Friday, 18 September 2009

Bird of the year

The poll is open to cast your vote for the native bird of the year at the Forest and Bird website. New Zealanders like their birds – well, they have to; they have no native mammals. The national radio station plays a bird call every day before the news bulletin on Morning Report. It’s a delightful introduction to a few minutes filled with war, financial machinations, politics and crime. A proposal to silence the bird call in 2005 was met with unprecedented outrage by listeners – so they do care for something other than rugby, which is nice.

I am intrigued by birds and think they make a good walk into something wonderful. So when I arrived on these shores, one of the first books I bought was The Reed Field Guide to New Zealand Birds. I thought it would help me understand my adoptive land. New Zealand birds are, quite frankly odd. Fantails (piwakawaka) attack. Or so I thought when we first arrived here and as we walked through the bush these feathered darts would whistle and hover around us. I know now that they are looking for the tasty morsels we disturb with our tramping (great word – so much more active than rambling, don’t you think?) feet, but at the time I thought they were somewhat sinister.

I love the cheeky kea, or mountain parrot, with its strutting walk and defiant demeanour – like a Mancunian chancing his arm in a fight he knows he has no right to win. The way it hops off laughing after it’s just destroyed your tent or your walking boots is less endearing and I have known climbers to throw snowballs at them to try and scare them away from their essential equipment along with one or two choice epithets.

When we went on a trip to Stewart Island, the dawn chorus was more of a cacophony. One friend hid beneath a pillow and ranted about the ‘bloody birds!’ A kaka screamed at us from a branch as we walked underneath – hurriedly. I was all for turning back but Him Outdoors told me not to be daft – ‘It’s only a bird!’ Easy for you to say – I have been dive-bombed while running and cycling by magpies, red-billed gulls (tarāpunga) and Australasian harriers (kahu) – in fact I have been knocked off my bike by a particularly aggressive magpie. Don’t tell me birds are harmless.

On Ulva Island we saw a kiwi in the middle of the day, plodding across the path with preposterous feet. It ‘hid’ behind a fallen tree – sticking its frankly ridiculous beak into the earth and trying to blend in, with a ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ attitude favoured of five-year-olds. No wonder this bird is practically extinct! This may be the national icon of the country and so stands a good chance in the polls, but as the witty and astute Michele A’Court points out, kiwis can’t fly, and isn’t that kind of the definition of a bird?

Which reminds me of one of my favourite jokes – Q: What do you call a fly with no wings?’ A: a walk. (My other favourite jokes are Q: What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A: a carrot; and Q: Where do you find a tortoise with no legs? A: where you left it – which probably gives you an indication of my sense of humour.)

Having said that, I’m a fan of penguins from the Little Blue variety (korora) beloved of Oamaruvians, which I’ve also seen waddling up the beach at Seatoun (the penguins, that is), to the Fiordland Crested (Tawaki) who entertained us as we paddled our kayaks through the still waters of Milford Sound. I like the big fat green flightless and nocturnal Kakapo which has to be the crappest parrot in existence. And I like the kakariki, which is actually a parakeet from New Caledonia. Obviously an interloper, it is far too flamboyant to fit in with the New Zealand lifestyle but it escapes from the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and streams through the skies brightening up the otherwise terminally dull suburb.

Another favourite is the little fluffy adorably cute morepork (ruru). Although I’ve never seen one, I’ve frequently heard their distinctive call. When we were on a sailing holiday with Scary Sis, her husband and friends, we discovered a close relative – the ‘moreport’; a creature with a similarly distinctive call found on mini yachts that come out after dark and fed on copious quantities of fortified wine.

I like kingfishers (kotare)whose brilliant swooping used to accompany me on my bike rides round the bays. The white herons (kōtuku) provide grace and style to Okarito (otherwise known for Keri Hulme). Bar-tailed godwits (kuaka) are commendable for their amazing flight (once round the world every year) while the tui and bellbirds (korimako) have beautiful calls and provide friendship in the suburbs.

The precision plunges of gannets (takapu) into the waves are exceptional and the silvereyes (tauhou) flitting about the garden with their shrill cheeping and their circular flight patterns would get the vote of my erstwhile cat, Hatstand. I’m also struck (though, thankfully, not literally) by the wood pigeons (kereru) who are nothing like the city variety found in London that remind me of rats with wings. These huge plump beautiful birds just look too tasty for their own good.

