Staterra's snails on ice

“It’s beautiful up there man. Real beautiful. I know what I think - even though I’m not a local I know who owns that place. It’s ours man. All of ours – not an Australian mining company’s." Not dreadlocked nor wearing too much jewellery. I was surprised, principally because this man was not the standard issue green protestor but a hard working miner. Miners don’t usually get excited about the places they’re about to dig up. There was a not so gentle hum of internal conflict as he spoke but as he said; what was he to do? It was a job. The mistake he’d made with the Denniston Plateau of which he was talking was to see it in its untouched state – to see it as it really was. In corporation world this is never a good idea. Reality is not hard currency in the world of big corporates – better to create an internal dialogue amongst like-minded people that will serve to confirm your own vision of how the world should be. It should be full of profit and preferably (but not yet thanks to the unions), low paying jobs. Except they are only ever short term in an unsustainable industry as the miners at Spring Creek know, dependent as they are on such vagaries as international coal prices and the economy of China. In corporate land, mining is also green – if you go to the Straterra website you will read about ‘green’ and ‘boutique’ mining which must be something like ‘helpful homocide’ or ‘precision bombing’. Since the Pike River disaster there is no more talk of the ‘keyhole surgery’ approach so often cited by Wayne Brown. It is what it is. A big open hole in the ground – in the Denniston’s case; 150- 200 hectares of it. In May a ‘bio-blitz’ caught several as yet unidentified species on the Plateau but this does not blend easily with Staterra’s story that their efforts are just a gentle continuation of a long history of mining in a less than virgin environment. This disingenuous argument is akin to saying that corporate whaling on modern vessels is the same as hunting a whale in a walrus skin canoe. Straterra again; “On Solid Energy's landsnail conservation work, the real picture is less gloomy than painted by Forest and Bird. Of 6140 Powelliphanta augustus snails collected, some 4000 have been released back into the wild. Varied results have been obtained, with some sites recording promise.” A link took me back to Forest and Bird site; “To mine the site Solid Energy picked up every last snail in the hope of translocating them. All three attempts are failing, and now the only ‘safe’ population lives in a fridge.” Or they did. Until someone turned down the thermostat and they all froze to death. But it’s not the mining company’s fault. Apparently it’s DOC’s. Staterra; “Forest  and Bird may disagree with the adequacy of the proposed mitigation package, however, their concerns should be taken up with DOC, and not the mining company, who has gone to great effort to do the right thing based on the Department's advice.”    DOC are now captive. I believe experts in that Department are no longer free to offer their opinions on what might best protect our environment. Instead they’ve become the mining industry’s whipping boy. And so it’s left to Forest and Bird to take an Australian mining company to court to protect land that supposedly was already protected under our conservation estate. Meanwhile submissions on changes to our Reserves Act and Wildlife Act which will give mining easier access to our National Parks close this Friday. DOC has no comment.

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Subsidising the real cost of tobacco

Agree. Disagree. It doesn’t really matter if you’re dying of cancer. Or cardiovascular disease. As a matter of fact I agree with the tobacco industry that health is a personal choice which can be made by rational individuals. Bloody nanny state always taking the fags off the kids and stopping them setting fire to themselves. I also know that advertising will do just about anything to get around the rational and bypass the conscious mind. It goes for the glide; where the brain is acting on instinct and emotion and never chocs down to a lower brain gear that will question anything at all. Years ago a friend landed a dream job working as a market researcher in London for the tobacco industry and later for a brand of rum. The money was huge; the perks ridiculous. After years of slumming it as a student she’d finally hit pay dirt. Except she felt like dirt. She left within a year saying she felt ‘soiled’ and ‘squalid’. Her job description could well have read ‘Find a group of young women, prod every insecurity and psychological weakness you can and find the way to exploit these to better sell them stuff that will do them harm.” She went into documentary film-making. The tobacco industry agrees that smoking does harm. They’re quite clear about that – which is great. Surely they shouldn’t have to submit to the indignity of plain packaging when their concern would be much better directed at picking up the health tab at their local DHB. The co-relation between smoking, cancer and heart disease is irrefutable. Despite the persistent myth that heart attacks are an old man’s disease the numbers of women who die from them are about 7 times higher than for breast cancer. If smoking were a rational choice no one would do it. If eating healthily was a rational choice the best growers’ market in the country – right here in Whangarei would be full of people buying enough fruit and cheap vege to supply the family with the requisite ‘5 a day’ for a week for the same price as a family pack of original chicken at KFC. Every piece of which consists of as much saturated fat as protein. But it’s not a rational choice and that’s why tobacco needs advertising. As do most businesses. This time last year I read an excellent piece by the Guardian columnist George Monblott on the high social cost of being awash in constant advertising. “Academic research suggests a link between advertising and both consumer debt and the number of hours we work. People who watch a lot of advertisements appear to save less, spend more and use more of their time working to meet their rising material aspirations. All three outcomes can have terrible impacts on family life. They also change the character of the nation. Burdened by debt, without savings, we are less free, less resilient, less able to stand up to those who bully us.” In short the more advertising – the less rational and the more slave-like we become. The tobacco lobby points to other countries who have rejected plain packaging. Global pillars of social justice and cohesion all; Indonesia, Russia, and Mexico. Let tobacco keep the packaging but stop socialist subsidising of the real cost of their product through the health system. That way there will be more in the public purse to fund our local health heroes like Buddhi Wilcox who runs the Food for Life Trust and who currently feeds hundreds of hungry kids every week right here in Whangarei for free.

