Those Capable Kiwis

January 11, 2008 at 3:06 am (Uncategorized)

Sir Edmund Hillary died today aged 88, which is a pretty solid innings for the man who first conquered Everest, especially when you consider a number of people have perished before and since in the attempt.

Sir Edmund visited my college in Canada when I was a teenager, and as one of half a dozen or so Antipodean students from a student body representing about 75 countries, I was photographed with and able to briefly chat to him after he addressed us in the main hall. I can’t remember what I asked him, unfortunately, nor do I have a copy of that photograph. Still, the man unsurprisingly left quite an impression.

There’s something very hardy about a lot of New Zealanders I’ve met. They’re thoroughly capable in a way that seems like a national trait. I remember when I was living in London what’s 8 years ago now that Kiwi guys were often instantly recognisable due to their sartorial preference for shorts. It didn’t seem to matter how filthy the weather was, nor how cold, these guys were just completely immune. Shorts were a year ’round thing.

A very dear female Kiwi friend of mine reeks of such vital good health and unstoppable energy she is an actual force of nature. I think she affects weather patterns. I remember visiting her in Dunedin in 1994 and being amazed by the sight of her casually cycling up what looked to me like a sheer high hill to get home from university. it was like she was cycling up the side of a high-rise, but for her it was just a cinch. She’s also a mad walker. Walks fearlessly through Papua New Guinean jungles and the streets of Johannesburg and anywhere else where there’s terra firma. She can walk up sand dunes like they’re escalators (oh what I wouldn’t give to see footage of Sarah and me sliding backwards behind her, overtaken by the giggles once it became blindingly obvious that we were absolutely unable to sustain this upward march and virtually required an airlift to get out of there).

On this same 1994 trip, we visited another friend of mine who was studying in Wanganui (have I spelt that correctly?). When it came time to leave, we were in very real danger of missing our bus, and my friend heaved Sarah’s and my backpacks onto either shoulder and took off down the street like he’d just attached two rockets to himself instead. In fact they were much, much closer to body-bags and weighed a tonne. It was our first backpacking trip and Sarah and I were very enthusiastic (read inexperienced) packers. Every time I hefted my pack onto my own back, I sort of blindly staggered forward trying to adjust to its weight. I had to walk bent over at the waist because the top of the pack was much higher than my head. But my friend didn’t seem to notice. He bolted down the street like someone was chasing him, and thanks to him Sarah and I did make that bus.

This is all just typical of the Kiwis I know. It’s so fitting to me that it was a Kiwi to first reach the summit of Everest. Of course it was. They’re bloody billy goats, the lot of them. Hillary probably did it in shorts.

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