Published: December 18th 2010December 16th 2010
"So, has anyone got any questions about England?" I enquired of the year 1/2 class that I was teaching that day. I find this question a good introduction to the day, and it usually follows a familiar format. "Yes I have been on a red double decker bus. No, the Queen doesn't tend to invite members of the public into Buckingham palace for tea. No, I don't think I do know your aunty Sheila, even if she does live in England.....". An angelic, shy-looking boy meekly raised his hand. "Matthew.....are you bald?"
The answer to that question will remain in that classroom, but let's just say 3 years in the teaching profession and the associated stresses haven't been conducive to good hair retention!
I write this in Picton, having just arrived on the ferry after completing my initial stay in Wellington, and of course, it is now Christmas time! However in New Zealand, things are hotting up. Turkeys are replaced by sausages on the 'Barbie'. Hats, gloves and thermal undies are replaced by sunnies, suntan lotion and swimming shorts.
Now, I'm fully aware that many of you will be angrily plunging pins into the 'Matthew Ramsden voodoo doll'
(found in all good department stores this Christmas) as I taunt you with this alternative, hot Christmas. Indeed you probably have been digging out the hot water bottles and clutching freezing cans of anti-freeze as you manically try to prise open the door of your car every morning. However, I will make a confession to you.....Christmas over here is bizarre.
Everywhere you are greeted with familiar images of snowy landscapes, mistletoe and robins. The familiar, lingering smell of pine needles permeates every corner of homes and school halls. Bing Crosby sings of a 'White Christmas'. Then you look outside, and its 23 degree Celsius and bright blue skies. It causes me mild bemusement, but some of my friends have been less fortunate and are suffering serious ECDD (English Christmas Deprivation Disorder). When drinking in a nearby cafe recently, Catherine suddenly lurched towards a startled customer, shoved her nostrils in her beverage and demanded "IS THAT MULLED WINE!?". The poor lady apologised that it was in fact just Ribena, and Catherine slunk away dejectedly, mumbling something about pigs in blankets and the lack of a good cracker.
Christmas preparation has been in full-swing in Primary schools over here. I
sympathise with teachers in New Zealand. In England, this time of year is stressful enough, as you attempt to maintain some sort of routine before Christmas, whilst excepting that any attempts for focused school work are futile in the last week of term. It's the same in New Zealand, yet it is also the end of the academic year! Therefore, teachers are having to combine the familiar Christmas preparations, presents and displays with reports, parents evenings and heavy fatigue after a gruelling school year. One school are even giving out their reports on the last day of term!
I don't wish to dwell too much on 'school-life', as the last few weeks have continued in a similar vein to previously. The last couple of weeks have seen a reduction in the amount of relief teaching on offer, mainly due to the end of term, reports being finished and teachers keen to be in school for the end of term barbecues, meals and festivities. However I have had plenty of work overall (indeed more than I anticipated), and feel I am a much more experienced and versatile teacher as a consequence. I have also had a lot of work at
two local schools in particular, which has been very convenient and allowed myself to build more of a rapport with some members of staff and classes. It's also been interesting to participate in New Zealand Christmas art, swimming lessons and picnics.....I've even had to break up a fight of brawling 6 year olds on the classroom carpet! It's been a very useful experience, and left me in no doubt that the education system in Wellington is of a very high standard.
Although based in Wellington, I have managed a couple of weekend trips away with friends, to explore the surrounding region. In mid-November, Steven, his girlfriend Sinead, Catherine and I hired a car and explored up the Kapiti coastline. We had a night at a hut at Otaki Forks, a gorge 20 kms in from the coast with some nice bush walks. The highlight was the view at night; in New Zealand, the stars seem clearer and more frequent than in the UK, with the constellations more identifiable. I even saw my first and then second shooting stars in the same night. The next day we did a stunning coastal walk at Makara beach, starting along the stony beach,
climbing up the cliffs to windfarms and WW2 battlements, all the time with remarkably clear views of the south island on the horizon.
Last week I headed to Martinborough (AKA wine country) with Nadine and Aileen, two friends from the hostel. We sampled a range of wines, including pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs during tasting sessions at 3 vineyards......well it would be rude not to! Although by no means a wine buff, I found it fascinating to see contrasting approaches to wine in one town; traditional versus innovative, structure versus taste. My favourite vine-yard was owned by a goatee-sporting, cigar-smoking chap who whizzed around his town on his quad bike and generously refreshed us with his extremely drinkable wines from his tiny vineyard. Memories are a little blurry beyond that point........
The next day we explored further up the Wairappa coast to Castlepoint, an isolated beach resort built next to a striking lighthouse on a rocky headland that protrudes out to sea amongst lashing waves and howling winds. The town actually gets it's name from Captain Cook, who was inspired by the unorthodox rock formation, and remarked that the headland resembled that of an English castle.
highlight however was a lagoon that stretches away from the headland around the coast, protected from the open sea by cliffs housing huge colonies of sea birds. It was a stunning sight to stroll along the almost-deserted beach an hour before sunset. Huge, crashing waves raced into shore, wetting the toes of a lengthy beach that spilled into dunes and then pine forest. However the most eye-catching feature was a huge cliff at the far end that rose to a peak, and reminded me of a setting out of a famous five book. We climbed up this cliff in the company of Sam, a tree climber/tree doctor/conservationist/surfer who had been collecting rubbish on the beach, who gave us interesting insights into the flora and fauna of the area. We even sucked nectar out of the buds of a plant! We had a pleasant evening camping with a BBQ, and took our time returning to Wellington the next day.
As this is the last of the 'Wellington' updates, I think it is now time to tell you about some of the friends, characters and colleagues that I have met over the last three months. I have included some photos and
I apologise in advance for anyone that I haven’t included by name or picture. The great thing about living in a hostel is that life is NEVER dull. As a sacrifice for personal space and privacy, you have a constant supply of new faces, anecdotes and nationalities to share and experience. There is also a constant cultural exchange ongoing throughout the stay. I like to think that throughout my stay, as a Brit, I have passed on a daily obsession with the weather forecast, a passion for frying anything and everything (even bread to the disgust of the French), and a large dollop of sarcasm and spontaneity. In return, I have definitely adopted some German character traits. I am now able to plan days ahead with military efficiency, and can tell you which clothes and underwear I will be wearing for each of the next 7 days. I also now have potatoes with every single meal, and have a new-found love for German hip-hop. Sorry, I'm being silly now.......you can't have potatoes for breakfast.
I'm sad to have left, especially before Christmas, as although it sounds like a cliché, it has felt like being part of a massive family.
However I will be back through, and there are many people that I intend to visit all over the world. It is also time to get on the road once more and explore the south island, the reason I came to NZ in the first place. Mike has just bought a car, the boot is rammed with BBQs, sleeping bags and camping stoves and we have a full tank of petrol. Let the travels commence!
So, I think all that is left to do is to wish everyone a Merry, Merry Christmas and a happy new year! I will be thinking of you all during the Christmas period, and I hope that it is relaxed and full of good food, drink and company. I would just like to say again how much I appreciate all of the comments that I receive on this blog, and that they often bring a smile to my face. It might also interest some of you that I am considering writing a travel book sometime next year, and am starting to do the initial groundwork required. Watch this space!
There are more photos below