Men’s Groups

How things have changed. With the release of the movie; ‘Men’s Group’ it’s seems it’s now men who are getting together to see what their collective take on the world is.

Is this the birth of the masculinist movement? Not long ago men could meet after work everyday; bond emotionally and share deeply with each other in a supportive exclusively male environment. It was called the pub. Now men have to go back to their inner sheds and reclaim their blokedom by making a time and place to be with their mates. It all used to be so easy until my generation came along and buggered it up by infringing on all those previously male domains like the workforce and pubs.

Visiting my grandparents one varsity holidays in the late 80’s and finding the beer reserves diminished, I remember suggesting a drink at the local. Being a country town we could have a quick pint in the public bar, (as opposed to the lounge bar) and then wander home. Nan looked at me as if I had just suggested interplanetary travel and in turns expressions of mortification and exhilaration crossed her face. She then bustled off only to reappear 20 minutes later in an outfit only Dame Edna could have managed …if she could do drag. The handkerchief matched the handbag matched the shoes… and she declared herself ready…to go to the pub.

I looked to my mother for some form of rationale for this seeing as I was born lacking the matching hand bag gene – matching socks heralding a day of fashion festivities in our house. She shrugged and said that Nan had never crossed the threshold of the local pub despite living round the corner for 50 years and was excited to get a look inside this imagined den of inequity, previously the sole domain of working men and the occasional ‘fast’ woman. Naturally she was disappointed. It would be hard to explain now to the gaggle of young women throwing up on the pavement outside Danger Danger on a Saturday night that it is still within living memory that women couldn’t go to the pub at all. Until the late 1970’s in most New Zealand towns women were effectively excluded from drinking anywhere in public unless it was in the private ‘lounge bar’ with her husband. In Australia this social norm extended to the late 80’s. Walking into an outback pub as a young woman then, to ask for work or directions required nerves of steel – and a solicitous squizz around to find an accommodating female (usually an ageing barmaid) who could be relied on for back up if things went pear-shaped. Where were all the women? Where did they go? Saudi Arabia had nothing on those small towns – at least in Saudi women could go out somewhere if they had their head covered. My first job on a station as a cook was an exercise in Men’s Groups 101. I made the mistake of taking out the scones to the stock hands one morning having tried and failed to make friends with the one Jillaroo on the station. She greeted me with the immortal ‘Well whataya know? Another flamin’ female!’ and then rode off, so I thought I’d have a coffee with the other workers instead. Wrong. The loud banter dropped to a funereal silence when it looked like I might stay for a bit. One old bloke came and gently shunted me towards the door saying apologetically that I couldn’t stay because then ‘nobody would be able to talk.’ The world then was one big men’s group. Although it was only 20 years ago it would be almost unimaginable to have the same conversation today and yet even then, I knew exactly what he meant. Blokes need to be with blokes and only blokes at least some of the time. It is why the fishing trip was invented and why Latin men stand around on street corners. They need their mens’ dens in the same way women need their tapestry circles (although in my case we only have a metaphorical one whereby the tapestry per se has been symbolically replaced by a decent bottle of red).

Cheers! Here’s to the metro not retro men’s groups. I’m looking forward to the movie.

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A List of Utter Pointlessness

A few centuries ago a Japanese courtesan made a list of ‘Hateful Things’ in her ‘pillow book’. One of the things that particularly annoyed her was ‘a dog barking in the afternoon.’

Sitting down to write something of social and political import, the psycho leaf blower guy went past and so a revised list of the pointless and vexatious was born. Here it is;

  1. Leaf Blowers. The suburban equivalent of jet-skis. Other cultures venerate falling leaves and write poems about them. We wreck entire autumn afternoons by pointlessly blowing them into oblivion. Season of tiffs and unmellow fruitlessness. Bring back public stoning.

  2. The Bolivian Navy. C’mon. You don’t have a sea. What do you do all day? Canoe round the lake on reed rafts?

  3. Right wing Jewish nationalists – I mean how can those two go together? Was it a case of; if you can’t beat them, join them? Most skinheads hate everyone including the Jewish community. Just because you’re Jewish doesn’t make it ok to be a racist dickhead. Sorry. But it’s true. Oh and while I’m on that – for my friends… just because you’re gay does not mean you are talented.

  4. Organic Coke. There are some concepts that are completely and utterly pointless. This is one of them. Like Organic Feedlots or Organic Cage Eggs.

  5. North Korean journalists.

  6. North American journalists.

  7. Trim milk hot chocolates. I know. Go figure.

  8. Parent teacher interviews. It’s like bad sex… it goes on and on yet both sides feel it would be bad form to be the first to just bail out.

  9. The Kawakawa toilets. They’re toilets, and no, they are not world famous. We just pretend they are because they are a paltry compensation for the fact that Hunderwasser actually offered to develop the whole of the Town Basin while he was still above ground and the Whangarei Council said no.

  10. The Labour Candidate for Northland. Any candidate other than a National party one in Northland. Why don’t they just shoot themselves before every election so at least it will kill all pointless hope from the outset.

  11. Gourmet pet food commercials. Yoga classes for dogs. Handbags for dogs. They are dogs. They lick their own butts. They will never grow up or go to university. Get a grip.

  12. Che Guevara. He’s dead. The revolution never happened. Latin America is still the playground for the CIA and is still a basket case. Get a new t-shirt.

  13. The Pope talking about sex. He might be right in that halting Aids may be more complicated than crop dusting developing nations with condoms but old white guys in robes just don’t get good press these days. Would his PR people please tell him to leave the condoms issue alone?

  14. Laundry powder ‘concentrates’. Now you get to pay twice as many dollars for half as much product. Yay! Thanks marketing gurus.

  15. Natural remedy anti conventional medicine advocates who say your child will grow two heads if you give them fluoride but don’t stick around when you end up having to take your pre-schooler for injections and fillings because they’ve got a mouth full of cavities despite the no fizzy drink policy and the endless brushing.

  16. Duct tape for John Banks. You just know he’ll gnaw through it.

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English as a Compulsory Language

Knowing another language gives you another soul. You see the world in delightful new ways through the lens of language, which was why I was roaring with laughter in a well known shop in Whangarei a few years ago when I came across some Spanish speaking friends buying jeans. One of the women, with the classic Latin obsession with her derriere came out of the dressing room looking concerned and asked her friend “Does my bum look too small in this?”

Her friends reassured her that her magnificent behind looked sufficiently ample, with all the delicacy of a troupe of cabaret dancers. As I marvelled that I’d never hear the equivalent conversation in English, a furrow-browed harridan stormed over, reprimanding us ‘for being too loud’ and ‘for taking up space.’ She insisted my daughter stand beside my trolley and that it was ‘illegal’ for her to sit quietly on the bottom bar even though we were stationary. To be fair, we were being gregariously loud, but not anymore so than the woman swearing at her son in the next aisle, or the shop attendants blithering on about an unsavoury love affair as they sorted the unwanted clothes. The real crime that we seemed to have committed was unapologetically speaking another language in a public space. I informed her that if she had a problem with us spending our money in the store then perhaps we should go and discuss it with the manager. At which, she huffed off saying she hadn’t realised that we spoke English. As I tried to relocate my bottom jaw, my friend just shrugged and said ‘We get it quite often – it’s normal’.

Is it? I’d always associated the banning of languages with the paranoid - the mainstay of highly conservative or inward looking cultures making a power play. New Zealand, like many countries, once specialised in this. The only time I’ve been banned from speaking English was when arrested and thrown in jail in Cambodia in the early 1990s when Pol Pot and his lunatic band of merry henchmen were still wandering free. Apparently English was the language of the ‘running dogs of the West.’ Our captor also told us (in English!) that we were spies. It was difficult to take a guy in silky pyjama pants seriously even if he was carrying a machine gun, especially when we figured that Rambo was going to be really pissed off when he found out that pyjama-boy had knicked his bandana.

Feeling uncomfortable about being surrounded by another language should be the domain of the insecure or unhinged, not the problem of an equal opportunity employer like a supermarket or a bus company in New Zealand. Insisting on English in the staffroom as the Foodstuffs employer, New World did recently, is so… last century. There are no safety issues in chatting in what you please over a cup of tea. But it’s no wonder that English speakers are so strident about the need to speak English – in general it’s the only thing we can speak. While many kids abroad can take their pick of at least two languages to move through the world, most here have only got the one. Kiwis in general, don’t pick up more than how to order a beer in the language of the country they are living in. Of all the expat kiwis I’ve met working overseas, from bankers to tour bus drivers to Christian missionaries there have been very few who have learnt the language and instead have relied on the linguistic largesse of a talented group of locals who work with them – in English. Young kiwis at the Octoberfest are not famous for their fluency in German or their willingness to converse politely with the locals either.

Surely we should extend some of the tolerance we enjoy abroad to our own backyard.

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