Various ‘celebs’ are getting behind their bird of choice – Kiri Te Kanawa favours the kereru, Sam Hunt the pied stilt, and Jeremy Wells the royal spoonbill. Okay, so I’m no celebrity, but I cast my vote for the humble pukeko, which is a far more evocative name than the New Zealand Swamp Hen. Their iridescent indigo blue plumage, flashing white tail feathers, orange legs and feet, and bright red beaks make them a favourite of children’s book illustrators and energy companies, and they are far more deserving of iconic status than the boring brown kiwi.
Although we lived there for 18 months, I don’t really like Christchurch, but the sight of these curious birds flipping and flapping by the poo ponds out towards QEII always made me smile as I drove or cycled to the swimming pool. And they can fly, although their legs trailing behind them as they do so makes them look rather ungainly. They also gang up on stoats and rats and drive them away from their wetland habitat. I am not a big fan of rats, so this is a Good Thing.

Chester once caught a pukeko chick and seemed to know he had Done Wrong. He brought it into our kitchen and dumped it behind the flour bin. The little ball of blue fluff looked like a flump. We nursed it, calmed its beating heart and splinted its tiny leg with toothpicks.

It lived in our bathroom for a while until it appeared ready to be released, and we could clean up the poop. A few months later I saw one running around with a limp and I can’t begin to tell you how guilty I felt. If for no other reason than atonement on behalf of my cat, I am voting for the pukeko.

You have until October 14th to
cast your vote for your favourite native bird.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Memories of Patrick Swayze

Sadly Patrick Swayze has lost his long battle with pancreatic cancer. The Telegraph has a pretty good obituary.

On the flippant and shallow side, this is also sad because there will now doubtless be endless re-runs of Dirty Dancing. I was way too cool for this sappy and sexist Mills and Boon for the ’80s but set in the ’60s twaddle, but it is an iconic film nevertheless.

Ask a group of women to name their favourite film of the ’80s and at least one of them will invariably say Dirty Dancing (for blokes it’s Top Gun by the way). They love the unlikely girl gets the boy story and the blossoming of a wallflower and, of course, the dancing. Let’s not go into the reasons that blokes like the homo-eroticism, testosterone-fuelled pumping music, and thrusting weaponry of Top Gun.

Back to the dancing – it was considered highly risqué in 1987 – hence the name. That lift was practiced by wannabe dancers and gymnasts everywhere. It was like Torville and Dean got their skates off. Now the supposed-raunchiness is decidedly mediocre compared with Madonna’s aggressive gyrations, the confrontational posturing of the Pussycat Dolls, or the skanky-ho-bag antics of the ludicrously titled ‘Lady’ Gaga.

When I co-directed Scene Stealers in Arrowtown in 2006 I wrote a sketch comprised entirely of cinematic one-liners. I asked all the cast and crew to nominate two of their favourite filmic lines. I was surprised by the number of people who suggested ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner’ and ‘I carried a watermelon’. One bloke even suggested, ‘Oh, come on, ladies. God wouldn't have given you maracas if He didn't want you to shake 'em’ but I think he had ulterior motives.

Scary Sis was a fan of the big cheesecake – as we referred to Patrick Swayze. She preferred him in Road House however. It was, if possible, even more naff but there was a scene in which he gets out of bed and the camera lingers lovingly on his behind. She watched that a lot. I think the pause button may have broken on her video.

My mum liked him in the miniseries North and South that we watched in the States. Everyone seems to have a Patrick Swayze moment.

Ghost was another much-feted film that was a pile of pants, quite frankly. It was nominated for an Oscar and in fact Whoopi Goldberg won one for best supporting actress. You may be forgiven for surmising that 1990 was a bad year for film – Dances with Wolves won seven Oscars (including best picture and best director) so you might well be right.

I didn’t like the evil spirits that came and dragged the bodies down to hell. In fact, I was going through a bad time with some personal bereavements and I’m not ashamed to admit that they gave me nightmares.

One of the worst films I've ever seen is Red Dawn. Yep, he’s in that too. However, my favourite Patrick Swayze film would have to be The Outsiders. When I was 12, I did think this was cool. I’d read the book by S.E. Hinton and then saw the film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It starred people of whom I’d never heard and had no idea would become so famous – Matt Dillon; Tom Cruise; Emilio Estevez; Rob Lowe. Patrick Swayze played Darrel Curtis, the oldest of three brothers, with a brooding sexuality.
It’s the age you were when you saw these things that reflect what remains with you, but I still think of this as his best role ever. That’s how I’ll remember him.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cat care

Chester has hurt his tail. We have only been back for a week and he has got in a fight. I suppose boys will be boys, and cats will be cats, and boy cats will fight in your back garden. He came in all subdued and smoochy, which is a sure sign that he has done something wrong, got hurt by it, and now wants comforting (see what I mean about boys?).

So I took him to see the lovely people at Remarkable Vets. He has been a kitty client of theirs before. They were pleased to see him. I think this was because they genuinely think he is a cool cat but the fact that he keeps incurring vet fees can't do him any disservice.

He was less pleased to see them. They injected him with anaesthetic, shaved off his fur, sliced and drained an abscess and patched him up with a poultice bandage. As you can see, he is unimpressed. The vet tells me that as the injury is to his tail, this probably means he was running away. Wounds around the head are more likely to indicate that the cat was the aggressor. I always knew he was a lover; not a fighter.

The bandage was meant to stay on for 24 hours, but he was relentless until he had chewed it off. I guess it lasted about 20 hours though, so that's not too bad. He is now on a course of antibiotics which, fortunately, we can disperse into his food. Have you ever tried to give a cat a pill? It's not easy. They don't understand it's for their own good, and they are damn sure that it is going to hurt you at least as much as it hurts them.

Chester is not quite a million-dollar moggie, but he's getting there. In his short life he has been savaged by a dog, hit by a car, sliced a tendon in his paw and now been in a cat fight. I expect there will be more. I keep telling him that his behaviour is unbecoming to a pedigree, but he's not having any of it.

Interestingly, the vet bill was broken down into individual costs for the drugs, surgery and care. None of this stuff comes cheap. I'm not suggesting we should pay for health care as humans, but sometimes I think, if it weren't for the administration costs, it wouldn't go amiss to actually see how much each hospital visit costs. Someone has to pay for all that, and it comes out of your taxes. It might help to know what you're paying for, and perhaps we would make better, and more appreciative, patients, who take control of our own recovery - Chester will certainly be keeping his wounds clean.

And maybe, just maybe, teenagers would think twice before hurtling drunkenly towards each other at speed if they knew how much it costs to deliver them from each smouldering car wreck. But then again, maybe not. After all, boys will be boys...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Winning and Losing

Well thank goodness for that result. Liverpool beat Burnley 4-0 so harmony remains in our household and I can afford to be gracious in victory with Him Outdoors. It was a fantastic result for Benayoun scoring his hat-trick and Stevie G played brilliantly in his alternate position. Him Outdoors admits that his boys played well, but Liverpool are simply a class above, and I’m not exactly going to argue.

Meanwhile the All Blacks lost to South Africa allowing the South Africans to take the Tri Nations title. There is a lot of kicking and chasing and precision penalties in the South African game. Kiwis complain that this is boring – they prefer running the ball from the backs. Both of these versions of the game are equally exciting to me although at the moment, only one is proving effective. Guess which?

The All Blacks are the Man Utd of rugby – beautiful to watch when it’s going well, but ‘they don’t like it up ‘em.’ The penalties they gave away were often for ill discipline, brought about because they were frustrated on the field. Whether you like it or not, if you know you have the best kicking boots in the game, that’s a good tactic by South Africa.

The Weevil was waiting for her bags at the carousel in the airport when the All Blacks turned up, returned from their unsuccessful campaign and looking somewhat sheepish. She said she was excited to be in their midst and found herself grinning, although everyone else was looking away. No one had turned up to welcome them home.

‘Can you imagine being surrounded by the England football team?’ she asked me. I assured her I would have no self-control whatsoever if I were in touching distance of Stevie G, no matter what his recent results. She asked the husband of a friend, known to be a rugby fan, if he weren’t excited by the presence of his sporting idols. He replied, ‘Nah. I might be if they’d won.’ I think that’s indescribably sad.

Are our heroes not allowed to have bad days? Are we so capricious that we turn our backs after one tiny letdown? The All Blacks were beaten by the World Champions in formidable form. I don’t think that’s a disgrace. The only shame here should be attached to the fickle response of the so-called fans.