THE bunting is out, the great Ohakune carrot has turned black (more of that later) and excitement is mounting in New Zealand as the Rugby World Cup approaches.
As I write, there are only four days, six hours, five minutes and 22 seconds before kick off. The patriotic fervour of exiled Scots in New Zealand and Scots all over world, making their way here, is reaching fever pitch and we are looking forward to seeing Scotland make it all the way to the final.
By the time you read this, the Scotland team will have arrived in Invercargill, their first host city, a wide-avenued bustling place at the very tip of the South Island, in an area known as Southland.
In earlier times, it was known by many as Scotland’s southern-most city in the world. The lads will feel very much at home there, not least because the national heritage and culture is strong and hundreds of Scots and descendents of Scots live there.
And the weather? It’ll be like hame frae hame. If it’s bright and sunny and cold, it’ll be like Scotland. If it’s grey and drizzly and dreich, as it often can be in Southland, it’ll be like Scotland, so no worries, as they say over here.
There was one worry for the squad though. Bluff is a little port town a few miles from Invercargill, home to the famous Bluff oyster. News has it that when the official welcome for the squad was being organised, they were to be offered a smorgasbord of seafood – Bluff oysters, blue cod, smoked salmon and paua wantons.
They gracefully declined the offer, saying that they needed to be very strict with their diet. Mind you, that was probably a wise move as past history suggests that it can be hazardous for touring rugby teams who over-indulge in Bluff oysters, especially when washed down with large quantities of beer.
Domestic Rugby World Cup ticket sales have been slow. In general, wages and salaries are much lower than in the UK. Most people strugge to pay the bills and put food on the table. Folk say that the ticket prices are too high. Gone are the days when ordinary families could afford to go to a rugby game together and that’s the same, whether in New Zealand, Scotland or in other parts of the world. Isn’t that kind of sad? Most people are going to watch the matches on television or at their local.
Madness has prevailed here in the run-up to the event.
Telecom, which is our equivalent of British Telecom, launched a controversial advertising campaign calling on fans to abstain from sex over the period of the Rugby World Cup. “Abstain for the Game” was the cry. Can you believe it?
The campaign, fronted by former All Blacks captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, and launched three weeks ago, was met with almost universal ridicule and embarassment from Kiwis and was canned very quickly indeed. Nae wonder!
And there was the one about the sheep. Did you know that there are about 60 million sheep in New Zealand? We all know that this country is famous for its high quality lamb, butter, cheese, fruit and wine, and before Britain joined the Common Market in the 70s, Britain’s trade with New Zealand was extremely good. As a trading partner, New Zealand was then dropped like a hot cake and what happened as a result still rankles with many people here. I don’t blame them.
Getting back to the sheep, it was someone’s not so bright idea to run a thousand sheep through central Auckland during the Rugby World Cup, accompanied by bikini-clad models on quad bikes. Kathy Marks, who writes for The Independent Australasia Online reports: “It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, although to whom, and whether they were sober, is not clear”. Enough said.
This beautiful country actually speaks for itself, in the genuinely warm welcome that visitors will undoubtedly receive from Kiwis, in its unique and truly beautiful and awe-inspiring landscape and in its great food and wine. No gimmickry is required to showcase all of that – apart from the tale of the iconic Ohakune carrot which has had a makeover.
Has Rugby World Cup fever turned some folks delirious? There is a giant orange carrot in Ohakune that features in tourist photographs all over the world. Ohakune is known as the Carrot Capital of New Zealand, I kid you not. The rich volcanic soils there are ideal for growing winter crops and its market garden industry feeds the nation and our visitors so it’s a pretty important place.
Paint makers Resene have painted the iconic carrot black, complete with a silver fern and the Resene logo, of course. Black carrots aside, Ohakune is on, what is known as the Volcanic Loop linking the highways that circle the magnificent volcanic mountains of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu – breathtaking country and well worth a visit.
We are told that we all live in a global village. Here, we live in one of the most remote places and islands in the world, yet love of Caledonia and love of the Borderland is still strong in our hearts and in the connections we make.
I have met many Scots here and quite a few Borders folk. One is Bill Brown. My friend Mary and her husband, Dougie, came out from Gala for my wedding last year. Mary and I were planning the big day and we met Bill and his New Zealand-born wife Margaret quite by accident.
Bill is from St Boswells and moved to Gala as a teenager. His mum still lives in Gala and his sister and her family live in St Boswells. As for so many Border lads, rugby was meat and drink to him, and he played for Gala YM alongside some very fine players including Peter Townsend, Arthur Brown, Stan Davidson and Mike Gray.
He recalls that Gala was full of local and international rugby heroes at that time – the 1960s and early 70s. Greats like Jock Turner, PC Brown, Drew Gill, Dunc Paterson and others made their mark on the game and the standard of rugby was excellent.
Wanderlust took Bill to Australia where he played for Queensland County and later in the Gold Coast before retiring from the game. When he moved to New Zealand, he remembers working alongside All Blacks like Grant Fox, Alan Whetton and others and, living close to Eden Park, the home of Auckland rugby, he was able to follow the careers of many of the great All Black players especially in the great Auckland era of the 1980s and early 90s.
Margaret and Bill run a very lovely and comfortable guesthouse, Kippilaw House, named after the country estate, close to Bowden and St Boswells, where Bill’s grandfather, Bill Plenderleith lived and was the estate groom. Bill Brown spent all his holidays there.
“I was the only lad for miles around,” he told me. “I had no trouble living my time out in the open. The views from the heights were absolutely spectacular, you could see for miles”.
Like so many Scots and Kiwis, Bill and Margaret are looking forward to welcoming rugby fans to their home at the pretty little ferry port of Picton. Scots supporters are assured of a very warm Scots and Kiwi welcome there. We also live in Picton so come and see us, too, on your way south.
“What team do you support when you are a Scot living here: the All Blacks or Scotland?”
That’s the question being bandied about on the airwaves at the moment. I think we Scots would pay homage to one of the greatest rugby teams in the world, especially when that team comes from a very small island with a population smaller than Scotland’s, a country where sport has a prominent place and where children, from a very early age, are encouraged to play sport.
Training and development in sport is given a high priority with the cash and the enthusiasm to back it up. So what team are the Scots who live here going to support?
Most Scots I’ve spoken to say they will support Scotland when they play and the All Blacks when they play. Here’s the decider question though: what if Scotland meet the All Blacks in the final? There’s lots of possible answers to that one! Whether we make it to the final or not, a rugby fest like no other in the world is only days away, and let’s all look forward, wherever we live in the world, to watching great games, being armchair referees, sharing opinions on the matches, as well as memories, laughter and good times with friends, strangers and oor ain folk.