20 November 2013

English or English?

There was an article in my local paper today on surviving the office Christmas party with your dignity intact. It reminded me that's one of the things I love about working for myself - no office party! 

The article had some good tips but was also quite an amusing read. I was about to tweet a link to it when I glanced through it again and was struck by some of the phrases.  I've lived in New Zealand for a number of years and so I’m up with most Kiwi-English jargon, which can be different to Australian-isms and different again to British English, and we all know that’s different to American English.

Even in a small country like England you can find yourself using different words for an item than someone living in a different part of the country. It's ironic that many of us speak this language called English, and yet don’t necessarily understand everything another English speaker may write or say.

The article used phrases such as, ‘three sheets to the wind’ and ‘hitting on’ which might not be understood by everyone, and the mention of mistletoe and your boss might pass you by if you don't know the old traditions.

Sometimes it's relatively easy to guess the meaning of a word in the context of the sentence, but at other times it can be hilariously or disastrously wrong. For example in England the casual open-toed sandal is called a flip-flop, here in New Zealand they're known as jandals, but in Australia they're called thongs which has always been something entirely different to me!

What differences have you noticed in language, or have you got into difficulties by using the wrong name for something?

14 November 2013

What's in a Name?

Some time ago I took the little people to the zoo. As you can probably guess there were lots of other little people there as well. One of the things I found fascinating (besides the animals of course) were some of the children's names - impossible not to hear when Mums and Dads are yelling to and at their offspring.

As a writer I’m always interested in names. They tend to be a good indicator of fashion and age, but that day I realised I might have to revise my ideas of the relationship between age and names. I heard shouts of Charles, William, Harry (obviously some royalist fans at the zoo that day), but there was also an Archie and a Henry.

When naming characters I choose a name that suits their personality, but I also try to give an indication of age, which in turn should enhance the authenticity.

Later at home I did a quick Google search for actors and pop stars over the age of 60 and I found the following names: Justin, Sean, Alan, Richard, Warren, Peter, Clint, Robert, Martin, Ryan and Jeff.

I don’t think I’ve ever used one of these names for an older character, or perhaps it's just my perception of age and names. 

What impressions have you gained of a character from their name?

11 November 2013

Travels in Oz (Brisbane and New South Wales coast)

We had planned the first part of our trip (up to arriving in Adelaide), but we decided to keep the last part a bit more free-wheeling. We had thought we’d like to drive the Pacific Highway coast from Adelaide to Melbourne as there are some great natural spots to visit on the route. However the temperatures dropped slightly the few days we were in Adelaide and when we checked the weather in Melbourne it wasn’t looking so good. Time for a change of plan.

We flew to Brisbane. We hadn’t ever spent any more than a couple of hours in Brisbane before this trip, so decided we’d stay overnight and have a look around. There is a great City Hopper Ferry that goes up and down the city part of the river, and best of all is completely free. We got on at Kangaroo Point and took the trip through to almost the last stop to get our bearings and then got off to investigate the city. 

We didn’t know the relative sizes of Adelaide and Brisbane, but Brisbane looked and felt significantly larger than Adelaide. Brisbane isn’t a coastal city but it makes the most of the river and has a purpose built beach on the river side. We enjoyed our short visit but were keen to be on the road. We've driven north of Brisbane before along the Sunshine coast, with our furthest point on that trip being the small township of 1770.

South of Brisbane is the Gold coast which we’ve also briefly visited, but what we decided to do was drive south into New South Wales and visit Coffs Harbour. Our reasoning was that on a previous trip we’d driven north from Sydney and reached Coffs Harbour and we wanted to close the gap so to speak.

I didn’t actually see any signs on crossing the state border, but we knew that it was somewhere around Coolangatta. What we didn’t realise was that Queensland doesn’t have Daylight Savings, but New South Wales does. So once again we were an hour adrift. That’s the great thing about holidays – time doesn’t really matter too much. You know you’re relaxed when you aren’t sure what day it is. I think we spent most of one day with our watches on the wrong time before we decided to go and see a film and discovered the discrepancy and the Queensland/New South Wales Daylight Savings thing! 

We'd planned on staying at Byron Bay, a surfer’s mecca on the NSW coast, however when we arrived the small township was absolutely heaving with people, noise and cars so we drove straight back out of town and further down the coast.