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Stirring the Pot

I have become the inheritor of spoons. It’s indicative of my character that fate has bent the silver divining rod and chosen me as the benefactor of the residue of the familial cutlery drawer. Other people get the Lladro and the Wedgewood dining sets. The spoons choose me. There’s the gaggle of wooden heads set at angles sitting in a pot. Holders of vast familial history, they have stirred oceans of viscous orange marmalade and whacked not a few fast moving bums when that was still ok. They keep good company when I go to the old-school psycho-analyst’s couch: the kitchen. There is nothing that can’t be worked out while meditatively beating butter or knocking some sense into a good bit of dough. Mostly I like them because they don’t answer back. Some of these spoons have waded through Christmas puddings and coddled lemon butter into being while listening to radio reports of Hitler’s advancing troops. Were these the spoons my grandmother used to set eggs in tins of fat to send to the boys on the front? They belong to a lost world of female lore where the needlework on your apron could start a nasty rumour about your character and thrifty women made fake whitebait fritters out of grated potato and pepper. They remind me that there was a time when it was ok to boil mutton chops in fat with a newspaper on top to catch the malignant spitting underneath. Luck was living long enough to develop heart disease. Some of them belonged to the island dwelling Nana. The owner of the beloved and sadly, now lost recipe book which started with the glorious line; Pigeon Pie. Killem dead blong you one big pigeon.” There is the tiny silver teaspoon marked with the name of the ship that carried boxes of biscuits, bolts of cloth and trunks of crystal and china up to the islands and came back loaded with phosphate; a legacy of hacked up moonscapes on fragile atolls left to fuel the new agricultural colonial boys back in New Zealand and Australia. One of the pieces of cargo on those ships was my Dad. An eight year old kid chucked on a coal tramp steamer to go to boarding school on the cold side of the Pacific Ocean. I’m too scared to put my girl on a bus to Auckland. It’d be a year before he saw flying fish or his parents again. The freighters came from the shipyards with an entire set of monographed crockery and cutlery - the teaspoon the orphaned remnant of another life. I doubt a plastic fork from the inter-islander will be worth a column in 50 years. The queen of my kitchen stirring hoard is the giant silver serving spoon engraved with an owl – the old family crest on the handle. The spoon itself is ground down like a cigar chewers smile worn lopsided by well over 100 years of dishing up the best the back yards and the farms had grown. That spoon – the last surviving relic of an entire set of engraved status symbols shouldn’t be with me at all. Instead it should have passed to the legitimate inheritors of that family emblem of wisdom and loyalty and not to the offspring of my wild great grandmother who took off and got pregnant to the farm-hand before getting married long before it was fashionable. That particular adventure got her disinherited from the family farm and the silverware and status that went with it but somehow the spoon always finds its way back to the cook. Without the staff – and with a happy and fruitful marriage she became an excellent cook as did her daughter and grand-daughter who not long ago – passed the spoon to me.

