Christmas often leaves me feeling morally if not financially bankrupt. I

Christmas often leaves me feeling morally if not financially bankrupt. It’s a season where I confront the fact that I have no real scruples than can stand up to the gusts of a seven year old’s barrage of thinly veiled desire. Yes. I bought and wrapped and gifted a blonde Barbie in her porno pink vet clinic suit (seriously – how many vets do you know that dress in pink mini skirts with white French maid aprons) and I struggle with the justification I gave myself which was: at least this Barbie has a job and is not swanning around being a fake princess. Ba humbug. She, (the seven year old, not the Barbie) loves her and her Polly Pick Parent’s Pocket and Little Pet Shop thingys which divested me of serious cash for small pieces of loseable plastic. She spends all day brushing Barbie’s hair and changing Polly’s clothes and choosing flooring and wallpaper options for their imaginary home together. I wonder why I bothered marching to ‘reclaim the night’ or joining the women’s electoral lobby at age 19 when I could have just dressed as Barbie and made a whole lot more cash. I point out that Barbie will lose her job in the vet clinic if she spends all day brushing her own hair and painting the toe nails of the pets but it is to no avail. Barbie and Polly are not universally loved for their usefulness to society. The holiday season is also a time when I’ve slowed down for at least long enough to be less of a human doing and more of a human being and realise that this small person, absorbed as she is in painting the toenails of small plastic animals is really pretty cool. In the slower holiday moments when I am not shouting at her for some minor misdemeanour or she is not hiding my hairbrush as revenge for some act of authority I have visited upon her I feel privileged that I’ve had her for those seven years and look forward to all the mayhem and wonder that she will undoubtedly wield in my life. This past year seems to have been an incredibly stressful one for many – if the economy were a hairline it would not be merely in recession - it would just be bald, and inevitably that takes its toll on those in shaky jobs or even shakier small businesses and can easily sap the energy it takes to be a good parent. Christmas also seems to be the season of guilt where you get to slow down enough to reflect that perhaps you’re unlikely to win any Mum of the year prizes and that there are too many books left unread and scrapbooks left undone. It’s as I’m thinking over the past year and wishing for things in the new one, that I’m brought back to reality by a phone call. A close friend rings from the intensive care ward in Christchurch. Her perfect beautiful three year old has spent the last 3 days in a coma and has a suspected brain tumour. He still hasn’t unwrapped his presents from Santa. He was climbing a rock one minute and being rushed to hospital the next. None of this makes sense. She’s angry. Another friend tells her she’s praying for her. She says not to bother because if there is someone in charge of all of this they don’t need praying to - they need a bloody good hiding. Nothing like a good atheist to tell it as they see it. I’m devastated for her and crossing every toe and finger that her boy is going to come round and it will be all alright. I also realise that the recession is bollocks. Worrying about giving in to a Barbie fetish is bollocks. Wishing for anything other than good health is bollocks and every thing else is a bonus whatever way you look at it. Even the bad rainy boring days with a healthy kid in the school holidays are looking pretty bloody marvellous.

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Pike River Mine

I don't want to write about the Pike River Mine. I find I have absolutely nothing to say. Some things are just too sad – too awful to bear thinking. I have no idea of what happened down there and sometimes the question 'Why?' that undoubtedly will ricochet round the court rooms and commission groups for the next few years has too many answers to be of any consolation to the people those 29 men left behind. So I won't. Instead I will write about what I do know something about – and that is grief.

I did an early apprenticeship in it when I lost my partner of 7 years when I was 26. It is difficult to explain the raw, hungry and often erratic emotional maelstrom that is grief. It comes in many forms. The grief at losing a parent at the end of their natural life is a very different beast to having a husband or child taken far too soon. What many, indeed what I didn't know, was that grief could be so physical. A blinding ruthless pain that can leave you breathless and disorientated months after the funeral is over. It was during that time of intense grief that I understood the term 'rude health'. It seems inconceivable that there is often no physical trace of what those in the early stages of grief are going through. Impossible that a body can feel and look so physically sound when actually those in grief often feel like they're haemorrhaging on the inside. While they are coping with the necessary decisions that must be made it is a good thing to bear in mind that if we could actually see what is going on psychologically for these people they'd be rushed to emotional intensive care – if such a thing existed. Because the truth is that now, when disease and war no longer take the tithes on our population they once did we have lost the lore around death and knowing how to care for the grieving.

In Argentina most of the very old opera houses had 'widow's boxes' constructed almost under the floor where widows could enter and leave the opera and enjoy a few hours of entertainment without being looked at or talked about or even required to adhere to any of the rules of etiquette. Their clothing and their veil would also have given notice to the world that these are people whom we must treat very gently for the next wee while so that more damage than the loss that they have already suffered is not done. They must be listened to and respected regardless.

In grief you hold onto wild hope long past where that is still rationally justified and those grieving must be allowed that. Grief has nothing to do with reality or rationality and everything to do with a sense that our dead may be still with us and watching and the ones closest to them will always be the last ones to emotionally pack up and go home – anything else would carry with it a sense of betrayal. When confronted with the full horror of a lifetime's absence of a person whom you loved more than life itself the mind will stall acceptance so that the full knowledge of that can be assimilated slowly enough for the person to bear. We should respect that process rather than try to reason with it. Those left behind will need love and their windows cleaned. They will need a patient ear and the vacuuming done. They might need to be reminded to eat or a guilt-free night out of dedicated forgetting with some close friends. They will need a good crew that will travel alongside for awhile until they work out how to paddle their waka without the person they loved on board. In the wake of such a sense of helplessness over the inability to mount a rescue effort for the 29 miners it is important to remember that we can still launch an emotional rescue of the many people they loved and had to leave behind.

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Pauline Hanson

Pauline Hanson, the infamously xenophobic politician, has just become Australia’s latest boat person. It was not that long ago that she packed her bags and huffed off to England as some form of ill conceived protest over Australia becoming unbearably full of immigrants. So off to the colonial homeland she went where no significant outside contributions had been made to the gene pool and everybody ate mushy peas. Struth! Apparently England and the whole of Europe is full of immigrants too. Who knew? And so she’s back . From outer space. I can hear the Aussies singing “ We should have changed that stupid lock, we should have made you leave your key if we’d known for just one second you’d be back to bother me.” And still she survives politically. As does Aung San Suu Kyi. Two women more different in character, intelligence and integrity would be difficult to find and yet there is a connection. If Pauline really finds the idea of desperate people using drastic measures to try to find a life more bearable surely it would be in her best interests to help the cause of people like Aung San Suu Kyi, the once democratically elected leader of Burma? Somehow I think it is unlikely yet that is the reality. Who seriously chooses the croc-infested salt marshes of Northern Australia as option A unless your life is truly insufferable? And life in a country where fat gold encrusted generals spend between 40 to 60 % of the GDP on their own military toys and only .5% on education and where about 1 in 12 women die of complications in pregnancy, must indeed be intolerable. Burma’s problems cause enormous infrastructural problems for Thailand and the rest of her neighbouring countries and should be a cause for concern for all of us. The sanctions applied to its brutal military dictatorship are a joke. In retaliation the US is banned from investing there. Except for the joint venture in exporting gas which started about 10 years ago. Funny how they didn’t make the exception for investing in high schools but then with only 34% of kids attending those I guess it wasn’t economically viable. Travelling there over 18 years ago Burma seemed to me then to be a country whose economic back was broken. Since then it’s only got worse. Failed states are the weakest link in any strategic approach to problem solving rendering any cooperative policy effectively useless. In the early 90’s, Thailand, along with the World Wildlife Fund was desperately trying to get on top of its elephant poaching and illegal ivory and logging trades. It was doing well – except over the border in Burma I saw enormous warehouses bordering a river, stacked to the roof with teak logs and elephant tusks and I heard everything from Russian to Chinese being spoken as it was traded. Uniformed army officers stood by while trucks and boats were loaded, presumably providing security for the traders. It was also a country where the paranoid find their world view entirely justified. Travelling with a bloke whose alternative agricultural pursuits had, in my opinion made him ridiculously paranoid, he informed me at one point that we were being followed. To demonstrate this he insisted we circle a roundabout on our rented bikes a total of 9 times. I acquiesced in order to prove him wrong and rode around the requisite number. As did the guy who was following us. There were only the three of us on the roundabout endlessly circling. It was stupendously silly and eventually we all started giggling. When we’d finally got far enough out of town and away from prying eyes that might report him, he caught up with us. His English was flawless – in the days of Burma being a British colony he’d had a great uncle at Oxford. He agreed to let us buy him lunch in the next town as long as we sat at different tables and refused to talk or even look at him. He wanted to know one thing; could we help get him out of there? And that’s exactly why Pauline and her political ilk should worry a lot less about an influx of refugees and concentrate instead on helping Aung San Suu Kyi get her nation off its knees.

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My Life in Lycra

It’s about that time of year when I start making rash promises to myself to drink carrot juice for the rest of my life and join a gym. Togs season. I went to a gym once. Actually I even went to an aerobic class once – even funnier – I once watched a woman try to teach an English lesson to a group of Somalian refugees (from memory she was trying to demonstrate imperatives) by dressing up in a leotard and shouting at them to follow along. All three exercise endeavours ended badly. At the gym it turned out I had booked myself into some macho den of testosterone and due to some ridiculous eighties feminist philosophy I felt it below me to ask anyone how to use any of the gear. I followed this guy in undies and a wide belt around trying to copy what he was doing (yes – it is even creepier than I have words for) which is how I ended up on a bench press with 2 million kilos to push up. I got the bar – pole thingy about 2cm above my nose and then it fell back pinning me – on my back and in a very compromising position with the weight of an elephant on my throat. I decided it would be better to die than to have the humiliating task of asking Mr. Wonder Woman outfit to come and lift the pole off my neck and so I wriggled helplessly in a vain and undoubtedly undignified attempt to free myself. Then I really did think I was going to die and so managed a feeble strangulated squeal. I swear undie guy was smirking as he came and took the pole off my now purple neck and I was oddly satisfied that he did not find it easy either. Slinking out the door I quietly acknowledged that I had experienced my first and last bench press. And that was the gym.

Then I decided to give myself a permanent wedgie and try aerobics class. There was definite pink lyrca involvement (the saleswoman called it ‘cerise’ and it was the eighties – give me a break.) The big haired gal at the front of the class looked normal enough – until the music started. And then it was like Olivia Newton John had some vile army sergeant’s evil offspring and then gave her methamphetamine and unleashed her upon the world to teach jazzercise to the slackers that didn’t know what to do with their limbs in their free time. I’m still traumatised and so have blocked a lot of the detail from my consciousness but there was an awful lot of shouting and bumping into people going the other direction to me. We were also encouraged to think of all the people we hated that had pissed us off during the day and we could then spend 10 minutes punching the air and pretending it was their face. I could do a whole lot better now but back then I just couldn’t feel the hate. I was at a loss and told evil jazzercise empress that I’d sit this one out partly because I actually liked everyone I worked, studied and lived with at that time and partly out of some deeply embedded Buddhist idea of not sending out too much that you didn’t want to come back and bite you on your lycra-clad butt. And that was aerobics.

The English/ jazzergetics lesson nearly got me expelled from a teacher training course which just goes to prove how dangerous exercise can be. We were supposed to critique each other’s lesson plans and give pitfall preventative feedback. The woman in question was a radical Christian fundamentalist and was about to go forth and teach English as a way of bothering just about everyone. When I saw that she was about to get up in a leotard in front of a group of radical Islamic fundamentalists, whose wives (all at home and kept wisely away from our lunacy – but who all wore burqas) and get them to do a jazz ballet class I realised I had no choice. I encouraged her. Which is truly the only time I can say that exercise has been such huge fun.

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Surf Nazis in the Naki

Somehow you just don’t expect those spiritual swell searchers – the average modern surfer - to be such macho territorial dickheads. It just doesn’t seem to go with all that hemp and natural food. You’d expect more love and equality a little respect even: a deeply shared masochistic passion for a stretch of water that can either take you for a very good ride or give you the thrashing of your life. Not so. I guess the ocean is a little hard to go around marking territory by peeing on your turf but the Coastal Boardriders of Taranaki have gone and given it a bloody good go. The Association of Surfing Professionals Top women surfers are competing in Taranaki this week – home town to one of New Zealand’s most promising young female surfers Paige Hareb. It must be fairly embarrassing to invite the top international professionals in your field back to your place to compete and then have your guests called ‘rapists’ by the boys back home. My heart would go out to Paige if I weren’t already convinced that somewhere in her recent history she’d outclassed some of the perturbed protestors in the water and that they might still be smarting. Worried about their surf break becoming popular on the international circuit and thereby losing some of its exclusivity, some surf Nazis have gone about sabotaging billboards and pouring chemicals on the grass in a very eco unfriendly attempt at drawing attention to the possible damage to the environment that could be caused by Taranaki becoming an international surf mecca. I guess logic is not a surfer’s strong point. I find it interesting though that it’s the women’s international competition that has caused such a reaction. I don’t recall any Raglan surfers getting upset when Ben Harper and Jack Johnson started surfing at their local beach, even reportedly buying land there - and I’m wondering if it was perhaps that they are just intrinsically cool - or because they had willies. Hard to say. If the surf punks were really worried about the possible environmental degradation that could potentially happen then surely they should be taking their concerns over infrastructure and the provision of adequate toilets etc to the council rather than taking it out on the girls and threatening to wreck the show. They should also have been protesting about events like Womad too – but I bet they weren’t.

It’s not like the girls, as professional athletes, really get a decent bite at the big apples of advertising deals and sponsorship like the blokes do. Except that is, in the glamour sports like surfing. Surfing is one of those areas in which young kiwi women could do really well internationally but we have traditionally lacked the role models and scaffolding of world class events where young athletes get to see the pros doing their stuff and become inspired. Lets face it – it’s pretty hard to be a professional woman athlete in New Zealand. Become an All Black – get paid millions – become a Silver Fern, hold on to your retainer of 12K collect 50K if you’re really special and go and get a part time job. Susan Devoy had to win 4 World Opens and they were only held biannually. Then she went and took out 8 British Opens and only then did she get the backing of a vitamin company. I didn’t see Susan carousing with taxi boys or madly texting Texan strippers and Nike still didn’t come calling. How many world cups did Daniel Carter bring home before that undie company was after him? You don’t even have to be pretty like Danny. That French rugby player who looks like the 4th figure on those high school evolutionary theory charts that go from fish to man in 7 easy steps – has managed to score himself a pretty tight deal with Rebel Sports for his shaggy style.

Surfing is one area where for women the sport and the big money combine. All I’m saying to the surf Nazis in the ‘naki is this : loosen the board shorts and live a little. Let the girls have a go.

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We are gathered here to question...

We are gathered here today for the inaugural assembly for those who have been legally mugged, however lovingly and professionally, by a lawyer. Put your hands up those of you for whom this is a first meeting – having formerly been too shy, disaffected or confused to question the legal beagle’s billing system. Yes – quite a few singed fingers out there – goodness sir! Those look like third degree burns – I’d get those looked at if I were you. Now if you are a recipient of legal aid – then I’m afraid this meeting is not for you – we pick up your tabs one way or another as tax-payers and in most cases we’re all quite happy with that – although that may have to be looked at given the last few months of merry madness with the invoice slips by Chris Chomesky. But then Chris’s own lawyer said that everyone was doing it so he was hardly defending the moral high ground for his colleagues. The allegation that many lawyers were rorting the system upset the Lawyers’ Disciplinary Tribunal too – having suspended Mr. Chomesky they noted that his aspersions were ‘unsavoury’. I thought it interesting that they didn’t say that they were also incorrect. Still, we’re here to share your stories on the garden variety excesses you’ve experienced from the legal profession. Now I think it’s important to note right here that there are two lawyers whose advice I seek because they have a strong ethical base and are basically really good people. Having said that I’ve probably crossed about 10 lawyers in my life and so it is therefore safe to say based on extremely unscientific reasoning that it is only 80% of the profession that are giving the rest a bad name. Even Warren Brookbanks, a professor of Law at Auckland University said recently; “These days the law is seen more as a business, where the bottom line is that the firm should make a profit and operate as a business and with business ethics.” Now there’s an oxymoron - but what a business! I think what Warren was trying to say was that nowadays that the ranks of those practising law are less likely to be filled with seekers of social justice and far more likely to be occupied by greedy little hustlers but I could have got that wrong – sometimes it’s so hard to understand lawyers. Right. I think it’s only fair that I share first: Recently I got a bill for $1300 from a law firm for a very standard agreement. I had anticipated it would cost less than half of that so naturally I questioned it. “Does this invoice include the cocaine and dancing girls?” I asked. There was laughter. Then silence. ‘No. No cocaine or dancing girls.’ Mmm “Then can you break it down for me?” “I have. There was $10 for photocopying and $1300 for other stuff.” I see I said wincing. “So how much do you charge an hour?” “$350.00” he said. I gasped. ‘Is there a problem?’ he said. ‘No – no problem” I said, but thought privately: It’s just that no one has had me by my short and girlies in such a vice-like grip nor thrown me over a barrel quite so unapologetically in a while – this was just like being back in South America – just without the charm or good looks. I was scared to go and see him – what would a handshake cost? Without paying there was no paperwork –without the paperwork I could lose thousands. So I paid up. But the thing is, I actually do know a lawyer who charges $350 an hour and earns every bit of it. Apart from the flash office in Auckland and the high maintenance secretaries with the even higher skirts, he works for an oil company and does lightning fast legal footwork that’d make the Riverdance company look leaden footed. The risks and skill are huge. But a standard agreement? In Whangarei? Really? So hands up all you nurses, forestry workers and farmers - while you’re waiting to share your stories of your experiences of the legal profession – work out how long it takes you to earn $350 and see if you think that the excuse ‘everyone is doing it’ is not just a little bit rich?

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You are not in Waimoana now Dr. Ropata

“Why don’t you come and live up here in Whangarei?” I said. “It’s a great little town – out of the rat-race but close enough to a big city – great beaches and huge helpings of nature – plenty of sea-food – it’s really a great place to live.” I stopped myself as I had started to sound like the Grey Lynn type ‘morena ’ spouting folk of Waimoana – in the new series ‘This is not My Life’. I was freaking myself out. Any moment now I might remove a tracking device from my carefully coiffed hairpiece and attach it to him. “Why then is Whangarei so badly planned, so ugly it could make Soviet Kazakhstan look cherry and, well (he wasn’t pulling any punches now) such a hole?” I was devastated. “But it’s not – the people are amazing… it has a great heart… there are beautiful rock formations…” I stammered but I was no longer making sense even to myself. I stared at him in baleful disbelief – he’d ripped off my taped on rose coloured glasses and stomped all over them. “The people might have great hearts,” he sallied on, ‘but the town just doesn’t.” Which was why, he and his partner had set their sights on Taranaki. Great coastal walkways – the town made sense from a design perspective and therefore worked in terms of sufficient population density and cohesion to allow all the great networking to take place that eventually makes a place hum – which in turn creates great job and business opportunities. Until now I hadn’t known how deep and fascinating the science of town planning and urban design actually is and how little I know about it. I also hadn’t realised, being an ‘outsider’ how much I actually love this town in the same way that you love a dear but slightly deranged relative and can see all their faults in the privacy of your own home but will defend their honour to the death if anyone else points them out. If I was going to be brutally honest however I had to admit he had a point. I also felt the need to point out that Taranaki didn’t get a fantastic Coastal walkway or great international events or even fabulous botanical gardens by accident. It was only a few decades ago that New Plymouth was the last place anyone went for a holiday and was known more for its incessant freezing rain and gumboots than for its scintillating cultural activities which now draw thousands to the region who then end up staying longer and enjoying all the natural attractions once they get there. Taranaki’s fabulosity was planned. There was a vision for it and subsequent Mayors and councils have acted on that vision to bring it to fruition. In contrast the North has suffered from the cowboy frontier syndrome experienced in places like Townsville and Florida where there has been development by default. Councils – rather than steadily paddling their own waka towards some pre-agreed destination, have been given 5 different outboard motors by a handful of property developers and the result has been a lot of smoke and noise and a decidedly random route where the crew seem intent on abandoning ship and the rest of the rate-payers who end up subsidising the ride, finish feeling fleeced and seasick. Such things as coastal and wetland protection – sources of great potential tourist income if they are managed well, end up washed up and abandoned on some sandbank along with all the other cultural and artistic attractions that are of no immediate or inherent use to big, quick turnaround property developers. Whangarei rate-payers have public land that could be used for great community initiatives that would make the North an even better place to live rather than the short sighted use of flicking them off to balance the ledger a little. We have one job to do this week and that is: Vote. Vote now. Vote for someone who is going to have a great vision for your part of Northland. Oh. And if someone could take a crow bar to the outboard motors on the back so that the elected navigator can have a go for once, I’ll shout them a round at the pub.

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Fathers Day

If being a bloke can be tricky in the new millennium – then being a Dad at times must feel like mission impossible. Before I get angry emails from women who are juggling 2 jobs, teleporting themselves between ballet and soccer and still manage to make something vaguely edible in 20 minutes – I have a hunch that on Sunday morning in Canterbury the bloke in the house would still have been the one who was handed the shovel. I know it’s sexist and someone doing a PHD in post feminist studies at Vic will say I’m part of some 50’s retro backlash but being a Dad in 2010 requires skills which I suspect might extend our evolutionary pace. Blokes have to be ‘positive male role models’ to their kids but once you’ve taken away the heavy drinking and rugby, standard positive role modelling only a few generations ago - most blokes are not too keen to play dress ups or tiddly winks with their offspring. In my father’s case – this left him with water activities. In some warped homophobic bid to prevent any ‘gayness’ in my brother – some of Dad’s fishing trips took on an epic scale of ‘70’s machismo in which I, being a girl, was always an unwitting tag along. The time that Dad thought it necessary for my brother, age 8, to water-ski over the Matarangi Bar – a harbour opening which has lost countless hobby boats and 2 commercial fishing vessels was a case in point. To begin his run at the channel with the words yelled over a screaming engine; ‘Don’t fall in! I can’t come back and get you’, was particularly harsh rather than character building as it was also the summer that the movie ‘Jaws’ came out, yet Dad still recalls this as a special ‘quality time’ moment because it was really fun for him. Dads now – the ones that have stuck around and are doing their best to raise good kids, pay the mortgage, support their partner’s careers and find out what manscaping is, are also expected to make a Lego dinosaur before dinner and teach their kids all the names of the bones. Dads can now attend parenting courses to help their daughters gain confidence and be assertive in the world. My own Dad achieved the same result in a far less time consuming or expensive manner. As a teenager I babysat for a bloke down the road who was known as a bit of a hard man and when he refused to pay me I was too shy to insist but made the mistake of mentioning this to Dad. He thought it important I go and ask him again and learn how to negotiate pay in a reasonable and mature fashion. I screwed up the courage and went and asked for the money and was amazed that he gave me almost double what I was owed. So easy. “Astounding” said Dad nonchalantly when I told him the news. Over 20 years later, out fishing with Dad, and remembering how much confidence this one small success had given me I learnt that it was not due to my powerful negotiating technique but more to the fact that Dad had gone round to his house and threatened to give him a hiding the night before if he didn’t cough up. There was no ‘parenting style’ then it was all just raw instinct. These days Generation X Dads are expected to share a cappuccino with their teenage daughters and new boyfriends and rationally discuss their plans to move in together. In the good old days they could wait patiently until the boyfriend left the premises and then hunt him down on a back road. The conversation could then go as follows: “Hey You.” Ya? “Gotta job?” “Nope.” “Then bugger off.” So enviably easy. Bad and Mad Dads get a bit of a bumcrack rap in the press – but lets face it – being a good Dad in today’s world is a really tough job so Happy Belated Fathers Day all you great dads out there – especially if you’re in Canterbury and spent the day on the end of a shovel.

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Humpty Van

Whether it’s the Scottish gene or a latent eco-conscience – the fact remains that I find it difficult to throw things away. It could be inherited – as I watch the generation Yers off to the school ball in hired cars I remember my own entry into ‘society’ chaperoned by Dad driving something he had christened “ The Humpty Wagon’. An old ambulance, Dad had bolted half a fence post to the front on which he attached the license plate. Apparently the warrant of fitness technicians could find nothing in law to prevent him from doing this – a fact in which he revelled. It didn’t help that he had picked up 22 sheep the day before the ball at an auction and had transported the hapless victims in the Humpty and I was terrified I’d spend the evening emitting one of Dior’s lesser known fragrances; ‘eau de rouseabout’. A concession was made to my ball gown by placing a sheet on the solitary seat although he didn’t tell me that he had forgotten to rebolt it to the floor having removed it to fit in all the sheep. When I begged him to drop me off at the corner he chivalrously insisted on delivering me to the door where late model Mercs and Beamers stood to attention. Unfortunately the humpty had brake issues which involved a pumping action followed by a hand brake finish which resulted in all the doors flying open as we finally came to a halt right in front of the main entrance. “Automatic Airconditioning” said Dad looking pleased with himself. “Not many cars have that.” No argument there. It was a salutary lesson to my adolescent snobbishness and requisite shame that I was actually related to these people who insisted on calling themselves my family. Surely there had been a mix up at the hospital and I was in fact the offspring of some normal father who would throw away a broken down heap of rust and go and buy himself a new car. Conceptualising budget restraints isn’t a teenager’s strong point but I later grew to love the Humpty and it became a family source of pride in just how long Dad could keep it going for. The senselessness of throwing away perfectly good things is deeply ingrained which was why I was so affronted when told to throw both the TV and computer away last week. The mad Latin insists that being a kiwi technician or repair man is the easiest job in the world - Argentina being a developing nation people actually fix things there whereas here, you ring up a repair man and he charges you ninety bucks and tells you to chuck it in the rubbish. The mad Latin has fixed both a supposedly irreparable mobile phone and a washing machine after I had paid someone to tell me the only option was to buy a new one. In order to prevent the soccer obsessed one from roaming the streets of Whangarei and possibly breaking into pubs to watch football at 2am I have given in and got Sky TV. The technician came. He saw. He told me to throw my TV in the bin. Somewhere deep in my heart the Humpty Van rose up in resentful rebellion. Startled into action the techo made a call and fiddled with knobs and hey presto – our TV is magically working again and the picture is perfect. For some unfathomable reason this seemed to annoy him. When my broadband threw a hissy fit after a ‘cable switchover’ and has subsequently refused to work for the past month I was underwhelmed to be told that I would get a $24 credit for the joy of telling the technicians my birth date 400 times and for the sheer thrill of turning off my computer at least 260. The brilliant diagnosis? Chuck it. Despite the fact that everything else works perfectly. And just a thought: why do you need a password to get some help? So someone can secretly impersonate me and endlessly repeat the date I was sent into this world so that they too can share the joy of being told to throw a perfectly good computer in the bin? I don’t think so.

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botoxed youth obsession

I’ve never really got the whole botoxed youth obsession that is supposed to drive my generation – because it seems like so much effort. We are supposed to zumba our way through any mid life crisis where our mothers could always turn to Spanish or macramé classes. I grew up when grunge was deliberate (hard to look homeless in most parts of New Zealand in the 80’s lets face it), and feminism was an exercise in purposeful dowdiness in order to prove your true worth. I refuse to buy any perfume with the words ‘youth’, ‘dew’ or ‘eternity’ in it figuring that there is no odour that will eliminate age. If I do buy make up I also refuse to buy anything that erases ‘expression lines’ preferring instead anything with the word ‘wrinkle’ on it. At least there’s a degree of honesty there. My grey hairs I think of as ‘highlights’ and also kid myself that boobs, like godwits will one day fly North again. Unlikely but there you have it. Partly this relaxed attitude towards ageing is not, as I had thought, due to a mature and comprehensive understanding of life cycles and a Buddhist-like acceptance of nature and death – but rather to the completely deluded notion that I am not in fact ageing at all. Everybody else is. I realised my utter shallowness in this respect while flicking through a property magazine lately and noticing a geriatric establishment cleverly posing as some upmarket apartment complex where the aged frolicked in heated pools and picked each other up over bridge. I noted wryly that at some stage I’d have to think about looking after Mum and Dad and wondered if such places would allow Dad somewhere to park his Fergie tractor and, remembering that he has been known in many of my former flats as either ‘Agent Orange’ or ‘The Round-Up Fairy’, whether or not the carefully landscaped grounds of wherever he ended up would survive his chemical warfare efforts. I also noted that the real places where we park our elderly never ever match up to the brochures. I have yet to see a brochure where completely unqualified, underpaid and over worked staff, park a distinguished old man next to a noisy industrial washing machine and serve him white mushy food on an unclean white plate and then complain that he doesn’t eat anything. Such a situation forced a kidnapping of my late grandfather – something that was deemed ‘highly inappropriate and ill advised’ by the ward sister because he had become increasingly immobile and because I had a truck and only my girl as a helper who was only 2 at the time. When I suggested to him that we go for Chinese or Thai – I’ve never seen a Zimmer frame go so fast and to say that he made an excellent impression of leaping into the front seat of the truck would not be an exaggeration. My daughter, getting into the general spirit of things but not really adding to any sense of convivial relations with the frowning ward sister shouted out the window; ‘He’s our Granddad and we’ve got him now so ha ha shame.” Which I thought was funny yet unhelpful – as 2 year olds so often are. It seemed funny staging a geriatric prison break yet somehow completely removed from any sense that I might ever end up somewhere like that in my dotage. Certainly I’m sure none of the brochures had looked like that when Nana and Grandad had booked themselves in there all those years ago. So it was with some horror that I noted on the property magazine that the marvels of this new retirement village were available for those 45 years and over. You have got to be kidding me. That’s 3 years away. I still have a backpack compete with passport, fruit knife and new toothbrush sitting in a cupboard somewhere for when this whole being a bacon-bringing-home Mum and partner gig gets old and I need to resume my wandering ways. Retirement village?! Get me my Zumba knickers and a horse syringe full of botox – I’m going to need to look good when I break out of there.

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Get over yourself Georgie Girl

So Georgie Girl is broke. She’s pulled out of the race for Mayor for Masterton saying that now her financial backer has passed away she can’t get the ten grand together to launch a Mayoral campaign. I always really liked Georgina Beyer – New Zealand’s first transsexual mayor and later MP and was amazed that she could have come to represent the people of a place like Carterton, a place I thought would have been extremely conservative and leaning fairly heavily to the right in its preferences. She was elected Mayor of Carterton for two terms so she must have done something right in those early days because I hardly think the old boys on the farms round the district would have put up with too much of a flibbertigibbet even if she did used to be a bloke too. Her undoing seems to have been to become an MP, and having imbibed the rarefied air that seems to turn the most centred heads engendering illusions of grandeur she assumes that any other job is now beneath her.I guess you have to do more than be special when the novelty factor wears off in politics and that’s what Georgina seems to be struggling with when she says that she can no longer work for only $500 a week in a real life job. I hate to break it to her but lots of us have to work for that amount and there are forestry and agricultural workers who do back breaking dangerous work for the same. If Georgina is saying that they should be paid more and there needs to be an increase in the minimum wage then I can see her point but I think what she was really saying was that having worked in publicly elected office for over 14 years the world somehow owes her and surely she should get one of the cushy jobs for the boys even if she no longer technically is one. Georgina now says she’s going to sign up for the dole or head off to Australia to look for work which goes to show that although she’s left the drag queen days behind the drama queen in her is alive and kicking.

Mayoral campaigns either seem to attract the hard-nosed business or developer contingent or the status hungry show ponies who go for the bling and the ribbon cutting highlights of it all. The odd few (and I had thought that Georgina Beyer might have once been one of those) who go into local politics who are already financially stable and genuinely want to contribute to the community seem to often lack the pizzazz or even the mongrel determination to weather out a mayoral campaign. Perhaps it’s just a case of the long economic good years we’ve had that have made a whole generation forget what it is like to be out of work – I still don’t think this recession has affected employment levels like the one in the early nineties did.

I remember leaving university for six months when I only had a year left because I could no longer afford living costs. I applied for a job as a receptionist for a government department. The work was dreary, brainless and very badly paid. Over 170 people applied for that job. I lied about my experience (everyone’s answered a phone haven’t they?) got it and then watched as a department of over 300 people got whittled down to less than eighty in a Rogernomics spring clean. I learnt to love the job that I’d loathed simply because it paid my rent and let me save enough to get back into uni. Surely as a former working girl Georgina should know what really hard work is and that unless you’re very privileged or have led a ridiculously sheltered life, there often comes a time when a girl’s just gotta roll up her sleeves and do what she’s gotta do to put food on the table and keep a roof over her head. Just ask all those immigrant architects, oncologists and pharmacists that are driving taxis round Auckland every single day of the week.

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Grey Heron

He’s back. I didn’t see when he got in. Usually I’d be waiting for him he’s so punctual I could mark my calendar by his visits but I’ve been so busy – not really taking stock. I should have known it’d be around now that he’d show up – the winter is practically interminable – I’ve been looking up real estate in places where it never rains, (Spain, the salt plains of Bolivia) and my family have that slightly pallid mossy look of Siberian exiles. I’d missed all the other signs too: tuis - the equivalent of aerial boyracers round the wild cherry trees, the high tide marks of yellow pine pollen in the puddles of rain – winter is slowly veering off her indefatigable course and meandering towards Spring. This Winter seems to have been a Long March or rather a Manic Morris Dance of busyness where there is an unspoken rule that all slackers, backsliders, fluffers or dilly dallyers will be summarily executed.

There is no time to smell the roses because they need to be pruned fertilised harvested and exported to Japan as part of a business development project on which you have to write a 3000 word essay. Every now and then I have a ‘Truman Show’ moment where I suspect the director of Speed is secretly documenting a B grade version of the movie which is my life – except I’m no Sandra Bullock and I have no idea of how to drive a bus.
Life comes in a series of rushed lists of things to do:
Wake up and consider that if Time really were money I’d be borrowing a whole lot more of it right now.
Try to remember to look hot.
Get real.
Revise and check cardigan is not inside out.
Spend ridiculous amount of time looking for hairbrush and vow to have it surgically attached to small person’s body.
Tell small person that eating breakfast with roller skates on will not make her eat faster. Remember fluoride and give it to kid – wonder if she will grow two heads and decide that’s better than tooth decay.
Think vaguely ahead to dinner plan for after work – check emails and find there are 568 and are overwhelmed so delete all and thank the universe that I’ve never signed up for Facebook seeing as I never see the real friends that I actually have.
Vow to shag husband sometime in the next millennium who then yells as leaving driveway for me to do six different jobs in town that involves a degree in strategic management to accomplish between finishing work and picking child up.
Revise shagging idea and resolve instead not to think evil stabby thoughts re: partner in life. Decide to re-read ‘The Art of Time Management’. Flick to the Chapter on how to say ‘no’. Decide I have no time to read it.
Remember back to those distant days where I spent weeks on end doing nothing but riding horses or mucking round on boats and can’t remember ever actually making the decision that I was wasting my time and that I should get a job. Or house. Or partner or kid for that matter. Trip over rollerskates as dashing out the door and am just about to go completely nuclear when the small person grabs my hand and says: “Stop Mummy Look!!!!” And there he is.

