Thursday, 18 June 2009

Believe it or not...

When I was a child my big brother used to tell me all sorts of nonsense and I believed it – ‘brrr’ was Latin for cold; the strips that hung from the back of cars were to prevent motion sickness (what are they for, actually?); the tunnels that held up the nearby fly-over were used as air-raid shelters… and so it went on.

It was like living in a permanent episode of Call My Bluff. Except I never did. And it wasn’t until I blurted things out at school to be met with an incredulous look and the words, ‘Who told you that, your brother?’ that I realised the full extent of my gullibility.

I never had a younger sibling, so I could never wreak my revenge. No one ever believed my stories, even (sadly enough) when they were true. But now I am an aunty and all that is due to change. My nephew is four. He’s at that age where he’s learning things, before he becomes a teenager and knows it all.

He’s quite a serious chap and constantly seeking answers and explanations. When I went away for a week, he (and his mother) fed Chester in our absence. I bought a little gift and said it was from Chester. He furrowed his little brow and said, ‘Chester didn’t really buy it, did he mummy?’ Mummy – bless her – is equally unfettered with an overactive imagination and replied that no, of course he didn’t, he’s a cat.

The other week we were out at a café and nephew was rootling around in the flowerbed where he came across some rat poison. After his hands had been thoroughly washed, the torrent of questions began. They mainly centred on why we wanted to kill rats in the first place. Mummy explained that it was because they carried disease.

‘How do they carry disease, mummy?’ he piped. ‘In their handbags’ I replied. Furrowing of brow and quizzical looks ensued. Mummy would neither confirm nor deny (fence-sitter) and I felt the situation slipping away, especially when he pronounced that rats didn’t have handbags. So I asked him if he had ever seen a rat (with or without accessory) and he had to admit that he hadn’t.

I think I’ve got him. Of course, I can’t know for sure until he drops it into casual conversation in the school playground and opens himself up for ridicule, but I think the woodcock may be near the gin, as they say in Shakespeare (trust me!).

You may consider this cruel, but apparently it’s just character-building. And he’ll thank me one day, when he has tales of aunt-cruelty to tell on his own blog. He may even publish a book about how mean we all were (preferrably in an Irish location) and he'll make a sob-story fortune.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Take (at least) two at bedtime

A couple of months ago I began hallucinating about the perfect beer to drink after a long walk. It would be fair to say that all of the pints that sprang to mind were English and most of them were milds.

I believe, however that I may have tracked down a Kiwi tipple to suit the purpose.
Kid Chocolate by Yeastie Boys is an immensely sessionable 3.6% and has a satisfying thirst-quenching taste. The boys describe it as ‘chestnut coloured with a little autumn fruit on both the nose and the palate’.

It is heartily enjoyed by Him Outdoors in
Bar Edward where he retires with his running club after they have thrashed their legs up and down the hills. Admittedly he is from Lancashire (I may have mentioned Burnley recently…) and he does possess a flat cap but you don’t have to own one (or stuff ferrets down your trousers) to appreciate this fine English-mild style ale. It’s champion and certainly not lightweight.

Which brings me conveniently (and perhaps contrivedly) to the name; apparently Kid Chocolate was a Cuban boxer who enjoyed ‘wild success both in the boxing ring and in society life during a span of the 1930s’. Thanks Wikipedia. He was the world lightweight champion and the inspiration for the character Chocolate Drop in Clifford Odets’ play Golden Boy – the Yeastie Boys 2008 offering. Do I detect a theme?

Meanwhile, we attended the launch of their newest brew – Pot Kettle Black – last night at the Malthouse. This is the new version of the American style porter that so impressed at Beervana last year. And I’m pleased to announce it doesn’t disappoint. Judging from the tasting notes on the Yeastie Boys website, at 6% ABV it is both stronger and bitterer than the previous year’s offering. It certainly packs a punch. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

It’s dark, bitter and hoppy and tastes like iron and chocolate. It’s a tough no-nonsense drop with a malty finish that makes you sense your haemoglobin levels rising by the mouthful. Vampires might drink this as a socially acceptable draught. It just tastes like it’s beneficial. Just what the good doctor ordered – if you had a particularly good one who was not averse to prescribing alcohol, that is.

This morning as Him Outdoors bounced out of bed he remarked, ‘I should drink that every night. I slept well and my legs don’t hurt.’ This may sound like a random recommendation until put into context – he has erratic sleep patterns at the best of times and had done an intensive track session before heading down t’pub. Ye gods, Yeastie’s good!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Cultural Collision

Living in New Zealand, as I do, there are many things that I will never get used to. For a start the seasons are the wrong way round – how can you have Christmas in the middle of summer, Bonfire Night in spring when you have to wait until 10pm to set off the fireworks, and Easter when all of nature is curling up and going to sleep rather than bursting into life?

Secondly, they call the wrong thing football. Here’s a tip – if it’s ‘a solid or hollow sphere’ that you kick with ‘the lower extremity of the leg below the ankle’ then it’s football. If you pick up an ovoid inflatable and run with it, then it’s either cheating, or it’s rugby – union or league depending on the level of violence involved – American football if there’s padding, and Aussie rules if there are no discernible rules whatsoever.

And other thing: although we share a similar history, the popular iconography is far more American than English and, according to a friend I mentioned this to, becoming more so each day. I noticed this when I was writing the Midsummer Night’s Dream review. My 80s was clearly a very different time to most Kiwis’ 80s. And this is not the only decade to suffer this phenomenon.

When we first arrived to these fair shores we were invited to a fancy dress party (the love of those is also a Kiwi thing I don’t understand – Him Outdoors has his theories which I have mentioned before but shan’t again). The theme was 70s. Naturally, we went as punks – ripped jeans, tatty leather and safety pins galore – expecting to hear The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Everyone else was dressed in kaftans, headbands, love beads and painted flowers. They tripped around drippily to Johnny Cash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Beach Boys. Wrong decade, surely, I thought – and may well have said. I was an aggressive punk after all – I felt like a Hell’s Angel that had just turned up to Woodstock.

This feeling of displacement continues daily. We are lulled into a false sense of security and familiarity – they play cricket; their judicial and political system are based on ours (although how someone who is not even wanted by their electorate can still occupy a seat in Parliament bewilders me); they screen Coronation Street twice a week (it’s a year behind) and they speak a version of our language. But the popular iconography – from the plastic news presenters to the ‘fashion’ of vests and baseball caps – is largely American.

Not all, I hasten to add. There are pockets of Scottish ‘it’s cold and it’s wet and we like it’ heritage (Southland); there is a large Yorkshire ‘we are better than everyone else and why talk when you can grunt?’ element (Otago); there are prime examples of Home Counties ‘what school did you go to and who are your parents?’ affectation (Canterbury); and a delightful patch of faux French ‘let’s fly the tricolour and call our streets by Gallic names’ chic (Akaroa).

Of course there is a rich and distinctive Māori culture which adds a unique and valuable component to the heritage. And there are colourful swathes of Pacific Island traditions, Asian customs, and all sorts of bits and pieces of European inheritance from the Italian-style blessing of the boats at Island Bay to a strange Viking connection at Dannevirke (settled by a handful of Danes and Norwegians).

The result of all this is a little curious and unsettling like one of those dreams where you know something is different but you’re not sure what. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it is odd. Some things are simply ingrained in your formative years and when they change, you may never get used to them. Ah well, ‘Vive La Difference!’ as they say in Akaroa.