10 Fascinating Things I Didn't Know about Kiwi

(until I read the Wikipedia article about them)

1) Though flightless, they do actually have wings. It’s just that the wings are so small you can’t see them through the general featheriness.

2) They don’t, however, have tails.

3) Unlike most birds, they have marrow in their bones (which makes them stronger but heavier). Strong legs, though – look at those talons!

4) They’re monogamous. Their relationships last longer than a lot of human ones, and that’s even before you take the shorter lifespan into account. Plus they call to each other in the night during mating season. (All together now: awww…)

5) They belong to the same family as cassowaries, ostriches and emus. (Imagine the difficulty of getting everyone in the same shot at family reunions.)

6) The female kiwi takes about a month to make The Egg, during which she has to eat about three times as much as usual. Except for the last few days, because by that time the egg is so big there’s no room left for food inside her insides.

7) The egg is massive: up to a quarter of the mother’s weight. If humans did that, it would be like giving birth to a four-year-old. Ouch. (By contrast, the female kangaroo, who weighs about a third as much as your average woman, gives birth to a baby the size of a jellybean. Good thinking, kangaroo.) It’s like the kiwi used to be ostriches, and the eggs haven’t adapted yet.

Kiwi, ostrich, Dinornis
Kiwi, ostrich, giant moa.

8) The father does most of the childcare (and by childcare I mean sitting on the egg like a tea-cosy and waiting for something to happen).

9) There’s a giant kiwi hill figure in Bulford, in Wiltshire. And by giant I mean it’s about 129.55 metres taller than the largest kind of actual kiwi. (Note: actual kiwi are not normally measured in acres.)

Bulford Kiwi10) They live in burrows. Small, round & hairy hole-dwellers: yes, they’re basically hobbit-birds.

One last thing, though, and it’s very important: you should never put a kiwi in a fruit salad. Kiwifruit, yes. Kiwi no. I know it’s confusing, what with them both being small, round, brown and fuzzy, but kiwi are endangered. Kiwifruit aren’t. Being a small, round, brown fuzzy Kiwi myself, I am very clear on this point: leave the kiwi out of the salad.

the Mathom-Party

What, I hear you ask, is a mathom? (If I hear you asking what a party is, you need to get out more.)

Day 363 - Party of One

Tolkien explains in his prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring: “…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

I am not advocating that we refuse to receive gifts – that would be churlish – but using one’s birthday as an opportunity for generosity is a) very hobbity and b) a good way of redressing the balance of items in one’s home.

Besides, gifts, as previously mentioned, are a joy to receive. Particularly if, like me, you have friends and family who support the pruning scheme and therefore give you a) consumables and/or b) things you really want. Of course, you can’t choose your family, particularly your family of origin. I got lucky. (We shall draw the veil of charity over the time they got mistaken for a troupe of Russian folk singers.)

Kelly Family 1989

Anyway, back to the hobbits. Having lately had a birthday, I decided to try out the idea of a mathom party. The general reaction was a) what is a mathom? followed by b) what a good idea! Thus encouraged, I proceeded to put aside suitable items from the purge (see what below if interested). I also invited people to bring their own mathoms along if they liked: after all, one hobbit’s mathom is another hobbit’s treasure.

The day before the party, I put ribbons and bows round the items. This serves two purposes: it makes the mathoms seem more gifty, since you can’t wrap them unless you want a lucky-mathom-dip-party; and it draws a convenient distinction between the mathoms and such possessions as you actually want to keep. (Make sure no-one you are attached to is in any way done up with a ribbon.) Have a few extra ribbons on hand if people are bringing their own mathoms.

And of course, you must have food and drink. Nothing hobbity can be done without food and drink, and, preferably, music. Our party was much improved by the concurrent baking of The World’s Best Peanut-Butter and Chocolate Cookies (both gluten-free and dairy-free, if you use suitable chocolate) – recipe in this book, though not under that well-deserved title.


As for what mathoms I pruned (did you think I had forgotten this month’s list?) there were: a duvet cover, a set of steak knives, a casserole dish, a cake-slice, a set of salad-servers, a small assortment of collectable stamps, a CD, a book of famous last words, and a box of games.

At the end of the party, any mathoms unclaimed are then donated to a charity of your choice. It may pay to tell your guests this as it can be peculiarly hard to persuade people that you really do want them to take things off you for your birthday. Promising to cart it all off to charity convinces people that you are not secretly longing to be left with the lot.

Oh, and one more hint for the success of your party: try to avoid being born during (or shortly before) exam week. Exams are very un-hobbity and may affect turnout.

Of Hobbits and Presents

Hobbit holes reflected in water

“Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays. Not very expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly as on this occasion [Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday]; but it was not a bad system. Actually in Hobbiton and Bywater every day in the year it was somebody’s birthday, so that every hobbit in those parts had a fair chance of at least one present at least once a week.”
from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien