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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