It started; a slow seismic rumble. Subterranean rumours of the coming of a new world order in stationary. Eight-year-old girls whispered amongst themselves about the revolution to come. Their mothers – blissfully unaware, continued to go to the supermarket in blind ignorance of the fact that their budgets were about to be blown to smithereens and the phrase ‘just getting the basics’ was about to take on a whole new meaning. It wasn’t as if I was totally blind to what was coming. In Napier a year ago, while walking amongst the abandoned retail outlets and weaving through the local drunks, a multi-coloured lozenge of light and smooth marketing radiated it’s come hitherness into the grey surrounds. The small person – with a feral yell practically threw herself under a bus to cross the road and get in there. ‘SMIGGLE SHOP!!! MUM IT’S REALLY A SMIGGLE SHOP!’ She cried. What in God’s name is a Squiggle shop? I asked. She stopped and looked at me as if I’d just asked what a broom was. “It’s Smiggle. Mum. And it smells. It’s rubbers and things – and they smell.” Still clueless – I navigated her around and not under the bus and went inside. White backdrop to better display colour coded stationary of ever increasing degrees of funkiness. I stand back and watch the small person get fed into the marketing machine. Her hands itch to touch. The sales assistant says she can. She tells me she wants to live here. For life. Her words. I look at the sales assistant and wonder if she realises she is the new surrogate smiggle Mum and I have my doubts about whether she will get up to a vomiting child at night. This is partially because she is dressed in a bright pink French Maid’s outfit and as I’m trying to figure out how this fits in with stationary – I notice that there are a lot of Dads down here buying stationary with their kids. Which is just not normal. The mad Latin will agree to an exchange Mum programme as long as the new model looks like this. Buckets of cash get poured over the counter. This is genius! As a form of market research I ask the eight year old how many rubbers she needs given she already has a perfectly good one at home. She looks at me like I’m the communist evil twin sister of pink french maid mum and rolls her eyes. I go to rub out the scribbles she’s making with one of the rubbers. “DON’T USE IT!!!’ She screams. “But the lady said you could” I stammer. “They’re not for using that’s why you don’t NEED them you just…like… HAVE them and…. (she added trying to come up with some utilitarian purpose with which to persuade me to purchase something) you can SMELL them.” Genius! This way buying something can be completely disassociated from purpose and it becomes a collectors game and therefore unlimited. I start to wish that I had invented smiggles. Last year I wished I had invented the animal shaped crazy rubber bands that kids could collect and put round their wrists. The year before that was fart dough… but I digress. “You can smell horse poo too but that doesn’t make you want to buy it – why is this so special?” She looks at me with an expression that questions the maleficence of God in shackling her with such an obviously mentally challenged mother. “No one wants to buy poo Mum.” Right. Good point. And there’s no point rationalising with her. Her eyes are glazed and she’s breathing shallow. Her fingers walk a zombie dance of desire over the forbidden goods. She’s counting under her breath. “What are you doing?” “I’m counting how many times I have to come to work with you to get that pencil case.” Genius. I have my new bribery passport to good behaviour. And a mental road map that will get me to the supermarket without passing smiggles and blowing $200 bucks on rubber pigs that smell like bubble gum.

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I won’t always love you Whitney Houston

No. I won’t always love you Whitney. I will always be intensely annoyed at the phenomenal waste you made of your beautiful life and gift. The only thing that I will be forever grateful for is that no one thought to say that you died doing what you truly loved. Which was, of course; drugs. A phrase I wish people would use less often when talking about the dead.

It wasn’t like anyone was really surprised that you ended up dead in a bath. There were people – your friends I guess – pretending they were shocked to the newspaper people outside the hotel door – it seemed like the polite thing to do. They’re performers for God’s sake. They’re good at acting.

No one likes to say; “Yeah I knew my mate was a raving drug addled looney but hey… the money was still coming in and damn but that girl could still sing.” It would seem parasitic – creepy even to admit that everyone loves a party girl and perhaps the sober straight Whitney was just a bit of a drag. Whitney the drug addict probably spent a lot of dough when she was wasted – I bet she was just one of those nice girls that just didn’t like to say no. No, to an abusive husband. No to the parasitic vampires that sycophantically follow the rich and famous hoping some of it will wear off on them. No to agents and money men who knew a good thing when they saw it and wanted to squeeze every last drop of it out of her until she really did need the uppers to keep going and the downers to get to sleep at the end of it all. I’m hoping that Whitney is the last of a particular lineage of female artists going back before Billy Holiday and then Janis Joplin, a one-off throw back of the good girl gone bad variety. There are plenty of examples of women who have managed their careers and money and remained entirely drug free throughout. Madonna could be counted – if you exclude an addiction to much younger sports studs and the new stable of music’s thoroughbreds seem far more concerned with managing their talent and business than focussing on fostering their substance abuse – Beyonce and Lady Gaga come to mind.
Yet there was a cultural blindness around Whitney’s demise that still rankles. Why do we still love and worship the archetype of the suffering artist who must self-medicate their creative demons into obeisance? Why is there a secret communal applause when Keith Richards resurfaces from zombie hell after falling out of a coconut tree or from a court room after shacking up with a 13 year old while completely out of his mind? Why do we, as a culture tacitly approve of the wild wasted ones? Is it because there is admiration for someone who has the courage to spit in the eye of destiny and throw away outrageous talent by being literally and figuratively wasted? Are they our underground shamans who play out some psychic shadowland fantasy that most of us can never indulge while being responsible citizens of the upper world? Or are they just lazy losers who don’t have to work anything out or get over anything or get through any emotional tough times because they get to buy the antidote from their nearest pusher – and does some part of us envy that just a little? Whatever the case it’s intensely annoying to watch the spectacle of public grief that surrounds the death of a cultural icon when they die young from doing drugs. They become glamorous deaths in a way that morphs their talent with their drug use and gives the implied message that their gift is an intrinsic part of their chemical relationships. The eulogies never talk about the really ugly side of dependency and what is not heard is the fact that the one so loved –spent a good part of their life truly deeply and utterly; wasted.

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Whos bottomline?

I miss Kim Jong Il. The firing of scud missiles at moving targets or into the sea; just because. The sweeping declarations devoid of any cohesive policy or democratic process. But most of all I miss the marvellous unadulterated arrogance of someone who just knows that he … well, rules. Absolutely.

Then I remembered that we have our own dear leader: Wayne Brown.

Wayne is not as impressive as Kim. For a start he lacks nuclear missiles. But for how long? With his grinning bonhomie and random lobbying of verbal nukes to those who are concerned about such lame issues as sustainability– Wayne is more like Kim and Ronald McDonald’s love child.

Being the mining industry’s poster boy for Northland is not surprising. Mining doesn’t go for independent or community minded thinkers. Internationally it does well in poor, politically under-represented populations where low literacy and transience make it difficult to build true consensus. Places like Papua New Guinea and Guatemala. Northland is ripe for a mining boom then.

While Wayne was away touting our mineral wares at a mining symposium in Canada I wondered how much support the tourism industry has had lately. Wayne’s rant regarding the poor state of Northland’s schools, hospitals and infrastructure is indicative of Wayne’s misconceived powers. Schools and hospitals are like they are because they are funded from Wellington and we don’t have the political clout in the form of locally based MP’s to advocate on our behalf.

Councils are not in charge of schools or hospitals and can do nothing to affect them. Is Wayne going to personally see to it that mining royalties go to Northland schools? Phil Heatley himself told me recently that he was ‘in charge of all of that now’ – meaning; mining. I wanted to congratulate him on graduation to the big boy’s pants of portfolios but felt a sceptical despair.

A community needs an independent thinker who will best represent the genuine needs of that community and work hard to serve them. Not a party policy rubber stamper. Phil’s licence plate says ‘Work For You’. Judging by Wayne’s condemnation of the state of things here Phil has hardly broken a sweat. But then maybe the license plate isn’t aimed at the schools and the hospitals. I just hoped it’s not aimed at the mining companies and those who are lining up to work for them.

Wayne’s brochure; ‘Explore Northland Minerals’ touted only two companies; Culham Engineering and McKay. Were there others who’d be interested in a piece of the action?

As for Sonny Tau’s assertion that iwi should have been consulted – he can now rest easy knowing that Wayne has done things ‘the right way’ and that iwi will be consulted ‘at the right time.’ In Wayne’s world. The National Party’s website filed in late Feb says the first consultation was this month, the next is April with exploration permits granted in May. I hope someone told Mr. Tau.
Anyone with a problem with that can dial 0800 438-382533.

These old-school back room deals and then a public press release are getting really old.

At least the boys doing the aerial surveying for Wayne’s mineral report had a sense of humour. I asked them what they were up to and they said: “Counting squirrels.” “Secret ones?” “Yeah.” Wayne is right though. We all have to get a grip. I hope he doesn’t mean by this that we have to white knuckle it through a faux democratic process where all the journalists have gone over to the dark arts of media relations for the mining companies and the only real consulting that’s done is with PR. Northland can do better for her people.

The question is; can mining do this and what accountability lies with local politicians if our expectations of social and environmental responsibility are not met by the mining companies whose interest can only ever be the bottom line?

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These kids needed space

“Rock pools at low tide. An old bicycle with no brakes. Half a dozen trees and a brain damaged cat that will bite you if you pick it up the wrong way. Throw in a handful of kids (preferably with sticks and pets) and allow to run riot round the neighbourhood stealing fruit and getting shouted at by other parents. Allow them to make something without direction out of entirely forbidden items in someone’s garage. If no one loses an eye give them back to me.

The director of studies blinked. She’d asked me what was needed to make these kids more of a success and blitz all the other kids from competing ‘bushibans’ or after-school academies.

I think she was meaning more in the way of textbooks and audio gear but I was entirely serious.

These kids needed space. Lots of it. And time. Lots of it. They needed to observe more (rock pools are great for this) and fall out of, off and into stuff as a result of their bad choices or lack of focus.

They did not need any more book or screen or organised activity time in their lives.