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Missing women, handcuffs and sexy thoughts

“Where the hell are you?” she hissed. “You promised. They’re making cocktails, I’ve heard a 40 minute relationship breakup story and the demo thing is starting. Apparently she also does a side line in jewellery.” “What ? Prince Edward or Micheal Hill?” “Very funny. Just get here.” Finishing a 12 hour shift and making what could be described as the world’s worst dinner, I really wasn’t in the mood. “I’m not trying to be mean… ‘ said the small person ‘but is this poisonous?” She’s not joking. I get a text; ‘Hurry Up. I’m getting scared.” I go. She makes me swear I won’t be immature or an absolute female cur -which was not the word she used. If she didn’t have good grounds for extracting that guarantee based on past form I may have worked up the energy to take offence. Like many women I’ve found there are layers of energy deficit that can be reached which would make a Greek bank feel smug. You know when you’re heading there when you’d rather silently watch your child do something appalling than fire up to tell them off. Or when you agree to buy the boat/go into some random business/dive for lobster in Spain just so you don’t have to argue with your co-pilot in life. Those are the days when you wonder if perhaps your co-pilot was trained in pre-war Japan and also know how family violence happens. Sitting at the back with M. I try to think mature ‘we’re all adults here’ thoughts. Except today is the first Girl Child day to mark the millions of missing women in developing countries, a 14 year old girl has been shot in the head in Pakistan because she wanted to go to school and we’re all supposed to be celebrating 50 years of feminism. The missing women could well refer to Northland’s political elite but that’s another story – maybe they’re all just too tired to run for power. Meanwhile I’m trying not to be embarrassed and depressed that I’m sitting at the new millenium equivalent of the tupperware party; the ‘woman’s zone’ sex toy home-sell. I ask M. if they do a line in lunchboxes or something for frozen slices while trying to maturely assess a range of dildos that are being passed round. I accidentally set one off that seems to have a purple rubber cockroach on it (I’m later informed it is a butterfly) and very immaturely scream and drop it. Best to regroup over a rum punch with the smokers outside. Not because I smoke but because the conversation is better and because an instrument named ‘Kelvin’ is being passed around and now I’m feeling scared. Seriously. It could be multi-use – like if your 8 year old child lost a limb it could be a fit as a prosthetic or it could be used to kill home invaders. M suggests I buy some pink fur handcuffs but I know the kamikaze co-pilot would just use them to tie me up so he can go and watch more soccer without me talking over the top of the commentary and wrecking it for him. Sexy. At the end of the working week about the sexiest thing I can fantasise is that the co:pilot will mow the lawns. Or (and bear with me here) that Murray McCully will give our entire aid budget to girls’ schools in Pakistan. Or even better; he sends a message of terror and destruction to the guys who shot that young girl in the head. Send Kelvin. Works for me.

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Just food

“It’s Gluten Free!” Gluten being the new cholesterol, I thought extolling the treat as a virtuous dietary addition would make the customer even happier. Wrong. “It’s food. That’s all it is and if you don’t eat it you die. And that’s that.” Got it. Getting all cute with food was probably not a smart approach to a customer who had been a white farmer in Zimbabwe on a small holding which she ran for 20 years on her own after her husband died. Obviously her life had been ruled by priorities other than if her morning biscuit contained wheat proteins or not. It was hard to be affronted by her brusque manner because I agreed with her – and I had become….. one of THEM. I used to cook for THEM. THEY were young models and actors in the heart of Auckland who’d go through a menu querulously hunting out and forgoing forbidden gluten, dairy, meat, calories, additives or anything which contained food. The head chef lost her job the day she threw a plate of pasta across the kitchen, just missing the glass fridge doors and rollicked out front wondering aloud why one young wannabe didn’t just: “Order a glass of fresh air and #$@##%^^ Off!” That was also the week I made star-anise kangaroo hotpots. It wasn’t my fault the smart aleck waiter had changed the menu board to ‘Skippy Surprise’ which caused a scene not unlike the painting ‘The Scream’ out the front door as the vegans fled. All just good food. Not a political statement. Not an intention of status or ambition and certainly not a fetish or religion. Master Chef cooking shows are the new food porn – all that closed eye wriggling in delight at deep fried pig’s ears by Nigella_Lawson or her multi-ethnic counterparts is really just 50 shades of golden brown. There’s the bejewelled Peta Mathias and her ilk; sandalled and with enough hand jewellery for Mao Tse Tung to make a wok out of. Trundling through Moroccan markets on our way to an afternoon affair, the modern day madam; the celebrity chef, guides us to new realms of culinary lasciviousness. Forget the reality that most working Mums could write our own cookbook entitled ’50 Shades of Mince.’ Or that many chefs working in flash restaurants all day come home and collapse while eating takeaway supermarket shrimp salads and other mortal culinary sins. Which brings us to that other fetish. If it’s not sex – it’s religion. Novice chefs approach the sacred altar where the high priests of taste masticate mouthfuls of preciousness and declare it either holy or unfit. I honestly feel like slapping them and telling them to either just eat it or bugger off. It is after all, just food. The unreality TV shows bely the fact that fewer people are cooking and that there are an ever increasing number of Fast UnFood chains taking over every main street in Northland. While diabetes rates sky rocket and health budgets are the fat kid running behind, who’s never going to catch up. Somewhere between Hell’s or Hestor’s kitchens and McDonalds there has to be ‘just food’ and people knowing how to cook it. When a friend worked in the emergency food relief team in Christchurch after the quake, a young couple gave back the mince from the food parcel saying they didn’t have any pets. They had two small children though and noodles and canned tomatoes. Somewhere ‘just food’ has got lost on the road to fetish and high fashion. We’ve traded cooks for kooks.

