My brother's e-mail; his nearest town's history

I got sent this one on the day of my surgery. I love my brother but it wasn't on high on my list of priorities. If I thought I was going to die on the operating table, I may have found time to read it. But my blog isn't called Glass Half Full for nothing.
It's rather long, having all the drugs pumped into me (mind you they are rather nice drugs) meant my eyes didn't focus too well, so only just finished it myself. And as usual, thought I should share!

Hi Fay,
So I don’t know if you’re going to get this e-mail before your surgery because I’m posting out on my Wednesday night which equates to your Wednesday morning. Eva’s got a world globe, a crappy five dollar one that has a sloppy over lapping join down the Prime Meridian which makes the UK look about 10 miles across, but if you were to push a knitting needle through England through the core and out the other side it would come out somewhere near New Zealand. I’m literally on the other side other planet to you. Being in England there was always that comfort that you could think “what are they doing?” and be sure that if you were having breakfast or watching “Strictly Come Dancing” it could roughly equate to what some one else was doing and you could just give them a call. That totally disappears when you’re on the other side of the world. So sadly while you’re undergoing life changing surgery I’ll be fast asleep. I could stay up if it would help. E-mail me in the next 5 seconds and I’ll do it. No? Okay, night then….

So this week I got our Honda serviced. I bit like you really. Actually that reads all kinds of wrong, I’ll just get some mind bleach. So this week I got our Honda serviced, totally not like you, although I don’t know what you get up to in your spare time … Okay, so this week I got our Honda serviced and they said it would take a couple of hours. A couple of hours in Cambridge I thought? What shall I do?

In ancient Rome a common way of saying goodbye if the 2000 film Gladiator is anything to go by was to say “Strength and honour” and thump your chest before raising your arm in a clenched fist salute. In Star Trek the Vulcans say “Live long and prosper” before doing the difficult double fingered V-sign. In our house there’s so much to do that if Juliette leaves me alone for the day she has her own saying - it’s “Be productive”. This is while I give the one fingered salute behind her back. Ha, ha, ha. That’s not true really about the finger. It’s both hands I do it with. I make both hands bob up and down like a Whack-A-Mole game too. Ha, ha, ha. Not really. (Insert your own uncomfortable long pause here.)

So when I said I’d be spending two hours in Cambridge there was some talk of me “being productive” but I won the argument by saying that it’s sometimes okay to stop and smell the roses. Or in my case, stop and have a coffee while reading a book. Now if you were to take a look at Google Maps you’ll find a large lake in Cambridge called Lake Te Kouto. It’s interesting because the lake was formed after an earthquake several hundred years ago which meant the land dropped around twenty meters. It’s like a man made quarry in the middle of town without looking like a quarry (I’ve just found you can Google Image Lake Te Kouto too). It’s a very pleasant lake because you can walk around it and all around the sides there are steep banks with hundred year old trees on it. Of course now it’s known as Lake Death (da, da, daaaaa!) because a tree fell over thanks to the trees all growing at twenty degree angles because the sides of the slopes are so steep. The tree in question killed a dog. It’s a ticking time bomb of tree death park I tells yea.

So I thought I’d take a shortcut through Lake Te Kouto to get to town. I found what remained of the downed tree, it’s stump perfectly lined up pointing to the only doggy poop bin at the lake. So if anything there was a warning from nature to stay away from doggy poop bins and let your pooch’s crap decompose where it likes. Further on I did find evidence of the council doing something about potentially dangerous trees; two white men with crusty dreadlocks (the badge of an arborist) , both dressed in green and the sort of harnesses used to repel down cliff faces were coning off a tree before taking it down with an impressive collection of chain saws. This was an observance to safety I’d not seen in New Zealand before.

For public access there are many paths cut into the sides of Lake Te Kouto that are so steep and without any sort of physical barrier between you and a tumble into the void that Bear Grylls would be happy to stumble off of one to demonstrate how to survive if one were to be stranded near a landscaped New Zealand lake. Whenever I go down one of these so called foot paths with Eva I’m like “No, Eva, daddy will walk on the outside”, and she’s like “Look daddy! A snail shell! Rocks!” and I’m like, “Look Eva, instant death. Do you want me to have a heart attack? Slow down, stay away from the edge, get back, get back! We’re nearly at the bottom. I’ll have to rope us together next time, Jesus Christ who made this path? We didn’t all grow up in the bleeding Himalayas.”

But I managed to clear Lake Death and found myself on Victoria Street, the main street through the centre of town. It’s interesting because I once took the piss out of the Cambridge street layout to a local. I said that they built the main street all the way towards the river and then realised that they’d aligned it in such a way that to continue Victoria Street they had to build a massive bridge over gorge through which the mighty Waikato River ran. The Waikato River is the reason why the whole region is called Waikato and it’s not a particularly wide river, but it’s swift and deep. It’s pronounced Why-cat-O for some reason, when for my money and reading skills it should be Why-kate-o (although you can pronounce it like you’re a Japanese Samurai with a long drawn out O if you want – yes I’m looking at you University of Waikato radio advert guy).

