Saturday, 16 March 2019

Fake Newz

Quiz time - multiple choice. The city of Auckland gets its name from...

A: a place full of oak trees, oak-land, became Auckland over time?
B: the large population of Orcs which used to live there - some of them went on to feature in Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings films?
C: the Earl of Auckland, George Eden, First Lord of The Admiralty and the patron of William Hobson who established the British colony of New Zealand?
D: it was the first place where the term "Awks" was used in anger, by a young, text-speak-type-person e.g. "I went in the Kiwi and Possum last night with Dan, and we bumped in to Shaz... awks!"?

Well done if you said "C". It was named after George Eden, Earl of Auckland (in the North East of England, though George was from Kent). Eden Park, Auckland's cricket and rugby stadium also got its name from George. Auckland is also known as "The City Of Sails", due to the number of posh yachts there are here. To get a look at some of the posh yachts, and also to see a bit more of Auckland, we boarded a ferry which took us the very short hop across Waitemata Harbour to Devonport, a quiet suburb with shops and hotels in the style of many English Victorian seaside towns.

Devonport is also home to the New Zealand Navy and a small number of fortified gun turrets which were built to defend against invasion by Russian warships. At the top of Mount Victoria we saw a "disappearing gun", which, when fired, would disappear back underground allowing it to be reloaded whilst hidden. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on you point of view) this gun was only every fired once, to test it out, and the noise cracked so many windows in the area that the residents complained and it was never fired again.

The whole "Russian threat" thing seemed strange to us - we weren't aware of hostilities between Russia and New Zealand. Apparently, in 1873, the Daily Southern Cross newspaper reported that a Russian warship "The Kaskowiski*" had sailed into the harbour, attacked and seized a British ship, then captured many prominent Auckland officials and stole cash and gold from the city's banks - the story prompted panic and terror. However, it was fake news - completely made up, by the politically motivated editor in order to provoke fear of attack by foreigners into his readership and, as a result, support hugely expensive and ultimately pointless actions, such as building useless gun fortifications, across the region. Imagine if, in this day and age, one of our newspapers printed lies in order to scare and manipulate people into supporting policies which were damaging to our country - we'd never fall for that, would we?

On the way back down from another one of these unnecessary gun forts, we witnessed our first example of New Zealand's second most popular sport**. Cardboard sledging. Two little kids were sitting at the top of the hill on sheets of old cardboard, then bouncing down the grass slope screaming and laughing all the way to the bottom. It looked like good fun, but when their dad suggested we had a go I muttered something about bad knees and back, and we scuttled off, towards Cheltenham beach.

Cheltenham beach is a very genteel strip of sand, lined with well kept little houses, separated from the beach by neat little lawns. There are no fish and chip shops, no amusement arcades and there were signs every now and again warning us that no drinking is allowed - this is NOT the "Blackpool of the Southern Hemisphere".

We both went for a swim in the sea (very unusual for me, I prefer to sit and watch other fools get cold and wet while I sip a beer, but that wasn't an option) and I must admit, it was quite pleasant, once the shivering had died down.

On the way back to the harbour we saw police cars arrive at a very unassuming bungalow on the quiet street we were walking down. A news story later, suggested they were armed police who were following a tip off of a man acting suspiciously (not me, honest). In the aftermath of yesterdays events in Christchurch, tensions are understandably heightened.

* Cask Of Whiskey - I didn't get it a first either!

** We'll talk about New Zealand's number 1 sport later, but I'm sure you can all guess what it is.

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