re not screwed if you can’t afford health insurance.

Health Insurance

Only about a third of New Zealanders have health insurance. It’s a good thing to have if you can afford it, as in the public system waiting times for surgery can be horrendous. (But, hey, it’s a lot better than nothing at all.) Obviously, you can get a better quality of care if you go private.

Doctors’ Visits

doctor-1825417_960_720Seeing a GP in New Zealand isn’t free, but it is subsidised as long as you’re enrolled at the medical centre you’re attending. Enrolling is free – just make sure you take your passport with you. Depending on which medical centre you choose, visits can cost anywhere from $10 to $70, with about $40 being normal. Under-13’s are generally free. You usually need to book appointments a few days in advance, but you can get emergency appointments, or go to an emergency clinic – but they’re quite expensive, maybe between $50 and $100 per visit. (This is New Zealand dollars, remember.)

Prescriptions

Most medicine you get on prescription is subsidised, so you’ll only pay $5 for it, no matter what it is. There was a bit of excitement recently following the announcement that the contraceptive pill might soon become available in New Zealand over-the-counter, but my excitement dissipated when I read that it would cost $45 for a three-month supply. (That’s the same as the cost of a six-month supply of on-prescription contraceptive pills, including the doctor’s visit you need to obtain the prescription.)

Doctors’ Visits for Tourists

Long story short, if you’re going to be visiting New Zealand as a tourist, get health insurance. Casual appointments for non-residents can cost in excess of $100. And don’t even ask about the cost of an ambulance.

Ambulances

Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. If you have to take a ride in an ambulance and you’re not a New Zealand resident, it’ll cost you $800. (Yeah. Get travel insurance, tourists.) But it’s less than $100 for residents, and if you’re rushed to hospital following an accident, ACC pays.

Abortion

Abortion is legal in New Zealand up to 20 weeks, but only if two separate, properly certified abortion doctors declare you physically or mentally unfit to have a child. There are allowances for cases of incest, sexual abuse, foetal abnormality and extremes of age. After 20 weeks, an abortion may only be performed to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury.

Dentistry

Children can visit the dentist for free in New Zealand, but adults can’t. For the majority of the population, dentistry isn’t subsidised at all. Indeed, less than half the population sees a dentist on any kind of regular basis. People simply can’t afford it. You’re looking at an average of perhaps $100 for an examination with x-rays.

Optometry

Similar to dentistry, children can get free vision checks in certain places, and people with community services cards are entitled to a children’s spectacle subsidy, but not so for adults. The cheapest eye tests I’ve found are $60, and you can expect to pay up to $600 for mid-range glasses. The ones I’m wearing now cost, I think, $250, including lenses.

specs-42797_960_720

Overall

Overall, I’m happy with the quality of healthcare available in New Zealand. Because it’s socialised, I’ve never had to worry about going to the hospital. People looking at immigrating to New Zealand, however, may have their application declined if it’s judged that they would be an undue burden on the health system.

I would like to add that, last week, my mum had to have surgery. She doesn’t have health insurance, so, of course, it was done through the public health system. She says she is very pleased with how everything went: she felt the treatment she received was professional and efficient, and her standard of care was excellent. The surgery would have cost a lot of money, but she didn’t pay a thing. I’m especially thankful for socialised healthcare right now.

Honestly, New Zealand DOES Have History

POMS AWAY!

“New Zealand doesn’t have any history.”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard that since moving here?

“New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled; it’s too young for anything interesting to have happened.”

It’s not just immigrants that say it. It’s a sentiment shared by many born-and-bred New Zealanders. It’s repeated so often that people simply believe it.

I did.

1024px-bayeux_tapestry_scene57_harold_deathWhen I moved here, I bemoaned the lack of interesting history and – perhaps as an act of homesickness – began to obsess over British history.

I watched every documentary and read every book I could get my hands on. The Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians… and then, at the twentieth century, I lost interest.

I scoffed at New Zealand’s comparatively pathetic past.

School didn’t help.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th CenturyThe way New Zealand history is…

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Six Books, a Bach and a Wizard’s Robe

Getting away to “the bach” is a Great Kiwi Tradition. A bach is a holiday home, and it’s pronounced like a batch of cookies, not like the Baroque composer.

bach

Baches range from old shacks to modern mansions, although anything too “flash” isn’t really seen as being in the spirit. It’s supposed to be about getting back to basics; enjoying the beach with your family, free from technological distractions. As such, the traditional Kiwi bach is usually quite rundown. Worn-out couches, rusty kettles and board games with missing pieces are commonly found accessories.

Ruakaka Beach

Once you’ve arrived at your bach, there’s nothing to do except go to the beach. When I was younger, I despised it. I thought: I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the little things, but if you’re grateful for this, you’re an idiot. I mean this is the pinnacle of the Kiwi dream? This? But I think I get it now. “Getting it” could be to do with, you know, growing up, but I’ve also had some more positive bach experiences in the last few years.

Ruakaka Beach

I’ve had some “How’s the serenity?” moments:

Yes, that’s an Australian film, but you know… certain attitudes are similar.

Ruakaka Beach

Sometimes, having nothing to do except go to the beach is a good thing. You get there and suddenly nothing matters except the people you’re with. Earlier this year, my partner and I went to a bach with a large group of friends – a New Year getaway. The bach was in Ruakaka, in scorching Northland. When we arrived, Tim nearly passed out from the heat. Wading into the Pacific Ocean was absolute bliss.

Waipu Cove

As nice as Ruakaka Beach is, a short drive up the road lies an even nicer beach: Waipu Cove. After a couple of days lounging around in Ruakaka, Tim and I decided to visit Waipu. We returned with six books and a wizard’s robe.

waipucove5

Our friends joked that only Tim and Abby could go to the beach and come back with books and a LARPing costume. (And if you’re thinking but there are only five books in the photograph – I got another book after it was taken.) There was a mobile library at the beach, you see, and they had a table full of old books they were giving away.

Waipu Cove

“If every beach was like this,” Tim said to me, “we’d get you outside more.” True as that may be, even I’ll admit that Waipu Cove is worth visiting irrespective of the presence of a mobile library. Even the toilet block has a lovely mural painted on it, chronicling the history of the Waipu settlement.

Waipu Cove Mural

As for the wizard’s robe, that came from a junk shop on Waipu’s main street. (Waipu has a few junk – one might hesitate to call them antique – shops.) The town was settled in the nineteenth century by a group of Scottish immigrants who’d had quite a time of it. They were led by a very dour-looking religious chap who fell out with the Presbyterians in Scotland because they weren’t dour enough. He took some members of his clan off to Canada, but the whole thing was a bloody disaster, so they built themselves a ship and sailed to Australia, but Australia was too full of prozzies and booze, so they got another ship and sailed to New Zealand. There they settled, and when the dour guy finally died they let their hair down and started having all the fun they’d been forbidden from having because, apparently, God hates fun. This particular brand fun included nostalgic celebrations of Celtic culture, and Waipu holds annual highland games to this day.

Waipu Museum

That’s what I gathered from Waipu’s rather excellent museum, anyway. It’s worth a visit if you’re up that way. Here’s the website. Apparently, the highland games are worth a visit too. Here’s that website.

For more of my adventures up north, read What to Do in Kerikeri.