The change

A note for the unwary: this post involves a lot of visualising roads and intersections and who has right of way in your head. This is Good For You.

I’ve changed give way rules several times in my life. I got my licence way back in 1983, so I learned the soon-to-be-gone rule here in NZ, where you always, always, give way to the right. For my Australian friends, and for friends and readers further away, this means if you are turning left (remember that we drive on the left hand side of the road here in NZ), then you must give way to traffic turning right. (Ceteris paribus, of course. That is, allowing for the confounding effect of give way and stop signs.) It was an easy enough rule to learn, because it was consistent, at all times, and in all places.

Then in 1997, we moved across to Australia, and we had to learn a new set of give way rules. In general, we gave way to the right, unless we were turning left at an intersection. In that case, the person turning left had right of way, and she or he could just zip around the corner, while a person turning right had to wait for all left turning and straight through traffic to clear. And at T-intersections, the person turning off the top of the T and into the upright had right of way. Someone coming out of the upright, and turning into the top had to give way at all times. Again, ceteris paribus.

I had the new-to-me give way rules sorted out and working more-or-less instinctively within a day or two. It really didn’t take long at all, and until then, I was very cautious at intersections.

We moved back to New Zealand in 2000, and re-learned the give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times rule. Again, it took just a day or two, with a bit of caution along the way.

Being peripatetic types, we went back across the Tasman to Australia again in 2008, shed the give-way-to-the-right rule and picked up the people-turning-left-at-an-intersection-and-people-turning-off-the-top-of-a-T-have-right-of-way-but-otherwise-give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times-rule all over again. As before, it took just a day or two.

And then we came back to New Zealand in 2011, and re-learned the give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times-rule, again, within a day or so.

Really, it’s not difficult changing between one system and another, with a little bit of thought, and some care, and some caution at intersections.

Of course, each time we changed from one system to another, everyone else around us knew the rules that we were changing into. Or at least, they ought to have known the rules. So the behaviour of motorists around us helped us to click into the new system. It will be a little more difficult tomorrow, as all of us try to become familiar with the new rules. But with a bit of thought and care, and caution at intersections, and with good will towards each other, I’m sure that we will be fine.

I’m in favour of the change back to the more complex rule. Yes, give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times has the virtues of simplicity and consistency, but in practice, give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times-except-that-people-turning-left-at-intersections-and-people-turning-off-the-top-of-a-T-have-right-of-way, is much easier to apply. Under the simple rule, if I am turning left, I have to keep an eye on two streams of traffic, people coming through behind me and going straight ahead, and people turning right in front of me, who have right-of-way under the rule. If someone is coming straight through from behind me, then I can go left, because they shelter me from the right turning traffic. But I have to be able to look in my rear view mirror to make judgements about what they are doing. So I have to look in two directions at once.

Under the new rule, I need only check for pedestrians crossing the road I am turning left into, and if there is a bike lane, I would need to check for cyclists coming through. But I would have to do that under the give-way-to-the-right-at-all-times-rule too. The new rule looks more complex, but it’s much easier to apply in real driving situations.

Under the new rule, a person turning right has to keep an eye on traffic coming through, and traffic turning left. But helpfully, both these sets of traffic are right in front of you. You don’t need to keep an eye on the rear view mirror as well. Again, it looks more complex in theory, but it’s much easier to apply in practice.

Even so, in the next few weeks, I’ll be taking things very carefully at intersections. It’s all very well being in the right, but it’s still a bloody nuisance, and possibly very expensive, not to say downright dangerous, if a less attentive driver careers into me. A little bit of goodwill and courtesy will go a very long way indeed.

In any case, at 5am tomorrow, I’m planning on being asleep.

A final note for my Australian friends, especially that friend who will be visiting here soon: this means that from 5am tomorrow morning, NZ time, our road rules will be virtually identical to yours.

To my dear friends and sisters in Australia

I’m very sorry. This man was awful when he was on New Zealand TV, and now he will be popping up on your screens.

Paul Henry: ‘Aussies will love me’

He’s known for mocking Susan Boyle, and criticising a Green Peace campaigner for having facial hair, and for making racist comments about our governor-general. The Hand Mirror has an excellent summary of his history on New Zealand TV: Paul Henry – MCP round-up. Pop on over there to see exactly why you really don’t want him.

