Sunday, 24 July 2016

New Zealand: Earth's Mythical Islands

This was a stunning documentary about New Zealand's wildlife - batty penguins in a quagmire, prehistoric forests, nocturnal birds, giant snails, even more giant whales, cryogenic wasps (very Fortitude) and a heck of a lot of sheep. Crill vomit, abandoned eggs containing miniature dinosaurs, and farming by helicopter: things are very different on the other side of the world. New Zealand has been separated from any other land for so long that it has evolved in a different way, but without large predators, which is why it has so many flightless birds.

More dangerous is the geothermal activity bubbling under the surface, and often exploding through it. There are geysers that erupt 20 times a day. Patches of land can vanish. The Alps are still growing taller, there are slurping, sulphurous mud pools, and the city of Christchurch is still recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2009. There is also a lot of weather in New Zealand - cyclones, typhoons, seemingly endless torrential rain. It isn't called the Land of the Long White Cloud for nothing.
Christchurch Cathedral in 2006
There was also footage of the camera crew that went to film the penguins - sailing through terrifying seas (the Roaring Forties) to a remote offshore island; a lot of people with a lot of camera equipment crammed into a boat way too small for them and lacking much in the way of facilities. There was a toilet shack built on the land, but it had been commandeered by a smelly, angry sealion who was up for a fight.

A reminder of our wonderful three weeks in New Zealand ten years ago. The never-ending bush, the tropical plans, the steaming hot pools, the towering snow-covered mountains, the glaciers and reflecting lakes.
Southern Alps from the air

Lake Matheson

As for the wildlife, a lot of the animals we saw were farmed (deer being readied for venison, cheeky lambs nibbling on sauvignon grapes) or contained (kiwis in a nocturnal hut on a bird reserve). There were a lot of dead possums on the road, and a bird bone punctured one of our tyres. A cat wandered into our motel room in Franz Josef one night. Ducks begged for food at Lake Taupo, but they just seemed so terribly English. We tried to go and see the thieving keas on the road to Mount Aspiring, but the track turned to dirt and was banned for our hire car (especially a hire car lacking a spare tyre). Judging by the film footage, it looks like the keas would have wrecked the car anyway. The wildest creatures we saw - apart from a school of dolphins swimming alongside our Wellington to Picton ferry - were the cloud of sandflies at Milford Sound, who seemed determined to eat me alive. There was no time for whalewatching at Kaikoura or to stop at the glow-worm caves south of Auckland; our schedule was too pressing. For this and for so many other reasons, we would love to go back.

Too English
Seagull at Lake Taupo, also too English

Motel visitor. The English girl had drunk too much wine.

En route between Wanaka and Mount Aspiring. Too rough.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016


I haven't posted for a while. I have been in post-Brexit despair. This may not be how you feel, but I do, and as this is my blog, allow me to wallow a while.

You see, I lived in my lovely York bubble, surrounded by Remainers. We've all worked or studied abroad, can speak foreign languages and love our Polish neighbours. Staying in Europe was just the obvious thing to do. We all went to vote on the 23rd of June fully aware of what we wanted and why. And then we woke up to find out that yes, York wanted to remain European, but across the UK as a whole, an extra 3.9% of voters didn't think like us. And this tiny amount was enough for the government to decide to decimate all our experiences and opportunities. We  - as part of the 48.1% - were all in tears in the school playground on Friday 24th June. The future for our children, as I feared, had been wiped out by ignorance.

Yes, ignorance. Of course, many Leave voters had true and informed reasons for their choice. But many did not. Many Leave voters had fallen for the lies about immigration and extra funding for the NHS. Many only read the “Be-leave in Britain” Sun headlines or the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Daily Express and Mail. Many believed it was an excuse to chuck out foreigners from anywhere in the world. Many voters apparently didn’t know what the EU was in the first place, or how it might even have helped them, through the funding it has given projects in poorer areas of the UK. This alone is a grave indicator of the distance between the elite in Westminster and the realities of life in this country. Many didn't understand that, unlike in a general election, in a referendum every vote counts, so they thought it was OK to vote Leave as a protest vote against Cameron and the establishment. And because Corbyn refused to share a platform with Cameron, lots of people didn't even realise that much of the Opposition wanted people to vote Remain too. I understand Corbyn's resentment of the Tories - it's not like I can stand them either - but his behaviour struck me as arrogant. Politics is only progressive when people enter into debate together and make compromises to find solutions. 

I cannot believe – and am so upset - that the new government of Theresa May is so desperate to pursue Brexit, despite it being such a narrow win for Leave. Essentially it was a fifty-fifty vote, which gives a clear mandate neither to Remain nor to Leave; it just shows we are a country split down the middle and that there are problems with the EU, and problems in the UK. Personally, I believe it's better to stay and talk about things than run away and turn on ourselves. But whatever, as the whole Leave campaign fell apart after the referendum, with its key politicians admitting that they had no plan and that they had lied, there is now absolutely no justification for Brexit to be pursued with such vigour.  

May herself, as a supposed Remain campaigner, could stop all the “madness” (as David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, describes it) in an instant. The madness of putting our economy, our currency and so many businesses at risk, as well as our environment and important university research programmes in science and medicine. May became Prime Minister without pro-Leave opponents (or any opponents at all - there's that undemocratic EU for you!), with Leadsom leaving the race and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in disgrace. And yet "Brexit" (apparently) has to "mean Brexit" and suddenly all the Brexiteers have key positions in the Cabinet. I realise one can argue that this is in fact a canny move by May, as she has made them put their money where their mouth is – in sorting out issues for farmers, business and foreign relations. But why do it at all? It's political suicide for whoever triggers Article 50. And if you know it will be a disaster, why go through with it? But then yesterday, May said she would gladly nuke 100,000 people at the push of a button, so why should she care two hoots about what I think about anything?

But really, Boris as Foreign Secretary? While it gets him out of the country for much of the year, it’s an embarrassment, just as Nigel Farage was a terrible representative as the face of Britain in the European Parliament.

But to be doing any of this without a vote in Parliament to back up the decision of the referendum (which was in essence advisory) or to fully investigate the legality of the situation or the constitutional issues just makes me feel so sad, lost and frustrated.

"Get over it," the Leave voters tell us. "We won." But how can I “get over” something that has such drastic and terrible consequences and that eradicates my identity as a European? And what exactly have they "won"? Pending economic catastrophe and disgusting racial hatred erupting on our streets? Some things won't change, they will find. People will still migrate to the UK, and the NHS will still have no money. For under the Tories, the poor will only get poorer, and the rights that workers earned under the care of the EU could now be stripped away from them entirely. We never “lost” our country to get back - we had control of our borders, and without EU collaboration between intelligence agencies we could be at even greater risk of terrorist attack than before.

I am feeling ignored. I don’t know what I can do to be heard. The party I have always voted for and supported is in disarray. It should be really easy to be in Opposition right now, with such a destructive and shambolic government having been in place since May last year, but there is no voice in Parliament from Labour to lambast them for what they have been doing. And this concerns me greatly. I admire many of Corbyn’s principles, but he can't win an election, with the right-wing press so determined to ridicule him. He doesn’t have the support of his own MPs, and he is too stubborn to move on. I don’t want to see navel-gazing and in-fighting when we are on the cusp of something as massive and as horrible as leaving the European Union.

So - ironically - I now want to leave my country. "Good riddance", the Leave camp will say. But I hope that in time Britain may find it needs the 48% after all.

York Says No To Brexit March