Bringing Joffrey Down!

joffrey2Yesterday, I was witness to the downfall of the most hated king in fictional history: Joffrey Baratheon. Yes, the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and incurable you-know-what was toppled before my very eyes. And in New Zealand, no less.

I was making my way down Auckland’s Queen Street when I noticed a crowd gathered in Aotea Square. At the centre of it all was a magnificent, golden statue of Joffrey. The sight sickened me, but, being a massive fan of Game of Thrones, I approached with interest.

I’d heard about this happening, but forgotten. (It was a happy coincidence that I was wearing my Daenerys top.) It was a publicity stunt promoting the new series. The statue had a rope around it, and the rope was attached to a large, wooden wheel. How fast the wheel turned was dependent on how many ‘tweets’ on Twitter the event got. I haven’t got a Twitter account and have no desire to get one, but I was tempted to create one just to help bring the bitch king down faster.

When I got there, at about two in the afternoon, the statue was tilting slightly. I didn’t have anything to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I settled in for the long haul. It was quite a boring wait, but I had my Robin Hobb with me, so I read while the statue inched imperceptibly to a lean.

The sun was beating down on the square. The golden crown on the boy king’s smug head was gleaming. Still, the crowd waited. And grew.

I was sitting on the ground right next to the safety barrier. All around me, I heard snatches of conversation: people daring each other to grab a chunk of the statue when it finally fell; people asking exactly when it was going to come down; people who didn’t watch the show asking, “So is he, like, the evil one?”

joffrey3I was just impressed that this was happening in New Zealand, the place where nothing usually happens except the filming of fantasy movies. In fact, I heard someone comment, “Aren’t we supposed to be Lord of the Rings, not Game of Thrones?” I wasn’t complaining. I wished we’d got a ‘washed up’ dragon skull on one of our beaches, like England got, though.

As the sun dropped below the line of buildings that surrounded the square, the swollen crowd was getting a bit restless. Then – who’d have thought? – a seagull landed on Joffrey’s head and stayed there. The crowd went wild. Seriously, we were like peasants starved of entertainment. When the seagull flew off, there was a great “AAAWWWWWW” of disappointment.

At some point, they started giving out posters of different house sigils. Of course, being a Northerner, I wanted a Stark one. Typically, they ran out before I got there. I ended up with a Targaryen one, which, you know, isn’t bad. I also got a Tully one and an Arryn one, but who cares about those, right?

Then, from the loudspeakers set up around the square, came those first ominous notes of The Rains of Castamere. The atmosphere improved instantly. This was what I’d been sitting around the last few hours for. The deeply sung words sent shivers up my spine:

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red
a lion still has claws.
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
but now the rains weep o’er his hall
with no one there to hear.
Yes, now the rains weep o’er his hall
with not a soul to hear.

But the statue didn’t fall. They started playing the titles music, which built to crescendo that had never seemed more dramatic. Everyone stood poised to cheer.

But still the statue didn’t fall.

They played Rains of Castamere again. And the main theme. It got to the point where everyone groaned every time it began again. I mean couldn’t they have played The Bear and the Maiden Fair to pass the time?

Then, finally, Joffrey looked about to fall. They played the main theme AGAIN, hopefully for the last time. It finished. The statue hadn’t fallen. Then, miraculously, it fell.

Well, flopped.

It was a bit of a letdown, really. It didn’t crash to the ground like in the films, shattering dramatically save for an outstretched hand. It just swung down to land headfirst and stayed there, facing the plinth, upside-down but upright.

The top of the head shattered a bit. The crown broke in two, which was nice.

joffrey4People started moving away. I was among them, but then I heard a great cheer go up. Some guy had jumped the barrier and nicked the crown, and was now running away as fast as he could, chased by a fat security person. I’m glad to say the guy made it to freedom, darting into the mass of people walking up Queen Street and disappearing from sight. I wonder what he did with the crown.

The spectacle of Joffrey Baratheon being brought down in Aotea Square marked, I think, an important day for New Zealand. Until now, New Zealand has been notorious for being months behind America and Britain as far as TV shows are concerned. (Don’t even get me started on Coronation Street.) But yesterday, we were firmly in sync with the rest of the world, and it felt good.

As a side note, I found it startling how such a large crowd could be united in hatred against a mere statue, even if it was just in fun. I feel like I fully understand now why statues are pulled down. It was satisfying and disturbingly emotive. I felt as though, had we really been starving peasants outside King’s Landing, we’d have taken up our pitchforks and stormed the Red Keep. You’d think you’d be intelligent enough to resist mob mentality, but it was fun just being involved. Exhilarating.

Down with King Joffrey!

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Four Seasons of New Zealand Weather

You often hear New Zealand weather described as “four seasons in one day” and I’m sick of it.

Not the weather, the saying.

Yes, it’s true the weather’s changeable – my jacket’s on and off like a Game of Thrones costume – but the prevailing conditions are usually sunny, and winter never seems to come, except in the south of the South Island.

