Friday, 16 September 2011

Some Corner of a Foreign Field... That is Forever England

I don't know who was more thrilled by the prospect of some of the England rugby team visiting the Arrowtown Primary School - the adults or the kids. The children were arranged in rows wearing their red and white to meet and greet the players. The word went round, 'Johnny's not coming' but that didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits and there was still much excitement as we waited for them to arrive.

And they came from out of the sky...

They were welcomed with a haka, which seemed to bemuse them slightly. Later Mark Cueto said they had received many welcomes and many hakas, but he could 'speak for the lads' in saying that this was probably the best they had heard. Whether this is true or not, it certainly endeared him and his team-mates to his audience. He then paid tribute to the Arrowtown team who reached the Rippa Rugby 'World Cup' Final, and in doing so achieved instant hero status.
Moving inside to assembly, the children sang another welcome and had all learned the words impressively. Many were face-painted with the flag of St George which may seem a little odd on the other side of the world, but when head-master, Robin Harris, asked the children to put their hands up if they had English ancestry, at least half of them did so.

Mark Cueto: my new favourite English rugby player

James Haskell hongis the leader of the haka

As the guys listened to the speech by the headmaster, they looked a little like naughty schoolboys, but eventually they began to relax during the informal Q & A session.

James Haskell ponders his royal appointments
One of the children asked if they get to "hang out with the Queen"? James Haskell replied that although they were all invited to the royal wedding and have been honoured to meet The Queen, you generally need an official invitation, and so they don't get to "hang out at the palace much" - he added that "Mike [Tindall] does, but he tends to go on his own."
The Wee Red Hen leads the school in the New Zealand national anthem
When asked why they played rugby rather than other sports, a couple of kids in the audience shouted out, "Yeah!" - they had chosen Liverpool and Man Utd shirts for their emblematic red and white outfits, so it was clear where their loyalties (or those of their parents, anyway) lay.

James Haskell, probably somewhat disingenuously said it was because he was rubbish at all other sports, as anyone who had see him try and play football could confirm. He admitted to being a noisy child who was always getting into trouble and his mother lied about his age so she could get him not the Rugby Under 7s when he was five. When his Dad found out you could have a beer down at the rugby club on a Sunday he went along too giving Mummy Haskell the added advantage of getting them both out of the house at the same time.
Alex Corbisiero looking pensive
Dylan Hartley (right) is keen to relate someone else's embarrassing moment
In answer to the question, "What's been your most embarrassing moment on the rugby pitch?", Dylan Hartley was keen to pipe up, "because it's not about me". He related the incident of the fox on the pitch at Twickenham when England played Scotland in the Six Nations earlier this year. Apparently when he went in for the scrum he smelt something vile and realised Alex Corbisiero had 'rolled in fox poo'. Adults talking about animal poo - the kids absolutely loved it!

The All Blacks are the biggest rivals according to Mark Cueto. He's played them several times as an England and British Lions player and not been on a winning side yet. Here's hoping...

Alex Corbisiero answered that what he most liked about Queenstown and the surrounding region was the spectacular scenery - he says he lives in London so helicopter rides over mountains are not the norm for him. He also claimed that some of the team had discovered Fergburger at which the rest of the team burst into laughter and all pointed him out as the burger munching menace.

Who ate all the pies? Alex Corbisiero, apparetly
And then they were challenged to a dry weetbix-eating competition by this lad in a white wig and England flag/cape. And they all accepted the challenge and ate the thing without water ('I'll bet you gave the All Blacks water!' they said). Don't tell me they haven't done this before - it's fairly standard at sports clubs everywhere, usually followed by downing a pint, but they still giggled their way through the process and looked nothing like serious elite athletes - bless them. It took them 48 seconds - apparently the All Blacks can do it in 14. "If that was Richie McCaw, he was probably cheating" - James Haskell

And then the Wee Red Hen led a rousing rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, which the kids sang beautifully and the England players tried to sing, although they didn't know that it had verses as well as a chorus. James Haskel filmed the whole thing on his camera so he'll probably be able to watch it later and learn the words. Or perhaps not.
"Psst - does anyone know the words?"
Lots of signing stuff outdoors. I was too embarrassed to queue up will all the kids, so I gratefully accepted the Wee Red Hen's offer to get my scarf signed.

