It’s Showtime!

show tomsWhen I lived up in Auckland, the word ‘show’ carried connotations of a night out at the theatre, or a laser light projection on the downtown ferry building. Sparkles and spectacular were in; tractors, not so much. Since moving south, the word ‘show’ has variously been prefixed with ‘quilt’, ‘dog’, and of course ‘A&P’, widening both my horizons and knowledge of rural necessities.  This weekend the show is back, and this year, I finally know what to expect.

First, there will be a whole range of jumping-related events, featuring horses, dogs and highly coordinated kilted dancers. The intricacies of horses and highland dancing remain a mystery to me, but when it comes to the dogs, I’ve done my prep.  Volunteering at the Ashburton dog agility show opened my eyes to the range of dogs that compete, from ankle to hip height, and the many different leaping styles that exist, from the dainty hop to the mighty bound.

Next, there will be cakes on display. Fresh cakes. Despite the fact that entries must be received well prior to the event, the baked goods themselves arrive on the day. I learnt this from the Methven show, where the discrepancy between entry date and the show itself left me most concerned that my perfectly square, meticulously prepared scones would have gone mouldy come judging.

Then there are the tractors and seeds and machinery that really put the ‘A’ in ‘A&P’. Growing is an important business down this way, and there is a huge amount of science that goes into soil preparation and improving yields.  The show is, of course, a prime opportunity to put the technologies behind new agricultural advances on display. Cue GPS integrated systems, shiny new imports, and a yard full of lads looking as gleeful as kids in a lifesize lego playground. Throw in the odd hotdog stand and you’re sorted.

The closest that I ever got to an agricultural show up on Auckland was the time I stopped by the carnivorous plants expo one Sunday morning. I have a feeling we were the first visitors of the day, because the plant-rearers waived the entry fee and plied us with specimens of NZ native bug-eaters to take home to our flat and nurture up to competition size for the next year. Which of the dozen native insect-eating varieties they were I couldn’t say, but we didn’t have an ant problem that summer, that’s for sure.

Neither did we have the carnival atmosphere that comes with the annual A&P event. Rural shows may be less cabaret and more field day, but there’s more than enough entertainment behind those gates to keep even a thespian-loving lass from the city entertained for the day. What are you waiting for? It’s showtime!

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Sheep Sheep Sheep


We recently had an Australian couch surfer come to stay on our lounge suite. He came for the snow and a small taste of the rural, but in light of the gale force winds he was starved of the former and gorged at a buffet of small town NZ until he was full to bursting.

First up, we took him for a pint at The Blue. On a Wednesday night, the pub was not its usual bustling self, but we assured our guest that on special occasions, like the speed shearing competition, both our local landmarks pack out. The mention of sheep shearing was innocent enough, but apparently the trend has yet to hit the hip new nightclubs of Brisbane. Eyebrows were raised.

The next day I sent him off for a wander through the town, marking such highlights as ‘The Garden of Harmony’ and the ploughing sculpture on a map. They were nice enough, but it was the sheep in our neighbour’s garden that had him raving. ‘It’s a pet,’ I explained, ‘until it becomes dinner.’ Living in an apartment 12 stories up, a hamster was the best our visitor could manage back home, and his hamster was definitely not named ‘snack’.

Next it was time to get outdoors for a stretch and some scenery with a gradient. On our hike up Awa Awa Rata our Aussie was initially cautious as I strode ahead. ‘Back home you’d definitely be on the look out for snakes in this terrain’ he told me. Not here, though. The wasps of summer were nowhere to be seen, and the dearth of venomous creepy crawlies made all manner of cross-country manoeuvres possible. He started to relax. ‘I could get used to this’ he told me as we descended towards the car park. Then, as we drove past paddocks of livestock and over the RDR, he snapped a few photos and offered to make dinner. 

Post meal, when I asked our Aussie about his impressions of Mid Canterbury he went quiet for a moment before offering his response: ‘I never thought that all the sheep clichés were true before I came here.’ In light of his reply, I’m not quite sure what to make of the fact that he cooked us a lamb curry for dinner that evening…

The next day our guest departed Methven, bound for Queenstown, culture, and the slopes of the south. Or so he thought. What he’ll make of the Shrek museum in Tarras is anyone’s guess…

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

Multicultural Bite

Before moving South, I was warned that mid Canterbury was meat and three veg sort of a place. Having been schooled in the ways of food by my dad, whose chilli use in any given meal is directly proportional to the volume and intensity of the rock music playing in the background, I made sure to stock up on spices before coming down. As it turns out, not only are tumeric and garam masala on the supermarket shelves, there are also a huge range of cuisines going on in this town that don’t include steak as the staple.

Waitangi Day’s ‘Multi Cultural Bite!’ event provided the perfect opportunity to check them out, so we headed down to East Street with rumbling bellies and much curiosity – we’d seen Thai and Indian restaurants in town, but were about to find out that there’s more to Ashburton than what lies on the main street. After buying a bundle of tickets at the gate, it was off to savour fresh banana spring rolls, homemade satay sauce and a mouthwatering range of beverages concocted from all manner of fruit. I was impressed.

Much as people like to write off all of its inhabitants as small red balls of confectionary, Auckland has the greatest cultural diversity of all New Zealand cities, and when it comes to cultural festivals there is never a dull moment. I’m accustomed to big festivals like Pasifika and the Lantern Festival for Chinese New Year, but I’ve never changed continents so many times over the course of one meal. Nigerian rice, Malaysian satay, English high tea scones… If air points were on offer with each food purchase, I’d be on my way to Hawaii by now.

Another thing that was remarkable about the Multi Cultural Bite event was the number of languages being spoken. In a town where 93% of the population speak only one language, it was quite extraordinary to go from stall to stall and hear so many different dialects and tongues. When everyone around you speaks English all the time, it can be hard to see why learning a language is worth the effort, but the insights to be gained by learning to see the world in a different way are immeasurable. Perhaps not every kiwi kid aspires to work at the UN one day, but there’s a good reason they have a 3 language policy for all employees. Tongues do the tasting and tongues do the speaking, so perhaps it’s not such a big step from trying Argentinian cuisine for the first time to giving Spanish a go – it’s one way to plant an important seed.

All in all it was great to see the community out celebrating such a range of cultures, and I can safely say that the meat and three veg myth has been well and truly busted. The music and dance performances topped everything off, and I’d love to hear the music that was playing in the background when some of the dishes on offer were prepared. Adding a few more CDs into the kitchen mix can do wonders for stagnant menus…

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian

The Kiwi Goodbye

Talking to visitors over the past couple of weeks, my attention has been brought to an interesting phenomenon: The Kiwi Goodbye. This distinctive style of farewell has three stages. First comes the rumble, a couple of remarks thrown into conversation about how ‘we really should get going soon’ and ‘it’s getting rather late.’ This stage should be initiated at least 45 minutes before you actually wish to walk out the door. Of course, this timeframe is socially accepted by all here in Kiwiland, so the initial signals of intent are inevitably followed by more conversation about gravy recipes, that hike we went on last weekend and dear old Uncle Graham, who has just suffered a stroke/ run a marathon/ wrestled a crocodile. Remarks may be made about the weather.

Next, actions creep in. Picking up a jersey, collecting a plate from the kitchen or even simply standing up to stretch one’s legs are all symptoms of stage two. Conversation continues, with each side waiting for the other to bring things round to an acceptable topic with which to close the evening. Remarks may be made about the weather. After the mutual pause that recognizes that the crucial moment has been reached, the thank yous begin. If you have not already discussed the heat/ cold / wind, this is the opportune time to do so, whilst adjusting footwear and moving into the hallway. Finally, we actually walk out the door, sending farewells back and forth like mountain echoes until we reach the end of the driveway. Then it is home time.

This social convention of stretching out goodbyes like the end of a Tolkein film does not strike most of us as strange – it’s just the way we operate. Visitors, I discovered, sometimes see things differently. A farewell that lasts less than the length of an episode of Shortland Street? For some, this is actually the norm.

A friend of mine was visiting from Norway and was completely unaware of the local three stage process. Instead, at the first mention of home time, she responded with a most polite ‘thank you very much for having me’, and left. Everyone assumed she had gone to the bathroom or had finally given into the temptation to have one more slice of pavlova, but she was already counting sheep. Any local who attempts a Norwegian goodbye in these parts is likely to have a search party sent out looking for them to ensure that they are OK and haven’t just wandered off a bluff at the bottom of the garden and broken a leg.

Next time you are out socializing, try looking out for the three stages. Unless you want to spark a Search and Rescue call out, it is time to embrace the lingering farewell as a cultural icon.

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian