I’ve been thinking of a thrifty chic Christmas

I’ve been thinking of a thrifty chic Christmas. You know the kind – the one that costs two bucks and still looks like it’s come straight out of a magazine. And while I’m working on how exactly this will be achieved, it’s got me remembering my Nan. Every Christmas she would look on our stash of toys and lollies and papers and marvel at our capacity for excess. She’d tell us she’d once got an orange (an orange!) in her santa sack and had been ecstatic as fruit had been a rare treat. She was 13 when she saw her first banana and an adult before she’d tasted a pineapple. As we scoffed our perky nanas and chocolate santas we concluded that she was bonkers and obviously hadn’t tried hard enough to have a good Christmas because we knew that there had always been refrigerated transport and you could eat or buy anything from anywhere in the world whenever you liked. Especially in a depression. Easy. With Nan, thriftiness was a very close tie with Godliness and definitely trumped cleanliness when push came to shove.

I was in high school before I realised that tin foil wasn’t a precious metal as I had always assumed by the way we were never allowed to throw it out but faithfully return it after picnics to her stash in her kitchen drawers. She took being canny to almost cult level. Her mock white bait fritters (made from grated potato) were actually scrumptious but her recycled tea bag scheme on the washing line was a family scandal. Strangely though, despite her reluctance to spend a cent more than she had to I remember Christmases at her house as being incredibly abundant. She had an enormous vege and fruit garden to raid and acres of pantry space filled with over-flowing biscuit tins. Her Christmas cake was justifiably famous and in order to maintain her alpha baker status in the town, she would routinely give all the women who asked for the recipe a fake doctored one to ensure that theirs would never turn out as good as hers. Domestic Science Sabotage!

So…in the footsteps of Nan and having done a quick and highly unscientific survey of friends and family on their handy tips for a recession- proof Christmas I’ve come up with the top 4 money savers:

  1. Discover the bohemian chic of a second hand Christmas. Old silver lamps, vintage tin toys -it’s not budget it’s classy recycling. It’s taken me years to work out that the store where the mad Latin routinely buys his designer French jeans or Norwegian leather boots from is not an exotic importers named ‘Salvaaseeon Armani’. Nor is he being maintained by some well- heeled mistress with a much better cash flow than moi. It is in fact the Sally Army Store.
  2. Quell all expectations from the outset. Tell your kids you’re not giving presents this year but are instead donating a goat to an African village because those kids need it a lot more than they do. Then suggest that you may also be interested in sending the toys and video games that they already have to Samoa for Christmas. Then when they do get that orange in the santa sack they’ll be rapt.
  3. If you’re the cook for Christmas day suggest a ‘Survivor’ theme Christmas dinner. Send all family members to the beach armed with buckets and spear guns. Tell them Christmas dinner must be hunted and killed first. Put your feet up, savour the Pinot and wait and see what comes home to Mama. Note: Tell the kids the neighbours bunnies don’t count.
  4. When the kids go troppo at the sound of Greensleeves, explain that Mr. Whippy only plays the music to tell all the little children that he’s sorry that the ice-cream has all run out for today. Works till the age of 7 apparently.

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The best apology of the year award ...

The best apology of the year award just has to go to Mr. Harawira – you have to hand it to him he has got flair. In the same kind of way a grenade might have I guess. Rodney Hide’s apology was about as exciting as watching a puppy wet himself whereas Mr. Harawira’s had everyone, most especially Mr. Goff running for cover.

An apology that goes along the lines of ‘yes – I may have been slightly exuberant in my choice of pronouns but what I really regret is that the leader of the opposition wasn’t shot when he agreed to the Foreshore deal’ is pure Hone and I have to admit I found it hilarious. I would love to be able to give an apology like that one day. I know. If it were the national front saying the same kind of thing against another race I would have read the sentiments entirely differently and be wading in boots and all – but the thing is, I just can’t get that excited about it. In the miniscule town where I grew up – if you wanted to play social sport you had to join the kapahaka group and spend an hour doing some cultural studies before a game of netball. It was the mid eighties and some of the speakers at those groups were fairly radical. A lot of it sounded a lot like Mr. Harawira’s email – being about 14 at the time most of it sailed in one ear and straight out the other - which in a way has pretty much been our recent history – one group shouting and the other humming loudly lost in the bliss of being the status quo. On the one occasion I was actually feeling uncomfortable about being there I remember putting up my hand and saying ‘aah… I’m pakeha… and umm… I’m actually only here for the netball and lollies.’ I wasn’t trying to be funny. It was just part of the wallpaper of growing up in that place in those times. It’s not like Hone was saying anything different from what he has been saying for the last 20 years – he would have imbibed that rhetoric with his mother’s milk and his particular way of expressing himself has always just been the rough cutting edge of a larger more studied and more measured movement. It’s not after all, as Tariana Turia so gently and elegantly put it ‘that there is not a history there.’

Watching Hone’s war canoe paddle out in full steam is always going to be a great show – especially when he started tossing that enormous red race herring over the side when someone suggested he should have shown up for work instead of taking the missus for a spin in the City of Lerv. It was even sadder to watch the media scramble after that red herring and how quickly it became a conversation of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ which is always the death of any real conversation at all. And it was just a red herring, the real issue being; MP’s travel perks and the use or abuse thereof. I’d like to be able to tell my bosses that I hadn’t turned up to work today because my ancestors were killed in Auschwitz or had their land confiscated in Scotland. Fat chance.

Last week’s media furore over Hone Hawira’s outburst exposed a sensitive nerve in New Zealand’s psyche without doing anything to address either the ride we’re all being taken for when MP’s take their girlfriends beach hopping at our expense or the issue of the increasing poverty gap in New Zealand where young Maori are often at the bottom of the economic and educational heap.

None of my newly immigrated friends took any interest in the media mud-wrestling over Hone’s comments. If you’ve been to any graduation ceremonies recently you might see why. Look at all the honours degrees in engineering, medicine, sciences, architecture and design. Listen for the names and you’ll see that while Maori/Pakeha relations are still not able to get it together to address the problems we face, the newest arrivals are slowly and steadily working at simply getting ahead.

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Christmas has the ability to send me screaming...

Christmas, like weddings, has the ability to leave me rocking quietly in the corner singing nursery rhymes to myself. It seems so soothing compared to the psychotic ranting of tunes such as ‘Here comes Santa Clause!” or the cloying sweetness of Mummy’s adultery as she kisses Santa Clause, that are drilled at us at this time of year in every shop. In all the mayhem of work, kids, new projects, relationship maintenance (like car maintenance I seem better at the roadside breakdown than the daily upkeep) paying tax and trying to find something exciting to do with the egg, bits of tomatoes and the tube of wasabi that is left in the fridge at 5:30pm – I somehow forgot about Christmas.

Then it happened. The girls at pak n save started appearing with Christmas tree earrings. I screamed and ran.

That wasn’t all. The girls in Whitcoulls had Christmassy headbands and the Santa Clauses on the wrapping paper were leering at me.

How could this happen so fast? Christmas – like most military campaigns must be organised and survived – preferably with no homicides and Mum not in the psych unit muttering about how the chestnut stuffing didn’t come out right. I’m not prepared and nothing is done! Kids need a present that will let them know you noticed something about them in the last 6 months and that the universe is basically on their side but not so much stuff that they go nuts and then drown in a sea of paper without even thanking anyone.

There are random Uncles that need to be avoided or another cunning plan to put Aunt Myrtle off making her 70’s gelatine ice Christmas pudding without telling her that it actually tastes like pigs trotters with raisins thereby taking away the one gift that she was convinced she had to give the world. There’s family politics with no speaker of the House to referee and then there’s the whole food deal thrown in on top. And in a recession.

Somehow Christmas – which is supposed to be a time of rest and inner refurbishment was looking more like a trans-tasman crossing in a bathtub.

Just as I tried to suppress my inner Grinch and reach deep… deep inside to find some unscroogelike sense of a Christmas spirit the shop assistant went and broke this Grinchy camel’s back. About to finish the transaction – allowing the possibility of a tantalisingly close escape to the tinsel free fresh air outside she said cheerily – with her reindeer headband bobbing delicately in the headlights of my incredulous stare “ Would you like any of our Christmas Specials!!!! on our Christmas Specials!!! table for $15?” The Christmas Specials Table!!! was a hodge podge collection of stuff that had nothing to do with Christmas and may as well have had a large sign on it which read “ Here is lots of crap that we can’t sell but hope you will be hypnotised into buying by the reindeer headbands our staff are wearing.” Strangely I could hear the theme song of the deer hunter and I was personally glad and indeed relieved that I was unarmed – because the day could have turned out very differently for all of us.

Christmas should not make one homicidal I thought driving home – it’s a time of miracles and hope and…financial hangovers and familial warfare said the inner Grinch. But lo, what is that on yonder horizon? (ok… down my driveway?) Is it not a modern Christmas miracle? The neighbours have between them mown my lawn and my Mum has left a Christmas cake in my deep freeze. ‘Un – iced’ she says… which is probably wise seeing as the last time she left me to ice a Christmas cake – I found the icing and the Santa and the reindeer… and then my brother’s old tin soldiers and a bottle of red cochineal and the cake became…well… Santa’s last stand at the North Pole – a Yuletide military operative in Afghanistan that had ended badly, in icing.

Thanks guys – you’ve restored that festive feeling!

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Pope Brian and the Empress of Everything

Pope Brian. It has a nice ring to it.

When I declare myself Empress of Everything – which should be a piece of cake seeing how easy it is to become a bishop these days I shall declare Brian my main man and he shall go forth and conquer vast continents – set up shop (or church) and systematically rape and plunder on my behalf and send me back the loot. He has that pioneering spirit and if it weren’t so last millennium I’d give the idea some serious thought. Although I suspect he might be rather high maintenance – by the time the populace of his conquered domains had offered the pre requisite ‘surprise’ gift giving to his Popeness there might not be enough loot left over for moi – which obviously is the whole point of the exercise. And that cargo cult mentality can get so draining – even for an empress.

Sure, they’ll give me their houses, sons and a short brutish life of unending labour but in the end I’ll still have to come up with the beads and blankets. Just like Brian will. There’s a lot of talk of abundance and entitlement in Tamakiland - any person coming from a developing country may be forgiven for wondering where greed and the story about the fat guy and the eye of the needle comes in, although I have just heard that Bishop Brian is building a religious theme park in west Auckland with a giant upside down needle buried in the earth so that he’ll be able to get his 4 wheel drive and fishing boat right through it. Kidding. Brian, please don’t put a Christian fatwa on my head. I’m really not getting in your face – I might find that difficult what with the Tsunami-like hairdo and all those body guards. Going into exile can be so tedious but I would have to if you do that silly haka and hair gel thing you boys do outside my door day and night. And while we’re on the subject of intimidating; Boys, (and it does seem to be all boys) how hard is it to point to a car park on a Sunday morning? You do not need an earpiece and a walkie talkie. One could almost be forgiven for thinking many of your new Spiritual Sons had swapped one gangland culture for another. Instead, as punishment for my heresy you can explain to me the error of my ways on the next $40,000 cruise you take. I promise to take notes. Other religions don’t seem to suffer from the obsession with loot that you TV Christian evangelists seem to. Buddhists don’t fixate on ‘getting more things’ – they will tell you life sucks, you’ll suffer – get used to it, go give your stuff to poor people. Harsh – yet fairly accurate. The nuns who despairingly guided me through my Hare Krishna years and ate half a mouldy apple for lunch, weren’t real big on ‘abundance’ either. They spent their lives in service to God by being in service to the whole of our grubby, seething, endlessly needy humanity. I made fun of them then, but had a huge begrudging respect for those feisty upholders of social justice. Asking an ex-prison warden who the toughest person on Paremoremo’s notorious D block was in his 25 years experience, he answered, surprisingly, ‘a 5 foot zero nun who ran their social services’. Those old girls really walked the talk.

With Bishop Brian, I see only talk and way too much hair product. I don’t see a lot of real sowing or serving. Other than the serving of self variety. I hear him preaching the gospel of capitalism.
The logic goes ‘if you follow us and live right, (our way), and don’t have any gay friends you too will have a two door garage and a fishing boat just like self-made Bishop Brian. Can’t wait. The problem is – when life happens like Brian loses his millions in a property scam or his wife runs off with some guy called Lorenzo she met on the cruise ship or his sons turn out gay– would he ipso facto have lost his spiritual mojo or mandate? If Brian got poor – would Jesus (or his followers for that matter) still love him?

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