Composed as a Chinese emperor, yet lackadaisical in a cocky kind of way. Long legged and skinny with a rolling gait. An avian Sam Hunt remembering his lines. We hold our breaths and wait and watch. He measures out our garden in long slow easy strides this grey heron. Like a property developer surveying his investment after an extended vacation overseas - he comes back in the same week of every year to start making his nest. He also reminds me to slow down - and that winter is almost over.

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Something about elections

There's something about election hoardings that make the people whose photos stalk us round the town look like someone who has just escaped the lunatic asylum.

Perhaps it's the determined grins emanating stalwart trustworthiness and wholesome values or the faultless hair and the leaning forward posture or the pensive pose which could signal warmth but somehow suggests something more sinister. Who are these people with the fulsome grins?

And, more importantly _ why should they get our vote? Like many people dog-paddling hard against the current economic climate, I haven't had a lot of time to carefully analyse exactly who is offering the best dance card for the next few years or who I want putting their face forward to the rest of the country to represent me.

So I did what can only be described as politically irresponsible and invited some friends over plied them with alcohol and food and asked them who I should vote for.

The results were varied and entirely without any rational base as could only be expected. There were mutterings of the importance of delivering on infrastructural improvements. I had no idea what that meant except it caused the other side of the table to erupt in boring outbursts which included phrases such as `not at the expense of putting rate-payers in debt for the next 50 years' thereby restricting, apparently, the options on what we can do with our poo. Yawn. Then there was the contingent who insisted that Whangarei needed to concentrate on the 4 F's. This was met with lots of silly and fairly lewd suggestions until it was established that this meant: forestry, fishing, fruit and foreigners. We needed a mayor who would have some kind of vision which included this, rather than one who'd go haring off after oil or mineral resources _ unless the local populace was going to get a decent slice of the pie by being offered better work options_ at which everyone laughed cynically. Sigh. Someone suggested it would be nice to have Mayors who did not confuse public good with their own good or have trouble with differentiating legality from morality. The conversation was going nowhere fast and my cunning plan to forsake any kind of decision making and follow my lunatic friends’ voting behaviour thereby safely abdicating on any form of politically responsible role- taking was in danger of being abandoned entirely. It was at this point that we decided to play `Breakfast Cereal' whereby you say a name and then decide if that Mayoral Candidate were in fact a breakfast cereal which one they would be. I know. Immature, irresponsible, highly unlikely to produce any form of a sensible outcome, yet entirely diverting. My favourite kind of game. Unfortunately New Zealand’s libel laws suffer from a serious lack of a sense of humour which prevents me from printing the conversation that ensued. I’ll therefore leave you to decide which mayoral candidate, if they were a breakfast, would be ‘Hair of the Dog’? Who then, was the honey puff? Who was weet-bix and who, according to over two thirds of the table – was a certified fruit loop? And who – if you are going to wake up to them in the morning – would you want for breakfast? For the next few years? Someone wanted the fruit loop because at least he wasn’t boring and could be counted on for colourfully arbitrary quotes. Someone else wanted ‘Hair of the dog’ because it’s never a good idea to get sober too quickly and as far as he was concerned this political party was just getting started. Someone else wanted to know what happens to honey puffs if someone else was mean to them. Would they stay fresh, stay crisp, stay good all the time?

Bugger. My friends are obviously morons. There’s only one thing for it. I’m going to have to go and listen to the candidates and make up my own mind.

I just hope that while I’m being submitted to the power of fulsome grins and posing pensiveness that I won’t be singing ‘keep looking for that funny honey bee.. honey puffs are yours and mine’ while I’m trying to come to some sensible sort of a decision.

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Facetiousness is my forte

Facetiousness is my forte – curmudgeonly suspicion a character trait. The cult of positivism has never had any hold over me and if I could I would wear a tee-shirt that read: “Polyanna lacked a brain.”

Even a mollusc can be positive and engage in the eternal optimism that it is stuck to the best rock in the universe and will never be eaten by a schnapper. It’s how they get by. Whereas it takes a certain mental effort to see life in all its bent and beat up inglory and yet still come to the conclusion that it’s still a pretty amazing ride even if the fairground people are dodgy and no one ever wins more than a coconut. It’s a wonky way of looking at the world that I like to call “Hope visits Polyanna after she got Mugged”. If I could put up with wearing white diaphanous clothing and looking meditative I’d probably make a religion out of it except I lack any kind of moral certitude at all which is always a weakness in any spiritual leader. Personally I blame my family – we’re just not good followers and most of us spend an unwholesome amount of time poking sticks at things. I believe my cousin to be the only lone traveller picked up in San Francisco at the airport to be expelled from the Moonies – he thought the Moonies were nice but far too positive when there was so much that sucked in the world and would they like to hear his song about this on his new clarinet? Apparently not. He became a music professor. My niece got expelled from a Steiner school (unheard of at the age of 6) because she told the teacher that the hand made faceless dolls (designed supposedly to foster imagination and positive self image) were ugly and their hair needed work and would someone please just bring her a Barbie or just ‘get me out of here.’ When this didn’t eventuate she just started screaming. She has since become one of Wellington’s top hairdressers. Even my Dad managed to spend 20 years in the justice department without becoming a Mason – an award winning feat of rank individualism or just a general inability to flow with any kind of hand clapping, finger wriggling group positivism – it’s hard to say. But there are times, especially in the middle of winter where the sky takes on the near-death hue of anti graffiti paint and the cold makes you want to set fire to rubbish bins and drink vodka all day that a bit of Pollyannism is what is definitely called for. A prescription for a bit of positive mindless joy. For this you will need: One 7 year old and her crazed pony-tail mate and the family dog. Add a splash of watery sunlight and a random assortment of food as chosen by them. Check you have the stipend for requisite fish and chips and head car in direction of nearest beach. Turn cell phone off. Play “Sally the Bad Pirate’ CD loudly and sing along: “Sally hates parrots, Sally hates gold all the pillaging of villages makes her feel cold…” Note privately to self that this is a particularly funny song to make two kids with lisps sing. Feel surprisingly positive as kids and dog emanate deep enthusiasm for absolutely everything. “Look! Pigs!!!!!!!! Baaaaaby Pigs!!!!! Baby Pigs Running!!! Can we have one?!” Dog and kids are unified in deep group positive thoughts regarding baby pigs although I’m not sure the envisaged outcome is entirely the same. Unleash contents of car on beach and wonder if scientists feel the same when throwing tiny balls of atomic energy at each other at velocity. If there was a speech bubble above the incoherent stick dragging sand digging mayhem that ensues after weeks of inside confinement it would read: “Yay!!!!!!!!!! I’m a dog!!!!” or “Yaay – I’m a kid with a dog and a friend and…. A STICK!!!!!!! Yaaaaaaayyyyyyyy! Note that curmudgeonly smart aleckness has its limitations whereas the benefits of roaring around with a stick on a beach in the middle of winter are practically endless.

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It’s always insightful spending more time with your kids

It’s always insightful spending more time with your kids. Which is why I try not to do it too often. It’s best to only get insight into other cultures or people through the safe medium of a television set rather than to actually have to deal with it in real life. It’s somewhat confronting too to have your stock phrases and parenting style thrown back at you by a six year old on whom the phrases and the style have long since worn thin.

The day began sans coffee and without the promised sleep in and so I started the holidays with the sharp organisation, witty repartee and happy demeanour of Ossie Osbourne after his quad bike accident. I was thrown a bathrobe and told that I’d ‘better put a happy face on and enjoy myself because whinging wasn’t going to help anyone and if I continued on in this way I’d only end up wrecking the whole day.’ This is embarrassing when the small person telling you this is dressed, has already brushed her hair and she was not the one with the mismatched socks. So far so school holidays.

As I peruse the ‘to do list’ which randomly includes picking wild fruit, reading stimulating literature and riding horses (who was I kidding and when was Laura Ingalls going to call up and ask for her mothering style back?) I realise that at some stage I will relent and take her to the movies. At the same moment I also acknowledge that Johnny Depp is no longer that hot and that the price ticket for the movies have moved them up the luxury list ladder that used to include foreign cheese and really good plonk but is now reserved for such scintillating entertainment as getting a rego and paying the rates.

School holidays also gives kids heaps of time to rat through all my old stuff that I’ve hidden for very good reasons. Which is how she finds the bunch of notes she wrote to the tooth fairy a few weeks back and some of her baby teeth still cellotaped to said notes. Elaborate explanations involving disorientated fairies and a tooth bank which Mums sometimes have in order to sell them on the futures market is given and the small person, being half Latin and not one to miss an opportunity insists on taking them all back and putting them out again in order to make a quick buck with the rationale that the tooth fairy will never notice. Nice. Vowing to maintain some semblance of order over the next few weeks I am amazed that it takes me precisely 2 and a half hours of shouting, pleading and remonstrating before I acquiesce and allow the living room to become a bat cave and then, verily… an art room in the bat cave which involves paint, glitter, the huntaway, 2 neighbour’s kids and Baby Alive! who I personally believe is Chucky’s evil twin. There are pacts and deadly serious promises to have it all tidied up before Dad gets home. What is this? The fifties?

