Bits ‘n’ bobs (but no Bob)

Just a few odds n ends as I enjoy my first taste of the Internet in a few days…

Underneath It All

Listening to Radio Live, New Zealand Talk Radio, I heard a show about language. Every week, I guess, they pick a word and a linguist discusses where it came from, how its usage has changed over time, etc. This week’s word was “singlet,” which originated back in the Medieval period when men wore singlets or doublets, tunic-like, shirty things with either one layer of cloth (singlet) or two (doublet). Nowadays, in New Zealand, it apparently means a sleeveless undershirt.

The veddy proper linguist gentleman added “Of course, in the States, they simply call this garment an undervest.”

Oh, do we now?

The ever slightly more hip host said tentatively, “In some circles, I have heard it called a ‘wifebeater’.”

There was a long pause. Way longer than there should ever be on radio.

The linguist replied, at last, with great trepidation, “I think we need to make it clear that we are speaking about the garment, not the people who might wear it, and that we’re simply reporting what we have heard and not making judgments…” and on and on with much hand-wringing while the host, sounding appalled that he had even brought the word up, agreed anxiously.

Oh dear. I thought of calling in and saying we Americans considered a “wifebeater” to be merely a pimped-out undervest but thought better of it.

With the Best of Intentions

At a post office outside Auckland, I asked the woman at the counter for directions to another building. She very helpfully sketched a map, going over the route in way more detail than needed (the building was about two blocks away) including what the building looked like.

“It’s very large and white and has a double arched entranceway like this,” she said, drawing a small facade to one side of her map. “We call it…”

At this point she looked up at me with great embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry…”

“What is it?” I asked, wondering if they called the building “This is where we send all the bloody Americans!”

She whispered: “We call it the Twin Towers.”

Uhm… okay, then. I said “It’s ok, not all Americans are obsessed with that.” She visibly relaxed. I can only imagine she had a run-in with another American who didn’t have quite the same reaction.

Tastes Like Chicken

I took a photo to prove to the unbelievers that yes, Lamb and Mint flavored potato chips exist. The ones I bought in Scotland ages ago when I was there with LLQool were really disgusting, lamby in a gamey way with a freakishly strong chemical mint aftertaste. Revolting. Initially I bought this bag just to take a photo of it but then decided aw, I gotta try them (it was a different brand than the Scottish ones)… and they were ok. In fact, as I’ve noticed with most New Zealand chips, they were very mildly flavored. A vague sort of meatiness with the slightest suggestion of mint. Not bad, but not scrumptious, either.

Caved In or Caved Out?

I said I’d post photos from the caves I walked through (as opposed to the cave I swam and innertubed through! Whoo hoo!), so here they are… The shots are from Ruakuri Cave, once used as a Maori burial place… most of the shots didn’t come out, but these were the best of the bunch (see below). The caves themselves were okay, mildly interesting, but not nearly as awesome as the whole swimming/jumping off waterfalls experience.


In my continuing quest to outgeek myself with Lord of the Rings “experiences” in New Zealand, I drove out to the middle of nowhere (about nine kilometers south of Port Waikato, to be exact) to look for the mushroom-shaped rock outcrop used as Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring. I found it, albeit from a distance. It was far off the road, on private land, and I didn’t see anyone around to ask for directions/permission to trespass. And, to be honest, it was cool to see it and all, but it was no Mt. Doom (what is?). Besides, I’m saving my lip-quivering, knee-shaking excitement and willingness to trespass for Mt. Potts station, down on the South Island, which served as Edoras, home of the Rohirrim.

The Nadir of the Pinnacles

If I ever tell you that you are “nimble as a packhorse,” do not be offended. It’s a mighty complement.

One of the hikes I took recently was the Kaueranga Kauri Trail, up to The Pinnacles on Coromandel Peninsula. Part of the track follows an old packhorse route carved into the rock in the 19th century by the gumdiggers who once plied their trade in the area, digging up the sap of the massive, beautiful kauri trees and also chopping down the trees themselves (sniffle). Packhorses would bring supplies up into the mountains from the coast along these narrow, steep, treacherous paths. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the horses (I always feel sorry for the animals, even the CG oliphants in The Return of the King) and wonder how many broke legs and were shot or slipped off the path and tumbled to their death.

I set out for the hike on a gloomy morning. It was hard going, though I was spared fording most of the rushing (occasionally raging) creeks and rivers by several exciting swing bridges, which I enjoy. Bouncy bouncy bouncy! The steps themselves were so worn they were rounded and sloped, so steep that I couldn’t imagine a horse managing one or two, nevermind several hundred.

When I got to the top ridge, I was about to set off on the trail for the Pinnacles, craggy, mountainous remnants of a volcanic explosion, but I couldn’t see a thing. The Pinnacles would appear only for a moment or two as dark shadows in the thickening cloud. That trail involves scrambling over rocks and climbing up ladders, which I’m fine with, but I wondered what was the point if there was zero visibility?

I was arguing with myself about continuing on when the clouds gathered in earnest and it started to pour. Up on the exposed ridge, with thin soil cover, it was amazing how quickly the trail of loose rocks and mud turned into an ankle-deep stream. I turned back and found the packhorse steps had become a series of waterfalls, mud and cold water everywhere, including all over me by the time I got back to Skylon.

So much for the Pinnacles. Another day, maybe.

PHOTOS: Lamb and mint chips do exist; three pictures from Ruakuri cave, including one (the first one) showing the “fishing lines” of mucus and a spider silk-like substance that the gloworms drop to catch insects; Weathertop (look for the mushroom-shaped rock in the middle of the photo) and another shot of the surrounding countryside; one of the swing bridges on the trail to The Pinnacles; a trio of moody Pinnacle shots (the closest I got to them, anyway).


4 thoughts on “Bits ‘n’ bobs (but no Bob)

  1. That undervest/wifebeater story is hilarious. Btw, you might be interested to know that “singlet” is still used in American English in a very particular context: in running clothes it still means a sleeveless shirt. Runners apparently don’t beat their wives.

    • actually, i knew that about the american singlet… and i so thought of you the whole time i was listening to the exchange… oh, those edgy linguists!!

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