Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


Seasonal Kiwi trivia

Did you know that in most nations, the December solstice marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere. We Kiwis have decided that the first day of December is the “official” start of summer.

Summer and golfing go together. New Zealand has more golf courses per capita than any other nation.

This year the December solstice occurred at 21:48 UTC on the 21st of December, and on that day there were only four nations where the sun was in the northern sky no matter where in the country the sun was observed. These were Eswatini, Lesotho, New Zealand, and Uruguay.

The combined population of these four nations is approximately 11,000,000 or around 0.13% of the earth’s population.

In ten nations, the sun was either in the southern sky, the northern sky or directly overhead on the 21st of December, depending on your location: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Botswana, Chile, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Paraguay, and South Africa

In every other nation, the sun was entirely in the southern sky.

In 2006, Aotearoa became the first nation where the five highest constitutional positions were all held by women: the Head of State; the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chief Justice. Not sure, but it might still be the only country to have achieved this feat.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, Christmas day, Boxing Day (26th December), New Years Day and the day after New Year are statutory holidays. That means persons who must work these days is paid at one and a half times their normal rate for the day and must be given an alternative day off on full pay as well.

Summer is the time to be outdoors and get away from urban life. What better than getting into some natural habitat. Did you know that about a third of NZ is protected national parks?

Christmas Eve marks the anniversary of this country’s worst rail disaster when, in 1953, the overnight express from Auckland to Wellington plunged into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai resulting in the deaths of 151 of the 285 passengers and crew on board. The wall of the crater lake on nearby Mount Ruapehu had collapsed allowing two million cubic metres (75,000,000 cubic feet or 530,000,000 gallons) of water, ice, mud and rocks to spill down the mountain. The resulting lahar rushed down the Whangaehu River and took out the piers supporting the rail bridge only a few minutes before the express arrived at 10:21pm. The locomotive and the first five carriages plunged into the torrent. The sixth carriage hung over the edge of the river for a few minutes before its coupling to the remaining three carriages broke and it too fell into the river.

Strange, but true: There are more Scottish pipe bands per capita in New Zealand that there are in Scotland.

It’s a popular myth that Coca Cola is responsible for inventing Santa in a red suit. In fact he had been depicted in red for around 40 years before Coca Cola’s version. Harper’s Weekly hired Thomas Nast to draw Santa, and at first he was depicted wearing a star-spangled jacket and striped pants and hat as a morale booster during the American civil war. In later years, Nast drew Santa in a red suit, or occasionally green. In Aotearoa, Santa is often depicted wearing shorts and jandals (otherwise known as thongs in Australia and flip-flops elsewhere).

The USA and NZ via for the most cars per capita in the world. Of course we’re referring to nation states. There are four city states with more cars per capita. But they don’t count, do they.

Lamb is the most popular Christmas roast in Aotearoa, followed by roast pork. Always popular, especially in our family, is glazed ham, prepared the day before and served cold with salads on Christmas day. Turkey is well down the list, but growing in popularity. Last year over 150,000 turkeys were purchased for the festive season in NZ.

No NZ Christmas feast would be complete without a pavlova. A pavlova has the appearance of a meringue on the outside, being crisp and dry, but that appearance is only skin deep. The interior is soft, airy, moist and fluffy. I’ve tried several so called pavlovas while overseas or on ocean cruises. They weren’t. They were meringues topped with whipped cream and fruit. That does not a pavlova make.

Although many Kiwis erect and decorate a real or imitation fir tree indoors for the festive season, our “true” Christmas tree is the pōhutukawa. Over the Christmas period, these evergreens with dark green foliage are smothered in crimson red flowers. Pōhutukawa flowers disintegrate within minutes of being picked so you won’t find them in floral displays.

The first New Zealand Christmas stamps were issued by the New Zealand Post office in 1960. 22 million stamps were sold.

The world’s largest one-day yachting event takes place in Auckland on the last Monday in January every year. Typically, over 1,000 yachts take part. It is claimed that Auckland has the highest boat ownership per capita in the world. There is approximately one boat for every three households.

New Zealand has more helicopters per capita than any other nation.

