Quardle oodle ardle wardle DUCK

Allenton residents are familiar with the problem, which has now been impacting upon their letterboxes as well: the magpies that have been attacking the local posties pose yet another threat to our endangered postal system. Unfortunately for our trusty team in red, magpies have very good memories and they attack the same people again and again. If you get on the wrong side of one of those flying missiles, you’d better have eyes on the back of your head.

Last week I had first hand experience of the problem whilst out for a jog. Apparently the birds don’t differentiate between those wearing red and those wearing pink, because from the moment I turned the corner they had me firmly in their sights. Next came the ominous ‘whoosh’ of a kamikaze magpie under the influence of gravity, followed by a flash of claw. That was enough to convince my tired legs that actually they belonged to Usain Bolt and were taking part in a very important race. As a result of this impressive burst of athletic prowess, I can confirm that magpies are much better motivators than any iPod track or personal trainer. In fact, based on the results of my one off and highly scientific study, magpie escape training could well form the basis of the next exercise fad, leaving zumba and cross training in its wake.

You do, however, need to ensure you have a good technique before taking part in this adrenaline fuelled cardio programme. Like any sport, this takes practice. Running down the street waving hands in the air may not look particularly becoming, but it is a natural response to try to keep beaks and talons away from cheeks and ears. A little googling reveals this is also the worst possible response. Instead, it is necessary to remain calm, don your ice cream container helmet as protective headgear, and vacate the vicinity of the fluffy foe.

Sports related injuries may make up the bulk of recreational claims, but according to an ACC spokeswoman, there have been 15 magpie-related injuries lodged with ACC in the last 2 years. Thanks to a serendipitous attack, we now have the opportunity to combine the two. With a little practice, we might even be able to take on an aussie team as well as the aussie bird.

As we know, there is no black and white solution to the magpie issue. Eradicate them? Avoid them? Use them as a sporting supplement to enhance future performance? This is no 80 minute on-pitch battle, but an ongoing exercise at surviving the siege. Don your trainers and watch your back, because as Glover’s poem suggests, the magpies are here to stay.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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Central Parking

The domain may be a ‘jewel in Ashurton’s crown’, but recently it’s been another kind of ‘park’ that’s been making headlines. Curbside credit is changing for good, with the iconic coin meters being replaced by newfangled pay and display machines that would look at home on any Auckland side street. Not only is Ashburton moving into the future, but this technological leap was broadcast into living rooms all over the country. Immediately following the TV segment I was fielding calls and texts from family and friends in the big smoke, all wanting to know more about how we park our vehicles in this neck of the woods.

My initial response was ‘without breaking the budget.’ When we first arrived in town we thought that the advertised rate of 60c an hour must have been a typo. Up in Auckland 60c might buy you 5 minutes if you are lucky, so surely there was a digit and a decimal point missing? $7.60 would have seemed like a bargain, so we fed the meter up with gold coins, just in case.  As it turned out, our trepidation was unfounded and resulted in a happy surprise for the rest of the cars that pulled into the park that day.

The introduction of solar powered, ticket printing machines spells the end of random acts of kindness like this, as there is no way to top up someone’s time allowance without breaking into their car to replace their receipt. Somehow that doesn’t seem quite as neighbourly as nonchalantly depositing spare shrapnel in the meter, and it also sounds like a lot more work.

It also sounds like a lot more work to get to a machine, with the one to one park to meter ratio now a thing of the past, but most will be placated by assurances that motorists will not have to walk any more than three parks away to get a ticket. Three parks seems to be the maximum distance away from one’s destination that the majority of Ashburtonians are willing to park anyway, as traffic volumes still allow convenience to reign supreme.  At any rate, there will be none of this business of trudging to the far corner of a parking building, only to lose your bearings and spend the next half hour looking for your vehicle, by which time the ticket has almost expired.

For those who prefer to stick to the old methods or are averse to the 40c price increase – and don’t mind walking – there is always the option of using the remaining quinquagenarian machines in the town’s side streets. With the old machines going towards bolstering the local supply of spare parts, they should keep going strong for a wee while yet. Who knows, the remaining antique machines could become quite an attraction – the only other place I’ve seen them is in the museum, next to a sign that reminisced about the ‘lovely Rita meter maids’ of days gone by.

The technological infrastructure may be changing, but Ashburton can still boast plenty of central parking – now with more options than ever before.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

Hi Ho, Methven!

Up until last weekend I always assumed that cowboys were confined to the US Wild West and hadn’t made it past the days of black and white TV. A visit to the Methven Rodeo soon proved me wrong, and the lasso action of a plethora of men in sparkly tasselled pants meant it was an experience I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

We entered the Rodeo to the announcer likening the bronco riding to ‘trying to sit on top of a washing machine while it’s on full load’, but the white ware similes soon gave way to more immediate concerns. As one young man scaled the interior arena fence, charging bull hot on his heels, the announcer made the astute observation that the bull’s horns were fatter than the fleeing man’s legs. As it turned out, the fence scaler was a clown, an integral part of the rodeo team. I had always associated clowns with children’s birthday parties, but the rodeo version of a man who encourages a bull to chase him was somewhat removed from the red nosed, frizzy haired childhood stalwart. As cowboy protectors and decoys for the bulls following the rider’s dismount, their job is no laughing matter.

I was also struck by how young many of the cowboys and cowgirls actually were. Open sheep riding aside, the number of teenagers who could wield a rope whilst galloping at speed was impressive. Perhaps when you have been immersed in rodeo since you were a youn ‘un (or even conceived in a horse float, as the announcer helpfully introduced one young lass) it seems like second nature, but in central Auckland piano lessons and jazz dancing are more likely to be on a child’s weekly agenda than learning techniques for dealing with errant stock, so it was certainly an eye opener.

Our eyes were kept busy in other ways too, particularly when it came to taking the range of checked shirts available in the fashion department. Big checks, little checks, checks with rhinestones, checks to match the horse’s colouring and even one brave man who sported a checked shirt without any checks at all, his bold block colour choice standing out against the dust of the arena. My thin cotton effort with roll-up sleeves was well and truly put to shame.

It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but the Rodeo provided an excuse to pull out that cowboy hat that has been collecting dust ever since it was purchased on a whim at the $2 shop some years back. The barrel racing and bucking broncos were perfectly suited to the Mumford and Sons soundtrack, and all the proceeds go to local causes. Sure, it’s a far cry from the corner appeals on Queen Street, but the tassled outfits and muscled steeds beat the gimmicky dress-up fundraisers on the streets of Auckland any day. Hi Ho, Methven!

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian