We feel your (christmas) pain

I may live to repent the purchase of a ‘genuine New York kazoo’ to pop in Santa’s stocking. My daughter on the other hand – may not.

I wrote last week on the likelihood of me going to hell based on the number of times I had been told that I would by staunch upholders of one religion or another as a way of quashing any argument. Hell holds no fear for me now. Pilgrims: I have been there but I return to tell you. Nothing. Nothing – is worth going there for again. To Satre hell was other people. He was right.

Hell is a 6 hour car ride in Boxing Day traffic with a protesting 8 year old and a genuine New York Kazoo. It’s like being held hostage by a meth-fuelled Indian snake charmer with a penchant for monkey bars and peppermint chocolate. ‘Ma uh uuummmm’ (why is it that kids can make this one syllable word last for three in such a scary way?) “Mum, she asks ‘can I stop at a park?” “No.” I reply in a non-festive and generally unaccommodating tone. We are then treated to at least 20 minutes (although it could have been longer I was losing track of time as well as my mind) of ‘Jingle Bells’ and the theme tune to Sponge Bob Square pants on the Kazoo. And that was how we came to do a monkey bar crawl back up state highway 1 stopping at every gas station to buy peppermint chocolates to fuel the monkey bar binge and to prevent sudden onset kazoo playing. I must have been hypnotised. The mad Latin, watching the sugar crazed small person swing tirelessly from bar to bar shakes his head and wonders out loud what the hell I thought I was up to with the New York kazoo deal. “Are you insane or is Father Christmas a bit twisted and does he really really hate us?” He suggests throwing the kazoo in the rubbish bin and then pretending the nice looking Korean family next to us stole it from him at gunpoint. I suggest that perhaps this might be taking it too far. He says there’s not a place far enough to take the genuine New York kazoo. He could be right although I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome and am starting to think that our kidnapper and torturer is loveable and worth having a relationship with if only she’d stop playing the genuine New York kazoo.

My grandfather always said that the bag-pipes sounded their best when heard from the other side of a body of water. When he said this, most people thought he was being generally pleasant at whatever rural social outing my grandmother had taken him to which involved the ubiquitous marching band with bag-pipes. What they didn’t know was that he was actually referring to large bodies of water – like the Atlantic Ocean for example, and had an almost phobic dislike of the sound of bag-pipes at all. I feel the same about the genuine New York kazoo. It’s even mind-bendingly annoying when the kids have given up playing tunes and are just giggling inanely into it as they watch parents try to pretend they enjoy having their heads slowly twisted off.

So to all of you suffering in camp grounds in their tents. To those in small baches and caravans or at home where there really is no escape. To all of you trapped with the plastic lawn mowers with the clicky things, with the key-boards with 100 different computer generated animal noises or the creepy Baby Alive dolls that randomly tell you to pray: it is important for you to know. You are not alone. We feel your pain and remember – the instruments of your torture, thanks to our disposable consumer culture, are bound to be broken by lunchtime. It’s just a question of maintaining the will to live that long.

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I’m going to burn in hell

I’m going to burn in hell. I know this because more than a few people have told me so. It’s lucky Mr. Skinner is not going to burn in hell. He knows this because… well, he just knows. I’d like to know how one gets the guest list for Satan’s Halloween knees up but Satan and I are not exactly on speaking terms right now so it’s unlikely I’ll be so privileged.

It must be nice knowing stuff like who is and who is not going to hell – especially at Christmas. It’s way easier than doing other stuff like loving your annoying neighbours and family members or trying to cook turkey when you think you might secretly be a closet vegetarian. Mr. Skinner is so sure in his all knowingness especially in the face of an opinion different from his own that he has driven down to Auckland to vandalise Church property and make Whangarei famous, yet again for being the hub of uber-conservative religious mad-men rather than a thriving arts and business centre.

Can’t we find some better way of getting into the news? We’ve only just let them have John Banks and now we’ve unleashed Mr. Skinner. I hope he’s made his point. Which is – if you vandalise stuff and you’re 15 and you run away, someone can come and stab you to death and then not go to jail for doing so. If you’ve got a gold card and you do the same in the name of religion then you get away with it entirely. Mr. Skinner is incensed that Glynn Cardy, the vicar of St. Mathew’s in Auckland, has put up a poster showing a slightly shocked Virgin Mary checking a positive pregnancy test. I’m not a huge fan of the tendency toward feather ruffling by showing Mary in bed with Joseph or putting a condom on the Virgin Mary – just for the sake of it. Billboards that specifically annoy Muslims, Hindus or Atheists wouldn’t be big on my list of favourite things to have in a city either – unless of course they were making fun of neo-Nazi skinheads, and then I might find them quite funny.

I would never go about slashing things that I disagreed with though – I’d have been far too busy during the last electoral campaign, I mean where would one start? The fact that Mr. Skinner is a Catholic is deeply disappointing. The last census stated that I was one too – there was no box for ‘derailed, transgressing and often argumentative’ Catholic, but I made do. I suppose I don’t like people like Mr. Skinner giving us all a bad name in the same way that law abiding Muslims don’t like everyone thinking that they carry Osama Bin Laden’s handbook and keep a bomb under their bed. I thought that rampant intolerance was so passé in the Catholic Church and that we’d been there and done that about 500 years ago and learnt our lesson. I thought we’d leave the rabid rantings to the new guys on the block – usually the DIY Christian Fundies who get to lay down the law as they interpret it and point the spiritual bone at anyone they disagree with by telling them they’ll burn in hell.

Catholics, I smugly thought, lacked the zealot gene and were unlikely to have stickers on their cars which read; “ A Jewish Carpenter is my Navigator” as they reverse into your car while doing the Christmas shopping. I know what you’re thinking. I am so going to hell. The bonus of that is: Mr. Skinner won’t be there. However while we’re here I’d like Mr. Skinner to know, that the cauldron in my back yard is specifically for opening mussels. The broom out the back is for sweeping the drive and has not shown any evidence of levitation despite my best efforts and that I wish him a peaceful, loving and tolerant Christmas. Oh. And a Satan zapping light saber from Santa.

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Great New Zealand Camping Trip

I’m not sure what happened to the Great New Zealand Camping Trip but like saveloys and the perm and set it seems to have been binned in favour of more exotic cultural pastimes.

The New New Zealander (my research for this is limited to friends in Auckland) goes to Vanuatu or New Caledonia and gets someone else to watch the kids. Excellent plan but where is all the group bonding and imminent divorce proceedings over the pitching of a tent that I remember from my childhood? They are very early memories of camping, as Dad decided to give full rein to his house building instincts and constructed ‘the bach’ as an unlicensed, architect free zoned structure that still stands resplendent in its black tattoo parlour wallpaper interior which he picked up off K Road in the 70’s. There was the joy of meeting the local flora and fauna too. The moreporks, which my brother had convinced himself were Haast Eagle sized raptors ready to carry him off every time he went out to the long drop. The frolicking of Te Kuti and Love Joy. The joys of camping on the Coromandel in the ‘70’s meant sharing the love with the hippies and their idiotically named goats. The old canvas tent that leaked and the smell of sleeping over cut grass can never be replicated in some club med never never land. The delicate balance one had to effect to get in and out of the camp beds that could snap you up like an Aussie side show crocodile if you got it wrong. The insect repellent that could kill humans if left in confined spaces and the fact that a slice of watermelon was a huge treat worthy of a commemoration photo. Holiday movies were not an option because the nearest cinema was 300kms away and fast food – was kahawai steamed in newspaper.

In the days before Kathmandu shops made the whole camping thing into an urban chic fantasy – camping was a design and entertainment free zone.

In an effort to restore cultural heritage (namely mine) I’m inclined to get in touch with my inner pakeha and make the entire family go camping. I am sure, that like any Latins repressed under authoritarian regimes –it will only be a matter of time before they rebel. I know, deep in my Anglo heart where we believe all punishment has a purpose that I will lose my army of unhappy campers at day one. As I gather pipis and wash out towels in a single bucket insisting on how much fun we’re all having being at one with nature, they will disappear and I will have to hunt them down in all my camping-hair, bucket-washed glory. I will find them holed up in some hideous bunker with supercilious room service and cable TV, eating chips and taking it in turns to watch Scooby Doo and every soccer game being played on the planet. They will be happy. I will not. x

The mad Latin insists that the only people who go camping are lunatics and terrorists – when I point out that Che Guevara spent a good part of his life camping out in the jungle – he replies that this was exactly his point. Camping is to him a perverse embracing of homelessness engaged in by deluded wealthy people. He has the same opinion of adobe houses.

I have already had the Latin camping experience once – when I insisted that the extended family’s kids fore-go the tv set and engage in something thrilling like building a nikau palm teepee I got looks of resigned yet slightly appalled despair. I was going to mention that we had only kerosene lamps that screamed like a banshee and attracted huhu grubs onto your books but thought better of it. I was delighted that they all decided en masse to go and sleep in the tent for the night and congratulated myself on introducing them to the great outdoors.

It was only in the morning that I noticed the missing TV set and the 20 metres of cord extension stretching over the dew covered grass.

