On Socks and Togs

Mum recently came down from Auckland for a winter holiday, suitcase of thermals in tow. Following her frigid experience over Christmas, and having equated pictures of the ski field with out back yard, she was prepared for a real polar blast.  There were skivvies and long johns galore, gloves, slippers and a possum hat – and one pair of socks.

Small and unassuming, those monogamous stalwarts of the wardrobe are often overlooked. Not to worry, a visit to the store soon turned up a pair of magnificently fluffy socks, ‘complete with a tog rating of 2.5’. A tog rating? Yes, tog – the garish label was most insistent. Despite our initial incredulity about this supposed SI unit, we were sold on entertainment value alone.

As for the validity of the claim, our Scottish friend was quick to put us right: tog is a measure of thermal insulation, often used to indicate how well a duvet retains the warmth. In Scotland, where insulation is not a foreign concept, people pay attention to such details.  (They also double glaze their windows and shy away from building single ply weatherboard houses, but that’s another story…) This new definition of ‘tog’ was duly filed away for future trivia nights.

We had a different take on the ‘tog’: up in the North Island, where even July is balmy, togs are for swimming. We did stop off at the hot pools to give our swimsuits their moment in the limelight, but it was the newly discovered type of tog that had us in its grip. There was only one thing for it – we had to pay a visit to the sock factory in Ashburton to find out more. To get any closer to the source of the knitted footwear that graces stores throughout New Zealand, you’d have to head out into the paddock and tackle a sheep.

The local sock factory is something special. Socks of all colours and styles abound, from brightly coloured technical ski socks through to premium dress socks that would look at home on the red carpet of a world premiere – and they were all toasty warm. Mum’s frosty feet had never had so much choice. Neither had Santa Claus – my sisters don’t know it yet, but St Nick is now well stocked up, and their stockings are likely to be filled with stockings for years to come. As for us, we all headed out to the Sunday night quiz togged up in our glad rags and sporting brand new snuggly socks.

For socks that have walked right the way across Spain and carried Ironman racers over the finish line, the trip back to Auckland safely stowed away in the hand luggage compartment must have seemed quite tame. Still, mum’s new socks can bask in the knowledge that not only are they providing a valuable heat retaining service for the extremities, but the story that led to their purchase might one day mean the difference between 3rd and 4th place in a local pub quiz. That’s some power, alright.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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Big Things a Small Town Thing

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Let’s face it – anyone who claims ‘size doesn’t matter’ has never been on a tour of New Zealand’s small towns or taken the time to appreciate the presence that a 10m high fish can bestow on the gateway to a district. NZ has a penchant for oversize sculptures; there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated ever so eloquently to ‘New Zealand’s Big Things.’ This week’s unveiling of the new NZ Post stamp collection confirms this obsession, with said sculptures taking pride of place in the ‘Legendary Landmarks’ collection. Mid Canterbury has not been forgotten, as the Rakaia Salmon enjoys pride of place on an 80c stamp.

The salmon is indeed a well-known symbol of Rakaia – perhaps the most well known, even. Forget any other logistical claims to fame (longest bridge, anyone?) – the fish is photogenic, and in an age governed by the law of ‘pics or it didn’t happen,’ posing is paramount. As far as giant sculptures go, a jumping salmon is actually a pretty good choice of subject; it’s difficult to imbue a statue of a carrot or a gumboot with dynamic energy. A fish in motion, however, makes for hilarious holiday snapshots as everyone piles out of the car and tries to emulate the aquatic leap.

As well as advertising the local specialty or claim to fame, these sculptures announce that we are, without a doubt, in New Zealand. In fact, large sculptures in small towns are so ubiquitous here that I can actually trace my heritage by them: Mum and Dad met in the vicinity of the L&P bottle in Paeroa, and Grandad’s clan are from the vicinity of the Cromwell peach. They permeate the geography of my childhood too; there is Tirau, where the giant sheep and sheep dog combination (aka the information centre) was a favourite stop, while my sisters and I used to talk about the time we went to the town with the big kumara (more commonly referred to as Dargaville). Since moving down South, the trend has continued. Road trips have been punctuated with stops to admire giant horses, donuts, and of course the nemesis of the Rakaia Salmon, the Trout of Gore.

Salmon trumped trout this time around in the ‘iconic’ stakes, and NZ Post’s ‘Legendary Landmarks’ collection will see the symbol of Rakaia posted all over the globe. The stamps will act as “little postcards”, taking a big part of a small town out into the world at large – Auckland included. Sure, my hometown has tall towers and a sprawling scale, but when it comes to super-sized sculptures the city is sorely lacking. It seems that ‘big things’ are a small town thing, after all.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian