Day 815: Akaroa, New Zealand

Jutting out into the ocean just south of Christchurch, New Zealand, is the Banks Peninsula, a circular mountainous landmass of volcanic origin.  When Captain Cook partially circumnavigated it, he failed to see its mainland connection and misnamed it Banks Island in honor of HMS Endeavor’s botanist.  Cook described it as having “a very broken uneven surface and more the appearance of barrenness than fertility.”  Akaroa Harbour, actually a fiord, extends to near the center of the peninsula.  On its shore, the French settled the village of Akaroa in 1840 in an attempt to establish a whaling station.  It was later taken over by the British, but local place names reflect French influences.  Laetitia and her group explored the village and then enjoyed a hike on one of the peninsula’s excellent trails and a harbor cruise that included excellent views of Hector’s Dolphins, Fur Seals, Little (Blue) Penguins.  There were also abundant seabirds including shags, the common name in New Zealand for what many would call cormorants.  Historically, cormorant and shag were common names for two closely related birds in Britain. The “shag” appellation refers to the bird’s crest.  British shags have crests; British cormorants do not.  However, the connection between crest and name is not consistent throughout the zoological family that contains these birds.  Laetitia preferred the term, “cormorant,” but decided to let the taxonomists worry about which name to use.   She found amusing the myriad of other meanings for the four-letter word, “shag.“ In addition to birds related to the cormorants, the word can refer to rough-cut pipe tobacco, carpet with thick pile, thick tangled hair, the act of chasing and catching fly balls in American baseball, a 1930s dance step, and a euphemism for a more harsh sounding four-letter word that means “have sexual intercourse with.”  The sexual slang meaning of “shag” received a great deal of media exposure in the Austin Powers film series of comic spy spoofs starring Michael Myers.  One was called The Spy Who Shagged Me and featured a CIA agemt called Felicity Shagwell.  The series is also credited with coining the words “shagalicious” and “shagadelic.”  The newly minted word meanings inspired Laetitia’s limerick.

Old Charlie proved he was a relic
When he used the quaint old term “angelic”
To refer to young Lexi
Who was very sexy
Instead of the word, shagadelic.

Day 814: Christchurch, New Zealand

Research station life took some getting used to.  Unlike an ordinary job where one went home at the end of the day, here, there was other place to go.  In the common room there was conversation, games, and a large collection of CDs and DVDs or one could go to one’s bedroom and read, but there were few other options. Laetitia had one advantage, though.  As a veteran time traveler, she could lead a Mind’s Eye Limerick Tour when she had free time.  In the past she would have viewed these as work, but now they were a pleasant diversion.  Her roommate was watching a movie in the common room.  Laetitia sat on her bunk, closed her eyes and shortly thereafter was in the kitchen of the Emerald Victorian brewing a pot of Sumatran dark roast.  A short time later, she was in the library preparing for today’s tour of Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Canterbury Association founded Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century. The mission of this London group was to set up colonies in what was once the domain of the Maoris.  An influential member of the Association, John Godley, who attended Christ Church College at Oxford, suggested the name.  Earthquakes hit the city hard in 2010 and 2011 but significant progress has been made in rebuilding.  Lonely Planet listed it as one of the top ten cities to visit in 2013.

Leading a tour that included the International Antarctic Centre was now a bit of a busman’s holiday for Laetitia but Christchurch’s important role in both past and present Antarctic exploration made it a mandatory visit.  In the evening, she planned to take her group to Tekapo Lake to share her Southern Lights experience with her group.  It is one of the South Island’s better sites for viewing Aurora Australis, but in the interim she took her group “punting” on Christchurch’s river, the Avon.  British settlers, nostalgic for a bit of home, no doubt started this tradition.  The punt, an open flat-bottomed boat with square end ends that is propelled through shallow water with a pole, is a favorite recreational conveyance for England’s university students.  English four-letter words often have alternate meanings and “punt” is no exception.  It has more than thirty.  In American football it means to kick the ball as far into the opposition’s territory as possible, a move usually done as a last resort when a team is unable to retain possession of the ball by achieving a first down.  Following from that are its uses to describe any desperate act that has a small chance of succeeding and as an expression for something done to buy time.  Some of these additional meanings include:  to skip class, to avoid work, to bet, to pass a smoking device without taking a hit, an Irish pound note, and several sexual slang meanings.  It rhymes with some interesting words including one that was simply an anatomical term in Chaucer’s time and over the centuries evolved into a term of vulgarity.  Laetitia decided to use the word “punt” as the subject of her limerick.

In the land of Australis Aurora
Limerick lovers can’t help but adore a
Fine Brit word like “punt”
To use it’s no stunt
For of meanings it has a plethora.

Day 813: First Day in Antarctica

It was Laetitia’s first day at the research station, a busy time with introductions to her roommate and other staff members, getting outfitted with gear, being briefed on her duties and moving into her bunkroom.  The day was exhausting but it had two highlights.  The first was a splendid view that evening of Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.  The other was an afternoon visit to a colony of Emperor Penguins near the research station.  The Emperor is the tallest of the seventeen penguin species reaching four feet in height and weighing up to nearly 100 pounds.  They were featured in the film, March of the Penguins.  Unlike most animals that head north to warmer climates during the frigid Antarctic winters, they spend wintertime huddling together on the open ice where courtship and breeding take place.  After a two-month gestation period, each female usually lays a single large egg.   She then leaves it with her mate and makes the long trek (sometimes 50 miles) to the open water to feed on fish, krill, and squid.  While she is gone, the male balances the egg on his feet and keeps it warm covered with a flap of feathered skin called a brood pouch.  The female returns with her belly full of food to regurgitate for the chick when it hatches and the male heads off to open water to end his long fast.  The mother feeds the newly hatched chick and keeps it warm under her brood pouch until summer when the pack ice breaks up and open water is next to the breeding site.  At that time, the young penguins have usually grown enough to be able to fish on their own.  Laetitia made the Emperor Penguin the subject of the day’s limericks.

Though their winters on Antarctic ice
Can hardly be thought of as nice
There’s no room in England
For the Emperor Penguin
And so they must needs pay the price.

On Antarctic nights Emperors pair
Neath the southern stars in frigid air
In the midst of the crowd
Who knows if they’re loud
But their neighbors most likely don’t care.