Witters from Down Under

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Having moved from Scotland to Australia in 2005 to find out if she had fallen in love with the country as well as her husband a decade ago, she decided that the answer was 'yes' and intended to stay.

However life has always had a marvellous way of changing her best-laid plans. And it happened again. An unexpected work opportunity presented itself in mid-2008: one too good to miss.

As a result the Witter from Down Under is now coming from the land of the long white cloud - New Zealand.

Please join us and read Frenchbean's commentary on a new country, a new city, a new job and new friends.

There's no place like home – but where is it?

Hello Everybody smiley - smiley

First I would like to apologise for the recent hiatus in the Witter. I am only just catching up with myself following an unexpected trip to Scotland at Easter to be with Mum who had a stroke. Thankfully she recovered and after a few weeks with her, I have returned to New Zealand.

Interestingly, the impromptu nature of my visit helped me understand that wherever I live in the world, Scotland is home.

Arriving there suddenly, with no plans, showed me that the people, the places and the culture are familiarly comfortable. I fitted in straight away and felt entirely at ease with my surroundings. The fact that spring sprung full of sunshine throughout April helped me feel warm and fuzzy about the place, of course.

Returning to New Zealand in the late autumn, with the nights drawing in and temperatures plummeting, was a nasty shock. It is the lot of many migrants to be confused about where 'home' is. Like many of us I remain slightly befuddled about it.

My return coincided with Weather (Wither): lashing rain and sleet and near-zero temperatures. And it became obvious within a day or two that my much-anticipated wood-burner (for which I have a shed full of logs) was useless. It was difficult to light, didn't have much draw and each time I opened the door the house filled with great bouts of smoke.

The combination of cold air, draughts around the edges of doors and windows, chilly damp clothes and sheets made me feel as though I'd regressed three decades to student accommodation. At one point the only warm place was in the car, with the heater on full-blast: a luxury that I certainly didn't have as a student.

In the pursuit of warmth, I made one of the best acquisitions of my life: an enormous ankle-length mega-wraparound salmon-pink thick fleece dressing-gown, without which I am wondering how I have survived all these years.

One night, having fought with and given up on the stove, I wore the d-g over all my clothes, with a scarf and woolly hat atop my head. This seemed ridiculous, so I had an early night; retiring to a pre-warmed bed (thank god for electric blankets) with two doonas and two blankets. I added a fleece beanie to prevent excessive heat loss from my head and I woke the next morning with nothing but my nose exposed to the outside world. It was warm and toasty within and I was wretched to have to unwrap myself to go to work.

After some hassling of Lord and Lady Land (and having to put on Frenchbean's Grumpy Face) Adam the Stoveman finally inspected and repaired the wood-burner. Not only had the chimney not been swept for 'a couple of years' but the flue and the vent were both blocked and the door wasn't working properly.

All these were remedied and I now bask in the glow of a really efficient fire.

In fact, it has turned into the Everlasting Fire, and other than when I decide to empty the ash, it simply doesn't go out. Each morning I find glowing embers which I tend and recharge, and each evening I get home from work to a house with no chill and a fire ready to reignite and blast the place full of heat once more.

There is something primeval (possibly also primordial) and satisfying about leaping flames. Like the tumbling sound of a rocky river, or the rumble of waves on the shore, or a spirited jig played on a fiddle; a fire revives my soul. And being able to control and master the flames gives me inexplicable satisfaction.

Talking of waves, despite last weekend being miserably wet and cold I put on waterproofs and boots and took off to the closest bit of coast. There is a 50km crescent of beach just 10 minutes' drive away along which I strode, was braced and de-cobwebbed (and was foolish enough to get a gumboot-full of Pacific Ocean as I stood and stared at a passing tern, oblivious of an incoming whoosh of knee-high wave).

It is of the same magnitude as the sandy Sunshine Coast beach, with Chchch as the southern backdrop. However there are some stark differences: this one is windswept, wild and steep, backing up to a wide strand of conifer-clad dunes with farmland behind.

It feels more like a beach in British Columbia than New Zealand. It could be the end of the world, populated only by massive seas and huge flotsam and jetsam. Entire trees litter it, semi-drifted in sand, like submerged shattered wooden icebergs.

A walk here is exhilarating to put it mildly.

Even more exciting is the beach on the other side of Chchch, past the ex-volcanic Banks Peninsula. It is the most impressive location, where walks are short and exhausting. Another long south-east facing crescent sweeps from Timaru in the south to Birdlings Flat in the north, where the beach is made up of tens of metres of deeply shelving pebbles and semi-precious gems the size of pigeon eggs, into which your feet sink to ankle-depth.

The stones are a product of the energy of ice and water that strip and scour the rock of the Southern Alps before being flood-washed into the ocean by the Kaitaia and Waitaki Rivers. They are rolled and lifted by northerly currents along the coast, to fetch up on Birdlings Flat beach where humans pick and turn them hunting for the coloured ones.

This rock beach rumbles day and night with every roller; a sound that reaches your ears long before it hoves into sight. The small settlement on the strand vibrates with every incoming Southern Ocean roller.

Stare out to sea and the next stop is the Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic, 4000km away as the albatross flies. Storms aplenty have created the massive banked beach: not a place to swim.

New Zealand definitely has its good points!

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