In March 1903, Richard Pearse, an eccentric, reclusive farmer flew a heavier than air aircraft for a distance of a kilometer (0.6 miles) near Timaru in the South Island of New Zealand. However due to its low airspeed its maneuverability was questionable, and the flight ended with a crash into a gorse hedge. Pearse’s aircraft had many advanced features that didn’t appear on other aircraft for many years to come – some not for 50 years: It was a monoplane; it had a steerable tricycle undercarriage similar to modern aircraft, including a braking system; it used ailerons to control roll, rather than warping the wing as employed in other early aircraft; the pilot sat upright behind the engine and a forward facing propeller connected directly to the engine crankshaft; the propeller was variable pitch. Unlike the Wright brothers who had access to many resources, Pearse had to build every component of his airplane himself, including the engine. He even had to design and make his own spark plugs.

Road crashes, on average kill one person every day in Aotearoa. Over the Christmas holiday period, which this year began at 4pm Friday 23 December and ends 6am on Wednesday 4 January, 2023, that accident rate doubles. If you’re driving during this period, please take extra care on the roads.

Christmas Eve is less than ten minutes away, so it’s time to catch some sleep. Tomorrow we’re heading to the home of our daughter and family for an early Christmas celebration as most of her family will not be home on Christmas day. Meri Kirihimete ki a koutou ko te whānau (Merry Christmas to you and your family)


A trivial payment

A recent blog post over at bereavedandbeingasingleparent regarding the insignificance of a discount he received from his electricity supplier, reminded me of an incident that occurred around 1959/1960. This was many years before Aotearoa New Zealand converted from Stirling (Pounds, Shillings and Pence) to Decimal currency (Dollars and Cents).

My father worked for the New Zealand Education Department as a PhysEd (Physical Education) specialist. His role was to visit schools and to advise the educators on all aspects of PhysEd from swimming pool and playground safety to the supervision of individual and team sports to instructing teachers how to teach folk dancing and Māori action songs/dances.

This story revolves around a cheque he was sent. I don’t recall whether it was to make up for a shortfall in his salary or for an underpayment of expenses, but the department sent him a cheque for half a penny at the end of the financial year. He thought it was hilarious, as the postage alone cost four pence plus the cost of the envelope plus the cost of typing the message detailing how the shortfall had occurred. Additionally in those days there was a two pence stamp duty on each cheque. The postage and stamp duty alone came to sixpence. My father framed it and hung it on the wall as it would have cost him a two pence processing fee to bank or cash.

Every month following, the accounts department sent him increasingly desperate letters asking him to bank the cheque so that they could “balance the books” – each letter costing another four pence postage, plus whatever it cost to process. My father ignored the requests for six months, but finally he received a phone call from Head Office and the caller sounded to be quite upset, so much so that he felt he should do “the right thing” and bank the cheque.

Cheques were valid for six months and by the time he tried to bank it, it had expired by a day or two. He sent it back from his office to head office, which again cost the department four pence in postage, explaining why it was being returned. I don’t know how the department and my father finally resolved the matter, but that half penny cheque incurred direct costs of at least eight postage stamps plus the stamp duty totalling 34 pence, not to mention the the eight envelopes, eight A4 sheets with departmental letterhead, plus the time of the accountant and the typists to prepare each letter.

Back then accounting was processed using mechanical accounting machines, and perhaps there was no practical way of carrying that half cent for an individual employee from one financial year to the next. I wonder, in these day of electronic funds transfers, if similar situations still arise from time to time.


Are some people truly evil?

This post is a response to a question posed by jilldennison in a reply to a comment I made on one of her articles. I felt it was a little too long for a comment there hence this post. You can view the original thread by visiting here. The following is a story originally told to me by my father on the rare occasions he opened up about his experiences of war.

My father was a platoon sergeant at a time when the front line was moving favourably for the allies. In an early morning patrol my father’s platoon stumbled across some 50 – 100 enemy soldiers who had taken over a school in which to spend the previous night. It was evident that they were unaware of how much the front line had moved, as most of the soldiers were in various states of undress and conducting morning ablutions in a stream that bordered one side of the school. Their weapons and helmets were neatly lined up against one of the school rooms and were actually closer to my father’s platoon than to most of the enemy. The lieutenant commanding the platoon ordered the platoon to advance to a slightly more advantageous position then on the command of my father to open fire.

My father ordered the platoon to stay put and under no circumstances to open fire. He made it clear to his men and the lieutenant that such an action was not only unnecessary, it was immoral. The enemy were clearly unarmed, and in no position to resist. Their best chances would have been to try to escape across the stream, but an embankment on the other side would have made them easy targets as they clambered up it. The morale of the enemy at that point of the war was very low, and often they viewed surrender as the best possible outcome regardless of any military advantage they might have.

The lieutenant and my father got into a heated (but whispered) argument which didn’t end even after my father was relieved of his command. My father never revealed what happened next apart from the final outcome where he paraphrased the official report of the incident, but it was clear that it didn’t go well for the enemy. The official report recorded that “heavy casualties” were inflicted on the enemy, and eleven combatants were captured. When asked on what happened to the rest, all my father would say was that a few crossed the stream and “one or two” escaped. Even when pressed he refused to say what happened to the rest. When I put it to him that they had all been killed, he refused to look at me and didn’t respond. Even I, as an autistic, was able to grasp the significance of his (lack of) response.

My question is: was the lieutenant and those soldiers who opened fire evil (a few, like my father refused)? If you say no, they were in a war situation, does that justify the slaughtering of up to 100 unarmed men, who, as my father described, “were sons, husbands, fathers, lovers, labourers, professionals, and most probably honest, decent people first and foremost”? If you excuse their action, then surely those who kill for different, but in their mind equally valid reasons, must also be excused. If, as in the case of the Christchurch mosque shooting or the Sandy Hook shooting, you consider them acts of pure evil, and therefore the persons committing them also evil, then surely the same applies to those who my father witnessed kill unarmed defenceless men.

If you believe one act was evil, but another not (and it doesn’t matter which you consider evil and which not) are you not justifying the event based on the premise that one group of perpetrators are “friends” while you regard the others as “enemy”. Do you not think that those who support the “enemy” might have the same mindset?

My father first relayed that story to me when he was in his mid to late seventies, some 55 years, perhaps a few more, after the event, and I heard it retold two or three times before his death at 90 years of age. There were minor discrepancies in the description of the locale between each telling, but not what happened, and as I last heard it perhaps 15 years ago, I can’t be sure I have remembered with absolute accuracy. However I am confident that the essential elements of the story are true.

In case you’re wondering, the lieutenant mentioned above was commended for his deeds that day. My father was court marshalled.


Counting sheep

Falling asleep is a process I’ve found difficult for as long as I can remember. Until quite recently I thought counting sheep was an irrational metaphor used to describe an aid in getting to sleep. As a child I was often advised to count sheep in such situations, and in more recent times during a stay in hospital, I was also given the same advice. My response has always been “How?” No one has ever provided me with even just one sheep to count.

Whenever I asked “How?” people tend to be taken aback, and then in a manner that assumes I’m an idiot, carefully and with deliberate slowness, usually say something like
“Imagine a fence with a gate. Now imagine sheep jumping over the gate. Just count each sheep as it jumps over.”
“Imagine a flock of sheep in a hillside. Simply count the sheep starting from the nearest. If you run out of sheep, Imagine a different hillside and continue counting.”

Such explanations were of no help at all, and as I child, any further attempts on my part to gain a better understanding of how to imagine such situations usually resulted in anger or frustration on the part of the advisor. As I got older I learnt there is a limit on how far I should seek clarification, and it was often safer to pretend to understand the advice given, even when I didn’t.

It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered why this process of imagining was such a mystery to me. I can’t. Well to be more accurate, I can’t imagine anything visually. I cannot conjure up a mental image in my mind. Until I discovered I have aphantasia, I never realised that most people can, to some extent, use their “mind’s eye” to visualise what they are thinking about.

When most people think of a loved one, or a sheep, they are able to to form a mental picture, sometimes quite detailed, of the person or object in mind. When I think of the wife, a family member or a sheep, all I can tell you is that I know I’m thinking of the person or thing, but that is as far as it goes.

Apparently, aphantasia, like prosopagnosia (face blindness) is more common in autistics than in the general population, but the two conditions don’t seem to be directly related. Most folk who have aphantasia have no problem recognising faces, and most folk with prosopagnosia are capable of forming mental images. I have both conditions. Are you able to create mental images, and if so, in how much detail?