Return to Aotearoa. And misc.

January 29, 2007

Well, I’ve made it back to Aotearoa, aka ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’, aka New Zealand. It’s my fourth visit, but it’s been 10 years since I was last here.

Just arriving, it felt comfortable. Although Auckland is an unprepossessing main city the country still feels relaxed and welcoming – I mean, how many other countries have customs staff who not only smile but banter affably to you when you hand them your passport? It’s a world away from the reception you get in, say, the US.

Anyways, Auckland –  it’s been called “Sydney for beginners”, but this isn’t right at all. Although there are approximate similarities – both are cities that were consolidated in the mid-19th century, on a British colonial basis; both have grown up around dramatic natural harbours straddled by impressive engineering feats – Auckland is considerably less dynamic. But it’s also considerable more modest, and is, most importantly, a gateway to the real wonders of NZ, which are found in the countryside.

My experiences of NZ – spending the best part of two years here, on and off between 1990 and 1995, spread over three trips – have largely involved quality time in rural areas, in the backcountry, in the underpopulated areas of the South Island. Cumulatively they were profound experiences, and very formative for me. I can’t have unrealistic expectations that coming back here will again change my life, but it’s lovely to be back nonetheless, at the most basic level. It’s a sort of homecoming, but to my surrogate home. Well, it will be when I’m back in the South Island, and specifically the Buller Gorge, where I spent so much time with so many great, warm, thoughtful, inspiring people.

Even before getting back down South, I’m going to see another dear old friend, Jude, who’s getting married next week in Northland. I don’t know Northland at all, so we’ve hired a funny little people-carrier-cum-camper-van thing. It’s bright orange. It’s a bit pricey. It’s probably not the best idea when we could just buy a car. But it should be fun to explore a bit, then go to Jude’s big day.

And hey, what do we know about buying a car? We’ve been bickering a lot lately, as people who spend 24 hours together for such long periods do, no matter how much they love each other. One of our current topics is the myriad transport options for NZ. Buying a banger seems like a great idea – spend a few hundred quid, rather than give it to coach companies or whoever. But then, I’m stuck with doing all the driving, and, hell, the responsibility. And really – what do we know about cars? I wouldn’t really even know what to ask or look for when buying a used car, let alone know what to do if we broke down. Gah. Decisions decisions.

Still, our somewhat bickery day was put back on an even keel after we went to see Babel at the cinema. This latest one from the team behind Amores Perros and 21 Grams is such a misanthropic, joyless mass of negativity and unmittigated drear, you really have to wonder why its makers aren’t taking a break from the movie business for a few years to read some self-help books, or go on Buddhist reatreats or something. Sure, there’s plenty of crap and misery in the world, but hell’s bells, to try and squeeze so many of them into one film – itself even shot in a palette of low contrast washed-out desert vista browns and murky shadows (it even succeeds in making the neon of Tokyo seem drab) – seems like an exercise in pure bloody-mindedness.

On a lighter note, there’s a daffy debacle back in Australia at the moment, involving the advertising campaign of Toohey’s New, a piddly lager. I kept seeing the bus-side ads calling the lager “A Pom’s worst nightmare”. It didn’t mean much to me (it was aimed more at Ashes fans and whoever), but it didn’t offend me either. Then Toohey’s (sorry, Tooheys – they seem intent on phasing out the possessive apostrophe in Oz), or at least their ad agency, produced a song, to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory, that riffed elaborately on the theme of the “whinging Pom”.

Said ad has brought the campaign to the attention of the Austrailian Advertising Standards Board, which has ruled that Pom was used in a derogatory, almost hostile way. Others (including some body that calls itself British People Against Racial Discrimination) have piped up, claiming “The Oxford Dictionary classes Pom as being derogatory just like wog, wop, dink, dago, coon and abo, it’s every bit as bad as the term nigger.” Does the OED really say that? The generally reliable just says the word is “Usually Disparaging.”

Now, I’m not especially a fan of hooligan sports fans pushings things a bit far, to the point of aggression and violence (cf the tennis in Melbourne recently, with the Serbs and Croats having a rumble), but really, does it hurt to be disparaged?

Frankly, there are more important things in the world to get exercised about – like the fact that both Britain and Australia share a common problem with water shortages, something that may well be connnected with the horrors of climate change. Come on people.  


4 Responses to “Return to Aotearoa. And misc.”

  1. Lawrence Says:

    It’s a tricky one, what with the amzing scenes of national outcry over here taht you’ve been missing with Celebrity BB (vastly overplayed, but interesting to see how it’s been dealt with).

    The Australians have a peculier knack for want to shorten everything and give everyone a mantel (mantle? mantal? mental…) to rib them with. ‘Aussies’ is so meanungless and I’ve never really known what Pom really means so I don’t care too much, but it was odd to hear the liberal use of wog used seemingly with lots of acceptence, and Paki too, but it just doesn’t have the same impact or connotations over there, or so they say.

    Hope you find your ghosts friendly in NZ.

  2. Lawrence Says:

    I’ve just re-read what I’ve typed. What a mess of typos. It’s late. I’m off to bed.

  3. Jude Says:

    Hi Dan
    sorry it’s been a long time since i’ve been in touch but my computer has been poorly. Anyway more importantly, I thought I should let everyone know that it is not your dear old english friend jude that is getting hitched… just thought the boys should know that! I’ll email you at google address. love to Fran, and you of course. jude x

  4. Good to clarify that Jude!

    Drink more coffee L!

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