We stopped at a town called Ballina about twenty minutes south of Byron Bay. Initially we’d decided to stay for two days but found it such a lovely place we spent the rest of our week there.

We visited Byron Bay during the week and spent a short time there although it was still very busy. However we spotted a sign to the lighthouse and decided to try there. The twisty road and the $7 parking ticket were well worth it. The views from the cliffs are stunning and to make our afternoon truly spectacular we watched a pod of humpback whales who appeared to be taking their time and enjoying the waters as well as entertaining the people watching.

The coastal route from Byron Bay to Ballina is beautiful and there are loads of places to pull over and enjoy watching waves crash onto glorious beaches.  Ballina has several beaches as well as the river, and we enjoyed a walk along the promontory most days to watch the waves crashing ashore. The rocks here are large and are aided at the end of the promontory by huge concrete structures. Most days we spotted a variety of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks - I’m sure there are more specific names for them, but lizards works for me.

In Ballina there were a number of pelicans, and one morning while walking along the promontory one flew over us. I saw the shadow first, and (just for a moment) it looked a lot like a Pterodactyl. Obviously our re-watch of the Jurassic Park films recently played a part!

To end the adventures in Oz, a couple of 'funny' things we noticed while away.

Here in New Zealand we’re used to seeing the ‘Mates’ adverts aimed at reducing drink-driving, but this one took those ads to a whole new level.

Mates don’t let mates drink… and use Tasers.


While driving along one day I noticed a roadside ad for a retirement village, problem was the billboard was placed in the grounds of a crematorium. Maybe someone needs to rethink.

And finally, a sight I never get tired of - a Jacaranda tree in bloom.

03 November 2013

Travels in Oz (Adelaide)

Our initial stops in Australia showed us quite a difference in temperature and humidity levels. Seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere and it is Spring here at the moment (October/November). I live in Auckland which has a temperate climate and winters are cool rather than cold, but I was looking forward to warmer temperatures in Australia.

Sydney was pleasantly warm (mid 20 degrees C) and a little humid when we arrived, rather like Auckland in the summer. Northern Queensland was hotter and sticky, and I’m not sure I could cope with the higher temperatures and humidity during summer, especially as that is also the rainy season. One morning we walked up a long steep hill to a lookout and I was less than nice-to-know by the time we reached the top. During the time we were there the temperatures ranged from high 20 degrees C to low 30s.

Ayers Rock was our next stop and I knew this would give us some extremes as it is a dry, desert environment. The temperatures were several degrees higher but felt vastly different due to the very low (around 8-9%) humidity. Mornings until around 10am were beautiful with light breezes and evenings were pleasant. Not surprisingly many of the organised trips take place during these times. One of the surprises I’d had was the lack of flies and other insects at Port Douglas and then the annoying amount of them at Ayers Rock. I had somehow expected it to be the opposite way around.

Our next stop was Adelaide which does have some extremes of weather and temperature but we enjoyed pleasant mid-20s C. We hadn’t expected to change our watches again but discovered that South Australia is an hour ahead of the Northern Territories.

Adelaide appears to be the butt of many Australian jokes, and a number of people asked why I was going there when I mentioned it was the next stop on the trip. Adelaide, like most places I’ve visited in Australia, enjoys beautiful beaches and it is also an incredibly green city in that it has lots of wooded areas and parks. The main business area is bounded by four terraces (north, south, east and west) which are parks, and so from the hills surrounding the city there is plenty of greenery.

The Barossa Valley is probably the place most people mention when talking about Adelaide and we enjoyed a trip to the Barossa with friends, and had a wonderful lunch in Tanunda at 1918 Bistro and Grill.

On our way to Tanunda we visited the German town of Hahndorf. It has a lovely village atmosphere and reminded me (in a good way) of the time I lived in Germany.

There is much to like about Adelaide but the best part for me was during our first evening. We stayed with friends who live in the wooded hills on the edge of Adelaide, and as we ate dinner on their deck a mother and baby koala ate their meal of eucalypt leaves from a tree next to the deck. We’ve seen koalas in wildlife sanctuaries, but nothing beats seeing a mother and baby living in their own environment. They weren’t at all bothered about us enjoying our meal or taking photos of them, and were obligingly quite mobile (for koalas), moving along the branch for more leaves and in the case of the baby climbing up and down branches. It was a magical experience.