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Archive for April, 2011

Open Season

I have noticed an interesting thing over the last couple of weeks.  With the build up to the royal wedding, people feel compelled to share with you their opinions on the Royal Family.  There’s nothing wrong with this is there?  We could all talk about free speech and everyone being entitled to their own opinion.

The thing I find interesting is that the Royal Family seems to be a topic of discussion where the normal boundaries of mutual respect and tact seem not to apply.  People seem happy to tell you that the Royals are parasitic scum and a drain on the taxpayer in the bluntest and sometimes offensive tones.  I wonder would those people be so quick to share their feelings on for example the Catholic Church if they disagreed with that institution?  Even the bluntest of opinionated amateur social commentators would tend to observe the convention that you establish how close a topic is to someone’s heart before launching a huge verbal tirade against. If you have something to say on religion you might open the conversation with “Do you go to church?” or if you were going to denigrate the works of Tolkien you might ask someone if they had read Lord of the Rings.  But the institution of a hereditary blood line being bound to the duty of being head of state… well it seems to be open season on the royals.

I’m personally amazed that people think it’s morally appropriate to use a wedding of two people who are clearly in love as a platform for protest.  I’ve got no issue with people protesting of course but there are plenty of opportunities to make your point without deliberately setting out to disrupt an intensely special day for any couple.  If we scaled this all back down a bit, if you are in an ongoing dispute with your neighbour over a barking dog is it right that the neighbour chooses your daughters wedding day to turn up to the church and hurl abuse at you and your family as part of that ongoing dispute?  I’d be surprised if anyone thought it was ok.

Personally I think the Royal Family is an institution which finds itself out of place in a fast changing world.  There are alternative systems for having a head of state, but none seems perfect.  Would an elected head of state be better than a head of state born into the duty of a bloodline passing back generations?  I really genuinely don’t know.  I do believe the debate about monarchy and it’s place in modern society is massively simplified and dumbed down.

I also believe that if anyone alive can make the Royal Family more approachable, personal and relevant, and bring them up to date with the modern world we live in it will be William and Kate.  I’m glad they got married and I enjoyed seeing the incredible ceremony and today I feel proud to be British.

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Well although not self-confessed Royalists we do love a bit of romance so the Fitzhugh household is getting a spot excited about the Royal Wedding.

So much so that we are hosting a party for some of our Kiwi friends on Saturday night. It will be a delightfully eccentric mix of wedding chic and British kitsch. The house is undergoing a transformation and the local craft store has been emptied.

Interestingly Union Jack Bunting is in extremely short supply and the only flag I could get is 1m by 1.5m. I fear they may have missed a trick on the marketing front. Even the local English Food Shop didn’t jump on the Royal Wedding gravy train. You see, everyone pretends not to be excited but deep down we all love a bit of romance and a happy ending. It is a moment in history that our children and grandchildren will quiz us on in years to come. We should celebrate this wedding, not shun it and use it as an excuse for a protest. Let’s have a few hours to reflect on the peculiarities of tradition and on the love shared by two young people. Then we can get back to that other wonderfully British trait of moaning about stuff over a cuppa.

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We managed to get down to Taupo for the holiday weekend, although we were a little bit subdued in the face of unpredictable rain and post illness recovery. We drove down on Thursday night after work with the kids in PJs all snuggly in the back of the car. Why does it take so long to get out the door when you are herding kids?

After a slow start to the day we went for a swim at the AC Baths – thermally heated pools rock – they are so delightfully toasty! I went to the AC Baths in 1994 when I was Backpacking round New Zealand. Back then the pool was entirely outside and there was a row of little huts where you could have a private pool of thermal water to play in. I remember it very well. One of the Lifeguards left a note on my locker asking me out and saying how lovely English girls were!!! I passed on the offer 😉

The rest of the weekend was spent in playgrounds, eating, finding eggs, rolling hard-boiled eggs down a steep hill and generally spending time with our lovely surrogate family. Our friend Jane has set up a cake making business so we went and saw her in operation at the local foody market. I’m sure it was very helpful to have us all crowding round the stall talking very loudly about her amazing cakes in an attempt to create some buzz…..

Very excitingly there is an open-air stage in Taupo for concerts. In the UK this would have had fences around preventing all fun. In NZ I was having a great time imitating Freddie Mercury at Live Aid and pretending to stage dive. Meanwhile the kids all thought I was nuts. There’s a video of it somewhere entitled Mad Woman Singing but unfortunately I don’t have it 😉

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Well the first week of school holidays were a disaster. Emily had a high temperature and took to her bed on Friday, missing that crucial last day of term. She rose from the duvet on Sunday as I pulled out of a 10km race and jumped under mine for two days with a terrible chesty cough plus a side order of Emily’s lurgie. The rest of the week was spent recovering.

There was a quick trip to see Hop at the cinema – Emily thought it was great, I sweated and coughed through it. I have no urge to watch it again. Cute bunnies, no story.

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Tonight around the dinner table Emily became like a dog with a bone. The chosen subject, of all things, was Weetabix.

We were having my very yummy apple, carrot and kidney bean casserole with couscous and she wanted to know what couscous was.

Out came my fab New Zealand Cook’s Bible……..  which told us that it made of semolina, moistened and coated in flour.  “But what is semolina?”……resort to bible…… it is the coarsely milled centre (endosperm) of hard wheat. “Is it the same as pasta?” Well durum semolina is indeed used in making pasta, it said in my bible. “So what’s wheat? Where does it come from?” Cue quick flash of pretty picture of wheat field from afore mentioned bible and a narrow escape from the intricacies of photosyntheses in a very brief explanation of how plants grow. “What else comes from wheat then?” Well, flour comes from wheat so bread, cakes and biscuits are all made with wheat. “What about Weetabix? Is that made from wheat?” Well yes it is……… “Oh. How are Weetabix made?” Then my brain and cook’s bible failed me and I had to bring out the computer and fire up Google.

I was truly gutted to not find a video of how to make Weetabix on youtube – of all the obvious video choices. But I did find some very interesting info on the origins of Weetabix. It was developed by an Australian and a Kiwi in the 1920s! They called it Weet-Bix and licensed Australasian production to Sanitarium. The company still sells it today in Oz, NZ and Sth Africa. The inventors created a new business and based it in Kettering, in the UK and took on the UK  market under the new name, Weetabix.

Still gutted I couldn’t see how they are actually made though. We guessed a bit of cooking, a bit of moisture and a lot of squashing.

So there you have it, it isn’t just a family meal….it’s an education.

File:Weetabix logo.png 

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… What a Wonderful World.  Here are some of Armstrong’s words:

I see trees of green,

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Well I reckon that if Louis had been around today he may have had slightly different influences.

Yesterday, or this morning to be more precise, we watched my finest friend Rob get married to Natalie in Bedford, in the UK… all whilst sitting in our living room in our house in New Zealand.  We stayed up (I stayed awake, whilst Josie snoozed) until 2:30am our time to watch them get married thousands of miles and 11 hours away.  As a result, I’ve coined a new term ‘skype-lag’.

Many probably see the proliferation of modern mobile phones as pointless and excessive, especially the public obsession with Apple products such as the iPhone and the iPad.

But just today a number of technological innovations came together to let us witness, in real time, our friends express their love for each other in front of their friends and family.  The picture wasn’t HD quality and the sound wasn’t super hi-fidelity, but as far as we were concerned we were almost there in the room.  We could sense the atmosphere and build up, hear the emotion in the voices and feel the swell and decline of laughter, clapping and ooohs and ahhhs.  As with photos loaded onto Facebook, immediacy IS a genuine substitute for high quality.  Thanks to an iPhone, a wifi connection, several thousand miles of fibre optic cable run through tunnels and across sea beds, hundreds of servers around the world operated by a company that doesn’t charge for it’s basic services and a laptop computer – thanks to all that, we watched out friends get married.

We could take this opportunity to bang on about carbon foot prints and avoiding the pollution from flying, but the reality is simple – if we could have afforded it we would have been there in person.  But with four tickets to buy we’re looking at somewhere around two and half months salary for all of us to fly back to the UK.  Even to come on my own would have been an expense we can barely afford at the moment.

So this was the next best thing.  We’ll see Rob and Natalie when they come through New Zealand on their travels later in the year and are very excited about meeting Natalie in person.

I wonder what Louis might have sung if he’d been writing his song now:

I see friends get wed

and grandparents too

sisters and brother-in-laws

we talk to all you

and I think to myself

what a technologically advanced and enabling world….

Ok maybe his was better.

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The weather was conspiring against us today.  We woke early and had a birthday lay in until Emily appeared at the door.  “Hello Birthday Girl!” she says as she walks through the door.  Our words from their mouths…

Waffles for breakfast – a big favourite of ours… then with the kids dispatched to daycare and school it was time to finalise what we were going to do today.

Our first thought was sailing.  There is a previous America’s Cup Boat in the harbour that you can pay to get a couple of hours on.  We’d hoped to get on this morning so made a tentative booking (subject to weather and minimum group size).

A cheeky pastry and coffee in Brown’s Bay bridged the gap between booking and confirmation.  It was looking all fine but then as 10:30am approached the wind was freshening.  Sure enough When I next spoke to them they had cancelled the trip out leaving us high and dry.

Our plan two was to hire a sports car from our friends at Fraser Cars. was our second thought. It turns out this was a winning idea and helpingus out at short nnotice. We headed over to the factory and picked up the car before midday. It’s lovely!
It took a few miles to get out of Auckland and to get used to driving such a different vehicle. The steering is not power assisted, it’s loud (both wind noise and delicious engine tones) and if it rains you get wet because there is no roof!
We both had a good try with it and absolutely loved it. The sounds of the engine past 4000 rpm is just the most exciting thing. The craftsmanship is incredible – each car is very carefully assembled by hand and lots of the parts are made on site at the factory.
Have a look at our lovely steed for the day.

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This was the big one.  The main reason for choosing this area of the country to drag our visitors to.  Wai-O-Tapu is the biggest showcase of the thermal activity that is visible throughout the region around Rotorua.  It is a commercial park, but well worth the entry fee for what you see.

In classic New Zealand style the predicted showers and drizzle actually turned into a lovely sunny day.

We didn’t have to leave immediately so the two little ones indulged in a little ‘Chatterbox’, their new game.

Cheeky Chatterboxes!

It’s just the best game and immense fun to watch.   Basically it involves Sophie and Lucy putting the carboard boxes from the shopping on their heads and then chattering to each other through the holes in the bottom.  The other part of the game is to run up and down the corridor/bedroom and bang into each other then run away screaming!

It wasn’t long before it was time to head off to catch the geyser errupting so it was into the fun bus (“All aboard the fun bus – woo woo!”) and a quick 20 minute drive south of Rotorua.
The photos from the day show what a fantastic place it is, if you are not familiar.  Everything you look at is incredible… steam, huge holes in the ground with sheer sides, at the bottom of which is a violent, boiling, bubbling vent into the ground below.  The crust is very thin here which is why there is so much activity.  Steam just finds a way out without regard for fences our boundaries up top.  This means that thermally active areas often change layout and new things to look at can just pop up in virtually no time at all.

 

Champagne Pool

There are three options for walking around the park, the short, middle and long loops.  The longest is only about an hour (for an adult) and that’s taking your time.  Maybe about 3km.

The little ones (and the big ones) did amazingly.  They all walked for a significant proportion of the way around.  We were very proud of their little legs.

The rest of the day was spent sleeping and playing and eating lovely food.  We bought some fish from the supermarket and cooked it on the barbeque.  One of our favourites!  Thanking the weather for holding out for us we went to bed very tired and very pleased with our day.

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