The rise and rise of the cupcake goddesses

I know there are some big issues out there – Iran looks like it might implode, blue fin tuna are about to go the way of the moa and people are selling their houses to pay the electricity bill but the question that has really gripped me this week is: “What is with Nigella Lawson and that cup of tea?”

Our own kitchen goddess, Alison Holst, would need Buckwheat as her personal stylist and then take a bucket load of E to get the same result. No cup of tea could ever, not even in a marketing manager’s mind, ever, be that exciting.

And I’m deeply suspicious of the resurgence of the cupcake trend and trussed up look of the 1950’s just when the job market is getting tight. Haven’t we been here before?

I thought women got sold the whole ‘1000 mind numbing ways to clean a toilet or make a one egg sponge’ deal the first time round to get them out of the work force to make way for the returning servicemen after the war.

Cleaning product companies have gone into overdrive inventing ever more satanic looking toilet germs that only their superfowl duck or whatever other cartoon character they’ve enlisted in the fictitious war against germs, can fight.

Girls, there are no germs of mass destruction lurking in your toilet bowl.

The real job of most of these commercials is to make women paranoid that the family toilet bowl is somehow reflective of their own personality. What – after all, does your loo say about you? Well, nothing. It’s a loo. Not a Nazi informer. But is the sub-text that perhaps we should all give up our day jobs and go home to help fight the war against the toilet germs? And what if Germaine was right? What if the domestic bliss gig is just a crock?

My own grandmother was so bored as a housewife in the ‘50s her mother gave her cigarettes to stop her nervous habit of biting her nails and ruining her glamorous demeanour.

My gran majored in golf, perfect nails, gin and an excellent smoking ethic but despite her life of relative ease I don’t recall her being particularly happy or satisfied.

Let’s face it. Nobody changes lives by cleaning a toilet or baking the perfect cupcake (although the healing benefits of a really good day baking are not to be overlooked but only if you choose to do it, not as some form of ritualised feminine exercise in self-worth.) And who are we kidding anyway – the cupcakes and the souffl├ęs are only going to impress our girl friends or gay friends because if you throw your average non-vegetarian bloke a steak and chips, chances are he’ll be happy.

I see a trend of 20 somethings throwing themselves wholeheartedly into gingham aprons and worry that they may wake up in 20 years and wonder where their life went.

The Nigella Lawson model of womanhood may slowly be creeping back into our consciousness as an archetypal figure of what being female means ;- demur, domestically diligent and permanently on heat.

The ‘desperate housewives’ model of womanhood is terrifying, yet disturbingly many young women are signing up for cupcake lessons and books on domestic goddesses are selling like..well, cupcakes. It just makes it tougher for the girls who want to take up political and economic space and may have the audacity to keep footing it in the big wide world instead of just marrying well.

Last time I checked Pride and Prejudice was supposed to be an interesting historical read not a social guide book.

So, if you’re one of the ones facing tough times at work - flag the cupcake lessons (unless that really is your thing) hold on to your hats and jobs and if the boys start accusing you of being a bitch in the board room, and that you should be more like Nigella, tell them; it’s something you picked up from the Vietcong during your time in ‘nam, or in your terrorist embroidery guild.

And a word to Nigella and that cup of tea. Get a room.

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Rates Break

When I grow up I want to be a developer. I guess the odds of me actually growing up are fairly slim now having already reached four score and not acquired any sudden wisdom or maturity – so I might hope that my daughter or nephew may aspire to such status as becoming one of the great New Zealand untouchables; a developer.

In India they have untouchables. These are the miserable beings at the bottom of the social ladder who do all the jobs that are necessary yet unpleasant in any society and then get despised for doing them.

In New Zealand we have another kind of untouchable – blessed beings at the top of the social hierarchy who are beyond the rules and indeed realm of us lower caste members and who remain untouched by such things as economic hardship or following too many of the legal requirements that being a citizen requires. These beings are not so much born into their caste as they lobby their way in. It’s not that no one wants to touch them it’s just that very few can.

Take the latest rates break for developers in the Far North.

While us mere mortals have to weather paying our rates whatever financial storms may come – developers have been given a further 3 year exemption on top of the three they have already had

That’s right.

For the previous 3 years, relatively good times one would have thought for developers, multiple title land owners have not had to pay the Uniform Annual General Charge because the Far North Council has deemed it necessary to give them a helping hand. I suppose this could be due to their elevated status as having contributed to humanity in some super human way. But hang on, medical researchers, novelists or charity workers don’t get the same breaks with their rates bills, so maybe not.

Those in favour of giving multiple titled landowners six years of rates relief at a total cost to council of $269,000 (a sum I’m sure many ratepayers in the Far North could find a use for by the way of library facilities or cycle ways) argued that developers are ‘the backbone of the Northland economy’ and therefore deserve a financial break.

Surely the far North has more economic vigour than just the passive ability to cut up a finite resource?

What about the tourism industry? What would the Far North be without the tourists, 90 mile beach and Paihia? With swine flu, a pear-shaped economy and a 3% drop in tourist numbers surely anyone in the tourism industry could do with rates relief right now?

What about the dairy farmers who don’t own multiple properties, came late to the gold rush and are now mortgaged to the hilt with falling milk prices? Surely they might be deserving of a rates break?

And surely the one benefit of a recession like this is to take the heat out of unrealistic developments that oversell themselves with huge media hype as ‘investment properties’ that no one actually intends to live in and which often leave local ratepayers with huge costs for increased infrastructure such as sewerage? Quite apart from the damage caused when people wake up and realise they’ve lost their life savings on a hyped up marketing scheme, the real value of which is largely a fiction.

Ruakaka and Coopers Beach, here in the North and Whitianga and Matarangi in the Coromandel can give us some instructive insight into the problems of Councils bending over backwards to accommodate developers without considering what is best for the community as a whole.

Do these guys really need more of a break than they’ve already been given?

C’mon Far North Council.

If you’re going to play favourites at least give someone nice a break – like pensioners or kindy teachers. Not the big boy bullies who lean and lobby the hardest.

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Make school Illegal

If we want to get kids staying in school we’re going to have to make it illegal. Hey - it works in Afghanistan. The girls are willing to risk acid attacks and beatings in order to get themselves an education and the teachers are willing to risk their lives in order to give them one. Here we have to employ a parallel paediatric police force, (truancy officers) to try and keep our kids at the books. Northland suffers from endemic truancy – it seems to be a whole way of life for some kids up here.

I still haven’t forgotten the conversation with an eight year old, when I came out to find him setting fire to my rubbish bin.
I asked him why he wasn’t at school. He said he was being home schooled. While I doubted that setting fire to rubbish bins was part of the home school curriculum, I did wonder why, if he was being home schooled, he wasn’t at home instead of wandering out on the street. He said he’d been locked out of home until his Mum came back from work but that she’d given him 20 bucks for some food - and that he’d spent it on a flash water gun – so did I have anything that he could eat? When I asked him why he had matches on him anyway… he showed me his packet of cigarettes and gave me a look that said ‘Duh!’ with all the silent eloquence only a street wise 8 year old can muster.

I found it hard to see much of a difference between this young lad and the kids who lived in the train station and streets near my house in Argentina who would cadge food and money from me as I went to work every morning – I was losing that ‘first world/ third world’ feeling. The only difference being that most of those kids in Argentina would give an arm and a leg to be in school – there, they still see education as the big lottery ticket out. Out of poverty. Out of living in areas that even the police are too scared to enter. Out of places that don’t even have a bus service because the local council has given up sending buses after the last 5 have been hijacked at gunpoint.