I was appalled that eight year olds could have the joie de vivre of 40-year-old car salesmen. They were drowning in all the force-fed opportunities their parents had never had and so the academic hot housing had succeeded in eradicating any form of excitement, imagination or curiosity in them.

In a desperate attempt to generate interest, I faked a ghost siting, an ill-advised yet highly successful inspiration of dubious academic worth. It was ghost month in Taiwan and the kids were susceptible. It resulted in a stampede of 27 terrified screaming eight year olds down 4 flights of stairs and a broken leg. Which was embarrassing but none of the kids missed a class after that. I remember having to write a report regarding the pedagogical purpose of making small children flee onto the traffic jammed streets outside.

Once, as an experiment I asked the class what they’d do right now if they had all the money in the world and could choose anything at all. I had photos of helicopter rides to glaciers, driving a ridiculously huge truck or going to the world’s best chocolate shops. They all, without an exception said; “Sleep.” I called their bluff thinking it would last two seconds and they’d be kicking each other under the desks and generally going mental in an eye-blink. Within two minutes they were all sound asleep. They stayed that way for the next 2 hours – again, embarrassing as the Director popped her head round the corner to find me, feet up, reading my novel with 27 fee-paying students sound asleep in my charge. I assured her that this was how it was done in New Zealand.

These kids were exhausted from their high pressure highway to success yet didn’t get to refuel by just running around and being kids. Paradoxically, it was ruining their academic ambitions. In short, their lack of freedom to crash stuff and waste time was making them stupid. Not in NZ.

Then I read the Milo study on children’s play has revealed that only half of New Zealand kids get to play everyday. That means that half of them are not falling out of, into and off stuff often enough before they get bought some low riding speed machine on their 16th birthday and get to learn about consequences the really hard way.

As I wrote this by hand because yet another young person had ploughed into a power pole on my road which caused a power outage, where 2 girls lost their lives and a young very inebriated treasure took out the pylon at the top of my drive not that long ago, I wondered if the crashes on the Xbox had felt quite the same, or if a bit more time on bikes would have helped.

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I’m going into the grass business. Not the marijuana variety. All that expensive hydroponics and then having to deal with stoned people all day talking about vibrations. Nope I’m going into the ordinary garden variety and then I’ll contract solely to councils around New Zealand.

If the Auckland city councillors, thought that publishing the costs for the clean up of the Occupy movement would turn public opinion their way, they may be about to feel the nibble of public ire on their backsides. What the costings did was to highlight the very reasons why, the good but little people of Christchurch, Kapiti Coast and now the ratepayers of Mangawhai, have had enough of the way their funds get managed. $17,000 for regenerating a patch of grass. Really? Did that contract go out to tender? Was it dug up entirely and returfed with instant lawn? It could have been roped off, cut short and patched up – the difference would have been about $2 per square metre instead of $12.These are exactly the kinds of decisions that the dopey occupiers were trying to protest against.

If the CEOs of many of the councils around New Zealand were in charge of the family finances they’d have their collective hands smacked, the cheque book taken off them and a stern warning to stop buying Italian stilettos where a pair of gumboots will do. The problem with levying money from people instead of actually producing it, as any mafioso will tell you, is you lose grip on what the value of the pretty numbers actually mean. When your salary has no bearing on any productivity or accountability this makes it doubly difficult. Could any council CEO in New Zealand tell you how many working hours it would take the average person to pay that $17,000? I doubt it.

Luckily for us we have a new CEO in Kaipara Mr. Ruru, who may help us solve the problem of the debt blow out over the new sewerage system in Mangawhai. He’ll be well versed in this, as former CEO of Thames Coromandel District Council for 15 years he oversaw the Eastern Seaboard sewerage upgrade. At a community presentation over a decade ago the idea was sold to ratepayers by Mr. Ruru, at a cost of 8 million dollars per plant. To be fair, the upgrade was needed, as it is here, and it was necessary to have a sophisticated system being coastal and because of the pressure of the Hopper canal development at Waterways in Whitianga. The development contributions would help cover costs so that rate-payers would not end up subsidising developments that many of them were unhappy about in the first place. It was in their interests, as it is for the rate-payers of Mangawhai that the system works as the responsibility for both Waterways and Marsden Cove sewerage is council’s not the developers. The Eastern Seaboard sewerage development may be the best money can buy but what a lot of money. Local press has the figure at around 112 million from the estimated 24 and rising. One may assume that if you have to give away a boat with your canal section and they’re still not selling that the council is unlikely to see much in the way of the development contributions to help ease the load. Which is how rates in Whitianga have quadrupled in 10 years. The kicker to this is that the TCDC has now passed a resolution that exempts developers from paying rates on unsold sections.

In the good times developers get the breaks because council wants in with the big boys and their money. In the tough times that follow councillors find they are so far in hock based on projected income that never materialises that they’re dependent on the developers hitting pay-dirt again. Two words: ‘short’ and ‘curlies’ .Hardly a recipe for prudent planning. I hope Mangawhai rate-payers go and pitch their tents at the town basin. I’m putting my tender for fixing the grass in now.

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