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All I want for Christmas

The staff room where I taught in my first job had a ‘Wall of Horror’ out of sight of students. On the wall were shelves of purple glitter dolphins, bizarre plastic masks, a large phallic icon from some fertility festival and a horrible horrible plethora of Hello Kitty items. These were the truly horrendous gifts we had been given as ‘foreign’ teachers. Not every gift made it to the Wall of Horror. It took me a year before the tie I had been given by the group of paranoid Taiwanese army sergeants who had made it clear from the start that they didn’t want any girl teaching them, could be accepted as worthy – in all its appalling glory, of the wall. I’d worn it as a badge of dishonour for most of the year after the official notice had been issued that all female teachers were to wear skirts. Not every Hello Kitty item made it either. To be accepted as a true gift of horror it had to be entirely pointless – it’s very existence had to confront all rationalism and engender a shudder just beholding it. The Hello Kitty furry toilet seat warmer was a centrepiece, from memory.

It seems slightly evil to be thinking of really appalling gifts to give people at Christmas time – does it make it worse that this cheers me up? I only realised the true extent of my grinchishness when I looked at the titles on my internet browsing history and they were, in order:1) Christmas sucks. 2) Christmas is for losers. 3) Psycho Christmas.

The fact that I had spent a happy hour looking at the websites that actually exist for these titles and found an excellent new Christmas carol called Psycho Christmas by a punk band, is immaterial. The point being that there was a community of like-minded grinches who feel ambivalent towards what is supposed to be a time of loving, forgiving and turkey. Perhaps I should create a support group. The thing is that while I love Christmas, I suffer from Yuletide guilt – it seems vaguely mean to wallow in the festivities when so many, have had such a deeply rotten year. Divorces, the loss of a child, or a business hitting the rocks seem to be brought into sharp relief when the world seems to be conspiring to appear to be the Waltons on cocaine. While there’s no point in having a deeply rotten Christmas just to be empathetic to friends having hard times – there is something perversely pleasurable about the thought of truly horrible gift giving just to take the seriousness and sting out of it all. I’ll start with all my silly lefty friends of which there are a few. I will give them a copy of Sarah Palin’s new book. When they say ‘You really shouldn’t have’ I will know they really mean it.
The eco-nuts might enjoy tasteful animal parts as souvenirs in the Australian style. Like a kangaroo’s balls, preserved as a cigarette lighter. They won’t know whether to thank me or turn me over to the authorities.
Family members might be exposed to the joys of an opshop toy rescue bid. Truly creepy dolls toys and crafts end up in op shops and must be released. Some of the dolls that I’ve freed from the likes of Hospice or Salvation Army look like they’d need an exorcism before they could be gifted. I might save those for my special friends. For recalcitrant work colleagues I could gift something truly memorable – like an hour with Wayne Peters for example– but no. Not even I’m that mean. And then there is always the imaginary gift. The one that you wish existed. I know what it looks like. It’s a music video of Christmas Carols sung by Lockwood Smith and Phil Heatley, with Rodney Hide as the principal dancer to ‘yellow bird… up high in banana tree…yellow bird you sit all alone like me…” John Banks with his groovy glasses would play bongo. If it exists – it’s all I want for Christmas.

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The New Zealand election is over

“Santa’s dead.” That’s what the four year old at the bank told me when I asked about her behavioural status with the big guy. The Mum was making slightly embarrassed choking motions to me behind the girl’s back which could suggest either some religious arguments against the worship of consumerism through the cult of Santa or it could be just some creative, if slightly extreme budgeting. Stocking filling becoming stressful? Kill off Santa. End of.

I had the same reaction on Sunday morning after the election.  The promises are big. National says we’ll be back in surplus by 2014 but I think even Santa would have trouble delivering on that one. 

Christchurch is a whole lot more broken than I could have imagined when I was there last week and everywhere you look screams massive amounts of money to fix it.  Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal could easily just decide they’re not going to pay back the money they owe in the same way that Argentina did over 10 years ago. It’s served them remarkably well. This could take a super-hero and looking at the pre-election posters it seemed as if the election had descended to caricature. Phil Heatley played a geeky Robin to Key’s mask-like Batman. Post election Winston was even speaking like the Joker; ‘ He’d been marginalised, stigmatised and even demonised’. His words.  His stigmata was not in evidence but the slightly messianic ‘help is coming’ message hinted at him having been crucified by mainstream media. In fact he managed to resurrect himself on the third day with his pinstripe penguin suits and joker smile to smite the people of Gotham city with another enormous spanner to be thrown at Key’s well-oiled political machine. 

The good people of Epsom ended up being nicely shepherded into the corral (baaa!) where they got to have two National MP’s where everyone else just gets one.  This means that a well to do suburb in Auckland now has more stamp in Wellington than most of Northland put together. Farcical and embarrassing but Banks doesn’t seem to think so – with his new glasses he looked like the mad Scientist out of Finneus and Ferb. I wouldn’t be surprised if a platypus is controlling his brain too. He seems intent on reinventing the Act party (never mind that people have supposedly just voted for the old one, this alone makes the Epsom result a joke) and making it into something new. What about a  time machine? Or a banana? And about a million people, most probably the disaffected (young, unemployed), dislocated (refugees from Christchurch) the disinterested (again that would be the young) who didn’t bother to vote at all. Not to forget the whole squadron of people, especially in Northland, two of whom I met this week, who did not vote, not because they didn’t want to but because they just can’t read. That’s right. They are almost entirely illiterate. In New Zealand. I’m not sure that NCEA standards or deep sea drilling or the sale of energy companies is going to address such problems as illiteracy because it arises out of a complex cluster of factors that cause a poverty deeper than that which can be described on a balance sheet.

The South Americans really are much better at true democracy than we are for the simple reason that they were without it for a very long time. It’s a civic duty to vote. Welfare is cut if you don’t. You cannot get a business loan if you don’t. Maybe we could learn something. 

The election is over and the people have spoken but I have a feeling when the hang-over is over we might just wake up to find that  Santa has well and truly sucked the kumara and there is no masked crusader there to take his place.

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The Death of Small Children

Letter to God Regarding the Death of Small Children by Cancer. With respect to some of the things about this world that are really pissing me off I have decided that it would be best to address these concerns to someone in charge. In lieu of finding the appropriate body, organisation or board I have decided that your position as master and creator of the universe is probably the correct channel to pursue.

In my role as embodied spirit currently occupying a human form down here in Christchurch I have to say that you have seriously fucked up big time this time.

The death of small children from cancer is something you really should reconsider
as I believe it falls in the category of the cruel and unnecessary and while many things on this earth may also be filed under this heading I do believe in this case you have gone too far.

For starters it’s not like a 4 year old boy could possibly fit into any ideas of karmic nature or cause and effect.
He’s only been here 5 minutes. There are many who perhaps would justify such an end but I note, with a considerable amount of ire – that they are not on your cancer list.

I have at my disposal a list of more suitable candidates should you require it and am happy to share my thoughts on who would more appropriately have their life pre-emptively terminated before they can do any more damage. I do acknowledge that Gaddafi has already been taken out and I have crossed him off my list. This little boy’s name, please note, is conspicuously absent and I am confused as to why is he is still suffering and is not in fact, cured and heading off to the beach this summer as I had asked.

I know that this is not how things generally work but this is a rather urgent matter and I think it’s particularly bad form that you have chosen to slope off just when the going gets rough.

I have serious issues regarding your complaints department – in all honesty you would be better to fire all your staff there as they have done nothing to address my previous complaints or redress the issues.

When you said ‘Suffer unto me the little children’ I did not seriously think for a minute it would be the children that would suffer. What is that all about? I mean really? And it’s not like I can give any comfort to his Mum either.

I mean I could say “ ‘This all has a higher purpose’ but that’s the kind of thing Christians say that make you want to shoot them in the head. Seriously. What possible purpose can this be serving? It is patently bloody obvious that it is not his time. Not for another 70 years at least.

I cannot believe people saying that ‘he will be better off in the place he is going’. That also produces in me a homicidal response. He’s pretty well off where he is right now. He has a family who love him and a beautiful world to discover and that’s the thing – if you can get so much right whether in a ‘try and tweak’ form of evolution or the instant ‘just add water’ variety of creationism – if there is so much that is so irrationally right about this world – how could you get this one just so plain wrong?

Having worked a lot in kitchens I know that a truly great chef (which is kind of what I imagine you to be except with some very exceptional recipes) takes the flak and stands the heat – even or most especially when they or their staff have got something wrong. I’m sending this plate back.

I’m asking you to seriously reconsider the whole deal with children getting cancer and if this issue is not resolved in my lifetime I will be asking for my money back on this whole life deal.

Yours faithfully, (just)

Nickie Muir

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Helens voice

​I miss Helen Clarke’s voice. Phil could do with it right now. It was a voice honed over years of being a chick trying to get heard in a big boy’s game and had the low steady grind of a two-stroke lawn mower perfect for riding over bullies. Bullies hated it precisely because it usually beat them at their own game. It was calm. It was rational. It took no prisoners and did not stop until the point had been driven home. It was not conversational and it did not often stretch to compromise or concession – it was, in short, the kind of voice that one would need for an election campaign. This was the voice or at least the style that was needed in the Leaders televised debate because the actual arguments seemed to be entirely irrelevant.

Reviving the spectre of Jerry McGuire by a constant lectern thumping ‘Show me the Money’ on the part of John Key might have scored points with the old boy financiers but was an unfortunate link given the state of the world economy and the reasons for it being that way. It seemed like an ‘80’s throw back and given that National seems set to send the cash cow to the meat works in terms of selling power companies – it all seemed ill advised. Still it made Phil look like a dork for a few seconds so I guess it was successful and John looked like he was having fun saying it so that’s good. I think.

Having sat through the debates I’ve started shouting back at both the radio and the television. The eight year old – with a nonchalant raised eyebrow – says “Mum – you do know they can’t hear you – right?” Embarrassing but I wish they could. What I’ve been shouting is “Show me the Numbers!!!” Because the numbers – and I have to confess numbers are not my forte – but these numbers that the political Pooh-Bahs are chucking about are doing my head in. Seriously – does anyone really understand them and if they do can somebody please explain it to me?

Can you really predict much when we’re not even sure if the Euro is going to exist next week? Do you know anything if Italy’s situation makes Greece look like someone overspent the petty cash from the local kindy? How can you not guarantee early childhood education but can guarantee the banks and finance companies? Is it really a good idea to sell a family business with a good cash-flow in order to pay down the mortgage or is selling state assets more like selling the family home and then having to rent? Amongst the revenue rhetoric are there any real numbers that make sense to financially illiterate people like myself?

At this point I’m thinking of voting based on the time honoured ‘eeny meeny miny mo’ technique. As suggested by the eight year old who was extremely unimpressed with my need to view the leaders debate when we were squandering precious Sponge Bob time. Her conclusion and insightful summary of the issues? “This sucks. No offense.” None taken, especially when said with a lisp and as valid a response as either of the leaders were giving to each other’s policies.

The only thing I really do know is how to finally catch ourselves up to Australian wages – and I’ll let Phil and John know for free. No consultant fees. First you balls up your job back here in New Zealand by being a racist dickhead. Then you write a book that makes it to the bargain bin by day two of sales entitled “ What was I thinking?” Not a lot. Obviously. Then the Murdochs offer you to the Australian public as the next best thing. Worked for Paul Henry.

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Stand up and be counted

Didn’t elections used to be more fun? I remember giving an entire class of Japanese schoolboys a lecture on the New Zealand electoral system as a response to a request for ‘information about election.’ Of course they had been liver –lafting that very week, which was nice, as were the 39 penises, small but perfectly formed in blu-tack that they arranged on the desks. I bored them to death about New Zealand elections as a form of punishment and as an obtuse lesson in the importance of correct pronunciation.

This election is shaping up to be an exercise in a similar form of the death of humour by boredom. Borges once described politics as ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’ and watching Phil and John go at it is about as exciting as drinking tea at a fundamentalist wedding. They both look like fops with swords ritualistically slashing at each other without actually doing any damage or getting much else done.

This time round there is a lot more at stake. It may be, especially if you are young and unemployed, as Mr Key’s campaign kicks in; ‘time to stand up and be counted’ but the idea that questions about sustainability are the equivalent of a big stop sign to any form of development is – simplistic and just wrong. If it were all just a question of digging it up and shipping it out to build a well and wealthy community – Australian mining towns would not be the harsh, physically and psychologically damaged places they are and Waihi would have zero unemployment. New Zealanders made it very clear where it was inappropriate to mine when the idea of mining our National parks was raised. I don’t believe the protest was about stopping mining as much as it was about protecting the business interests of our tourism operators and the money that is engendered from the ephemeral nature of our image overseas. It was not about a bunch of hippies and actors walking off their lattes with a few placards – it was a rational undertaking of the mantle for the guardianship for the real world bottom line. A bottom line, which has significantly changed its definition over the last 20 years.

Ecuador; as are other countries in Latin and South America, is asking for the first time, not the worth of the oil underneath their national parks like the Yasuni, but what the value to the world is – of keeping it where it is. There will always be room for mining – I spent an hour listening to the benefits of sand mining over large-scale tourism from a well-respected ecologist on Stradbroke Island recently. She made a good case. It’s the ability to have a wide-ranging and constructive debate and the insight to be able to form the kinds of questions that lead to the redefinition of such terms as ‘value’ and ‘wealth’ as in the case of the Yasuni initiative, that will move the debate on from the lobbing of grenades between ideological bunkers. Failing that, if the politicians just keep randomly swiping at each other we can send our local representative a little blu-tak sculpture with a note saying. “Please. Stop being dicks.”

What is crucial for an interesting election is that young Northlanders get over their terminal apathy, get informed and stand up and make themselves counted. One way of motivating the under 25’s is: food. Call it the bribery barbie: it doesn’t matter whom they vote for as long as they understand what each party or candidate is offering them and that they exercise their right to choose. If I were a meddling kind of grandma with a big family, which I’m not and I don’t, I’d make sure they only got fed if they exercised that privilege – that civil obligation; to vote.

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Celebrating all our heroes

It’s the season of heroes. And this year, with the aftermath of Pike River, Christchurch, weird international unnatural disasters and an oil spill; as a country we really needed a win. There was a collective sense of the need for a real good time and a celebration of the good guys who really reaped the rewards of sporting resilience.

There are other heroes too. The quiet ones we don’t always celebrate or even know about but who nevertheless show a fortitude of spirit and courage deserving of honour. I didn’t want to write this column. I wanted to write another one. The one with the happy ending and miraculous recovery. The one where everyone lives happily ever after – or failing that; just lives.

About a year ago I wrote about the diagnosis of a brain tumour of a friend’s gorgeous little boy. He looks like the sort of little boy that 1950’s postcards depict; a tussle –haired blondie with a penchant for killing monsters with plastic swords. He is her beautiful baby boy and after a year of the kind of treatment that makes parents seriously consider not treating their kids at all – he’s not going to make it.

‘Sometimes’, she said, ‘there are just too many layers of hard.’ And there have been layers upon layers of hard for her and others like her this year in Christchurch. There is the rough unchartered terrain of a very sick child to negotiate and the brick wall hurdles of relationships that fracture under the strain and family that just don’t seem to get it. There is the creativity required to make a desolate quake destroyed city into a fun adventurous playground for a small child for a single Mum of limited means and unlimited imagination. Taking the remote control of the broken TV from their 3rd broken house and giving it to the small almost broken person – she told him it had super powers. Hearing that the demolition cranes and balls were in town she took him in his wheel chair and let him believe that every time he pressed the buttons he was in fact controlling the cranes and the demolition machinery. For an afternoon he was Bob the Builder’s destructive evil twin. He spent it happily smashing up an entire city with his remote control and an audience of quake battered citizens cheering him on. For that idea alone she deserves a medal.

For every layer of hard that she has weathered this year I have seen in her another layer of diamond strength resilience. Given the worst possible news any mother can receive, she refuses to ‘live in that context’. She will not open the cards with the waterfalls and the silver writing. You know the ones. She will not do flowers or sorrowful faces and it is not because she does not know what is coming or she is in denial. She nursed her terminally ill mother through the last phases of cancer and she knows better than most what the outcomes are. Dancing on the brink of the abyss of loss – dancing lightly on that edge so that her only son remembers the last times as the best times, takes the courage and grace of true heroism. Loving to the extent that you do not allow yourself to fall apart until the job is done, in the border country of loss, shows resilience beyond the rational and is truly the stuff of heroes.

We need to celebrate all our heroes - it’s just that some don’t always get the street parades they deserve.

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Scrap metal in the bay

Fresh, primed and pristine as a Finnish sauna goer after the serious media soft-soaping we’ve been receiving at the hands of Maritime New Zealand. We are told to expect another major oil clean up on the beaches of the East Coast. Fair call; with a sick ship creaking on a reef with a bloody great crack down the middle of it and over 1000 tonnes of oil still on board. Catherine Taylor – the director of Maritime New Zealand seemed amazingly calm when she spoke on Radio NZ saying she’d spoken to a ‘wonderful young Maori person’ at a local marae and that they’d said they ‘could do the clean up’ and that she was going to go and inform other Maori communities down the line so that they could get organised to do their stuff. I wonder what it would feel like on those local coastal marae to be consulted about a clean up having been almost totally ignored when it came to the consultation process regarding off shore drilling.

If we get told to expect more oil on the beaches often enough – it becomes an inevitable fact of life rather than an abhorrent preventable disaster and the public are far less likely to get upset about it. We are distracted by images of swimming pools of frolicking salvaged penguins and forget to ask the bigger, harder questions. John Key is insisting on the ‘unfortunate series of events’ line – unaware perhaps that we are unconsciously sending out the message to all our international guests that we are clean green and 100% pure NZ by total accident rather than good management. There appears to be an underlying assumption that this disaster is ‘just one of those things that happens’ and that we should just get over it and leave it to the experts. It is also symptomatic of a government who continues to behave as if the environment and the economy are two separate entities encased in impermeable sheaths and that the latter is the poorer cousin.