We’ve sent some pretty good exports to Australia over the years, such as John Clark. I hope you are as glad to have him as we are sad to have lost him. But Paul Henry? I’d be stopping him at the border and throwing him back this way, if you could.

It will be interesting to see how long he lasts.

Whoah! The ignorance – it is strong in this one.

My brother and his family live in Queensland. Two of his children are at the local primary school, and a couple of nights ago, there was an Easter celebration there. Being a community minded man, my brother took his children along. There was singing and dancing and performances, and all went well, until the school chaplain took the stage.

This is a state school. With a chaplain.

Moving right along, my brother is happy for his children to learn about religion, and he expected that the chaplain might talk a little about the Christian festival of Easter, and some of the other festivals around it. But there was no mention whatsoever of spring festivals in other cultures or of Pesach. Just a bit offensive, he thought. And then there was the explanation of the association of eggs with Easter. The chaplain held up a hollow chocolate Easter egg and said, “This egg is hollow to represent the empty tomb of Jesus.” Then she held up a solid Easter egg and said, “This egg is solid to represent the solid rock that was in front of the tomb.”

Good grief. Not a fertility ritual in sight. As my brother said, being subjected to Christian intolerance in a state school is bad enough, but when it is coupled with patronising ignorance, it becomes ridiculous.

Contrast this with my elder daughter’s class. They have been studying the different cultural groups that have settled in New Zealand. Today they have a shared lunch, as an end of term celebration, and the pupils have prepared something from the particular cultures they have been studying. There is one Muslim girl in the class, and it seems that absolutely everyone has checked their plans with this girl, and adjusted them as necessary (getting halal meat, excluding alcohol-based essences, and so on) to ensure that she is not excluded from the meal. The children did this themselves: their teacher didn’t need to prompt them.

It is so easy to be inclusive, and in the process, to learn something. My brother is very angry that the chaplain at his children’s school couldn’t make even a minimal effort to remember that not everyone is Christian. And she peddled absurdities to boot.

The treacle

We lived in Adelaide for nearly a year, back in 1998 / 1999. It was a lovely town, full of parks and museums and beaches and galleries and good food and good wine. The pace of life seemed slow, pleasantly so.

We moved back at the start of 2008, nearly 10 years later. In the decade of our absence, it seemed that nothing had changed. At all. The only developments that I noticed was the extension of the tram line from its former terminus in Victoria Square, to West Terrace, and the building of the freeway from the south eastern corner of Adelaide, up to the hills. Nothing else. And during the three years we have been here, the only development has been a further extension of the tram line.

The pace of life is not just slow in Adelaide. As friends of ours described it, living in Adelaide is like swimming in treacle. The sun is shining, the food and wine are good, life is easy, and if there is a problem to be solved, well, it can wait, can’t it?

I have met some dynamic individuals during my time here, impressive people who are working hard, with vision, and making a large contribution to Adelaide and South Australia and its institutions. A tax partner in one of the large accounting firms, a senior manager in the public service, the principal of my children’s school, some academics doing world class work. But there are plenty of people who are just pottering along, looking for someone else to solve their problems, saying it’s not my fault, not my problem, who can I divert you to so that I don’t have to do anything.

I’m not sure that this is such a bad thing. A relaxed and easy life sounds pretty good to me, and perhaps we shouldn’t be so concerned about getting ahead and getting things done. On the other hand, I have heard that federal politicians complain that whenever they meet with a state pollie from South Australia, the state pollie has her or his hand out, asking for something. They never fly to Canberra with a great idea, a plan for something that would benefit the whole country, a vision to be shared. Perhaps relaxed-and-easy slips over into lassitude. Yet South Australia has a tremendous reputation as a reforming state: first in Australia to give women the vote, and the state that coped and found a whole lot of tolerance and even celebration of Don Dunstan and his pink shorts. But then there’s the whole private school scene, which seems to be about buying privilege rather than trying to get a good education for your children. All the more so when the top state schools are level pegging with the top private schools when it comes to educational achievement. For example, until very recently the upper echelons of the legal establishment in South Australia was reserved for boys from St Peter’s, or perhaps St Ignatius. Where you went to school, where you send your children to school, matters in South Australia. One of the things I found disturbing was some academic colleagues who were determined to send their children to private schools, even though they could read the statistics perfectly well for themselves. The contortions they went into about character and extra-curricular activities, and the type of children they wanted their children to associate with, astonished me. Anything to justify the purchasing of privilege. I’m fine with people sending their children to a church school because they are church people, or with sending a child to a particular school because of a particular programme that is available there that suits that particular child, but worrying about a child’s associates, as though the kids in your local neighbourhood aren’t quite good enough for you, makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. And it seems to me to be a manifestation of the treacle: this is the way things are done around here and really it’s too difficult to change and let’s have another glass of wine and chat about the weather.

