Marvellous Mugs

It’s not easy being green. Especially if you’re green space on prime coastal land.

Everyone wants a piece of your grass. Which is why I’m loving the fact that the economy seems to have derailed and developers are taking a hiding.

We can all head back to our favourite summer haunts; those coastal communities that we pine for when we’re in dingy apartments overseas, knowing we might get to appreciate them for a few more summers. Until credit becomes cheap again and we get swamped with another round of unsustainable coastal developments with the inevitable sewerage problems that ratepayers have to fork out for 10 years down the track. By which time the developers will have gone bust and be living in Queensland, where, ironically the same kind of developments have been banned for the last 20 years because of the environmental mayhem they engender.

We take it for granted that we will always have access to our stunning coasts, not realising how tenuous our collective hold on that access is.

A few years ago I landed in Buenos Aires to start a new job. Armed with a geographical map I hit the streets and headed for the river to get a look at what wildlife I’d be sharing the city with. What I didn’t know was that I would need a socio-economic map to reach the water. I walked forever, rebuffed by armed guards denying me access to the walled sanctuaries of gated communities that lined the river. Prime land belonged to the rich and my geographical map was useless in terms of navigating the city. Apparently, an unhealthy relationship between developers and local councils had resulted in huge chunks of land (some of it publicly owned) being sold and gated off from the community. But hey – that’s South America and this is a whole world away. Isn’t it? Later, when the economy went into a nosedive, 5 story hulks of rusting metal were left creaking in the wind as developers walked away. Sound familiar?

When the market runs hot all there is between our precious coast and the naked avarice of developers is the protests of local iwi and a few hardcore environmentalists. These ‘concerned citizens’ are often left to argue the toss with the minions of the developers (the surveyors, lawyers and full-time PR boys) who have money and a whole lot of time on their side. That is their job.

It’s the developers job to either seduce or play bulrush with council bodies (sometimes in publicly excluded meetings), then play trivial pursuit in the courts to define the limits of the Resource Management Act.

Anyone doubting their motives is usually working two jobs and has to get the kids fed before sitting down to wrestle with the Public Works Act. For free. Unlike developers, their politics is not intrinsically linked to their business concerns or even their day jobs.

Theoretically it’s the job of council to protect our coasts but in a hot property market it seems this job is given hobby status and is handed to retired nature enthusiasts.

If there is one silver lining to the recession it’s that we’re all going to get a breather from rabid development – a chance to re-group and ask ourselves what we really want our country to look like in 10 or 100 years time.

Chesterton, in his ‘Songs of Education’ lamented the loss of the village green over 100 years ago in England. He wrote; “The people they left the land, the land, but they went on working hard;
And the village green that had got mislaid, turned up in the squire's back-yard:
But twenty men of us all got work on a bit of his motor car;
And we all became, with the world's acclaim,
The marvellous mugs we are.”

While we might be smarting from the loss of work, not on his motorcar but perhaps in his latest housing development – it may be preferrable to be able to go for a swim with our families at our favourite beach this Christmas than to get a handshake and the last cheque and have the gates to that beach locked to us forever.

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I know now why no one from South America has ever made it to the moon

I think I know why no one from South America has ever made it to the moon.

It’s a little known historical fact that a few years ago there was, a Latin Lunar (tic) Mission. They nearly finished the rocket but someone’s cousin took off a door for a barbeque grill. The captain went to kill a cow and get wine but never came back because the girl at the bottle shop was, well, available. The rocket was then taken for a test drive to impress some blonde. The captain returned and realised that the bottle shop girl was also the blond of test drive fame and an unholy shouting match broke out accompanied by extreme gesturing. Someone pulled out a gun and shot it in the air, as is often done in South America, for use as a random yet dangerous form of punctuation. Imagine; an aerial exclamation mark. No one is hurt but the returning bullet kills a cow so they take all the doors off the rocket and have a decent farewell barbeque.

If this is not true, then I must have hallucinated it while trying to get to Cape Reinga with 4 carloads of Latins. All agreed animatedly on the route and then proceeded to speed valiantly in 4 different directions with unopened maps while I was left breast-feeding a baby on the side of the road. Pointing bleakly… to the map. I’m still in therapy. Nobody, incidentally, made it to Cape Reinga.

Having a map of any description is apparently a very anglo ( pakeha) thing to do. We’re big on maps, individual achievement and business plans. All laughable fetishes to most South Americans. History seems to have taught them that family, consensus and community are better long term options.

Sitting down with a reformed budget, I had to first nail the Latin to the kitchen table. While I read it out and he screamed uncontrollably offering to iron the sheets in order to get out of any financial planning, I reflected on how nice it might be for couples who share the same interests, language and culture to get on with the individualistic goal of accumulating rental properties and nice sofas, realising at the same moment that if we had a rental property someone’s cousin would be living in it rent free until their work permit came through and if we had a nice sofa someone else would be sleeping on it while they got over their break up/break down or just their need to take a break.

I forget too that the mad Latin has seen his country change currency more often than a good girl changes her knickers and inflation rates of up to 800%.

I also forget that he’s seen governments come and go that can randomly take people off the street, and banks can close overnight taking your money with them.

Plans, he says, just encourage God to notice. He goes for contrived ignorance of any information that may necessitate planning, waiting until an inevitable crisis appears, and in the fashion of a histrionic conquistador manages to save the day with a lot of sword waving and faintly scary shouting.

I prefer paying the bills in time and checking a tide chart before getting pipis. But hey – I’m pakeha.

His favourite saying his ‘We’re at the dance – so lets dance’.

I remember a gaucho telling me this on a horse trek. The sky was throwing lightening bolts and hailstones the size of golf balls and thanks to the gauchos’ penchant for containing their wealth in silver saddlery, we were sitting on a ridgeline on moving lightning conductors. I looked to him for some feasible options. “We’re at the dance so we’ll dance!” he yelled, and laughing like a maniac took off into the head of the storm. All very impressive except there was no need to have even been asking about options if someone had just checked a weather forecast. But then, if you waited for OSH checks and financial forecasts in South America you’d never get out of bed in the morning.

I guess it’s all a matter of balance when you’re living with two cultures, so here’s the plan. Plan like a pakeha, live like a Latin and order a bucket load of valium online in preparation for the Holiday season.

We may not get to the moon (or Coromandel) but at least it’ll feel that way.

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Busy Bodies Unite!

Last week I crossed the threshold from youth to old biddydom and became – the local busy body.

I managed to be both embarrassing and very uncool, something my youth obsessed generation strive very hard not to be.

Seeing a neighbour’s girl out in a suuped up car with boys I didn’t recognise, I did what every self- respecting busy body would do – I came home and checked she’d been dropped off (she had) and later rang her Mum.

I hope in a few years’ time if her Mum sees my girl running round town in a flash car with blokes – she’ll be doing the same for me.

You hope they’ll be responsible – you hope you’ve taught them right but sometimes it’s really handy to have a bit of back up. Most kids are lucky if they can remember to take the right books to school on a given day, can they really make the right decisions after three alcopops (sounds like lollipop – where’s the harm?) and whatever legal party pills (everyone likes a party don’t they?) are on offer. Because the truth is that my generation has no real problem with the idea of drugs; we were the inheritors of the idea that recreation and drugs were intrinsically linked.

If I had been truly representative in my worry about the possible combinations of ‘young girl/ boys/ fast cars and possible alcohol or drug use’, I would have thrown the girl a pack of condoms and a crash helmet, given the boys an espresso and said ‘you go girl!’ Mistakenly, I would have assumed that experimentation was just part of the rich fabric of adolescence in New Zealand and that pushing your physical and mental boundaries is an intrinsic rite of initiation into adulthood.

The addled view that taking drugs was just another way of pushing limits for those who couldn't afford Outward Bound, is lunacy in the face of new drugs that make Attila the Hun look like Barbie on a picnic.

A point amply demonstrated by a Ministry of Health brochure, reprinted in May last year entitled ‘Dance Party Goers – What U Should Know’. It contains such gems as: “The crystal form of methamphetamine, known as ice or pure, is very potent. Most people find that speed makes their mouth dry and their jaw tense (chewing gum helps).”Or this; “If someone gets spooked (while taking LSD), try to take their mind off what is frightening them. It is important to remind them that it is just the drug and it will end soon.”

Obviously written by someone who hasn’t spent an afternoon coaxing their flatmate off the motorway overpass because he thinks the daisies are gnawing his flesh.

There is a handy checklist for party goers; ‘tickets, money, condoms and lube, water and identification in case, it thoughtfully adds (“people need to know who you are if something goes wrong.”) Like – you die. For example. Why don’t we just pop a pre-printed toe-tag into their wallets before they leave home?

I used this brochure to get my students to read ‘between the lines’. Their task was to choose a part of the text and write down what they’d inferred from it in 5 words or less. One wrote ‘Stay Healthy While Taking Drugs!’ Stunning in its oxymoronic elegance. After reading; ‘If you choose to take drugs, only take a small amount and wait for it take effect before taking the rest. Illegal drugs do not have a consistent quality, so each tablet may have a different effect,’ one student wrote; “Choose reputable dealers. Check Quality.”

While most students would see through this as PC lunacy, kids are always going to pick up on the background hum of what is inferred from a culture that is inherently permissive towards drug use. Last Thursday Mike Sabin and his anti drug company Methcon had me sobering up to the horrors of P and my own ignorance and attitudes. P, as he put it, is in a whole other league than Cheech, Chong and Cheezles. What he showed us was nothing short of a 21st Century equivalent of a reintroduction of chemically induced slavery.

Busy bodies Unite. It’s time to stick our noses in. Where are the TV ad campaigns? Who’s dealing in our neighbourhood? Where are our kids?

Related Links
MethCon Group drug education

National Drug Policy Youth Party Safe Campaign
NZ national drug policy

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