Monday 28 January 2019

Anniversary, acrobats, Australia

It's that time of year again: Auckland Anniversary Day, high summer, the harbour full of boats for the regatta, from radio-controlled models to tall ships, but all of them dwarfed by HMNZS Te Kaha moored in the middle of it all, keeping everything in order. And to make it even better, the rest of the country is back at work on a normal Monday. Smug!

There's all sorts going on in the city, which is buzzing nicely with residents and visitors, all of them trying to ignore the ugly and inconvenient mess of roadworks, rail tunnelling and building that seems to have reached a peak recently. The Port is open, strongly selling itself and its plans for future developments on what everybody else sees is a prime waterfront site. There's music, there are food trucks (genuine gozleme! baklava!) and there is the Buskers Festival, which this year seemed even more international than before.

I watched German jugglers in 1920s tweed knickerbockers, a lone Argentinian with a vast repertoire of music snatches on his phone and a talent for improvising with passers by (who, pleasingly, played along well), four French acrobats, and a Japanese handstand specialist. They all, as usual, had good patter to pad out their few actual tricks to the requisite half-hour; and this year's common joke (there is always one that every act adopts) was, when trying to work up the audience to give them some energy (bro! this is New Zealand!), telling the men with their hands in their pockets that they would hurt themselves clapping like that.

Even harder work than getting the audience to make some noise was having to perform in the baking sun, with the temperature creeping up into the high 20s (this is NZ. For us, that is sweltering). It's all down to the current Australian heatwave rolling across the Tasman to afflict us, hopefully not to the extent that they've been suffering there, which has been horrendous. What it must be like in the Outback I shudder to think. There'll be plenty of kangaroo spit being spread around, that's for sure.

And speaking of Australia, it was quite a thrill to hear this week what they found in London when digging their own new train tunnel at Euston: only the grave of Matthew Flinders, people! He was the first explorer to circumnavigate Australia (don't listen to the country's current PM, who recently claimed it was James Cook. Pft. He won't last long) (do they ever?) Flinders also, not incidentally, was the first to use that name for the great southern land. I've bumped into him quite often in my travels, and have become a fan: he seems a lot more interesting and personable than Cook. Plus, he had a cat called Trim that went with him on his voyages - but which went missing when Flinders was arrested as a spy in Mauritius because when he arrived there the French and English were at war.

I saw a black and white cat there, that might have been a descendant. I'm sorry I didn't see the statues of Flinders and Trim in Port Lincoln, South Australia, and in Lincolnshire when I was those places. But next time I go to London, I'll be sure to go and visit Matthew's grave.

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