Don’t Scare the Horses

While everyone else is spending a fortune on presenting a slick media image, smiling gratefully as they swallow rotten fish and getting scary with the make-up, Jeanette Fitsimmons is seen planting trees with some guy who looks like he’s been hiding from the hairdresser along with Shrek the Sheep and subsisting on locusts and juniper berries for the last 50 years. I’m really sorry if this guy is your husband Jeanette, I’d love to share some turnip wine with him at some stage but you’ll have to put as much distance between you and him as other politicians put between themselves and their trusts until after the election. Or get him a suit – this is politics and we’re not playing now.

Television 3 23/10/08

Politics is not science and it’s not about reality either, the dark arts of public relations are required to create a persona worthy of public worship and respect in order for an election to be won. It’s why early Chinese emperors employed full time portrait painters – it didn’t matter that the paintings bore little resemblance to themselves, hardly anyone would ever see the actual emperor, in the same way we are unlikely to see many politicians again in the flesh after voting day.

The image was a tool far more powerful than reality and the big guns in politics know this. It’s why we know how much John Key’s suits cost. In the States, the Democrats have tried to highlight the fact that Sarah’s suits have cost more than the GDP of small countries and the Republican attitude has been … ‘ and so?” They know it will be worth it because if people actually listened to anything she said there is no way you would leave the woman in charge of your cat for the weekend let alone your country’s foreign policy. No – they know that when people vote they are buying a package and Sarah Palin is about as gift wrapped and consumable as a bow-tied Christmas present.

For the most part, an electorate is a deeply conservative beast and everyone is justifiably interested in how much money they will have in their pocket in the coming few years. For all those people who still believe that the economy floats in a disembodied state completely separated from the planet that we live on, seeing guys in tie-dyed tshirts, planting trees just scares them. All that needs to be done then is for another politician to intone the words ‘slowdown in the economy’ in the same way that religious fundamentalists talk about Armageddon and there goes any chance of getting any serious environmental voice into government.

In 1996, inspired by all the talk of Taiwan being an ‘Economic Miracle’ and how the New Zealand economy should be following suit; I took a job there to see what all the fuss was about. On the first day my classes were cancelled (there had been a pollution warning that morning - if the kids had to walk from air-conditioned home to school, doctors were concerned they’d keel over) I walked to the local market to buy some food.

There I found boxes of frozen salmon from Alaska. Fruit from the States was on sale, and local shrimps that had been farmed on inland salt water lagoons that had contaminated the water table. When I went to the supermarket there were 9 aisles of bottled water from Fiji to Norway but I certainly couldn’t turn on my tap and have a glass. The only local food I could buy were peanuts and greens but my flatmate didn’t recommend this either as it had been locally grown greens that had resulted in closing down the local school cafeteria from severe food poisoning. Because several of the children were now totally paralysed the overuse of insecticide was being investigated rather than an ordinary bacterial infection. Taiwan started to look less like an economic miracle and more like an environmental disaster and the two Mercedes in every driveway started to lose their glamour.

It’s not that fringe anymore to think that a healthy environment is fundamental to the long-term viability of our economy. Which is why I’d like Jeanette to get down and dirty at this point - and not in the tree planting kind of way. Hide Shrek-man. Get a suit. Whatever it takes.

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Keeping it Kiwi

When you’re really down a big black political hole and no one’s listening – there’s only one thing for it. Pull the race card. Make the whole thing about a generic cosmic battle between US and THEM. Winnie, bless his pinstriped socks has done it again and despite the wearisome predictability I’m always surprised at how good it all sounds. “Let’s make New Zealand for New Zealanders”.

Fair enough. Except who decides who’s a New Zealander and what would the criteria be?

If the Maori party said exactly the same thing would it be talking about the same New Zealanders as the Grey Power Tauranga set that this speech was aimed at? Would they be allowed to pass this off as just another benign immigration policy (on which they reserved the right to act retrospectively by at least, lets say – ooh 160 odd years), or would they get lambasted in the media for being inflammatory? It’s a cheap shot and everyone knows it, but politicians wouldn’t pull the race card if, in some dark, sad corner of our collective psyche, it didn’t work often enough to make it worth it for them.

Meeting a friend recently for lunch I commented on her fabulous hair, cut she said, by a new immigrant named, exotically; Lola. Admiring Lola’s courage in starting over in a new country without much English, my friend was taken aback when a po-faced rather elderly grudge next to her sniffed that it was not Lola but her employer who should be commended on taking ‘such an enormous risk’ in employing someone ‘foreign’. Watching Lola cut hair was obviously all the job interview that’d been needed. Big risk or big business? I know why she was employed and I know it had nothing to do with charity.