Ominously the huntaway always knows when the mad Latin is about to get home and start shouting and slinks off outside about 5 minutes beforehand, giving everyone the head’s up on when to start tidying up. And then there is the point when I realise that some of my dark rantings at the television just may have sunk in while at the same time wishing that she hadn’t chosen this particular moment to demonstrate this to me.

As I pour tea for some deeply conservative friends of the extended family and try to remember if I even own any saucers she opens the window and half hanging out of it yells ‘Mum! there’s some cartoons on TV there’s not much shouting and there’s no fighting and no one’s using the F word or trying to sell stuff can I watch it?’ And it’s a tie. Embarrasment and Pride battle it out to the finish line and I still find myself counting how many more days of the holidays I’ve got left.

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I call them the L’Oreal boys

I call them the L’Oreal boys. Not for any particular penchant they may have for face cream but because they manage to gleefully glide through life without any of the boring old rules (paying parking tickets, rent and prostitutes out of your own money, for example) getting in their way or cramping their style.

Why? I‘Because we’re worth it!’ they’ll reply. And we almost believe them – existing as they do in a parallel universe where they make the rules up as they go along and we are convinced by the sheer assuredness of their performance.

When Mr. Versalko was sent to jail last week for 6 years for scamming 18 million from his employer and spending it on property and prostitutes – I thought two things.

1) How come there were no leaflets on the sex industry in the careers counsellor’s office when I was at school and 2) just how worth it did Mr. Versalko actually think he was? Did he not feel that perhaps he’d had his money’s worth after the first hundred grand? How did ‘I’m glad I’ve got a job to turn up to’ become: ‘it’s been a big day and I deserve some treats.’

The fact that the bank is now going after the prostitute to try and claw back some money because she was at least smart enough to invest it properly suggests they could save themselves a whole lot of trouble next time if they just fired all their investment brokers and asked the prostitute’s collective to fill the vacancies. Nothing like getting a girl who’s known hard times to look after your money.

The funny thing is that it’s almost a year to the day since the Otago District Health Board member got jailed for 9 years for ripping his employer off for 17 million. On a per annum basis neither case is a bad package. There are not many jobs that pay over 2 million dollars a year unless you’re the CEO of Telecom and even then you have to at least pretend to do something for the cash – (like get an Olympic medal in hand wringing for example).

It’s even funnier then that we now have Ms Bennet saying it’s time for beneficiaries to tighten their belts. She’s right of course – the strident sense of entitlement to an income as well as high end hire purchase items and cars is, amongst some beneficiaries, to the point of being utterly delusional. Yet it’s difficult to explain to the minnows in the food chain why this might be the case when those on the highest rungs are setting the general tone. And a lot can be forgiven it seems if you’re a nice guy with it.

Mickey Havoc is a nice guy who got community service doing something he likes at nearly $200 an hour in order to pay off his $40,000 traffic fines.

Phil Heatley is, undoubtedly a nice guy – the mayor of Whangarei said so on National Radio and the PM said his mistakes were more silly or stupid rather than sinister. Unfortunately they chose the auditor general to investigate Phil’s alleged misdemeanours – an office I lost respect for when it found the mayor of Thames, Phillipa Barribal (an honorary L’Oreal old boy) guilty of a conflict of interest which resulted in her benefiting from a council go ahead on her own development she’d bullied through the day before a law change would have made it impossible to subdivide. She was not charged however as the auditor general deemed that it ‘would not be in the public’s interest due to the ‘seriousness of the consequences of conviction.’ I thought that the whole point of consequences was that they were serious enough to mitigate bad behaviour. Now I just believe that sending anything to the Auditor General is simply code for ‘Make It Go Away.’

But perhaps Mr. Key has got it wrong. Because these boys are not silly or stupid or just bolstering up their self esteem on someone else’s credit card. They are in fact masters of their own destiny as they take the proverbial while they’re taking everyone else to the cleaners.

These are not so much the L’Oreal boys but the Mastercard Men. Ripping off your boss for 18 million and spending it on wine and women? $18 million. Paying for it over 6 years by staying in a tax payer funded institution? Priceless.

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I always get suspicious when things go quiet on the lunatic fringe

I always get suspicious when things go quiet on the lunatic fringe – in this case I’m referring to the Act party.

I wonder what they’re up to – Rodney feeling chastised after his exuberance with Mummy state’s credit card has been almost mute (well as far as that tan and those teeth can be restrained) and Mr. Douglas has only once popped his head from the Act party burrow to declare war on obligatory student unionism. For awhile, the very fact that the rabid right was having a petulant tanty over this National government’s steady cleaving to the middle of the road (not to mention all that disorientating cosying up to the Maori Party) was enough to reassure me that all was well in Godzone. And then along came Act MP Mr. Garrett.

Dave, I’m sure we can call him Dave, because he sounds like such a regular sort of bloke has said we should consider offering an incentive of 5 thousand dollars to couples with a history of child abuse to have themselves sterilised. Unsurprisingly, talk back land declared a national holiday, got out the marching bands and spent the day over-using the words ‘Hitler’. Which is what you’d expect.

But what I found really interesting was that if you listened hard enough, there was an almost audible ripple of ‘bloody good idea’ running underneath the strident denouncements of Mr Garret’s radical new proposal. From the jaded lawyers having a quick fag outside the courtrooms, to the decks of those now impossible to sell beach houses and all along the conservative middle New Zealand suburbs, I could almost pick out a collective sigh of relief that someone was at last willing to take drastic action to stop our truly awful child abuse statistics that put kiwis in the bad and the ugly basket of the OECD statistics. It seems so simple.

But how exactly, does offering a financial reward for committing terrible harm on a child work? Is $5000 enough to motivate an initial abusive act on a minor in order to get yourself a motorbike and a free vasectomy?

Forward thinking is not a strong feature in the young and the uneducated. India found that out when they offered young males a free radio as an incentive for a vasectomy in an attempt at population control. It was especially successful because many of the young blokes who signed on – couldn’t read what they’d signed up to and it was only 15 years later when they were married and wanted to have kids that India found itself with an irate underclass on its hands.

Child abuse is not committed solely by biological parents either. Many of the most publicised cases of child abuse over the last few years was committed by adoptive parents, aunties or uncles or so called friends of the family so in order to deal with this problem – the entire family must be removed not just sterilised.

Preventing people from having children as a plausible policy on preventing child abuse makes as much sense as someone burning their own house down to prevent it from being robbed. It’s simple – but completely barking mad and a sign of a fractured and defeated society rather than one that is flourishing.

If it takes a community to raise a child then the prevention of child abuse is a communal problem rather than just an individual crime.

Instead of the anti kid stance of Mr. Garrett, a much more inspiring model can be seen in another Act Party supporter and multi millionaire property developer – 86 year old Martin Coffey. He saw kids who were ‘alienated, overweight and often unable to swim’ and felt that a community should have a place where kids could learn to play and be social together and not be charged for it. Instead of complaining about street kids he has offered to build a new community pool in St Albans which will get kids off the streets and into the water. I’d like to hear what his policy on preventing child abuse would be – but unfortunately the lunatic right gets a lot more press than their more rational counterparts.

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I love Radio New Zealand

I’ve always thought those ‘I (heart) NZ’ genre of tee-shirts were olympically lame. They made me want to buy a tee shirt that said ‘I ( picture of psychopath stabbing randomly) jetskis’ or ‘I ( stick figure throwing up) Nigella Lawson’s cupcakes. But it’s very unfashionable to be so negative so I never really got round to either buying or manufacturing them. Lately however I’ve wanted a tee-shirt that says ‘I (stick figure radiating hearts) Radio New Zealand. Because I do. In the words of those great 20th century poets ABBA, “I do I do I do I do I do.” One of the great joys of my present job, despite its inherent mundane nature is that I get to listen to Radio New Zealand for the whole day without any ad breaks. I am never told what to buy or what to wear, never told it’s not ok or not to shake my baby and never advised to go for a cervical smear test.

