Hayfever, the arrival of Daylight Savings and George Clooney getting married. Sure signs it must be springtime.
As the pollen count rises so do the optimism levels, in anticipation of the summer that will soon be upon us.
And with this anticipation comes the complex series of rituals we, as a nation, begin to
undertake and which might be termed our Rites of Spring.
The Eating Of The First Asparagus is a time-honoured kickstarter Rite of Spring. The appearance, in the vege aisle, of the New Zealand version of these little green spears of yumminess is a surefire sign that spring has sprung. And then, within a few hours of this Rite, the funny-smelling pee is a sign that the Rite has been undertaken.
The Tossing Of The Duvet is one of the more optimistic Rites of Spring, as is its close cousin, The Stowing Of The Heaters. These Rites occur when, after a few balmy nights of tossing and turning under too many bedclothes, the human mind fools itself into thinking that summer is just around the corner, so the duvet (or, at least, a couple of blankets) either gets put away in the cupboard or tossed into a corner of the bedroom. Almost inevitably the Tossing Of The Duvet is closely followed by an unseasonal cold snap, which means the duvet is dragged out again. The Booting Off Of The Cat is another bed/climate-related spring ritual.
The Thronging Of The Garden Centre is probably the most sacred of all the Rites of Spring. This is where New Zealanders celebrate the warmer weather and longer daylight hours by descending, en masse, upon the garden centres of the country to walk among the plants, ogle the tools and buy things like mulch. During the Rites of Spring, a garden centre carpark is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, as SUVs and stationwagons hunt and jostle for the too-few car parks. A common rookie mistake during The Thronging Of The Garden Centre is to get carried away and buy too many plants without an actual planting plan in place. These plants are then sacrificed to the gods of summer by sitting in their punnets on the deck until they inevitably die.
The Baring Of The Legs is the bravest of all the Rites of Spring, especially for men who have spent the winter months cloaking their legs in long trousers. Seeing all this paleness on display for the first time since last summer can be quite a shock to the psyche so it is often best to try it out in the privacy of one's own home for a few days before inflicting this sight upon the wider world. As with The Tossing Of The Duvet, it is an inevitability that the first time The Baring Of The Legs is done any distance from home will coincide in a sudden cold snap that will hit when you are at the furthest point from any long trousers.
The Futile Watching Of The Waistline is a Rite that is associated with the Baring Of The Legs in that after trying on last year's summer shorts and finding that, mysteriously, they have all shrunk, the common human reaction is to make promises that this summer you will eat lots of salads and really "watch the waistline". At the time, these promises are well meant and, indeed, there may even be actual attempts to eat more salad as the summer dining season gets underway. For most of the population, however, these are prayers tossed to the spring winds, which are then undone by the Rites that begin with The Scouring Of The Barbecue.
The Scouring Of The Barbecue and The First Fire are two Rites of Spring that go hand-in-hand. For months now the firepit on the back deck or in the yard has lain untouched and unused. Often the remains of The Last Fire are still encrusted upon the barbecue surface. These must be removed, for both spiritual and actual health reasons. The sacred fire pit must have its surfaces scoured so it may rise like the phoenix from its own fires. The First Fire, which inevitably follows The Scouring, also heralds the start of the downfall of The Watching Of The Waistline as seared meat starts to overtake salad as the summer food of choice. The First Fire will also inevitably coincide with a sudden cold-snap, leaving the holder of the tongs outside, gamely cooking up a storm, as everyone else shelters inside.
These are our Rites of Spring. There are undoubtedly many more, as they are personal things and change from community to community, but they are still ours and we must follow them as surely as, well, as surely as summer follows spring. Get to it New Zealand.