What reason then for the Edmonds Sure to Rise, Perm and Set Kiwi citizen to think otherwise?

Latent racism? Surely not. Not here. We’re nice. And friendly. Just as long as you don’t want to be our friend.

Is it the charity of allowing ‘one of them’ to become ‘one of the sacred us’? Do we feel threatened by letting the outside in? Have we really been inbreeding that long? We, (and here I’m talking the pakeha, gringo, waiguoren ‘we’) secretly think, in our old boys clubs, that we are the owners of Godzone and woe betide anyone who wants to share a bit of it.

It’s the arrogance and precarious logic of a desperate newcomer. ‘We’ let ‘them’ in to pick fruit or look after our elderly or even have enough in their bank account but will get upset if they buy local businesses and then employ us.

We make it almost impossible for dentists and nurses to register in New Zealand and force them to do expensive English tests that most professional kiwis would fail if they weren’t given the expensive tutoring. And then we wonder why we are haemorrhaging immigrant nurses, dentists and doctors to Australia and the States both of which have a far more rational registration system for immigrant professionals and indeed pay better. Much better to make the system expensive, obtuse and unachievable and then we get to pay highly qualified nurses a ‘caregivers’ salary and hope that their numbers can bolster up our creaking health system.

No surprise either that the Indian community have just discovered that even after 4 generations of living here they don’t get promotions, don’t get paid as well as their pakeha colleagues and can’t break that glass ceiling into management. I guess they can always buy a dairy and pretend they didn’t really want to be the CEO after all.

Being constantly locked out tends to get people antsy after awhile. It irritates, exasperates and eventually infuriates those on the receiving end and can get really ugly after a generation or two. It can lead to ethnic rioting and extremely bad haircuts by women called Lola.

Time for a little prayer in Godzone . How about, “God of Nations at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet.” Or would that really be too risky? Don’t want too much cross-cultural love happening because then WE would be… THEM.

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The lost art of the pick up line

Observing the courtship and mating rituals of juvenile Northlanders is perhaps not yet a tourist attraction here in Whangarei but sitting in Cameron mall in the school holidays did give me some insight into the behaviour of adolescent Kiwis at extraordinary close range. A privilege – perhaps, and while not necessarily a pleasure it was certainly entertainment.

The young males of the species congregate in groups faces hidden in dark hoods, one hand clutching their bollocks (it was difficult to determine if this is a deliberate ploy to suggest male virility or an awkward attempt to keep their oversized pants from ending up around their ankles) flipping skate-boards and doing the gangster strut which involves bouncing on the balls of your feet and rolling from the hips like you’ve got bollocks the size of planet Jupiter. One young brave did manage to shout to one of the passing gaggles of girls “Show us yer tits”. This was met with the colourful rejoinder “Get a dog up yer”. Later that day I witnessed one young female delivering a mean right hook to another whom she accused of ‘hooking up with’ her man. I began to miss South America. Sure, you’ll get mugged at gun point and your child will get kidnapped but at least it will be done with social grace.

Latin women often complain that living in New Zealand makes them feel unattractive and invisible because the men, well… they just don’t look. Really look. At least not at anything that doesn’t have an outboard motor attached to it. The kind of sighing, fondling, low whistling and general appreciation of form and grace that is usually associated here in New Zealand with the annual Boat Show is readily witnessed on every street corner of South America as men lounge languidly and appreciate women who seem to be the only ones who actually have a job. Whereas Latin men are the optical equivalent of Benny Hill on E – Latin women get as much visual engagement from Kiwi blokes as from your average ostrich.

Piropos; very roughly translated as chat up lines, are an entire art form in themselves in South America. Men have a repertoire at hand just to get a woman to give them some attention for 5 seconds. And the charming thing is that they expect to be rejected which takes all the tension out of the exchange. A grade 6 bad hair day can instantly be transformed as a complete stranger tells you he could drown in your eyes. You would be expected to reply with a smile, that it would therefore be unwise to dive in.”

This harmless flattery and banter is part of the social lubricant that keeps everything ticking in South America – and performs the same function as alcohol seems to here.

In a highly sophisticated Coleman’s Mustard poll (a barbeque in my backyard), the Latin contingent came to the conclusion that New Zealand has a problem with anti-social binge drinking because young men don’t know how to talk to or pick up women and the girls don’t know how to accept a compliment, continuing the banter for long enough to really observe the lad in question so that she can come to a decision on whether or not he has sufficient character and social grace for her to risk meeting up for a coffee with him later.

Latin men spend hours tutoring their protégés on the ancient art of the conquest of a woman’s heart and equally, mothers train their daughters in the often not so gentle art of deflection and self protection. Battered by gale force electioneering and the seduction of my vote – I just wish some of that training could go on those young men and women in Cameron Mall. They may not get lucky but they’d probably feel a whole lot better about themselves and wouldn’t need such vast amounts of alcohol just to make friends and talk to the opposite sex.

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Solo Tasking

How exactly is it that blokes have evolved to solo-task to the exclusion of absolute bedlam exploding around them?

My bloke was able to read all about his favourite Argentine football team (hardly urgent one would think) on the internet while Jehovah’s Witness knocked at our door, the dog dug up my new flower garden, the 5 year old was shouting ‘I won’t cut myself with this sharp knife I’ll just cut the dog because he’s being naughty’ and I was chopping firewood hoping the rice wasn’t burning. After the rice did burn, the dog got rescued, the knife confiscated and the Jehovahs ran screaming from our house having witnessed something they clearly wished they hadn’t , I was treated to a lecture from my relaxed not recalcitrant husband on how I’m always leaving everything half finished.

I considered running screaming after the Jehovah’s myself if only they promised to lock me in a white soundproof temple with zero stimulus and wholesome but uplifting reading material.

I remember finishing things. I remember having a brain. Having been brought up with Catholic guilt and mixed this with Buddhist karma and interconnectedness philosophy I suspect somewhere that this is entirely my own fault. Like and the Middle East Crisis, and the return of plastic beads and bubble skirts.

I admire male focus hunt and kill dedication to a solitary task. It’s how you win wars and file the chaos that ensues around the war as ‘collateral damage’, then relax and watch the footy. It allows no guilt. There is no fear in solo tasking that something else of a higher priority (the child drowning in the bath, garden fire creeping over to the neighbour’s villa) is going unsupervised or unfinished somewhere. It must be bliss. I know I should start something heroic and single-mindedly finish it and exclude all the messy mindless chatter of everyday life. Like my child and husband for example. I admire those women whose life can be seen in a body of serious literature or galleries of illuminated statements on life and the universe. It seems much more impressive than a half-finished pile of washed dishes or folded clothes.

Which is why I’ve decided to dedicate myself to the construction of something impressive. A cathedral would be nice – Whangarei needs one of those. Or a giant statue of Jesus or Catwoman that would lean imposingly from Mt Parihaka like that one in Brazil. I could take a lifetime to do it and take time off from my silent chipping of stone to do press releases and get invited to gallery openings. It could happen. But I know it won’t.

Single mindedness has its place but sometimes I just have to accept that things may go unfinished. Failing that there’s always delegation but I missed those seminars along with the dress for success ones and how to marry a millionaire so I’m not the one to ask, although I read an article on it once. When I tried it I couldn’t distinguish it from the version my mother had tried 30 years ago. Back then it was called nagging.

Failing all of this, when my household once again looks like a Richard Scary painting where all the animals are on P and some woman in a scarf knocks at my door, I will smile. I will take her hand and together we will skip past my garden stopping briefly for me to pick a taro leaf with which I will clad my locks, and we will go far far away to a happy place where all projects are finished, all children washed and serene and partners prefer weeding to reading about football. Read More......

Eating Godwits

After 11,000 kilometres you’d think the humble godwit would be worthy of our respect, even awe. Not our dinner plates.

I’d always thought of them as the quintessential NZ battler braving the real winds of international free trade. And here Kingi Ihaka, bless his gastronomic magnificence, is heralding the return of the godwit with the return of the godwit burger.


Television 3 News : 10 September 2008

Apparently there are ‘squillions’ of them where he comes from up North. They said that about passenger pigeons at one point too. Apparently, “Godwits need to ‘pay their dues’. I suppose he has got a point. I mean, they really are a pack of avionic bludgers. Fly in, feed up and bugger off again. What do they think our sand spits are? A hotel? No he is right. Godwits owe us. Big time. Every year they fly half-way round the world to help themselves to a free buffet on our coasts and when was the last time you got a thank you note from a godwit? Although to be honest I could say the same of babies. They just hang around and eat for the first few years of life without much pay back and I don’t see them featuring on any menus. Yet.

Unlike babies, godwits are organic, local and free and it’s so ‘now’ to go all feral and forage your food from the surroundings. I get it. But so do the indigenous people of Alaska. Their average annual kill is up to 1,900 birds. Apparently this is mainly by subsistence farmers and to be fair, I’d be doing the same if I had no other option to feed the kids. On the east coast of China however the estimated take is up to 3000 migrating godwits per year, where, thankfully, the rise in the average price of live waders (mostly godwits) at market, has greatly exceeded increases in inflation and average incomes, making it more than worthwhile for the hunters to continue. What a relief. If the stock market goes into a nose dive we can always fall back on godwits then.

Is nothing sacred? Not really. Your sacred cow could well be my Big Mac. Sarah Palin eats caribou.
That’s Santa’s reindeer last time I checked. Rudolf, Dancer, Blitzen. It’s all just lunch to Sarah. But then, that is not surprising once you realise she thought it was a good thing to be compared to a pit bull. Is it a mitigating factor if the pit bull is in drag?

But aren’t there some creatures that are just too embarrassing to hunt? Are there some that just deserve a break? We’re not talking the world’s most ferocious beast here. What’s a godwit going to do to fight back? Fix you with their beady eye? Can it possibly contribute to your sense of manhood and well-being to hunt one? How many would you need for a decent feed? Apparently they are not particularly bright birds and are as street wise and cunning as your average pipi judging by some old hunting journals where young boys enticed them into range and continued shooting until they ‘had quite a bag’.

In the New Zealand Railways Magazine Te Maire Rakau writes in 1938, about 10 years before the ban on harvesting godwits; “We read and sometimes hear that godwits make good eating, and no one could find fault with a marooned sailor adding godwits to his diet of shell fish and seaweed. But why it is that well fed men with beef and potatoes abounding should want to eat godwits, is beyond my understanding. It would appear that there are some men whose sole reaction to anything is to wonder how it would fraternise with their own gastronomical apparatus. Kill, skin and eat. Is that their only appreciation?” Guess so. Still.

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Barrack Obama

I’m happy that John Key is feeling he’s like NZ’s Barrack Obama.

I was wishing we had one of those. I feel quite a lot like Barrack Obama myself. Except I’m not black. And I’m a woman. I don’t know anything about politics either… which makes me think that perhaps I must be more like John Key. It’s fun being other people my daughter once spent a whole summer entitled ‘XaXa Pocohontas’. Xa Xa didn’t have to listen to me, or eat her dinner which meant before long she had to be exorcised – there was a certain amount of convenience to be had by being someone else and we all tired of it before she did. I wonder what the fringe benefits of being an Antipodean version of someone else would be? The sense that you’re part of the real ‘world’ and not some second rate Oceanic version? I wonder who Helen would like to be? She’s been looking more like Winston (Churchill that is) in the last year of the second World War lately although she wears pants better than he did but I’d like to see her with a cigar and bowler hat.

I get quite spooked watching Parliament sometimes, I swear that Rodney Hide is channelling the Ompaloompahs and Winston’s Spirit Guide is the Cheshire Cat. Winnie must be feeling like he’s slipped down that rabbit hole over the last few weeks – all those evil geniis have managed to slip out of the wine box and somewhere in the shadows are goading their minions to go for Winston’s throat. National have been baying for his blood – I guess the merchant bankers in big boy pants whom he never managed to actually get but had the audacity to point the finger at, haven’t forgotten. For a party who seem happy to swallow rotten fish to get where they want to go, it has to be pretty bad for them to publicly state that they will never ever pinky promise get into bed with Winston. As a voter I’m feeling like the virgin bride in an arranged marriage. As Lockwood smiles lovingly at me through gritted teeth I see him eyeing up the family chattels and heirlooms and keeping a mental tally. At this point in the election nuptial arrangements I’m not sure if I’m an asset or a liability once I’ve signed up till death or the next election do us part. I’m scanning the horizon for an open window and a saddled up horse waiting outside.

The sad thing is, as evasive and annoying as Winnie can be with the media I can’t see what the problem is. Really. Now if I were a bank account and wanted to be something else – what would I choose to be? I know. A trust! I’d give myself a new name – like Spencer or Waimate and readily accept any libations offered. Isn’t that what all political parties do? What everyone who can afford to does? Here’s a riddle that the Cheshire Cat might ask; “When is my money not my money?” “When in it’s in a trust.” Why have we all suddenly got so shocked?

I still remember standing in the Victoria Quadrant over 20 years ago watching Lockwood Smith looking like a supercilious Tuatara, sign a written declaration stating that if user pays was introduced into the Universities, he would resign. I believed him. The next year half of my mates left uni because they couldn’t afford the user pays fees and didn’t trust the government loan system.

The last time I checked, Lockwood was still knocking around parliament. When he wasn’t in Dargaville that is, scratching his Murray Bulls.

Standing for something and doing something entirely different is all just part of the job description. Being a New Zealand version of someone else is just taking it to that next level.

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