Extreme concentration from Chris Ashton
One very happy fan
That's my England scarf! Make that two very happy fans!
When English sports teams go away there's always a lot of negative media surrounding their tour. The latest trash talk is trying to pin a scandal on Mike Tindal. Despite the fact that the team's judgement should be questioned for visiting possibly the skankiest pit in Queenstown, the rest of the press should be entirely positive. 

The kids (and their parents and various hangers on) who witnessed the PR session at Arrowtown were all thoroughly charmed by the boys from Blighty. Sample comment heard from a teacher - "That went better than I was expecting. They were a lot friendlier and more personable than I was expecting. And much better loking too." You know it. C'mon England!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Haere Mai

I’ve never been a fan of opening ceremonies – I find them shallow spectacles, lacking in substance and too politically correct to actually be entertaining. I am anxious about the complete cock-up London will make of the Olympics (the sheer weight of necessary cultural touchstones will doubtless sink the enterprise), however, so I watched the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup with interest, and a couple of girlfriends and a bottle of two of bubbles.

It began with a karanga (the Māori call at the start of the pōwhiri – the official welcome) which was spine-tinglingly beautiful, and her frock was pretty cool too, although not ‘o for awesome’ as the commentator opined (that’s actually a Kiwi in-joke based on an intellectually challenged comment by a boxer with a left hook and a bad haircut). As she emerged from the swirling mists projected onto the central oval stage (which incorporated Scenic landscapes with Air New Zealand design motifs), she resembled the lady of the lake.

Which was apt, as it happened, as next-up appeared boats on wheels that appeared to glide across the stage representing the city of sails. The Mysterious Minx pointed out that they had holes in them and probably wouldn’t catch the breeze all that well (she’s a Sagittarius and disturbingly pragmatic). This would not have been felicitous considering the hammerhead shark graphic that proceeded to circle across the projected screen. Following the recent death of a bodyboarder due to a shark attack at a popular Western Australia surf spot, perhaps this was specifically intended to intimidate the trans-Tasman competition?

We were then treated to a thundering haka with columns of fire and red and gold flashing lights that recalled the violently geological formation of this land. The Fudge Princess mentioned that there was ‘a bit too much bum’ for her liking and that the ‘star jumps’ were ‘a bit out of time’. She claims Māori descent so is officially entitled to her opinion.

Next a small lad clad in the red and black strip of Canterbury protected a very large rugby ball from about 100 burly blokes as he negotiated scrums and tackles with the assistance of flying harnesses, bendy try-lines and some dodgy manoeuvres. I was taking notes as I fully expect the All Blacks to make use of these methods to win ‘the prize’ – represented here by a sort of gilded cage type affair. He approached the ‘mystery guest’ at the head of a ladder of top-try scorers. Jonah Lomu materialised as the embodiment of the world’s worst kept secret and encouraged the young Jeff-Wilson-look-a-like to ‘do it for Christchurch, my friend’. It was actually quite emotional and well-executed.

Not so the World in Union, which was beautifully sung but marred by drums, ukuleles and ‘freestyle’ dancers who looked like your drunken aunts and aunties at a wedding. The problem with mass participation performances is that they either look like the Nuremberg Rally or a complete shemozzle. This was the latter.

Old ‘smile and wave’ (or John Key as some people like to call the Prime Minister of New Zealand) smiled and waved and hoped that having a rugby world cup on his watch would make up for his political absence, and then the IRB dude came on and spoke both Māori and English with ridiculously improbable accents to declare the games officially open.

People called to each other on conch shells (I liked the one on the lighthouse even if the ever-practical Mischievous Minx pointed out, ‘You wouldn’t really be able to hear that’) to signify the start of the fireworks. I had heard great things about these – they were going to represent pohutukawa, kowhai and kiwis. Perhaps it was the coverage, but they looked like a damp squib.

The out-of-tune accompaniment on the recorder (or ‘squeaky tube’ as my dad used to call it, with justification based on this evidence) didn’t help, and the remote-control dancing container lifters were like something out of one of Peter Jackson’s early B-Movie attempts.

Outside the stadium, there were folk attempting Spiderman antics on the side of tall buildings, and a pipe bandon the Domain illuminated by the lights of the Auckland Museum, who could at least play in time. I’m not being fair – that bit was remarkably affecting for someone who moved 12,000 miles to get away from bagpipes!