This government is set to shed over 100 DoC technical experts as unimportant, unaffordable luxury items. He is right however in that oil spills and shipwrecks are incredibly difficult things to manage. Having failed 7th form physics, I can’t pretend to understand what is going on in that big creaking piece of scrap metal in the bay. The people getting winched onto that dark and dangerous ghost ship to crawl through spaces attaching hoses deserve to be awarded national hero status and never have to work again.  Would their job have been so dangerous if the decision to act unilaterally by MNZ could have been made earlier in the window of good weather? It appears that the salvage operation is always the owner’s responsibility and Ms. Taylor has already admitted that the owner’s response was ‘tardy’ at which point Maritime NZ stepped in. When exactly should it be MNZ’s time to take over a salvage operation when there is a risk of a major environmental disaster? Couldn’t the oil response team take immediate control and then pass the bill to the owners? To be blunt; does a Greek boat owner possibly up to his neck in debt, really give a rat’s arse about what happens to a wreck that already looks like it was on its last legs anyway?

The Director of Maritime New Zealand is an accountant. It is fashionable to have hospitals, schools and our environment managed by accountants. Managers managing managers who oversee a committee of clipboard armed administrators. They make nice flow charts. MNZ have the authority given by the International Convention on Oil preparedness response and Cooperation to which NZ is a signatory, to levy oil and shipping companies to fund any clear up of spills. They also have a minimum level of equipment immediately available for a spill of up to 3,500 tonnes of oil, which covers the amount on the Rena then. I know this because the flow charts say so.

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Oil Spill

We’re an optimistic lot us humans. Or deluded. We kid ourselves that we’re the masters of our own cleverness and then we get upset when things break – or crash or sink. How could this happen? This is a once in 100 year event! Surely there must be someone to blame for all of this! “As a species we are clever at developing fabulous stuff and shipping it round the world but we just don’t spend much time or money on wondering about avoiding worst case scenarios when it all goes wrong. Especially in our ‘positive thinking’ obsessed culture; dwelling on the possibilities of failure and general disaster is for losers. We hope it goes well, close our eyes and cross our fingers.

The thing with oil spills though is that this approach doesn’t seem to be serving us very well. The problem with the ‘this is a very complex and unique situation which would only happen every now and again and we have to be realisitic’ approach, that Mr. Key is in favour of, is that it doesn’t help if the now and again is in your life time and you eat from and live by the affected beach.

New Zealand is a big weather, rough water island on the bum of the planet so it stands to reason that accidents will happen and weather will hamper attempts to remedy the situation. Help will be awhile coming. Anyone trying to catch boats in the Pacific will tell you that there is many a rust-bucket out there and that the rules for carrying hazardous liquids on land in those expensive brand new rigs – seem to be very different from the ones that apply at sea. Given this, it would seem prudent to have a fairly well stocked tool box on our own shores when the need arises. As it does – often. Since 1998 New Zealand has had 4 significant oil spills with a combined leakage of over 500 tonnes of fuel.

The Maritime Safety Authority boasts on its website of having over 12 million dollars worth of gear on our shores for cleaning up oil spills. I think we’ve just spent more than that on an upgrade of ‘fan zones’ in Auckland just in case more people want to watch a footy match. Given the income from oil surely the oil companies themselves could contribute more to having the highest technology available for cleaning up when it all goes wrong. $12 million seems woeful in comparison to the cost of environmental damage to fishing grounds and recreational areas.

How do you factor the real cost of getting it wrong? And that’s the other thing; I remember watching the attempted clean up after the Exxon Valdez and various other documentaries on oil spills as a kid (normal kids played pacman) and the gear all looks the same. In the age of the ipad is there really nothing more that can be done other than spray detergent and put some ineffectual booms out? There is little point in focussing entirely on the hows and wherefores of one underpaid and possibly underqualified sea captain running aground. That’s what government spin doctors will want us to focus on.

The oil spill that happened in the Coral Sea last year, came as a result of a ship being about 8 kms off course. From what I could understand, the captain was navigating with something akin to a primary school geography book. We can’t just put it down to ‘human error’ and then pretend it won’t happen again. It will. If a real education is not the ability to have all the answers but the capacity to form the right questions – then there is a lot more to ask about than simply who we should blame. According to the MSA risk assessment survey in 2004, Northland is three times more likely to suffer from a major oil spill than the Bay of Plenty ever was. What then are the right questions that need to be asked in order to either prevent or minimise the damage from the same thing happening here?

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Who is Dan Carter?

I was going to send the above 4 words as my entire column. They would have looked pretty on the page floating there – in space; leaving readers time to think about things other than Dan’s groin. A philosophical question perhaps. Is Dan the Man or is there in fact an entire team of All Blacks and he just had a bad day at the office and now the other 29 have to go to work? I even thought about wondering out loud if Dan was in fact a rugby Jesus. We follow Dan into the light. He leads us out of the darkness of having to think about elections or listen to Don Brash. He fights against evil. Australians. In his undies. For example. But I’m not that silly. I’d still be opening hate mail from Christian fundamentalists at Christmas time, which would take all the fun out of it. Besides, I know that is not true because an ex-property developer in Brisbane is claiming that title.

It would have been fun to write an existential column consisting of four words but I chickened out and the editor would have gone mental anyway.  There would have been the embarrassing phone call, ending with the droll ‘Now give me the real bloody column because no one pays you to be a smart alec.’ And so, in the interests of responsibility, I’m not going to. Instead I’m writing to the Chinese Premier and asking him to invade. I will tell him to hurry up because if he does it right now… no one will notice. The first thing I will request in the new regime, is a reduction in free speech which I hope will curtail anymore stories of weeping women crying over Dan’s nether regions. Somehow I can’t imagine the Chinese getting so swept away in a Tsunami of irrational nationalism over a game of table tennis. Under the new authorities we could do away with elections all together which, given the lack of a credible opposition – it seems we’ve done here anyway. At this stage, John Key would actually have to streak across the field in green and gold body paint and knee Sonny Bill in the groin, rendering him incapacitated, to even make the election look interesting.

Thankfully, I can console myself that New Zealanders are minnows in the international arena of taking sport to the extremes of religious ecstasy and our ability to rope an entire country into a St Viticus dance of national pride, is still in its juvenile stage. For true professionalism in this quarter, we have the Argentines. I am under express orders by the mad Latin to never speak of the ‘superstitious bollocks ’ which is the Maradonian Church. Which is why I’ll write about it instead. A spiritual congregation of fanatics who have somehow taken the fact that Maradonna, perhaps the world’s greatest footballer, wore the number 10 (diez) on his shirt which is similar to the word ‘Dios’ to mean that he actually is God incarnate. White robed priests carry footballs crowned with barbed wire to altars with Maradonna’s image. The fans celebrate Maradonian Easter on the 22nd of June.  The day that Argentina knocked England out of the 1986 world cup.  Followers must name their sons Diego. It’s hard to tell how much of this is extreme football fanaticism, and how much is the general Latin American taking of the proverbial. I note that many of the makeshift shrines and altars seem to be placed in bars and pizzeria joints and I imagine there are many conversations with partners which begin: “I am going to worship.” “No you’re not, you’re going to the pub with your mates to watch 20 year old video clips of that old cocaine junkie Maradonna.” “How dare you question my spirituality?!” We’re not quite that bad. Yet.

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The Rugby World Cup

Rugby journalism is the art of the blindly obsessed interviewing the mutely inarticulate about the completely unknowable yet paradoxically: the completely predictable. Someone will win the game. Someone will lose. Everyone will agonise over it during and after and come to the conclusion that rugby was the ultimate winner on the day and that it was, invariably, a game of two halves. Seriously. How many halves are there ever going to be, to be a whole game?

Along with such deviancies as secretly liking Australia and loathing meat pies I have to also confess to just not getting rugby. It’s ok if Sonny is getting his gear off or there are Latins to look at, but the idea of watching big guys with no necks and an alien where their ear used to be just doesn’t do it.

Hours can be spent watching three-day horse events or polo. There are the pretty horses; but rugby occupies the same mental space as Sufi whirling dervishes or Finnish stick walloping nudists. I’m a foreign anthropologist witnessing a rare and incomprehensible ritual without language or any knowledge of the rules every time I watch a rugby game. But this is world cup and I know the risks . I may be banished to some remote kingdom and have to spend years in exile eating hokey pokey ice-cream and remembering random cricket scores in order to prove my worthiness to re-enter the realms of kiwidom. Which is why we, the ignorant and feckless individuals who do not care enough to understand rugby, need commentators and journalists so that we can absorb their views and pretend that we belong.

The promos for 3 news has one rugby boffin sniffing the seats at Eden Park and telling of the joy of the patter of “little spiked feet trotting out of the change rooms, the smell of horse liniment. Strong. Deep.” Sounds like gay porn with cowboys – I could get this so wrong so decide not to borrow from that source. Searching the channels I scout opinions from the players themselves; ‘I think the other team played very well, but we played to our strengths and we came through.” Well you’re not going to play to your weaknesses are you? Although that could be entertaining, I have yet to see a player play dead on the field and then when everyone’s got the ambulances running, suddenly jump and make a run for the try line. And, came through what exactly? The storm? The war? What is the metaphor they’re getting at that I’m missing?

I know I will be tested after the Argentine/Scottish game. I take notes so I’ll be prepared. Cantenponi says that they must win to stay alive. This might be true if this were soccer in Argentina. It’s not unknown for soccer stars to be shot by disgruntled fans for some mistake but the Wellington crowd looks harmless enough. I listen to the commentators trade notes on the ‘teeth crunching – botty squeaking excitement”, of it all. Cantenponi converts!! Yay!!! I think, but to what? Buddhism? Suddenly I catch a glimpse of a parade of my Pakeha uncles, brother and Dad – they are wearing Scottish tartan hats but they’re shouting for Argentina. I can’t see the mad Latin anywhere. The commentators are babbling; ‘The Argentines are shouting and singing, as they do.” The mad Latin rings, he’s chanting: “ He who’s not jumping is a big fatty!” There are 2 thousand others chanting with him. ‘What are you doing?” I ask. “I’m jumping – obviously.” He shouts. ‘How come you’re not with the others?” ‘I got kicked out for jumping and singing. I couldn’t sit still any longer I can’t ‘do’ pakeha – so I’m up with the jumping hooligans. Also – your uncles have memorised rude phrases in Spanish and are shouting them at people.” “Female genitalia of your sister’s parrot, being one of them?” “Yes! How did you know?! I have to go – We have to jump!” I do a quick check: Nope. Teeth uncrunched. Botty not squeaking. Still don’t get it.

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If there is a hell – it will involve people randomly breaking into song with pitchforks

The small person has developed a taste for musicals. I take this as proof that my partner had a dalliance with the sort of person who liked ‘Evita’ and that the person who calls me Mum is not my biological offspring. The deviance, encouraged by her grandmother who bought her Mama Mia (do I need to explain why a 7 year old singing ‘give me, give me, give me a man after midnight, is just so wrong?) Annie, and Mary Poppins.

After yet another day with a sick kid however, Mary won and out came the DVD. Happiness restored I sat and listened, amused, to Mrs. Banks and the ill one sing; ‘cast off the shackles of yesterday, shoulder to shoulder into the fray… our daughter’s daughters will adore us, and sing in grateful chorus: Well done! Well done sister suffragette!’ on Monday, exactly 114 years after New Zealand women gained the vote. Unfortunately it seems – their daughter’s daughter’s don’t adore them or even really get what all the marching and fuss was about. My generation got it because we still saw obvious signs around us of many of the jobs and systems for the boys. I think we might have over done it with the skin head hairdos and boiler suits though because the generation that came after us preface any objections to gender inequality with phrases such as “ Not sounding like a feminist or anything but….” And yet women are still missing in action in politics both here and internationally. Unlike Saudi women we do get to vote but as far as women MPs go, we have more than the US but less than Norway, Sweden and inexplicably Rwanda.

To my knowledge, there has never been a woman MP from Northland. The North instead seems to specialise in blokes whose political longevity relies not on dynamism and an ability to advocate and hustle to put something in the kete, but instead on their ability to continue breathing. Provided they are not caught chasing after underage strippers they get to stay. It’s like the Kremlin in the eighties – a conveyer belt of guys that all look the same and get replaced by someone who looks, acts and believes exactly the same. The Whangarei electorate is dire – the last time we had a change of colour here – I was 7. John Banks lasted for about 18 years until he was unleased upon Auckland. They must have wondered what the hell they’d ever done to us to deserve him. The current MP will have been in office for about 15 years by the time he romps home again next election.

My letterbox could do the same if only I could get it on the National party list. It’s not necessarily a bad thing it just makes for excruciatingly tedious politics. Sure, thanks to MMP the party vote still counts nationally for those of us who feel our electorate vote, because of substantive traditional margins and a lack of opposition, is essentially wasted. But it’s the lack of real sport in it that makes the game listless – and surely adding a few more women to both major parties’ ranks would help. Otherwise we’ll just have to satisfy ourselves with the blood sport of watching the Act party implode but there’s such a lack of suspense when they just keep stabbing each other in the front. Nope.

We need some genuine rough and tumble in the political ring of the North and perhaps it might take some women to do the job. Take a look around. Every second one of us is one; surely we deserve some kind of a voice? Georgina Abernathy, one of the original Kiwi suffragettes said; “It’s for the good of the family, and the young around us that we are requesting justice at the hands of the State.” That still seems like a good rallying cry over 100 years later. Politically, if Northland were a musical it would be Annie – singing ‘Tomorrow’. Yup. Things do eventually change; you’ve just got to keep hoping.

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World Cup NZ

The world cup has got me thinking that you can tell a lot about a nation from its national anthem. Here in New Zealand we sing a song of warm fuzziness and humble pleas, not to God of our particular nation, but a God of all nations thereby acknowledging our own insignificance in the greater scheme of things. We meet in love and general niceness and ask only that if there is strife and war to be dished out to the cosmos, that the universal God be so kind as to give us a miss and send it all elsewhere. Historically – so far so good.

We’ve missed out on most of the starvation strife and prolonged civil wars that most countries have copped and while that makes for a peaceful and pestilence free existence it also makes for a rather boring (although sweet) national anthem. While the haka may carry some of our national fire in the belly, with its throat slitting bum baring ferocity – it has also become a ritualised display of fossilised aggression. Friday showed us inspired choreography and breathtaking creative coordination. It also gave us haka a la bollocks, haka with feathers, haka with imaginary canoes and haka in ties. OK. We get it. Everyone is really angry and ready to fight the enemy (in a friendly and sportsman like way – just ignore the whole throat slitting bit.)

Our national anthem and the haka seem to sum up our slightly schizophrenic national psyche. As does the Argentine’s. Saturday had the mad Latin driving round town with the national flag on our beat up truck. I’d personally like to thank whoever nicked it from him when he left it in the carpark. The flag and the upcoming game with the English engendered in him a need to drive about town singing the national anthem out the window and inciting war against those Malvinas stealing pirates – those offspring of Satan: the English. I had to remind him that this would also include me – and technically – our daughter.

Part of the problem with the Argentine anthem is its blood and guts hyperbole which gives the expression ‘over the top’ a whole new dimension. In fact the toned down version had to be created because the original was so long and gory against the Spainish that it offended the wave of later Spanish immigrants to such a degree that it frightened them. “to resound with horrible din: the whole country is disturbed by cries of revenge, of war and rage.In the fiery tyrants the envy spit the pestipherous bile.” You get the idea. And it went on. And on. For personal entertainment I did suggest that with all those double barrelled surnames and excessive hair product in the Argentine team – the best response if they were ever to face the haka -would be to blow a big group kiss the way of the Mighty All Blacks. I regretted it. It triggered another round of the national anthem where he swore they would gain victory or all die in glory trying. Which is why I’m supporting Japan, simply because they’re called the ‘Cherry Blossoms’. The idea of a bunch of rucking maniacs going by that name delights and inspires.

I’ve had just about enough of the machismo of rugby - it’s time for the All Blacks to reclaim their feminine side. The English have stolen their uniform anyway so it’s time for a change. What about renaming The Mighty All Blacks, the Little Kowhai buds and going for a yellow look? My only hope is that they play like a pack of girls. The NZ women’s rugby team pack of girls that is. And that’s because; the Black Ferns always win.

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Let’s Not Get Real Then

Reality is such a bastard. You get off your little sail boat to find that the share market has tanked like a kamakazi fighter plane and you can’t even pretend to be worried because you have never owned any shares. Unfortunately your job is still there waiting for you so you can’t pretend to be young and disaffected so that you can go on a brick and Molotov cocktail spending spree round the neighbourhood either. The news tells you that Libya and London are burning and you wonder how this happened in 3 weeks and what Libyan or London youth have in common apart from one being very heavily armed and fairly keen on setting fire to posters of Gadafi. Why would you bother to keep stuff around that you only intend to burn? Would London youth even recognise a poster of Cameron? You note that there are not many Libyans setting fire to stuff in order to get some brand name shoes.

In the same time a head of broccoli took the same trajectory (but in reverse) as the kamakazi pilot and hit a new high of about 4 bucks a head making it slightly more expensive than either gold or rhinoceros horns. You hear on the unofficial jungle drums that there will be unrest on the streets of Northland because there is no weed to be had because all astute dealers are saving it for the world cup. Nice to know that Northland is not a basket case abandoned by all political interest or leadership and is in fact a kohanga (nest) of entrepreneurial genius. You alight from the little bubble that is a sailboat to discover the Aussies complaining about having our apples over there. They’ve managed to keep them out since early colonisation and their banana growers are madly screaming “Yes! We have no bananas!" after Cylcone Yasi, which means the three that they raided from their Aunty’s garden will now cost you about $15 a kilo. Really. They’ve managed to deflect not only our apples but Ecuador’s banana imports as well in order to protect their growers. What have they got that we don’t? Why don’t we look after our own tomato growers who would need to sell their product at about $15 a kilo on the fringes of the season to make any money when our happy isles are awash with cheap Aussie imports? When does a free market just become a dumb one?