I’m curious to know what other Adelaide people think about the treacle.

And for all that, let me stress how much I liked Adelaide. It really is a very pleasant place to live, and I will miss many, many aspects of it very much. It could well be that what I am perceiving as treacle had more to do with the institutions where I was working, and the area in which I was living, instead of a being a particular thing about Adelaide. The naming of “the treacle” made sense to me: it aptly described parts of my experience in Adelaide. But I’m well aware that it could be just my experience. Thoughts?

Progress report

Why yes! I am a little flustered, turning about in little circles, and having to remind myself that this is all for a PURPOSE.

Some things have gone very well this week. We have moved into a holiday cottage, everything in our house has been cleaned and packed up and sent on its way to New Zealand, the house itself has been thoroughly cleaned and the roses pruned and the paths swept, and the sale went through very smoothly yesterday. Mostly.

We had one issue. And it was a corker.

On Thursday evening, after a hard day of cleaning (I was exhausted!), we went out for a meal. I took out my eftpos card to pay, only to have it rejected, twice. That was embarrassing. I put it on our credit card instead, but wondered why on earth I couldn’t access the funds in our account, especially because my last lot of wages had gone in that day.

On Friday, we both tried to withdraw some cash, with no luck. It turned out that our bank had frozen the funds in our account way back on Wednesday, without telling us, so that they could process settlement on Friday. They kindly told us that we should be able to access our money again on Monday. We were left facing the weekend with only a small amount of cash, and an aversion to using our credit card to get a cash advance (the interest rates are outrageous).

Mr Strange Land saw red. He also went to see the bank. It turned out that instead of freezing enough money for settlement, and leaving the remainder of the funds in our account available for us to use, the bank had simply frozen the entire account. We had money sitting in the bank, that belonged to us, that was not needed for settlement, and they would not allow us to access it. Sorry, they said. That’s just the way it is.

Faaarrrrcccckkkk!

My husband has many excellent qualities, and one of them is a refusal to give way in the face of mindless bureaucracy. He sat in the bank, and insisted, persistently, that they give us OUR money. Eventually, one of the bank officers found a way to process a manual transaction to give us the amount of cash we should have been able to withdraw from any ATM. “Would that do?” Mr Strange Land said “Yes” very promptly, got the cash, and left quickly, before they could change their minds.

While he was sitting in the bank, watching the bank officers flap around trying to work out what to do, he calculated the difference between asking our bank to manage sending our money back to New Zealand for us, and doing it ourselves via HIFX. The fees are neither here nor there, but the exchange rate they offer does make a difference. $10,000 difference.

We are very glad to be leaving this bank, which offers callously indifferent service and high fees. We could have coped with the freeze on our funds, if they had the decency to let us know in advance that this was their process, so that we could have ensured that we had enough cash on hand for the weekend. But it’s a bit richly ironic that their advertising slogan is: “Determined to earn your business.”

Grumble grumble grumble.

The compleat pageant experience

Adelaide is really just a giant country town. Everyone knows each other, everyone goes to the show every year, and everyone goes to the annual Christmas parade, or pageant.*

The pageant is a long, long parade, making its way from one side of the old city to the other, and taking about an hour to pass. In our first year here, we headed down town about half an hour before the parade was due to start, and stood in the back row. The girls were entranced. Last year I flatly refused to go: the overnight low was about 25 degrees, and it was due to reach about 30 by the time the parade started at 9.30am. But this year, our last in Adelaide, I thought that I ought to take the girls to see the parade.

We staggered out of bed at 6.00am, got dressed, had a hasty breakfast, gathered up the cushions and chairs and blanket we had organised the previous evening, and headed off at 6.30am. When I say, “we”, I mean me and the girls. Mr Strange Land stayed in bed.** By 7.00am I had parked in the Central Markets car park, and the girls and I had gone down to Victoria Square, and staked out a spot behind the blue honour line. This is a special road marking that exists only for the sake of the pageant, delineating paraders from paradees. Woe betide any school boy who elects to sit over the line; a passing police officer will hustle him back. I had thought that this would be a good spot on the parade route: easy parking, easy access to toilets, not too far from the start (the dancers and marchers and walkers and clowns always look very, very tired towards the end of the route), the chance to sit right on the tramlines, the possibility of excursions to find coffee. The pageant wasn’t due to start until 9.30am, but some people arrived at 4.00am to find a good spot, and by the time we arrived at 7.00, there were only one or two front row spaces left. We were just in time.

We set up our chairs and cushions and blankets, and then I went and got coffee and hot chocolates from the markets. Bliss! After that, the girls engaged in the fine pastime of defacing the streets of Adelaide.

Three girls, drawing on the street with chalk.

Defacing the streets of Adelaide

I thought that this was their best piece of graffiti.

My mum is the best, in chalk, alongside the tramline.

"My mum is the best."

Drawing on the streets with chalk has become part of the pageant ritual in recent years, so much so that the community aid tents hand out chalks to children who have come without. They also gave out water, and sunblock, and balloons. The girls queued for half an hour to get a balloon each. Of the three balloons, two were lost into the sky, and one popped, very loudly. Some children had brought bubble mix and bubble blowers, and hordes of children chased bubbles all over the place. Alas, one bubble popped right in Miss Nine the Elder’s eye, but a very young St John’s Ambulance chap helped her to wash it out. At 9am, we took part in an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people singing Christmas carols at one time. Ms Twelve has become interested in world records, so she was pleased to have her name recorded as a participant. We listened to announcements, and interviews with pageant participants. I swear that the Pageant Queen must come from Taranaki: her nasal rising inflection as she said, “Hello” was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps it’s just the country connection. I chatted with the people next to us, and did some crochet. The girls asked, repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Is it time yet?”

At last, the countdown began, and at 9.30am, the parade started. 10 minutes later it reached us. Four mounted police officers led the parade, riding stately grey horses.

Mounted police officers

Mounted police

From then on there were floats and marching bands and dancers and clowns. Some of the floats were very hokey indeed. I liked the bands; I loved hearing the snatches of music, and seeing the different people engaged in making music. The girls liked the fairy tale floats, but they were disappointed that the snail float didn’t appear this year (the snail leaves a watery slime trail as it goes). Nipper and Nimble came by – two model horses, each ridden by a very small girl in fairy clothes. Apparently it is a great honour to be chosen to ride Nipper or Nimble, and the politics around the selection is intense. Those who miss out can go and sit on Nipper and Nimble in Santa’s Cave in David Jones, but it’s not the same.

I thought that the panda float was a highly accurate representation of the wretched beasts: the papier mache models did absolutely nothing, just like the real things.

Model pandas, static, of course.

Why is there a kangaroo in the middle?

The nativity scene was much more interesting, preceded by three camels.

Three camels, each ridden by a "wise man".

Camels and kings

After an hour or so, Santa Claus came by, and then it was all over. There was an enormous traffic jam as 300,000 people all tried to head home, but that was to be expected.

So we experienced getting up early, the wait, sitting on tram lines, drawing on the street, takeaway coffee and hot chocolates, getting balloons, losing balloons, getting first aid, taking part in a world record attempt, counting down to the start of the parade, seeing the parade go by, and long delays in the traffic on the way home. Later on that day, I checked the photo gallery on the local paper’s site, and there we are in the background of one of the shots. It was truly the compleat experience.

* About 300,000 people, or nearly 1/3 of Adelaide’s population.

** And later got up to carry on with the mountain of work he has at present.

My spring garden

In usual fashion, just as my garden is starting to look lovely, we are pulling up our roots, and moving house. The wrench is not too painful this time: I am glad to be heading home. But among the sadnesses of leaving Adelaide is the loss of our garden.

It took me a long time to get into gardening mode here. Gardening is soul restoring, but I have been rather unhappy during my time here, and that unhappiness has made it hard for me to push myself to get started on anything much. But the girls and I got a few things established, and this spring has been a delight, as we have watched a succession of blooms appearing.

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