Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cakes, Pies and a Strange Compression of Time

There are a few things I wasn't expecting about life in Kiwiland. Take the cakes, for example: moist, tempting, often chocalatey - who would have thought that baking could bring about the downfall of a man? Surely that is the stuff of sex, drugs & rock 'n'roll? But here they make superb cakes, and if I didn't walk to work & go running occasionally there would be very little opportunity to burn off those pleasurable calories, and all that would be left of me would be a lump of lard, blobbing in & out of the office chair.
And then there's the pies....however did I get through life until now, without a Kiwi cheese steak or butter chicken pie?? They are - and this word is very overused, but here it is appropriate - awesome. Even the ones you buy in the BP service station are good.
Another surprise was linguistic. This far, NZers are the only English language speakers I have met who can consistently end a sentence in the word 'as'. Really. 'As Kiwi as', as pissed as', as sweet as' - this is standard currency down here. All you have to do to make it really authentic is to add the word 'bro'. I suspect the common use of 'bro' and 'cous' stem from the fact that there are only four and a half million people in this country, and sooner or later you are bound to be related to someone you are in the pub with...
A personal surprise for me was the way my life pre NZ suddenly seems visible as if at the end of a telescope......weird one this, hard to explain, but in those falling asleep and waking up moments, it's like forty nine years (yes I am that old) of life are open to viewing by my southern hemisphere self. For example, a song from the seventies or eighties will be on the radio, and my brain whizzes through the surrounding years remembering where & when I was, who with, the good and bad outcomes of past decisions, etc. etc. They say this kind of stuff happens at the moment of death, but for me it has been a feature of life 12000 miles from home. I guess it may have been aggravated by some of the novels I have read and plays I have seen recently - the latter including superb productions of Tom Stoppard's 'Rock and Roll' and Pinter's 'Betrayal', both spanning decades of my growing up against a backdrop of music I love. But it feels like emigration has made me my own critical reviewer, reading the chapters of my life until now and offering a verdict to myself. And guess what: the report says 'could do better'.
No shit. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of humans I know of that really 'couldn't do better'.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Particularly Good Friday

As far as I know I have only two followers on this blog. One is a devout Christian, the other a militant atheist, or at least that's the way it was last time we spoke.
Good Friday has always seemed to me to be the most difficult and the most necessary day in the Christian calendar. Without the events that we remember on this day, the rest is just froth and wishful thinking.
In my days of studying theology, there was a lot of reference to the idea of 'protest atheism'. How can there be an all powerful, all loving God when there is such excruciating suffering and such massive injustice on this planet? I must refuse to believe in such a God until there is a satisfactory answer to this question.
What I learnt at the time and still believe is that the only possible Christian response is to point to the cross of Christ. The Christian cannot and must not attempt to give a logical, reasoned answer to the question of suffering. Any answer which attempts to give a purpose to suffering becomes blasphemous: if God willed Auschwitz, Hiroshima etc. etc. then God must be a monster.
Good Friday tells us that the God in whom Christians believe, and in whom atheists refuse to believe, reveals himself not as all powerful, almighty, but in the midst of and on the receiving end of the worst evils the world and humans can throw at him.
This is more than just 'Jesus died for my sins', important as that is. This is an event which, if there is any truth in Christianity, tells us that God suffers, and that if God takes upon himself the sting of suffering and evil, then it becomes possible for humans and the earth to be free.
My all time fave singer Bruce Cockburn (google him) has a line that says 'those who know don't have the words to tell, and the ones with the words don't know so well'.
Well I'm running out of words here. Good Friday always makes me feel a little uneasy, serious, reflective........but it's what makes this Christianity stuff real to me.
So if you came to the blog wanting to know more about life in New Zealand, and found me going on about God, suffering and evil, and you haven't tuned out yet......
It's been a bright, sunny fun day! We are house sitting for my mate Andy in the town of Paraparaumu, some 20 odd miles up the coast from Wellington, and the real reason we are here is a daft black ex racing greyhound called Piper. She needed looking after while Andy & family are away in Australia, and I guess we specialise in daft greyhounds. She's been out hurtling along the beach, chasing other dogs large & small and generally getting excited in the Autumn sunshine.
Yep - Easter in the Autumn. Weird, if you're from the Northern Hemisphere. And the supermarkets have all been shut - but not the cafe that sold us the huge ice creams.....
By the way, another thing I learnt along the way is that atheists are much more interesting than agnostics. Anyone fancy a few beers and a debate about God?

Friday, March 6, 2009

March, late summer

OK we are upside down. Have been for a couple of months, in fact. Neglected the blog, as usual. Time for an update though......
we left Heathrow on 8th Jan ( I think), had a couple of beers in the airport with a guy who was just moving home from Thailand to Teesside. Now that's culture shock for you.
Landed in LA after discovering that Air New Zealand serve the best wine & food of any airline I've tried so far, then spent an hour trying to find a rental car desk that didn't exist. Eventually found out we had to catch a bus to it, hired a funky white Chrysler and drove out into the California night.....straight into three lanes of oncoming traffic. Well it's not my fault they drive on the wrong side of the road. Luckily there was time to correct my mistake, and we survived the drive to our downtown Hollywood hotel, well ok it was a fairly downbeat motel, but clean and well run.
So we had a great time with our friends Debbie & Drew, the warm weather doing us both a power of good. Three days later we took off for NZ and a big leap into the unknown.
I have to say we warmed to the place as soon as we arrived, even though it was 5am. The airport staff, customs & immigration were all very friendly & efficient, we bussed into Auckland and discovered the delights of the NZ 'long black' - a tachycardia inducing double espresso that kept us going until we were able to access our hotel room and sleep a bit (I've since become a bit of a 'long black' addict). We met up with friends from the UK, Andy W and Sarah M, thanks guys, you made us welcome and kept us awake when we needed it most!
After a couple of nights in Auckland we flew on to Wellington, met at the airport by my 'new' work colleagues Andy & Alan (I used to work with these two in Gloucester), plus more of the management team from Wellington Free, whom I now work closely with as well: Pete, Rob & Sarah. And the job's good.
Since then we spent two weeks in a downtown serviced apartment, found a place we wanted to rent, the rental agency messed up the dates so we then lived for three weeks on top of Lower Hutt Ambulance Station (we have a work owned apartment there), then eventually we moved into our new place for a six month rental right opposite the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Which incidentally are absolutely gorgeous. Although I did find out today that the major fault line on which Wellington is built runs right down the middle of the street between us & the gardens. So if we disappear into it, it's been great knowing you.
Now before we left home, I had no end of doubts about whether we were doing the right thing. But since we arrived, I've had no regrets at all. Some serious bouts of missing home & family, sure, but they pass over and on we go with life, work and the challenges they bring.
Judi has been brilliant, while I've been working she has got on with making new friends, kitting out the flat, learning her way around and generally looking after me. Today is her birthday and we are celebrating with a weekend at Martinborough, a very chilled out winery town about an hour from Wellington. On Monday she starts work.
So it's March, it's very warm & humid tonight, but it's only wierd if you stop to think about it. And from pneumonia on Christmas Day back home, I have not seen Judi so healthy as she is now for a long long time.
If you are reading this because you are friends or family and want to know what we've been up to, there's lots more - swimming, hiking, buying a Subaru Impreza, getting used to beer that is always served at sub zero temperatures, discovering what a cool, green city Wellington is (most of the time).......
If on the other hand you expect a blog to contain profound or incisive comment on life.....not tonight, sorry. I'm just too chilled.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year and away!

Our NZ visas arrived around 4pm on New Year's Eve. Cue warm glow, followed by celebration, followed by a sudden doubling in size of our 'to do' list and a shrinking of the time to do it: we leave on Thursday! Cue also moments of sheer panic as I realise that we are leaving everything we know and love. The more time we've had waiting for the visas has meant the more time we've spent with friends, family and dogs, realised what a great bunch they all are - and now we are off.
I guess leaving shows everything in a different and sometimes fresh light: I don't appreciate what I have until I leave it behind. Though in the age of the web and regular international travel I like to think we haven't left it all for good. In fact at the moment we both think that we will be back in two or three years - although several people we have spoken to reckon we will change our minds about that.
Anyway we'll be back next summer for stepson's wedding, empty suitcases in hand to take more stuff to NZ.
A Happy New Year to both my readers!

PS Didn't Forest Green Rovers do well?