Alighting from the alien craft you wonder why everyone still cares what Standard and Poors has to say about anything at all. What does it matter if the States is no longer a triple A rated country when the really interesting thing is that the President gets a ‘please explain and see me in my office’ note from China? And he went.

Could the image of the United States as a symbol of everything wrong with rampant capitalism be any more tarnished than it already is? Why yes. Obama could always get Saatchi and Saatchi to do an ad campaign for him. As living proof that Telecom CEO and corporate honchos in general as well as advertising people also live on alien craft that hover slightly over the surface of earth without ever alighting: we have the Abstain for the Games idea.

I applaud the effort to improve the gene pool in New Zealand but what I really love is Sean Fitzpatrick driving round in a creepy pink hand.

Bizarre, slightly porno and yet so KRoad on a Friday night.

This is what happens when rugby goes corporate. The world is mad. STAY ON YOUR BOATS.

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Secret Love Affair

Go on shoot me. It has been going on for quite awhile now. We can’t meet as often as I’d like and we go for long periods where absence only increases my illicit desire. It started when I was 19 and having had a row with my father declared that I would be leaving his house and going over to the other side. I swore I knew what I was doing, a point not underlined when my army surplus backpack, having seen better days in ‘nam, fell to pieces at the airport. He fixed it up with the electrical tape he always carries for such emergencies while my mother worried quietly in the background. Inexplicably he bought her a duty free Lladro polar bear and then made me carry it on my travels. Perhaps he thought if I could keep a piece of fragile china safe he may, by some parallel universe magical thinking, increase the chances of my coming home in one piece too. And so I left.

To my other great, secret love: Australia. I know. I have complained about the constant migratory trail of our young and ambitious to her arms. I have worried that the massive muscle of her mining power could easily sell the ambiguous advantages of becoming our own ‘dig it up, ship it out’ mini state. I know I have been shocked that a country so close to us in so many ways has had such a different relationship with her indigenous people, or by her big ballsy brassiness. And yet I can’t help myself. From that first trip where I hopped on a train in Sydney in the late hot afternoon and thought I could be in Rockhampton by midnight, I have been awed by her vast beauty. And equally enchanted by her rich kaleidoscopic biological diversity. Climbing out of the rut and taking the small person, I’ve gone to find fragments of an earlier life and see some old friends, on a boat in the Coral Sea.

The small person says that her Mum has two versions – the work one and this one, the one who can spend a couple of weeks beach-combing and fossicking for treasure, she says she likes this one better. We are off Orpheus Island where my friends ran a research station for years and so this is their backyard and our kids go feral, playing at being rock wallabies on golden granite boulders that surround a crystal bay. Rainbow bee-eaters come to feed in the mangroves and rays glide around the boat, vigilant marine intelligence operators. Clicking shrimps, the cicadas of the marine world, deafen and the eerie cry of curlew can still spook even the rational among us. Everywhere the high tide mark of Cyclone Yasi, that stripped vegetation and picked up handfuls of boats and threw them with the petulant ferocity of a child throwing a tantrum. 8 metre waves in some places causing huge tidal surges, ripping up marinas and seaside villages before the Japanese tsunami and our own earthquake eclipsed Yasi in the news. Bananas at 15 dollars a kilo is one lingering consequence. We find a dead dugong and wonder if the sea grass is damaged and they are going hungry. The girls snorkel in clouds of damsel fish. A leopard shark, dressed and moving like a westie girl out for a night on the pull. Mudskippers; emissaries from the Ministry of Silly Walks. Dolphins catching fish under a porch light at the bottom of the garden and a wild koala at the front door, a million gar fish jumping in unison under the torchlight.

Travelling with the eight year old reminds me what I often forget. That it’s never about the work or the money or the goals. It is always about the people and the places and being enamoured and enchanted by them both. Read this carefully for I shall write this only once. After finishing the last sentence, fold the paper and eat it. My guilty secret is out, it’s true. I really do love Australia, and some of the special people who inhabit her.

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Roller Derby

There are days when I am seriously bored. Bored bored bored. If I were a kid and it were the school holidays – I'd tell my Mum this. 400 times. Seeing as I actually am the Mum in this case I decide to go in search of some fun where I can take the 8 year old and the mad Latin with me. Generally speaking, someone of my age who is seriously bored with winter and the universe should perhaps seek some form of mid-life adult crisis entertainment like… Zumba or Swingers parties. However I'm also the sort of person who actually once spent 2 hours at a Swingers party without realising what the deal was, giving a whole new dimension to the meaning of the word 'clueless'. I had to leave after feeling obliged to let one of the women know that I'd just seen her husband head upstairs with some other cheeky tart. Prevention of pear-shaped social situations is always going to be less messy than any sorting out that might need to be done later – and mistakes do happen – he might have been showing her the bathroom or something. It wasn't my first language and I knew I was floundering. She looked at me as if I'd just had a lobotomy – which is pretty much what I'd decided to book myself in for has I headed for the door, alone, to hail the next available taxi. Nope – some serious fun of the family kind was required – everyone having survived what I'm sure was Swine Flu, or Rat Virus or some other heinous bug that has yet to make it to world headlines. If you haven't had it – don't worry; you won't die – you will just want to. We all needed a night out. We could go and sit in the ‘all weather events stadium’ to watch rugby and discover that only true href="http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/taniwha/1"target="_blank">Taniwha could survive the mud and sleet and generally swampy conditions. The idea of watching rally cars – while I applaud the fact that it's an international event that is fantastic for the hospitality industry – wasn't what was called for either. I did go and clap and look enthused but noted that in Cordoba, where I've spent a few summers at rally time, this type of event would attract over 100,000 people.

Now, unfortunately, if the CBD in Whangarei were a boat, it would be the Marie Celeste and everyone else must have gone to Australia to look for a job. Councillors Kahu Sutherland and Merv Williams should worry less about attracting 'the wrong type of people' to town and worry more about having anyone left behind to vote for them.

And then – from the boringness – we were delivered. If you haven't discovered the Northland Nightmares you haven't lived. It's a case of the good girls gone roller derby and it is a manic depraved celebration of everything you tell your kid not to do on their first day of kindy. It is big girls behaving badly. It is as if Barbie's evil twin had a love child with Arnie and then let her offspring dress up in Halloween gear and then go feral. It's what the girls who get kicked out of ballet do. The names alone are worth it; Demolition Dolls, Diva Destruction,Tan ya Hide, 8th Deadly Sin, Psycho Sis and some maniac racing round the track in bright silver undies with 'Wanna Rumble' on her arse. These are the kindy teachers, nurses and Mums of three allowing their dark scary alter egos a night out to party and they are serious stars. They're still on their trainer wheels and have yet to reach the full scale mayhem that American roller derby girls get to but with their crazed make-up and kick butt attitude they are great fun to watch. August 6th will see the Hellmilton Roller Ghouls (from, Duh, Hamilton) battling it out with the Northland Nightmares at the Kensington stadium.Be there and shout loudly or you shall be condemned to boringness forever.

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Makers and Takers

There were two kinds of people in this world: the makers and the takers. What surprised me most at the late stage that I became interested in money (being a hippy with a backpack is not such fun with a kid in tow) was that often the takers are the ones who can most afford to give back a little. When I woke up and realised that with the number of dependents we were responsible for, and the low possibility of finding well paid work in the North, meant that I actually could not afford to keep working for wages and stay here - it came as a shock. Once I'd got my head round this new fact, it came as an even bigger shock to realise that it was entirely feasible to avail myself of all the educational and health resources this country has to offer, to do very well in either business or in the buying and selling of property and to pay absolutely nothing in tax. The business section in Whitcoulls will tell you how in less than 5 titles. Obviously –the fact that this bothered me rather than excited me into fantasies of how to make the next quick buck would suggest that I'm not really cut out for the real world of business. The fact that there are, genuinely talented and inspiring business people who have had enormous financial success and yet are still also bothered by this is heartening. These would have to be the kinds of people who are interested more in building a robust national economy rather than just making it to the rich list by building a vast personal fortune. Sam Morgan noting the strangeness of not paying any tax on the money he made in selling Trade Me and his decision to continue with his own charity work as a result, is a sign of a great maker in the making. Andrew King, Director of the Property Investment Association, on the other hand, always does a good impression of the Zombie King being let loose in the broad light of day whenever the words 'Capital Gains Tax' gets mentioned. There's a lot of virulent hissing and a sudden explosion where his head used to be followed by a puff of smoke over a pile of designer clothes on the floor. Andrew is good at the implied threat; Labour voters are more likely to be tenants and will undoubtedly suffer from higher rents should the Capital Gains Tax be introduced. He assumes that no one with a rental investment will vote for a capital gains tax but forgets that they are in the minority anyway. He also forgets to add that landlords with multiple properties will tend to sit on them much longer which will stop one of the worst aspects of being a tenant in a rental property in New Zealand. Anyone who has spent a year renting in a real estate boom will know how tedious it is to be thrown out of your 7th house in as many months with three weeks to find a new school for your kid and to find the money for the move and somewhere that will take the pet rabbit. Rental investments can never be considered a worthy focus for all the business talent that exists in New Zealand but why would you risk doing anything else when it has traditionally been such an easy (and lets face it – low risk, lazy) way to make money? When it comes to working out policy it's never a good idea to listen too closely to the takers – you just need to look at the USA to realise this. Obama is trying to bring to heel an economy that is currently borrowing $125 billion a month with another 500 million in debt about to mature in exactly 2 weeks. Enough to make anyone's eyes water. He suggests taxing private jet flight tabs that run into the millions and he gets the Republicans stone walling and squealing like possessed little piglets about to be exorcised. When the takers start squealing policy makers need to respond by just getting out the earmuffs.