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Crims and Commercially Sensitive Cons?

Swindle. Con. Sting. Same thing – just the methods evolve.

Although the All Blacks applauded the crowd in La Plata stadium, I was pleased the darker side of Argy street life was still ferretting a living outside.

The traditional street con ‘the mustard dash’ netted a kiwi cameraman’s 7K camera. A couple of kids run past and throw mustard at the unwary and then a helpful stranger wanders up to dust you off and shout at the kids while fleecing you of every piece of coin you have while you are gormless.
I shared a flat with in Buenos Aires with a recovering cocaine addict who spent a lot of her spare time manufacturing counterfeit currency in her bedroom. She gave me the best advice on how to avoid cons. This was after paying $72 US to have 3 knives sharpened on a peddle pushed bicycle contraption outside my house. Unsolicited and in a hurry I was rushed to agree. He told me it would be ‘dos’ (two) pesos a knife. Which he later insisted was ‘doce’ 12 ‘per side’ and that it was just my crap Spanish that had led to the misunderstanding. As everyone knows a knife has 2 sides. He also had a very scary ‘Uncle’ who was 7 foot 2 and mentally challenged who said he’d come and collect with a crow bar if I didn’t cough the cash. I coughed. The flatmate found this hilarious.

There were only 2 things to avoiding a con she said;

1) Good things always want an audience. Bad things like to happen when there’s no one around. If it looks like a good thing but someone is insisting on no one else knowing – it’s not very good.

2) Beware helpful strangers who insist on anything rushed. No one hurries a good thing.

Two weeks later I was saved from a con thanks to the above tips. Walking through a crowded bus station festooned with knee deep paper trash I spy a wad of US dollars neatly folded in a rubber band at my feet. I stoop to pick it up but a guy with what looks like sump oil on his hair swoops before me. He insists we ‘go somewhere quiet but we’d better go fast – who knows who has already seen us’. “We’ll split the cash he says, it’s only fair. I remember my flatmate and refuse to go – meaning I get to keep my real cash and my backpack.


The raw cheek of the street con might be laughable but it’s a lot more honest than the current version we have here; the corporate con.

A helpful stranger – usually a consultant, approaches the public purse. He pretends that the holders of the purse strings (councillors, ministers, heads of departments) are captains of industry and treats them like private sector dons when really they are employees in drag.

The money is not theirs and won’t really hurt when the invoice comes in.

Too easy. Secrecy is imperative.

Words like “commercially sensitive’, ‘need to know basis’ and legal privilege’ will be tossed about like mustard.

The deal must be signed off quickly – the threat of some unspecified doom awaits the backsliders who dally.

Corporatese will befuddle. Bedazzled public servants and elected representatives can then toss aside boring apps like due diligence and await the brilliant future the helpful stranger has promised.

High tech sewerage systems to subsidise private developments, unsolicited stadiums, art centres and bridges to nowhere are the result.

Give me the mustard any day.

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