OPINION: Whingeing Pom is written by Sarah Candler, who came to New Zealand from Britain and has lived without complaining too much in West Auckland for about ten years. A typically British dark sense of humour combined with a love of writing and of the art of complaining lead to the Whingeing Pom column .
"Mum, do kiwis lay kiwifruit?" my young son asked me once. Seemed a logical assumption to me. My knowledge of New Zealand prior to moving here in the late-nineties was on a par with his ornithological expertise. The images that came to mind were of precipitous peaks blanketed with sheep, shepherded by ruddy-cheeked boys called Bruce or Dwayne, dressed in shorts and wellies. Rugby, oh and beer of course.... rugby players in beer-filled hot tubs, accompanied by gals named Nolene and Raylene...
After several decades on a plane and a swift dash out of Auckland, our first stop in this hemisphere was at a grotty tearoom in Ngatea. Nowadays I might find it quaint but at that moment I had a sneaking suspicion that I had slipped through some portal in time back to 1979. "What! Never had a Choc-Bomb?" mocked my Father-in-law, as if this somehow constituted a denial of human rights. "I'll just have a scone please," I answered feebly. From behind the stained formica counter, Nolene pronounced it "scon." So did my Mother-in-law and I felt far from home.
And then to Cambridge in the Waikato. Oh the irony, I had left from Cambridge in England, exchanging a world of ancient buildings and boffins, genteel punting along willow-lined rivers, a world drunkenly seeped in history for a world seeped in, well, silage. I felt an uninvited snobbery rising within me and I began plotting my escape.
"Phew, there's a pub." Outside was a faded sign proclaiming 'Lion Red. The Measure of a Man's Thirst.' What about my thirst? Would I need to don a fake beard to get a beer? Undeterred and suppressing the urge to talk about the Inglenook fireplace in my local 17th century village pub, I did my best to appreciate the quaint local custom of hollering what I now know as iconic Kiwi anthems....Nah Nah Nah, Na Na, Nah Nah Nah.....but my thoughts were drifting..."Antiques Roadshow is on BBC2 at 8 o'clock.....if I can only get to the airport."
The evening ended at a party on a farm out of town where I met a fellow lost-soul from Scotland and the two of us huddled by the fire outside, soaking up the strange comfort to be found in the familiarity of an accent.
My final memory of that first night is so surreal that I have wondered if I dreamed it. Alas, no. A young lad ran past us, young, but old enough to know better. He was naked and I presumed had consumed a mind-alteringly large quantity of Lion Red, (clearly this man had measured his thirst and found it to be vast.) He had an entire unravelled roll of toilet paper following him, one end protruding from between his buttocks and the other end alight, the orange flames flickering rapidly towards their impending demise, ("unless he's doused himself in lighter fluid for our entertainment?" I pondered hopefully.) He raced past and through an open gate into a dark, stubbly field, leaving an ever-decreasing orange glow and a faint echo of 'Nah Nah Nah Na Na...' Was this normal Saturday night entertainment in this neck of the woods? A traditional Kiwi party trick? Whatever the answer was, I knew for sure that I was going to have to lighten-up a little if I were to survive here. Mental note to self: must get drunk and naked more. Not sure about the loo roll trick though, a girl has standards.
Is there enough support for new migrants once they arrive in New Zealand?