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A Room of One’s Own

Personally, I blame Master Chef. It’s not Mistress Chef which could be a whole other kind of show, but it means that blokes have reclaimed the kitchen – which I’m all in favour of if it didn’t mean that one of the last bastions of female territory has been well and truly stormed. There was a time when women could retreat to the kitchen and know – that no matter how badly they cooked the blokes would never follow them in there. I still have memories of Mum’s one trip away when we were kids and Dad throwing a tanty over how useless the Edmond’s cook book was. There was a lot of impotent drawer slamming and general recipe book throwing. Turned out that he was looking for the instructions to boil an egg. Seriously. Even at the age of 10 I realised that this was a set routine of learned and carefully contrived moronism designed to prevent the need to ever actually get any culinary skills, therefore allowing the abdication of any responsibility for having to make a meal. I was an excellent student and applied the same technique to ironing; carefully ironing enormous singe marks into every shirt the signifying other threw at me to iron the first week we lived together. Following ridiculous amounts of shouting, he extracted a promise from moi that I would never get within a 10 mile radius of his clothing with an iron ever again. Job done.

At one point in our feminine history – I remember that kitchens were where women retreated when the social territory got rough or some kind of coup needed to be discussed with the other women in the household. Tierra sagrada. Not now. Gen X and Y blokes are very handy in the kitchen and have now infiltrated the ranks to bring such things as blow torches into the culinary toolbox to deal to the crème whatsit. Whose grandma ever had a blow torch sitting alongside the rolling pin? The real problem is that there is no realm of the feminine left in the modern house which is a no go zone for the blokes. In Argentina I befriended a group of women in their fifties who owned small ‘campos’ high up in the hills of Cordoba. They were relatively wealthy business women who had bought these farmlets with their stone huts and streams and all kinds of fauna as ‘business investments.’ The only trouble was that you could only get to them on horse back and the ride was at least eight hours. Only what you could fit in a saddle bag could be carried up there. One night, after an excellent bottle or two of red, I asked what had possessed them to buy these beautiful if completely marginal farms which they then seemed to plough money into with no obvious return and to which none of their husbands could ever visit, loathing as they all did, the horse trek to get there. ‘Just say the last sentence again.’ One of them said, flippantly. And it dawned on me. These were no ‘business investments’ these were metaphorical fishing boats and we were on the equivalent of a boys fishing trip. So smart. Men get sheds where they can go and pretend to tinker with random bits of unidentifiable stuff for the simple reason that no woman will ever bother to bother them at it but I’m wondering what the Kiwi female’s version of the shed could be now? I had a brief Virginia Woolf moment at one stage in a futile bid for a room of my own. I set up a study complete with interesting beach flotsam and some fetching tapa cloth. The dog ate the seahorse and the tapa cloth and the entire family moved into the study so that they could contribute (loudly) to what I was working on. Serious boundary issues. I’m thinking of setting up a business for frazzled women who need time out – small studio space in cabins in the territory between North and South Korea flanked on both sides by nuclear weapons. Serious no man’s land.

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Cereal Killers

Remember porridge? Kids used to eat it and then you'd use the same stuff to go and feed the horses. You may not have liked it but you knew where you were with a bowl of porridge. Remember Weet-Bix? Kids used to eat that too. Since I've been out of the house most mornings for a year I've noticed that breakfast has changed a whole lot since 'El Papito' took control. There has been a nutritional revolution of the kind where the proletariat have decided they'll just rebel against the mean anglo breakfast Nazi and let themselves eat cake. I am amazed to find whole shelves dedicated to layers of inflated sugar cleverly disguising themselves as 'high energy' generators with the added benefit of warding off all 'fuzzies.' I know what fuzzies are. It's when your kid really hates maths and suddenly grows a woollen beard and then dies on their desk in an effort to avoid learning anything. I know this because I've seen it on the television. Just like I know that people who peddle McDonalds are really helping kids to be Olympic winning bike riders, and not, as some people have evilly suggested just getting really rich turning them into diabetic couch potatoes. Like I also know that kids will never choose apples when option B is chips. It's also great to know that if I give my daughter Nutri-grain she will turn into - a boy! This, as Nutrigrain Mums know is much better, and anyway, there's no room for girls in Nutrigrainland. But that's not all! There's more! She'll also (if she eats enough Nutrigrain) become an Iron Man and then come back from swimming from Antarctica to kiss me on the head and in a deep voice tell me what a great Mum I was for feeding her all that Nutrigrain all those years. TV taught me all this– and I know we might have one of the best runners and multi sportswomen in the country right here in the Rei, but everyone knows that only boys do real sport. It was with some amusement and a certain sense of pride that I opened the pantry cupboard, muttered that it was full of cereal with gender issues again and, on closer inspection found that the packet had been tagged in an ungainly hand. What had once read 'Iron Man Food' now said 'Girl Powr Food'. The Nutrigrain had obviously helped her to fight off the fuzzy logic of TV land. The thing that really gets me though is that these so called cereals blast out words like 'no artificial colourings or flavourings' '3 wholegrains' 'all natural' but what whole grain is shaped like a double helix? How many naturally occurring grains could you play a game of noughts and crosses on? Since when did breakfast stop being food and start being an enormous packet of very small contents ensuring our offspring's future economic success? Why, in good taste's name, would Milo be anything other than a drink? Should it be a capital offence to scream 'contains natural flavours' in huge letters and then hide the 30 cm list of unnatural colourings and flavours that it also contains in tiny numbers along the inside seam of the packet? It could be worse I suppose – they could have gone the way of Argentina and had mate (communally consumed green tea – sipped from a silver pipe, my mother, a trained nurse, refers to it as 'the hepatitis straw') and chocolate biscuits. Or the way of Thailand – dried, semi fermented salted fish and rice as a kick start to the day - both options probably having about twice as much nutritional value and at least not likely to cause any gender bending.

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Sick issues

Dear Readers. Sorry. I couldn't show up today. I've got my period. And now – for real life, which, in the 21 century means that women might have what Mr. Thompson so coyly referred to as 'sick issues' but they go to work because it's less of an issue than the bottle of Jack Daniels the young blokes had after the rugby last night, which they are now calling 'food poisoning' and so have called in sick. It is also much less of an issue than not having been born officially brain damaged and yet inclined to say incredibly stupid things without the benefit of anyone being able to feel any empathy.

Strangely I didn't find the interview with him to be at all offensive. In order to be offended one would have to take him seriously and it just couldn't be done. He looked like the smiling tin monkeys with the little hats on that you used to be able to wind up and then let them play their drums – he just kept going in that horribly funny way like watching a plane stall and everyone's giggling nervously until it actually starts diving. The tension was excruciating. What was even funnier than Mr. Thompson trying not to have a brain leak and let the world know what he really thought on TV, (women are obviously morons and should go back to making pikelets) were his efforts at apology. I wondered if perhaps he was gay as he had obviously never had a close relationship with a woman before. Surely any bloke would know that if you wish to fly an emotional kamikaze mission you should always follow the words 'I'm sorry' with the words 'but it's true.'

I wondered at this point if Mr. Thompson had a personal public relations assistant who had to constantly walk around behind the cameras with an enormous sign which would read 'OK Alasdair Shut the $##@$@ up now!' Just so that she could minimise the hours she had to spend on damage control. Obviously she had her period last week and didn't make it. Pity.

One wondered what in fact the bigger issue would be to an employer A) A woman who was really good at her job and actually did take a day off every month or B) someone like Mr. Thompson who managed to be a complete plonker and a liability every day of the week? Hard to say. Mr. Thompson is also right. We all know that blokes if they had periods would roll their own tampons in some menstrual Marlboro moment and go and log pine trees to prove how macho it all was and then give themselves a monthly bonus cheque. We get it. What we'd really like however is pay equity rather than these silly distractions but that's just a matter of allowing the old dinosaurs time to die off or quietly retire to a rest home in Orewa. It is also true that women probably do have a few more days in the year off especially if they're working Mums. This is because despite blokes not having periods they still manage to get off quite a lot of the stuff that women do. Things like: looking after sick kids, local charity fund raisers, school trips, organising the family get togethers/presents/baptisms/funerals and often food for all of the above, statistically still most of the house work, the present for the guy who's leaving work this week, the family holiday, the parent/teacher interview and piano concert and remembering to get the cat neutered as well as taking a cake to the old guy who lives alone. It's what chicks do. It's called being part of a family and a community. Here's a test: for every duty listed above that Mr. Thompson hasn't done this week he should get a 10% pay cut and a further 5% reduction for every day he showed up at work and said something dumb. And that should be the last we hear from him. Period.

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Not that I'm wanting to appear paranoid or anything and not that I'd consider giving any doomsday Christian fundamentalists any oxygen but…is that the gentle buzz of the last of the summer cicadas out there… or a hoard of marauding winged pestilence about to take flight and eat small children on their way home from school? O.K. So I'm a little paranoid. And beginning to regret all that finger pointing and disrespectful chortling I've done over the years at the various groups of people who've gathered together and gone up a mountain/ into a cave and waited for their personal Jesus or alien being to show up while everything they hated about the world finally blew itself up or got eaten by insects. This would last for a few days until everyone got bored and realised that they had to go back to work and that the pile of washing they'd gladly exchanged for a day of rapture or at the very least; a break in the routine – was still there waiting for them when they got home. This phenomenon is common enough for there to be a Simpson's episode where Homer declares the end of the world and everyone in Springfield follows him up the mountain, where, only Marge remains unimpressed by him or his dodgy insights.

I bought into the end of the world thing once – I'd just read Orwell's 1984, in 1984, and a rumour went round that the world would end the following Tuesday. The logic defies me now but we were 14 and everything made sense. Deep. Meaningful. Sense. Why God might reveal divine insights as to the 'End of Everything' to a bunch of 4th formers is testimony only to our utter self-absorption and stupidity but there you have it. I was quite happy for the world to end as I had not completed any of my assignments that week and later found that the nuns had little tolerance for 'the end of the world' as an excuse for not having done so.

Since then I've thought that most 'the end is nigh' thinkers were just giving a big 'the dog ate my homework' card to the whole of their life and saw nothing intrinsically wrong with that except, that life and all its problems would still be there when they'd gotten over metaphorically spitting the dummy at it. Following the crazy weather and geological events we've had over the last 6 months however, and watching the brain-warping devastation that has been unleashed on Japan – I might have to revise my policy of general scoffing at everything doomsday. If some extra terrestrial beings on horseback show up I'll be the first to ask for a ride out of here. Especially if they're good looking, dress like gauchos and don't talk too much. Mmmm. My favourite kind of end days' cowboy. Seriously though, I've had different friends ringing from round the world to chat, half jokingly about Mayan calendars, Mr. Ring, horsemen and locusts and the appalling spectre of Rodney Hide appearing in yellow lycra to the masses to show he has resurrected himself politically as a sign that we are indeed all truly doomed. O.K. I might have made the last one up – but it doesn't detract from the fact that we're all a bit antsy right now and in need of a psychological cup of tea and a chat rather than hours of horror TV coverage and talk of unsettling predictions of further general mayhem.

So if anyone out there wants to take advantage of these challenging times by offering him or herself in guru-like fashion complete with absolutist answers to everything I'll happily turn my brain off and follow the mythic mind of old, cheerily into the gloom or up the mountain. As long as they come bearing a few bottles of decent plonk and some pretty hardy insect repellent that is.

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Harbouring an Eco Terrorist

There is no such thing as a free cat. 7 year olds will sell you the benefits of taking home a free cat from the local market. They may have also worked out the benefits of non-direct marketing. This is where they catch you deep in conversation – extract permission for some action – make a 'yes!' motion like some deranged tennis star as you nod your distracted acquiescence and run away to execute plan. About this time you note out of the corner of your eye a cat being stowed in your vehicle and the woman with the now empty box that did contain kittens speeding away from you without looking back. On enquiring as to why there is a lost kitten buckled into the front seat I am told that I've already given permission and that this is the only kitten in the universe and that I may as well start saving for the psychologist now if I am to even think about ditching it for the trauma I will undoubtedly cause upon her fragile (if slightly scheming) psyche. I cave.

The thing is I like cats. It's a secret guilty affair. It's kind of like hiding Nazis in Argentina after the war must have felt like. I know that I'm now giving refuge to a killer. I've kept my ownership of a cat secret from my greenie mates as I know that telling them I am harbouring a tuatara killing, fantail pillaging, wildlife maiming homicidal maniac on my property will undoubtedly cost me friendships. The problem is that they're absolutely right. I decided that my last inadvertent pet feline was the one that got thrust into the palm of my hand in Argentina having survived a 5 hour car journey clinging to the engine under the bonnet. With her singed whiskers and sooty ears – I called her 'Nafta' – Spanish for petrol – because it was one of the only words I knew and because theoretically it was the only thing that should have been in the engine. I left her in Argentina and decided in future I'd plant bird friendly gardens and forgo feline friendships. Cats must do more damage than dogs to New Zealand wildlife just for their shear numbers. They seem to be ruthless and dedicated killers and, unlike dogs, they get a fairly free range. Cats are not obvious bullies either. I have yet to see some poor lost tattooed young bloke with a pit-cat on a leash in some pathetic attempt to show the world how macho he is. Cats can never augment anyone's sense of self worth for the simple reason that they are always running the show. The adopted kitten has already beaten up the huntaway and sent him whimpering to his kennel, has nationalised the mad Latin's favourite part of the sofa and declared it feline territory and has decreed that he will feed her titbits from the barbeque at regular intervals despite his initial threats to put her on the barbeque. So far he's complying with her requisite code of conduct. She has been granted permanent residency by the Latin because he's been assured that no rat will ever cross the territorial borders of our backyard with her prowling the perimeters. The problem with this however is that it's an absolute lie. Birds and geckos have, until now been shown good hospitality at our place and the plan is for that to continue. The mere act of allowing a cat to live here has caused diplomatic negotiations that any ambassador in the Middle East would be proud of. She is going to have to catch rats in the day time with two bells round her neck or face permanent house arrest. She assures me with the green eyes of a well paid assassin that she is up to the assignment. Silently I let her know that one dead fantail is all it will take and the love affair will be over. I've lived in South America. She will disappear and it will look like an accident. She nods and points a languishing paw to the titbits. She fakes innocent cuteness when the small person picks her up. I get the titbits. We have a deal.

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Totally Unfazed Bloke Syndrome

Greetings. (And you thought only John Banks used that word casually to say hello to people and other alien beings.) Greetings. My name is Nickie Muir and I'm a hurried woman. Or make that harried woman. Or am I just a harridan? The edges are all so blurred lately. I've joined this seven step programme to wean myself from the addiction of busyness and I pledge to slow down long enough to breathe and remember things like; sitting on the doorstep in the sun, drinking tea and painting toe nails, and other stuff; what my child looks like, for example. Like all illnesses it's such a relief to put a name on it. A friend heard me listing the symptoms and told me I was suffering from 'Hurried Woman Syndrome'. I'm not alone she informed me in all sincerity – 30 million women in the US alone suffer from it. The recent weight gain is definitely a sign she said nodding sagely. I was glad that it was a syndrome and therefore I could abdicate all responsibility for it – for a moment there I thought it was all the magnum ice-creams over summer. What a relief.

Apparently women all over the world are running round like 'electric farts' as the Spanish expression goes. We race children to school and ourselves to work, we stress about family relationships gone bad and friendships left untended, gone to seed like an abandoned garden. My garden itself worries me – if I were my tenant I'd kick myself out. We worry about mortgage rates and university fees when our kids are still in primary school and wake at 3 in the morning to remember that we still haven't signed up for that de-stressing yoga class we promised ourselves about a year ago.

The funny thing is, waking up in the wee hours I've noticed the mad Latin is not stressing at all. He is, in fact, about as stressed as a farm dog on a hot sunny day. Flat out and happy. And so I google 'Hurried Man Syndrome' and get no results. I begin to suspect that there may be some correlation between 'Hurried Woman Syndrome' and 'Totally Unfazed Bloke' syndrome, an as yet under-diagnosed disease that is sending half of our population totally mental in order to compensate for it.

I decide to dive into the dark murky waters of his Latin male psyche to discover the ancient philosophy that allows him to glide through life's rapids in such a way as to make Bob Marley appear uptight. I set him a test: 'What do you think we should do about that speeding ticket?' I ask. 'Let it be buggered!' he says in a show of blasé machismo. Right. The manana manana approach. Elevate procrastination to an art form of contrived ignorance of a situation that is bound to only get worse, only to discover that most problems do actually disappear if you simply ignore them. At which point the Latin can say 'I told you so' with impunity. Not speeding tickets though. My harried hurriedness hormones begin to rise. I enquire as to what the correct approach should be – in his world- to an irritating relative at the next family gathering. 'Tell them to bugger themselves', he says looking as if I've just asked how to use the telephone. Of course. It seems so obvious to me now. I have no idea why I would make life difficult by thinking there might be an emotionally intelligent way of dealing with recalcitrant family members and not have some kind of underground uncivil war on my hands for the duration of festivities. Kindly, he offers to ring them now and tell them they can either 'Behave or Bugger Off!' before we even get there. My hurriedness levels go off the Richter scale. Yup. There's definitely a connection I think, as I reach for another magnum. The ice-cream. Not the gun.

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