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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