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)

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Christmas past

I haven’t been able to find the time nor the energy to blog over the past few days. It’s a hectic time of the year with extra family and dogs, days too warm for my comfort, a mild migraine that kept me in a sort of brain fog for days and hayfever medication that makes me drowsy regardless of the counterclaims on the packaging.

In our household, Christmas is usually a time of overindulgence when it comes to food, and this year was no exception. The one glaring difference was that we had our family Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, as family obligations meant some were not able to be present on the day. There were ten of us present, which is about as many as I can cope with: myself, The Wife, our son and his wife, our daughter, her three children, her partner and his son, plus two dogs.

The meal itself was typical family favourites and I daresay is not too different from that served up at many Kiwi Christmas get togethers. We started off with a watermelon and cucumber soup (cold of course). For mains we had glazed ham, chicken nibbles, potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, and a selection of salads. As it was three days ago I am struggling to remember them all but here goes: pasta salad with with (lots of) preserved ginger, red and green glazed cherries, pineapple, red capsicum, baby peas and and beans, and corn; mandarin, almonds and rocket salad; apple and celery salad with dried cranberries and feta cheese; watermelon and cucumber salad with mint and crumbled feta; cucumber salad with red and yellow Tom Thumb tomatoes and pan fried halloumi cheese.

For desserts we had trifle (the grandchildren claim it wouldn’t be Christmas without it), pavlova topped with whipped cream and berries, fresh cherries, an assortment of fresh berries (blueberries, strawberries and raspberries if I remember correctly), tiramisu, apple crumble and an assortment of ice creams (triple chocolate, salted caramel, rum and raisin).

Then gifts were exchanged with those who would not be present on Christmas morning, and what was left of the day was spent quietly recovering from eating too much. On Christmas morning, gifts were exchanged and by 9 am something like normality resumed, with just myself, The Wife, our daughter and one dog remaining. Tonight our daughter is staying with a friend who lives nearby leaving her dog with us, and tomorrow it will be fully back to normal with just The Wife and I occupying the house. Until next year…


Musical Monday (2021/12/20) Snoopy’s Christmas

How could I not include this song during the Christmas season? I don’t know how many of my readers (apart from Kiwis) are familiar with this track from The Royal Guardsmen. It first entered the Kiwi psyche in 1967 and has never left. It’s rather hard to understand why Snoopy’s Christmas became biggest selling overseas single sold in New Zealand, not just in 1967 but for the entire 20th century! Yeah, It’s kind of difficult to get your head around, isn’t it? I struggle to understand why a novelty song by an obscure American band should have become such a seasonal favourite in Aotearoa. But that’s Kiwis for you. There doesn’t have to be a reason.

Snoopy’s Christmas has re-entered the New Zealand Singles chart several time since: 1988, 1989, and 2013, and its popularity never seems to wane. If you’re in Aotearoa during the festive season, you’ll likely hear this track more than any other song. However, there’s a significant minority who dislike the song, or perhaps got so tired of it, that in 2007 it was voted the “the worst Christmas song of all time” in a poll taken by the New Zealand Herald newspaper. Usually by Christmas eve, I tend to agree.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.

Was the night before Christmas, 40 below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron, fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings Snoopy knew he was caught.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn't shoot, well, we'll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out, "Merry Christmas, my friend"

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy, our hero, saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they'd meet on some other day.

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man


Rā kirihimete 2020

Meri Kirihimete (Merry Christmas) one and all.

I appreciate that for some of my readers, it’s still Christmas Eve, but for us in Aotearoa New Zealand, Christmas day is drawing to a close.

The wife and I travelled the 110 Km (70 miles) to Paraparaumu for lunch with our daughter’s family and some of her friends. As usual it was an extended affair where we all ate too much, and by the time dessert and coffee had been served it was 5:00 pm. Three hours later I am still uncomfortably full. I think it was the third helping of the wife’s truly wonderful trifle that finally told me I had consumed too much. Although it might have been the second helping of tiramisu or pavlova…

It’s the realisation that many of my readers (most are in North America and Western Europe) will not be so fortunate this year, being unable to celebrate the festive season with friends and family, that requires me to acknowledge how fortunate we are to be living in a Covid-free bubble of five million people.

Christmas fare

Top: What was left of mains after everyone had taken their first helping.
Bottom left: My first serving of mains.
Bottom right: Selection of desserts.

Perhaps not typical Northern Hemisphere Christmas fare, but hey, it’s summer and the only fire burning today was the gas barbeque used for cooking the lamb chops and sausages.


Disturbed dawn

By nature, I’m a night owl. I’m seldom ready for bed before midnight, and even then it make take a few hours before sleep overtakes me. During that time I find myself replaying conversation scenarios – sometimes recent conversations, occasionally long past conversations, but mostly I find myself rehearsing potential conversations. These fall into two very distinct groups: those that are necessary, and those I would like to pursue should the opportunity arise.

In the necessary category are items of small talk which for neurotypicals seem necessary to normal social interaction. Also in this category are those conversation threads one undertakes in commerce, and routine conversations with friends and family. Even much of the conversation with the wife falls into this category.

It’s not sufficient to rely on the bank of scripts I have stored away that can be recalled more or less on demand, as these can be used only in short bursts: comment, reply, comment, reply. Beyond that they’re not likely to be particularly fruitful. So in the hours I’m awake and every sensible person is sleeping I rehearse the many possible ways a scenario might develop. I practice being serious, flippant, casual, precise, vague, humourous, so that I can call on the appropriate script when needed.

And so it was at 5:00 am this morning when I realised I had spent most of the night rehearsing a range of conversation threads that might pop up when the wife and I join with family and friends to celebrate the (secular) festive season on Christmas day. The dawn chorus was just commencing so I made a conscious effort to cease rehearsals and instead bath in the glory that is dawn – even if the sun didn’t shine.

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A covid free (Kiwi) Christmas

We might not be able to join with overseas relatives this Christmas, but the authorities have put in place measures to ensure that Santa will be able to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. He will not need to quarantine for fourteen days as do other visitors. As the interview with the Prime Minister illustrates, this country has pulled out all the stops to make sure Santa’s delivery run is as safe and Covid free as possible. Not sure if the same is true in other jurisdictions…


Christmas is over for another year

Christmas Day has ended and we’re an hour into Boxing Day (well, in Aotearoa New Zealand, at least), and I’m thinking “Thank goodness it’s over for another year!” As I get older, I find family events such as Christmas are getting more exhausting, although no less enjoyable. Both migraine and being on the autism spectrum seem to be affecting my ability to cope with sensory over-stimulation more and more as I get older. For those who understand the spoon theory, I have fewer spoons than I had even 5 years ago, that I can use to pass as being “normal”.

This year was somewhat different than in previous years for several reasons. We hosted neither lunch nor tea (That’s dinner/evening meal to non-Kiwis) this year. Instead the whānau gathered at our daughter’s home for lunch, less than 10 minutes drive from our place.

Unfortunately, my wife has been a bit crook (Kiwi slang for being ill) over the last few days, so the ham is still sitting in the fridge, unglazed and uncooked. And everyone’s favourite trifle is yet to be assembled. Last night we were unsure if she would be well enough to join in the festivities, but this morning she felt well enough to brave the noise and commotion that normally accompanies such events.

Lunch was a typical Kiwi Christmas do, with a variety of hot and cold meats, plenty of salads made from seasonal vegetables and fruit, cold soups, and a few hot dishes for those who really want it. As usual, most of us ate more than we should, but hey, it’s only once a year.

Dessert was also typically Kiwi except that the pavlova was deconstructed, as one younger member of the whānau dislikes whipped cream that usually tops it. The pav was accompanied by panatone, fresh berries and melon, brandy snaps, fruit mince tarts, plenty of whipped cream and assorted other goodies I can’t recall offhand.

The weather had been deteriorating all morning, and just as lunch finished, the sound of thunder could be heard in the distance. As the exchanging of gifts commenced, we could hear the thunder getting ever nearer, while the sky became so dark that it was necessary to turn on the lights. Before long, flashes of lightning would light up the room followed by ever more loud crashes of thunder. As the gift exchanging was drawing to a close (it’s a long drawn out affair), a particularly bright flash of lightning was immediately followed by the lights flickering out and instead of a clap of thunder, we heard what can only be described as very loud static.

An hour later, and still no electrical power. Many of us were longing for a cuppa, but of course there was no way to heat the water without electricity. I checked the website of the local lines company (thank goodness the mobile phone network was still up) and discovered that over three and a half thousand households in the our town (population 14,000) were without power.

Many other towns in the region were similarly affected, so obviously the electrical storm was  widespread. It seems that such events are becoming more common, I daresay due to the effects of climate change.

The wife and I called it a day at around 4pm and drive home through a very heavy downpour. As the car came to a stop under the carport, the concrete flooring, dry a few seconds earlier, was suddenly inundated by a torrent of several centimetres of water that began cascading down the steeply sloped pathway. I had to back the car out into the open (where the rain was still coming down in buckets), so that the wife could safely exit it without water rushing over her shoes.

There was also the strange spectacle of little fountains jetting up between some of the joints in the concrete driveway. None of them were very high, perhaps only 20 centimetres at most, but there were dozens of them, and it did look impressive. Not sure it’s caused any damage underneath the concrete, but as there is little in the way of silt on top, I’m hoping for the best. Time will tell.

So that’s my Christmas for 2018. As I write this, some of my readers will only just be getting up and the sun is yet to appear above the horizon, so to you I wish your Christmas day goes at least as well as as mine!



Strolling through a winter summer wonderland

For the 90% of the world’s population who live north of the equator, Christmas carols such as Jungle Bells and Strolling through a Winter Wonderland have some meaning, even if it doesn’t actually snow. At least in comes in the cold season. Like minorities everywhere, the 10% of us who live in the southern hemisphere are denied our rights: Our right to celebrate a seasonally appropriate festive season.

I say it’s time to take a stand! No more Christmas cards with snow and holy! No more songs about white Christmases! Down with them all.

Here’s something a little more appropriate: