An awkward blogpost

September 2015 is – without doing any kind of check whatsoever – the first calendar month in years in which I’ve not posted a blogpost, and we’re now two-thirds of the way through October. Therefore this post is simply awkward, like a coffee date with a friend unseen for years with no explanation, it just needs to be got through. In fact, reading it is entirely optional!

September 2015 was also a month in which a few things happened:

  • My housemate gave birth to the rather delightful Serenna on the 2nd. Her time in hospital and the impact of her return home meant that I was on babysitting duties with her older brother a little more than usual. Plus, it turns out that living with a newborn can prove distracting!
  • Newborns are both distracting and therapeutic. Serenna proved to be an excellent relaxation tool at the end of a long day writing – after all September 18th was the day on which my final MA essay and my dissertation were handed in! (That would be 27,500 words across the two assignments.)
  • How better to celebrate a completed MA than by watching one’s home nation playing their national sport in the city that was also one’s home for 9 years? Tonga Vs Georgia at Kingsholm may have had a disappointing result, but it was an ideal celebration the day after the deadline.
  • Big Cottage number two marked the start of a well-deserved fortnight’s holiday and two consecutive Sundays off. It was fabulous, not least because I had sole use of a ridiculously huge bathroom. (This is a big deal when current bathing arrangements at home involve a bathroom shared between 6-9 adults at any one time…)
  • What to do with nearly 2 weeks off? Go to America, naturally! I took the opportunity to gallivant off to the East Coast, visiting New York and Vermont respectively. There is much blog fodder from this trip.

The above isn’t so much a blogpost but a listicle. So to finish up and get this inconvenient ‘Er, hello! I’m back!’ post out of the way, I’ll leave you with a story…

As mentioned, I went to the Rugby World Cup to see Tonga play – which was fab, especially as it gave me a chance to catch up with a few Gloucester chums. I booked a train back to London at the sensible hour of 7.15pm (that early start on a Sunday still doesn’t feel normal!), which coincided with the time at which a number of clergy were also leaving Gloucester having attended the landmark consecration of the first female diocesan bishop in the Church of England at the cathedral. [Whooop! Go Bishop Rachel!] We were scheduled to reach Paddington at just after 9pm, however, due to unforeseen events – the Rugby World Cup primarily, because no one knew that was happening… –  I didn’t get there until nearly 1am.

My journey was scuppered by a cancelled train; queues of rugby fans leaving Cardiff; trains that couldn’t be boarded in Bristol; a taxi to London that broke down on the M4 just before Heathrow; a 2 hour wait on the hard shoulder; a rude First Great Western employee at Paddington and his even ruder manager; and two night buses which eventually got me into my bed at 3.30am.

Grounds for complaint to First Great Western (who, as if to distance themselves from this debacle, renamed themselves Great Western Railway not three hours after I returned home), no?? Oh yes! A bullet pointed email was duly dispatched on the Monday morning and I awaited a reply that was supposedly due in 5 working days…

…20 working days later, I received an email. It informed me that my train from Gloucester was never going to run, because of an amended rugby timetable – but that I wouldn’t have known this in advance as they decided not to advertise it. It also mentioned that we were diverted to Bristol (despite the chaos caused by the rugby in Cardiff) because they’d rather we waited for hours than used another train provider – a victory for privatisation! Most importantly, it agreed that the station manager should have put my taxi passengers (there were 5 of us, including an elderly couple) into taxis at Paddington to ensure that we reached our homes safely. Did I mention that we’d turned up at the station clad in foil blankets from Highway Patrol?? Oh, and they refunded my ticket (with a cheque, not rail vouchers) and gave me a free 1st Class return anywhere on their network (apparently Penzance is the furthest I could travel…). Not too shabby!

22 working days later, I received a very large package. An anonymous admirer had sent me a delightful bouquet of roses! Oh. Wait. It was First Great Western, apologising in style.

Great Western Roses

Great Western Railway. You provided rubbish customer service last month, but you do apologise in style!

Let that be a lesson in complaining for you all…

An evening amongst my fellow countrymen – and oddly shaped balls…

It’s unusual for anyone who knows me even remotely well not to know the circumstances of my birth. Or, to be more specific, the location of my birth. It comes up in conversations about birthdays (because I have two); about passports (because mine gets scrutinised for having a peculiar place of birth); and whenever anyone asks what my middle name is (it’s Lesieli – no, that’s not English).

Long story short: I was born on the island of Tongatapu, the largest island in the island kingdom of Tonga, in a hospital on the outskirts of its capital, Nuku’alofa. My parents were Methodist Mission Partners there and I was born 6 months before the end of their 3 year period of service. No, I don’t have a Tongan passport (not eligible, although I’m sure I could claim political asylum should I need it). No, I can’t speak the language (bar a few random phrases). Yes, Tonga is pronounced the way I say it – it’s not an emphasised ‘ng’. No, my sister wasn’t born there – she lays claim to the glamorous London borough of Brent.

Tongan beachDon’t you want to step right into that photo??

Tonga isn’t known for many things. In fact, I can think of four that might possibly spring to readers’ minds:

1. Queen Salote of Tonga’s appearance at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. (One for older readers.)
2. Jonah From Tonga – Chris Lilley’s politically incorrect portrayal of a teenage islander in Australia.
3. Tonga’s monarch (the king who died in 2006) being the heaviest monarch in the world – according to the Guinness Book of Records. [Warning: Daily Mail link – the only paper likely to include the title in the headline of their obituary!]
4. The Tongan rugby team.

The latter has usually been my most successful channelling of Tongan-ness – for a start, as they usually qualify for the World Cup, many of my rugby loving friends have actually heard of the country. Plus, it’s without question the sport in which Tonga excels the most (although they did have an athlete in the Winter Olympics…) and therefore I can claim a certain level of pride in being a Tonga fan. Having said that, supporting Tonga against England in the first round of the 1999 Rugby World Cup in a student bar during my first week at university was possibly not one of my wisest decisions. (England scored over 100, Tonga did not.)

When the fixture list for the 2015 Rugby World Cup was released (a very long time ago) I noticed that there were some great Tonga matches in the line up – against New Zealand in Newcastle and a match in my former home city of Gloucester. Through my sister’s school connections, she and I acquired tickets for Tonga V Georgia at Kingsholm (in doing so, being the only ones in our circle of friends to have RWC tickets!) next September – the excitement was palpable.

Thanks to a Maths teacher with both a good memory and membership of a rugby club, Mim discovered that we could have an international rugby dress rehearsal at the same ground, 10 months early. Tonga were set to play the USA at Kingsholm and her colleague remembered my connection and passed on a flyer for tickets. And thus, last Saturday, we joined a throng of rugby fans as they marched through the city towards the ground.

Luckily, we had in our party someone who actually knew the rules of rugby properly! Sally may have been older than the rest of us by some way, and might not have looked like a rugby fan, but she knew her stuff. Not that we didn’t – we knew some things! (Well, at least I knew more than I did about American Football!) We were comforted that we were by no means the most ignorant in the crowd when this exchange was overheard behind us:
American woman: “It’s interesting that every time a team scores a goal, there’s an advert for ‘Try’ on the screen.”
Her husband: “That’s because it’s a try, not a goal.”

I’d already had a bit of a chat with the couple as they’d commented on the commentator’s pronunciation of ‘Tonga’ as the players streamed on to the pitch – I explained about the dipthong and they asked how I knew. We found it amusing that a US born person and a Tonga born person were sat adjacent to each other at a match between the two countries, in Gloucester.

Goal! That’s what I call a great view!

As for the rugby, well, it was thrilling! We were right behind those posts that look a little like Quidditch goals, but aren’t. [I jest.] Literally, right behind – second row with no one in front, dead centre. Instead of being thrilling, penalties and conversions became terrifying as oval missiles hurtled up and then down towards our heads. During the first half, when it was Tonga’s goal, we greeted each with a “Yay!!! Come on Tonga!! Ooooooohhhhhhhh” *Covers head and ducks* 

'Ikale TahiThe ‘Ikale Tahi in action.

The crowd were unpartisan, cheering both sides at every opportunity, but once it was apparent that Tonga would dominate, cheers of “Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!” emanated from around the stands. Combined with the fact that many Gloucester rugby fans chose to wear their usual Cherry & White attire, thus matching Tonga’s colours, and it could almost have been a home match. As for us, my friends and family joined in the fun and wore red and white – bobble hats; a Tonga flag; my new RWC Tonga T-shirt; and a Tongan scarf Amazon had suggested Juliet buy when she bought the flag – an early Christmas gift for me.

Doris & Flag

There were others with Tongan flags too. I’d thought we might be the only papalangi [Tongan for white people] cheering on the ‘Ikale Tahi [the Sea Eagles – the Tongan team’s name] with flags and t-shirts, but others seemed to have discovered the flag was only £2.80 online and decided to acquire one. Perhaps they assumed that Tonga would be the underdog to the USA and deserved some extra support. Not so, this was a match Tonga should have won and they did! USA are 5 places below Tonga in the international rankings (when have you seen the USA play rugby??) and sure enough, the final score was 12 to 40.

Match Panorama

For two hours, I found myself amongst more Tongans than I had been since probably 2008 (my most recent trip to New Zealand and a service in a Tongan church). I had good cause to celebrate my island of birth and once again was grateful that my parents chose to bring me up with a healthy appreciation and knowledge of my unusual birthplace.

Friday Fun with confident musical dinosaurs

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m quite a fan of musicals and singing in general. Obviously, there are hours and hours (in fact months) that can be whiled away in musical pursuits, but some are more fun than others. My first piece of Friday Fun for this week is an old skool game – it involves no computers or phones, just honest-to-goodness musical skill and a similarly skilled friend.

The ‘sing alternate words’ game was taught to me by Morv (my companion in deeds of spectacular musical geekiness) and I have no idea where she found it. It’s very simple – one person sings the first word of a song [if you’re really on the ball, the other half of the pair will have to guess the song from its first word and notes] and the second person sings the next word – so on and so forth until you tire of the ridiculousness (or you forget the words). You can play with more than two people, but it gets very tricky. Personal favourites (unsurprisingly) for playing this game with include For Good and Defying Gravity from Wicked – though the latter can get quite confusing given that many of its lines are similar, yet subtly different, making it very easy to get lost.

Somehow, I ended up sharing this game with a colleague at work. She caught on very quickly and we were soon singing I Have Confidence with much mirth. Afterwards, she shared a video with me which had me in awe – if you’re a lover of The Sound of Music (which of course is where the aforementioned song comes from, if you didn’t know that, shame on you!) this will amaze and inspire you:

Yes, that is the Captain’s house; and yes, she’s running (and singing) up the same road that Maria runs up while singing that particular song. I particular love the rucksack standing in for a guitar case and Hannah (my colleague) running backwards, trying simultaneously to film and not laugh. Impressive. Unfortunately, the girls were trespassing (and luckily got away with it) which means it may be difficult for others to emulate. But, on the off chance that it’s possible, who’s up for a trip to Salzburg?

In case you’re not at all interested in musicals set in the Anschluss, how about some dinosaurs? In fact, how about some animated, singing dinosaurs on the banks of the River Thames? I think you might agree that this video is genius in all kinds of ways:

One final piece of fun. You might be aware that the Rugby World Cup’s currently being held in God’s Own Country. If you’re really up with your rugby, you may also be aware that France (possibly Europe’s best team at the start of the tournament) were beaten last Saturday by the ‘Ikale Tahi – the Tongan team – 19-14. I was very proud (and gutted that it was on while I was asleep). Sadly, France qualified for the quarter-finals over Tonga on points scored (but will be beaten by England this weekend), but I was very proud of my national team. In their honour I share a flash-mob haka – and before you point out that a haka is a Maori war dance, let me point out that all Polynesian tribes have their own version of this, including the Tongans. How scary would it be to suddenly find yourself in the midst of this?!