Unlike TV news or most of the print media offered up for consumption in this country, I can rest safe in the knowledge that none of the economic forecasting or commentary will ever come from any real estate organisations. Neither will I be made dizzy from the media loop the loop which is a mainstay of kiwi print and television journalism whereby newsreaders veer off the rails of reasonable newsworthiness and go careering off creating their own personal relationship train wrecks and then get their other newsreader friends to comment on them, or be outraged that other news organisations got there first. I can feel reassured that if Sean Plunket ever decides to go upmarket and become a lesbian and date a pole dancer from Huapai that R N Z will never feel the need to let me know. It may sound mean but I really don’t care what interchangeably blonde newsreader does or even thinks about anything .. simply because it’s just not news. I love Radio New Zealand precisely because they actually have the resources to go and pay for the answers to the questions they/we want answered through the official information act and the time to follow long running issues – the boring yet vital spade work of attending hearings and parliamentary debates to track politicians’ real form rather than the 5 minute sound bites we get of what may be just politically expedient at the time. They have the skills and the people to do all the tedious groundwork that real journalism used to be about. Saturday mornings without Kim Hill is as the Russians say ‘an egg without salt’ or a ‘kiss without a moustache’ a meaningless meander towards Sunday. Kim Hill still actually reads books and understands them – thereby doing all the hard work so her listeners can follow the most fascinating of discussions on everything from meta-physics to the architectural reasons why there are so many conspiracy theories about the twin towers – and still feel like you’re having fun. She’s the braining up when other news media is dumbing down so fast that listening to it feels like being locked in an elevator with Paul Henry and Susana Paul after all the cables have been cut.

If Radio New Zealand were a species in this political climate– it would be a Black Stilt or a Chatham Island’s petrel. Extremely rare and under extreme pressure from destruction of habitat.

Jonathon Coleman – the minister of Broadcasting in a peculiarly mustelid like speech, announced a few days ago that RNZ really needs to get jiggy with it and think of some cool funky ways to come up with some more cash. Like sponsorship. I can see that working. ‘Saturday morning with Kim Hill and Durex – Protecting Plonkers Like You!’ I’m sure she’d be up for it. He wanted to know what an organisation that costs $38 million a year to fund should look like. If it were in any other country it would look like a ford cortina after the cousins have borrowed it for a road trip up North. Instead it’s still cruising like an old Benz. Before Mr. Coleman starts taking the wheels off and flogging the hubcaps I’d just like to say – mate: as the last bastion of decent independent ad free news in this country – it’s cheap at twice the price.

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Whatever happened to chops?

Whatever happened to chops? My entire childhood was founded on chops, spuds and one green and now they’ve vanished in much the same way as Morris Minors or glory boxes. (For you Gen Yers – a glory box was a box where women kept things like linen and embroidered pillowcases until the glorious day when they would marry and be able to use them. I know. And before I get outed – I actually had one.) There were the few fallow years when Mum had a mid-life crisis and started wearing ties sewn together in the form of skirts and took herself off to chinese cooking classes whereupon she started doing things like battering and frying ice-cream for the same reason that mountaineers ascend ridiculous peaks. Because it was there… and because she could. Apart from when Mum went mad, expressed through some fairly radical mid-seventies cooking experiments, chops formed the culinary base of our gastronomic geography. They were so easy - get some chops and tell the kids they’ll get a cuff around the ears if the spuds aren’t peeled and cooking and the greens ready before Mum gets home from work. The perfect dinner!

If I even tried it now, I’m afraid my own child would ring CYFS declaring child abuse. No hint of Thai Green Curry. An absence of miso soup. Not a thread of saffron or a cardamom pod to be found. Not a suggestion of … well anything much except … chops. Glorious chops.

I do vaguely recall going vegetarian for about 8 years after one too many weekends on the farm peeling cow’s kidneys and cleaning up guts. And I do have faint guilty memories of telling Dad that according to Buddhist texts he would die uttering the same noises he had engendered in those beasts he had killed in some karmic retribution theory that I’d pretty much made up in order not to have to get so up close and personal with anything in my immediate food chain. Eventually I washed up in Argentina where such deep character flaws as ‘vegetarianism’ were soon knocked out of me. They are such a meat eating culture that only ‘beef’ is considered to be actual meat. Everything else; chicken, pork, lamb is ‘other’ and therefore appropriate to offer non- meat eaters. Very few vegetarians make it out alive from Buenos Aires.

Since leaving home I’ve been an espresso fuelled culinary experience junkie always looking for the next exotic fix, looking down my nose on that limited mainstay of kiwi culture: the humble chop. How deluded I’ve been. A few nights ago, rushing home from work and experiencing the working Mum’s water-boarding hour where one wonders what is for dinner and then remembers that you’ve got to cook it and there is only some dying parsley and a can of chickpeas in the house, I decided to make falafels. Not too radical – not life threatening and just enough stress to make you feel like you’re making an effort. Instead of undying gratitude the mad Latin declared war (where’s the meat?) and the six year old said she ‘didn’t like the texture.’ ‘You what?!’ Incredulity sending my voice ceiling bound, ‘ We didn’t have texture when I was a kid! We just had bloody chops!’ Those kids in Haiti wouldn’t mind the texture.’ She held up her hand as if to say… ‘I know... starving orphans…blah blah.’ “ I’m still going to eat it, I just don’t like it that’s all’.

Dumbfounded really.

It was only then that I realised that I haven’t so much fostered an adventurous eater as created a culinary monster.

So that’s it. No more masterchef or any of the other myriad cooking shows – they’re all banned for their evil influence. Next I know she’ll be declaring that the syllabub (if I knew what one was) is lacking in consistency and that the chicken should have been baked in a handmade clay pot.

Arise Sir Chop! Your time has come. I’ve bought 20 kilos of the things and two potato peelers – one each for their birthdays. Retro cooking is the new black.

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Rents will rise!

“Rents will rise!” Intone the property investors in the way that one expects from religious fanatics discussing Armageddon. I’m wondering if Mr. Key might need an expert hostage negotiator to talk them back down from the ledge which, for the last few years has been artificially bolstered by easy borrowing and the ability to claim depreciation on assets which have steadily risen in value. The hostage piggies in the middle are the renters and property investors know that because about 38% of the population rents, they’re always going to be the soft flank in any government’s side. Which is why previous governments haven’t had the cojones to go for a capital gains tax or adjust some of the tax benefits for owning rental properties. That a National government should do so – astounds me. If they go ahead with it I’ll have to eat not only my hat but three pairs of thermal undies and a pair of old work boots. Note to self: Stop making ridiculous bets while under the influence of alcohol.

Vice President of the Property Investors Federation Andrew King said recently that house prices were sure to drop. He said it like it was a bad thing. However those young (and not so young – forced out by the combination of high student debt, high rents and living costs and low wages) families desperate to get into their first home know one thing; a place to call your own is the first real starting point in owning your own life.

While the rental property investors claim it costs $6k more a year to own than rent, anyone renting knows that they may have to leave their home with only 6 weeks notice. Anyone renting a house that gets put up for sale will fail to feel the love or the economic savings as the phrase ‘open home’ becomes more like ‘open zoo’ and they are the main exhibits. The implications for families renting at the lower end of the property market where houses are routinely put up for sale can be horrendous. Tenancies ending in 2002 were of an average duration of 15 months, of those 33% ended in 6 months and 13% in less than 3 months. I know of one family in Auckland who had to move house 4 times last year because investors were bailing from their lower end rental portfolios. There is the expense but also the disruption to schooling to consider. If we really want to look at issues such as academic failure we may want to look further than just achievement standards and worry more about things like truancy which is often a direct result of being a member of a highly transient family. Housing New Zealand is increasingly looking to private property investors to provide NZ’s State Housing offering a 5 year ‘guaranteed rent’ leasing agreement with private property investors. The costs of maintenance for those properties is then, in many cases picked up by the tax payer thereby taking the remainder of the risk out of the ‘business’ of people farming. Let’s face it – owning rental properties doesn’t create jobs or any long term economic viability – surely there are more creative things to be done with all that investment energy than just buying houses. For some entertaining reading on some future prospects for housing in New Zealand I suggest looking at Housing New Zealand’s website and click on ‘Future Scenarios for Social and Affordable Housing’ from a year ago. My favourite scenario is where gangs initially dominate and control the housing market but ‘eventually become a positive force and get elected to Parliament’. I think someone just made that up to annoy Micheal Laws. However there are some intriguing land ownership implications in the last scenario where ‘all New Zealanders unite under a Kotahitanga flag’. Particularly interesting given the recent discussions around Waitangi Day. Long term, if I were a residential property investor, instead of threatening rent hikes I’d be less worried about a capital gains tax and more concerned about New Zealand going the way of some South American countries where renters just decided they’d had enough – stopped paying the rent and simply stayed. In Bolivia at least, they then elected the leader of the ‘squatters rights’ movement as the new President. Last I heard he’s still there.

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What the hell are we doing there?

The only thing my Pop ever said about the Second World War was ‘Better the enemy in front than American troops behind.’ I’ve heard NZ veterans who were stationed on the ground in Vietnam say similar things - that everyone just ducked for cover if they saw the stars and stripes coming overhead despite being, supposedly ‘on the same side’. I suppose it’s some reassurance then that US General Stanley McChrystal has ordered troops in Afghanistan to ‘fire cautiously’ – now there’s a thought - in the wake of hundreds of Afghans taking to the streets to protest the seemingly arbitrary killing of civilians in American air raids. Not so reassuring then that the numbers of civilians killed is now in the thousands and less than 20% of that is attributable to the Taliban.

It should be reassuring that the spokesman for the New Zealand Army has insisted that ‘not a shot has been fired in anger’ by the NZ SAS. Except I noticed that he was blinking a lot when he said it– which made me wonder if perhaps the SAS had not done any shooting while slightly pissed off or maybe… just a little bit cross?

I doubt any highly trained soldier would do anything in anger – leave emotion to the civilians. An SAS soldier would be calculated, on orders and with no emotional involvement at all – surely that should be the hallmark of any professional soldier. Neither are they allowed opinions – that is left to the politicians and the public. Which is why the comment was totally meaningless – at least to me. Unlike school, Mr. Key has assured us that none of the SAS troops are there to eat their lunch, or shave if the photos of Willie are anything to go by. Somehow the pics of Mr. Apiata published in the Herald last week got turned into an OSH issue (naughty Willie forgot his helmet) instead of raising the larger question – namely: What on earth are we doing there? And presumably, ‘What is the end game?’ Instead we got a full scale hand wringing about whether or not the media should identify members of the SAS – a diversion so convincing and entertaining I’m sure the NZ army engineered it themselves.

But how good can it be for lasting peace, for New Zealand to be seen to be supporting an Afghan government that made up its own election results - making even the UN say they’d have to go and sit in the thinking spot and do it all again (which they didn’t.) Karzai must have got political coaching from Tony Blair.

The lack of access to reliable information must surely be partly to blame for why, after 7 years life is little better for the average Afghan citizen than when US forces walked in. Literacy among women is still less than 10%, the heroin trade is thriving and security is almost zero. According to a BBC poll in May last year most Afghan citizens still see the occupation as a good thing in achieving security. The only other people who can be reliably asked about how best to go about this are the soldiers who are there and assessing the efficacy or otherwise of the military operations they carry out. But they are not allowed to speak – and when they do we are not allowed to listen to them. Sometime this week Corporal Joe Glenton will be court-martialled. His crime was saying publicly that the ‘war in Afghanistan was just making things worse.’ He ended up in military jail and we are now none the wiser in at least being able to hear what his thoughts are and what he has seen first hand. We have however been treated, at length to Tony Blair’s distortions and untruths in his version of events of how we got here in the first place. The NZ Herald and the Dominion Post are indeed grossly irresponsible – not for showing the pictures of Willie Apiata - but for not digging hard enough at the army and political non-speak to get to the question of what exactly NZ’s role in Afghanistan is and what the public mandate is for it.

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Facing the sun and heading into the wind

Trying to tidy up the nuclear test site that is my office I came across a letter I’d started writing to an old friend a few years ago when I was lost in the random and slightly deranged land of toddlersville and she was a corporate geisha girl flying round the world buying apartments and art and drinking quite a lot. In a few weeks she’ll be a new Mum and I thought I’d send her a card and write something inspiring on it. Instead, I decided the lunatic scribblings written from the frontline of new Mumdom might be more real and so I fished the letter from the bin.

“I know I’ve been the lost in space friend for the last couple of years – planet motherhood takes your brain on an amphetimine lift to nappy land, pupils dilated, your focus becomes a 2 metre radius around your offspring (which you are privately convinced is special and second only to the baby Jesus) who may have been born for some higher purpose like saving world fish stocks or something. In retrospect, once the hormones have run out you realise that the object of your mothering fetish has the brain of a mullet and was really lucky (given your mothering skills) to make it to the pupae stage. Meanwhile you scurry around like a cross between a prize milking cow and a Chinese courtier preventing the mullet from their constant suicide missions.

I have condensed these few years to a mathematical formula which you may use should you ever have kids.

It is: “The distance between you and your child and your child and something life threatening is proportional to said object’s danger level. That is; the more dangerous the object of the child’s desire, the closer they will be to it and the further you will be from them. You will notice that mothers of more than 3 children have an inbuilt ‘shield of indifference’ which prevents the true level of panic to penetrate fully. They glide along in a fog of distraction which allows them to slap a child on the back to dislodge a coin they were choking on, put out the fire that has started in the fry pan in the kitchen while grabbing another kid as he chases his brother with a kitchen knife - and still manage to make you a cup of tea.

Unfortunately this hormonal survival device does not click on till at least the third child so new Mums either fake it or get chemical help.

Note: You can get seriously hung up on the whole nutrition thing. Basically: babies don’t do cheezles and insects ingested are not necessarily toxic, just not on Plunket’s recommended nutrition guide.

Keys shoved in sockets are not good even if child is making entertaining ‘brmmm brmm’ noises as she does this.

Children who get caps off child proof bottles containing bleach may be gifted but may not live long enough to have this recognised.

If collecting windfall apples with toddlers fulfills all your fantasies of Laura Ashley designer motherhood – remember to teach them to distinguish between apples and dried dog poo before you set them free and you come back to find a big dog turd in your willow basket.

Children will embarrass you. That’s a given. They’ll throw up on a work colleague’s new carpet. They will throw a wobbly with a whole supermarket looking on and they will throw your self respect out the window as they shout ‘Mummy’s Milo!’ as you open a bottle of red – thereby convincing everyone you have a secret drinking problem.

You will think that you will write a novel between nappy changes. You will think you’ll take up Tai Chi. You will convince yourself TV is the soft option for people who don’t want to spend time sharing their thoughts with their two year old. Don’t be too hard on your new self if you find her reading the Da Vinci Code while eating chocolates on the sofa and letting the two year old find happiness with La La and the other Tubbies.

The old self got to sleep a lot and spend her days doing pretty much as she pleased and therefore had more time to be judgemental – whereas your new self, will just have enough time to be mental.

Most of all, take lots of pictures and enjoy the mayhem because when you have time to clean out your office you will suddenly realise that you have well and truly left the land of the random and the deranged and you know you’re really going to miss it.

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World Cup Fever

We are about to enter the twilight zone. A time of disproportionate swearing at the television set and vehement curses and dredging up of historical national grudges and crowing over victories long past. A time of travelling insane distances at 11 o’clock at night to spend time with other males who share the same lingua espana and tribal affiliations. Ritualised abuse will be shouted at each other and then at the television screen so that the historical grudges and long dead victories can be resurrected and reburied in public thereby creating some dubious form of unity and sense of well-being. It is a time of endless poring over team combinations and discussions on strategy that look like old flicks of world war two where old generals frown and bicker and move pins on maps. It is a time when I will graft a sprout of interest onto my sport dead soul and feign ecstasy or dark depressions and I will jump mindlessly on the spot shouting ‘ole ole ole’ whenever Argentina scores a goal. I will do this for love. Actually I won’t. I will do it because it is less painless than the excruciating explanations why I should be moved to do this of my own accord. In the same way that the deaf enjoy going to rock concerts for the atmosphere and the general vibrations I will fake soccer hysteria because it’s kind of fun and also, because I have already survived 2 world cups with the mad Latin and I know what it costs if I don’t show some form of enthusiasm.
I look forward to World Cup time because I know someone will wheel Maradonna out of rehab and he will invariably say something completely ridiculous and his genius be declared by his besotted followers. If Argentina wins the Cup he has already said he will get butt naked and run nude round the obelisk in Buenos Aires. I fail to see how this could be construed as an honourable demonstration of undying patriotism rather than the more likely explanation, being; that the cocaine has finally got to him. I would also fail to see how people could seriously build a church to a footballer with more than his fair share of vices and worship him every week if I hadn’t lived in Argentina for a few years and realised that they are actually all completely bonkers when it comes to football. I still haven’t been forgiven in some Latin quarters for suggesting that Maradonna might have been up to more than coaching when he was found off his trolley and in the nude with those taxi boys by the local Buenos Aires constabulary. Call me cynical possums but I swear that’s the last time I’ll call Saint Maradonna a nancy boy - I probably should have taken heed of the fact that Maradonna, Che Guevara and Jesus occupied one entire wall of the living room before opening my mouth anyway.

We like to think we are sports mad here in New Zealand but trust me – we are absolute novices. This week most of South and Latin America will be grinding to a highly strung halt. I still remember showing up for work when an English/ Argentine World Cup Test was on. I was the only one on the carriage in my train and the only one on a completely desolated street. It was 1pm on a weekday and an unholy silence reigned. By the time I let myself into the completely empty building I had convinced myself that someone had dropped an atomic bomb and that no one had bothered to tell me. It wasn’t until I heard the communal roar of ‘Gooooooooaaaaaaaalllllll’ ricocheting round the neighbourhood that I realised that I was the sole person in Buenos Aires who had turned up for work that day. So I headed to the local bar – where I found my students who were not drinking – but jumping with one arm in the air. “You have to jump! You have to jump like this!”they shouted. And so I did. I was Alice and this was a pub full of white rabbits. Vamos Los All Whites! I’ll be jumping for ya!

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