In Thailand, I saw one family who only had money for one uniform to go round 4 boys, let one boy a day use it, wash it each night and pass it on to the next brother so each could get a day at school. It was then his job to teach the other brothers what he’d learnt at school that night. Having been a chronic bunker as a teenager with the usual slackness born of privilege I couldn’t believe that teenagers could love school so much. Until I saw where they’d come from and realised that order and free lunch can sure go a long way to fostering a love of books. At least there is an honesty about countries where there is just not enough cash to go around. The government just says to its population; “Look. You’re poor. If you can’t afford the fees or the uniform, bad luck, I know you’re only 8 – now get a job.

Maybe we should adopt the same approach. Making school illegal will make it instantly attractive to most teenagers – look what banning party pills has done for E sales!

We like to pretend that we have an egalitarian education system and that everyone benefits from it while systematically turning a blind eye to the thousands of kids each year who slip through the net and eventually contribute in Northland anyway, to New Zealand’s worst literacy rates and a higher than usual incidence of burnt out rubbish bins.

The answer? Criminalise education.

Ban whole sectors of the population from entry. Make teachers go underground by intimidation and threats (most are rank individualists –they’ll soon rebel) and open schools to the rare few who can prove they’re really interested. Then give them a decent lunch before they hit the books. They’ll be breaking down the doors to get in.

Need help? Related Information

Whangarei District Truancy Services (WDTS)

Kiwi Families - On School Attendance & Truancy

Far North Adult Literacy REAP

Literacy Aotearoa

Ministry of Education - 2006 Statistics on Truancy

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What can we do with our poo?

What can we do with our poo? Human waste is so ‘now’ in Whangarei - much like it was in Wellington 20 years ago when we happily pumped raw sewerage into Cook Strait. Those were much simpler times; I remember a disturbing walk on one of the beaches on the far side of the harbour where the council employed two full-time bulldozers to bury everything from doll’s heads to needles under the sand.

Mr. Semenoff stated categorically in his weekly address to the populace that we will be disappointed on the issue if we thought that zero spillage into the harbour was an option. False hope is such a killer – so it’s good to get the ground rules straight but I still have a lingering delusion that one day I may live in a town where I can eat the fish out of the nearest river or harbour without first having to wade through ‘urban jellyfish’ (the floating condom phenomenon seen on Auckland beaches after sewerage spills) or dying of cholera for my efforts.

Knowing that we will be disappointed in the hope of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy goal by council - helps, we’re obviously going to have to get creative.
The True Blue Roo Poo Company was an exciting discovery – a genius way to get rid of Roo Poos, apparently they make an ‘instant conversation starter’ when on display at home and at 25 bucks a bottle a nice little earner. They also have a more upmarket range of Koala poo – which apparently smells of eucalyptus, an elegant addition to any potpourri. I’m not sure that our people poo or dairy effluent will attract the same tourist dollar but hey – there’s no harm in a little brain storming on the issue.

Then there’s the export market. Apparently New York exports thousands of tonnes of ‘sludge’ which is code for sewerage and unlike most products the recipient gets paid to take it. This has huge potential. Several European nations have tried shipping container loads of poo to places like Uruguay and Argentina, all it takes is a few corrupt officials - a dime a dozen in places like that. Japan was looking to the Philippines not so long ago with this in mind. Understandably the locals took umbrage at being dumped on at such a distance and it never happened but Whangarei could perhaps look closer to home – maybe shipping it to Coromandel or Waiheke and calling it organic grape fertiliser – surely this could reap top green dollars?

We could sell it to social researchers. I’m serious. Oregon State University discovered they could practically urine test an entire city by checking the sewerage outlets and find out what drugs the citizens had been partaking of during a weekend. The cities had varying drug profiles according to the sewerage data; i.e. one was an ‘ecstasy’ abuser, in another, cocaine appeared to be the drug of choice. Seeing that Whangarei seems to be developing into the methamphetamine capital of New Zealand does that mean that we should warn those brave souls fishing down at Port Road by putting up big signs saying ‘These mullet are on P and are possibly armed’?

And then there’s Sri Lanka. Some bleeding heart has come up with the idea of giving the unemployed the work of collecting and processing elephant dung in a business called, ‘Ellie Poos’ and turning it into excrementally inspired designer cards and gifts. The formerly jobless get 5% of the profits. Lucky them. Surely this idea is the ultimate recession beater for Whangarei?

But are we overlooking the obvious solution? What happened to that cultural icon that so represents our colonial heritage that it once stood as an exhibit in Venice from the people of New Zealand? What has happened to the great kiwi long drop

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The F**K It Way

If you could do a degree in worrying I’d have a PhD by now. Having a child seems to have twisted my perspective on consequences and I now have an almost hallucinatory ability to imagine the worst possible outcomes. Of course it hardly ever happens. The cold – is a cold and not pig flu. The crack in the chimney is not forewarning of a Peruvian style land slide (I have an emergency plan which vaguely involves riding the rooftop as we go down the hill) and the recession so far has not seen us boiling grass for dinner.

I’ve tried a variety of ways to trick myself out of this negative and self defeating habit. I’ve meditated and followed my breath until convinced I actually had undiagnosed emphysema. I felt the fear and did it and later often regretted it anyway realising that ‘the fear’ was actually telling me that what I was about to do was incredibly stupid. I’ve even tried chanting mantras re: calmness and inner peace while secretly worrying that perhaps I’d really done it this time and had actually gone bonkers but just didn’t know it because I’d been too busy chanting.

Which is why I was so charmed recently to find an entire book entitled ‘The F**K it Way!

John C Parkin –the creator of the ‘F**K It Way’ says that saying ‘F’ it to everything is really ‘massage for the mind.’ He argues that it is a spiritual act to say a big ‘F**K It’ to the world and that it is the perfect ‘western expression of the eastern idea of letting go’. It would take a Scotsman to come up with this but I’m almost convinced and I can see a world of startling and life enhancing possibilities opening up before me if I become a ‘F**k It’ disciple and follow my own F**K It inner journey. From trying to do business with provincial rugby jocks to wasting life energy on working out how Martha Stewart would fold a fitted sheet – my life would instantly be transformed in marvellous ways by dealing with it the ‘F**K It’ way.

Take Lai Jian Sheng, the Chinese man who, bored after waiting for hours in heavy traffic, while a man contemplated suicide, obviously communed with his inner sense of ‘F**K This!’ and went and talked to the man. Lai offered him his hand, shook it and then gave him a big shove off. Lai was photographed giving a cheery wave to the plummeting almost-suicide victim as a final example of his mastery of the ‘F**K It Way’. I’m waiting for Lai Jian to be invited to Mr. Parkin’s Italian retreat to give insights into when the ‘F**K It’ philosophy really gelled for him. Of course this situation would never have eventuated if the potential suicide victim had dealt with his suffocating debt by saying ‘F**K It’ and declaring insolvency or whatever it is that clever business people do in order to take shareholders money and say, ‘sorry but the business has gone belly up’ as they reverse the launch out and crack open a Moet. The Directors of all those finance companies must surely be high priests of ‘F**K Itism.’

And then there’s Leo Gao and Kara Hurring. Would you pass the ultimate‘F**K It’ test? Would you be back at the helm of your failing business on the Monday morning – or would you say ‘F**K It’ and take the money and run? I’m such a novice devotee – I’d be trying to give the bank back the interest but I’m working on it.

I have a holy picture of Eric Watson and Lai Jian Sheng on my wall for inspiration. If I was Westpac I’d be looking at that villa in Italy for Leo and Kara. There’s a convention of ‘F**kiteers there every month. My bets they’re there.

The end of needless worrying is nigh. It’s time. I’m ready to say ‘F**K It’. Who will join me?

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