Let me put it this way: in Britain, you can’t not have a big, warm coat; here, I didn’t even own one for years, and now I own one I don’t ever wear it, or my scarf, or gloves, or a fleecy hat. Most New Zealand houses don’t even have radiators.

You can’t go around quoting “four seasons in one day” when the weather merely switches from sun to rain, or windy to not windy. It’s three seasons in one day, tops.

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Honestly, kiwis have nothing to complain about.

Brits get so little sunshine they’re all miserable and Vitamin D-deficient. Something like seventy-five percent of days are overcast, whereas in New Zealand I find myself hoping for a bit of cloud cover so I don’t get fried on my way to the shops. (Summer’s only just ended here. It lasted well into autumn this year and, frankly, the rain came as a relief.)

New Zealand gets so much sunshine you have to be careful. My friend’s mum’s known exchange students from Africa with extremely dark skin, who’ve come to New Zealand and been sunburned for the first time in their lives! I’m sure you know all about the hole in the ozone layer, the legacy of mankind’s reckless use of CFCs, which New Zealand was rather unfairly burdened with. It means you absolutely have to wear sunscreen in summer (and on sunny days in spring and autumn, as this year reminded me,) and nothing less than factor thirty will do. Also, you need a hat, or you’ll get a headache and a burned parting that’ll hurt like hell in the shower and look like bad dandruff when it starts to peel.

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New Zealand’s got one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, about four times higher than Britain, thanks to all those nasty UV-B rays let in by the depleted ozone. But if you don’t let yourself get some sun exposure, you risk other diseases like rickets. You just can’t win!

All this to say New Zealand is hands down warmer than Britain, often at the same time, despite the seasons being the opposite way round. Yup, a New Zealand winter can be warmer than a British summer. My mum still marvels that she can sit on our deck in shorts and T-shirts in the middle of winter here.

Sometimes it does get “too” warm, which is why my favourite season is spring, but I can tell you that Australia is far worse. I went on holiday to Brisbane a few years ago. It was the middle of winter and you could have cooked bacon and eggs on the pavement. I don’t think I could live there. Living in New Zealand is just right.

A sunbathing seal

And this sunbathing seal seems to agree!

The weather in New Zealand means you can do so many more outdoor activities here than in Britain, such as barbecues. Before I moved to New Zealand, I’d attended a grand total of one barbecue in my life. I couldn’t tell you how many we’ve had since. Partying outside is just what you do here, and when it gets cooler you light a fire. But, as my dad learned, you do not want to throw a couple of giant candles onto that fire.

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It did look cool, though.

The mostly-quite-warm weather also means that camping in New Zealand is generally a much more pleasant experience than it is in Britain, though I still prefer to do it in the comfort of a campervan!

Yes, the weather makes for a perfect New Zealand holiday, but be warned if you wanted to come in the “off” season: in winter it still rains a lot. Doesn’t mean you can’t go out – my birthday’s in winter, (which is messed up because I was born in summer,) and my celebrations have never been disrupted by rain. Besides, more rain means fewer tourists, and one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had was swimming in a hot pool in the rain.

Wonderful as the New Zealand weather is, however, there’s one aspect that – even after eleven years – doesn’t sit right with me: the idea of Christmas on the beach.

Trade your turkey for barbecued prawns; your snowflake jumper for a bikini – actually that does sound nice, but, trust me, the novelty soon wears off.

Christmas is a time for tradition, and spraying water at my little sister in a sun-soaked garden with the water blaster I’d just unwrapped simply wasn’t part of my Christmas tradition. We should have been having a snowball fight, not a water fight! Better, we should have been indoors, all snug and cosy. The sky should have been dark, so the candles looked pretty. All our family should have been there, not twelve thousand miles away.

That first year was hard.

beautiful sky 010

We still make Mum do our traditional Christmas dinner every year, even though it’s much too hot and humid to eat such a meal. We still spend Christmas resolutely at home, not at the beach, even though the sun beckons.

My uncle’s coming this Christmas. It’ll be the first time since leaving England that a relative who doesn’t live with us will be with us actually on Christmas day. I’m excited, but the picture still won’t be entirely complete.

I miss snow. Not that we got proper snow all that often in Retford.

I miss “ice-skating” on the frozen puddles in the street.

I miss going for walks along the iced-over canal, all wrapped up and wearing wellies, laughing at the ducks skidding along and that big, white swan that came in to land, slid uncoordinatedly for a bit, and crashed through the ice with a plop.

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My family are so desperately nostalgic for snow that, one winter, when we were driving up Desert Road, one of the highest roads in the country, and came across some, we got out of the car and revelled in it. I’d forgotten how much I loved the soft crunch snow makes under your feet! Unfortunately, we weren’t dressed for snow and soon got very cold. I’d forgotten how snow makes your toes tingle painfully inside your shoes. I’d forgotten that even snow loses its novelty after a while. It’s pretty to look at, but I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be in.

Maybe Christmas in New Zealand isn’t so bad, I thought.

But by the time Christmas came around again, I was back to dreaming of snow.

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