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 with 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.

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Hello everybody smiley - smiley

At 9:22 last Wednesday evening I sat on the loo on my way to bed and was suddenly overcome with some very disconcerting and slightly nauseating waves of dizziness. Was this the first sign of one of the many viruses that are at large in Chchch (we now have measles to add to the list)? Was I much more tired than I realised? Was it safe to stand up and stagger to my room?

Very cautiously I got to my feet and carefully took myself to bed, where I slept soundly and healthily (perhaps with the odd snore).

The radio woke me at sparrow fart and announced that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake had hit the southern end of the South Island at 9:22 the night before. 700km away.

The quake was the highest magnitude in the world so far this year. To put it into perspective: it was the same magnitude as that which flattened San Francisco in 1906. 70 years later 240,000 people were killed in north-eastern China by a 7.8 earthquake. And the 1995 Kobe quake which killed 5,500 and injured 26,000 was 'only' magnitude 6.9 (and the economic loss attributed to that shake is about $US200 billion).

So we were really fortunate that this whopper struck so far away from any significant populations, deep in Fjordland; beneath Resolution Island, to be exact.

The geology was also fortunate.

With an epicentre only 12km deep, it would in many circumstances have caused total havoc on the surface. But apparently it was in ‘reasonably soft 'rocks' (a genuine geological term) that muffled the power of the quake. As a result the shaking which occurred was rolling, rather than high-frequency. It's the latter which causes the most damage. The former rolls out for hundreds of kilometres and was felt not only on le loo chez Haricot Vert, but as far north as Wellington and Taranaki.

Amazingly, I have learnt of only minimal damage. A man's bath developed waves which washed onto the floor. A jar of pickles smashed off a kitchen counter. And my favourite quote of the week came from a Department of Conservation spokesperson:

There was a DoC team on Resolution Island, where the fault would have ruptured just about under their feet. As I understand it, they weren't tossed out of bed.

Some of you will have heard about the tsunami alert that was triggered and then cancelled an hour later when a 17cm wave was recorded heading towards Australia. Amusing perhaps, but it is reassuring to know that the international tsunami warning station on Hawaii works so efficiently.

Fjordland is still being rocked by aftershocks even today; all around the 5.5 mark. So I guess they'll be having a nervous few days yet.

On an entirely different topic…

New Zealand is a keen sporting nation. The national rugby team is of course our greatest example of the passion for sport. Cricketers have had their moments, as have the rowers, racing drivers and cyclists (to name a few).

An idiosyncrasy of the country is the tendency to give all the international teams a nickname.

The best known is of course the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team. (For the non-Europeans amongst you, these are the guys who do the haka at the start of each match; a traditional Maori posture dance aimed at scaring the bejazus out of the opposition1.

The Black Caps play cricket. The All Whites are our soccer team. The Tall Blacks play basketball and the Small Blacks are the rugby team’s junior fanclub. The Wheel Blacks are the NZ wheelchair rugby team.

The Black Sticks play hockey. And obviously the Ice Blacks play ice hockey. The Iron Blacks play American (gridiron) Football and the Black Sox, softball.

On a slightly different tack, the netball team is the Silver Ferns and the White Ferns are the women's soccer team: the Black Ferns are ... guess what? the women's rugby team.

There is a lovely symmetry to all of these names.

Except that the national rugby league team is called the Kiwis.

The badminton players caused national outrage by naming themselves the Black Cocks: a name which has been officially (but only temporarily) suspended.

I quite fancy the idea of the national karate team being the Black Belts (too obvious I wonder?) and the rowing squad should be the Oar Blacks.

If you have any more ideas, do please let me know and I'll pass them onto the relevant authorities for their consideration.

smiley - smiley

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