If you see this gorge it should by all rights should have a rope bridge spanning the gap with Indiana Jones, Short Round and Willie Scott crossing it. They’d have just started laying out the kerb stones and someone would have gone “Oh f*ck! We’ve only gone a pointed the street off a bloody great cliff. Now we’re going to have to put up a bridge.” To be fair they did put up a bridge worthy of bungee jump or two but failed to make it very wide. Cars crossing it have to be careful not to high five their wing mirrors as the drivers try not to look over the side and wonder how long it would take before they hit the water if the bridge collapsed.

Where am I going with all this? Oh yes. I was in town and I decided I’d go to the Cambridge Museum to find out more about the town I’d chosen to live closest to. When I got there (it was near the bridge, next to a Liquorland, which if you’ve never heard of this store it’s basically a barn sized off license - the clue's in the name really) I found a building that once was the town’s courthouse. Obviously it wasn’t anymore because they’d white washed the raised words saying Court House and painted Cambridge Museum next to it. The doors said it would open at 10amand as it was 9.50am I sat down on the world’s most uncomfortable bench and tried to read a book.

Shortly after an old man and woman arrived and proceeded up the path to the museum with the old man kicking the hedges that bordered the path in a manner of someone checking to see if the hedge had sprung an air leak or something. You’ve got to look out for those flat hedges. To my surprise they pushed the door open and went inside. I waited because it wasn’t 10am but then a young mum and her two boys turned up and did the same (but without the hedge kicking). Feeling foolish I walked up and went in.

I read few information boards in the entrance and then wandered into a room on the right containing Victorian pictures of men sporting various forms of facial hair and the determined look of the patriarchal Empire builder. Another kindly old gentlemen (not the hedge kicker) came out from the back and explained that they were inundated with visitors this morning (five, six if you count me) and that the curator would be with me shortly. He then asked where I was from. “England?” he asked, obviously deducing it from my accent, “Six kilometres out of town.” I replied. “Marvellous,” he said, “some people live all their lives in Cambridge and have never visited the museum.” I found that hard to believe what with being so close to a Liquorland but I let it slide. He then handed me a glass marble. “Have a look around, “he said, “and put the marble in the cup next to the display you like the most.” Fantastic, an interactive museum! So I had a look around and learnt the following …

Cambridge was formed in 1864 as a British army outpost because it was the last place a paddle steamer could get up the Waikato River. Hence Victoria Street heading off a cliff. Folks actually used to turn left at the cliff and go down to some long vanished docks. Boy did I feel stupid. Cambridge was named after the Duke of Cambridge who was in charge of the army at the time. Cambridge was formed because of some nasty land wars going on between the Maori and the Colonial Government called the Invasion of the Waikato. The Maori lost, all very complicated, but at the end the Twelve Star Redoubt as the fort was called got eventually taken down, farmers moved in, drained the swampy land, planted trees and started farming cows. Then the folks in Cambridge settled in and sent their sons off to World War I (1914-18), then World War II (1939-45), then the Vietnam War (1955-75) and then first showing of Star Wars (1977).

There’s a story to all this though because although the museum was only two rooms and it was packed full of nick-knacks and stuff that had been carefully collected to show the history of some of the long running local families, there in one corner was a glass case showing Maori artefacts. Most of the objects involved stuff for clubbing Maori enemies over the head because if there’s one thing the traditional haka at the start of the rugby should tell you is that Maori aren’t backwards at coming forward to rip their enemies heads off and spit down their necks.

There, on top of the cabinet, was a purpose built model display. On it was scale models of Maori lookout towers, canoes, war parties, a bit of cannibalism and stuff like that with little information cards telling the reader what the Maori and English names were for all the hardware. Brilliant. However for some reason, someone had at some point (and then someone must still think it was okay today) collected a load of …
Well, have you ever been to a charity shop or a playgroup and had a look at the plastic dolls. There’s always a black African girl doll there somewhere. Law of averages. That’s cool, that’s groovy. Anyway sometimes they’re the little four inch size dolls. This happens to be the exact scale fit for this little Maori model. All I’m saying is I’m impressed that they managed to find twenty off them and make grass skirts for all of them too. Can’t quite see such a display going uncommented in say the British Museum or the Louvre, but you know, most people in Cambridge don’t even visit Cambridge Museum. And come to think of it, I haven’t seen any Maori in Cambridge either. I wonder why?

In case you’re wondering I placed my marble in the cup next to the display of little drawers that when you opened them contained stuff like snail shells and rocks. Eva would love them. She loves Extreme Snail Shell and Rock Collecting.

After you reminded me last week I've totally forgotten about it being Mother's Day in the UK on Sunday. Looks like I'm going to have to Moonpig the sh*t out of that problem. Hope your operation goes well. Obviously let me know if it doesn't, I’ll totally fail to do anything about it. If I were religious I’d pray for you but I’m not, so the closest I can do is just think about you. But not when I’m asleep obviously because then I’m dreaming about being an awesome zombie slayer.

Love Mark

As always Mark

So, show Mark some love too in the comments, and ask him a question or two for the next email from down under

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